Editing

Yes, I’m a writer. Yes, words are my livelihood. But trust me when I say they aren’t the be all end of all of my existence.

There are so many things that just don’t matter to me. A turn of phrase that’s just not right Like when my friend says “It’s water under the dam.” Yes of course it’s water under the bridge or over the dam, but I get her meaning. Whatever she’s talking about is done and let’s move on. (Now, don’t get me wrong, if Mr. Nina said that I’d be all over him like flies on rice … or something like that. *g*)

My point is, there are things that just don’t matter to me. They’re not worth fighting about or in some cases even getting flustrated. (Oookay, that is one of my pet peaves when someone mispronounces frustrated … but I digress) The point is I’m not going to scour the newspaper, magazines or other people’s blogs looking for errors. Lord knows, when it comes to this blog, the number, of errant, commas would probably, drive an editor insane. I refuse to throw stones or cast aspersions that may possible bring someone here screaming that I’ve masacred the English language. I do it every day. If not publically on my blog, then quietly as I pound out my next story. I’m terrible with “your” and “their”. Not because I don’t know how/when to use them, but I don’t always see when I’ve used them wrong. (Sometimes my heart aches for my hardworking editors. I love every single one of them!)

Still, there are people like Gene Weingarten who lament that the English language is dying a quiet, agonizing death at the hands of newspapers who are cutting back on the use of copy editors. Half the mistakes he pointed out would not cause me to hesitate … but then … that’s his point.
 
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With the changing face of publishing it seems books are going through fewer and fewer edits these days. Print publishing houses are cutting back on staff to save costs from submission to publication. Some digital publishing houses are pushing books through to keep up with the high demand of their readers. And authors are now going the self-publishing route and may not have the financial resources to send a book through several sets of edits.

So what does this mean for a reader? That more and more books are making it to publication with errors. No one is immune. From the USA Bestseller to the self-pubbed author, more and more books we pick up have at least one error. And let me just tell you from an author’s perspective … it’s not at all because we don’t care. Unfortunately, even several pairs of eyes on the same manuscript can miss an error.
 
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Yeeeeah, this picture has absolutely nothing to do with my post today. It just made me happy which is exactly how I’m feeling.

I just recently finished editing my novella “Bound in Ecstasy” for re-release.

Don’t groan. I LOVE editing. It’s been awhile since I looked at this manuscript and hung out with the characters. This is my chance to get reaquainted with some old friends. An opportunity to destroy any cliches that may have snuck into my prose, remove any unnecessary adjectives and adverbs and be sure every page, every paragraph shines.

Okay, I’m not that good, but you get the idea. I want to make this story the best I can at this moment in my career and the editing is a big part of getting to that point.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure I should tell you that I’ve never gotten any really hard edits. There was one book where I forgot to mention a character’s motivation which meant a quick scene and a couple of sentences with the backstory and the problem was solved. (Thank you to that editor who caught that glaring error.) Other than that my edits are mostly poor word choices and overused descriptions. That being said, it’s probably one of the biggest reasons I don’t mind going through manuscript edits.

Now the nitty gritty of how I do it.
1) I skim through all my editor’s comments to see if there are any glaring problems (um, like a missing motivation)

2) Then I choose a random scene and read through it carefully to find …

spelling errors
No matter how many times you read your story from beginning to end there’s always the chance you’ll overlook simple errors. Between you, your editor and the final proofer, one can only hope they are all corrected. But we’ve all read a book with spelling errors. It happens.

showing not telling
This one is easy to overlook, but look at these sentences.

Nina is cold.
That’s a telling sentence. It doesn’t do anything to engage the reader. Sometimes this is okay. Nothing drives me crazier than when I have to read for the fourth time that a character lifted his shoulders … when he shrugged can work just as well. Okay, it’s a balance and one of those tightropes authors have to navigate which is why I look so closely for it.

vs this sentence …
Nina burrowed deeper in the thin sleeping bag, but nothing seemed to slow the rattle of her teeth and the shivering that quaked her tired muscles.

That paints quite a picture for the reader. It drops them right into Nina’s terrible ordeal, which is exactly where you want them.

overused words (it never fails that I fall in love with one word. I once used lascivious 15 times in a story … um, yeah a little overuse there Nina?)

make sure my paragraphs are backloaded
This is a great one and often hard to spot. Backloading means to put the most important piece of information or the sentence with the most impact at the END of your paragraph.

Here’s an example. Look at these two paragraphs:
Tonight he ached to dominate only one submissive in the overflowing club and it wasn’t the one delivering the drinks. The blonde beauty dropped to her knees beside Ethan. Naked, save for the black leather circling her neck, wrist and ankles and the silver and gem studded chains hanging stylishly from her nipple and clitoral clips, the woman was a breathtaking vision in her docility.

A nice paragraph, but it ends with a description of the waitress. but this version from Bound in Ecstasy 

A submissive on staff delivered beverages to their table and knelt obediently on the floor beside Ethan. Naked, save for the black leather circling her neck, wrist and ankles and the silver and gem studded chains hanging stylishly from her nipple and clitoral clips, the woman was a breathtaking vision in her docility. Normally the sight would have piqued the Dom clamoring inside Jonathon, but tonight there was only one submissive he ached to dominate.

…. ends with an emotional impact for the reader. The intention is to propel the reader into the next paragraph and the next page.

end the chapter on a hook
The best books are the ones where you “think” you’re going to read to the end of the chapter, but when you get there you HAVE to turn the page. A great hook is the easiest way to get your reader to turn the page.
Here’s the end of one of the chapters (unedited from “Maid for Master” … of course)

Satisfied she’d shirred up her courage, Claire grabbed her room key from her dresser, stuck a bright yellow tropical flower from the vase on the nightstand behind her ear and threw open the door, barreling headlong into a nearly naked submissive holding an envelope and a leather collar.

I can only hope the reader has to turn the page and see what she does with that.

3) Punctuation – I’ve learned a lot from my editors over the years, but commas and semi-colons just don’t know where they belong in my manuscripts. *g* And don’t even get me started on ellipses (…) and em dashes (–) because I’m the QUEEN of overuse in that arena!

Reread the ENTIRE story
This is the very last step before I release any book. I read the story one scene at a time … COMPLETELY OUT OF ORDER! That’s right, I choose random scenes from random chapters and focus only on that scene. It’s amazing how many missing or misspelled words I find because I’m reading the words that are actually on the page and not what I “think” I see. I often see overused words (especially in my intimate scenes) this way.

And that about covers it. Everyone has their own methods of going through edits. I’m always looking for pointers. I’m not sure if readers are interested in the process, but I do think sometimes it explains how typos or inconsistencies can happen.

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So what do you think of editing?

Okay, for those of you tripping on this hoping the erotic romance writer is talking about some sexually fun topic … forget about it. Just get your minds out of the gutter. I’m just rambling today about writing. Because what I’m discovering about this writing gig is the longer I’m doing it, the harder it’s getting. (Seriously, quit giggling and get your mind out of the bedroom.)

Now stay with me here.

When I first started writing I could sit at the computer for hours typing pages and pages. I didn’t worry so much where the plot was taking me or how the characters were behaving … I just wrote. Blissfully. Stupidly. My stories meandered here and there until I reached an end. It was so easy. Then I got published. Not once, but several times.

Okay, now I had an editor and a series going and wait … there are readers out there looking for my next book. Yay! What a thrill. It is, it really is, but now when I sit down to write I have this niggling anti-muse looking over my shoulder saying things like “the reader’s going to see that twist, don’t bother” “oh, he would say that?” “that’s not a good plot it’s been overused” “they’re not going to like this as much as the last book” “they’re going to slaughter you on Goodreads for that”.

Yeah, you get the idea. The whole nasty negativity stealing away my creative juices. So here are a couple ways I’ve learned to combat it.

1. Turn the music up louder. That’s right drown out the negativity.
2. Keep typing, everything can be fixed in edits
3. Type without looking back. Don’t allow yourself to turn around and second guess the day’s writing.
4. Even if you’re a pantser, take 5 minutes before you write and jot down the important points of the scene/chapter you’re working on. You’ll be surprised how much that will increase your productivity.
5. And if all that fails … gag the bitch and tell her to shut the f%*&@# up!

Whew I feel better. I hope those tips help. As for me, it’s time to find that gag and write out a couple of scene points and finish up the book I’m working on. I know readers are waiting on this one.

Oh, and just so you have something to discuss … what’s for dinner? (I’m always looking for ideas.)

I’m in the process of rewriting a book I’ve always loved, but it really just isn’t ready for public consumption. It’s hard. I LOVE this story, but finding the gold in the pile of crud is really a daunting task. Mostly because I love writing narrative. Long, flowing descriptions of people and places. Paragraphs of personal introspection. But guess what? Readers don’t want to wade through all of that, regardless of imagery. They want action. Things to happen. This means stories need to clip along. No meandering chapters. Every word carefully chosen. Nothing wasted.

So how do you find those words and phrases that can be cut without changing your story?

* Search your manuscripts for words ending in “ly”.

It’s unnecessary to say:
– She whispered quietly.
– He banged the table loudly.

“Whisper” is inherently quiet. A “bang” is loud. Those adverbs don’t help you draw the picture for you readers. You’ve already done that.

* Remove unnecessary descriptive words.
– The baby kitten purred.
– The giant tank rolled through the streets.

Kittens are babies and have you ever seen a small tank? There is no reason to include these words. The nouns themselves already give the description.

* Trust that your description explains without stating it again.

Stomping around the room, she couldn’t meet his gaze. “Because I don’t want to!” she yelled. Damn she was angry.

The last sentence isn’t needed. By using strong verbs like “stomp” and “yelled” you’ve already painted the picture of her anger. You don’t need to restate it.

Luke studied her face. Her unfocused eyes were heavy lidded, the long lashes brushing her flushed cheeks. Little puffs of breath feathered through her full lips. Sarah was so turned on.

Again, the reader knows she’s turned on. The author has done a wonderful job painting that picture. Don’t waste words stating the obvious.

* Make your verbs work for you. This also goes to writing action vs. passive.

Incorrect: The ball was bouncing across the driveway.
Correct: The ball bounced across the driveway.

It’s amazing the number of words you can cut from your manuscript by searching for “was”, “were”, and “been” and choosing a stronger verb to get your point across.

These are just a few of the easy steps to streamline your manuscript. Don’t let the word count limitations limit your story.

With Amazon, B&N and other venues making it so easy to publish a book, there’s lots of talk in the publishing world about editing.

When I first started writing I believed I’d send my manuscript in and some editor-type person would have a look at it, tell me they liked it, but …

And I thought that “but” would be how to improve, make it stronger and yes, could they please send me an advance check and they’d be happy to work with me to get my manuscript ship shape and on the local bookstore, Target and Wal-mart book shelves.

Ha! Make that a hearty, roll on the floor, bust a gut, hahahahahahahahaha!

What I’ve learned in the years since I submitted my first manuscript is that publishing companies don’t have the resources to take a newbie writer and help them polish. Agents don’t want to represent someone who is still learning the craft. I’m not criticizing … I’m just stating fact.

I do think there was a time when publishing houses molded and refined a manuscript. But that was loooong before the first “Once Upon a Time” ever got typed on my computer. I used to quake in my shoes when I read the words “polish to one inch of your manuscript’s life” on the submission guidelines for an agent or a publishing house. I don’t anymore, because I get it.

After I write my manuscript, I have a couple friends read it. Does it flow? Is it free of typos? Did I answer all the questions for the suspense plot? Did I do a reasonable job of making you care about the hero and heroine? I’ve got some awesome friends who are amazing when it comes to that stuff and I wouldn’t have the confidence to continue to submit my work if it weren’t for the efforts they put in for me.

Then, and only then, after I’ve gone through it line by line and they’ve gone through it line by line do I submit. That’s what the publisher/agent wants to see. They aren’t interested in seeing the first draft of my work. Heck, half the time, I’m not interested in the first draft of my work. 😀

But once the manuscript is accepted … that’s only the beginning. One of my novellas … which will remain nameless 😉 had to have a couple scenes rewritten before it even went into editing. No problem. I happily made the changes because the suggestions were awesome observations by the acquisitions editor.

Not all publishers edit the same and you should be aware of this before going through the process. There are some who simply do line edits … look for typos, misplaced or missing commas or the wrong “there”, “they’re” or “their” word. That kind of stuff. The editing department isn’t looking for plots that don’t come together or storylines that aren’t complete. They assume the author has done that already. Just be aware your potential publisher may fall into this category and make sure your novel(la) has been read by more than one person and all the ends are tied up (or not if it’s a series) satisfactorily.

Fortunately for me, the publishers I’ve worked with have full service editing department. That means the editors I’ve worked with (and I’ve had some amazing editors in my writing journey), point out poor wording choices or plot inconsistencies. (They’ve all given up trying to teach me about comma placement … I’m a hopeless cause when it comes to that. As a couple of them have said, I sprinkle commas like a pepper shaker.) Fortunately I’ve only had one who’s actually tried to change wording which actually changed my voice, but understood when I stuck to my guns. You have to remember, an editor’s job is to push me to write the best story I can.

Now that I’m looking to self-publish my first original book, I need to find a freelance editor. I won’t have a trusted person at a publisher looking through my book. I’m gonna tell you, it’s just a little intimidating, but I feel more comfortable knowing I’ve been through this process and I know what I’m looking for in an editor. It certainly will make it easier searching for someone who fits with my style.

Editing doesn’t hurt … it’s an awesome learning process for me. And I’m grateful to the publishers I’ve worked with who are so thorough with their editing. So don’t be intimidated when a publisher/agent asks you to edit your manuscript before you submit. They aren’t looking for you to be a NYT best seller right of the starting block … they just want to know that you care enough to send them your very best work.

I just finished edits on my twelfth book, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t very many. I’m a very slow writer by many standards, but I digress. It’s not the number that’s important here. I only wanted to let you know I’ve been through the process of publishing a book plenty of times to tell you, none of it gets old!

I’m not one of those authors that can just puke up the first draft, though goodness knows I’d like to figure out how. I fuss and futter over every word. Every paragraph. Every word of dialogue. Until some days my muse is ready to pour the bottle of tequilla she’s been enjoying over my head. But I’ve got to tell you there’s nothing more thrilling than finding that perfect turn of phrase that makes the page sparkle.

Well, except the thrill of typing “the end” and sending my story off to my critique partners for a final perusal. And after one more spell check and fixing the glitches my partners find, hitting the send button and getting my story out to my editor. Oh, yeah, there’s a totally sigh of contentment. (And then nervously sitting and anticipating her reaction while it sits in her queue waiting her read.)

And then the offer of contract arrives and I squee like a little girl getting a pony at her birthday party (which never did happen in my lifetime). Not occasionally. Not only if the book was on the more difficult side to write. Every time. I run out and shout it to my critique partners. Blast it across facebook. And annoy my loops with giddy dances of excitement. Yay! Signing a new contract makes my heart sing.

Then of course there’s the excitement of filling out the cover request information, anticipating the gorgeous artwork that will come back.

Then the edits arrive. I’m one of those writers that loves the editing process. First of all I have to sing praises to Mary, my editor at Ellora’s Cave. Mary pushes my writing to be better in the larger scheme of the book. But she’s also amazing in the small details of a story that my beta readers miss. Like the fact that my hero has on biker boots when he arrives at a resort in chapter one and shows up in cowboy boots in chapter seven. (Yeah, no guy brings that many shoes to a mostly nekkid resort.) Or that months of therapy suddenly becomes years of therapy three chapters later. Looooooooove herrrrrrr! (Yes that was me singing Mary’s praises.) Anyhoodles … edits give me another chance to see each scene by itself and really make it shine. There’s a delightful sense of accomplishment sending the shining manuscript back to my editor.

Then the email arrives with my cover attached and I let it sit, enjoying the anticipation of the unveiling. My heart in my throat, my breath held, I open the email and get my first glimpse of the artwork that will identify my book to readers. Yeah, I love that moment.

And after it’s all come together the day arrives when my baby heads out into the world. Release day probably is the best part. Well, until the first reviews are posted leaving me running around the internet like a crazy woman, posting links everywhere.

Hopefully in the middle of all of that, I’ve got another book in the pipeline and all of it happens all over again. Because as you can see, I just really get stupidly happy through all the stages of this crazy publishing business.

I belong to a lot of email loops. Some professional, some for marketing purposes. There are a lot of discussions going on about different aspects of publishing and the book market.

Well, the other day someone was talking about a formatting disagreement an author was having with their editor. (It had to do with POV and I’ll save that discussion for another day.)  Which is what got me talking about the process of editing process in the first place and how I handle it.

But today I wanted to talk about the relationship between the editor and her author. First, let me preface this by saying I’ve had five different editors for my 10 books. I’ve loved them all. Seriously. I’m not being politically correct. I really did. They pushed me and my writing so that when the book released it was the best it could be at that time. (Well, except commas … God love every one of them that they tried to teach me when and when not to use a comma … it’s a lost cause. 😉 )

Don’t forget, writers grow and mature. Writing changes. Our needs change. Not every writer requires the same thing from the editor. Editors must balance and weigh editorial comments and changes between the needs of the manuscript and the skill of the author. Every writer has their own style, their own voice and editing without losing that is a talent I can’t even imagine.

But here’s the thing — and the reason I’m writing this blog. Editors are human. Yep, I said it. They’re not up on the high pedestals of publishing. They’re not conspiring with agents and publishers to make it hard to reach your goal of publication. They’re the step between contract and publishing that gives your book another chance to shine. But once again — it bears repeating — they’re human.

Which means … they have opinions … and tastes … and views. And those opinions, tastes and views may not jive with your idea of how you wanted something to work within your scene. Does it mean they’re always right and you’re always wrong? Absolutely not.

I’m a stickler for honesty. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Therefore … if I disagree with my editor I tell her. A discussion begins and I give her reasons why I feel the way I do and she in turn explains her side. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I don’t always get to keep things the way I’d like, but at least I feel better knowing why it got changed.

We’ve all heard horror stories of the author who refused to budge and the contract got dropped. I’m not talking about that kind of arguing. I’m talking about a reasonable discussion of artistic points of view. We’re all readers and we all have hot buttons that pull us from a story. Well, so do editors. They have “house styles” they need to confirm to and grammatical rules that need to be followed (go figure *g*). But they also have their personal preferences. Which is where you can actually wince and say “no, I just can’t see my character doing that” or “my scene doesn’t have the right feeling with that change”.

Tell them. Don’t be shy. Because in the end … it’s YOUR story. Disagreeing with your editor isn’t unprofessional, it’s just … human

Okay, so my idea of what’s acceptable as far as editing errors in a published book has changed since I started writing. It’s not like I haven’t seen errors in NYT Bestselling books in all genres and mostly I thought … sheesh, they couldn’t catch that? Because the fact is, something missed in editing whether it’s a typo or an incorrect use of a word … just throws you from the story.

On the one hand, I’m a little more forgiving. Come on let’s face it. First I write the book. Then I spell check. Then a reread beginning to end looking for continuity (and yes, typos or wrong words). Then I have at least one other author do a pass and catch more. Then my editor gets her hands on it. More spell checks, grammar and word usage. Then I look at it again. Only this time completely out of order one scene at a time. Yes, every word, every book. And then last but not least … it goes through copy edits.

Still, errors get through. It’s disheartening.

So I cut the author lots of slack. I don’t think editing errors are their fault.

BUT, and this is a biggie. I’m feeling the publishing world is exploding. With authors and publishers. But there aren’t anymore of the reader’s dollars. As a matter of fact, with this economy, there are probably less. Which means more competition all the way around. I think there’s a push to get books out to the public. On the market.

Which means (and this is totally my opinion), that there may be some skimping or rushing on the part of the publisher to push through the editing stage. I think more errors are making it into print from NY pubs and small epubs. It’s happening everywhere.

Now, if the story is good, I let it pass especially if it’s only one or two in a rather clean book otherwise. But trust me when I say … it totally pulls me from the scene and interrupts the flow of the moment. I’ve actually given up on a story when there are errors every couple of pages. I’m not talking commas (I have no clue where they belong) but flat out in-your-face typos or word issues.

I LOVE my editor. She’s amazing. She finds my typos and “their” for “they’re” (which I’m terrible with regardless of how many times I read a scene) types of issues. But still, errors sneak through. I’m not sure where to lay the blame. Me? The final copy edits? The publisher in general?

And maybe it’s not an issue for you as a reader and I’m totally off base. But I am curious how you’re seeing the situation.

We all have those things that drive us absolutely nutty when we read. Something that pulls us from the story and if it gets bad enough … causes us to throw the book against the wall, never to finish it.

As a writer I think my threshhold has gotten more sensitive. Things I didn’t know were a problem when I was just a reader now drive the writer in me insane.

Constant head-hopping between characters in a scene is one of mine. It’s a rule … don’t do it very often. And if you must … once … and DO IT WELL. Make me be in the other character’s head before I realize it. Make me go back and see exactly where and how you skillfully moved me into the thoughts of another. But for goodness sake … please don’t keep flitting in and out of heads. (Of course only NYT best selling authors seem to get away with this … which is why it drives me MORE insane.)

Also, the choice of adverbs vs a good solid verb. I’ve mentioned this before. Used sparingly adverbs are AWESOME. Overused and they pull me from the story. My other nitpic is repeating a word (unconsciously) a couple times in sentences close together. Sometimes repetition is used as a tool … I get that. But when another word could have been used so the repetition didn’t occur, it makes me crazy. Words are an authors livelihood. Use them to your full advantage.

Those are things the author can control.

Then there are those things the author can’t control. Typos or bad editing. I can forgive a few typos. They happen. I’ve had them in my books. Even after 3 sets of edits (where I read EVERY word the first two passes) and a line editor … it happens. It’s easy to read a word you expect to be there when it’s actually missing. As an author you hope it won’t happen, but it does. I’m okay with a few, but when there are several in each chapter … I’ve been known to give up.

A friend of mine actually read and enjoyed a book that had at least one typo every two pages. She mentioned it, so it bugged her, but not enough to stop reading. No. It is so not going to happen with me. That’s too many. The book will sail through the air never to be read by me.

So I guess I was just wondering … what makes a book a wall banger for you?

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