I understand that money is an issue for many of you. But unless you’re one of the very few lucky writers who lands a deal with a traditional publisher, you’ll probably have to invest your own money into producing your book. Typically, a good editor will charge one to two cents per word. So, for an 80,000 to 100,000 word manuscript, you could be spending $800 to $2000.
I know that’s a lot of money. So you may be tempted to take some shortcuts. My advice? Don’t do it! Asking your friends, your cousin, your spouse or your mom to do your editing may seem like a good alternative. However, if they don’t have experience in journalism, teaching English, or any other professional writing experience, they’re not qualified for the job. You would never your best friend to work on your car if he or she had no experience in auto repair. So why would you ask someone who isn’t qualified to edit your manuscript?
Nowadays anyone with a smartphone can write a manuscript and upload it to Amazon Kindle. The market has been flooded with poorly written books. So do you want four and five star reviews? If so, then you need a professional book editor. Because nothing will end your writing career faster than a poorly-written book with bad reviews.
I enjoy streaming a syndicated radio talk show called, Ground Zero with Clyde Lewis. The show has interesting, offbeat topics, and listening helps me unwind at the end of a busy workday. The other night Clyde talked about the latest Godzilla movie. He described how the title character has evolved from an evil beast to a defender of the planet. That’s quite a leap indeed, and it was a fascinating discussion.
While I don’t write science fiction or horror myself, those genres do allow more leeway for using symbolism for political undertones. This may be the case with Godzilla. However, there are certain unwritten rules that fiction authors must follow because it’s what readers expect. High on the list is that good always triumphs over evil.
Fiction plotlines, regardless of genre, are conflict driven. The antagonist creates the conflict when he or she interferes with the protagonist. The antagonist is there to block whatever goal the protagonist is trying to achieve. This is why most antagonists are villains. And the more devious and evil the villain, the more drama and intensity to the story.
In real life, however, people can and do make poor choices. Some learn from their mistakes. In fiction, they would be redeemable characters. For example, Josh, from my recent Marina Martindale novel, The Letter, is a con artist. He’s working a Ponzi scheme with two unseen characters. However, as the character took shape I noticed he had some redeeming qualities which made him quite likable. So, I did a rewrite and made him into a redeemable villain. I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I’ll sum it up and say that things aren’t always as they appear.
Most of my villians, however, are unrepentant. Some, like Maggie in The Deception, remain defiant, even while they’re carted off to prison. Most however, are their own undoing. They police shoot them, or they’re killed in accidents while trying to escape. They’re the unredeemable villains. The Godzillas, who have to have their comeuppance, otherwise readers won’t accept it. After all, karma’s a bitch. Not only in fiction, but in real life as well.
Whether it’s a bookstore, a book fair, or other special event, book signings can be a lot of fun. They’re a great way to engage one-on-one with potential readers. However, we authors sometimes let our enthusiasm get the best of us. So please, consider this reminder to treat fellow authors respectfully.
The worst experience I ever had at a book signing was during a big event weekend in Tombstone, Arizona. The local bookstore had so many authors that they ran out of space inside the store. So, they seated me, along with another author, on the boardwalk in front of the store. This should have been a strategic advantage, as there was more foot traffic outside the store. Unfortunately, the other author was a non-stop talker
He talked and talked and talked about anything and everything. Yak, yak, yak, yak, yak. He wouldn’t shut up. Not even while I was trying to talk to potential readers, or trying to close a sale. And yes, his incessant talking actually killed some of my sales.
As if this weren’t bad enough, he started babbling about a controversial book he planned to write about his religious beliefs. So, not only was I stuck with him yapping my ear off while I was trying to talk to my customers, he’s now quoting Biblical scripture, chapter and verse, in a very loud voice. Not only were people no longer stopping at my table, they were literally running away.
I strongly believe in religious freedom. However, there is a time and place for religious debate. And it’s not on a sidewalk, in front of a secular bookstore, at a secular event. I normally do well at Tombstone events. This time, however I had a disaster. I hardly sold any books, all because one very self-centered author couldn’t keep his stupid mouth shut.
A book signing is where authors come to connect one on one with their readers. If there are other authors at the same venue, please show some respect and a little common courtesy. Keep your conversations with other authors brief. Try to limit those conversations to those times when there are no customers around. Most importantly, keep your mouth shut while other authors are talking to potential buyers. Nothing is more unprofessional than interfering with another author’s sale.
I’ve been hearing a lot lately about a disturbing new trend. Particularly in traditional publishing. The use of so-called, sensitivity readers to censorthe author’s work. Their job is to ferret out any so-called trigger words from the authors’ manuscripts.
Here in the United States, our constitution guarantees our right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. This would include artistic expression. Our constitution was never intended to protect anyone from being offended. In fact, it’s opposite. It insures our freedom to debate opposing points of view.
What is and isn’t offensive is oftentimes subjective. Let’s say, for example, that I write a scene in my book where two of my characters enjoy a burger together. If a vegan reads this, he or she might be offended. A chef, however, can read the very same scene and be inspired to create a gourmet burger for two.
I’m a woman who writes romance novels. Therefore, I’ll include male characters. And even though I’ve never been a man, I write in the third person narrative. This means some of my chapters will be written from a male character’s point of view. I’m not trying to make a political statement. I’m simply trying to tell a good story. However, to the so-called, sensitivity expert, I could be stereotyping men. And because I’m allegedly stereotyping men, I’m no longer allowed to write anything from a male point of view. This tramples on my right to freely express myself as an artist
Sensitivity is the new, politically correct word for CENSORSHIP. And as a writer and and artist, censorship goes against everything I believe in. Well guess what? I’m a U.S. citizen, and I have a Constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Therefore, I will continue to write the stories I wish to write. And if the sensitivity thought police don’t like it then they can go straight to Hell.
As fiction writers, we have two ways to present our story; a first or a third person narrative. This time, however, I’m going to speak as a fiction reader, and not an author.
As a reader, I simply hate the first person narrative. To me, it’s the narcissistic narrative. It’s all, me, me, me, I, I, I, me, me, me, I, I, I. That gets really old, really quick. However, I still get it. The author wants me to have a more intimate relationship with the lead character. However, not only does the narcissistic tone turn me off, I also want to know what other characters, particularly the antagonists, are up to.
I love reading fiction written in the third person narrative. To me, and no doubt to many others as well, reading a novel is, essentially, watching a movie in my head. I want to see the bad guys cooking up their evil schemes. I want to be with them when they do their dastardly deeds. I want to experience that moment of shock and surprise when the protagonist gets caught their trap. Likewise, I want to experience the protagonist’s feeling of triumph when the bad guys get their comeuppance. This is why, as a reader, I only read third person narratives. I get to see multiple points of view, and I get to see scene changes with different characters, just like they do in the movies.
I realize this is a personal take, and that other readers may like the first person narrative. To each their own. However, I personally don’t care for it, which is why I always write my own stories in a third person narrative.
I recall once looking at a sample chapter from another author’s novel, and there, in the second sentence of the opening narrative, was the dreaded, F-bomb. That was it. I was done. The book may have had an intriguing title, but once I saw that expletive I was immediately turned off. I had no reason to read any further.
I’m not saying I’m a total prude, and, for some genres, this kind of language may be both suitable and expected. However, it’s not appropriate for my work. I write contemporary sensual romance. In my genre there simply is no reason for profanity, and most romance authors don’t use it. To me, profanity, especially when used in the narrative, a sign of a lazy, sloppy writer. A rank amateur. A good storyteller doesn’t need to use profanity. Plain and simple.
What about the dialog?
There will be times when an, “Oh my goodness gracious me,” simply won’t cut it. That’s when I’ll use an occasional damn or hell, or similar verbiage. However, I never use the F-bomb, or any other vulgar synonym for human genitalia. And the keyword here is occasional. As in infrequently. My characters aren’t potty mouths. Even my villains have more class than that.
Sometimes there will be an occasion when a stronger word may be expected. For example, I had once had a scene where one of my characters had just found out that her husband had been kidnapped. She’s understandably upset, and her response is, “What the —?” Another character interrupts her before she could complete her sentence. Some readers may have interpreted it as, “What the hell?” Perfectly appropriate for the circumstances. Other readers, however, may have interpreted it differently and assumed she was about to say an entirely different word. Either way, I left it up to the reader to decide.
Sure, it may be the 21st century, but there are still plenty of people out there who find profanity, particularly the F-bomb, offensive. So why risk alienating potential readers who would have otherwise loved your book?
One comment I often hear from first time authors is, “I don’t need an editor because I do my own editing.”
Okay, I admit that I resemble that remark. When I wrote my very first book, Anna’s Kitchen, I too thought I didn’t need an editor. In fact, I was such a smart aleck at the time that I thought I knew everything. Never mind the fact that I had never written a book before in my life. As far as I was concerned, the spell checker in my word processing software was all I needed. So how did I do? Well, you may want to refer to my post titled, Just Add Two Tablespoons of Fate. Sure, I can laugh about it now, but it’s a splendid example of why all authors, especially newauthors, must have an editor.
Why every author needs an editor.
An editor is a fresh pair of eyes to go over your manuscript. They give it the added polish it needs to turn it into a great book. They’re not as much concerned about the content of your work as they are the structure. They look for things such as misspelled words, typos, and comma spliced sentences. They also look for dangling participles, incorrect homonyms, redundancy, and the dreaded passive voice. In other words, they fix all the gaffes that you, as a writer, may have overlooked. The reason why you’re not seeing them is because you’re too involved with your own work to see it objectively. This is normal. As human beings, we can’t be objective about ourselves. This is why it’s difficult for us to see our mistakes. It’s the same reason why doctors don’t treat themselves or members of their own families.
Some of you reading this may still be skeptical. Or you may even think your writing skills are so superior that you simply don’t need an editor. If that’s the case, then all I can tell you is writing can be a very humbling experience. There is nothing quite like having your readers point out all your errors for you, and then posting them on an Amazon review for the entire world to see. Once that happens, your credibility as an author is pretty much done, and you can kiss your writing career goodbye.
What do Danielle Steel, James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Dean Koontz all have in common? They all have editors. And if these famous authors all have editors, then what makes you think that you don’t need one?
I’ll always recall a time when I attended a business networking event. Someone asked me what I do. I told her I wrote novels. But her response was appalling. She looked me in the eye and said, “Oh, so that means you have ADD.” (Attention Deficit Disorder — a mental illness.)
I was completely flabbergasted. How could a so-called business professional would make such a hurtful, hateful, and stupid remark? So, I looked her in the eye and said, “Well, in my line of work, that would actually be considered a job requirement.” It shut her up. And she walked away with egg on her face.
Few things make me bristle like people who insist on putting stigmatizing labels on other people. Why must they do this? Is there is some narrow definition of normal out there? Do creative, imaginative people not fit into this so-called norm? Is this why creative people are stigmatized? Or do they like to make other people look so they make themselves look good?
I suspect the answer is all the above. There are people who simply don’t like creative people. Period. I recall reading an article telling parents how to “reprogram” their children if they showed any sign of being, “right-brained creative.” Is there something wrong with a creative child? Apparently so.
Well, guess what? I’m a right-brained creative, and I’m damn proud of it! I’m who God made me to be. And, in spite of what people may think, I’m actually able to perform my job. Not only do I write novels, I also I run my own book publishing business.
So, Miss Smart-Alec, who the hell are you to pin your scarlet letter on me and label me with “ADD?” Yes, my job involves using my God-given creative skills. I’m sorry if you’re jealous because you don’t have them. And here’s another thought. Why don’t you worry more about your own damn life and stay bloody hell out of mine!
It can be a perplexing question for authors, particularly newbies. Do you write an outline, or a treatment, before you begin your book? Or do you just sit down and start writing?
Outlines are recommended for nonfiction books. They can be more precise. However, this blog is for fiction writers, so I’m going to talk about what is the best approach for us. And that is to write a treatment.
A treatment is a short summary of what your story will be about. The amount of detail you wish to include is entirely up to you. Some fiction authors may choose to write treatments summarizing each chapter. Others simply write a brief one or two paragraph description. It’s all a matter of personal preference. We’re creative writers, not technical writers, and the keyword is creative. For us, writing is an art, not a science.
My treatments tend to be short; no more than one to one and a half pages. My objective is how I will begin my story, and how I will end it. I used to fret over what to include in the middle. However, experience has taught me to keep it brief. The details will come after I begin writing. In other words, my treatment is my launching point.
Some fiction writers write bios for their characters, and that’s certainly okay. However, I don’t do it myself. My characters come to life rather quickly, and once that happens they have minds of their own. (This may sound freaky to non writers, but every fiction writer experiences this.)
Some authors like to refer back to their treatments as they write. And that’s perfectly okay. I prefer to put my treatment aside once I begin my story. As your characters come to life you may want to go in a different direction than you originally planned. Other ideas may come to you as you delve deeper into your story. Again that’s okay. We’re creative writers. This is how creativity works.
Once my manuscript is complete I like to go back and look at my treatment. My books never end up as described in the original treatment. They always turn out better. That’s because I let my creativity flow as I write, and many new ideas will pop into my head as I go. My favorite example would be my first Marina Martindale novel, The Reunion.
One of my supporting characters, a young man named, Jeremy, was intended to be a rogue character. He would do his dirty deed and quickly disappear from the story. However, Jeremy was also leading man Ian’s son. And as I got into the story, I soon realized that Ian would never have a son like that. So, Jeremy went from rogue villain to a rival, competing with his father to win leading lady Gillian’s affections. This made for a completely unexpected twist in the story that resonated with me, and my readers.
As I’ve evolved as a writer, my treatments have also evolved. They’ve become less detailed and more generalized. But, as I’ve stated before, how you choose to write your treatment is entirely up to you. As far as I’m concerned, there is no right or wrong way to go about it.
As writers we’ve all been told that social media is an essential marketing tool, and it truly is. I’ve made fans and sold books on social media. However, social media can also be a double-edged sword. It must be treated with respect. Let me give you an example of something that happened to me a few years ago.
After posting a comment on a friend’s Facebook post, I started engaging with another of her friends on the same thread. We were talking about jazz music, something we both enjoyed. During our online conversation she mentioned that she was a book editor. At the time I was publishing books for other authors, so I told her I was a publisher. I then asked her to please send me a friendship request so I could include her on my referral list. She was more than happy to oblige.
As it turned out, she posted frequently Facebook. However, I found her content troubling. She ranted about her hatred of children, her dislike of men, and her belief that interpersonal relationships were a complete waste of time. She also posted about her hatred of churches and of people of faith. Anyone who disagreed was told to “go f— themselves.” No matter how respectful they were, they got the same hateful, vulgar, response.
I soon realized that I could NEVER refer this woman to any of my authors. If she was that mean spirited and disrespectful on Facebook, I could only imagine how badly she would have treated them. So, instead of sending her referrals, I blocked her.
The point I’m making is to use caution when posting on social media. Mean spirited and hateful posts really can come back and bite you. In this instance, it cost someone business leads.