"No matter how terrified you may be, own your fear and take that leap anyway because whether you land on your feet or on your butt, the journey is well worth it."
-- Laurie Laliberte
"If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough."
-- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."
-- Anais Nin

Sunday, June 29, 2014

To Beta or Not to Beta. . .

That's my question.

I'm not a big user of beta readers when I write. My editor is the toughest critic of my work, next to me, so when I'm soliciting feedback, the most important opinion is his.

That said, if I send out a beta copy of my own work, I'm not usually looking for editing advice; I'm simply asking for a review.

But most of the writers for whom I edit are quite different from me. One doesn't use betas at all. He puts out a "call to arms" on twitter if he needs reviews, so he doesn't always get the same readers. One uses betas solely for review purposes and generally ignores any other suggestions. But one. . .sigh. . .seems to be afraid to make any sort of move without approval from a few excellent beta readers with whom she's worked for several years.

It works for her. She is by far the most successful author I've edited. But at what cost?

The others are so free, creatively. However, she worries herself sick over some of the tiniest little details.

I do that as well sometimes, but that's my job. If a book sucks, many readers these days blame the editor.

Perhaps I'm overthinking as my latest editing project sits in the hands of beta readers.

Writers: I'd love your opinion on this one.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Local Flavor or Culture Shock?

Oh my gosh! I'm writing about editing for a second week in a row. I can't explain it. I suppose I just felt the need. Anyhow...

I talk to my clients quite a bit about "vernacular." Basically, what that means is the way locals speak in their day-to-day lives. It's the less formal, regional speech.

As writers and/or editors, we need to be careful of how much local flavor we inject into our stories or we risk alienating readers. Let's face it; if a reader doesn't "get" what a writer is saying, all may be lost.

If you read last week's post, you already know that a writer with whom I work once (okay, maybe more than once) received a review that demanded I be fired for the numerous spelling errors in his book. You also know that the same book was written in the Queen's English, not American English, because the writer is British. Situations like this, I can not, and will not, change. I believe if an author is a Brit, then he should write like a Brit. Besides, the writer in question is fairly successful and becoming more popular. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

However, there are times when too much is simply too much. Especially (but not exclusively) with American writers. You see, this nation is so large that regional dialect can be as difficult to understand as when one moves between nations in Europe. Our ears must become accustomed to dialect, and even varying expressions, before we can fully understand our neighbors.

For an over-the-top example of local dialect, try reading Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence. Lawrence, in my opinion as both a reader and an editor, seriously overused the less educated accent in Oliver Mellors speech. I found the dialogue quite difficult to read. So much so that twenty years later, I still hold it out as a bad example. (I'll save Lawrence's misogynistic views for another time.)

We need to be aware that not everyone will understand our own vernacular and that we should inject it into our stories with some restraint. If your story takes place where you've lived your entire life, you will fully understand all of it, right? But think about the visitor to your home.

I'll give you some examples:

  • In New England we call a particular dish "Chinese Pie," but most of the rest of the world calls it "Shepherd's Pie."
  • "Goulash" or "Macaroni and Beef," in most of the country, is "American Chop Suey" where I come from.
  • Order a "Sub/Submarine Sandwich," or a "Hoagie," or a "Grinder," and you'll get the same thing in various parts of the country.
  • Do you know the difference between a "Shake" and a "Frappe"? There is none, except location.
  • And let's go across the pond for a cup of "Rosie Lee," then return to the States for a cup of tea.

Although food choices are the easiest to spot, they do not hold an exclusive, for instance:

  • In Oklahoma City, "Putting your boots on in the street" means you're rushing out of the house or on your way to your destination. In Boston, it means you're homeless.
  • In Pittsburgh, something that "needs fixed" is broken and needs to be fixed.
  • Most of the American South is "fixing to" do something, but the rest of the country is just getting ready to do it.

My point is that local flavor is a beautiful thing, but too much of a good thing will give your readers a belly ache.

Happy Writing!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

I Fired a Client Today

Three times in my career, I have told authors to remove my name from their books. Actually, for those of you who may not "get" that statement, let me back up for a minute...

When an author publishes a book, he or she generally gives a nod to the editor with a short sentence on the copyright page or in the acknowledgments. Some writers will even list the editor on their Amazon page, so they share the byline in a search. For an example of that, click here.

The advantage for me is that good writers read. A lot. The hope is that they will read a book I've edited and seek out my services. The advantage for the writers with whom I work is that some readers actually care about the quality of what they read. A lot. The hope is that those readers will search my name on Amazon and find other writers with whom I've worked. Maybe the members of this small network can help each other.

THAT, my friends, is my motivation for maintaining high standards. I have a reputation for being a tough as nails editor with a singular focus: churning out the highest quality product of which the writer with whom I'm working is capable. My reputation is everything to me. I will not forgive poor quality or laziness.

If a writer hires me, it's generally because they know they will be pushed and challenged to do their best. However, I let them have a very long creative leash.

I will always forgive poor grammar if it means a passage reads better. I encourage using local vernacular in dialogue, but never in narration unless it's a first person POV. Even then, I keep that vernacular to a minimum. Too much flavor is simply too much.

So when a writer refuses to make changes, what do I do? That depends on the project and the writer.

Most changes I suggest are simply that: suggestions. Things like, "that seems a bit out of character for this guy," or, "this is worded awkwardly, can we try..." are really up to the author. I'm simply a practiced eye for what may or may not work.

Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are generally non-negotiable. If ever I'm unsure about a grammatical error in a manuscript, I look it up. I do not stick to one specific style guide, although I do rely heavily on The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White (yes, THAT E.B. White). There's some wiggle room in those areas, but not enough to throw out the book. I'd rather have a good read than one with perfect grammar. An avid reader will call a writer out on poor grammar and spelling errors, but will generally forgive a few "mistakes" if the prose reads well.

(I once had a reviewer insist I be fired because of the plethora of spelling errors in the book he had just read. What the reviewer did not realize is that the author, and the language used in the book, was British.)

I don't normally butt heads with writers over these minor issues. I simply ask that if we are going to use toward, rather than towards, that we are consistent throughout the book, or the series. The strength of my insistence is based on my relationship, my history, with that particular writer.

I have worked extensively with certain authors like Bernard Schaffer and Tony Healey. Their edits these days are pretty much one quick pass that pulls out a few grammatical errors. They are more like proofreads than professional edits because both men have so richly developed their personal styles as writers, and I've watched it happen. I can spot any mistake either of them makes at a thousand yards. That's not to say we don't ever debate over content, but it doesn't happen as much as it does when I'm working with an author who is still green.

My job is to challenge the writer, to help him or her produce the best work possible. I am tough on all of them. And I will not "settle."

So, back to my original statement: Three times in my career, I have told authors to remove my name from their books.

The first was an author who hired me and refused to make any changes at all. The story was crap, underdeveloped, unrealistic, poorly written, and just plain bad. I called for what amounted to about a 90% rewrite. When I sent back the changes, she asked me when I was going to do the editing. Her publisher (a friend of mine who had referred her to me) and I tried to explain that I HAD done the editing.

No amount of back-and-forth could convince her that that was what editing was all about. I thought she expected me to make all of the changes. Turned out she was completely clueless and thought all I would do is proofread. (A freaking computer program can proofread, not as accurately as a human, but still...) I told her to make sure my name was nowhere near her book.

The second was a piece that was very good, but not quite ready. The author rushed to publish and put out what I considered to be sub-standard work. I knew he (we) could do better, but he didn't send the manuscript back to me. On the day I expected to find it in my mailbox, I saw his tweet announcing the release of the project. I sent him an email demanding my name be removed.

We worked it out and he made some additional changes. All is now well between us and he has agreed not to rush through projects just to publish. We now work with a set deadline for each project and if it's done early, great!

The third took place this past week. This author and I passed his manuscript back and forth for three months. During that time, he made minimal changes, and ignored numerous suggestions I made to improve his story. Because I told him his formatting was a mess, he made it plain that he expected me to fix it.

I spent hours researching for him, which is not my job. He had obviously done zero research into his subject matter. I even gave up a few hours of personal time to try to teach him how to edit in Word because he didn't know how.

When he sent me his final document, I emailed him back with (paraphrasing), "If you think this is your final draft, then please remove my name from your manuscript. I refuse to take the blame for its shortcomings."

So why am I airing my dirty laundry here on the blog?

I'm doing it because I feel it's important for newer editors to know that some things can't be fixed and it's okay to walk away from a job when you are feeling taken advantage of, or when it's putting you in a bad position. I'm also doing it so any writers might see the other side of the editing process.

That's not to say we, as editors, should strong arm our clients into doing our bidding, but sometimes there comes a point in any type of relationship when it's time for both parties to go their separate ways.

What are your thoughts on the editing process? Shout them out below.

Happy Editing!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

I'm Turning into a Hippie

Okay, so maybe it's not that bad, but I've become addicted to making my own yogurt and granola. I've been crocheting like a maniac, working on projects for myself and projects to share with you.

Today; however, I'm sharing my much-experimented-with recipe for basic granola. In the interest of giving credit where credit is due, I must tell you that this granola began as this recipe from Stephanie O'Dea. I've made it several times, and not quite the same each time. I've tweaked it to change the top flavors while leaving the base the same. This is one of those recipes for which I always have the ingredients in the pantry.

Currently, in my crock pot, sits the tasty goodness that will become white chocolate cranberry. Tomorrow's experiment will be blueberry almond, and ready to go the next time I have the desire is the same combo I've been eating for the past two weeks. It contains pistachios, almonds, mixed berries, and dark chocolate. It's very loose, so it's great for cereal in the morning or stirring into a cup of plain yogurt, but I especially like it with about a half cup of ice cream.

In this recipe, I leave three key ingredients up to you. I've listed some of my favorite flavor combinations below.

Okay, enough talk. Let's get down to earthy, crunchy business...

Convertible Granola

5 c rolled oats (NOT the quick cooking kind)
1/4 c sunflower seeds
1/2 c nuts of your choice*
1/2 c shredded coconut
dash salt

1/4 c oil
1/2 c honey

1/2 c dried fruit of your choice*

1/2 c chocolate chips, flavor of your choice*

Dump first group of ingredients into (5 or 6 quart) crock pot and mix thoroughly.
Add oil and honey, and mix to coat dry ingredients.
Cook on high for up to 4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes.
When there's only about 30 minutes left on your cooking time, add dried fruit and stir.
Remove granola to a cookie sheet/jelly roll pan to cool.
Once cooled, add chocolate chips, stir, and place in an airtight container.

Granola will stay fresh for a couple of weeks. I keep mine in the refrigerator so it will keep a little longer.

Every slow cooker is different, so cooking times will vary. I always set the timer on my crock pot for 3 1/2 or 4 hours, but often finish earlier than that. End the cooking when you decide the granola is browned to your liking. Sometimes, I need to stir more often, or turn down the heat as I near the end of cooking.
To make the honey easier to get out of the measuring cup, I add the oil first, then use the same 1/4 cup measure for the honey. The oil coats the cup so the honey pours right out of it. It makes cleanup easier too.
It doesn't matter whether your nuts are whole, chopped, or sliced; it's your call.
You can use either sweetened or unsweetened coconut. If you choose sweetened, watch that it doesn't burn.
Don't skimp on the oil, but do consider the flavor of the oil you're using. I usually use sunflower oil because it has hardly any flavor.
I find the chocolate chips add some sweet without a ton of extra sugar, but I try to use dark chocolate since it adds some antioxidants to the mix.

*Mixtures of mix-ins:
pecans, cranberries, and white chocolate
almonds, blueberries, and dark chocolate
almonds, extra coconut, and milk chocolate (sound familiar?)
walnuts, apricots (chopped), and dark chocolate

My next experiment may involve agave nectar instead of honey.

Happy Crock Potting!