How to Make an Editor Weep…

March 25, 2017

Writing is such a solitary endeavor that I think writers tend to forget there’s a big wide literary world out there where competition is the game we all play and excellence is the great equalizer. Some are more excellent than others – but I can assure you there’s one way to be considered part of the “less excellent” group…your grammar.

If you’re going to call yourself a professional at anything, one assumes that you’ve taken great strides to be very good at what you do, right? The art of writing is no difference. Oh, I know, with the advent of self-publishing, we’ve witnessed all sorts of crimes against humanity and the English language, because now anyone can be a published author.

But in the world of stuffy editing teams, puffy sales people, grouchy accountants, and submissions committees, authors can’t get away with sounding like they’re missing a crucial element of their craft. I can hear the submissions committees now: “Pricey, how DARE you bring this before us! This author doesn’t know how to use pronouns!”

Case in point; an author has been playing coy with me for a few weeks, telling me their manuscript is the “story of a lifetime.” Yah, yah, heard this song and dance a million times. After telling the author twice that they could pound sand unless they actually provided a book proposal that gives me an idea of what the story entails, I finally received an email promising said book proposal. Hurray, thinks I.

Until they wrote this:

“I’m really excited about all the attention me and my cousin are getting in our town about…”

Oh. The agony. The cruelty. Okay, okay, this may seem like a case of, “Really, Pricey? Aren’t you getting just a bit picky?” I ‘spose. But if the author is this comfortable using improper pronouns in an email – and let’s assume they’re trying to impress me – then how great is their writing? Am I potentially facing huge amounts of time correcting every pronoun debacle, every misspelled word, and God knows whatever else? Editing is onerous enough without having to teach someone the basics of English…and I’m not sure this old-timer has it in me to try.

With schools placing less importance on grammar and composition, I fear our future writers may be doomed…and I’m facing more bottles of “Gray No More” on my locks and more dates with Jim Beam.

I’ve said it for many years, and I’ll keep on bleating it until my teeth fall out; if you’re going to take writing seriously, please learn how to write. Save an editor from mainlining good gin.


Everybody Needs an Editor…

August 25, 2016

children on wedding menu

I rest my case…


Copyediting Marks

July 16, 2016

editing marks

Lest any of our authors be confused over my editing marks, I have a cheat sheet…


Writing Blooms With Fresh Air

July 23, 2013
"We go out now?"

“We go out now?”

After a rough morning of sleeping, mixing margaritas, and chasing each other around, the rescue beagles realize they need to put distance between their busy lives in order to gain some perspective. So they drop what they’re doing and insist we go outside.

Yah, I’m good with that because I normally need a break as well. Editing all day long makes for a stale Pricey. But a nice walk and a breath of fresh air puts new wind in my literary sails.

It’s the same thing when we write. We increase our BIC (Butt In Chair) index to the point where answering the call of nature is an irritant because we “in the zone.” What I see all too often is that writers type The End, and shove their babies out the door…and it isn’t ready. Before you do anything, you need to back away from your computer and get some fresh air.

Right now, you’re stale, so you can’t see the warts hiding inside your writing. If you send it out, I’ll see those warts and reject it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard back from writers saying how embarrassed they were to have sent me their first three chapters. In the time they sent it to me and received my rejection, they’ve had a chance to get some fresh air. When they read my reasons for rejection, they hurriedly go back and review those chapters.

“GAH!!! How could I have not seen those POV switches, or the fact that my main character was in her office, and the next scene has her in Mexico?” Oh, the horror of seeing your work with fresh eyes.

Do yourself a huge favor and get some literary fresh air. Put your writing away for a couple weeks and go outside. Go to lunch with friends, take that hike you’ve been wanting to take, go visit Mom and Dad, learn a new hobby. Do something besides writing. This is the only way you can see the dust bunnies and tumbleweeds hiding among your nouns and verbs.

If I’ve been working on a tough scene, I go ahead and bang it out – and then I put it away and walk away, even though I’m convinced that I’ve just written the best writing in the world. Upon returning with a breath of fresh air, I usually discover that my writing is pure Bantha fodder. The best writing comes from being fresh and clear. Putting you focus elsewhere allows your brain to expand – and suddenly you can see your writing with new eyes. No, those rough paragraph transitions didn’t sneak in while you were sleeping. You wrote them, and didn’t see it before.

If you don’t have pesky rescue beagles reminding you to keep your literary air fresh, then write yourself a note and tape it to your forehead. Nothing good happens in a stale room. Don’t send your work out too early. You’ve worked this hard, so doesn’t it make sense to honor that hard work by sucking in some fresh air?

Do you take long breaks after writing? What do you do to get your breath of fresh air?


When Ms. Inner Editor Goes to Sleep, So Must You

January 16, 2013

InnerEditor1

When writing, it’s sometimes hard to keep your inner editor awake. After all, a girl needs to rest.I’ve always imagined my inner editor is a haughty little thing who loves to wear blood-red stiletto heels, a matching wide-brimmed hat, and long fingernails she uses to gouge out my heart when I work without her.

And that’s the rub…working without our inner editors.While they’re off getting some beauty sleep, we writers are left on our own, without proper supervision, and we end up committing some blunders that make our inner editors’ teeth itch.

Mentioning names instead of using a pronoun

It’s ok to use a pronoun. Really. You don’t need to use the character’s name at every turn. I’ve seen any number of manuscripts read something like this:

Joe couldn’t see through the fog because Joe forgot his Darth Vader See-All glasses that Joe found in a Cracker Jack box. Joe wished he hadn’t been in such a hurry in leaving because Joe also realized he’d forgotten his magic gloves and bag of marshmallows.

Ok, there’s a bit of overkill in here, but not much. Going between a pronoun and the character’s name is a balancing act. Once the reader knows who you’re talking about, don’t be afraid to use “he” or “she.” Using the character’s name is tedious and clumsy.

Affections: Sighing, rolling eyes, running hands through hair

Another thing that happens when your inner editor catches some zzz’s is overdoing affectations. I’m currently reading a book that, I swear, if the author writes “rolled her eyes” one more time, I may begin rolling mine as a counter-attack. If your character runs his hands through his hair or shrugs his shoulders at every turn, then he becomes one-dimensional. Even I am given to committing drive-by eye rolls only once a day. If your characters are doing this every five minutes, then I’d wonder if they have Tourette’s.

Affections are great, but only if your inner editor is wakey wakey because they give depth to your characters. The trick is to avoid the cliche ones. Running hands through the hair (lordy, I love that one for some reason), eye rolling, shrugging shoulders, sighing…those are easy to rely on too heavily because we all do them. But it can look overdone in literature, so think of something unique.

If you have a tough time with affectations, do a bit of reflection and observation. What are your affectations? For instance, I noticed that I pinch my chin when I’m frustrated, and I tend to rub a knuckle across my lips when I’m searching for just the right word to use.

Observe your friends and family. I have a friend who twirls a glob of her hair when she’s engrossed in telling a story. One time she got so engrossed that she created a huge knot next to ear. I nearly laughed up a lung watching her try to tuck the knot behind her ear in an effort to pretend it wasn’t there.

Actions:  Walking across the room, slamming doors

Action can also get away from the writer whose inner editor is sawing logs. Action, when treated properly, is great because it gets a character from here to there. However, I see lots of walking across the room, slamming doors, drinking coffee…whatever…which doesn’t further a scene, but merely enhances it…you hope. It works for the most part, unless you allow the action to overtake a scene:

Jilly poured the gin into Jane’s and her glass. “So, have you decided whether to take the train or the bus?”

“I’m leaning toward the train,” Jane said, taking the proffered glass and taking a small sip. 

“I love the train,” Jilly said, setting her drink down on the table and reaching for a cookie. “I love peering out at the countryside.” She took a bite out of the macaroon.

“I know what you mean,” Jane said, picking up the other cookie and dunking it in her gin.

This isn’t so bad here, but if you have an entire scene of dialog where both characters are either drinking, eating, wiping crumbs, taking another cookie, the scene takes on  a ka-thunk cadence because the action slows down the pace by overtaking the dialog. You wouldn’t think action would slow down the pace, but your dialog has a pace of its own, and adding too much action can slow down the dialog.

Again, this is a balancing act because you want to avoid Talking Heads – where all they do is talk, and there is zero action. Action tends to be overused because authors are trying to avoid dialog tags like, “he said.”If John is busy picking up a beer while speaking, then you don’t need to add a “he said.” You’ve already identified who’s speaking by adding action.

It’s a great writing tool, but be mindful about supplanting one for the other without intention. You and your inner editor will decide how well balanced your scene is. It’s harder to do when she’s not on your shoulder, screaming at you.

Punctuation:  exclamation points, em dashes, ellipses

This is a terrible abuse because it’s so easy to do. When inner editors awaken to see the carnage, it’s all they can do to keep from mainlining cheap tequila. We writers have our little foibles. My weakness is ellipses. I love them because I feel they have a bigger impact than using a simple comma. It’s more dramatic. But a manuscript with a million of these little suckers should land me in jail without possibility of parole. And I’m not the only one. I once read a manuscript that had over 300 of them. I know because I did a Track Changes search in order destroy every one of them. That author needed therapy.

I learned my aversion to exclamation points when I read a manuscript with some-400-odd exclamation points. I began to see them in my sleep, and when I drove to Starbucks. The result of all those exclamation points was that the ceased to have any importance. Rather than actually writing tension or fear, the author stuck in an exclamation point, thinking that would convey the same message. It didn’t.

“Hold on! I’ll be right back!” Jack yelled.

“I don’t know how long I can wait!” Ann yelled back.

“If you don’t, there will be a huge mess!”

“I don’t care! If that gas station forces you to buy something before they’ll hand over the bathroom key, they deserve to clean up the mess!” Jane screamed.

Ok, been there, so I can understand Jane and Jack’s dilemma. But what those exclamation points are doing is taking the place of character development.

Jack wished he’d pulled off the road an hour ago, when Jane told him she needed to go. Now she was wild-eyed and had a haunted look about her as they stood before a locked bathroom door. “Hold on! I’ll be right back.” 

“I don’t know how long I can wait,” Jane said through gritted teeth.

Jack let the probable scenario play out in his head if he couldn’t convince Jane and her bursting bladder to hang on for a few more minutes. “If you don’t, there will be a huge mess.”

“I don’t care!” Jane screamed, while crossing her legs. “If that gas station forces you to buy something before they’ll hand over the bathroom key, they deserve to clean up the mess.” 

If you need to convey an emotion, then write it. Don’t let punctuation do the job of writing. Only place exclamation points where you really need them. Too many of these suckers is like when I eat too much fudge and I get a big ol’ canker sore on my tongue. You don’t want a literary canker sore, right?

Adverbs

I’ve had many discussions about adverbs, some that got quite heated. Only writers could draw blood over the proper amount of adjective usage, right?

My boggle with these suckers is that they are so seductive, that I consider them the Antonio Banderas of writing. They’re sexy, handsome, and soooo easy on the eye and, before you know it, your writing is filled with adverbs that crowd, clutter, and irritate your readers. Not that Antonio ever could…

“This beer is so astoundingly horrible. It tastes amazingly like dirty sock water. How can you drink this achingly awful swill?”

A manuscript filled with adverbs is overkill and there are plenty of readers who get to the point where they shout, “Yes! I get it, the beer is horrible and the character hates it. No need to stick fifteen adverbs in there to say so.” As with my love for Twinkies *sob*, moderation is key here.

Verbiage 

This is the fingernail on the chalkboard to any reader of period pieces. If your story’s time frame is in 1860, “cool” better be describing the temperature and not the wheels on a horse buggy.

We’re all looking for realistic dialog, but it can be taken to extremes if you inject to many “Well’s” “Look’s” “Um’s” Sure, we all say these words in general speaking, but that doesn’t mean it translates well to paper. I read a scene the other day that took up two pages and had fifteen uses of “well,” “look,” or “um.” Overkill.

So if you find your inner editing yawning, go join her. Writing is a team effort, and you shouldn’t work unsupervised. Ever.


When You Have Editorial Differences

January 8, 2013

Frustration-Eats-Pencil2

So you’ve signed the contract, the ink is dry, and now your book is in editing. Yay! Welllll…maybe. There are times when authors will have  differences of opinion with their editor, and this can either go well or make you want to mainline Drano. Let’s face it, there are few authors who agree with every suggestion their editors bring up. Ten years in the biz has afforded me all kinds of experiences in the editor chair, so I thought I’d offer some perspective that may help you when your manuscript is under the bright lights.

Is It OK to Disagree?

YES. There have been many times where I felt something wasn’t working, and recommended it be edited out, and the author didn’t agree with the suggestion…and there’s nothing wrong with that. On more than one occasion, I’ve had authors write back to say they were very married to a section I wanted to cut. We talk about it and reach some resolution. Sometime it turns out that the scene is a key piece, but simply needs further development.

I’m good with this because I can’t appreciate the importance of a scene if it isn’t fully developed. But if you disagree with me, we can talk further to where I may see that cutting a scene would be the wrong thing to do. If you’re too nervous to say anything, then your book may suffer for it. You know your book and its intent better than anyone, so you are its best advocate during the editing phase.

How to disagree

But this isn’t to say that disagreement should take on all sorts of ugly. The editing process is a very personal, emotional experience, and authors don’t always appreciate their words being futzed with. I’ve had times when it would have been easier to invert my belly button than continue editing a manuscript.

You don’t need to shout and stamp your feet to be heard. Every editor has her process, so learn what it is and how to use it to ensure the lines of communication remain open and professional. I’m a big fan of using the Comments/Balloons in the Track Changes feature in Word. I highlight a section that I want to edit out, delete it (the Track Changes feature will show up with that section crossed out and underlined). Then I’ll highlight part of that section and add a Comment in the margin, where I say something like, “Suggest editing this section out. The scene is way too long and doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t enhance the chapter.”

If the author wants to comment on that, she can highlight part of that section and add her comment below mine – where I’ll see it when the edits come back to me. “I really love this scene because it’s pivotal to the plot.” We can further discuss our options.

What I love about adding comments in the margin is that it keeps things clean and clear. You’re not likely to cuss out your editor in a comment balloon. Instead, you’ll stick to the facts. What I don’t appreciate is a hysterical phone call or email about editing a scene.

How vociferously to disagree

Many years ago, I wanted to make some editorial changes to an author’s manuscript (who is no longer with us), and he fired back a very heated email, insisting that I didn’t like him. Another author refused to perform any edits because she didn’t own Word, and insisted that we edit via hard copy. Oh hell no. She’s no longer with us, either. Such toolbaggery isn’t helpful to your relationship with your editor, or the entire publishing process.

Some of my editor buds tell me horror stories of screaming matches and threats…nightmare makin’ stuff. And people wonder why we have margarita-mixing beagles…

We realize this is a nervous time for you. You’ve worked hard on your stories and don’t want them futzed with. But that shouldn’t equate to tearing out your editor’s blackened heart and nailing it to a dartboard. Whether you’re a brand new writer or one who has many books out, you need editing. Everyone does. I’m sure that Mrs. Cosmic Muffin edits the Cosmic Muffin all the time, and you just can’t go to any higher authority than that.

Keep it simple, keep it professional. Editing isn’t a personal attack on you, but merely editorial suggestions by an experienced editor who sells books for a living. It’s about trust. The more you trust your editor, the easier it is to keep it professional. If you find yourself blowing a hole in the ozone layer, ask yourself if you’re frightened to be edited and whether you trust your editor.

Trust Your Editor

A loaded bullet, to be sure. Most of the time you don’t even know your editor, so how do you know if she’s any good? Simple. You have faith in your publisher. You’ve read their books (or you darn well should have), so you have a solid idea of their quality. It’s vital that you trust your editor because theirs is the final word. The better you work together, the better the product.

I had an odd experience a few years back. I wanted to sign an author, and she wanted me to sign her, so we met for lunch. Her book was very good, but it definitely needed a strong editorial hand. When I discussed this with her, she became very protective because she was terrified that editing meant completely changing her work into something unrecognizable. I assured her that this would not only be a huge waste of our time, but there would be no point to sign her. Her agent reinforced my claims.

She was still nervous, and I decided not to sign her. If she’s this nervous now, before we even begin editing, what is she going to be like once we begin the process? It boiled down to the fact that she didn’t trust me. Then again, she wouldn’t trust anyone – and that’s a dangerous position to be in. If you have designs on being well-published, you’re going to need to place your trust in your editor. Talk to her, discuss the kind of edits she has in mind for your book. There is nothing worse than working with an author who doesn’t trust you.

Another author refused to discuss working on the ending of the book. The story was wonderful, but the ending needed tweaking. He refused. He believed his way was better than ours. We let him go. Trust. Have it, or go home.

If you find yourself in the throes of editing, and things aren’t going smoothly, then here is some additional advice.

Effective Communication/Effective Listening

Effective Communication and Listening are key during every step of production, but none more so than during editing. When I was but a wee bairn, my dad used to quote this saying around the dinner table: “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Took me years to figure out what he was saying, but once the light bulb turned on, it has never failed to crack me up because it’s so true.

Email can screw that up faster than just about any other medium. If there is a sticking point during editing, for the love of Helvetica, schedule a Skype meeting or phone call. I adore Skype because we can go page by page and discuss questions or points. And it’s free!

Conversely, listening is an art. We get so caught up in getting our point across that we forget to listen to the other guy – and they may have very good ideas.  Say your piece, then actively listen to the other guy.

Choose Your Battles Wisely

There may come a time when you see your edits and consider throwing yourself under a Waste Management truck rather than face a very big task. It’s hard to look at a sea of red and not feel that your book has landed into an editorial mosh pit. “Do I really suck that much?” No…not at all! But you don’t see it that way. You think you’ve been ripped from stem to stern, so you dig your heels in and decide to  fight every single edit as a way of proving that you don’t suck. The fight really ain’t worth it because if you sucked, you wouldn’t have gotten the publishing deal in the first place.

Editing isn’t about give and take, or winning and losing; it’s about making your book fabulous. There are some edits that can be negotiated and others where there is zero wiggle room. I had an author plead with me to leave a very long scene in because it was meaningful to him. Problem is, it wasn’t meaningful to anyone else, and I insisted that it had to go. I know it hurt, but the author later told me that he never even missed the scene after reading the final edit. Yay…score one for Pricey.

The takeaway from this is to recognize the really big battles, the scenes that are hugely important. Deleting the overwritten bio of a throwaway character isn’t worth blowing a ventricle over.

Justify Yourself

Whenever I edit a scene out, I justify it in the margin comment, so the author understands my reasoning. If you want to fight for a scene or character, or backstory, then you need to justify it to your editor. “Because I really love it,” won’t fly. Won’t even float. You need to provide a solid foundation as to why you’re fighting for something to stay in. If your editor tells you it slows down the pace and doesn’t move the chapter along, then you have to justify why that isn’t the case.

That doesn’t mean she’ll buy it. Her word is final, so if you have a compelling reason for keeping something in, you gotta make sense. If you can’t, then your editor will probably rule against you and toss it. If so, let it go.

The Point of No Return

The one thing you want to avoid at all costs is arguing to the point where there’s no returning to the happy happy joy joy relationship. I guarantee that if you verbally abuse your editor (been there, done that), then you’re dead to her. Sure, she’ll edit your book to the very best of her abilities, but she will groan every time she sees your email address pop into her inbox. She won’t lift a finger to go above and beyond her regular duties…and you DON’T want that.

If you and your editor are at an impasse, then you both need to back away and cool off. Allowing things to escalate isn’t good for anyone, most of all your book. Don’t be afraid to apologize if you’ve stepped over the line. An apology is the great equalizer, and if you let your emotions run away with you, then you need to grow up, accept responsibility, and make things right. If your editor is the toolbag, then you’re going to have to grit your teeth and make the best of things. It’s very rare that the editing process is ever that contentious, but it does happen. Keep your head and emotions in check.

I’m unusually lucky. I have the most wonderful authors in the world. They are bright and talented, ask terrific questions, and make me think. But through the years, I’ve had some challenges – as any editor does – and I’ve had to swallow my tongue a few times just to keep from biting it (and the author’s head) off.

Rest assured, there will be editing differences, but it’s the author who knows how to play well with others in the sandbox who has a great time.


Whoever Told You Editing Was Easy is Nuts

December 14, 2012

do not want dog

I’ve spent the past ten years reading fabulous manuscripts, signing authors, editing, and sending those edits back to the authors. Aside from showing them their cover art for the first time, editing is the most sphyncter-puckering thing I do. Well, aside from telling the beagle when we’ve run out of tequila.

The biggest culprit in the sphyncter-pucker arena is Time. It’s been months and months when you turned in your manuscript, and Father Time draws you into a false sense of security that your writing is perfect, and will remain so. For-ev-er.

As a result, the most common reaction I see to receiving line edits:  Uninhibited shock. Most common comment I see after delivering line edits to authors: “Holy (insert colorful metaphor)! I haven’t read my manuscript since I sent it to you (insert number of months) ago!” This is followed by more exclamations of chagrin at having EVER allowed their book to come to me in “that” condition.

Here’s the thing; the manuscript is great. I wouldn’t have signed you, otherwise. But that doesn’t mean it gets a free pass from an editorial spin and rinse cycle. So months later, when you see all the red in the line edits, accompanied by a pages-long editorial letter, you’re ready to drink a final margarita and toss yourself under the 28X bus headed for Pittsburgh.

It’s about this time when you may begin the doubting process: How could I have been so silly as to not see this? Or that? And ohmyholyliver, what was I thinking when I included that scene????

R-E-L-A-X. The idea of all those red marks on manuscripts aren’t there to call you out, but to make you shine. The story is wonderful. The purpose of editing is to make it double secret probation wonderful, and editors have the gift of being the unbiased observer. Editors didn’t live the story 24/7/365 days a year, as you did when you were writing it. They’re reading with fresh eyes, so it’s far easier to find the continuity issues, or clumsy scene, or the character that seems one dimension shy of full development.

Don’t bash yourself because you didn’t see it. Editing is not easy. You’re allowing a perfect stranger (ok, we can’t really attest to how perfect they are…just ask the beagle) to lay hands upon your writing and pass judgement on your writing, and comment on how she feels your story would be stronger. It’s natural to feel protective over something you’ve created, but it’s helpful to remember that we’re on the same side, with a common goal.

Editor Notes: Give yourself time to read the editor notes a few times because they’re jam packed with all kinds of nuggets about how to improve your writing. Not only do we talk about specifics in the manuscript – a chapter that doesn’t work, further development for a character – but we also include consistent habits that could use some attention…passive writing, POV switches, or not digging deep enough on an emotional level. It’s my hope that the author will apply those comments to improve their future writing.

The Manuscript

Print it out: It’s easier to see the warts.

Read it in full: Don’t do any editing at this time. You need to re-familiarize yourself with your story and have better context in which to understand your editor’s comments.

Take a deep breath

Refer back to the editor notes.

THEN begin with your edits: Do this slowly. Reason being, you need to make sure that your “now” voice blends in with the “you” who wrote this story ages ago. It’s a strange thing, but I’ve seen a number of cases where the writer has evolved, and the rewrites stand out from the old work.

Ask questions:  Any editor expects authors to have questions, be it a clarification or a question of rewrites. If your editor offers a Skype convo, then go for it. There is nothing like being able to go page by page with your editor so you understand exactly what they mean.

Be mindful that editing is not for those lacking strong intestinal fortitude. You’re dealing with a running commentary on your creativity from someone you don’t know, and it’s hard not let your ego get the better of you. My suggestion is to give Ms. Ego a few weeks vacation, and revel in the fact that you have someone whose goal it is to make your story sing like the angels.

Oh…and don’t forget that an extra bottle tequila never hurts.


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