Apr 172014

One in an occasional series

I am one of those editors who likes to support my clients even if what they need help with is beyond the range of editing. Because of this, I’ve now started such services as offering help writing book descriptions, a While You Write service where you cough up cash and I’m available seven days a week for brainstorming plot wrinkles and other problems, and more. I’ve even brought some e-book formatters into the fold, but more about that another day.

The Book Description and While You Write services are available only to my editing clients.

One other thing I like to do is talk about your options for publication. A number of you like to explore your options, and that’s great. I’m totally supportive of that. And… a lot of you have found small presses who’ve been interested in publishing your books. Sometimes, that makes me sad because it means you’re moving on to a new editor (and when that editor’s not as good as me, well, double sad!) — but that sadness is also tempered with excitement for you. I want only the best for my clients.

But sometimes, you find yourself someone who is well intentioned but … maybe isn’t ready for a writer of my clients’ caliber (do I think highly of you guys, or what?). And you ask me about this publisher.

I came across one of these small presses the other day. When I find them, I crawl all over their website, looking for certain criteria:
1. Is the site well written? Seems like a silly thing to look for, but if a publisher’s website is riddled with grammar errors, what will your book look like? (and yes, I do wish I had the cojones to send them a letter, offering my non-fiction department’s services!)

2. What can you offer my author that s/he can’t do by him/herself? The latest was a publisher who said they were working on a relationship that would get them into brick-and-mortar stores. Sounds great, but … they weren’t there yet. What could they offer my client NOW?

3. What do they publish, and how does your book fit into their list? One publisher I came across had both erotic lit and a book about Jesus on their front page. I’d be surprised if people aren’t offended by that one!

There’s a reason niche publishers do well, folks: they break into one market and do it well.

4. What’s the background of the principals involved? Even if it’s not a publishing background, I’m sorry, but someone with an MFA in painting and a partner with a PhD in history just doesn’t make me confident that you know how to run a business — even though I’ve learned that running a business isn’t rocket science. But I want to see that you’ve got a clue what you’re doing before I’ll express confidence in your business.

(Before you ask about my lack of business background, I spent 2013 enrolled in a year-long business class and worked with a fabulous mentor. Like I said, running a business isn’t rocket science.)

5. How excited by your book is this publisher? I thought this was a no-brainer, but when a client forwarded a mail that said, “I skimmed your book and think it’d be a good fit…” I realized that the siren’s song of “it’d be a good fit” drowned out the red flag. This acquiring editor SKIMMED the book? The book he’s worked on for years and years? Sweat, blood, tears, marriage, friends, and an editor are all in that book and this acquiring editor admitted to SKIMMING it?

To paraphrase uber agent Janet Reid: You want someone behind your book who’s as passionate as you are.

Yes, we all want to have a publisher’s name behind us (okay, not all of us anymore!) but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let desire overrule your natural caution. I’ve seen too many small presses go under, heard too many stories about authors who have to go to court to have their rights reversed, seen what happens when expectations are crushed.

Don’t be that author.

But do be the author who is smart enough to reach out to people who can look past the emotional high of the offer and help you weigh your options with a clear mind. This is your business. It’s not rocket science, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be smart in the choices you make.

Apr 102014

I smell a trend.

Authors who e-mail me, wanting me to edit their books while they’re on summer vacation. They want to take time off, be with their kids and their families, travel, see the world. Do those things that writers have to do in order to keep the Write What You Know furnace stoked.

I don’t blame a single one of you. In fact, I encourage every single one of my clients to step away from the computer and clear their brain. Go camping. Visit a national park. Breathe fresh mountain air or fresh salty sea air. I don’t care. Just unplug!

Which means I’m participating in creating my own crushing summer workload, and I’m more than glad to — so long as I can handle what you guys throw at me. I am very smart at managing workloads and even better with time management. Best of all, I know people who would give their eyeteeth to work under the West of Mars banner. I’m building a tradition of excellence, after all, and am pleased and flattered to have so many people who want to be part of West of Mars.

If you haven’t caught on by now, all of this is a fancy way to say get your dates booked now. Pick a deadline — I start new projects every Monday — and get your name on my calendar.

Summer dates are available. Get yours while the getting’s good. Because I promise you won’t be the only one waiting until the last minute. And I promise that existing clients won’t be turned away. If you’ve been wanting to cross the West of Mars threshold, this is your Bat Signal.

Book your dates for June, July, and August. New or existing, lock in your dates. We can always move ‘em later if we need to.



Apr 032014

One in an occasional series

Today’s post was inspired by my own good intentions, intentions that have come back to haunt me.

One of the things I struggle most with is names, especially names for minor characters. Throwaway people, who I expect to use once and never see again. There have been many in all the Trevolution writings, people who crossed paths with the band for one reason or another. And you can always tell who the characters who intrigue me are: they mostly have intriguing names. Lyric. Boomer. Chelle. And yes, even Pam the exercise instructor who tries to use Trevor to get to Mitchell.

Like I said, those aren’t the problem children. I don’t know any Lyrics or Boomers or Chelles, and as for Pams… well, not many, anyway. Pam Derbish is her own woman. But… she was never meant to be a one-story flash in the pan.

It’s when I’m sitting around, getting desperate because I know the name doesn’t matter. That the character is nothing more than a vehicle, a catalyst for the story to unfold around, so why am I stressing about a name? And so, I turned to real life, figuring it would be a nice way to pay tribute to friends who meant a lot to me. Maybe that way, the characters would elevate themselves and be more than just a name on a page.

So what’s the problem?

Well, I fell out of touch with most of those friends. One did something I know I ought to find forgiveness for, but I’m not there yet. That one’ll be a long time coming, I think.

Which means that every time I look at those characters’ names, I pause with a note of regret. I miss a bunch of them. I am upset about the choices the other made (and continues to make), knowingly or unknowingly.

Now, it’s a sight better than the woman I once knew who published a collection of short stories in the early ’90s. She apparently didn’t merely use her family members’ names. She fictionalized them, and the fiction wasn’t exactly flattering (“pathetic” was how I characterized the lot of them when I read the book) — in their eyes. I still recall the pain in her eyes and etched into her face when she looked at a stack of wedding invitations from those people. They hadn’t even bothered to open the invitations and send back the RSVP card. Nope. They’d all written REFUSED across the front and had it returned to her.

Don’t be me, and don’t be that woman. Step outside your life and give your characters names that don’t mean a darn thing.

Mar 192014

One in an occasional series

When I came out of retirement a few years ago, my mentor told me to avoid working for publishers who paid royalties. It was the equivalent of doing the work and then tossing dice when it came time to be paid. As someone who needed to support myself, working for a royalty-paying publisher wasn’t the best idea. I’d be fine if a book sold a million copies (but really, how many do that?) but … well, most don’t. And since most publishers pay freelance editors scant amounts even compared to my posted rates (which are only a third of what my mentor charges!), I was basically looking at giving a lot of work away for free.

She, of course, was right on the money. This is why she’s my mentor, after all.

One thing she didn’t mention to me — maybe it wasn’t an issue then — was a new practice that is struggling (thankfully) to take hold: independent authors who offer to pay their editors a royalty.

Maybe she was silent because from where I sit, surrounded by red pens, this is a no-brainer. There’s no way I could ever consent to do this.

Here’s why:
1. Finances. Everyone knows how rough it is out there for authors or all ilk. I have edited some outstanding books, books that deserve to be in everyone’s libraries, yet my authors struggle. I don’t know their exact numbers — I tend to ask, “How’re sales?” and get an equally vague response — but I do know that it’s the rare author these days who can break through the chatter and sell hundreds of books a month. And those who sell thousands? They are charmed.

2. I am a hired gun. That’s right: You hire me to do a job. I do my job and while I develop a relationship with my favorite clients that often has me going above and beyond the strict rules of being an editor, at the end of the day, I walk away and leave your book in your hands. YOUR book. YOUR hands. Not our. Your.

3. Your book is your baby. No one is more vested in your book than you are. This ties into the above reason, absolutely. Even if you hire me to hold your hand while you write and help brainstorm as words hit the page, it’s still YOUR book, not mine. I’m here to help make it the best ever, but when I’m done with your book, I’m moving on to the next. I’m not helping market it or trying to find reviewers. I’m editing the next book in the queue. Sometimes, a client will come back to me a few weeks or even months after I’ve worked on their book and I’ll have to reopen the file and refresh my brain. About YOUR baby.

3. Honesty. While I don’t walk into relationships with my authors expecting them to take advantage of me, if I am going to walk into a royalty-based situation, I need to be 100% sure that there won’t be any funny math happening. If a Hollywood movie can gross millions and net nothing, what’s to say this accounting won’t trickle down to an author or two? Or ten.

4. More work for me: I would have to carefully monitor every statement that comes in to make sure I’m being paid. Or better yet, I’d have to hire someone to do that because, hey, I don’t run an accounting business over here. I run an editing and author services company. Authors want me to edit for them, and they are willing to pay me to do the job. They don’t want to hear I’m unavailable a certain week of the month because I have to double-check royalty statements for books I didn’t write. (And, hey, where’s MY income for that week?)

5. Plenty of other authors want me. Why should I take work on spec when I have a stable full of writers who have no issues with my Pay Up Front policy? And believe me when I say the fear of having to face an unhappy client who wants his or her money back is in the back of my mind, spurring me on to be an ever-better editor.

I get it. Believe me, I do. Editing is expensive, and when I run my own work past a professional editor, it’s my mentor I turn to. Go back to the start of this post, where I mention her rates are triple what mine are. Think about the ramifications of that statement for a minute.

I know it’s tempting. Your success is my success. Accepting a royalty structure makes me more motivated to help you sell books. And you don’t have to shell out money up front.

But from where I sit… it’s a gamble. I have a roof to keep over our heads over here, bills to pay. I can’t risk that in the hopes that you are the next author to break out of the mainstream, even if when you do, I’ll make millions, too. Because what happens, then, when the publisher wants you to pull your book from the market, break our contract, and then reissues it themselves? What happens to my vested interest in YOUR book then?

I can’t be left out in the cold. Literally or figuratively.

No royalty-based finances here, thank you.

Feb 192014

One in an occasional series

Many of my clients, after we work together for the first time, tell me they want to keep me all to themselves. A secret. Their very own editor.

I get the fear: my schedule at times can fill up as many as twelve weeks ahead of schedule. Not all authors are aware of when they’ll need me, and a lot of my clients sort of look up and realize they need me. Now. This second.

As a writer, I’m not much different. It’s often hard to know how long it’ll take. How much real life will intrude, how hard you’ll have to fight the story. You may have a vague date by which you want to finish, but then a secondary character takes over and the entire book needs to be rewritten… I get it. Remember, Trevor was originally supposed to die at the end of Trevor’s Song!

So when you want to keep your editor all to yourself, when you don’t want to share me, while it’s high praise and the ultimate luxury, you’re actually hurting me. After all, most writers don’t Google “I need an editor” and expect to find something other than a lot of articles about how to find a good editor. (I tried it. That’s what I found. Let me know if your experience is different.)

Nope. Smart writers find their editors by asking their writer buddies who they use.

Smart writers being asked that question know that if they don’t share their editor, their editor runs the risk of sitting around, waiting for them, a little too long. And then they have to go out of business because, hey, at the end of the day, it’s all about being able to pay those bills.

Don’t risk an editor’s career. Share your editor.

And if you’re a super savvy writer, you’ll let your editor know to look for your friend — and in that e-mail, you’ll give your editor a ballpark for when you think you’ll need her and ask her to save a week in, oh, say June.

I bet she’d be glad to.

Remember, if you missed the news, West of Mars now has editors to help with your non-fiction as well as your fiction. If you write it, we can make it shine.