Month: October 2013

Editing Tips for Editors

Several editing observations have come up over the last week.  I’m not sure they’re going to do anybody else any good, but at the very least it’ll help me process.  This is coming out kind of rough and mean, I think at least partially because I’m trying to beat myself into submission,  and if nothing else I find my (former?) personal bad habits more than a little irritating.  Sorry.  Maybe I could be tactful about this later.  Like in ten years or so.  Although really I expect by then to be repeating these points, only louder and more rudely, having almost completely forgotten I’ve previously bitched about them here.  C’est la vie.

There’s a difference between the editing that one does in a critique group and the editing that one does for a client.  The editing that one does for a client may not have ego to it.  What you like, as a reader, doesn’t mean anything.  Praise?  Criticism?  You have to do it in a critique group; it’s expected.  Clients shouldn’t have to care if they don’t want to.  Your opinion is a side comment, something that goes in a cover email (or doesn’t get said at all) and not in the document redlines, except on very rare occasions, and then only when it’s praise.  Do you understand what the author’s trying to do?  No?  Then don’t ask repeatedly in the manuscript.  If you dislike a character, then you can disliked them in the privacy of your own mind.  Not in the comments.  You’re getting paid for those comments; they better be a value-add.

Review your comments and remove every single one of them that you can.

Genre matters.  Audience matters.  Context matters.  If your client is writing pulp, don’t edit them like they’re writing literary.  You are responsible to know the difference and to avoid genres you don’t know well enough to edit.  Otherwise, you will just piss the author off, and they will speak ill of you to others.  If you dislike the work, remove yourself as gracefully as possible.

If you never, ever bitch about poor writing again it will still not be soon enough.  Whether you are bitching about a client in particular or “clients in general,” as an editor, you’re kind of like a confessor.  Keep your mouth shut.  If writers were perfect, they wouldn’t need editors.  On top of which, when editors are in editor mode, we’re assholes.  Every piece of writing has issues, even after having been edited.  Even ones edited by a professional editor.  The general public can bitch about typos.  Readers can bitch about typos.  An editor bitching about typos is just someone bragging up their editing skills.  Keep it in your pants or send a private email, buddy.

And just because you know how to write better than the writer does–even if it’s only in one technique or another–that doesn’t mean you get to try to improve the writer.  –I have a problem with this.  “Oh, let me helpfully teach you how to structure a scene.”  Especially in cases when I’m not being paid to do content editing.  This just gets frustrating on both parts, as more and more time gets sunk into a project, and someone ends up getting screwed.  Let the writer learn at their own pace and back the hell off.  So what if their descriptions could be better?  You might consider telling them once, tactfully, in a cover email.

Look it up.  Ha ha, yes, you’ve been editing for twenty years now, of course you know what you’re doing.  Look it up.

If you see a writer break a rule consistently, remove your redlines and comments about it, unless the rule-breaking may cause the author issues with their readers.  For example, a consistently misspelled word–don’t fix it, unless it’s obvious that it’s not a dialect or slang or some other intentional change.  If you’re feeling paranoid, you can flag it once and go back and fix it if the author says, “Ooh, that’s wrong, good catch.”  Otherwise you’re wasting the author’s time as they dejectedly “fix” a bunch of stuff, then realize they didn’t have to in the first place.  Even worse:  pretend that you’re right even though you’re violating the author’s intentions.

No more hardcopy copyediting.  Ever.  Again.  It’s a lot of work and prevents tact.

Every time you change or comment on something, you’re sucking up a little bit of the author’s willpower, even if it’s a good change/comment.  If you can point out one thing that covers many items–if you can put something tactfully into a cover email–if you can shoot a quick email question before you flag fifty things–then do it that way.  If you’re editing under another editor’s direction (or, in a small press, sometimes it’s the publisher’s direction), then talk to them first.  Don’t drain the writer.  They need to have the willpower to write more than you need to prove that you can spot errors.  Trust me, you’re not impressing anybody with even a lick of experience by bleeding all over the page.

Don’t change the writer’s punctuation scheme.  Yes.  That means you…and you…and you.  And often me.  Change it for clarity?  Yes, but only as  appropriate, and if the author doesn’t use the Harvard comma on a consistent basis, then you will spread your legs and take that extra comma for the team.  Deliberate run-on sentences?  Bite your tongue and think of England.


Writers:  There are editors that make you excited.  Stressed, but excited.  There are editors who leave you feeling drained and hurting with a stubbed toe of the mind (or worse).  Sometimes you can’t avoid the latter.  Some will improve a manuscript; others will pick it to pieces and suck the magic out.  Learning to be edited is its own skill.  You win some and you lose some.  If someone else is paying for your work, then you might need to lose a few in order to win the ones that are really important.  Lord knows I have.  But if you’re paying the editor?  You win.  You just always win.  And if the editor gives you attitude about that, then get another editor.

Again, let me apologize to any clients–past, current, and future–whose mental and creative toes I stub, in one way or another.   I am often wrong, cranky while editing, and arrogant.  But you win.  Always.  In the end, you win, and don’t let me tell you any different.  It just makes me a worse editor.


Aunt Margie

I’m a writer, so here it is:  My Aunt Margie passed away on Monday, of probably a massive stroke.  Dad called to tell me.  This is Dad:  he always starts out the phone calls, and then Mom takes over.  I think it’s because there’s only so much time he can stand to be social, and he has to work himself up to it.  I’m his daughter, but I don’t think that really makes it any easier to talk on the phone.  He has three daughters and two sons; he came from a family of nine kids.  As the youngest, he’s had some of them pass before him.  Margie is his older sister–if I’m interpreting things right, the one who mothered him, as a kid.

He told me Margie was gone.  And then.  Well, I knew I shouldn’t push for details, but I listened.  And he told me he’d talked to her on Friday, he had a good talk with her.  He’d been going to go over and cut wood for them, but it’d rained, and the wood would have been too wet.  Personally, I’m terrified of chainsaws, but I think he likes them.  He said the last time he went over there to cut wood, he didn’t tell anyone, and she chewed him out for it.  Not…chewed him out.  Said something.   Teased him about it, probably.  We’re a family of teasers and crap-givers.

He called again Monday afternoon, and we talked about the service.  Margie wanted her body donated to science, but they can wait until after the service, he said.  Then we talked about the weather.  As I get older this makes more sense.  Every time you talk about the weather, you’re talking about everyone.  This last couple of years in Colorado, I saw it:  fires that swept over your friends, taking everything from some, barely touching others.  Flooding, the same way.  When you talk about the weather you’re saying life goes on but you have to pay attention to it while it’s going on.

We do have to go on.   I do.   I thought it wasn’t hitting me as bad as other people who have passed over the last few years:  Margie led a good life, both as a good person and as a life that wasn’t lived out in shades of despair and numbness, and believe me, that’s worth celebrating rather than mourning, because I’ve seen both now.  But I’m having trouble functioning this morning, because in order to go on, I have to go on with Aunt Margie, rather than separate from her.  I can’t leave her behind.

It’s a family tradition to tease each other, and I’m sure there’s lots of stories going around about goofy things she’s done.  Or there will be those stories going around, or there should be.  There’s always some story, with them, of some dumbass thing you’ve done that tells everyone exactly who you are. In a group of people plagued with eyeroll-worthy orneriness, it’s probably vital that these things get passed around.  Plus there’s just so damned many of us.  “Who do you belong to?” was a common question I got growing up.  I ask it at family reunions now.  The stories help keep us sorted out.

I’m sure Aunt Margie had a bunch of stories that she told about herself, embarrassing stories.  That was just the way she was.  She liked to laugh.  But here’s my story for her, one part of what I want to bring with me:

We’d just moved from the farm out to Flandreau.  Because her clan lived out in Madison, I hadn’t really gotten to know her before then. I was in tenth grade and at a complete loss for pretty much everything.  Except for one thing.  And I know that this is going to be both offensive to the family and something that makes them nod because it’s true.  I was relieved to be out of the gossip.

I wasn’t the center of gossip, thank God.  No, it was just that the farm itself was the center of gossip, the geographical ground zero of the Knippling clan and all its drama.  There was always some low-level feud going on between wives.  Some argument between brothers.  Someone calling someone else a fool behind their backs.

A couple of hundred miles away, it was restful.  Peaceful.

I tried to tell this to Margie one day.  I had to tell someone, and my parents weren’t the ones to talk to.  They were going through a lot, good and bad, having left the farm.  And one day we were over at her house for some reason or another, and it just came out.  Horribly, awkwardly.

I’m prettty sure I insulted the people she loved best.  She forgave me.  She said, “You don’t get to pick your family.   You don’t have to like them.  You just have to love them.”

It’s true, and it helped.  I learned to roll eyes with the best of them.  And what she didn’t say, but what I have also taken with me, is that they just have to love me. Whenever I made a choice I knew that would have the gossips all a-flutter, I thought about her words, and went on with what I felt called to do.

She wasn’t a saint, or at least she wouldn’t let anyone call her one.  But everyone who knew her knows that she is one of the pillars of everything solid and merciful in our lives, no matter how much or little she touched them.

For example, I’ve talked to other people who were so filled with despair that they say things like the world is awful and people are crap and why bother. Well, but then there’s my Aunt Margie, see?  I always knew those people were wrong.  It’s not the world itself that’s wrong, because if that were the case, then Aunt Margie would have been wrong.  And she wasn’t.  I just can’t plumb the depths of despair because of her and people like her.  I already know better.

This causes me to get extremely irritable at times; I just want to shake people for being such idiots when it’s just not necessary.  And so I know I can’t be her.  I’m just not that patient.  And I’m not that forgiving.  But I’ll try.

Because I like her.  Very much.





Horror vs. Ghost Stories

I love old ghost stories.   Mostly late 19th-century British ones.  There are some good American ones, Canadian ones…but mostly British ones.  They’re short, maybe five thousand  words at most, and are not inhabited by ghosts so much as they are by something else.  Yeah, there are ghosts, but not even half the time.  There are ghosts of servants that terrify their masters…people possessed by tiger gods…cancer embodied as crabs…vampires that go about in daylight and invite one to tea.

You could call them ghosts, as a kind of general catchall, but they’re something else.  You have to wonder if, at the time, the British were acutely aware of the Empire falling apart, of history being redefined by other people who weren’t British.  Of things being not what they seemed.

But – I’m getting ahead of myself.  I’ve always wanted to write a good, turn-of-the-centuryish ghost story, but the’ve always seemed to escape me.  I think it’s because I didn’t really understand them.

A couple of weeks ago, at a new thrift store (DAV), I found a curious book.   It’s called The Haunted Looking Glass:  Ghost Stories Chosen by Edward Gorey.  It’s just what it sounds like, twelve ghost stories with Edward Gorey illustrations.  Algernon Blackwood, Robert Louis Stevenson, Wilkie Collins, and yes, Bram Stoker.  Most of them I haven’t read before.  “The Monkey’s Paw” I think is the only one, but I haven’t finished the collection yet.

I had just about finished “The Body-Snatcher” by Stevenson last night when I went to bed, which might imply that it wasn’t that interesting a story, but I was very tired, so I stuck in the bookmark and went to bed.

I woke up about two, dreaming of redlines (editing marks) that had ripped themselves off the page and were bleeding freely.  It’s been that kind of week.  They were after me, trying to tell me to do something horrible.  Some serial killers hear gods, angels, demons–I hear redlines muttering madness to me in my sleep.  At any rate, I woke up, tossed and turned for a bit, then got up and wrote a few  pages in my journal, because I couldn’t go back to sleep for worrying.   About money, mostly, but also about feeling like I had grown pettier and meaner recently.  More likely to snarl than laugh.

I wrote.  As I wrote, not before, I realized that the dream with the redlines had been a nightmare so bad that it had woken me up, and that I had kept myself from going back to sleep because I didn’t want to chance slipping back into it.  Simultaneously, I figured out why I was feeling so negative; when I feel like I’m not contributing, I get angry at other people that I feel aren’t contributing, or that…well, someday I’ll write it in a story.  That’s what I do when I find out something so awful that I don’t want to actually confess it about myself, but I need to get it out in the open, more or less.  A story has the benefit of being fictionalized, so you can both distort the truth and let a decent amount of time pass before you have to talk about it with anyone, so you have time to heal over the wounds to your ego.  At any rate, it wasn’t pretty.

Then, feeling tired but not quite willing to go back to sleep, I read the end of the Stevenson story.

It was abrupt, so abrupt that it felt lame.  Maybe it was just…the time it was written…eh.  Whatever.

I went to bed and had a hard time falling asleep, because my head was full of good ideas.  Fortunately I did fall asleep, and I did remember the one idea that was really good.   I worked on it some more this morning already.  I keep going, “Oh, this is good.”   It was such a relief to have the weight of all that negativity off my shoulders that my mind was full of more good things than it knew what to do with.

When I woke up again, I reread the end of the Stevenson story.  Yes, still curiously lame.

But then I flipped back to the beginning.

There was the end of the story.  You had to read the story like this:  Beginning–>End–>Beginning.  If you didn’t read the beginning again, well,  you might have been able to hold the entire story in your head and mentally reread the beginning.  At any rate, the beginning, after I read the end, had changed.

Aside from everything else, this got me thinking about ghost stories.  Not horror.  But ghost stories.

Horror is about pain, and whether you give in to pain, resist it, recover from it…pain.  When you look at Edgar Allen Poe, you’re looking at horror.   You don’t go back to the beginning of an Edgar Allen Poe story and find that it has changed under you.  Sure, “The Purloined Letter” was there all along, but in Poe’s version of ghost stories, it’s all about madness and torture and shock, not about redefinition.

The primary element of a ghost story is haunting.  And what we are haunted by is not ghosts, not things that go bump in the dark, but by our assumptions about  ourselves, which are so much stronger than the facts that we observe about the world…but the world will insist on its not being entirely erased by our notions.

If we could see ourselves clearly, we would not be haunted.

Cover Update: The Secret of the Cellar

Under the basement…down in the dark…

 Elly always gets stuck with entertaining her relatives while their parents talk to her mom.  Blah, blah, blah.  It goes on for hours.  But this time, she worked and worked to make a special surprise for her visiting cousins…a haunted house in the basement!  With a super-duper, extra-gross surprise in the spooky cellar.

It should be the most fun that they’ve had in forever…until things start to go mysteriously wrong…

“The Secret of the Cellar” is available at B&NAmazonSmashwords, Apple, Kobo, Powell’s and more.

Free Fiction Wednesday: The Secret of the Cellar

Not much has changed here – the layout and fonts are all.  Okay, that sounds like a lot.  But really it wasn’t.

Under the basement…down in the dark…

Elly always gets stuck with entertaining her relatives while their parents talk to her mom.  Blah, blah, blah.  It goes on for hours.  But this time, she worked and worked to make a special surprise for her visiting cousins…a haunted house in the basement!  With a super-duper, extra-gross surprise in the spooky cellar.

It should be the most fun that they’ve had in forever…until things start to go mysteriously wrong…

“The Secret of the Cellar” will be free here for one week only, but you can also buy a copy at B&NAmazonSmashwords, Apple, Kobo, Powell’s and more.

The Secret of the Cellar

When the cousins came over to Elly’s tiny yellow house in Michigan, which was shoved in between two other houses so they almost touched and had barely any yard in the front or the back and no parks to go to, her mom would say, “Elly! Take your cousins downstairs and entertain them while we talk,” and she would. Sometimes they would play “stay off the lava” by jumping between the old, stinky, ripped up couches, and sometimes they would play “planet destroyer” by using the white pool ball to knock all the other balls off the pool table, which usually ended up with someone having pinched fingers and them all getting in trouble for making too much noise, and sometimes they would play “hide and seek.” One time Elly followed her cousin Jackson to the downstairs closet under the stairs and locked the door so he couldn’t get out. Then she found all the other cousins and they went upstairs and played tea with snickerdoodles and dolls until it was time for them to go. Jackson was so proud of not being found that he never noticed that he got locked in, because she unlocked the door before she yelled for him to go home.

This time it wasn’t Jackson but the M cousins from Iowa. There were four girl cousins, and their names all started with M: Missy, Mandy, Mary, and Maureen, which Elly thought must be kind of embarrassing at school.

“Just let us know if you need anything, girls!” said Aunt Jane.

“Okay!” Elly said. She led them away from the living room with all the adults to the door to the basement. She had her lucky purple dinosaur shirt on, and her lucky red sneakers, and her jeans with butterflies on the back pocket, for good luck.

“Can we play pretend?” asked Mandy. “I want to be Esmeralda the Elf Queen again.”

“No,” said Elly. They were always wanting to play the same game over and over again, and she wasn’t going to let them. “Today we are going into the basement.”

“We always go into the basement,” said Maureen. She was the smallest. And the whiniest.

Elly had a very small red metal flashlight in her pants pocket, attached to a keychain holder. Now she turned it on by turning the cap in a circle and held it under her face. “Yeah, but then we are going into the cellar.”

Indie Publishing: Check your page count!

I think I’m going to just have to add walking (most) clients through their royalty calculators to my interior print layout services.

Because what happens is I ask them, “How many pages do you want the interior to be, approximately?” and they say, “Oh, whatever looks good.”

This is a bad, bad idea.

Okay.  Let’s take this as an example.  You have a 120,000-word book.   (Here’s where the experienced people flinch, because they already know there are some painful choices to be made.)  You decide you want a 12-point font, because it’s important that your text be readable.  You tell your designer, “It’s important that my text be readable.”

Your designer, quite correctly, goes for a 12-point font (or something reasonable, which will depend on the font itself), multiplies that number by, oh, 1.5, and comes up with a good amound of space for the leading, that is, the space between the lines of text.  Single space is 1x the text size (so your text is 12-point text and your leading is 12-point spacing between lines).  Double space is 2x the text size (12-point text, 24-point leading).  Leading at 1.5 is a good starting place for this kind of thing–but the designer should be willing to change this, based on client input.  Designers, until they do all the interior formatting fiddly bits (and you should be approving the design before they start on those), are not married to a strict 1.5x font leading.

By following those guidelines, your designer could hand you off a book that’s over 450 pages in length, at a 6×9″ layout.

As a rule of thumb, you want to make about $2 each on lowest tier of royalties from your distributor.  Because we’re talking indie POD stuff here, your basic options are CreateSpace, Lightning Source International (LSI), and Lulu.  If I have time I’ll double back and look up the info for LSI and Lulu, but here’s the CreateSpace royalty calculator, which is what most of you are going to start out with.

Go take a look at it and plug in the numbers:  b/w interior, trim size 6×9″, number of pages 450.  You have to enter a cover price.  Let’s enter, oh, $9.99.

Those of you who know where I’m going with this, yes, you can snigger.

Enter the price and hit Calculate.

What you will see is that the Amazon royalty is -$.26, the eStore royalty is $1.74, and the expanded distribution (all other places other than Amazon or directly through CreateSpace) is -$2.26.  The number is also a negative in the pounds and euros fields.

Your good intentions plus the designer’s good intentions equals YOU WILL LOSE MONEY ON THIS BOOK.

Generally, you want to shoot for a profit of about $2 per book.  This means a) you make some money, and b) the BOOK SELLERS MAKE ENOUGH MONEY TO MAKE IT WORTH CARRYING YOUR BOOK.  The book sellers make a percentage of your cover price–usually around 40-50%.  If the book is priced too low, they won’t stock it.  Pfft.  They’re not selling books to be noble.  So don’t undercut your royalty by more than like 50 cents, or the booksellers won’t want it, either.

In order for this 450-page book to make $2, you have to price it between $19.99 and $20.99, which makes it a tough sell to readers, even in trade paperback size (6×9″).


Okay.  Let’s say you looked at those numbers and went back to your interior designer (before you finalized the design, mind you, because if you approved the design and let your designer do all the fiddly bits, you deserve to pay for the additional hours of formatting work over and above your original agreement) and said, “Look, 450 pages is too many.  Can you get me down to…350?”

As you can see if you go to the royalty calculator, if you can get the book down to 350 pages, then you can charge $16.99 for the book, which is slightly more reasonable (for a trade paperback).

Your designer should be able to do this.  They should be able to give you options for cutting over 20% of your page lengths, if they’re starting from a reasonably ideal text layout.  Now, if they start out by saying, “I know this is a long book and you’re going to want to save some pages, so I’ve condensed the layout a little,” then they may not be able to make another big cut to the pages.   I’m just saying that in most cases, there’s a lot of wiggle room.  They may have a hard time hitting an exact page count, but if you give them a range of 25 pages or so, they should be able to hit it.

However, this 120,000-word book will never be anything but a 120,000-word book, and when the text comes back, it will be much closer to single-spaced than it will be to a 1.5 leading, as I discussed above.  The margins may be smaller; blank pages may be removed; you may end up with less open space on your chapter pages.  In extreme cases, you may end up with just a chapter marker, with no separate chapter page at all.   You will still end up with a book that you have to charge more money for.  Because it’s a 120,000-word book.

As the publisher (dear indie publisher), it’s your responsibility to think about these things.   Don’t just say, “I trust you,” even if you have a good designer.  They may do a great job with the layout.  You could have the prettiest interior ever.  But if the page count might kill your sales, then ask your designer for help–ASAP.


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