The Sacred Truth

A self portrait of the son of Guest Blogger, ELizabeth Eshoo as he looks for truthI cracked open. I was sprawled out on the oblong yoga cushion like Jesus on the cross—arms wide and chest towards the heavens—as my yoga instructor’s guided meditation took me back to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I saw the yolky sunrise break through the ink-black sky, remembering the night I spent so close to the summit. I felt the frigid numbness in my toes, fingers, and eyeballs. I felt the power of that moment, standing on the roof of Africa more than twenty-five years ago like I was back there fully.  

Our instructor, Kimberly Joy, said something like, “Go to your sacred place,” and it took all of a second for me to be there. Whatever she said next, maybe “What’s sacred to you?” broke me wide open.  I was sobbing, convulsing with emotion, my spine still pinned to the yoga cushion, my heart on full display, and raw emotion spilling out into the unfamiliar yoga studio. 

The Truth

My brain had connected the sacred moment atop Kilimanjaro to my most sacred self—being a Mother. The weeks of stress and strain I’d been carrying around with me in the form of impatience with my 17-year-old son, Alex, transformed. Right there, in the little yoga room, I fell into deep belly sobbing that illuminated the reason behind my terrible mood.

Alex is leaving the nest. My nest, our nest, the one I’ve so joyfully built and tended these past seventeen years. My firstborn child is months away from flying the coop, albeit to a wondrous place, no doubt. But my truth spilled out of my heart as I laid it all on the floor of this unfamiliar place.

I tried to stop crying and couldn’t. Kim placed her warm hands on my head, massaging my scalp, pouring her tenderness over me. At the end of the session, when I was finally able to stop bawling and articulate what had happened, I was taken aback. I realized this struggle I’d been having with Alex, with his lack of urgency over college essay writing and looming application deadlines, was really more about the impending, inevitable moment when he leaves for college. Ah-ha. Clarity. Truth. Relief.

The Enlightenment

I surprised myself in this unexpected moment. I thought I’d be having a relaxing hour of stretching and breathing during a restorative yoga session. Instead, I had a life-changing moment of enlightenment that brought much-needed awareness to me. Thankfully, Alex and I are on better soil now, working together on his writing, making progress and, surprisingly, I have been able to empower him to become his own storyteller—to use his authentic voice and to actually enjoy the process. So much so, in fact, that now he is helping his friends find their stories, tossing aside the canned, predictable tales of teenagers for the deeper, more reflective ones that often sprout from solitary moments. Teaching Alex to become a thoughtful storyteller feels like one of the most important lessons I’ve passed along to him.

Storytelling is what makes us human. It seems like it has never been more essential. I feel like all of the sudden, I am submerged in all things story. I’ve been inspired by the courage of others telling their powerful and heart-wrenching stories of the #MeToo Movement, the Parkland stories of terror and survival, and Dr. Ford’s stunning testimony to the Senate about a night she will never forget, and now, we won’t either.

The Empowerment

I find that I am drawn to reading memoir again with a new sense of urgency. I am motivated to finish my own ten years in the making memoir, while my daily dog walks serve as brainstorming sessions for my next book or two. A fellow writer asked me to help her sift through her life stories to pluck the gems out and find the scaffolding to display her valuable life in the most authentic way. Even the support group I’ve attended for years to help me manage my daughter’s epilepsy is now using storytelling as a tool to cope with the unpredictable nature of the disease. I am swimming in words and stories, and I feel Powerful.

As if that wasn’t enough, I had a book signing—a book launch party and a reading from an anthology of stories with 29 other writers. Sharing my story, the “Maasai in the Mirror,” allowed me for one evening to step inside the skin of a published author and feel what it is like to be exposed and adored. Sharing this magical evening with my fellow authors, I had no fear, surprisingly. I felt joyful, delighted, happy, thrilled, energized, surprised, nurtured, welcomed and yes…Empowered. Moments before I stood before the group of incredibly enthusiastic readers, book buyers, friends, family and total strangers who were so happy to be there, the butterflies flitted for a few moments. Then I was up and being introduced by the MC who happened to be my editor. Her kind words boosted my confidence. I took hold of the microphone and began.

Let me back up a moment; I left out a crucial part of the yoga story. Kim, our yoga teacher, told me that when she saw me crying, or rather, before she saw me break down, she felt my guides surrounding me—lots of them—those were her words. It was a powerful presence—nurturing, protecting and swarming around me, providing loving energy to me at that moment. Later, I asked her what they looked like, and she had to think about it. “Definitely beings, but amorphous bundles of energy and light.” Sounds woo-woo, but honestly, I’ve always felt surrounded by something protective, and so I wasn’t surprised, just stunned that someone else saw them, too.

The Wrap-up

Back to the book reading. I stood at the front of the crowded room with the microphone in my hand and the “cluster of beads” the Maasai Warrior had given to me in my pocket for good luck—tangible evidence, even to myself that I had, in fact, come face to face with a warrior on that trip to climb Kilimanjaro. I began to read. The silence became loud as the noisy room settled into a low hum. I was transported back to Joe’s safari camp somewhere in the middle of the East African bush. I could feel the weight of my leather Raichle hiking boots on my feet, the sharp pain in my injured knee. I could smell the smoky scent of the campfire. And I could feel my guides surrounding me as I continued to read, remembering my fellow climbers: Catherine, NN, Dennis, Ribby, Eric, Bill, Mandy, and Laura. They were there with me, always, as is the sacredness of my peak moment on Kilimanjaro.

As is Mark, my loving husband, and my daughter Emily, my heart and soul. As is my incredible son Alex, who, no matter where he goes or however the rest of his story unfolds, will be with me in my heart, deeply embedded forever.

We need our stories. We need our sacred moments. We need our guides surrounding us so that we can feel empowered at this moment in history when the only thing that seems to matter is telling our sacred truths.

Write Like a Charlie Horse, Not a Charley Horse

Lisa walking the horse named Charlie through a pastureConfession: I’m impatient.

I like things to move and keep moving—quickly. I failed my first driving test at age 16 because of…you guessed it: speeding. (In my defense, test roads vacillated between 45 and 35 mph within a short stretch, and the surrounding traffic was flying.) Awareness of more serious consequences than a failed test has kept my lead foot in check since, but when I walk around lakes near my home, strangers comment on my pace.

Unfortunately, my need for speed includes writing. Like any Type A personality, I chase the satisfaction of completing projects and ticking them off lists, so I’m easily lured into treating the writing process as a means to an end instead of as the revelatory gift it is. My product-versus-process conflict reached its peak when I wrote my first book and discovered that the publishing industry moves like a sloth.

Then I met my patience coach: Charlie.

After my first few horseback riding lessons on Charlie, I dubbed him The World’s Slowest Thoroughbred (a horse breed known for its speed on the racetrack) and grumbled inwardly when assigned to ride him. His lumbering canter felt like riding an oil field pump. His name should be Charley Horse, I groused when my calves ached from the effort required to keep him moving.

“Wait for it. Wait, wait…” my riding instructor cautioned one Sunday morning as Charlie and I cantered toward a fence we aimed to jump.

“Nope,” she said when Charlie landed. “You anticipated, so you leaned forward and knocked Charlie off-balance. If the fence were any higher, you’d have been in trouble. Stop rushing! Wait until Charlie gets to the takeoff spot and go with him, not ahead of him.”

Easier said than done.

I had longed to gallop though jumper courses since I’d started lessons a few years ago. I discovered in the meantime that they are a test of skill, not speed, so they require a controlled canter.

The more I rode Charlie, however, the more I recognized his talent. Whether easing first-time riders’ fears or carrying advanced jumpers through courses in competitions, Charlie does it all well. The key to his success is his patience. He meets each rider where she is and stays with her as she progresses. He also takes courses one fence at a time—exactly the way successful riders approach them.

I’m learning to accept that too much speed can cause injuries in riding. Charlie forces me to practice patience and to appreciate process for its own sake, which I’m working to apply to my writing.

One of the first things Charlie taught me about patience is that allowing time to meander leads to discovering nuggets I would have missed if I had galloped toward a finished product in writing my book. Many of these nuggets grow into blog posts and essays, turning what seems like wasted time into published work.

One such meander led me to suggestions for preventing and treating a charley horse—a list that reads eerily like a manual for writers’ self-care:

Warmup

I’ll admit it, though I warmup when exercising and riding, I rarely do it when writing. I don’t do morning pages, and I dislike journaling. But there are a million things I can do when I’m not ready to leap into a big work-in-progress, like a book: research agents and publishers, follow writers on social media, look for opportunities to submit essays, scan image sites like Pinterest for descriptive details I can use in current projects. These often become the meanders that lead to a new image in my book or content idea for my blog.

Stretch

While I haven’t taken to morning pages, I have experimented with process by trying prompts and exercises found online. They perk me up when I’m feeling depleted.

Start Slowly and Work Toward Small Goals

Big writing projects can overwhelm, so I approach them the way Charlie approaches courses: one fence at a time. If I’m not up to working on my book, I tackle something manageable, like brainstorming for my blog, revisiting unfinished essays, or describing a recent everyday experience in exaggerated detail. Description sparks inspiration; it’s my way into every project.

Track Your Progress and Celebrate Successes

Like many writers, I keep a color-coded submissions spreadsheet to track what I have submitted where and whether it has been accepted, rejected, or ignored. What I’ve come to think of as “Ignored Gray” dominates but seeing bursts of “Accepted Blue” boosts my confidence. Rereading my blog does the same and supplies topics for follow-up essays.

Stop and Rest If You Feel Strain

It’s all grist for the mill, I tell myself when life interferes with writing. I’m still training myself to “walk the walk” when it comes to that saying, but when I succeed, I discover a wealth of grist. My concentration is sharper after time away from writing, too.

Be Patient with Your Body and Yourself

For me, this is the hardest lesson. When I feel rushed or get frustrated with slow progress, I tell myself, You want a Charlie Horse, not a Charley Horse. That means to not become hyper-focused on the finish line or push myself to extremes.

So, I keep plugging along: revising my book, drafting blog posts, submitting to contests, and researching agents. Riding Charlie assures me that I’ll jump publishing’s fences as they come—one at a time, using a moderate pace—and land more successfully for having completed my book’s jumper course at the right pace.

 

Photo Credit: Lisa Whalen

4 Things I Learned From Self-Publishing

A person choosing a book from a large selectionIn the world of authors, no other subject is more mysterious, nebulous, and insane than self-publishing. It’s so nuts, there are a host of gurus out there with courses you can take (for only $59!) which will unfold the mysteries so you can claim the bag o’cash awaiting you on the other side. Well, I tried self-publishing, and I’m here to tell you what I learned, for better or worse.

  1. Edit, edit, edit. Since there is no one out there in self-publishing land who will automatically keep watch for misspelled words and grammatical errors, you have to make sure you edit. And then edit again. And then edit some more. Probably four more times. Then hire a professional. Then go through it one more time. It never fails that once you’ve hit the ‘Publish’ button, you find the typo on page three that says IF instead of IT, and you face-palm yourself, wondering how many people saw it, and how many other times you did that in this manuscript. The upside? You can re-upload content after you fix errors. Can’t do that with traditional publishing.
  2. You have to do ALL the work. There is no one to help you figure out how things work. No one is mounting a huge marketing campaign, or booking book tours for you, or hiring editors, cover designers, and so on. It’s allllll YOU. It’s time consuming and can be frustrating. Here, patience is key. Make sure you give yourself enough time, and don’t rush into anything. The book will still be there tomorrow. Chill out.
  3. You get ALL the rewards. The reason self-publishing is so attractive? Royalties. You get to keep anywhere from 35% to 70% of the money your book makes (depending on how you publish and with whom), and that is a significant amount. You also have full transparency—you see exactly how many copies sell, and in what format, so you can track what you are owed. It’s awesome. Publishing houses take most of the money your book makes to pay for things like marketing and book tours, while self-publishing leaves these costs to you.
  4. It doesn’t end after you hit ‘Publish’. That is only the beginning. You have to continue to market your book and find your audience, and keep at it. You also have to find time to write more stuff so you can publish more stuff so you can write more stuff so you can….you get the idea.  It’s a constant circle: write, publish, market, market, market, write, repeat. You will be married to this project for a long time.

There are a shit-ton of books in the world. What else happens when you hit ‘Publish’? Nothing. Abso-fucking-lutely nothing. Why? Because no one knows who the hell you are or what your book is! You must get out there and scream from the mountaintops that you have a book that people MUST read or their lives will be incomplete, and you have to get people to believe it. And this has to be true, so they tell other people. There are more and more books being self-published each year, so it’s noisy out there. But if you can be heard, then jump right in!

 

Photo Credit: Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

Swim with the Sharks and Make It Work (Part II of II)

A Great White Shark attacking a lineIn Swim with the Sharks and Make It Work, Part I, I broke the rules by suggesting that we writers can benefit from two reality TV shows: Project Runway and Shark Tank.

While Project Runway inspires creativity and shepherds me through the writing process, Shark Tank teaches me how to pitch my work for publication without becoming prey.

Pitching in Primetime

Shark Tank grants inventors the opportunity to pitch their products to venture capitalists (the sharks), who then decide whether to invest. The pitch room is called “the shark tank” for good reason: Investors are shrewd entrepreneurs who cut their teeth as they battled their way to the top. They don’t suffer fools, and they smell blood in the water a mile away. They extend investment offers only when a great product comes from a well-prepared inventor.

Pitching Basics from the Boardroom to Publishers

The same applies to publishers. Nonprofit presses enlarge the tank we writers dive into, but the feeding frenzies that surround submission are no less intense. Pitching a book is so similar to what Shark Tank portrays that watching TV feels like taking a course. When pitching to agents or editors, writers have three minutes to describe their target market, highlight their book’s unique features, and convince “paper sharks” that investment will lead to profit.

The show provides a second benefit, too. While agents and editors rarely explain why they reject a piece of writing and don’t give feedback unless they sign the writer, Shark Tank investors do both.

Let’s Meet the Sharks!

Like reality shows, however, not all sharks are created equal. Several seasons have helped me identify species that bear striking similarities to people who comment on writers’ work.

WHALE Shark (Robert Herjavec).

He proposes only win-win deals, and he wants investors to succeed whether or not he backs them. Whale Sharks don’t have teeth; their writing-world counterparts have no agenda. They don’t need to show off, have their ego stroked, or hear their own voice, so they speak little but convey a lot. Seek them out in writing groups, conferences, and critiques. Listen carefully. Take what they say to heart. Employ their advice; it will lift your work to the surface like a buoy.

The GREAT WHITE Shark (Kevin O’Leary).

Whether O’Leary or his writing-world counterpart, the Great White lives to get his teeth into writers and tear them to shreds, but only after batting them around for his own amusement. He panders to an audience he imagines is awed by his power and amused by his antics. He’s not above nipping at fellow sharks, swooping in at the last second to grind their offers—and the inventor/writer—to minced meat. He cuts down others to raise his profile, so unless you find value in something he says, ignore it all.

The BULL Shark (Mark Cuban).

Bull Sharks are mercurial: docile enough to hand-feed one second, voracious enough to attack the next. Their gut guides their every move. How their writing-world counterparts react to a text depends on their perception of its author. If intrigued, they offer a win-win deal—but only after they investigate to a degree that unnerves. If provoked (even unintentionally), they strike. If not engaged within the first 20 seconds, they dart out of reach and disappear. Regardless of their reaction, heed whatever feedback they give; they have a killer instinct.

The LEMON Shark (Laurie Greiner, Barbara Corcoran, and guest investors).

Lemon sharks prefer to observe from the periphery before they enter the fray. Smaller and less aggressive than other species, they rely on agility rather intimidation; therefore, they navigate shifting currents with ease. Their writing-world counterparts’ feedback may conflict, but that’s what makes it special. Keen eyesight aids them in glimpsing flashes of insight in murky depths. Consider their comments carefully; some are sinkers, while others’ quiet wisdom makes them rise above.

Finally, Shark Tank reminds me to pursue publication with a sense of humor. The most successful inventors laugh, even as the quake. The more shark teeth they reveal through smiles, the less likely they are to get eaten alive.

 

Photo of author with Kitten on shoulderFeisty Blogger, Lisa Whalen

Lisa Whalen, a.k.a. Irish Firecracker, is a former boy band devotee and current podcast devotee. Though punctual to a fault, she takes a better-late-than-never approach to adult rites of passage, having only recently discovered coffee and cell phones. Her most meaningful midlife discovery is that horses are her greatest teachers. She swears by horse trainer Buck Brannaman’s claim that “The horse is a mirror to your soul. Sometimes you might not like what you see. Sometimes you will.” Horses are so wise she wishes they could be her editors.

A transplant to Minnesota, Whalen teaches writing and literature at North Hennepin Community College but abides by the adage “Omaha is my Home-aha.” She bleeds Nebraska red, cheering on the Cornhuskers, even (especially) against her adopted state’s Golden Gophers. She’s an animal lover and an introvert, which means she volunteers at a shelter and can be found chillin’ with the host’s pet at most social gatherings.

For more about Whalen’s teaching, writing, and riding, please find her on Twitter and Facebook @LisaIrishWhalen or check out her website: https://lisawhalen.wixsite.com/lisawhalen

Would Shakespeare Tweet? #Maybe, by Guest Blogger, Lisa Whalen

PART I.

Bubba the cat hiding under a bookshelf“Bubba embodies my Thursday mindset,” I posted to Facebook a few weeks ago, along with this picture.

But I lied.

I should have posted, “Bubba embodies my social media mindset.” Even as I giggled at my cat’s antics—batting a toy mouse beneath the bookcase and then contorting to dig it out—I, too, wrestled with a pest: Twitter.

To Tweet, or not to Tweet, that was the question. Every time it arose, I wanted to crawl in beside Bubba and stay there. I batted at the question and then contorted to dig out the answer I desired. Twitter, it seemed to me, was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It popped into my head every time my students and I discussed Othello’s famous line: “Chaos is come again.”

Facebook caters to an introvert’s craving for a cocoon. Its privacy settings insulate against scrutiny’s glare and trolls’ vitriol. I can tuck my online community’s edges tight as a drum around my form. But Twitter throws open the blankets. It lays out a feast of introvert fears: brief exchanges with strangers, a worldwide audience, a continuous feed. Character limits. Hashtags.

So, there it was. I didn’t want to join Twitter. Then I shouldn’t. Right?

Wrong.

  I want to be a published author. I’d like to see the memoir I spent more than two years writing and revising on a shelf next to frothing cappuccino machines at Barnes & Noble and suggested as a “you might also like . . .” by Amazon. Then I want to write another book. And another.

A memoirist hunting publication stalks skittish prey. Everyone in the industry advises crafting a name-brand and constructing a social media platform upon which to hoist it. Then, maybe, an agent will consent to reading a few manuscript pages.

Platform? I’m no Taylor Swift. I can’t draw a fraction of the interest she generates by tweeting a single snake GIF.

I vacillated. I asked a mentor for advice. Then I channeled Bubba.

When I adopted Bubba from the Animal Humane Society, he was a literal fraidy-cat. If I lifted my hand to pet him, he flinched. If I unstuck a Post-It Note from its pad, he ducked beneath the couch. If I opened a grocery bag to collect our recyclables, he bounded upstairs to hide in my closet. But shown the patience to adjust on his own terms, Bubba evolved to become the stuffed-mouse-hunting predator I know today.

So I followed Bubba’s example. I wriggled out from under the bookcase and joined Twitter.

Stay tuned to discover what I learned next month . . .

 

Photo of author with Kitten on shoulderLisa Whalen has an M.A. in creative and critical writing and a Ph.D. in postsecondary and adult education. She teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at North Hennepin Community College in Minnesota. When not teaching, she spends as much time as possible with animals, especially cats, dogs, and horses. Then she writes about them. For more information—and pictures of Lisa’s favorite animals—check out her blog, Writing Unbridledor find her on Twitter @LisaIrishWhalen, Facebook (lisawhalen4hs), or her website: lisawhalen4hs.wixsite.com/lisawhalen.

 

Photo courtesy of Lisa Whalen

Writing with Intention: How Understanding Why You Write Can Help You Sell

a neon question mark in a graffiti-filled tunnelI recently spoke with a potential client who has written a nonfiction guide to help parents recognize the signs of late speech development in their children. Besides being articulate and able to clearly describe the book’s content and its audience, this author was particularly succinct about what she was looking for in the way of publicity. “I want to reach as many parents, teachers, and pediatric health professionals as I can about how to recognize the signs of speech and language development issues in children,” she said. “I also would like to cast as wide a net as possible via the media, so that parents and pediatric associations know about the information in my book and how it can help them.”

This particular client’s clarity about her goals is similar to having a corporate mission statement, which many companies use to provide vision and direction to their employees. When a company has a clearly written mission statement, employees can use it to tune in to upper management’s expectations and determine how they fit with the corporate mission. They can more easily grasp the company’s purpose and who its customers are, as well as develop a better sense of how to serve those customers.

Likewise, having a clear sense of the purpose your book serves and what you’d like to do with it can be very helpful to you (and the marketing professionals you might hire) when it’s time to promote your work.

In New Age circles, pundits call this sense of clarity and direction working with intention. When we work with intention, i.e., when we’re clear about why we’ve written something and understand its value to others, not only does the work flow more easily, but we are much more likely to be able to correctly describe and promote it.

The intention behind a written work can take many forms. Some authors intend to write books that are instructive or informational. Others write to entertain.

Some write because they feel compelled to do so, or because a certain storyline keeps playing over and over in their heads and they want to capture it in written form.

Some write to heal, as is often the case with memoir. Those who keep diaries or journals may do so as a means of knowing themselves better.

Many authors write because they love language or because they like playing with ideas. Others use writing as a way to develop a community connection, through meetings with other writers and the readers of their work.

Some write to document family history for future generations, while others do it purely for pleasure, as a way to pass blocks of time.

But no matter what the reason, it helps to know why you’re writing, so that when the writing is done—be it a novel, a short story, a nonfiction guidebook, a memoir, or a collection of poems—you’ll better understand it’s purpose and intended audience. This understanding makes it easier to pinpoint what you need to explain that purpose and reach your audience which, in turn, will help you make decisions about how you’re going to promote your work.

So, before beginning your marketing efforts, ask yourself, “Why did I create this piece?  What is its purpose? Who is my book written for, and how will it help those who read it?” Write down your answers; they’ll help you understand your original intention and determine what you need to do now to sell it.

 

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

Three Steps to Finding the Editor for You

Marni in a pink hat working with clientsAs a writing coach and developmental editor (some of you are already going – whaaaat?), I get asked this question often: What type of editor do I need?

I am going to give you my best advice as to who does what, or who is supposed to do what. But I will say right off the bat that many editors overlap in what they do. In other words, they may perform one or more editing tasks. This can all be highly confusing for a writer. Let me try to break it down for you.

Let’s start by walking you through the process.

STEP ONE: EDUCATE YOURSELF (Hey, Editor, what exactly do you do?)

STEP TWO: FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU NEED FOR EACH STEP IN THE PROCESS  (Hey me, what do I need?)

STEP THREE: INTERVIEW THE EDITOR OR WRITING COACH (Are you the right person for me?)

STEP ONE: Educate Yourself

Most people will agree that there are three types of book editors.  (As I said earlier, some may overlap in what they do.)

Each editor is needed in different parts of the writing journey. The first type is the developmental editor who looks at the big picture and the general substance. The second is the copy or line editor that looks at the nitty gritty before you submitty. The third is the proofreader, or the last point of contact before your work is born into the world (checks the copy in its entirety to make sure it is ready for publication).

Editor #1 Developmental or Content Editor – The “BIG PICTURE” Editor (Sometimes known as a writing coach.)

(This is the kind of editing I do, and I know it most intimately.)

A developmental or content editor (sometimes called a substantive editor) looks at the big picture. Many choose to work with a developmental editor before they begin the writing process (by that I mean the-words-on-the-page stage) to hone the idea and help craft the story. This type of editor sits down with you and looks at your idea, your dreams and goals, and your plan to execute your vision.

You may also seek out a developmental editor after you have completed a draft and before you start the query process, or if you have submitted and are not receiving the kind of response that you had hoped for. If you are receiving comments like “uneven” or “good idea but not well executed” or some version of “almost,” a developmental editor can be an invaluable asset to keep your work from ending up in the slush pile.

The developmental editor can do any or all of the following: assist you in creating and developing your core idea, plot, structure, characters, concept, outline, tone, theme, and general marketability of concept. In other words, they can help you develop the full plan (or story, or world) that you will use to write your book.

Once you have a first draft (or even a chunk of pages), a developmental editor can offer analysis and specific suggestions about the concept, plot, structure, characters, organization, style, flow, tone, and presentation.

For Fiction they look at:

  • Structure
  • Plot
  • Flow
  • Characters
  • Pacing
  • Core Idea or Premise
  • Description/Action
  • Theme
  • Setting and/or World Building
  • Dialogue
  • Scene Creation
  • Point of View
  • Writing Voice
  • Marketability and Fulfillment of the Genre (not all editors do this)

 

For Non-Fiction they look at:

  • Structure
  • Organization of Ideas
  • Voice
  • Theme
  • Style of Writing
  • Pacing
  • Tone
  • Description and Detail
  • Thoroughness of the Argument
  • Effectiveness of the Argument
  • Approach to the Thesis or Core Idea
  • Marketability
  • Target Audience (Are you giving them what you promised and what they need?)

Once the BIG PICTURE issues are solved, most of the time you can stay with your developmental editor and zoom in a bit on the material to check it out for style and flow.

With all of the above in mind, they look at the material and address questions like:

  • Is this material clear and understandable?
  • Does the information or story flow?
  • Does one idea support the next? Or, in the case of fiction, does the tension continue to build toward a climax?
  • Is the information presented accurately?

To improve the flow of the piece, they may write or rewrite sections, re-organize paragraphs, suggest changes to the order of chapters, and assist with introductions and conclusions of your material. They may also make suggestions as to places you can cut or trim or just get in there and revise any aspects that can improve the overall readability and clarity.

Some developmental editors get in there and assist with research, offer resources, and assist with the rewriting process.

Marni says: While most developmental editors assist with style and flow, some stop after the big picture and refer you to the copy or line editor for the paragraph and sentence structure issues.

Editor # 2:  The Copy Editor (or Line) Editor – or – what I call “The Nitty Gritty Before I Submitty” Editor

When most writers think of an editor, they think of this person. The copy or line editor dives in and makes sure the document is in order so that it can be presented professionally.  This is the last stop before submitting to an agent or publisher.

Copy editors will check and correct: spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax, word usage (or over usage), consistency of style, and format.

The copy editor will read the draft as if they are a beta reader and offer notes or changes that will enhance overall clarity and flow.

A good copy/line editor will always try to respect the author’s voice and try to fulfill the author’s original meaning. In other words, your book should still say what you want to say, and it should still sound like you.

They may cross check your references, facts and figures, tables, quotes, infographics, and illustrations to make sure that the information in the text that points towards these is consistent and accurate. If they find copyrighted material, they may alert you to the need to gain permission for use. When completed, a copy editor will give you a manuscript that is ready to be submitted to a professional such as an agent or a publisher.

The Third Type of Editor is called a Proofreader or the “Are We Good to Go?” Editor

A proofreader looks at the formatted manuscript and makes the final assessment on how it looks. They pay attention to catching any of the errors or inconsistencies that the previous editor(s) or writers may have made (it’s hard to catch everything). They notice any typographical errors or any errors in typesetting. This editor looks at the last version that the copy editor and writer signed off on and they ask: Are there any discrepancies? Did the typesetter make any errors? How does the page look? Is the layout correct?

In my experience, some copy editors also offer proofing services.

STEP TWO:  What do I Need?

Here you want to ask yourself where you are in the writing process.

PREWRITING

If you are just starting out in the process and want some help developing your story or core idea, a developmental editor or a writing coach is a great place to start.

If you have a first draft and you are not sure what you have exactly, you may want an assessment or critique from a developmental editor.

With prewriting, you do not need the other types of editors.

AFTER 50 or so pages or THE FIRST DRAFT

At this stage, you can still work with a developmental editor. Since they do both assessments and reworking of the material itself, you want to figure out what you need. Ask:

Do I want a critique? (Where someone tells me what is working and what is not working and how to fix it.)

OR

Do I want someone just to get in there and fix what is not working?

Marni says: My advice is to get a critique first as it is less expensive and you may be able to make many of the changes yourself. You can always move on to the “just fix it” phase where you have an editor smooth it out and make it all pretty.

Once you are clear on what you want, ask your editor if they perform that service. If not, ask for referrals. (A good editor will have referrals.)

STEP THREE:  INTERVIEW THE EDITOR

Ask the editor what types of editing they do and be specific about it. (Don’t be afraid to ask questions, if they can’t take questions, they are not the right editor for you.)

Questions to ask:

What type of editing do you do?

How do you define the type of editing? As mentioned before some editors use different language—so it is entirely appropriate to ask for clarification as to what services they are offering.

How do you charge?

What will I receive as feedback?

How specific will your notes be?

How long will it take?

Do you have any testimonials or former clients I can speak to? (If this editor is a referral, you can skip this step.)

Can I speak with you if I have follow-up questions?

How would you like to receive my material?

Marni says: Each editor may have their own best practices for submissions. However, here are some general guidelines. Submit in a Word doc or rich text file. Your page size should be 8.5 by 11. 12-point font, double-spaced. One-inch margins on the top and bottom.

Remember that your editor does not need to be your best friend. One of my editors told me, “I’m not your best friend, I’m the best friend of the material.” You want them to tell you the truth. Still, it’s important to know if you tend to be pretty delicate with feedback.  If so, you may want an editor with a gentler touch so that you will stay in the process.

Overall, my advice is: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If this is your first experience with an editor give yourself time to become acquainted with the process and be patient as you stumble through it. Try to go with referrals from a trusted source. The best editors are known within their writing communities. Best of luck!

Photo Credit: Marni Freedman (She’s in the pink hat)

Query Letters Are Impossible (But Here Are Some Websites That Helped Me)

girl climbing cliff while man shoots at zombiesI’ve got this manuscript, and I’ve been querying agents. It’s a little terrifying.

First, the basics: a query letter is about 250 words long, and it pitches your novel to an agent who might be interested in representing it to publishers. Also, it is somehow harder to write than an entire novel.

I’ve sent out one round of queries and gotten no bites, so I’ve been revamping my manuscript and submission materials. As I reach the eve of another round of querying, I thought I’d share the query-writing-related resources I’ve found most helpful so far.

Writer’s Digest Successful Queries

A compendium of blog posts by different agents showing great queries for successfully published books. Some of these queries are spectacular, some are really solid, and some aren’t my thing at all—all of which was super helpful for understanding what querying looks like from the agent’s side.

Query Shark

The Writer’s Digest list was many agents unpacking good queries. This is one agent, Janet Reid, unpacking great queries, mediocre queries, and disastrously bad queries, with discussions of what works and what doesn’t. Query Shark is funny, terrifying, and unbelievably helpful, and I learned a huge amount reading her archives.

Agent Query Connect

Forums for writers in the querying process. Their critique forums in particular are fantastic. You post your query, you critique other people’s posted queries, and they return the favor. There are pros and cons to getting a wide range of opinions (remember: your writing is not a democracy, it’s a dictatorship), but I found it amazingly helpful. It’s hard having your 250 words battered into shape by total strangers, and it’s so worth it. This place and Query Shark genuinely made me a better writer. My ear for wordiness is vastly better than it was six months ago.

Absolute Write Water Cooler

If Agent Query is a writers’ forum about querying, Absolute Write is a writers’ forum about everything. Honestly, it’s so big I’m not entirely sure what’s on there. I know they’ve got a critique forum a lot like Agent Query where you can post your query for critique (many more rules, though—read the stickies!), and they have excellent advice for people in all stages of the writing and publishing process.

Absolute Write: Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check

This subforum of Absolute Write is where writers discuss their experiences with agents and publishers. They have posts on what to expect from a legitimate agent or publisher and how to spot a scam, but mainly they discuss individual publishers and agents. It’s not all laments about dodgy dealings—many posts describe writers’ experiences with professionals who are fantastic at their jobs. If you’re wondering who’s legit, who’s a scam, and who’s amazing, I can’t recommend this place highly enough.

There are lots of resources I haven’t covered because I haven’t used them much yet. But I hope some of this was helpful! Whether you’re pursuing traditional publishing or fixing up your manuscript to publish yourself, good luck out there!

PHOTO CREDIT: https://pixabay.com/en/zombies-silhouette-girl-boy-gun-2258609/

Anxiety

A box that says "Deposit fear, hurt ad worries here."“I have anxiety,” said every writer ever. I know, it’s pretty much a given. Writing and anxiety go together in a chicken-and-egg kind of way. I don’t know if one causes the other, but I do know that people who worry are master storytellers (like when you go over every permutation of “what if” on the broken record player inside your head).

I get really, really nervous about a lot of things (no duh, said everyone who ever met me). And I used to be extremely fearful of putting my writing out there. Not only was I afraid that people were going to judge my writing, I was afraid that they were going to judge me personally. “What kind of a person would write something like this?” the phantoms in my head would ask. But just because I’m writing about a character who’s obsessive-compulsive, that doesn’t mean that I’m counting the number of times I washed my hands today (just kidding, too many to count). And not that it should matter what people think of me anyway, but you know how it is when you worry. You just do. And while I still worry that people might judge my writing, I don’t worry anymore about them judging me. I stopped worrying about that after I wrote Awakenings: Eight Tales of Erotic Adventure from Two Amazing Worlds.

Yes, a person who worries incessantly about what other people think of him wrote a book of erotic fiction and put it up on Amazon. Frisky wizards, sexy aliens, that book has a little bit of everything in it. It’s crazy. It’s shocking and funny, too. And it was a blast to write. It doesn’t reflect on who I am as a person, except that I have a certain sense of humor. And do you know what happened when I released Awakenings?

Almost nothing. Now, I’m not talking about sales, though it’s probably no secret that I’m not a New York Times Best-Selling Author. I’m talking about personally. Even though I used a pen name, people knew. Of course, they knew, I told them! And those of them that read it liked it, or at least they said they did. People who weren’t into sexy stories knew about the content and just didn’t read it, and we even stayed friends! A few people on the internet seemed to like it, too. And that was it.

Let me give a little context here about the specific anxiety-story that I was telling myself. I was raised in a fundamentalist evangelical situation. I’m talking about the earth is 5000 years old, masturbation is a sin, being gay is a sin, premarital sex is a sin, playing Dungeons and Dragons is a sin, pretty much everything is a sin type of community. And I just knew they would find out what I wrote. I was waiting for a group of church elders to knock on my door one day and give me a come-to-Jesus talk (Lord knows it wouldn’t be the first time). But it never happened. No hate mail. Nothing. Maybe somewhere someone is praying for my soul, but if they are, I am unaware. And the feeling is liberating.

Awakenings came out a few years ago. I wrote erotic science-fiction and fantasy and no one judged me as a person, or if they did, they kept it to themselves! It was scary at first, but I’m over it now. And when I write stuff these days, I don’t worry about it anymore. Except, you know, that it might suck. But that’s a topic for another day. At least I’m not afraid to write what I feel like writing, and I think that’s important. You may not think it’s fun to write sexy stories like I do, but I’ll bet there’s something that you’ve been holding back. And you might be surprised that nothing really happens when you finally let it out.

 

Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/search/fear?photo=M5-v6gGwoj4