Category Archives: Susan’s Editing Services

#SaysTheEditor: Shut Down, Defenses Up



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.


Need Me?


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.)


#SaysTheEditors Turning Clients Away


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.


#SaystheEditor What If?


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.


#SaysTheEditor The Mundane and the Not Worth Talking About



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.


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?


#SaysTheEditor: Transformations



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.


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



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?


#SaysTheEditor: Slogging Through


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.


#SaystheEditor How’s Your Beard?


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.


#SaystheEditor Typos Happen


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.


#SaystheEditor Regroup, Revise, Refocus


At the start of the summer, I decided that I was going to have a cardio summer at the Hoity Toity Health Club. It sounded like great fun: try to bike 300 miles and either walk or elliptical for 30. I had from the first day of summer vacation until the last to accomplish this.

And, me being me, the idea was really to see how many miles over 300 and 30 I could get.

But about halfway through the summer vacation, I realized something: while the challenge was a great way to motivate me to get myself back into the gym on a routine basis — the underlying reason for this silliness — I was neglecting something extremely important: strength training. And it was starting to show. Bones were beginning to dislocate, and I was having pain.

It was, of course, time to regroup, refocus, and yes, throw the challenge out the window.

I don’t like to say I failed so much as I came to realize I had to pursue a better path. I had to adjust to the circumstances and improve the situation.

So I did. No big deal. Fewer miles got walked and pedaled. Weights began to be lifted. I haven’t fully recovered my strength, but I’ve stopped the worst of the carnage.

Likewise, when we’re writing, sometimes, we have to throw the plan out the window and regroup. Yes, we may have to do it on the fly. Sometimes, we may get to the end of our first draft and look up and think, “Well, this ending doesn’t line up with the beginning.” We may have to work up a set of scene cards and take a good, hard look at the project from that viewpoint. Outlines may meet the recycle bin.

It’s not always as easy as waking up to realize that while you slept, you have a new dislocation that’s making it feel like someone sunk a knife into your butt and the pain’s radiating down your leg.

But sometimes, it is.

Doesn’t matter, though. What matters is that you can take that deep breath and do what’s best for your book. Yes, you may have spent hours or days or weeks on your outline, only to have to abandon it and fly by the seat of your pants. Maybe you realize that you began flying by the seat of your pants and deviated from the outline, and now you need to go back.

Doesn’t matter.

What matters is having the smarts and the guts and the dedication to regroup and realign. To delete pretty writing or scenes that make you laugh or cry.

Keep the focus on telling the best story you possibly can, and be ruthless in your pursuit of that goal. What isn’t important here is where you planned to end the journey. It’s what you learn about yourself, about your book, along the way.

I promise your book will be better for it. And just maybe, so will you.


#SaystheEditor Always Working


I’ve made friends with a couple of authors over the years. Some because they write Rock Fiction. Others because they are neat people. And still others because they are clients.

Sometimes, they fit into all three categories. I’m lucky like this.

One of them asked me to join NetGalley so I could read her upcoming release. The review will go up at The Rock of Pages once it’s written. (And oh! The Rock Fiction I’ve found there already! Whee!)

In maybe the second scene, I caught a mistake: one character goes from being barefoot to wearing something on their feet. In the same scene. And no, they didn’t slip into a pair of shoes.

So because I want good things for my friend, I dropped an e-mail to the publicist and the author. “Hey, guys. Can we fix this before the final version is released?”

I’m hoping the answer will be, “Someone else called it to our attention. Glad you did the same, and thanks.”

This is why you want a good editor working on YOUR books. I am always working, always looking out for my clients. My friends. All of the above.

Get on my calendar now. I’ve got openings, oddly enough. Take advantage before they’re gone.


#SaysTheEditor Feet Long


It was maybe fifteen years ago that we all kept our feet under wraps. Flip flops weren’t everyday footwear and Crocs hadn’t even debuted yet (That happened in 2002). Seeing someone’s feet was… scandalous. Shocking. And man, feet were ugly. None of the Victorian (was it Victorian? Historical-writing clients of mine, chime in. And remember: this is why I don’t fact check!) desires that escalated when a body part was hidden. Nothing erogenous about feet.

Of course, you can’t not notice the change in our culture since then. Flip flops everywhere. I haven’t grown to love those Nike slides that so many athletes wear; toes hanging over the front edge of your shoe don’t do it for me. And pedicures! They’ve become a staple of many lives (and I hear men aren’t afraid to indulge, either. More power to you men!).

I have a neighbor who wears shoes only under penalty of eviction. He’s taught his kids to be that way, too, and hey, more power to them, too. It does feel good to let the grass tickle your toes, even though I do question their judgement and degree of luck when they bike barefoot. That’s a lousy way to lose a toe!

But that bit about the grass tickling your toes… That’s a sentiment echoed in the world of Ultimate Frisbee, I’ve noticed over the past year. The players seem to have three kinds of footwear: Nike slides, cleats, and … nothing. (and they are wearing off on me, who now thinks nothing of stripping off hiking boots and wool socks and hanging out beside a field that way. Like I said, it does feel good to let the grass tickle your toes. And it’s strangely good for my arthritis, too.)

So with our feet so terribly on view, have you writers stopped to consider feet? They’ve gone, in just a few years (or so it feels to older-than-dirt me), from being ugly and gnarly and hidden away to being on display.

And terribly, terribly beautiful, too.

I didn’t notice it until those Ultimate fields, frankly. How gorgeous and sexy feet are.

And, here’s the editor’s point for you writers: how varied feet are. Toe length. Width. The way the foot takes the rest of its body’s weight: inside or outside. How does the weight resting on its heel affect the line of the leg going up into the hips, and then from there up into the back? Can you see the metatarsals or is the foot smooth? Is the arch high, shockingly high, medium, or is the foot flat — and how does that not only affect the footprint you leave behind you, but how you stand? Does the person stand balanced on the balls of his or her feet? What does it look like when the barefoot bohemian crosses his legs at the ankle and those feet are overlapping?

And then, too, questions arise about how footwear and bare feet define character. Have you ever been thrown for a loop when you run into some high-profile figure while he’s out getting ice cream and okay, the shorts you can handle, but … flip flops! You can see your boss’s, your favorite athlete’s toes! What about that moment when you find a picture of your favorite tattooed rocker in flip flops? Maybe they’ve got grungy shorts on and an older concert tee that belongs some band not their own. Their hair’s lank. But their feet? Look like they just got done with a good soak and pumice stone. Their fingernails may be dirt-caked, but not those toes.

Think about the people who never let their toes show. Who are they? What are they saying about themselves via their shoes? Their socks? Their choice to remain covered versus exposed?

Shoes, or the lack of them. Think about them as you write. Use these details as another way to define your character’s personality.

And then, be sure to kick off your own shoes and walk barefoot in the grass. My own grass is usually on the long side — Lawn Boy knows I like it that way — so c’mon over and stroll across my yard. You’ll be glad you did.


#SaystheEditor I’m One of the Best!


Last weekend was, for me, finally, a lazy weekend. The kids were off doing the stuff my kids do and I had time and space to sleep in, lay around, breathe, and read.

And then I woke up Sunday morning to find this: Great Editors for SFF Novelists.

Author Traci Loudin has listed her top five picks for editors. And while she gets my turnaround time wrong (I strive to get your manuscript done in no more than one business week), the rest is pretty darn good.

Just goes to show what a lot of hard work will get you, right? First India Drummond, who has been an incredible client and a valued friend, too. And now Traci Loudin, who I haven’t yet had the chance to work in-depth with, but I’m hopeful we’ll get to. Both of these writers have recognized me for being among the best at what I do.

When you’re vetting your editor, remember this, especially because the other thing I had going on over the weekend was someone vetting editors strictly on price. Sometimes, you have to pay more for the editor who winds up on top lists. Every time (well, at least when it’s me you’re paying more for), it’ll be worth the extra cost.

As I said to that potential client, “I can fix errors in your book after it’s published. But I can’t fix the bad reviews that led you to ask me to fix someone else’s bad job.”

Even if it’s a stretch, hire the best you can afford. That means samples, sure. It means time spent doing research. But your book will benefit for it, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what you’re here for?


#SaystheEditor: It’s about Quality, not Price


I often feel like I’m beating my head against a brick wall, yes.

“I am a professional editor! Look at the affect my work will have on your sales!”

I can’t believe this person gets business. But then you read the next line: “Editing doesn’t need to be expensive! I will edit your book for cheap!”

Umm… yeah, okay. I’m sure you will. And a glance at your rates shows that yes, you charge less than I do.

But are you really an editor? REALLY?

Then why can’t you see the problematic word choice in your own promotional material? I’m not talking about a typo; we all make those. I’ve caught some in my own posts, which I’ve proofed a bunch of times. I’m talking about word choice. I’m talking about usage errors.

I’m talking about things you need to know inherently, the way you know two plus two equals four.

Affect/effect is one of them. Because when you use the wrong one in your promotional materials, you make the rest of us cringe. Good editing is expensive — maybe not as expensive as it should be, in my case (I STILL get harangued for my own rates being too low and devaluing the rest of my friends who edit. I keep telling them we are going for different audiences and to chill. Ninety percent of my clients, one hundred percent of whom I like, stretch to afford me now.)

Good editing is expensive. Good editing can make or break a book.

Look at it this way: when I was reviewing for The World’s Toughest Book Critics, I read a few books that were so good, they would have gotten the coveted star from me. But for one thing…

They’d have been better off if they’d taken the $400 or more they spent on a review and paid it to me directly to proofread their books.

Every. Single. One.

Think about that. Those authors undermined their own success and their own chance at getting their book tagged with a superlative because of poor proofreading.

Yeah. Pay that editor’s low prices. Let her have an AFFECT on your book.

I’ll be here when you wise up.


#SaysTheEditor: He Stood From, Standing, and those fun things


He stood from his chair.

Know what? Nothing clues me in to a young writer faster than that phrase. Oh, usually, I’ve caught on before, but this phrase? Yep. Dead giveaway.

Here’s why.

First off, standing is a gesture that’s so commonplace that it’s like sneezing. Blinking. Breathing. Walking. There’s no need for us to mention those things unless they are significant to the plot. So She stood becomes what I call play by play — those extra phrases that are really nothing more than what the theater folk call blocking. It’s the way to move a character across a page, nothing more. You can’t even call it character development; everyone stands at some point (unless you’re paralyzed, but you get what I mean)!

There’s a difference between moving a character across a page and moving a story forward. The two don’t always coincide.

Especially so when people are standing from their chairs. What else are they going to stand from? Ten times out of eleven in fiction, they are in a chair. (The eleventh, they are either on a couch or in a car. Maybe a barstool, but even that is a sort of chair.) And what’s the point of telling us that they are getting out of a chair?

Focus, always, on one thing: how does this advance my story? If you can’t answer that, we don’t need to know that he stood. And we especially don’t need the aurally awkward from his chair.

Now, one note to consider here: sometimes, these bits of play by play, these blocking movements are important to you, Steve or Stevie, the author. You need to know where all the characters are during the scene so they don’t do something dumb like magically appear when two pages ago, they were on a different continent. Or you need to know all this for your worldbuilding because you’ve created your own world and how people navigate it, physically, is important.

But that doesn’t mean the reader needs to know everything you do. In fact, it’s usually better if they don’t. But that’s another blog post for another time.

For now, go take a look. How many times do your characters stand, let alone stand from? You might want to fix that…


#SaystheEditor: Copy Editing Controversy


Last week, there was this meme going around Facebook. Maybe it’s still there; I’m writing on a day that’s today for me but last week for you guys. Maybe even longer, but I hope not.

It’s a clickbait and it’s purported to be pictures taken at a conference for copy editors (and held in my backyard, without me in attendance. What the heck? Oh, yeah. I had clients who needed me to work on their manuscripts), and the copy editors were asked to write down their biggest pet peeve and share it for the camera. I say purported because there’s nothing identifying any of these people. They could be models for all we know.

I know, I know. If it’s on the Internet, it must be true.

Back to the content of the meme. Not surprisingly, there were people who see the English language differently. This is actually a subjective field, despite the dependence many have on the Chicago Manual of Style. CMOS was originally written as a style guide for the University of Chicago Press, back in the 1890s. They published scholarly works, not fiction. Yet many in the fiction world have glommed on to it as their bible, too.

Because it wasn’t written for fiction, it doesn’t cover a lot of elements of the art and craft of fiction writing. And that leads us back to my statement that English is a subjective field.

When I work on a client’s manuscript (because you know this post has to be all about me), I consider the narrative voice, the past works of the author (If I’ve worked on any), the style of the piece — which yes, can be different from narrative voice — and other factors. What I may tag in Steve’s manuscript may get a pass in Stevie’s.

After all, you expect me to preserve your unique voice. And I do strive to. But, of course, there are pet peeves. I love the Oxford comma and make no apologies for that. I think it makes fiction ten times more readable. I hate the phrase from where; it can always be written around in a way that results in a stronger sentence or visual. And don’t get me started on suddenly, clearly, or obviously!

So what’s the point here? Well, it’s that if you’re shopping for an editor, you need to get a sample and try that person on. Let them try you on, too. It’s that the English language is both precise as a sharply honed knife and dense as a good fog over a snow pack. It’s an evolving language and we editors contribute to its evolution.

Good editing is an art. Even though if it’s on the Internet, it must be true, I would be very sad to hear any of my clients come to me and say, “Why did you do that? I saw this thing on Facebook and those editors said…”

It’s about what’s right for YOU and what’s right for YOUR manuscript.

Remember that.

Write on, write well, and ignore the peanut gallery that’s about to flood the comments (yes, that’s an invitation and a dare!).


#SaystheEditor: March Madness


Up until March 1, I would have told you that March is historically my second-worst month, in terms of client demand (or, in business words, income).

Around mid-month this year, I started saying that I was hopeful the curse of March was ending.

And now, I can definitively say it did. Best March on record. I have worked on a lot of different manuscripts for a lot of different clients and … you guys know the drill. You know how much I love what I do, and how much I appreciate what my clients bring to my desk.

Spread the word. My new windows are in progress — it’s been a comedy of errors worthy of the Three Stooges (and last week, there were three of us) — so I still have to pay them off.

Lots of changes on the horizon, good things, opportunities for clients and friends and people who just want to drop in and promote themselves, no strings attached. I just need the time to implement it all!

(Yes, maybe it’s a time management issue. Maybe it’s a bit of burnout, I’ve been working so hard. Maybe it’s that clutter has built up in my life and on my desk again and that’s dragging me down. Who knows? I’m too busy to stop and figure it out!)

Book your dates for May and beyond ’cause April? Pretty darn packed, too, and yes, I’m doing the happy dance. All this good fiction about to hit the market!


#SaystheEditor — What’s with the Commas?


I’ve noticed a trend over the past few years. When I see an author’s name used in a book description, it’s surrounded by commas. Grammar be damned, that author’s gonna use a comma.

Don’t damn your grammar. Write it properly.

Which means… Instead of…
When sexy artist, Kerri Broadhead, meets ShapeShifter guitarist, Mitchell Voss, in a grocery store…

the only comma should be after the word store.

Or I’ve seen this lately, too:
Kerri Broadhurst, meets ShapeShifter guitarist, Mitchell Voss…

Still wrong! You’re not going to write
Dog, meets banana…,


So… don’t put a comma around character names.

NOW. There’s an exception to this rule, and that’s when you are singling out one person among a group of people. As in:
One of the guitarists, Mitchell Voss, stood out from the others.

His sister, Sally, was the only one of the three who said the right thing.

This time, you’re telling us who the only sister was. You’re naming the person in question. Or… singling one out of a group.

Otherwise, lose the commas.

Are you unsure if your commas are in the right spots? Remember, we at West of Mars offer back cover copy services at varying levels. Starting at ten bucks, it’s money well spent if you care enough to look your very best.

And if you don’t care enough to look your very best to your reading public, why are you publishing? Show your reader some respect. Care. And have someone look over your ancillary materials — so you do look your very best.


#SaysTheEditor: Whoa There, Nelly!


I’ve had a few new clients lately, and that’s darn awesome. New blood, new viewpoints, new writing to keep me on my toes. Keep referring your friends my way. I’ll make sure you’re glad you did.

With new clients comes the breaking-in period, the teaching of how to do things the West of Mars way. Usually, it’s really simple. They say, “How do I do this?” and I answer. Even if it’s on my nifty FAQ page, I take the time and answer. After all, there’s nothing like the personal touch, and I’m glad for the dialogue that lets us get to know each other. (and, to be honest, I am not much of an FAQ reader, either — although you should read mine ’cause it’s been way fun to write and update.)

But lately, it hasn’t been as simple as it’s designed to be. I get that authors are excited to have found an editor they think they can work with long-term. I get that they’re new and in unfamiliar surroundings. I love that enthusiasm, I really do. It brings an energy into my day that’s really welcome. All these good things, right? It’s all good… until it comes time to pay the bill. Lately, new clients have been sending payment to my personal PayPal account.

You’d think that’d be fine, right? Susan does the work, Susan gets the money.

West of Mars is a registered business. That’s why those cute little L, L, and C letters come after the company name. And because it’s a registered company, it has its own bank account. And even though I’m the business owner, I get paid only a portion of what I charge you. The rest goes to the company to cover costs like insurance, my bookkeeper and web people, advertising, and more.

Believe me, my bookkeeper is earning her pay. And, of course, charging me for it, too.

So I’ve changed my policy, effective today. If you send payment to my personal PayPal account, it’s going to be returned. You’re going to be responsible for any fees. And you can either resubmit the payment to the right place or I’ll delete your manuscript, unedited, and that’s the end of our relationship.

I hate to be a hardass about this. I really do. But ignoring the rules, not waiting for an invoice (people, you need the invoices for your taxes!), sending payment to the wrong spot… that all creates extra work. Which creates extra stress and expense on my end. It sucks away time that I should be spending working on your manuscript. And it doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies about you and our future relationship, either.

Look, I’m a rule-breaker, too. I admire that about people. But there are rules to break — like starting a sentence with a preposition — and there are rules you don’t want to muck with.

So… new policy born out of necessity. I’m not a fan of it. But it can’t all be sunshine and unicorns and love, sadly. It takes all kinds to rock the world… it takes all kinds… even the kinds who do stuff we wish they didn’t.

« previous page · next page »