Editor’s Appreciation and an Interview

from Generationbass.com

So as I’ve been saying on this blog, my first publication–The Astrologers and Other Stories–will be published soon, and has been sent to an editor in preparation. That editor is Yesenia Vargas, who can be found here. Yesenia just started offering editing services, and I jumped at the chance to be a client for two big reasons: she’s a fellow indie writer with aspirations toward self-publishing, and her rates are great.

In fact, she’s got a special rate for a limited time–50% off! That’s an amazing $2 a page for copyediting–you will not find a better deal. Go here for details, and don’t dawdle–the discount is only for the next four clients!

Yesenia mentioned to me that September is Editor’s Appreciation Month–which is timely, given her venture and my first experience with professional editing.  I also thought that this confluence made for a great opportunity for an interview. Below is the first half of our exchange–enjoy! My questions in bold, her answers in regular typeface.

You’ve been blogging and writing for a while–what made you want to also offer editing services?

Not to brag or anything, but I’ve always been pretty good at grammar, punctuation, and those kinds of things. It’s something I enjoy and do even when I’m not thinking about it. In school, I was the one my peers went to when they weren’t sure about how to spell a word or use a comma. My friends would also regularly give me their English papers to edit or proofread before submitting them.

I never thought I could be a professional editor, though, until I read a writing friend’s book and pointed out a few typos and grammar mistakes I had found. She said I should be a copyeditor since I seemed to have a knack for it. Her comment really stuck with me, and I started researching what it took to be a great copyeditor and how to start my own business.

What are some of your experiences with editors?

To be honest, I’ve never worked with one as a writer since I’m not published yet. However, I do read some editors’ blogs and websites because there’s a lot I can learn from their experiences. In addition, I’ve chatted with a couple of editors via social media who seem like nice, hard-working people. I mentioned to one that I was going into copyediting, and she was actually really supportive.

How do you think editing differs between self e-publishing and so-called “traditional” publishing?

Well for one thing, the publishing house is the one that hires (and pays for) the editors, although the writer will most likely also communicate with them. In e-publishing (or self-publishing) the writer is completely in charge of finding and hiring an editor. In e-publishing, I would also say there’s a higher risk of getting scammed or having an editor who doesn’t really know what he or she is doing because the publishing house has access to people who regularly work for them and do a great job.

Either way, a writer shouldn’t think that just because a book is traditionally published that the editing will be 100% perfect or mistake-free. Editors are human. You’ll always have at least a couple of typos no matter who edits the manuscript. Nonetheless, it’s smart to make sure any editor has references and that you check them.

On Wednesday I’ll post the second half of our interview, so stay tuned! In the meantime, if you’ve had some experience with editors you’d like to share, post in the comments! We both want to hear from you.

 

Beta Readers

One of the steps of editing a new piece of writing is Substantive Editing. This is where you concentrate on the general scope of your work and identify things like plot holes, inconsistencies, and character development. In short, it’s kind of like a professional critique. It’s a service some editors provide–but I think that Beta Readers would fill this role just as well.

This kind of editing is important, because if your story or novel doesn’t make narrative sense or the characters are uninteresting, it’s not going to sell. A story has to be compelling and imaginative, yes; but if the plot is hard to follow, people won’t want to read it. Reading should be entertainment, not work, and a piece that hasn’t gone through this process runs the risk of taking the reader “out of the world of the book” as they pick apart all the problems or try to figure out what just happened.

These are the kinds of things writers (should) know to avoid; if you’ve taken workshops, classes, or read enough literature to understand how narratives work, you should be able to avoid these problems. But a writer is often too close to their own work. These are things that are easy for a writer to miss, and easy for a fresh pair of eyes to pick up on. And this is where Beta Readers come in.

What’s a Beta Reader? Glad you asked.

In the software world, programmers will distribute their work to beta testers, who will play with it to find bugs, discover issues, and generally give input. These contributions are then considered for the product, which is tweaked as needed before final release. The result is software that’s “tried and true.”

Fiction can work the same way. If you’d like to sign up as a Beta Reader for me, send me an email at jparsonswrites@gmail.com. I’ll send you a copy of my collection, The Astrologers and Other Stories, and ask for feedback. You don’t need any special skills for this, and I’m not asking for a detailed 120 page report; all you need to do is read it, and let me know what you think from a constructive standpoint.  I want to know how the characters work, how the plot flows, and if it makes sense. (For further reading, here’s a post by Jami Gold that talks about beta readers.)

Now, I should stress that I’m not asking beta readers to do any editing for me–I just want opinions. It doesn’t have to be in detail, just constructive enough that it’s useful. And what will you get in return? You’ll be the first to receive a free copy of the collection when it goes to print, as well as acknowledgement in the front matter (and if your input is constructive rather than generic, I’ll provide a link to your blog or website). Just for reading a story. I’ll also offer my own services as a beta reader if you have a story you’re ready to publish. Not a bad deal, eh?

On Monday, I have a special treat: an interview with Yesenia Vargas, an indie writer who’s just started offering editing services. She can be found at YeseniaVargas.com. Stay tuned after the weekend for a great talk about the other side of writing!

Editing and Ego

credit: Penn Provenance Project.

The best part of being a writer–in my opinion, anyway–is creating. That’s why I like to write: I’m a creative person, and I enjoy making things. To be in control of a character or setting, or to invent either from the ground up, is a thrilling thing for a writer.

But that’s not really what a writer does, is it?

A writer starts there, but the real work is in honing that creative idea into something readable. That’s not an easy thing to do, whatever Mr. Vonnegut says. It takes a lot of attention to detail, a lot of time and effort, and–most especially–a big slice of humble pie. Editing is where you take that incredible, gonna-be-a-millionare gem of a manuscript, and tear it to pieces until it resembles something people will actually buy.

When I was in high school, we were given a simple project in English class: write a story from the viewpoint of a character from another story we’ve read in class. I chose a story with a character who was illiterate and uneducated, and had him write a letter to his son. I purposefully filled the story with spelling and grammar mistakes and imposed a lack of clarity, because I thought that was how an illiterate person would try to write a letter. The idea might have been interesting, but I failed the project. Why? It was filled with spelling and grammar mistakes, and suffered from a lack of clarity.

The piece needed severe editing, but my insistence to the teacher that “this is how the character would have done it” fell on deaf ears. In trying to be creative, I missed the point of the lesson: to create a cohesive story that was interesting to read. It was, in fact, unreadable–and despite that being the intent, the story ended up being a complete mess that was hard to follow and not enjoyable to read. And here’s the point: properly edited, that story could have been clear and easy to read, while still getting the point across.

And that, I think, is the hardest part of the editing process. It’s easy to think about an editor as the one who erases or deconstructs your work–but when you take your ego out of it and understand that editing is in your best interests, you start to see how valuable that process is. An editor will not only check your work for spelling and grammar mistakes, they’ll refine your piece to make it the best it can be.

I’m in the throes of this process now. I recently sent a selection of my work for a sample edit from an editor, and the response was surprising. After going over the story twice myself and making my own edits, I thought it was close to finished–but my editor picked up on a lot of small things I’d missed. And that, I think, is the best reason for getting a professional editor to look at your work: they’re going to find stuff you missed. That in itself is worth the cost.

My first collection–The Astrologers and other stories–is ready to send for editing now. This is a step in the writing process that I’ve never taken before, and it’s a bit nerve-wracking. But it’s also liberating.

My editor is fellow writer and blogger Yesenia Vargas. She’s just started offering editing services, which you can find more about here. Now, another stumbling block for new writers is the cost of hiring an editor–but Yesenia has great rates (among the best I’ve found), and I can speak to her work being top notch.

And, as of the time of this writing, Yesenia is graciously offering a 50% discount to her next four clients! Send her an email quick and get on her list–you won’t find a better deal than that.

We’ll be talking to Yesenia about her editing services soon, so stay tuned!

 

Swooping and Bashing

I haven’t had a whole lot of time (or energy) this week to put up a blog post, so apologies for the delay! This one is going to be short and sweet, but I wanted to get something out there. My intent for this week was to get out a few related articles on the process of editing, but that’ll have to be pushed into next week, so stay tuned.

In the meantime: Swoopers and Bashers.

In the wonderfully quirky Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut wrote that there are two types of writers: swoopers and bashers. Swoopers are those who write everything all at once, just get it on the page, then spend an arduous amount of effort editing the work until it’s “right.” Bashers–Vonnegut identifies himself as one–prefer to labour over each and every sentence, getting it right the first time until it’s done.

I used to think I was a basher too. I’m the kind of person who will stare at a blank page, not because I don’t know what to write, but because I don’t know how I want to write it. I’ll have the scene or dialog all planned out in my head (or, occasionally, in an outline), but won’t put pen to paper until I know exactly how I want to say it. That way, in the words of Vonnegut, “when it’s done, it’s done.”

This is all very well and good, but what I’m finding out now is that it doesn’t work that way. Maybe for an accomplished wordsmith like Vonnegut it’s okay, but not for me. In looking over my existing work this past few weeks and deciding what I want to publish, I’ve been discouraged to see that the pieces I thought were ready for ‘print’ are far from it. Much of it looks immature, if you will. In fact, it looks very much like a (gasp!) First Draft. Which, of course, is all it is, because I thought I was the kind of guy to get it right the first time and never bothered to go back.

Lesson learned. Now that I’ve finished my first collection of short stories–which I hope to have published online in about a month or so, pending setbacks–I’m starting to learn how much work actually goes into writing. And more importantly, how much of the writing process isn’t “creating” at all, not in the sense once like to think of how a writer crafts their work. Most of writing is actually editing, revising, and frankly cutting stuff that doesn’t work. It hurts, it’s dull, and it will drive you crazy–but it’s necessary. I don’t know what kind of magic pen Kurt Vonnegut had that let him bash out the perfect novel on the first try…but I’m inclined to think even he had it harder than he let on.

 

Case in point: a wonderful blog post on editing from Mike Nappa on the Writer’s Digest website. I couldn’t put it better myself, so take a read after the jump: How to Edit Your Book in 4 Steps.

Now, about that collection I mentioned above: I’m in the process of getting an editor, and will be sending it off to be pored over very soon. This is my first experience with a professional editor, so I’m interested to see how my work pans out. And of course, I’ll let you all in on it as we go…watch for that coming soon!

 

 

Creating the Real World: World Building part 2.

So let’s say there are two types of world building: that for speculative fiction, and for non-speculative fiction. Fantasy and science fiction worlds are the easy choice when it comes to world building, because you can make up as much or as little as you want–as long as you’re consistent, it’s all open. But let’s leave that for our next entry. Today, we’ll talk about building a world in a non-speculative universe.

What do I mean by non-speculative? Anything that’s rooted in the “real world,” and bound by the rules of this world. Most of our fiction seems to live here, and though world building in different genres (historical fiction vs romance vs thriller) will have different processes, there are a few things that remain the same.
There’s a ton of information online about how to build your world–much of it differing from other how to’s. Everyone will have their own process, and in the end how you get there doesn’t really matter, so long as you’re consistent.
Holly Lisle puts it well on her website, Holly Lisle: Writer:

“You’re worldbuilding…when you create some guidelines about the place in which your story takes place or about the people who inhabit the place in order to maintain consistency within the story and add a feeling of verisimilitude to your work.”

The examples she gives at the top of the page are great: world building can be as simple as deciding a bedroom is on the first floor of the house, and making sure a character doesn’t refer to it as being on the second.

Now, in speculative fiction, all the cards are on the table and you can do what you want. You don’t have to obey the laws of physics or even logic, though consistency is still key. In non-speculative fiction, there are more restrictions. With all that in mind, here are a few basic guidelines for world building in a non-speculative story:

1. Consistency is the Most Important Thing.

Not to beat a dead horse, but if your character states she’s never been to Europe at the beginning of the story, she shouldn’t mention later on that the turning point in her life was seeing the Mona Lisa in person. It seems like a glaring mistake, easy to avoid, but it’s really all too common–and it simply looks messy. It appears as though you don’t care about the story, or forgot to impart some crucial piece of information that explains something–or worse, that you didn’t edit very carefully, if at all. This actually happens a lot in modern popular fiction/movies/etc. They’re called Plot Holes, and if your story is riddled with them, you’ll appear lazy.

2. Your Setting is a Character Too.

You can’t have a story without a setting. And this may seem redundant in an article which is about defining your setting, but it can’t be stressed enough: you need to know everything important about where your story takes place. This is especially important with non-speculative fiction, where even the smallest incorrect details can pull a reader out of the story. Setting your story in Texas during Christmas will have a much different feel than putting the same plot in mid-summer Orlando. Medieval and Modern-Day Paris will have different effects on your characters and their decisions. The easy way to get this right is by thinking of your setting as another character in the story. Ask yourself the same questions you would about your characters: how does the plot affect them? Will their temperament of mood effect the plot? Do they have secrets that will be revealed by the plot? How does the setting evoke conflict from the other characters? If you’re a writer, your characters are your bread and butter, and you’ll do a lot of work on them–do the same with your setting, and your world building is half done.

3. What’s the Same?

Decide what in your world is the same as the real world. In non-speculative fiction, this is going to mean things like the Laws of Physics, the location of cities and countries, the colour of the sky, and the animals that inhabit the region. Go out of your way to decide what’s similar between your world and reality; this will give readers something to relate to in your story. More importantly for this discussion, it “roots” your story. Deciding on these details is also going to bring your reader more deeply into the world. And this is a place where the little details matter a lot. Hemmingway was a master at this; I remember reading a short story of his that described his breakfast in so much wonderful detail that I can barely imagine having my eggs without pepper anymore. I can’t even remember the story title, but I remember the world he built for it. With non-speculative fiction, a lot of the world building is done for you. There are certain things that won’t be different–or, if they are, you have built in conflict and plot points. Which brings us to…

4. What is Different?

This is where you’ll find the “juice” of your setting. Even in a non-speculative world, your setting should stand out a bit from reality. This doesn’t need to break suspension of disbelief or bring your story into the realm of speculative fiction, but there should be something that’s more interesting about your setting than the real world. Dan Brown’s Angles and Demons and The Lost Symbol are great examples of this. He’s using real world cities and exploring them in great detail–but he’s also adding details that are fictionalized to make the story more interesting and add an air of conspiracy. Deciding on what is different between your setting and its real world equivalent will give the reader a reason to care about your setting. Which leads into the last point:

5. Why Bother?

One of the most important things I’ve learned about writing was from a teacher who told me to ask myself: “why today?” What is it about this particular day for your story? If the answer is “nothing,” why are you writing about it? Make it something, that’s a lot more interesting. World Building should work the same way; why does your story take place here? Can your entire story be lifted up and transplanted into a different setting with no alterations to the plot? That’s not very engaging. Your plot doesn’t have to be dependant on the setting, but your setting should matter to the plot. If it doesn’t, it’s the same as reading about a character who does absolutely nothing of note: boring.

So building a world in a non-speculative genre has some limitations, yes–but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Even if it’s as simple as sitting down and doing a “character sketch” for your setting, you’ll be creating something more engaging for the reader–and saving yourself the trouble of lots of constructive editing when you realize that the setting doesn’t make sense.

Do you have any tips to add about world building in the real world? Tell me about them! Next time: World Building for Speculative Fiction.

Scrivener: the Ultimate Writer’s Tool.

Scrivener

So you’ve got a way to gather your research, a place to hammer out your 750 words a day, and a bunch of handy web resources at your fingertips. The next step, of course, is to write your project. And by many accounts, the best tool for that is a program called Scrivener.

Scrivener is a project based writer’s tool that aims to help you get past your first draft. It’s an organizer, a compiler, can build your manuscript into publisher accepted formats, and can export the final project into a number of file types, including an eBook. It’s a one stop shop for the self-publishing writer!

Now, I’ve only started using Scrivener, so I don’t as yet have a comprehensive view of all the tips and tricks. It’s a remarkably robust program; you could work in it for months and not use half the features that are available to you. The the thing is that, unlike a certain Microsoft based word processor, not knowing all these little features doesn’t get in the way of using the program–but when you find them, the program gets more and more convenient to use.

Scrivener is based on an framework set to help you organize your project. When you open a new project, you’ll see a series of folders on the left hand side, each of which represents a different chapter in your book. On the right is a corkboard, where you can “pin” index cards to outline the chapter or–if you click on the chapter in question–indicate separate scenes. These cards can be shuffled around in any order, labelled as concepts, ideas, first/revised/final drafts, or moved from folder to folder. You can outline your entire novel in one place, and shuffle things around as you please. This makes organization simple, but also means that one of the messier parts of editing–rearranging things so your plot flows smoothly–is solved with a click of your mouse. You can even run a search for specific keywords to filter a certain group of cards; if, for example, you have a subplot that weaves through your main story without interfering with it, you can pull all of those cards in sequence to see that it makes narrative sense.

The main corkboard

If that was where the program ended, it would be worth trying out. But Scrivener does so much more.

There’s a place for you to keep notes and plot lines for specific characters or places, and even general concepts so they are at your fingertips, but don’t interfere with the manuscript. There’s a pane for research where you can add images, text, full webpages, and even video to reference as you write. You can re-size this pane to show as much or as little of either side as you like. Likewise, you can bring up a pane to show your index cards, so you can write scene by scene and rearrange the entire structure as you go. I think that Debrief, shown earlier this week, is better at handling all your research in one place, though Scrivener seems to have more options in terms of including media. I’m still playing with both.

Scrivener research

You can do research in Scrivener too!

Scrivener can show you at a glance how many pages, words and characters are in the entire document, or just parts of it; how many pages it would be if it were printed as a paperback or 8.5X11 paper; it can calculate word frequency in the document; and you can add word count targets for each chapter, or the project as a whole.

Scrivener also gives you access to a few simple–but useful–tools, such as looking up a highlighted term in Google, Wikipedia or Dictionary.com; translating the word into other languages; and even a name generator. (Though the name generator has a lot of options as to race, nationality, number of names, etc., I still found it to be a bit generic. Though I prefer character names that reflect character, so I won’t be using this feature anyway).

Of course, once your project is finished, you’ll want to do something with it. You can compile your project and export it in a variety of formats, including .pdf, .rtf, .doc, ePub and .mobi. Each format gives you a number of options as to what to include in the final output, and when you compile as an eBook you can edit the metadata. Conceivably, you could write a book, export as an ePub, and have it ready to upload it to sell in your favourite eBook store all with the same program.

Scrivener Compile

Compile your eBook with ease!

Because Scrivener is such a large program, it can seem daunting to use. As I mentioned, you could skim the surface of the program and be perfectly happy with it, but the deeper you go the more useful it is. Fortunately there are helpful tutorials at your disposal. These tutorials are set up as projects, so you can open one (for a novel, for example), and work through it as a hands on example of how to use all the program’s features. It will take a couple of hours to go through it, but it’s worth it to get the full scope of the program. For those who want a quicker look, there’s also a series of video tutorials on their website that will give you a good idea of how to use Scrivener.

Did I mention you can also take “snapshots” of different edits of your work and compare them side by side? Or type in full screen mode with no distractions–though you can add a background image for inspiration? Or (on the Mac) edit multiple pieces of text simultaneously, dragging and dropping bits into each, in Scrivenings mode? I’ve also figured out how to synchronize my files with Sugarsync so I can work on them away from home, even though I only have Scrivener on this computer.

Scrivener is available for the Mac (for which it was originally written) and Windows. There’s a lot more documentation about the Mac version, but the Windows version is catching up. It comes with a 30 day free trial, though to be honest, the $43 price tag ($48 for the Mac version) is a steal for as much as this program can do. If you’re serious about writing, this is a great program to help you achieve your goal.

So, what now?

So, I’ve got a blog, a twitter handle, a fist full of unpublished work, and a vague idea of where to begin my adventure in the world of e-publishing. Where do I start?

Well, the first thing I thought I needed to do is figure out exactly what I wanted to get out of this. When I started writing, way back in junior high school, I had grand visions of becoming a world class author, selling millions of books and gathering a rabid fan base. I was going to be rich and famous.

Any writer who’s reading this will know just how unrealistic that vision was. It’s not that you can’t make a comfortable living as a writer, it’s that not many people do–and if that’s the end game, you’re probably not writing for the right reason. As I matured, I realized that fame and fortune wasn’t something I wanted at all; hell, I’d be happy if a few people bought my work and I was able to glean a second income from it. But then life happened, and the whole idea fell to the back burner.

Now, as I mentioned in the previous post, the landscape has changed, and it’s a whole lot easier to get your work out there. There are dozens of success stories around the internet about people who just wanted to write–and discovered whole fan bases waiting for them.

This seems like a good place to start. Just write. To what end? I don’t want to be rich, I’m not dying to get on the New York Times Best Seller’s list. I won’t turn that down, of course, but that’s not why I’m here. I just want to write, and to share my ideas and stories with people. Writing is cool. It’s creative. It’s fun.

The first thing to do is test the waters. I’m in the midst of compiling a couple of projects which I intend to offer online through the Kobo Store, and from there, the Kindle, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks Stores. I think it’s important to jump in with both feet and start to build an audience–which will be helped with Twitter and the blog as well. I’m editing these small projects–a poetry chapbook and some children’s stories–and am working on a novella, each of which will either be offered for free, or for $0.95. And we’ll go from there.

Down the line, I have a collection of short stories in the works, and am going to re-tackle the giant novel/series/epic I’ve been wanting to write for many years. It’s had several failed attempts and many unfinished drafts, but with a goal in sight–i.e. publishing as an ebook–hopefully I’ll be able to actually complete it.

The second task item is gathering a system of resources. I’m starting to network with other indie writers, reaching out for advice to learn from those who have tread this path before me. Here’s a blog that I’ve already found tremendously useful. Lindsay Buroker started the e-publishing process around 18 months ago, and has been quite successful. You can find her first novel–Emperor’s Edge–on the Kobo store, where she’s put it up for free. I’ll talk more about Lindsay in an upcoming post.

Another blogger recently posted about why a writer should or shouldn’t blog. It’s an interesting discussion: should a writer blog for their target audience (readers), for other writers in order to network, or both? The link discusses it much better than I can summarize it, but it’s something interesting for me to think about as I set off on this venture.

Another fantastic resource I’ve found out about is Scrivener. It’s a word processor aimed at helping writers–fiction and non-fiction–organize their manuscripts. I’ve only been using it for a couple days with the free trial they offer on their website, but I’m impressed. It’s a robust program that does more than just collect your thoughts, and I could see how it would prove invaluable.

So that’s where I’m at. Now the real work begins.

Edit: A friend of mine just pointed out another useful tool: 750 Words.com. It’s important for a writer to write daily, and this site will not only give you an excuse to do so in a stream of consciousness style, it tracks how many words you write each session and saves it for you, all while keeping it private. I just took a half hour to try it out, and ended up bashing out the beginning of a new story that’s been tickling my brain for the past week or so. Off to a running start!