Category Archives: Susan’s Editing Services

#SaysTheEditor: Don’t Dress to Impress


It dawned on me the other day that when interviewing an editor who requests a sample, one of the worst things you can do is send something that’s really polished up and in great shape.


Because you’re not trying to dazzle your potential editor with your brilliance. If you’re that brilliant, you don’t need an editor!

What you’re trying to do is get a feel for the editor’s style. Do they notice things that are important to you? (If all they do is grouse about the color red you’ve chosen, for instance, and ignore the fact that Xavier the hero is staggering around the field with a sword run through his mid-section and a zombie is dragging him down from the back while it sucks on his brain, yet he’s holding the hand of the fair maiden who is leading him through a waltz in a field of daisies, and her long, flowing dress is completely devoid of bloodstains — but you needed to make sure that your book doesn’t read like an acid trip, well… you’ve probably found the wrong editor.)

Do you like the way your potential editor talks to you? Maybe you don’t like getting comments in the track changes comment field that read, “Why isn’t the maiden’s dress covered in blood? Wouldn’t there be spatter from the zombie’s antics? How can Xavier still be upright if the zombie’s pulling him backward, the better to get his brain?”

In order to get a feel for what the editor can do for you, don’t send your best work. Send work that’s still rough. Oh, not the first draft that you haven’t read over or run spell check on. (Although that’s a good way to alienate a potential editor. I can spot first draft quality at two lines.)

So yeah, there’s a balance. Not your the first draft that’s full of word puke on the page. But not your best.

In other words, send what you are ready to improve. Seek that hard, cold feedback that may sting at first but, once you’re a veteran writer, will encourage you and get your creativity flowing. You’re a professional, right? Seek out the constructive criticism.

But don’t dress to impress. You’re not paying your editor to praise you to the skies. You’re paying your editor so your readers will do that.

Besides, why would you wear a long, flowing gown and dance in a field of daisies while your man’s staggering around, impaled on a sword and with a zombie sucking on his brain?

(Get the metaphor? Do you?)


#SaysTheEditor: Breaking Point


You’ll often see experts talk about torturing our characters, and the need to do it. There are good reasons for it.

Yesterday, for me, was a breaking point day. You know: one of those days where the day was going really well, I got good news, and then bam! Six things went wrong all at once and they mostly turned out to be minor — although the prospect of sticking me with needles is never minor — but for awhile there, I felt like I was Atlas.

Push your characters to this point. And like my day yesterday, it doesn’t have to be life-threatening stuff (well, for your character. For the doctor suggesting the needle? That might be another story). It can be stuff that hits within the span of an hour. A wallet that falls into that obnoxious crack between the seat and the front console. A gas cap that won’t loosen. Witnessing a car accident and knowing that if you don’t stop, you’ll kick yourself all day. *

In other words: maximum density can shove you to your breaking point, and fast.

When you (or your characters) hit these breaking point moments, it’s how they (or you) deal that defines character. It’s okay to want to curl up in a corner and cry, but it’s another thing to actually do it. It’s okay to fantasize about using the car’s undermounted cannons to blow the windshield out of the car tailgating you for doing only 20 mph over the speed limit. It’s another thing to actually mount the cannons. And it’s another thing entirely to be the person who pulls over onto the shoulder and puts your head down on the steering wheel, scared of how close the tailgating asshole came to climbing into your backseat by way of your trunk. And an entirely different character will flip the driver the finger and slow down to 20 mph below the speed limit, just to mess with the guy’s head.

Go there. No, not personally because those days suck (although they’ll remind you what you’re made of). But take your characters there.

The trick for success lies in the writing, of course. Conveying a breaking point can be difficult because while the stimulus is external, the stress is internal. Going overboard into overwrought is easy, but it’s even easier to skip the emotion entirely. One second your character is driving along, singing along to the latest Papa Roach single and the next? Bam. Explosion, of the emotional kind. Where was the build-up? Suddenly, this character seems… well, unstable, and not in a good way. More like what happens when meth production goes wrong.

Those quick emotional blow-ups are hard to swallow. The character’s motivation needs to be clear. As the writer, you need to take us into their head, at least a little bit. Let us feel the emotion build. It doesn’t have to be “His head started to buzz with his fury.”

Maybe it’s:

While the asshole in the black Chevy crept closer, she took a deep breath and reminded herself to be gentle with the buttons on the radio. Punching them so hard her fingers hurt wouldn’t make a good song come on, but man, a good song right then? Would let her breathe. Singing along ought to help calm her nerves, which were feeling more and more shredded as more and more of the Chevy filled her rearview mirror. She told herself not to, but she glanced again at that mirror and tried to swallow. If she had to stop fast…

She eyed the pullout ahead. Was anyone in it? No. Good. Score one for good.

She scanned the light ahead. Would it turn yellow before she got to it? If she ran it, surely the Chevy would, too. But if she stopped, would the Chevy? What would she say to the cops? How long would it take for them to show up, would the Chevy’s driver approach, and would the cops ticket HER for going too fast in the first place? Would anyone around them stop and say yes, the Chevy was so hard on her tail that she had no choice but to do what he wanted? Did people like that really exist anymore?

The light stayed green. The Chevy turned as quietly as it had crept up on her, without even the satisfaction of squealing tires. That had been one tight, hard turn. And the tires had stayed silent. No squeal to reprimand her for not doing what the driver wanted.

She swallowed hard and took a cleansing breath. It would get better. She was only a mile from home.

“I got this,” she said aloud.

When she got near the house, the first thing she noticed was that someone had knocked her mailbox over. She pulled up in front, instead of onto the driveway. It was a little full, the driveway, with a mailbox post right where her car needed to go. Great. Just great.

Her hands shook, so she took the extra second to make sure she put the car in park, pulled the hand brake, turned the key in the ignition. Another deep breath — why did they work in class but not in real life? — and a flick of the door locks. Open door. She continued to walk herself through each step.

Out on the driveway, she pulled her foot back to kick the stupid-assed mailbox — but stopped herself. It wasn’t the mailbox’s fault, and the last thing she needed after all this was a visit to the ER with a broken foot. THAT would be fun to explain.

This time, her deep breath wasn’t attempting to clean anything. She let it out between gritted front teeth, directing it up into her face, and reminded herself to bend at the knees so she could haul the mailbox to the side.

Crying would feel good right about then, but it wouldn’t solve the problem of what to do about the stupid-assed mailbox. And right then, the mailbox took precedence over a good cry.

* These are examples pulled mostly out of thin air. Not all of ’em were part of my day yesterday. And no, I won’t fess up about which is fiction and which ain’t. It’s over. Time to move forward, into this fun fictional scene.


#SaystheEditor: The Itch


I sent my last project back to its writer last Tuesday, December 23, intending to take a long, well-deserved break. I’ve been feeling a little toasty, a little burned out, and there are things I want to catch up on and a new initiative to launch.

I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday with the kids and with friends. Because we don’t celebrate Christmas over here, Thursday was one boring day, with all our friends busy with their holiday and their families, and my family not bothering to travel to celebrate someone else’s holiday.

And then Saturday came along. It was a beautiful, warm day, so I packed up my bike and went for a ride. I got home and it hit:

That itch.

The itch to edit, to play with words that aren’t mine, to sit in my office and turn on the Spotify and concentrate and get lost in what it is that I do.

Sure, that list of stuff to do is a mile long. E-mails to deal with, posts to write, new initiative, some financial stuff.

But man, all I want to do is edit.

So if you’re on my calendar for January, get ready. I may be running a bit early ’cause if I take another week off? Bad things are bound to happen.


#SaysTheEditor: Perpetuating Stereotypes


So here’s the deal. I use Triberr to promote myself and others. Even more than the promotion I’ve gotten out of it, I’ve gotten to know some really cool, diverse people. And yes, I often fill the Featured New Book Spotlight via Tribemates.

But every now and then, someone will pop up on my Twitter timeline, aggravated at what someone else wrote. This last time, earlier this week, it was a post I’d shared from a prolific author I’ve yet to read. HER post was a guest post from another author. So I’m what? Twice removed from the content of this post? Three times? If you click through, do you even SEE the West of Mars name anywhere on the post? Hell, I don’t even appear on the blogroll. But nope. I’m the target.

Pardon me while I sigh heavily.

It turns out that the guest poster is an erotic author who set a book in a nudist colony, and this nudist — and I’m not even sure HOW they saw my post, as they weren’t my followers in the first place — told me it was insulting.

I asked how.

They said setting an erotic romance in a nudist colony was insulting because it reinforced the stereotype that nudist colonies are all about the sex.

Now, I happen to know some nudists. They are pretty representative of the world at large: Some are all about sex, some aren’t. Some like the feel of the air on their skin, some like the people, some like not worrying about what their clothes say about them, some are all about the environmental benefits of doing less laundry. In short, it all kinds to rock the world, you know? And from where I sit, that’s a good thing. But then again, I used to live down the street from Mr. Rogers. Yeah, THAT Mr. Rogers.

So I disagreed and said that the story should be about the people first, the lifestyle second. What better way to dispel the stereotypes than to write a really good book that shows the stereotypes are wrong?

But no. The Tweeter told me I was WRONG. That when it comes to nudists, it’s ALL ABOUT the lifestyle, not the people who live it. And then they told me to kiss off because I clearly know nothing and have no desire to learn.

Umm… excuse me?

What makes a really good romance is that it is about the characters first and foremost. Readers want to connect to the couple; half the fun of a romance is envisioning yourself in the shoes (or, in this case, skin) of the lead characters. The setting becomes secondary, be it a Caribbean island or Regency England or a ranch.

Which means that in my viewpoint, setting a book in a place as stigmatized and as mysterious as a nudist colony is a good thing. The people who are going to pick it up are the people who are open to looking behind the fences, who are quite possibly looking for the truth about what colonies are like. These are the people with the open minds, the people who may even want those stereotypes to be debunked.

So back to my Tweeter. They (the avatar showed a couple, so who knows who I was being yelled at by) were insulted that stereotypes were being perpetuated. They refused to see any potential value in what this author had done, or to engage with her, who was responsible for the post and her research into nudists. And then the Tweeter insulted me directly.

Wow. What a way to convince people to see beyond the stereotypes. What a way to have a positive effect on the world.

Now, pardon me while I go shake my head and wander around for the day, unable to understand how a lifestyle is more important than the fascinating people (because all people are fascinating, in their own way) who live it. Because, you know… it’s obviously more important to live a lifestyle than it is to interact with your fellow man.


Featured New Scare: Susan’s Car


After my announcement of a rate increase starting in January, I’ve gotten a lot of mail from clients. Some are panicked. Some are happy to reassure me that they love me so much, they’ll pay that little bit extra. And really, it is a little bit extra. Twenty-five cents for every 250 words. Is that so horrible?

I know: many of you live as close to the edge as I do. And yes, it sucks.

But here’s how it goes on my end. Most of you know I’m a single parent. I said when I announced the rate increase that I’m not going to survive the winter without putting new windows in my office, and I sorta need to survive the winter. See above about being a single parent and all. My kids need me. So do my clients.

Throwing a monkey wrench into my budget is that not even an hour after getting home yesterday afternoon, I headed down to my car for the monthly Costco run. Had no reason to think anything could be amiss (although in hindsight? Maybe), so I get in the driver’s seat, put the key in the ignition, and … my dashboard lights up with blinking lights. And the engine won’t turn over.

Now, this is my baby, my car. She survived the night of broken glass. Hell, according to my body shop guy, she saved two lives that night — mine and my daughter’s. If I didn’t love that car before that night, I’m in her debt forever.

But she’s also going to turn ten this summer. While I have my mechanic keep up with the scheduled maintenance, sometimes, an aging car… you just can’t predict.

So… I’ve got a dead car in the garage that’s probably going to need to be towed.

Now, the good news in all this is that, unexpected maintenance aside, I am a Boy Scout. Be prepared, right? Last May, my Mother’s Day gift was … a second vehicle. One that can handle snow and gravel roads leading to Boy Scout camps (and the driveways at the archery ranges). One I can pack like crazy for a camping trip. One that came with a trailer hitch so I can use a bike rack without damaging the finish on my beloved baby. One that, right now, is running. (knock on wood)

Back to editing. Yes, my rates are going up as of January 1. Windows. Car trouble. We all have these problems and yes, I hate to squeeze my clients, but like I said in my last post about the rate increase, there are people who think nothing of telling me that even after a rate increase, I’m simply not charging what I’m worth.

It’s a fine line, a balancing act between what I need to survive, what I need to keep myself happy (which is steady editing work; I simply adore what I do), and the finances of my clients. But I gotta have windows, and I gotta have vehicles that do more than sit in my garage and taunt me with their refusal to start.

That’s my story, and hopefully, it’s one that’s not going to change again, unless it’s change for the better. My best friend is going to come over today and we’ll see if a good old-fashioned jump start will solve anything. Cross your fingers ’cause I’m afraid this may be the end of the road for my beloved car, the one that saved two very important lives a couple years back.


#SaystheEditor December News and Changes on the Horizon


I could blame it on the weather. On that fact that it was only November and for the first time in the eighteen years I’ve lived in this house, I’m wrapped in blankets as I work and eyeing my budget to see if I can afford to overhaul the computer system here at West of Mars so I’m not trapped in here while my windows leak cold air mercilessly.

Or I could point out that I haven’t done this in over a year, so we’re due.

Or I could reference a discussion I had with a casual acquaintance, who told me I’m not charging what I’m worth as a woman and I should go even higher than I’m going to, even though that may mean every single one of my clients may not be able to afford me — but at least I’ll be asking a price that I’m worth.

But the simple fact remains: it’s time to raise rates, as of January 1.

The new rates, for new clients only, will be:
Content edit: $3.00 per 250 words
Line edit: $2.25 per 250 words
Proof/copy: $1.50 per 250 words

It’s only a raise of a fraction of a penny per word. Current clients will continue to receive a lower rate, and the discount for active Pennwriters remains in effect. Look for me to offer more “book now and receive current client rate” offers, and for me to reward referrals more aggressively, too.

But there are a few more changes. The non-fiction department has proven to be more trouble than it’s worth, and as of January 1, I will no longer be offering non-fiction services — with the exception of author newsletters. Even if you’re not a West of Mars editing client for your fiction, we’ll still help make sure your newsletter (and yes, your bios. Don’t be this woman!) best represents you.

I’ll be updating the website shortly.

There’s more change on the horizon, of course. There’s some business stuff going on that’ll be new over here. I’m continuing to build my support staff, having taken on a bookkeeper and I continue to look for other skilled professionals, too.

So… yeah. 2014 was a heck of a year. A lot of tests thrown at me, and so far, it seems I’ve passed them. Now to conquer the test of continued growth… and an icebox of an office. That’s the next challenge.

Fixing those windows.


#SaystheEditor: Title Trouble


Jett dropped me a note. She’s come across a nine-book Rock Fiction series and wanted me to know that it’s one of the rare series where all the books aren’t named the same. You know: starting with the same first word, all being named after song titles (that’s common in Rock Fiction), or something else that makes it impossible to tell each book apart.

Am I the only one who struggles with this? These similar titles, either in words or theme, trip me up every time. I have to keep lists of what I’ve read to make sure I don’t both repeat what I’ve read — or skip books in the series, too.

Titles are hard. A lot of my authors struggle with titles every bit as much as they struggle with back cover copy.

I get it. I didn’t have the title for Broken until probably a week before I decided to put it out during Rocktober. I mean, you’re trying to come up with something that’ll be eye-catching, relatively different, and yet sums up the book perfectly. Sometimes, like with Trevor’s Song or Mannequin, it’s easy. Sometimes, it’s not.

So, yeah, I brainstorm with my clients about titles. Sometimes, that’s back-and-forth e-mail where we throw words at each other until the author goes, “That’s it!” and sometimes, I leave suggestions in my notes on the manuscript. It all depends on the client, who they are and what they need from me.

But I gotta admit, when they come to me with those titles that are similar, I cringe… and help them pick the best ones. Because, let’s face it: I’ve already read the book. Such as one reads when working.


Public Service Announcement: Susan’s Swamped


avatar S RED

I can’t blame being swamped on Rocktober. Jett’s got a firm control of that over at The Rock of Pages, and if you aren’t following along this  month, you’re missing out. Jett’s been having a great time, although I have to send her a guest post that she needs to get up.

So, yeah. The title says it all, doesn’t it? I’m working on an edit for one of my favorite clients and it turned out to be more extensive than I’d expected. I’m sure Steve (we’ll call him, since my last client was Stevie) is swooning as I read this, so let me take a few seconds and wax poetic.

Like all my clients, Steve is learning and growing. Signs of a newbie writer in the first two books are a lot less visible here. He’s even taking a risk or two with this new one, and I’m glad to see it. He’s pulling it off.

So why is the work more extensive if it’s so good? Well, because now that Steve has  more experience, I can push him into deeper places. Expand here. Give me two words there to polish this sentence. Explore this. Don’t you think the character might feel this? How about this? Just think about it and decide for yourself… it’s YOUR book, after all. I’m just here to … well, do what I’m doing. Give you ideas, stir your creativity, show you options.

I know Steve’s waiting both patiently and impatiently. On the one hand, I’d hoped to have this done last Friday. But he knows I’m taking my time because he’s going to wind up with a better book at the end. I know he doesn’t want to see how bad I think it is (and, like all my clients’ works, I don’t think it’s bad. This guy is a master plotter.), or how many comments I’ve made (lots). But I also know he’s dying to hear what I think (love it, which contradicts the backhanded compliment above of not thinking it’s bad, but if you knew the dynamic between me and Steve, you’d understand that’s not nearly as backhanded as you may think it is) and he’s dying to start to make the changes I’m suggesting or some that I’m demanding (dude, you gotta spell cloud right. You just do. And that’s why I’m demanding that particular change). He’s dying to get this book out into the world, and I don’t blame him.

There’s a certain subset of the reading world that’s going to love this one. Hopefully he’ll stop in and do a Featured New Book about it when it comes out and I can preen about how he did the hard work I asked him to.

But first, I gotta finish up. I have clients in the pipeline waiting for me, a ton of e-mail to answer — including a new Featured New Book, which will run next week (Sorry, Client Named Stevie who’s not the same Client Named Stevie from my last post about a Client Named Stevie) and yes, I’m pushing myself hard. Why do you ask?


#SaystheEditor: A Mistake’s a Mistake


With two degrees in creative writing, I have long struggled to break into the world of publishing. Back in grad school, we were expected to submit our writing to publications — usually literary magazines, as most MFA students focus on short stories — and were even offered free postage (as this was in the Dark Ages, before online submissions). When self-publishing began to be recognized as great for niche works, I turned to it for my own fiction. After all, Rock Fiction historically doesn’t sell well, according to the agents and acquiring editors I spoke with at the time.

Of course, self-publishing continues to be looked down on to this day, although usually by the establishment and readers who are so  burned out on poorly edited books, they can’t see the redwoods in a forest of weeds. I get some of those arguments; I daily see errors that wouldn’t have been made if the author had hired me to work on their book.

Maybe it’s because I’m an editor that keeps me attuned to the small stuff, even when reading books published by the big publishing houses. The one I’m going to pick on now was put out by Grand Central Publishing, which is an imprint of Hachette. It’s a print copy and I have no idea where it came from; it’s been on my shelves for well over five years. Possibly ten. All I can tell you is that it looks like it’s never been read, even now after I’ve read it.

It’s the details we’re focusing on today, so let’s get started. Like when the female lead gets into her friend’s Acura and slides over into the driver’s seat. This actually happens more than once, and both times, I wanted to scream. Would have, too, except it would scare the cats and then I’d have Scared Cat Toenail marks in my legs. Blood usually accompanies those, so … forget it. No screaming, no matter how frustrated I got.

Here’s why: I have had four Acuras in my life, dating back to the 1997 model I leased in ’96. I’ve got two right now. My family and friends have owned Acuras since the original Integra debuted in 1986. And I have never been in an Acura that had a front seat configuration that let a passenger slide across the seat. Hell, I’ve done the climb from bucket seat to bucket seat and let me tell you, it’s hairy, even for a short, flexible woman like myself.

Small? Stupid? Sure. But you know what else? The author could have easily checked this for herself by going to an Acura dealer and trying to slide across the seat in all the models on the showroom floor. She could have researched how Acuras are different from Hondas and realized that the Acura line benefits from the race care technology the company has developed. Race cars are built with cockpits that protect the driver. Sliding around in a race car is a bad thing. Sliding around on a car going around a tight turn is a bad thing. See how that works?

It’s the small details. The romance features a Secret Service agent. You really think that if she were my client, after reading the gaffe with the Acuras, I wouldn’t shoot an e-mail to a buddy of mine who is former Secret Service? Because, frankly, I doubt that any Secret Service agent who wants to keep his job would be given the slip by the president’s daughter. Knowing the author’s already been sloppy, I have a harder time suspending disbelief for the sake of the story.

Oh, and someone should tell both the author and her editor at the big fancy publishing house that Phi Beta Kappa isn’t a sorority. It’s not a fraternity, and it’s not something a person can rush. It’s an honors society, formed at the College of William and Mary in 1776.

THAT mistake reveals more about the author and her editor than I think either wanted the world to know…

And we’ll leave it at that, except to say that yes, mistakes happen. Every publisher, whether it be a big corporation or an author him/herself. We all make mistakes.

Just don’t go vilifying an entire subset of the publishing industry for something endemic across the industry.


Now, all this said, mistakes do happen. Yes, I’d have caught these sloppy attempts at research, but I’m sure there are other details I’ve let slip. I do trust my authors to a degree, and as an editor, I make no claims to catch every mistake you make. I’m not liable if something you say isn’t true, and I’m pretty up front about that. However, I’m also not a big publishing house with the funding — one would assume, although in today’s climate, all bets are off — to hire fact checkers. Because you’d think that a company interested in earning millions would care enough about the quality of the work they put their name on. I sure do.


#SaysTheEditor The Lengths to Which I’ll Go


So I’ve got a client, right? And she’s got a new book in the works. You with me so far?

We’ll call her Stevie ’cause I’m on a Fleetwood Mac kick (as Lacuna Coil blares from my speakers). And Stevie’s written a good twenty or thirty books, most before we teamed up. She insists she’s a better writer since she found me, and I have certainly seen her grow in the 10 or so books we’ve worked on together.

Like ambitious writers everywhere, Stevie doesn’t want to rest on her laurels. She wanted to push herself, stretch, see how far she can grow as a writer. So she wrote something new. Something that for her, is a definite stretch.

Still with me? See where this is going? It did require more from her than either of us were prepared for. And so even though I finished the edit, we’re still talking, still brainstorming. How to make it better, more authentic. And can she do what she wants with her characters while still succeeding in the genre she’s chosen for the book? (That sounds wrong, but to say  much more will reveal too  much, so trust me when I say it’s not like she’s way off base. She’s not.)

This led me to do what all good editors do: I put a call out on Twitter to see if anyone had book recommendations for me. Yes, I’ll read and study how others have done it so that Stevie (and I, to a lesser degree) can get it right.

It’s a tricky thing I’m looking for. Romances where the loss of the first spouse is still new, still raw. How appropriate is it, Stevie wonders, for the female lead to fall in love with another man so soon after the loss of a husband she loved? Even if he’s a man she’s known forever and yes, there’s a romantic — albeit unresolved or explored — past between the two.

I picked up one of the books last night at my library, but I’m hardly done yet. If you’ve got what you think is a great example of a romance where a seriously grieving widow is able to move on and find love again, leave ’em in my comments. I’ll read as many of them as I can while Stevie and I work. And then, who knows? Maybe I’ll keep reading. I love to read, after all…

Oh, the things I do for my clients… and the worst part of it all is that it’s delightful fun, every step of the way.



#SaystheEditor: Experience Counts


Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts about people — often without experience — now offering editing services.

I remember when I came out of retirement. I’d retired in 1999, and twelve years later, there I was, looking for work. People were slow to take a chance on me, and I was offering very low rates. Heck, in some instances, I was giving work away for free, just so that friends and authors I knew casually could tell their friends they’d seen my work and were happy with it.

But here’s the thing: I’d been editing professionally since the mid ’90s. I came back into this with experience. And even though I’d been officially retired, I really hadn’t stopped editing. Real editors never do, just as real writers never stop writing and real STEM geeks can’t turn off the STEM in their heads. Ever.

And that’s my point: Lately, I’ve been seeing lots of blog posts about people now offering editing services. Yes, their rates may be cheap. Yes, you may be like me and have a thing for the little guy. Support the underdog and all that. Help someone out, especially if it’s a woman-owned business… blah blah. I know all the reasons. I’ve used them to sell my own services.

Cheap or not, new or not, the FIRST question you should ask a potential editor, if you don’t already know the answer: how much experience do you have? I’ve seen folk who say, “I was good at editing a paper I had to write for history, so now I’m an editor.”


Or, “I’ve written ten books and they’ve all gotten five stars at Amazon, so now I’m an editor.”


Neither of those have anything to do with the price of beans, boys and girls. You want someone who has a relationship with language, whose mission is to bring out your best. That’s still my focus, and I still on occasion give freebies to friends and clients. While I used to do it as a way to build my client base, now I do it because it’s the right thing to do. I love what I do. I get up every morning raring to go, ready to dive in and play with words. So if my current crop of clients are all between projects, yeah, I’ll do a freebie. Lawyers call that work pro bono. I call it fun.

Good intentions are great to have. I wish all my fellow editors luck, and I wish all authors would spend the money and use our skills.

But know what I wish even more? That I’d stop finding new clients who say to me, “I wish I’d found you before I used my last editor.”

I wish clients would stop saying, “I threw my money away on that person. They didn’t know nearly as much as you do.”

I wish I’d stop hearing, “I went with them because they were cheap. I got what I paid for, and now I’ve got bad reviews next to my book and it’s stopped selling, so would you please re-edit this and maybe I can save it?”

Yeah, those are flattering comments and often, the clients who say those things to me become loyal clients. (Yes, sometimes, they move on, always in search of someone better, but do they ever find that person?)

But it also kills me to hear that. It means authors didn’t  use word of mouth. They didn’t carefully vet a variety of editors with samples. They didn’t talk to their friends. And usually, they made decisions with their bank accounts.

Yes, editing is expensive. I’m not the most expensive out there, by any means (the woman I use for content work is triple my own rates, and she does no language or grammar work like I do), and I get it when authors say they can’t afford me. But folks, it’s worth trying. And it’s worth hanging in there to find someone really good, really experienced. Who knows how to edit, how to value your work, how to preserve your voice.

I’ve said this before, and I know I’ll say it again. Make wise choices, choices that’ll bolster your career, not sink it. Take a risk on a really good editor, go ahead and build a relationship with him or her. And then hopefully you’ll be saying to your friends, “Go use my editor. She’s great.”

And hopefully I’ll get more e-mails that say, “I read a bunch of reviews of books written by your clients, and the reviews keep getting better and better. You’ve got to be good at what you do.”

Some of that is because the author’s skill is growing, but hopefully it’s because I’m helping them grow that skill.

Choose wisely. Look for experience.



#SaystheEditor I mean it!


If I ever needed proof that my clients read my blog and my Facebook, it’s been my e-mail inbox since this post and my Facebook status that September was so full, I’m working weekends to get everyone in.

I hate working weekends. Well, no. I hate working on Saturdays. Like many good Jews before me, I’ve started holding Saturdays as my day of rest, the day when I like to lay around and do absolutely nothing of value. Okay, maybe I’ll go pull weeds, the world’s most futile task, but other than that? Nah.

So I’ve had lots of time to laugh lately as requests continue to roll in. Can you please sneak me in?

If it were a question of intent, I’d be able to. But you guys come to West of Mars for me, for my editing skills. And while I’ve got a few subcontractors hovering — and I call on them when I’ve done a line or content edit and you guys ask for a fresh set of copy editing eyeballs — I don’t want to slough any of you off on someone new. I’m at my best when we’ve built a relationship, and you guys deserve my best.

My worry, of course, is that you won’t wait, that you’ll choose to move on to someone else. I don’t want that to happen. But sometimes, I can’t be superwoman, no matter how hard I try. And for some reason, late August through September tend to be one of my busiest times of year.

If you’re waiting for me, don’t wait too long. October is already filling, and you know I want to make time for you.

But if you need me now, sorry. I’m only one woman. And if I take on any  more work, I’m going to let you all down, and there’s no way I can do that to any of us.


#SaystheEditor Even Businesses Need Help


Dear Susan:

Weather your struggling to find like minded professional individuals, business ideas, career paths, or ways of developing additional income of your own we can help you maximize your results. With a great business system, business team, experienced knowledge, and technology all at your finger tips…


Three typos in the first ten words (and that’s being generous with the word count) and more to follow, I closed the invitation. It was ostensibly for a networking group, but let’s face it: who wants to network with people who can’t be bothered with such basics as grammar? Isn’t communication the foundation of networking? And good communication key to understanding each other?

I can’t hammer home the importance for everyone (myself included!) to use a good proofreader whenever you turn out writing that’s meant for public consumption. This person shot him/herself in the foot by sending out an invitation like this. And s/he’s not the only one who’s done this, either.

I see it daily. And I don’t understand why. Yes, you may think you don’t need to spend the money on editing. But guess what? You do. In the long run, you need to make sure every word is as strong as it can be, every comma, every synonym — every everything.

Yes, human editors miss things. Yes, computerized editors (oh, don’t use those!) miss things. Computers can’t pick up the nuances of human speech and communication. Humans are … well, we’re only human. My effectiveness goes down when I get tired (go figure). If we haven’t worked together before, I may struggle a bit as I pick up your voice. Both problems are pretty easy to correct.

So don’t be that person who sent me that invitation to join a business network. I took one look at it and decided that if the sender wasn’t professional enough to make sure s/he didn’t look like a doofus, his/her group wasn’t the sort of people I wanted to be associated with.

Although if I did join, imagine the business I could pick up…



#SaystheEditor Said, or Asked?


It’s not just new writers I’ve caught doing this, so it’s worth a mention for all of you to keep an eye out for as you revise your work.

If your characters ask a question, use asked in your dialogue tags.

“How are you today?” Shawn asked.

Believe it or not, I often see: “How are you today?” Shawn said.

Awkward, isn’t it?

If you mean for something that’s phrased as a question to be more of a statement, then show it.

“You not feeling well,” Shawn said with a knowing nod.


I spend a lot of time changing said to asked as I edit. Keep an eye out for this. And while you’re at it, consider your tag entirely. Dialogue tags serve a variety of functions. Sometimes, they are merely there for the reader to skim over, so that awareness of who is speaking seeps into their consciousness. Sometimes, tags do more. They set a scene, convey emotion, increase tension, and more.

But sometimes, they intrude. As they do when said is used instead of asked. Sometimes, they interrupt the flow of dialogue. They detract from what’s being said and switch the reader’s focus in an ooh, shiny sort of way. And more.

I know. You never thought this much about tags, other than why it’s not good to use Shawn emoted. Keep them simple, you learned once you escaped the clutches of Evil High School English Teachers.

And no matter what you do, don’t go for “Shit!” he swore.

Ya think?


#SaystheEditor: Red Comes in More Than One Shade


I’ve noticed this a lot lately, so it bears  bringing to your attention, writers everywhere:

The color red.

Open a box of Crayola crayons, why don’t you? Grab a book of paint samples.

You’ve got Scarlet, Red, Fire Engine, Candy Apple, Cerise, Flame, Rose, Crimson, Cardinal, Lava, Rust… oh, the list goes on. Fifty shades and more.

So why is it that almost everything in fiction winds up being Cherry?

Think about it. Look over your own work, and take a few minutes, days, weeks to look at the colors all around us. Compare and contrast.

And then write better, stronger fiction.


One Week Warning


In a week from today, I’m heading out on my first REAL vacation in three years. Not a week at Scout camp (although that’s always a welcome break). Not a weekend adventure. A real, honest-to-God, airplane-involved vacation.

And like any good Boy Scout, I’m going to mostly be camping. In a national park.

If you are savvy enough, you’ll realize what that means… NO INTERNET.

Which means NO E-MAIL.

If you’re a client or a potential client, next week may not be a good time to reach me. Waiting until I get home on the 20th isn’t wise, either. Jet lag, exhaustion, the need to make up for lost time with my bed (and re-locate what’s come dislocated while sleeping on the ground, usually pelvis, vertebrae, and ribs)… all that’s going to play a role in how long it takes me to catch up. We are talking about someone who gets, according to Google, 1300 mails a month.

Now for the good news: If you’ve got something short — 50k words or less, or an almost-polished proofread — and want to slip it past my editorial senses before I leave, get in touch with me NOW. I’ve purposely left time open in my schedule between today and Wednesday. And I’ve refused to unpack certain things from last week’s camping adventure, making it easier to get ready for this trip. Preparations are under control. No sweat.

I’ll remind you again before I leave, of course. Spread the word. Your editor par excellence is headed out to clear her head, see bison and bear and mountain goats and bighorn sheep and moose and wolves and mountains and streams and geysers and paint pots and canyons and rivers and… Those of you who’ve been here a long time may remember the last time I headed out that way. Sadly, the pictures have been lost, but the posts are still there, buried in my archives.

Do I really need to come home? I could just stay, right? I’d be REALLY West of Mars then. No need to change the business name. I can work in that beauty and grandeur. I can do better work out there. I know it.

Just don’t ask me to do it next week.


#SaystheEditor The Cool Stuff


A few nights ago, I popped a Benadryl in the early evening, and followed it up with another before bed. I did it without a care in the world because a few weeks previously, I’d researched Benadryl addiction for a client’s manuscript.

Today, I was researching a place in Ireland that was a home for unwed mothers and their babies.

I’ve discovered brew pubs in Wisconsin. Even found a hidden town in Ohio that I hope to explore.


Now, I make it clear that I don’t fact check when I edit. Carrying errors and omissions insurance is a little out of my price range right now, and even then, research like this does slow down the process and take the focus off the author’s writing. And my specialty is dealing with the author’s writing, in various focus points. I want to be working with your words, not checking out medicines and what model gun you’re talking about. I want to be making sure the characters’ eye color is the same at the start as it is at the end of your manuscript.

It’s just that every now and then, you’ll have a spelling inconsistency that I need to get to the bottom of. Or something piques my interest and it’s off to Google I go. So I put in the time to discover what’s up. After all, you’re worth it. And as someone who is hard-wired to be a writer and creative type, I’m terminally curious. Taking a few minutes out of my day because you’ve piqued my interest is, as far as I’m concerned, a good thing. I learn something I can probably apply in the future. It also means you’re creating a world in which readers will invest themselves — or, at least, you’ve gotten me vested in it. And that means I want to make sure what you are putting out there for a wider readership is as strong as it can be.

I’m sure I get things wrong from time to time. Thus the disclaimer. A few manuscripts back, I had never seen the term of endearment nena and changed them all to nina, complete with the squiggle over the second n. My author dropped me a note. “Nope,” he said. “That’s slang.” And sure enough, once I Googled it as slang, it showed up where it hadn’t in the other searches I’d done (and I’d done multiples on that one, trying to find it, using various dictionaries and online resources — none of which were apparently good enough).

This is truly the icing on the cake of an already awesome job. Learning new things, discovering things I hadn’t known previously.

Keep up the good work, you authors. Share your knowledge with the rest of us. Keep me, your faithful editor, on her toes — it keeps me from getting bored and finding my way into trouble. And it gives me really cool stuff to talk about in polite society or on a date. But mostly, it makes your fiction richer, deeper, and possessing more authority. And at the end of the day, that’s the goal.

But it’s good to have something to talk about in polite society or on a date. I don’t, however, recommend waxing poetic about Benadryl addiction to someone you’ve only just met. Not that I have tried.


#SaystheEditor For you Rock Fiction Writers Out There


I’m killing  a few minutes this morning, looking over the headlines at Brave Words and Blabbermouth (and, of course, my guilty pleasure, Metal Sucks) when one headline caught my eye: Five Finger Death Punch and Volbeat are teaming up for a tour. In autumn. Dates have been released for September and October.

What does this have to do with writing?

Well, other than giving everyone a few bands to explore before stepping into Featured New Book Spotlight, it makes an important point: It is early May as I’m writing this. The shows that were announced are for four months in the future.

Frequently, in Rock Fiction, I see authors who will have a band schedule a show with a few days’ notice. It’s convenient for the story so boom, there it is.

Every time I see it, I cringe. And I wonder if the author knows his or her stuff. If I’m reviewing the book, I’ll mention it, too.

Because while that four months’ notice the public is being given seems long, let me tell you, these dates were in the works weeks if not months before that, too. Scheduling routes, venue availability, media accessibility, press releases, and other factors go into the equation and the dance that scheduling a tour entails. And don’t forget that the band’s fans need time to save up for tickets; it’s not $15 to see a band in an arena anymore, you know!

The concert-going public may not get word of a show until last minute. But believe me, the wheels were in  motion long before that announcement was made.

If you’re writing Rock Fiction, keep that in mind.


#SaystheEditor In Return for a Freebie…


I know I’ve harped on this before, but it came up the other week, so I thought I’d harp some more. You see, I was chatting with an author friend of mine. She’d gotten SEVENTY (yes, you read that right) copies of one of her new releases from her publisher. They were promo copies, and the idea was that my friend, the author, would send all SEVENTY out and get some early reviews for her new book.

She’s got quite the publishing history, my friend. Sixty-three books under one name and another thirty under another.

Do the math, folks. That’s 93 books.

You’d think that after 93 books, her following would be devoted, large, and willing to write a few words of review that’ll help spread the word about how awesome a writer she is (and she is, whether or not she’s my friend).

Know how many reviews those SEVENTY books spawned?

Do you?

Any guesses?


Okay, I’ll quit teasing you. She got SEVEN.

That’s really sad. It was a free book! She sent it to YOU, reader. And you couldn’t be bothered to write a few simple sentences. Even, “Author X did it again! This is her best yet!” or “Woo, this was so hot, I haven’t cooled off and it’s been three days!” or even “I liked [title z] better because the main character there wore jeans and this guy wore business suits and I’m a jeans sorta girl. Jeans are comfortable. Business suits are stuffy, and so was the guy in this one.”

C’mon… really? Ninety-three (coincidentally one for each of my friend’s published books) readers grabbed a free  book and ran with it. *

I hope those 93 have to buy their own copies from now on.

Which brings me to my soapbox. Although do I really need to get on it? Word of mouth is the  best way to sell books. Writing a review helps sell books. You love an author or a book, taking a few minutes to write a review is the best, simplest, most appreciated way to say thanks. (Okay, other than buying 100 copies and spreading the love, yourself, but how many of you really do that? I’ve bought multiples, but never 100.)

No one said you HAVE to include the plot in your review. Or that it be long or insightful. Just that it be readable. Enthusiasm is super, especially if it’s a book you loved. Pointing out flaws is perfectly acceptable but if you can’t think of any, that’s okay, too.

Just… take the plunge. Authors will be glad you did. And you can be one of those seven who not only got a free book, but showed your thanks in a very meaningful way.

Help an author out. If you  love his or her works, taking those ten minutes to write a few thoughts down will help him or her get more books on the market. It might even let them quit the day job and stay home and write.

That’s the effect YOU can have. Seize it.


(and, of course, if you aren’t confident in what you wrote, we at West of Mars are more than willing to help you polish it up. But really, be confident without us. Your opinion is valid, it matters, and we’ll forgive spelling errors if your words are heartfelt.)


*And here, Susan proves why she’s a wordsmith and not a mathematician.


#SaystheEditor: But We Had a Date!


Probably the most commonly asked question is if clients have ever refused to pay me for editing work. Since I won’t start work until payment’s in hand, the answer is no, but… There was this one time that hardly even counts.  The author sent a longer manuscript after billing was taken care of and refused to pay that small difference when she didn’t like the evaluation I gave her, but otherwise, the answer’s no. I’m pretty inflexible on this point; I do have a mortgage to pay and a business to run.

But something else has a tendency to happen, and that’s clients who go through a sample piece of work, decide to use me, book time on my calendar and then … vanish into thin air.

Most often, some author who’s dropped me an e-mail to check my availability gets lucky and they fill that gap in my schedule. Or a client who sent a manuscript in advance (something I encourage doing) gets a bump up on the schedule. If a project was supposed to only take a day, maybe I’ll take the day and do the administrative stuff I always want more time for.

Sometimes, I get a mea culpa from the author. Life happens. I get that. Inherent Writerly Insecurity can paralyze you. I get that, too. Money becomes an issue. Yep, I get that. In fact, I’ve had all three happen to me. That first one can be a killer and if you don’t believe me, walk a mile in my shoes.

When you get down to it, I’m a softie, always willing to believe the best in people. So I’ll give second chances. Sometimes, I’ll even give a third chance.

But I don’t forget. In fact, I make notes. Some notes say to anticipate the edit taking longer. Some notes reflect an author’s preferences. Some remind me to check the style sheets from previous manuscripts. And some notes say the client vanished with no advance warning.

I will always do my best for my clients, even when they make decisions I don’t personally agree with, or when they show up later, full of chagrin. I will always do my best for my clients, even when it means I have to sacrifice a few hours with my kids. But I expect something in return, and that’s my client’s best, too. Their best-to-that-point manuscript. Prompt arrival in my inbox. And communication if you’re going to keep me waiting while others want my time and attention.

It seems hard to get your brain around sometimes. I get that. But authors, you’re running a business, too. Don’t alienate your contacts. Be professional. And keep your dates with your editor.

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