C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

A Warning for Writers

I’ve used Google Docs to work with editors and beta readers for most of my books. Not anymore.

In addition to working as a suspense novelist since 2011, sometimes I take on book doctoring projects. I’m collaborating on a paranormal series with the Armand (The Great) Rosamilia and working with Gari Strawn of strawnediting.com on something right now. All of these book projects depend on the use of Google Docs. I got a nasty surprise recently and, if you’re a writer, you need to know about it.

I had just completed my second round of edits on a book project for another author when I discovered that Google docs had failed me. I doubted myself, at first. Then the realization set in: I’d made edits and corrections but the changes I thought were saved came back!

This set off a wave of disappointment, irritation and not a little anxiety. I thought I was nearly done with the project. I’d already pulled my trusty editor, Gari, into the mix. However, the truth could not be denied. We had worked from one master file in Google Docs and we couldn’t trust it anymore.


You can’t trust Google Docs, either.

What to do? What to do? To quote Ed Harris in Apollo 13, “I believe this will be our finest hour.” Gari and the project manager were understanding and supportive, focused on solutions.

I had no choice. I had to switch to an alternative immediately. There are several alternatives to Google Docs. Some are free or have premium options. After reading a recommendation from another book publisher, I decided to try Zoho.

I went with the premium version since I’m managing book projects for myself and others. Fortunately, I could make Gari part of the Ex Parte Press team through the app but the Zoho Writer app is free.

Signing into Zoho, I was a bit frustrated at first. I found the interface a bit clunky and non-intuitive. All I could think about was how I had to get past this problem to meet my deadline. Time was of the essence and I didn’t want to have to deal with a steep learning curve.

Unsure Zoho would be a smooth transition, I tried the free Microsoft’s free online platform. They needed confirmation that I wasn’t a robot so I clicked the button for them to send an email confirmation to activate my free subscription. That email never came. Neither did the text to my phone. While I was waiting or Microsoft to get their act together, I figured out Zoho.

Zoho wasn’t so bad after I did a little bit of checking, experimenting, and googling. Perhaps my initial disorientation was because I was so used to Google Docs. Zoho isn’t terribly expensive for the power user, but it is a primarily a business application. That means it has the mojo for major collaboration, but it’s not built with writers and publishers in mind. (To be fair, neither was Word. Plenty of people used Track Changes in the old days. I always hated Track Changes. Reading those little red squiggles, I thought I’d go blind.)

Because of its orientation toward formal communications in the business world, Zoho’s correction engine throws up a lot of flags you won’t need. It’ll question contractions, for instance. Possessives, like “parent’s house” got a squiggle under it, too. I wish Zoho was integrated with Grammarly. It’s not. If I could make one change, that would be it.

For comments and collaboration, Zoho is better than Google Docs and Word. You’ll get a lot of false positive flags of foreign words, for instance, but at least the notations are clear and easy to resolve. If you leave the browser too long, you’ll have to reload, but reloading is quicker than Google Docs. I found the application was much faster, allowing me to bounce around the document.

There are other alternatives besides Zoho you could choose. (Here’s a link to alternatives to Google Docs.)

Whatever you choose, be aware that the changes you make in Google Docs may revert or fail to save. You could lose a lot of time and effort that way. I sure did. This setback came late in our editing workflow, so I’ll be pulling all-nighters through to the end of June to get back on track.

Fair warning.

~ You write books. Do you read them, too? I recommend that. I recommend you read my books. I’m a suspense novelist who writes apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers. Check out the glories and a whole lotta whatnot on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Looking for more work/life balance? Me, too. More of that on today’s post about the writing life, how I’m battling insomnia, losing weight (and winning).

Filed under: Books, Editing, Editors, getting it done, publishing, writing, writing tips, , , , , , ,

Identifying a good editor is about chair placement

I’ve worked with several editors over the years. Mostly, the experience has been good. If you work with enough people though, you get a horror story. The bad editors have one thing in common: they think it’s about them and they bleed self-importance. (Beware: at the editing stage, it’s not generally about the author, either. It’s about the reader.)

 

Bad editors are: 

1. Belittling, condescending and even angry.

Let’s face it, for some people, editing is a power thing. They love to tell people what to do and where they are wrong because it feels great to be right. Editors like this don’t have a lot of authors who return to the whipping room for another go, however. Life’s too short. If you’re looking for a fight, there are better ways to use that energy.

One person tried to be abusive with me once and their lure was a very low fee. “Wow! You mean I get the privilege of being your bitch for a very low fee? Gee, thanks, but no.” (Hint: if you try to sell your editorial services this way, that’s a paddlin’.)

2. Lazy.

One editor went through the last few pages of a manuscript in a sad effort to convince me she’d gone through the whole thing. That set my production schedule back three months.

3. Frustrated writers.

A friend of mine was an editor and I got a chance to see her in action. When she was done, the book still had the author’s name on it, but it should have been her name on the cover. When the edits are intrusive or delete the author’s voice, it’s time for the editor to write his or her own book instead of mucking up someone else’s dream.

I could go on with a long list of bad editing practices. Many of you probably have a horror story or two to share. Instead, let’s focus on what good (and great) editors have in common.

The good editors I’ve known all do the same thing:

Picture a desk. This is the work desk the editor and author will use, virtual or literal.

Visualize the chairs. See where the chairs are around said desk?

The skilled editor who works best with authors places the chair on the same side of the desk and works beside the writer.

Working with a good editor feels good.

 

The relationship does not devolve into a hostage negotiation. It’s a team effort and the author is the captain of the team because their name will be on the cover forever.

The good editor is honest, but flexible enough to allow for stylistic choices. Some choices are objectively right or wrong. A bunch aren’t. Suggestions are welcome, but the author gets the final say on what he or she wants to do. Rigidity is the enemy of Art and good editors and authors know that. (Hint: Sentence fragments can be cool. They are not worse than herpes plus Shia Labeouf compounded by our sun exploding on Thursday afternoon while Yoko Ono sings)

Good editors have a light touch on the text because they don’t start off assuming all writers are idiots in need of discipline and more education. They may end up there, of course. Some of us aren’t that bright. However, good editors aren’t so cynical that they begin Chapter 1 that way and they never let their eye rolls and contempt show.

Good and great editors have diplomatic skills as well as sharp eyes. Even when a heavier hand on the text is required, good authors can become great by accepting suggestions with grace.

Good and great editors are out there. When you find one, hold on tight.

~ Let’s cleanse the palate. Time for a sneak peek at This Plague of Days 3? Go to ThisPlagueOfDays.com for a new excerpt. TPOD3 and This Plague of Days, The Complete Three Seasons launches June 15th!

Filed under: Editing, Editors, , , , , , ,

Slush Pile Snark

I came across another one of those lists that tell you about common errors that lead editors and publishers to reject manuscripts. But this post isn’t about those lists. This post

manuscript

manuscript (Photo credit: El Chupacabrito)

isn’t about manuscript tips. It’s about snark. Have you noticed these lists about what you shouldn’t do are sometimes devoid of gentle correction, kind suggestions and sweet-natured guidance? Sometimes some editors and agents strike a certain tone that suggests that somebody needs a vacation from reading the slush pile.

No wonder agents and publishers have such a hard time finding good manuscripts if they’re too eager to put manuscripts down. When I worked at Harlequin evaluating manuscripts, I had to read the whole book, write a summary and a full report. I wasn’t allowed to reject manuscripts with any of the caprice I was tempted to wield. But I was never snarky about it. Being impolite to the group that supplies the crux of the cash flow would have been considered unprofessional. As agents become ever more irrelevant, are some (I emphasize some!) agents becoming more cynical and even more rude? As Shrek said to Donkey, “You’re goin’ the right way for a smart bottom!”

Sometimes unsolicited submissions were irritating, but I never whipped myself into a froth and climbed up into active dislike of writers. Read some agent blogs and you’ll find a few who have become cynical, hate their jobs and seem to hate you. Reading manuscripts takes time and some agents have decided to blame you because bad manuscripts are a part of their job that sucks. As if we all don’t have something about our jobs we like least. For instance, it’s tax season and any day now my accountant will ask if I have readied a pile of paperwork I haven’t even begun to think about and I will threaten to claw out my eyes if she doesn’t leave me alone until I call her instead of the other way around.

Of course, times have changed in publishing. No editor is interested in developing your manuscript (as happened with Stephen King to some extent and to Harper Lee to a huge extent.) Don’t get me wrong. I’ve met nice people in publishing. Nice is the norm. Smart is the norm. It’s just that the nasty ones are so much louder and more memorable.

Filed under: agents, DIY, Editors, manuscript evaluation, publishing, self-publishing, Writers, writing tips, , ,

Quick links to the most popular posts on Chazz Writes:

All That Chazz     How Editing Works (Plus Editing Symbols)     Five Editing Tricks & Tips      6 Effective Ways to Promote Your Book     First & Third-Person Viewpoint Problems   Ten Lessons Learned from an Evening with Kevin Smith

Sneak Peek at Self-Help for Stoners     TOP TEN: The Divide between the Published and the Self-published    Where does the Darkness Come From?    CreateSpace versus Lightning Source: Pros and Cons Breakdown   What Used to be Cool

 Take me to the Shop Happy Store

Filed under: All That Chazz, DIY, ebooks, Editing, Editors, My fiction, self-publishing, Shop Happy, writing tips

Writing: The Rule of Three & the peril of semi-colons

Massey Hall, Toronto

Image via Wikipedia

Saturday night I saw Bill Maher at Massey Hall in Toronto. Good show, fun time. Bill is known for Real time with Bill Maher, his documentary Religulous, his comedy and his New Rules books. Watching him perform, I noticed he never breaks the Rule of Three. It is a good rule, an effective rule and a memorable rule that I just demonstrated with this very sentence.

Wikipedia puts it like this: The “Rule of Three” is a principle in writing that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.”

Of course, you will write longer lists, but when you use a colon, do so sparingly unless you’re composing a scientific paper. Semi-colons can be very useful in separating elements in a list after a colon. However, if you use the semi-colon to separate related clauses, please do so sparingly. Wikipedia says, “According to the British writer on grammar, Lynne Truss, many non writers avoid the colon and semicolon…”

I disagree. It’s not just non-writers who avoid the semi-colon to separate interdependent clauses. 

The semi-colon can be a useful device occasionally, but as a punctuation mark, it is often either misused or has fallen out of favor.

When Lynne Truss refers to “non-writers”, does she not also mean people who are readers? Shouldn’t it be the common reader who sets the standard for what’s easily read and understood? I invoke the common usage rule here. When something has fallen out of common use, it’s too rusty to use without a lot of irritating squeaking. For instance, if a writer uses the word “behooves,” he sounds like he’s trying to be Charles Dickens. You just aren’t old enough for that.

Similarly, the semi-colon has fallen so far out of common use that when a reader encounters one, it pulls them out of the narrative to think, “Hey, look! A semi-colon! Why did the author feel it was necessary to separate related thoughts with a semi-colon, instead of separating those ideas with a simple period? Anything that stops me from breezing along through a novel is a speed bump that I would prefer shaved down so I can speed along and focus on content instead of transmission static.

I have never read a sentence with a semi-colon that I did not reread at least twice.

I’m not saying  you shouldn’t use semi-colons, if they suit you; I am saying, I won’t use the semi-colon.

Anymore.

Filed under: Editing, Editors, grammar, , , , , , , , , , ,

Editing tools and typo tips

Book cover (Dust jacket) for the 15th edition ...

Image via Wikipedia

Write_your_book
EDIT YOUR BOOK!

When you’re checking your manuscript, use your word processor’s Spellcheck. Some editors turn up their snobby little noses at Spellcheck, but it can flag problems you might otherwise miss. Nobody’s perfect and problems will always appear once you’ve published your book (yes, in both traditional and self-published books). Don’t take every suggestion; Spellcheck isn’t always right. It’s a tool, not a panacea. You can also use Find and Replace to look for problems Spellcheck misses: its, it’s, there, their and so on. Spellcheck doesn’t replace editors and they don’t replace thinking. But you’ll catch more using it.

To the rude editor I met at the conference who said she never used Spellcheck: Yes, I’m saying that was arrogant and, just like the rest of us, you’re not nearly as smart as you think you are. Or funny. And you need to work on your social skills. (Now I’m worried that I’m projecting.)

I don’t edit blog posts obsessively, but when I’m working on a book, I have several websites up on my browser: Chicago Manual of Style, Wikipedia, and dictionary.com. I also use Autocrit for more input.

For me, yesterday was single quote day. I wrote parts of my books with Open Office, so I had to go through the manuscript and make all my single quotes curly…and curly in the right direction. I was cross-eyed and HULK ANGRY by 5 pm.

PentecostSelf-publishing guru and author of Pentecost, Joanna Penn, has a great suggestion to deal with typos: Publish your ebook first. Your readers will let you know (politely or not) about your book’s typos. Corrections to the ebook are easier than correcting your printed book. Corrections to print books are called “second editions.” Great tip! For more information from Joanna, check out this very useful interview. I loved this inspiring interview and it helped me calm down after Curly Quote Day. Well…much later, after the photo below.

Me after Curly Quote Day

Filed under: Books, DIY, Editing, Editors, getting it done, grammar, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Publishing: Ownership

Ever see the follow-up to Get Shorty? It was Be Cool with Uma Thurman and John Travolta. While generally entertaining, there was a sour note and just didn’t feel at all right. It’s a problem with a lot of artistic gestation.

Uma’s character confesses her life’s ambition. She wants to turn on the radio and hear one of her songs. She says, “A song I produced.”  But she’s not talking about a song she wrote or sang or drummed or strummed. She’s talking about the bureaucracy that brings the art out and to the masses.

Producers talk about “their” films, “their” writers, “their” stable of talent. Like they own that talent, or at least rent it. When I hear an editor or agent refer to “their” writers, entitlement and ownership creeps into their tone. “I tell my writers…” “My books….”

But they aren’t your books, films and music, are they? Bureaucrats, like the rest of us, are each the star of their own movie. Money and access has been the root of that uneven power relationship.

Key words: Has been. Now agents and publishers are struggling harder to justify their roles. Why do you need an agent for access to digital publishing when you can DIY? Why should an author only get 25% for ebooks? (Or Harlequin’s egregious offer of 8%!) Meanwhile, some agents are morphing into writing coach services, expanding their offerings to stay in the role of taking care of authors. Some authors want to be taken care of. That’s fine, as long as they know their options.

The writer has been the last to get the cash. The writer has written on spec and often been a “speck” in the way they’re treated. It’s upside down. Writers are content providers. We make up things from nothing.

If you still feel powerless before the system, a small cog in a great machine, a serf among lords, a peon The Man pees on—now you’re just doing it to yourself. Take ownership of your ambitions and destiny.

Don’t blame them.

If you want power, don’t ask permission.

Just go take it.

I did. I’m now president and chief bottle washer, turd polisher and executive in charge of toilet paper replacement and Creative Arts at Ex Parte Press. Boo-ya!

Filed under: agents, authors, Books, DIY, ebooks, Editors, getting it done, Useful writing links, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

How to edit without reading

Lettrine A edtion 1570 Venise I quattro libri ...

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You: Edit without reading? How is that even possible? 

Me: You can tell when a story has problems at a glance if the page is too dark.

You: Um. What?

Me: This page. Look at all that unbroken text.

(HOLDS OUT A MANUSCRIPT AT ARM’S LENGTH)

It’s an intimidating, heavy block. Unless you are Proust—wait. Are you Proust?

You: (SURLY) No.

Me: Okay. When there are big unbroken blocks of text, you’re demanding a lot of the reader.

You: So I should assume my reader is too stupid to handle a long paragraph?

Me: Yes.

You: What?!

Me: Attention spans are shorter. Big blocks of text do not skip along. It’s hard to get a sense of making progress when faced with all that text. You need to break it up.

You: Show me.

Me: The first thing is, have you used paragraphs correctly? Maybe the unified sentences are there but you’ve missed opportunities to paragraph appropriately. Think of each paragraph as  one logically unified thought. Look for the flow, either progression or back and forth, to identify where the next paragraph proceeds.

You: Uh-huh. I’m not an idiot, you know.

Me: I’m sure you’re not. I didn’t create you to be an idiot, but a dialogue foil so I could parry back and forth a bit. Break up the didactic drudgery.

You: Wha–wait. What?

Me: (SMOOTHLY) So the next usual suspect is long speeches. Soliloquies usually need to be broken up with action, interaction and conflict from other characters.

You: Or?

Me: Or you get big blocks of text. Readers like white space, but this isn’t just an aesthetic issue. It’s an editorial issue. Shorter paragraphing looks more appealing, true, but when dialogue flies back and forth, shorter paragraphs are an indication of dynamism on the page.

You: And you think you don’t have to actually read the story to know it’s not dynamic enough?

Me: I don’t have to actually read the story to know that unless you get more white space on the page, no one will read it. I’m trying to give your story a chance at daylight. I haven’t read a word, but I’ve seen enough holding it at arm’s length and glancing through a few pages to see the pattern. If you send it to an editor or agent, they will heave a great sigh and turn away quickly. If you try to sell it yourself, it will not sell.

You: Do you actually talk to writers like this when you edit them?

Me: Of course not. This is just a blog post between me and an imaginary writer…you know, for educational purposes.

You: Educa…. About what you…hey! You’re saying I’m not real?

Me: (PULLS A WOODEN STAKE FROM BENEATH A DARK CLOAK)

The problem is real. The editorial trick is real. You, I made up.

(PLUNGES STAKE INTO THE FICTION’S CHEST AND ROOTS AROUND FOR THE HEART IN QUICK, GRISLY CIRCLES)

You: Ouch. Hey, that was…surprisingly painless.

Me: It’s okay. Sh. I wrote your reality this way so it doesn’t hurt anyone.

You: Oh. Thanks.

Me: You’re welcome. You live in the Matrix. It’s a bitch, but I try to make it easy on everybody.

(PULLS OUT THE STAKE AND THE SOUND IS LIKE AIR FARTED OUT OF A PARTY BALLOON)

(THE FICTIONAL AUTHOR WHIZZES AWAY LIKE SAID PARTY BALLOON AND, AT FULL DEFLATION, DISAPPEARS INTO AN UNENDING GREEN SEA UNDER A CLOUDLESS NIGHT SKY AND A BLUE, TROPIC MOON.)

THE WARM BREEZE, SMELLING OF COLITAS AND CARRYING THE SOUNDS OF THE JUNGLE TO THE WEST WHISPERS STERNLY: “Stop now, Chazz! It’s overwritten already!

Me: FADE INTO DARKNESS. THEN GOES SHOPPING.

And that’s how you edit without reading. 

Filed under: Books, Editing, Editors, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , ,

New mugs for editors at http://www.cafepress.ca/chazzwrites

As I recover from minor surgery, I’m taking it easy today. However, I do have a new product up at the store for editors who want to gently remind writers that it’s not called a liveline. It’s a deadline. Check out the new mugs here.

In fact, check out all the inventory at my store.

Tomorrow, in case you are struggling with a deadline: Top 10 ways to get back your motivation to write. Then, a post on how to edit without reading. Crazy shit, I know! Stay tuned.

Now I’m back to the couch with one more day feeling sorry for myself. I’ll get my groove back tomorrow, Stella.

(I’m okay. Minor injury sustained while defending Gotham from dark forces.)

Filed under: blogs & blogging, Editing, Editors, Shop Happy, writing tips, , , , ,

Self-publishers are judged unfairly

I’ve been thinking about what makes things go viral. As per my last post, put twoanger babies together, let them babble, and you’ve got a ubiquitous video that’s hard to avoid. Cute animals go viral. When Sarah Palin said “squirmish” instead “skirmish” I thought that would go viral. It didn’t really, which is as telling a sign of her fifteen minutes being up as any deep analysis of her political future.

Then there was the author who lost her frigging mind.

If you somehow missed this story, here’s the ugly summary: She got a lukewarm review. The reviewer said the story was good but her self-published book was is dire need of a copy editor. The author unadvisedly went into the comments section of the book review blog and was anything but gracious. She blamed the book reviewer for downloading the wrong (substandard) copy. Then she railed some more. She was fighting uphill from the beginning, of course. You don’t pick a fight you can’t win in someone else’s house. Regular review readers rose to the reviewers defense. Things got even more heated when said author then resorted to profanity. The comments section blew up as people  piled on. I am not piling on. Plenty has been said about this and frankly, there’s nothing more for me to say about that. In fact, too much was said about that.

What I do want to talk about is the comment, made several times, about self-publishers. The point was that this author exemplified the lack of professionalism that reinforced the posters’ opinion that they would never, ever read a self-published book.

Wow. How unfair.

Traditionally published authors have made this same mistake.

Not all self-published authors let manuscripts go to press unedited.

Not all self-published authors would act so unprofessionally as to react so negatively to a book reviewer.

Clearly, the poster talking about “all self-publishers” has a bias and found an anecdote that confirmed that bias.

The phenomenon is called confirmation bias.

It’s lazy thinking that leads to prejudice.

Prejudice ≠ a good thing.

Filed under: authors, Books, DIY, ebooks, Editing, Editors, Rant, self-publishing, writing tips

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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