Month: December 2020

  • What will you get when you hire me to edit your book?

    What will you get when you hire me to edit your book?
    What will you get when you hire me to edit your book? Hint: not coffee

    What will you get when you hire me to edit your book? This is a reasonable question since I could be a complete scam artist about to run off with your money.

    I know you don’t particularly care about my training, other than to hope I’ve had some. Yes, indeedy, there are people out there who think reading a book on developmental editing and downloading a template off the internet is all it takes to start a business.

    Before I go any further, I need to point out two things:

    • Yes, I meant to write ‘indeedy’ because this is a somewhat informal post
    • I once had a client tell me she got more feedback from me for her 20,000-word novella than she did for a full length developmental edit where she paid over £1000. Not to me, obviously. To another editor who may not have specialised in developmental work.

    The skillset for developmental editing is very different from a proofreader’s skillset, or what you need to be a good copyeditor. Indeed, you can be a good technical copyeditor, but not a great line editor when it comes to fiction – especially fiction where you literally have no idea what the author is trying to do because you. don’t. get. literary. writing.

    It’s like getting an actor to read a poem. Sometimes they do a good job – think Vincent Price reciting Annabel Lee. Totally blows my socks off every time. But there are some lords and dames of the theatre who absolutely murder poetry by reading it like a speech. They completely ignore metre and I never want to hear that poem read that way ever again. It’s like a tone-deaf person murdering a song.

    But, I digress… I’m supposed to be telling you what you will get if you hire me.

    I’ve been rather remiss when it comes to posting client feedback on this website. This is because my clients were all coming from another platform and I didn’t bother to promote my site the way I should. But it’s the end of 2020. I need to sort myself out, give myself a good slap, and remember that I will living on the streets if I don’t start charging what I’m worth.

    A crash course in writing

    Today was a great reminder. Though it started yesterday, or several days before that. A client whose manuscript has been through two rounds of full developmental editing sent me her new chapters one and two. I think she’s hoping for a third round soon, and my prices are such that it’s well affordable. Her new chapters one and two were a big jump from the previous two drafts. I was seriously impressed. She took my reading recommendations, ploughed through the list, read the novel I recommended because I thought it was perfect for her to learn certain techniques, and she has improved her writing in a very short period of time.

    She’s a newish writer, so she doesn’t have years of writing behind her to learn all this stuff. Is she there yet? No, but her learning curve has been amazing. And that’s one of the most satisfying things about developmental editing and returning clients. If someone comes for a single round of editing, there’s not the same opportunity to see how they get on with it. You might even start to worry if they did get on with it. I personally prefer to see a second round of the manuscript at the very least.

    But that leads me to what you’ll get with me beyond a potentially steep learning curve, if you’re a beginner. However, that learning curve is one of my USPs. Know what a USP is? It’s your unique selling point. If you ever mean to go into business, and that includes becoming an author-entrepreneur, you should give a great deal of thought to your USP. Because it’s what marks you out from the competition. It doesn’t necessarily make you better than the competition, because they have their USPs too, and their client base could be very different.

    The basic built-in services

    So, beyond the learning curve, what do you get? In some respects, it comes down to what is right for you, the individual author. And what is most appropriate for your manuscript. But there are the non-negotiables. For a full developmental edit, you get an editorial letter that is several pages long, plus a copy of your manuscript with track commenting. You also get a reading list.

    I can do more than this. I can draw up a book map, which is time-consuming and therefore more of an extra. Although my prices are going up, they will still be lower than industry-standard for quite some time to come. This means I don’t put in extras that add a lot of time (because time is also money). You can get the extras on top. That includes a second round of editing. You can also get feedback between edits – for when you’re stuck and you need me to check something. A small amount of this is built into the price already. But a lot more and I’d have to charge. But, again, I wouldn’t be charging industry standard rates. Not for a while. I’m keen to give lower-income writers an opportunity to get a foot on the rung.

    All of this, so far, has been about developmental editing. I can do this type of editing on different levels – starting with the most basic issues in the first round of editing, and moving on to more pernickety stuff later. This can be easier for a writer to deal with because it paces the rewrites better. Reworking a draft is no longer such a monumental task. And they’re getting guidance along the way. Of course, some writers want something much more detailed to start with because they don’t intend to come back for a second round.

    Manuscript critiques

    So, what about manuscript critiques? These are cheaper than developmental edits, so I ought to have done far more of them, right? Wrong. I’ve done far more developmental edits because my prices were low and many of those edits were my opening chapters edit. The wordcounts were around the 10,000 word mark, unless a client asked me to look at something longer. Many of those clients would then come back to me for a full developmental edit. They liked the track commenting in the margins and found it helpful.

    However, as my prices go up, a full developmental edit will be more expensive. So, where does that leave the manuscript critiques? Well, cheaper, obviously. The full weight of the feedback is in the editorial letter since there’s no track commenting. These editorial letters can therefore be longer because they have to deal with everything. They are structured by subject, starting with the bigger issues and moving down the hierarchy of things-that-need-to-be-dealt-with. There’s also a reading list. You get this regardless of whether it’s a developmental edit or a manuscript critique.

    Specially tailored manuscript critique

    You can also ask for a manuscript critique with a sample developmental edit of the opening chapters. This means those chapters will have track commenting. You could ask me to look at the beginning and the end this way. But it’s important to remember that one of the reasons a developmental edit is more expensive is the sheer amount of time it takes to go through a manuscript and leave comments. It’s at least two passes of comments or even three or four in one edit. I never read a manuscript once, I read it several times.

    My opening chapters edit is a developmental edit, but you could ask for the manuscript critique version instead, which means no margin comments. It takes me less time, and that means you save money. You miss out on the comments though.

    The main thing to stress is that what I can do for you really depends on a number of things. These include the amount of knowledge you already have, the number of drafts you’ve already written, and whether you intend to send your novel to an agent or publish it yourself. In the case of the former, if you can get a cheaper developmental edit (from someone who knows what they’re doing), then that’s all well and good. But you don’t need a full DE if you’re submitting. If a publisher accepts your book, that kind of editing will be provided without you being out of pocket. Some writers do still choose a developmental edit even if they’re submitting to an agent. There are reasons… like, they think it’s the best way to rise above the other manuscripts in the pile. It’s true that the competition is huge.

    Another editorial service I offer is a beta read with some additional developmental comments. However, this is nowhere near the input of a manuscript critique. It can work as the last read, checking that everything on the developmental level is now fixed or close to being fixed.

    So, that is an outline of what I deliver. However, every client and manuscript is different. Custom orders are always welcome. If you want to know more, feel free to drop me a message through my contact form. We can discuss your needs and also assess whether you’re really ready for a manuscript critique or a developmental edit. Perhaps you need a beta read first, in which case I’d advise you to hire or find beta readers and getting feedback from them first. But it really comes down to the individual client. I will turn down work if I think I’m not right for the client or that the client is wasting their money.

    In the meantime, you can check out my services page. Here’s a detailed post about the differences between a manuscript critique and a developmental edit.

  • How fiction writers benefit from swipe files

    How fiction writers benefit from swipe files

    What is a swipe file?

    Swipe files are well known in the copywriting business. When you come across a really good piece of copy, you save it to your swipe file. Then, when you are stuck for ideas, you have some inspiring writing to check out. So, want to know how fiction writers benefit from swipe files?

    Inspiration, not plagiarism

    To dig deeper into the copywriting example, the aim is clearly not to plagiarise. Swipe files are positively encouraged in the copywriting world. All writers have fallow periods when it comes to inspiration and original ideas. Examples of how to do it well excite and inspire. They can release us from writer’s block. They remind us of why we write in the first place.

    Swipe files help all writers

    So, how does a swipe file help a fiction writer? Or a poet, for that matter? The key is to take note of writing that particularly inspires you.

    For example, there are passages in The Great Gatsby that I’d put in my swipe file. It could be the opening of chapter three when Nick attends his first party at Gatsby’s house. Or it could be the fabulous final page or so of the book.

    Your swipe file could include inspirational prose, or even examples of technical mastery. Perhaps you were blown away by a horror short story and the way the author built suspense. Maybe it was a science fiction story that showed how to mix big ideas with credible worldbuilding and characterisation. Or it could be an erotic short story that showed how to write sex scenes effectively and without the usual cliches.

    Likewise, there might be some poetry that inspires you. It could be the rhythm of the language, the imagery, or something else.

    What to do with your swipes

    There are some days when you’ve run out of ideas. Or you’re suffering from imposter syndrome. Or maybe you’ve run into a technical problem – your sex scenes suck big time. Too much worldbuilding at the beginning of a short story? How do you introduce your reader to your Martian colony in a way that is both fast and credible? If it’s a short story, you have even less time and space to waste on details. Every word counts.

    This is why short story swipe files are particularly great. But you could just save a single scene that blew you away with its brilliance. A combat scene that was well-choreographed, a great dialogue scene that revealed character or plot. A great description of location or character that was vibrant rather than boring.

    Keeping examples in your swipe file allows you to pull them out and study them when you run into a problem. Feel your dialogue is dull and inspiring? What about those fabulous dialogue scenes you saved from Novels X and Y. Study them, get inspired. It’s not about copying.

    Where to store your swipe file?

    Swipe files can be kept on a computer or stored in a box file on your shelf. You might have both, for digital files and physical copy cut from a newspaper or magazine.

    If you have a physical book collection, you could keep one shelf as your ‘swipe shelf’. Where you store the most inspirational material, including stories you’ve printed off or photocopied. You could keep these in a box file.

    Swipe files are fuel for ideas

    Whether it’s a technical issue you’re struggling with or just general inspiration, swipe files are a great resource. If you want to get into science fiction, you could start saving your favourite SF short stories and explore what it is you admire about them. Check out the premise – it could be something big, or even a beautifully simple idea.

    Also, don’t forget non-fiction. An informative article on the future colonisation of Mars? Save it. It might take you a while to get around to referring to some of your swipes, but the material will be there when you finally need that dose of inspiration.

    And that’s how fiction writers benefit from swipe files!

  • The #1 thing writers need to succeed

    The #1 thing writers need to succeed

    The #1 thing writers need to succeed

    What’s the #1 thing writers need to succeed? Is it a particular word processing program? Is it a particular writing app? Perhaps it’s attending a particular writing school? Or maybe it’s a question of networking or building up a big social media following?

    There’s no doubt some of those things are at least helpful – a decent social media following or a writing network can be very useful. Not just for marketing but also for feedback on your work.

    But there’s one thing that towers above everything else and it’s not something you can buy. It’s not something anyone can give to you. So, what is it?

    And the answer is…

    In a word: discipline.

    Boring, I know. Maybe even disappointing. But here’s the thing, if you want to be successful, you need discipline.

    Whether it’s allocating distinct time periods for writing, and not compromising or giving into other temptations. Whether it’s meeting deadlines – particularly important if you have a contractual deadline. Whether it’s setting aside the time to learn or refine techniques or skills. You need discipline.

    Procrastination and distractions

    Writers are often plagued by distractions and/or procrastination. Why is it so much easier to open a social media app than to get started on that piece of writing? The truth is, if you want to succeed you have to get tough!

    This is no different to a small business owner building their business. Like an editor, or a graphic designer, a copywriter, or any other kind of business owner or freelancer, writers need to build a sense of discipline.

    What are your weaknesses?

    What does this mean in real terms? Well, you might want to start with examining your own particular weaknesses. What stops you from writing? What are the most common excuses you give for not getting on with your work?

    You could be suffering from a social media addiction, which leads you to constantly check Twitter or Facebook. Or perhaps you’re stuck or experiencing writer’s block, and you’re avoiding the issue by looking for distractions. Maybe you are suffering from imposter syndrome and don’t really believe your writing is worth the time and discipline needed to succeed. Maybe you don’t believe you can succeed.

    Defining success

    There’s also the question of what success really means. This differs for different people. For some, having even a small number of readers amounts to success. Especially if those readers left good reviews. For others, just finishing a book is an achievement in itself – and they’re not wrong. Not everyone is out to be a working writer. Sometimes writing a book is an item on a bucket list – something to tick off. A goal attained.

    Want to be a full-time writer?

    Let’s say you want to be a full-time writer one day. Not an easy goal, nor necessary for a writing career. Many great writers have had day jobs. But to achieve that goal, you need to develop some discipline. (To write around a day job also requires discipline.) You need to become your own boss.

    You need to learn to set goals and commit to them. Time to get tough – with yourself, and also with other people who make demands, and who don’t take your writing seriously. Also, never forget that if other people see you don’t take your writing seriously, they won’t think twice about interrupting you.

    Block distractions, set goals

    While you can’t buy discipline, you can start to research ways to help yourself get there. Learn how to focus better, how to block distractions. Find out the times of the day or week when you seem to be most productive. Maybe there are particular environments you work best in.

    Try social media blockers, set timers, allocate times for writing. Block Twitter for three hours and commit to write in that period. Don’t allow writers’ block to defeat you. Set yourself goals and keep at it.

    Discipline is like a muscle – you have to keep exercising it. Your stamina will increase over time.

    Start with achievable goals

    You can start by setting yourself lower targets and gradually increasing them over time. Don’t judge yourself according to what others are doing. Compete only with yourself. How much writing did you get done three months ago? Now, how much writing are you getting done today?

    Never stop learning and developing

    And it’s not all about writing – there’s research, editing, developing your writing skills (CPD), marketing (when you get to that point). If you were an editor, you’d be expected to continue your professional development, periodically taking refresher classes or courses to upgrade your skills.

    As a writer, you can also continue to expand your skills.

    Of course, by itself, discipline won’t guarantee success. You also need a certain amount of talent. But talent is often the result of study, and study requires discipline. You need to research your market, and that requires discipline. You need to weather rejection, pick yourself up and carry on. And that too is a type of discipline.

    And finally…

    Think about what you’ve achieved so far, and plan out some writing goals for the next year. Achievable goals. You could aim to submit to certain writing publications. Perhaps there’s a novel you need to finish. Maybe you’re struggling with developmental issues like show versus tell, point of view, structure, characterisation, worldbuilding, and so on.

    Time to draw up a curriculum!

    Or perhaps you’d like some feedback on the opening chapters of a novel or memoir you’re working on. You might be interested in my opening chapters edit – the word count can be adjusted to your particular needs.

    Most of all, keep writing and keep learning. You never know where it will take out!

  • Does your desk look like a bombsite?

    Does your desk look like a bombsite? Or is it pristine, like this one?
    This desk is absolutely nothing like my desk. It’s inhuman.

    Hey, editors and/or writers! Does your desk look like a bombsite? Welcome to my life. The situation is so bad, I’m not even going to cough up photographic evidence. You’re just going to have to take my word for it. And my word on this is gospel.

    There are papers all over the place, a style guide, a dictionary, some DVDs that have somehow migrated over here, a graphics tablet, notebooks, pens, a lamp.

    I was pondering this situation today when looking at my desk from a distance (from the warmth of the radiator across the room) and remembering a piece of advice from other editors. Get a second monitor.

    A-ha! Edit the manuscript on one monitor and use the other to look stuff up.

    A second monitor on my desk would:

    • Make the mess even worse
    • Block most of the lower window (though it’s a tall window)
    • Push a decorative lamp to the floor (appropriately a woman reading a book)

    But… but… the second monitor wouldn’t be a TV screen I roped in years ago when I first got my PC. A temporary measure that’s been going on for three years now. The second monitor would have a built-in camera, and I could finally attend the zoom conferences I always have an excuse to get out of. (Well, I could probably use my phone, but I prefer to ignore that option.)

    If I bought the second monitor, I could attend interactive webinars and stuff. But then I’d have to show my face and I hate cameras. I suppose I could wear one of the three cloth masks currently sitting among the clutter. One is floral, one tartan, and the other has a paisley pattern.

    So, for the time being I am not buying a second monitor, but I am thinking about it. Because sooner or later, I’ll have to replace the TV. (I don’t actually watch TV, which is why it was better off as a monitor.) I will also have to tidy up this desk. And I will no doubt choose the very right moment to do it – a moment when I should be doing something else. And then I will decide that since I’m tidying the desk, I might as well tidy the whole bloody room. (I realise this is what a normal person would do anyway.)

    I do tidy my desk periodically. It’s just that it seems to be a breeding ground for papers and books and notepads. Before I know it, stuff is piling up again. It seems to happen all by itself.

    Truthfully, I don’t need a second monitor for developmental editing. I am an Olympic Gold Medalist when it comes to keeping multiple windows open and flipping back and forth. I suppose it would save time for copyediting or proofreading, but while I look stuff up, I don’t have to do it quite as often.

    Anyway, I think there’s something to be said for creative chaos. When I’m in heavy writing periods, my writing space also looks a mess. I’m slightly suspicious of tidy writers and tidy editors. It’s almost as if they have a character defect. A screw loose.

    It’s not natural or healthy for writers to be tidy. I remember one of my editing courses in the past saying something about the importance of a tidy workspace. Clearly, it never made any impact on me.

    I am unrepentant. But you’re still not getting the photos. I shall now return to pondering my artfully arranged mess and wondering whether sorting it out means a few hours off what I should be doing. There’s always a bright side to everything.