Category Archives: Susan’s Editing Services

Call for Submissions: Delmarva Review

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The Lucky Charms anthology was filled by a call for submissions from the members of the Pittsburgh Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Honestly, I don’t go looking for places that are seeking submissions. They are easy enough to find via Submittable, and that’s a site well worth having an account with. I find all sorts of cool stuff listed there.

But I rarely tell you about them. Rather, I bring to you the calls for submission that I hear my friends and colleagues actively talking about. There’s buzz in my community, and I’m glad to make something buzz a little bit harder and help bring parts of my community together.

Today’s call for submissions, to Delmarva Review, crossed my radar in such a way. And since cool people I know in some form or another (in this case, I believe it was a local writer’s group) are talking about this, it was worth bringing to a wider pool of potential submissions. Because you all LOVE increased competition!

So. Delmarva — that’s a geographical area and while your fiction or poetry doesn’t have to reflect the area, it’s still good to know something about your potential audience. I’ll let you research that and just tell you that they’re looking for fiction of length up to 5k words or flash up to 1k. You may submit two flash pieces, each under that word count.

They don’t pay cash, if that’s your aim. It’s a literary magazine that pays the standard two copies, so this one’s great for exposure and an ever-lengthening list of publications. Don’t discount the value of that list! If you work in short fiction at all, you know how valuable it is.

The deadline is March 31, with publication in October. They hope to get back to everyone by May.

I’ll let you read more about it, like what sort of fiction they’re looking for — and what they’re not.

If you’ve got a piece (or two, if you write flash), go for it! If not, what’s stopping you from creating something? The best part of fiction is that if it doesn’t fit here, it may fit somewhere else.

As always, if you want eyes on it before you submit, drop me a line and I’m glad to help you bring it up to snuff. And as always, if you do submit, let us know. And if you are selected, definitely let us know — not only do we want to cheer you on, we’d love to host you for a Featured New Book Spotlight!

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Call for Submissions: Novellas at Running Wild Press

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I’m biased. I’ll admit it. But… how can you NOT like the Running Wild Press? They’re new, they’re hungry, and I know a couple of the people behind them, which gives me confidence they’re being run right.

Back at the end of August, I put out a call for submissions to the Running Wild Press short story anthology they were putting together. Did any of you submit? If so, were you chosen?

We’ll be hearing more about this anthology. Much, much more.

And with anthology selections made and the book in progress, it’s time for them to turn their attention to novellas.

Yes, novellas.

You read that right! One of the hardest and least appreciated forms of fiction (and least celebrated, too) is getting its day over at Running Wild. And, because they are Running Wild Press and because fiction right now is all about pushing boundaries and crossing genres and opening up to ideas that should have been celebrated for a lot longer than is currently trendy. I’m grateful we’ve got folks like Running Wild who are willing to turn a trend into a new way of life.

Which means if you’ve got a novella, ship it on over to them! (What’s a novella? The submission guideline says at least 15,000 words)

Got a novella you think you’d like to send over but aren’t sure about? I’ll cut you a deal on an evaluation, and/or a deal on editing it… IF you are going to submit to Running Wild. Drop me a line and we’ll talk so you can make the best submission possible.

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Writing Prompt! Are You Tainted?

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Are you tainted?

That’s the question of the day.

Sort of.

I’ve got a writing prompt for you (and yes, you are free to use this as your starter for a pizza horror story) today, so have at it.

As always, you are free to send me your creation privately (although if it’s a novel… well, that’s gonna cost you for a formal edit) and if you publish something from my prompt, you have to tell me so I can mention it here and we can all cheer for you.

Ready?

Here’s your prompt. It’s a line of dialogue.

“You have to mark that as tainted.”

And… GO.

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#SaysTheEditor Writing Your Climax

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I can just HEAR you guys about my post title here. I totally can. So go and flood my inbox and we’ll do a Beavis and Butt-head chuckle together.

Heh heh.

Anyway, I’m just going to take this verbatim from my notes. I don’t remember what sparked it, only that it wasn’t about a manuscript I was working on. If anything, it was an explanation of why I liked the climax in that particular manuscript so much. So here it is:

Action climaxes shouldn’t be like a fireworks finale, where the air is full of smoke and the techs set off firework on top of firework until you can’t see anything but big flashes of light and a smear of color through the smoke.

Even the climax should advance the story and illustrate characterization. It can’t be mass violence for the sake of mass violence.

I’ll let you think about that. Discuss in the comments, if you’re so inclined.

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#SaystheEditor A Writing Prompt!

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Ripped from real life!

I am having some remodeling done, and I walked into my powder room and found this (okay, this is a staged version, as the actual stick of Old Spice disappeared with the workmen).

And… go. Let yourself be inspired.

As always, leave a link in the comments or email me a Word file if you’d like direct and private feedback (yes! Free editing! I figure I am telling you to write it so the least I can do is give you constructive feedback on it).

And if you get the piece you write published, by all means, drop in and share the links!

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#SaysTheEditor: A Writing Prompt

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Here’s a writing prompt for you!

It came to me the other morning, as I sat up to put my eyedrops in. (Sigh. Eyedrops.) I must have woken up in a super-creative mood because my thoughts were all over the place, but this one was worth passing along as a writing prompt.

Ready?

It’s the first night your character has spent with his/her lover. Up to now, one or the other has always crawled out of bed and toward their own home, but the relationship has changed. Deepened. The all-night commitment is happening.

Your character wakes in the morning, to be told by his/her lover that s/he snores. Loudly. Like… I got no sleep because of you!

How does your character react to this? What do they say? Do? Does it change the relationship between the two? If so, for better or for worse?

And… go!

Leave anything in the comments, or email me a Word file if you’d like direct and private feedback. Not sure you got what you wanted on the page? Send it along and your favorite editor here will take a look and share her thoughts. Because, you know, I have thoughts. Lots of them.

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#SaysTheEditor: Starting the New Year with a Special Treat

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I’ve been chewing on this one, but hey, let’s go for it, shall we?

Here’s the deal. All Romance eBooks closed shop abruptly at the end of the year. I’ll let you Google and read the story behind it, but for many authors and readers, it wasn’t a good situation.

But some authors were able to get the rights to their books back. Some would like to revise them, have a new edit done, and put them up for sale on the indie market.

If you’re one, or you know of one, send them my way. I’m offering a discount to anyone who wants to reissue their books. If you’re nice but your books weren’t for sale through All Romance, maybe I’ll extend it to you, too. Probably. But you gotta be nice!

Good editing is expensive. That’s because editors like me are worth the money (and keep in mind that a lot of my friends yell at me for not charging enough!). So now I’m offering to work for you, and to help you save some money, too.

Tell your friends. Spread the word.

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#SaystheEditor The Morality Police

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EDITOR  2

I belong to a number of editor groups at this point in time. I usually lurk, but wound up following a thread the other day.

…there were other places that seemed homophobic to me, which is not something young people should read

*blink*

not something young people should read

You were hired to EDIT a work of fiction. You were not hired to interpret the content. You were not hired to be the morality police.

You were hired to perform a job. You were not hired to overlay your views, beliefs, and politics over someone else’s work or vision.

If you have a problem with it, yes, bring it to the author or publisher.

But to make a blanket statement about what people should and should not read?

NOT YOUR JOB.

You are not the acquiring editor, who (in this case) has paid the author an advance against royalties for the work. One presumes they have approved the content and have seen this content that is not something young people should read. Clearly, the acquiring editor, on behalf of the publisher, does not agree!

Gah.

I once edited a book, helping get the third book in a trilogy ready for submission to an acquiring editor who had already bought the first two, and the storyline stretched plausibility. I said to the author, “This is problematic to me. I have trouble buying that a person in this profession would act in this way.”

“But this is my life,” she huffed back.

“I get that,” I said. “But sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction and I’m concerned this won’t go over well with your publisher or the audience you’ve built.”

Her publisher refused to publish the book. For the exact reason I’d raised. The trilogy was never completed and remains a two-book series.

So what’s the difference here?

Easy. I won’t make a judgement about what should or should not be read by the public.

This other freelance editor did exactly that. And that bothers me.

She wasn’t hired to be the morality police. She was hired to interact with a text and make it better.

Maybe making it better means flagging the material that she finds inappropriate. (But let’s face it: if she was hired to do a straight grammar check, then no, she wasn’t hired to flag material that offends her. She was hired to make sure the grammar is correct. Nothing more.) But more to the point, it means swallowing your sensibilities and approaching the work as a professional would do. Is this in context? Is it realistic that this character thinks/feels/acts this way? Does it advance the storyline? Does it let the reader have a better/different/illuminating glimpse of the character? Does it help shape the way the reader interacts with the text, in the way that the author has indicated via other parts of the text?

That’s what an editor does.

Freelance editors are not here to be the morality police and tell the world what they should and should not read. They are only here to make the work of fiction in front of them shine. Go ahead and challenge the author. “Is this what you mean to say? Do you see how it can be taken the wrong way? Are you prepared if it is?”

Save the blanket statements. Tuck the morality police away.

Do the job you were hired for, which is to make a book shine. Not to judge what a segment of the reading population should and should not be exposed to.

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Susan Speaks: Thirty-Six and Still Counting

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It’s been a whirlwind around here as the clock keeps moving forward. Thirty-six weeks since the accident and I’m still counting.

Therapy’s helping, but slowly. Feeling’s starting to come back to the fingers of my left hand. My strength is coming back even faster — just in time for snow shoveling season!

Being concussed is, quite frankly, a total pain in the ass. I liked it better when I didn’t know I was concussed and was just living my life, full-speed ahead. To go from full speed to a crawl has been the hardest part, although the isolation is hard, too. Remember your chronically ill friends, folks, and try to keep the support coming. Sometimes, the longer things drag out, the more they need you. I’m learning this one through experience.

Since I was cleared almost two months ago to wear contacts, I piggybacked an appointment for my son to have his eyes checked with an appointment of my own for a valid prescription for contacts. The little computer they made me stare at said my prescription has gotten better and the tech asked if my strongest glasses were too strong, but then she had me read the eye chart and yep, the doctors were right when they said the cataract would make my vision worse, not better.

I see the surgeon in another month, and we’ll see what he says. On the one hand, I want my retina as healed as possible before we tackle the cataract. But on the other, I’d like the surgeries behind me. I’m eager to get on with living, not healing.

This surprises no one.

What will probably surprise all of you is that my September editing calendar is now completely booked. Depending on work, therapy (once a week, I have three hours of therapy, between the pinched nerve and the concussion work), kids, and life, it might spill into October, which is hard for impatient clients. But it’s super for me. And it’s not just that dates are booked, either. It’s that manuscripts are here, all files open on my desktop, ready and waiting for me. This is job security, man.

I have missed this. Having manuscripts waiting, being in demand.

This is what happens when you are good at what you do.

So keep it coming. Keep counting with me; I’ll be fully healed one day (maybe) and on to something hopefully with less risk and even more personal fulfillment. If you can consider anything about the past thirty-six weeks to be in any way personally fulfilling.

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#SaystheEditor: Some Things Never Get Old

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EDITOR  2

It’s been awhile since my editor self came out on these pages, but here she is. She’s got a serious case of the warm fuzzies, too.

First came news last week that one of my clients had made the USA Today and New York Times best seller lists for an anthology he’s in. What exciting news! More people who get to share the vision of a West of Mars client. I can’t speak for the rest of the anthology, of course, but this guy deserves the accolades and success.

Yeah, I love hearing those tales. I have a number of clients who routinely make best seller lists, but these two? That’s pretty rare, and it’s so exciting to see. I love it.

The other thing that never gets old is smaller, but it’s an important step on the path to getting the sort of notice that’ll land an author on those best seller lists. Call it a blog tour, call it networking, call it what you will, but I always get a thrill out of seeing books I’ve worked on show up on blogs I read or follow.

It may not feel like it, but writing truly is a community. My readership may overlap with yours, and there may be overlap with authors C, D, E, and beyond. When we can help each other and support each other, the entire community as a whole benefits.

Seeing my authors grow more and more successful is a real thrill. Being able to continue to work on their books and help them produce such good stuff is truly an honor. It really does never get old.

Keep sending your manuscripts may way. Let me help you realize your dreams.

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#SaysTheEditor: Shut Down, Defenses Up

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EDITOR  2

You can probably guess where Week 24 found me… among other places. Life has taken a new, fuller swing, although the healing’s not nearly done yet. I’ve got another month to go before the next surgeon’s visit and I’m both on pins and needles to see what his verdict will be — another back-of-the-eye surgery to deal with scar tissue or not — and I’m beyond ready for all of this to be over. I keep reminding myself to be patient, to give myself time to heal, to be gentle with myself.

Being gentle with ourselves is a big one, a reminder most of us need. As writers, we’ve got a double burden: compelling fiction demands we torture our darlings while at the same time, giving them the space to be gentle with themselves.

That’s something I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say when talking about torturing our darlings. We talk about putting them in conflict. Not letting them take the easy way out. Action, action, reaction, reaction, more action.

But without that gentle period, that time to shut down, defenses up, our characters — and ourselves — can’t do the other essential part of fiction (and life): grow.

And without growth, no one’s satisfied. The real-life people become stuck in a rut (often a dangerous one). The fictional ones become frustrating to read about because as readers, one of the elements we seek — albeit unconsciously — is the character growth part of the journey. That’s the part we need in order to make the emotional connection to the characters on the page. That’s what brings them to life.

What made me think of this all night wasn’t my own frustration with my slow healing. It was watching one of the guys at the field last night. One in particular. He’s someone I’ve met, chatted with, someone whose smile makes me swoon. We have mutual friends, of course; the community isn’t nearly that big.

Over the course of this season, I’ve noticed that he’s been stiffer than he had been last summer. Last week, someone pointed out that his physical appearance has gone from being very colorful (and often joyously mismatched, at that) to being scarily monochrome. And when I speak to mutual friends, there’s an undercurrent when they talk about an action this guy took last autumn. Like they don’t approve. Or understand.

I’d like to say it’s the writer in me that’s intrigued by this guy, and until he smiles, it probably is. Where’d this new stiffness come from? Where’d the ease of his movements go, the quick smile, the dancing eyes?

At the game last night, my friends and I were standing in a spot that let me have a good look as he walked past, to and from the locker room. And that’s when I noticed it: he’s not just stiff. He’s shut down, defenses up. Suspicion in his eyes, maybe a bit of anger. Body held tight, shoulders taut, hips stiff. The arms don’t swing the way they had. He’s shut down, defenses up all right. And then some.

He looked like one gentle touch was all it would take to make him completely unravel.

Damn, I’m tempted. To grab him, to find out where his colors went, what it’ll take to bring them back. To remind him that being gentle with yourself is important, it’s vital, it’s how we figure out who we are and where we are headed, although one thing I’ve learned over the past six months is that trying to figure out the why of it all is an exercise in futility. That’s one of those things only hindsight can give us.

Of course, as crazy fun and outrageous as I can be these days — one of the blessings of that damn fall off my bike — reaching out to someone so very shut down isn’t something I’m going to do. Too much of a risk to my own need to be gentle with myself.

So I’ll put it into fiction: mine and that of my clients. Are we letting our characters have the time to shut down, defenses up, until they are ready to emerge from the cocoon, new and (hopefully) improved? Are we giving them the space to make sense, or do we merely let them react, react, react, act, act, act? Sure, sometimes in life and fiction, that’s where growth comes from. Changing the strategy and/or actions taken in order to have success in the penultimate fight.

But a little self-reflection, no matter how plot-driven a story, isn’t always a bad thing.

As for that guy whose smiles make me swoon? Yeah. Now that. That is a bad thing. The unattainable always is.

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Need Me?

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avatar S RED

I’m still waiting on a bunch of clients, who are busy doing hard work before they turn their baby over to me. They need me… just not right now.

Do you need me?

This is a really good time to get a hold of me. Drop a manuscript in my inbox. Send me a sample so that when you’re ready for an edit, you and I are on the same page about who you are, what you need, and how I work.

Summers are always busy, and I’m planning a couple of trips away during August. One’s set and paid for. The other… well, we’ll see. The possibility exists. And that’s not including spontaneous road trips to visit family!

Don’t delay. Best of all, sending me work keeps me out of trouble and we all know what happens around here when I get into trouble

(Besides, in my first post about the injury, I said I didn’t know if I’d be able to work and was worried about finances. No one was generous enough to set up a Go Fund Me or anything to help, and with the clients who’ve been all, “Oh, I didn’t want to add to your troubles right now” and with medical bills and the general thing called life, things are… lean. Very lean around here. And I hate it and am embarrassed to admit it ’cause dude. I’m successful. I edit best-selling indie authors like India Drummond. India’s picky as hell, so you know I’m good.)

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#SaysTheEditors Turning Clients Away

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I turned away a client this week.

It’s not that I’m currently so backed up that I did it in order to get Steve’s manuscript in front of competent eyes faster (if that had been the case, I’d have called in a subcontractor). Truth is that I’m waiting on about four clients to finish up and send their manuscripts along. If anything, I’m a little bored — and we all know that bad things tend to happen when I get bored. Still, if it means a better manuscript from my clients, I’ll gladly wait.

I’d just like to have something more to work on while I wait. Catching up is only interesting for so long. I mean, there’s a reason that stuff slid in the first place!

So then you’re asking why I didn’t take Steve on. I have the time. I need the income. So what’s up?

Well, I could have. I could have been like all those other editors out there who focus on taking money from clients. I would have done a better job by Steve, of course, because I’m good at what I do, but in the end, I decided it wouldn’t be fair to either of us.

Steve wasn’t ready for me. And he didn’t know it yet.

Folks, using friends and colleagues as beta readers and critique partners is valuable stuff. Learning the craft is vital. Yes, I can teach that. Yes, I now offer writing coaching along with pure editing. Yes, I like to work with debut novelists and first-time writers and all that.

So what gives? What made me turn this guy away?

Well, maybe it’s about morals. That I could have taken his money. A LOT of his money. And I could have given this manuscript my all. But… I’d have been miserable for doing it. I’d have spent too long gnashing my teeth and swearing about why I’d taken this on. Or I’d have hoped he would listen to me and take my advice and the next draft — because there would be a next draft — would be better than the first. Markedly better.

But the simple truth is that I wanted Steve to save his money. To find some critique partners, some beta readers. To join writing groups and spend some time learning craft. It’s a step we as writers all need; not even I, when I am writing fiction, operate as an island. I have people I trust to read and be brutal in their assessments. I have an editor. I read articles about writing, talk craft with my friends, listen to what I say to my clients.

Steve… he wasn’t there yet. He needed to go through all that. And so I turned him away.

Working with him at this time wasn’t in his best interests. It sure wasn’t in mine.

Sometimes, it goes like that.

And sometimes, I’m a little less bored and a lot more in love with my chosen career.

Keep doing the hard work, people. I’m ready for you once you have.

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#SaystheEditor What If?

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Week nineteen. Yep, still counting. I will be until I’m cleared after the final surgery, so count along with me.

Over the weekend, Facebook was kind enough to remind me of this post, the one all about Inherent Writerly Insecurity.

IWI pops up in interesting ways, doesn’t it? As writers, we face it not just in our writing, but in life, too. I am seeing the surgeon this week for a check-up. The appointment isn’t for a week yet, and yet IWI is rearing its ugly head in my life. What if the eye’s not healing right? What if the eye drops aren’t working the way they are supposed to and the pressure is up again? What if the surgeon won’t be able, once I’m fully healed, to give me 20/20 vision when it’s all over? What if, what if, what if, what IF????

Writers do this with our books, too — only sometimes, we dwell on the wrong things. Where we should be dwelling on the What Ifs associated with decisions our characters make, or plot points, or something within the story itself, too often, we look at the external: what if BookBub won’t take my ad? What if that agent says no? What if silence means rejection and they are too polite to say so? What if I publish it and the reviews pan it horribly? What if my publisher drops me?

Look. I’m telling myself this, too, this week. Save the What Ifs for the things you can control. What if Stacy professes her love in the third chapter instead of the thirteenth? What if the drama student chooses a different path to get home? What if her bike tire goes flat a block earlier, before she turned onto the path through the deserted park? What if I mention the yellow flowers here? Will anyone notice later on, when yellow flowers play a role in the plot? And what if they don’t? Will the reader still get a full reading experience?

What if can be your best friend as a writer. It can be your worst enemy, too. While it’s fun to tinker with your plot, you also can’t let the what ifs stop you from finishing the book (and then needing to banish the other what ifs from your life). At some point, you have to love what you’ve got, accept it for its flawed beauty, and move on to the next project, the next manuscript… the next eye appointment with the surgeon.

What if…

What if we only focus on the things we can directly control?

Feel free to keep reminding me of that one. And then apply it to your work-in-progress. What if…

It’s a loaded question, and it’s not one without power. Use that power wisely.

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#SaysTheEditor The Mundane and the Not Worth Talking About

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EDITOR  2

Week eighteen has come and gone. Week seventeen since the retinal repair.

And really, there’s not much worth talking about. I’m healing. Dodging Frisbees. Starting to get out on my road bike, although it needs to go in for repair; it seems maybe there’s a problem with the front tire. Probably not a surprise, but until I figure it out, it’s not worth talking about. Yet. Maybe ever. I mean, everyone who owns and rides their bike(s) has problems with their front tire from time to time.

That’s the point of the post today. The mundane. The not worth talking about.

If it’s not worth talking about, why do so many young writers talk about it in their fictional narratives? He stood from the table and walked outside, then down the street to the barn, where his horse was waiting.

Yawn.

I call it play by play when I talk to my clients about it.

Try this instead:
When Stevie didn’t answer, Tom calmly left her house and headed to the barn.

Not only do we have more information here — Stevie didn’t answer, they were in her house — but we have emotion, too. Tom does it calmly.

What Tom doesn’t do is have the narrator spell out each step he takes.

Most writers know not to mention every eye blink, every swallow, every burp or sneeze, and every trip to the bathroom. Only point those things out when they are important: the first eye blink after the overnight, after-surgery bandage comes off, when you’re testing it out to see if the eye still blinks properly – and you’re fluttering it for a few seconds, putting off the ultimate test: how much vision you have.

Not that I’ve ever done that. Twice, in fact.

You see that I am so bored by play by play, I can’t even bear to write about it!

And that’s the problem. It’s boring. It’s mundane. It’s not worth talking about. It’s pedantic.

And I can go on and on about why you shouldn’t do it. I don’t think you need me to; the only thing worse than play by play is when the author beats the horse dead and bloody. That’s for another day, though.

For now, go back to your manuscript. Are there simple, everyday actions that won’t hurt the narrative if they are cut out? Do people stand, turn, look, walk, enter, or exit? Do they do those things often?

If the answer’s yes, start using that backspace and/or delete key. Re-craft your sentences as you need to. Take the time to invest in your word choice, and be sure to vary your word choice, your characters’ actions, and your sentence structures. (Oh, is THAT all?)

And, of course, if you get stuck on a better way to word something, drop me a line. I’m offering coaching for just this sort of issue, and I’m offering it pretty cheap, at $25 an hour. One-on-one work, when you need it, and edited manuscripts back to you within a business day or two. How can you beat it?

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#SaysTheEditor: Transformations

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EDITOR  2

Weeks fifteen and sixteen are behind us now. They’ve been weeks of transformations, if not for me personally — seems that the status quo is holding, and I suppose that’s good — but for the things in my life.

My bike now sports its new handlebar tape. While there’s some pink in the tape, there’s not enough to be confused with what tried to take me out. Mostly, what you see is black. It has changed the look of my bike. Maybe it makes it look as evil as the bike must be, to have attacked the way it did. (although I’m still holding out hope for demon possession or voodoo being the cause.)

It was my first time wrapping handlebars. I think I did okay. I think I’d have done better, except my road bike has this cool feature: a second set of hand brakes up on top of the handlebars. This is super useful when I want to sit upright and don’t need to change gears but want the brakes near to hand. (Go figure someone wants their brakes handy.)

And my furniture has been shifted around, thanks to a birthday gift. The old couch is in the basement, with more to follow. New stuff is arriving in dibs and dabs and hopefully without holes, at least for rounds two and three. Too late for round one.

If you missed it, Women’s Day featured me as one of Ten Real Women Open Up About How They Make Money Working From Home. The link will take you to the page about me, but take a few minutes to look at them all. Interesting group I’m part of. Pretty darn cool.

So what’s all this got to do with writing? This is a #SaysTheEditor post, after all.

Well, just that a few weeks ago, the only change I saw on the horizon was the handlebar tape. When my sister and I ripped the old pink tape off, I knew I wanted new furniture. Knew I needed it. Didn’t expect to have the funds so quickly. (That $60 an hour in the interview sounds good until you look at the reality and how my time is divided up and accounted for!) Didn’t expect to find the furniture on my first real trip to a store. I mean, I was only killing time, gathering intel, learning…

And that’s how transformation affects your writing. When you are open to letting the story (or life) take you where you need to go, where it needs to take you, you find… new possibilities. New horizons. New furniture!

The pantsters — those of us who write by the seat of our pants — are all nodding sagely. We get this. We live it. We open up a document, introduce some characters, and sit back and see where it’ll take us. We’re all about these moments that wind up being story transformations. “But the book wasn’t supposed to be about you, minor character!” we’ll howl and try to fight the minor character who has seized control. But even as we do, we know it’s futile. Our story’s transformed.

But you plotters? (and one of my upcoming books was written to an outline, so maybe I’m one of you now, too?) It’s a harder thing. Plotters have a tighter control on their stories and their characters. At first sign of that minor character and his or her contemplation of a coup, the plotter nudges them back in line. If that doesn’t work, they make promises: behave in this one and the next one’s all about you.

Still not working? They chuck the character to the curb. Figuratively speaking.

This is both good and bad. Plotters sometimes miss the beauty of finding a better story. They miss the shock, the frustration, the process of coming to accept the story’s transformation. Yes, it’s a process. And like most processes, even the familiar ones, it’s a learning experience.

But so is the discipline of sticking to your plot, of staying focused on the story you sat down intending to write. Maybe when you don’t deviate from your outline, the transformations can still happen. They’re just more subtle. The author has to seek them out and maybe they’re not on a big, universal level. Maybe the discovery is in the small stuff, like how the new handlebar tape feels under hands that are still a bit unsteady on this particular bike. Maybe the transformation that happens is just subtle enough to make the author a bit uncertain at first. Like poking a toe into a pond to gauge how cold the water is.

Us pantsters miss out on this part of the writing process. Maybe that lack of discipline actually winds up hurting our attempts to write a strong story. Maybe we miss the subtle stuff.

I’m not sure, so chime in with your experiences in the comments. Pantster? Plotter? What have been your biggest transformations in your fiction?

Fess up. I’m all ears. Relaxing in my new chair-and-a-half, but all ears.

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#SaystheEditor and a #WritingPrompt: To Lick or Not to Lick

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EDITOR  2

Do you guys like the graphic? The amazing Magnolia Belle made it for me two years ago, and I’m finally getting around to remembering I have it and should be using it! Pick up her books — I am partial to Lady Gwendolyn, although MB also writes some good Rock Fiction — or get in touch with her about graphics for yourself. She’s awesome people, and I’m proud to know her. And I’m proud to use her work.

So, let’s get to business, shall we?

I was at a business meeting last week. It was a good day: The provided lunch was good. The few people I chatted with were all interesting, and one owns a local Mexican restaurant I used to frequent when I first moved out to Chez West of Mars. If you saw the movie Dogma, you’ve been there, too.

I learned some other things, too, some of which we’re going to apply to writing. Ready?

Like I said, lunch was provided for us. Good food, I must say. But… it was a boxed lunch, which means sandwiches, chips, a pickle (in its own plastic wrapper! How cute!), and a brownie. All of which adds up to finger food.

Know what I learned at this business meeting?

I lick my fingers a lot.

I promised this would tie back into writing, right? This is where I do that. Right here, right now, but I’m sure you can guess what I’m going to say. Yes! Character quirks!

Licking one’s fingers sends a message, no? Think about the various ways one can lick fingers: with gusto, with embarrassment, with nonchalance. What does each say about a character? What else does the character do while licking? (Oh, my, Kota, STOP THAT. This is a clean post! In more ways than one!) How does the character convey their licking style via their clothes? Their hobbies? Their friends, their politics, their general outlook on life? Hell, even the way they walk can all be inferred based on how someone licks their fingers.

Yes, you CAN derive all that just from one simple gesture. Think about it. I bet you’ll see I’m right.

In fact, do more than think about it. Take a character you’re working with. Let them lick their fingers. Show me the scene.

Yes, show it to me! Here in the comments. Go on. Post it. Be brave. Have fun, too.

Not a writer? Who cares? What’s stopping you from trying? Try it; you might have fun. And isn’t fun what life is all about?

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#SaysTheEditor: Slogging Through

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The Thursday running up to Week Fourteen hit me hard. Really hard. Like: three naps in one day hard.

Healing is like this. It’s tricky stuff, if you think about it.

I’ve had a million and three orthopedic injuries. Usually, by week 14, you’re out of the cast, if there was one, into the brace, and deep into rehab (or, if you’re me, you’ve finally admitted defeat and been to see the doctor). There’s some sort of progress you can measure, be it number of appointments or number of reps, or even pain-free days.

Eye injuries aren’t like that. Not even close. And so, being in the middle of the healing process is that much harder.

It reminds me of the drafting progress, when writing that bad (or sloppy or whatever you’d like to call it) first draft turns into less writing and more slogging through. When all you can do is keep putting foot in front of foot, word in front of word.

This is the time to give yourself permission to do what it takes. Three naps. Write absolute garbage. Write more garbage. Take another nap. Keep on slogging through.

The only way to reach the end is to pass through the middle. It really and truly is.

The good news is that for writers, there’s this magic process called revision, where you can erase all signs of slogging through. This is why writing is a craft, folks. You get to reshape, modify, perfect your words, your ideas, your characterization, your plot points, your tension. You get a do-over, as many as you think you need. And this is a good. Putting in the hard hours, taking a walk to chew over a turn of phrase, changing things, asking, “What if this happens instead?” or “What do you mean that’s Tom who does that, not Harry?”

In this, writing’s got one up on healing. Because when healing, all I can do is take another nap. And while it may be good for the body, it’s hard to quantify in notes to a client, in revisions of my own fiction.

It’s hard, this slogging through. No one said it was easy… but then again, aren’t the best things in life the things you work hardest to obtain?

Take a nap. Write garbage. Keep on slogging through.

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#SaystheEditor How’s Your Beard?

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I was sitting at the field with a book the other day. Not an unusual thing for me, even as autumn chills creep into the West of Mars landscape. The players add a layer. I either retreat to my car during practice or add a layer and a blanket.

But what I encountered in the book wasn’t so easy to deal with.

It’s a contemporary sports romance (and I’m looking for more recommendations, if you’ve got any) and it was credited to a big-name editor at a big-name publisher.

And I can’t say it’s badly written. But it’s not well-written.

(Shades of grey… you guys know I’m all about ’em.)

So what’s the difference between not badly written and not well-written?

Well, shades of grey, of course. I just said that. In this case, as the author’s describing the hero, in one paragraph he has stubble. It’s sexy stubble, of course, but it’s stubble.

In the very next paragraph, or maybe it’s two paragraphs later, he’s got the beginnings of a beard.

Hello? Which is it? Stubble, or the beginnings of a beard? They are different. Very different. Stubble is short. It’s a couple hours or maybe a day after shaving. It’s brush burn on tender skin. You can’t even feel past it to caress the skin underneath. It’s sandpaper.

But the beginnings of a beard… it’s when the hair is longer. Softer. When you can put your hand on your man’s face and feel the contours of his jawline again. Sometimes, it tickles.

Makes sense to me… but am I the only one who sees this difference?

So I put the question to my panel of experts, otherwise known as teenagers, over a meal of Korean barbecue. Because what else does a family discuss over a meal of Korean barbecue?

And they agreed. Stubble is stubble. The beginnings of a beard… well, my oldest said, it’s more than stubble. Longer. It’s what his coach is currently sporting (and I maintain it’s a good look on him, too).

An example! Good child. I have trained you well.

And then, of course, the conversation spiraled. If the character goes from stubble to the beginning of a beard within two paragraphs, what does he look like at the end of the day? Dredlocked beard? Dumbledore? How often does the guy have to shave? Does he walk around with an electric razor and where other characters rub their faces contemplatively, does he flip on the razor and rub it over his cheeks and throat?

I have a creative family, even though we didn’t discuss how the differences between stubble and the beginnings of a beard affect the mental picture a reader draws.

But the point, of course, is that instead of focusing on the storyline (which is rather cliched, to be honest, and one we see all the time in Rock Fiction), we’re making fun of this book because of imprecise language. And the kids, of course, know that if this manuscript had crossed my desk, I’d have said exactly this to the author. Stubble is stubble and the beginnings of a beard are the beginnings of a beard, and they paint very different pictures in a reader’s mind. Pick one, I would say to Steve or Stevie. But only one, at least right here.

Stubble is stubble. The beginnings of a beard are the beginnings of a beard.

Know the difference, all you Steves and Stevies. Know the difference.

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#SaystheEditor Typos Happen

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Remember last week, when I said I was behind? Karma decided to give me a good kick ’cause this week’s even worse. So we’ll keep this short.

I was talking to a client during the week. We’ll call her Stevie. (as opposed to the other client I was talking to. And the other one. And the other one And… man, you guys are a demanding lot! No wonder I’m behind! You value me!) She said she’d gone over her new manuscript a number of times before publishing it. She’d used a proofreader after me because I do line editing work for her. She’d read the manuscript out loud. Then backward.

And when she read the copy that was published… she found more typos.

Folks, typos happen. Human brains can only wipe so many out. (The computer services are even worse, as they are incapable of understanding nuance.) Mistakes happen. Keys get touched, caressed and … oops, pressed. The cat walks across the keyboard. I’ve got no proof for e-book conversion, but I swear the conversion process includes the insertion of at least three. Heck, when we moved this here website from one host to another, weird coding showed up and I haven’t been able to go over all 2000+ posts yet to remove them.

And did any of you see that ’80s movie about the Gremlins? Didja get the message of it?

Typos happen.

The best part of this digital publishing age is that you can go back and fix them. Your print book, you’re stuck with. But your e-book?

Did I say that typos happen? They do. If they are true typos (as opposed to usage errors), don’t vilify the editor. Don’t tell the world that s/he sucks (better to contact the author and suggest … well, me). Don’t fire your editor and then brag about it on Facebook (especially if you’ve friended your editor), or ask your readers if they hate typos. What are they supposed to say? “Oh, no, Stevie! I LOVE the mistakes in your books. They make the reading experience THAT much better!”

Everyone who’s literate hates typos. Yet they are a part of our lives — just look at any meme posted anywhere on the Internet. I challenge you to find one that’s typo-free, and that’s usually proof of a lack of grammar rules, not a real typo. And yet how many of you share those memes happily, despite the errors?

Think about that. Memes are okay. Perfectly fine. Heck, you’ll share them with the world because you’re willing to overlook six in a four-line meme. But you’re not willing to overlook six in a fifty-thousand (or more) word novel?

Anyone else see a bit of hypocrisy in there?

Don’t vilify your editor. Don’t fire her because of a few typos. Fire her because of usage. Fire her because she’s not good enough for you. Like attracts like and you’re a winner.

Typos happen.

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