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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Editing tools and typo tips

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

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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, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Editing Part III: The joy of editing

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, 3rd...

I just received the gift of a book in the mail. I had already read this book but I was very pleased to receive it. In fact, I’d gone through this particular book in meticulous detail. The author signed the title page for me and graciously thanked me for my advice. The book in hand was a bonus for editing the work.

Editing is such picky work. I zip into and out of the on-line Chicago Manual of Style a lot. I tweak here and economize there. No matter the level of the edit, the key to good editing is asking the right questions.

Here’s a sample of the sorts of questions that run through my mind as I work:

Should that be 18th Century or Eighteenth century? Should I leave a quirky passage alone to keep the author’s voice or is the joke too much of a reach? Should I suggest new elements? Does the material make more sense if it is reorganized? Does this follow logically from that? Is that assertion a fact? Is that translation correct? What design elements could I suggest to make the book pop? What elements could I suggest that would convert a browser into a buyer? Is there an opportunity missed here? What marketing strategy could I suggest to make this a book with real long-tail potential? What’s missing? (That last one can take the work to a new level.)

In short, a good editor or proofreader will question everything.

An experienced editor will pick up on what’s on the page and what’s not there that’s hurting the book.

In the end, I let it go back to the author to decide which of my suggestions to act upon. When it’s done, the author’s name is on the front cover. I always say some variation of: “She’s still your baby. She’s healthy and you’ll recognize her. She wasn’t sick but she’s feeling even better now.” The reader will never know how much or how little I did. The job is to make the author look good. (And sell more books.)

And you know what? It’s fun. I’m not gleeful about it in the way I know some editors are. When I was in journalism school and when I worked for a daily newspaper, I ran into editors who were looking for stuff so they could catch you out. It was a game for them and they acted like it was the only way they could find to feel good about themselves. When they caught something—anything—writers got snarky remarks and not just a little passive aggressive indignation. Editors like that are sad and make me tired.

I find editing fun because it’s an intellectual challenge and the collaborative process makes the book better than it otherwise would have been. Higher quality editorial work translates to more authority to the author, more sales for the current book and more sales for the author’s next book. A helpful edit can morph an experiment that didn’t quite come together into a legacy book that will delight, distract, elevate, educate, provoke, redeem and earn for years to come.

A good edit will pay for itself.

And generally? No, an unedited book doesn’t stand a chance.

Filed under: authors, Books, ebooks, Editing, Editors, grammar, publishing, self-publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers & Editors: Top 10 Editorial Considerations

 Here’s the follow-up from yesterday’s post on appropriate use of tense:

Editing considerations (as I revised my short story, The Dangerous Kind)Chicago-Manual-of-Style

1. One component I took care to delete were instances where the narrator says things like “I was surprised,” or when he made blatant judgements about his brother. This is overwriting and it’s easy to fall into. You want to give the readers enough to paint a picture but not so much that they can’t draw their own conclusions.

2. Try to avoid clichéd caricature. Don’t tell. Show character’s traits through their actions and dialogue.

3. Give your villains depth, so though the narrator of this story is the protagonist, he’s capable of evil and his mean big brother isn’t all bad, either.

4. This is a long short story at 8,500 words. The details are what’s going to draw readers into the slow build as the narrator discovers the evil of which he is capable. Show special knowledge along the way the reader might not know or detail that deepens the experience.  (For instance, on the hunting trip, the reader learns or experiences details about the feel of moss underfoot, the sound of a rifle bolt slamming home, buck fever and what it feels like to be carried in your mother’s arms.)

 5. Dialogue should advance plot, deepen character and, preferably, do so memorably. If the dialogue is neither of these things, it can often be summarized in narrative without quotes around it.

 6. Revising means “seeing anew.” Evaluate what the story is really about. At first I kept present tense because I wanted to maintain mystery as to whether the narrator would survive the story (See yesterday’s post below.) As I unearthed the story, the plot took a turn away from that storyline. Instead, the stakes are not whether the narrator will survive, but will he allow his brother to die, get the inheritance and escape rural Maine for the bright lights of New York? Once the core of the story changed, past tense opened up to me so I could achieve a more subtle and nuanced story than I had originally intended. That’s okay for a short story. For a longer piece of fiction I’d do more planning, plotting and outlining ahead of time so as not to lose too much time backing and filling.

7. Vary sentence length and sentence construction.

 8. Cut where you can without becoming terse or overwriting.

 9. The most common failure of overwriting is to describe character features in detail. Don’t tell me in detail what anybody’s wearing and definitely avoid the trope of getting a character to describe him or herself in a mirror.

 10. Dialogue should sound real, but without the ums and ahs of a transcript. Avoid dialect where possible as accents slow(and annoy readers.) Read your dialogue aloud to determine if you can believe someone saying your dialogue believably.

 Below is the first-person present-tense excerpt from The Dangerous Kind and then the revision.

Compare these excerpts…and please ignore the formatting. That’s a text to screen issue 🙂

 …I ask Jason if he cleaned the barrel. He shrugs and says he can still smell the gun oil so it is probably okay. He slings the rifle into the crook of his elbow and walks off toward the woods. I carry the pack, heavy with Jason’s beer. He does not have a hunting license. “Shouldn’t need one when you can get to the woods from your own back step.”

Halloween was the warmest I have ever known in Poeticule Bay, but this morning’s November chill cuts at my lungs. The forest goes quiet as we step into the tree line, as if the birds hear Jason coming and know they should be afraid. A squirrel rattles an alarm and skitters away as we push through a weave of dogwood.

 The glass bottles give muffled clinks as I walk. We hike to the old logging road where trees bow and touch overhead. Grass fills the middle so high, the trail looks like two narrow paths, as if parallel by coincidence.

Jason puts a finger to his lips. Staying quiet is all Jason knows about hunting. I try to tread carefully so the bottles don’t knock against each other. When I start to fall behind, my brother curses me for falling behind.

The sun burns off the gray cloud cover. The trees cast another forest of shadows, adding another thickness and plane to the landscape. The pack’s straps pull at my shoulders. Despite the sun and the cold air’s green taste, my footsteps become heavier as we push on. The sweat trapped under the backpack sucks my shirt to my skin.

We walk another half hour and salt sweat burns my eyes before I ramp up the courage to complain. My breathing is heavy. “We’re going too far, Jason.”

Revision:

…I asked Jason if he cleaned the barrel. He shrugged and said he could still smell the gun oil so it’s  probably okay. He slung the rifle into the crook of his elbow and stalked off toward the woods. I carried the pack, heavy with Jason’s beer. He doesn’t have a hunting license. “Shouldn’t need one when you can get to the woods from your own back step.”

            That Halloween had been the warmest I have ever known in Poeticule Bay, but this morning’s November chill cut at my lungs. The forest went  quiet as we stepped into the tree line, as if the birds heard  Jason coming and knew they should be afraid. A squirrel rattled an alarm and skittered away as we pushed through a weave of dogwood.

 The glass bottles gave  muffled clinks as I walked. We hiked to the old logging road where trees bowed to touch overhead. Grass filled the middle so high, the trail looked  like two narrow paths, as if parallel by coincidence.

 Jason put  a finger to his lips. Staying quiet is all Jason knew  about hunting. I tried  to tread carefully so the bottles wouldn’t knock against each other. When I started  to fall behind, my brother cursed  me for falling behind.

The sun burned  off the gray cloud cover. The trees cast another forest of shadows, adding another thickness and plane to the landscape. The pack’s straps pulled  at my shoulders. Despite the sun and the cold air’s green taste, my footsteps became  heavier. The sweat trapped under the backpack sucked  my shirt to my skin.

 We walk another half hour and salt sweat burns my eyes before I ramp up the courage to complain. My breathing heavy, I said,“We’re going too far, Jason.”

There are a lot of small changes here. Aside from changing the tense, there are a few other tactical changes worth noting. There’s a lot of walking through the woods in this story, so where appropriate I looked for more engaging verbs than “walking.” Instead I used “hiking” and “stalked.” Don’t touch your thesaurus , though. That’s a sign you’ve reached too far.

Careful use of uncommon verbs (like “skitters”) can be used to light the reader’s imagination as long as you don’t go over the top. If you overuse uncommon verbs, it’s usually for comedic effect. In the larger document I found other economies which I condensed into today’s Top 10 list.


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Filed under: Editing, manuscript evaluation, My fiction, short stories, writing tips, , , , ,

The Basics of a Good Writing Critique

My clients appreciate my input into their projects because:

1. I’m encouraging and I accentuate the positive.

2. I’m not coming up with criticism because I’m convinced they must be there to be found since you asked. All criticism is the constructive kind and I help people find solutions to their story problems.

3. I strive to be gentle and insightful.

4. I don’t mock effort or ambition (I’m looking at some of you FBAs*).

5. My clients know I’m trying to help them make their project better. I’m on their side and it’s their choice to adopt my editorial suggestions.

I’m for the underdog.

*FBAs= Famous Blogging Agents

Filed under: manuscript evaluation, , ,

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.

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