Category Archives: Says the Editor

#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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Microwaves? No! Microdetail #atozchallenge

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Let’s just get right to this one. What the heck is microdetail anyway, and is it good or bad?

It’s bad.

We’ll say that up front.

Here’s why.

Microdetail is that stuff that is basically fluff. It’s sometimes called play-by-play, or filler… but does that really give you an idea of what it is?

Didn’t think so. Buckle up, because here we go.

He stood from his seat and began to walk across the room, stepping over the wrinkled edge of the rug, staring up at the ceiling to look for cracks in the thatching, then circled a wooden stool that sat in a corner between the fireplace and the front door. He circled it twice before sitting, hooking his bootheels in the top rung and smiling as he felt the caked-on mud crumble loose at the contact, and then said, “The king’s men are waiting for your answer and have vowed to kill Harry if you don’t answer.”

Okay, that’s a bit of a distortion… or is it? I see it all the time in young writers, writers who need to include such microdetail as a means of setting the scene in their own minds, or who use it as a way to get to know their characters better.

As first-draft stuff, it’s fine. But… it’s gotta go before it hits your editor’s desk, if you can. (If not, I’m always glad to point it out.)

Microdetail holds up the pace. It shifts the focus of the scene from the important stuff to these small details that ultimately, in the grand scheme of the book, don’t matter. Or that belong somewhere else. And sometimes, they’re examples of lazy writing. (See he stood from his seat)

Now, sometimes, microdetail is important. Sometimes, it helps set the mood, or describes a character. And when it operates like that, it’s not bad stuff. It’s important.

But until you become experienced enough to know the difference between microdetail and the sort of small details that help paint a picture that truly help your book, you struggle. And that’s natural. It’s part of the learning curve of learning to craft a damn good book.

This is where good critique partners come in. And patient editors.

You don’t have to rely on others, though. This is where reading a lot comes in handy. Is the book you’re reading full of microdetail? Are there lots of descriptions, long or short, that don’t further the story or set a stage, paint a scene? Consider how the book you’re reading handles some of the details you’d like to include.

The next step is to write, write, write. Keep in mind those books you’ve been reading. There’s a reason some agents tell you to read as much as you write — it all soaks in. And then you can spit it out as you write and/or revise.

You got this. It’s hard at first, like all learning curves are, but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

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Lazy Dazy: All About Language #atozchallenge

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Well, not ALL about language, or we’d be here through the next couple of A to Z Challenges, and this puppy only happens once a year.

Today, we’re going to focus on lazy language. On what happens when you slap words on a page and don’t think much of it.

Honestly? Not much. I’m one of the few who will call a person out for using lazy language, and certainly, my clients come to me for a line or content edit hoping I’ll do exactly that. So, you know, since you’re paying me, I’m more than glad to…

Seriously. This is actually one of my newest and biggest pet peeves. It’s a certain construction: to where, from where — it makes me scream.

It’s lazy.

Pure and simple. It’s lazy.

And you, as an author, can do so much better.

Like this: She walked to where he waited near the water fountain.

Seriously. I see this stuff all the time, not only from my clients (who often wind up having it challenged out of them) but from books I read for pleasure. Not a lot of pleasure when it’s the same as dragging fingernails down a chalkboard.

Try this instead: He was waiting near the water fountain. She joined him.
Or even: She joined him at the water fountain.

(Whoa! I got rid of another poor language choice: she walked— that’s one that you can usually let your reader infer for themselves. Believe it or not, they will.)

He looked near where the sailboats sat. Beside them was where the mugging had taken place.

How about: He gazed across the marina. Right there. Beside the sailboats. The mugging had taken place right there.

And look at that: snappier language. Better cadence. You know that spot’s important, and that those pesky sailboats were somehow important and we’ll be hearing from them again. Do you get all that from the first example?

That’s why I call this lazy. Sure, we talk that way. Even I do, and I have no issues admitting it.

But speech and writing are different creatures, and it’s worth going that extra mile to get rid of the lazy stuff and replace it with something smarter, more precise, snappier. Not to say that it always has to be snappier, but it should always be more precise. After all, you only have so many words to work with, even when you’re going to self-publish and that means the word count is 100% up to you.

It’s a question of bloat. Of making your language work for you, not against you (which bloated language does).

So before you send me your manuscript, take a few minutes. Do a search for to where, near where, from where. See if you can change them.*

If not, be prepared for an awful lot of comments.

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*Sometimes, you need the to where, near where, from where construction. SOMEtimes. Not all the time. Not on every page (Best-selling romance author, I’m looking at you). SOME is fine. Usually.

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Write What You Know #atozchallenge

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K. There are a lot of good k words. Kangaroo. Kumquat. Kitchen. and… Knowledge.

That’s what we’re going to talk about today, that old maxim to write what you know.

But… guess what? I’m not going to sit here and tell you to limit yourself. Nope! Not even close.

If you’ve been reading along all month so far, you know this. I said it during G is for Guns day: Go learn. Teach yourself. Find a teacher. Do whatever it takes to learn, to soak up that gorgeous stuff in life called knowledge. Add in some experience while you’re at it for a true ability to write what you know from a place of authenticity.

Oh, that doesn’t mean you should become the world’s best downhill skier, but you should at least have an idea of how to snap your boot into your bindings. You should know what the different types of snow are and what each means for a competitor. You should know how races are run — and not just the part where the skier physically hurtles down the slope, either. What about the backstage life? How does all that come together, unfold, become a major spectacle that’s so seamless, people never stop to think about the logistics behind it?

All too often, we authors sit and home and dream. That’s where the genesis of our stories comes from, and it’s important stuff. It’s important stuff to sit and pound out a first draft, then spend time revising and crafting and shaping it, then sending it to our beta readers or our critique group, and then revising some more.

That is, after all, where the image of the solitary writer comes from. And it’s important stuff.

But so is being able to write what you know. Which means you have to shrug off the solitary part of yourself and explore this great big huge, wonderful place called the world. Travel. Learn a new skill. Explore something you’ve always wanted to. Use your book as your excuse, but gosh darn it, our rears spread when we spend too much time sitting on them, and our souls empty.

Who can write on an empty soul?

Go fill yours. Write what you know, and devote yourself to knowing a lot of stuff. You’re a writer, after all. For the duration of the crafting of your manuscript, you can have that same career as your hero or heroine. (Note that I said crafting, because that often starts at the research stage). Embrace life. Live in the moment, learn what you’ll need to make your characters and your book their best possible selves.

And then come back and write about it.

Go on. You can do it.

Write what you know — what a great excuse to know things.

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What a Jerk! #atozchallenge

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Jerks.

What a day to be writing about them!

(If you don’t know, April 12 is an auspicious day around here. That’s all I’m saying.)

Jerks are actually tricky things. Because as authors, we can lump them into two categories:
1. Idiots who are trying hard and who the reader ends up liking
2. Characters the reader is never supposed to like, and so doesn’t.

I mean, think about Screech on the old show “Saved by the Bell.” (And don’t ask why I picked that one because I can’t even begin to answer that question.) He was a jerk. But we loved him. In fact, we loved rolling our eyes at him and resisting our urge to be kinder to him.

That’s how he was drawn.

And sometimes, that’s the sort of character you have to create. Like Screech, he may not be the antagonist — and let’s face it; the easiest antagonists to write are those who have nothing about them to make the reader like them.

But the jerk who the reader grows to love? That sort of character takes a deeper skill, a better mastery of craft. This is the guy you have to finesse. You’re always on a tightrope with this one: If you go too far to one side, the reader will hate him. If you go too far to the other, you lose what sets him apart.

When he’s done right, the jerk who wins you over can become some of fiction’s most endearing characters. Think Rhett Butler!

The flip side, the second type of jerk, is much easier. Like I said, these are often the antagonist, the person who gets in the way of the lead character’s mission. They’re the bad guy in a mystery, the bad guy on Criminal Minds. You know the type. They’re usually one-dimensional and often cliched. They are there for two purposes: to be the bad guy and to get it in the end, so the reader and main characters can feel vindicated. They’re about the simple message that the bad guy always loses in the end, and the good guy always triumphs.

But in real life, the first type of jerk is much more prevalent, isn’t he? That’s because life isn’t as black and white as the bad guy always loses in the end. But then again, that’s why we like fiction so much. We need that clear demarcation.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that even though the jerk who you’re never supposed to like is an undeveloped, usually cliched caricature who has very little, if any, literary value (from a high school English teacher’s POV, or even from the educated reader’s), he still serves a purpose, and that’s the feel good that the reader comes away with. That sense of satisfaction that life IS neat and orderly and it all works out in the end.

So. Jerks. The good ones are hard to write. The easy ones serve a greater purpose.

Think about it. Can you tweak your jerks so the lines between the categories here aren’t so black and white?

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Feeling Insecure? You’re Normal #atozchallenge

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Our letter of the day is I, and what better I word is there for a writer than insecurity?

Look, even if you’re not a writer, you feel insecure from time to time. It’s normal.

But then you pour your soul out onto a lot of pieces of paper (or computer files, or one giant file… whatever your process is!) and you realize that there’s an inherent vulnerability involved with being a writer. That no matter if you thought you were writing about Dick and Jane, when you take a step back and give your manuscript a cold, hard look, you realize how many of your own issues and insecurities you’ve laid out on the page.

(Someone once claimed to have picked up a summation of my marriage from my short story, Mannequin! I will refrain from saying if he was right in his assessment or not.)

But it’s more than that. As writers, “You like me!” is something we strive for. Because, after all, if no one likes us, no one will read our books! And while writing remains a labor of love, it’s also a career — and how can you excel in your career if no one reads your works… if no one likes you?

I call it IWI: Inherent Writerly Insecurity. and yes, I’ve written about it a couple of years ago.

I think it’s important, because it spurs us as writers to do better. To focus on making the best book possible, which seems to have emerged as the unofficial theme of this year’s A to Z challenge for me.

And it spurs us to ask for help (hey, that was yesterday’s post!) and to steel ourselves for the feedback that comes with that help. Because as welcome as it is, feedback is daunting. It’s scary. And when your editor shoots from the hip (and I’m looking at myself… and all my clients here!), that feedback can be a bit tougher than you’d like it to be. I know that sometimes, because of IWI, my clients read my comments a lot more sternly than I could ever say them.

So there’s good stuff in IWI. Embrace it. Learn to use it as just another tool at your disposal.

And remember: If you let your insecurity paralyze you, you’ll definitely never get any book written, let alone the best possible book. So don’t be paralyzed. Reach out to others for help. I offer a While You Write service that lets me hold your hand as you work through your IWI (or through difficult plot twists and turns). See if your editor does, too, if you’re not my client.

If not, reach out to a trusted friend. A loved one. Whatever or whoever it takes, find your path through the insecurity and create the best book possible.

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Help! I Need Someone #atozchallenge

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Help? Who needs help?

Authors need help.

There’s the critique partners, the beta readers. The editors, the formatters, the cover artists. The publicists, book tour companies. Street teams. Agents, acquiring editors, the staff of the publisher, if the author goes that route.

I’m sure I forgot someone. Because these days, it takes a village.

And don’t forget the IT people! Whether you write on a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, or a phone (true story, that one. I once edited for an author who wrote an entire novel on her iPhone. She sold that sucker the night I sent it back with the typos corrected out), you need IT people these days if you’re gonna write a book.

BUT.

There’s another type of help you can give an author. Yes, YOU. Doesn’t matter if you’re a fellow author or just a reader (and really, there’s no just about being a reader because without readers, who are we writing for?). YOU are an important player in the success of an author.

Sounds all high-falutin’, I know. But it’s not. Nope. Not even close.

You can leave a review online. You can buy a copy of the book and give it as a gift. You can talk about the book on social media and encourage your friends to read it.

It’s word of mouth, and of all the crazy promotions and schticks that authors resort to as they try to get more eyeballs on their books, word of mouth is the ONLY proven method. That gives you, the reader, the consumer, an awful lot of power.

Reviews help. Many sites consider a book’s worth not by its ranking but by the number of reviews — so even if you want to leave one star because the story was an utter failure and even dinosaur porn would be better than THAT, you are helping! (obviously, as long as the review is constructive in its 1- and 2- star discussion). Yeah, four- and five-star reviews are good, but there are plenty of people (like me!) who only read the 1- and 2-star reviews as we decide if a book is worth our time. Like I said: it’s a numbers game. The more reviews, the better.

It’s a nice and easy way to help an author.

And if you’re feeling unsure about a review you’ve written, drop me a note. I offer a service over here that’s super cheap and will help your review shine as much as the book you’re helping out.

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Guns Going Bang #atozchallenge

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Although I’ve said this before, it was awhile ago now. Since there are new folks here for the A to Z challenge, I’d like to repeat myself. Besides, this is one that I feel very strongly about.

A lot of books involve guns. A lot of books, regardless of time period and genre — including some genres that might surprise you (like YA and romance — not romantic suspense. Romance). If a gun’s been invented, it’s possible that one will make an appearance in a manuscript that crosses my desk.

Now, we can talk about the gun culture and how including guns in our books so easily and with such frequency helps perpetuate it. Or we can argue that fiction is merely reflecting our reality. Guns are everywhere.

BUT we’re not going to.

Nope.

What we’re going to talk about is how you, the author, are charged to write what you know. And that means that if you don’t know much about guns but want to include them in your book, you owe it to your credibility as an author, and you owe it to your reader to get yourself over to a range or a sportsman’s club and learn.

Now, not all ranges and clubs offer classes to non-members. I get that. But many do. (Mine offers a ladies’ pistol class every October, for instance. And they offer other classes, as well.)

(Yes, I just came out as belonging to a sportsman’s club. What of it?)

Writing responsibly about gun use means knowing what you’re writing about. Educate yourself. Take a class. Find a certified instructor and hit the range. (And, like you expect me to say anything less, WEAR YOUR EYE PROTECTION!)

Learn what it feels like to have a gun barrel kick into your palm. Into your shoulder, if you’re shooting a shotgun. Learn how to seat it properly in that shoulder; it’s not nearly as easy as it looks (she says… from experience). Learn what it feels like to flick the safety. To load. What a bullet feels like, what a hot casing feels like when it pops free and grazes your cheek (HELLO EYE PROTECTION). What it smells like, how heavy it is, what it’s like when you’ve been holding it for long periods. Do you find using the sight intuitive?

I can go on and on.

These are details your reader expects your character to know. That means, by extension, your reader expects you to know them.

If you’re going to write about guns, do it from a position of knowing how to use a gun, how to hold a gun, how to fire a gun, and all the rest. Know what guns cost. Know what ammunition costs!

Write what you know.

Which means that if you don’t know first-hand, go find out.

I bet you’ll learn more than simply how to write about a gun in your manuscript. In fact, I’d bet an entire edit on it. Because unless you grew up around guns or have a career that made gun safety a priority and something as natural as breathing, I know from experience. You WILL learn.

And your fiction will be better for it.

Just wear your damn eye protection so you can read about it once the book hits the market.*

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*For you not in the know, no, I did not hurt my eye while at the sportsman’s club or while otherwise handling a firearm. But damn if I haven’t learned to go overboard on the eye protection issue.

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