Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I Am Grammar And So Can YOU!!! (Or why professional editing is important)

Almost every author interview I've done has included some variation on the following question: What advice do you have for aspiring indie authors?

My answer is invariably the same: Hire an editor.

Since it comes up so frequently, and has come up recently in a number of forums I'm a member of as well, I thought I would address it here on the blog:

So, you've decided to forgo traditional publishing and get your work out there yourself. For your own reasons you've decided you don't want to sign your rights over to a publisher. You believe in the quality of your story and your ability to take on all the work that goes into publishing a book yourself. Congratulations! That's awesome!

Now hire an editor.

Please, please, please, please... hire an editor. Don't ask your mom to do it, don't ask your spouse to do it, don't ask your best friend to do it. By all means, have those people read over your work and make suggestions, but for the love of every reader who may ever lay hands on your story, PAY A PROFESSIONAL to give you feedback. (Yeah, I know your mom has a Master's in Linguistics, and your best friend is an English teacher, and your spouse is an excellent writer with master editing skills. Mine too. You still need to hire an editor.)

Yep. I know, I know. You're an excellent writer, and a fantastic editor yourself, people ask you to edit their stuff all the time. I hear you.

You still need to hire an editor.

Don't get me wrong, you are editor number one for your own work, and you should do MULTIPLE revisions on your book before you even let anyone else see it. And by ALL MEANS once you've done those revisions you should show your book to your mother with a master's in linguistics, your friend who's an English teacher, and your spouse who is a spot on editor. You should take into account all of the suggestions that they make and use them to make your draft even better.

And then you should send it to a professional editor that you have paid with real money.

Why? Because a professional editor does not love you, is not worried about your feelings, and is getting paid to make your story better, so they have a strong motivation to tell you the truth about what in your story needs work. Even if your editor does love you (happens to be extended family or a good friend who is also a professional editor that you are actually paying with real money) the act of paying them, and thus having a professional exchange with someone who is used to expressing their opinions about--and making suggestions on how to improve--other people's work for a living, makes it possible for them to be critical in spite of how they feel about you. And that is, well... critical.

My mom really does have an MS in linguistics and a BA in literature. She's an excellent editor, and has been paid to edit many people's work over the years. She is one of my early readers and she catches many of my typographical errors, as well as comma splices, and many other issues I have with punctuation. She even catches awkward phrasing and confusing sentences. All of that is incredibly useful to me and I take advantage of her expertise all the time. But she won't let me pay her and ultimately, whenever she reads my work she raves about how wonderful everything is and never has anything critical to say about the larger story. I love how supportive she is, but my work needs to be edited by someone who is more willing to pull apart my failings as a writer.

My husband is an excellent editor. He's one of my first readers and he catches all manner of inconsistencies, sentences that are unclear, and character failings. He's a wonderful person to have reading my work after I've made first round of revisions. But he won't let me pay him and he's my husband, not a professional.

As a former high school Spanish teacher, I have a whole horde of friends who are English teachers. Many of them are excellent editors and people whose opinions I respect and seek out during the revision process. They make great early readers. But they won't let me pay them, and they're my friends. They are hesitant to hurt my feelings.

Paying someone to assess your work, in particular someone who is often paid for their feedback on writing (as in a professional editor), not only gives them permission to express their honest opinion about your work, it requires it of them. If they don't tell you what they honestly think will improve things they aren't holding up their part of the contract. And thus you can be sure that any praise is earned, as is any criticism.

Of course, then you get into the question of finding the right editor for your work. Not all editors are created equal, and amongst the greats there will be some that are better for your story than others. Do your research!

As a reader, I can tell whether or not an indie book has been professionally edited in the first ten pages. It's in those first ten pages that I usually decide whether I will buy the book or not, and if I'm not reading out of an obligation of some sort, I will put down a book that doesn't appear to have been professionally edited. Too many independent novels that I have picked up lately have made me want to put them down in these first few pages. Even if I am enjoying parts of the story, a lack of editing usually dissuades me from reading further because I keep getting knocked out of the story by typos, comma splices, repeated words or sentences, or any other number of distracting errors. And, that's not even getting into the plot holes and character failings etc. that generally tend to accompany books that haven't had a professional editor's eyes on them.

The one thing that all traditionally published books can guarantee is that they've had a professional editor look at them (though I will admit there are a handful that I've started to read that have made me question that). But with the majority of the competition out there professionally edited, why would you deprive yourself of starting your story on a level playing field? Independent novels are getting a bad name because too few indie authors are willing to put up the money for editing.

"But it's too expensive!" you say. I hear you.

I agree. It's expensive. Good editors aren't cheap. But, if you can't afford one (as I couldn't), I recommend running a crowdfunding campaign. It's not an easy thing to do, but it's well worth it, and you can also raise the money to buy a professional cover while you're at it, which should be number two on your list of things on which to spend money.

From a dream

To a reality

Crowdfunding campaigns are a lot of work, but they make indie publishing at a professional level possible, and you won't regret feeling sure that your book is going out into the world at the highest level you could get it.

It's easy to fall into thinking that you can do every single thing about publishing yourself, or that you should do all of it yourself. You can't and you shouldn't. You can be in charge of all of it, and the responsibility of it will lie entirely with you, but know your own strengths and weaknesses and work with them.

Once you've written a novel, you're too close to it to catch everything. Not because you're deluded into thinking it's perfect (though sometimes that happens), but because your brain expects to see things the way you meant them to be rather than the way that they are, and you will miss mistakes that are right in front of your eyes, simply because your brain is playing tricks on you. This is true for things as small as typos and as large as plot holes. It happens to all of us, it's not a failing of yours (or mine), but rather it's just the way our minds work.

Do yourself, and all of your future potential readers, a favor: hire an editor. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What to do when you have the house to yourself?

When you normally have a roommate (be that a spouse, partner, s/o, sibling, child, friend, or random stranger) finding yourself suddenly with the place to yourself can be a bit overwhelming. It can feel like sudden freedom or it can feel like a sudden hole in your otherwise perfect world. Sometimes it can feel like both of those things at once.

My husband is traveling for work for a week, and that leaves me alone in our cozy apartment with just me and the dog. To be honest, with both of us having been working from home for the past two months, my initial inclination is towards feeling a sudden freedom (though I'm sure I'll be missing him soon enough).

The question, though, is what to do with that sudden freedom... The possibilities are almost endless, but a few things come to mind as the top of the list:

  1. Eat food without plates (skewered on a fork or just held in your hand) while wandering back and forth between your desk and the kitchen.
    Om Nom pic stollen from the interwebs

  2. Dance to your favorite music blasting through the house in whatever attire suits you (including nothing at all if you're so inclined - no judgement). 
  3. Thanks, Tom Cruise, for the inspiration

  4. Practice an instrument, loudly, repeatedly, and often, without the fear of annoying the hell out of the other person that lives with you.
  5. This lovely work of art taken from soulofwinter's deviantart page

  6. Eat all your comfort foods all week without any fear of getting "that's not healthy" stares from your absent housemate. 
    Mmmm... kraft mac and cheese (or as my Canadian friends call it "KD")

  7. Feed the dog extra peanut butter, because it's hilarious and there's no one around to worry about the mess that you know you'll clean up when she's done. 

  8. Stay in your pajamas all day, and curl up with multiple good books. No one actually minds when you do this normally, but you feel guilty when other people are around to see it, so go ahead and indulge. 

  9. Take as many (or as few) showers as you like. No one can give you "the look" for taking too many, and no one is around to smell you if you take too few. 
    This one, of course, is credited to Charles M. Schulz

  10. Sing loudly and freely in all of those showers you are (or aren't) taking because no one is around to hear you. 
    If you don't know where I got this one, we are no longer on speaking terms

  11. Have dessert for breakfast, breakfast for dinner, dinner for lunch and eat whenever you want! No one else is around to make you adhere to societal norms, feel free to bend and break them as you see fit. 
    What do you mean I can't eat pancakes for dinner?

  12. Don't feel obligated to clean anything up until right before your roommate comes home. Unless you're planning on having lots of houseguests, why bother? 
    Also stolen from the depths of the interwebs

That's just scratching the surface, I'm sure. I've already struck a few of those off the list, and my husband has only been gone a handful of hours, so it'll be interesting to see what else occurs to me as the week wears on. I'll be sure to keep you posted if I come up with anything interesting. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett, we will miss you

I started reading Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels about fourteen years ago. I realize this was arriving late to the party, but what can I tell you? Somehow no one had told me about them until I was in college. Once I read the first one recommended to me, I was hooked. I made up for lost time very quickly. Within a few months of starting I had read almost all of them. I have now read all of the books that take place in the Discworld (for the uninitiated that's over 30 books).

If you haven't read them, you should. I suppose there's a type of person who wouldn't enjoy the Discworld books... but it's not a person I'd like to spend time with. You may not enjoy the entire series, but chances are good there's one group of characters that you'll enjoy. Terry Pratchett had an amazing ability to wrap every theme, genre, and setting imaginable into his Discworld.

No, really!

If you like crime novels/mysteries you'll enjoy the Sam Vimes book, if you like anti-heroes read the Rincewind or Moist von Lipwig books, if you enjoy coming of age and strong women read the Tiffany Aching novels, if you like satire and an outsiders' perspective on humanity read the books starring Death. There's really something for everyone in the series: vampires, werewolves, political satire, assassins, thieves, wizards, witches, dragons, police, mysteries, music, movies, the post, orangutans, libraries, magic, villainy, quite a lot of grey area, trolls, goblins, chess, gods, elephants, pyramids, Death, death's horse, the Death of rats, Nobby Nobs, questionable street food, a giant turtle, and... well everything else too.

The greatest thing about the Discworld books is that they're all humorous, they all poke fun at humanity in an intelligent and insightful sort of way, and they're all standalone novels. No cliff hangers at the ends of any of them, they all tell a complete story. The only reason to read the other books in the series is to dive back into that world, enjoy some of the same characters, and to say hi to Death. After all, he is the only character that you can be positive will be in every single Discworld novel.

Much as in the real world, Death is the only constant.

Terry Pratchett understood that quite well, I think.

So, today, as I'm crying quietly for a man I've never met but who I feel that I know on some level because I've read and loved so much of what he had chosen to write, I think he is most likely walking with Death and having a lovely chat about... the weather? How silly humans are? How nice it is not to have to worry about a cumbersome thing like a body? The proper temperature of the perfect cup of tea? I don't know. Maybe they're just catching up. After all, in many ways Sir Terry Pratchett and Death are old friends. But surely they're walking through a darkened landscape and chatting away, and Death is enjoying the discourse, pleased to have some company that isn't so set in his beliefs as to be instantly carried away to whatever afterlife he has been sure of his whole life, but rather who has time to wander, and talk, and keep Death entertained a while.

It is, I think, a good day for Death. Death will be quite pleased to have such a good friend join him. Though, chances are good he'll be sad too. Who will tell us Death's stories now that Sir Pratchett is with him?


"Ack! You scared me."


"It's alright, I just wasn't expecting you."


"Are you sure that's a good idea though, entire novels in all-caps?"


"I, uh... Nevermind... I'm sure you would work something out. Do you have a plan for a book, a memoir or something?"


"Didn't Sir Terry Pratchett already tell us most of it?"




"I see."


"You mean... he... I can't believe... He's going to ghostwrite Death's memoirs?"


"I... You... You came here just for that didn't you?"


Well, I'm not sure what to make of that... but I am sure that the world has lost a brilliant mind, a fantastic writer, and good soul. Thankfully, he left us thousands of pages to remember him by. I, for one, have plans to reread most of them in the near future.

Goodbye, Sir Terry Pratchett. I wish I could have met you in life. Perhaps Death could introduce us when the time comes. Thank you for all that you've given us. You will be sorely missed.


"Ha. Not any time soon though, right?"


"Well, that's reassuring..."

Thursday, March 5, 2015

New ideas, new WRITING!!!

So, an article that a friend shared via social media today has triggered a crazy brainstorm of ideas for short stories, and a series of novels. I've spent the whole day so far doing research on various related topics and writing notes for this series... There are many holes, but lots of things are coming together and the short stories I plan to start with (special Kickstarter backer rewards) will help me sort out more of the framework.

Yep. Sometimes that's all it takes.

It feels like the past month has been a long phase of input and rest so that these ideas were all ready to coalesce once triggered, and one national geographic article brought it all together.

And it's kind of like a perfect storm, as this flood of ideas coincides with some other ideas I've been contemplating with various forms of crowdfunding etc, and I think I may have cooked up an interesting idea for how crowdfunding/series writing can work together, but I'm still sorting out the details and am very far from being ready to launch it. Plus there's one more book (already written and 3/4 revised) that needs to come out this year...

Lots going on, but it feels really good to be working on a new idea, and to be tying in the Kickstarter short stories to a longer term project (it makes those stories feel more meaningful to me which will make them much better stories) and it makes me feel more productive about this month as a whole.

Also this whole thing makes me feel like I've got my mojo back, which is nice. There was a brief period (also known as February) during which I felt a bit lost after having just released Blade's Edge and not being sure how to dig into my next project. Now, with some new ideas thriving, some better ideas about how to move forward with old ideas, and a new sense of momentum I feel ready to push forward with my next projects.

I'm not sure if that last paragraph will make sense to anyone but me. My apologies for that, but... well... It's the best I've got at the moment.

Anyway, here is a quick photo summary of the past week:

Adorable dogs sat on furniture at parties with delicious food
(delicious food not pictured here)

The husband, two good friends, and I competed in a rousing curling bonspiel

This quote from one of the professional reviews of Blade's Edge made some rounds on the interwebs and remains one of my favorites to date

That post that got deleted the other day is still in the works. It shall appear eventually... And now I leave you, as I have more note writing to do for my new ideas as well as a bass lesson in half an hour. See you in the next post!