Write. Edit. Share. Repeat.

About writing, editing, publishing & getting it out there

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Criticism: It only hurts for a little while (like a root canal)

manuscript 2Feedback, direct or indirect

At some point in the writing process, you’re going to have to accept some criticism, either direct or indirect. By direct I mean from your writing group or beta readers (if you have them), your editor (if you’ve hired one), your agent (if you’re good enough that one takes you on), or the editors at your publishing house (if you can get in the door).

You don’t have to go through that process at all, of course—after all, mainstream publishing is now represented by merely a handful of gatekeepers, and they’re not looking out for your best interests, right? Or so the self-publishing mavens say. So self-publish, get your book out there, and skip all these steps. Then wait for the sales and rave reviews to pour in. And wait. And wait.

Stranger things have happened

I’m not going to say it has never happened that someone had a bestseller that they edited themselves and didn’t show to anyone before publishing. I can certainly think of a few bestsellers that seemed to have no editing at all. But in my humble opinion it’s not wise to publish without several reviews of your work and a thorough edit.

Criticism can sting. A few months ago I presented a first chapter of a book I was working on to a writing group. Group members, nearly all of whom had completed one or more novels, felt my writing was good, but they questioned the tone of the book. A scene that I felt was humorous left the main character looking like a bad guy, one writer in the group said. Another group member said yes, you might want to work on that scene—he seems unlikable there. I considered their advice and began the painful process of revision. These are potential readers. If more than one of them felt that way, there was likely some truth in it.

But writing groups are not made up of experts by any means. You may be working with a group of people who have never published at all. And even if they’ve published several books, they may not be familiar with your genre, and everything is subjective anyway. You don’t have to take anyone’s advice. But on the other hand it’s free and usually gently delivered. If you’re not sure you agree with it, take your work home and revisit it. Maybe they were wrong. Or maybe they were dead on.

You still need editing

Writing groups are not substitutes for editors. But if your group says, “You should make your tenses consistent and clean up the spelling and punctuation,” the book needs more work. You may disagree with every criticism. I have met writers who believe their story will sell itself, and then the publisher will provide an editor to clean up all the fussy details that creative folks shouldn’t be worrying about.

That’s what I mean by indirect criticism: the kind you never hear at all. A publisher or agent won’t accept a book with that many mistakes. And if you self-publish, you will look bad and lose sales—and risk bad reviews. Clean up the spelling and grammar. That’s the bare minimum a writer must do. (As an aside, I’m not saying every writer has to be a good speller or know all the rules of grammar. I’m saying know your strengths and weaknesses and get the help you need on your not-so-strong areas.)

Humbly ask for help

If you feel brave enough to publish a book, be brave enough to put it through the wringer first. Join a writing group and ask for a critique (you’ll have to return the favor and offer critiques of others’ work as well). Listen to their suggestion and fine-tune the work. Then hire an editor and/or proofreader. If you honestly feel your budget is too tight for that, recruit three or four good friends who know what they are doing.

You’ll have a better book than when you started, and maybe that’ll lead to more sales.

 

 

Photo by Seth Sawyers via flickr

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Five solutions for avoiding distractions

This is important . . . read it now!

Hopefully others who work for themselves can identify with this. When I’m supposed to be working, or when I’m supposed to shut down and go to sleep, I sometimes find myself doing other things, all of which feel very important at the time. I’ll read a blog about economics or watch how-to YouTube videos about things I want to learn . . . and thirty minutes later find myself numbly watching yet another sappy video of a guy “creatively” proposing to his girlfriend.

The educational videos are more valuable than the proposal videos, but all of them are time suckers. When I finally go to bed, I sometimes carry guilt about all the things I could have or should have accomplished that day.

There is a happy medium between self-acceptance (there are just 24 hours in every day) and better discipline (it’s easy to waste a lot of those hours).  Read More

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Are you overusing capitals?

caps key 1Misplaced apostrophes (which other editing and writing blogs have gone on about ad infinitum) are one of my pet peeves, but there’s another kind of writing “crime” that gets to me: excessive, yet often random, capitalization. I am not sure how things got so bad, but it was probably someone’s misplaced effort to write “politely” and to honor folks with their correct titles, even though there was no reason why those titles needed to be capitalized. Even the president of the United States does not get capitalized in normal text, unless “President” is followed by “Obama” or is used in place of his name: “Mr. President, Putin is on the line.” Read More

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Let it go, already!

worriedmomI finished proofreading a manuscript recently and handed it in to the publisher I was working for. And then I started to get my usual bout of nerves about what kind of job I did. Did I find everything? Did I overstep my bounds? Did I insert my opinion too much and change things that did not need to be changed?

Sometimes as a proofreader I spot something in the book that’s wrong, and I have to point it out. Read More

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Learning scary new technology

I spent the last two evenings learning how to make videos of processes I’m doing on my computer, and how to add music and/or my own voice, in order to make some how-to videos for clients and anyone who needs them.

EZVID logoI’m using a free program called “EZVID,” which so far is doing what it claimed it could do. I announced my first “successful” attempts on Twitter late last night, but on review in the light of day, they were not that well done and I was not happy with my voice and the music behind it. I felt my music choice wasn’t quite right, and I wanted to work harder at matching my narrative to my actions. Still, I was nearly there, and I’ll probably have a better video by tomorrow. Read More

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NaNoWhyNo?

NoNoWriMo ButtonI just signed in to NaNoWriMo. I wasn’t going to do it. I still don’t know if I’m going to do it. It’s a heartwrenching, anxiety-inducing notion that I can write 50,000 words in one month, let alone an actual story. As one writer on the site declared, November brings “Th-angst-giving.”

Is there any writer out there who does not know what NaNoWriMo is? Read More

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The self-imposed deadline

reading clip artAs a freelance editor and writer working from a home office, one of my biggest challenges is meeting self-imposed deadlines. I may have an external deadline—the manuscript must be copyedited by the end of the month—but I have to break that down into practical pieces. I know that’s no different than what I did when working in an office, but now I have to be my own supervisor. Read More

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Avoiding Twitter chaos

lists-on-twitter-300x214It’s not hard to gain followers on Twitter or other social media platforms. If you’re active and keep having conversations with people, if you retweet or repost interesting items, if you make an effort to tweet or post every day or at least a few times a week (and not just promotional tweets), you will gain followers. A year or so back I started working on building my base on Twitter. I gained followers, and of course I liked having more followers … but then I had to figure out how to manage them. I can’t interact with 2,000 people, which my personal Twitter account has. My professional Twitter account (screenshot upper left) is still growing, but I figured there was no reason to skip this step and then waste time later figuring out who is who.

Lists keep Twitter manageable.

I use Twitter’s list system and organize as many people as I can into lists. My business account has 5 lists at the moment, which I may or may not expand as time goes by. Because I’m a writer and editor, I mainly focus on other writers and creative types. My current categories are Writers, Editors, Publishing, Social Media, and News+Politics. Since I use social media for business, I’m always reading up on the best ways to use it, which for me basically means finding a balance between efficiency and obnoxiousness, or between friendly and pushy. The beauty of lists is that you can make them private or public, and even the ones that are public are not going to bother anyone. If someone puts me on their list, I’ll only get a notice if my account is set up to get emails about that. Otherwise, I won’t know unless I look at. If you click the “me” menu on the top bar, then on the left side click on “lists,” you’ll see this: lists on twitter 2 You click on “Member of” and often you’ll see lists other people have added you to. For instance, on my personal Twitter account I was placed into a group called “Writer/Editor/Publisher” by someone I follow, which could be a useful group to subscribe to (subscribing to others’ groups is another way to keep up on what people who are into what you’re into are doing). The other groups, as you can see, are a bit more generic. lists on twitter 3

How do you use lists?

The way I usually use it is to respond to others’ tweets, or to retweet something relevant, in a timely manner. When I click on my “Editors” list, for example, and then click on “tweets” on the left (vs “list members” or “list subscribers”), you’ll see all the most recent tweets sent by list members, and exactly how long ago they were sent. lists on twitter 4Then I simply decide whether to respond to some of them. In some cases the tweet may be too old to respond to, but you might want to retweet it. Twitter can suck a lot of time away from your life if you are not careful. I try to limit the number of times I am tweeting each day and I pre-schedule tweets using HootSuite or TweetDeck. I love social media, I love being able to chat instantaneously with people. But I can’t do Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and Tumbler and Pinterest and Instagram … at least not on a consistent basis. I think I actually have accounts to all of these, but I mainly focus on Twitter, Facebook and my blog, checking LinkedIn regularly for career-related information. .

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Full-time editorial

Condensed version of announcement I made on Facebook:

I am now working full-time as a an editorial consultant, after 2-3 years working full-time and doing editing on the side.

My experience includes book editing (fiction, memoir, non-fiction), proofreading, self-publishing guidance, website creation and upkeep, blogging, marketing (social media and press releases).

I edit books for independent authors and established publishers.

I also work for companies of any size. If anyone finds me through my blog or on any of my social media sites, I give 25% off my standard rates for the first job.

Please spread the word if you know anyone who’s writing a book or who has a business for which they need marketing assistance. I am also available to speak with writing groups about editing and the publishing process. Please follow me on social media if that’s your thing (no biggie if it’s not).

Here are my links:

My professional website: http://arzoomaneditorial.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Arzooman_Edit
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janarzooman
G
oogle+: https://plus.google.com/115403852254268405476/posts
Thank you all for your support!

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There’s a story in here somewhere…

It’s my belief that if you think you can write, or you have the urge to write, you should never worry about whether you are good or not—you should simply pick up pen and paper or turn on your computer and start.

what are you waiting forOf course some writers are better than others, and some stories are better than others, but don’t worry about that right now. Writers often are self-deprecating, vastly underestimating their talent. But the pendulum of self-awareness swings the other way as well, judging by the mounds of awful books to be found on Kindle, B&N, Smashwords and elsewhere, simply because it’s so easy to self-publish these days, especially electronically. The main saving grace of some eBooks is that they at least haven’t killed any trees.

But back to the person who thinks he or she has a good story, such as a memoir: What are you waiting for? Just write the darn thing! Get a proofreader before you publish; that’s a given. But much earlier in the process, it’s just as important to have a copyeditor, or a developmental editor if you can swing it (the fee will be a little higher than for a copyeditor.)

A good editor does way more than catch typos. She can help point out a disjointed story line, or suggest from a neutral distance that certain scenes or characters don’t fit in. Your aunt may have been a fascinating person, full of crazy adventures, but unless you shared in those adventures or they affected your life, they probably don’t belong in your memoir.

Beyond the actual story, an editor can help a writer by spotting repetition or cliches or ill-fitting metaphors. The existence of any of these things does not make someone a bad writer. If you have a 300+ page manuscript and you’ve already read it multiple times, it can be easy to overlook something.

Most writers know they need someone else to check their spelling and grammar, but I think many assume that the editor will send the manuscript back with one or two misspelled words every ten pages. They seem a bit shell-shocked when there are a lot more corrections than they expected. On the one hand, it’s good to catch these things before presenting the book to the public, but on the other hand—”Jeez, I thought I had read this a lot more closely and caught everything!”

First of all, as I said, a misspelled word or a misplaced apostrophe does not equal bad writing. The story is what is most important. And I do try to remind writers that I am not the final decision-maker. A lot of my comments are simply suggestions or queries. I may say, “Do you think your audience will understand this?” or (in fiction) “Do you think this character would do that?” In a memoir it may be, “You might need to make your motivation more clear here.”

The writer may very well respond, “I think my audience will understand this” or, “Yes, I do think this character would do that.” And the writer knows this best. Even with grammar rules, it is up to the writer to decide to break them, or to decide that adherence to certain rules may take away from the voice of the book. I will be extra assertive only in cases where it’s probably going to make the writer look bad if I don’t. (Yes, you really do need an apostrophe there.)

I’ve read a couple memoirs lately that I felt were terrific stories. Some only needed minor tweaking, others more guidance. Several of these authors told me, “I’m not really a writer”—as I was staring at their finished manuscript.

So, what’s your story?