Tag Archives: editing

One Comma, Two Meanings


Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilSo… here’s an interesting one for you.

It’s from my own fiction, so I’m not bothering to change the line to protect the innocent. Let’s just let ‘er rip. (Also, if you want to know more about my own fiction, sign up for the newsletter, eh? Be sure to check the box for the author newsletter. And then stay tuned, because as soon as we have the new website and the book cover and the legal stuff worked out, we’re letting this project loose and I promise you’ve never seen a project like this one.)

Here’s the sentence:

It didn’t help that he still looked good, in a green collared shirt and tan dress pants—very expensive dress pants, she noted.

Pretty innocuous statement, no?

Here’s where it gets interesting: My proofreader, the amazing and wonderful April Hughes (so don’t you dare be thinking I’m picking on her or suggesting she’s not up to par because she totally is. I mean, hello? I PAY HER), suggested I cut the comma after good.

Except… this is where the comma changes the entire meaning.

Because without the comma, the sentence means that he looked good because of the clothes he’s wearing. His looking good is dependent on his clothes.

WITH the comma, the man just looks good, period, and the comma signals that we’re getting a description of his clothing.

Teeny tiny little bits of nuance… that even the best editors can’t catch for you.


Yep. This is one of those sentences, because of the twin meanings, that only the author can choose which message to send to the reader. They’re both grammatically correct. They both paint a vivid picture of the dude. The question is whether or not the dude needs his clothing to enhance his looks… and that’s something no editor can answer for you. All we can do is call it out and suggest the author take a closer look and consider the different messages the sentence is sending, with and without that comma.

For a little piece of punctuation, it’s sure got a lot of power.

Right, Grandma?*


If you’re one of those people who thinks you don’t need an editor, well, I can’t help you. But if you’re not, April and I would both love to work with you, and this isn’t the only project we’ve worked on together! I heartily recommend using one editor for different stages of editing, but most especially using a fresh set of eyes for that final look before you hit publish or submit to your agent/acquiring editor. Yes, it’s more expensive, but you’re worth it.

I promise.

*As in: Let’s eat, Grandma/Let’s eat Grandma


#SaystheEditor Proofing Ain’t Just for Your Book


This is something I’ve run across … oh, probably as long as I’ve been blogging. And if you look carefully, you’ll see I’ve been blogging here at West of Mars since 2006. That’s a long time for this trend to continue, especially because it’s not a particularly flattering one: authors who write blog posts, either as a guest or at their own home, that are full of typos and grammatical errors. (and I  mean FULL. A few obvious typos are one thing. I’m talking about squinting and wondering if this person knows the language at all.)

Sometimes, as in the case of the post I read this  morning, it’s clear the author doesn’t understand the rules. This distresses me. How can someone expect to write a book if they don’t know basic grammar rules?

The answer to that is pretty obvious, right? I’m not the only great (and patient) editor out there.

So, okay. Fine. Authors use great editors for their fiction. Good. That’s how it should be. We editors love to work behind the scenes and  make our authors’ words all shiny and pretty. And even when we’re not the editors, we still appreciate that you, the author, used a colleague to make sure your words are the best representation of you that they can be.

If you’re an author who does any sort of written promo, don’t hesitate to ask your editor to work on it for you! From your newsletter to any guest blog posts or even interviews. If it’s written and you know you’re not the best at remembering your/you’re or the like, speak up. Yes, it may cost you more than the promo will earn you, but on the other hand, it’s an expense worth it, from where I sit. Even if you have to find another editor who’ll handle only your promo work — and  yes, we do that at West of Mars. Keep your fiction editor and use us for your promo. No worries there; no pressure to change if you love your fiction editor.

The reason I do this  isn’t to pad my own bottom line. I offer these services cheap, after all.

Nope. That’s not why I am pushing it, and it’s not why I offer it.

It’s because people form impressions about you based on your written words. Don’t put yourself in the situation where a reader adores your book, thinks you’re the best writer since Truman Capote … and then gets turned off when they read a sloppy guest post.

Always, always, always put your best written self forward. Find the people you need to make this happen, if it’s me or if it’s someone else.

It’s your career. Make it represent you at your written best.


#SaystheEditor Summer’s more than one month long!


One in an occasional series


I have to laugh. A few weeks ago, I posted about how it’s time to line up your editor for the summer. I can’t speak for other editors, but around here, summer’s my busy season. You’ve got to get in soon, especially if you’re a new client.

I guess you guys were listening because … well, August is now completely booked. Funny enough, it happened within a 24-hour period, too.

However, summer’s more than one month long, and June and July… crickets are chirping. Lots of open weeks… June and July have as many weeks as any other month, and right now, any of those weeks are yours for the taking.

Look over where you are in your manuscript. Even if you’re not a West of Mars client (and why aren’t you again?), you may want to have a chat with your editor about his or her expected availability when you need him or her. Even if, like me, the answer will be, “I’ll make time for you. No worries,” it’s still polite to let your editor know what you’re thinking, so they know to expect you.

I can’t speak for others, but whenever someone says, “I’m aiming for June and I’ll be in touch when I know for certain,” I jot a note on my June calendar. Client X? it says, and I’ll include word count if you’ve given me an estimate. That reminds me to hold space open; one thing I’ve learned is that open spaces always fill (unless, for some reason, it’s March. Why is March my slowest month?).

Talk to your editor about your projected schedule. And get yourself on the June or July calendar soon. August is full… what month will be next?


#SaystheEditor Summer Planning


I smell a trend.

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

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

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

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

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

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


West of Mars is growing!


I’ve referenced the Non-fiction department here at West of Mars a few times now, but last week, I sent out the official press release (if you’re a media outlet and you didn’t get it, holler and I’ll send it to you … and add it to my list for future releases).

Here it is:

West of Mars, LLC is proud to announce an expansion of services into the area of non-fiction editing. Copy and line-editing services are provided for multiple publications, including, but not limited to, company annual reports, press releases, memoirs, monthly newsletters, opinion pieces written for local press, and blog posts.

Principal non-fiction editor Mary Sutton has worked in the high-technology industry for over fifteen years as a technical writer and editor for companies in the Pittsburgh area. She also writes independent blog posts for business. Fiction editor Susan Helene Gottfried brings more than twenty years’ editing experience to new and best-selling authors who publish their books independently or with small presses.

West of Mars, LLC is a Wexford, PA-based author services company providing editorial support and more for anyone who writes for public consumption.

For an estimate for services, contact Susan Gottfried at Susan@Westofmars.com.

Or, of course, since you’re already AT West of Mars as you read this, here are the links you need:
current editing home page
Current non-fiction page

There ya go. If you write it, we’ll help you polish it.


Featured New Book and a missing client


First off: the Featured New Book spotlight is empty again! C’mon, authors and readers. If you don’t have a new book out, surely you have a friend who has one. Send him or her my way. I love to help others out.

A reminder link to the Featured New Book Spotlight page. Follow the directions and send me an e-mail.

Second is a bit of a weird story. Despite clear instructions NOT to, a potential client left a comment asking for a sample edit and what my timetable is. The mail got deleted, as the site says it will, but I dug it out.

I’m sort of wishing I hadn’t. I tried twice, in two different ways, but the e-mail bounced.

Either someone is messing with me, which I don’t appreciate, or Janet made a mistake, which happens.

Janet, if you’re out there, please be in touch. My calendar is filling up pretty fast, so we need to connect sooner rather than later.


Third Stone from the Sun


Anyone catch that lyric there in the headline?

Come join me over at Louise Harby’s blog, where I’m talking about life as a freelance editor.

No foster kitties this time, I’m afraid. They’ll be back.


Editors. Important.


Deena at E-Book Builders asked me to write her a short guest post about the importance of editing.

Check it out. Add your comments as to why I’m important in your life at the end, if you like.


Susan’s Editing Notes: Going Up


Since I’ve spent the past few months being booked out a couple of months, it seems it’s time to be a little more exclusive…

That’s a polite way to say my editing rates are going up.

For projects BOOKED after March 1, the rates will look like this:

Content editing (looking at plot, pacing, characterization, tension; etc. The big picture)
$.011 (or, $2.75 per 250 words)

Line editing (looking at your language and your sentences. Do they match the voice? How’s your word choice? Can you reword something for better meaning?)
$.008 (or, $2 per 250 words)

Proofreading/copy editing (sticking straight to mechanics — are words used correctly? How’s the punctuation?)
$.005 (or, $1.25 per 250 words)

As always, booking me for a content edit will give me the freedom to work on line editing and proof work — although as always, if you make revisions I haven’t seen (and you should!), look into having a final proofread right before you hit that submit button. Be that for an agent, an acquiring editor, or on the self-published side. Strive to put your best out there — and remember I’m here to help you get there.


Been Quiet Around Here…


Actually, behind the scenes around here, things have been a ruckus.

It seems that there’s a million debut authors out there, and each of them want their book proofed so they can have a pre-Christmas release.

I’m only one woman, folks! I hope some of these authors will find their way back to me and we can work together in the future. Turning work away isn’t my idea of a smart move — even though it’s one I’m grateful to have to do. In just over a year, you guys have helped me build this little editing business into something viable.

Now, here’s where I go all controversial on you. I don’t get the rush for debut authors to put out pre-Christmas releases.

In talking to many of my author clients and author friends, everyone agrees: if they give books as gifts, they’re not giving unknown titles and authors. Think about it… your reputation is on the line when you give a book as a gift, after all. Readers want to share what you’ve already loved, not something that you picked up ’cause you needed to give a gift. In other words: books should be gifts as personal as the most heartfelt noodle necklace from a two-year-old. Those kids put love into every last piece of pasta…

Adding to the mix are the comments that the kids who get new e-readers or tablets mess up the search algorhythms, making most books hard to find. Authors who have noticed a sales dip in January — everyone agrees that February and March are when sales pick up again.

In short, it’s hard for ANYone to get noticed this time of year. So why not wait, schedule dates in late December or early January, and aim for that February or March release? Why not take it as a cooling-off period, start something new, start researching reviewers and publicity options? Go ahead, start networking. “Well, I’m waiting for my amazing editor to get through her other projects and work on mine. So while we wait, let’s talk about you or books we’ve both read, or, hey, got any ideas for a great dinner recipe?”

But, then, I believe that waiting for a good editor, being smart enough to let someone else help you shape your baby, is worth bragging about. I believe it gives you clout and a measure of professionalism. Mostly, though, it shows that you so care much about your book and your potential success that you’re willing to go the extra mile to make sure your reader has the best experience possible. It shows that you want to be a gift next year at Christmas, a book someone liked enough to do more than recommend: they liked it enough to GIFT it.

Authors, take your time with your books. Instead of trying to time the market, remember you’re in this for the long haul. The prize your eye should be on is sales. Lots of sales, over a long period of time. Your prize ought to be readers who are so loyal to you that come next Christmas, it’s your book they are putting under that tree.

I’ve got dates open at the end of December and all of January (and beyond). Care about your book. If you don’t have me edit it, have someone else. Someone good. (Because, really, what’s the point of using someone bad? All you’re doing is throwing money away — twice, as you’ll need to have someone good fix all the bad! You’re not made of money. Choose your editor wisely)

Happy Thanksgiving, folks. This year, I’m giving thanks for all my awesome authors and the strength of West of Mars Editing.


Susan Finds a New Way to Beat the Dead Horse


Following on the tails of last week’s semi-rant about how easy it is for anyone to get the wrong idea about the quality of self-published books, I got a new assignment from TWTBC.

My eyes bugged. My jaw dropped open.

The book is only 150 pages or so, barely long enough to call a novel.

The only commas are there so you can accuse the author of comma splices, rending most sentences unreadable on the first try.

The paragraphing is bad — there’s dialogue and then, instead of a new paragraph, there’s narration. Right after the dialogue. Except, the narration and action (usually someone shrugging or sighing) is attributed to the next speaker.

So it goes like this.

“Whaddya think?” Trevor sighed.

“You know thinking’s bad for your health, dumbass. Quit bothering me.” Mitchell giggled.

“What makes you think you’re always right?” Trevor shrugged.

It SHOULD read:

“Whaddya think?”

Trevor sighed. “You know thinking’s bad for your health, dumbass. Quit bothering me.”

Mitchell giggled. “What makes you think you’re always right?”

Trevor shrugged.

Did you notice that the characters aren’t particularly nice to each other? There are also a couple of adverbs that describe how EVERYTHING happens. Thoughtfully. Carelessly. Okay, those aren’t the real ones, but imagine if they were, and used in the wrong spots, too. Actions completed thoughtfully, during a fight scene? (Not to mention, in the above example, Mitchell giggling. First of all, it’s out of character. Second of all, it’s not appropriate for the scene.)

And yes, there is MORE. On the one hand, I feel terrible for the author. S/he’s got his/her name associated with this hot mess of a book. On that same hand, I wish I could edit it for him/her. But on that other hand… I’m glad I didn’t. A hot mess this bad would have cost way more than the book review eventually did. And while I know I’m a really good editor, I also know that one can only do so much with what you’re given. For all I know, the author DID hire an editor, and then refused to listen to what s/he had to say. In a year since I returned to editing, I’ve had that happen. (The client didn’t pay the full bill in the end, either. Go figure.)

This is one I can’t wait to be done with. And sadly, when people want a poster child for what’s wrong with self-publishing, it’s this book they’ll turn to. It’s so much easier to be negative in today’s world, after all, and overlook the good stuff… and let me say it again: there is PLENTY of good stuff out there.

I think I’m going to start featuring it. Once I finish this hot mess.

(If you’re new here and don’t know who Trevor and Mitchell are, well… shame on you! But use this link to learn everything you need to. Welcome to the Trevolution.

**Thanks to my own impromptu editor, Robin at Around the Island, for catching a rare Susan typo!


Notes from the Editor: Slammed


That says it all, doesn’t it? My editor self — yes, sometimes, I DO feel like I’m more than one person: writer, book reviewer, editor, publicist, small business owner, mother, friend, daughter — has taken over. I began this week with one major, book-length project, one novella, and two short stories to complete. Now. Today. Yesterday would be better.

My clients understand that I’d like to get away for the weekend. Or that my kids need me. But that hasn’t stopped them from piling on the work.

Bring it, I say. While I’d still prefer, on some level, that my book royalties equal or exceed the sort of money I’m making via the editing work, I continue to love what I do. While I’d still prefer, on some level, more time to write, the hours I spend on other people’s manuscripts is every bit as energizing as working on a good story of my own.

And I have to admit that in most cases, the manuscripts my clients deliver to me are better than the books I get from the World’s Toughest Book Critics. Those books, I have to weigh in on. I can’t tell you how many times I wish I could reach out to an author and say, “Next time, hire me to edit your next book. It’ll be SO much better.” Of course, I can’t, and not just because the World’s Toughest Book Critics also offer an editing service to authors. I can’t because I’m supposed to be anonymous in all this.

However, it seems that my thoughts have become quite valuable.

I’ll take it.

So… I’m back at it. There are words to work with, stories and novellas and novels to shape. Writing is a craft, people. Remember that.

And remember all these long hours that authors (and their editors) put in. Say thanks by buying books, not grabbing only the freebie offers or using (gasp) piracy sites. Ask your local library to pick up books you like. And take a few minutes and jot down some words. Reviews are the best way to say thanks to an author, although buying a copy for eight of your closest friends comes in a close second.

Believe me. From any side of the writing world — writing, editing, reviewing — a TON of work goes into the creation of a book. Don’t just read. Show your support.


Dance with me


Wasn’t there some song in the 70s or 80s that started out like that? Dance with me/I want to be your partner/Can’t you see…

Yeah. I remember it.

Anyone got a title and artist for me? (If you know it and want a free download of something from my backlist, holler. What the heck; it’s a Smashwords coupon and a memory like THAT ought to be rewarded.)

The dance today isn’t some veiled sexual comment, like the song is. It’s a happy dance.

Dudes, I am SWAMPED. A big editing project, a couple of samples, a Last Look edit, some PR, some real-life people to connect with, some books to edit for that big name review company who pays me to tell them what I think of a book or two… SWAMPED, I tell you. I’m so swamped, it’s hard to know which project gets top priority and my full attention at any minute of the day.

And I am loving every minute of it. (I’d love it more if the auto-schedule feature were working right ’cause I’ve got cool posts that I’ve been too swamped to hand-post!)

Bring it on. Keep it coming. It may mean less of me on social media. But it means an income, and it means I’m happy and a happy Susan means more good fiction coming your way, as well.

And while I’m this swamped, go visit Jaidis Shaw. I’ve got a Featured New Book spot I need to get up for Monday, so stop in and see what she’s about. Whet your appetite so when she’s here, talking music, you’re TOTALLY into it.

Keep the good stuff coming, guys. It’s magic, and I’m loving it. May it only get better from here.


All Quiet on the Western Front


It’s quiet over here at West of Mars. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First is that I stopped in at Shayna Gier’s blog, talking about the reaction to King Trevor’s release. Go see it… there may be a secret or two that gets revealed!

Second is that another amazing writer has found her way to me, and I’m currently helping her hone her prose from damn fine into incredible. This project will most likely take me into next week, which means very little writing or blogging will be happening.

And last… have you clicked through lately? Why not do it now? You’ll find a whole new look going on here at West of Mars. Regrettably, it came at a cost — the archives of Rocks ‘n Reads have been lost forever, and Win a Book may or may not be recoverable.

I’ll be reposting, slowly, when I have time, the book reviews I’d posted at Rocks ‘n Reads. Keep your eye on the Rock Fiction page and watch as, slowly, the links to the reviews change.

Onward and upward, my friends. Remember to pick up your copies of my books, and to contact me first when you need an edit.