Tag Archives: edit

What makes a book unremarkable? One author/reader’s views – very well stated!

This link came to me from one of the writer’s in the local writer’s group I used to attend, who I believe follows this blog. The author who wrote this article came up with a way to review other author’s books, and what about them makes him lose interest. He has evaluated those reasons for losing interest in this blog post in a very effective manner, which could give any author an opportunity to look at their own work with an eye to seeing if those flaws are present. Not surprising to me, poor editing is in the top three. Show, don’t tell is another – also not a surprise. The lion’s share of the top issue concerns goes to story building, which is also not a surprise. Here is something that should not surprise us either – good beta or alpha readers can help resolve the first two, a good copy editor or developmental editor can also help with the first two, but no one can help you produce a good book if you don’t have a good underlying plot, strong characters, and consistently believable material to begin with!

http://creativityhacker.ca/2014/08/26/the-5-most-common-writing-mistakes-that-break-reader-immersion/

Now – being a scientist, I am aware that you can make statistics tell you just about anything you want it to tell you. Also, being aware of the nature of statistics, I am aware that this fellow is working with a very small data pool and using highly subjective analysis. However, given those limitations I believe that he has been forthright in his presentation and representation of what data he has accumulated thus far, and has limited the subjective nature of his research with multiple checks to the point that the material is extremely valuable. 

It will be interesting to see future results with more data available, or to see if the process could be replicated. Anyone else out there interested in trying this? Or know someone using a review process similar to this so the results can be compared?

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What exactly do they mean when they say “show, don’t tell”?

As a copy editor who does a lot of developmental editing with indie authors, Show Don’t Tell is one of the things that I find myself mentioning a lot. Problem is, a catchphrase like that is so easy to say and so hard to explain in only a few words without using examples and re-writing material so the author can see the difference – and I find that authors can sometimes be extremely touchy about someone rewriting their pages for them (they are, after all, that author’s creation – and therefore offspring of a sort – and parents have been known to go to battle over something derogatory said about their child).

When authors ask me how to go about showing instead of telling this is the advice I give them:

Use more dialogue to get the material moving along if you want things to move quickly, rather than using short sentences and paragraphs that tell us what you want us to know.

Don’t be afraid of adding lots of volume to your manuscript by adding descriptions (and remember that descriptive passages should engage all our senses, not just the eyes and ears), but do maintain a balance.

Letting the reader figure out what you want them to know on their own engages the reader more fully – don’t be afraid to add information later on instead of loading it on the front end of the story. Making the reader wonder about what is going on increases tension and therefore is likely to make them want to read more to discover the answers. This does not mean adding lots and lots of flashbacks – it means providing back story in small doses as you write the material, rather than all at once in the first chapter.

Along with the notion of adding tension, self-reflection on personal issues adds tension and allows a writer to tell rather than show when writing in first person, specifically because of that aspect. If an author has a very difficult time with the ‘show, don’t tell’ dilemma, changing writing style to a first person point of view can alleviate that somewhat.

Anything that is passive is usually ‘tell,’ so avoid passive writing – more about that in another post, but basically anything that uses forms of the verb is (was, be, has been, etc.) is usually passive in nature rather than active. Writers who have written a lot of non-fiction tend to use passive voice frequently since that is what is properly used in reports, or textbooks. It is sometimes harder for a technical writer to write fiction than it is for someone who has never written anything at all to do so.

I also usually direct people to a couple of websites for examples and information, so here are a couple of those.

Grammar Girl is always great at giving good examples and clear explanations: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/show-dont-tell?page=all

This site is for grade school teachers, teaching writing to young students, but it is very clear and concise because of that: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/show-dont-tell-whiteboard-writing-lesson

I also like the Purdue OWL, but was disappointed on this subject – the links were not opening for me or were imbedded in general advice:

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/sitemap/

And here are a couple of other links:

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/show-dont-tell/

http://www.sfwriter.com/ow04.htm

http://users.wirefire.com/tritt/tip1.html

In fact, if you search “show don’t tell” you get a lot of links – even a very nice explanation from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Show,_don’t_tell

Perhaps it is not surprising to find that having references for the information I am providing is probably reassuring to authors. It may surprise you to know that I find a great deal of comfort in being able to point to a reference and say: “See, they said it too.” After all, knowing I am right about something doesn’t PROVE I am right about it, it is just my opinion in the end – but pointing at others whose work is respected and being able to say they said it too (or sometimes, they said it first) gives information more credence. Something for non-fiction writers to remember, even if what you are writing is a blog.

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Editing oopsy to share

So, I got in a msp to edit with the directions to “just accept all the corrections” which makes me nervous as a hen faced with a hungry fox – I don’t like the author skipping the approval stage, but I can live with it. I queried anything that was too iffy or major, but was fine with accepting corrections in punctuation and any errors introduced from integrating old material and new (duplicate words, grammar or tense mismatches, etc.).

I got to the last page of the msp, and there were the acknowledgements from the previous edition…

Right in the middle of the paragraph, there was my name, thanking me for catching a lot of typos – in a paragraph that had a typo in it! Oh my! First, to feel good that I had been signaled out for mention in the acknowledgement at all, but simultaneously to feel embarrassed that a there was a typographical error glaring out at me in text that I had supposedly edited.

I know it had been added after my edit had been turned in or how would they have gotten my name? After all, the only way to get my name associated with anything in any of the textbooks I sub-contract with is to see it in the corrections in the Word document when they are looking the correction suggestions over, and I don’t usually see msp after it has been turned back in to the author unless it needs an editorial read after the fact – which doesn’t happen that often.

But just because I know that doesn’t mean anyone else would know – so anyone who bought that book and was paying attention when they read the acknowledgements, knows that there was an error right there that I must have apparently missed! They didn’t even have to buy it – if they just leafed through the first few pages, and skimmed into that page, there it was!

So, an ah well for it – at least my name is out there.

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Why I Love My Job

I am not sure what I like most about my job as a copy editior – being able to help authors improve the quality of the final product they are writing, or getting to read the book before almost anyone else!

Admittedly, what I read for the edit is not usually what actually ends up on the stands. Since there are always changes suggested in the edit process I rarely get to see the book in its finished form unless I am given a copy or go buy it (which I have been known to do), but all the same it is great to get to follow a book through all the drafts and revisions. Seeing a book go from its beginning stages, and following it through with a final editorial read after the majority of edits have been finished – what an adventure it is!

Still, I think that being able to help an author provide a better book excites me more than anything else. I feel great pride in seeing an author improve – not pride in myself, but rather pride in the author who has worked to learn new skills or build on skills they already have; learned to ask the questions that need answered to get to the heart of the issues they recognize they have or have learned they need to explore; or embraced suggestions that help to improve and expand the writing they are doing.

Ever since I was tutoring writers while I was in high school, through college, and now – I have always enjoyed watching that little light bulb flash into existence in the eye of the student when they recognized something new that would improve their skills and writing. I think that because I know I will always be a student (learn something new every day – it will keep your mind young!), and I will always be a teacher (what better way to remember what you have learned?), I will always love my job!

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Steps to Book Publication

I can give you self-publishers and indie authors an idea of the order of how things get done on the industry side, because I do a lot of work for a book design company, although I know that I do not know everything. Since you are doing it all on your own I thought you might like an idea of some of what is involved behind the scenes.

The first parts are for the author to do, the rest is where support personnel come in: beta readers (usually other authors or writing groups), agents (if you are lucky), publication editors, structural editors, copy editors, keyboarders or formatters, interior designers, cover artists, proofreaders, and printers. Some of these don’t apply to everyone, some apply to anyone who wants to produce a quality product, some to only print books, some to eBooks, some to all books, and some may never apply to the indie author who is self-publishing but can give a little bit of insight into the book industry.

  1. Write the first draft.
  2. Re-write 3 or 5 times.
  3. Get some beta readers (you can join an author’s group online or see if there is a local writer’s group in your area; colleges usually have one and often will welcome non-student writers).
  4. Do another draft.
  5. Before you decide if you want to publish an eBook or send the manuscript to a publication company or agent, you need to ask yourself what is best for you. If you are going to self-publish there are a lot of steps to take before doing the self-publish, if you want to do it right. If you are going to submit to an agent, you might want to get an intro to that agent from another author (another good reason to join a writer’s group). If you are going to submit it to a publishing house, do some research and determine which publishers print the books in your genre, what their guidelines for submission are, what they require for print and format for submissions, and how many copies they expect you to send if it is going to be hard copy – this is usually available on their websites but you may need to enquire. If you are submitting to an agent or publication company, you might want to have a structural editor or copy editor look it over before you submit it. Ask yourself this: How many authors submit books to publishers every year? And will they even bother to read my submission if it is not structurally sound and ‘clean copy’ (meaning minimal typos and mechanical errors)?
  6. Send it to the structural editor for big picture info (unless you have a line or copy editor that can pull double duty and provide that service as well, or the agent is doing that for you).
  7. Do another draft.
  8. Now you need to get a copy editor to find the things that beta readers never notice, since they are usually authors and miss the same things you would. Structural editors focus on the big picture, and don’t really attend to punctuation and grammar unless it smacks them in the forehead. The copy editor will (hopefully, if you get a decent one) catch grammar, mechanics, and even some of the structural issues.
  9. Run through the corrections and decide what to keep and what to toss out. Notice things that are consistent issues so you can work on improving your writing.
  10. Do yet another draft – you are almost done doing drafts!
  11. Get an editorial read done, though this is not always needed. Usually a copy editor can double at this part, doing a follow up of things that have been changed from the original to the current, but it is not a substitute for the copy edit unless you are an exceptionally clean writer (i.e., great grasp of grammar, understand punctuation and other mechanics of writing, and don’t need to rely on spell check or grammar check, etc.). This step can and often does follow the next step.
  12. Now keying, formatting, and proofreading – in that order. Proofreaders are there to catch the things that aren’t keyed right, and if you are using a service to format they should include proofreaders unless you are providing a fully keyed product ready to format. Some authors use formatting programs from different sources and do it themselves. This means you need to compare the finished product to the manuscript you started with and either have a proofreader go through it, or PROOFREAD it yourself, for sections that went missing in the formatting or were added incorrectly; as well as correct word breaks, change things that are not well broken in the page, tweak and twist things into place so the page has improved continuity and flow and visual appeal. Meanwhile watching for the inevitable errors that everyone so far has missed – because they are there. Keep in mind that most professional proofreaders do NOT actually read the book – their job is to make sure that there were no changes made between the manuscript authorized for print and the keying and formatting of the manuscript. They are required to work at such a fast pace that they do not really pay attention to content, although they are stellar at noticing niggly little typographical or mechanical errors in the ‘final’ manuscript. This is why it is that nearly thirty years ago I failed at proofreading, which was my first position in the book industry – I kept reading the manuscript and it slowed me down.
  13. Next, cover design – even if it was really the first thing you conceptualized – but get the blurb checked by your beta readers, copy editor, and maybe even some random folks out there in the world, before doing the cover design. That way you know you can get at least a one-line blurb inset into the front, and the full blurb or else reviews onto the back. This is often done simultaneously with the format and design of the interior, in the event that art needs to be consistent throughout. BUT if you are paying for one thing at a time and working to self-publish, that sometimes is not financially possible. Sometimes a very simple cover is better than a really complicated one – as long as the artwork is original or intriguing.
  14. Publish it! This is assuming you know that you are indeed self-publishing. At this point, having paid for all the steps up until now yourself, you probably better know that you are self-publishing or you just wasted a lot of money, because publishing companies use their own software and will re-format and re-proofread, and maybe even go back and re-edit the whole thing. Then they will determine what cover art will be best able to attract the largest portion of the intended audience, and they will change your pre-conceived cover design to suit the demographics of the audience that THEY think your book is targeting.
  15. Don’t forget to add an insert promoting previous or upcoming books in the front or back, as well as a note that tells us something about you, the author (with links to websites for readers to visit to see about upcoming books or other books already published as well as information on you, how to contact you, and what things you are up to – like book signings or conventions you are going to attend). Knowing something about you makes you real to the reader and they will become fans because you respond to THEM.
  16. So – you next need to find that online publication promoter, or hire a printer to print your book and try to sell hard copy.
  17. NOW start looking for avenues of getting it out there into the internet as a viable piece of reading material if you haven’t been doing that all along. Have a website? Even if it is one of those freebie ones? Post the titles of your work and your upcoming work. Got a blog? Use it. Got Facebook? Start a business page as an author. Don’t know any beta readers? Start a group of your own on, and police it to keep your name out there and visible, even if all you do is post the list of rules once a month. Use your author name on all of these things. You want to interconnect everything as much as you possibly can so you increase the possibility of reaching more people!
  18. Remember – the fans and readers are the ones that pay for the books you slaved over, so make sure that you find a way to let them have a voice! The wide variety of available social networking tools out there will help you reach your target audience if you use good tags on your blog, occasionally promote your site, and you actually respond to the comments where appropriate! Having a running conversation on your page or blog with several fans at the same time keeps you in their email and therefore in their minds. Ideally you have been posting running commentary on how long before the book will hit the market and where it will be available, so you have folks already wanting to buy it before it is even on the shelf/website!

Hopefully that all made sense and will be helpful to someone. Long winded today, aren’t I? I re-did this thing four times before I was totally happy with it, then edited it three times once I posted it…

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Work got in the way of blogging – oops!

How important are blogs to someone who is already working? Actually, for the purpose of generating more work or a larger contact base, the networking that blogging promotes as well as the ability to generate an audience that can see what you can accomplish, is extremely important and useful.

Not to mention the practice that comes from drafting, editing, and then posting the blog you write. If you don’t draft and edit your blogs, and simply post your thoughts as they come to you – much as you would in free-writing – they are still useful in giving you insights and potential starting points for further, more intensive, writing. Many can find the beginnings of an article or a story nested in the blogs they write.

Where do topics for blogs come from? Sometimes from personal conversations or virtual chats, sometimes from your own imagination, sometimes as a method of venting your own frustrations or emotions. Sources of topics for blogs can be as varied as the people that write them are, and depend on the purpose of the blog. They can be structured and set to a plan, or they can flow over time as something that is almost self-directed, or anything in-between.

Me, I am trying to network with others who might or might not be interested in my services as a copy editor, but also I am trying to give solid and useful advice to my target audience: authors. Getting information to authors that will help them produce a better product will make my job as a copy editor a whole lot easier, so it is in my best interest to do so. Not to mention that it is a lot more fun to edit a quality product than one that needs a lot of work. Don’t get me wrong – I love giving solid advice and positive input that can help someone create a better final product – but it is even better to be able to do so while I am enjoying the product itself! Then also, if authors write better, then I can buy books that I want to read for enjoyment, which will be more fulfilling to read.

 

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Add Tension!

If there is no tension in a story, who will keep reading past the first few pages? Other than someone paid to read it, of course…

My thoughts on this, take it or leave it.

Tension can be psychological or physical in nature.

There is no doubt that, handled correctly, throwing your protagonist into a weather catastrophe on page one can be a great tension creator (it can also be passé). The same can be said of a physical altercation, disaster in space, being caught in a house fire, finding a dead body, being lost at sea, or many other physical situations that can create tension. Fights and chase scenes are exceptionally good at introducing physical tension, but they are not the only methods. A protagonist experiencing a mystical event outside the realm of reality, which they treat as either common place or as a platform for wondering about their own sanity (thereby introducing psychological as well as physical tension), is a wonderful launch-pad with a lot of potential.

Developing an antagonist to pit your protagonist against, be it another character or a force of nature, is a great source for tension. If you go that route, be sure to use it fully, with forethought and the intent of working it intricately into the long-term plot. Remember, if your protagonist defeats the antagonist, the series is over – unless there is another antagonist waiting in the wings to step forward and become known. Often, having a vague but exceedingly evil antagonistic presence that is only rarely visited but never really faced during the full series, while having lesser antagonists for each book in the series, is not only a source of tension but also is a method of adding continuity to a series. This has the added benefit of not losing the antagonist totally while still providing the protagonist a chance to prevail against an adversary in each book.

Psychological tension can be more subtle and therefore more easily lost on some of your potential audiences – things like teenage angst, internal conversations of the lead character asking themselves what the right thing is (and do they really want to do it), struggling with major life changes while trying to refuse to accept them, a main character being in love with someone who is somehow unattainable – and not really knowing it even though everyone else around the two characters is waiting for them to get a clue, and so on. These often make great secondary plots, and can add to continuity throughout a series.

There is potential for tension all around you. Find it and develop it into a component of the plot that will capture your readers attention, keep them interested in the plot throughout the entire project, and leave them wondering if there is a sequel in the making.

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