Friday, December 9, 2016

Holiday Break in Progress

I'm finding it more and more difficult to keep up with even reading other people's blogs lately, much less getting together a post or two for my own, so I'm going to do myself a favor and declare a holiday break . . . mostly since I'm already taking one by default.

Hey, I may as well make it look like it was planned.

My job is crazier than crazy in November and December, and I must have been delusional to think I could maintain the blog through those months.

I aim to be back by mid-January, and if I can find a moment here or there to read your blogs, I will certainly comment to let you know I've visited.

Have a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, or winter solstice, if that's what you celebrate. And I'll see you for sure in a month or so! And in the meantime, please enjoy the handmade Christmas card I received last year from our very own Raymond Esposito. Still one of my all-time favorites: Santa and Baby Jesus fight the zombies. Warms my heart.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Better Late Than Never: It's a Book Review!

So hey, apparently I forgot that I was supposed to have a blog post ready for last Thursday. And didn't remember until tonight (a week later) and still didn't have something ready to go. Usually I'm a little more organized than this, but life has been happening a lot in my little world, and things have just dropped right out of my brain without telling me.

Since I had nothing but a couple drafts sketched out and nothing really ready to go, I thought perhaps I'd do something I rarely do here: a book review. Typically I'll promote some of the books I work on, and those are more hit-and-miss deals than anything, but I almost never review a book I've simply read for pleasure.

Today I break all the rules to bring you a brief review of Tuck Watley: Freedom Fighter Fighter, Book 1 of the Tuck Watley series by our very own A Beer for the Shower guys, Bryan Pedas and Brandon Meyers.

I should preface this by saying that I almost never get the time to read for the sake of reading. And reading is my default "what to do when there's down time" activity, so I don't waste time reading crappy stuff. Anymore, I don't bother continuing a book unless I'm completely captivated by the first chapter.

I should also say that being a book snob doesn't mean I only read classics. I'm a snob in the sense that I won't waste the effort on a poorly written novel, or one that's lacking in creativity. I'm definitely not a snob when it comes to genre. Humor in the style of Douglas Adams works as well for me as an epic from Tolkien, incredible science fiction, heart-stopping old-school Stephen King horror, or an autobiography.

But this . . . this book . . . I can't even adequately describe what I felt while reading it. First of all, you need to get it. I don't care who you are: if you like to laugh your butt off, get it. Read it. Butt = gone. Seriously. I have no butt anymore because I laughed it off.

Tuck Watley is, as best I can gather, an idiot. But no, he's a genius. Or lucky. Or I don't know what. Just when you think he can't be any more of an inept boob, he comes through with the solution to what's troubling America and solves a case in the most unlikely way.

Tuck works in government surveillance—protecting the American people from . . . themselves?—and the scenarios he encounters are both over-the-top ridiculous and incredibly believable, given the state of our country. His escapades remind me of Inspector Clouseau (Pink Panther), with every bit of clumsy success attached to them. He has a sidekick, DB, who is the muscle of the operation—and who would never, ever be mistaken for the brains.

I can't go into details without giving spoilers, but I have to say that this was a book I had a hard time reading without laughing out loud, or trying to read portions of it to whoever was sitting near me at the time. Brandon and Bryan are not only witty, but they manage to make even the most dorky, immature, bathroom humor hilarious to a full-grown adult, and it's all due to their skillful writing.

These guys are hilarious. I already knew that from their blog, A Beer for the Shower, but after reading Tuck Watley, I have even more respect for the fact that they know how to express themselves not only in a short web-comic a couple times a month, but for the long haul of a full-length novel. Anyone can have a funny one-liner, but what really impressed me was that I did not stop laughing from page one all the way through the end. Yes, some of the jokes were totally juvenile, but you know what? They were still stinkin' funny, and mostly because of how cleverly the writing was done. And I have to add, of course, that as an editor, I was overjoyed to read something that was edited well in addition to being written skillfully.

This is the first book I've read from Meyers and Pedas, but it certainly won't be the last.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

What Better Diversion Than a LEGO Project?

Today's post sneaked up on me. I even have a draft of what I'd planned to talk about, and apparently I never got back to it . . . and it didn't magically write itself.

So instead, I'm going to toss out something fun that has (almost) nothing to do with grammar rules and editing, but will provide endless hours of fun.

My good friend/sibling/partner in crime, Stephen Fender, is working on yet another new project, so of course, being the incredible backhaver that I am, I'm going to tell you all about it.

A departure from Stephen's Kestrel Saga space opera books, his Star Trek fan fiction projects, and his current stand-alone space sci-fi novel Master of the Void (a retelling of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to be released in spring of 2017), this project is geared toward kids and adults alike.

When Bricks Get Their Wings is the newest Kickstarter from this guy, and I'll just post the link here and let you check it out for yourself. It's part building brick project, part storybook and all enjoyment.

Unlike other franchises, the LEGO company seems to be amenable (and realistic) about their customers and fans in general. They have clear guidelines about what can and can't be done when creating things that involve their products, and are happy to allow others a little piece of the pie, so to speak.

Check it out and see if this sounds like something you'd like to support, or share it with someone who would enjoy it.

I'll see you all in a couple weeks!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Editor's Notes #26: Chicago v. AP Style

One of the first things I learned when I began to edit was that I needed a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. Over the years, it's been an invaluable tool for me, for everything common and uncommon while working on manuscripts. There's a reason why it's known as the "editor's bible."

After I got over my initial "how in the WORLD do I find my way around this thing?" phase, I came to love this thick beauty of a reference manual. If you don't know basic grammar rules, this is the book for you. If you know basic grammar rules but can't remember whether your numbers should be spelled out or written as numerals, this is the book for you. Have you forgotten when to capitalize titles and honorifics and when not to? Well, this is . . . yes, the book for you.

The Chicago Manual is THE go-to when editing works of fiction and more. Though some online resources such as Grammar Girl talk about CMS as if it were one of many options for fiction writing, the fact is that it's used as the standard by most publishers as a formatting guide, so it's probably best that you get used to it—especially if you're submitting your work to a publishing house.

On the other hand, The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual is used for magazines, newspapers, and similar publications. The differences between the AP Stylebook and Chicago are sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious—and in some cases, the rules are the same.

The key to using these guides is consistency, no matter what you're doing. If you've been using the wrong one for the wrong purpose, then at least be consistent in your usage. There are many times that AP will put quotation marks around something that Chicago puts in italics. As long as you're not using both styles in one book, you're not as bad off as you might have been.

Still, it's best to keep some general guidelines in mind when trying to figure out what to do in any given editing situation, especially if you tend to write magazine articles as well as full-length novels. The most general, sweeping rule is this: AP style is geared toward brevity and space-saving. If you keep that in mind, most of the differing rules will be easy to remember and will make sense. Newspapers and magazines are all about cramming the most information in the smallest space possible, so this is key to any memory tricks you'll want to employ.

For example, AP does not use the Oxford comma. Yes, I know, this is heresy. I swoon at the mere thought of not having that comma, and consider anyone who doesn't use it to be a moron of the highest (or lowest?) degree. I'm sure we've all seen the cartoon example of why the Oxford comma is such a necessity:

I can't tell you how important that comma is . . . I don't want to see any stripper who looks like Stalin or JFK. Uh . . . or any other stripper, but that's not the point I'm trying to make here. Just use it, okay?

Numbers and numerals differ with the two style guides. AP is all about saving a few character spaces, so they recommend the use of numerals in almost every case. Chicago states that numbers should be written out up to ninety-nine, and then numerals after that—though it does acknowledge an "alternate" rule of writing them out only up to ten if you prefer. 

Also differing between AP and Chicago is the use of spaces. Again, AP typically wants brevity. When using ellipses, a newspaper will place them ... like so. Space, three dots, space. However, in novels or other books, you will see them placed . . . in this way. Space dot space dot space dot space. In the various books I've edited, I've frequently come across... this, where there is no space prior to the ellipsis but a space after it. Seriously, I have no clue where that one comes from, and yet I see it from a variety of people. I did have one author tell me (after I did an eval for her) that another editor had told her this was the way to do it for "proper" formatting for e-books and that print books were "different." I've never heard of that and can't imagine why it's thought to be so. It's wrong, plain and simple. 

A seemingly contrary use of space comes with the em dash (one of my favorite things to insert in a sentence). The AP Stylebook recommends a space before and after the em dash — like so, and Chicago recommends no space, just butting that dash up against the words on either side—like this. Why does AP want to add space for this when they recommend space conservation everywhere else? No idea. It just is. And again, consistency within your manuscript is the key here. [Unrelated side note: I think the biggest problem I find with em dashes, really, is that people seem to feel that a hyphen is the same thing. A hyphen, short and sweet, is used to connect words such as "quick-witted." An en dash (longer than a hyphen, shorter than an em dash) is used to show a range, such as "anywhere from 100–150 people attended."]

These are but a few of the most basic differences in the style guides, and after a while, you'll probably have them so ingrained that you'll begin to spot them in other people's work if done improperly. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Editor's Notes #25: Points of View Part 3—How Many Are Too Many?

My previous two posts discussed first-person POV and third-person POV with guidelines as to the logic behind each choice, based on four roles: author, narrator, viewpoint person, and protagonist. I showed how these roles sifted out or interacted, depending on the POV chosen.

Since POV deals with . . . uh . . . viewpoint, the role of the viewpoint person seemed to warrant its own blog post. And I can't talk about viewpoint without talking about a "workable" number, how many is too many, and why so many inexperienced authors have their characters head-hopping without even realizing it.

If you're writing in the first-person POV, the viewpoint person is almost a no-brainer. It's you. You may or may not be the protagonist, but you're telling the story, so we see and hear it because you've seen it. Whether your thoughts are neutral or not is neither here nor there; this is your story, dang it, and you'll tell it the way you want to.

This can be a powerful way to introduce an element of surprise during a climax in the plot because there may be a turn of events you never saw coming. What? The murderer is WHO? How did I not notice? It can also be a limiting factor when knowledge is needed and you're the only source of it with your eyes and ears—and biased interpretation of events.

Third-person POV can give a little more lenience with the information that's doled out, because the narrator can fill in bits of information the viewpoint person may or may not see. We hear the viewpoint character's voice through dialogue and thoughts, and see the other characters through their reactions. If we want to know the thoughts of the other characters, they either have to say them aloud or the author needs to change the viewpoint character temporarily.

Writing in the third person can be done with an omniscient narrator who seems to touch upon each character's thoughts from time to time as needed; however, skill is needed or everything will become a big, jumbled mess. It's not technically head-hopping if you choose this route, but it's also not likely to allow the reader to connect with a particular character, either, and may cause a complete disconnect with the reader and book.

The "limited third-person POV" is a more common one in use today. You either have one viewpoint person, or you change views at logical, designated, easy-to-follow places.

And there lies the hard part. How often is too often? How many viewpoints are too many? I'm a firm believer in the "less is more" adage when it comes to viewpoints. There can be exceptions, of course, because there always are: the juvenile fiction book, The Westing Game, has about a dozen viewpoints, each one with its own chapter, and it's done so skillfully that the book became a favorite of everyone in my family after we discovered it.

On the other hand, if you ever want to see multiple viewpoints done badly, go to the Kindle freebies and take your pick of sample chapters. For every author who takes his work seriously, writing and rewriting, getting betas and edits, there are at least ten others who think they'll make an easy fortune by writing a book and getting it out there in all its first-draft glory. I've read books that have had viewpoint people change every paragraph or so, and without a distinct "voice" to the character, I couldn't guess which character was speaking. Those are, not surprisingly, the books I don't bother to continue reading past the first chapter or so.

It's too frustrating to hop around that many heads, and you don't want a frustrated reader on your hands, because a frustrated reader is one who will put your book down and never look back.

One of the best examples of a changing POV that works extremely well is in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. (No, I did not jump on the bandwagon because there's now an Outlander TV series with a hot Scot.) I started reading Gabaldon's books about 11 years ago and was hooked on her superb storytelling skills. She has a way of making the reader feel immersed in not only the sights, but the sounds and smells and texture of the time period. And her historical research is top-notch.

Gabaldon's first book in the series was written from the first-person point of view. She's since said that was simply the way it came out when she started writing, so that's how she kept it. However, when she began to write the second book, she realized the first-person POV would be too limiting, so she did something unique: the chapters/sections where we see things from the viewpoint of the main character (Claire) are all first-person POV. The remaining portions of the book may be from the viewpoint of a select few of the other main characters, but they are all written in third person. I love this because it's such an original way of changing things up. When I see "I" in the narrative, my brain immediately shifts to the way Claire thinks and acts, and I'm right there with her. When I see "he" or "she," on the other hand, I know we'll be seeing events from the perspective of her husband, daughter, son-in-law, or other primary character. We're not hopping around like crazy people, mind you, but each person has such a unique voice that I can tell whose eyes I'm seeing through, even if it's just a simple narrative of the character making his way through the woods.

So tell me: can you spot a head-hop a mile away, or are you unaware until someone points it out to you?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Editor's Notes #24: Points of View Part 2—How Do I Choose?

My previous post began to explore points of view and how to choose which one is right for your story. Many of you said your characters dictated what POV they wanted you to write from. I'm not surprised. Though I suppose an author can have one that's more comfortable for his writing style, each story is unique and should never become a cookie-cutter presentation. Nobody wants boring and predictable, after all.

We've already explored the first-person point of view, with its advantages and limitations; the next step is to look at the third-person point of view—a commonly-used way of showing what's going on in more than one head.

The four major players are the same: author, narrator, viewpoint person, and protagonist. However, their roles are divvied up differently this time.

In the third-person POV, the author is still the author, but that's pretty much the only similarity. The narrator doesn't actually participate in the action this time. The author and the narrator in third-person POV are the same . . . but they aren't, which can be confusing. Whereas there's a clear line to divide the author from the narrator in a first-person piece (because the narrator is the viewpoint person), the narrator in a third-person story is seen by the reader in a different light.

Harvey Chapman (from the Writers After Dark link I shared last time) explains it like this:
The author of a novel is a real-life person who has made up the events and written the words. 
But in order to feel like what we are reading actually happened, [we] readers need to forget about the author and imagine instead that the words have been written by a kind of invisible witness to the events—a person with godlike powers, perhaps, who can look down upon reality from above and describe it to the readers. 
The crucial point here is that this godlike narrator, as unlikely as such a figure might be, witnesses something that actually happened—whereas authors merely write about events they have made up. 
And so readers will ignore the author's name on the novel's cover and imagine instead that they are being told about the events by someone who actually witnessed them firsthand.
Also unlike the first-person POV, the narrator is not the story's viewpoint person. The narrator in a third-person POV is basically someone who gets us from here to there: this happened, and let me tell you all about it. Otherwise, narrating is kind of a thankless job: readers care about the characters, not the narrator . . . so, dear Narrator Person, please don't give us your opinion. Just enough facts so we can picture it all in our heads, and then step aside so the characters can speak.

Next is the viewpoint character, but the third part of this three-part series deals with viewpoint, so I'll only touch on it here. In short, if you tell the story through one person's eyes, there's a single viewpoint. If you choose to write from multiple viewpoints, different sections or chapters will feature different eyes to see through—aka different viewpoints. This deserves a good deal of detail, so look for it in my next post in two weeks.

Finally, the protagonist comes into play. The protagonist in a third-person POV novel is the leading or central character. The character the book is written about. The main attraction. The big Kahuna. He or she is the entire reason we're reading this story.

The protagonist may or may not be the viewpoint character. If you have a single viewpoint, then the protagonist will most definitely be your viewpoint character. However, if you have multiple viewpoints, there's no guarantee that these two roles will mesh. Imagine reading a novel based on two of my favorite cartoon characters, Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy (yes, I'm an unapologetic fan of SpongeBob). Mermaid Man may be the protagonist, but perhaps his adventure is told through Barnacle Boy's eyes. Sidekicks come in handy that way. And since sidekicks typically idolize the heroes whose sides they're kicking, it might be a pretty good gig to have if you're the hero, because your story from his view will make you sound even better than you are. Unless you have a rotten, bitter sidekick who has always wanted to be #1 but you've never given him the chance to shine. In that case, "interesting" is probably the best you can hope for.

Until next time, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Not all of them . . . just the good ones.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Editor's Notes #23: Points of View Part 1—How Do I Choose?

I have this glass (from one of my favorite websites, Despair, Inc., home of demotivational everything), and in addition to always making me smile, it reminds me that different people can look at the same thing in a variety of ways. Often, this helps to fill out the bigger picture of an issue. Other times, it only serves to confuse things, like when writing a book.

It takes real talent to write from multiple points of view. Some people do it without even realizing it, but that's not what we're discussing today. Well, maybe we'll use those people as bad examples, but for now, the ones we're talking about today and next time are those writers who actually do it on purpose.

When an author sits down to put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard, or crayon to napkin, or Sharpie to forearm—the story that flows usually takes on a voice that's easily discernible. Sometimes it's in the form of a first-person narrative, sometimes a third-person "outside voice."

There is no "right choice" that an author can make for every occasion. Each book's POV choice should be as individual as its plotline. It all depends on what you hope to accomplish, and that's where a few guidelines help.

I recently read an article featured on the Writers After Dark website, titled "The Complete Guide to Point of View," by Harvey Chapman. Not only did the post feature the two most common points of view (first person and third person), but it linked to another article (same author) which explained the logic behind the different choices. According to Chapman, many authors are tempted to skip the fundamentals and simply look at the pros and cons, but there are a few things which should be understood before choosing.

The theory and logic behind choosing a point of view boils down to the roles of four people: the author, the narrator, the viewpoint character, and the protagonist. Now of course, the author is the author, but the narrator (the one who tells the story as compared to the one who writes the story) takes on a different role, depending on the POV chosen.

In the first-person POV, the narrator is also the viewpoint character. We see what he sees, but only what he sees. This can keep things simple and focused, but can also be tricky in a few ways. Anything that happens "offscreen," so to speak, can only be learned through conversation or eavesdropping. In other words, if the main viewpoint character wasn't there, it didn't happen . . . unless the event is discovered through other means.

First-person narrative also has the tendency to give us a not-so-objective "truth" as we read along. Think of any occasion where there is more than one person. There will be, of course, more than one opinion, and each person is sure his is the right one.

Chapman's article points out another interesting aspect of the first-person narrative: because a first-person narrator/viewpoint person is retelling something that happened in the past, the viewpoint may change, depending on whether that action or event happened in the immediate past or many years ago. As he states, ". . . if a forty-year-old adult tells us something that happened to him as a thirteen-year-old kid, that makes the narrator twenty-seven years older than the viewpoint person. And which of us can claim to be the same person at forty as we were at thirteen?"

The first-person narrator/viewpoint person may also be the protagonist, but this not a hard and fast rule. The person telling the story may just as easily be recounting a tale that happened to his best friend.

The important part is to know why you're choosing the point of view you're working with, and the rest should sort itself out much easier as the writing progresses.

Part 2 of this post will explain these roles (author, narrator, viewpoint person, protagonist) in the context of the third-person point of view.

Do you have a favorite POV to write from, do you have to think about it at great length, or does each book just present itself to you with a POV already chosen by the characters? I'm curious.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Editor's Notes #22: The Importance of Having a Critique Partner

If we are honest with ourselves, we would always choose to believe our work is great. I mean, what's not to love? We're creative. We're innovative. We think of things no one else can possibly come up with, because we're smarter than all of them.

BUT . . . what if . . . what if, in fact, we're capable of error? Not us, of course, but all those other people: the ones who are not us. What if our their ideas are not as genius as they first appeared to be during those late-night writing sessions? Who is there to shout, "The emperor has no clothes!" when it needs to be said?

Your critique partner, that's who.

Everyone needs at least one. Sometimes more than one, but definitely not zero. Critique partners are often the only thing stopping a person from making a huge mistake, sometimes with a simple phrase like, "When reading your manuscript, I noticed something . . ."

What is a critique partner? A CP is someone with whom you trade manuscripts with the intention of reading and offering suggestions to each other for improvement. Ideally, that person should be an author. Even more important, he should be an author who writes at least as well as you do if not better. A critique partner needs to be able to look at your work from a number of angles and give sound advice and suggestions on how to improve.

This is not to say that your critique partner can't be a cheerleader, but the biggest, most important qualification when seeking one is honesty. Are they willing to be honest with you so your work will improve, even if it might make you temporarily unhappy? If they write in the same genre as you do, will they allow a competitive spirit to cloud their judgement? Face it: you don't need someone to tell you how he would have written it. You need that person to tell you how to improve what you've already written and called your own. They should be able to sprinkle praise in the middle of it all, but if the feedback is all at one end of the spectrum or the other, it won't be nearly as helpful.

Critique partners are a gentle way of thickening your skin for the not-nearly-as-kind reviewers out there. If no one has ever read your work prior to publishing, or if you've only ever had attaboys from friends and family, then that first negative review just may crush you.

Hey, it's even biblical: "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses" is right smack dab there in the middle of Proverbs (27:6, if you don't trust me and want to look it up). You need to be able to trust the person to love you enough to hurt you, which is an odd concept, but honesty from a friendly voice is always easier to handle when you know that person risks much by their honesty.

Critique partners can be many things, but I'd say "invaluable" is the best way to describe them.

Do you have a critique partner? More than one? Never heard of the concept? Do you go through them like they're disposable? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Editor's Notes #21: DO. THE. RESEARCH.

I could have subtitled this "A Short Rant on Why I'm Not Doing Your Work for You." Seriously.

My name is Lynda. My middle name is Ann, the same as my mom, my grandma, and most of my aunts on that same side of the family (no one was very creative back in the mid-1960s, I suppose). One of my good friends has long maintained that my middle name is Hershey Kiss-Cheesecake, but that's a story for another day.

What my middle name is NOT:

  • Google
  • Webster
  • Language Arts Grade 5, first edition
I should perhaps preface this by saying I really like the people I work with. Some of them I even love. When editing their manuscripts, I always, always want to do my best so their work is at its best. Editing sometimes—okay, always—involves looking things up, fact-checking, spell-checking, and a little research here and there to make sure I'm doing my own job properly. I spend a lot of time in my Chicago Manual of Style, in Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Edition (or the online version of it), on a variety of editing help sites, and cuddling up with classics like Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay and The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed. (Yes, it's a real book and it's terrific.) On my Amazon to-buy list is Kiss My Asterisk: A Feisty Guide to Punctuation and Grammar.

As a copy editor, I correct spelling, grammar, punctuation and the like. If I am expected to do more, I get paid for doing more. There are times I'll suggest things or make note of a plot oddity—partly because I can't ignore something that may hurt the book, and partly because most readers think an editor is supposed to catch everything, regardless of what type of editor has gone over the book. I don't mind doing things like that, though if the book is practically being ghostwritten by me because the plot or sentence structure is so poorly done, we've now crossed the line into another type of editing and . . . yep, it costs more because it takes a LOT more time and effort.

However, I've run into the occasional author who doesn't know the basics and who doesn't seem to realize it's his or her job to learn them. I don't expect someone to know all the editing rule differences between the US and the UK, or why "riffling" is the correct word (not "rifling") when going through someone's belongings, but I do expect them to know that when people talk, their speech is put inside quotation marks. I expect them to know that an entire book is made up of more than one lonnnnnnggggg paragraph, and I expect them to know a little thing or two about punctuation in general. They may not be as well-versed in using the "track changes" and other editing features in Word that I am, but they should have a basic understanding of their word processing program so they're not completely baffled when I make a suggestion in the digital margin of the manuscript.

I'll give assistance and instruction to a certain point, and then I hit my limit and start to wonder why that person isn't just doing their own research. It takes literal seconds to Google something. That's how I've found out all kinds of things, and I'll bet you have, too.

At what point is it considered rude to say, "You need to figure these things out on your own; I'm not a writing coach"? I will be the first person to tell you what's wrong with your sentence structure, but I can't sit you down and reteach grade-school language arts. Well, technically I can, but frankly, I don't have the time.

When I suggest to someone that their scene is flat—that it needs some textures or smells to make it come alive in the reader's mind—I honestly don't know how to answer a question of "How do I do that?" without actually writing the additions for them. I can't tell someone what's in their head; they need to figure out how to express that on their own.

I love to help people. Sharing things I've learned is something I enjoy. When I get a manuscript, I'm typically pretty excited about it, because it's new, in many cases no one else has read it yet, and there are all kinds of possibilities waiting to tickle my brain. But when someone never lifts a finger (or ten of them) to do any research on their own, my first thought is usually along the lines of, I'm already dreading the idea of editing this book if they can't even figure out basics and won't try. How awful is that?

I love when I'm talking with one of "my" authors and they mention a book they've read recently on writing, the process of it, the polishing of it, or anything that suggests they're researching their topics and constantly in the pursuit of bettering themselves. Something clicks, every time, in my head, and it says, yep. That's exactly why they're so good at what they do. They don't assume they are "good enough," ever.

If you're an editor, have you dealt with this situation—and how did you handle it? I'm looking for a balance between kind but firm, knowing where to draw the line without being seen as a complete jerk. I don't enjoy feeling mean and petty inside but have a difficult time cutting the cord.

Because most of my blog visitors are authors, I'd love to know if you've ever experienced this with a critique partner. Did you ever get stuck with one you regretted, because the writing quality was so vastly different than your own?

Thanks for visiting, and thanks (always!) for commenting! I love finding out what people think.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Editor's Notes #20: What Makes You Stop Reading a Book? Part 2 of 2

So in Part 1 of this topic, I told you all how I never allowed myself to stop reading in the middle of a book . . . until I started reading some really horribly written stuff when I got a Kindle a few years ago.

Now that I've given myself the okay to JUST STOP, I've found my tolerance level has gotten lower with each passing year and each subsequent novel. The hours in any given day are much too precious to waste on a bad book. I read for money when I edit. I read my Bible each morning. I read and correct my daughter's writing assignments. I read for my day job when my boss gives us a book for the management team to discuss, chapter by chapter. IF there is any time left between editing jobs or assigned books, I read for the sheer pleasure of it. Needless to say, if there's no pleasure involved, I'm not going to bother reading for long.

Here are a few things that will make me put a book down and never look back (unless I'm physically throwing it over my shoulder in the trash):

  • No edits. This is a non-negotiable item for me. If there are grammar/spelling errors, poorly constructed sentences, misuse of words, or worse (though I can't imagine what "worse" would entail), that book practically shuts itself.
  • Characters that are caricatures or stereotyped. The bad guy who has no depth because he's always bad, and not even interestingly bad . . . just "B" movie bad. The protagonist who's good at everything: sports, school, parents love him, no zits . . . you get the idea. The mysterious stranger who's not even mysterious for a good reason. The wise elderly person. The clumsy beautiful girl with low self-esteem.
  • If I have no desire to read beyond the third chapter. I need to care about someone—anyone—or something that happens in those first few chapters, or I'm done. If I find myself skimming to see if it gets better, then why continue?
  • Unrealistic dialogue. If an author writes a seven-year-old child into a book, that child should act and speak as a seven-year-old child, unless it's a creepy book where the child is possessed by an ancient being who speaks like . . . um, an ancient being . . . and everyone knows this isn't the way that child would normally speak. 
  • Plot inconsistencies. If I am confused, I tend to think that's everyday life. However, if I'm confused while reading fiction, I'll flip back through what I've read to see if I somehow missed a major plot point. If I haven't missed anything and I'm still confused, then I'm going to assume the plot somehow went from A to C without a Point B in the middle. This happens when an author makes major structural changes from draft to draft but neglects to look at the work as a whole to see if it still makes sense. Every detail matters, and that's where a good beta reader will be indispensable prior to a book's release.
  • Believability. Even the craziest fiction has to have some degree of believability or the reader will be drawn out of the story time and again. I always think of Martyn V. Halm (whose Amsterdam Assassin novels are pretty terrific and incredibly well written, by the way) talking about verisimilitude and his insistence that things at least seem like they could be real in order to keep the reader immersed in the created world, no matter how out-of-the-box that world may be.
I'm sure I have many more peeves that cause me to be harshly judgmental* about a book someone may or may not have worked hard at writing, but these are the biggest ones that come to mind easily. *Let's face it: I'm only kind and tactful if I already like the person.

What makes YOU stop reading? Do you look for things I haven't listed here? What's your number one deal breaker that causes you to shout, "Enough!" I'd love to know so I can add it to my own list of things to gripe about. And if you've read the list above and recognize something you do in your own books, then my best advice is STOP IT. Stop it and get a beta reader to politely and tactfully tell you all these same things, only for money.

I've placed a good guideline below. If you get "BINGO" from any of your manuscripts, it's time to start rewrites so others won't stop reading.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Special Edition with the Writers After Dark Crew!

I need to preface this post by saying that just a few years ago, I would have bragged that all my friends were "real"—in the sense that I had spent face-to-face time with every single one of them at some point in my life, whether we currently lived anywhere near each other or not. I couldn't understand how anyone could become friends—true friends—over the internet.

And then I met SK Anthony . . . online, when she hired me to edit her first novel, Kinetic. Much like the insta-love in the awful romance novels we despise, our friendship was solidified within the first conversation. We pretty much went from strangers to BFFs within an hour, it seems, and it's a friendship that's only grown stronger over the few short years we've known each other. In fact, this week we celebrated three years of friendship, and true to form, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of our two-year anniversary (go with it . . . it makes sense to us) when we finally got to meet in person last summer.
SK and me, on our "date" where we laughed for 12 hours straight. #truestory
So I suppose it should have been no surprise to me that my friendship with Raymond Esposito turned out much the same. We met on Goodreads while harassing conversing with a bunch of whiny people on one of the discussion boards and decided we had way too much fun being logical with people who were . . . well, they were kind of uptight, for the most part. Our combined superpower there was that we never took ourselves too seriously, and it drove the uptight people crazy. We did meet some pretty fun people there, too, but our own friendship extended to outside of Goodreads and eventually to a working relationship when Raymond asked me to re-edit the first two books of his Creepers series. 

I ended up introducing him to SK, and a magical three-way friendship was cemented and just kept getting better and better. A few short years later, here we are: we've done a lot of book work together, we've chatted countless hours online, we've exchanged some of the strangest Christmas gifts ever, and we finally all met up in person this spring when Raymond had the crazy idea in January that he was going to throw himself a 50th birthday party and house us for five days. His thought was that either we'd emerge the best of friends, or we'd never want to speak to each other again.

It's hard to imagine how this works, but the entire five days had the feel of people who had known each other our entire lives, and who could live quite comfortably together indefinitely. Amazing. And because I happened to be in the right place at the right time, I got to be their first real, live, in-person guest on Writers After Dark. We could not pass up the opportunity to film while we were all in the same house, and I'm so glad we made the time to do it, though I will say that most of the footage does not make us look nearly as happy as we were. I think SK and Raymond figured twelve minutes of us just laughing over each other wasn't what most people would bother to watch, so here's what's left after the edits. 

Enjoy their interview, ignore that we were squished together and couldn't move, and pretend we all actually know what we're talking about in Episode 6 of Writers After Dark: Me Can Self-Edit.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Editor's Notes #19: What Makes You Stop Reading a Book? Part 1 of 2

I don't know that I was ever formally taught this, but for most of my life, I believed if I started a book, I had to finish it. No one ever sat me down and said, "Wash your hands before eating, make your bed when you get out of it, and finish every book you start," so I'm not sure where I came up with this. (For the record, I do wash my hands regularly, though the bed-making is hit or miss, depending on whether I'm the last one awake. But . . . back to the book stuff.)

Perhaps it was easier back in the day when there were fewer books available for me to read. After all, there was no such thing as a digital book—or even a personal computer, for that matter—when I was growing up, so any books I read, I either owned or borrowed from the library.

My mother recently reminded me of something I'd said when I was very young: I was afraid of someday running out of books to read. She used to take us to the library on a regular schedule, since it was also one of her favorite places to visit, and on one particular visit, I remarked at how sad I was while looking for books because I was reading them all at such a rapid rate, I was convinced that very soon there would be no more. Our town library was pretty small, and I plowed through the children's selection in short order, followed by the juvenile fiction a few years later. By the time I moved beyond that, I had no worries about a lack of reading material.

The good thing about "those days" was that I read and reread so many favorites. I can recall certain portions verbatim, or remember where I was when reading a particular book. Much like a certain perfume can take someone back to a place or time, I can't think of Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass without picturing my large, annotated hardcover (complete with super-hip 1970s artwork) . . . a gift from a favorite aunt for my 8th birthday, along with Hans Brinker in the same format. I still have both of them, and in fact picked up similar copies of Around the World in Eighty Days, Treasure Island, and Call of the Wild at an old bookstore about ten years ago, simply because it brought back all those memories in a rush.

In more recent years, the sheer quantity of books available online caused a sort of overload for me when I first got a Kindle. All of a sudden I could have just about every classic at my fingertips, and most of them were free. I began to browse the "Top 100 Free" category with regularity and consumed fresh material at a rapid pace, finding new authors I enjoyed. However, along with those good authors came some clunkers. A LOT of clunkers. Apparently, "Top 100" means "most downloaded" and not necessarily "top quality."

It was then that I discovered my time was more valuable than I'd realized. I'm the person who can't be bothered to waste seven minutes watching a news video because I'd rather read the transcript of it in less than sixty seconds, and yet here I was, committed to finishing an awful book that was poorly written, with the (vain) hope that it would somehow get better before the final page. That was bad enough, but when I found myself doing this for one book after another, after another, after . . . you get the idea . . . I knew I'd have to change my "finish or die" policy before it became "finish and want to die."

Since those early, heady days of "ALL the books at my fingertips!" and the resultant letdown as I read a plethora of bad ones, I've come up with a few general guidelines that help me to know when to keep chugging along and when to just chuck it and never look back. These guidelines have helped me with my editing as well, allowing me to give better advice to the authors I work with.

I'll share those with you in Part 2 next time.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

What You May Have Missed . . . the Odd Stuff

This post follows up on the last one, with the flip side of what I've been up to in my own little editing world.

I've had some odd experiences over the past couple years when editing for people, and I sort of file those under the "huh" category and move along, not knowing whether I'll hear from them again or not, for whatever reason on my end or theirs.

I receive editing requests on a regular basis (that's the goal, after all), and I've learned to not get excited about them until I research a bit more. I've had dozens of instances of "I FOUND YOUR SITE AND I LOVE IT AND I HAVE A BOOK THAT NEEDS EDITED CAN YOU HELP ME I'VE ATTACHED MY FIRST THREE CHAPTERS FOR YOU TO EVALUATE!"

My standard response? I reply with some questions, such as:

  • What is the genre and length of your novel?
  • What is your expected publishing date and how long do you anticipate the edits to take?
  • Have you been in contact with other editors for evaluations?
  • Has anyone other than you read through your manuscript for beta purposes?
  • How did you find me and have you read through my terms and pricing? 
I don't think these are unreasonable questions. They're pretty basic, in fact. And yet, I'm never surprised when 90% of those people don't reply. My guess is that there are people out there who submit a different set of chapters to a variety of editors for a free eval, with the intent to work the system and eventually get all their chapters edited for free. I'm no conspiracy theorist, but a realist with human nature when strangers deal with each other for business purposes.

Still, there are the 10% who are serious about needing an editor; some have become friends, some are merely friendly business acquaintances who contact me when they need me, and others simply puzzle me. 

One author I worked with contracted me for a novel that had been subject to what I call "backward publishing"—when the book gets released for sale in the hopes that it will generate enough income to get it edited later. When the author approached me, it was stated that there would be "a second book, probably following within a month, because I just need to get this done." That was fine by me. The author was pleasant, the writing was decent, and of course I was happy to have the work lined up back in the earlier days. I did the first book, sent it back, the author was pleased, and I asked to be notified when it was updated on Amazon so I could promo it. The author replied two weeks later, saying things had gotten really busy with regular life (they own a family business) and that the book would be uploaded when there was time. I never received a notification that the book was updated. I've looked on Amazon a few times and have never seen my name or ERE listed with editing credits, though there are many other acknowledgements listed in the front matter of the "look inside" feature. In reading the first chapter, it seems as if my edits are there (mostly because I remembered there were a lot of punctuation issues in the original and now they're gone) but the lack of any follow-through bothers me. As you may have guessed, there was no second book and no reference to the fact that the time had been booked for it. By then, I was busy enough that I didn't press the issue, but it was a curious event nonetheless. A lot of hours go into what I do, and having my name or the business name in the list of credits is how I can prove I've done the work I claim to have done. And if an author isn't happy with my work, or found someone more affordable, I will never know it (or why) if there's no followup. [Side note for this particular author: just before publishing this post, I did notice there is a second book now published in the series I worked on, and an editor was thanked—though not by name (what??)—which makes me wonder if there was something I did wrong or if a friend offered to edit for free. I need to know these things. Curiosity kills me.]

Thankfully, most people aren't like that, and I've only had one hostile person who would not take advice (and who I ended up declining to work with when all was said and done). I hear from some authors more frequently than others, because everyone writes at a different pace, some penning four books in the time it takes another to write one. I've met some interesting people in the process, whether they ended up working with me or someone else, and I have to admit that I enjoy being surprised by the high-quality creativity some people have bubbling in their brains. 

And I still get a thrill when someone comes back as a repeat client, because ultimately, that speaks volumes over a pleasant email "thank you" any day.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

And now, for something you'll really like . . .

So yes, I’ve only been back to the blogging world for a handful of weeks, and I had planned on posting only every two weeks. I still do, but this is a timely interruption for something I don’t want you to miss.

Since I’m Stephen Fender's slave editor and have worked on all his novels so far, I wanted to be sure to promote what he’s doing right now that some of you may be interested in, and I didn’t want to wait and possibly run out of time.

If you enjoy science fiction—specifically space opera—you’d enjoy pretty much anything Stephen has written. Over the past couple years, he’s managed to do a little Star Trek fan fiction as well, through the use of Kickstarters. Because his ever-growing fan base has been demanding more, he’s launched a new Kickstarter for his own Beta Sector novels, with a new one titled Master of the Void.

This campaign has a lot going for it, and based on the results of Stephen’s previous campaigns, you’re in for a good read and fun perks if you become a backer.

Master of the Void takes place during a period known as the Great Galactic War, a nearly ten-year struggle between the peaceful worlds of the Unified Collaboration of Systems and the destructive Kafaran Empire. This particular novel is based on Jules Verne’s classic, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, woven as a modern retelling that uses the thematic essentials from 20,000 Leagues and elements specific to Fender’s own Beta Sector universe, creating something new while keeping the grand adventure of the old.

The campaign met its initial goal within the first three days of launch, and because Stephen’s the generous guy he is, he’s offered perks galore and stretch goals people actually want to stretch for. I’ll let you visit the Kickstarter to see those rewards for yourself, so as not to be a spoiler for all of it. Here’s the link:

For those of you who wonder if you’ll really get what you pay for, here’s a glowing testimonial from a previous backer, Tim Knight, in a blog post, complete with photos of the finished products:

The blog post starts off with “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Stephen Fender delivers incredible Kickstarters.” I have to agree. Great writing, high-quality design on all perks, fun giveaways—all the components are there. I’m proud to have worked on the books with him, and a little jealous of his graphic design skills when it comes to patches, posters, maps and more.

The campaign ends in just over three weeks, so you don’t want to miss your opportunity to get in on something special. And as a special “extra,” if you have a blog and share the project on it, send the blog link to Stephen and you’ll get a free gift from him.

Jolly Rogers Productions:

Thursday, June 9, 2016

What You May Have Missed . . . the Good Stuff

All right, so I've been gone for quite a while. Part of what kept me too busy to blog was my day job, but a good portion of my time outside that job was devoted to editing and more editing, and that's what I'm going to talk about today, since that's kind of the purpose of this blog.

When I edit a book, I'll often promote it here once it's published. Not always, but when I have time and it fits in my schedule. Or maybe I play favorites . . . who knows? It's my blog and I can do what I want. Not only that, I typically enjoy most of the stuff I work on, so it's more along the lines of recommending a book to a friend.

Anyway, here are the more recent things I wasn't around to shove in your face promote when I worked on them, but that you should check out anyway (direct links to these books on Amazon can be found in my "links" tab):

Keepers of Arden: The Brothers (book 2) by L.K. Evans—Dark fantasy, superbly written saga involving war, mages, evil, gods, the abuse of power, and destiny of two brothers. Part of a series, so make sure you check out Book 1 first.

The Forest of Windellyn by Andrew Marr—Juvenile fiction, fun and thoughtful, in which children are being kidnapped and replaced by elves intent on stealing their souls. The rescue involves a forest which has been created out of cyberspace by the elves, and all the complications that arise from the mesh of reality and cyber.

Bloodwinter: Immortalibus Bella 3 by S.L. Figuhr—Dystopian dark fantasy, incredibly detailed and intricately woven. There are royals and peasants, corruption and greed, mortals and immortals. What more could you ask for?

Beneath the Gathering Storm (The Creepers Saga Book 3) by Raymond Esposito—Post-apocalyptic dark fiction/horror filled with all the great stuff I'm always telling you about Raymond's writing. He thought this would be the final book of the series until he sat down to write it, and is sincerely hoping there's only one more to tie things up. If you haven't picked up the previous two Creepers books, you really need to get with the program. You'll never look back. I had the privilege of flying to Raymond's home in Florida in April to celebrate his birthday with his family (and S.K.!!), and I got to see his beautiful and interestingly designed office where all the magic happens. I'm sure you'll be hearing more about that in future blog posts here.

Static (The Luminaries Book 2) by S.K. Anthony—Fiction that falls under everything from "superheroes" to "coming of age," it seems. All I know is that it's great. S.K. and I have had a lot of adventures, so my opinion could be biased. However, it's not. She's just a terrific writer and her books speak for themselves. They're full of characters you want to be friends with (or beat up), superpowers you wish you had, and plots that are "curiouser and curiouser," as Alice would say. The third book in this series is in the works and I can't wait to see where it all goes. S.K. and I were able to meet in person for the first time last summer on our two-year anniversary of knowing each other and decided one of our husbands has to pack us up and move to where the other one lives, because we were seriously meant to be next-door neighbors. Or roommates. Living at Raymond's house for four days in the spring only cemented our decision.

Star Trek: The Four Years War; Star Trek: The Romulan War; Star Trek: The Four Years War and Romulan War Technical Manual; and Star Trek, the Next Generation: Pirate's Cove by Stephen Fender—Military space science fiction at its best. The reason I mention these last is because if you missed out on the Kickstarters for these, you missed out on something special and you, unlike me, will not be the proud owners of limited edition Star Trek books. The eight novels and one technical manual account for probably 60% of what has kept me busy over the past two years, with over 500 editing hours logged. I don't get a whole lot of rest when we're working on a project, and I'm pretty sure Stephen is glad to live on the opposite side of the country from me, well out of choking range, when things are busy.

So . . . yep, things have been active on my end of things, to say the least. And that's just the editing portion, which, by its order in the balance of my life, comes after the 40-hour job. But I love both jobs because even though they're work, they're satisfying and enjoyable and I can't imagine giving up either one completely.

Have you read anything over the past few months you simply couldn't put down? Something that had a plot twist that surprised you? I'd love to hear about it as I continue to catch up with what I've missed.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

That Was One Heck of a Blog Break!

So this whole "blog break" thing ended up turning into well over a year and a half of missing my blog (and the whole blogging world, for that matter) but having no time to even think about trying to get back to it. When I was updating my "Links to My Work" page, I realized I hadn't even listed the books I'd worked on for over a year.

HOWEVER . . . I've decided I can't stay away from my blog any longer. I miss the community of fun people, and I miss one of my creative outlets. I miss Coffee Chat with SK Anthony, and am hoping to find her in my kitchen again soon, even though she's busier than I am. Between her own writing and all her projects, I don't know how that's going to happen, but I'm counting on the Sirens' call of the smell of freshly brewed joe to draw her in like peanut butter calls to jelly.

In the meantime, I want to know how everyone has been doing! And don't just say, "Fine." I really, really want to know what I've missed. I know what I've been up to, and you'll hear all about it over the course of time, I'm sure, but for now, tell me the best thing that's happened to you over the past year. Or the worst thing, if you're having one of "those" years. Toot your own horn if you had a major accomplishment. Rat on someone if they screwed you over. Tell me what editing/book topics you'd like for me to address in future posts. Tell me you don't know why you're getting a notification for this blog post because you don't remember who I am or why you followed me. Let's just get the ball rolling again.