Thursday, January 26, 2012

(Self-)Editing and Efficiency

Is it possible to edit yourself efficiently? Yes, in the sense that you can make use of different self-editing methods to speed yourself up.

By efficiently, I mean that you can self-edit, producing a quality product in the least amount of time. Some commenters have mentioned that they use the "Let it sit" technique.

While that's a good one, that technique caters to letting you do whichever type of editing you're best at: big picture or little picture. (Remember my post on the two main types of editors?) It doesn't necessarily do you the most good for the other one.

On the whole, all stories will need a "big picture" check and a "little picture" check. Some folks spew words on paper and check both afterwards. Some labor over an outline to make sure the overarching story will even work before they start the prose. Some edit as they write the story (*raises hand*).

Here's the thing. On a purely objective level, you might expect it to be most efficient to start out outlining (to check the big picture), spewing everything out on the page (because you can't fix what's not on the page—well, sort of), and then polishing everything up.

But everyone's wired differently. That method is only efficient for some people.

Some folks, those of us who are naturally best at spotting the "little picture," actually work best by cleaning up the "little picture" first, because even if that means we "waste" time polishing text that'll be tossed, it saves time by making us able to see beyond the misused commas to fully process the content beneath.

Can such a "little picture" editor get better at seeing the content beneath the grammar errors? Yes. But that requires the "little picture" editor to practice "big picture" editing, so it becomes more natural.

Hey, I've never said this learning to self-edit thing was easy or quick.

So the most efficient editing method for you might not be be what you'd expect to be efficient.

Personal example: It's mentally impossible for me to use an outline as a fluid structural guideline.

Folks talk about using the outline as a rough idea, something to be changed as the story goes, but it is practically impossible for me to rearrange a standard alphanumeric outline, even when it's on the computer screen.

The reason? As soon as everything's organized with numbers and letters, I cannot visualize it any other way. It's like permanent brain freeze.

It gave me a ton of trouble in school when teachers would demand I provide one of those alphanumeric outlines before I wrote a paper. I can sometimes manipulate a topical outline, but a sentence outline? Forget it.

Let's just say I learned to write the paper's rough draft before I wrote the outline. *twiddles thumbs* My teachers who found out weren't happy about it. So, for classes where my grade would've been docked if I'd written the paper first, I would create and reorganize a bulleted list, which I'd then modify into an alphanumeric outline to turn in to the teacher, looking at it for as short a time as possible.

I suspect it's my learning style. Most visual learners are polychromatic from pictures. In other words, color, pictures, and their own handwriting all help them.

I'm monochromatic from typed words. In other words, I struggle to read handwriting (even my own), a good way to get me to not notice something is to highlight it and not tell me there's color on the page, and pictures are difficult for me to process. (Then again, my lack of depth perception might contribute to that last one.) If I don't think to check for anything other than black text on a white background, I actually won't see that alternatively-colored text.

I include that personal story as a case in point: alphanumeric sentence outlines are efficient for some people. Not everyone.

So when you approach self-editing (or even editing in general), remember: what's efficient for you might not be intuitive, or even what's efficient for whatever author(s) you personally look up to.

Do you have any fun personal stories about an "efficient" technique being incredibly inefficient for you? Care to share?


Monday, January 23, 2012

A Fistful of Earth Is Almost Here…

And maybe to be followed by print versions of both books!

I know, I know—I've been saying that awhile, but I have something new, something that'll let me fund the paperbacks (and maybe more?) even if I have another unexpected money drain pop up:

I've set up a Kickstarter fund.

If you've not yet bought A Fistful of Fire in e-book format, head on over to there to pledge $3 and get the e-book for a dollar off when the project funds.

If you're interested in A Fistful of Earth, head over to Kickstarter to pledge $4 and get the e-book for a dollar off, too from what the price will be when it comes out ($4.99).

Other items available include autographed bookmarks based on the book covers (no limits), signed copies of the paperbacks (limit of 10), and a character named after you in book 3 (limit of 1).

The amount I'm needing to raise? $500.

If the project is wildly successful, there's a possibility of hardback editions and audiobook editions, as well. (I've listed the needed amounts to definitely be able to produce each item over on the Kickstarter page.)

So. Whether you're looking for a deal on the e-book form of the stories, or if you're interested in signed copies, or you just would like to help me out, check out my Kickstarter page.

It ends on February 6th, before 8am EST. The project will only happen if I hit the $500 before the project ends. (The way Kickstarter works, if I don't hit that $500 threshold, nobody will be charged, and I won't get any money.)

I appreciate your help, be it by donating or by spreading the word.

Thank you.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tricks Instead of Treats: Tricking Yourself

We've covered everything from how self-editing isn't innately "unprofessional" to why it's difficult to edit your own work and how to avoid the worst of your writing problems.

Now, to get into some of the nitty-gritty of how exactly this self-editing thing works.

Can you trick yourself?

If you can't, your first step in self-editing will have to be figuring out how to trick yourself. (Don't worry; there are many tactics different people use, and I'll be bringing them up in this series.)

When you read something you've written, you see what you meant to do—the "treats," as it were. To edit and revise it appropriately, you must trick yourself into seeing what's actually there.

Not what you think is there. What's actually on the page.

On a copyediting and proofreading level, there are several options available for tricking yourself. All of them are tedious, but they work pretty well, particularly when you combine methods. (If you want to know something now, see an old article I wrote here—but on this blog, I'll be more thorough.)

Not that those methods do you much good if you don't know how to copyedit or proofread (or if you're particularly dyslexic), but I'm going to assume that you're honest with yourself when you evaluate your ability. (And if you can't edit or afford an editor, have you checked out the possibility of crowdsourcing?)

With big picture editing, however, tricking ourselves is a bit harder. We have to see the scenes and plots as they actually fit together, not how we want or meant them to fit together.

For doing this, some writers use note cards, one per scene, then organize those cards for each of the different things they're checking and take notes about what needs fixing. (Example: a story with multiple POVs could have note cards arranged for the author to see how many of each POV there is and where. The author could also then rearrange them to see how many cards dealt with a particular, say, romance subplot, and where those scenes fell, to make sure they were well-spaced.)

Those of us with Scrivener can also make use of the program's keywords to view such things. Some just take a notebook and read through the manuscript multiple times, checking different aspects each time.

Some folks do a single read-through and leave it, but the ones who pull that off tend to have more experience with the entire "reading and writing stories" thing.

Though Scrivener's keywords can be incredibly handy for making sure a minor character didn't mysteriously vanish for half the book, I generally do my scene-by-scene analysis with physical 3x5 note cards. I use a variant of methods I've read from Holly Lisle and Shanna Swendson, as I recall.

The main unique thing I do is that I don't use colored note cards to indicate how much work a scene needs (green for next to none, red for scrap and redo, etc). Instead, I put all my scenes down on white cards, then take highlighters or markers and mark along the top edge of the card. (So when you take the stack, flip it so the text is facing you for you to read, and the color shows on top of the stack.) I also make a "Key" card, with the colors and what they mean.

Afterwards, for organization, I might hole punch them all and misshape a paper clip to use as a ring. More often, I take a small check envelope and write the book title on it, then stick the note cards inside.

I'm being intentionally vague here about what to check, because that'll differ depending on your type of story and how you write it, but I'll try to get more into that later.

Can you trick yourself into seeing what's actually on the page rather than what you want to be there? How do you do it?


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why Good Self-Editing Is (Not?) "Impossible"

Hearkening back to my post that kicked off this series, "Is Self-Editing Unprofessional?", I pointed out that while there's a common belief in self-publishing (and even among fiction authors) that it's impossible for an author to adequately edit their own work, freelance writers (and some traditionally published writers) are expected to be able to adequately edit their own work.

But a lot of writers think that adequately self-editing their own work is impossible, and that's due to what it involves.

"Editing" involves several tasks that not everyone can do well, and that it's normal to be able to analyze better for someone else before you can analyze them in your own writing. Definitions also change a bit depending on the situation and who you ask, so I'll define what I mean:

  • Content Editing – Making sure the "big picture" plot, characters, setting, theme, etc. all work.
  • Line Editing – Making sure each sentence flows in the best way possible.
  • Copyediting – Making sure the text says what you wanted it to say, that the details line up, and that your references to existent companies and the like are proper.
  • Proofreading – Making sure what's on the page is what you meant to write, a final check for misused words, misplaced punctuation, improper formatting, etc.

So when you self-edit, you have to make sure your "big picture" structure all works, and you have to make sure you didn't use the noun affect where you needed the noun effect, or that you didn't use the female fiancée where you needed the male fiancé. (Two examples of common problems. And yes, affect can be a noun, though it's usually used in the verb form.)

When you self-edit, you have to do all those things by yourself.

…Or do you?

There's something that a lot of folks forget or scoff at when they insist nobody can self-edit: beta readers.

Beta readers usually aren't pros. Beta readers probably don't know when a semicolon should go before a conjunction. (Yes, it sometimes should.) Beta readers might not be particularly familiar with your genre but want to read it because you wrote it.

But beta readers are readers. I have friends who work or have worked as English teachers, as staff proofreaders for an extremely picky local press, etc. And some of my best feedback, the input that nailed the problem in a story's content, does not come from them.

I repeat, my most useful content feedback does not always come from my friends who work in the field.

Detail input? Analysis of story theme? Debate over whether a technique I tried was appropriate to the context or not? My professional friends are fantastic at that. (You should've been there when one of them critiqued an early version of A Fistful of Fire. Her "Mash doesn't boil!" sounded like my complaint about Robin McKinley's Sunshine: Knitting needles don't have hooks on the end! That was an afghan hook, also known as a Tunisian crochet hook or needle! (I even suspect the author wrote that on purpose due to the narrator, but it still irritates me.)


My non-professional friends are the ones who told me my paranoid narrator was too whiny and self-absorbed, that I was getting extremely rude and snappish when I tried writing a novel full of psychopaths for NaNoWriMo. (It put me on edge, and they later told me that just hearing about the story sorta scared them. I've learned that I can't bury myself in that kind of story again; it isn't healthy.)

Beta readers can fill in your weak points, but even then, you have to be strong enough a self-editor to know where your weak points are and to recognize when a beta reader's suggestion is legitimate. I've had friends try copyediting/proofreading my work, where afterwards I discovered that they didn't know grammar quite as thoroughly as they thought they did, or that they used a different grammar handbook and dictionary than I did.

That can make the difference between putting spaces around an em dash (—) or not, and between the spelling of words like e-mail/email. (For the record, I prefer no spaces and e-mail.)

So you already need some skill at editing before you can self-edit or pick good support beta readers.

At all types of editing.

That's a lot of work. It's scary.

Some folks don't want to spend the time learning it, time that could be spent writing. That's fine.

Some folks have learning disabilities or issues that mean they honestly can't adequately edit their own work. That's fine, too. (Though they can probably learn more than they think they can; speaking from my experience as a grammar tutor.)

But self-editing isn't impossible for everyone. Just ask any freelancer who's worked under an NDA with no more than an acquisitions editor.

Do you seek to improve your self-editing skills, or do you focus on your writing? If you're more of a reader than a writer, what errors particularly bother you in a story?


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why I'm Not a Hater of the Kindle Select Program

Exclusivity of product has always been used in retail. A manufacturer might like it to increase panache (or to limit the number of distributors it has to deal with, for an in-demand item). A retailer might like it because it means customers have to come to them and not the business down the street for that particular product.

A (sometimes) temporary exclusivity of format has been standard in publishing (at least for the past two decades, and a time delay between the release of two different formats is also normal.

Yep, I just used the n-word.

Granted, a lot in the world of publishing seems dysfunctional and completely contrary to good business sense to this chick who's been following publishing and agents for the past decade and scratching her head. (Then again, I did have a former coworker once tell me that I expected business to make sense—but I digress.)

Remember waiting six months or a year for that book you wanted to come out in paperback instead of hardback? (Assuming that it came out in paperback.) Remember waiting for the e-book version to come out for that novel you wanted to read, while praying that the e-book would be in a file format you could actually use—assuming an e-book came out at all?

Do you remember?

*taps fingers on her desk, waiting for answer*

(Come on, folks. I surely can't be the only one who remembers this.)

The problem, as I see it, is how a lot of self-published authors are treating Kindle Select. They cheerfully take their books down from retailers where they "hardly sell," no warning to fans. Effectually giving those users of non-Kindles the finger.

Personally, I was a bit irritated because I just got a NOOK Touch. I'd just discovered (by word of mouth) that I'd probably like a particular person's books, and she went and took them off Smashwords before I could buy them. Fortunately for her, we're both somewhat active members on the same online forum, so I'll have plenty of exposure to her signature to remind me that I was interested in her books, once (if?) she removes the exclusivity.

But that's the method of the exclusivity that irritated me, not the exclusivity itself.

If an author handles exclusivity properly—announcing it, making it temporary, and presenting it that way (Hey, you can get my book on Kindle right now for X price, and after Y date, you'll be able to find it on Smashwords and other retailers)—then it's just a matter of focusing on one element at a time. Even my own stories are exclusively in e-format at this time, not print. (Extended illness and an MRI sorta sucked up all my funds, last year—emergency fund, computer fund, savings… No, that's not a whine. I'm just pointing out that life happens to all of us.)

Kindle Select actually has a lot to recommend it. It's a temporary program, only 90 days of exclusivity. Sure, there's "automatic re-enrollment," but you can easily disable that the very day you sign up. Easily set 5 days of your choice free with a handy little calendar. Each enrolled book that's borrowed gets a piece of the borrowing fund.

I can actually see myself using this program, in the future—for a single 90-day stint, for a new title that you readers aren't waiting on.

Yes, I use a NOOK. Yes, I'd be irritated if I were waiting on a book in the format I'd bought the prequel in, and it weren't available. What am I thinking?

I'm thinking that I will not place the 4 Chronicles of Marsdenfel stories in any e-retailer exclusivity program. Nor will do so for at least the next two books in the Destiny Walker series. (There's a reason that I'm placing a caveat on two, the reasons for which will be made clear as I write the series.)

But I'm also thinking that if my Kindle readers get temporarily exclusive content, I'd like to have other temporarily exclusive content available to my other readers.

After all, fair's fair. :)

Do you think the Kindle Select Program's exclusivity clause compares to the wait for alternate forms of traditionally published books being available? Why or why not?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Self-Editing and Self-Evaluation

It's been said, many a time, that artists are their own worst critics.

We know what we meant to put on the canvas (page), the effect it's supposed to have. Did it work? Did it not?

We're said to be too close to our work to know.

This is why writers rely on beta readers and/or critique groups. Rip it apart, spit it out, say what works, say what doesn't.

I've heard it said that writers can't evaluate their own work, but I'm unconvinced. Often, I've noticed that when I'm unsure about something, betas really like it.

But when I'm 99% certain something doesn't work? Betas agree with me.

And those writers I edit? If someone says "I think there's something wrong with the structure," well, there's something wrong (or at least unusual) about the structure. (I don't go into a work expecting to find those problems, either—I actually forget the author said anything until I start noticing the problem. Then I think, "Hope the author's okay with hearing there's structure problem—oh, right. The writer said she was worried about that.")

Now, as a writer, when I'm nervous or unsure about something, I've found it's usually best to leave it alone.

But when there's certainty? Fix it.

Sure, there are exceptions. It also differs from author to author, and likely even from story to story.

But with practice—and that means practice evaluating new stories, not the selfsame one over and over—you can get better at identifying when there's a specific problem.

Then you hand it off to a trusted beta reader (or however many you have) to see if the story did what you wanted.

If it failed, you can try again, or you can accept the story for what it is.

If it succeeded, you can rejoice and hope the next one will do the same.

But if you find yourself completely rewriting every little word and phrase because you're certain it isn't good enough, stop. There's something called over-editing, and the results ain't pretty.

Note that I am not saying an author can accurately evaluate the quality of something s/he writes. I'm saying an author might be able to accurately evaluate the major problems in a piece s/he writes.

We can't judge our own quality, because we either see or overlook every flaw, real and imagined.

But maybe we can judge when our intended comedy story ended up with a despicable heroine.

Do you find that your self-evaluation of story errors matches what your beta tells you? Or, if you're a beta reader, do you find that the writer(s) you beta read can accurately judge the errors in their own work.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

On Dreaming Small

I've always thought of myself as realistic. I had some "impossible" dreams when growing up, but I only ever halfheartedly attempted to accomplish them, because I knew they were impossible. Just my imagination running wild.

I ideally wanted to earn money from home, writing my own fiction—or from editing others' books, preferably fiction. I had some age goals that I missed, but I didn't try to hit them, either. I worked on my ability, only halfheartedly submitting my work anywhere. I assumed I was too young to be any good at it.

So I dreamed of making money writing and proofreading/copyediting from home, and thereby blundered into the joys of freelancing through happenstance I can only thank God for.

And I tumbled into that dream before I'd even left my teens. Then discovered from a local company that I was better at proofreading than folks who were older and had more credentials, the year I was old enough to legally drink alcohol.

So I developed another dream. I saw the possibilities in self-publishing (particularly e-books) years ago, and I kept an eye on POD and e-publishing. I dreamt of a day when self-publishing would be affordable.

That dream's now here, too.

And I'm currently editing fiction regularly as part of my day job—something I'd once never thought would happen, since I couldn't afford to take an internship at some press.

So here I am, coming up on my 25th year, and I've accomplished all my dreams but making a living from fiction writing.

And I wasn't even trying all that hard.

How much could I have gotten done if I'd tried? Even this past year, I spent entire weeks sick and unable to work, but I got so much done.

I don't want to look back on the latter half of my twenties and wonder what on earth I did, those years.

Lord willing, I have years ahead of me. I keep working at it, and I'll eventually earn money—even an income!—from writing fiction.

It's time to dream bigger.

But my habit of dreaming small is hindering me. A 6-figure income by age 30, or 3 concurrent titles on the NYT bestseller list, are dreams I develop, then wave away. They're too insane. (What would I do with all that money, anyway?)

I can't help but feel that it'll do me good to keep them in mind, though.

Even if the only dream I can bring myself to reach for is a dream of earning enough passive income from fiction by age 26 to comfortably pay my bills. ("Passive income" meaning "royalties".)

At least I'm reaching.

What are your dream accomplishments? (Remember, "dreams" are things you can't control.)


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