Archive for the ‘Editing’ Category

So you want to be an author. You read avidly. You love shifter or vampire or historical or…whatever genre it is, there’s always a book open on your lap under your desk when you’re supposed to be working on those spreadsheets your boss asked for. It’s ok, it’ll be our little secret. But the point is, you’ve been reading for years, absorbing all the nuances of the stories you love; words are beginning to stream through your mind; characters are talking, moving, demanding their stories be told…

It’s time to sit down and write your book, right?

Slow down just a sec, because I’ve got a bit of advice you’re completely free to ignore…but if I were you, I wouldn’t – because I’m one of those people on the receiving end of aspiring authors’ hopes and dreams.

My advice is simple. Corporate spying. Well, not really, but what every aspiring writer should do is start researching the publishers of their favorite books, in fact all publishers of the type of book you want to write. See who’s writing them. How they’re writing them. What elements have they included? Get a true feel for what is already being published. And then write your book, right?

Wrong. What you need to do next is realize that those publishers already have those books, and some of them are selling really well. So why would they need yours? Hmm…good question, right? Now you need to figure out, within the genre you love and wish to write, what’s missing. What haven’t your favorite authors done? What fresh angle can you bring to the genre? How can you bend or change the rules in a way that will make an editor suddenly sit up straight, blink twice, and experience that surge of adrenaline that only comes from discovering something exciting. And new. And special.

As I said at a writing conference last week, don’t build your book around something that’s already being done. Begin your world-building from the ground up. Make new rules. Surprise us. Thrill us. It’s what we live for.

Oh, and please remember to give the manuscript a good proof before you send it. ūüôā

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As an acquisitions editor,  I see a wide range of submissions both in subject matter and writing style, but one thing in particular really perplexes me sometimes.

It’s getting a manuscript I absolutely love, but can’t offer a contract on because there are just too many issues, often minor, but that would add up to quite a headache for our copyediting department. I’m talking about things like word/phrase repetition, grammatical errors, and, more importantly, plot holes that¬†would bring readers to a screeching¬†halt partway through the story.

You might be wondering¬†how I could love a manuscript¬†that had issues like that. Well, because there are other areas where the author did a fantastic job: premise, characterizations, emotions, dialog, pacing.¬†Those can all be wonderful and make me long to accept the work, but if there are too many issues that¬† need to be addressed before the book¬†can “go to press” as it were,¬†the bottom line is I¬†have to say no, at least for¬†the time being. And that¬†actually¬†breaks my heart a little.¬†

So yes, grammar matters –¬†in each and every sentence you write. Active phrasing and concrete nouns matter – in every case.¬†Knowing how to tag dialog matters.¬†And please, PLEASE, learn the difference between a comma and a semi-colon, and when to use them. And when not to use them.¬†You definitely don’t want technical stuff to be why an editor rejects your work…but trust me, it happens. If you don’t know¬†grammatical rules, learn them.¬†I personally have a subscription to the Chicago Manual of¬†Style, but there are free sites as well, such as¬†http://grammarbook.com.

Finally, when a manuscript is finished, rather than race to¬†submit,¬†the author needs to take¬†take four steps back, breathe,¬†and then view the work with¬†her most critical eye, because that’s how an editor will view it. If the conflict¬†doesn’t quite feel believable, dig deeper into your characters’ backgrounds to strengthen it.¬†Motivate their actions, or their actions just won’t feel believable. Give them goals. Make them proactive rather than reactive.¬†¬†And keep them talking and interacting with each other. I’ve found the best way to develop a plot with good forward momentum is for the characters to be constantly playing off one another.¬† Every scene should propel your story forward, never backward (yes, I’ve seen scenes that do this). And never let the story resolution come too easily – make the characters work for it.¬†You always want to¬†sustain the romantic conflict till the end, or readers might stop¬†turning pages.

¬†These are all things that can stop me in the middle of an otherwise engaging story, and regretfully decide that, despite¬†a world of potential, it has to be¬†a no, at least for now.¬†Sending those emails is¬†the hardest part of my job – it’s proabably as hard for me to hit send as it for the author to receive it.

So don’t¬†sabotage your own career – don’t let the little, easily-fixable¬†things keep you from realizing your dream!

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Never thought of myself as a butterfly before, but beyond a doubt for the last few months I’ve been inside my own special cocoon, reshaping and reinventing myself. Does that mean I¬†was formally a caterpillar? Hmm…not one of my favorite creatures. Maybe I didn’t think this metaphor through properly. However….

Beyond a doubt, for the past several months, since the release of RECKLESSLY YOURS, I’ve undergone something of a transformation, or maybe an evolution. First I got word that my publisher had decided not to continue with my series, Her Majesty’s Secret Servants, meaning Willow would not be having her own story – which is why Recklessly Yours ended the way it did, rather than with Victoria asking her to¬†embark on¬†a mission. Now, before you feel sorry for me – and Willow – there are two things to remember: 1) this is a common theme in the publishing industry. It’s not the first time this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last. And 2) there are so many publishing options nowadays that when the mood strikes me, I will write Willow’s story and get it out to readers.

In the meantime, as part of my reinvent¬†I’m trying my hand at writing an American-set historical mystery. Despite always¬†calling myself a “closet mystery writer” (anyone who has read my books will get this), writing a pure mystery has not been¬†easy! I had to learn so many new plotting techniques – in fact I’m still learning. The book isn’t finished yet, but I’ve been enjoying every step of the journey. We’ll see what happens….

But even more profound a change for me has been taking on the position of acquisitions editor for Silver Publishing. Silver is going on two years old now and I joined them after they’d been up and running only a few months. They’ve grown, and continue to grow by leaps and bounds, and I feel fortunate to be part of that. I have to say, I love¬†my job – I love reading submissions, helping authors strengthen their work, and the fact that even when I have to say no (which¬†is always so difficult!), I can still offer insight into what worked and what didn’t,¬†and why.

And if all that weren’t enough, I’ve also taken on the board position of Member-At-Large for my writing chapter, the Florida Romance Writers.

So the temporary¬†end of Her Majesty’s¬†Secret Servants (oh, I doubt those ladies can be held down for long) has meant new¬†beginnings and exciting challenges for me.¬†I’m still very much a¬†part of the publishing industry, still learning, still growing as an author and an editor, still looking forward to¬†whatever surprises the future will bring.

Have you ever had to reinvent? Was it difficult, or did you spread those wings and let the wind carry you where it will? And did you reemerge better than before?

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So you might be wondering….have I taken up a new cause? Maybe I’ve decided to champion petite people everywhere? (Hey, I am one!) Or then again, “the little guy” is often used to refer to plain, ordinary people. You know, the ones who tend to get stepped on by the big shots of the world. We could certainly use defending¬†against them, right?

But no, in this case I am bravely standing tall and taking a firm stance in defense of…

One of the tiniest entities in all of literature: the comma.

Yes, that’s right. The maligned, ignored, misused¬†comma. It’s a simple bit of punctuation that, when placed just right, properly separates¬†phrases and imbues our language with much of its nuances. And yet, for decades now writers have been warned off the comma with such claims as “they slow the reader down!” Really?¬†When¬†was the last time a comma hooked itself to your eyes and refused to let them¬†move¬†across the page?¬†¬†

But the real problem seems to be that a lot of writers have forgotten the proper use of the comma – or maybe they never learned. Besides being a writer, I’m also an editor, and in addition to that right now I”m judging contest entries. And I’m constantly seeing things¬†like, <“Hi Mary.” He said.> Or <“Hi¬†Mary,” he smiled and waved.> or¬†<Mary, smiled and waved to her friends.> or¬†<Smiling Mary¬†waved¬†to her friends.>¬†In that last one, Smiling Mary¬†would be her name, right? I could go on and on, but the point is that the placement of a comma affects the meaning of the sentence. It’s not¬†random, and it’s not up to the whim of the writer.

Do I sound like I’m pet-peeving?¬†Darn right I am. Or should that be: darn right, I am? But I spend more time moving commas around from wrong places to where they’re actually needed than I do focusing on story content. There are a lot of great writers on the horizon when it comes to theme, emotion, character interaction, etc., but if I had to make an estimate, I’d say a good 90% of new writers have little or no clue about punctuation.

C’mon, people, get a clue! (not: C’mon people get a clue).

Oh, and P.S., the comma, semi-colon, and colon are not interchangeable! 

 

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I once heard a very famous plotting/story guru touting the notion that writers should never rely on instinct, but should take a more objective, intellectual approach to their work (I’m paraphrasing, but that was the¬†gist.)¬†Instinct, he said, is really nothing more than the sum total of everything we’ve ever read or seen in movies, and will therefore lead us to rely on cliched and unoriginal thinking.

Well, I agree that during the editing/revision process, we do need to switch from our right-brained creativity to a more left-brained, critical mode, and yes, we need to think “outside the box” to use a truly clich√©d term. But I¬†SO disagree that we should ignore our instincts when writing that first draft.

Something happened yesterday that illustrates the point I want to make. My husband and I were getting on the turnpike through the sunpass¬†lane, and realized suddenly that the car ahead of us had come to a full stop and was just sitting there – waiting for what, I don’t know. I’m sure he didn’t¬†have a sunpass¬†and didn’t know what to do. Anyway, my husband had to hit the brakes, and since the road was wet we fishtailed a bit. Without even realizing he did it, hubby thrust a hand out in front of me to hold me in my seat. Pure instinct. Intellect might have told him that I was wearing my seatbelt and wouldn’t have been thrown forward into the dashboard, but his instinct warned of danger and urged him to protect.

It left me with a warm feeling that lasted all day. My hero! But here’s my point. Instinct reaches deep down to what is most important to us at the core of who we are. It’s our humanity, when you strip away all the outer trappings that society tells us we need. It’s what inspires us to feel, to be spontaneous, to love. Maybe I was missing the plotting guru’s point, but I do know that¬†when a writer over-intellectualizes and over-perfects¬†their story,¬†they run the risk of losing the spontaneity of the characters, the depth of the emotions, and the magic that reaches into a reader’s deepest core, grabs¬†their heart,¬†and leaves them sighing at the end.

So don’t be afraid of your instincts. Embrace them. They’re you at your most honest.

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Are you a “Looker?” A “Was-er?” How ’bout an “It-er?” If so, you’re not alone!

I’ve been doing some editing on the side for a small e-publisher, and the work has really made me aware of the kinds of habits authors ‚Äď myself included ‚Äď can fall into, oftentimes without realizing it. In fact, one of the things I hear repeatedly from authors I’ve edited is, “Oh! I hadn’t even realized I do that!”

Passive wording is the number one culprit. The first thing most people think of when it comes to passive wording is the overuse of “was.” That’s the obvious one, but there are others, lying in wait to rob your prose of its impact. Here are some I see frequently:

Repetitiveness. Using the same words or phrases, sometimes within paragraphs and even sentences, creates echoes that trip the flow of the narrative. OK, but if you’re not creating echoes, why is repetitiveness passive? Because not taking the time to vary your word choice throughout the manuscript not only shows a lack of effort, but also limits the imagery, action, and emotional depth of the story. If you want your story to progress, your action to intensify, and your emotions to build, you can’t let your narrative become mired in familiar and worn out phrasing.

Weak words. I mentioned “was,” but there are other nondescript words that flatten the texture of your story. For example: got/get, went, feel, cause, it, thing. Words like these fail to create a mental image, and suddenly the reader is seeing words on the page instead of pictures in her mind. Although I don’t believe any particular word should be completely banned from a writer’s repertoire, choosing concrete nouns and verbs is always the better choice. “He went” tells the reader nothing but that the character moved from one place to another. “He strode” tells me he moved with determination. “He stomped” tells me he moved in anger. “He shuffled” lets me know he was tired or hurt or defeated, depending on the context.

“Cause” is, for the most part, an unnecessary word in narrative. Describing the action of a scene already deals with cause and effect, so why say, for example: “Mary pushed John, causing him to fall over,” when you can simply say, “Mary’s shove toppled John to the floor.” Would you say, “He caressed her nape, causing goosebumps to erupt down her back,” or, “He caressed her nape, and goosebumps swept her back.”

“It” or “thing” reduces an item or emotion to a meaningless object rather than a catalyst for revealing the character’s mood or disposition. For example: “Father scowled. It made me feel bad.” Or, “Father scowled. His disapproval lodged like a stone in my chest.” In the latter example, the scowl takes on meaning based on the life experience of the pov character, and even imparts a morsel of information about the relationship between the two characters, i.e., that Father’s approval is important to the pov character.

Using “looked” is another form of passiveness. “Mary looked across the room and saw John searching for the book.” Why not, “Across the room, John searched for the book.” If we’re in Mary’s pov, we know we’re seeing what she’s seeing. I’ve read manuscripts with an inordinate amount of looking going on. Characters looking at things, characters looking at each other. It becomes a kind of crutch for the writer and an unnecessary lead-in for the real action of the scene. Better to focus on dialogue, body language and your character’s thoughts. Besides, if two people are in a room together having a conversation, we can assume they’re probably looking at each other. In fact, NOT looking at each other is more significant, because a wandering or darting gaze implies nervousness or an attempt to hide one’s thoughts or feelings from the other person. But if they do look, infuse it with a bit of emotion: stare, gawk, gape, gaze, glance, for example, all give a visual image of the character’s action along with a hint at her mood, while “look” only implies focusing the eyes on something.

Those are some of my editorial pet peeves (and yes, I’ve been guilty of some, if not all, at one time or another), but I’m learning to be aggressive when it comes to avoiding passiveness. What are some of your pet peeves and pitfalls?

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