Should I Hire a Freelance Editor

Today’s post was originally posted at Lit Agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog, Rants & Ramblings (March 25, 2010). Enjoy!

Lately more and more people have been asking me if they should hire an editor prior to submitting to agents. Here’s my take:

Using a freelance editor can be a great idea – if you use it as a learning experience. You need to do most of the work yourself. I think it’s wasted money if you’re counting on someone to fix your manuscript for you. The point is to get an experienced set of eyes on it to help you identify problems and figure out how to fix them.

Prior to being represented or having a contracted book, the best way to work with an editor is to have them give you notes on your book, but not make changes themselves in the manuscript. Then you can go back to your manuscript, grasp the reasons for the changes they’re suggesting, and implement them, all the while learning how to make your book stronger. Hopefully you’re going to take that new knowledge with you into writing the next book.

It can be very helpful for an editor to give you an evaluation of your first few chapters, so that you can then rework the entire manuscript according to what you learned. It’s a terrific learning experience and can help you grow as a writer. It’s almost like having a writing tutor.

If you get an agent and/or sell your first book based on a manuscript that has been heavily edited by others (or is the product of intense critique group feedback), plan to do the same thing with your second book before submitting to your agent or publisher. And your third book, etc. Over time you’ll grow as a writer and become less dependent on outside help.

Many agents and editors are uncomfortable with writers having too much outside editorial help prior to being contracted, because it can mask a writer’s true abilities. I’d hate to get you a 3-book contract with a publisher based on that stellar first book, only to find out that you had a ton of help with it and are not able to deliver that quality of book a second time.

Q4U: Have you hired an editor? Have you considered it? Do you think it’s a good idea?

Rachelle Gardner is an agent with WordServe Literary Group based in Denver, Colorado. She live with her firefighter husband, two middle school-aged daughters and a fun-loving yellow lab at the breathtaking elevation of 7,000 feet in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. When she’s not reading, you can usually find her out running, hiking, skiing, or having coffee with her girlfriends.

Until next time,

 

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Keep an Eye on the Stupid Things

Through the experience of submitting work to agents/editors and having work submitted to me as a free-lance and PYP editor (and from having a friend/crit partner/mentor who knows all), I’ve learned some interesting points. Most of them you can find on any good blog or website, but few folks write about the “stupid things” that can trip you up.

Linda Yezak

I’m not going to say that these things can keep your manuscript from being accepted, but by the time your masterpiece hits the submission trail it should be spit-shine perfect. It should reflect not just your writing abilities, but also your professionalism. Finding too many of these unprofessional “stupid things” in someone’s piece can tip the scales of whether I will accept the work or not–and I’m just a newbie with few submissions. Can you imagine what it’s like for a seasoned pro with hundreds of submissions a week?

So, after you’ve perfected all the major stuff that makes up a great novel and before you pray over your piece and send it out, check for some of the stupid things:

Chapter Headings–make sure they’re uniform all the way through. That includes having them on  same place on the page. If you type Chapter One on line sixteen, then all the chapters should be on line sixteen, too. If you type Chapter 1 on the first page, don’t have Chapter Thirty on page 385. If you have chapter titles, don’t have chapter one’s title Like This and chapter thirty’s title Like this. Uniform location, type, capitalization and font all the way through.

Numbers–in general, these should be spelled out. Of course, there are exceptions. No one expects you to type out seven hundred thirty-seven million, five hundred thousand fifty-three. I’m not even sure how to do it. Where do the commas go?

Generally, numbers under 101 should be spelled out. Different style manuals have different rules, so consult the manual preferred by the agent/publisher you’re submitting to. (Port Yonder Press prefers The Chicago Manual of Style, the heavy hitter of most publishing companies, while many Christian publishers prefer The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style. One or both of these should be on every writer’s desk–or at least a copy of Polishing the “PUGS” by Kathy Ide, which hits the high points of most major style manuals including Chicago and Christian Writer’s.)

Contemporary Jargon–until the powers that be recognize “alright,” it’s not all right to use. Spell it out in its two-word form. “Okay” is different. Sometimes it’s okay to use OK, but usually the preference is to spell it out. Again, check your style manual and the preference of the folks you’re submitting to.

Holy Pronouns–if you write Christian fiction and refer to our Savior and Lord, decide early whether you’re going to capitalize Him and stick with it. And not just “Him,” but You and His also. Jesus shouldn’t be the Messiah in one place and the messiah in another, Savior here and savior there. Check your manual; be consistent.

Only–this word can be an adverb, adjective or conjunction, but the placement can change a sentence’s meaning entirely. Watch how you’re using it; make sure you’re modifying the word you intend to modify.

Using the example I found on Dictionary.com (“I cook only on weekends”), I’ll show you the difference in meaning with different placements of  “only.”

    Only I cook on weekends (no one else cooks on weekends).
    I only cook on weekends (I don’t do anything else but cook).
    I cook only on weekends (I don’t cook during the week).

Punctuation–this is a biggie. I’m going to assume you know how to punctuate a sentence, so let’s get to some of the annoying things.

Overuse–ellipses and dashes can be overused so easily, and when they are, they lose their effectiveness. In dialogue, ellipses are used when a thought tapers off, and dashes are used to illustrate an interruption. In prose, dashes are used to set off a thought, idea or something that would otherwise be parenthetical. Exclamation points should rarely be used. They illustrate shouting, anger, excitement, but overuse dilutes their power.

Quotation Marks–unless you use italics, full quotes should be used around “things” you want to set apart in your sentence in prose. Not partial ‘quotes’ but the “real deal.” Also, periods and commas go inside the quote. Other punctuation has different rules depending on whether they’re part of the quote or speaker’s dialogue. While we’re at it, keep an eye out for open quotes: In dialogue or any time you use quotation marks, be sure you close the quotes.

Apostrophe Direction–this is the one few ever pay attention to. I never did, until I read about it in one publisher’s submission instructions. This is obviously somebody’s pet peeve, and can be one of the stupid things that’ll trip you up. But I seriously doubt it’ll prevent acceptance.

You use the apostrophe when you’re leaving out a letter in a word or making a contraction, and usually it’s faced in the right direction. But when you’re omitting the first letter, the apostrophe is faced in the wrong direction. It’s a pain, but it’s not too difficult to change ‘nough said to ’nough said. Just type ‘’ together and delete the first one. Okay, okay, I know. Petty, picky, peevish. But now that you’ve read this, I bet it’ll drive you nuts too.

This micro-proof reading should be the last thing you do before you pray over your work so all the corrections you’ve made will be checked, too.

Good luck!

Linda Yezak is a two-time finalist in ACFW’s Genesis Contest as well as a two-time judge in the contest and a judge for smaller competitions. She has been published in Christian Romance Magazine and her review of Riven by Jerry Jenkins was published on the Tyndale website for the book (under the “Reviews” tab). Linda writes blog posts for several sites including AuthorCulture, 777 Peppermint Place, PeevishPenman and VibrantNation. Her first novel, Give the Lady a Ride is currently being considered for publication. She is an editor for Port Yonder Press, a small, traditional publishing company, and a free-lance editor.

Thanks so much for sharing your pet peeves, Linda! Apostrophe direction drives me insane, too, so I shut off “curly quotes” in Word when I’m writing–it keeps the direction neutral!

And for you, my delightful reader, I hope you’ve enjoyed this respite with our guest bloggers. I’ll be back two weeks from now with a fun little post before I get back to the important business of harder-hitting posts. Thanks for your support and readership during these few months as my family and I have adjusted to having another child in the house!

Until next time,

HOW COULD YOU DO THAT?!?

Tony Lavoie

“HOW COULD YOU DO THAT?!?”

“Do what?”

“You killed her! You killed my favorite character! I loved her and you killed her! How could you do that to me?”

“I had to. THE STORY demanded it.”

“What do you mean, the story demanded it? You’re the author, for Pete’s sake! You could have killed off the other one. I like him too, but you killed off the character I loved most!”

“Not ‘the story’, ‘THE STORY’. In capitals. Yes, I could have killed off a different character, but that wouldn’t have been true to THE STORY. It would have broken it.”

“You’re cold. Cruel and cold.”

“I’m not cold.”

“You’re cold and heartless and you’re the author, for Pete’s sake! You’re writing the thing, so you can change anything you want!”

“I can’t. I have to write THE STORY as it happens. I’d be a liar otherwise.”

“I loved her and you killed her. How could you do that to me?”

“I didn’t do it to you. I wrote it that way because–“

“I know I know! Because THE STORY demanded it. I get it. You can’t change it because you’d break the story.”

“Please don’t mock me.”

“I’m not. I’m sorry. I’m just hurting. It hurt to read that. A lot. You have no idea how much.”

“I know how much it hurt.”

“How could you? How can you even write something like that unless you don’t feel it?”

“I do feel it. As much as it hurt you to read it, you only had to read it once. I had to write it. I had to live her death in my head over and over as I wrote it and re-wrote it and edited it and edited it again. When she died, I wept. I still shed tears every time I read the scene. Every time the orphanage is attacked, I weep for the children suddenly swept from their home. Every time my starfighter pilot blacks out and has those terrible, despairing visions, I feel her pain. Every time my pirate breaks his leg, I cry out silently. When Dumbledore falls, I fall. When the Galactica’s back snapped, I cringed. When Obi-Wan’s heart breaks over the loss of his brother Anakin, my heart breaks. I feel. Sometimes I think writers feel more than readers do, in general. Or maybe we just feel things more closely.”

“How can you write things like that and not break down? You described every bit of her death, her pain, and his pain at losing her. It took three pages! Didn’t that hurt to write?”

“Terribly. There were times I had to take a break from writing for a while because it hurt so much. It took a long time to write that one guy’s despair over his loss in the previous book, because I had to put my pen down every now and then so I could regroup.”

“Pen? You mean laptop.”

“Figuratively speaking. I’m a writer…I’m allowed to use metaphors.”

“I never saw you feeling down like that.”

“It passes quickly. I make a decision before going into a dark or troubling scene to stop when it becomes too dark or intense, and come back to it later. I make sure I have bright and happy things to come out to, like my kids, or some time on the lake, or a good film or something. All of that helps me cope with the darkness.”

“Darkness? Isn’t that a bit melodramatic?”

“A bit. I’m a writer, remember?”

“So why write stuff like that if it hurts so much?”

“Because THE STORY demands it. We are creatures of emotion. If I had written the scene without emotion, you wouldn’t have read it. Well, not with the same impact, anyway. It wouldn’t have meant as much to you, therefore it would have been a broken story.”

“Don’t you mean STORY?”

“Heh. No. Because at that point it would have ceased to be THE STORY and would have become merely a story.”

“I don’t know. I think it could have been written a little less painfully.”

“Finish reading it. Without bringing you to this low, the high that’s coming wouldn’t mean as much.”

“It gets better?”

“Read on. I think you won’t be disappointed. If THE STORY demanded this much pain and loss and despair, don’t you think it might also demand an equal or even greater measure of joy and laughter and light?”

“Really? There’s joy coming? I can’t imagine feeling joy after her death.”

“No, but THE STORY can. Give it a chance. Read the rest.”

“Okay, I’ll finish it. But you’d better not hurt me this much again in any other stories!”

“No promises. It all depends on what THE STORY demands.”

“So if you feel pain while you write pain, you must also feel joy when you write joy, then.”

“Yes, well, that’s the theory anyway.”

—-

Tony Lavoie is a sometime writer of fiction–at least, in his own mind, which, admittedly, isn’t always the most reliable of machines.  After all, he also sometimes steps out of his door at night and gets lost in the stars.

When his feet are planted on the Earth, he can occasionally be found at http://papergizmo.com. If he’s not there, just leave a message. He’ll get back to you as soon as the stars let him go. While you’re there, though, you should read his published stories.

Thanks for guest blogging, Tony!

Last, but not least, of our guest bloggers is up next in September: Linda Yezak. Stay tuned for her post, as well as another review in the next couple weeks.

Until next time,

Finding Time to Write

A writer must make time to write every day. Even if she can only peck out a few words or sentences, it’s better than not writing at all.

What of the writer who, like me, has a day job? I come home tired, yet I have to fix dinner or risk starvation. The laundry monster roars, cats demand food, litter boxes need scooping and …

The list is endless.

Yet, I’m still supposed to write?

Absolutely!

True, those of us who work have less time than stay-at-home writers, but it can be done.

  • Carry a tape recorder with you. Record those ideas as they come and get them on paper later. Think about your manuscript while shopping for groceries, on your commute, or while you’re brushing your teeth. Sometimes my best ideas come to me while I’m in the shower.
  • If you have a laptop, take it to work with you. On your lunch break, find a private location and get busy. If you don’t own a laptop, print out the latest chapter and edit it while you eat your bologna sandwich.
  • One writer I met uses Documents To Go on her BlackBerry. The app has a Word document, and while her car’s getting an oil change, or when she’s waiting at the doctor’s office, she works on her manuscript. Once she gets home, she uploads to her desktop computer. Another writer takes her laptop to her kid’s soccer games.
  • Set a time every day and dedicate it to writing, even if you can only manage thirty minutes. If time is a problem, set a word count goal. You’d be surprised how fast 250 words a day (about one page, double spaced) can add up.
  • Turn off the TV.

If writing is important to you, you must make time for it. But it does call for dedication. Sometimes it requires a firm voice to family members, or a lock on your office door.

Billy Crystal’s character in Throw Mama from the Train said, “A writer writes. Always.” So, what are you waiting for? Shake the muse awake.

And start writing.

Lorna wrote her first story when she was twelve years old. In 1992 Country Extra magazine published one of her short stories. She writes a blog, Myriad Musings, and is working on a novel called Wounded Hearts.

Until next time,

Take Your Writing to the Next Level

Learning to write fiction well is a process. There are so many details of grammar and style that trying to learn them all at once is overwhelming. Instead, consider it an ongoing “continuing education” class. No matter where you are in the process, there’s always something else you can learn or perfect.

LEVEL 1: The first step in taking your writing to the next level is to get your writing out there—let others read it. By that, I mean other writers. Friends and family can give you reader feedback, but they can’t give you the specifics about what you’re doing right and wrong.

The best place to get feedback when you’re beginning to write is a critique group (either local or on-line). I can’t say enough about how much they can offer. My first critique group practically taught me fiction style from the ground up. It was tough getting critiques back with all kinds of color marking errors and denoting long comments. But I took their teaching to heart and began applying it. It took a while—and many more tough critiques—but eventually they went from pointing out basic errors to asking me when I’d be sending the next chapter because they couldn’t wait to read more.

At this level, it’s also a good idea to read as many books on the craft of writing as you can get your hands on. Joining writing groups (both local and on-line) is also beneficial. There is a great wealth of knowledge available through other writers. Soak it up like a sponge!

LEVEL 2: When I reached a level where other writers began to enjoy my writing, that didn’t mean I had “arrived.” I still had much more to learn. I had another major revision to go through, along with some tweaking and a several complete rewrites of the first two chapters before my writing was good enough to catch the eye of an agent. During this time, the feedback from my critique group was still extremely important. Instead of pointing out basic stylistic and grammatical errors, however, they focused on deeper issues: goal/motivation/conflict, deep POV, motivation-reaction units, and character development, among others.

At this intermediate level, it’s also good to enter some contests to get feedback from professionals. It’s also an excellent time to find a mentor or hire a professional to critique your work. Either option connects you to someone who can help you navigate through these deeper issues.

LEVEL 3: Getting an agent is an awesome accomplishment, but isn’t the top level…neither is publishing your first book. There’s still more to learn. We need to work on the issues where we know we’re weak. We can polish our voice and our style. And anyone who has ever worked with an editor knows that they almost always suggest changes that will make your
novel even better. Learn from them and apply these lessons to your future novels.

Even at this level, being a part of a critique group or having several trusted critique partners can be very valuable. There are also a variety of editorial services available to help you polish your manuscript.

LEVEL 4: Even multi-published authors need to be open to learning. It never hurts to review the basics. A good way to do this is to work with newer authors in some way. Mentoring or critiquing or teaching are good options. It helps keeps you sharp. Also, the publishing industry is constantly changing. Styles come and go, and writers need to be aware of what the current trend is. If you’ve always written with omniscient POV, but the industry is moving towards third-person POV, you might find yourself left behind if you’re not willing to continue learning and growing.

AT ALL LEVELS there are good courses available. Most are short-term and focus on only one issue at a time, which makes them easier to digest. Attending writing conferences is also something good to do no matter what level you’re at. There’s something for everyone at these conferences. The key, no matter what level you’re at, is a willingness to keep learning.

Suzanne Hartmann is the author of the pre-published books, THE RACE THAT LIES BEFORE US and DISAPPEARING MOM. She is an editor with Port Yonder Press and offers her own critique service. She also blogs about the craft of writing at: http://suzanne-hartmann2.blogspot.com.

Thanks, Suzanne, for guest blogging today!

Until next time,

Science Fiction from a Christian Worldview

My name is Victor Travison, and I have been a Christian for more than 45 years. During that time, I have learned almost as much about science fiction as I have about the Bible. The first is fiction, while the other is fact, and my final authority. My blog, Lightwalker’s View, is meant to be a lighthearted look at sci-fi and fantasy, mostly on TV and in the movies. These are the media which introduced me to the genre, the ones I can most readily access, but the thoughts I present can also be applied to books and other media.

My interest in science fiction started with Lost in Space, followed by Star Trek—two divergent series, to be sure, but I enjoyed both of them on their own merits. What passed as science fiction before almost always included some sort of monster. For a child and preteen, those images are hard to manage without having frequent nightmares. In trying to apply what I learned about the Bible to this genre, I began to discover marked differences.

As I grew older, especially as an adult, I became disturbed not only by the differences, but by the attitudes of some who shared my interest in sci-fi. I’ve learned non-Christians have an opposite view of the world than we do, and most of the sci-fi I saw reflected it. I looked for and found some Christian messages in the genre, but they tended to be isolated and nebulous. Then I discovered even some Christians who like science fiction have adopted the same opposing worldview.

This is why I wrote Savage Worlds, started my website, and maintain my blog. Through it, I’m not saying, “Because such-and-such is not true, or real, you should not enjoy science fiction stories about it.” I myself enjoy a lot of SF that’s either theologically off or not theological at all. I like Lost in Space, even though it can be scientifically abysmal in places. I like Star Trek, even though the emphasis on evolution means some stories could not be told without it. I like Battlestar Galactica (the classic one), even though the theology behind it doesn’t track. And on and on it goes.

What I am saying is, “Enjoy the stories as fantasies only, as one man’s perception of how things are. Never define your own reality by them.” That’s hard, because often a popular notion is held out as absolute truth, even though it’s entirely fiction. When the same item is handled the same way by various writers, one tends to believe it as truth without thinking twice about it. Some people just are not geared to go research everything they hear. Even Scripture can get a makeover from its true meaning when believers automatically read existential or evolutionary concepts into it, thereby generating belief in a half-truth.

This is the problem I seek to stave off in Lightwalker’s View. This is also why I’ve written science fiction of my own, which places God in a more prominent role than the average secular variety. In the blog, I explain things that trouble me about certain concepts. It’s not so much criticizing as it is explaining how I feel. You may or may not agree; it’s entirely between you and the Lord.

Paul told the Romans, “Each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (Romans 14:12-13). I’m trying to remove the stumbling blocks. I’ve made up my mind, you must make up yours, so long as there’s peace between you and our God.

However, there are at least five areas which, based on biblical standards, I find work against a living, dynamic faith. These I generally reject, even in fantasies, namely: 1) blatant sensuality, 2) cursing and vulgar language, 3) excessive violence, 4) clear Occultic themes, and 5) macabre images. If the plot is reasonable and the items seem to fit the action, I can accept these somewhat, but I’m talking about extremes. Sometimes elements in a story can appear to be Occultic when it’s really a fantasy version of it, such as the alien powers of telekinesis or shape-shifting. Sometimes grossness grows naturally out of a situation, such as when Han Solo sliced open a tauntaun and let its guts spill out, or the significant scene of Episode VI in Jabba the Hutt’s lair. But the more of these they put into a story, especially where they’re not needed, the less I will condone it.

I hope this helps explain why I say what I say. I don’t intend to be harsh, nor do I intend to condemn anyone for their viewing or reading choices. I simply want to present a perspective which, perhaps, hasn’t come to mind before. My prayer is that those who agree will find confirmation in my words, and those who don’t would have something new to think about. God bless you all.

Victor Travison is the author of Savage Worlds and The Justice Coalition. He writes from his home in the Denver area. You can visit his website here.

What Can the Movies Teach Us About Setting

Often times setting is so integral to a story that it becomes a character in itself. Fantasy, science fiction, and historical stories all demand detailed and precise settings. Most mysteries will demand at least one scene set in a police station or morgue. Many thrillers and suspense stories have found great success by confining their boundaries to an airplane, island, or small town.

Setting is an inherent and vital part of all stories. Without a setting that immediately grounds him in the characters’ world, a reader is going to find himself floundering… and the author is, more than likely, going to find himself out of a job. Finding the right descriptive words to bring to life the Wyoming plains, a river in Syria, or the bombed-out streets of war-torn London, requires an excellent grip on the English language, a clear vision of color and space, and a vivid imagination.

In provoking the immediacy of setting, movies have a decided advantage over the lowly novelist. After all, a movie director hardly requires pages of evocative description when he has the ability to simply inundate his viewer with a minute’s worth of color and light and spectacle. In that regard, novelists are at a certain disadvantage compared to their brethren of the silver screen.

But there is one way in which all authors of fiction can share in the cinematographic grounding of setting. And that is in what I term “throwaway settings.” All stories, be they on the written page or the movie screen, possess two kinds of setting: the concrete and the “throwaway.”

Concrete scenes are those that demand a particular kind of setting. Allow me to use three movies as an example. In the 2005 movie Pride & Prejudice, the scene in which Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy are reunited after Lizzie’s refusal of his first proposal, could have taken place in no other setting than the sumptuous grounds of Darcy’s Pemberley estate. The Patriot (2000), which took place during the American Revolution, featured innumerable battle scenes that, to be true to historicity, could have taken place nowhere but South Carolina. Likewise, the majority of The Last of the Mohicans, which takes place during the French siege of the English Ft. William Henry, could not conceivably have been set elsewhere.

In these same movies, however, we find many throwaway scenes—scenes that do not demand a particular setting. For instance, the scene in Pride & Prejudice in which Elizabeth refuses Darcy’s proposal could have taken place almost anywhere. In Jane Austen’s book, upon which the movie is based, the scene is acted out in a drawing room. At first glance, nothing can be said against this choice of setting: it’s sensible and realistic. But how much better was the setting chosen by the director of the movie—the opulent monument, in a lush landscape, to which Elizabeth runs to escape the rain? Jane Austen’s original drawing room setting may have gotten across the scene’s point, but the movie’s version explored so many deeper levels of tension and beauty, simply by changing the setting.

In The Patriot, the hero, a militia captain, must select a hidden base camp, from which he can harass the enemy and then melt back into hiding. The writer and director of the movie could easily have gotten away with parking the camp in the middle of a forest. Instead, they chose to set it in a graveyard-cum-swamp, with the headstones lurking half-submerged in the water. In conveying tone, the swamp was far more effective than a simple forest setting could ever have been.

Finally, the splendid sense of setting we find throughout The Last of Mohicans is nowhere more evident than during the prolonged escape scene, in which the heroes launch their empty canoes over a waterfall, then seek a hiding place in the caverns behind the water. Not only does the idea work marvelously in the plot itself, it also manages to submerge the viewer in a mysterious world of mist, water, and shadow, thereby bringing an entirely new and exceptional tone to the scene.

The simple use of setting in all three of these movies proves how easy it is to transform a scene with a few keystrokes. In fact, as authors we are able to make these changes with far greater ease than that of movie producers and directors, who must hunt out strange and interesting locales.

The next time you sit down to write a scene with a throwaway setting—a scene in which the setting is not inherent—stop and think. Could you bring a new level to your scene by adding an interesting or unexpected setting? Changing the setting could add depth to your scene, heighten the tension, and even lead to story angles you never suspected were present. Consider your settings carefully, even those that initially seem unimportant. You never know when you may find an unexpected gem!

K.M. Weiland writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in the sandhills of western Nebraska. She is the author of the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the recently released medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She blogs at Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors and AuthorCulture.