Category Archives: Says the Editor

#SaysTheEditor Yes, You Need Me

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I got a call for guest bloggers last week. I’m not telling you directly about it because:
1: The call was for Pittsburgh-based folks, and most of you aren’t Pittsburgh-based
and (here’s the key)
2: It was full of grammatical errors.

Why would I encourage anyone to be associated with a group that’s trying to curate an unpaid writing staff, but can’t be bothered with proofreading the job packet? Why would I take the time to write a post or two for them, using my strict standards for grammar and punctuation, and… let them possibly change that up and make me look bad?

One or two typos… that’s one thing, in certain circumstances. Like a blog post, a Facebook status, even sometimes (*cough*) a Tweet. (Typos, folks, not a lack of knowledge of homophones.)

But from a professional organization? Looking for writers?

Yeah. No thanks.

I came this close to sending them an e-mail offering to proofread for them. It didn’t take long to decide not to. After all, my fiction clients keep me gloriously busy* and fiction is my passion. I’m about making the best book possible, not about hitching myself to a company, while local, that would probably thank me and tell me to contact them when I wanted to submit unpaid blog posts to them.

So… as you consider publicity (and even publications!) for yourself, look hard at the source. Is their copy sloppy, riddled with errors? If so, how will they make YOU look to others?

Bottom line: You can write the best book possible, but if people aren’t helping you look your best, it’s not in your best interests. Publicity or no, walk away.

.
* That said, this is always a good time to add your manuscript to my queue, or to ask for a sample if we haven’t worked together yet.

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#SaysTheEditor Series Book Two (or Three, or Four or…)

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I did it. I really did.

Over at GoodReads, I gave one star to a book I’d picked up without realizing it was the second in a series. The book had arrived here years ago, back during my crazy book trading days, and had sat and waited for me to finally read it. And this past week was finally its time.

So I looked it over. “Are you part of a series?” I asked it.

It’s a book, so it didn’t answer. Go figure.

And maybe I should have looked it up online, but it was late, I wanted to crawl in bed and read, and hey, the book wasn’t showing in any way that it was part of a series.

I spent seven pages constantly wondering a rousing WTF before I gave up. I had zero clue what was going on in this book… it was a cluster of words and images I couldn’t make heads or tails out of. When I realized that the first chapter didn’t explain things any better than the prologue had, I gave up.

It wasn’t until I logged on to GoodReads that I realized it wasn’t a standalone book. Which explained much, but…

And here’s the point of my post:

As authors, you owe at least a hint that your reader is now holding Number Whatever. Publishers need to mark books clearly (does anyone think that maybe this is partly why some authors get hit with the dreaded “bad sales” label).

I am often asked by clients how much of the first book or books is enough, how much is too much, how much is not enough. That’s not something that can actually be quantified, because every book is different, every book in a series relies on its predecessors differently, and not every series builds the same way. Like everything else, the answer to “how much” is entirely subjective.

Obviously, that’s where a good editor (ahem) can help. Getting it right can be hard, and an experienced set of eyes is always a good thing.

But more to the point, this is a good one to run past your beta readers. “Do you need more of the past history” is a completely valid question to ask a beta, especially if the beta hasn’t read the previous books. Ask and encourage them to mark up the spots where they get lost, or where a little more explanation (but never an info dump!) is needed. And remember that you may get different answers from readers who’re familiar with your series than you will get from new readers. Finding the balance between those two needs is your goal. Enough to catch a new reader up, but not so much that you bore your reader.

I don’t feel good about that one-star review. I thought about not reviewing the book at all, but I’d promised myself that I’d leave even a short review for every book I read in 2017. And I made it clear in that review that you can’t read this book without having read the first — and that I think the author (and in this case, the publisher) have an obligation to help a new reader into the world. Not that I need a complete recap or background, but it would have entirely changed my reading experience if I’d known even a little bit of what was going on with the swirling colors and the loss of magic and who these people were and why I should care.

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#SaysTheEditor Author Privacy

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This is a sticky wicket, but it’s happened to me and it’s happened to some of my clients, so I’m going to address it: the issue of privacy.

Now, as an editor, I rarely give out the names of my clients. I have a few I go to for references and there’s a number of folk who’ve linked to me on their Amazon and/or GoodReads pages. I’ve either discussed that with the author beforehand (in the case of references) or am pleasantly surprised when authors link to me, tweet about me, blog about me. But note that it’s always their choice whether or not they are going to talk about our relationship. Some authors — perhaps many — prefer to hold their professional associations close to their hearts. And that’s fine.

Where it gets more difficult is when authors (and sometimes, me as editor) are asked to divulge personal information. What constitutes personal varies by person, of course. For some, it’s asking where you live. For others, it’s your biggest regret, your fondest wish for life. Some authors may not want to reveal their favorite book.

Reasons for this, as with everything else, vary. Stalkers and trolls abound. What if you mention the wrong book and lose a reader over it? What if your lifelong dream is something that will be fodder for ridicule? What if you say something that inadvertently opens you up to legal trouble, or an uncomfortable and dangerous situation down the road?

Of course, it’s fun to read the answers, especially if you like the vibe of a new-to-you author, or if the author is someone whose books you adore and whose interviews you’ve read in the past.

While I’m able to see both sides of this issue, if you’re an author who wants to bow out of answering something, I encourage you to do so. Your writing is what should matter, even in this day and age of social media. You need to be safe, to feel safe, to know that no deranged reader is going to give out your home address or tell their troll friends how to drive you over the edge.

So for bloggers or journalists, if someone declines to answer, rather than publishing the request to decline to answer, would you please consider editing your interview so that the reader doesn’t even know the question was there? Yes, even if it’s your trademark question, such as boxers or briefs — it seems fun, but as authors, we know too well how one offhand comment can come back to haunt you in horrible ways. If you’re not sure about that, read Stephen King.

A little bit of respect, folks, for the need to be private in a transparent age. Angry readers HAVE shown up on authors’ and reviewers’ doorsteps. Let’s respect the wishes of those who don’t want that to happen to them.

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#SaystheEditor Unintended Verbal Warfare

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This one showed up, of course, on Facebook. It was from someone who claimed to be genuinely curious about what peoples’ “excuses” were for missing the anti-hate rallies scheduled around town.

I put excuses in quotes for a very deliberate reason. (Those of you who’ve worked with me will recognize how badly I HATE words in quotes, so you know it’s a major thing I am calling your attention to.)

Here’s how Webster’s defines excuse:

1a: to make apology for
b: to try to remove blame from

2: to forgive entirely or disregard as of trivial import : regard as excusable graciously excused his tardiness

3a : to grant exemption or release to was excused from jury duty
b : to allow to leave excused the class

4: to serve as excuse for : justify nothing can excuse such neglect

Look at all those weighted words! to make apology for or trivial interest or justify nothing can excuse such neglect.

Those aren’t words that help define a genuine interest. Those definitions show that the woman’s word choice was verbal warfare. By using excuse instead of reason, she set her position out there: Nothing you say will be good enough.

She also set herself up as the arbiter of what might maybe be good enough. Judge, jury, and executioner? One look at the comments and yes, she was.

In your fiction, look out for words like these, words that are loaded with more meaning than you maybe intend them to have. Be aware of how words and phrases show your — yes, you, the author! — perspective, politics, and worldview. Stay alert for how these words can undermine your entire meaning, your character’s authenticity, or even the reader’s experience.

Because no reader likes to be bullied. But when you’re asked for an excuse instead of a reason, no matter how well-intentioned the rest of the request is, you’re only setting yourself up if you answer.

Stay alert. In real life and in your fiction. Be on the lookout for the language that divides us and stirs up the art of verbal warfare.

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#SaystheEditor Don’t Tell Me What She Sees

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Strangely, I’ve been seeing this one a lot lately, mostly from some of my younger writers.

She saw him enter the room.

Umm… Okay…

I get it. You’re worried about point of view, because I am a stickler for POV. (Okay, I point it out and it’s up to my clients to change it. I’m an editor, not a drill sergeant and not a dictator.) So you want to make sure it all comes through the screen of your POV character.

BUT.

You’re telling me what she saw. You’re not showing it.

He entered the room with a flourish, jazz hands flapping until they froze into place. One leg extended, toe inside the bulky hiking boot as pointed as it could get and ever-so-gently touching the tile floor.

It’s still the narrator’s sensibility. You haven’t broken POV at all. In fact, you’re sharing a deeper POV with us, by letting us see him in action. The details the narrator and/or POV character choose to show wind up revealing things to the reader. Maybe a different POV character or narrator would tell us about the guy’s hair. Or clothes. Or his sparkling eyes. Or. Or. Or.

So take a minute and go back through your Work in Progress. Are you telling me what the character says? What he knows?

He knew the sun would be hot in the morning. versus The sun would be hot in the morning; it always was at the end of July.

Try and get away from those telling statements. Show. Take a few minutes and play with your descriptions. Show me the colors, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel. Maybe (read: definitely!) not all at once, but reach for those sharp, pointed, telling details that paint a picture.

Your reader will thank you.

So will I.

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#SaystheEditor Please Edit

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I opened my inbox the other day to find mail from a client. We’ll call him, of course, Steve. And Steve lurks around here, so don’t be surprised if he outs himself, or hopefully is laughing too hard to do that ’cause I’m about to poke fun at him while making a serious point.

The subject line on Steve’s e-mail said, “Please edit”

Now, from anyone else, this would have been a turn-off. But Steve and I have been working together for years now (He’s one of my favorite clients) and he had originally been hoping to have this book done a year ago. A year!

But what I read into his subject line was something that had been echoed earlier that same week by Stevie, who it turns out is a new client (and thank you to the existing client who referred her, as Stevie is a doll and fast becoming a favorite client). And that’s this: you guys get to a point where you can’t stand to look at your manuscript anymore, and so you’re all too eager to get it off your desk and onto mine.

That’s fine. In Stevie’s case, it came with a set of nerves. This is her first time through the editing process and it’s new, it’s scary.

But for Steve… well, I read a lot of frustration into his comment. I read the whole, “I’ve been staring at the words on the screen and staring and I know I can take it further, but I’m damned if I can see how or where right now, so let’s call in the help and…” and I imagine him throwing his hands up and making unintelligible growling noises.

Or maybe that’s just my kid who does that when he runs low on words and high on frustration.

Yet the point remains: How do I know when it’s time? What happens if I push myself to that point of being too frustrated to speak, and by the time my awesome editor is done with it, I’m STILL not ready to look at it again, but I’m trying to build a readership here, and I’ve already taken more time than I wanted to with this book and… and… and…

Breathe.

Trust yourself. Trust your story, your manuscript, your method. And then breathe some more.

It all works out, and whether your trepidation is from newbie nerves or experienced enlightenment, the only person who can say you’re ready for editing is YOU. And usually, you say you’re ready when you get to that point where you just can’t look at it anymore, you need a break, you need some fresh input.

Beta readers can be good at this stage. Or not. It’s all up to you.

Anyway, I’ve got Steve’s manuscript here, I laughed with fondness at him when I saw that crazy subject line, and for those of you who think you’d never be THAT rude to your editor, well, spend more time with me. Because I know Steve, I don’t think it’s rude at all.

If anything, it made my fondness for the guy grow.

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#SaysTheEditor You Might be Wanting the Wrong Thing

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I see this one from time to time, and after thinking about it, I think it’s a misguided desire.

Now, this obviously isn’t something that comes direct to my inbox from a potential client. Nope, those folks (you guys!) are savvier about what they want, and are usually coming to me via a referral, or because they’ve read this here blog and like me and my approach to fiction and to life.

It’s the job wire, the setup where authors send a request to a larger group of editors who belong to the e-mail blast, and the editors have to bid and win over the author. Usually, the poor author is totally overwhelmed with the number of entries and queries they get. So I think they add “Must have experience with a publishing house” as a way to weed out what they think are the hobbiest editors, the people who have sketchy credentials, who will charge large amounts of money and mess up their manuscript. I get that. I respect it.

Unfortunately, they are boxing themselves out of some of the best partnerships they could be making.

Sounds counter-intuitive, I know. After all, an editor who’s been with a publishing house — THEORETICALLY — has extensive editing experience. And they know what it takes to construct a novel for maximum effect.

Except…

I’ve been hearing for over ten years now that editors at publishing houses don’t really do much editing. They don’t have time, torn between meetings and working with their clients. As a result, they want books that are as close to publishable as possible. They aren’t using the expertise being sought by these editor-hunters.

Think about that: Editors don’t have time to edit.

One other thing to consider is that two types of literature have developed: the confined boxes that traditional publishing loves, and the imagination and boundary-pushing fiction coming out of many in the self-publishing world. I work daily on manuscripts that the big houses won’t want because the manuscripts that cross my desk don’t tick the right boxes and don’t follow the current trends. This includes my client, Steve, who just quit his day job to write full-time. (Think about that.)

I get that saying “You must have worked for a publisher” seems like a weed-out technique. I sure didn’t bid on that job, even though the project itself sounded right up my alley, because I’m not going to change this author’s mind. Not in a quick e-mail.

But I also don’t regret not having a background at a publishing house. I love to play with words. I love to work with authors. I love having the freedom of living life on my own terms. I love being able to focus on the manuscript in front of me and delve into what it needs, without making it conform to a checklist so it’ll fit neatly into a marketer’s box. And I’m a better editor for having that freedom.

That author limited himself and excluded me from his future. His loss; it’s my busy season and you guys are starting to line up. Because you guys? You know what’s what. And you don’t want to conform to a checklist and fit into a box… unless it’s a box of autographed books purchased by a huge fan.

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#SaysTheEditor Time to Celebrate!

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Nope, we’re not celebrating me, although of course I’m WORTH celebrating, and you all should celebrate me (and refer your friends and yourselves to me. Have I mentioned I’m hankering for a really good erotic romance author right now? I am. Totally. Preferably someone prolific, but keep reading to see why).

I got word the other day from one of my clients. Let’s call him Steve. Steve does some really hard work on his manuscripts, and his world building is mind-blowing (and then some). He writes series that are strong, compelling reading. And he’s an absolute joy to work for and with.

Of course, he’s got his writerly ticks that I try to beat out of him. Who doesn’t? (And that’s a trick question because the answer is that if you don’t have a writerly tick, you’re not human.)

So I was very pleased to get a note from him that he’s managed to build enough of a career with his books that he’s quit his day job and become a full-time writer.

Yes, boys and girls, these success stories ARE still possible, even in the current crowded marketplace and ages of 99c box sets that are great exposure but lousy royalties.

How did Steve do it? By being prolific. By working hard on every element of his books and series. By having an innate understanding of what it takes to tell a great story, a gentle touch on the action scenes, and an ability to draw strong, likeable women who are vital to a male-dominated world. (No calls for your version of political correctness here, folks. It takes all kinds to rock the world, and no one’s saying you have to read and love these books. Plenty of others already are.)

Steve WORKS.

That’s the bottom line.

No whining (at least to me). Just work.

And it’s paid off.

So my heart swells with pride as I congratulate him again. And the editor in me drools at the thought of what’s to come, now that he’s a full-time writer. I hope his fans are drooling as hard as I am.

His present can be your future. Go get it.

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#SaystheEditor You Deserve Better Than This

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I woke up the other morning with my good eye swollen shut and an unsolicited e-mail in my inbox. A so-called publisher was looking for editors. The scope of the work was unclear, there was no pay rate given, there were errors in the body of the e-mail — we editors may be important in the life cycle of a book, but not so important that our job title should be capitalized — and… then I noticed it.

Immediate recoil.

I’ll paraphrase, but it comes down to, “Most of our authors are first-timers and experience has taught us that first-timers don’t know what the hell they’re doing, so your job is to do this work for them, without teaching them, without guiding them. Just shut up and do it for these incompetents so they can earn a ton of money and you can earn some amount that we won’t divulge. Oh, and here’s an unsolicited attachment.”

Like I said, that’s a paraphrase, but the essence is there: Our authors are too stupid to do the job.

WHY would any person want to partner with someone who treats them like this?

Oh, I know. Because the person on the other end is promising them lots of success and money. Which is what I confirmed when I Googled the publisher and… wow. Red flags all over the place. They are revolutionary in publishing! Their authors are featured in major media outlets! Services and seminars to teach you how to do this!

And then I noticed the typos.

But know what I DID NOT SEE?

A link for submissions. Apparently, the only way to get your book published by these people is to attend one of their seminars.

Right there’s the final red flag. You should never have to pay to attend a seminar about something you can easily research for free.

For me, though, that final red flag happened much, much earlier. It was in that implied slight to the author. That you guys aren’t smart enough or good enough or experienced enough to know how to write compelling back cover copy about your own book. Why would you ever want to work with someone who doesn’t respect you and your creative talents? Why would you want to partner in business with someone who looks down his (the company’s figurehead is a man) nose at you?

You are better than that. You deserve to be treated better. You deserve to be respected for your vision, for your hard work putting words down on a page, for your dedication to your craft.

You deserve to be taught, to be guided, to be corrected, to be respected.

You deserve to be helped in your quest to make the best book possible.

Don’t be lured in by the siren’s promise of money, and gobs of it. Don’t be lured in by a flashy, slick website and sensationalistic copy. Publishing is a business. It is incredibly hard work, mastering the craft of writing, putting words down on a page until they form a story, revising and shaping that first draft into something you’re proud of, putting yourself out there to critique partners and beta readers and hearing that you’ve got a ways to go yet, hiring an editor (Hey, pick me!) and hearing you aren’t there yet, and then finding your production team, then your promotional team, then seeking reviewers…

Publishing is HARD. Don’t be suckered by promises of an easy path through it.

You deserve better than these scammers. You really do.

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#SaystheEditor How You Present Yourself Matters

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Hope you guys are glad I’m back, even if it’s only temporary.

So here’s the deal. A couple weeks ago, I saw on Facebook an appeal from an author for reviewers.

Not a bad place to look for reviewers. Except…

Well, you KNEW there would be an except. Admit it. And this one, well, it’s one thing to forgive a typo. Facebook is ridden with them and I have yet to meet a grammatically correct meme (although they might be getting better, oddly. Maybe. Might. Or maybe it’s that I’m not on Facebook as much as I had been and so simply see fewer memes).

If I didn’t manage to distract you with that aside about memes, you know where I’m headed: the request for reviewers for the author’s new book was… well, the grammar sucked. And frankly, it didn’t make me want to read his book. In fact, it kinda made me want to undo our connection because clearly, he’s not smart enough to hire me and he’s not careful enough to consider that a potential reviewer might take a look at his poorly worded post with its not-so-charming errors and… expect the same between the covers of his new book.

And that’s the thing: I see authors all the time who undermine themselves this way. Bios with typos. Book cover copy that makes no sense. And the commas! Is it so hard to know when to set off an author’s name in commas and when not to? Cripes. Ask your editor for help if you’re not sure.

If they won’t help you with the little stuff, or they want to charge you an arm and a leg for it, maybe they’re not the right editor for you.

Don’t be this guy. How you present yourself matters.

Check. Double-check. Whatever it is that you’re going to put out in the world, make sure you’re presenting yourself the way you want to be viewed. In this author’s case — I’ve followed him for many years — he’s usually smart, funny, and creative. This post made him look uneducated, crass, and certainly not smart, funny, or creative.

And if you need help, drop me a line. Because I believe that part of making the best book possible is that how you present yourself matters. And that means I’m glad to help you present yourself as smart, funny, and creative — or however you choose to appear.

It’s your choice. But success is hard enough to come by as it is. There’s no need to make it even harder.

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Through the Window #atozchallenge

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Quite possibly, the only Hanukkah song I’ve ever liked is the one that begins,

In my window where you can see the glow
From my menorah, on newly fallen snow

Menorahs have nothing to do with this post. Windows, however, do.

And that’s because I want you to stop and think about windows. About how you use them in your fiction.

Specifically, are they used as a diversion? To show that the character is ducking out on a difficult subject at hand? Is the author using the view out the window as a distraction from something that is difficult to write?

If not, are windows a way of bringing a bigger element into the scene? Do they widen the world-building? Does a lack of windows tighten the pace, the tension, the world-building?

Yep, on one level here, I’m talking about a literary device. It’s one that most authors aren’t aware they are using, because we’re told to use all our senses, and so it makes sense to expand those senses to what’s going on outside. Is there nothing in the house to feel? Then add some wind blowing outside. Nothing to smell? Add some flowers.

(First off, however, an author does not have to actually use all five senses in every scene. At least, not by the time the final draft gets uploaded. That’s a great exercise for first drafting and finding your way to the heart of the story — the puke on the page! — and then, as you revise, you can craft and shape out many of those unnecessary details.)

So think about your own work. Think about what you’re reading. (Because you ARE reading, right?) What purpose are the windows serving?

And if you’re using them to dodge something that’s difficult for the author or the character, is this a spot that could use a deeper push? Go and and get uncomfortable; you can always walk away if it’s too much.

But you can also come out with something brilliant.

Let me know how it goes for you.

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To Ooze Unctuously #atozchallenge

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One of those people who insist on living in my house and eating all my favorite foods has signed up to take a creative writing-fiction course next year in school. (To be fair, he does keep me in cookies, which he bakes himself.)

This really isn’t a post about food. It’s about how I groaned when I heard this. Not because I don’t want my kids to learn how to be good writers, especially of fiction. And not because I think all they need to do is read my blog and they’ll know how to be great writers.

But because there’s something about high school and teaching creative writing that puts an emphasis on big fancy words. Like Unctuous.

And the purple prose. “Shit,” he swore!

Oh, I can go on.

On the one hand, it’s great to take a bunch of high schoolers and encourage them to expand their vocabularies. But on the other hand, using words like unctuous is a dead-on signal to me that I’m dealing with a young writer. Someone who is still learning craft and is going to need… well, to have these sorts of words beaten out of them.

Now, fancy words like unctuous aren’t necessarily bad. I have come across spots where they are dead-on the right choice. But those spots are few and far between. I mean, say it. Unctuous. It leaves a slime coat on your tongue, does it not?

Yick.

So here’s the point: sometimes, simple is best. Not all the time. But most of it.

And here’s the rule: don’t use fancy words and fancy language to impress your reader. Impress your reader with your knowledge of craft, of your ability to plot well, develop characters they want to spend time with, to write dialogue that rings true. And to use the right descriptive words, no matter how mundane and boring they are. (Did you see that? Mundane. Some would consider that word on the same plane as unctuous.)

Short and sweet today. Because I need to go find something to get the unctuous slime out of my mouth. But somehow, I have a bad feeling that if I go into the kitchen, my cupboards are going to be stripped pretty bare.

I do have young people who insist on living with me, after all. And they don’t like unctuous food any more than I do.

But they like the cookies even more.

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Don’t Lose Your Voice #atozchallenge

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I see authors worry about this fairly often. They complain about it, too, when it actually does happen — and it DOES happen.

The dreaded bad freelance editor who edits out the author’s own unique voice.

Now, we can spend a long time struggling with the concept of “What is voice?” — it’s a nefarious thing, hard to pin down and explain. In the short version, it’s the voice your narrator takes up in the manuscript. It’s the unique signature you as a writer develop, although an author’s voice can change from book to book, depending on that particular book’s need.

In short, it’s the signature of the book. And it should be unique to the book and to the author.

That’s why authors get upset when a freelance editor removes it and makes their book sound like it’s not something produced by them. Voice is personal. It’s also important.

So do I really need to tell you that an editor who changes your own personal voice isn’t doing you any favors? An author should walk away from a first read of a set of edits both exhilarated and maybe intimidated by the job still ahead. They are often frustrated with themselves, for having missed so many small errors. (How did I type SHE there? Manuel is clearly a HE!)

But they should never, ever feel like an essential component of their book has been altered beyond recognition.

This is why getting a sample edit is a good idea. No, it won’t reveal everything, but it’ll give you an idea of what the editor is looking for. And yes, you ARE free to say, “Thanks, but I don’t think we’ll be a good fit.” (Hell, I’d rather hear that than, “I’m going with someone cheaper.”)

You need to know before you spend money if the editor is going to alter your voice.

Get recommendations from friends and peers. Ask for samples. Walk away if they won’t offer you one.

Save your voice. It’s what makes you uniquely you.

And personally? I like you just the way you are. Changing your voice isn’t my aim. Hell, I’ll take the extra time to make my suggestions sound just like you! Because, remember, I can’t help you make the best book possible if I’m imposing my will over yours.

It’s YOUR book. YOU’RE the boss. Freelance editors can only help, offer suggestions, teach points of grammar, and plead our cases. But it’s YOUR book.

It’s YOUR voice.

Fight for it.

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Tip Me Over! #atozchallenge

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Here is one I see All. The. Time.

Authors who put out a book, maybe two, and are immediately disappointed in their sales. Maybe they’ve done promo for it; usually if they have, it’s been minimal, sending out review copies and getting upset when they fall in the Black Hole of Reviewers, never to be heard from again (it happens more than you’d expect, and to everyone. Even me and Jett over at The Rock of Pages).

Keep writing, I always tell these antsy authors. Put more novels out. Build your network of contacts, and build your network of readers. But definitely put more novels out. Good novels, too, not garbage that you’re putting out to hit a magic number.

Since I began networking with other authors around the time I started self-publishing (in 2008, for those of you keeping track), one thing has held true: the tipping point for a novelist is around 5 to 6 novels.

What’s the tipping point?

It’s when you have enough books for sale that, if you market one of them, will somehow stimulate sales for the other four or five.

For some reason, you need five or six novels — not short story collections; sorry, folks! — on the market and available for readers to buy before readers will read one of your books and gobble up your backlist.

Why is this the magic number? I have no idea.

But I’ve seen it time and again.

That means you’d better get busy. And some editors, like me, love prolific authors. You guys keep us busy, and we’re here to be kept busy.

Really, there’s nothing to fear. Don’t fear bad sales. Don’t fear screwing up.

Okay, fear putting out a bad book… and then take steps to put out the best book possible.

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To Series or not to Series #atozchallenge

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Even before the rise of self-publishing as a viable publishing platform, authors were increasingly turning to writing series. Deadlines were getting tighter, but the worlds were familiar. The characters were familiar. And the readers wanted more.

Other than the deadlines, the other factors make sense. For a writer, being in a familiar world means you don’t have to engage in new worldbuilding, which is time-consuming and, frankly, hard. Same with building new characters, although the good series introduce new, fully rounded characters who you love just as much as the original players. Or maybe you love to hate them; it’s all good.

But there’s, of course, a flip side, and that’s the ability of the reader to keep up with all the series they are reading. Personally, I gave up trying and get to certain series when I get to them. The only one I may actively keep up with is Stephanie Plum, and that’s because I can take it out of the library and read it in a day or two. That’s hardly the sort of criteria you are looking for, authors!

For a young writer, just beginning to establish him or herself, series can be attractive endeavors. Not only do you have the ability to continue to expand one singular world, rather than reinventing it with each new book, but you can also continue the growth of your main characters, and that’s one of the best luxuries of a series. There’s lots of room to play, and you can put your series out as a box set, or offer the first for free, as a loss-leader but as a hook to sell the rest of the fun that follows.

Of course, there’s a downside, and that’s that the series doesn’t ever find its audience. If that happens, you have wasted a lot of time and effort on your project. And sometimes, a lot is an understatement.

But there are things you can do. You can write the best book possible. You can hire really good editors who can not only fix your mistakes but teach you how to stop making them, and who can teach you a better command of words and the craft of writing. You can hire formatters so your books look fabulous on all the various reading devices out there (including phones). Cover artists, to help catch a reader’s eye. And, of course, a really good marketing team who can do more than line up blogs for you to visit.

Yes, it’s expensive. But if you’re doing this across a series, the costs… some of them can be spread out across the series, such as marketing. Some have hidden benefits, such as working with the same cover designer until you both know what the next three covers will look like before you’ve even plotted them.

Like everything in publishing, to series or not to series is a crapshoot. But readers seem to like them, and keeping your readers happy is always a great way to retain readers and expand your sales.

Besides, really good characters are the sort you want to be around, and writing a series is always a great way to spend time with people you love to be around.

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Revising Me #atozchallenge

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I have an editor friend (well, I have a BUNCH of editor friends, actually, but we’re talking about one editor friend in particular right here and now) who says there’s a difference between editing and revising.

Editing is what you pay for.

Revising is what you do yourself.

Either way, let’s face it: even my clients who send me their first draft have engaged in some form of revision. They have worked their prose as they’ve created that first draft, shaping and honing their past words as the present unfolds on the screen in front of them.

I say it fairly often: in the quest to make the best book possible, you have to recognize that writing is a craft. You have to hone your tools, push and pull and mold your clay, your canvas — your manuscript — into its final form. It doesn’t just happen by itself. You have to work it. And work it. And work some more.

So, yeah. Revising your work, whether you do it as you go or you go through multiple drafts, is essential. There’s no rule about how much revision work you’ll have to do, and not only does it vary from author to author, but it varies from manuscript to manuscript and project to project, too. Sometimes, even chapter to chapter, scene to scene, and yes, paragraph to paragraph.

But you have to do the work. Bring that baby up to its best possible form. And then, because revising is what you do and editing is what you pay for, you send your masterpiece to your editor, who sends you comments and sets you up for another round of revisions.

Whoever said writing wasn’t a lot of work was either amazingly blessed or lying.

Or they don’t care about quality.

Trust me. I’m a voracious reader. Quality matters.

And how.

*And hey, do you like my post title? It’s a play on a certain Metallica song. (I particularly like this version, so if you’re convinced you don’t like Metallica, or you’re not sure, this would be a SUPER link to click on. Seriously. As we say in Ultimate, chilly chilly chilly!)

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To Quit or Not to Quit (Shouldn’t be a Question) #atozchallenge

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When I was younger — like, late high school, college and even grad school — I’d fight my tendency to be a writer. (Little did I know the editor gene wouldn’t be fully awakened for awhile yet) I’d vow I was quitting.

But over the years, the time between proclaiming, “I quit!” and returning to my fictional worlds shrunk, to the point that, as a married woman, I barely had the words formed on my lips and had to acknowledge the lack of truth to them.

Some of us are just cursed.

But if you’re not one of them, I get how hard this whole writing-as-a-career thing can be. It’s big. It’s scary. There are a million other books out there, and what feels like ten million other authors. And because we’re writers and we suffer from Inherent Writerly Insecurity, it seems like those ten million other authors are better writers, savvier marketers, smarter networkers; the whole deal.

It is enough to make a peson quit writing, and yes, I’ve had a few authors tell me that after their second or third book, they were done.

Not so fast, I like to tell them. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to tells me that it takes four, five, sometimes six novels before the momentum takes over and you have enough of a back catalog to stimulate organic sales. (Of course, this does NOT excuse the need for good marketing!) No, they don’t have to be a series — although it, of course, helps.

But you need a critical mass.

So don’t give up too fast. In fact, if you can NOT give up, if you can return to those days when you’d write for the sheer love of writing, you’ll be ahead. Write what you love. Write FOR love.

Network with other writers, and seize the marketing opportunities they present to you. Network with other readers. Leave reviews of books you’ve read because you want to.

In short, BE a writer. That doesn’t mean sitting around at home, slaving in front of a piece of parchment as the candle burns down and the tip of the quill goes soft. Not anymore! Being a writer means supporting other authors. Learning craft. Reading. Networking.

And mostly, having fun.

Because if you’re having fun, why contemplate quitting at all?

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Purple Dinosaurs aren’t the Only Bad Purple #atozchallenge

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No one’s beat up on Barney the Purple Dinosaur in eons, it seems. Is he even still on TV?

Unfortunately, his literary companion, purple prose, is. And like all unfortunate things, it shouldn’t be.

So let’s talk about it. Let’s learn to identify it so you can revise it out and avoid notes like Aaack! Who let the purple prose monster in here! or, if I don’t know you as well, This is veering a bit toward purple prose. How about wording it like this as an alternate?

I like to write fun comments.

Urban Dictionary (I kid you not) defines purple prose as, “a term used to describe literature where the writing is unnecessarily flowery. it means that the writer described the situation (or wrote the entire book, passage, etc) using words that are too extravagant for the type of text, or any text at all. basically, over-describing something. with stupid words.”

Now, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to add with stupid words on at the end there. Because obviously, if you wrote them, you didn’t think they were stupid, and since you haven’t revised them out yet, you continue to think they’re not stupid.

But over-describing, unnecessarily flowery writing… yep, that’s purple prose. I swear, we’re taught to write purple in high school, when English teachers everywhere encourage it as a model for good writing.

This is why you need to read a lot. A. Lot. And not just read but also pay attention as you read. Do you have a description of a room? Look at how the book you’re reading describes the room. Is your heroine overwrought? Examine how the writer of the book you’re reading describes it.

After you’ve observed until your eyes glaze over, come back to your own manuscript. Is your writing as clear? Does it snap? Purple prose never snaps. It goes on. And on. And sometimes on. And you stop caring.

The bedspread was quilted, by hand, Sienna was willing to bet, in four shades of yellow, from the palest Alpine glow to the brightest, sunniest yellow she could imagine. Just looking at it made her break out into a wide, uncontrollable grin that threatened to consume her entire face and half of her soul, too. But her favorite was the slightly less yellow than that brightest one, the one that merely suggested summer days and didn’t scream them and even though it didn’t make her smile as hard, she still wanted to smile. This one was a tender smile, touching her lips gently and caressing her soul with a soft spring wind.

“Hey, Sienna? I asked what you thought of Glen.”

Yeah… you see what I mean? Contrast that with this:

Sienna paused by the bed, letting her fingers run over the bedspread as she considered her best friend’s question. The spread was done in shades of yellow, the brightest of which reminded Sienna of Jenny’s smile whenever she talked about this Glen dude. But Sienna wasn’t feeling the love. What she felt was more like the pale yellow, a wariness, a hesitance to commit. “I see what you like about him,” she said carefully, her fingers picking the pattern of the perfect stitches, then finding one that was off.

“Isn’t he the greatest?” Jenny flopped on the other side of the bed, away from Sienna, and grabbed a stuffed rabbit, which she cradled to her chest.”

“I know you think he’s great,” Sienna said, trying to pick her words, “but you just met him a week ago. Maybe you should get to know him before you proclaim true love?”

While I say to my high schoolers all the time that sometimes curtains are blue just because they are blue, sometimes, the teachers are right and they’re blue for a bigger reason.

But they don’t need to be purple.

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Open Sesame! #atozchallenge

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When I was in grad school, I had a classmate who’d repeat the old quote, “The first line of your book sells it. The last line sells the next one.”

There are also all sorts of memes and groups who focus entirely on first lines. They expect them to be powerful, to grip you by the throat and not let go. (Go on and Google this, but be sure to come back when you are overwhelmed by the sheer number of links.)

I am not so sure one sentence should have that much power. But I do agree that the first scene should.

Openings. Opening scenes. They matter.

For a young writer, finding the right opening of their manuscript can be the hardest part of the entire drafting process. Some of that gets back to giving yourself permission to puke on the page and get to know your story the hard, sloppy way. Some of it is because maybe you like the opening you wrote, and so you let your emotions cloud your wisdom. At that point, I tell my clients to cut it and save it in a separate file, either for use later in this book or maybe build a stand-alone short story from that scene. It can work for you as bonus marketing material.

But simply put, the general wisdom is correct: the opening has to grab a reader. That doesn’t mean every single book has to start with action. If that were the case, we’d be horribly bored with action-filled openings, even though there’s an infinite way to begin a project with action. I remember one client opened with a house fire that was epic. But it had less than zero to do with the rest of the story, other than it starred one of the main characters.

And there’s the next point: your opening may not have to start with action, but it has to set up the story you’re about to tell! Steve’s opening didn’t do that, as awesomely written as that house fire was. Readers were right there with those characters and… I spent the rest of the entire trilogy trying to figure out what it had to do with anything.

You don’t want your reader doing that, reading with half a mind, the other half focused on looking for connections. You want them wholly immersed.

Just as, when I say that a book doesn’t have to begin with action, you also don’t want to bore your reader with excessive description or — WAY worse — navel-gazing. You know what navel-gazing is, right? A character who gets lost in their thoughts, in philosophy, in justification for their deeds… they’re sitting around and gazing at their navels, admiring the way the doctor or midwife tied off that knot and set him or her free from Mom.

So where’s the middle ground?

Well, action is okay. It’s just not mandatory.

And brief description is okay.

So are fresh scenarios, which means no waking up first thing in the morning, or listening to the birds sing. As a rule of thumb, it’s probably not the best idea to open a book with a character in bed, unless it directly relates to the conflict about to unfold.

I once read a book for review that opened with what was supposed to be a hot and heavy sex scene. It also contained no small amount of internal warfare as the woman involved tried to justify allowing herself to have sex with this guy, who she obviously hated.

It was really hard to connect to her, to feel the hot and heavy part of the scene. For one, we didn’t have an emotional investment in the characters. And for another, her wonderings made us wonder if this was something we were supposed to enjoy.

Go figure, but the rest of the book referred to this sex scene with the same tangled, mixed-up feelings, and that colored the entire book. The woman would sound like a harpy when she would shriek at the man about how they’d had this sexual encounter and she regretted it every time there was conflict between them.

The takeaway in all this? Openings are hard. Really hard. Books often wind up not opening where you originally think they should, and it can be hard to kill really good writing (like I said… save for later!).

That’s where a good editor can help. This is one of many reasons why smart authors hire a good editor.

Think about your opening. Drop me a line if you have questions. We can have a short discussion before I’ll ask you to cough up cash for a coaching fee!

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What a Novel Idea #atozchallenge

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I hear this one fairly frequently from some of my younger authors: I have an idea, but I’m not sure if it’s a novel or a short story or what.

To which I always reply, “Just start writing and let’s see what you’ve got.”

It’s an idea not unlike the permission we often have to give ourselves to puke on the page in our first draft. Just shut up and write.

But the question these folks are really asking me is a little bit more complex, and that’s “Is this plot too thin to sustain a novel?” And the answer to that is… well, I can’t give you, my blog readers, a definitive answer, because it depends. Sometimes, clients come to me with more simplistic plots and no intention to add subplots. Maybe they are really writing a novella, not a novel, which tend to be leaner not only in length but in complexity.

And sometimes, they go the other way, and the first draft comes out to be 200,000 words long and they don’t know where to start cutting. And it’s not 200k of fluff or backstory, either. It’s that the plots are that convoluted. With the rise in popularity of a certain set of novels (nope, not looking at anyone in particular here. Is that sixth book done yet, Mr. Martin?), a set of writers is attracted to that sort of long, convoluted story. In fact, the High Fantasy genre (which, for the record, I love) is full of complex novels.

So how do you know if your idea is any good before you sit down and pound out thousands of words that just might lead you nowhere? What do you do if you’re one of the people who is looking for a guaranteed return on the time you’re going to invest on a project?

Well, you make an outline. Decide how the story’s going to play out. Know whose point of view you’ll be in, what the plot twists are, who the characters are. You take the time to plan out your idea or vision.

But if that’s too much trouble?

Then, with all due respect, maybe this isn’t the project for you. I can’t tell you the number of manuscripts I’ve read that have been simply amazing and incredible, but have failed to find their audience.

All I know for certain is that if you have an idea and you want to see it come to light, you have to put in the time. That holds for non-fiction, as well.

This gets into the “Life is a journey, not a destination” maxim, and I’ll let you ponder that one as you decide what sort of journey you’d like to take. But why not take this one?

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