Showing posts with label editors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label editors. Show all posts

Friday, October 9, 2020

Nitpicky Editing


 Edits. You never know what you're going to get when you entrust you WIP to someone else's critical eye. The only way you get to pick your editor is if you're self-publishing. The rest of the time, you get the luck of the draw. 

I don't have a horror story per se - just an annoyed the crap out of me story. I had a copy editor, a copy editor I hadn't picked. This copy editor defined nitpicker. He didn't understand my genre. He had a totally literal brain and a need to prove he was smarter than anyone else. So rather than simply marking that I'd overused a word, there just had to be a condescending comment about it.

I gritted my teeth, muttered, "Fuck you" under my breath a lot. But even if I didn't appreciate the nonsense, I had to check my ego and make corrections regardless of the BS comments. I also did check in with my editor, who was amazing. I asked if it was possible to request that a copy editor NOT be assigned to my work any longer. She chuckled and said, "Yes, it is. I wondered how you'd feel about that copy edit. I disagreed with some of the edits. I feel like he was changing your voice." 

A vast wave of relief washed over me. I wasn't just being a jerk when I declined a bunch of suggested edits. I was preserving my story and my voice.

I learned several things from this experience:

  • Never submit your master  copy to your editor - keep a back up that is your clean copy. 
  • If you have concerns, always talk to your editor in a calm, professional manner.
  • If you're self-publishing, remember you hired 'em, you can fire 'em. Don't spend time furthering a mistake just because you spent a long time (or a lot of money spent) making it.
  • Ask other authors for recommendations before you hire any kind of editor. 
  • No one caution or solution will prevent poor experiences, but if you make sure you always keep a clean copy in your files, you have a fall back.

Finally, it doesn't matter how many annoying edits I get, I'll always ask for edits from someone who gets paid for doing the job. I'm not equipped to call myself on my own bad writing habits and I like my readers too much to leave those habits unchallenged. 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Nitpicking: When Editing Goes Horribly Wrong

I'm sending a shoutout to my bestie Grace Draven this week, celebrating the long-anticipated release of THE IPPOS KING on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. I read an early copy and this book is amazing and wonderful and totally worth the wait. (I know her website still says September, but it really comes out Tuesday!) (Also, Grace might be a dear friend, but she became my friend because I read and loved her books. So, I'm biased, but in the best possible way. This is really is a wonderful book!)

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is  Nitpicking - venting about things or thinking about the value of attention to detail.

I want to tell you all a story.

Recently, a good friend self-published a book. This is not Grace, btw. (I also discussed the initial part of the story on my podcast on September 24.)

But this friend is an accomplished author - more than two-dozen traditionally published books, multiple appearances on the top bestseller lists, winner of top industry awards - and she knows what she's doing in writing a book. 

As a responsible self-publisher, she lined up an editor to proofread the book, scheduling them for two days to read an ~60K book. She'd also factored in a couple of other reads: one from her continuity editor and a couple of betas, including me. I read - and loved! - the book in about a day. I marked the very few typos I happened to spot and identified a few word-choice questions and one continuity error that could be fixed in five minutes. 

In other words, it was a really clean manuscript.

Or, it was, until the "proofreader" got a hold of it.

H.G. Wells is credited with saying "No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft." There's a lot of truth to this. It seems particularly true when the editor is also an author.

Unfortunately, the proofreader succumbed to this passion and began making vast changes to the book. When I say "vast," I'm not exaggerating. It was on the level of a deep-dive developmental edit. Scenes were rearranged. Sentences deleted and new sentences added. Her personal opinions added to change aspects she didn't approve of. 

Reader: this was not a proofread.

The resultant manuscript was in such terrible shape - with almost no time to sort it out - that my friend was reduced to stress tears multiple times. I was hugely upset on her behalf. So, I went to another proofreader, one I thought could be trusted to help sort it out, for help.

That person, however - also an author as well as an editor - scrambled the manuscript further. They didn't listen to the writer of the book either and made huge changes again. It took my friend days to sort it out. Time she did not have. Worse, they didn't even catch the typos as was the job they'd been hired to do.

Finally I - chagrined that I'd thrown my dear friend from the frying pan into the fire - found one more proofreader for her. By this time, so many people had made changes to this manuscript that it desperately needed another set of eyes. I'm going to tell you that I asked Crystal Watanabe at Pikko's House. I'm giving you all her name and link, because she did an amazing job. And you know what? She did exactly what she'd been hired to do: proofread. She submitted a quote, performed the turnaround in the agreed upon timeframe - and she didn't attempt to do any more than that. No bragging on social media about "saving" the book. No rewriting or trying to make herself look special by her affiliation with the author. She did her job and she did it well. 

I've hired her to proofread my next novella.

All of this is by way of a cautionary tale. It's not always easy for Indie authors to find professional services that aren't predatory - and that aren't primarily a path for the service provider to advance their own interests - but it's critical that we do. And that we share those resources with each other. 

My friend and I both learned a good lesson here. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Writing a book is not a single-player RPG

When folks talk about “leveling up” writing craft, they’re slapping possibly the best metaphor in the universe on this process. Because writing a book is almost exactly like game-mastering a role-playing game. In which you are also playing all player characters. Alone. Deep into the night. And recording the whole thing in case someone, anyone, ever wants to hear about your fun made-up adventure that you had with yourself.

First you read the module (get the story idea and some rough sketch of the conflict and setting). Then you roll up heroes (main and secondary characters, with motivations and emotional problems and gear). Then you sit down at your little table for many hours and eat bad food and melt into this strange, magical, wonderful world you’ve devised.

And after you’ve defeated the big boss (written the first draft), it’s time to assign experience points and loot, and … level up.

Yes, leveling up is revision.

When I’m leveling up (revising) a book, the most helpful source books (tools) are going to be

  • Critique partners—Get you some! At least one. I have three. These are professional writers who are at or above my skill level (not necessarily writing in my genre; the skill-level match is the key here) and do not hesitate to point out crap that isn’t working. They aren’t “oh I love everything you write” people. They are “eeew”-in-the-margin and “nope, he’d never say this” people. 
  • A developmental editor—My publisher hooks me up with editors who read my icky drafts and offer suggestions for making the books better, but if you’re self-publishing, you need to go out and find a good dev editor on your own. Don’t skip this part. I don’t know a writer who turns out perfectly balanced and paced first drafts about adequately motivated characters. And I know some damn impressive writers.
  • A read-along performance—I don’t mean you need to get up in front of an audience and read your book aloud. I do mean that you need to read your book aloud, though. Yes, the entire thing. Even those scenes that make you blush. (Have a glass of wine, if you need it.) Read the characters in their own voices and make sure the POVs are sufficiently distinct, the dialogue makes sense, and the chapter-ending hooks make you want to keep reading. If you stumble over a word or sentence when you’re reading it aloud, very likely there’s a problem in that spot. Flag it and move on, and later, you can come back and think, Ha! I spelled teh wrong and spellcheck totally let me down! Because this is not the kind of thing your eyes notice when you’re reading silently. But your mouth realizes that teh is completely unpronounceable and helps you fix all these embarrassing things.
  • Beta readers—Contrary to some weird stuff I’ve heard lately, you do not need to pay for beta reading. Find another writer in your genre who you trust, and trade manuscripts. Or find a reader in your genre who is willing to read in exchange for a shout out in the Acknowledgements or chocolate or advance copies of all your books in perpetuity or just to elevate the genre. Note that a beta reader is not a line editor and is not responsible for your commas. You should have already sorted your commas by this point. Also, don’t use your book-buying readers as betas. Readers who buy the book should not also have a duty to tell you that your pacing is off or you’re showing rather than telling all through chapter six (why is it always chapter six?). Readers bought the book. Your job is to make sure that thing they bought is already a quality purchase.
  • A line editor—To sort the dangling participles (you have some, I promise) and word repeats and 42-word sentences and language that might trigger or offend a reader in ways you would have never anticipated. A good line edit helps you polish the low-level, sentence-type stuff. It also points out bad habits you didn’t even know you had—oh, hello, overused "just" and made-up verbs! If you publish traditionally, this step might be rolled in with a white-glove treatment on your final revision, or it might be called something else. Regardless of what you call it, though, it’s the pre-copyedit and post-developmental edit. It’s the stage where your sentences learn to shine.
  • A copy editor—Even if you are pretty sure you write clean, you still need a copy editor. Everyone needs a copy editor. Copy editors need copy editors. Because none of us are that good all on our own. Also, a good copy editor is not someone who did real well diagramming sentences in sixth-grade language arts. A good copy editor has memorized The Chicago Manual of Style and has training specifically in how to recognize inconsistencies and errors in a book-length manuscript. Get editing samples and references. Important note: you cannot hire a good copy editor for $50 for your 100k-word opus. (Read that sentence again. Cannot.)

So, okay, I lied. 

You aren’t running this adventure alone after all. 

Sure you can bang out the crappy first draft all by yourself at your little table in the dark of night and with Cheeto-stained fingers. But if you want those characters ever to get the Chain Lightning spell or the insta-kill +1 vorpal sword, you’re gonna need to get some other folks in on your game.





Sunday, October 9, 2016

But THEY Said that Genre Is Dead!

Our new creepy collection of toothy tales, TEETH, LONG AND SHARP, is out! And so gratifying to see it as an Amazon Best Seller. Many thanks to catnip author Ilona Andrews for giving it a shout out that helped push it there.

This week's topic is all about "dead genres."

For those not in the industry swim, this terminology is used primarily by agents and editors. (Maybe by in-house marketing people, I don't know.) They use the phrase in panels at conferences, or during one on one pitches. They'll sadly shake their heads and say, "that sounds like a great story, but that genre is dead." By that they mean, the agents don't think they could sell it to a publishing house and the editors don't think they can sell it to their acquisition board or marketing team.

You'll also hear them say it with confident scorn - largely when asked what they're looking for and what they don't want to see. "Vampires are dead!" they'll scoff, perhaps with an eyebrow waggle for the pun. "I'll set my hair on fire if I have to read another vampire story."

There's a couple of things going on here, one real and one not.

The not-real thing is that this is their job and, like everyone does with their jobs, they get tired of certain things. It's easy to wear thin on stuff and cast your scorn for it in a stronger light than you might otherwise. There's also a huge component to that job that's reading the future. In traditional publishing, they're trying to forecast what readers will want to buy as far out as two or three years. Being able to prognosticate confidently is half the battle. (Being able to accurately do it is the other!) Most of them want to sound smart and savvy, so being able to declare what's hot and what's not is part of that.

If you press them, they'll pretty much all concede that no genre ever "dies," that it's all cyclical, and they mainly mean that it's a hard sell right then. It just doesn't sound as sexy to put it that way.

That leads us to the real part. It's a fact that the publishing market gets glutted. What happens is this:


  1. NEW BOOK BREAKS MOLD AND SELLS LIKE CRAZY (e.g., Fifty Shades of Grey, Harry Potter, Twilight)
  2. READERS LOVE THIS AND WANT MORE
  3. PUBLISHERS SEE CRAZY SALES AND WANT THAT, TOO
  4. AGENTS AND EDITORS SCRAMBLE TO PUT OUT MOAR BOOKS LIKE THAT
  5. MOAR BOOKS LIKE THAT GLUT THE MARKET
  6. READERS BEGIN TO TIRE
  7. SALES DECLINE
  8. AGENTS AND EDITORS DECLARE THAT KIND OF BOOK DYING OR DEAD
  9. NEW BOOK BREAKS MOLD AND SELLS LIKE CRAZY
So, really, it's not like a genre dies on its own. Arguably the industry flogs it to death and leaves it dying on the compost heap.

Still, what authors need to know is that a "dead genre" doesn't mean there's not a market for it. It means they're unlikely to interest an agent in it or sell it to a publishing house.

It doesn't mean that the well-established authors in the field aren't still producing and selling books. They very likely are.

It doesn't mean that self-published books in the genre won't sell well. They very well might! But a little numbers comparison explains that. If an author self-publishes a book and sells 1,000 copies for $2.99, she makes $2,000 on it. Considering that she likely spent no more than $1,500 producing the book, she's already ahead. If she sells 5,000 copies, she's made over $10,000; if 15,000 copies, she's made over $30,000. That's a decent income.

Now, to many publishing houses, selling 15,000 copies is a failed book. They work on an entirely different scale. 

It all depends on what you're trying to do. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Wait! Don't Burn that Bridge!


You'll hear this advice a lot in the publishing world: Don't Burn Bridges. In case the metaphor escapes you, it means to avoid ending professional relationships in a way leaves a chasm between you that can never be breached.

This is because the publishing world is SMALL. It doesn't feel like it when you're a newbie. It feels really huge, populated by enormous bookstores and libraries, shelved with thousands upon thousands of books. The authors of those books seem to be innumerable, with Jane Austen's novels made in to movies right and left and Molly O'Keefe's showcased in Marvel's Latest.
The people who agent and edit these books, they're names without faces - perhaps with a backdrop of New York City skyscrapers behind them. It doesn't seem possible that this is a relatively tiny microcosm and everybody knows each other.

But they do. They so do.

For example, I know Molly, whose book is being read by Harley Quinn in the newly released Suicide Squad movie. Molly's my friend - we've had drinks together, done an anthology together, and she even read one of my drafts and told me why it wasn't working (the mark of a TRUE writer friend!). She has no idea how her book ended up in Harley Quinn's hands during the filming - just that it was in New York and somehow someone handed Margot Robbie *that* romance novel.

Not only is it a much smaller world than one would think, serendipity plays a huge role in it.

I was reflecting yesterday on my fiction-writing career thus far. I saw someone I've known since 2008 - eight years that feel like many more at this point, because she and I have traveled so far since then. We used to be critique partners (CPs) and were shopping our first novels at the same time. We had a brothers-in-arms type friendship. (I really wish there was a female metaphor for this. Sisters-in-short-skirts?) She went on to found her own publishing house. We haven't had a conversation in something like seven years, but yesterday we were at a writers event together.

It's a really small community, people. You're going to run into the same people over and over again.

Recently on an author loop, I saw someone asking for advice on firing her agent. I advised a personal conversation. It's not easy - confrontation of any sort never is - but it's like breaking up. Some relationships demand that level of in-person respect. I was the lone voice, however. Everyone else spoke up and said to send a certified letter.

Now, most agency contracts specify that - that the relationship should be dissolved in writing. But I *strongly* believe this should happen AFTER the personal conversation. Let me tell you why.

I was at a conference with my agent and a well-known author had just fired her agent, via certified letter. My agent's best friend worked at the same agency as the fired agent, who was someone I also knew and had had drinks with. The fired agent was devastated. She'd had no idea anything was wrong. Imagine thinking your marriage is fine and getting divorce papers in the mail. As a result, ALL the agents were upset. The author's name was on all their lips that week, and not in the best light. Another story that an agent friend told me. An author was deciding between several agents. She asked my friend for an example letter she could send to decline representation. My friend, under the impression that this author planned to sign with her, happily provided the letter. Which the author then turned around and mailed to her, via certified letter.

Can you see how this leaves a bad taste in people's mouths? First of all, it's unnecessarily callous to people who ARE human beings and whose feelings can be hurt in the same way as anyone. Also, it creates a reputation.

I've heard it said that being an author who works successfully in the industry requires three things: 1) excellent work, 2) ability to meet deadlines, and 3) being enjoyable to work with. Also, that you can have two of those three qualities and still do well, but not only one.

And, let's face it, we all miss deadlines from time to time.

Sure, I hear you saying, but self-publishing changes all this! Screw New York and working with those people! And, yes, one of the authors I mentioned is going to self-publishing and more power to her. I hope she does fantastically well. I consider her a friend and I love her books.

The thing is, it's a small community, and when we burn a bridge, everyone nearby feels the heat and chokes on the smoke. And there's no reason to do it. Every once in a while, a relationship goes up in flames and all you can do is try to escape with your skin intact. But, if you can help it, do your best to cut that cord with cordiality. The industry constantly changes and you never know when that person might walk into your life again.

When you run into them years later, you'll be glad you did.

Besides, it's the human way to behave.