November 10, 2015

Writing Tip: Editing is Like Housework

I'm an evangelist for having your manuscript edited. Crucial, if you're self-publishing. Here's another great article about the value of having a good editor.


Editing is like housework, it goes unnoticed unless it’s not done. Here are five reasons why professional editing is a necessity for your writing.

Novelists love stories and are often motivated to write by the effects a story can have on a reader. There’s a real power in being able to touch the emotions of someone, a stranger, who lives far away or even far in the future. Most writers have felt this long reach that words can have. It has changed their lives. It has made them writers. And what better reason is there to write than to inspire others to follow their dreams?
And yet, too many authors waste that opportunity. They confuse their reader with awkward phrasing, distract with careless typos, or turn off a potential buyer with a poor quality product.
A well-edited novel, on the other hand, will have that power to reach the reader. It will attract attention, seep into the reader’s thoughts and emotions, and might even cause them make a change, to make a tiny difference. And a good quality product will always sell better than a cheap fake.
If you’re not already convinced, here are five more reasons why you need professional editing for your novel:

1. Investing in a professional editor is money well-spent

Editing is like housework, it goes unnoticed unless it’s not done.
Professional editing is an indispensable, not just a desirable, part of a novel’s journey to publication. Editing can make your good novel great, get readers talking, reach the ears of professional publishers, and catch the eye of movie producers. An editor will make sure the reader remembers the dazzling plot and characterization, and not the problems with grammar. It takes teamwork to craft a polished and captivating novel that could become tomorrow’s bestseller. In short, authors need editors.

2. Honest, objective feedback

Lots of authors ask friends and beta readers to take a look at their novel. Most people are flattered by the request and are happy to help.
While any feedback is welcome and can help improve the manuscript, friends tend to give a lot of positive encouragement. They can gloss over some of the novel’s shortcomings to avoid causing offense. And there could be those who are just a little bit jealous and who will gladly recount a whole list of failings.
However, professional editors are experienced at giving criticism. They are systematic and thorough, covering not only familiar issues of grammar and punctuation, but also matters of style, pacing, dialogue, plot twists, and fact checking (to name but a few). Above all, the feedback they give is honest and objective.
Like the author, editors want readers to focus on the narrative and not the misspelt words and absent apostrophes.

3. Editors work together with authors

Authors are proud of their work. They have spent many hours perfecting the text, gone to great lengths to check the spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and reacted to comments and corrections from their beta readers.
But that’s unlikely to be enough.
Friends and beta readers will do their best, but they have their work, family and other obligations to consider. They can probably only get to your book in their spare time, reading a chapter or two a night.
Professional editors spend entire working days, even weeks or months, on a single novel. They work until they have a thorough understanding of the story. They are, therefore, in a much better position to point out contradictions in characters’ behavior, inconsistencies in syntax, and irregularities in the flow and formatting.
None of this is done in isolation. Editor and author have to work together. It’s the editor’s job to be honest with the author when suggesting improvements (such as rewriting, restructuring, or cutting sections) while respecting the author’s message, meaning, tone, and style. Both author and editor have a shared interest in producing a work that gets¬ – and keeps ¬– the reader’s attention. What’s more, with experience and knowledge of the book-selling market, an editor can suggest ways to take the novel in a direction that might better attract the eye of a publisher or agent, if that’s what the author wants.

4. An editor is a sounding board

Authors often pour their deepest feelings, and even secrets, into their novels. And, for that reason, they are often cautious about who reads their early drafts. They put a lot of thought into selecting beta readers, and they do this with some trepidation: friends could spot some of the more autobiographical elements in the novel, or they might think they recognize aspects of themselves in the characters (however tenuous). Some might even wonder why they’re not featured.
In such cases, authors can benefit from the impartial opinion of an editor. An editor takes a bird’s eye view of a novel, and can identify the elements that work and those that don’t and suggest the necessary changes. While editors often get to know authors well throughout the editing process, especially in the case of full, substantive editing, they are not concerned with your private life. They won’t be annoyed or flattered if they appear or not in the final version (although a credit is always nice).

October 16, 2015

Maple-Glazed Salmon

Maple-Glazed Salmon
Yield: 4 servings

2 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground ancho chile powder
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp brown sugar
1 T kosher salt
4 6-oz salmon fillets
olive oil
1 tsp maple syrup

  1. Prepare grill to about 450 degrees.
  2. Combine first 6 ingredients. Drizzle fish with olive oil, rub with paprika mixture.
  3. Place fish on grill rack; grill 7 minutes. Remove fish from grill and drizzle with syrup.
  4. Eat.

October 9, 2015

Theatre Review: Miss Buncle's Book ****

Lifeline Theatre loves literature. Their productions are adaptations of books that the ensemble members recommend, so Miss Buncle's Book is the perfect vehicle; it's a story of a woman who writes a novel and then writes another novel about a woman who writes a novel. Fun!
It is 1930s England, a small town full of colorful characters, and the townspeople have discovered a book written by someone named John Smith, a thinly disguised exposé of their town and each one of them.They are outraged as they realize this 'John Smith' is a traitor in their midst so they set out to find out who it is, never considering the unassuming and mousy Miss Buncle (Jennifer Tyler).
She wrote it, she tells her publisher, "To make money," so we know this is a fantasy, but lo and behold! it becomes a runaway best-seller (another fantasy!) because the townsfolk read it and talk about it and soon everyone's reading it and talking about it.
The rest of the play is about the transformation of some of the townspeople after learning about themselves through someone else's eyes, not least of whom is Miss Buncle herself.
The play would have benefited from a little more subtle direction, in my opinion. Some of the characters are a little campy for my taste, but Jennifer Tyler as Miss Buncle gives a wonderfully understated and engaging performance, her face telling as much of the story as her words.
All in all this is a well-done and clever presentation.
Four out of five stars for Miss Buncle's Book at Lifeline Theatre.

September 21, 2015

Book Review: Descent ***************

My favorite book of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird, and I'm not saying that's changed but I just finished Descent by Tim Johnston and this book absolutely blew me away, like no book has in a very long time.
The writing is gorgeous; unique descriptions, vivid images, emotion that poured from the page and wrapped around my heart. Tim Johnston is an amazing storyteller. This book is a page-turner in the truest sense of the word. There were parts where my heart thumped wildly - I was so fearful of what was about to happen. There were parts where I was literally sobbing (I'm not kidding), there were parts where I was simply in awe of the writing.
The reason I read this book is that I saw Tim Johnston at the Writer's Digest Writers Conference. He was the closing keynote speaker and his speech was, for the most part, awful, at least in the beginning, peppered with "um's" and apologies (for not being able to forward his Power Point slides, for not practicing his speech, etc.), for forgetting what he was saying...but he was so real and so funny and so humble that I just didn't care how uncomfortable he seemed on stage.
His book Descent was a bestseller - his debut adult novel - and when the introducer enumerated his awards and accolades, I yawned. Everyone has awards, at least everyone at writers conferences. Everyone is a "best-selling" author, at least everyone at writers conferences.
But after his charmingly awkward keynote I got the Kindle sample of his book and was engaged enough to buy it. And I have to say, this is an amazing book, one of the best books I've read in years, and I've read a lot of great books.
It's a powerful piece of writing - the story unfolds beautifully, the characters grab your heart. I have to say I was a bit confused in the beginning - he has a tendency to use pronouns instead of names, so until I got into the story I wasn't sure who "he" or "she" was.
No matter. It wasn't long before I got so involved that I stayed up long into the night to read.
Read the synopsis on Amazon, I won't spend time here telling you what it's about - just trust me...READ THIS BOOK!

Many, many stars out of five for Tim Johnston's Descent.
I wish I could write like Tim Johnston.

September 18, 2015

The Reality of Being an Author

This article from author Kameron Hurley The Cold Publishing Equations: Books Sold + Marketability + Love 
couldn't have come at a better time for me. I'm still smarting from St. Martin's Press's rejection of my second novel, The Ones You Left Behind.
I'm thrilled beyond measure that they published my first book, What More Could You Wish For, but they don't want book number two. Why not? Is it a lousy book? I don't think so (of course I don't). Is it a great book? Well...probably not, but it's decent and it's well-written, so I don't think that's the problem. More likely it's my numbers on book number one, which didn't sell well (and if I could make heads or tails of the statements they send me I could maybe tell you how many it actually sold) and that's probably the biggest factor.

Kameron Hurley says: I want to talk about the reality of being a debut author, because nobody actually talked to me about those numbers. What defined success? What should I expect? Was I a failure if I sold fewer than 80,000 copies? Fewer than 20,000? I know selling 100 is bad, but outside that….?
The average book sells 3000 copies in its lifetime (Publishers Weekly, 2006).
Yes. It’s not missing a zero.
Take a breath and read that again.
But wait, there’s more!
The average traditionally published book which sells  3,000 in its entire lifetime in print only sells about 250-300 copies its first year.
That's kind of comforting to me. I was paid a $10,000 advance for my first book and I earned out of that advance before it was even published because they sold the rights to a German publisher who paid more money than my advance. So that was fantastic! And eventually I even got a small royalty check, but the bad news is I didn't earn out through book sales.
A time when you could find my book in a bookstore.
And St. Martin's Press is in the business of selling books.
My chances of selling more of book number two probably don't look promising to SMP, even though now I have a (small) audience, so why take a chance?
Discouraging? Yes, of course.
Add to that the fact that my agent isn't quite on board with book number two, although she likes my writing, but she's looking for more revisions. So what now?
I like it the way it is (not that it can't be improved); a quiet story about a woman's personal growth in the face of adversity. And, frankly, I'm a little sick of it after working on it and revising it for three years (not a terribly long time in the world of novel writing). So maybe it's just time to move on.
I've started book number three and am 10,000 words into it. So, (onlyabout 70,000 words to go.
It's a frustrating and disheartening business, this business of writing novels. I have always known that. It's even more frustrating now, from where I sit, feeling a little like I've failed.
But, my friend Barbara likes to remind me that I have a book that was published by St. Martin's Press, one of the biggest publishers in the world; I have written a second ENTIRE book; I am now working on a third; I can utter the phrase, "my publisher." Where's the failure in that?
After reading Kameron Hurley's article I feel better. I'm not alone here. I'm walking in the footsteps of many other authors - some wildly successful, some not, but most whose books will sell 3000 in their lifetime.
As Kameron Hurley says, the only thing I have control over is the words on the page.
If I quit writing, that failure is on me.
The Ones You Left Behind hasn't sold yet but that doesn't mean it won't. There are other publishers. And maybe it won't sell until I've sold book number three (which doesn't have a title yet).
And that's the sad truth about publishing. The bottom line is, I don't write because I think I will make a lot of money doing it (obviously!), I write because I love to write.

September 9, 2015

Book Review: The Arsonist *

I can't imagine why I finished this book. I normally give a book 50 pages and if I'm not engaged by
that time I move on. I was intrigued enough with The Arsonist at 50 pages to keep going, believing something would actually happen. And I had just finished The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller, which I loved, so I really wanted to like this. So I kept reading, hoping for some action, some revelation, some reason to slog through all the excruciatingly boring and distracting details. 
But none of that is there. There's no tension, no real conflict, no payoff.
You don't even find out ***SPOILER ALERT*** who the arsonist is.
About halfway through I began skipping huge narrative passages that I didn't care about and didn't need to know. But still, I kept reading. And when I finished, I couldn't have been happier. To be finished.

One star out of five for The Arsonist, I'm sad to say.

September 8, 2015

Book Review: The Lake Shore Limited *****

I love the varied characters in The Lake Shore Limited, the 9/11 component, the theme of trying to live up to expectations. I even love the play within the book, which shouldn't have worked for me, but did.
This is a story of the aftermath of 9/11; not about the particular victim in this case, but those left behind, and the emotion, the confusion, the realizations that follow.

Action is minimal in this story but the character studies are authentic and thought-provoking, and kept me wanting more.
I didn't want this book to end.
Five of five stars for The Lake Shore Limited.