Tag: Editing

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.

Why Publishers Won’t Steal Your Book

Why Publishers Won’t Steal Your Book

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or an expert in the law. My understanding comes from contact with people who know more than I do about US copyrights. If you have questions or concerns, please contact a lawyer.

Let me start by saying there is no accounting for jerks in the world, and there are jerks. However, the vast majority of publishers fall into the category I am going to describe in this blog for the reasons I give. There are also authors who plagiarize or steal other authors’ works (and I don’t mean fanfic writers–you folks are fine in my book). However, I have yet to meet a publisher who would steal an author’s book.

The reality is this: the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t add up when it comes to stealing your book.

Even if you were the next Tolkien, Martin, King, or Hemingway, the reality is that there is so much work and money that goes into investing in a book to be published that stealing your work to publish without you wouldn’t be worth it. On average, one pass of editing for one of my clients is between $800-$2000, depending on the type of editing and length of the novel. When we are publishing a book, there is a minimum of three passes ($2,400) plus typesetting (another $750 minimum), cover design ($250+), an ISBN ($50ish), uploading to Ingram ($25) and so on. By the time it hits the market, we’ve spent around $5,000 in work and assets on this book. And that was calculated with the absolute minimum in editing. It’s usually closer to $1,200 per pass worth of work.

The reality is this: the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t add up when it comes to stealing your book.

E. Prybylski

And that’s a clean book that doesn’t require extensive work. (Not that we’d take a book that does for exactly the reasons above).

Also, royalties tend to be around 15% net for print books and 35-40% net for ebooks. Most of the time, after Amazon, Ingram, and other parts of the distribution network take their bites, a book that sells for $15.00 as a print book might net a $4.00-$5.00 profit for the publisher. And 15% of that is about $0.75 per book that goes to an author. For ebooks, you’re getting 40% of the 30% the publisher makes off of your $5.99 book. Or about $0.10. Sure, if you sell hundreds and hundreds of books, that will add up over time, but it would require a huge success for that to be worth the fiscal risk of being taken to court.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that, legally, copyright in the US begins the moment you start writing your book. Even before you register it. This means that even if you pitch your book to publishers/agents before you’ve obtained a copyright through the process, you are protected. While defending your copyright in court is easier when you’ve obtained a copyright from the government, it’s certainly possible. And if someone does steal your book, you can sue them into oblivion.

None of these costs have taken marketing into account yet, either. Which is time-consuming and can be expensive depending on the routes you choose.

From a purely dollars-and-cents point of view, the math just doesn’t add up for a publisher to steal your book and try and cut you out of the deal. The amount we have to invest into every book we launch means that, before we could rake in that sweet, sweet, illicit dough, we’d have to invest a lot of money, hope you don’t catch us, and then put the book to market and spend even more money and time on marketing all while Snidely Whiplash twirling our collective mustaches and hoping you don’t notice.

The long and short of it is, it just isn’t worth it. No offense, but your book isn’t worth that risk and that investment if we could get taken to court over it. No matter how good it is, your book just isn’t good enough for me to risk my livelihood, future work, mortgage, and future children’s college funds over on the wild guess of a return.

Besides. I’m an author, myself. I don’t want to steal your books. I have my own I’m publishing.

Now, are there cases where authors will steal each other’s ideas, and stories. There have been a lot of lawsuits over it, and that is something to watch out for (which is why I strongly discourage authors from writing anything on Wattpad unless they’re making it public forever and never intend on trying to make money from it). You should be careful who you share your manuscript with before you copyright it and/or publish it. That’s a thing you should be aware of. I’m not saying not to workshop things with fellow authors (again, the vast majority of them have their own projects and genuinely don’t want to steal yours), but you should be conscious and aware of things and use caution.

Ultimately, you may well want to copyright before querying, but not because the publisher is likely to steal it from you. In fact, they may well expect you to have copyrighted your book in advance. It’s an important part of the process, and you should do it. However, it’s got nothing to do with publishers stealing your writing.

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.

Asking “Stupid” Questions

Asking “Stupid” Questions

I’m not going to lie and say there’s no such thing as a stupid question. There are definitely stupid questions. “Where are my sunglasses?” when I’m wearing them is a stupid question I ask with more frequency than I’d like to admit. However, when it comes to writing there are fewer “stupid questions” than we’d think.

I’m in an awesome editors’ group on Facebook, and as of about half an hour ago someone asked the question of whether or not it’d be a good idea to have newbie editors create their own group (in addition to the main group) to support each other and not have to be afraid of asking silly questions. Just about all the editors in the group balked at the idea of relegating new editors to a corner, though it sparked an interesting discussion about the merit of “stupid questions” or “noob questions”.

What came out of the discussion didn’t surprise me, but it reinforced why I’m a member of the group: just ask the question. There’s this stigma around asking questions because we’re afraid of being viewed as less qualified or less intelligent because we have to ask other people for information. That’s an inaccurate belief structure and a damaging one.

As creatives, we (editors included) are prone to crippling self-doubt and impostor syndrome where we think we aren’t as good as we say we are and feel like we’re full of crap. While it’s good to have an ego check and consider that we aren’t all mega-geniuses who know everything, we aren’t complete morons, either. Asking questions pokes that little voice that says “you aren’t all that great” and sometimes turns it into a full-blown choir. However, the people reading those questions aren’t the ones singing that line. They’re usually thinking, “Oh, I’ve been there. Here’s how I dealt with it.”

As an editor, I act as a teacher for many of my clients. I’ve worked with many first-time authors who don’t quite know what the three-act structure is or exactly how to identify and slaughter passive voice. I’ve heard many questions, and I’ve asked even more. I have someone I consider my mentor, and I have guides who answer questions when I have them. That’s the secret: there’s always someone better than you to ask questions of. Your questions will change as you go along, but you’ll always have them, and it’s okay to ask.

To be honest, I think the only “wrong” question is the one unasked. There are definitely times when the answer is going to be “you’re not ready for that yet”, but asking the question isn’t a mark against you in some ethereal ledger where we keep our opinions of others. Even if the question is something we already know (or should know). I can’t count the number of times where I’ve been editing at 3am and just can’t decide where to put the damn comma. I’ve had to ask other writers or editors. Of course, that’s about the time I realize I need to put down the pen and go to bed (or have another cup of tea…).

In addition to you not crippling yourself by not asking questions, sometimes answering the question is a learning experience for another person. I’ve developed new understanding and ways of explaining things when I’ve taught people because I’ve had to. The act of teaching someone else does a great deal for one’s own learning, and that’s something you can take to the bank with you. When you begin teaching you immediately realize how little you know and start learning because, by gum, you aren’t going to leave your students in the lurch. By asking me tough questions (or even simple ones) my students are doing me a huge favor.

So, the real bones of the matter is, you aren’t an impostor for asking questions. You aren’t an idiot. You aren’t a moron. Anyone who treats you as lesser because you asked a question has an ego problem and isn’t probably a great teacher anyway. Just keep asking and learning. It’ll do you more good than it doesn’t. And ignore that chorus in the back of your head–you’ve got this. Keep at it.


The Myth of “Writer’s Block”

The Myth of “Writer’s Block”

Stick with me. I know the title might have your blood up because you’re stuck on your project, but I promise I’m trying to help. Take a deep breath and keep reading. We’re in this together.

The term “writer’s block” is loosely used to identify a state in which a writer isn’t writing. There are whole books and forums dedicated to writer’s block and how to overcome it, and I shake my head at them often. Why? Because I don’t think writer’s block exists in the format many people ascribe to. Yes, we can hit dry spells or periods in our life where writing becomes difficult, and every word on the page feels like crap and we want to cry. That’s valid. That’s real, but the problem isn’t this ephemeral idea of writer’s block.

The problem I have with the term is this: it’s too vague. People run into problems writing (or creating in general) for a  million unique reasons, so lumping all those reasons under one umbrella that doesn’t give real advice on how to deal with your specific problems doesn’t do you justice, and it won’t help you figure out what’s really causing you trouble. Following that line of logic: if you don’t know (or try to discern) the cause of your trouble then how can you fix it?

So, if it’s not writer’s block, what is it?

That is a valid question. If we tackle the monster and tell writer’s block to go to its corner, we can dig into the reasons we are struggling. I know my most frequent issue is burnout. Given that I am an editor, I spend my days up to my eyeballs in other people’s work providing triage. I love my job, don’t get me wrong, but I spend most of my creative energy and work on other people’s material. When I boot up my Word processor, set my tea on my desk, and slap my headphones into place I stare at my screen, and nothing happens. Creative burnout often steals my mental energy for writing. That’s not ephemeral, it’s fact.

When you sit down and stare at the screen what happens in your head? Is it because you feel you’ve written yourself into a corner and don’t know how to get out of it? Is it because you don’t know what the next step is? Is it because your mind is on whether or not you filed your reports for tomorrow (“Leave the puce.”)? There are so many reasons you might not be writing that it’s overwhelming. We then put those reasons into a bin and call it “writer’s block” without pulling it apart to determine the underlying cause.

To me, calling it such a generic term is like going to a veterinarian for help with a sick pet and just telling them you have a mammal when they ask what kind of pet you own. It’s such a vague term that has no useful information that you may as well have stayed home. Once you identify the kind of mammal you own, the symptoms you’re seeing, and looked for the cause you can come up with a treatment. It’s much the same with writing.

But nothing works, and I just don’t wanna!

In that case you need to ask yourself if you’re really a writer. There are times when we all hit a brick wall, but are you just using “writer’s block” as an excuse to get out of writing? Let’s be honest, we all get lazy sometimes and just don’t feel like it. Or we’re too burned out from life to sit at the keys. That’s okay to admit. Life sometimes steals our creative energy or just our energy and holds it hostage. There’s nothing wrong with saying so. Also, there are plenty of days where, when the work is done, we put on our fuzzy pajamas and binge-watch Netflix for the night because we just can’t be arsed.

The key is that you shouldn’t let those fuzzy-PJ’s-Netflix nights define your creativity. If you’re spending more time away from the keys than a them, then you should either evaluate whether you want to be a writer or not, or admit that maybe now isn’t the right time. I remember just after my father died I couldn’t manage everything and write, so I set my personal writing aside for a few months while I sorted everything else out. I still wanted to write, but I had other priorities. Now, I have a mentor who has written a minimum of 1k words a day for the last forty years without missing a day. To the point where he told nurses in the hospital to hold surgery off so he could finish his piece. I’m not kidding. That’s dedication, and I hold that man in awe. However, I’m not him, and I recognize that.

Ultimately, so-called writer’s block has a source rather than some nebulously defined state of being where your fingers don’t work the keys. It always does. Rather than using such a thin and trite (not to mention unhelpful) description of your struggle, just say the truth: “I don’t know what to do next.” “I am too tired from working too many hours today.” “I think I’ve written myself into a corner.” Those problems have solutions. They aren’t some kind of amorphous monster we can’t defeat. Whatever struggle you’re having has an answer. I promise. Just keep on keeping on, and search for those answers. Ask for help if you need to. Shoot me a message and tell me your woes, and I’ll do what I can to help. Lay it out to a friend or a writing group. It’s there.

You can do this.

photo credit: blackwingsbox via photopin (license)

That Moment

That Moment

I am about halfway into about my millionth edit on my upcoming novel, and I am tearing out my hair. Why am I tearing out my hair? Well, several reasons, but a large part of it is frustration with myself.

I am five drafts into this novel. Five. I finished it during NaNoWriMo in 2014, did a bunch of polishing and then set it aside for a year. After that, I rewrote it again and set it aside for another few months. Now I’m looking at it yet again, and I keep running into errors that make me want to scream, throw in my writing towel, and take up knitting. (I’m atrocious at knitting. Ask my mom.)

As an editor, I’m plagued by pervasive doubt that my writing isn’t good enough (and it’s not). I constantly feel like I should know better and that I am somehow a hack who knows nothing despite many happy clients, many successful editing contracts, and several published stories floating around the ether. We all get the feeling that we’re barking up the wrong tree and want to run away to join the circus. Even professionals get it.

What makes us different, what makes writers stand out, is we live in that moment and push through it. I’m continuing to edit, and at the end of this last pass I know this book will look great. Of course, I’ll be living in self-doubt while my editor (yes, I have one) reads it and gives me her opinion. But I am still writing. I’m not going to quit, no matter how much I scream and yell and throw temper tantrums at my keyboard.

We keep going.

The moment we choose to keep writing and push that self-doubt and pain aside is our defining one. Sure, we’re scared. We are all scared. Every creative on the planet is scared (or they should be if they aren’t). I’ve been playing violin for twenty-six years, and I still get nervous every time I step onto the stage to perform. Heck, I don’t even like playing where anyone can hear me. But I still do it.

We keep going.

Being scared is okay. Being frustrated, upset, and angry is okay. What’s not okay is letting that rule us. Is stopping just because we have this lingering doubt that we’ll never get it. The open secret that all of us feel that exact same way probably doesn’t surprise you, but it does mean you’re never alone. As one of my heroes, Kristin Lamb, says in her blog: We Are Not Alone. It’s one of her battle cries, and it’s one I want to see echoed across the net. Make it your battle cry when you slump over the keys, crying and scared because you sent a query off to yet another agent. Make it your roar of triumph when that acceptance letter comes in. Make it your whimper when that crippling moment of I’m a fraud sets in. You are not alone.

We. Keep. Going. 

Every word we type, every story we daydream, every character who springs to life in our heads when we’re staring out the window on the bus, this affirms what we are. We are storytellers. Don’t forget that feeling when you first discover your next story. When it blooms to life in your chest and you can’t stop thinking about it. You wander around all day, and everyone looks at you like you’re in love. And you are. You’re in love with writing, with the creative process. Remember that high, that sense of invincibility. Let it carry you through the moments when all you want is to crawl into bed and pretend you’re a slug.

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams.

(Ode by Shaughnessy)

Identifying and Fixing Passive Voice

Identifying and Fixing Passive Voice

I have seen a lot of Facebook questions and posts about passive voice that don’t quite explain it. Almost everyone who knows what passive voice is (or thinks they know what passive voice is) knows it’s bad, but they often have trouble identifying it. Given how prevalent the problem is, I thought I should address it.

A novel is, in some ways, like a movie. How you construct your sentences will determine where the camera is focused, who is on screen, and where the spotlight is shining. This is one of the reasons sentence structure is so vital to writing because if you don’t understand it or use it well you’re like a director whose camera crew is off the rails.

The easiest way I have to explain passive voice is it’s pointing the camera lens in the wrong direction. Now, I know there are times in artsy-fartsy movies where the kind of thing I’m going to describe happens. There are times in regular movies when it’s desirable. That also means passive voice isn’t always wrong. That said, it’s wrong more than it’s right, so don’t take that and run with it too far. Just because, “E said it’s okay sometimes” doesn’t mean to charge into the sunset with it.

Let’s start with an example of passive voice:

The door was closed by the man as he ran through it.

In this circumstance “the man” is supposed to be the primary sentence subject since he’s the one we are following, right? Your MC (Main Character) is running through a doorway and slamming it behind them as they try and escape the bad guys. Simple enough.

Unfortunately, with that sentence, that’s not the way it reads. It reads that the primary subject of the sentence is the door because it is written into the place of power. The camera lens is focusing on the door and watching it while the man (an afterthought) rushes past and closes it.

The reason this is called “passive voice” is because the thing being acted upon is the subject and isn’t doing anything. It’s not even reacting (which is a key part of why this is passive voice).

So how do we fix it? The fix is simple. Have the camera follow the action like any good director:

The man closed the door as he ran through it.

See the difference? The camera is moving, following the subject of the sentence. The subject of the sentence is acting, and we aren’t stuck in limbo staring at the door while action goes on around us. It would be like watching Avengers from the POV of one of the buildings in New York. Occasionally neat things would happen around you, but you’re stuck facing one direction with limited view and no action.

So how do we identify passive voice?

  • One thing you will also notice in the second sentence is I have removed the “to be” verb (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been). While “to be” verbs aren’t always passive, it’s a good idea to eliminate as many of them as possible in your writing. However, if you see a lot of “to be” verbs in your writing you might discover you have a fair amount of passive construction in there, too.
  • Next, check your subjects. Passive voice is almost always going to  have two or more subjects, so if your sentence has only one subject (e.g. The door was closed.) you are probably not in passive territory. That doesn’t make all single-subject sentences perfect, but they probably aren’t going to be “passive voice” in the technical definition.
  • If your sentence has two or more subjects, is the “camera” focused on the one doing the acting? If they are both acting then the sentence can’t be passive because passive voice requires at least one of the subjects to be doing nothing. If I were to write: “The door swung closed after him,” that is not passive. The door is swinging. It is active.

If those three checks do not hit paydirt on your sentence, it is not passive, no matter what the grammar check on your word processor or editing software says. That’s actually one of the major problems with editing software: it doesn’t realize all “to be” verbs aren’t passive. While I can (and will) do a post later about why “to be” verbs aren’t your friends, they aren’t passive by definition.