Monthly Archives: April 2018

April News

Life is busy! (Will I ever start a news post with anything else?) Here’s what I’ve been working on.

Upcoming Events: Bread and Self-Publishing

artisan breads with logo for Asheville Bread FestivalOn May 5 I’ll once again be at the Asheville Bread Festival. I’m teaching beginning kneading (tickets available here) at 10 AM at Living Web Farm, and after class I’ll head back to the Bread Fair at New Belgium Brewing to run my booth. I’m also planning to attend the baker’s dinner. If you’re in town I hope you’ll say hi! More details are at ashevillebreadfestival.com or in this PDF.

My June class at the Folk School is full, but I’ll teach “The Science of Bread” again January 6–12, 2019, and “Baking Traditional Breads” May 26–June 1, 2019.

Flyer that says, Is self-publishing right for you, May 20,, 2018 2 PM at the OC main libraryOn May 20, I’m giving a free talk about self-publishing at the Orange County library in Hillsborough, NC. I’ll give an overview of the whole process from a DIY perspective, but pointing out places where one might hire help. The talk is free but the library asks attendees to register, here: www.bit.ly/ocplwriting. View the poster (PDF) here. Here is the copy from the poster:

What does it take to self-publish a book? And what is the smartest route to take? With all of the self-publishing services available today, the process can be confusing.

Author Emily Buehler self-published her first book in 2006, before many of today’s services were available. As a result, she took a “DIY” approach. She’ll present an overview of the entire process (finding a printer, designing the book, forming a business, marketing, distributing print books and e-books, and much more) and what it takes to do it yourself. If you decide that self-publishing is right for your manuscript, you’ll know what you face. You can then consider which parts of the process (if any) you’d like to outsource and the smartest way to go about it.

The Internet has made self-publishing a viable option for authors, enabling them to sell books across the world, and author-publishers are now gaining acceptance in the publishing world. It’s an exciting time to self-publish—come learn all about it!

Writing: Clearing the Clutter, and Making a Map

This past month I received my dystopian fiction novel back from developmental editor Tanya Gold. I trust and respect Tanya, but it was hard to see how much she suggested cutting. My immediate reaction was that “publishers today must not want description.” But I could see swathes of description in other books in the genre.

crumpled paper with the word hope

Then last weekend, I attended the NC Writers Network’s Spring Conference. The first class I took was “Essentials of Scene Crafting” with Heather Bell Adams. As soon as Heather began talking, explaining the difference between scene and summary, I could see what Tanya’s edits were about: a lot of my description occurred while the main character was, for example, walking home from work and thinking, and thus explaining to the reader—nothing was really happening, and the reader wasn’t in the scene. I had turned in Tanya’s version of my manuscript to the last event of the day: Slush Pile Live. When the time came, two of the editors on the panel listened to my entire submission without quitting! Read more about the Slush Pile Live experience, and the helpful tips it offered, on my editor blog: http://www.emilyeditorial.com/getting-through-the-slush-pile/

cat and scroll of paper on floor

Scruffy observes one of my book maps

Other highlights of the conference were the opening address by Jill McCorkle and my afternoon class with David Halperin. Jill read an essay she’d written that included the idea of being haunted by memories, particularly of places, and spoke about the balance between letting your subconscious do the work of writing, and the hard work of revising. David’s class was “Writing the Character You Know Best.” I’d always considered it a flaw that my characters were rooted in my own personality, but David spoke about it as normal and even beneficial.

I won’t list all the additional minutiae of why I loved the conference, but I’m now looking forward to the three-day fall conference, where I’ll have an opportunity to meet agents and editors. This gives me a deadline for incorporating Tanya’s suggestions, revising, and getting my book (and myself) in shape. One way I will do that is with a book map. This past month, I took a class with Heidi Fiedler on book mapping. I used one of my romance novel manuscripts in the class, but I’m eager to apply all I learned to my dystopian novel. You can read about book mapping here: http://www.emilyeditorial.com/book-mapping/

Editing: Beta Reading and Bombs

hands holding phone at desk with cofee, newspaper, pen, calculatorAnother class I took this spring was developmental editing of nonfiction. At first, I found it hard to ignore copyediting, to focus on the big picture, but after a while I got into it. While I don’t know if I’ll want to move in that direction as an editor, I wanted to understand what the process entails. Even if I’m working as a copyeditor, I’d like to recognize developmental faults in manuscripts, and the material interested me as a writer. The class helped me classify the services I do offer; for example, what some editors call “content editing” makes sense to me as a beta read with comments. I rewrote the services page of the Emily Editorial website (here).

The classes I took also caused me to think about editing fees, and what they cover. I blogged about that here: http://www.emilyeditorial.com/the-cost-of-editing/

Finally, I’m excited to share a link to a report I worked on for much of last summer: Reducing the Threat of Improvised Explosive Device Attacks by Restricting Access to Explosive Precursor Chemicals. I participated in several rounds of edits and helped with a final copyedit this spring. I also helped draft a summary booklet on the topic (not yet available). The report is available as a free PDF here.

old map with compass

Book Mapping

I recently learned about book mapping. While the class was intended for developmental editors, I found the tool helpful as a writer.

What Is Book Mapping?

Book mapping is a method of plotting out the action or themes of a story, to help keep track of them. This mapping can be done visually or with text in a spreadsheet. Developmental editors can use a book map to visualize an author’s manuscript and get insights into what help it might need. Authors can use it to keep track of threads in their story and to step back from their own writing and gain the same insights.

cat looking at scroll of paper on floor

Scruffy contemplates the timeline of my dystopian novel

Over the years, I’ve tried various methods of mapping out certain aspects of my projects. For example, when I was writing Somewhere and Nowhere, I wrote the contents of each chapter on index cards to chart the mood, with red ink for bad moods and green ink for good moods. Laying out the cards, I was able to see the large swaths of bad mood that might bog down readers, and the emotional roller coaster that persisted through the story and might exhaust readers. I used the cards to find red areas to reduce or merge. More recently, I used a long scroll of paper to plot the days of my dystopian fiction story, to keep track of weather patterns and days of the week, among other things.

I’ve never had a system that worked easily, though, or for multiple aspects of the manuscript. Until now!

The class suggested an easy method of using a spreadsheet. Each row is a section of the story: a chapter, a scene, or a day in the story. Each column is something that needs to be tracked: a character’s development, a theme, an aspect like the weather, or something practical like what day of the week it is. After the map is filled in (chapter by chapter), the mapmaker can follow a thread by reading down a column.

My Book Map

I decided to practice with a romance novel that I’d put aside after the first round of revisions. I started by skimming through it and pulling out the items I would track (the column headings); the teacher called this “mind mapping.” My list included the development of the main characters (Rose and Dustan), each of the three villains (Rose’s father the king, the evil Prince Murkel, and the fairy queen), Rose and Dustan’s love story, Rose’s history, and Rose’s “memory loss” (i.e., after Rose loses her memory, I needed to keep track of what bits had come back to her as the story progressed).

Then I set up the spreadsheet and began reading the book chapter by chapter and filling in the rows. The first few rows looked like this:

chart showing the columns of a book map about a romance novel; some rows are full and some have a lot of white space

 

I immediately noticed that Dustan’s character quickly grew flat (note his empty column). The story is from Rose’s point of view, so there is plenty of opportunity to show her thoughts and growth, but I wanted the reader to see that Dustan’s original ill intentions change as he gets to know Rose. The teacher, without having read my manuscript, suggested working on the villain columns (could hints be given as to their various motivations?) and the Rose’s history column (adding history might give the story more depth).

As I progressed with adding rows, I tried to be my teacher-stepping back from the story I knew and looking at the spaces (or lack of) in the map. I noticed when Rose had four different feelings within one scene (did her feelings need to be clarified?) or when she immediately regained several memories within a few days of losing her memory (didn’t I want her to regain them slowly, for dramatic effect?) In addition to simply helping me keep track of the story, the map gave insight into how to improve it.

Learn More

glasses on book with maps insideBook mapping is a simple and free tool authors can use. If you want to get started with some guidance, I recommend the class I took, which seems to be offered periodically through the Editorial Freelancer’s Association (available to non-members as well). It’s called Book-Mapping for Developmental Editors, with teacher Heidi Fiedler. Look for it here: https://www.the-efa.org/product-category/active-courses/

stacks of paper

Getting Through the Slush Pile

Last Saturday, I attended the NC Writers Network’s Spring Conference in Greensboro. I’ll post soon about the whole experience, but today I’m thinking about the final event of the day: Slush Pile Live.

What is Slush Pile Live?

The conference planners invited attendees to turn in the first page of their novels, anonymously. Participants sat in a classroom. At the front of the room, someone read each submission to a panel of three editors. Each editor raised a hand at the point when he or she would have stopped reading the submission, had it been in the “slush pile” of unsolicited manuscripts.

stacks of paperWe’ve all heard that editors at publishing houses receive an overload of manuscripts and look for any excuse they can to stop reading. They’re not likely to keep going, hoping a manuscript will improve, or to dig deeply looking for a kernel of value they can salvage, when they have 200 other manuscripts to get through that day. I knew that my manuscript should be as perfect as possible, and in particular the opening should be.

That said, seeing the process live and learning of potential pitfalls still surprised me.

Common pitfalls

A few themes emerged as the submissions were read:

symbol of person throwing paper into trash canRepetition. Even the repetition of a single, noticeable word (not a necessary word but an adjective like “pleasant,” for example) caused multiple editors to raise their hands. The reason behind this is that the repetition distracts the reader and knocks him or her out of the story. A more extreme case was repeating specifics (like referring to a red Honda Civic multiple times instead of doing it once and then writing “the car”). A variant is coming back to a topic over and over, as if you are beating the reader over the head with it.

Too much narrative. Instead of keeping the reader in the scene, watching as the action unfolds, the writing switches to a description of what happened, or a summary. For the reader to stay in the scene, the reader should learn as the character learns.

woman at laptop biting pencil in frustrationToo much description. When the story contained too many adjectives, unnecessary details, or description so long that the story stopped moving forward, the editors lost interest. In one case this was three separate references to how cold a day was. Sometimes one editor would give up, while another would keep listening but later admit he or she had been hoping the story would go somewhere, but had considered raising a hand earlier.

Cliches. Even one tiny cliche would cause all the editors to raise hands. They said this, like repetition, knocked them out of the story. And, while it might be difficult to avoid all cliche, a cliche on the first page signaled that there would be many more. I was surprised by some of the phrases that turned out to be cliches—things I might use without thinking twice, like describing a hand as a claw or the wheels turning in someone’s head. Even the description “Coke-bottle glasses” is a cliche.

My turn

A week before the conference, I had received my manuscript back from a developmental editor. While I trusted her, I was having trouble with how much she had cut—it seemed like I wasn’t allowed any description at all. I had decided to turn in the first page of my novel as she had revised it: pared down to the characters’ thoughts and dialogue in the moment.

word hope on a piece of paper, atop a crumpled piece of paper in a handDuring the conference, I began to realize that my editor hadn’t cut description, necessarily, but had cut narrative—places where I left the scene to explain things to the reader. I grew more interested to see how the pared-down version would fare in Slush Pile Live. Then my turn came.

One editor raised his hand almost immediately, whereas the other two made it through my entire first page. The critic cited impatience to learn more about the topic introduced in the opening paragraph, and frustration with my switch (for three sentences) to what’s happening in the space around the character. He also had misunderstood what the first paragraph meant. The other two editors corrected him as to the meaning, and said they’d been intrigued enough to wait to learn more, figuring I would return to the opening topic momentarily.


One editor did point out that theirs were only three opinions. Other editors might like or dislike material according to their own tastes. But the pitfalls they identified seemed likely to be problems for any editor.

They suggested reading to learn: read books that awe you and try to figure out how the author did it, and read manuscripts from inexperienced authors (perhaps as an editor or beta reader, or as a volunteer reading contest entries) to notice what doesn’t work, that you might find in your own writing.

clock and stacks of coins with trees growing out of them

The Cost of Editing

When I started freelance editing, the rates charged by other editors seemed pretty high to me—more than I made at my day job, certainly. I figured these rates indicated the editors’ level of experience. I’ve since realized that the rates are needed because of the nature of freelance work.

Freelance versus Salaried

hands holding phone, with coffee, calculator, newspaper, pen on desk nearbyMy day job was paying my health insurance; freelancers pay for their own. I had a company computer at my day job; freelancers supply their own equipment: not only the computer but the constantly updating software, the Internet service, the newest Chicagomanual, the Post-it notes, the coffee…. Freelancers have to fund their own time off, whether for sick days or vacation, and save for retirement. They have to spend time marketing their services and networking with potential clients. And they have to pay higher taxes (the “self-employment tax”), since no one else is contributing to social security for them. Their income from editing has to be enough to pay for all these business expenses.

Some estimates say that about half of a freelancer’s income goes to these expenses, leaving only half of the hourly rate as a true salary. Suddenly, those hourly rates didn’t seem outrageous. As I transitioned away from my day job (and gained experience editing), I increased my rates accordingly.

Editing Takes Time

I always do a sample edit so that I can make an accurate quote about how long the edit will take me. When I actually do the edit, however, there are a few additional steps.

2018 calendar on phone screenFor a copyedit, I read carefully, making corrections with the tracked changes visible. (If the manuscript is an academic paper, I also do a first read through to understand the material, before beginning to copyedit.) I pause to explain edits that the author might not understand. I often have to look up material: to understand the topic, to check the spelling, to find a better word, to fact check something that seems off, or to verify a style rule that I have not used in a while. I write queries to the author when there’s something I don’t understand, and suggest alternatives. Then, when I’ve gotten all the way through, I hide the changes and reread the entire manuscript. On the second pass, I make final copyedits (some are easier to see once the tracked changes are hidden) and reread all my comments to make sure they are as clear as possible.

For a beta read, I can read more quickly, but I make notes constantly so that I’ll be able to see patterns and to find material again, to share as examples with the author. If I’m doing what I call a “beta read plus,” I pause to leave a comment each time a sentence or even a word stands out as awkward, as confusing, or as the author “telling” the reader something instead of showing it to the reader. I type my notes into a letter to the author. And then I skim through the manuscript a second time, rereading all my comments to make sure they are clear.


So yes, editing is expensive. But many editors will try to find ways to work within an author’s budget. For example, maybe the author isn’t in a hurry; if the editor could fit the work in around other assignments with tight deadlines, she might be willing to charge less. Or maybe the editor could point out a problem that repeats throughout the manuscript, but allow the author to find all the times it occurs. I often spend a lot of time explaining grammatical edits I’ve made; if the author is on a budget, we might agree that I will simply make the changes without explaining them.

Belinda Pollard elaborates on the cost of editing in two posts on her blog, Small Blue Dog: https://smallbluedog.com/why-are-book-editors-so-expensive.html. She also has promised a post on how to prepare your manuscript to make it easier (and therefore faster) for the editor to work on; as an author, I’m eagerly awaiting this information!