Tag Archives: editing

Self Editing: The Last Check List Before You Submit by Tere Michaels

Heir Apparent by Tere MichaelsI’d like to welcome Tere Michaels to Attacking the Page.  She is the author of  the Faith, Love and Devotion series.  She is a freelance editor. I also have the pleasure of calling her my friend.  Today she’s going to put on her editor hat and talk a bit about self editing.

Self Editing: The Last Check List Before You Submit

The last draft before your submission to an editor or agent is that razor’s edge between “so excited I could puke” and “so freaked out I could puke”. Basically – it is accompanied by a whole lot of nausea. You want your very best work to be read, the finest example of your capabilities to catch their attention and hopefully get your entire manuscript read.

So what can you do to cover all your bases?

Put the manuscript away for at least five days before going through this final checklist. It’ll give you time to forget the little details – because you need as clean a slate as possible. Look at it with fresh eyes.

Give yourself time and be honest! Better to find the holes and gaps instead of having an editor point them out.

Nothing is perfect – there’s no such thing. But give your story it’s best possible chance by presenting the best possible manuscript.

Ask yourself:

  •    Is the dialogue natural? (Read it aloud.) People don’t talk in paragraphs, they don’t use a person’s name repeatedly and they don’t use perfect grammar in conversation.
  •    Are the facts straight? Double check things like time zones! Don’t pull the reader out of the story with something you could have confirmed with a two second Google search.
  •    Does it open with a character waking up, flashing back or dreaming? Are they looking in a mirror and describing themselves? These are warning signs of a new writer. Don’t do it!
  •    Info dumps are the quickest way to turn off an editor. Parse out information about your characters and plot as naturally as possible, through dialogue and through actions. Ask yourself – what is the most pertinent information a reader needs to know about these people and this situation in the first three chapters? Then only give that information – because unless it’s integral to this opening, I don’t need to know the hero’s relationship to his first grade teacher or the heroine’s eating habits.
  •    True angst and conflict should evolve from the characterization. Don’t throw things into the mix just to up the drama. Contrivances will sabotage your story. Beginning a story with some drama or intrigue is a good way to hook readers into continuing – but a cheap trick (a false alarm, a situation that isn’t as dire as it seems) doesn’t build much trust with the reader! Give them an honest reason to continue.
  •    Are your characters too perfect? Too angsty? Extreme characters don’t endear themselves to editors. Make sure you haven’t loaded your characters with too much perfection or too much drama on the front end.
  •    Ask yourself this – is it more important to know the hero’s eye color or how he handles himself in an emotional situation? You are trying to build a connection between character(s) and reader – think about what details will help that along.
  •    Why today? Why is the story starting in this place? What makes this day different and how are things going to change direction?  If you can’t answer that question, you might not be starting in the right place.

The last question is this – how does this chapter make YOU feel? There’s a quote that sits on my desktop as a reminder to myself about what is truly important.

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” Robert Frost

If you don’t feel something, you can’t expect your readers to!

Tere Michaels is the author of eight novels, including the popular Faith, Love and Devotion series and her latest book, Heir Apparent (all titles available at http://www.loose-id.com). She frequently teaches writing workshops at various conferences around the United States. For contact information, check out www.teremichaels.com.

Finding Your Writing Voice

I began my writing journey over ten years ago and from the get go I submersed myself in learning and refining my craft. Even then, I heard talk about ‘finding your writing voice,’ but didn’t pay it much attention. I mean, I was too busy trying to learn how to write a book : )  I read every romance and women’s fiction that I could get my hands on, and joined a critique group.

Then I started to attend conferences and saying I was overwhelmed, well that’s putting it mildly. A few years passed, and I found workshops no longer exhausted and overwhelmed me. Instead, I actually began taking away information that I could apply to my own writing projects. I thought, hey, my book is good, but it can be so much better, so I used what I learned. I entered contests and received some great feedback. I pitched to editors and although they rejected my projects, I often received nice, detailed letters encouraging me to revise and resubmit.

On some of the revision letters I was told to take my writing to the next level—the story flows, now add some personality and give the book flavor. Now, some writer’s sell their very first book, or even their second. Some go on to win awards and become NYTimes bestsellers right off the bat. I’m not one of those writers. Everything I’ve ever wanted I’ve had to work hard for. Ahhh, but that’s another blog for another day : )

Anyway,  I wondered about what the editors had said, what it meant to take my writing to the next level, so I talked to as many published writers as I could and they all told me the same thing. Relax and trust in your skills, it will happen. But I was still frustrated. It doesn’t help that I’m the kind of person who hates to wait. What did they mean, relax? I kept thinking, when will it happen? Where is this voice I’m supposed to have and why is it so hard to find?  Not until I pushed the thought from my mind–when I said enough of this frustration and trying to find something I don’t know how to find, did I truly relax. And what do you know…

I had my ‘aha’ moment a few weeks later when I was reading a chapter I’d written out loud to myself. I liked what I was hearing and somehow it seemed different than my other books. My dialogue was more conversational–my characters witty and real. I caught myself laughing at these people I’d written–what they were doing, and why.

I added my personality, made my characters endearing, quirky and appealing, and it was then, not until I was well into my fourth book, that my writing voice took form. I found that by giving my characters the opportunity to become real people reader’s want to relate to, my writing voice flowed freely.

It’s funny, I’ve heard that when you read your book, the emotions you feel are the emotions the reader will feel, but somehow I didn’t get it until it happened to me. Right there in the quiet of my own little office on a day I will never forget, I found the voice that had probably been there all alone. I just didn’t know how to coax it to come on out and play : )

Best,

Cathy Tully

Collaboration. Is It For You?

If someone asked me five years ago whether I’d ever consider co-writing a book/short story with another author I’d probably have said no, because being the insecure writer I was, I didn’t think I had the skill set necessary for a collaboration. At the time, I viewed writing as a solitary endeavor. A mind bending, hair pulling, harder than heck task writer’s prefer to experience alone.

But over the past few years, I’ve attended conferences and listened to writers talk about collaborating together like Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. And I thought, well, yeah, she’s Jen Crusie, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to write with her? Thank goodness with time, most of us change, grow, and open our minds to opportunities that we would once have dismissed.

The end result: my critique partner, and I are co-writing a novella we hope to sell sometime this year. It’s an urban fantasy, a genre, I’ve never read or given much thought to before this project. After all, I  write romance, sweet and contemporary, and urban fantasy is on the other side of the football field in writing, but after discussing it, we decided to give this co-writing thing a whirl.

Of course, we started with an outline, which we changed, revised, and changed some more, until we were both happy with the end result.  Mixing my partner’s strong editing abilities and use of emotion with my inane ability to throw down a humorous scene with sensitive characters has been a blast, and I think I can speak for both of us when I say we are having the time of our lives.

The characters in this novella are a bit eccentric, but that’s what makes this project so much fun. I’m finding that exploring a new genre is also affecting my other writing projects in that I return to them excited. This excitement increases my productivity and imagination. Although I’ve always been one of those writer’s who can work on two projects at one time, I didn’t find bouncing in and out of those books a complete brain reset like I do when switching genres.

And here’s the best part. I don’t need mental health days as often as I used to when my muse decides to go MIA.  Light bulb moment. . .maybe I’ve confused my muse. Maybe I’ve taken away her ability to rationalize, become frustrated and abandon me because jumping in and out of genre’s keeps her on her toes?

Or maybe, and more importantly, I’ve supplied her with the diversity that fuels her inner writer. Hey, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, either way, this genre jumping is working for me and I’m grateful for that.

Have you ever thought about co-writing with someone?  Are you currently working on a project with another author and how is that going for both of you?

Best,

Cathy Tully

Revisions and the Value of a Fresh Perspective

Woman reading bookI’ve learned an important lesson recently:  I am not always the best judge of my own work.

My deadline for SHE CAN SCREAM was tight. This was my doing. I wanted to push myself and my career, but the compressed time frame didn’t for much “thinking” time, those days when I stare at my plot board and let my imagination go. Writing the first draft in 10 weeks was a huge challenge for me. Yes, I know plenty of people who can crank out a draft in half that time, but not me. I am not a fast writer.

Anyway, I finished the draft and 2 rounds of revisions. Even after my agent read and approved the manuscript, I still had concerns. (I always doubt my own writing) But the deadline had arrived. So, holding my breath, I pressed SEND.

After a glorious 10 days of not having to work on this book, my developmental editor returned it. Yay! Only one of my concerns turned out to be valid, and fairly easy to correct once she pointed it out in the document. But in reading through her comments, there were a number of remarks that surprised me, places in the book where she felt my heroine sounded cold or mean. I reread the text over and over and couldn’t see it.  As a writer, my first instinct is to reject criticism that doesn’t seem logical. But the emotional impact of words isn’t something that can be predicted with an algorithm.  If my editor was put off by these sections, some readers will surely have the exact same reaction to the text that she did.

Different people can read the same words and have completely different reactions to them. 

When people open a book, they don’t do it alone. They bring their own history and personality with them, and their reactions can be as different as the lives they’ve led.

So, I’m off to rewrite these sections of text to make sure the emotions I intended to convey are clear to as many readers as possible. And I’m thankful that this book still has two more layers of editing, with two more entirely fresh perspectives, before it goes to print.

The Value of Editing: An Editor’s View

We’re please to have Denise Nielsen join us here today. Denise is an editor with Carina Press. She is also Melinda’s and my editor. Welcome Denise, we’re thrilled to have you.

*****

There has never been a better, more exciting time to be a writer. E-readers are growing in popularity and the world of publishing is exploding with new opportunities to see those books you’ve toiled so hard over get into the hands of readers. But whether you submit your polished manuscript to an agent or a publisher, or whether you decide indie publishing is for you, there is one step that all writers need to take seriously.

Editing.

I buy, on average, 10 books a month, both e- and print versions, both indie and traditionally published, and in all sorts of genres. And as a reader, nothing is more likely to turn me off a book—or an author—than something that is consistently badly written.

Because I am a book editor, working with the fabulous authors who choose to publish through Carina Press, perhaps it is natural that I think editing is crucial. But talk to other published writers and I would bet most of them will tell you the same thing: an edited book is a better book.

So what value does an editor bring to a book?

It’s not just about the grammar and spelling – you’d be surprised how many people think that.  As an editor that is just the last step in a long process. The first thing I do is look for manuscripts that I love, that I engage with, that I am excited by. They don’t have to be perfect, but they do have to have believable characters and voice.

If we decide to publish your book, that is when the editing really starts. Your book will go through a series of edits: developmental edits where we look at the overall work and ensure it all fits together; line edits where we go through line by line and word by word to make sure the best words are used in the most effective places; and copy edits where books are reviewed for grammar and spelling, syntax, and conformity with our style manuals.

The goal of all these edits is to take your manuscript from a great story to a great book. There are three primary goals that I strive to achieve.

  1. Balance: Your finished book is a labor of love. But we all sometimes have blind spots when it comes to the things we love. You might not notice non sequiturs that distract readers, or characters that say one thing and do another. As the author you know your book so well and probably don’t even see plot holes, or places where the hero’s motivation for doing something doesn’t quite make sense. An editor will look at your book’s plot and characters to make sure the information flow of the story works. Part of this is streamlining—taking out information that is unnecessary and playing with the story to ensure pacing is consistent—but the overall aim is to keep the story front and center so that the reader is pulled along into the world you have created.
  2. Depth: Why do characters act the way they do? Why did you have this event happen? And why did it happen here? These are some of the questions I might ask an author as I am reading. My job is to make sure there is depth to your story because depth gives meaning. This is also where I check facts to ensure the story has credibility. I might ask you to expand on a character, or even—in some cases—suggest that you change a character to make them more believable, more likeable, more edgy…take your pick of adjectives. Believe me, we don’t do this arbitrarily, but always with purpose and always bearing in mind the vision you have for your book.
  3. Polish: You’ve already done the hard work, the creative work. Together we have achieved balance and depth. Now we want to work with you to polish your story. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph should move your story forward in the best possible way. There should be no loose ends, no missed opportunities. Your words should be well chosen and precise and exactly right for each character and each scene without being overdone.

When you have balance, depth and polish, you have a good book. A book that flows well, that is fresh and that is true to your original voice. A book that you can be proud to publish.

Denise Nielsen is a freelance acquisition editor for Carina Press. She is open to submissions and is particularly keen to acquire new manuscripts in the contemporary, historical, gothic, and steampunk genres. Follow her on Twitter @denielsen or check out her Facebook Page Editor Denise Nielsen.

Editing That Action

This weekend is being spent editing.  I have a work-in-process on its second round of revisions with a deadline looming.  I also have first round edits on my June release due soon.  Keeping my head in two books at once is trying, especially for those action scenes.

I’ve found two specific areas where I tend to go astray when working in multiple books.  Timeline and character details.  Scene by scene I am able to write and edit without difficulty.  For example, I realized on the billionth reread of my WIP that, in the final climax scene, I forgot that it was nighttime.

Duh.

Now I have to go back and figure out how my heroine does what she does in the freaking dark. It matters. It really matters. High action scenes are tight to keep the pace flowing. Not a lot of room for description here. Instead, action is built around the setting, which is wrong. Ahhhhh!

At the same time, I’m working on edits for my next release when I discover that once again, I’ve slipped in the time of day.  Thank goodness I have an excellent editor to point out that my heroine is commenting on the sunset which occurred more than an hour ago.  Big mental smack for me. And the most annoying factor?  I distinctly remember looking up the sunset times for Maine in December.

So what does a slightly OCD writer do? I create a chapter by chapter timeline as I read thru my editor’s comments. This way, I can be sure I have the time of day correct not just in the current scene, but from scene to scene as well.  It’s the time between the scenes and chapters that are slipping through the cracks as I move back and forth between books. Live and learn.

The second major issue was character details, especially those secondary characters. I wrote the June release a long while ago. What do those people look like anyway? I found the original note cards that I kept while I wrote the book (told you I was OCD), but flipping through the stack repeatedly got annoying. Fast.

I know some writers who fill out details character sheets for every person that appears in their books.  Then I’d be flipping through pages or files while I edit. Instead, I’ve put together a quick spreadsheet to keep track of basic physical descriptions and anything special about each character. This way, I have one sheet on hand that contains all those really important details. It’s become very handy as I move back and forth between projects.

Since I’m recently published, I’m fairly new at the whole juggling projects thing. Do you have any tips to help writers stay on track when working in two or more books simultaneously?

Is Editing Important?

My husband and I had a disturbing (to me) conversation. The subject was self-published books and the failure of some authors to edit their work.

Don’t freak. I’m not against self-publishing.

I’ve downloaded self-published books and found some excellent reads. But I’ve also paid $0.99 and felt like I’ve been totally ripped off. Some authors take care to have their work professionally edited or at least proofread by someone competent in grammar, spelling, and punctuation before asking people to pay money to read it. Others don’t even seem to know how to use spell check.

As an OCD-ish writer, I’m appalled at the latter type. I’m not talking about a couple of typos or some formatting issues, but numerous grammatical issues on every page.

Had they never heard of the Chicago Manual of Style? The dictionary?

With the ease of self-publishing, it feels like the slush pile has moved from the agent or editor’s desk to the internet. It’s now the consumer’s job to determine which books are worth of their time and money. Before I download a self-pubbed ebook (even a free one), I check out the sample pages to see what’s what. But I don’t do this very often for the same reason I don’t shop at Nordstrom Rack. I don’t have the time to sort through the rubble to find the gems.

I can read through the occasional typo. This blog post may have a typo or two. Typos even find their way into fully edited, traditionally published books, but I find a plethora of errors distracting and annoying. Most word processing programs do a decent job of proofreading automatically. Not bothering to use these functions is plain lazy.

But let me get to the part that disturbed me, my husband’s assertion that most people don’t care about any of these errors. I’m picky because I’m a writer. The average reader just wants to know what happens in the story and routinely skims through sentences, paragraphs, sometimes whole pages.

Anyone else feeling nauseous at this point? I’m agonizing over every word that goes onto the page and readers really just want an outline of what happens? Is this true?

Help me out here. Readers, do you care about spelling, grammar, etc.? Does it affect your enjoyment of the book? Writers, what do you think? I’d really love to hear from some self-published authors on this, too.

Does grammar matter or has it gone the way of hand-written letters and perfect penmanship? Are spelling and punctuation irrelevant?

The Beginning Bump

I don’t know about you, but for me the beginning of a new book is the hardest part to write. When inspiration strikes it’s usually in the form of a vague story idea and the story climax. I’m very much a plotter. If I don’t hammer out a rough outline I’m just going to keep spinning my wheels. I’m finding the more detailed my outline the better. Still, no matter how much pre-planning I do before I start writing, I still struggle with the beginning of the story every time. I’m not sure what it is, but I inevitably rewrite the opening of my book multiple times before I’m satisfied enough with the opening to move on to the rest of the story. For example, with my latest WIP I actually rewrote the opening to change the point of view character as well as where the story starts chronologically. In this case, I also needed to rewrite one of the characters. I wasn’t happy with how he was developing and needed a stronger character as I moved ahead.

I know they say to just keep writing, you can always go back and edit later. If it were at any other point in the book I’d usually do that, but not at the beginning. I think, for me, I need to feel like I have a solid foundation to build on. If I don’t have all the story threads I plan to follow in the beginning of the book it’s a distraction that I’ll ultimately get tangled up in. It will nag at me until I go back and fix it.  Call me crazy, but that’s just how I operate. Once I’m past the story opening the story seems to fall in place a bit easier. Perhaps it’s because now I’m more comfortable with my characters and where I’m going. Maybe it’s that I find my rhythm and I’m better able to go with the flow.

So tell me, do you have trouble getting over that beginning bump? Do you need your story opening just right before you move on? Is there another area of the creative process that you struggle your way through?