As writers, we know the importance of having a good editor AND a good proofreader. A structural editor can take a good book and make it great by simply pointing out how to strengthen the story or the flow of the story. A proofreader helps save us from the dangers of relying on spellcheck. The latter has been proven once again in the book, Fire and Fury, published by Henry Holt & Co. Read more
Posts tagged ‘editing’
(Work has Kate snowed under and she asked me to post this for her.)
You’ve finished your first draft, you’ve given it a decent amount of time to sit (trust me, for pantsers this is essential), and now it’s time to edit. As with all things pantser, particularly extreme pantser, it’s not that simple. Editor time is when you need to take this thing that’s lived inside your head for months, and put it through the shredder – and most of the pantsers I know (yes, including me) have major problems letting go enough to do this.
Probably the first and simplest tool in the kit for turning on your editor-mind is to phase-shift: to look at the piece in a different format than the one you wrote it in. Print-outs work for this. So does making a copy of the file and getting the copy onto your ebook reader or smartphone (preferably one with annotation or editing capability) and reading it there. The different format is usually enough to keep you out of writer mindset (or worse, “this is my baby” mindset).
Editing somewhere you don’t write is another tool that, while simple, works. The goal of moving is to put yourself somewhere your subconscious doesn’t recognize as writing-space. If you wrote the novel on your laptop while taking the train to and from work, don’t edit it there – or at the very least, don’t mark it up there. It doesn’t matter whether you mark up in approved editorese or not: you’re the only person who’s going to see this stuff, so you’re the only person who needs to worry about it. Highlights on a kindle with a one or two word note to say what it needs are just as effective as handwritten comments on paper, or comments embedded in a word processor file.
A word of warning here: if your word processing application uses any form of auto-formatting turn it off. There are multiple versions of Word in the wild, Word Perfect still happens, and then you’ve got Open Office and its clones, as well as any number of other applications that will create something more or less like RTF (aka “Rich Text Format” – which is text with fonts, bold, underlines and some other formatting, but not the fancy stuff). They don’t all use the same internal codes for anything that is not an obvious keystroke. What that means is that the beautiful file on your Mac ends up looking like someone threw confetti all over it with all manner of weird characters involving tildes and accents where you thought you had a quote mark.
Actually, that’s two words of warning. Do not use your word processor’s embedded comments feature. Not everything you’re likely to be playing with is going to be able to support that. My preference for this is to use something that won’t appear anywhere else in the manuscript as a flag character. So I’ll be writing along and there’ll be something like [add more description] in the middle of the text. That tells me what I’ve got to do and where I’ve got to do it. Sometimes it’s a plot note, sometimes flagging a really crappy sentence, and sometimes a note to remind me that a character’s name needs to change.
For stuff I need to research but don’t want to lose I use the same trick – a sudden burst of [research this] will get added to the story as I write. When I’m done the markup pass-through, I can search for [ and do what needs to be done. The benefit of this is that you can do it with anything, even Notepad (well, if the book isn’t too big – Notepad can’t read very large files. Although if the file is that big, you have other problems).
Okay, so you have your internal editor. Guess what? The editor popped over from Evil Bastard Central, and will cheerfully tell you what you’re doing sucks rocks, while leaning back in a recliner drinking your virtual booze. This is quite normal. I know it sounds like split personality, but heck, we pantsers already host a ridiculous number of personalities anyway. What’s one more?
Quite a few authors externalize the editor-mind, even going so far as to give it a name. Julie Czerneda calls hers the “Great Editor Voice” aka GEV, and posts interesting conversations between her and her GEV on her sff.net newsgroup.
You don’t need to go that far. If it helps to do something like this, go for it. Otherwise, don’t worry. So long as you can flip to editor-mind when you need to, that’s enough.
Of course, the other side of this is getting back to author-mind when you’re done with the editor-mind. That’s… interesting. It’s also crucial – you don’t want to be in editor-mind when you’re writing, any more than writer-mind is good when you’re editing. While the toolset is much the same, they’re used in different ways. The writer-mind is applying the paint, building the picture and framing it, while the editor-mind applies a scalpel to clean up the bits that got smudged, and takes the sander to the frame to smooth off all the rough places and hide the marks where the hammer didn’t quite go where you meant it to, and so forth. Not all writers are good at editing, and not all editors are good at writing.
Depending on how clean your drafts are (in the sense of dangling plot threads, odd byways you forgot to come back to, ideas that hit halfway through that you need to go back and seed and other such pantser oddities), you might not need much in your edit passes. Mine are typically pretty light: there’s a pass for plot/character issues where I’ll usually pick up most of the typo and grammar as well, and a second pass that takes a closer look at phrasing and tightening. After that will depend on what Amanda and Sarah, my long-suffering beta readers and in Amanda’s case editor as well, have to say. You might need dozens of passes to clean things up.
Or not. Pantsers have a horrible tendency to over-edit until there’s no life left. We really can’t edit our work until we’ve had a chance to forget it, and we’ve got to be careful about who we listen to. If you try to fix everything everyone says, you’ll end up with flat, rolled out tofu. Very dead tofu, at that. Instead, look for the possible problem that sits under what they’re saying, and work out how to address that.
And that, fellow pantsers, is that. Go thou forth and explore the pants.
I bought a frozen lasagna for dinner for the family. I love to make lasagna, and have a great recipe a fellow author gave me, but… There was friction. In other words, it was Friday night, had been a very long week, and I was so tired it hurt. So I did something to reduce the friction, and bought the darn lasagna.
So what does this have to do with writing? Well, it relates both to the writing, but more importantly, to the marketing and sales of our work. We want to reduce friction for our readers, but not too much. Frictionless is also a bad thing… But I digress. I’ll come back to that in due time. Friction in the context I’m using it is anything that makes the reader work harder to overcome. We’re going to say our readers have worked a long day and just want a book to curl up and relax with – literary fiction is the very definition of added friction to a book, which is why those are the books people love to say they have read but don’t actually ever finish reading. So how do you reduce friction in a book? Like sanding a piece of wood – you start out with the obvious of removing typos and poor grammar, then you switch to the finer grit of making sure you’re historically accurate, or consistent through the book with a character’s development, or… you get my drift. At the end you have a smooth, polished work.
But not too smooth. Here’s the thing. People remember ‘sticky data’ that doesn’t just drop through the colander of their brains. We all have colanders for brains, this isn’t an insult. We have to: we’re constantly bombarded by input, and if we didn’t learn how to filter all – well, ok, most – of that out, we’d be gibbering in the corner with our hands over our ears and our eyes squeezed shut. So the input pours through the colander, but sometimes something is too big or too sticky to just fall through, and that we pay attention to and remember. You don’t want your book to be so frictionless it falls through and is instantly forgettable. We want, to return to my wood carving metaphor, the grain of the wood to show through and give it some character, some unique qualities. Your book should still reveal your voice, the unique way that you write. If – and really, this should be when – you hire an editor, keep this in mind. They need to be helping you polish, not taking a belt sander to it and obliterating the interesting features that are your style.
Friction is, if anything, even more important when it comes to sales and marketing. Let’s look at two ways: in-person bookstores, and online bookstores, to begin with. When was the last time you went to an in-person bookstore, a brick and mortar? How far did you have to drive? That was a lot of friction, wasn’t it, before you got to the books. Now that you’re in the store, how easy is it to find the book you want? Or the section you’d like to browse to find a book, at least? Last time I was in a bookstore they didn’t have the fiction sorted by genre and it was a little annoying to say the least. Fortunately I wasn’t there for fiction, I wanted comic books, and I browsed the antique section of the store while I was there because I love beautiful books. But those aren’t organized at all, just ‘this looks old’ and shelved. So it adds a lot of friction to my shopping experience. Why do I go back? Because this store offers a ‘free book’ coupon and that reduces the friction on my bank account. Note: I’m talking a used book store, here. Their books are mostly $3 and comic books are a buck. My kids adore them, and frankly, so do I. Now, the last time I was in a ‘new’ bookstore was the local Barnes $ Nobles, which is a fifteen minute drive from the house (good) in a very congested shopping area (bad) and we only bought one book, from the bargain rack, because I refuse to pay full price when I can hop on Amazon and get the discounted rate. But the authors!! you’re saying They need to be paid!
No. Here’s the thing. As a businesswoman, I like supporting fellow small businesses. I’ll buy books at full price from fellow Indie Authors. Heck, if it’s an option I’ll read the book through KU and then buy it, so they get paid twice (if I really like the book, this is a nice way to say thanks to a creator). As a budgeting wife whose whole goal is to live frugally and not get into debt, I’m out to spend money wisely and plunking down twenty bucks on a (paper) book that may get read once is not a wise decision. I have a monthly book budget, by the way, one for fiction and one for research because I am a writer. So, back to friction. I don’t give a flip about supporting the big fiver publishers. So them? I buy discounted or even used.
Most Indies have already figured out that a great way to reduce friction and get more sales is to lower the prices of their books. Not having ritzy Manhattan offices to keep up appearances, they can afford to set their trade paperback prices around $15 and their ebooks around $5 for a novel. Now here’s where we get to the inverse effect of friction: if you reduce the price too much, or make the book free, you remove so much friction the buyer mentally discounts the book in their head as being less worthy. Free ebooks have a very, very low read rate. You might give away thousands of them, and maybe hundreds will get read (if you have a good cover, but that’s another post). Ebooks, in case you haven’t already realized it, are perhaps the ultimate in friction reduction for not only book reading, but book buying. Above I asked about the last time you drove to a bookstore, and the time and hassle involved in that. For online shopping? Pull up Amazon or your favorite ebook site, and click, you’re done and reading two minutes later. I was doing this last weekend when I was stuck in bed with a pinched nerve, trying to keep my mind off the pain. Binge reading, what a drug. You don’t have to get dressed – not even into jammies, if you don’t want to – to shop online. You don’t have to risk your life in mall traffic (suck it, B&N, I’m never coming back again). You don’t have to (Shudder) put up with people to make a purchase.
Friction, by the way, is why you shouldn’t limit your sales outlets too far. I’ve seen anti-Amazon advocates calling for selling books just through personal websites. That adds so much friction that I’d be surprised to hear of them making sales. Any sales. There are reasons why aggregator sites work, just like big department stores. Personally, I’ve chosen to add friction by not having my books available through Nook or Kobo and it wasn’t just that I saw the writing on the wall for the Nook years ago when I first compared a nook and a Kindle side-by-side. I’ve added that friction in order to reduce friction by having my books available through Kindle Unlimited. It’s not perfect, but you have to admit it’s very darn close to being frictionless for the reader, which means that if they are enjoying the story, there’s nothing to break them out of the reading trance as they march through an entire series. KU lowers the entrance hurdle for new readers to your work, and that reduces the friction, too.
Speaking of which! The anthology I have a story in, the one I was snippeting last week, is available for you now, and you can get it in paper, ebook, and read through KU. Just click here and you’re there! How’s that for frictionless?
(Sarah is at TVIW this week and asked me to fill in for her. Well, in light of some of the comments we received in the various threads asking what you’d like us to write about as well as some conversations I’ve had recently with other writers, I thought this post Sarah did back in April might be appropriate. — ASG)
Write Like the Wind
There was a time I wrote a short story in six months. I took days to write it, weeks to lovingly polish it, MONTHS of agonizing over every word. Then I sent it out. And it was rejected. (All but one, which was accepted eight times, but killed magazines and/or editors. No, I don’t know why.)
Then I attended the Kris and Dean Oregon Coast Professional Writers Workshop (the first) and in those two weeks we HAD to — had to — produce five short stories and two novel proposals. I did. Also, at this point all of those short stories have sold.
After that I launched into a year of a short story a week (while writing two novels.) It was a challenge of my writers’ group.
We didn’t succeed. I think I ONLY wrote forty short stories.
The funny thing was, recently, reading over my past stories (I was transferring things from diskette) that the quality difference, after about a quarter of a story a week, more or less, was marked, visible and obvious. I was much better after a quarter of forced production. And from that point on, pretty much all the short stories have sold.
Novels too started being much faster. Honestly, if I can stabilize my health at some point, a novel a month is neither unfeasible nor unreasonable. I once wrote two novels (Heart and Soul and Plain Jane) in a month, and finished another one, though I can’t remember which (might have been one of the Musketeer books.) In fact the main reason I didn’t write a book a month back when I was healthy was that in traditional publishing there was nothing I could do with that many books. (Ah, for a way to send my old-self a little note.)
One of you emailed me last week and asked me if writing that fast was some trick that could be taught.
Sort of. I’m not sure it can be taught, but it can be learned. It’s a frame of mind you put yourself in, a mental block you remove. And the only way to put it firmly in place is if you PRACTICE it and set yourself deadlines and goals.
However to the extent I can help, there are some principles to keep in mind that might help break the barrier.
1- how long you take to write a story doesn’t make it better or worse. My highest-selling book was written in two days, and the next-highest-selling in two weeks. By the standard that counts “how many people pay out good money to read this?” my faster written books are the best.
2- nine times out of ten the things you’re agonizing about on the story aren’t really important. No, seriously. Things like passive voice, overuse of to-be and too many adjectives and adverbs are things editors and critics care about, but most readers don’t notice, not if your voice is confident and strong enough.
3- Keeping a strong voice is much easier if you write the story fast.
So, that’s why. Now HOW to do it.
1- Write as fast as you can. If you are a slow typist, try voice dictation. Put your mind in the story and write as fast as humanly possible.
2- Don’t edit. I can’t say that enough DO NOT EDIT. Write to the end without editing. If you typed teh instead of the, it will wait till you’re done.
3- To facilitate do not edit, DO NOT read back to see what you did yesterday. For best results leave yourself a sticky note about where you are going next. That way you don’t need to read what you wrote and be tempted into editing.
4- if you’re an outliner, have a complete outline before you start, and then mark on the outline what you’re doing tomorrow.
5- if you’re a partial outliner like me, outline what you’re doing tomorrow at the end of the work day.
6- Did I mention write as fast as you possibly can? Short story or novel race to the end.
7- Once you’re done fix typos then let it sit for a week. This is an excellent time to send it to your betas, unless like me your idea changed in the middle and your beginning and end don’t match.
8- Fix continuity issues.
9- Make sure all your foreshadowing points right.
10- Make sure you got all your points in.
11- Do not revise/get caught in rewrites more than three times. Three times, and let it go.
12 – move on to the next project.
Now I can say all this till I’m blue in the face, but you HAVE to practice it. You HAVE TO PRACTICE it. But if you do, I guarantee you’ll get better.
I’ve reached that point in the construction of a novel where beta readers have kindly pored over my words, let me know what is wrong with my baby (nothing fatal, thank goodness) and now I have to pick out parts of the design and rework it. I tend to create metaphors for stories that akin them to tapestries, or needlework. It’s not like stone-carving, you can fix a mistake once it is made. Mind you, if you pick at one thereafter you might suddenly find yourself holding a whole lot of where-did-this-come-from and a plotline unravels before your eyes.
This book is a new experience for me. I started it as I always do, with a clear burst of story, a panoply of images in my head, i wrote feverishly… And that is where it went sideways. It took me two years to finish it. As an extreme pantser, keeping the story alive in my head that long was difficult. For one thing, when I first wrote what was then called Puppies in Space, I didn’t have any idea that I’d later write Jade Star, which turned out to not only be in the same universe, but a direct prequel (by a century, but a central character) to the story in the re-titled Tanager’s Fledglings. Now, I am having to go over the beginning, which was intended to be a short story, and foreshadow the weight of the tale to come, the appearance (Midway through the book) of a very strong character, but not tie it so closely to Jade Star that TF won’t stand alone.
Editing is madness, I tell you. And it isn’t helped much by my starting work this week, slowing the editing to mere pages a day, and some of that conscious time spent re-reading what I did yesterday to get back into the story. It’s not that this job is tough, it’s demanding mentally and physically and I’m loving it, it’s just what I needed. It’s just… I’m a writer. I’ve spent the last few years either sitting in classes, or on my tuchis in front of a keyboard. My step-tracking app is telling me I’m doing between 4-6 miles a day. And on top of that, I’m learning new stuff daily, and this is Science (I really love this job, have I said that yet?) So if I screw it up, bad things will happen. So I’m focused on absorbing absolutely everything at once. That does not leave much room in the noggin for words.
Words are important when editing. I’m not the kind of writer who feels a need to massage her words into something elegant and refined. My characters aren’t that fancy and will give me funny looks. But I do feel the need to find the right word for the situation. Harder to do when you’re fog-brained.
On the other hand, editing is a process that requires you to read your own work, something I quite frankly am terrible at. I feel all self-concious and awkward. Like the first day at work when you are mostly trying to stay out of people’s way and not break something. Editing runs the risk of breaking the story. Keeping a light touch is just as important as finding all the necessary shadows to cast a faint outline of what is coming for your hero. Much of the story magic is made in the unconscious mind, and you have to trust that too.
I’ll keep this short today, because I’m rambling on. I’ll be at work today, but will check in when I get a lunch break, and again in the evening to answer comments. Play nice!
I was talking with my mother the other day about writing and publishing. Mom is a good writer, and has nonfiction articles published, but not yet her fiction. I’m looking forward to her fiction being complete, and it’s not just that I’m biased toward my mom. But the conversation, and another comment I’d seen on social media, got me thinking. I’ve chosen an independent career, but that does not mean I operate alone.
As I am preparing a book for publication, it has already been read, commented on, edited, and not just by one or two other people. For this book I had an unusually high number of alpha readers. It had three, my First Reader, and two others I could trust not to blow smoke in my *ahem* but to tell me if they saw real problems. Most books don’t need that many – may not need any at all – but for this one where I was struggling with my confidence and inability to distance myself from the story, they are the only reason I finished it.
Once the book was finished in rough draft, I sent it off the beta readers. The comment I’d seen another author make, about only ever using two to three readers, always the same ones, and ones who wouldn’t steal the manuscript, rather boggled me. One, that height of paranoia bordering on arrogance… The manuscript is worth stealing, really?! And further, stealing when there is an easy record of who sent it to whom and when? But besides that pathology, there is a pitfall to using that few beta readers, and never changing them up. If life happens, and it will, you the author are left with even less feedback. And two to three readers is insufficient. Sarah Hoyt taught me years ago that you don’t make significant changes to a manuscript unless three people independently tell you of an issue. And you aren’t going to get that with a tiny reader pool. Also, solicit opinions outside your usual readers. If you can get someone who has never read your stuff before, that’s great! They are less likely to suffer from confirmation bias towards your work and can objectively assess it. I’m not saying send your book to all and sundry. But I am forever grateful to my beta reading pool, who have helped my writing more than they can ever know.
But it doesn’t stop there. From a cover artist, to editors, the Indie Author team is often made up of hired professionals, networked and bartered services, or some combination of those. But rarely does the author work completely alone, and when they do, it handicaps their work. If none but them see the book, they are going to be blindsided by bad reviews.
James Young, a great mil SF author and occasional guest post here, put out a terrific post on cover art, but the process he outlines for working with an artist, from price settings to contracts, is good stuff for working with any professional. I’ve been on both sides of that equation, as author and artist. Let me tell you, it’s not fun to shell out money you can’t really spare for work that never gets done. What he says about the PayPal friends payment, and no recourse? Ever wonder why I wound up becoming a cover artist? I didn’t have a choice – that money was gone, and I needed a cover, but couldn’t afford it at the time. It was a great lesson and led to good stuff for me, but it hurt. I’d rather you learn from my mistakes than repeat them. On the flip side, as an artist, I’ve done work, not collected a deposit, and been out money for supplies and a bunch of time when the author suddenly backed out. Lesson learned: don’t work with certain people and always collect a non-refundable deposit before starting work.
It’s a collaborative effort all the way, what we do. From writing groups to, well, the Mad Genius Club, the great thing about Indie Publishing is that you’re never alone. That’s why I don’t say I’m self-published. I may be pressing the button, but I have a team at my back. Sometimes I am part of that team behind an author. I get silly proud when I see my covers on great books hoping them sell well. I will always be there when someone who is struggling with their confidence about being a writer wants an ear to listen. I have friends who put up with me moaning about how this book is horrible, terrible, no good and will never be finished. In the past I’ve had writing groups and critique groups where I was anonymous (great for developing thick skin towards criticism) and prompt groups… All those people are a part of my path to publication. I’m not alone, and neither are you.