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

Write and publish with love and fury.

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: Use a spill file as you edit

Puzzle Krypt

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As you revise your writing, it can be difficult to let some passages go. Maybe a scene or chapter is just too long. Maybe one part of the narrative jigsaw puzzle sounds good but just isn’t working with everything else that works.

Editing yourself (before you hire an editor or send it on to beta readers) is difficult. You don’t want to lose gems, even when they aren’t working.

A spill file makes editing decisions easier. Open a blank document. As you go through your work, cut and paste passages that aren’t working into your spill file. It’s not just deleted and gone. It’s still there if you decide you want it back. Chances are that when you’re done, you won’t want it back.

The spill file is the writer’s wedding album: you make a big deal out of it and then hardly, if ever, look at it again.

But you’ll feel better, be more efficient and, if there is something to treasure in the spill file, you can easily bring it back into your story or start a new story from that nugget.

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

Writers: Take a penny, leave a penny

New York City Serenade

Image by joiseyshowaa via Flickr

The agent talked about her latest sales: This fabulous author and that little debut. She called them her authors, her books. It sounded like such a glamorous world. The writer hadn’t seen any of it for herself, but she had a writer’s mind so she could imagine every tantalizing detail.

“Good for you,” the writer said.

“Well, it’s not all cocktail parties, you know. In fact, it’s not nearly enough cocktails. Sometimes I hate it. You should see our slush pile. Long nights. No down time. I’d love to read the latest good books, but I have so much to read, I end up reading more bad stuff than good. You know how it is.”

The writer nodded and smiled, but she didn’t know how it was. She only read the good stuff. She aspired to be one of those writers who get a book launch and get to gripe about not getting paid enough as they examine royalty statements.

She glanced down at her own manuscript in the middle of the desk between them. She had changed the title five times over the course of as many drafts. Now she thought the words on the cover sheet should read: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM.

The writer thought of the bills that had been piling up as she wrote and rewrote multiple drafts of her book. She wanted to ask, “What do you think we can get for it? Any chance of an auction?” The writer didn’t have dollar signs blinding her vision. Her family had been supporting her efforts to get published for a long time. She wanted to finally have some money to show for it. She thought of all those nights she said, “Mommy’s working.” Everyone else she knew who worked got a paycheck.

But the writer knew those questions would sound impertinent. Unprofessional. Instead, she acted cool and casual and nodded at her manuscript. “Is it any good?”

Is it benign? is what she meant.

Sure, it’s good,” the agent replied. Then, a deep breath and a furrowed brow. “A lot of people might even think it’s great.”

The writer’s shoulders relaxed.

“But it’s not just a question of it being good.”

The writer’s shoulders tensed again. “It’s not?” Uh-oh…

The agent picked up the manuscript, felt its weight a moment and then placed it back on her desk. Then she slowly slid it back toward the writer. “The landscape has changed a bit since we last spoke.”

The writer sat up straight in her chair. She didn’t want to pick up her manuscript. Not yet. If she took it back, it would signify something she didn’t want to see.

“There are a lot fewer bookstores. The economy isn’t recovering as fast as we’d hoped. E-books are really screwing things up, I can tell you. There’s a lot of flux in the industry,” the agent said.

“Flux.”

“Yes.” The agent pushed back from the desk and stood. “I tell you what,” she said. “The market just isn’t ready for this sort of thing right now. I could have sold this a year ago, maybe even a few months ago.”

A few months ago you told me to take another swing at it, the writer thought.

“But it’s just not hot enough with my editors—”

There it was again. My authors, my books, my editors. It was if her agent held the keys to the whole world.

“…and I’m not as enthusiastic as I’d hoped. If I take something to them which isn’t really double-plus ready for prime time, they’ll never let me in the door again. I have to love it to sell it. You understand.”

The writer thought of all those years her father sold Fords. He didn’t love every model, but he had sold a lot of cars. The writer refused to rise from her chair. And she would not touch her manuscript. Promises hadn’t been made, no. But the agent had always sounded so positive. It had taken her two years to find this agent. Everyone said two years was lucky.

“Can I…? What could I do to fix the draft?” She hated the desperate tone that crept into her voice then.

The agent shook her head, but she was smiling in a way the writer guessed was supposed to be reassuring. “I wouldn’t worry,” the agent said. “Eventually, with a stick-to-it attitude, you’ll be published soon enough.”

Soon enough? What did that mean? The writer winced.

The agent put up her hands in a soothing gesture. “Relax and persevere. Your writing shows so much promise.”

The writer had heard this phrase many times. She thought if she heard it again, she might just throw a very embarrassing, very childish tantrum.

“So what should I do?” the writer asked.

“Oh, I think you should start fresh, of course,” the agent said. She was still smiling that infuriating smile.

Fresh? The writer had begun this manuscript (her third unsold manuscript) four years ago! The weight across her shoulders felt like an ox yoke.

“Don’t be discouraged,” the agent added breezily. “This is how this business works.”

“This business doesn’t seem to be working for me,” the writer said. I’m not even sure you’re working for me. She thought it but she didn’t dare say it.

The writer took a breath, held it a moment and then let it escape between her teeth in a slow hiss. “I don’t want to hear about flux. Give me something I can chew,” the writer said. “What’s wrong with it? You were so enthusiastic about the pitch.”

The agent came around the desk and took her elbow, ushering the writer toward the door as she spoke. “It’s a combination of elements. Not loving it enough is the main thing. If you’re looking for something more concrete to work on, I’d say this draft turned into a bit too much of a cross-genre issue. We have to be sure which shelf the book will be on so we can market it effectively. Is it a thriller or is it a sci-fi? I’m not sure. I bet you don’t know. It’s not…” the agent searched for the right word, “definitive.”

No, the writer thought. She’s appearing to search for the right word, but she’s acting. She’d said this many times before. She said it the way human resources people spit out, “…and we thank you for your years of service.”

“Wait. I do know. It’s a thriller, but if they aren’t sure—whoever they are—they can put it on both shelves,” the writer said. “And if bookstores are disappearing and people are buying books online so much, bookshelves aren’t really such an issue anymore are they? Shouldn’t we at least give some editors the chance to say no?”

The agent’s mouth was a line now. “You have to trust me,” she said. “I know this business. I’ve worked in it for almost twenty years.”

The writer said nothing. She was angry, but she wasn’t sure she should be angry with her agent. She wished she knew who to blame. The agent’s answer seemed to be that she should blame market conditions. Or herself. She didn’t know, but she wasn’t so far gone she didn’t wonder if the agent’s twenty years of experience meant she was now twenty-years stale.

The agent’s hand was on the doorknob. “I have a piece of advice for you,” she said. “I have to share it with all my clients at one time or another. Are you listening?”

The writer nodded. She could hold back the big fat baby tears until later, but she cursed herself still. She knew her eyes were wet and shiny. She wasn’t looking like a professional writer just now.

“Pick up the pennies,” the agent said.

“Wha…whut?”

Pick up the pennies! My mentor always told me that and now I’m telling you. When you see a penny or a dime in the street, pick it up. It’s your message to the universe that you’re open to receive your fortune. You’ll get good things eventually if you let the universe know you’re open to whatever it will give. When you pick up a penny, you’re telling the universe, God, Fate, whatever…you’re saying, ‘I’m patient and worthy of your grace. I’ll wait for my time and my turn.'”

With that, the agent grabbed her hand and pumped it firmly twice. “Good luck!” She seemed almost cheerful. “Pitch me again some day when you’re really really ready.”

Outside on a bench the writer searched her purse for tissues that didn’t look too well-used. Somehow she had the manuscript in her hands again. The agent had slipped it into her grasp so smoothly. She looked at the cover again. She felt the weight of it. It had seemed so valuable.

And what would she tell her family? Worse, what would her writing group say? They hadn’t been fans of the story at first but she’d honed it and they had come around. The people she had trusted most had loved the story, but now, obviously, their opinions had been wrong. All wrong. Not even close to right by accident.

This, she thought, had been needlessly humiliating. She should have just waited for an impersonal email instead of making an appointment. What had she been thinking when she picked up the phone? When she had spoken to the agent’s snotty assistant, the writer had said, “I’m in the city and I thought, hey, I can finally meet my agent in person!” As if she ever just happened to find herself in New York. As if she didn’t live three states away.

She’d felt so good about that move. It seemed so bold then. She had pictured the agent taking her to lunch where they could plot strategy over gourmet coffee with cinnamon swizzle sticks. The agent, she knew from her blog, was big on planning her stable’s careers. She felt like such a rube now that she hadn’t even stayed long enough for a stale cup of office coffee with lousy powdered creamer in a paper cup.

The city street bustled on around her. Hundreds walked past and they all ignored the woman snuffling on the bench. How much older would she be before it was her turn to get noticed? How much patience was reasonable? Maybe it was time to quit.

She had always dreamed of being a published author, but it was a dream with no known origin. She didn’t have to do it. It wasn’t beyond the dictates of her own will. Would she always be held hostage to the whim of her eight-year-old self? This was like running a marathon with no known finish line. Why not stop? No one was making her do this. She couldn’t call this a profession after this. Now it was just a hobby.

She could do something else, too. She had talents. She loved to cook. It wasn’t too late for culinary school. Maybe she would write a cookbook one day. She didn’t like the hours and the time it would mean away from the kids, but she could go for that real estate license. If she saved enough, there was still time to go back to university, she supposed. But what, besides english lit, would interest her? And wouldn’t all those books be a terrible, daily reminder of the beautiful dream she’d abandoned?

The writer looked down. At her feet she spotted a penny on the sidewalk. It was so soiled it was almost black. This, she thought, was one of those plot twists that would make an editor with a MFA scoff. She smiled and, without thinking, reached for it. Before her hand touched it, she froze.

What message was she sending the universe? Patience and openness and receptivity? Like her place could only be a gift? Like the universe was deciding whether she was worth a favor?

No.

That’s when she knew what picking up pennies really meant: If she stooped for a penny she was really telling the universe she’d settle for anything.

No.

She would not settle for a grudging gift. She would choose the dignity of earning her place instead. She would go get it herself.

The writer marched down the street with renewed purpose as she shoved the manuscript into her bag. She’d print off a new one as soon as she got home. She held her head high. Her step was fast and her shoulders light. A plan was forming. There was so much to do. She had to research ebooks and POD and formatting. She had to figure out self-distribution. She had to hire an editor and recruit proofreaders. When she got back to the hotel she’d call her husband and announce the great news. She wasn’t just an author anymore. She was a publisher now, too.

She knew she wasn’t supposed to smile at New Yorkers. You were supposed to look straight ahead, avoid everyone’s eyes and blend in. Instead, the writer beamed at everyone she saw. “Bright lights, big deal.”

Filed under: agents, authors, Books, ebooks, getting it done, manuscript evaluation, publishing, Rant, Rejection, Writers, , , , , , , , ,

Writers: Five editing tricks and tips (plus editing marks)

 

1. Editing onscreen is more difficult and less accurate than printing out your manuscript and attacking it with a pencil. Unless you’re well-practiced at editing pixels, print it out.

2. As you read your manuscript, read aloud. You will pick up more problems that way and if you run out of breath, it’s probably a run-on sentence.

3. Some experts tell you to read your manuscript backwards, one word at a time, to catch more typos. Though it is true this technique works, you must have a form of OCD to act on it. This is advice editors give, but never do themselves. If you don’t believe me, try it with any book-sized manuscript. (Wait! First make sure there are no sharp objects or firearms nearby!)

4. As you edit, read slowly. Your brain is wired to skip over mistakes when you read quickly.

5. Farm it out. You need someone else’s fresh eyes on your manuscript to see the thing you are missing. Hire editors. (Here’s one!)

Filed under: authors, Books, Editing, Editors, getting it done, publishing, rules of writing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: How to tell when your manuscript is ready

Freytag's Pyramid, which illustrates dramatic ...

Image via Wikipedia

Writing takes time and is often the most fun part of the journey. Then you rewrite and revise and revise again. Before you send your manuscript to an editor, make sure you’ve done as much as you can to clean it up.

Be aware of:

Formatting, hooking the reader, character development, story arcs, consistency of narrative, consistency of voice, differentiation of characters’ voices, typos, grammatical errors, plot logic, plot holes, pacing, three-act structure, rising action, scene length, passive voice, telling instead of showing

(gasp!)

…the list goes on and on, but you get the idea.

Make it as good as you are capable.

Once you’ve gone through however many revisions  you must endure (maybe two, maybe dozens) to write your story, go through one more time.

How will you know when you’re ready to send it off to an editor for new input?

You’ll be sick of your manuscript. (And if you have been holding on to a manuscript too long, let go of your perfectionism and the manuscript. It’s a torturous form of self-hatred.)

A manuscript is never truly finished. You could polish forever. However, when your editing goes sideways, meaning it’s not better but merely different, it’s time to send it off.

 

Filed under: Editing, Editors, getting it done, publishing, Writers, 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

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