Thursday, August 28, 2014

Coffee Chat 22.0 with S.K. Anthony: Editing with Style

Good morning, everyone! I'm finally up early enough to make the coffee before SK gets here. She's usually so early that it feels weird to come down the stairs into a dark living room. [Trips over rug.] That's weird; I don't normally have a rug right there . . . 

[Music suddenly begins to play as colored lights turn on, aimed at a—] Is that a disco ball in my living room? And why am I standing on a long red carpet?

SK: Good morning, Lynda! When I was stalking your blog, I couldn't help but catch your Editor's Notes about Style Sheep, so I decided to bring him here for you to meet. He even graciously agreed to put on a fashion show just for you! [Grins.] 

ER: Well, he certainly is . . . um . . . stylish. I can't say as I've ever seen a sheep with a nicer scarf than I own. And that hat!

SK: Cute! Right?

ER: Uh, yeah. Except I think you may have misunderstood me. I use a style SHEET when I edit. You know, a document that has all the pertinent information about a manuscript. A notebook. A bunch of paper. A Word file. A—

SK: Nonsense! I read between the lines and understood as bright as a star: the style sheep is your first go-to when you start editing. Why is it, though? You dress to match? Like each MS gets a specific outfit that inspires editing?

ER: Really, there is no "between the lines." I really do use words on paper. You know, like a character's name, hair color, job, physical description, quirks . . . 

SK: Well, yeah. I mean of course you'll need to know their name, hair colors, and physical description if you want to dress appropriately to edit them. I so get it. But can you just watch Mr. Style Sheep walk down the carpet now so we can go have coffee?

ER: [Sighs heavily.] All right, get that sheep to walk down the red carpet and get him out of my house. What's up with the animals inside the house? You're freaking out AndyAndy on a regular basis. And now he'll probably want a hat and scarf, too. And for goodness' sake, get the lights and disco ball turned off before Tim comes downstairs . . . can the sheep walk any faster? I don't care if he's trained to take his time and preen for the cameras. [Prods sheep with toe.] Move it, mister.

SK: AndyAndy is in on it; he just frets to you so you can scratch his back. Aww, look at Style Sheep go. Good thing the carpet goes straight out the door. And now COFFEE!

I didn't make or bring anything this time, I hope you have some goodies for us. [Looks around kitchen.] So tell me, when you're editing, it's like Superman isn't it? A secret that isn't so secret identity but can only be done with the cape—or whatever—on?

ER: I don't know how to convince you, but I'll say it again: I have no super-duper secrets when I'm editing. I'm not Superman, wearing a cape. I'm just plain Lynda. I sit down with my laptop and my Chicago Manual of Style, and I write things as I read them. I see a name? I write it. Is he tall? Dark hair? Of course all the best characters have dark hair, right? I write it. Later in the book, if there's a squiggle under that person's name, I check to see if it's really a misspelling or if Word just doesn't recognize it. If an author tells me she doesn't like semicolons, I note that. If he loves adverbs exceedingly much and I think he needs to ditch them, I'll note the ones used most often and count them.

SK: Oh yes, dark hair! [Stares into space.]

Ahem, anyway . . . I almost believed that! You said it with such a straight face, too. Oh man, you're so good! I get it, though. We shouldn't be publicly sharing your editing secrets. [Winks at Lynda.] But since the sheep is out of the bag and we've already officially acknowledge the outfits—

ER: We haven’t acknowledged any—

SK: Can you tell me what this one is about?

ER: Oh. That was when I was working on Kinetic. What's so odd about that? And where did you find it? I was at Wal Mart, shopping for more Red Pens of Doom.

SK: [Frowns.] I don't get it. It's 'cause you're both superheroes? 'Cause I mean, Annie doesn't wear a crown or a one piece swimsuit. And what about this one? 

ER: Uh . . . that was when I was working on The Devil’s Hour. I’m not sure what you’re getting at—


ER: [Looks sheepish.] That’s my Kestrel Saga outfit. It has . . . um . . . a voice-changer . . . and I can make the bad guys sound scarier if I read the text aloud. [Blushes.] Gosh, I guess I never thought about it. I really do dress for success when I edit. The Style Sheep knows where it’s at.

SK: Dressing for success is half the battle. I mean look at me; that’s why I’m naked.

ER: You’re not . . . undressed. And why—

SK: Well, under my clothes I am. I’m just trying to channel my ol’ pal Ernest Hemingway. He wrote naked and made it big! Fake it ‘till I make it and all that. [Shrugs.]

Are you sure you want me to take the disco ball with me? Don’t you need lighting when you’re editing?

ER: . . . 

As always:

You can find S.K. Anthony in a number of places. She's on Twitter @SKathAnthony, her website is, her Facebook page is S Katherine Anthony, and on occasional occasions, she'll be right here with me, drinking coffee and laughing it up over our latest plans and schemes. And possibly even talking about books and writing. 

You can find me here. I'm always here. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Editor's Notes #16: How a Beta Reader Works

Today, I thought it would be nice to have an opinion other than my own for you to read. Don't get too used to it.

As much as I love the editing process, my specialty leans more toward line edits. I make sure your commas and semicolons don't get mixed up, I fix your odd quotation marks so they're all facing the proper way, and if you're using a homophone, I will ensure it's the correct one. But what about all the tweaking that happens before the manuscript comes to me? Sometimes a book has more global issues that need fixing. That's when a beta reader can come in handy.

There are those for whom beta reading simply means, "I'll read your book and tell you if it's good or needs more work." Other betas will give stronger, more specific opinions. Many of them do the work for free because they love to read and have the time. The person you're hearing from today is a professional beta reader whose thoroughness rivals that of any content editor, and one of the few people whose work I trust completely enough to recommend.

Allow me to turn things over to Sarah from Your Beta Reader.

As a professional beta reader, I’d like to share with you a little of how I do my job. Why? Because maybe you can take something from my process for when you swap manuscripts with your author friends. Helping others and each other never hurt anyone, after all.

In my line of work, I see manuscripts in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they’re only a few chapters; sometimes I’m the last eye on a full manuscript right before it goes to the copy editor. Each author has his own set of strengths and weaknesses along with his own process. Some need help when their MS is in the roughest shape, because they don’t like to spend time fixing something they’ll end up deleting. Others like me to double check inconsistencies only. Either way, if I see something that needs addressing, I bring it up in my reports. It is my job, and if I don’t mention things, I’m doing my client a disservice. 

Once the report is in the author’s hands, it’s up to him to fix or ignore me—or most importantly, ask for more outside opinions. If, on the other hand, you’re swapping with an author or just helping a friend out, I’d suggest you stick to what they ask of you, unless it’s something major. Overstepping is easy and is a fine line you don’t want to cross.

Here are some general steps I take as a beta reader when I’m working on a job:

  • I take a full week when working on a manuscript, and I read it twice. During the first read-through, I make comments and notes along the way to make sure everything is answered or to remind the author what was brought up and never addressed again, as well as for me to understand the story. I take one or two days in between to clear my head from the story, and then I go back. On the second read-through, I’ll look for inconsistencies and make suggestions based on the ending that will help strengthen the story itself. 
  • I keep notes for dates, timelines, names, descriptions, facts, etc., and I make sure to point out where they’re off in the MS so the author can fix them. The note includes a reminder of the options, along with page numbers, so the author doesn’t have to go looking. 
  • I help identity any problems with the readability or saleabitity of a manuscript by keeping on top of what reviewers (especially the mean ones) are looking for. How? Well, they enjoy bashing the overuse of storylines, clichés, and overly perfect characters, etc. I read reviews, I read books for pleasure and for work, and I share my finds with my authors. 
  • I pay attention to structure, POV, dialogue, show v. tell, and more. When dealing with structure, for example, if there are scenes that would make a bigger impact in another part of the MS, I’ll make a note and explain my reasoning behind it, and make suggestions of what can replace its original location. 
  • I keep on top of characters’ personalities and make sure they’re staying true to themselves. For example, an OCD or neat freak, getting bad news while walking on the street wouldn’t start littering by throwing his coffee cup on the sidewalk because he’s now under stress. Some writers would think it might show just how stressed he is by acting with such opposite behavior, but wouldn’t it be more true to himself if he suddenly stopped and started picking up garbage off the street and putting them in the cans while processing his problems? Two birds, one stone (cliché intended)—but you’re showing and staying true to character this way. 
  • Most importantly, when it comes to delivering feedback, I can be brutally honest . . . but tactful, always tactful. I’ve said this in the past, but its true: I’d like to think I’m a very sweet—but serious—defibrillator . . . I shock my authors with nice (truthful) praises until they’re too numb to know better when I’m gently crushing their hearts. Honestly, it’s tricky to find a balance between being too kind and being too cruel. In the end they really do need to hear the truth; that’s why I also bring up their strengths and make sure they know they’re on the right path.

There you have it. I hope my work process was helpful, or at the very least, interesting to read. Thank you for having me over, Lynda!

You can find Sarah at Your Beta Reader. Her prices are extremely reasonable and her work is exemplary in its thoroughness.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Coffee Chat 21.0 with S.K. Anthony: Make Mine a Double . . . Negative

Hey, guys!
SK here. Boy, is Lynda in for a—Donkey, shhhh! Sorry, where was I? Oh, I'm waiting impatiently for Lynda to wake up and join me for Coffee Chat. I have someone special here today for Lynda's 101st post: the one and only guest who's ever been thoughtful enough to gift us with our pet Donkey: C. Lee McKenzie! And she brought us— . . . oh, I hear steps . . .

ER: [Stares incredulously at Donkey, strapped to a chair in the kitchen.] Oh, SK, you've done a lot of things in your day, but—well, first of all, where on earth did you find a booster seat big enough for a DONKEY? And why on earth is he in the—

CLEM: [Jumps up from behind Donkey.] ’Tis me, the soreprise guest.

ER: [Faints dead away.]

[Thirty minutes later. Lynda is calm and Donkey is back outside, running around with Live Bacon and AndyAndy.]

SK: Sorry, ladies . . . I thought it'd be funny. But Lee, thank you for joining us today! Don't worry about Lynda, she'll be fine. It's not our problem she can't take a joke.

CLEM: I had no idea she’d topple like that. Can we do it again? That was so amazingly fun! Oh, sorry, Lynda. Let me help you to the chair. [Looks to SK.] I really am sorry. Tell her so when she can process again. Please.

SK: I will. [Nods.] She’ll blame me anyway. See that murderous look? It’s all for me. But I’m about to make it better with coffee. A cup o’ Joe always cheers her up. We’ll even give her whatever you have in that bag you brought. What did you bring? It smells delicious! [Wipes drool.] Oh, and you’ll definitely be in her good graces since you even brought her a book to talk about.

ER: [Takes coffee and gulps it down.] More, SK.

Did I hear something about a book?

SK: YES! You know that formula rule thingy? One positive and a negative makes a negative. Well get this: apparently, a Double Negative makes . . . wait for it . . . A BOOK!

CLEM: Come to think of it, I should have gotten two books out of that formula. I was never good at math.

SK: Good thing we don’t care about math too much around here. So this Double Negative book, I think I can relate to your Hutchison McQueen character. Gets in trouble, eavesdrops and memorizes what he hears? A boy after my own heart. Ahem, way to throw a hint in there about his reading.

CLEM: I did a lot that eavesdropping and memorizing in school, too. Are we related? You’re kind of silly. (No offense, but I mean Bacon? Donkey?) I’m kind of silly. You seem to like coffee. I like coffee. You like Lynda, too. And I find her a joy. She makes me laugh, and she falls for our pranks.

SK: Hutchison seems like he’s full of layers, Lee. Would you say his personality and behavior came to you easily? What separates him from other characters you’ve written?

CLEM: For one, he’s a guy. My other MCs are of the other sex. Small difference there. Otherwise, I think they have a lot in common—big problems that kids shouldn't have to manage alone, older people in their lives that either are helpful or hurtful, some growing pains and reversals of attitude.

Hutch came fully formed and ready to go. All I needed was a place to put him and a series of events to make a plot that wouldn’t put people to sleep. [Nudges Lynda.] Stay with me, Lynda. I haven’t finished yet.

ER: Oh, I'm awake, all right. At least I think I am. I could have sworn Donkey was in my kitchen, and that can't be right . . . [Shakes head, looking confused.] Anyway, Hutch does sound fascinating. So many people have issues they assume no one else has, or can understand, and they end up feeling very alone. Putting on the tough guy act only works to a certain point.

How difficult was it to write from a guy's point of view? I've heard people criticize JK Rowling for writing some of Harry Potter's dialogue to sound like how a middle-aged woman thinks a teen guy feels, but not how a teen guy actually feels or speaks. Did you run Hutch's dialogue or thoughts by a few guys to see if he sounded authentic, or do you simply have a good feel for that sort of thing? I read a snippet of the book, and he sounds guy-ish to me.

CLEM: JK and I discussed the matter of middle-aged women and young boys. Wait! That didn’t come out right. We discussed the matter of middle-aged women writing teen boy dialogue and how challenging that was. She knows nothing. I tried to set her straight, but she’s on to new ventures and busy counting gold. As to my technique . . . I turned to my male brood for input.

ER: And by the way, your jam is delicious! I'm so glad you brought some—and not another large animal.

CLEM: Oh, no! I forgot Hannibal. Just a sec. Won’t be a moment. [Grabs jam and hurries to the door. Leaves. Returns shortly with empty jar.] Sorry about that. I forgot my yak. He needed a jam fix. Now where were we?

SK: But . . . I didn’t even get to taste the jam after Lynda took the jar away. That’s it. I’m not buying that Hannibal any cute boots.

ER: But—the jam— [Suddenly realizes what Lee just said.] A YAK? [Mutters to self.] Pleasepleaseplease let that be her ride home.

[To Lee] I thought maybe you'd had some words with JK. She could really use some advice from a strong writer like you. Honestly, I have no idea how she would have managed if you hadn't been helping her out all these years.

CLEM: You’re the first to mention my role in her success. Thank you, Lynda. Here. [Reaches into bag and presents a new jar of jam.] Hannibal should be on a diet anyway. So about JK. Did you notice her switch to a new genre? [Points finger at self.] But enough about JK. Let’s talk about something more exciting.

SK: I love you, Lee. Can I get a jar of—no? Okay. [Sinks in chair.]

You know what’s exciting? Your cover. I really like the colors and the pose, and I think it fits perfectly with the blurb. Maybe next time if you need some models, you’ll call us up, huh? For the female characters, that is.

CLEM: I audition models on Sundays about 5a.m. You’d be perfect for my next book. But you have to leave Donkey at home. I haven’t written a part for him. Glad you like the cover. I wanted a flowing gown, pink I think, but they said I had to write a different kind of book to get one of those.

SK: So that jam?—err, how long did it take you to write Double Negative? What was the most difficult part of writing it?

CLEM: [Takes jam from Lynda and hands her a napkin.] Sharing is good, Lynda.

And about your question, SK . . . Oh, here’s a small spatula. Lynda left a bit of jam in the bottom.

The hardest part was starting the darned thing. I had one idea that maybe I should start with Hutch already in Juvie (translation: Juvenile Hall). Then I thought, “That’s depressing and there’s usually orange involved in Juvie, so my book could become confused with that other one, the Orange Is the New Black. Have you heard of it? Not many have, and I wanted my book connected to winners. Nothing personal, Piper. It’s all about marketing.

And SK, if you change your mind, Hannibal wears size 20. He prefers open toes so the polish shows. [Reaches across the table, takes napkin from Lynda and gently swipes her chin.]

ER: Oops. Thanks, Lee. You're a doll. [Compulsively continues to check chin for jam "bonuses."] It's your own fault, really, for making such delicious jam. And to be fair, I hadn't quite noticed I'd started eating it straight from the jar, or I would have shared earlier . . . I think.

Ahem . . . weren't we talking about a book or something? Since SK asked about the most difficult part of writing it, you know I have to ask if you had a favorite thing about writing Double Negative that made the process unique or particularly satisfying for you.

CLEM: Typing THE END was pretty darned satisfying. I didn’t think I’d ever do that. But seriously . . . I can be that for a sec, right? Good. Putting different generations together in a story is always a challenge, especially when each older character must contribute to my teen's story, but not take over. When I can get that together, I’m really happy. I loved Maggie (70+) and I loved Jimmy (40s). I really wanted them to have their own stories, but I wanted Hutch to out-shine them. I think I made that happen. Readers will tell me if I didn’t. Believe me. They will really tell me about that.

SK: Oh yeah, readers will share their honest opinions. That’s for sure. In general with your books, but especially with Double Negative, what message do you want your readers to get from your work?

CLEM: When I started the book, I wanted teens to follow Hutch through the roughest of times and see him, not only survive, but start toward a decent life. When I’d finished, I’d become an advocate for literacy. That happened because of what I found out about illiteracy in the U.S.

Here’s a stat that will set Donkey on his ear: 33% of people (over 7 million) living in the L.A. area are illiterate or semi-illiterate! I really want kids to appreciate their ability to read and pass that on.

[Smiles at SK and ER.] And I’ll bet you thought I was just a writer out to make the big bucks.

Thanks for the fun and a chance to yak it up about my book. Please ask me back and I’ll bring more jam, promise to keep Hannibal outside, and not play any more practical jokes.

SK: No more practical jokes? [To Lynda] Does she know us at all?

ER: I have to wonder. But I still like her just fine.

You can find C. Lee McKenzie most often at her own blog, The Write Game, and you can find her books, including (but not limited to) Double Negative, on Amazon, Evernight Teen, and other places. We're so glad she visited us today! And we're even more glad she took Hannibal the Yak home with her.

As always:

You can find S.K. Anthony in a number of places. She's on Twitter @SKathAnthony, her website is, her Facebook page is S Katherine Anthony, and on occasional occasions, she'll be right here with me, drinking coffee and laughing it up over our latest plans and schemes. And possibly even talking about books and writing. 

You can find me here. I'm always here. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Editor's Notes #15: The Process

Just as writers have a process that's as individual as they are, editors have a process when faced with a manuscript. I have my own that's evolved over time, and it seems to work for me. I'd like to think it makes me more efficient with my time, and more effective overall.

I've found that no matter whose book I'm working on, there are certain words that are either overused, misused, or misspelled across the board. I like to look for those right away during my "preliminaries" phase. If I take care of these before I read anything in the story line, it makes the entire edit go smoother.

I search for my favorites first. And by "favorites," I mean those words that cause me to run, screaming, when I see them. Words like "alright" instead of "all right" are downright wrong. Misuse of "to" and "too" will drive me to the brink of insanity. Other words are, I believe, autocorrected or misspelled when typing quickly, like "filed" rather than "field," or "personnel" instead of "personal."

"Farther" v. "further" is a little trickier, as is "compliment" v. "complement." Trickier, but doable.

Still, it pays to take care of these things in one swoop. This is what I simply adore about the age of digital editing: FIND & REPLACE. I don't know of many inventions I appreciate more than that one. Wrong word? Fix them all right away. Character name is misspelled, or inconsistently spelled? Go to that Find & Replace, see how many times the name is spelled each way, and fix it up. 

Still other changes are author-specific. Each author has his or her quirks that I know to look for. I know to expect them and I look for them early in the process.

At the end of all that joyful finding and replacing, I get busy making a style sheet. For those not familiar with a style sheet, let me assure you, you want one. You need one. You probably keep one without realizing what it's called. A style sheet lists character names, complete with eye/hair color, physical traits, military rank, and more. It also lists places, company names, ship names, planets, and anything that's important enough to be mentioned more than once. Some authors keep their style sheets as a notebook for each character or each book. Some have post-it notes decorating their desks. Whatever works for each person is the "right" way to do it.

The nice thing about a style sheet is that I can tell at a glance when a character's hair color has changed, or his job is not the same job he had at the beginning of the book. If I know I'm editing a manuscript that's going to be part of a series, the style sheet becomes even more important, because I won't have to do 75% of that legwork again for the subsequent books.

These are my best time-savers when editing. Authors, do you have any surefire tricks that help you to edit quickly? Editors, is there one "go-to" method that always ensures speediness for you? I'd love to hear them.

Until next time!