Tag: Writer

Fallen Friday: Creative Slump

Fallen Friday: Creative Slump

I, like so many people, sometimes deal with dry spells when it comes to creativity. Lord knows I am in one now. I help people deal with these often as a book coach and in my writing group, but the shoe is now on the other foot, and I’m whining and kicking my feet about it like anybody does. Also, this time, my own advice isn’t helping.

I’ve been wrestling with this slump for over a week now, and nothing’s been coming out how I want it. No art, writing, music, or anything else seems to be doing what I want it to do, going to the gym isn’t getting things moving, and right now I think I just need to give myself some breathing room. While I am a big fan of helping writers get back on the horse, it’s also important to know when the horse is just tired, and it’s too hot for this, and maybe it’s picked up a stone in its hoofand needs some down time. And a good hoof cleaning.

Work toward the release of book one is going well, and my beating my head against the wall of book two is where I’m stuck. I’m more than halfway through the novel in terms of story events and 45k in on word count, but I am just stuck on how to get from the beat I’m at to the beat I’m headed for. It’ll come to me, but I just haven’t been able to get my brain into the mode.

I advise writing every day, and I suggest a lot of things when dealing with creative block. I also have been taking my own advice (reading, exercise, talking it over with friends, making sure I’m hydrated/fed, etc.) but sometimes things just don’t happen. I can’t speak for last week, but for me this week hasn’t been going well. It’s been a perfect storms of severe heat and humidity for where I live, migraines, an Ehlers-Danlos pain flare, and messing with my sleep schedule. As well as life in general just being a jerk.

It’s okay to have times when the creativity just isn’t happening. Whether it’s for a few weeks or a few months. I’m not really behind schedule because my goal is to release a book a year, and book one isn’t due out until January of 2022. I pushed the release off so as to not compete with Big Five marketing around the holidays. So I have until 2023 to finish the fool thing, and I’m better than halfway done with the first draft. Also, I have a second series I’m looking at under a pen name that’s been trying to get my attention, though I don’t know how much I’ll be doing with that if anything. I may just write it to get it out of my system and then go back to what I’m better known for.

Right now, though, I am pretty sure my body and brain are just demanding rest.

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.

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Why Your Epic Isn’t Being Published

Why Your Epic Isn’t Being Published

Let me start by saying I don’t hate long books. I read most of Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series (stopped at Dragon in Winter) as well as Terry Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” series. I’m here for epic fantasy. Truly. However, when it comes to the book publishing industry, there are a lot of reasons why your epic fantasy isn’t being published. And, contrary to popular opinion, it has absolutely nothing to do with dwindling attention spans or readers not wanting it.

Also, fair warning, this article has a lot of math. If the math is off somewhere, please tell me. I am, in fact, dyscalculic, so sometimes I reverse things when looking at them or typing them into a calculator.

The cold, hard truth is that your epic novel isn’t being picked up for two intertwined reasons. The first is that nobody knows you. If they don’t know you, they don’t know how well you’re going to market and how well your book will sell. Most first books don’t do very well, and very few of the well-known writers of epic wordcount fiction started their careers with huge works. The second is the cost of production. The second point is going to dominate the bulk of this article.

The cold, hard truth is that your epic novel isn’t being picked up for two intertwined reasons. The first is that nobody knows you. (…) The second is the cost of production.

E. Prybylski

Many editors, like myself, charge by the word. I’m not marketing here, just giving you data. Whether it’s a publishing house or a personal edit, an “average” length novel (65,000 words) doing average difficulty line edit will cost about $2,600 using the minimum EFA rates. I charge a little less, personally, but for the purpose of this illustration, I’m using the EFA’s metrics. That’s for your average 65k book. A decent metric of the going rate for line editing (which focuses on sentence composition, passive voice, etc.) is about $0.04 – $0.049 per word (per EFA rates). Most publishers do 3+ rounds of editing with an editor (I know mine does). Typically a book at a publishing house will receive developmental, line, and copy editing, however. All of which have different price points.

If you pitch a novel to a publisher that’s, say, 200k words long, you’re looking at the publisher having to invest a minimum of $8000 for line editing. With three passes of the three different types of editing, that’s $8,000 for line, $4,000 for copy editing, and $6,000 for developmental using the low end EFA’s rates.

Then there’s typesetting. Assuming both print and e-book, you’re looking at around $4,000, then for the ebook it’s going to be a little less, you hope, but still around $1,000 (I did NOT use the EFA’s metric for this one; they charge more for ebook than print which makes no sense to me at all). Then there’s cover design which is several hundred more dollars (minimum for a composite image is around $250ish). Then there’s the ISBN, marketing materials, printing fees (some printers charge to upload; Ingramspark is $25/upload, $35 with print and ebook) and so on.

With these fees all added up together, a publisher would have to invest the following:

  • $6,000 Dev. Edit
  • $8,000 Line Edit
  • $4,000 Copy Edit
  • $4,000 Print Typesetting
  • $1,000 eBook Typesetting
  • $250 Cover
  • $50 ISBN
  • $25 IngramSpark upload

The total adds up to: $23,325

Printing costs for something that size from Ingram Spark, which does POD printing, is $11.51 per book. Since the market will only support your book being priced at around $14.99 to make the math easy. You MIGHT get away with $15.99, but not much higher. Offset print runs will let you drop printing prices by a lot, but then you have to print 1,000 or more books at a time, and good luck storing those. Let alone selling them.

This image shows a screenshot from Ingram's price calculator. It displays that unit selling price per book of this size is $11.51. Handling fee is $1.99. Shipping for one book is $4.05. The total to print and ship a single book of this size is $17.55.
Screenshot from Ingram’s price calculator.

Bookstores, assuming you want to work with them, require a 40% discount off the cover price. That means in order to sell to bookstores, you have to make less than your printing costs to sell there if you want to sell at a market value. So bookstores? Right out. You’d have to sell copies to them for $5.99, and since it costs $11.51 just to print that monstrosity, you’re going nowhere with bookstores.

Since the average author sells (being optimistic) 200-300 books their first year, we are looking at over six-hundred years before we break even.

E. Prybylski

The shipping costs on a book like that are easily going to be about $6/book, which is expensive to say the least. Boxes will be cheaper, but since they’re so big, fewer books will fit per box, increasing shipping charges by a lot. Also, Amazon takes a 15% bite out of any book sales off its site plus a flat $1.85 from each sale.

You will likely be getting 15% royalties (net, not list) on your book for print copies. 40% – 50% on ebooks is average. But right now I’m focused on print copies.

So, all this math in mind. Assuming the book is selling for $15.99 on Amazon, the numbers look like this:

  • List Price: $15.99
  • Printing Cost: $11.51
  • Amazon Charge: $4.29
  • Total Profit Per Book: $0.19
  • Author profit: $0.02
  • Publisher Profit: $0.17

At that rate, it is going to take 140,000-ish sales for the publisher to make back what they’ve invested in you. Since the average author sells (being optimistic) 200-300 their first year, we are looking at about over six hundred years before we break even. So you can see why we aren’t interested.

Also, most well-marketed indie books sell, on average, about 2,000 copies in their lifetimes, so you’re never going to get to that 140,000 mark because chances of you breaking 1,000 are entirely dependent on your success at marketing. And most authors I’ve worked with have no idea how to do that.

Unless you’re Stephen King, G.R.R.M., J.R.R. Tolkein, Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, or Tolstoy, there’s no way we can afford to do an offset print run of 1,000 or more books (which would take the printing price down to around $7.50/book based on calculators I’ve seen). For one, there’s no guarantee they’d sell. For another, that would be another $7,500 we’re investing in you before we see a penny. And furthermore, while I do have a barn, I don’t have room for 1,000 books in it. My goats would eat them.

If you’re self-publishing, you should consider the costs I mentioned above. (…) Consider how long it will take you to recoup your investment.

E. Prybylski

If you’re self-publishing, you should also consider the costs I mentioned above. While you are going to be getting around $.19 per book, consider how long it will take you to recoup your investment. Even if you only do a single round of editing, cross your fingers, and pray. Also, while you can charge more for your book, it’ll start severely limiting the number of people who will purchase it. You can play with your pricing, but on average, readers won’t want to pay much more than $17.95, and even that is pushing it for an unknown author whose book they may not enjoy.

Even if we’re just talking an ebook version, and we cut out all the printing costs and some of the typesetting costs, you’re looking at $19,325. Ebooks often sell for about $5.99ish for a book like this. So let’s do the math for that:

  • Book List Price $5.99
  • Amazon Fees: $1.80
  • Total Profit Per Book: $4.19
  • Author Profit: $1.68
  • Publisher Profit: $2.51

If we’re doing just ebooks, it would take 7,699 copies for the publisher to break even. Assuming, again, that you manage a consistent 200 copies a year, it would take them nearly forty years to break even on the costs of picking up your book. Most indie authors or new authors cannot guarantee 200 books a year. They’re lucky to sell 200 books in the lifetime of their book because so many of them don’t market because they don’t know how. Also, again, I remind you that most books don’t break 2,000 in lifetime sales for indie authors. In order for them to break with that number, even with ebooks, they’d need a profit of $9.67 per book. Which is more than you can sell most ebooks for per book. Amazon allows you to get 70% of the royalties on prices between $2.99 and $9.99. Outside of that, you get a royalty of 35%.

The long and short of this is: the math just don’t add up. New, untested author with a HUGE book to sell, no certainty of returns, and with profit margins thinner than one-ply toilet paper? Nobody’s going to touch you with a ten-foot pole. Not because marketing or readers don’t want it or dwindling attention spans–it’s because we can’t wait over six hundred years to be profitable. Heck, we can’t wait forty years to turn a profit.

Publishing books is, I’m sorry to say it, a business. And businesses must be profitable in order to stay afloat. I don’t say this to discourage or harm you in any way, but it’s a fundemental reality of publishing books. And there’s no way around it if you want to make a living as an author. While you MIGHT be that one-in-a-million author who makes it big, recognize that most publishers don’t have the capital to take that risk.

What so many authors don’t realize is that when we agree to publish your book, we are instantly investing that kind of money in you. As such, your book has to be worth a minimum of the costs it would take to produce. On average, it costs about $10,000 for an average-sized novel to go through the editing, cover design, typesetting, and so on. If you want me to invest twice that in you for no profits, you’d better run the math again. I can’t do it. No matter how good it is. At the very least, the book is getting split in half, if not thirds. And that’s if I really feel strongly that I want to invest in it.

While writing in and of itself is an art form, publishing is a business, and if the math doesn’t add up to profit, we cannot risk investing in you. It’s no different than any other industry. Dollars and cents matter, and if you want to have someone invest in you, you need a product that will sell reliably in order to get someone to throw in behind you. While indie publishers may be willing to take risks on new authors and try new things, some things we cannot afford to do. And it isn’t personal. It’s numbers.

And this subject upset me enough that I had to do math. Look what y’all did to me! I hate math!

Also, as a side note, miss me with the whole “then I’ll just do it all myself and not pay anybody!” argument. I get it. Publishing on your own is expensive, and the siren call of Amazon telling you, you can do it all yourself is strong. It isn’t worth it. At the very least, if you aren’t an expert graphic designer, you will need a minimum of one pass of editing and a good cover design. Even if you ignore all the other costs, your profit margins on a book this size will take you a very long time to break even. Otherwise, listen to the experts, cut your book into smaller works (trilogies sell really well!), and market, market, market. You will stand a far better chance of getting noticed, of getting sales, and of being financially successful.

If you don’t care about the money and just want to get your work out there in front of people because you want to share it, all the more power to you. Try using sites like Wattpad or AO3 and enjoy the communities and have fun together. I’m not going to tell you never to write them. Just recognize that they are a really hard sell as a business investment.

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.

Fallen Friday: Series Plotting

Fallen Friday: Series Plotting

I think that image sums up how I feel about plotting my series right now. I have around fourteen viewpoint characters between my husband (who plans on writing some in this series, too) and I. The metaplot is substantial, but certainly not excessively convoluted. But finding out how everyone ties together into it, and what to reveal in which book when is a lot. Particularly since we have to introduce some POV characters before some events.

When doing series plotting, I always look to Avatar: the Last Airbender for advice because it is, in my mind, the best recent example of the three-act structure in action. I can plot each episode, each season, and the entire series on the beat sheet, which is pretty impressive in all honesty. That tight pacing and storytelling is brilliant, and it is the number one example I always return to when considering the plot.

I’m obviously not going to give you spoilers on my metaplot. That would just be…well…the first book’s not even OUT yet!

I’ve been doing most of that plotting on pen and paper. Or close enough thereto–I use a Rocketbook because between D&D, writing, and life, I used to keep dozens of notebooks and never get anywhere with them. I kept losing all of them and couldn’t find the one I needed when I needed it, so making the switch was great. I love my Rocketbook and wouldn’t go anywhere without it.

There are many methods to plotting things out, including index cards, software, mind mapping, the Beat Sheet (my preferred method), the Snowflake method, and many others. For me, paper and the Beat Sheet are my go-to pairing. I don’t do pantsing because with my ADHD, I’d wander off into the weeds and get lost or write something incomprehensible. I know. I’ve done it. The manuscripts I have from high school are, well. . . Let’s not talk about those. ‘Tis a silly place.

I don’t yet know how many books are going to be in the series yet, but I know it’s going to be more than four, since I’m at four for the first act of the series overall. And since act two is usually twice as long as act one, we’re looking at a lot of real estate. That isn’t to say it won’t be twice as many NOVELS, but it has a lot of ground to cover in terms of the story itself. I should probably put up a cork board somewhere, but then I run the risk of becoming the living embodiment of the picture at the top of this blog post.

I don’t know, maybe “sleepless conspiracy nut” will be in next year.

Fallen Friday: Working Vacation

Fallen Friday: Working Vacation

I spent last week on retreat at a family cabin in the mountains. It has no internet, no cell service, no television service. It’s on a lake in the Adirondack mountains and is quite cozy, has a huge fireplace, and is a perfect place to settle in and write. It’s also a great place to retreat from the constant news cycle and constant hammer of data and stimulation, which helps my ADHD brain calm down.

Heck, even as I write this I have the news on in the background. I know I shouldn’t, but I do.

While I don’t get to do these retreats more than a few times a year, they are incredibly valuable to me both as a writer and as a person. Having the opportunity to not deal with my phone constantly pinging me with updates from Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, the news, TikTok, and the various places I’m on social media is important. I know for a lot of people the FOMO (fear of missing out) is big, but for me that quiet is a relief. I’m also old enough that I remember a time before all of these things existed, so part of me longs for the silence.

During that week, I wrote over 10k words on the second book in my book series. It’s currently sitting at about 40k words (a little over halfway since my target is around 70k). The quiet makes it easier to create. I typically write about 1,000 words per sitting, though I don’t write every day. There are many days I am too fatigued, in too much pain, or dealing with real life, so I write slower than some. Generally speaking, it takes me about 6-8 months to produce a first draft in my experience, though I have won NaNoWriMo a few times, so I know I can do it. I just don’t often have the luxury of that kind of time.

Part of my routine during this vacation was reading. I finished two books in the gere I’m writing in, and started a third. And now that I am home, I am reading one of my first non-fiction works, “I Alone Can Fix It” by Carol Leonning and Philip Rucker. I haven’t read much for nonfiction, but I find the writing in this good enough that I can follow it. Even if it’s not my usual fare. I’m doing this partially because the subject matter interests me but also because I am trying to read things out of my comfort zone to expand my knowledge of the craft. I also buy books to study the typesetting, editing, and formatting because that is part of what I do, after all.

I know this is a lot of a ramble. I’m having a bit of brainfog today because the smoke from the Canadian and Pacific Northwest wildfires hads settled in my area, which is making it hard for me to breathe (I’m an asthmatic). My hope is that the incoming rain will knock some of it out of the atmosphere, but we will see.

Back to the vacation, however. I can safely say that if you have the opportunity or ability to shut down the world for even a day or two, you may find–as I do–that the creativity you are struggling with comes roaring back. Disconnecting with the constant thrum of input is invaluable to me as a writer, and while I am definitely an internet native (I started going online in the 90s), I also see the benefit of just…not. Enjoy the quiet.

Also, when I got back, I hadn’t missed anything of serious importance. If World War III had started while I was gone, my mother would’ve called the land line and warned me. So the FOMO? It’s a lie. Taking some time offline won’t mean you miss everything. Heck, like me, you might not miss anything at all except a few memes and a couple emails.

In short, I’m back all the richer for my trip, and I’ll be getting right back to the business of writing, Twitter, and the rest. It’s nice to be home with my cats, but no small part of me continues to long for the quiet of the lake where I could write and listen to the loons call back and forth in the gloaming and mornings were shrouded in mist so thick I couldn’t see past the end of the dock, and it felt like the rest of the world ended there, in the smooth, glassy waters of Loon Lake.

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.

Writing With Disability

Writing With Disability

A lot of writers I meet talk about how they aren’t sure they can write because they have ADHD, dyslexia, or various other learning disorders, neurological conditions, or other such difficulties that impact their ability to write. With that in mind, I thought I’d write about how I do it because I am neurodivergent and have multiple physical difficulties that heavily impact my ability to write. I am also dyslexic and dyscalculic.

Let me say that again: I am dyslexic, dyscalculic, have ADHD, and various physical disabilities that seriously impact my ability to write and function, but I have managed to find ways to write. I’m not saying this to shame you but to encourage you. There are ways. You don’t have to give up your dreams. As such, this blog is going to be broken down into a few different segments. While I cannot address all forms of disabilities or impairment here, I’m going to give you the strategies I’ve used that help.

Coping with ADHD

ADHD is a constant in my life. I have medication for days when I really need to zero in, but for the most part I’m unmedicated. This means my attention bounces around like a ping pong ball having a sugar rush at times. It is a challenge to manage when it comes to zeroing in to write. While my coping methods won’t work for everyone, I can tell you what I do that helps, which may make a difference for you.

  1. Focus Mode
    Focus mode in my writing software is a lifesaver. It makes my writing application (QuollWriter or Word) take up the entire screen, hides the taskbar, and blocks out notifications. I can block out all the distractions of my PC and write.
  2. Music
    I listen to music a lot when I write. It helps occupy the part of my brain that needs extra stimulation. It’s the same reason I played Solitaire or Mahjong in class in college during lectures. I was listening and taking notes, but I needed something else to do to help me focus. My professors didn’t understand, and I got a lot of crap for it, but it worked.

    I choose music with no lyrics or music with lyrics in languages I don’t speak so I don’t get distracted. Bonus points, I usually match the feel of the scenes I’m working on to my music choices. It helps with immersion.
  3. Routines
    Creating a routine around your writing can be really important. It doesn’t have to be a set time of day if you can’t make that happen (I can’t), but you can have a specific drink, open your software and notes in a specific order, listen to a specific playlist, do a few stretches…whatever your routine looks like, build one. It helps your brain click over into writing mode because it knows that’s what’s coming. Routines are really important for ADHD folks anyway, so developing one for writing can be very helpful.
  4. OUTLINES
    While I am likely to get screaming from the pantsers out there, I have found that there is nothing more valuable to my writing than an outline. It means that when (not if, but when) I get distracted by a new shiny scene or character I don’t forget the plot I was working on. I can refer to it and ensure I am still hitting the beats I need to. I use the Beat Sheet to outline my books, so it’s not a play by play, but I still have a general idea of where I’m going when.
  5. Boundaries
    Since it’s so much easier for us to get distracted, set boundaries. Tell people you’re busy, shut off notifications on your phone, and drown out the world with noise-canceling headphones if you have to. If you have distractions every three seconds, you’ll never get any words down, and trying to reclaim your headspace once it’s been broken is a disaster.
  6. Be Careful With Hyperfocus
    Hyperfocus can be your friend when you want to deep dive, but make sure you don’t just give in and forget to eat/drink/use the bathroom, and if you don’t moderate it, you’ll end up with burnout faster than your brain switches topics when you’re trying to go to sleep. Use timers and remind yourself to take breaks. I like the Pomodoro Timer method, which does chunks of 15-30 minutes. But you can use whatever time works for you.

Writing With Dyslexia/Dyscalculia

Dyslexia can be a real beast, but there are ways you can get around having your words scramble like you dumped out a box of Scrabble pieces. I won’t pretend it solves the problem entirely, but you can make your work more readable for yourself while you work, and you don’t need to give up.

  1. Fonts
    While your mileage may vary, I find that certain fonts are dramatically more readable than others. I particularly like Georgia and Cambria. I find the serif fonts are easier on my dyslexia, and you want the space between the letters to be a little bigger. It will help with character recognition for you.
  2. Double Space
    Double-spacing a manuscript may offer you a little more of that extra room on the page and help you stave off the feeling of drowning in letters. It makes your life a little easier when you’re working with things. Again, at least for me.
  3. Shorter Paragraphs
    One of the biggest issues I have with my dyslexia is long paragraphs with no breaks. If there’s a paragraph that’s longer than 3-5 lines, I’m doomed. I need to use a ruler to separate it out from other paragraphs, and doing that on my Fire tablet or my computer screen is hard. As such, I tend to write shorter paragraphs because it’s how I read best.
  4. Read Aloud Software
    Many people don’t know this, but Word has a built in function to read the contents of a document to a listener. It’s hardly the most exciting audiobook you’ve ever heard, but it will allow you to review your writing if you’re having a day where your eyes cross and everything’s a mess.
  5. Have Someone Else Check Your Chapter Numbering
    While this is more true for dyscalulic folks than just dyslexic folks, I cannot parse a chapter structure, and if I get off somewhere, I’m doomed. My editor knows this, so she handles the chapter numbering for me if I make a mistake somewhere.

    It’s a huge problem for me because I just cannot manage numbers. As such, when typesetting, I rely on my typesetting software to add page numbers for me and other people to make sure the chapter numbering is correct.

Writing With Physical Disability

While there are a million physical disabilities out there, I struggle with two specific ones: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and chronic migraines. I have a dear friend with nerve damage to one of his hands, so he can’t type. I know people who have carpal tunnel and can’t type either. There are a lot of physical disabilities out there, but there are also a huge number of accessibility options in the world.

If you cannot type for whatever reason, you can try using software like Dragon Naturally Speaking or, again, Word has a diction function. There are also apps on the phone that will let you dictate your stories, papers, and ideas. It takes some getting used to and sometimes results in irksome errors, but once you learn how to use dictation software, you can do a lot with it. Also, some software allows you to control your entire computer by voice, so you don’t need to use a mouse or keyboard much if at all.

With disorders that come with severe pain, you may need to lower your word count goals. The average suggested daily wordcount is around 1,000/day if you can manage it (that’s about two non-double-spaced pages in Word). However, if you deal with chronic pain and brain fog, maybe you can only manage a hundred. Heck, maybe you can only do a sentence on a bad day.

That is enough.

I’ve needed to take breaks for weeks because of pain flares, and sometimes that’s just reality. However, it doesn’t mean we cannot write professionally. It just means we won’t bang out a book every few months. You can learn what your body will let you do and work within that structure. It’s okay to be slow at it. It’s okay to not be prolific. You can still write. Dictate your stories to your phone if you have to, but you don’t have to suffer alone with those stories stuck in your brain.

Dealing With Ableist Nonsense

There are a lot of memes out there and “inspirational quotes” and people saying things on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram etc. who have good intentions. There is so much out there that talks about how if you don’t write every day or don’t conform to “x, y, z” criteria, you can’t be a writer. Or you just don’t “want it enough.”

Listen, we already have enough crap as folks with disabilities. We face social stigmas, issues with doctors, marriage inequality (because if you marry, you lose your benefits a lot of the time) and with places and activities being inaccessible to us. Don’t let them try to take writing from you too.

Whether you’re dealing with well-intentioned but ignorant advice or memes that, if you really considered the content, are damaging to disabled folks, we’ve all seen it. Heck, I’ve had people give me looks when I use mobility aids because nobody believes that I, at thirty-five, need a cane. I’ve also had people be incredibly kind to me, too, but there are always the jerks.

As a disabled person and a writer, I can tell you that writing is something you can do if it’s in your heart. You might need accessibility software, need to write at a different pace, or need other accommodations, but you can still do it. Imagination is one thing that the world can’t take from us. Even as my body falls apart, and my other hobbies and passions become inaccessible to me, nothing can ever take my imagination. So that’s what I use.

Never let anyone tell you that you can’t be a writer because of your disability. If your writing is awful? You can learn. But your disability doesn’t have to be the thing keep you from writing.

I believe in 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.

Fallen Friday: Editing from the Otter Slide

Fallen Friday: Editing from the Otter Slide

I know, I know. “But E,” you say, “Your Monday blog is about publishing industry stuff! What sorcery is this!” Well, this week I wanted to talk about something more writery (it’s a word now, hush) than just regaling you with tidbits about my setting. Instead, I kind of wanted to discuss what it was like having my work edited by another professional editor. In case you’ve never had it done before, this is what it’s been like for me.

First, I want to say as a disclaimer, my editor is my friend Mel. We joined the publishing industry around the same time, and we’ve worked together for most of it, so I knew what to expect from her mostly. I’ve seen her work before, but we haven’t really done a lot of work together. Her blog is mostly her art, but you might see some writing here and there. She’s a delight. Go see her stuff! We’ve been friends since college, so I also knew without a doubt I could trust her. Plus, she also works at my publishing company, so when she’s ready to publish her book, I’ll be working on it.

My imposter syndrome keeps needling me and telling me I don’t really know what I’m doing. That nobody will like my book. That nobody will care. It’s this constant mantra playing on loop telling me I am going to be nothing but a disgrace.

Now, as someone who has been editing other people’s writing for over a decade, I can safely say I’m an expert at it. It’s not new to me. But being edited? I’ve not had that much. Plus, it gave me exposure to how another editor might work differently. It’s been an interesting experience.

Before I sent Mel my manuscript (teehee, alliteration), I self-edited it twice and then ran it through PerfectIt and SmartEdit, which are my editing programs. They obviously didn’t catch everything, but I sent her the cleanest manuscript I could have, so the majority of her edits were her asking about continuity errors, catching places where I overused a particular word (“though” is my nemesis), and catching the occasional typo or punctuation error.

We did tussle a little over some of my writing habits. I like starting sentences with prepositions and have a bit of a choppy writing style. At least with this series. The main character is often confused, and things happen quickly. As a result, the choppier style works. I will also admit fully that I am heavily influenced by Jim Butcher’s writing, and he does that a fair amount. But anyone who has read much of my writing in the past would not be surprised to learn that.

Overall, however, it wasn’t the humbling experience I feared. Not because Mel is unkind or overly critical or anything, but because my imposter syndrome keeps needling me and telling me I don’t really know what I’m doing. That nobody will like my book. That nobody will care. It’s this constant mantra playing on loop telling me I’m going to be nothing but a disgrace.

I know it’s not true, but that doesn’t stop the brain weasels from whispering to me.

In fact, Mel’s editing being light and mostly focused on the spots where I made silly mistakes (or leaving jokes in the margins) helped reaffirm the fact that maybe I do know what I’m doing. That maybe I’m not an imposter.

Of course, the reality is that I studied creative writing in college and started writing as soon as I was old enough to hold a pen. I’ve taken a number of creative writing courses and studied with several incredible mentors whose critiques, edits, and encouragement have helped me a great deal over the years. I’ve been studying writing intensely since 2006 when I started taking classes at SNHU, my alma mater. While my degree is in European history focused on the Renaissance, I was only a few credits shy of having my minor in creative writing when I graduated.

While it’s a pipe dream of mine to go back to college for my MFA in writing, I doubt that will happen due to financial and physical constraints. But hey, a girl can dream.

My novel, which is due to release this December, is the culmination of decades of work and experience. And that shows. Now, do I expect my first book to be a huge bestseller, topping charts, getting me interviews on Oprah? Definitely not. For one, I don’t even know if Oprah has a show anymore. But regardless, it is the fulfillment of a dream I’ve had since I was very, very young. And now, at thirty-five, I’m taking my first steps toward fulfilling it.

Going through my book line by line with a good friend whose expertise I trust has been incredibly helpful for my confidence because, not only is she my friend, she is my peer. She actually enjoys my writing. Which is an incredibly exciting thing to be able to say. She makes silly jokes about my characters with me, and she is looking forward to seeing what comes next. That kind of support is invaluable.

Is there the instinct to stick out my chin, dig in my feet, and say ‘No, I said what I meant to say!’ Of course. We all have that. But the reality is that I trust these people. I wouldn’t have asked them to edit my writing if I didn’t.

Not every author is as blessed as I am to be able to work with a dear friend as an editor. However, I can say for sure that working with someone you can laugh with, share jokes with, and who you feel comfortable with makes the process easier. Not everything about having your work edited is fun. There are times when I’ve really had to hit authors upside the head with a clue-by-four and tell them they needed to fix something. It can sting. Mel convinced me of a few things I was iffy on, but ultimately I decided she was right. If you trust someone and hear their advice for what it is (a genuine desire to make your work succeed), it takes a lot of the sting out.

Sure, nobody likes getting told they have parsley stuck in their teeth, but I’d much rather have it pointed out to me before I go out in front of everyone else. And that’s what this process is. Mel is finding all the things that could be embarrassing mistakes before I show things off to the public. Heck, even my blogs have another set of eyes on them. My friend Josh (hi, Josh!) is helping me clean them up before you folks see all my typos. He, too, is an editor.

Last week he made some important points to me about mentioning some things in my blog regarding religion in my novel. It was good feedback, and it gave me an angle I hadn’t considered before on something. So I accepted that I needed to fix it and went back to do so. Is there the instinct to stick out my chin, dig in my feet and say, “No, I said what I meant to say!” like a petulant child? Of course. We all have that. But the reality is that I trust these people. I wouldn’t have asked them to edit my writing if I didn’t. So if I trust them, I also have to set my ego aside and consider what they’re saying. Also, they’re both professionals, so I at the very least ought to give them the respect that deserves.

I know Josh is reading this, but if Mel does: thank you. You really are as good as I keep telling you, you are. And if anyone needs a good editor, she’s definitely someone you can trust to work with. I know I do. Josh? You’re amazing also. Honestly, he’s really good at picking out things that should be phased differently with regards to sensitivity reading, and his knowledge of pop culture can be very useful in avoiding sticking your foot in blunders. (Even if I am still naming my main character Cassiel, to heck with Supernatural.)

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

Proofreading

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.

SO!

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.

Fallen Friday: Thorny Theological Issues

Fallen Friday: Thorny Theological Issues

This isn’t a spoiler, since it’s on the cover, but my main character in Fallen is a fallen angel (like the title didn’t give it away, right?). As a result, I put a lot of work into considering how angels and demons work in the setting and how I want to address them. It took a lot of consideration because on one hand, I’m a Christian and want to do justice to my faith. On the other, this isn’t a Christian book series. Which will become apparent to you pretty quickly, and I am expecting some heat for the way I use angels. Just remember that this is fiction.

I did a fair amount of research on angels in the book of Enoch as well as in Kaballah and other sources before settling on which choirs exist in my setting and how they work. I still don’t have every single detail laid out, but the basic foundation is all present, and since my editor and some of my beta readers have been curious, I figured this was a good time and place to discuss exactly what I am doing! Also, some of this may be subject to some measure of change as I write the series, since it’s not all codified yet.

While studying, I learned there are multiple types of angels that are listed in various places, and I didn’t want to use all of them. Also, depending on which scholars you read, the hierarchy is different, and Jewish and Islamic folks use different names from Christians. I defaulted to using the Jewish names since it was as close to the source material as I could get and, being a history nerd, I like using the more authentic names rather than Anglicizing them. Also, there’s no Anglicized version of some of the types, so writing some in English and some in Hebrew and mashing them together didn’t appeal to me.

The angel types I went with are as follows, in descending order from most power to least powerful.

  • Seraphim
  • Cherubim
  • Ophanim
  • Erelim
  • Malakim
  • Ishim

The way I am using archangels is that it’s a position, not a separate species of angel altogether. I chose to go that route because there are only six of them (not counting those fallen like Lucifer), and it gave me the opportunity to work in their roles and their functions. Basically, I have it that the six archangels are more or less the top tier management who oversee the duties of those assigned to their purview. I’m not going to bore you with the exact details of what angels do what, and what each looks like when not adopting a human guise (though the ophanim are the wheels with eyes). I’m not writing an RPG, after all. At least not now. Though the idea has crossed my mind.

Demons are structured similarly to angels, though it’s far less organized because, by nature, they tend to be more chaotic and less likely to fall in line. I haven’t worked out all the various types yet and what I’d like to call them, but it’s more or less a broken mirror of heaven’s ranks.

However, for demons, an archdemon is a demon who was once an angel. There aren’t a ton of them, all things considered, and they tend to be excessively powerful. Their power, of course, does depend on what kind of angel they were when they fell. An archdemon who was once a seraph is obviously more potent than a demon who was a malak. I need to do a little more work on exactly who is what in Hell, but at this point in my novels the exact “structure” of Hell hasn’t been extremely important. All you need to know, for the most part is “demons bad.”

I also recognize that Islam has its own structure for angels, but I know nothing about the faith beyond the fact that it is similar in many respects to my own but distinct and different in many others. I don’t know enough about Islam to utilize their theology, and I don’t want to do them a disservice by trying. I know it’s present, and I respect it. However, as I say further on, the reason I chose my own religion to alter is because that’s what I know, and I don’t want to appropriate someone else’s.

Now for the parts that are likely to cheese people off because this is where my “this is FICTION” comment comes strongly into play.

The way I have the reality of God in this setting is that God is the creator deity. He is not the explicitly Abrahamic deity of Yahweh. The creator, which the angels just usually call “the Father” or “Father” is too big for any religion to understand and too big for human comprehension. While much of Fallen takes place in a Christian setting and dealing with Christian people (this is largely stemming from me writing what I know), the angels are servants of the creator, not the church, and as such they aren’t innately Christian, themselves. My main character would be just as comfortable in a Jewish temple, a Mosque, or in a Buddhist temple as she is in a Christian church. Angels are just as likely to quote the Bible as they are to quote another religion’s scripture beause all of them are right, and all of them are wrong.

In addition to that, the polytheistic religions actually have some merit.

God created more than just angels and the races of the Earth. He also created the elohim (note: different from reference to God as Elohim. Capitalization matters here). Elohim, in Hebrew, is a plural word for “gods” or “deities.” While we could dig into Christian theology here, I really don’t want to because, as I said, my series isn’t a Christian book series explicitly. It’s urban fantasy with some Christian overtones not dissimilar to Dresden Files or Supernatural, which both deal with angels and demons but aren’t Christian fiction.

So what are the elohim?

In my setting, they are more powerful than the seraphim. They were God’s first, his eldest creations. Creatures who interacted with the elohim saw them as gods in their own right, and many of the elohim didn’t try and dissuade them of the notion. To human understanding, they are gods, though they derive their power through their connection to the divine source, the creator Himself.

(Also, to note, I refer to the creator as male, but the reality is the deity isn’t gendered. This is, again, a case of “write what you know,” so I’m most comfortable referring to the deity as male pronouns.)

The point of the religion in these books is this:

Everybody is right. Everybody is wrong.

So, then we come to the question of why use the Hebrew words for things if it’s not going to be Jewish/Christian?

Honestly, it’s because that’s what I’m most familiar with. I am Christian, myself, and studied Christianity and the history of the Bible in college (in a non-religious sense). While it’s feasible to use another religion’s words for the concepts and such in my books, I admit fully that I don’t know enough about them to do them justice, and I don’t want to appropriate another culture’s living faith systems for my fiction. I’m okay using my own. It’s my belief that my religion is big enough to handle some fiction using our words.

Further, creating and imposing an entirely new and different religion as the “true” religion and laying it over the real world with all its religious and historical complexities didn’t work for me. It would be incredibly complicated, and it would require an incredible amount of world building to accomplish properly. Which would then require me to alter my characters into unrecognizability almost, and I didn’t want to do that. As such, I decided to use the framework I know and alter it slightly.

Beyond that, the angels speak an entirely different language. They wouldn’t call themselves “seraphim” or “malakim”; they’d use the Enochian words for it. My main character uses those words for herself because she’s mostly interacting with Christian folks in the first book, and it’s the easiest way to explain it.

As to why I didn’t write this to be explicitly Christian and be done with it, it was a choice based on the fact that my theology in the story didn’t work as being Christian alone. While the first few books about Cassiel are explicitly about an angel’s experience in the world, some of the other ones are decidedly more terrestrial.

Just as a teaser, I have vague ideas for some other themes:

  • A licensed necromancer dealing with ghosts and the undead.
  • A former CIA operative who had to retire but is still doing her work. Vaguely reminiscent of a supernatural Burn Notice.
  • A few books dealing with vampire politics and ancient beings.

My husband also has some ideas kicking around for novels in the universe that he’d like to write. We’ve worked on this setting together for years, and there are some stories from some perspectives he’d like to tell.

The meta-plot for the series, well…I’ll leave that for you to piece together yourselves. But I promise there is one. All these threads tie together in various places. There is a method to my madness.

This time.

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.

Fallen Friday: How Do Centaurs Wear Pants?

Fallen Friday: How Do Centaurs Wear Pants?

When working on Fallen, I’ve come across a lot of these questions like the title of this blog. Do they wear pants at all, or do they just let it all hang out? Is that legal? Is it moral? Well, my solution was that centaurs aren’t usually in cities since they’re not comfortable there. They prefer large, grassy areas and dirt roads (better on their legs and feet), so since my books are set in Boston, I don’t need to know.

But, since I mentioned it, I’ve decided that they don’t wear pants since they couldn’t don them. Instead, they have small magical items (necklace, ring, etc.) which hides their bits away and makes them more or less a Ken (or Barbie) doll. Smooth.

It’s not that bits are offensive. They aren’t. But when we’re talking human-level sentience, if two-leggers need to wear things covering theirs, I imagine the laws involving four-legged creature like centaurs would have to be similar. And given the shape of a horse body and human torso… Well, I have enough trouble putting pants on as it is. I don’t want to think about yet MORE legs and booty, thanks!

Honestly, a lot of my world building has come down to the question of how magical races would integrate with modern society. Satyrs? Well, that’s easy. They just have pants designed for their leg shape. They could definitely wear pants like the human races do. That one was easy. Where do vampires get food? From consenting adults or blood banks. Also, your fae barista might give you an extra shot of glamour to help you get in the right headspace for a big interview. Things like that.

The thing that I’m really thinking about in terms of all of this is how magic intersects with police work. For example: there are many creatures who can change their physical appearance at will or shapeshift entirely. Now, a therianthrope’s DNA is likely the same whether they’re an animal, in their beast form, or in a human guise. So that would only confuse the visuals. You get a therianthrope bull in a china shop on camera, you won’t know what they look like as a human, but you might see some identifying marks. Plus paw prints, DNA, and so on would be traceable, I imagine.

Of course, I am fully aware that this stuff all flies in the face of real biology. A centaur could not exist, scientifically speaking. Nor could dragons or shapeshifters. I’m not even going to go there because, honestly, this is fantasy. I’m here for the magic. I love science, but this ain’t it!

Doing this kind of world building is a lot of work. There are a lot of intricate pieces to the series as I’m working on–more than just the cosmology of angels and demons. I have to deal with vampire politics, the laws around certain kinds of magic, and so much more. While the story starts from the POV of just one character, the series is actually much bigger than what it seems to start. I have plans for several trilogies, some stand-alone novels, and all of it ties into the meta plot, which is a lot. I’ll discuss a little of that in a future blog post (no spoilers, I promise).

However, this kind of daydreaming is one of my favorite parts of writing. A lot of us writers really get into the “what if” parts of our story crafting, and I’m no different. Using the modern world as a framework was the easiest thing I think I could have done because all the world building I do can exist on top of already-existing structures, which makes things easier. For my high fantasy novels, I have to create everything. Not only the magic bits, but the countries, factions, world, laws, and so on. It’s far harder than this. Or, at least, it’s more complicated in some ways. I still have to answer questions like how centaurs wear pants, but I have to do so on top of figuring out what the name and structure of the centaur country would be.

How do you think centaurs wear pants? No, really. How?