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Writer’s Conference Fever

Read author interviews on 366Writing Blog

Quick blog this morning, as I’m getting ready to head to LA Valley College for the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference, which begins today and runs through Sunday (and still time to register at the door, starting at Noon today, BTW).

la writers conference

Writers Conference are amazing events – and I’ve told every aspiring and active writer I know to attend at least one, if not one per year. Why? Because after spending so much time writing in the loneliness of your home office, you get to mingle with kindred spirits. Everyone’s in the same boat, and the energy level is through the roof when we get together to compare struggles, triumphs, titles, voices and techniques. Secondly, the variety of helpful workshops, presentations and panels is tremendous. At this particular conference, non-fiction and fiction is fully covered, along with screenwriting and television writing (why not? Hollywood is just down the road).

For instance, I’m sitting on four panels, with plenty of variety. Today, I’ll be in on the Memoir Writing panel. On Saturday, it’s off to the Ghostwriting panel, then a pair of all-important Editing panels – Revising and Editing manuscripts on Saturday, and Rewriting on Sunday. (Revising and Rewriting are two entirely different processes, though all too often, we tend to blend the two). Will post my outlines from the Memoir and Ghostwriting panels on this blog next week.

The other reason writer’s conferences are so important is that we find out the latest happenings in the publishing Low Res Cover Backroadsindustry from the literary agents and editors on hand. Right now, if you’re thinking of publishing – or moving into other genres – it pays major dividends to be current on traditional and digital publishing events. Things continue to change so rapidly. I’m particularly interested in the concept of “hybrid authors”, since I am one, publishing works in both traditional houses and through collaborative partnerships, such as my work with Tuscany Global, which is putting out my poetry/essay book “Backroad Melodies” next week, and Vol. 1 of “Best of the Word Journeys Blogs” next month.

If you’re not coming up to LA, and you’re serious about your writing, please make sure to sign up NOW for the Southern California Writers Conference, which takes place Sept. 20-22 in Newport Beach, Calif. This is one of the hottest conferences in the nation for book contracts.

Losing my religion_cover_low resMeantime, time to hit the road. Oh yeah, before I go: be sure to stop by Amazon.com and pick up the hot new novel that hits the shelves today, “Losing My Religion” by Jide Familoni. This is one of the best novels I’ve ever worked with, a great story of a man trying to live in one lifestyle and culture while retaining the core traditions of another.

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Two Weeks of Creative Madness … And a Lot of Fun

The Memorial Day Weekend is finally here! One more day of yet another crazy cycle of writing, editing and consulting, and then it’s up the coast to Ventura to run in the Mountains to Beaches Half-Marathon – my favorite distance. This is a lick-your-chops race – slight net downhill, mostly flat, starts at 6 a.m., weather 55 degrees and low clouds, finishes on the beach promenade … everyone out there who races knows the right word for these conditions: Perfect.

But now, a recap of the past two weeks, which will also serve as a commercial for the incredible authors with whom I have the pleasure of working (this work is labor intensive, but is it ever fun!):

Ray Manzarek performing in Milan, 2012

Ray Manzarek performing in Milan, 2012

• First of all, thanks for the music to Ray Manzarek and Trevor Bolder, both of whom passed away from cancer this week. I am a huge Doors fan, and have been since “Light My Fire” first hit radio in 1967. Their music and Jim Morrison’s poetry influenced me greatly, and Manzarek paved the way for rock keyboardists everywhere. He also produced the “Los Angeles” album for X, whose bass player/singer, John Doe, was featured in the spring issue of The Hummingbird Review. Meanwhile, Bolder was the bass player on David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album, and, for the past 30 years, with Uriah Heep. My friend Robert Munger and I saw Trevor play with Uriah Heep two summers ago. I mean, we saw him. We stood five feet away and had low-tone deafness for a couple days as a result. The great rock band in heaven just became stronger.

• Just got added to the faculty of the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference, which will be held June 14-16 at L.A. Valley la writers conferenceCollege. It will feature workshops and panels for four levels of writers – aspiring, active, professional, and screenplay. A half dozen literary agents, editors and plenty of writers will be on hand for this informational and networking fiesta. I’ll be sitting on panels for Ghostwriting, Beyond the First Draft, and Rewriting. Will be selling my books Shades of Green, The Write Time, The Champion’s Way, and the latest edition of The Hummingbird Review as well. Really stoked to be part of this conference. If you’re not busy, do come up – prices are very reasonable, and the schedule of events is awesome.

• Speaking of which, I’ll have two new books coming out this summer through Tuscany Publishing: The Best of Word Journeys Blogs, Vol. 1; and my newest poetry-essay collection, Backroad Melodies. Will keep you posted.

clay-marzo-011609• I’ve reached terms with Houghton Mifflin on Just Add Water, a combination memoir/biography of freestyle surfing great Clay Marzo and his life with Asperger syndrome. The book is tentatively scheduled for a Summer 2014 release, and offers a deep profile from inside the skin of Asperger, and how Clay has become one of the very best surfers in the world. Fun “creation” story to this one: my good friend, Mitch Varnes, ran the idea of this biography by me a few months ago. It sounded like a sure winner. It was. The last time Mitch and I brainstormed a publication, in 1993, we emerged with One Giant Leap for Mankind, the 25th anniversary tribute to the Apollo 11 mission and all the astronauts on the Apollo missions. There’s a lesson here: need to connect with Mitch on book ideas more than once every 20 years!

• I’m assisting musician-producer Stevie Salas with his memoir, When We Were The Boys, remembering his days as lead 376462_204666292995418_1130802602_nguitarist on Rod Stewart’s Out of Order Tour – and how they shaped and influenced his remarkable 25-year career that followed. I first knew Stevie in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, when he played for one of North San Diego County’s hottest cover bands, This Kids. Now, he plays and hangs with the stars (wait: Stevie is a star), having just spent a few days with his boys, the Rolling Stones, while in Southern California. Stevie’s collaborations include work with: Mick Jagger, Justin Timberlake, Daughtry, Terence Trent d’Arby, Bootsy Collins, Miles Davis, Sass Jordan, Bernard Fowler, Glenn Hughes, Matt Sorum … if you know pop and rock music, you know these names. While backstage with the Stones, Stevie dished up a special request for me – a photo of he and Stones backing singer Lisa Fischer, one of the most powerful and sultry singers anywhere. Stevie is not only a great songwriter who has sold more than 2 million solo albums, but a lively prose writer, too, as you will see next year. I’m licking my chops over working on this book, which is about to be shopped by my agent, Dana Newman.

lynne-portrait-for proposal• Just finished editing Home Free, which will be one of the most highly anticipated and well-marketed travel narratives of 2014. It is also one of my favorite editing jobs ever. Author Lynne Martin is going to win over the world with her book, in which she shares she and her husband Tim’s hopscotch life in various global destinations, with all the sights, sounds and travel tidbits you’d expect in a good travel story. However, there’s more: her personality. Get ready to buckle your seat belt for a full-on, humor-filled romp, mixed with outstanding travel writing and enough tense, serious moments to remind us that Lynne and Tim are making their homes in these places, not just going in and out as tourists. Sourcebooks has moved up the release date to April 1, 2014, to capitalize on media coverage and national talk shows – on which Lynne will surely shine.

• Also wrapped the first issue of Innovation & Technology Today, an edgy, front-line digital magazine on the latest technological additions to our world, and the people envisioning and creating these products and services. We focused on smart homes for this issue, while our summer issue will be right up my alley – sports & medical technology. Besides editing the magazine, I also write the Education column – another pet topic. Digital magazines are a blast, for many reasons … that will be the subject of a future blog. The issue will be available through Zinio and Apple digital newsstands June 5.

• Keeping this busy month of words going, also just finished working on Gary Deason’s fine novel, The Columbian Prophecy, which answers the question: what would happen if an extreme, crazed cell of the Catholic Church tied Columbus’ voyages to America to the re-discovery of the Garden of Eden – and determined that to be the End of Days and their time to take over? This is a great story that interweaves Columbian history as you haven’t seen it before, the battles indigenous South American peoples have faced for 500+ years, and the trouble a father and his two daughters get into for stumbling onto the hornets’ nest occupied by these crazed monks. Enough said. Deason is working on agent representation now, so you’ll see this book in the not-too-distant future.

'A Taste of Eternity' author Martha Halda

‘A Taste of Eternity’ author Martha Halda

• Finally, it seems the author interviews on this blog are proving to be a big hit. My recent interviews with Losing My Religion author Jide Familoni, It’s Monday Only In Your Mind author Michael Cupo, A Taste of Eternity author (and my sweetheart) Martha Halda, and Island Fever and Storm Chasers author Stephen Gladish resulted in the greatest number of daily reads in the 5 ½-year history of this blog. (Side note: Storm Chasers was set in Oklahoma’s Tornado Alley; how apropo is that novel today??) So, to follow: Guests in June will include David Abrams, author of the bestselling novel Fobbit; 2013 International Book Award recipient Matthew Pallamary; Sword & Satchel trilogy author Claudette Marco; and Australian therapist Leo Willcocks, author of De-Stress to Impress, one of the most in-depth and proactive books on dealing with and rising above stress I’ve ever seen (and I’ve read a lot of them).

So that’s the past two weeks. I wish you all a fun Memorial Day weekend, remember what we’re celebrating and who we’re honoring, and make it a point to write or do something creative. Outside as well as inside. The next two-week cycle starts Tuesday …

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Two Crazy Weeks of Publishing Bliss

It’s been quite a two-week period on the writing front, and just goes to show what happens sometimes when you throw enough seeds in the garden. So, this blog is going to feel like a combination of a newsletter and announcements.

PrintLast week, two books came out on Amazon.com with which I was involved: The Hummingbird Review Spring 2013 “Hollywood & Literature” edition, which I edited and also contributed a couple of pieces; and Brian Wilkes’ book Stroking the Media, for which I contributed a chapter on the four essentials of generating good publicity – Timing, Opportunity, Newsworthiness and Perception. Will get into these in a future blog. Never had two Amazon listings in the same week, but there they are! Please order a copy – and one for a friend!

This week kept up the pace. I wrapped proposals for two people I have admired for many years: former Surfer Magazine publisher-editor Jim Kempton, who is now shopping his fantastic book of exotic recipes coupled with great surf travel and cultural stories, The Surfing Chef; and Stevie Salas, the Contemporary Music Advisor to the Smithsonian Institution (and great guitarist from Carlsbad), with whom I’m working on his memoir (more details forthcoming). Add to that the chapters I’ve either cranked out or edited for a number of other clients, and it’s been productive.

That’s not all: On Tuesday, Houghton Mifflin announced the acquisition and forthcoming publication of Just Add Water, my biography of surfing great Clay Marzo, who does it all with Asperger Syndrome. For this book, which is truly a joy to write (as those familiar with my long background as former promoter of the ASP World Tour and writing for the surf mags know), I owe a special shout-out to my longtime friend Mitch Varnes, who is Clay’s manager and who suggested I take a shot at writing this book when we had dinner a few months ago.

Mitch and I have history in turning ideas into great books; 20 years ago, Mitch helped me button down my concept and connect me with astronauts and NASA officials for one of the greatest projects of my career, One Giant Leap for Mankind. It was the 25th anniversary publication for the Apollo 11 moon mission, one edition of which NASA later picked up.

Oh yes, one more bit of news: on Thursday, the popular online magazine Indie Writer Net picked up the first of my two blogs on last weekend’s Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (the second blog will be right here on Saturday).

So, to cap it all off, I’m headed up to Orange County later this morning to appear as the guest on the Write NOW! TV show, with hosts Judy Saxon and Charles Redner. We’ll be talking about, well, writing, but also the benefits of writing about something different every day, and reading on a wide variety of subjects with the curiosity and precociousness of a child.

A quick advisory note on that, to take into the weekend: When you spread out your writing subjects – and forms of writing, from letters to journals to essays and short fiction, and everything in between – you develop the diversity to tackle anything and everything. When you read widely, your brain comes along for the ride and makes connections and observations you never thought you had.

Enjoy your writing and reading this weekend!

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Jumping On It: Valuing the Sense of Urgency

Nothing like the afterglow feeling following a great creative or emotional experience, and this past weekend’s Southern California Writers Conference in San Diego was both. Whenever 200 writers get together after hunkering down all year over their computers, often in a state that is something like the combination of a golden cage and solitary confinement, the spirit is going to be charged. Add to that a weekend of workshops, constructive critique sessions, keynote speeches and banquet fare that would blow away most corporate conferences (and even Christmas parties), and you have what we had in San Diego – an awesome weekend.

So it should come as no surprise if you hear computer keys afire throughout the country this week, as writers spring into action to tighten their fiction and non-fiction manuscripts, integrate their workshop sessions into tip-of-fingertip knowledge, and sort out the issues in their stories discovered by the very same literary agents and editors who want to see the material again.

Which brings me to the main topic: Working with a sense of urgency. Nothing could be more vital to a writer’s career (or an artist’s, musician’s, or builder of apps, for that matter).

Last week, I was slammed with work – no other way to put it. I was finishing book proposals, madly revising and editing chapters, ghostwriting the front end of a book, writing press releases and query letters so that my clients would be ready to present their work at three different conferences which, of course, had to land on the same weekend. Meanwhile, I was wrapping up the proposal for my new book in progress, Just Add Water, the biography of international surf star Clay Marzo – who happens to have Asperger Syndrome.

Amidst all this, an email came out of the blue – or, rather, New York – from my agent, Dana Newman. My fiancée, Martha Halda, has been working on a memoir, A Taste of Eternity, about her near-fatal 1999 car accident, ensuing near death experience and how both have transformed and defined the past 13 years of her life. We sent Dana the proposal in December, but, like every other agent in this country, she’s swamped. So we sat patiently, while fine-tuning Martha’s early chapters so she, too, would be prepared at the Southern California Writer’s Conference.

That changed instantly: Dana had received strong interest in A Taste of Eternity from Berkley Books and Harlequin Non-Fiction, both major publishers. She wanted to know if she could send Martha’s proposal, now.

One thing you learn fast in this business: you’ve got one shot to win over a publisher. There’s usually not a second chance for the same book. Knowing that, I advised Martha to tell Dana we’d get it to her on Tuesday. I wanted to get back into her proposal, update it, and make tweaks. And Martha wanted to improve her all-important sample chapters.

So, amidst a hundred and one other things to do, we jumped. The sense of urgency was absolute. We got up early, and worked under one of my old friends – the daily newspaper deadline, where you haul ass and get it right at the same time. By noon, as promised, we hit the “Send” button.

That’s what it takes when an opportunity arises. The ability to jump on it, act with that sense of urgency, cannot be overstated. At the Southern California Writers Conference, keynote speaker Michelle Scott spent plenty of time talking about the same thing. Michelle has written 29 books under several different imprints. Since she is in her early 40s, you know it’s been at a greater clip than one book a year – more like three or four a year. She understands urgency like writers of her stature and output: when an editor or agent calls, and says they need something quickly, you jump and you deliver.

“I’d written a book for Penguin that I figured was the beginning and end of those characters,” she said. “Penguin saw it differently, as a series. So I had a day to write one-page outlines of second and third books I’d never even thought of. I ended up doing nine books in two different series over the next six years.”

She also shared an experience of going to dinner in L.A. with a friend who brought someone else along – an editor from Amazon.com, which now has five publishing imprints to go with its megalithic book and product-selling operation. “He’d been to a horse ranch that day. My friend told him that I wrote a book about horses; I own and love horses. The editor asked for a synopsis and a partial manuscript. I got it right to him. I sent it that night from my hotel room,” she recalled.

My hope is that Michelle’s message, and the concept of acting fast when opportunities arise, sticks tightly to every writer. Many at the Southern California Writers Conference, and others, received positive feedback and interest from visiting agents and editors. In this hypercompetitive atmosphere, the word “interest” should be synonymous with “review, revise, perfect and submit – soon.”


Jump on it.


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What To Look For (and Require) From Your Book Editor

A few days ago, on the Southern California Writers Conference’s Facebook community page, SCWC director Michael Steven Gregory posted about one of the most troubling challenges writers face today:

Gotta say, folks, I’ve recently been coming across way too many people bilking writers big time–from publicists & editors & book printers & conference organizers to you name it… Please do your due diligence before paying anybody a penny with regards to your work and dream. The big shift today is not about publishing your book; it’s about convincing you that “author services” will sell your book. (I know the SCWC’s been dealing with this for about a decade, but it’s gone really, horribly rampant as of late.) Just a heads up.

For the past three years, I’ve been a member of the SCWC faculty (FYI: the next conference is Feb. 15-18, 2013 at the Crowne Plaza Hanalei in San Diego). I’m also a freelance book editor who also, in some cases, writes book proposals and locates agents or publishers. I steer others toward a self-publishing route, whether through print books, e-books, or both.

Michael is right on the money: it’s getting tricky for anyone trying to write and publish a book. With the traditional publishing industry becoming more difficult and condensed every day, and the costs, potential profits and opportunities to self-publish more appealing than ever, an increasing number of writers are striking out on their own. The smart ones are finding qualified, distinguished professionals who can edit their books to a publish-quality shine, perhaps help them build their promotional platforms, and maybe even offer solid advice on the publishing process.

But here’s the rub: For every good, established professional, you’re going to find two or three who just aren’t qualified to provide the services they promote. Some among this latter group try hard, and mean well, but don’t have the skills or track record. The others, however, are shamelessly capitalizing on your dream of publishing a book. Like unscrupulous shysters in any industry, they promise the moon, take your money, prey on your hopes and aspirations, don’t edit well, and leave your book off worse than when you started. These are the people to which Michael Gregory alluded. When you’ve spent months, or years, pouring your heart, soul, time and money into a book, the last thing you need is to meet the proverbial robber on the road.

These people infuriate me. They infuriate all other hard-working, dedicated professional editors and author services experts who commit themselves, knowledge and skills into their clients’ works — their clients’ dreams.  I have personally witnessed authors’ dreams crushed by reputed agents and freelance editors who did nothing — or worse, touted their credentials and proved to have no track record at all.

Conversely, good editors and service professionals deeply care about your book. They pour their hearts  into your writing. None of us receive the lofty salaries New York-based editors earn (or at least used to earn). That’s OK: for us, the satisfaction comes in knowing we help authors fulfill their journey, and bring their stories, essays, memoirs and knowledge to your awaiting readership . We collaborate with our author-clients, help them reach down and find the very best expression of their feelings or subjects, and manifest it in their work. When you’re half of a great editor-author working relationship, it sometimes becomes transformative, like alchemy. Doesn’t matter which half, either.

This leads to a couple of questions: How do you distinguish between solid, qualified, professional editors, and those who are not? How can you tell when someone really cares about your work — cares enough to go over it, again and again, to make sure it’s the most polished and refined it can be? How do you know an editor really has helped other clients get published?

These are questions you should ask, whether it’s your first book or your tenth. Since self-publishing is not only a viable, but a preferred option in many cases, it is more important than ever that your book emerge as clean and mistake-free as possible. Therefore, you need to hold a prospective editor to a rather tough standard.

Here are my suggestions:

1)   Ask the editor what books s/he has edited within your genre. Believe it or not, many writers miss this, and then wonder why their manuscript hasn’t been properly edited. Editing a memoir is entirely different from editing a how-to book. “Listening” to make sure dialogue matches characters and situations within a novel is far different than polishing an explanatory thread in a history book. Mysteries differ from adventure romances. And so on.

2)   Ask what type of editing services are provided. If they say, “all editing,” or “everything you need,” dig deeper. Do they offer content editing? Line editing? Revising? Polish, or final, editing? Proofreading? The good ones do it all — and break down each phase with explanation, just like this.

3)   Ask which edited books have been published, and by whom. Do your due diligence. In nearly all cases, a quick visit to Amazon.com will suffice.

4)   If the editor’s previous works in your genre were self-published, that can also be a good thing. Go onto Amazon.com, and look at book reviews, ranking, how high up in category the listing shows, etc. That will give you an idea of how noteworthy the book is.

5)   Ask the editor to test-edit 3 to 5 pages of your manuscript. This will give you an idea of how much more refined s/he can make your work. Don’t ask them to edit more than that; be mindful that the editor is busy, too.

6)   Have a conversation with your editor on the phone or in person before hiring. It’s so easy to do everything via email, but at least hear the voice of the person you’re entrusting with your hard work.

7)   Be sure the editor does not alter your narrative voice. This has been my biggest pet peeve for years with editors both inside and outside publishing houses (and magazines and newspapers as well). A good editor recognizes or helps you develop your narrative voice, learns your working vocabulary and vernacular, and works to help you expand it.

8)   Set deadlines for performance, and pay according to those milestones. Most editors require some down payment (as I do), which is fine, but do not pay in full until you are completely satisfied with the final product. A good editor will set up installments – a sample schedule might be 25% down, 25% when half the manuscript is edited, and 50% at completion and acceptance. There are many variations, which are all good as long as you don’t pay in full until the job is complete.

9)   Does your editor have good contacts with agents or publishers? Or does s/he know how to help you write book proposals, synopses or market the book? This is not necessary to guarantee a good editing job. If so, however, that’s a huge plus. Some editors do have these credentials and contacts.

These questions will serve you well. They’ve served me well during the past 15 years and 130+ books, ebooks and numerous magazine titles that I’ve edited. Good, established editors will pass this test with flying colors.  For instance, when I work with a client, I always offer to test-edit a few pages. Some take me up on it; others just want to get started. If clients want to know my credentials, I rattle off a few finished titles in their particular genre. If I haven’t edited in their particular genre or sub-genre before, I tell them straightaway. They have a right to know. If writers want contact information for my former clients, I provide a couple of contacts. Since I also write book proposals and synopses, and occasionally work with agents and publishers directly, I let prospective clients know that as well. If they have specific questions about the publishing profession, I answer — or find the answer if I don’t know it, and get back to them.

My newest addition is a spreadsheet. When someone is considering me for their book, and want to know my background, I send them a spreadsheet with 20 recent titles I’ve edited, six books I’ve ghostwritten, and six author or client websites I’ve developed, including publisher’s name (or soon to be publisher) — and a URL to the publisher’s site, Amazon.com title link, or author’s site. Nothing verifies faster than seeing the physical proof. If you’re an editor, you may not yet have 20 books on your list — but you may have 200. Whatever you do have, give your prospective clients the opportunity to see what you’ve edited.

That’s what you want when seeking an editor. I wish we could all be in the trusting business — and it pains me to say this, because I’m an incredibly trusting person — but, you need to know who’s working on your book. And what makes them the right person to do so.


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15-Point Checklist for Self-Editing Your Manuscript or Article


Nothing gives the vast majority of writers more pleasure than indulging in the creative process. After spending days, weeks or months marbling a story idea through their heads, they put pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — and set off on the fictional or non-fiction journey of their story subject, a creative adventure with as many twists and turns as a night of dreams.

At some point, the story ends. You’ve written the manuscript. Now it’s time to edit and polish the manuscript to a fine shine. How enthused are you about that process? As a book editor, this is where I come in, to help authors shape their manuscripts into can’t-miss page-turners that will sell publishers and readers alike. However, much as I love to engage in their entire process, I always advocate that authors become strong editors of their own work before making the necessary (I believe) investment in hiring a good book editor to polish it up.

Why? Because no one knows your story, characters or subject matter better than you. You can make the key changes that will retain the vivid picture of the story and direction of the plot, or narrative if non-fiction, that you envisioned. Furthermore, by self-editing until you can find no more to fix, you then hand off the book to an experienced editor at an ideal juncture: with just one round of polishing to go. We’ll talk more about the value of an outside editor in the next blog. This is about you and your editing capabilities.

Here is a 15-point checklist that I’ve presented at workshops nationwide and to my college writing students. It works wonders, and makes you into a competent self-editor before you realize it. This applies to all fiction and non-fiction genres, memoirs, travelogues, blogs, and magazine feature articles:

1)     Start at the beginning. Make sure your lead sentences and paragraph grab the reader. The opening paragraph of your story, essay, novel or non-fiction narrative will convey the spirit and tone of your piece, with a detail or two that grabs the reader’s attention. If you open anecdotally, make sure the storytelling is crisp and the details accurate.

2)     The first five pages mean EVERYTHING. Make sure we feel the tone of the story, understand the direction it takes—at least the first part of the story—and we hear your voice. Paint a picture into which we want to jump. Waste no words. Edit the first page over and over again until you have exactly what originally poured through your mind when you conceived the piece.

3)     Make sure all verbs and nouns are strong, and there is noun/verb agreement throughout. Action verbs should reflect the traits and motives of the characters, and the plot of the story. Use action verbs whenever possible, but when you describe passivity or laissez faire attitudes, go with passive verbs.

4)     Make sure all action and movement is crisp.  When a scene or piece of action plays out, exit the scene as two actors would exit the stage. Edit out redundant or superfluous words and sentences; edit everything that carries a dawdling or lingering feeling, unless it speaks specifically to a character or the movement of the scene or event (i.e. a hostage negotiation that drags deeply into the night).

5)     Make sure the sequence of events/scenes is exactly as you envisioned it. Cut up your first draft into pieces and rework them like a jigsaw puzzle if necessary. If something is missing, write a new scene. Sequencing is vital. Everything else follows.

6)     Cut out unnecessary first-draft material that you wrote to arrive at the core of your story/narrative/article. You will recognize this—extra backstories, flashbacks, exposition, segments and descriptions that help you get to know the characters. In many cases, first draft is about the author getting to know the story; now, your job is to clean up the manuscript so the reader not only gets to know the story, but plunges in with both eyes, both feet and all his/her senses.

7)     Trim your sentences. Get rid of adverbs and unnecessary adjectives. Let your nouns, verbs and dialogue run the show. Work again on noun/verb agreement.

8)     Fiction writers: Talk out your dialogue, aloud. Talk it out as you “hear” your characters speaking in your creative mind. If something doesn’t sound right, or sounds incongruent to the character that is saying it, change or remove it. Be sure that all dialogue is “spoken” in the voice of the character that said it. This is a vital editing step, because your reader will know very quickly if your French perfume shop owner has a Kentucky accent, or if the wizard in your fantasy sounds more like an uptight big brother/sister than a relaxed carrier of ageless wisdom. Readers read with their eyes but “hear” the story with their inner ear.

9)     Non-fiction writers: Double-check all quotes with your interview transcriptions. No room for deviation here. Also make sure you’ve described the subject’s tone of voice, accent, mannerisms and figures of speech accurately, so we can put a voice to the words when reading what the person says. If the comments are sensitive or controversial, you might want to check with the subject to make sure the statement was rendered exactly how he/she meant to say it.

10)   Make sure you only have one point-of-view in any given paragraph, preferably one POV per scene, and that your POVs are consistent throughout the piece. Nothing confuses the reader faster than constantly changing POVs in the middle of a scene.

11)   If you start a chapter in first, second or third person, carry it through in first, second or third person. Early drafts almost always mix between first, second and third person, because we start with a different tone than we finished the day before, or we simply move through a highly personal, or impersonal scene, and we write according to our degree of feeling and attachment to that scene. Go through your manuscript, and make sure you’re consistent.

12)   Make sure transition sentences and paragraphs are seamless. A well-written transition should glide the reader to the next section of your story, requiring no effort on their part.

13)   Check Punctuation, Take One: Aspire to grammatical perfection—except in dialogue or interior monologue (see Take Three, below). Editors and readers will appreciate it. Make sure periods and commas are inside quotes, en dashes and ellipses have proper (non) spacing before and after, run-on sentences and dangling modifiers are eliminated, commas are used properly in series, sentence fragments are used only for dramatic effect, and colons and semi-colons are used properly. Two style books are used more by editors than any others: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, and the Chicago Manual of Style. Every working writer would do well to own and wear out both.

14)   Check Punctuation, Take Two: Punctuation marks also create emphasis, pace and emotion in your story without overusing words—a great effect that editing can bring out more fully. Periods denote the end of a moment. Exclamation points denote drama. Ellipses denote contemplation or “pregnant” pauses. Colons call the reader to be aware of what follows. Question marks are exactly that. See that your punctuation conveys the pace of your scenes and the moods of your characters.

15)   Check Punctuation, Take Three:  Dialogue and interior monologue have their own punctuation guide—the voice of the character(s) involved. Write to the character(s)’s manner of speaking. Does he talk in sentence fragments? Does she speak in heart words? Does he overtalk when he gets excited? Do they argue with respect for each other or do they get down & dirty? Show this when you edit the dialogue, so that we can hear their voices—words, tones, insinuations, the works. Likewise, interior monologue should read more like a rush of feelings or thoughts—or a slow progression of thoughts, if the character is a deep, contemplative thinker—than well-polished narrative. Actually, interior monologue that paints the picture of the crazed scientist in bursts of fragment, exclamation points and double colons is polished.

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Well-Edited Manuscripts More Important Than Ever

(Note: This is the first of a three-blog series on editing. In this blog, we focus on the importance of self-editing — and finding an outside editor — before sending off your book manuscript, short story or article)

The digital publishing revolution and the continued decline of publishing houses (in their willingness to take on new authors as well as their overall influence) have created a boom in self-publishing. Now, you can write a manuscript as quickly as your fingers can move on a keyboard, either format it as an e-book or send it off to a self-publishing service provider, and within days or weeks (or even hours!), have yourself a book on the market. At that point, your marketing and promotional abilities will determine to a large extent how the book sells.

All of that is well and good, but what about quality control? How well do you tell the story or convey the chief points in your book? How important is it to you for your readers to receive an informative, enriching or entertaining experience that is delivered with your very best, most polished writing? What priority do you give to making your narrative as sharp, fluid and error-free as possible?

Whether or not you choose to self-publish or take your best shot at traditional publishing house channels, your ability to build loyal readers beyond family, friends and colleagues will ultimately come down to the quality of your writing and ability to present your story or subject. If a reader buys your book, but can’t get past the first few pages due to loose storytelling, shoddy grammar or punctuation, underdeveloped characters, inaccurate facts or lack of compelling, page-turning writing, then you will have trouble finding an audience. After all, for all the advertising and marketing you might do through traditional means and social media, the power of reaching wider audiences still has an old ally: word-of-mouth. As one literary agent told me years ago, “Make it perfect. Then polish it one more time. Remember that readers are setting aside everything else in their lives to read your book. If they like it, they’ll tell their friends.”

This is where editing comes in. We’d like to think that the authors of all great novels, memoirs and topical non-fiction books laid down the final polish of their seamless narratives themselves. We’d like to believe that we can write every chapter, paragraph or sentence so perfectly that our readers will resonate and experience the words as deeply and passionately as we did when the thoughts and feelings flowed from our minds and hearts onto the page. We’d like to assure ourselves that, after writing and revising our manuscripts a couple of times — or a dozen times — we still maintain enough perspective to make a final, objective pass over our work to find those last irritating awkward sentences or misspellings.

For more than 95% of all writers, bestsellers and newcomers alike, this scenario strikes them as grandiose fiction. Nearly every writer I’ve met in my three decades in this business — myself included — turns to outside help when polishing the final drafts of manuscripts. I’ve been fortunate enough to edit 130 of those manuscripts, in all genres — the vast majority of which were published.  Others hire editors to take them through all phases of the editing and revising process. Those authors who land book deals turn over their manuscripts to the publishing houses, which assign an editor specifically for that book. After that editor is finished, another editor polishes the manuscript, then the proofreader takes over. In 2009, when I was ghostwriting The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Risk Management for Annetta Cortez, we worked with four different editors at Alpha Books.

So, if your manuscript is going to land in the hands of editors you don’t know, why not send them the very best work you can possibly produce? Why not learn and master the finer points of self-editing? Why not also hire an editor you can get to know and trust with your words and your voice? If you can self-edit well, then you will polish your manuscript to such a fine shine that every sentence and word vibrates with the larger spirit and plot of what you are conveying. If you then find a good final-draft editor, he or she will work from within your writing voice, fixing paragraphs or sentences with words and phrasings you would use, sharpening your voice and the cohesiveness of your story along the way. If you choose to have an editor work with you from the beginning, you will eliminate weeks or months of the agony that results when you learn, 200 pages down the line, that your story or narrative lost its structure, focus and direction.

In the next two blogs, we will talk about the basic and fine points of self-editing, as well as what an outside editor should do for you. Meantime, as you work to finish the book you know the world can’t wait to read, and prepare to hit the “send” button to your agent, publisher or e-book formatter, do yourself a favor: slow down, take a deep breath, and read the manuscript over one more time. Aloud. Then make all the fixes to the glitches that your speaking voice catches.

Learn to love editing and polishing as much as you love writing. When you do, the reading world will be far more likely to embrace your work.

Next: Why Self-Editing Is Your Second Most Important Skill (and maybe the most important)

(Word Journeys serves writers through manuscript evaluation, editing, ghostwriting, platform building, and development of book proposals and materials for literary agents and publishers. Since 2000, we have edited more than 130 books and e-books in all genres. Email bobyehling@gmail.com or call 917-826-7880 if your manuscript is ready for publish-level editing.)




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