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Editing With Netta

Editing With Netta–The Prep Work

Okay, you’ve let your manuscript stew in its own juices. Yeah, it sounds nasty but it’s not, really.

Think of it as a nice, juicy roast. Only don't try to eat your manuscript. It will give you a tummy-ache. Don't ask me how I know this.
Think of it as a nice, juicy roast. Only don’t try to eat your manuscript. It will give you a tummy-ache. Don’t ask me how I know this.

*Photo courtesy of auttiedot from morguefile.com

Now you’re about ready to start carving up your tasty hunk of meat. But before you start, there are a few things you need to know and a few things you need to do.

No, not the dirty dishes. You don't have time for that.
No, not the dirty dishes. You don’t have time for that.

*Photo courtesy of vilhelm from morguefile.com

What You Need To Know

What you need to know is you’re not going to be able to sit and edit an entire manuscript in one sitting, just like you can’t write one in one sitting. Unless you have super-powers. And if you do, please tell me where I can get some of that.

No, editing is best taken in small bites, and in rounds. If you try to do it all in one super-powered burst, you’re going to miss things. Important things. Staring at a computer screen at the same story will, at the very least, cause small hemorrhages of the brain, eyeball malfunction, and intense crabbiness. My advice is to work on a ‘script for no more than 90 minutes at a time, and then do something else for at least 30 minutes. Like, pee, feed the cat, check your mailbox, walk around, FEED YOURSELF. Give yourself a break.

Typically, I’ll look at a manuscript and edit in “rounds”. Meaning, the first round will usually address glaring plot issues (which we will cover next week). You have to fix those before you get into the finer details. This might take more than one round, depending on the issues you run across. You’ll look hard and long at the plot to make sure everything hangs together and makes sense. At the same time, or in a separate round, you’ll pay attention to characterization and the story arc.

Then, and only then, you’ll move into the round of line editing. This is where you go over each and every word, each and every sentence, and evaluate your dialog, narrative flow, and the combination of action and exposition.

At this point you might want to pull out all of your hair. That’s why it’s important to take breaks, and determine the best time of day for you to be most productive. Some people edit first thing in the morning; some do better as night owls. It really just depends on what works for you. For instance, I’m not much of a morning person as far as editing goes. Most of my editing is done in the afternoon and late at night. Because it’s my job and I work for myself, I can squidge my schedule around deadlines, appointments, and other extra-curricular activities as needed. Occasionally I’ll edit first thing in the morning, but only after the coffee IV is set up.

Like this. Only with COFFEE.
Like this. Only with COFFEE.

*Photo courtesy of mensatic from morguefile.com

The other thing you need to know is editing is as much of an art form as writing. No two writers ever do it the same, and that’s okay. Find your own personal groove, just like you did when you were writing. If things start to blur, you know it’s time to walk away for a bit. This is normal. Well, as “normal” as it gets.

What You Need To Do To Prepare

I work mainly in Word with the Track Changes option. But, I also have handy a pen and a yellow legal pad for notes to myself or the author. Ideas which occur to me, things to double-check, and sometimes a reminder to get up and walk around lest all my blood pool in my ass.

Another valuable tool is a style sheet. A style sheet is usually used by copy editors, but for writers editing their own work or for content editors, a style sheet rocks. This is where you note the spelling of names, locations, and other details. This saves you the time of running back through the manuscript to figure out if you spelled a secondary character’s name as “Ann” or “Anne” when she rears her head in Chapter 22 after being introduced in Chapter 4. This keeps your ‘script consistent.

Keep a thesaurus handy, whether it’s online or in paper form. I use both. I’m actually a fan of Word Web (no relation), a free app you can download on your computer. It comes in mighty handy, especially when you’re reaching for that one word you know but can’t quite grasp. You know the one. Yeah. That one.

If you get lost in the word forest, a timer can help bring you back to reality. My bladder makes sure I’m not sitting too long, but those with younger bladders might benefit from a Free Alarm Clock. It’s better than wetting your seat. Don’t ask me how I know this, either.

Optional is a steady stream of caffeine, a hammer, and a sharp implement.

On second thought, never mind the hammer or sharp implement. Some temptations are better left out of reach.

Next week, we start on plot. Woohoo!

Thursday Editing Tips, Tricks, And Observations-Where To Start

Well, you’ve finished your masterpiece, and finally written THE END. Omg, what a relief! And congratulations! There are many, many writers who haven’t gotten to this point. Pat yourself on the back, because this is a huge accomplishment.

HOORAY!
HOORAY!

*Photo courtesy of hotblack at moreguefile.com

But now what?

Finishing a manuscript is a rush, no doubt about it. You did it! You wrote a book! You’re dancing around the house, maybe envisioning millions of dollars just roaring into your bank account; ready for the critical acclaim you just KNOW is coming your way, movie deals, interviews on Good Morning America, hitting the NYT best-selling list. Maybe an HBO series.

Then you sit down to re-read what you’ve written.

And here starts the cycle. The cycle of, “Holy shit, this really sucks, I suck, who wrote this crap?” and moving on to, “I’m so brilliant I can’t stand myself,” to “Just what the hell did I write here? Nothing is making sense!” And then it starts all over again.

The first draft of any manuscript is full of holes, errors, and tangents. No matter how well-plotted, it’s a first draft. It’s not supposed to be pretty. It’s supposed to be butt-assed ugly; raw, bleeding, and in dire need of CPR. But it’s also glorious in its rawness–your story is now on paper, and there is very little which can’t be fixed in an edit.

First off, let me just tell you a writer is their own worst judge of their story. Why? Because it’s in your head, perfect and complete, but transferring that to paper is very difficult. Sometimes a writer errs on the side of caution, and holds back essential information the reader needs. Other times, a writer may suffer from diarrhea of the keyboard and lets all of the cats out of the bag at once. Pacing could be off, the plot needs thickening, some of the characters are as dimensional as a hunk of cardboard. It’s a first draft, so that’s to be expected.

You might feel the urge to send your masterpiece to close friends and your mother. Restrain yourself, cowboy. I know, trust me I do, you want to crow about this to everyone. But you still have a lot of work to do before your story is ready for an honest critique, and in light of your joy, the people who love you will not tell you what you need to hear. They’ll tell you what you want to hear. Although that may be very gratifying at first, it’s not going to help you take your story to the professional level for which you’re striving. WAIT. It’s difficult, I know! YOU JUST WROTE A BOOK! But…that’s just the beginning of the process.

So, where do you start the editing process?

You start by sticking it in a closet and leaving it alone. That’s right. Throw it in drawer or closet, lock it, and forget it. I guarantee you if you start editing as soon as you finish, you’re never going to see what needs to be fixed. You’re too close, you’ve been living with these characters too long and you know what’s going to happen before it happens. What you and your manuscript need is some space apart.

That's right. Throw it in there with the rest of the stuff, like the treadmill you never use, and LOCK THE DOOR.
That’s right. Throw it in there with the rest of the stuff, like the treadmill you never use, and LOCK THE DOOR.

*Photo courtesy of ronnieb at morguefile.com

My advice is a minimum of two weeks. A couple of months might be even better. Leave it alone and start on another piece. Get your head OUT of your book and into something else. Let the manuscript marinate for a while, spend some time alone to ripen and for you to develop a bit of distance so when you do go back in to re-read and note the issues which need work, you can do so without feeling as if you’re ripping the arteries out of your heart.

So the first step? Closet, drawer, whatever. Mark it on your calendar to take it out in a couple of weeks, longer if you can stand it. Start on your next story.

Next week I’ll tell you the next step in this editing wonderland. Don’t be scared. You’ll love it.

Thursday Editing Tips, Tricks, And Observations–Contracts

Contracts can seem like a tricky business, especially when you’re dealing with the creative process. And each situation is uniquely different. When it comes to editing, one thing I’ve learned is it’s better to be safe than sorry, and much better to have all parties on the same page when it come to what’s expected, a time frame, and of course, the fee for services.

I will admit with my oldest repeat clients, our contract is often spelled out in email, and this has worked well for us. There’s a paper trail, and it serves. Still, to keep issues at a minimum, it’s a good idea for both the writer and the editor to have a contract signed, sealed, and delivered before work begins. This really goes for any service you contract, be it cover art, formatting, editing…anything pertaining to BUSINESS. Yes, even if you’re close personal friends, or even BECAUSE you’re close personal friends. You want to protect that relationship, for sure. This is business, not personal, and you want to keep it that way.

My contract and Terms of Service are two pages long. I tweak out the contract to individualize it for each client, depending on the terms and time frame we work out in advance. This keeps us both on track and hopefully, avoids any problems in the future.

The standard form I use can be found at the Editor’s Association of Canada. Believe me, I searched high and low for something to work for me and my business, and I was able to make changes to accommodate what I offer, what’s expected by both parties, and to spell out what exactly the writer can expect from me. It also details what I expect from the writer, because it is a two-way street.

Like I said, each situation is unique. With this form, I’m able to incorporate exactly what my client needs and if there’s any question, we can both refer back to the contract. I made extensive changes to the Terms of Service, for example, because I don’t offer everything detailed on the example, but it gave me a good template and a place to start.

It’s your choice, of course, whether to use a formal contract or not, and every business transaction is different. However, it’s a good idea to always CYA. Because, you know, no one like to see a bare ass hanging out there.

Except, you know. This kind of ass. Because he is pretty cute.
Except, you know. This kind of ass. Because he is pretty cute.

So, whether you’re a writer or an editor, my advice is to put a contract into place and detail expectations. It makes for a much smoother process and keeps things on an even keel. Be flexible, but make sure you both understand the terms of what is offered, what you receive, the fee, and how it’s to be paid.

Any questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll answer the best I can.

Next week on Thursday Editing Tips, Tricks, and Observations we talk about where your editing begins. Stay tuned!

Thursday Editing Tips, Tricks, And Observations -What Is An Editor?

I thought I’d kick off my series of articles about the editing process by defining certain editing terms. In my wordage travels, I have come across a lot of confusion regarding just what an editor does and what certain terms mean. If you want to know WHO an editor is, I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but you might find this article–I Am An Editor And Batshit Crazy–particularly interesting and enlightening. Go ahead and read it. I’ll be reiterating the major points here, but that article in particular will give you an idea of how my brain works and why I love my job so much.

And believe me, I love my job. It takes a lot of caffeine, I won't like, but I love that, too.
And believe me, I love my job. It takes a lot of caffeine, I won’t lie, but I love that, too.

*Photo courtesy of godidwlr on morguefile.com

My approach to editing is from the position of a freelance indie. I work mostly with indie writers; I love the freedom this gives the both of us. The process of taking a raw manuscript from the bloody beginnings to a polished and professional product is amazing. But there are different types of editors and different levels of editing.

Content or developmental editing: My specialty is content editing. A content editor evaluates the entire and complete manuscript from start to finish for story structure, including plot, character arcs, story flow, pacing, logic, back story, and an overall look at where these things can be improved or tightened up. Under this umbrella also falls developmental editing. While a content edit deals with a completed manuscript, a developmental edit may start at the very beginning of the writing process, in which a writer and an editor start from a basic outline, character sketches, and working together, “develop” a working ‘script.

A content editor will never, ever try to change your “writer’s voice”. And if they do, RUN. This is not the type of editor with whom you want to work.

Copy editor: A copy editor is not involved in the overall plot, per se, but helps you tighten up your prose to mean what it says and says what it means. A good copy editor will help you clarify what you want to say through word choice and sentence structure, along with cleaning up any grammar faux-pas. For instance, where to use “lay” and “lie”, catch those pesky “there, they’re, and theirs”, or how to construct a sentence so your reader knows what you really mean, which might sound good in your head but not translate well to the page.

Proofreader: A good proofreader is gold. This is your final polish, and the intrepid proofreader will catch spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Not a job for any but the most detail-oriented. I bet most proofreaders have their sock drawer color-coded. I have a lot of admiration for proofreaders because it is a particular skill-set, and one I do not possess.

Ideally, your manuscript needs to go through each step even after you are done with your own self-editing. There is no way for any writer, I don’t care who you are (looking at you, Stephen King) who can be objective enough about their work to be able to perform each and every step.The human brain is not built that way.

Think of it this way. You live with a partner every day for six months. One morning, they come out of the bathroom and say, “Holy shit, why didn’t you tell me half my left eyebrow was gone?”

“Huh?”

You never noticed. Because you’ve seen this person every day, your eye just happens to pass over the missing left eyebrow because you’ve seen it and it doesn’t even register. Same with your manuscript. You’ve worked on it so much for so long, the flaws disappear into your brain cells and you just can’t see them anymore. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, it just means you have blind spots that only someone else who is objective can pick out. That’s where your editor can help.

In the same vein, my opinion is a content or developmental editor is so involved with your story that by the time the content edit is finished, if they’ve done their job correctly they are too close to the story to serve as a copy editor and/or proofreader. Be wary of people who say they can do all three jobs in one. While a certain amount of copy editing may be accomplished in a thorough content edit, this by no means precludes the need for a professional copy edit and proofreading.

Next Thursday I’ll talk about contracts. And then we can get into the nitty-gritty of how to whip your manuscript into shape so you can get the most out of hiring an editor at any level.

Handcuffs may or may not be involved. Depends on the editor. Heh.
Handcuffs may or may not be involved. Depends on the editor. Heh.

*Photo courtesy of Penywise from morguefile.com

Should Writers Review Other Writers? A View From An Editor

Oh wow! Could I stir up a bigger hornet’s nest if I grabbed a baseball bat and started whacking? Probably not. But I’ve seen a lot of stuff out and about the ‘net lately, and this seems to be quite a hot button topic.

Hot button
Woohoo! I’m pushing the button, baby!

As an avid reader of so many years, a professional editor, and a self-published writer myself, this question is as tangled as the ball of yarn Athena loves to torture. And it seems no matter what opinion you hold, there is always someone ready to jump all up in your grill and scream how you’re wrong and just who do you think you are, some kind of special little snowflake?

This is my thought process. Reviewing a book, editing a book, and critiquing a book are three very different things. From what I see, a lot of people can’t tell the difference.

1. Readers review books, and that includes expressing what does or does not work for them in the story. It’s more about how the book made them feel, as opposed to picking out general technical details unless they affect the story.

2. Editing and critiquing a book is more about picking out those technical details, right or wrong, to improve the basic theme or message of the story. To me, this is not a review and should rather be handled privately between the writer and the editor/critique partner (such as beta readers). And there’s no reason to be a cast-iron bitch about it, either.

Now on to the sticky-wicket part of this.

Sticky wicket
This is a croquet wicket. I have no idea if it’s sticky. Honestly, I don’t want to know.

As part of the price I pay to do what I love for a living, I do not review books. Caveat: sometimes I do review old favorites I love, in order to introduce them to people I think will enjoy the book. However, as a pro editor I think it’s a conflict of interest for me to formally review a book I’ve edited. Really, think about it. What am I going to say other than it’s amazing? My word is on the line, and I take that very seriously. I will give a shout-out to my authors, because I am really lucky to work with some hugely talented people. But you will not find a formal review from me because I just don’t think that’s fair or professional. As an editor, if I’ve done my job, I’m as close to the book as the writer and I wouldn’t be able to be impartial. So while I may be in love with the story and am excited when one of my people releases, I won’t review the book.

If you are an indie writer hopefully that means you are an avid reader. You may think it’s your duty to review books and if they fall beneath the threshold of what you consider good, you may also think it’s your duty to point this out to other readers. Some people take great glee in tearing down other indie writers to the point it’s painful. The thing is, if you are an indie writer, you are a PROFESSIONAL. And I believe you should act like one.

Look at other professions. Do you see indie bands bashing other indie bands? Sometimes. Not very often. How about indie film makers? Don’t see that happening either. Do you see Very Successful Writers writing reviews on their contemporaries? (Stephen King is an exception. He can pretty much do what he wants because he’s a King. When you sell as many books as he does, I think then you have the right to express a negative opinion now and again.) Why is it okay for an indie writer to tear apart the work of another indie writer? What’s the point? The fans, the readers who aren’t involved in the process, are the ones who decide whether a book is “good” enough, THEY ARE THE GATEKEEPERS and indies who tear into each other are not portraying the profession in a very good light. Frankly, it looks like sour grapes.

The adage from your mother applies here. If you don’t have something nice to say, then keep your yap shut. Because when you say something hurtful or nasty about someone’s work, to me, that’s more a reflection upon you than it is the writer you’re bashing. It’s divisive in the indie community. We’re not in competition with each other – there’s more than enough readers to go around for everyone. Why then this vitriol?

“But!” you say, “I’m just trying to warn others about how bad this book is! I’m just doing the author and other readers a favor! I’m saving other readers from drowning in bad writing, from spending their hard-earned cash on bullshit!”

Knight in shining armor
Yeah, okay. I get it. You’re the literary knight in shining armor.

Really? As much as I would love to believe all indie writers who review are totally altruistic in their intentions, I didn’t fall down with yesterday’s rain. Not when I see some really hateful things being said in a review most people wouldn’t dream of saying in person. There is such a thing as professional courtesy, and anyone who can at least finish writing a book, no matter how “bad” it might be, deserves a modicum of respect. Because it is not easy. If a book is that bad, it will sink all on its own, with no help needed from you.

You can be honest and respectful at the same time. If you, the indie writer, read a book which in your opinion is not of professional caliber, you have a choice. You can walk away and do not review at all and forget you ever saw it; review as a READER and point out politely what didn’t work for you about the STORY without descending into condescending bitchiness because you know so much more and are so much better, or contact the author privately and offer your opinion. But to post a review that attacks the author, telling them (and the public at large) they have no right to be allowed near any writing implements (including crayons or eyeliner pencil) is just mean and hateful, bordering on bullying.

I’m wondering, too, just how effective reviews are anymore, especially since it’s come to light certain writers have actually paid for reviews. Now all reviews are suspect, and that’s a damned shame. However, there is one fix for all of this. Most books available on Amazon have a preview option. Read the first couple of chapters, and THEN you can decide to buy or not. Easy-peasy.

What you say in private is your own business and you are certainly entitled to that. I’m sure you have your own little circle of people where you discuss the merits of various authors, and I’m all for it. Vent. Scream. Pull out your hair and have yourself a party. But to take vitriolic opinions to the public, in my opinion, is unprofessional if you consider yourself a professional writer.

Let me hear your opinion, since you were kind enough to entertain mine.

*All images courtesy of Morguefile.com.

I Am An Editor And Batshit Crazy

That’s the first thing you should probably know.

I’m a lot of other things, including a writer, but the question I’m asked the most is, “What’s it like being an editor? I mean, what exactly is it you do?”

The thing is, when people think of the term “editor”, they may think of a hunched over old lady, gnarled and grey, with crazy hair and long dirty fingernails, just looking for your grammar and punctuation mistakes. When she finds one, she’ll cackle with glee, wielding a red pen with unbridled joy, slashing the words, sentences, paragraphs with all the happiness of a zombie eating fresh (or not-so-fresh) entrails.

I don’t do that.

Or, the picture may be of a prim and proper virginal school teacher, with a mighty ruler at the ready to smack your knuckles into shreds of bleeding flesh should you end your sentence with a preposition; using “their” instead of “there”; abusing semi-colons on a regular basis.

I don’t even own a ruler.

Some people think of editors as nasty, overweight men who smoke cigars, play poker, and simply look at the first word of your story before dousing it with gasoline and lighting a match before sending a rejection letter which makes you cry for your mother and vow to never go near another writing implement ever again.

I don’t do that, either.

The term “editor” is somewhat misleading, because there are many different types of editors. The technical term for what I do is a content or developmental editor, also affectionately known in some circles as a “story doctor”.

In essence, I evaluate a story for proper structure, plot holes, character development, and story arc. I look at narrative flow, dialog, and voice. I’ll determine if the story holds together, and provide suggestions on how to tighten tension, balance narrative with action and dialog, and whether or not you really need the monkey in the corner with the cymbals.

Monkey
Yes, it’s a monkey. Yes, it’s cute. Yes, I’ll cut him from your story because I’m mean like that.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In order to perform my job properly as a content editor, I have to know the story better than the writer. I need to know the characters intimately; understand the writer’s vision; connect with the overall message or theme the writer is attempting to get across. As a writer myself, I can say being a content editor is more difficult than writing your own book, because I actually have to crawl inside the writer’s head. This is not always easy to do, and it doesn’t always work with every writer because everyone is unique. While I’m used to the insanity inside my own head, it might take time to adjust to the insanity of someone else. Because as we all know, writers are basically batshit crazy, too. I mean that with all due respect and love.

Bats in the belfry
Don’t play. You know they’re flying in your belfry too.

Story editing is very much a team effort, and it takes a great deal of trust. The writer has to trust I know my shiz-niz, and I have to trust the writer to be open-minded and willing to do the work. To stand up for what he or she feels is necessary to the story, but to also understand my passion is the story and I have the story’s best interest at heart.

In order to do this, I have to dive deep. When I perform a first read, there is no other world for me than the one the author has created. I liken it to lucid dreaming; my background is unique in that I have been reading almost every genre known to mankind since I was three years old. That’s over fifty years worth of reading. Uncountable books have saved my life and my sanity more times than I can count in very difficult and personal life circumstances, but as a result, I understand on almost an instinctual level what a story needs in order to connect with the reader. I take my job very, very seriously because fiction means so much to me.

There is no greater joy for me than when a client I have worked with releases a book on which we have both worked to great reviews and readers who find a new author with whom they’ve connected. I know how much a good book can make a difference in someone’s life, whether it’s momentary entertainment or a story which makes a reader think of a situation in a different light. There are books which can actually change the way a reader views the world or gives them a perspective they’ve never considered before. Other books can take you away to a different place, introduce you to people you’d never meet in real life, or whisk you away into a marvelous world making the stresses of everyday life disappear if only for a few hours. Books which refresh the soul, make you cry, laugh, and relate to similar experiences. It’s amazing.

I absolutely love what I do. It’s not always easy and it can be very draining emotionally. It takes a lot of work; sometimes I’m dreaming of the narrative, working out problems in my dreams, and sometimes I wander around in a daze forgetting to feed my cat or even myself. And you should see my laundry pile. Sometimes I have to take a break and put some distance between myself and the manuscript, give myself some time to re-charge and re-assess, because the book and the writer are depending on me. I am acutely aware of my responsibility as a content editor and the fact I hold the writer’s beating heart in my hands.

The shadowed heart
Trust me. I know exactly what I’m holding in my hands, and I’d rather break my own than yours. But the story comes FIRST.

And when I see a raw manuscript transformed into something wondrous, I am the happiest I have ever been. When I see a writer “get it”, and find their voice, see their vision come to light, it’s like being a midwife to a joyful birth.

I love my job. It’s taken a lot of work to get here, and I know there are many people who hate what they do; I spent many years (too many!) in the same position. I feel extremely fortunate that even at this late stage of my life, I have found my passion, what I love to do, and am able to make it happen. I thank the Universe at every turn for the most amazing people with whom I’ve had the honor to work; for the support of loved ones even when they think I’m batshit crazy, and the opportunity to have a small part in helping a fabulous book or story be the best it can be.

For me, story is everything. It is the reflection of the human experience, the heart and soul of what makes us all human and connected.

Yes. I am an editor. It’s likely I’m batshit crazy. But I’m also one of the luckiest women alive.

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