Tag: Arts

Scalping (and other horror stories)

English: Hands collaborating in co-writing or ...
English: Hands collaborating in co-writing or co-editing or co-teaching in online education. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my time in the writing world I have encountered multiple horror stories. And I am hoping that sharing some of them with you will help you avoid these pitfalls in the future. As you may have gathered I am militant in my march against people that are selling their services for massive prices without offering comparable worth.

I got one of my first freelance contracts because I rejected a query (when I worked with Divertir). No joke. And when I rejected that query it began a dialogue with the author regarding the editing that had been done on his book. Ultimately, the author told me that I had given him more help in those few emails (and in working on the first chapter of his book for him) than the editor he’d paid thousands of dollars to in order to edit his work.

I was floored.

This has not  been the last instance of this happening that I have encountered. Recently I began working with an author who had paid an editor twice what I was asking to edit only half the book. That “editor” mangled it and left not only word choice errors and so on, but failed to catch major grammar problems like runon sentences and capitalization mistakes. I don’t blame the author for these – that’s what editors are supposed to catch.

And these poor authors paid thousands of dollars for this trash. Needless to say my blood was (and is still) on fire. I don’t charge an egregious amount of money to edit a manuscript, but by God I edit it properly to the best of my ability. And I believe that authors deserve that kind of integrity. It would be like someone editing John Lennon out of a Beetles album because they thought it “sounded better that way” when they have never so much as listened to music.

I think my biggest problem has to come from so-called “editors” that actually have no idea what they’re doing. They’ve done a lot of reading and may even be writers, but that doesn’t mean that they are capable editors. Editing is its own art. It’s liked inexorably to writing (because if you don’t understand and have a firm grasp of the mechanics and craft of writing you can’t edit), but they are absolutely not one and the same.

Being able to edit effectively (and I don’t mean proofread for your buddies) takes years of practice, study, and hard work. Almost anyone can eventually do it, but it isn’t something you can just pick up and do because you got good grades in English. It requires a passion and sensitivity that easily equals an author’s. You need to be able to tend to that author’s voice like a garden. You weed it, water it, and fertilize it. Then you watch the flowers bloom after your hard work is done. Writers are like flowers; they will bloom and provide staggering beauty time and time again if properly and lovingly tended. Some of that tending requires pruning and other things they may not appreciate at the time, but it becomes worth it when the end result is a spectacular display.

Letting Go of Your Writer’s Ego

Writer's Block 1
Writer’s Block 1 (Photo credit: OkayCityNate)

This post might make a few people grumpy, and for that I almost apologize. I say almost because this really needs to be said and heard. This post is also explicitly about writers. Editors, designers, publishers, and everyone else in this muddled world of writing has an ego too, and they need to be punctured just as surely. But this post is mostly about writers themselves and not those that surround them.
I’ve participated in writers’ workshops, edited for a publishing company, edited freelance (which is very different), written books, and been part of writing groups and courses for a long while. One of the biggest things that annoys me is the ego with which most people address themselves and their writing. Any artist is going to be moody and protective of their work; this is just a fact of being an artist. It’s an irrefutable, inescapable phenomenon. And there’s nothing innately wrong with that. However, being moody and protective to the point of detriment to yourself and to others is not really kosher.

I’ve encountered writers that are convinced, proof positive, that their work needs nothing other than to be put on paper. Unfortunately this isn’t the case – everyone needs editing. Whether you pay someone else to do it or have a critique group do it… it’s a fact. Nothing we do, say, or write will be “perfect”. And that’s okay. But the first step on the road to recovery is acknowledging that there is a problem. And there is one.
When I talk about ego, I mean that guy at the writers’ group that every time you critique his work (and you do it nicely, too) he gets very unfriendly. He goes off about how you couldn’t possibly know anything, about how you are just a “tool of the publishing elite” or something, and throws a tantrum. I’m not talking about anyone specific in my experience (there are too many to be specific), but the general idea.

I’m also talking about that author who, when I worked for Divertir Publishing would send in their manuscript and get very, very unfriendly when we either a) rejected it, b) read the manuscript and then rejected it, or c) started editing and telling them that they had to change things. While what I do now is drastically different (I’m no longer working on a timeline, and the boss I have to please is the author) the principals are the same.

The big secret of all of this? It’s not a matter of ego. It’s a matter of art. Being able to accept (valid) criticism is the mark of the professional. And the mark of an adult. It’s tempting to stomp our feet and pout when someone changes something, or when someone says something we did is wrong. That’s human nature. But rising above that is an exceptionally important skill and allows you to learn when otherwise you would be so set in your ways that learning would be a remote, distant impossibility.

“Why do I need an editor? Can’t I just do it myself?”

Edit Ruthlessly
Edit Ruthlessly (Photo credit: Dan Patterson)

My recent move to freelance editing and my upcoming marriage have left me with little time for writing, I’m afraid. But nonetheless I want to comment on a trend I’ve noticed in several writing groups I participate in.

The answer is pretty simple, in all honesty. You need an editor because your writing isn’t going to be anywhere near as good without one. I am an editor, and I need an editor when I write! My writing isn’t perfect either, and because when you write something you’re so intimately tied to it there’s a fair amount of difficulty in stepping back enough from your own work to recognize the necessary changes. Grammar changes are pretty easy to notice on your own if you have a trained eye, but sometimes you miss things like word choice or plot holes that you didn’t realize you had.

Now, with all that said, you can do the majority of the work yourself by going through multiple drafts, researching the craft of writing, honing it, and then applying that new understanding to your writing. But that can take a fair amount of time to do, and some people just plain don’t want to do it. I’ve seen books cross my desk as an editor that made my fifth grade research papers look like Edgar Allen Poe. And those people wonder why these things are important.

I recently had someone ask me the question of “why is grammar important?” and my answer was pretty simple and straightforward. Having poor grammar in your writing when you go to sell it to others or market it to agents/publishers/whatever is like showing up to a job interview in your sweatpants and hoodie. It doesn’t matter how good your resume (manuscript) is no one will take you seriously, and someone else will get hired. There are no two ways about this fact. While, yes, most people don’t speak the Queen’s English and wouldn’t know a semicolon from an ampersand (well, they probably would, but still) it does make a difference. I know that I, for one, prefer books that don’t leave me itching to go for my red pen the first few sentences in. If I spend all my time editing the book in my head while I’m trying to read it I’m not enjoying the characters, story, or world. I’m just frustrated and typically won’t finish reading it.

Research and Accuracy

writing
writing (Photo credit: found_drama)

One of the things I’ve noticed in editing is that the biggest stumbling block many writers have is research. Particularly with pieces that are not about the modern era. The old adage of “write what you know” is actually a good idea, but in the context of writing about something you can expand “what you know” quite considerably.

I am currently working on a series of books that are going to be part corporate espionage, part fantasy, and part supernatural murder stories. When I started, I didn’t know very much about the world of crime and punishment but I bought some books about that (I’ll list some of them at the bottom of this entry) that have been amazingly helpful in many ways.

The places I’ve noticed most writers tend to have trouble in accuracy with (in my experience) are:

1) Injuries and Medicine

Most people that write aren’t ER surgeons. And that’s just fine! However, if you’re going to be writing about injuries that your characters sustain, it’s always best to know what the effects of the wounds are and the mortality of them. Personally, whenever I’m writing about an injury or a disease, my first stop is Google. Punch in the wound or sickness that your character has unwittingly contracted and you’ll swiftly get a long list of medical websites that detail the effects, as well as sometimes side effects.

Barring that, I also bought a book entitled “Body Trauma” on Amazon. It was written by David W. Page, MD, FACS and it’s a fantastic resource for writers. It gives information not only on injuries and complications but also the processes of treatment that happen in an ER or hospital. It’s not a large book but it is very dense and is a fantastic reference.

However, if you don’t want to pay the $10 on Amazon, webmd.com is a perfectly viable alternative. I mention this because I have gotten many submissions and read others that have such glaring issues as someone with a torn aorta living, without treatment, for over 30 minutes without medical treatment before the ambulance was even called. Most victims that have such a drastic injury don’t make it to the ER (and by most, I mean 90%). The writer had this character awake and talking the entire time when he would have almost immediately been unconscious due to shock and on top of all of that, he lived just fine after the adventure.

Those kind of errors will make anyone that knows anything about medicine grind their teeth, and it immediately removes the credibility of the writer. One of the most important parts of writing is keeping a story believable and this stretches the boundaries of “believable” until they look like taffy.

2. Police Procedure

While most of us have caught an episode of CSI: Miami on occasion, or even watch NCIS with the rabid devotion of a fangirl (I’m guilty), or even sometimes sneak in a few episodes of Castle… most people don’t know much about the criminal justice system. This is a double edged sword. While it’s a good thing that people don’t know all the details (which makes a writer’s job easier), we still have the burden of being more reliable than the writers of CSI. Many writers omit steps and procedures that are very important in a police investigation, or the operation of crime scene investigation.

While naturally one doesn’t need to include the exhaustive steps involved in an investigation, writers should at least be passingly familiar with the process so that they can choose what to simplify, omit, or modify to suit their stories. While it’s not necessary for us to put every minute detail in (readers would get bored, because let’s face it… it’s boring), we should know what goes on so that we can write about it intelligently.

3. Historical Settings

Many times, I have read books that are historical fiction (or fantasy) that appear to have been written by people that have never opened a history book. While many people make the argument “It’s fiction!”, and that’s true, fiction should retain elements of the real world and as a result ought to be believable. Now, granted, I have a B.A. in history, so I am one of the worst critics of this kind of thing. However, with that in mind, if you are going to be writing a novel series set in (or set in a world that is similar to) Medieval Europe, you should have at least a passing familiarity with the setting. That means understanding the class structure, the influence of the Church (the Catholic Church) on the mindset and world (even if yours isn’t particularly religious), and the historical events that were taking place around the time you are writing in.

Much like the police investigation, you don’t need to add all of these details, however knowing them gives you deeper insight into the setting and will allow you to create a more believable and acceptable world for your characters to interact in. Also, it will create a more logical place for your characters because if you have a knight that is ronin (yes, I specifically used an entirely inapplicable status for Western knights) then you have a big problem.

4. Geography

While none of us really liked taking Geography in school, if you’re going to be writing about real places it is a very good idea to take a look at a map. For the series I am writing (it’s about Boston), I have a 3×4 foot map of the city on my wall covered in black marker and pushpins. You don’t have to go through lengths like that with every bit of setting, however it is advisable that you at least know where, geographically, the locations are and basic information about them. If you are writing about Boston, for example, and it’s winter and you don’t have it be icy and cold, chances are you’re making a mistake.

Google Maps has been of great assistance to me, personally. I often use the street view to stroll around streets of cities that I would never want to walk, myself. It’s a very good way to get a look at the specific location you’re commenting on and while it is no substitute for going there in person, it definitely is somewhat safer.

Resources

Book of Poisons, Serita Stevens (RN, BSN, MA, LNC), and Anne Bannon, Writer’s Digest Books

Police Procedure & Investigation, Lee Lofland, Writer’s Digest Books

Forensics, D.P. Lyle, M.D., Writer’s Digest Books

Scene of the Crime, Anne Wingate, Ph.D., Writer’s Digest Books

Modus Operandi, Mauro V. Corvasce, Joseph R. Paglino, Writer’s Digest Books

Body Trauma, David. W. Page, MD, FACS, Behler Publications