Category: Editing

Five Conversations To Have With Your Editor

Five Conversations To Have With Your Editor

I know, I know. I don’t like the “clickbait-ey” titles, either, but this just sort of fit with the message this week, so I hope you’ll indulge me the headline. I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on Twitter lately (which is where I tend to hang out, @ehprybylski) and on various other places sharing horror stories authors have about editors they paid money to who either made the manuscript worse or who didn’t do the job the author needed. Some of this is dealing with preditors (spelling intentional), but sometimes it’s because the author didn’t have some very important conversations with their editor before starting that journey.

As with anything you’re going to be spending thousands of dollars on, it’s a smart choice to have some conversations with the person you’re paying to make sure they know what you want and to ensure you both have the same image in your mind of what the finished product looks like. Not talking to your editor about your needs and desires for your book is like not telling the contractor you hired to paint your house what shade of blue you want. There are a lot of variations in that hue, so you need to be more specific than just “blue” or else you’re probably not going to get the one you want. Nobody will be happy.

1) What Kind Of Editing You Want

This is a very important discussion because it tells the editor what exactly you’re looking for. It’s okay if you come to the table not knowing what you want, but if you hire an editor without discussing what kind of editing they’re doing, you might end up spending a whole lot of money for a type of editing you weren’t after. I don’t want to take up a huge amount of the blog by explaining the different types of editing here, but my editing website details the different types of editing if you want more information on them.

A number of the “this editor sucks” posts I’ve seen were because authors either didn’t understand what editing entails (hint: it’s more than just punctuation and grammar!) and had their expectations shattered or because the editor did a different kind of editing than the author expected entirely and didn’t do what they needed. That isn’t to say that a large number aren’t just bad editors–that’s definitely a thing that happens–but clear communication about the scope of work is important.

2) Does That Editor Have Experience In Your Genre

This is an important question to ask your editor before you start work with them–particularly for newbie editors. If the editor has no experience in your genre, and you’re hiring them to do a developmentla edit, you are probably not talking to the right editor for you. While I feel confident that I could do a line or copy edit on most genres, I certainly wouldn’t touch a developmental edit that’s outside the genres I work in (spec. fic., romance, YA) without a clear understanding with the author. I have a friend who wants to hire me to work on her non-fic book, and she really wants to have me work on it. I’ve been clear that I’m not an expert on that, but she’s not getting something she isn’t prepared for.

An editor with no experience in your genre won’t know the genre tenants and may end up doing damage to your book. If a speculative fiction editor is thrown neck-deep into a self-help book, they will have no idea how to structure the flow of chapters or when to give what advice. I know I wouldn’t be comfortable with it at all and would not be the right editor for the job.

3) How To Reach Your Editor

This is a thing I’ve dealt with before. I actually have a clause in my contract about it. Most editors abhor phone calls. We are insular beasts who like email both because there’s a record of the conversation (which can be important) and because having things detailed in writing lets us refer to them later. And we’re antisocial mole people. (At least I am. Hiss.) However, some editors are okay with phone calls at specific times or will allow “x” number per contract.

Knowing how your editor prefers to be contacted will mean you won’t ruffle feathers with them by using the wrong method and jarring them out of their work. I’ve also had clients who have boundary issues and liked to call me at 10pm and talk for hours. Every. Day. As much as I liked the person, that really made it hard to work, and it meant that my personal life was taking a hit. Also, they were in a differet time zone which meant for them it wasn’t calling particularly late in the evening, but for me it was the time when I turn into a potato and play video games and am thoroughly done with work. (See antisocial mole people.)

I am fine with authors contacting me on Discord or (for some select folks) Facebook Messenger. Some editors only want to contact their clients through email because they prefer to keep all their professional communique in one place. As such, it’s wise to know how your editor prefers to function.

4) Understand The Scope Of Work

Ah, the good ol’ scope of work, the archenemy of “scope creep.” This is a common issue I see between editors and authors. Without a clearly-defined scope of work between author and editor, it can end up in frustration for both parties when the editor is quite sure the job is finished and the author feels like they didn’t get their money’s worth. Many editors will have a scope of work clause in their contract, and it’s a wise thing to put together.

What this means is that the time, energy, and scope of the edits are defined before work begins. How many passes through the manuscript the author receives for the fee they are paying, how many phone calls/emails you get through the process, how many revisions an editor is willing to make to a final document, whether or not the editor provides an editorial letter detailing their thoughts on the manuscript (most do), and what have you. If you know in advance what the editor is going to do, it creates structure and boundaries for the relationship so the author knows what to expect and the editor is not subject to endless future emails of, “a reader found a typo on page 15, and I’m mad about it.”

I’ve seen emails like that before. No manuscript is perfect no matter how many rounds of editing are done on it, and editors are also human. Missing a handful of small errors after correcting thousands of them in a document is a better ratio than you think. So don’t be surprised if there is a typo on page fifteen.

5) Sample Edits

Many editors, myself included, will provide sample edits to prospective clients as a method of showing the client our editing style as well as getting a feel for what kind of work the manuscript needs. Sample edits may range in length and type depending on the editor, but it is always a reasonable question to ask if you are trying to decide if an editor is going to work for you. Plus, if their editing style just does not work for you at all, it is best to know that before going into a multi-thousand-dollar agreement. Some editors may offer refunds, but many of us do not because while customer satisfaction is important, we cannot take back the hours upon hours we have put into your manuscript just because you and I have different styles.

The best way to go about getting a feel for multiple editors is to send them all the same passage from somewhere in the middle of your book (if that falls within their sample edit clause) and compare the changes they all make. Editors are much like writers in that we all have a unique editorial “voice” and will make different subjective edits to various books. While we all might agree that a particular comma or some such is inaccurate, we may all have different ideas on how to re-word an awkward sentence or whether or not an adjective or adverb needs to go. That doesn’t mean one editor is “right” and the others are “wrong” on these subjective edits, but some may work better or worse with your personal style, and that’s something we all understand.

These five conversations will do a lot to help you communicate effectively with your editor and save you a lot of misery, frustration, and money. It will also save the editor frustration and hair-pulling because these conversations are just as important for us to have. Now, I will guide my clients through these conversations if they don’t know to have them, as will many other editors, but if you come to the table prepared it will be a pleasant surprise for your editor and show that you have a better handle on what to expect.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

When Are You Ready For An Editor?

When Are You Ready For An Editor?

I see this a lot. Authors regularly come to me with books that just aren’t ready for me to look at the way they’re hoping. That isn’t to say I can’t help, but they’re trying to put the final polish on a book that hasn’t yet been cut, so to speak. While I’ll do the job they ask of me if they’re sure that’s what they want, it isn’t usually the best option.

So, in order to answer this question to its fullest, let’s start with discussing the types of editing available as well as other services that are related to this whole mess. I’m going to do this in order of where they come in the writing process, earliest to latest, so that way you can gauge where you are and see what you might need.

Book Coaching

A book coach helps you find your way through the process of writing a book. I provide this service to clients who are looking for organization, guidance, and structure. While coaching is unique for each client, it often looks like us meeting every week or so and discussing where an author is, what challenges they faced that week, how much they’ve written so far, and tackling things that are keeping them from making the progress they want. I also typically give lessons on structure, critique scenes or chapters, and help them stay on track with regular check-ins, even if we aren’t meeting every week.

Developmental Editing

This phase helps you put together the bones of your story. Hiring a developmental editor is for a manuscript that is pretty early in the process. A developmental edit addresses structural changes to a story–things like pacing, characterization, character development, and other such broad stroke items. That isn’t to say a developmental editor will make chop suey of your manuscript. Recently I worked with a client who was struggling with structural problems between acts one and two, and I advised that they add some scenes. The issue for them was they weren’t super clear on where the exact break between the acts was supposed to be. I didn’t advise the client delete anything wholesale.

I had another who needed a lot of structural work for pacing because partway through the story they didn’t know exactly where they were going. They figured out the thread toward the end of act two, but there was a lot in the middle we had to work out. We cut out the chaff and zeroed in on the things that needed doing.

If this sounds like a big, scary process, I promise it doesn’t have to be. A good developmental editor is there to help you tell your story the best they can in your voice. We aren’t trying to tell it in ours. If a developmental editor feels like they don’t get your book or aren’t giving you feedback you need, it’s totally okay to cease work (though it’s best practices to pay people for their time) and find another editor who you mesh better with.

To go back to the analogy of gems, this is where we start examining the quality of a raw gem to see what we can help you create out of it. We see the promise; we just need to get out of the surrounding rock.

If this sounds like a big, scary process, I promise it doesn’t have to be. A good editor is there to help you tell your story the best they can in your voice.

E. Prybylski

Line Editing

Line editing is going through the manuscript line by line (hence the name) and looking at things like word choice, sentence structure, and clarity. This is the phase where we iron out how many adverbs you really need (yes, you’re allowed to use them), help you use stronger verbs, give you insight into how to use your voice to its fullest advantage. This is the kind of editing people usually think of when they think of editing. It typically costs more than developmental editing and copy editing because it is the most labor-intensive for the editor in terms of hours spent because we need to evaluate every single word of the manuscript.

As before, of course, the intent of this is not to sanitize the author’s voice. Your voice. I’ve done blogs on author voice in the past, though I can’t find any more recent than 2011, so it’s probably due for an update. However, the long and short of it is: your voice is the way you write that makes you unique from any other. It’s not about whether or not you use adverbs or semicolons or what have you. It’s bigger than a sentence or word.

In order to really change or alter an author’s voice, I would either have to rewrite the entire thing myself or make such substantial changes to every single sentence that it is unreadable. These changes are bigger than punctuation or correcting inaccurate grammar. They’re also bigger than helping an author avoid passive voice, flying POV changes, and other such things. Don’t fret.

In the gemstone analogy, this is where the gem is cut.

Copy Editing

Copy editing is the highest level of editing. At this point, the editor doesn’t care if you used too many adverbs, if you wrote the entire thing in passive voice, and so on. Well, that’s mostly true. It’ll still make our hair stand on end, and we might leave you a comment, but we aren’t going to fix it for you because we’re not being paid to.

While in some parts of the editing community, line editing and copy editing are smooshed into a single service (I often do both at the same time), if someone just pays for copy editing, that’s what they are going to receive. If you are hiring an editor for copy editing, a few things are expected: you have either self-edited to the point where you are confident your book says what you intend or you have had another editor(s) review the book already to your satisfaction.

As you can see, this is also pretty far down the list in order of what happens when. Hiring someone to copy edit your book too early (if you plan on adding/changing scenes or doing a line edit) will just mean having to pay for one again later. While, yes, copy editing is less expensive than line editing, I wouldn’t skip that phase unless you really know what you’re doing. I have clients who come to me just for copy editing on their fiction, and they are extremely good at what they do. They’re experienced authors who don’t really need me to go word by word to make sure everything’s where it ought to be.

If you aren’t an experienced author who really has a good handle on all the bits and bobs of writing, I wouldn’t skip around. However, you might be able to find editors willing to work with you in your price range, so if money is an issue, shop around and see who’s available and at what price. That said, editing is one of the industries where you tend to get what you pay for. If you see someone charging a fair chunk of change, there’s likely a good reason for that.

In our gem cutting metaphor, this is the polish phase.

If you aren’t an experienced author who has a really good handle on all the bits and bobs of writing, I wouldn’t skip around. However, you might be able to find editors willing to work with you in your price range.

E. Prybylski


Finally, we get to proofreading. This is done when the book is formatted to make sure everything is caught and clean. If you are doing an ebook only, it may well be done in Word, but traditionally it’s done either in print or in the software the book is being formatted in. This can include things like making sure leading and kerning are correct, catching widows and orphans, and fixing up any last-minute typos. It is the very last look before something goes to print.

Proofreading is the absolute final step in review before your book is published. This is the final pass, and the last pair of eyes. Ideally it should be different from whoever did the other rounds of editing. I always advise two editors look at a project before it goes out. Even if one has done the rest of the editing process, having a fresh set of eyes to catch typos and find last-minute errors is invaluable.

When publishing novels through Insomnia, we always pass them back and forth to another editor in the company for this final run before the book is published for realsies. While this step may not be doable for all authors, I cannot overestimate the value of it.


All of that explanation out of the way, when should you hire an editor? The real answer, at the end of the day, is: It depends.

E. Prybylski

All of that explanation out of the way, when should you hire an editor? The real answer, at the end of the day, is: It depends. Where you are in the writing process tells you what kind of editing you want and who to look for. Absent you hiring a book coach to help you get your work on track, however, you should wait until you’ve finished your first draft and done at least one round of self-editing.

That means you finish it, have a celebratory glass of your favorite beverage, wait a few days, or a week or more for some folks, and then re-read what you wrote. Take notes. Outline your book again based on what you wrote (that’s a blog for another day that I’ll do) and really evaluate your novel. Then maybe send it to a beta reader or twelve. Once you’ve done that, then see where you’re at. If your story structure is solid, and you don’t think you have any pacing problems? Start looking for a line editor.

When in doubt, too, you can contact an editor to tell them where you’re at, what’s going on, and ask them what you need. Many editors perform manuscript evaluations for a reasonable fee in order to give you specific feedback about what you need, where, and why. They may pitch specific services to you, also.

I’ve had authors come to me for a line edit and I’ve told them what they really need is developmental or copy editing. It can go either way. While a manuscript evaluation may feel like an extra expense, the reality is it can save you a lot of money in the long run, and it’s worth considering if you’re feeling wibbldy about where you are in the process.

For what it’s worth, and to plug my services down here at the bottom, if you are interested in any of these types of editing, want a manuscript evaluation, or just in general are looking for help figuring out what you next step is, you can contact me through my editing website, and we can talk through what you need. If I’m not the right editor for you, I know many in multiple genres who may be able to help. I have resources to help you find what you’re looking for. That service is free. I’m here to help, not wring every penny out of you.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Advice In Context and Style Guides

Advice In Context and Style Guides

I come across writers all the time who are bucking “the system” and posting rebellious tweets or Facebook messages about how they’ll keep their adverbs in (thank you very much) and how much they hate editors and how much they’re keeping very single dang comma. While I don’t always agree, I understand the frustration and backlash against what they see as prescriptivist, pedantic nonsense.

As you may have come to expect from me, I’m going to be straight with you here: they’re not all wrong.

The problem with a lot of the writing advice I’ve read, seen, and had given to me even by well-meaning and experienced authors has been that it lacks context. Let’s look at, for example, the injunction against using adverbs in prose. The reality is, adverbs have an important and valuable function. They’re a part of language for a reason, and I won’t tell you otherwise. The sticking point that isn’t usually explained along with the “avoid adverbs” advice is that you should avoid them when a stronger verb is available. The example I always give is: “he ran quickly” vs. “he sprinted.” In this example, “ran quickly” is redundant due to the presence of good, descriptive, solid verbs that could be used in place of it, so it weakens the writing.

As in all things here, adverbs (and pretty much everything else, if I’m honest) should be used like you use salt in cooking: The correct amount of salt enhances a dish, too much destroys it, and everyone’s taste differs. Also, certain genres are more forgiving of some types of tropes and language uses than others. YA would likely be more accepting of adverbs than, say, epic fantasy. The readership has different expectations.

Note: I am NOT in ANY WAY implying that epic fantasy is superior to YA. It’s not. They’re just different. I love both genres.

And this is just one example!

As someone who hangs out in writing circles and dispenses advice, the key for most things authors wrestle with is context. An “info dump” (aka. expositionary passage) is utterly necessary in some genres and places. There are right and wrong ways to go about it, but in SF/F you just have to get the world building out there sometimes, which means dropping it on your readers. In some subgenres of fantasy (like epic fantasy) readers live for the Tolkien-esque descriptions of kings and queens of old and historical events and so on. I think space opera sci-fi has a similar bent.

My point here is that writing advice shouldn’t be discarded wholesale, but contextualizing the rules to explain what, where, when, and why too often goes by the wayside. That’s how you end up with the idea that all adverbs are forbidden and any setting information is info-dumping and all the other misguided advice.

My point here is that writing advice shouldn’t be discarded wholesale, but contextualizing the rules to explain what, where, when, and why too often goes by the wayside.

E. Prybylski

Unfortunately, as a byproduct of that misguided advice, you end up with authors ready to heave all convention out the window and end up hateful and suspicious of editors. I’ll admit to being kinda sus, but so long as we’re not playing Among Us you’re probably okay. Probably. All joking aside, though, editors aren’t all pedants. In fact, the vast majority of the ones I know see variations in language as healthy and something to be celebrated. Also, we want to support you, not tear you down. That wouldn’t help anybody.

Another thing most people don’t tell writers is that grammar and punctuation has multiple styles. Most folks wouldn’t know AP from Chicago, and that’s why we editors have a job. Beyond that, many publishers (like mine for example) have in-house style guides that cherry-pick the punctuation norms we prefer. Oxford Comma? Style. Spaces around em-dashes or ellipses? Style. Using UK or US spelling? Style. Commas as breaks in ways other than strictly defined? Depending on their use, it could be pulling on older styles of comma usage. Also a style.

The key thing, however, is that whatever you do, do it on purpose. If you are messing up and trying to cover your butt by claiming you, uh, meant to do that, it’ll be obvious. I always advise to my clients to learn the rules first. Learn the irritating, pedantic, prescriptivist rules. Then once you know them, have internalized them, and understand them, at that point you can start breaking them. If you are doing things out of ignorance, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to back things up and will just be wrong and inconsistent. And that won’t be a good look for you.

However you choose to go about it, consider making your style guide something you codify. Do you spell it “gray” or “grey?” I infinitely prefer “grey.” I don’t have a good reason why except for the fact that I grew up reading UK authors, and some of their spellings and conventions leaked into my internal lexicon (thanks, Anne McCaffrey and Tolkein). This style guide serves two very specific purposes. The first is to make sure your work is internally consistent. If you are consistent in how you do or do not use specific linguistic tools, it shows you are doing it on purpose. Now, there’s a chance that you’ll be wrong (I have an author who struggles with terminal punctuation in dialogue, for example), but if you’re consistent it’s also easier to fix with find/replace. Second, this style guide will be something you can provide to your editor so they know what you want when they’re editing your book. While they may have feedback to give on your style guide, if they know your intent, it will require less of an attempt at mind reading.

One thing to note, however, is if you are traditionally publishing, the publisher will have a house style guide that will supersede your own. You may not get a say in it at all, and at that point you’re rubbing up against the realities of traditional publishing. While it provides you with the benefits of not having to do and source everything yourself, you lose certain elements of creative control and are bound by the regulations of the publisher. The good news is, though, publishers have reasons why they want things the way they want them, so it’s not just arbitrary, and they aren’t going to ruin your book. Well, any good publisher won’t, anyway. I can’t account for jerks.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

7 Classic Query Blunders

7 Classic Query Blunders

I started my career as an acquisitions editor and still deal with acquisitions. Through that experience, I can tell you there are a few things that will always make me stomp my feet and scream. In fact, I may even throw my hands up. Queries are a hard part of writing, but there are a few things you absolutely must get correct to avoid being sent the dreaded form rejection letter. While I’m not saying you’ll absolutely be accepted if you avoid these mistakes, your likelihood of acceptance is vastly higher.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

  1. Not following guidelines.
    While a lot of writing has things that are wibbldy and wobldy and wishy-washy, query guidelines are not. We ask for specific things because they’re what we absolutely need to know, and we need that information as efficiently as possible. For example, if someone sent my company, Insomnia Publishing, an erotica novel to publish, I’d reject it without looking at the rest of the query. No offense to erotica (I have erotica writers I’m close to, and the genre’s dandy in my book–hurr, I made a pun), but we aren’t a romance/erotica publisher. We are only speculative fiction.
  2. Writing “fun” queries.
    If you’re writing a query as the main character or trying to do something funky with fonts or images, please don’t. I know you’re desperately trying to stand out in my inbox. But making the background of your email lime green and your text fuchsia will cause me a migraine and net you a rejection out of hand. It does make you stand out, that’s for sure, but standing out doesn’t always mean good things.

    Write me a query that’s honest, to the point, contains the information I need, and is polite and well-formatted. That will make you stand out. If you want to use a font that isn’t Times New Roman, Size 12 (that’s the industry standard), feel free to use other easy-to-read fonts like Garamond, Georgia, Cambria, etc. While I can’t speak for other editors (and if they list a font requirement in their guidelines use it), so long as it’s easy to read and standard, I won’t complain.

    Unless you send me a query in Papyrus. Just. . . just don’t.
  3. Word counts outside of what we ask for.
    This won’t be an immediate failure unless it’s dramatically outside our maximums and minimums. Our listed maximum is 120k words for high fantasy and historical novels. If your novel is 130k words, I won’t burn your query in effigy. If it’s 220k words, I will probably pour myself a glass of Moscato, pop some fruit in that, drink it, and send you a rejection.

    While you can argue until you’re blue in the face that if writers like Stephen King and George R. R. Martin can do it, so can you, it doesn’t mean we can afford to take that risk at this point in time. The overheads are going to be outrageous. The cost to edit, format, and (assuming print) print and ship that is going to be horrendous. Unless you’re Stephen King magically sending me a query (Hi, Mr. King, I’ll accept anything you send me), you’re going to have to abide by what we can see as acceptable risk.
  4. You haven’t explained your genre well.
    This part is hard, and I get that. But if you send me a book and describe it as a fantasy/historical/cyberpunk/paranormal/sci-fi/romance, I am probably going to go right back to the wine. In fact, just writing that makes me twitch a little. While it’s tempting to try and label your book as every genre it might cross over into, I really just need the main details.

    If it’s a cyberpunk/fantasy? Great. I’m a Shadowrun fan. I can grok that. But when the genres don’t make sense together or you don’t explain it well, I’m just going to be confused and turn it down. I need to understand what I’m looking at immediately. If you can’t make that clear, your book is too complex and needs revision, or you don’t have a clear enough view to market it.

    Part of this question about genre comes down to: who is the target market for this book? If I can’t pinpoint a target market of people who will want to buy this, I can’t sell it. If I can’t sell it, I don’t want to publish it.
  5. Your query is poorly-written.
    If your query is full of grammatical errors and questionable word choice or excessively over-written, I am going to expect that of the book. We’re all human, and if you have a typo in there (like for some reason I write “youo” like 98% of the time I type “you”) it’s not going to break you. But if it’s written with heavily passive voice, purple prose, or an obvious and poor understanding of sentence construction, it tells me the book is going to be the same. Perfection isn’t necessary, but being solid and clear? Yeah, that’s a requirement.
  6. Your tone.
    I’ve been in this industry long enough that most of the time I can identify a nightmare client from tone. I have received hundreds of “you’re just a literary hack who doesn’t understand my genius” responses over my decade working in the industry. I can recognize the author who is convinced that they are the embodiment of Tolkien or Heinlein. If you strike me as someone who will be an utter nightmare to edit, you’ll get a rejection.

    I know that sounds harsh, but for every person who is too full of their own genius that they cannot understand why I’d want to change a single comma, there are dozens of brilliant, motivated authors eager to learn and improve and willing to work with an editor.
  7. Your marketing plan is disorganized or non-existent.
    My company has recently started requiring marketing plans from our authors in the query. It doesn’t need to be huge, but it has to show that thought has been put into it and that you’re willing to do the work needed to make your book a success. This is because we have run into situations where authors refuse to market, cannot market, or have no plans whatsoever to market, and as a result they do nothing to help move books. While marketing is a complex subject for another blog, know that coming to the table with a plan with clear, actionable steps (even if it’s something as simple as: weekly blogs, engage on social media to grow readership, blog tours) will make you instantly more appealing.

    While I have no problems helping our authors market and giving them all the tools I know of, I am not a publicist, nor does my company have the money to hire one. They’re expensive. And if we did hire one, it would be to work with us on some of our bigger titles, not every single one. (Much as larger companies only will have 2-3 major titles per quarter/period that their publicists focus on.) Marketing falls to authors a lot of the time, and there’s only so much we can do about it.

    In reality, there’s also only so much I can do for an author. I cannot build an author page for you, make your Facebook author page and populate it with content, create an official author Twitter for you, or write your blog posts and develop your email list for you. Those are things I absolutely cannot do for you even if I wanted to. So go into it with a plan if you can, and do some study ahead of time to learn at least a little about what’s needed.

    IngramSpark has a good checklist of how to handle a book release and what to do when, so I’ll leave the marketing conversation here and let you read that checklist to help you plan things out.

This is by no means a complete list of things that might turn an acquisition editor off, but it covers the big ones that come to mind when I think about queries. I know some of these may sound a little harsh, but try and remember that acquisitions editors often deal with hundreds of emails a day for larger companies. Our process is usually streamlined to be as efficient as possible and allow us to spend as little time as possible reading a query before making a decision on it.

I’ll be frank, too, I often make a decision on whether or not I want to read more of the story based on reading the query, the first paragraph or two, and then glancing at the synopsis. While I may read the whole two chapters we ask for if something grabs me (if it does, go you!), but I am operating purely on: “Does this fit? How much work would this take to publish? If we put in the work, will the author fulfill their end of the bargain?”

An author’s job doesn’t end when editing is over. In fact, it’s just beginning when you sign the contract because, beyond writing, you have editing and then marketing. It’s not all sunshine and roses to get an acceptance letter; you have to keep pushing if you want to be successful. If you don’t, nobody wins.

Also, as an aside, in case you were wondering, yes, the title of this does resemble a Princess Bride quote. Just know that Princess Bride quotes are always lurking. Waiting. Stalking me. And now you know my dreadful secret: if you think it might be a pun know that it probably is.

An author’s job doesn’t end when editing is over. In fact, it’s just beginning when you sign the contract because, beyond writing, you have editing and then marketing.

E. Prybylski

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Lessons Learned and Where I Am

Lessons Learned and Where I Am

As we prepare to launch Insomnia Publishing’s newest release, First Favor (the third Sam Archer book), I am kind of reflecting some on the things I’ve learned about editing, publishing, and writing over the last few years. While I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front, I’ve been very busy on the life front. And on my career. This is likely to venture into the personal, so you are going to learn a bit about who I am and what my life is in this blog. It’s not really about writing advice, but maybe you’ll learn something? I don’t know.

Over the last couple years, I’ve been re-thinking my approach to editing, writing, and publishing. I’ve been giving deep thought to what I want, what I need, and what direction I want to take. Both with my company (the aforementioned Insomnia Publishing) and with my editing. I’ve spent a couple years studying editing and really giving deep thought into what services I provide, what my price points ought to be, and whether or not I am over- or under-charging. What kind of editing I do, and how I want to approach things in the future.

I also started writing the first book I’m publishing. I started Fallen in the middle of last year and finished the last draft of it earlier this year. I signed a contract with my own company (I have an in with the acquisitions editor) and have my novel in editing. Seeing the editing process from the other side with another editor has given me some insight into the “user” end of the experience. Though I will say my editor is a delight and very easy to work with. We are old friends, so there’s no sting or distrust there.

I also am switching software for my typesetting. Given the outrageous costs of Adobe, I was still using CS3 to work on my book covers and typesetting. It still works, of course, but I run the perpetual risk of losing the software and my ability to do the work if I lose the key and install disks since it’s no longer supported, and Adobe really doesn’t like the fact that I’m still using it and not paying the astronomical fees to update. Or paying monthly for access to their software. Which, frankly, is just abhorrent to me. I am, maybe, old fashioned in the sense that I prefer to buy my software and not rent it.

In doing that switch, I am re-visiting how I do my cover art and typesetting (I’m now using Affinity’s suite). While I’ve read reviews that it’s not as good as Adobe is, I can say with certainty that it’s a far cry from using CS3 (a software suite from around 2005), so anything it doesn’t match up to with Adobe certainly outstrips what I had. This has changed my work flow and made me faster and given me more versatility with my covers. It makes things easier to design the way I see in my head, too, which makes all the difference. For example, I had to re-typeset First Favor Sunday night into Monday after realizing that the file had un-typeset itself. A page had been deleted somewhere, and the manuscript was a disaster as a result.

While I was working on it I figured out some ways to make my life faster, make things more efficient. I’m always adding things to my process and learning new things while I work. Which, honestly, is one of the things I like best about this line of work. There’s always a way to refine what I’m doing, smooth things out, discover new details of the programs I use. It’s a never-ending process, and I love learning more in order to be better at my chosen vocation. I could list these little shortcuts, but I expect most of you would have your eyes cross if I discussed it. Typesetting is a highly technical field mixed with wizardry and a love of fonts. I am, in fact, a horrible font nerd at this point in my life, and I could probably spend a solid half-hour babbling about fonts, readability, and qualities you’re looking for in one if prompted. Or, if you’re unlucky enough to meet me at a cocktail party, unprompted.

In addition to that, I’ve been working on better ebook formatting and trying to learn how to embed fonts to let me use chapter headers and dropcaps. For example, in First Favor, I use a dropcap on each chapter in the same font as the chapter headers and the title page (and the cover). It’s “Chapbook” in case you were wondering. (I am sure you weren’t.)

I do like Chapbook.

Lessons in editing are a different kettle of fish than typesetting and cover design, of course.

Over the last few months I’ve done some book coaching for some lovely clients, both of whom need different things. I’m not going to get into their requirements because that’s personal, but it’s given me a different perspective on what I do. Walking someone through the process of writing their book and encouraging (and holding accountable) my authors is very rewarding. I love seeing them blossom and develop and meet goals. I’ve not done writing coaching in a formal way before, but I’ve been working with authors in my Discord group regularly. It’s not as detailed or as intensive as coaching, but I pop in, give lectures almsot every week, encourage folks, and we have a lovely community going.

Beyond that, I’ve been spending a lot of time in several groups for editors, talking amongst each other and discussing everything from comma placement and hyphenation to regional dialect. It’s a fantastic and fascinating thing to see and learn from. Some of these folks are veterans of over fifty years. Yet others are brand new to the profession and are drinking in the opinions and views of others. Also, different disciplines have such different perspectives. These things I’m always adapting into my own editing and learning.

Then we come to my writing.

I’m at a point where I’ve got an editor working on my book. This is my first time working on a novel with an editor, and I am finding the experience instructive and interesting. Also having finished a novel and working on my cover for real, preparing the typesetting, thinking about marketing… I think it’s going to teach me a lot about that part of the business. While I haven’t been on the author side of things before, I have been on the publisher side enough for long enough to make a good go of it, I think. I also have some phenomenal authors I am close with who are brilliant at it, and who I am going to be whining to as I learn to do this myself for the first time.

What this will teach me, beyond the satisfaction of publishing my own books (which has been a lifelong dream), this will make me a better editor and better publisher. And I am all for it. I look forward to this. I mean, also, I’m publishing a book, so the child in me who started writing as soon as they were old enough to hold a pencil is squealing and dancing. No, really. Child me did ballet.

If there’s an actual takeaway from this ramble, it’s that no matter how long you’ve been working in the field, there’s always something to learn, and exploring other angles of the same industry can provide a lot of insight into how to approach things. I’m not saying authors need to be editors. In fact, I think that (unless you have training) it’s a terrible idea. However, studying the thing from multiple angles can give you a whole new appreciation for the industry you’re in. I love learning, and every new milestone just tells me just how much further I have to go.

By the way, to plug the aforementioned novel my company is releasing, I’m really excited to introduce you to the third book in the Sam Archer series. Written by my good friend, Dr. Joseph Weinberg, this is the best book in the series yet. If you haven’t read them, you’re really missing out. The series is like a crossover between The Dresden Files and Constantine, insomuch as Sam is a man with no powers facing down a world of things so much bigger than he is. His voice is fantastic, the stories are wonderful, and I am kind of biased, but he has great cover art. (Spoiler alert: I did his cover art.)

See? It looks pretty awesome.

First Favor comes out June 15th, 2021 and is available for pre-order from Amazon. If you haven’t read the first two books in the series, you can find Pipe and Pestle also on Amazon for $3.99 for the ebook.

If you enjoyed this blog post and want to give me a thumbs up, feel free to visit my ko-fi and leave me a tip! A few tips is a tank of gas, a cup of coffee, or a cheeseburger.

Characterization and its Value

Characterization and its Value

After years of writing this blog on and off, I came to the startling realization yesterday that I hadn’t written an entry regarding characterization and what that means for authors and books. In light of this horrible mistake, I am writing this entry now!

Characterization is telling the reader about characters (or even places). It’s the meat and potatoes of the “getting to know you” part of the story, and it can be extremely powerful. This blog ties directly into last week’s topic: description, so if you haven’t read that yet, I’d catch up!

Over and over again in groups and with individuals, I see folks struggling with how in the world do you help readers understand things without beating them over the head with it. We are told often to show, not tell, and while this advice has value, it’s missing a lot of the “how” of the statement. Part of the how is characterization.

I’m going to start with indirect characterization here rather than begin with direct because, frankly, I like indirect more. In some ways, you can think of it like the way Sherlock Holmes deduces facts about a person based on things like their shoes, watch, colors, clothing style, and all other details. While what he does is an exaggeration, it reflects something we as humans do every day when we meet people. It’s the reason why “long-haired freaky people need not apply” became a thing. We form understandings of people based on details about them. Whether these opinions are accurate or not is an entirely separate discussion, but it is a real thing that occurs in the world, and we can capitalize on it in our storytelling.

Characterization can happen beyond just describing a person, too. Describing their space or things around them can add a lot to the understanding of an individual. Let’s take a look at what I mean through two descriptions:

Morgan’s office was so clean it looked as though nobody could really work there. Every paper sat in a precise spot on the glass top of his desk (which was so clean it gleamed and didn’t so much as bear a single fingerprint), and his pens were organized into several containers by color. The wide windows behind him looked out onto the university campus grounds from the height of several floors, affording him the view of an eagle in its nest.

Office One

Richard’s office perpetually smelled like Indian food. Piles of books covered every surface, many with extra papers stuffed into them–notes often tangentially related to the book he’d filed them in. The dark wood paneling and many bookshelves gave the space an almost cave-like feel, and the incandescent bulbs he used in his many lamps only heightened the sense of dark and warmth. He refused to use the overhead lighting, finding the buzz of the fluorescents unendurable.

Office Two

Now, we know nothing about Morgan or Richard or what they look like or even what they teach. But these two offices tell stories about two radically different people, and we can gather bits of their personality through their spaces. This is characterization. While it doesn’t always require a large description to get a point across, you are giving readers an insight into a character’s head when you talk about their clothing, their choices in music, their cars, the way they arrange their bedrooms, and the way they use language in dialogue.

The way you use language, too, can indicate to a reader how they should feel about a character. If you use warmer, more caring language to describe them, readers will pick up on that. Even subconsciously. While most readers don’t enjoy a book with an exceptionally analytical eye, they are more perceptive than you might expect. You can rely on this and know that readers do typically pick up on subtext pretty well so long as you don’t bury it.

This use of indirect characterization is half the puzzle. Using a character’s spaces, clothing, and other such things is considered “indirect” characterization. As you may imagine, it’s the less overt way telling the reader who these characters are as you can probably glean from the name.

Direct characterization are things you tell the reader outright. These are things you tell the reader such as describing someone as “a tall, thin woman with confidence that hung on her like a mantle.” Too much of this will breach into “telling” territory, but it is the most efficient means of giving readers information. If a character is only going to be on scene for a short period of time, or you need a reader to know some very specific details about them for story purposes, this is a good bet.

Also, direct characterization includes things like a character telling someone something about themselves or thinking it if you’re using internal dialogue as a method in your story. It isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, and if you only use indirect characterization in a novel there’s a good chance you’ll hurt your pacing by having to tell readers an overwhelming amount of detail about the character to get your point across.

My definitions of direct and indirect characterization here differ from some other examples I’ve read where they say direct characterization is only the author telling the reader specific things (like me mentioning the confident woman) rather than any sort of reveal about a character through direct thoughts or dialogue, but I’m going to posit that anything that is equally obvious to the reader would fall under direct. While indirect is more environmental storytelling or telling the reader things about the character through the use of their clothes and other such markers.

Regardless of how you choose to discern direct and indirect characterization, we can all agree both types are vital to a story and provide a backbone to how your characters are viewed by the reader. The same actions taken by one character might be viewed very differently when taken by another based on the way you as a writer choose to display them.

Beyond this, characterization also happens with every action a character takes in a story. The reader gains more insight into them with every word devoted to that character. While, obviously, some methods are more effective and useful than others, recognize that readers absolutely will pick up on things.

This leads us to discussing issues where, for example, people hate your main character or don’t understand their motives. While some of this might come down to having a main character who relies on tropes or behaves in ways abhorrent to a reader’s sensibilities, some of it could well be lack of characterization on the part of the author. After all, to us, our character’s motives and intentions are crystal clear. If a reader just cannot connect with a character at all, there’s a good chance you’re missing some of the pieces that give a reader insight into them.

This is not to say characters cannot have secrets or big reveals, but remember, readers are gathering information on every single action a character takes. If they don’t have enough information for them to understand why a character is taking the action they are, you’ve missed a beat somewhere. Fortunately, adding that in may be as simple as providing a few lines of dialogue or a paragraph where a character ruminates on their intended purpose.

However, there are some characters where no amount of characterization will make them not sketchy down at their core. I’m sorry, Twilight fans, at no point does Edward Cullen being over a hundred years old and perpetually in high school and stalking a seventeen year old girl become less creepy. No matter how you frame it. Nor does Jacob deciding that Bella’s unborn child is his mate and that he’s going to groom the kid to be his perfect lady. The facts of the matter are still horrible.

Editing Rates and Updates

Editing Rates and Updates

I recently made a post up on my editing website regarding editing rates and talking about why editors charge what we do. That version’s extremely clinical since that blog is meant to be seriously nuts and bolts. This one’s more conversational, so rather than re-hash all the details of the other blog, I’m going to talk a little more personally here.

Editing rates has been a hard topic for me since I am constantly fraught with imposter syndrome. If you didn’t know that about me, now you do. While I am an expert, and I know it if I lay all my accolades out in front of me like a deck of cards, I a lot of the time live in the constant fear of “what if someone finds out I’m just a nerd!” and end up under my desk after sending out a big quote. A lot of editors do that.

I’m also part of a number of editors-only groups on various platforms (shout out to Editors Lair), which gives me a chance to let my guard down and talk shop with other editors. It turns out that this issue I have with imposter syndrome is endemic amongst editors. We are always wrestling with ourselves over whether we charged enough, too much, too little, or just right. Or railing against being gaslit by people who think our rates aren’t worth it, which then triggers the imposter syndrome spiral.

At least once or twice a week I see posts from editors of various skill levels expressing stress and fear over how much we charge. And I won’t lie, a good editor charges a pretty significant chunk of change for an edit. That said, when I zoom back and look at the value a good editor can bring to a manuscript, I can’t bring myself to say other editors don’t deserve what they charge. I am no different.

“At least once or twice a week I see posts from editors of various skill levels expressing stress and fear over how much we charge.”

Knowing that about us, recognize that our editing rates are created out of a careful mix of factors that include things like how much overhead we have in running our business (website, utilities, subscriptions to software or things like the CMOS, professional memberships, etc), paying for our health insurance, covering our take-home, and more. We are, after all, small business owners, so we have to make ends meet. Some editors do editing on the side for fun or to supplement other enterprises. Others edit as a hobby. There are so many reasons we do what we do, but it’s usually with an undercurrent of being really, deeply passionate about working with authors and loving books.

I love books.

I have always loved books and loved reading. I can still remember my mother reading me The Hobbit and Dragonsong and Uncle Wiggly as a child. She read me The Lupine Lady and Love You Forever. And all the Berenstain Bears books. I could list my favorite books until you chucked me face-first at a Barnes and Noble and told me to shut up. I spent most of my high school years huddled in the library at every opportunity.

I’ve also been a writer as long as I can remember. My first full novel is due out this year, though I’ve had a number of short stories published in various collections over the years. I wrote my first “novel” in high school (all forty pages of it in Word) and have savored writing ever since I first learned how.

Beyond my love for reading and writing, I’ve been in the industry a decade. Ten years of learning, studying, discussion with other editors (we’re a chatty bunch), learning from expert writers, devouring books on the craft. I have read multiple style guides, discussed the merits and drawbacks of them with my peers. I say discussed, but if you’ve ever been to a debate forum at a nerd convention, you’ll know the kind of discussion I mean. (I say that tongue in cheek.)

Furthermore, I bring more than a love of just the written word to the table. I am an ecclectic mix of experiences and knowledge. Everything from European fencing to modern firearms, from police procedure to a solid understanding of Medieval history. There are plenty of things I don’t know, of course, but I joke that while I got my BA in history, I should probably just tell people I have a degree in research. I’ve spared clients from embarassing mistakes more than once (I had a client who tried to rack the slide of a revolver in a manuscript at one point) and have given medieval fantasy writers insight into the fact that their characters wouldn’t probably be drinking from glass tankards.

“I am an ecclectic mix of experiences and knowledge. Everything from European fencing to modern firearms, from police procedure to a solid understanding of Medieval history.”

Spreading all these things out in front of me, I don’t feel bad about my rates. Or at least I don’t while I’m writing this. There’s a good chance I’ll lie awake all night, staring at the ceiling worrying about them, despite that they’re on the low end of the EFA’s rate scale and, in some places, under it.

Recently, I have made the jump to charging by the word rather than by the hour. While people I have worked with in the past may worry at seeing the change, know that I’m willing to work with you on the rate change, so don’t throw up your hands. We will make it work. The reason I went to a per-word rate was multiple-fold. First, I was undercutting myself because I work faster than the average per-word listed in the EFA’s rate scale by a significant margin if the work is on the cleaner side. And even if it isn’t, I still tend to edit quickly. (I read–not edit, just read–at the rate of about 11-12k words per hour). As a result, I’ve been hurting myself and not charging what I’m worth.

Those of you who have been here awhile and are friends may know I’ve been agonizing over this for awhile, and after a decade in the business and being capable of delivering the kind of feedback I do, I really needed to start bringing myself more into line with the EFA’s guidance since I am EFA-quality at what I do, even if I haven’t managed to scrape my pennies together for a membership just yet.

Ultimately, just remember that editors are working hard. There’s usually sticker shock involved with our quotes, but a good editor works extremely hard for their clients and are doing far more than spell check.

On a more personal level, COVID has thrown me for a loop. I didn’t get it, thank God, but rearranging my life to deal with the situation of the world has been a challenge. I am, as I write this, recovering from my second dose of the vaccine and looking forward to being able to do things like go to the grocery store without fear. I also have some time scheduled with a therapist to help me work through the anxiety I’ve developed about being around crowds again.

Yes, indeed, I have a therapist. It’s worth it, and I am not ashamed to discuss that fact. I may, in fact, talk a little more about mental health in another blog since it’s a subject writers often wrestle with both in prose and in life.

I’ve been trying to use the time in 2021 to try and rebuild myself some and re-evaluate what I want in life and out of my work. I also took some personal time to write, which I hadn’t really made for myself in years. As a result, I’ve got that novel I mentioned earlier in the blog coming out toward the end of this year. We don’t have a release date yet (it’s still in editing), but as soon as I have one, I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops.

The last year has, for me, been a time of deep reflection, consideration of what I want out of my life and my future, and setting up steps and plans to try and get me there. While, being disabled, there are things I cannot and will never do, I am more than I have been. And I am looking forward to sharing that with the world.

I have been bad about being active on this medium of late, but if you are looking to reach me and have a chat, I am over on Twitter at @EHPrybylski, running a writing server on Discord, uploading pictures of my cats on Instagram as @EHPrybylski and on Facebook under the same name.

If you’re still here after this long ramble, thank you for reading.

Head Hopping and Why It’s A Problem

Head Hopping and Why It’s A Problem

Hey, it’s me, your friendly neighborhood editor resurrected from the dead. My hope is to make this blog a monthly thing. We’ll see if I can make that happen how I intend, but let’s give it a shot at least. I know I’ve said that about a million times, but maybe this time it’ll stick.

We can only hope. 

So, to dig into this, let’s start with discussing the important parts of POV.

First, the POV character is the one who informs the reader. Everything filters through them, their biases, their experiences, and their knowledge. That means we only know what they do. Now, you can have multiple POV characters in a book separated by scene breaks or chapters, but you should only have one POV at a time (if you change on the fly in the middle of a scene, that’s called “head hopping” which we’ll get into later).

Choosing your POV character is important–it informs your whole story. Can you imaginee reading the Dresden Files books from the perspective of Michael? Actually, some of you can, if you’ve read Jim Butcher’s numerous short stories from the other POVs. It’s a very different feel than from Harry’s experience.

The POV character is, typically, the main character of your book. If your book is about multiple main characters, it may end up with multiple POVs at different times, but don’t get crazy with this. Readers who jump from character to character to character don’t form a relationship with most any of them, so getting them to care about your character and their journey will be more difficult.

While there’s no hard and fast rule, you should probably not have more than three or four primary POV characters. If you throw in a chapter or scene written by an incedental NPC here and there, that’s all right, but don’t overdo it. Think of it like salt. If you add some salt, it can really enhance a dish. Some people like more or less of it, but if you just dump all of it in, it will become inedible in its entirety.

Whether you’re writing from first person or third person, you shouldn’t write about things your POV character doesn’t know. For example, if she doesn’t know the person across from her plans to kill her, you shouldn’t tell the reader that. What you can do is have your character put pieces together, notice things like body language, tone, things like that. Neurotypical (people who are not, for example, on the autism spectrum) people are capable of reading facial expressions and body language to put together someone’s emotional state most of the time. If your POV character isn’t neurotypical, then you, as a writer, need to account for that in your handling of such things.

Let’s write a sample scene to show you what I mean:

Mary slouched in the diner booth, staring at Bobby. He’d been quiet today, and he was thinking of breaking up with her. He frowned at his pancakes and sighed. “I think we should see other people.”

The words hit Mary like a fist, and her jaw dropped. “What? It was going so well!”

“Yeah, well. I just think I’d be better off with Joan.” Bobby really liked Joan, and whenever he thought of her, he smiled. Like he was now.

Mary felt like someone had kicked her in the belly. “Oh.”

You can see, immediately, that I’ve jumped between POVs here (Mary’s and Bobby’s). The first paragraph starts implying it’s in Mary’s POV, but we have the revelation that Bobby was thinking of breaking up with her. Which also has the effect of robbing the last line of the paragraph of any power, since we know it’s coming.

The second paragraph is squarely in Mary’s POV, describing how she feels the impact of the breakup.

In paragraph three, it goes back into Bobby’s POV, since Mary (we can assume) is not in Bobby’s head and doesn’t know exactly what he’s thinking or feeling.

Then, paragraph four returns to Mary’s point of view.

This small scene is indicative of head hopping. There are authors who get away with this. A dear friend of mine recently mentioned she was reading an Ann Coulter book where this happens, and it’s somewhat common in the Romance genre. This head hopping robs the reader of any mystery of what’s happening right here, and you don’t really know which character you’re in deep POV with.

In this case, it’s not particularly confusing, but if you added more characters, it could end up a catastrophe. Fast.

So, how do we fix this poor scene? Well, first, we choose a character to write from. I’m going to go with Mary. Then, let’s rewrite it focusing on what Mary can see, feel, taste, touch, and so on. What she knows.

Mary slouched in the diner booth, staring at Bobby. He’d been quiet today, and she wasn’t sure why. He frowned at his pancakes and sighed. “I think we should see other people.”

The words hit Mary like a fist, and her jaw dropped. “What? It was going so well!”

“Yeah, well. I just think I’d be better off with Joan.” A small smile curled the corner of his mouth when he said Joan’s name.

Mary felt like someone had kicked her in the belly. “Oh.”

Now it’s written from exclusively Mary’s point of view. It describes a little of what she can see regarding Billy’s feelings (paragraph three), but it doesn’t give the reader any knowledge they wouldn’t have already. This means the reader doesn’t have warning that he’s going to break up with her immediately, so when it happens, the reader experiences it along with Mary, rather than trying to do it splitscreen.

Let’s try it from Bobby’s POV:

Bobby felt the weight of Mary’s eyes on him from across the diner table. He’d spent the day trying to figure out how to say what came out next, but it was best that he just say it. He sighed. “I think we should see other people.”

Mary’s jaw dropped, and she let out a huff of air. “What? It was going so well!”

“Yeah, well. I just think I’d be better off with Joan.” Bobby really liked Joan, and whenever he thought of her, he smiled a little.

Her lower lip quivered a little, and Mary looked at the table. “Oh.”

Now we can see what’s going on in Bobby’s head, and Mary’s reaction is described through what he can see (her quivering lip, her sigh). This is still written solidly from Bobby’s POV, but it doesn’t mean the reader ignores the impact on Mary.

Finally, a note on Omniscient POV:

Omniscient POV isn’t accounted for in this article because it is both pretty uncommon these days and it is quite different than the limited POV varieties (first, third). Omniscient writing requires different things, but it, too, does not head hop. It is written with less intimacy to the individual characters, but what it sacrifices in depth, it makes up for in perspective.

Omniscient POV is very much its own thing. If you have read books like “Lord of the Rings” by JRR Tolkein or “Rocket’s Red Glare” by my dear friend Cy Stein, you’ll notice that you aren’t deep into any individual character’s head but instead see everything more or less all the time.

This blog has run pretty long already, and I’ve covered POV before on this blog, so I think I’ll just summarize by saying: head hopping bad. Don’t do it.

Research, Research, Research!

I cannot tell you the number of times I have stumbled across an author who has had issues with facts in their manuscript. And I don’t mean little things. I’ve had authors who tried to flip safty off on revolvers (revolvers don’t have safeties as a rule) and who had someone doing cross stitch in ancient Rome (cross stitch didn’t exist back then). While I don’t agree with “write what you know” as a rule, I would rephrase that to say, “know what you write.”

The problem I have with “write what you know” is that it limits you to things you know now. Which is a problem. Also, since I write high fantasy and science fiction, I can’t really “know” a lot of the things about the setting since I invented it. However, what I don’t know, I can postulate or research. And therein lies the key: research.

I am a lucky woman. I have diverse interests and can talk intelligently about everything from police procedure to the ingredients used to prepare authentic Medieval recipes. While I don’t know everything (I really don’t), I have a brain full of factoids that, outside of writing, are useless to pretty much everyone. Maybe I’m not that lucky. But it does give me an edge in conversation.

The reason I know all those various things is research. I’ve studied a great many subjects at varying depths and, at the very least, know how to dig for information in a way that yields fruit. With that in mind, I have some suggestions for authors aspiring to learn more about just about any topic!

  1. Find an expert.
    No, really, find one. If you want to learn about firearms, go to a range or a store and start asking questions of the clerk. Also, consider finding someone who knows them to take you shooting. There is no substitute for practical experience. I have taken authors to the range before to let them experience what it’s like to fire a gun, and it gave them perspective nothing else could. Similarly, you can ask a martial artist about fight scenes, a scientist about science, maybe see if your local police are willing to talk to you about police procedure. It may seem daunting at first, but you will end up with far more authenticity to your writing than you would otherwise. Also, most nerds (and experts are nerds) love to talk about their subject of expertise. Seriously. Just ask us. We’ll talk your ear off.
  2. Learn how to use search engines.
    I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way. Using Google effectively will give you a great deal more data than if you wander your way through it. Also, no matter what they told you in school, Wikipedia is an excellent resource for the beginning of your studies. While there is occasionally misinformation on there, the curators do an excellent job of ensuring factual purity.

    Using Google effectively can include such techniques as using the proper keywords, using quotation marks to specify exact phrses, and other such things. It’s an art all in itself, and you may find your research becomes easier when you learn how to utilize your tools properly.

  3. Learn to recognize sources.
    When I was in college, one of the things emphasized to me was learning how to locate primary sources. A primary source is the article, study, work, etc. that is the origin of the story. It’s like reading Shakespeare rather than reading about Shakespeare. Secondary sources are useful and can help us interpret primary sources, but we must be careful because secondary sources often have opinions.

    In addition to that, make sure the sources you are using are real ones. This means vetting them. You’re more likely to get better information about the physical effects of a car crash from WebMD than you are from (I don’t know if that’s a real site; don’t visit it.) Evaluating sources is important because it means you can be sure your research is at least legitimate, even if you aren’t always correct.

While these cannot guarantee you won’t make mistakes, these three tools may prove useful to you while you are preparing your work. Also, make sure when you are at the stage where you need an editor, make sure you find an editor who knows your subject matter. Or one who is willing to research if they don’t know. I have caught factual errors in books more than once, even if the subject isn’t my forte. However, I also know when I am not the right editor for a book. It’s completely okay to ask your editor if they have experience with a subject, so don’t be afraid to do so!

To-Be Verbs

To-Be Verbs

You’ll hear in writing courses the world over that to-be verbs aren’t your friends while writing. The biggest reasons for this lie in the fact that many to-be verbs are passive in nature. Even if they aren’t passive voice outright, they’ll lead into passive construction which is just as unpleasant. The difference between passive voice and passive construction are very similar, and suffice to say they can be identified in the ways I mention in the blog I’ve linked to above.

Before going further, we should define what “to-be” verbs actually are:  am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been. Now, you might be wondering how you could write a novel without employing them, and the reality is you probably shouldn’t. They’re important parts of the language, so don’t think I’m suggesting you delete them altogether. However, I do suggest writing a paragraph without any. It’s a good exercise. Even up to 500 words. It’s possible.

Another problem with to-be verbs is they often indicate telling rather than showing, and as we all know, “show, don’t tell”. The importance of showing can’t be understated. Now, by “show” I don’t mean you have to narrate a character’s entire life story in order to explain something. “She had a rough childhood.” That’s sufficient sometimes. You also can skim over one character telling another something the reader already knows. “Show, don’t tell,” more means things like character’s emotions. The difference is in the imagery and creating a real world. Which is more evocative?

Bob is furious.

Veins pulsed in Bob’s forehead, and his fists clenched.

While I’m a fan of brevity, there are times it’s better for the story to expand on things at least a little. Also, you notice the lack of adjectives and adverbs in that statement (bonus points). You can, most of the time, delete a to-be without damaging the sentence. To take a sentence from a piece I recently edited:

“The room was decorated by large cement columns.”

Now, if the author is reading this, I’m not picking on you! It’s just a good example of passive voice. The blog I linked to earlier in this post goes into passive voice in detail, but omitting the to-be verb removes the passivity of the sentence.

“Large cement columns decorated the room.”

To-be verbs are shunned for these reasons, and rightfully so. They often drag the pacing, rearrange focus, and make your sentences passive. I don’t advise removing them from your work entirely, but think about them when you use them. One way I’ve found to weed out the stragglers is to put them into Smart Edit’s watched words list, and I run a check on my pieces before considering them finished. I evaluate each instance of a to-be verb and decide if it’s necessary or beneficial. I do that also with adverbs, adjectives, and a whole slew of other words. This software is useful, but it doesn’t replace flesh-and-blood editors, so don’t make that mistake.