Month: January 2012 Page 2 of 3

Editing for Indie Writers: From first draft to final product…What’s a completed first draft?…How much editing do I need before I publish?

The Editing for Indie Writers series continues…

Chapter 1: Roadmap from First Draft to Final Product

So you have a manuscript that you want to indie publish, and you have no idea where to start.  You’ve heard all kinds of things about how terrible indie writers are at editing, from how book bloggers refuse to read indie books (because they’re so bad), to how bestseller lists refuse to include ebooks, or only include certain ebooks (because they’re so bad), to how, if indie writers could actually write, they’d get real publishing contracts, but they don’t (because they’re so bad).

Now, grant me a few things here:

  1. Indie writers aren’t professional editors, on the whole.
  2. Indie writers come from all levels of writers, from the beginner to the seasoned pro who chooses to work for themselves.
  3. Most indie writers don’t have a lot of experience in the self-publishing world.

So a lot of indie writers, at all levels of experience, are starting in a new field: self-publishing.  This means they are taking on not just the role of publisher, but all of the sub-roles under that–or hiring out.  On top of that, there are a lot of writers doing this who have no or little experience in the publishing industry, and have no ideas what these roles are, let alone what’s required to do them well.  Does this mean the stories are bad?  No.  But it does mean that the stories may not be presented professionally, even by professional writers.  (Even the big publishers struggle to get ebooks right–it’s new to everyone.)

I’m not going to deal with covers or other art, marketing, promotions, sales, or formatting (except where it’s relevant for editing).  And I won’t teach you grammar; please refer to your style guide of choice (I will talk about selecting one later).  What I’m going to do is give you a map to follow so that you know:

  • What to look for when you’re editing.
  • How to identify where you have more to learn and some places to start learning it.
  • When to stop editing.
  • Whether to hire someone or not–and whether you’re getting your money’s worth.

I will assume that you have a completed first draft of your manuscript.  However, that brings up a question: how do you know if you have a completed first draft?

The essence of a complete draft is that it tells a complete story.

Not a complete draft:

  • Does not have an identifiable beginning, middle, and end that describe a problem (beginning), enumerate the steps taken to try to solve the problem (middle), and definitetively solve the problem, for better or worse (end).  That is, if you can’t describe your plot as, “So-and-so tries to do X, which ends in success (or failure),” then you do not have a complete draft.
  • Has spots where you noted, “Come back and write this later” or similar.
  • Has spots where you changed your mind about something midway through the book and haven’t fixed in the beginning yet.
  • Has elements that you make excuses for when describing the book to other people, e.g., “The main character’s in construction, only I think he should really be in sales, but I haven’t changed that yet.”
  • Has elements that need more research, e.g., details in a historical novel that you threw in because you were in a white heat to get the words down but are not sure of.  (You might choose to keep these, but at least know the facts!)

A complete draft:

  • Has elements you’re not sure about.
  • Has typos.
  • Isn’t set in stone.

I would never advise sending a completed first draft to anyone as-is, whether it’s to your friends, your early readers, to an agent or editor, or to put it up on your blog or other public area; I just said that a completed first draft has typos, didn’t I?

Here are the phases of a writing project, from an editing point of view:

  • Uncompleted draft.
  • Completed first draft.
  • Cleaned-up first draft.  (This is the draft you send to first readers; it’s complete and has typos removed.)
  • Revision(s).  (This is where you incorporate feedback or changes.)
  • Final draft.  (This is the draft where you are satisfied with the story itself, and where you can send it to friends, agents, or editors, in the appropriate format.)
  • (Agents or editors may ask for additional revisions; this may be called “developmental editing.”)
  • Copy editing.  (This is the editing pass(es) that checks for consistency, completeness, style, logic, grammar, punctuation, etc., and can include several back-and-forths with the writer.)
  • Formatting.  (This is the pass where the book is laid out, or the manuscript is put in the correct format for submission; it may be done earlier but must be done by this point.)
  • Proofreading.  (This is the pass where the book is checked for style, logic, grammar, punctuation, and formatting.  Some people do this after the proofs are produced; I try to do it both before and after.)
  • Galleys/proofs.  (Initial copies of the book are produced and may be sent out as Advanced Reader Copies).
  • Another proofreading pass.
  • Final product.

This is essentially the same process, no matter how you choose to proceed with making your work available publicly:

  • To share work with first readers (usually other writers or people who know something about the writing process), provide them at least a cleaned-up first draft.
  • To share work with agents, editors, and friends, provide them with at least a final draft (in an appropriate format, such as standard manuscript format).
  • To share work informally on your blog, provide at least a final draft (unless you specify that it’s an earlier draft, as in this work, which is a cleaned-up first draft–but never provide less than a cleaned-up draft of the material you are publishing, even if you password protect it).
  • To share work via a publisher other than yourself, work with the publisher to ensure that a true final product is provided.
  • To share work via self-publishing, never provide less than a true final product.

Whether or not you hire an editor, you should be familiar with these phases and how to do them, at least in theory.  Many people claim to be editors; however, they may not be very good, or they may do more or less than they need to do in order to get your book in shape.    For example, you might think you’re hiring someone to do every editing phase, but the person you’re hiring might think you’re only asking for proofreading–or you might be hiring a proofreader who thinks you’re hiring someone to do developmental editing.

If you are hiring an editor, you may want to provide them with checklists showing exactly what you expect them to do–then, when you get the edits back, use the same checklist to make sure that they did what you paid them for.



Book Review: Curses! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale

Note: Preorder at Amazon, B&N, or most bookstores.  Available February 28, 2012.

Disclaimer:  I begged Julie for an advance copy, which she sent to me.  It’s pumpkin orange.

Okay, think of the books that you quote.  Not books of literature, but the ones where you grab nearby passers-by and say, “Wait, wait, listen to this!” and then read something sly and witty and look at them expectantly.  Now, because these people are most likely thinking about a) getting away from you or b) sex, they’re usually not impressed.  However, once in a rare while, you run into someone who CAN QUOTE THE NEXT LINE.  It’s like heaven.

This is that kind of book.

“Peeling the cookie open, I licked my lips in anticipation of its sugary goodness and informative, if not valuable summation of my future.  The cookie read:



Damn! Foiled again by a teen with more metal in his head than Snow White had sugar midgets.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho…

Off to scrub delivery kid spit out of my mouth I go.”

I’ll do up to “Have a Nice Day,” and you’ll do the rest.  Heaven.

Urban fantasy murder mystery written by a chick with a degree in forensic psychology and who has worked as a private investigator, and who possesses a wicked eye that tends to favor a bit of villainy now and then.  How could you go wrong?

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Review for Tales Told Under the Covers

Coreena at Books & Other Creative Adventures reviewed Tales Told Under the Covers:

I think kids will like this collection of stories if they like supernatural stories.  These are not scary, but there is a lot of tension that will keep them turning the pages.  I love how her stories have both boys and girls as main characters so the collection will appeal to both.

Read the review here.  Woot!

10 Signs You’re Not Getting Published

Signs…or habits?  Sometimes when I talk to new writers, they say certain things that make me think, “this person isn’t getting published anytime soon.” Sad to say, but you can usually pick this up within a few minutes of conversation.  So here’s my personal top-ten list of things that wannabe writers say that are red flags:

10.  You never finish what you start, or you don’t submit what you do finish.

90% of the people who want to be writers don’t finish anything.  90% of the people who finish never submit it.  (Sorry, anecdotal statisics…but it sounds about right.)  So what if it’s crap?  You’re still ahead of 99% of the wannabes out there.

9.  You let rejections bother you, and you think a rejection with some kind of criticism in it is the worst.

Last year I had 12 accepances and 160+ rejections.  Getting a lot of rejections is a good thing.  And by the way, getting  a personal rejection is a sign that you were worth more than a form rejection.  Worth MORE.

8.  All things considered, reading books is not your favorite form of entertainment.  (Adjust this to suit your medium!)

If you’re trying to be a creative profession in a field that you don’t love, WHY?!?  And how do you expect to know your audience…if you’re not part of it?

7.  You only write when you’re in a happy place, with no interruptions or distractions.

Every successful writer overcomes challenges.  Stephen Hawking has written several books while basically unable to move.  What’s your problem?  Lack of priorities, that’s what.

6.  You don’t let anyone read your work until it’s perfect.

No work is ever perfect.  None.   If you never let people read your work until it’s perfect, you never submit it.

5.  You “only write for yourself.”

Have fun masturbating.

4.  You try to make everyone in your critique group/writing class happy.

Have fun destroying your work:  no book is meant for every audience, and yet you’re trying to make all possible audiences happy.  The only way to do that is to destroy that parts that make it good…for your actual audience.

3.  You’ve been revising for more than a year.

You’ve been second-guessing yourself for more than a year.  That’s your editor’s job, Gomez.

2.  You’ve been working on your first draft for more than 12 months per 50,000 words.

This works out to 136 words a day, or about 6 tweets on Twitter.

1.  You can comfortably say, “So I have this idea for a book…” or “I have lots of ideas for books.”

You know what happens when a writer hears this?  The red flag for bullshit gets thrown, and you start looking for ways to escape the conversation, because dollars to donuts, the next thing is going to be, “Want to write it for me?”



If you find yourself doing these things, never fear!  Once you quit doing them and start writing, it all turns around 🙂

Editing for Indie Writers: Intro

So you’d like to edit your own ebooks and POD books?  Great!  Please follow me to the torture chamber!  Just kidding…mostly.

Most writers don’t like to edit.  And they have no idea how to edit, so the idea of editing causes them fits.

“But wait,” you say, “I like to edit.”

More than likely if you’re a writer, you like to revise: you like to go into your stories and change dialogue and description.  You like to reorder chapters.  You like to question whether your ending is effective.  Your first sentence has been through more variations than a room full of monkeys with typewriters can produce.  You like to dress up your story like it’s a doll, changing outfits back and forth:  “Does this backstory make my butt look fat?” ” ‘Said’ is the Little Black Dress of dialogue tags, don’t you think?”  “First-person POV or third-person POV?  First-person POV or third-person POV?”  This is not editing.  This is revising, and you’d better have it done before an editor steps in, because we don’t put up with that kind of crap.

That’s right: crap.

The mind of an editor is a harsh, harsh place, where dithering is not allowed, sarcasm is the language of choice, and breaking the rules is viewed with a suspicious eye.  The worst editors take the rules and make them holy commandments; the best editors gleefully collaborate with rule breaking, pointing out places where you haven’t broken a rule that you generally like to break.  It’s all a matter of style:  if you have it, a good editor is your friend and co-conspirator.  If you don’t have it, the editor will make you toe the line.

But what happens when you’re your own editor?

Some people can’t do it.  They can’t spell worth a damn, think grammar is stupid, and they say things like, “You knew what I meant” when having their wording criticized.  Creativity rules over clarity–and clarity is the basis of communication.

However, if you find yourself wincing at errors in published works, feel that words (and the orders of words) mean things, and worry about whether or not you’re being clear, then you’re probably a good candidate to edit your own ebooks.

–On the other (third?) hand, if you’re the kind of person who corrects grammar in the middle of informal conversation, then this book is probably not for you.  Being a good editor involves filtering the rules through context, and if you can’t filter your need to correct people through the context of informal conversation being informal, then editing fiction or non-fiction with any kind of creativity is not for you.  Good writers break rules all the time, because they have a purpose in doing so–and if you can’t grasp that communication is more important than following the rules, then you don’t need to be in the editing business, even for yourself.

So if editing is not revising, what is editing?

Editing is like being the very best kind of butler.  Once the writer has made all the relevant fashion choices, it’s the butler’s job to make sure that the person heading out the door is as presentable as possible.  Tag at the back of the ripped t-shirt? Tucked in.  Mohawk:  consistently spiked.  Gaudy faux fur?  Not crusted with pancake batter from breakfast.  The butler may, on rare occasions, suggest appropriate (that is, consistent) outfit choices, such as the stacked, neon-green heels if the master has stated that he is looking for footwear, but whatever the master picks is always “Very good, Sir.”

What the butler thinks is probably quite different.

Note: When the butler starts to dictate your fashion choices?  Time for a new butler.  Editors are supposed to point out logical inconsistencies and weaknesses.  They are not supposed to make your book fit their tastes.  Sorry, Jeeves.



Story Muscle

I get my ideas from my story muscle.  Grrrah!

Almost everyone has one.  They start really forming when you get object permanence: during a baby’s first games of peek-a-boo.  Maybe earlier.  But definitely by then.  The toy was gone!  What happened to it? This is a story.

  • Beginning: there was a toy, and it went away.
  • Middle: I looked for it.
  • End: There it is!

But the story muscle really starts to rear its ugly head during the terrible twos era.  Why?

  • I wanted the toy.
  • I tried to take it; then I tried to manipulate my parents into giving it to me (try/fail cycles).
  • I grieved over the loss of opportunity, and was punished.

Toddlers live in a very Kafka-esque world at times, I think.

You see different phases of it throughout development, but it all goes back to trying to make sense of the world.  Why is this happening to me?  What will happen in the future if I do this?  What should I do?  How can I best be happy? What is the best way for my group to live, so that I, and by extension they, can best be happy?

Our breadth of storytelling widens as we get wiser: we like to gather stories about people who are like us, but who are not us.  People who are like us, but who can do things we could never do.  And sometimes even people who are not like us and are the more fascinating for it.

We do all of this subconsciously, most of the time.  I mean, who sits down and says, “What is the best explanation for why weather happens, that will make the most people happy?”  Not “what’s the best weather to make people happy” but “how can I best explain the phenomena that is ‘weather’ that will allow the maximum amount of happiness?” At times it’s “Zeus did it”; at times it’s “you’re being punished for your sins”; at times it’s “weather is geography in motion”; at times it’s “we don’t know…want to help us find out?”  And so on.  The answer largely depends on what your audience is willing to accept at the time.

Now, writers.

Do writers have stronger story muscles than most people?  No.  I mean, think about some people and how firmly they cling to the stories in their lives.  “It’s not my fault.” “You have to do it like this.” “There’s only black and white.  Gray is a lie.”  These are the people with strong story muscles: reality has been defeated, change is not allowed, and if something happens out of their control, they never see it coming, because it’s not part of the story.

Writers, they tend to live in the gray, as far as I can tell.  We all have some non-negotiables of belief, but most of us enjoy watching other people to find out what they’re like and what they’ll do–rather than deciding we already know.  I would say our story muscles are dexterous rather than strong.  One of the thing we eventually learn is that if you write essentially the same story over and over, it gets boring.  We have multiple stories (and multiple POVs, from our characters) in our heads, multiple templates to lay over the world.  Again, there are some non-negotiables, but they vary from person to person: one person’s fiction is inevitably influenced by their ideas on spirituality; another one’s fiction, on their ideas on justice or love or whatever.  I think these non-negotiables tend to center around genres.

To a romance writer, the non-negotiable may be, “Love is important” or “People are happier when they’re in a satisfying relationship.”

To a science fiction writer, the non-negotiable may be, “If you don’t know, try to find out” or “When possible, PUSH THE BIG RED BUTTON!!!11!!”

The non-negotiables seem to change over time, in people, in whole genres, even in society at large, which is kind of neat, actually.

Readers develop a similar flexibility–which is why I think writers must read books and keep reading them–and why people who are heavily invested in the strength of a particular story try to control the books that people read: they see flexibility as a lack of strength, which, really, it isn’t, but it can undermine stories with a lot of plot holes in them.  The stories that we absolutely love at ten or twelve are the stories that sometimes disappoint us, as adults.  As we get older, Barney is a really annoying guy in a synthetic dinosaur suit.  But some stories get richer as you question them: Santa is a story you can enjoy as an adult, even though you know there’s no fat guy at the North Pole.

I know that my favorite characters never existed; I know that the worlds they live in aren’t real.  And yet they are rich stories for me, that influence how I see the world, and how I act.  I mean, imagine what the world would be like without your favorite book: a sad place.

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Guest Post: Kid Writers: How to describe your book

I have a guest post up today at Read 2 Review that’s part of the Kid Writers series: How to describe your book.  A lot of grownup writers hate writing descriptions of their books…I’d hate to see that happen to you!  Whether describing your book to your friends or sending your book to a book publisher, this is the kind of thing that can convince someone to read your book.  And people reading your book, even if it makes you bounce off the walls with nervousness, is awesome!

Indypub: Ebook Checklist

Something you learn about editing:  checklists are good.  No matter how many times you think you’ve looked at something, unless it’s marked off on your checklist, you probably haven’t looked at it that one last time that it needed to be looked at.

I had to get this down quick because someone asked for it, but I’ll put it in the editing series again when I get that far.

Here’s my current building-an-ebook checklist, the short version:

  • Ensure content is complete, content-edited, and copy-edited.
  • Build draft cover.
  • Write short/long blurbs and tagline (if any).
  • Update cover with tagline, if any, and finalize.
  • Add cover, content, and blurbs to Smashwords version.
  • Add cover credits to Smashwords version.
  • Add Read More content to Smashwords version, including cover, blurb, and content.
  • Add any additional content (story notes, nerdy explanatory text, cute puppy pictures).
  • Scan through ebook to make sure that all content is present.
  • Check links.
  • Check to make sure no hidden links were added during link checking (uncheck the box and recheck).
  • Check typesetting.
  • Check formatting/layout.
  • Spell check.
  • Proofread.
  • Check for a couple of typesetting mistakes I often make while proofreading.
  • Spell check again.
  • Sanity check for big uglies in formatting.
  • Declare Smashwords version final and save a backup copy.
  • Save new version for XHTML versions.
  • Strip out images, extra hard returns before chapter breaks.
  • Flag italics/bold so they’re easier to convert.
  • Convert to text file.
  • Format for XHTML.
  • Insert into XHTML template and convert to .html file.
  • Test .html file.
  • Sanity check for .html file.
  • Convert using Calibre into .epub/.mobi formats.
  • (If it’s my book, read in bathtub and note any last-minute stuff, doing spell check and check for common errors afterwards.)
  • Sanity check Calibre formats, including testing all links.
  • Post on various sites, and sanity-check conversions, including links.

I haven’t had a project yet where I didn’t have to do a Smashwords version, but I think if that were the case, I’d still put everything together as a word document first, so I can visualize it better.  I just wouldn’t have to do a bunch of formatting stuff to it.  Eagerly awaiting the day when Smashwords will let you uploat .epubs and .mobis and not have to use Meatgrinder.  It’s good at what it does, but…we ask it to do more than is possible, really.

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