Tag Archives: Says the Editor

#SaystheEditor: When Short Gets Long


It was supposed to be a quickie road trip. In, out. Lots of time in the car and not nearly enough with the family. But when you’re with your favorite cousin (sorry gang, but ’tis true. Always has been), when air traffic goes down in DC, stranding a teen roughly the same age as your own and you want to be backup just in case the next three planes don’t fly (two didn’t), well, the short little visit got to be longer.

What’s this got to do with writing and editing? Well, I’m a day behind, that’s for sure! I’d planned to take last Friday off for the long trip down. And I’ll admit that I’d played with the idea of staying to yesterday. Just hadn’t expected to.

But more to the point. I run out of fingers and toes, those essential counting implements, when I try to think of the number of author friends and clients who have tried to write a short story or novella, only to realize there was more story there than they originally wanted to tell. Same thing for the friends and clients who outline before they write. The story takes hold and takes over.

And that’s my point today (although I really really want to rant about the misspelled book title. Seriously? People, you give literature a bad name!). To give in, to cede control every now and then. Let the story take you where it needs to go. Let it reveal itself, its twists and turns, its neat little character traits, to you. Let it be the proverbial onion that you peel away, layer by layer, ring by ring.

This is a first draft technique, to be honest. I’ve edited books where the author has let the plot get away from them and they haven’t been able to see it happening. (In these cases, I advocate scene cards) Their book turns into a hot mess and it’s next to impossible for me to straighten it out because at this phase, I don’t know what story you are trying to tell. Only you know which elements of the unwieldy plot are the ones you want to bring out. I can only make suggestions and hope they are the right ones.

Which means that yes, I advocate going nuts on your first draft. I say often enough that first drafts are for finding out where the story ends. Then, through revision and work with beta readers, figure out how to make the beginning and middle match your ending. (If you get into trouble along the way, or if you think you’ve got it but aren’t 100% certain, then you should bring in a content editor, either myself or a good friend of mine.)

Writing is a craft, remember.

But it’s in this early stage that short becomes long. This is the time to give control to the story. To extend your trip by a day because you truly don’t want to leave (is a move in my future?) or to turn a short story into a novel.

Then go back and winnow it down. Figure out what you put there because you, the author, need to know this information. Figure out what of that information helps you create a living, breathing character but is stuff the reader doesn’t need to know. Less experienced authors, you will be surprised by this! More experienced authors, you’re scoffing and saying yes, you get how it is. But stop scoffing a moment and go back to a time when you were struggling with this concept. And then take a good, hard look at your own manuscripts. Just to be on the safe side.

My extended trip gave me a lot to think about. It widened my horizons (and let me set foot in another National Park… another one I’ve got unfinished business with) and let me experience things I hadn’t expected to.

I’m a better person for it. And when I sit down to write and edit, it’ll make me a better writer and editor.

Happy writing. Happy revisions. And don’t forget to book your editing slots; fall’s filling up!


#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: 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: Inherent Writerly Insecurity


Last week, one of my friends and clients — we’ll call her Stevie — got a rejection from a literary agent. She asked me for my interpretation (“Hey, she strongly encourages you to query others so yes, I’d say she’s encouraging.” I am very helpful at times, aren’t I?) and then said she wasn’t happy with part of her latest WIP.

So no surprise that Stevie crops up on Facebook saying she feels like a fraud. And no real surprise when a bunch of other writer friends — published in various ways, as always — chimed in that they feel the same way.

I threw sparkles and unicorns at ’em ’cause I recognized what was happening: our buddy IWI, or Inherent Writerly Insecurity.

It’s part and parcel of the curse of being a writer. The self-doubt. The feeling like you can’t replicate past success, even if the success is something only in your perception. Hell, I feel it. I worry I’ll never be able to create a character as wonderful and alive as Trevor Fucking Wolff. And with a name like that, are you surprised?

The question really becomes how we deal with it. If we can learn to embrace the Inherent Writerly Insecurity enough to make it work for us. No one as amazing as Trevor? Throw that gauntlet DOWN, folks. I’m THERE. (I’d like to think I did it with T, the bass player for Ice Cubes in Hell and yes, it took me THIS long to realize I have two amazing characters who are bass players and whose names begin with the same letter. We’ll get to author signatures another time, though. And if you haven’t met T, pick up Broken. For sale at all your favorite retailers for a whopping 99 cents.)

This is a hard lesson to learn, to make IWI work for us. To view it as a challenge, and the fact that not everyone can do what I do is part of what makes the world such a wonderful place. Takes all kinds, right?


Since you ain’t me, here’s what I tell my clients, all those Steves and Stevies, who drop into my inbox to lean on my really strong shoulders:

It’s okay to feel this way. Hell, you wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t.

But yes, it’s you who created everything you see on those pages at B&N, Amazon, and GoodReads. You really did accomplish that, and it is proof you are not a fraud. Frauds always get found out. Always. Trust me. I’ve pulled back more than one curtain on people who try to call themselves Oz. I know whereof I speak, and I know damn well, having seen the work you send my way, that you’re NOT a fraud.

What you’re listening to right now is the nagging voice of doubt. We all have it, even the people who aren’t authors. For us, though, who take every phone ring that’s not an agent offering representation as a rejection, who take every glance at our sales reports as a rejection even though we just checked thirty seconds ago, well… we let those demons in. We let our breath catch every time the phone rings. We keep checking the sales reports.

We have to be more diligent than the rest of the world about our fears and doubts. We can’t let them cripple us.

That doesn’t mean that every now and then, we don’t need to spend a day (or, better yet, an hour … okay, ten seconds) beating ourselves up because what’s in our head doesn’t transfer to the page with the same eloquence it danced across our brains. I think that taking a step back and listening to the doubt can be a good thing. It helps push us forward — see above about Trevor and T and the way I intend to make other characters as alive and vivid as those two.

Use it. Inherent Writerly Insecurity should be nothing more than another tool in our arsenal, another way in which we can connect to characters of all shapes, sizes, temperaments, and talents. Let it power your character’s flaws, their own sagging self-confidence.

Don’t let it get you down. Don’t let it cripple you.

You are made of stronger stuff than this. I promise.

And I got your back. More than anything, I got your back.


#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 — 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: 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 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 Mid-Week Ethical Dilemma


Yep, summer’s approaching. Clients are starting to pepper my inbox on a daily basis. I’m surprised I still have dates left for June, July, and August, so if you’re thinking you need an edit, better jump. I know I’ve said this before, but June’s around the corner. What are you waiting for?

This week, I am working on a fabulous literary-leaning (but not quite literary) proofread for an author whose last novel I worked on (actually, the first of our relationship) was great until I got to the end… and then it knocked my socks off. I’m having a ball with this new one, even if parts of it hit close to home. Friends and family have remarked that I’m a bit down this week, a bit edgy. Blame the power of the written word for that one!

But something else interesting happened last weekend. A client contacted me and asked if I could do a rush job for her. Even if she wasn’t one of the few I know in real life, I’d have said of course. I even figured out Dropbox and Word on my iPad so I can work in a more portable setting and get extra time in and yet not be trapped in my office for days on end. (I do like it in here, although I’ve decided it needs a paint job ’cause the stark white walls I am currently facing give off too much glare.)

The question I’m playing with, though, is this: because I’m putting an awful lot on hold for this rush job — I’m a single mom, remember, so a lot of what’s getting put on hold is time with my kids — do I start charging a separate fee for a client in a rush? I don’t want to charge for everything including the sneeze while writing the book, and I do what I do because I simply adore it, not because it’s going to make me a millionaire. Sadly. I have no objections to being the one who pays child support. Yeah, I know: I’m a long ways from testing that theory. Check in when faced with that reality!

Tell me what you guys think. Do you favor a Rush Job Fee? Why or why not? I’m truly debating this one…


#SaystheEditor Flexible


One in an occasional series


Some editors only work in one genre. More power to them, I say. To be able to pull in enough work to sustain a business, and to not get stale. It could be enough to make a girl envious.

Me, though, I love that I am able to work in as  many genres as I read. While each has its own conventions and rules, keeping all the rules in mind — not to mention keeping from getting confused about which manuscript demands what — keeps me on my toes. It’s mental gymnastics, and I love it.

Just the other day, in fact, I finished one  manuscript, the first in a new fantasy series, although it’s more of a political thriller set in a fantasy world, with gods and goddesses and dark practitioners and senators and their children. From there, it was off to the next manuscript… set in Regency England. There’s no worship here, except worship of the heart and men for women and women for men. The language, too, is different: from back alley slang to the stiff, formal speech that marks polite society.

As a reader, I doubt I’d have noticed the differences the way I have to as an editor. On some level, that awareness would have been there, but not the same as when I sit and begin to crawl inside a manuscript.

It’s that attention to detail that can make it hard to switch manuscripts, and why I try to only work on one at a time — and to start on Monday and finish by Friday. So to do it mid-week?

Pure exhilaration.

And a lot of excuses to wander around the kitchen, waiting for my the rest of my brain to catch up with the parts that have already switched genres.



#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.


#SaystheEditor Step Outside Your Life


One in an occasional series

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

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

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

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

So what’s the problem?

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

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

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

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


#SaystheEditor Royalty-based?


One in an occasional series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No royalty-based finances here, thank you.


#SaystheEditor Why One File is Best


One in an occasional series

A lot of my authors seem to prefer to send me their manuscripts in two halves.

Maybe they do it so they don’t have to pay my fees upfront. But… using PayPal’s Bill Me Later feature is now an option when you pay us at West of Mars. Using that will let you defer payments, although there are service charges and interest that need to be considered. I get how that would be a deterrent. I do.

Maybe some of my two-parter clients have set an editing date that they then scramble to meet, so by sending half the manuscript, they are buying themselves extra time to work on the back half. In that case, I’d rather shuffle your project to a later date. I’m starting to move to a “send it now” schedule — meaning that you send it when ready and I’ll get to it in order of arrival. I’m trying to get better about billing not before I start the project ahead of yours. You shouldn’t have to pay and then wait for a month. That’s a crazy long time.

(Of course, asI move to “send it now,” authors will always be able to reserve dates. There will start to be a deposit to save, and that deposit will be waived if the date isn’t met. Reserving dates means I am not letting anyone else have that time, and if you bail, it’s not fair to them. Or me.)

Whatever the reason, I do a better job as your editor when I have one file for the whole manuscript. That’s because there has yet to be a manuscript I haven’t had to search through. Did I remember to remove the hyphen in tiptoe? Makeup? And don’t forget the -wards siblings. Toward. Backward. No S on the end, folks. That’s a common search.

One file for your manuscript means if I want to reference something earlier — a character’s eye color, a point on the timeline — it’s easier to find. The file is already open and waiting. I don’t have to search fruitlessly through one only to get frustrated when I have to break my rhythm and search for that second file.

Of course, this is always an issue when working on series. I make extensive notes when working on a series. And… I do my best to refer to them, too.

One file. One payment. Makes life so much better for your editor, and a better life means a better job done for you, as well. I’m only human. I make mistakes. I challenge you to find the person — or these horrible new computerized editors — who doesn’t make a mistake.

So even if you have to send your file in two parts, be sure to let you editor know if she can cut and paste the second part into the first. For consistency. For a better editing job.

Aren’t you worth that? Aren’t your readers?


#SaystheEditor Don’t Keep Me Your Secret!


One in an occasional series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I bet she’d be glad to.

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

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