Ten Tips for DIY Editing

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Montana Writers Rodeo and wrote a post about the fun, enlightening conference experience.

Today, here are the 10 tricks (plus one bonus tip) from my workshop at the Rodeo on how to edit your own writing.

Newer writer: “Why should I worry about spelling, grammar, and typos? The editor will fix them.”

Hate to break the news but that ain’t gonna happen. 

Being a professional means we’re responsible for quality of the book we turn out.

Whose name is on the cover?

Ours.

If there are errors, who gets blamed?

We do.

That’s an important reason to hone our own editing skills.

Whether you go the traditional route or self-publish, a well-written story without typos and errors increases your chance of successful publication.

Due to layoffs, fewer editors work at publishing houses. Those who remain are swamped with other tasks, leaving little time to actually edit. In recent years, I’ve noticed an uptick in grammar, punctuation, and spelling goofs in traditionally published books.

If you indie-pub, a book with errors turns off readers. 

The overarching goal of authors is to make the writing so smooth and effortless that readers glide through the story without interruption.

We want them to become lost in the story and forget they’re reading.

How can we accomplish that? By self-editing to the best of our ability.

As a freelance editor, what do I look for when I review a manuscript?

  • Is the writing clear and understandable?
  • Do stumbling blocks and awkward phrases interrupt the flow?
  • Are there unnecessary words or redundancies?
  • Are there nouns with lots of adjectives?
  • Do weak verbs need adverbs to make the action clear?

Here are my 10 favorite guidelines. Please note, I said guidelines, not rules! 

1. Delete the Dirty Dozen Junk WordsGo on a global search-and-destroy mission for the following words/phrases:

It is/was

There is/was

That

Just

Very

Really

Quite

Almost

Sort of

Rather

Turned to…

Began to…

Getting rid of unnecessary junk words tightens writing and makes stronger sentences.

Clear, concise narrative is your mission…with the exception of dialogue.

Characters ramble, stammer, repeat themselves, and backtrack. Natural, realistic-sounding dialogue uses colloquialisms, regional idiosyncrasies, ethnic speech patterns, etc.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

But, like hot sauce, a little goes a long way.

At the Rodeo, actor/director Leah Joki used excerpts from Huckleberry Finn to illustrate the power of dialogue.

But hearing it is different from reading it. If overdone, too much dialect can make an arduous slog. Imagine translating page after page of sentences like this one from Jim in  Huck Finn:

“Yo’ ole father doan’ know yit what he’s a-gwyne to do.”

  1. Set the stage – At the beginning of each scene or chapter, establish:

WHO is present?

WHERE are they?

WHEN is the scene happening?

If you ground the reader immediately in the fictional world, they can plunge into the story without wondering what’s going on.

  1. Naming NamesDistinctive character names help the reader keep track of who is who.

Create a log of character names used.

Easy trick: write the letters of the alphabet down the left margin of a page. As you name characters, fill in that name beside the corresponding letter of the alphabet. That saves you from winding up with Sandy, Samantha, Sarah, Sylvester.

Vary the number of syllables, e.g. Bob (1), Jeremiah (4), Annunciata (5).

Avoid names that look or sound similar like Michael, Michelle, Mickey.

Avoid rhyming names like Billy, Milly, Tilly.

  1. Precision Nouns, Vivid Verbs – Adjectives and adverbs are often used to prop up lazy nouns and verbs. Choose exact, specific nouns and verbs.

Instead of the generic word house, consider a specific noun that describes it, like bungalow, cottage, shanty, shack, chateau, mansion, castle. Notice how each conjures a different picture in the mind.

Photo credit: wikimedia CC BY 2.0 DEED

Holyroodhouse
Photo credit: Christophe Meneboeuf CC-BY-SA 4.0 DEED

Instead of the generic verb run, try more descriptive verbs like race, sprint, dart, dash, gallop. That gives readers a vivid vision of the action.

  1. Chronology and Choreography – Establish the timeline.

Photo credit: IMDB database

Quentin Tarantino can get away with scenes that jump back and forth in time like a rabid squirrel on crack.

But a jumbled timeline risks confusing the reader. Unless you have a compelling reason to write events out of order, you’re probably better off sticking to conventional chronology.

 

Are actions described in logical order? Does cause lead to effect? Does action trigger reaction?

Chronology also applies to sentences. In both examples below, the reader can figure out what’s going on, but which sentence is simpler to follow?

  • George slashed Roger’s throat with the knife as he grabbed him from behind after he sneaked into the warehouse.
  • Knife in hand, George sneaked into the warehouse, grabbed Roger from behind, and slashed his throat.

In theatre, actors and directors block each scene. Clear blocking helps the reader visualize events and locations.

Establish where the characters are in relation to each other and their surroundings.

Map out doors, windows, cupboards, stairwells, secret passages, alleys, etc. where a bad guy might sneak up on the hero, or where the hero might escape.

Locate weapons.

Does the hero or the villain carry a gun or knife? Establish that before the weapon magically appears. 

Pre-place impromptu weapons (golf club, baseball bat, scissors) where the hero can grab them in an emergency. Or put them just out of reach to complicate the hero’s struggle.

  1. When to Summarize? When to dramatize?

Photo credit: Public Domain

Summarize or skip boring, mundane details like waking up, getting dressed, brushing teeth…unless the toothpaste is poisoned!

Dramatize important events and turning points in the story, such as:

  • New information is discovered.
  • A secret is revealed.
  • A character has a realization.
  • The plot changes direction.
  • A character changes direction.

7. Dynamic description – Make descriptive passages do double duty.

Rather than a driver’s license summary, show a character’s personality through their appearance and demeanor.

Static description: He had black hair, brown eyes, was 6’6″, weighed 220 pounds, and wore a gold shield.

Dynamic description: When the detective entered the interview room, his ‘fro brushed the top of the door frame. His dark gaze pierced the suspect. Under a tight t-shirt, his abs looked firm enough to deflect a hockey puck. 

Put setting description to work. Use location and weather to establish mood and/or foreshadow.

Static description: Birds were flying. There were clouds in the sky. An hour ago, the temperature had been 70 degrees but was now 45. She felt cold.

Dynamic description: Ravens circled, cawing warnings to each other. In the east, thunderheads tumbled across a sky that moments before had been bright blue. Rising wind cut through her hoody and prickled her skin with goosebumps.

  1. Read Out Loud – After reading the manuscript 1000+ times, your eyes are blind to skipped words, repetitions, awkward phrasing.

To counteract that, use your ears instead to catch problems.

Read your manuscript out loud and/or listen to it with text-to-speech programs on Word, Natural Reader, Speechify, etc. Your phone may also be able to read to you. Instruction links for Android and iPhone.

  1. Be Sensual – Exploit all five senses. Writers often use sight and hearing but sometimes forget taste, smell, and touch that evoke powerful memories and emotions in readers.

Think of the tang of lemon. Did you start to salivate?

Smell the stench of decomposition. Did you instinctively hold your breath and recoil?

Photo credit: Amber Kipp – Unsplash

 

Imagine a cat’s soft fur. Do your fingers want to stroke it? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. What’s the Right (Write) Word? – English is full of boobytraps called homophones, words that sound the same but don’t have the same meaning.

Spellcheck doesn’t catch mixups like:

its/it’s

there/they’re/their

cite/site/sight, etc.

Make a list of ones that often trip you up and run global searches for them. Or hire a copyeditor/proofreader.

Bonus Tip – When proofreading, change to a different font and increase the type size of your manuscript. That tricks the brain into thinking it’s seeing a different document and makes it easier to spot typos.

Self-editing is not a replacement for a professional editor. But when you submit a manuscript that’s as clean and error-free as you can make it, that saves the editor time and that saves you $$$ in editing fees! 

Effective self-editing means a reader can immerse themselves in a vivid story world without distractions.  

And isn’t that what it’s all about? 

~~~

TKZers: What editing issues crop up in your own writing?

Do you have tricks to catch errors? Please share them.

When you read a published book, what makes you stumble?

~~~

 

One reason Debbie Burke likes indie-publishing: goofs are easy to correct. In Dead Man’s Bluff, she discovered FILES were circling an animal carcass instead of FLIES. Took two seconds to fix and republish.

Available at all major online booksellers. 

 

ProWritingAid Premium How-To

Terry’s last post spurred spawned this one. With many editing softwares available, it’s difficult to decide on the one that will work for you. I use ProWritingAid Premium, though like Terry, I take the advice that resonates and ignore what doesn’t. The worst thing a writer can do is to depend on automated software to do all the heavy lifting, or it’ll strip out your voice and style choices. The nice part of ProWritingAid is its ability to learn. The more you use it, the less it flags nit-picky things. You can also tell it not to check for certain things.

For example, I include quotes with some chapter headings as a subtle POV signal to the reader. Only one character has quotes in his chapter headings. Every single time, ProWritingAid flags the quotation marks for not being closed at the end of each line, even if it’s mid-quote. I don’t want to tell the software to ignore the quote rule or it won’t catch places in the narrative where I may have forgotten the end quote. See what I’m sayin’? Be careful of which rules you set to ignore. You may need that second pair of eyes later.

Whether you use the free or paid version, the first step is to download the software (available for Mac or PC). Once the software downloads directly into MS Word, it’ll add a new button to the top ribbon. Also available for Google Docs, Scrivener (desktop), or as an extension for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Edge.

Here’s what it looks like in Word.

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When you want to use the software, click the button. Easy peasy. If you don’t want to download the software, you can use the app instead, which opens in a new tab/window. In the app, you’ll have to upload a doc. When downloaded to Word, the software will read whatever document you’re in.

Once you open the software, click the dropdown menu. Since I write thrillers, I keep it set to Thriller, but you can choose any genre of fiction, formal or business writing, other nonfiction, or even email.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After PWA processes the document, it’ll show you suggestions for improvement.

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Because I’m using the software as I write this post, it’s showing suggestions for all of it. LOL

If I click the first suggestion, it looks like this…

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The program didn’t like the spaces between ProWritingAid, so I accepted the revision by clicking the highlighted suggestion. Boom — it corrected the spelling for me. The next suggestion was “nice” in the opening paragraph of this post. I clicked “ignore,” but check out the alternatives…

 

 

 

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Let’s move on to fiction… For this post, I pasted a few paragraphs from the WIP. Keep in mind, I’m in the drafting stage. 😉

A gunshot coiled through the dark forest, and he ducked, the bullet sailing over him. Not that I could pinpoint something that small, but it sure didn’t hit him. Before the scumbag had time to fire a second shot, Mr. Mayhem dove on top of him, tackling him, wrestling in the dirt, arms, legs, and fists flailing.

My breath stalled somewhere in my chest. Where’s the third guy?

Through the binoculars, I scanned left.

The software suggested I add “the” before “left,” but it reads fine without it. If my editor suggests the same, then maybe I’ll change it.

No beam of light. I swung the binoculars to the right. No light-beams. Where the hell did he go? Once I lowered the binoculars, my blood turned to slush. Camouflage boots clomped through thick underbrush—twenty feet from the oak tree!—a sawed-off shotgun rested on linebacker shoulders. Behind him, Poe emerged, divebombing the intruder, crow feet stomping on his head.

 

PWA caught the missing hyphen in dive-bombing. I accepted the change by clicking the green highlighted area. (click to enlarge)

 

 

The mobbing technique allowed me enough time to climb down, Shicheii’s quiver slung on my back, his bow held tight in my hand.

Shicheii means maternal grandfather in Diné, so I added his name to dictionary like this..

 

 

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At fifteen feet away, I stopped, reached behind me, and slid out an arrow. Aimed low to avoid Poe. Fired. The razor-tipped arrow sailed through the air, striking the scumbag in the thigh.

Shoot. Missed my mark.

I reloaded. Aimed a scooch higher. And fired. This time, the arrow zipped right past him, missing his hip by an inch, maybe two.

Since scooch is a word, and it’s spelled correctly, I added it to dictionary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Screw this.” I dropped the bow, squirmed my arms out of the quiver straps, and charged straight at him, bellowing a deep, raspy roar, my voice coiling through the trees, boomeranging right back as I lunged at him.

Arms spread like wings, I flew through the air without considering the consequences. If he raised that shotgun, he could kill me. Didn’t matter. Everything within me screamed for me to protect my family, and sheer animalistic instinct took over. I landed on his chest, and we both tumbled backward. 

I ignored the suggestion to remove “through the air” after “flew” because it doesn’t sound right to my ear.

Here’s where you need to be careful. Don’t accept that the software knows better than you. Since this is an early draft, I’ll probably end up rewriting the sentence to use swan-dive instead of flew (paints a better picture), but that’s irrelevant. The point is, question every change to remain true to your voice, your style.

While straddling his hips, I threw a mean right hook, sucker-punched him—almost broke my friggin’ knuckles on his blocky nose—and I swear he laughed. Over and over, I hammered his face in rapid succession, first the right, then left, alternating between the two to keep him off-balance.

“Who’s laughing now, asshole?”

Probably shouldn’t’ve gotten cocky, because he muscled me onto my back. Drilled me in the right temple with his fist, and tiny specks of bright, white light danced before my eyes. That only pissed me off more, and I chomped down on his forearm, my teeth sinking into his flesh.

 

Valid suggestion, PWA. The comma is unnecessary after “bright.”

 

<– At the bottom of that pane, it says Open Full Editor.

When I click that button, it opens in a new window.

 

 

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Notice the side column. I’ll scroll through for you…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything looks good, except dialogue tags. But I don’t have any dialogue tags in the excerpt. Hmm, let’s see what it says by clicking the dialogue box in the top-right corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, it’s just explaining why “said” and “asked” are best to use. Not sure why it says 100% in the negative. There are no dialogue tags. Perhaps that’s why. See what I mean about not blindly trusting editing software? You—the writer—need to weigh each suggestion. If it works, accept the change. If it doesn’t, ignore and move on. Your human editor should flag it again if there’s a problem.

Now, if you’re just beginning your writing journey, click each dialogue box for a full explanation of why to remove things like weak adverbs from your writing.

Here’s what it says under “Weak Adverbs”:

 

 

 

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Check out the top ribbon of the full editor. You can tell the software to search for anything. Overused Words, anyone? We’re all guilty of littering the first draft with crutch words.

 

 

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Check out the Thesaurus. Not only does it tell you how many nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs the document has, but look at all the suggestions it offers for the word “different”.

 

 

 

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This software checks for everything, from sticky sentences, homonyms, echoes, and alliterations, to structure, pacing, and a visual representation of sentence length. Seriously, you could spend hours dissecting your prose. I don’t, but if you’re just learning the craft of writing, spending time learning the basics is time well-spent. I love ProWritingAid Premium because it catches typos, commas, grammatical errors, awkward sentences and/or phrases, or clunky words written when your soul’s on fire and your fingers are sailing across the keyboard. You know what I’m talkin’ about, that sheer passionate writing that made so much sense in the moment, but in the cold light of day, needs tweaking.

Let’s talk about money for a minute. I pay yearly, but they also have monthly plans. I buy yearly plans at Christmastime, because it’s, like, $60 compared to $120 ($10/mo). Or try the free version first. There are some limitations to the free plan. You can only upload five or six chapters at a time, rather than uploading an entire 90K word novel, and you won’t have access to everything in the Full Editor ribbon. But at least it’ll give you the feel of how it works. I’ve used Grammarly, too, and ProWritingAid offers a lot more bang for your buck, IMO.

So, that’s a sampling of ProWritingAid Premium. Hope you found it useful! Do you use editing software? If so, which one?

 

Editor Interview – Val Mathews

By Debbie Burke
@burke_writer

After lunch on the second day of a writing conference, typically attendees’ brains are already brimming. Fatigue sets in. With full tummies, the temptation to nod off is strong.

Editor Val Mathews

However, no one dozed during Val Mathews’s presentation at the Flathead River Writers Conference in Montana this past October.

Val is a former acquisitions editor at The Wild Rose Press and teaches at several universities. She’s a certified flight instructor and used to fly Lear jets. Additionally, she’s a gifted speaker who knows how to grab and keep an audience’s attention.

At the beginning of her talk, Val got about 100 attendees up on our feet and walking between long rows of tables and down the aisles of the auditorium. Initially, she asked us to imagine we were taking a leisurely hike in Glacier Park. What did we see, smell, and hear?

Then she switched the scenario to a crowded city street. We were late to an important meeting, had forgotten our notes, and needed to return to the office to retrieve them. The energy in the room increased. The sea of people hurried around, now moving in opposite directions, passing each other and trying to avoid collisions.

Next, Val reduced the pace and had us walk with different postures—chests out, heads lowered, hunched over, hips forward, speeding up, slowing down—while paying attention to how each variation made our bodies feel.

Then she told us to become our main character and emulate their posture, movements, stride, and attitude. She asked, “How does your character feel? What are the physical sensations? What are they thinking about? How does that affect their movement?”

After ten minutes, Val had succeeded in chasing away all drowsiness and captured our full attention.

The exercise impressed me, so I invited Val to visit The Kill Zone. Welcome, Val!

Debbie Burke: Please share a little of your background and how you ended up in the publishing business.

Val Mathews: Thanks for having me, Debbie. I’m so glad you enjoyed my workshops! They are always so much fun to do, and everyone comes away renewed with ideas and inspired to write!

By the way, that opening exercise was borrowed from acting classes I took recently. Acting is all about stepping into your character’s body and soul and deeply connecting to your character’s inner world. Writers must do the same thing! And we can get to this deeper level of connection with our characters through our senses. Good writers have a knack for stepping into their characters, and it shows on the page. The characters come alive, feel real! And real-feeling characters hook readers.

So, to answer your question, I recently left The Wild Rose Press. Currently, I’m an editorial consultant for CRAFT Literary, a well-established online literary magazine, and I teach other editors at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Editorial Freelancers Association in New York City. Also I work one-on-one with writers to take their manuscripts to the next level—or the next few levels. All done remotely from my home in Athens, Georgia.

The funny thing is that I feel like I ended up in publishing by accident, even though my mom encouraged me to pursue that direction all my life. I got into publishing later in my life. In my 40s, after I already had a couple of careers and raised a family, I was accepted into graduate school and earned my Master of Arts in Professional Writing.

While in graduate school, I taught First-Year Composition, tutored writers, and volunteered as a poetry editor for a little literary magazine. On the side, I was coding and designing websites. Then I volunteered for SurfCoaches, a surfing company in Costa Rica, and created a digital magazine and website for them.

Those experiences gave me the confidence to approach the Georgia Writers Association and propose a digital literary magazine. They were thrilled since they only had a little newsletter at the time. I got a team together—mostly volunteer editors and readers—and we poured through submissions. We published poetry, short stories, and articles on the craft of writing. We did a couple of flash fiction contests too. A lot of fun!

Initially, I was just going to handle the poetry side, but surprisingly to me, I ended up being really good at fixing red-hot messes and fine-tuning short stories.

One of the accepted short-story authors asked me to edit her full manuscript. Then another asked and another. They referred me to their writer friends, and before I knew it, I was working with a writer every month while still in grad school. It spread by word of mouth. Soon writers asked me to come and talk at their writer groups, and I got even more clients. Then I started presenting at writer conferences, and my career took off from the exposure and experience. I’m booked two months or more in advance now.

A few years ago, I sent letters of introduction to a few university presses and small traditional publishers. I was hired on with The Wild Rose Press and got on the developmental editor list with the University of Georgia. During the first few years, I asked myself, “Is this real? Can I do it again next month?” And I always did. My mom would say, “I told you so.”

I’m still amazed at how I get to do what I love and I can do it from home, the coffee shop, the mountains—maybe the moon in five years. (Just kidding about the moon; I’ll settle for an island as long as I have a good internet connection.)

In college, I wanted to major in Biology. My mother bucked. She said, “But you can’t; you’re a girl!” Hard to imagine nowadays! She convinced me to major in English at Loyola University in New Orleans. Eventually, I rebelled, and I secretly enrolled in college for aeronautical science to become a commercial pilot like my father. I didn’t tell my mom until after my first solo! I flew turboprops and Lear Jets for a little while, and then life took unexpected twists and turns that led me to my current publishing career.

I’m still a FAA Certified Flight Instructor and have been for almost three decades now. Being a jet pilot is a bonus in the editing world. Aspiring authors often mention that my flying past was one of the deciding factors that made them pick up the phone and ask about my editorial services. And they always sign on.

Needless to say my mom was right. She knew I had a knack for writing and editing. Don’t you hate it when your mother is always right?

DB: What attracted you to editing?

VM: Although I edit at all levels—from developmental to proofreading—I’m most attracted to developmental editing. Developmental editors are all about the big picture. We assess how scenes hang together as a whole, how a story moves and unfurls, how characters drive the story forward. We’re kind of like detectives. We look for clues—or story seeds, as I call them.

These story seeds are often hidden or not fully fleshed out by the writer. But developmental editors look deep into the heart of a story and pull them out. Often writers don’t even know these seeds are there! Their creative subconscious scattered those seeds, but their consciousness was barely aware of them. When I point them out, their faces light up. It’s incredible to watch authors in this moment of inspired realization.

What I love the most about developmental editing is these light-bulb moments.

It’s deeply fulfilling to help writers fulfill their dreams. If a manuscript lacks focus, I’ll help the writer find it. If an author lacks confidence, I’ll work to inspire, challenge, and cheer them on. A developing editor’s job is not just about the manuscript—a large chunk of what we do involves inspiring the author’s voice and developing their full potential. In fact, the best developmental editors become the author’s collaborating partners—we hone the writer’s unique voice and make the author’s vision our vision.

When copyeditors move to developmental editing, it’s a significant perspective shift for sure. And how to make that move is a big part of my focus when teaching other editors to do what I do.

DB: When reading manuscripts, what qualities catch your attention?

VM: Well, on that first page, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping to be hooked. I love a story that starts with a strong voice—either a strong narrator voice or a strong character voice. Voice is a bit of an allusive term. What a good voice is for one editor may not be for another. It’s often very subjective.

In Voice: The Secret Power of Great Writing, James Scott Bell says that a “great voice is symbiotic,” meaning interdependent, and he encourages authors to identify with their characters so intimately that the authors begin to feel and think how the characters feel and think. Again, this is what actors do when preparing for a new part, and what I try to do in my workshops.

Furthermore, I love a story that captures my senses. At The Wild Rose Press, we have a good rule of thumb: include three sensory details per page and one of those should be something other than visual. Sensory details make the characters and their world come alive and really pop off the page.

DB: What qualities turn you off?

VM: Simply boring writing. Boring is also an elusive term too. What boring is for one editor may not be boring to another editor. Again, it’s often very subjective. But there are a few things that all editors will agree on.

For instance, dialogue that doesn’t add anything to the mood or increase the tension or drive the conflict. Boring dialogue and “talking heads” turn me off the most. Talking heads is when characters are talking but disconnected from the story world—there are no action beats, no sensory details, no glimpse into the point-of-view character’s inner world and motivations. The characters don’t feel real!

But the good news is it’s an easy fix. Writers can just look for long stretches of dialogue, and weave in actions and details to ground the reader in the story’s physical world. Then show the character’s conflicting desires, values, and emotions so the character becomes real.

Another turn-off is when the characters’ roles are generic, stereotyped, or old-fashioned because they don’t represent real people in all their colors, patterns, and quirks. Again boring.

DB: Could you describe your acquisition process at The Wild Rose Press?

VM: Every editor at The Wild Rose Press may have a different process. Typically, a senior editor or our editor-in-chief will send us a potential new author’s submission package consisting of the query letter and the first five pages. Each editor makes their own decision to request more pages or send a friendly (but often helpful) rejection letter. That’s why an author’s opening pages have to pop. Writers have a small window to hook a publisher and make the acquiring editor want to read on.

However, my submission process normally starts at a writers’ conference. Most of the submissions I read were sent to me from authors I met at a conference or workshop. I also get contacted by literary agents who pitch their client’s novels.

When I receive a submission, the first thing I do is read the first five pages. Often, I can tell on page one if it’s going to be a rejection—cold hard truth. If the opening doesn’t pop off the page, most readers aren’t going to wait until page three hundred to see if anything happens. One time, a writer told me, “But it gets good on page one hundred.” True story! Readers read for the joy and thrill of it. We want that joy and thrill on page one, page two, page three, and every page after that.

To get your foot in the door with an acquisition editor, rock the house down on the first page. It doesn’t have to be exploding bombs, car chases, shooting matches, and murder mayhem on page one, but it does need to hook us immediately and keep hooking us on every page.

The hook can be a promise of future conflict or subtle micro-tension or a strong character voice. One of those three things (preferably all three) will prompt me to immediately email the author and ask for a partial or full manuscript.

After reading the first five pages, I look at the pitch part of the author’s query. I’ll also read the synopsis and then request more pages or send a rejection. Some editors always read the query first and only ask for more pages based on the pitch. However, more than once, I’ve been thrilled by a fantastic pitch and strong synopsis, only to be disappointed when reading the manuscript. I think sometimes authors hire a professional query and synopsis writer.

I suggest writing it yourself. You have to know your story cold. When writers struggle to put the gist of their stories into a strong pitch paragraph or break the story down into a tight synopsis, then I bet there is a good chance their manuscripts have plot holes or too many storylines or too many characters—just my two feathers. I’m sure there are exceptions.

If I’m on the fence about a story or just want another opinion, I sometimes run it by our reading panel for their input. Depending on their positive reviews, I will continue with the acquisition process. Sometimes the readers give me insights I haven’t thought about or clue me into some aspects of the novel that might rub readers the wrong way.

Once I find a manuscript that I love and want to make an offer to the author, I send a Request for a Contract to my senior editor. If she approves, she sends it through, and an offer is made. Then the fun begins!

DB: What do you believe are the most significant changes in the publishing industry in the past five years?

VM: Well, the pandemic certainly changed things and pushed readers more strongly toward audio and digital books. Both have been steadily rising, but they really jumped up in readership during the pandemic. Audiobooks are a hot marketplace ticket! We are talking about a billion-dollar market here!

Authors may want to consider keeping their derivative rights. Derivative rights are the starting point for audiobooks. Before signing a publishing contract, ask, “Do I control my derivative rights, specifically my audio rights?” Read that contract and consider renegotiating to hang on to those rights. Because as I said, audio rights are hot right now and are expected to get hotter.

Spotify is buying Findaway and is really moving into the audiobook market. They expect audiobook sales to grow from $3.3 billion to $15 billion by 2027. That’s huge!

If you control that right, you get 100% of the profit. However, more publishers are keeping those rights. But it’s still economically not attractive for many publishers to produce audiobooks, so they may decide not to do it. In either case, you may want to ask for those rights to be reverted back to you so that you reap all the profit.

DB: What trends have you noticed lately?

VM: TikTok is the fastest-growing social media platform and is probably today’s essential tool for branding and marketing your novels. I used to rave about Twitter, but TikTok is stealing the show these days.

Although audiobooks and digital books are hot, print books are in demand, and apparently there is a shortage. Despite the surge in new technologies, all generations still prefer reading physical books. So, the good news is that print publishing is not dying as many had predicted.

Serial fiction is super-hot! As the old sales adage goes: It’s easier to keep an old client than to get a new one. The same goes for readers. This is particularly important for self-published authors. Sites like Kindle Vella, Wattpad, Inkitt, Tapas, Radish, and other online reading apps will continue to do well.

During the pandemic, book sales increased, especially among Gen Zers. Not surprising with more free time and people working from home or off work and going to school from home. And contrary to popular belief, Millennials are voracious readers.

The book industry is still alive and well. Older readers tend to gravitate to thrillers, mystery, and suspense, whereas younger readers tend to favor fantasy, science fiction, and general literature. Young adult novels had the most significant jump in sales in 2021. Also, 66% of poetry book buyers are under thirty-four. These young people are huge readers!

One interesting statistic I found is the rise in romance readership among young people, specifically young adult men. However, with that being said, most fiction readers are still women. About 80%!

Writers may want to think about creating a tough, wicked-smart female protagonist who solves her own problems and doesn’t wait for the knight in shining armor. I think the days of the damsel in distress are gone—again, just my two feathers.

It’s good to understand the differences between the generations and how they hear about novels. Gen Z looks to social media and friends for book recommendations, whereas most of the older generations depend on bookseller lists. So, if you’re not on social media, such as BookTok, I encourage you to get hopping. It’s never too late or too soon to start.

DB: Is there anything you’d like to add that I haven’t asked about?

VM: Yes! On behalf of all editors everywhere, I want to thank you and all the writers out there. Thank you for letting us into your creative worlds. I know how hard it is to let your “baby” go and entrust it to the care of an editor. I want to acknowledge the guts it takes to be a writer and put yourself out there. I’m so happy that you are in the world! Keep learning. Keep pushing your boundaries. Keep moving forward one page at a time.

You can find me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/editorvmathews and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/val_mathews/.

~~~

Val, thanks for the deep dive into the mind of an editor. We appreciate you sharing your insights with TKZ! 

~~~

This is my last post before TKZ goes on our annual holiday break. See you in 2023. Aargh! How did 2022 whiz by so fast?

As always, thank you for your interest and participation in TKZ’s community! 

May your holiday season be filled with cheer, love, and peace!

Archetypes; Unmasking Your Villain; and the Final edit

I am currently in the throes of rewriting my mystery novel and doing some deep character work on my hero. A couple of Sundays ago, Jim mentioned Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters in a reply to a comment by me. Years earlier I had tried reading the first edition of her book, but it hadn’t clicked. This was back when I tried learning craft by osmosis, rather than by application and practice. After Jim’s mention, I decided to give 45 Master Characters another try and picked up a copy of the revised edition.

This time, it’s resonating deeply with me. Her take on mythic character archetypes, as well as the heroine and hero’s journeys, is brilliant, and I’ve been using the book to get a better handle on my sleuth and the supporting cast.

That got me thinking about today’s TKZ Words of Wisdom, and I dove into the archives to look for posts on character archetypes. So, the first excerpt today is from a post by Jordan Dane describing twelve character archetypes, providing a goal and a fear for each. The second excerpt is from Joe Hartlaub and deals with unmasking a previously hidden villain at the end of a book–the Scooby Doo reveal. The third, by Clare Langley-Hawthorne, discusses the final editing pass of your novel. As always, each excerpt is date linked to the original post. Please jump in with your thoughts on any or all of these.

Let’s take a closer look at character archetypes. In researching this post, I found a more comprehensive list of 99 Archetypes & Stock Characters that Screen Writers Can Mold that screenwriters might utilize in their craft. Archetypes are broader as a foundation to build on. Experienced editors and industry professionals can hear your book pitch and see the archetypes in their mind’s eye. From years of experience, it helps them see how your project might fit in their line or on a book shelf.

But to simplify this post and give it focus, I’ll narrow these character types down to Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung‘s 12-Archetypes. Listed below, Jung developed his 12-archetypes, as well as their potential goals and what they might fear. Goals and fears can be expanded, but think of this as a springboard to trigger ideas.

TYPE/GOAL/FEAR

1.) Innocent

  • GOAL – Happiness
  • FEAR – Punishment

2.) Orphan

  • GOAL – Belonging
  • FEAR – Exclusion

3.) Hero

  • GOAL – Change World
  • FEAR – Weakness

4.) Caregiver

  • GOAL – Help Others
  • FEAR – Selfishness

5.) Explorer

  • GOAL – Freedom
  • FEAR – Entrapment

6.) Rebel 

  • GOAL – Revolution
  • FEAR – No Power

7.) Lover

  • GOAL – Connection
  • FEAR – Isolation

8.) Creator

  • GOAL – Realize Vision
  • FEAR – Mediocrity

9.) Jester

  • GOAL – Levity & Fun
  • FEAR – Boredom

10.) Sage

  • GOAL – Knowledge
  • FEAR – Deception

11.) Magician

  • GOAL – Alter Reality
  • FEAR – Unintended Results

12.) Ruler

  • GOAL – Prosperity
  • FEAR – Overthrown

Jordan Dane—April 4, 2019

 

Scooby Doo is firmly ensconced in the American culture. The plot of each cartoon episode is very similar, with a crime occurring, Scooby and his pals investigating, and the villain of the piece being unmasked, literally, at the end. I think that I first heard this type of climax referenced as a “Scooby Doo” ending during the second of the three climaxes to the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It has been a vehicle used in mystery novels long before that. There’s nothing wrong with it at all, except that 1) it sometimes doesn’t work and 2) sometimes it needs a little work. I ran across an example of the former several months ago while reading a thriller that was one of the many nephews to The Da Vinci Code wherein the protagonist’s adversary was running around killing people while wearing a tribal mask and attempting to obtain an instrument of antiquity which would permit him to destroy the universe. The protagonist got the mask off of the evildoer near the end and the book ended. “Rut row!” The book was okay, but the ending was a total disappointment.

That brings us to a book I read this week in which the author uses the Scooby Doo ending to great effect by taking the story a step or two beyond it. The author is the morbidly underappreciated Brian Freeman and the book is Season of Fear, the second and latest of the Cab Bolton novels. (Please note: it’s not quite a spoiler, but there’s a general revelation ahead. Read the book regardless). The premise is fairly straightforward. Ten years ago a Florida gubernatorial candidate was assassinated by a masked gunman, throwing the election into chaos. A suspect was identified, tried, convicted, and jailed. In the present, the candidate’s widow is running for the same seat when she receives a threatening note which purports to be from the same assassin. Indeed, he eventually turns up, and his identity is ultimately revealed in a grand unmasking. But wait. Freeman, after giving the reader enough action to fill two books and expertly presenting a complex but easy to follow plot, gives the reader more to chew on. Things don’t end with the revelation of the identity of the doer; instead, Freeman moves us a couple of more steps forward, revealing a potential unexpected mover and shaker who was a couple of steps ahead of everyone, including Bolton. This has the double-barreled effect of making the climax much more interesting and setting up a potential adversarial setting for Cab Bolton in a future novel. Nice work.

Again, Scooby Doo endings are okay. They’re fine. But if your particular novel in waiting has one, and seems to lack pizazz, don’t just take the doer’s mask off, or reveal their identity, or whatever. Take things a step further just as the curtain is going down, and reveal who is pulling the cord, and perhaps yanking the chain. It may be a character that was present throughout your book, or someone entirely new, or…well, you might even want to create a character and work your way backwards with them. But stay with the mask, and go beyond it.

Joe Hartlaub—March 14, 2015

 

I’m on the final round of revisions to my current manuscript and considering a new editing process. In the past I have always tended to bite off more than I can chew when revising – trying to look for plot inconsistencies, character missteps (blue eyes one chapter, brown the next), typos, repetition, dull dialogue, boring exposition and errors all at once. What I’ve found is that about midway through the process, I get completely mired in the editing process and start dismantling what is essentially the final version of the novel, as I lose confidence in both the story and myself (you know, the usual author angst!). This time, however, while I am waiting for beta reader feedback, I am looking at adopting an alternative approach and would love some advice.

My current system involves editing throughout the writing process – from editing the first draft (which pretty much equals rewriting) to doing a final line edit on the completed manuscript before I turn it in to my agent. It’s what happens in these later stages that I need to refine. What I am considering is parsing the final editing into multiple discrete re-reads looking for:

  1. Plot/timeline issues alone – checking for holes, inconsistencies, and errors.
  2. Character issues alone – checking for inconsistencies, misdescriptions etc.
  3. Stylistic issues – repetition, boring/dull descriptions etc.
  4. Final line-edit – looking for grammatical and spelling errors and typos.

Although I’ve looked at all these areas already (multiple times!) while editing previous drafts, with the final version, it’s time to have one more look as invariably I still find errors. My concern is that trying to re-read the final manuscript multiple times to look for these discrete set of issues will be time-consuming and slow (and may possibly drive me demented!).

What I’d love is feedback/comments on what final editing process has worked for you.

  • Do you try and do everything all at once?
  • Do you reread with specific areas in mind?
  • Do you get others to do a final line-edit?
  • How do you balance the need for one last look at all the critical areas in a manuscript against being driven crazy after the 50th reread?

Clare Langley-Hawthorne–January 12, 2012

***

So, there you have it. Jungian archetypes, Scooby Doo-style reveals, and the final editing pass.

  1. Have you ever created or revised your characters through the frame of archetypes?
  2. Have you ever done a Scooby Doo style reveal of a villain in one of your novels?
  3. How do you handle your final editing pass?

Text-to-Speech for Editing

Text-to-speech (TTS)– also called Read aloud technology–is a popular assistive technology in which a computer or computerized device reads the words on the screen aloud to the user.

TTS is used for many things, and the number of applications is increasing. If you like rabbit holes, there’s a lot here to investigate. Just Google it and you’ll be amazed. But today let’s talk about TTS in the context of editing. PCs, Macs, Chromebooks, Word, Scrivener, Google docs, and LibreOffice all have it built into their programs. Open Office and WordPerfect do not. Code can be inserted into WordPerfect for TTS, but it sounds complicated.

There are long lists of programs which are supposed to be better than the TTS built into the programs above. Many of them advertise as “free,” but most are only free for a trial period.

We’ve been told to read our manuscript out loud as part of our editing, or have someone else read it to us. I’ve found that even when I read out loud, I still skip over incorrect or missing words and letters. And good luck finding someone else with enough time and patience to read your manuscript to you.

Debbie posted a wonderful article on editing two years ago – https://killzoneblog.com/2020/09/help-i-have-flies-in-my-files.html – including using TTS, but, today, let’s focus on TTS in our editing routine.

Please share your knowledge:

  1. Do you use TTS in your editing process?
  2. In which program do you use it?
  3. Where or when in the editing process do you use it?
  4. How useful do you believe it is?
  5. If you use one of the “monthly fee” programs, which one did you choose?

When Is Your Book Ready to be Published?

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Brother Gilstrap’s recent post on critique groups raises a question I’ve heard from other writers: When do I know my book is ready to go out to an agent, editor, or direct to market?

The answer depends on where you are as a writer. Let’s look at three categories.

The Newbie

This is your first novel. Maybe it’s not the first you’ve written. Most first novels are like first waffles. So you make up your mind to write another one.

Good for you! A lot of writers quit after that initial try.

Now read it through in hard copy, as if you were a book buyer. Don’t take copious notes. Just keep asking yourself at what point are you tempted to put the book down? Put a mark there and move on.

Then hunker down and fix what needs fixing, cut what needs cutting, add what needs adding. Learn your craft by consulting books that cover your weak spots. (Insert shameless plug here).

Write a second draft.

Now it’s time to get feedback. But you need to get it from people who know what to look for. I offer two options: informed beta readers and an experienced developmental editor.

Your beta readers don’t necessarily have to be writers. What you want are dedicated readers in your genre who are willing to give some detailed notes—for which you’ll take them to lunch or gift them an Amazon card (or something). My first beta has always been the eagle-eyed Mrs. B. Also, at the start in my career, I forged a relationship with the staff of a bookstore near me. They loved to read and were more than happy to look at my manuscripts.

Then I signed with a house and got paired with a fantastic developmental editor who upped my game. (A developmental editor focuses on the big picture of your novel, primarily structure, plot, characters, and scenes.)

At this point in your journey a solid developmental editor can be of great benefit. It’s going to cost money, but like any small business startup, you’ve got to invest to become the best.

How can you find such an editor? Get recommendations. Search the net. Study the websites. Look at their client list. Ask for a sample edit.

How much will this cost? In my opinion it should be in the low four figures. More than that and you’re passing a sign that reads Scam Territory: Proceed At Your Own Risk.

The Intermediate

Once you’ve had some publishing success, meaning three or four books that have gained traction, you should be able to get by solely with good beta readers. Key word, good. How do you find them? What do you ask them? See the TKZ posts here.

You’re still listening for development help. But you’re also getting more knowledgable with each book.

The Veteran

Once you’ve hit a certain level—maybe seven or eight books doing nicely—you can probably skip developmental editing. I remember asking a multi-published, bestselling author what he did with his manuscripts. He said, “I know enough now that I know when my story is solid. I get a copy edit to find any holes or contradictions, like a character who has blue eyes in chapter one and green eyes in chapter twenty. But that’s about it.” (I’ll add that you need to pay a proof reader to smash those pesky sand fleas we call typos.)

How to Take Criticism

There may come a time when an editor or beta reader hauls off and gives you a gut punch. Agent Steve Laube recently wrote a piece titled My Editor Made My Book Worse! It’s mostly for the traditionally published, but indies can take much of it to heart. It begins:

You just received a 15-page, single-spaced editorial letter from your editor. They want you to rewrite most of the book. But you disagree with the letter and are spitting mad. What do you do?

Or your agent took a look at your manuscript and told you to cut it in half to make it salable. What do you do?

Both examples are true stories and illustrate the universal challenge of refining your manuscript to make it the best it can be.

Steve advises:

  1. This is normal.
  2. Keep anger to yourself. (Don’t burn bridges!)
  3. Hear today. Respond tomorrow.
  4. Remember the editor is doing the best job they know how. And often they have a lot of experience with manuscripts like yours.
  5. Remember this is a negotiation, not a dictation. Ultimately, it is your book; and the editor is providing suggestions, not requirements.
  6. Remember that the suggestions with which you disagree may actually be valid.
  7. Communicate your frustration to your agent.
  8. Communicate with your editor. Be respectful but firm if you disagree. You’ll find that editors have their jobs because they know what they are doing.
  9. BUT if the edits are out of line, unreasonable, or outrageous, then you have every right to object. Decide which hills you will die on. A word here, a sentence there, a paragraph cut are not the place for the pitched battle.

When to Trust Thyself

There’s a famous story about Ayn Rand, when she turned in her behemoth manuscript for Atlas Shrugged to a famous editor named Bennett Cerf. He had a sit-down with her where he suggested, you know, this may be a little too long for the general market. And I’ve got some ideas to where to cut….

To which Rand replied, “You vould not cut zee Bible, vould you?”

Not exactly a shrinking violet, Ms. Rand (to this day, Atlas Shrugged sells tens of thousands of copies a year).

At some point you’ve got to trust yourself. You’ve done the work, learned the lessons, taken the feedback, and fixed and polished your manuscript. Now go for it. Send it out into the wild. Pop some champagne. You deserve it. Have yourself a nice dinner. Get a good night’s sleep.

And when you wake up start on your next book.

What steps do you take to know when a book is ready to go? What advice would you give a new writer on that question?

Reminder or Repetition?

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: wwnorm on visual hunt

 

 

When you read a novel, do you like occasional reminders?

 

 

 

 

 

Or…do you find reminders tedious and repetitious?

 

 

 

 

Recently, I discussed these questions with author/editor Karen Albright Lin. Karen is currently reading my WIP, Until Proven Guilty, book #7 in my Tawny Lindholm Thriller series.

Speaking as an older reader with termites eating holes in my memory, I need reminders. Most of the time, I read a novel in bed and fall asleep after a few pages. Days may pass before I pick up the book again.

In stories with many characters, POVs, and plot lines, I get lost and need to scroll backward to review. Who are these people? How are they connected? When and where is the story taking place? What just happened?

My readers are generally older and probably have similar memory lapses. Because of that, as a writer, I make a conscious effort to include small reminders to ground the reader at the beginning of each new scene and chapter.

Authors often leave a character hanging on the edge of a cliff, particularly in thrillers. In the next scene, they jump-cut to a different character in a different place and time. Three or four scenes later, they return to the poor hanging character. At that point, I appreciate a brief reminder of how and why the character wound up in that situation.

Reminders are also helpful for secondary characters who are offstage much of the time. When they reappear, in addition to their names, I usually mention their role or function.

A minor character, Mavis Dockerty, appears only three times in Until Proven Guilty—in chapters 1, 18, and 32.

She’s first introduced during a preliminary hearing on page 2, questioning a rape victim in what should be a slam-dunk prosecution:

County Attorney Mavis Dockerty said, “Take your time.” She picked up a box of tissues from the prosecution table and handed it to Amelia.

A few pages later, Mavis’s airtight case against the rapist is destroyed by defense attorney Tillman Rosenbaum, the male lead.

Mavis doesn’t appear again for 150+ pages and could be forgotten by some readers. So, I reintroduce her on page 166:

Flathead County Attorney Mavis Dockerty was sitting by herself in the last row of Courtroom #2 when Tillman tracked her down.

She appears for a final time on page 287:

County Attorney Mavis Dockerty was doggedly determined not to lose twice against the rapist Claude Ledbetter. Her evidence at his second preliminary hearing was flawless and overwhelming, every possible loophole sewed up tight.

Quick reminders like that are easy.

But when do reminders turn into repetition?

Back to my discussion with Karen. In my manuscript, she made many notes where she thought I was being repetitive. She advised: “Trust the reader to get it the first time.” 

My initial reaction was Really? Nah, I don’t repeat myself.

Writers can’t see their own flaws. That’s why we depend on critique groups, beta readers, and editors to point out problematic trees amid the dense forest of our novels. I trust Karen’s sharp eye and savvy skills as an editor so I took a closer look.

What I found was shocking. Here are a few examples:

One hint the writer is being repetitive is when the reminder appears three times in two paragraphs.

In the following passage, protagonist Tawny is experiencing empty-nest syndrome. She loves her husband’s three children from his previous marriage but they’re away at school or traveling. Her own son Neal is in his mid-thirties, in the military, and is home for a rare visit.

She’d already had one disappointment, when Neal declined to stay in the beautiful, sprawling, ranch-style house that Tillman had bought when they married because it had enough bedrooms for all their kids. Instead, Neal opted to sleep at Tawny’s creaky old bungalow in the historic district—the home where he’d grown up and still felt comfortable.

The hollow bedrooms of the new house sometimes made Tawny melancholy. Occasionally Tillman’s two daughters and his son came for weekend visits but otherwise the rooms stayed empty. But that was the way with grown children.

Did you get the picture of the vacant bedrooms?

Again and again and again.

Based on Karen’s suggestions, the first paragraph stayed the same but the second now reads:

The hollow bedrooms of the new house sometimes made Tawny melancholy, wishing Tillman’s two daughters and his son visited more often. But that was the way with grown children.

In another example, Karen noted that the location of a coffee kiosk had been repeated. In that instance, since there were only a couple of mentions, with many pages in between, I did not take her suggestion because it seemed like a reasonable reminder that wouldn’t bug readers.

The bigger problem is how to express themes without being repetitive. That’s where Karen busted me big time.

Until Proven Guilty weaves together three plots, each showcasing a different perspective in the tug of war between the law and justice. The first involves a clearly guilty character who walks free; the second addresses an innocent character who’s wrongly imprisoned; the third shows the perils of presuming guilt without proof.

The two protagonists, Tawny and Tillman, are married, work together, and clash over their different beliefs. Tawny is an idealist who wants justice for crime victims. Tillman is sometimes a righteous crusader but he’s also a cynical, pragmatic attorney whose job is to vigorously defend his clients whether they’re guilty or not.

At the start of the story, Tillman destroys County Attorney Mavis Dockerty’s case against an accused rapist because of faulty evidence. Tawny didn’t know Tillman’s plan before the hearing and is shocked and dismayed that the accused rapist is set free.

As they walk from the courthouse back to the law office, she confronts Tillman:

Tawny looked up at him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

His deep, rumbling baritone rose above traffic noise. “So you could distract me with a lecture about right and wrong, good and evil?”

“You know he’s guilty,” she said. “The judge practically said so.”

His dark gaze, half sexy, half scary, pinned her. “The cops botched the evidence collection. The crime lab mishandled the DNA samples. It’s not my responsibility to help the county attorney prove her case. It’s full of holes bigger than the Berkeley mine pit.”

“But he’s guilty,” Tawny repeated. “He assaulted that poor woman. That doesn’t bother you?” She dearly loved her new husband but sometimes she didn’t like him very much.

Tillman stopped in the shade of a maple tree overhanging the alley behind the office. “I did my job, Tawny. That’s how the system is set up. Presumed innocent until proven guilty. Mavis didn’t prove Ledbetter guilty. And the fee Ledbetter paid me allows me to take on more pro bono cases.”

He didn’t say “like yours” but the unspoken words hung heavy in the late summer air.

A scene follows at the law office where Tawny expresses her indignation to a coworker:

A new headache settled behind Tawny’s eyes, the pressure making them feel like they were bulging. “When the judge threw the case out, that poor woman was crushed. Her husband looked ready to peel off Ledbetter’s skin and dunk him in alcohol. I wouldn’t blame him if he had.”

Then she thinks even more about it:

Tawny knew the system. Yet, in cases like Ledbetter’s, her conscience chafed. What about the victim’s right to justice?  

A few pages later, on their way home:

Tillman said, “If you wanted a lawyer who represents only innocent people, you should have married Perry Mason. This is how the system works. What can be proved versus what can’t be, what evidence is admissible versus what isn’t. I use the law as it’s written to defend my clients.”

“But it’s wrong,” Tawny said.  

“It’s the law.”

Tillman was hard to argue with. That’s why he was so good.

Tawny couldn’t think of a rebuttal.

A heavy silence hung over the rest of the drive home.

Then, at home, they talk more about the case:

“You’re such a Pollyanna,” he murmured but without his usual sardonic tone.

“I know you have to do what you have to do. I just feel bad for that poor victim.”

“It’s not a justice system, Tawny. It’s a legal system. Right and wrong, good and evil. None of that comes into play.”

In the first 15 pages of the book, I repeat the theme five different times.

Didja get it? Sure you got it? Are you positive? Just in case, let me smack you over the head with a two-by-four.

The author’s personal beliefs are bleeding all over the story.

That refrain echoed through the rest of the manuscript as Karen observed over and over that I was beating the same drum. By page 188, her understandable frustration was showing: “This drum has been beat until there’s a hole in it.”

Therein lies my dilemma. Three different plots share the same theme but are seen through contrasting lenses by various POV characters. How does a writer show multiple perspectives yet avoid being repetitive? How do I keep my obvious bias in check?

Through the book, the running argument between Tawny and Tillman escalates. It ultimately leads to a crisis in their marriage.

Photo credit: matthijs smit – Unsplash

How the heck do I show that important plot arc without beating a hole in the drum?

Right now, I’m going through page by page with Karen’s cautions in mind. I have to decide when reminders become repetitious and cut those parts.

Sometimes I can combine several references into a single one that makes the point.

I’m trying to reserve dialogue about theme for the most important pivotal scenes.

Karen says, “Trust the reader to get it the first time.”

She’s right but, oh, it’s a struggle to restrain my drumstick.

~~~

TKZers: As a reader, how do you feel about reminders?

Do you sometimes want to tell the author enough is enough already?

As a writer, how do you incorporate reminders?

Do you catch yourself making a point until it becomes repetitious?

~~~

Receive a FREE BONUS Short Story when you sign up for my newsletter at debbieburkewriter.com.

You’ll also be among the first to hear when Until Proven Guilty is published.

Tools for Collaboration, Editing, and Beta Reading

Tools for Collaboration, Editing, and Beta Reading

by Steve Hooley

Today we’re going to discuss tools, one of my favorite topics. I have been a big fan of Beta Books for the past three years, using it to gather comments and reviews from students at surrounding schools as part of my editing process. This year, when I began inviting beta readers, I discovered that the website had a problem with the reader signup link not working. The support at Beta Books was good and helped me find a workaround, but it caused a pause in beta reader invitations.

I’ll discuss Beta Books at the end of this article, because I still think it is the best tool for beta reading, especially when they get the signup link fixed.

While I was frantically deciding what route I should take for beta reading, I began looking for other choices. I could not find any other site dedicated to just beta reading, and searches ended up being a review of collaboration tools.

I had used Word several years ago while working with my editor, but we had problems with different versions of Word. Google Docs worked nicely in the past when I was collaborating with someone who used Word for Mac, while I was using a PC. What were the “experts” saying in comparing those two? And what else was available and free?

I found these two articles that are worth reading for a quick review of the tools available, and for a comparison of Word vs. Google Docs:

The Top 7 Online Collaborative Writing Tools

Google Docs vs. Microsoft Word: 4 Reasons why Google is the Clear Winner

The first article (3/30/20) briefly discusses 7 writing tools and concludes that Word is better than Google. The other five tools discussed are Draft, Etherpad, Quip, Dropbox Paper, and Penflip. I’ve had no experience with any of them.

The second article (6/2/21) is written by a writer at SADA, which is associated with Google, and gives 4 reasons why Google is better than Word.

Two misconceptions that I had (and may be worth mentioning): I thought that when using both Google and Word, all collaborators needed to have a Word or Google account. According to my reading, the Word online tool can be shared by the owner of the document (who has a Word account) with collaborators (who do not have an account). And with Google Docs, the owner of the document must have Google account, but collaborators if they are only viewers and commenters – not editing do not need a Google account.

So, both Google Docs and Word could be used for beta reading.

I look forward to your comments on these two contenders in today’s discussion. And any comments on the other five tools listed in the first article would be appreciated.

But, before that, I’ll give you a quick review of Beta Books and encourage you to visit their site to check out the specifics.

Beta Books was created in 2016 as a site dedicated to beta reading only, built to solve the problem of format compatibility, knowing and tracking if readers were actually reading, and organizing the reader comments so they could be searched in one place by chapter or by reader.

For the writer, the site is intuitive and easy to navigate. Sign up is quick, and pricing is very economical:

  • Free to try for the first book with up to three readers
  • Standard plan for 14.99/mo. with unlimited number of books and up to 22 readers per book
  • Pro plan for 34.99/mo. and unlimited number of readers plus the ability to have a collaborator or a view-only monitor.

And, best of all, the writer can “turn off” the subscription during the months it is not being used. When the writer turns it back on, all the previous data is there.

Set up for a book is simple. After signing in and selecting a plan, the writer goes to the dashboard and clicks on “Create a New Book”. After book setup, then clicking on “content,” the writer clicks on “Add a chapter.” The chapter is titled, and can then be copied and pasted into the site from a Word document. (With my first book, I tried uploading the entire manuscript. I couldn’t make that work, and would recommend uploading one chapter at a time.) At that point, the writer can also leave pre-chapter and post-chapter questions for the reader.

When invited readers sign up, they can be given a specific link that takes them to Beta Books and the sign-up page for readers. (That’s what is not working currently.) The other option is to send an invitation email from the Beta Books site, and the reader responds to the email and signs up. Once in, the readers find themselves at the current book and ready to read and comment. They can highlight and comment in line, leave an emoji, or comment at the end of the chapter.

The writer is sent an email when a comment is written, and can respond on the site to the commenter. This option can be turned off.

When the writer begins reviewing the comments, they can review by specific beta reader or by specific chapter.

Also, under the dashboard, the writer can track who has accepted an invitation, and can track how far the reader has read, as well as how many comments they have made.

That’s probably more than you wanted. I’ll try to answer any questions in the discussion.

Today’s questions:

  1. What tools or software do you prefer for collaboration, working with an editor, and beta reading?
  2. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of Word vs. Google Docs for collaboration, editing, or beta reading?
  3. What other route(s) besides what I’ve discussed have you found to accomplish your goals with collaboration, editing, or beta reading?
  4. Any experience or comments regarding the other 5 tools mentioned in the first article?

Killing the Mosquitoes in Your Fiction

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Dave Barry once said that the best time to visit Florida’s Disney World is 1965. Makes sense to me. I never saw the value in taking out a second mortgage to pack the family into a metal tube for a six-hour flight to an extended stay in a hot and humid swamp when we have Disneyland an hour away by car.

I once went golfing in Florida. It wasn’t the gators who eyed me on the tenth fairway that bothered me so much as the dang humidity. I felt like I had hot, wet towels draping my entire body, including my head. Swinging a club in a steam bath is not my idea of a good time.

And then there’s the skeeters. We have them in L.A., of course. But Florida has 80 different species of mosquito. They range from mere pests to carriers of potentially deadly pathogens. A perfect spot for a theme park!

Thus, when the Disney World location was selected, one of the first issues was, How are we going to get people to come to the Magic Kingdom in the middle of mosquito country?

Certainly that was on Walt Disney’s mind from the jump. So it was serendipity when Walt met a man named Joe Potter at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. This impressive gent was a graduate of West Point and MIT (engineering). As one bio puts it:

During World War II, he directed logistical planning for the invasion of northern France, an operation nicknamed “Red Ball Express.” After the war, he served in Washington, D.C. as assistant chief of engineers for Civil Works and Special Projects.

In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower tapped Potter to serve as governor of the Panama Canal Zone. You know what they have in Panama? Skeeters the size of canned hams. Carrying malaria, no less. One of Potter’s duties was figuring out how to control the blood suckers. Which he did.

Which is why Walt hired Joe Potter right there at the World’s Fair.

So Potter set about his task, and the first order of business was to take away the mosquitoes’ favorite breeding ground, standing water. Potter drained all the surrounding swampland and turned it into drainage ditches, so water would constantly flow.

Inside the park, you won’t find any standing water. There’s always a fountain or some sort of watery movement so the bugs can’t lay eggs.

Then there’s the architecture. Every building in Disney World is designed so that water from rain runs right off and has nowhere to collect.

And the flora: Disney World eschews plants that have soil where water can puddle.

And the fish: Disney World stocks their pools with the kind that love to eat mosquito larvae.

Now, someone may ask, why doesn’t Disney World just use a pesticide? The answer is, Walt was against it. He wanted to preserve the environment.

But they do spray….garlic! Mosquitoes hate garlic. So they use a garlic spray around the park that humans can’t smell but is decidedly anti-skeeter.

In other words, Disney World had a major problem and found a way to fix it.

Like with your novel.

First, you have to drain your novel of swampland. That’s any part of your story that is squishy, serves no purpose, doesn’t build on anything or provide a foundation for essential story material. The primary sign is a scene with no conflict or tension. Get rid of any such scene.

Second: keep the tension flowing. In every scene there should be the rushing waters of direct conflict, or at least the babbling brook of inner tension. Upon revision, look at every scene and see if you can ratchet up the tension by 10%. Doing that over and over throughout the novel creates tremendous momentum. (See also the tips from Becca Puglisi here.)

Third, eliminate any prose that feels like standing water. Cut flab and write tight. Every word counts. (You might try running sections through the free Hemingway app.) Keep special watch for the type of skeeter known as the adverb. Almost always you can squish them without any adverse effect.

Finally, spray the book down with the garlic of a good proof reader. Typos are like those annoying little mosquitoes called No-see-ums. They’re so small you almost don’t notice them, but man can they bite. Kill every one of them with extreme prejudice.

Then sit back, relax, and enjoy the release of your pest-free novel!

So…do you notice certain kinds of mosquitoes popping up in your fiction? What do you do to hunt them down?

*Research for this post came primarily from here and here.

Write Like You’re in Love, Edit Like You’re in Charge

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Several years ago I tweeted the words that are the title of this post. The phrase went viral (is there such a thing as going bacterial? I’m done with viruses!) It got passed around and was picked up by the great writing tips author Jon Winokur (@AdviceToWriters). The phrase aptly sums up my approach to writing a novel.

I thought today I’d unpack it a little, and ask for your responses.

Write Like You’re in Love

Coming up with a great idea, one that gets your nerve endings buzzing, is like love at first sight. You’re giddy. You can’t wait to spend precious months with this new romance.

When you start writing it’s all champagne and moonlight walks on the beach.

But then, out of the blue, you find yourself in an argument. The book is resisting you. Or vice versa.

Usually this happens to me around the 30k mark. I start to think maybe this isn’t going to work out after all.

You say to the book, “You’re not giving me what I need.”

And the book says, “This is how you treat me? After all I’ve done? I’ve given you the best pages of my life!”

Fortunately, I’ve found this little dustup to be only temporary. Let me suggest two ways to kiss and make up with your novel.

First, go more deeply into the characters. Pick any one of them (and not necessarily your Lead) and write some backstory. Create more of their history and use that to come up with a secret or a ghost.

A secret is simply that which the character doesn’t want anyone to know about, for some personal reason related to backstory.

A ghost is an event from the past that haunts the character in the present, and causes the character to act in certain ways. It’s best to let those actions happen without an immediate reveal. It creates mystery for the reader, always a good thing.

Five or ten minutes with these brainstorms will get your story juices flowing again. You’ll want to keep writing just to see what happens to these people!

Second, jump ahead and write a scene you feel excited about. Write it for all it’s worth. Then drop back and pick up the story and figure out a way to get to that scene.

These tips will help keep the love fires burning, like bringing the wife flowers even when it isn’t Valentine’s Day.

(Also see my post “When Writers Hit the Wall.”)

Edit Like You’re in Charge

Once you have a complete draft, you move into the hard-scrapple world of revision. And here you need a system.

The late Jeremiah Healy was a popular author-speaker on the conference circuit. In one of my writing books I found a clipped page from a newsletter I used to get called Creativity Connection. I’d saved it because it was a summary of one of Healy’s talks. In it he described his system of approach after writing a first draft:

  • He set aside the draft for a month.
  • He printed out a hard copy and read it through in one day, not making a marks on the manuscript (“Once you start, you won’t be able to stop.”)
  • He looked for “holes in the plot, underdeveloped characters, anomalies, and inconsistencies.”
  • He edited the draft to address any problems.
  • He next submitted it to three beta readers. “One should be an intelligent general reader. The second should be familiar with your genre. The third should be the dumbest bunny you can find.”
  • Then another edit, based on this feedback.
  • Finally, create the “cinderblock manuscript.” By this he meant the final polish on the old-school paper manuscript you used to submit to a publisher (the shape of a cinderblock). He worked especially hard on the first three pages. “When agents—who get buried in 50 manuscripts a week—decide which of the ‘cinderblock’ manuscripts to take home and read, they do so by reading the first three pages. It may be harsh, but it’s not arbitrary. Eighty-five percent of book buyers decide their purchases by applying the same test.”

That’s a good system, and very close to the one I use myself.

And systems can often be improved by adding a formula. Here’s one I’ll leave you with. It came in an early rejection letter the young (1966) Stephen King received from a science fiction magazine. It was a form rejection, but the nice editor had scribbled the following on it:

“Not bad, but puffy. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.”

Now it’s your turn. How do you keep the love as you make your way through the first draft? Do you have a system for revision?