Editors: Angels or Demons

Editors: Angels and Demons
Editors: Angels and Demons
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We’ve already had great posts about dealing with rejection , handling criticism, and taking a story back down to the studs when it has to be done.

Today I want to focus on a different aspect of shepherding your story through those difficult growing pains between completing the first draft and clicking “Publish”.

Getting the critique from your editor.

Whether you’re a traditionally published author working with the editor from the publishing house, or an indie author who hired their own freelance editor, this is a required step. An editor must work over your manuscript, and they return it dripping with red ink.

Talk about damage control. What happened to that perfect draft you completed, reviewed twice, and sent out absolutely READY. You were confident that all the editor would have to say about the story is that it’s the best thing they’ve ever read, and can you autograph the manuscript for them?

If only.

It’s always shocking to get that edit back. How can there be so much wrong with this story when I poured so much of myself into it? The most startling situation is when an editor says, “I really loved this story.” But accompanies that positive feedback with a thirty page critique and hundreds of minor corrections.

The first time I received an edited manuscript, I felt a flood of emotion, from “there’s no way they understood me” to “I’m such a hack and I’ll never make it as a writer” to “Are you kidding me? Did they even read the story?”

edited manuscriptI handle it a little better now. Mostly.

Editors are not paid to be sweet. They are paid to tell the truth and to point out far more than simple grammatical errors. Sure, line edits are important, but a story needs a pass from a good content/developmental editor who can point out logic holes, problems with pacing, character arc, emotional beats, and much more.

Here’s a few keys to handling that traumatic day when you get your edits back:

  1. DO NOT build a giant pyre in your backyard and burn your manuscript.
  2. Do make sure you hired a professional, competent editor. Sure, your cousin who took some English classes might offer some helpful insights, but they’re not an editor. Indie authors often want to skimp on paying an editor, which can be one of the biggest financial investments of writing a book. Don’t be one of those writers. The investment is absolutely worth it.
  3. Take a deep breath and read through the entire critique before diving in and making changes. Make sure you understand their points, and give their feedback time to sink in.
  4. Put your pride in a drawer. You can take it out later. Maybe. Yes, you’re awesome and you’re welcome to hold onto the dream that the story is going to change the world and be more widely read than Harry Potter. But it’s still a draft, so it needs work.
  5. Remember, you have blind spots. No one can see them all. You cannot afford to release a sub-par novel. Your editor can point out those holes and blind spots. Use this as a chance to learn.
  6. Editing is how your story shines. Sometimes you need major edits, sometimes only minor polishing, but why spend months creating a story only to resist that last 10% that will turn your story into a masterpiece?
  7. Learn to enjoy the process. It takes practice, but through editing, you can grow your writing skills, learn new techniques, shed bad habits, and see your blind spots. If you loved your story the first time you work through it, you’ll love it even more the fourth time, when it’s fully realized.

At first, you may think the editor is a demon incarnate for ripping into your story like they do. If you follow the process to the end, though, you’ll realize they were really angels in disguise, helping you bring forth a much greater work.

If you’re lucky, you’ll only need to go through the full editing process once for that novel.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank MorinA Stone's Throw coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers sci-fi time travel thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Superhero Universe

Who do comic-book people call when they need some damage control?

They call…superheroes!

Superhero UniverseSuperhero fiction is a fast-growing sub-genre of speculative fiction. Why do I call it a sub-genre? Because it doesn’t fit easily into sci-fi, fantasy, or horror. While some heroes could easily be classified as science fiction (think Spider-Man and Silk, who were bitten by a radioactive spider, or Superman and Martian Manhunter, who are aliens) others have powers of a more magical, fantastic bent (think Doctor Strange, or any of the number of heroes whose origins are based in religious mythology–Thor, Etrigan the Demon, Wonder Woman, etc). There are also heroes like Black Widow and Batman, who, while more physically fit and more intelligent than the average human, don’t have any “super human” abilities, whether scientific or magical in nature. And while heroes like the Guardians of the Galaxy zip around outer space in true space-opera fashion, many–like Captain America and Captain Marvel–live in a world that’s very like our own real world. One could almost call it urban fantasy, except it’s more like “urban sci-fi” in their case…

The speculative fiction mash-up that is the superhero sub-genre has long ruled Western comics. Superhero movies and TV shows aren’t “new,” and neither are tie-in novels based on superhero comics and their associated movies.

What’s “new” is the way that the superhero sub-genre has gone mainstream. Movies like Captain America: Civil War and TV shows like “Jessica Jones” aren’t just for kids, teens, and comics nerds. (And movies like Deadpool are definitely not for kids!) The appeal of superheroes has become much broader. And, with that appeal, people with “powers” (whether or not they’re traditionally “heroes”) are appearing more often in places outside comics–places like novels, short stories, and anthologies.

Tesseracts, the long-running Canadian speculative fiction anthology, celebrates superheroes this year in its 19th anthology. Superhero Universe stars superheros of all sorts, from their pulpy beginnings to their future possibilities!

My contribution to this anthology, “The Island Way,” is my first co-authored story. I had recently finished writing a rather dark, gritty story and deeply wanted a change of pace. I imagined my husband’s grandparents–Prince Edward Islanders, both–wondering “who wanted to spend all day running around in their underpants,” and a story idea was born. A character who was both Islander and superhero, caught between moving to the mainland in search of success as part of a nation-wide team, or remaining unknown and underemployed on her Island.

The story was co-authored because, well, I’m a mainlander. I wanted to make sure I captured an Islander’s voice and mannerisms in an authentic way, and so I enlisted my husband (who’s more of a hobby writer) to help me out. “The Island Way” by Mary Pletsch & Dylan Blacquiere is one of twenty-five superhero-themed stories and poems in Tesseracts 19: Superhero Universe.

Take home your own Superhero Universe today in paperback or on Kindle.

Taking it down to the studs

Hello Readers!

Back here with my second post as a Fictorian, and the subject couldn’t be more timely. Damage control is a broad subject, but my case is very personal and very specific. I found myself deep in a manuscript headed in the wrong direction, and my early results at damage control only made things worse.

To set the stage- -for the past several months I have been working on my new novel, which is a historical fantasy set in 1950s Nepal. I’m a pre-planner, and thus I had my whole arc planned out, the whole novel outlined and charted and graphed to the nth degree. All of this based on a simple set of dual facts. My main character would be an American (we’ll call him Steve) and the primary sidekick character would be a local young Sherpa girl (we’ll call her Chenji). I set them up for somewhat of a brother/sister relationship with lots of fun adventures, etc.

Off to the races I went, writing about the first half of the story in one big push. Steve had POV for most of the chapters, with Chenji getting a few from her viewpoint as well. As I wrote, some problems started creeping into the back of my head. I wasn’t really aware of them, it was more like that smell that warns you something might be burning in the oven. You sort of notice it, but it’s not enough to get your brain out of the chair and into the kitchen.

So, I put the book in front of some trusted readers. There was a lot that they liked, but on the negative side they came back with two major pieces of feedback:

  • Steve was boring as hell
  • Chenji was really interesting, but she wasn’t featured enough

Reading this feedback, I felt my (surprised) conscious mind make contact with my (un-suprised) subconscious. Yeah – I guess I already knew this was a problem. Thinking back on my writing sessions, I realized I had been bored writing Steve’s sections, and quite energized while writing Chenji’s.

I could fill a whole new blog post with why I was bored with one character and energized with another, but I’ll do my best to stay on point here. Both my beta readers and I agreed that I had a problem, and we agreed on what that problem was.

The question was: what to do about it?

My first instinct was to troubleshoot Steve and figure out why he didn’t resonate that much for me. I won’t spend time on my process, though it too would be a good subject for another article someday. Suffice to say I came to the conclusion that Steve wasn’t working as the main character because he wasn’t designed to be one. In truth, Chenji had much more going for her: more stakes, more local resonance (the story is in her homeland after all) and a better character arc.

Here finally we arrive at the *real* subject of my post. On one hand, I have the wrong main character for about 45,000 words worth of work. On the other hand: 45,000 words of work! Was I just going to throw all that out and start over?

I really didn’t want to redo all that work. I made a choice that I would swap the focus and the roles, giving Chenji not just the lead role but also the majority of actions I previous had assigned to Steve. It wasn’t as simple as: find <Steve> replace with <Chenji>, but there was some of that spirit in there.

In the end, this was the wrong choice. In the end it was not because the action in chapters was designed for Steve, because I did extensively modify the action to accommodate Chenji’s skills and abilities. No, it was because those actions and those scenes were designed for Steve’s character. His motivations, his story. They didn’t tell Chenji’s story as well.

Additionally, because Chenji came from a culture that would be more unfamiliar to many of my readers, her backstory was peppered with terminology and mores that were more complex. In the end, I laid these on too thick and the scenes became very jargon heavy.

This time, it was harder for me to see these problems. I was, in effect, doing a minor renovation. Painting a wall here, adding some nice tile there. I was too close to these scenes to judge them in their new, modified state. When my readers got a hold of them, their feedback was clear: They loved the new focus, but they were very confused and things just didn’t flow correctly.

In the end, I realized my renovations had not gone far enough. In an effort to preserve some of my previous work, I had used duct tape and paint where dynamite and sledgehammers were needed. 

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I needed to things down to the studs as it were. Almost everything of those early chapters had to be taken out and completely redone from a blank page to better fit Chenji and her role in the story. It means throwing out (or at least, putting to the side) weeks of work and starting over. 

Painful, but in this case it was the right choice. That’s where I am right now with this project. I started with blank pages, fresh framing on which to hang the new drywall of my story. I have been writing all new scenes for both Chenji and Steve, and it is going a lot better. I can feel that it is better, and I am confident my readers will think so too.

So, the lessons learned here for me were plenty:

At all times, listen to that voice in the back of your head. Check in with yourself while writing. Are you excited to write this chapter or are you bored? Are the some characters you enjoy writing more than others? These are early clues you might be headed in a problematic direction.

Sometimes minor changes are all you need to correct an issue, whether it is one you noticed on your own, or an issue several readers might be mentioning. A new line here to illustrate a motivation better or an additional scene to allow the pacing to breathe. The same scene being told from a different character’s POV. Changes that allow you to keep some of your previous work.

Other times though- -you need to break out the sledgehammer. Pull up that tile, rip out the plumbing and teardown the drywall. I’m not going to lie, that’s not my job folks. It’s going to hurt and it’s going to hurt a lot.

Sometimes, you have to go back to the studs.

See you next time!

Book Signing Crisis Management

Book signings are a lot of fun! They’re fun for the readers, they’re fun for the authors, and they’re fun for the stores hosting them…most of the time. As the event coordinator for an indie bookstore I’ve learned that with book signings, like any public event, there are many things that can go wrong. Most of them are minor and are easily dealt with. Others, like the time an author cancelled at the last minute because they had to attend a relative’s murder trial, are not so little. Whether it’s a minor problem or not, knowing what to do can prevent it from becoming an embarrassing incident for everyone involved.

The first thing to keep in mind is don’t panic. Book signings are organized chaos. Event coordinators (which I’ll refer to as EC for the rest of the post) and event staff are usually really good at mitigating the chaos so all the author has to do is sit back and enjoy their time with their readers. Here’s some of the more common problems and how to deal with them:

Problem: life forces you to cancel.

Illness happens, injuries happen, and deaths in the family are an unfortunate part of life. It’s okay to cancel. Let the EC know as soon as you can. If you live within driving distance or know you’ll be in the area in the near future ask if you can reschedule. After you’ve talked to the EC spread word on social media that the event has been cancelled. Similarly if you’re stuck in traffic and are going to be late, let the EC know and all will be well.

Problem: the store runs out of books.

As far as problems go this one isn’t that bad. Yeah, the fans that aren’t able to buy a signed copy that day will be upset but the situation is out of your control. If you want to appease fans you can offer to send signed bookplates to the store that they can insert into books when they have stock again but I want to emphasize that it’s not your responsibility to rectify the situation. It’s the store’s. Anything you choose to do to make fans happy is good PR for you.

Problem: fans who won’t walk away.

Sometimes a fan is so excited in the moment that they forget that there are people in line behind them. They want to talk to you about all the things. If the EC or a staff member is helping with the line let them usher the chatty person on. If there isn’t but you can discretely signal one, do that. If that’s not an option then politely ask the person to step aside so you can see to the rest of the line. If the person who won’t go away is being rude or doing/saying things that make you uncomfortable/feel unsafe, don’t worry about being polite or discrete. Get a staff member to remove them immediately.

Problem: no one comes.

Sadly despite the store’s and your best efforts there are events where it’s just you and the staff. Don’t take it personally. I’ve seen this happen to NYT bestsellers. (Seriously, I have!) The last thing you want to do is to dink around on your phone or whip out the laptop to write. Say hi to customers that you pass and tell them about your books. You could also start reading your work aloud.

Don’t go to your book signing expecting something to go wrong. Most of the time everything goes smoothly, and as I said at the beginning, everyone has a lot of fun. If it doesn’t, remember that the EC and their staff are there for you. Long before you arrive they’ve been hard at work to make sure that the space is ready, the event has been publicized, and your books are in stock. They’ve got your back. Taking care of you is their job.

 

Find out more about Kim here: http://www.fictorians.com/the-fictorians/kim-may/