By Marjorie Jones
Hiring an editor can be a frightening thing. If you're a new writer, you may not know what to expect. If you're an experienced writer trying on a new editor for size, you can be equally concerned about whether you'll mesh well creatively. One way to alleviate these apprehensions is to ask for sample work. In this article, we'll look at two types of samples, and two very distinct reasons why both parties should insist upon one or the other.
WRITERS HIRING EDITORS NEED TO BE VIGILANT
When you're hiring a fiction editor, or an editor for your nonfiction book, you should be certain the person you hire has the skill set necessary to do their job. You can do this in several ways:
Typically, you'll want to use the second type of sample. You should insist that the editor review the first 10 pages of your work, and edit it in the style for which you're hiring them, before setting up the whole book process. This should cost you nothing, but if you do hire the editor, the word count will be included in the total project costs. In other words, you do not pay for those first ten pages unless you're happy with the work and decide to hire the editor for the entire book edit.
It is critically important that you do not abuse this system and ask various editors to work on different "ten page samples" just to get the work for free. You will gain a bad reputation fairly quickly. The independent editors pool is finite and they do talk to each other. A lot. Don't do it.
EDITORS CONTRACTING WITH CLIENTS MUST BE PREPARED
What about the flip side? Does the sample serve a purpose for the editor, too? Absolutely.
When an editor agrees to take on a project for a client-author, he or she is agreeing to spend a great deal of time diving into the inner workings of the manuscript, to delve into characterization, plot structure, literary structure, as well as grammar and punctuation. It is the writer's responsibility to ensure the work they provide to an editor is in the proper condition to be edited.
But wait! Isn't it the editor's job to correct grammar, punctuation, and to look for dangling plot lines and bad characterization?
The short answer to this question is, surprisingly, no.
It is an editor's job to find those issues that you have missed. This means that you, as the author, must do your absolute best to clean the manuscript before you send it to an editor. The reason an experienced editor asks you to provide a sample chapter (or about 10 pages) isn't only to make sure you'll mesh well. It is to determine whether your writing is tight and complete enough to warrant the amount of time for which you're paying the editor.
An editor sets rates based on the average time spent per page, and this is based on what they will be doing to those pages. To earn a living wage of about $20.00 per hour, for example, the editor must consider how many pages they can complete in that time span. If the editor can usually complete a copy edit of 5 pages in an hour, they will charge you $4.00 per page. If they can complete 3 pages of developmental edits in an hour, that rate per page will be higher. This makes perfect sense because developmental edits take more expertise and time - they are more labor intensive - than copy edits.
If you supply your editor with what amounts to a rough draft, you can expect that they will have to charge you much closer to $20.00 per page than $20.00 per hour. And chances are far greater that, because you'll be cutting into their production schedule for other authors, they will simply return the project to you unedited with their sincere regret that they can't help you.
HOW TO PREPARE YOUR MANUSCRIPT FOR AN EDITOR
So, you've written your first novel. You've got fifty to one hundred thousand words of pure glory just ready to take on the world! Congrats. You've completed Step 1 of many steps to come. The first step is not your editor. Your first step is your "self-editor."
A surgeon knows how to ... surge. They cut people open and fix stuff. That's about as technical as I can get about that because, guess what? I'm not a surgeon. I don't need to know more than that. A baker, on the other hand, bakes. I can bake a bit myself. I made my daughter's wedding cake... with mix from a box and lots of practice making piped design with buttercream. But I watch those folks on Cupcake Wars (Food Network), and I know that I am not "a baker." Making a cupcake out of brie cheese and whole peanuts? Yeah, no.
Being a writer is just like being a successful baker or surgeon. You must know your trade. You must know how to use the tools of your trade. To a writer, those pesky verbs, adverbs, dialog tags, and commas are just as important as a scalpel to a surgeon. If you're not paying attention to them during your first draft, it is up to you - the author - to pay attention to them in your second. And, if needed, your third. When you send the manuscript to an editor, the editor should never find anything that you already knew was there. Are you aware that somewhere in chapter three you introduced a character who said something in foreshadow that you neglected to close off in chapter 10? It's your job to fix that. It's your editor's job to notice it if you completely forgot about it.
The best way to accomplish this in an effort to save time for everyone, including you, is to learn the tools of your trade well and employ them every time you sit down to write. I'm not saying that you have to ignore creativity in favor of technical perfection. My first drafts are far from perfect. But if you learn the technical aspects, if you gain mastery over your tools, they will come to you like an extension of your pen or keyboard. You won't have to think about where the commas go, or when to capitalize a word. It's just... there. A single readthrough and you'll find much of what made it through your fingertips, and you're well on your way to having a manuscript ready to edit.
Author's Note: Some of our creative brothers and sisters may experience learning disabilities that make it more difficult to utilize the tools of the trade mentioned above. As an author, a mother, a publisher, and an educator, I understand how difficult this can be. It is important that those individuals who deal with these additional challenges are honest with the creative professionals they hire. For example, the first editor that you hire might be a tutor who can dedicate the time necessary to clean the first draft of your manuscript before it goes to a regular developmental editor for review. But the idea part - the creative part that deals with plot holes and dangling character traits and ginormous overall arc issues are on you. Fix those before you hire an editor for anything.
Marjorie Jones is an author of lesbian and straight romance fiction and owner of Indie Artist Press, a hybrid publisher for self-publishing authors who wish to invest in their work while maintaining 100% rights and royalties and utilizing a quality brand.
By Norman Turrell
Writers may be a solitary bunch in the main, and it takes a lot of time and concentration to produce those brilliant novels, but you won’t be playing your top game if you ignore the advantages of working with others.
Not sure that you’d benefit from interacting? I’ve put together a list of some ways people can help you at each stage of your work (which assumes a self-publishing route).
Inception, planning and first draft
This is your main WIP phase. You’ll want to keep ownership of most things here; it’s your book. But it always helps to:
Second draft and beginning promotion
It’s going to take a bit of effort, but feedback is showing that you have something that’s worth taking to the next level. As the second draft develops, you’ll want to start thinking about promotion as well.
Final draft and Launch
It’s the big moment. You need everything to be just right to make that number one slot. Although you are using other people for your professional edit and cover design, I’ll assume you’re paying for those so they don’t count in my list (but you might have made some contacts and found a discount?).
I’m sure there are lots of other things people can help you with too, and there is no doubt you will find it much more difficult if you try climbing this mountain alone.
Let’s get out there and make those essential friends!
You can find more from Norman at www.normanturrell.com
by Lynne Murray
It’s painful to see a series you once loved as a reader become almost unendurable. I recently read Laurell K. Hamilton’s 25th Anita Blake book, Crimson Death. I had to skip a lot to finish the book. This led me to wonder, as a writer, what happened to the dramatic tension that used to make her books so addictive?
Hamilton’s work is still so popular that each book is expected to be a bestseller. A whole mini-industry is waiting to jump on each title. That must be stressful. But I’m not alone in feeling sorrow over recent books. Out of 850 plus reviews for Crimson Death on Amazon, 15% are one-star reviews from fans like me who keep coming back hoping against hope that the author will get her mojo back.
The first in the Anita Blake series, Guilty Pleasures, was unlike anything I had ever read. The heroine was hard-boiled and sarcastic yet vulnerable in her personal life and majorly skilled at defeating murderous monsters. It was a noir urban paranormal, the kind of book you have to tell other people about. I happily bought the next 15 books, some in hardcover.
For those who haven’t followed (or have never read) the Anita Blake books, let me give a quick recap: It’s a world where vampires are U.S. citizens and paranormal creatures that once hid in the shadows are now being regulated by an often-baffled police force. Anita Blake is a licensed vampire executioner. Her “day job”—which takes place at night—is raising the dead for Animators, Inc. The agency’s clients need to consult with the dead, usually about legal matters. Anita also consults with the local cops on preternatural murders.
In the first books, Anita drew a clear line between the humans she protected and the monsters she fought. An early conflict was her flirtation with the vampire Master of the City Jean-Claude and then with Richard, an alpha werewolf with severe self-esteem issues. Those both became romances, causing more conflict.
As the series marched into the double digits, Anita took on more lovers, the sex scenes veered into more BDSM, and Anita started to absorb the powers of the monsters she defeated. When she battled the ultimate mother of darkness, she acquired the ultimate social disease—the ardeur. Just as vampires crave blood, the ardeur demands the inflicted be fed at least daily with sex or very, very bad things would happen.
Mere humans couldn’t give Anita the quantity of sex she needed to survive. Her relationships with humans suffered. Friends, co-workers and police colleagues slipped away. Human characters I’d gotten to know and like over several books “turn against” Anita and are banished. These include: her best woman friend, her primary police contact, and a young co-worker she used to mentor.
That, in itself, didn’t ruin the books for me. It could have been handled as the tragic result of a scary profession, something for Anita to deal with. Instead Hamilton presents it as totally everyone’s fault but Anita’s. I had to stop reading to roll my eyes every time the formerly tough heroine was attacked by mean humans. It happens a lot and it’s always the same. Women are jealous of her many lovers. Men make passes at her, openly suggest she’s a slut, or mistrust her for sleeping with the monsters.
All Anita has left is her legions of lovers. I found it impossible to keep track of all the men and women Anita has sex with on a regular basis. I just didn’t feel like making a chart. Then there are the powerful supernatural critters who either want to have sex with her or kill her so as to take her constantly increasing powers. Most disillusioned long-term fans who review this series mention these problems.
What none of the reviewers that I could find mention is the elephant in the room for me. It turns out that the ever-demanding ardeur can be satisfied by other means than sex. It can also be sated by feeding on someone’s anger, but Anita’s trying not to do that because it brainwashes the victim—I mean, more than usual. Also, and here we come to the elephant, the ardeur can be lessened by regular infusions of actual human food.
Anita avoids food to a point where her lovers are always urging her to eat something. Twice in Crimson Death a boyfriend calls her out because she has “forgotten] to eat anything but coffee for 16 hours.” They joke with each other about how Anita never eats.
We live in a culture that glorifies control. For women in particular, the ability to starve has become confused with virtue. I’ve remarked elsewhere that
...the taboo...with female protagonists once was sex; now it is food. Mystery heroines, who cheerfully go to bed with policemen, suspects or even mobsters are afraid to sleep under the same roof with donuts.”
People with life-threatening health problems who lose their appetites because of pain or nausea and exhaustion will tell you upfront that they do whatever they can to keep their bodies nourished. Wasting away to death is a real thing. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.
I’m not saying that giving Anita an eating disorder is wrong from a storytelling view. It could be very powerful for her to realize that she’s recklessly weakening herself in a way that could prove dangerous for someone inhabited by so many powerful supernatural entities. That would be a real conflict rather than squabbling over which gym rat in her harem of hotties gets skin-to-skin time with Anita. Maybe it could replace the lectures on polyamory (a term she seems to have recently discovered and wants to describe in excruciating detail) or the tedious task of watching Anita take down yet another mean cop who sneers at her life style.
I still have hopes for Anita Blake. The character is so strong that it feels like an old friend has lost her way and you root for her to wake up and come to her senses.
About 20% of Crimson Death was a good story, while the other 80% cried to the heavens for rigorous editing and re-writing.
The gossip is that Hamilton has a clause in her contracts to protect her from being edited. For those of us who welcome (sometimes pay for) the editing that makes a book a better story, this is sadly ironic. Not getting that editorial perspective smacks of arrogance. As a rule editors are our friends. Even mainstream publishers can’t force an author to accept editorial suggestions. The final decision always remains with the author.
I hear that there are cases where publishers make unacceptable demands and authors’ books are pulled for refusing them, but the publishing industry is all about making money. An author with Hamilton’s sales momentum is unlikely to suffer that kind of ultimatum.
Keeping the love alive in a long-running series is a fascinating challenge. What series have you read that has you scratching your head?
Lynne Murray grew up in transit due to her father's work with the military. She wrote her first book before she could read, inspired by Little Golden Books and library books such as Mr. Bear Squash You All Flat. Her proud parents typed up her book and she illustrated it with crayons. The crayons got lost along the way, but an obsession was born that continues to this day with over a dozen books in print. Lynne now lives and writes in San Francisco with a group of rescue cats, who rescue her right back with heroic feats of purring.
by Marjorie Jones, Utah, USA
There are lots of reasons to write. For every would-be author out there, for every person who puts pen to paper, there is a force that drives them. They want to be famous. They want to be rich. They want to simply "be read" and know their words bring some level of entertainment, enjoyment, or deep thought to the one reading. Some write for commercial gain, to make a living, while others write for no purpose other than their own amusement.
Some of us can't even tell you why we do it. We just do.
This has always been true, but in the past there have been two inherent gatekeepers that controlled which authors' prose would fill our minds. The first of these gatekeepers was the bastion of literary defense - the literary agent/acquisitions editor. I'm lumping these two into a single category because their job, for our purposes here, was the same. They were charged (still are) with keeping the wannabes out of the printing room. They controlled what the world read by determining which stories were bright enough, smart enough, and (most importantly) well-written enough to receive capital investment. They decided which books would sell. They took the risk, reaped the rewards. They were, after all, in it to make a buck even if our end goal was to "just be read."
The second gatekeeper was good, old-fashioned, cold, hard cash. From the beginning of literary time, writers could publish their own works if they had the money to do it. Printers don't care one iota about the quality of the work they print. They care about the quality of the typesetting. They care about the quality of the binding. They don't care if the author of the pages they're printing has talent, and they don't care if that person hired an editor. If you had the cash, you could print your book and join the ranks of Charles Dickens, who published A Christmas Carol on his own because his publisher thought it sucked. (Hey, I said they were gatekeepers - I never said they were always right.)
Enter the new age of publication. The digital age. The age of information, when we all have the power of the publishers at our fingertips. We have Amazon, Smashwords, Draft to Digital, Lightning Source et al, not to mention our own blogs and websites, through which to publish what we want, when we want, in whatever condition we want.
That means the end game is up to you. Ultimately, the quality and content of your work is a reflection of you. Even if you go the old traditional route, the work is a direct mirror image of your creativity. Especially if you go the new self-publishing route, you must take responsibility for the end result.
In a marketplace inundated with poor quality writing, unimaginative and lackluster plot mechanisms, insufficient grade-school grammar, and more blind narcissism than any writer's group in the history of history, ask yourself what your end game is before you hit that publish button.
Do you want to succeed? Do you want to make the world sigh with joy, think deep thoughts, fight dragons in their sleep? Do you just want to be read? If it's the latter, and you're not concerned with making sure your book is as professional as possible, consider posting on your blog or to a freebie site like Wattpad. Enjoy your fan mail and keep on churning out great stories. If you're looking to go pro, to make a mark on the literary world in whatever small (or enormous) way you can, then by all means, publish on every paying venue you can find and publish often.
But publish well. Take the time, put in the effort, and make the investment necessary to ensure you're not doing the rest of the literary community a disservice. Make the self-publishing world a place where we are all serving at the pleasure of creativity, and at the pleasure of professional value. Your sales may very well thank you for it.
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and may not reflect the opinions or beliefs of the Creative Services Trading Group, its affiliates, members, or administration. If you are a member of the CSTG and would like to contribute an article to this blog, please contact us here.
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