Category Archives: Editing

Publishing: The Traditional Defense Part Two

Continuing my post from yesterday on Steve Laube’s Defense of Traditional Publishing, today I’ll talk about his third post. This one on the all-important topic of editing or, as Steve calls it, content development.

Access to an editorial team is one of the main dreams that has kept me doggedly trudging along the “traditional” path. Like Steve, I know the value of listening to the advice and critiques of knowledgeable, conscientious readers and editors and putting at least some of their suggestions into practice. Like William Faulkner and Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch have said, you have to be able to “kill your darlings” to really progress as a writer. A good editor will not only help you do this, but help you understand why. I know how a lot of people will respond to this, so I’m going to directly quote a large section from Steve’s post where he address that very retort:

A critic might say, “But I can just hire these freelance people myself. Why do I need a traditional publisher?” That is a good point. But it misses a critical part of the process. It is illustrated by the question, “Who pays the invoice?”

Think about it for a moment. In a traditional publishing house the publisher is basically in charge. If there is a major dispute over editorial changes or input, the publisher has final say and contractual clout. Rarely is this used as a hammer, but the writer always knows it is there. In almost every case there are long discussions and a compromise is achieved.

But when the author hires the editor, who is the boss? The writer is the boss. The writer will usually defer to an editor’s comments. But what if your novel is going down a terrible path, a path to commercial destruction? I know of a case where an author was bent on writing a particular storyline and would not take anyone’s advice. His agent was unsuccessful. His writing friends and critique partners could not sway him from the path. If he were self-publishing he would have failed miserably. Instead an editor at a traditional publishing house recognized the talent and came alongside with valuable suggestions. The author, realizing that the editor had the goal of creating a great book, acceded to the advice. The book was saved, is now in print, and being sold in stores everywhere.

I also know of another case where a freelance editor took an author’s manuscript (to be self-published) and rearranged the non-fiction content from a topical presentation to a chronological presentation. (The book was the history of a specialized type of job in our court system.) The editor felt that a history should be told chronologically instead of topically. The author disagreed and made the editor put it all back the way it was in the first draft. Because the author was “paying the invoice” the author’s wishes prevailed. The book did not sell and was not adopted as a textbook, which was the goal of the author.

Sometimes in some situations some people simply do not know what’s best. They’ve lost their objectivity and by not being able to see their work as a reader might (and probably will), they lose their chance of connecting with their ideal audience. Editors are trained to know how to do this. They know what most readers are looking for and can help you erase your weaknesses and show off your strengths, but listening to their advice isn’t always easy.  In fact, it’s often very difficult. Who wants to hear that the scene you spent a month polishing doesn’t work, halts the flow of the action, and should probably be pulled entirely? No one! Does that mean it’s bad advice? Nope. However, without that “hammer” hanging over your head, the desire to ignore the advice and go back to the way you like it is mighty tempting.

Is this really a point in favor of traditional publishing? Only if you sign on with a dedicated, attentive editorial team. But you could also have bad luck with a freelancer and end up hiring someone who has no idea what they’re doing. In the end, you take your chances either way, but at least with an editorial team working directly for a publisher, they have some incentive to make your book the best it can be–they want to keep their jobs.

Tomorrow (or more likely Monday)? Part four of Steve’s series: Design.

Publishing: My First Good News!

It’s been a while since I posted (and a while is seriously understating my lack of presence) but I had hoped to have something concrete to announce before now. So, if that’s the case, you may be asking yourself, why post now? Because I finally have what I’d been waiting for: something concrete to announce.

On Monday morning I sent in the contract that officially makes me an author! A short story I wrote last year titled Sing, Sweet Nightingale will be part of an young adult paranormal anthology. The anthology (title is still under debate) is about to start the editing and formatting process and is set for publication in Spring of 2012. It will include authors like my fabulous friend Lani Woodland whose second book released this week (Indelible is amazing! Buy it, read it, love it, then buy more for your friends!), Melanie Marks, Rita Webb and Wendy Swore (who are co-editors of the book), as well as a couple of other authors who are making their debut with me. I’ve had a chance to read some of the stories already and I am very excited to be working with such a wonderful group of talented people! I will post updates and progress reports every so often, so be on the lookout!

In related news, I posted last year that I had scrapped my then-current project Safety Net (previously titled Fallen, for those of you who have been following my slow progress for the last couple years). What I didn’t say much about was the novel I then turned my attention toward. It has been on the back burner for a couple of years, something I worked on when I needed a break from my main story, but I’ve always felt the pull to finish it. I’m hoping that the first draft will be complete by the first of the year. I don’t want to say too much about it now (you never know what may change in the editing process), but I will give you a little bit of information. It is told by a seventeen year old girl named Tabitha who lives in my hometown of Ft Lauderdale and it is NOT paranormal. I know. Shocking, huh? No ghosts, no vampires, no angels, no faeries. Just people and all the good and bad things they’re capable of. It’s tentatively titled My Own Prince Charming and I have high hopes for it.

In other tangentially related news, I got a job in publishing! I now work for a magazine as something of a factotum. I answer phones, source photos and videos, help develop the digital side of the magazine, run their newsletter campaign, and copyedit, among other things. Also, I have a full-length article in the upcoming issue and I am very excited to see my name in a internationally distributed publication! It’s not fiction, but it’s really darned cool. And, this job is an actual, viable step toward my ultimate career goal: becoming either a novelist or a fiction editor. In fact, I’ve managed to take steps toward both possibilities this year. I am gaining experience in the publishing field and have actually sold a piece of fiction. I had a feeling that 2011 would be a good year.

Better late than never, right? 😉

Editing: You Better Love It

This one is going to be short. Just one bit of advice for those who haven’t already figured it out. If you don’t like editing–hell, if you don’t LOVE editing, you better learn to. Writing the actual story is the easy part. The polishing and revising and criticism that comes after that is the real test of your endurance and your dedication. Few people can make it past the first draft stage. Even fewer last through the thousands of comments and edits it takes to actually make a story work.

Do you have what it takes?

I dare you to take the challenge. 😉

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Revision: Starting From Scratch

Sometimes, all it takes is one well placed comment to make you look at your story/essay/novel/etc. and go, “Man. I can so do better than this.”

I know because it has happened to me over the past couple of days.

Sometimes, better means a revision, editing a point of view error or plot hole. Other times, better means putting aside treasured sections of work because they simply don’t belong anymore. On occasion, better means re-envisioning your entire body of work, keeping only core ideas or plot points, and starting from scratch.

It is a painful decision to make and one that may make you question your sanity (at least, I know that’s what I’m doing right now), but if you can honestly look at your work pre-publication and say, “I can do better,” then you owe it to yourself to make the sacrifice. I mean, do you really want to put your name on something you’re not obscenely proud of?

I know I don’t.

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Publication: Indie Houses v. Fatcat Publishers

Because of a lot of things happening in May (namely my birthday and my sister’s recitals), I took the month off from everything but work. Hey, I still gotta eat. 😉 But just to catch you up with my life…

No new news on the agent search.
Nothing to report on the writing front. I’m still revising.
I really need a vacation.

And that’s pretty much it.

On to the reason for the post!!

It’s kind of weird how many times I’ve heard this from people who know I’m trying to publish a book. “Well, if you don’t get picked up by a major house, you could always self-publish.” While this is a true statement and I have nothing against self-publishing, people tend to forget a whole third option in today’s publishing world: the independent houses.

Just like self-publishing, independent houses are not for everyone, but they shouldn’t be excluded as an option entirely. There are strong benefits to working with a smaller house including, but not limited to, working with people who are truly passionate about what they do.

Joshua Mohr recently wrote an article entitled A Faithful Grope in the Dark where he talks about his path to publication and how he ended up working with Two Dollar Radio, a small press that is about to release his first novel Some Things that Meant the World to Me. Listen to what he says because he makes some really good points. But, in the end, all I’m suggesting by this is that if you land an agent and they tell you there’s a small “boutique house” interested in your work, consider it. It may end up being the best choice for you.

Writing: The Advantage of Pen and Paper

With all of the gizmos, gadgets, and greatness available to us today, a lot of people have forgotten about the basics. No, I’m not talking about a Word program with no frills, I’m talking about the way Dickinson and Austen and Wollstonecraft-Shelly wrote. I’m talking about writing a first draft from beginning to end with a pen and paper.

Now I know that there are a few automatic concerns:

1) OMG THE ENVIRONMENT! – Yeah, I know. Use recycled paper and write small.

2) I MIGHT LOSE IT! – A true concern, especially for those used to saving copies on multiple hard drives, in e-mails, and on a friend’s PC, just in case. But then maybe this will be good exercise for your brain! Now where did I put my pen…?


I recently started working on the first draft of a new story (I’ve honestly lost count of how many I have going at once). When the idea came to me I was at work and, since I work in a book store, I couldn’t exactly sit down on a computer or with my phone and type up the scene. So I grabbed a few pieces of scrap paper and began to write. On my break I worked on it even more, piecing together the papers and writing up the entire beginning scene. When I got home, I had two options: type it up into a word document or continue writing it by hand. Against my usual habits, I decided to write this story by hand.

The experience has been liberating.

I’ve heard from a hundred different people that you have to turn off your inner editor when you write your first draft. Just go with the flow and ignore the changes she suggests! I thought I had managed to do that, but now I realize I wasn’t even close. I know that making changes in a written manuscript are incredibly time consuming and can get very complicated–especially when you’re writing in bound notebooks instead of loose-leaf paper. Because I know this, it is so much easier to lock that editor in a cage and give her something else to keep her occupied. The comparative silence in my head is amazing.

I’m not saying that my writing has suddenly improved tenfold or anything like that, but I’ve come to see that writing an entire first draft by hand is an experience every writer should have. I know that a lot of things I’ve written down will change or disappear entirely. And that’s okay! For now, I’m listening to my characters and letting the story go where they take it. They’ll be plenty of time to direct them later.

Writing: Critique Groups

Some people are incredibly private when it comes to their writing. Even some of those who are on the path to publication (or have already been published) eschew showing anyone other than their paid editor their book before it is in printed, bound, saleable form. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the most common is fear. And of the most prevalent fears is the fear of a story being stolen.

I can’t say I am completely immune to this particular fear. I have shied away from putting my stories up in online critique groups and writing communities in response to stories about authors suddenly seeing their stories in print under someone else’s name. The problem is that no one I’ve spoken to can point out even one particular case of this happening. Where is the evidence?

Eventually, I got over my fears–part of that had to do with the fact that I actually joined a wonderful online critique group (Critique Circle, for anyone interested)–and recently I even created a group of my own.

But the point of this post isn’t fear, it’s why critique groups are incredibly awesome.

Have you ever worked on a math problem for a long time and gotten so turned around by the numbers that you can’t figure out where you went wrong? But then someone comes along and points out your mistake in two seconds? Sometimes that’s what a good critique can do.

You are God in your character’s universe. Both omnipotent and omniscient, sometimes it’s hard to realize that not everyone sees your world the way you do. By bringing in an outsider, you get a whole new set of questions you have to answer, different expectations to meet, and a different reader to satisfy. By bringing in several, you’re getting a sampling of your future audience and you learn ahead of time which points of the story some readers disagree on. By bringing in a critique group instead of a paid editor, you’re saving money. I know I’m totally broke. 😉

Besides, it’s fantastic to have someone to talk to about the characters, what’s working, and what they want to see.

So how do you go about forming a critique group? Here are some tips that may help.

  1. Keep it relatively small. If more than four or five writers are involved, individuals receive minimal attention.
  2. Find people whose work you find interesting. Critiquing a 500 page novel that you hate isn’t good for anyone, honestly.
  3. Work with people who will be honest but constructive. Vindictive or hurtful comments are not going to help you revise, they’ll just shatter your self-confidence.
  4. Lay out the ground rules early. How much time does each story get? How long do readers have to respond? How often will you meet? Will the meetings be in person, on the phone, or online? In what format do writers expect to receive their comments?
  5. Stick with it! You’ll only benefit if everyone in the group is willing to put in the time to make it work.

Do you think a critique group is for you? There are plenty of ways to meet writers interested in forming one. Online forums, conferences, flyers in college English departments, local writer’s clubs (check your local library), coffee shops, book stores. The possibilities are limitless. So, go! Find those who share your passion and help each other make it toward the finish line. I have a feeling you’ll be glad you did.

Writing: Messy First Drafts

Perfectionism has no place in the early stages of creativity. Mistakes are gold mines and should be treated as such, and first drafts are the best place to make those mistakes. But who am I to tell you this? Luckily, I’m not the only person who thinks so. Go read this article featured in Writer’s Digest:

Get Messy With Your First Draft

And, for those interested in my own writing progress, here’s an update. I’m currently working on my ninth (I think…) revision of Fallen. Once this is complete, I will send the story out to a new batch of agents and hope for a bite. There’s a connection my mom has that might turn into something useful, but I’ve learned enough by now to not put all my hopes in on basket. 🙂

Update: Looking back on 2008

Last December, I posted this list of goals:

  1. Sign a contract with an agent.
  2. Go to the gym three times a week.
  3. Sell a short story to a magazine.
  4. Complete rough drafts of books two, three, and four of the Fallen series.
  5. Begin work on a new book project.
  6. Sell Fallen to an American publishing house.
  7. Completely reorganize my house.
  8. Start printing pictures and putting them into albums.
  9. Develop a writing schedule.
  10. Post in Incandescent at least twice a month.
  11. Buy a good laser printer.

In that post I also promised that I would come back around the same time this year and go over how well I did. Accountability and all that. So, here it goes.

I have been working on several stories outside of the Fallen series, so number 5 has been taken care of. The first draft of Guardian is complete, which means 1/3 of number 4 can be checked off. Every month has a post in it, so number 10 is partially complete. And I did manage to reorganize my house (mainly in the last month), so number 7 was knocked out just in time. Unfortunately, that’s where my successes end.

Although I came close to a contract with an agent, I am not yet represented. I definitely didn’t make it to the gym, like, at all. My short stories have been sadly neglected and haven’t made it into any printed media. And the rest of these goals… well, weren’t even thought about, honestly.

You know, looking at it like this is almost depressing.

But, on the bright side, a lot of good things have happened this year, too.

So the purpose behind this post, to completely redo my goals for the next year. Here it goes:

  1. Complete rough first drafts of the final two books in the Fallen series.
  2. Sign with an agent in January or revise and resubmit Fallen.
  3. Continue working on various side projects.
  4. Develop my editing services.
  5. Continue with at least one post per month on Incandescent.
  6. Diet.

So there it is. It’s a lot less ambitious than last years, but I think there’s a chance of actually completing all or most of these. Wish me luck. I’ll check back with this list same time next year!
Oh, and, by the way. Merry Christmas! 😀

Writing: Series Issues

I know that it’s been a while since I’ve had a post on writing, so I kind of feel like it’s overdue. Luckily, I ran across something in my own work that sparked an idea for a blog. I know. You’re on the edge of your seat in anticipation! 😉

As most of you know, I’m working on a four book series, the first of which is tentatively titled Fallen. I finished it last August (August 2nd, 2007 at 2:12 a.m., to be exact) and have been slowly working on the sequel, tentatively titled Guardian, since then. While I had an outline for the book before I began writing it, it was very vague–my writing style (so far) works better when I have a generalized, chapter-by-chapter outline to keep me on track and fill in the details as I go. This meant that I knew how the second book was going to end, but i wasn’t precisely sure how the characters were going to get there. This is where the problem came in.

In chapter 12 of Guardian, something happens to one of the characters (yes, I am going to be that ambiguous) that made me realize that there were details–major, key, ultra-super-could-be-amazingly-important details–missing from Fallen. Oh. Crap. Not only has Fallen been complete for months, it’s being shopped with agents right now. (If you are one of the agents with my book, I am completely confident in the story as it is, I have simply found a way to make it even better. Writing is constant revision, right?)

So what can you learn from this? That nothing is finished until it’s published. Nothing. And even published works go through editions which sometimes involve changes. Usually not narrative changes (in fact, that is probably against the rules), but still. I’m getting off track. The other thing that you can learn is how to avoid issues like this. There are a few options:

1– Incredibly detailed, fully realized, character involved outlines of the entire series before you even start writing the first one. This involves research, worldbuilding, character development, and dedication. Time consuming, yes, but worth it in the end because all the prep work has been condensed and completed.

2– Write the entire series before sending the first one out for publication. This may not be feasible if you’re planning a ten book epic thriller fantasy mystery series that spans the length of space and time itself, but if you’re working on a trilogy or a quadrilogy (yes, it is a real word. I looked it up and everything), it’s possible. Even, perhaps, preferable.

3– Don’t write a series. Self-explanatory, I think.

The point is, don’t let it discourage you. I used to be amazed when authors mentioned something in book one and it suddenly became extraordinarily significant in book three, but now I know that they just worked their @$es off to build a world and a story that was as complex as the one we live in today. Writing a book like that is not only possible, but achievable. You just have to be willing to put in the time.