The Value of Editing, Part 1

I enjoy editing. Not just because it is a way I earn a living, and not just because I enjoy explaining and teaching others. I enjoy editing because over the course of an editorial process, the manuscript in front of me comes to life.

I liken it to seeing something surface from beneath the waves, or watching a rocket launch.

Over time, through the series of suggestions and revisions, the manuscript changes shape and starts to define itself, not as only a mere collection of words assembled on page after page, but as a coherent story that has characters, and depth, and it interests all those who come in contact with it, and it has emotions breathed into the pages.

I do not apologize for sounding so florid over the transformative effect of editing. But if that last paragraph seemed like a lot of fluff and not a lot of payoff, allow me now to use a more visceral example:

You’ve bought your favorite car. You saved every cent and worked long hours of overtime to afford this dream car. You have thought of, dreamed about, and craved this car. And there it is, in your driveway. Very new. Very shiny. Very ready to be taken on a spin. So of course, you put the top down (at least in my fantasy, your favorite car is a convertible. It doesn’t have to be, maybe you want the Batmobile or something) and off you go.


And driving is awesome. You’re flying down the street. All your friends see you, and they’re waving happily at you. You push the car up to triple-digit speeds. The roads are empty, and you feel more alive than ever as the car responds to your and your hands inside those Italian leather racing gloves (again, my fantasy for you). And you’re loving this car as it winds down the roads and comes over hills. (Maybe if you’re feeling adventurous you drag race a few police cruisers). And as you drive, you’re not really noticing the occasional mud puddles that splash up now and then. Maybe you’re not seeing the bug go splat against the windscreen. You’re not really paying attention to the gravel and dust cloud your blasting through. 


So by the time you get back to your garage, that beautiful car needs to be washed, waxed and tuned up. But, the hour grows late, and you have other things to attend to. (Given that this is my fantasy, let’s say those things involve your favorite food and a party of some kind, maybe a Doctor Who marathon or something). The car can wait, you say. And it sits in the garage for a night. 


And that night becomes a weekend. Then a week. Then a month. And then a season.


By the time you come back to that dream car, the mud is caked on pretty good. The gravel has sunk into the paint, and the bugs have formed a nice crust on your windscreen. You blast it with a hose, but all you really do is swirl the crap around. Maybe you take it to a local car wash, but really all they tell you is that the car is a mess, and if it were their car, they’d treat it better. And it would be a Jeep. No, it would be a monster truck. A monster truck that shoots fireballs. Called Chevysaurus Rex Prime. 


But this is your dream car. You had a blast not too long ago driving this car. And you know you want to drive it again. So…you hire a specialist. You go out and you find the best car detail-and-restoration guy possible. He takes a look at it, and like any nervous parent, you’re pacing in the background, waiting for his assessment. 


He gives you good news: He can bring the dream car back. It’ll take work, he says, but he can bring it back. And he’s even sure that he can make it work even better, but he’ll know more once he gets rid of some of this mud. You think he’s going to ask you for the keys and you won’t see your car for a while, which sounds sort of like what your parents told you about your dog when you were nine, so you’re properly worried. But he doesn’t ask you for the keys, and he says, yes some car restoration services will take your keys and your money, and your mint condition Impala may come back to you a lime-green Thunderbird with tiger print seats and a blender in the trunk. 


No, he won’t offer you anything other than your car, the way you want it. But he says you need to pick up the sponge and a few tools that you maybe hadn’t considered using before and you’re going to join him in bringing back the dream car, and then making it better.

That’s what I do. And that’s why it’s awesome. 

In part 2, I’ll talk more technically about it.

3 Reasons Why Your Query Letter Is Getting Rejected

Good afternoon everyone.

In my afternoon inbox clean-out session, I came across a few query letters from some friends of mine, who wanted me to take a quick peek and give them some advice. I did. And now I’m passing some of that advice to you.

Here now are 3 reasons why your query letter is getting rejected. Yes, there are more than three reasons, but I just picked three, and later, we can talk about more of them. Consider these the ‘Big Three’.

1. It’s too damn long.
I know, I know, it’s called a query letter, not a query text or even a query missive, and that in a letter you can go on and on a bit about the particulars of your story or your own writing experience.

Well, this isn’t a letter like you’re writing to Santa or Grandma thanking her for the very fine afghan she knitted you, this document you’re crafting is the ambassador for your manuscript.

And like all good ambassadors, it needs to be very very savvy in its word choice.

I am of the school of thought that you have at most (and I mean at absolutely the maximum) 300 words to say everything that you’re going to say, and that includes your name, contact information and the recipient’s address.

Yes, 300 word-Spartans for your literary-Thermopylae.

Actually, 300 is the ceiling, and I’d really want to see between 230 and 260 to get the job done.

Because it shouldn’t take you volumes of words to get your point across. It’s not like you’re blogging or anything….

2. It starts in the wrong place.
Stories can start in the beginning. But as I just said, this query letter isn’t a story, it’s an ambassador at best and a flirty chat-up line at worst. And since you only have less than 300 words to work with, do you really have the time to start me at the beginning of the story?

Start the query like it’s an 80s rock video (minus the denim vest and soulful emoting) — start with action. Is a character doing something? (is that the something the plot? Even better.)  Is there a problem, and like Vanilla Ice, you have a character able to solve it?

Your query letter has to launch the reader forward, interesting enough to send them diving into the manuscript to see if the promise is fulfilled at length.

3. You’re relying on a gimmick to make this story sell, because you’re heavy with doubt.
A character narrating his own query letter is a weird thing to read – because when we read a query letter, just like admiring a painting, we’re not only seeing the characters portrayed, we’re made aware of the artist’s brush strokes.

You’re the artist. And your words are brush strokes.

In the query letter, this is a chance for you the writer/creator to display your creation, and make it do a little interesting dance for us, provoking us into curiosity.

Gimmicks like character-narrated queries, or queries told in flashback…butcher the display quality of the work. The magic is in the objectivity and flair for crafty magic the writer displays. This is your chance to show off. So, break out the best words and pull rabbits out of hats.

The reason you’re likely not wowing people is that your own fear, your doubts (either self-doubts or doubts about “what’s right”) are coming across in the the words you choose and don’t choose, and in the formatting of what you say and don’t say.

Don’t be afraid. Don’t let fear stop you. Don’t let fear get ahead of your dreams. Take that leap. You won’t need the gimmicks, they don’t serve you.

You’re good enough to do this on your own merits. You’ve made it this far. This is just one step further, and this is, by all accounts a much easier step (300 pages versus 300 words?) – so go do it.

I hope this helps your query letters out. For more help on query letters, or for anything you’d like to say, leave some comments.

Some Things You Should Know About Writing (To Get You Started)…the last part

You can check out parts 1 and 2 here and here, respectively.

5. There are many ways to skin this cat, and none of them are more “right” than any other. 
This is a biggie for people. People love to pin their flag on some method that got them published, or recognized or paid, and say that they’re method is the “best” or “right” and that by extension, all the other methods (the ones known and unknown to them) are wrong or bad.

And that’s not true. There are now so many methods, so many paths people can follow to get their writing dreams realized (I should point out here that every writer, regardless of what they write does have that dream to get their work into the hands of interested and excited readers), that no path that accomplishes the dream is wrong.

Are some easier than others? Yes.
But don’t confuse ‘easier’ with ‘better’. It may be easier for me to pay someone to shovel my driveway in the winter, but I have a snowblower sitting in my garage that I bought for that exact job, so why wouldn’t I use it?

Go the ‘traditional’ route and get an agent and a publisher. Go launch your stuff directly off your website. Put it out on Kindles, Nooks and tablets. Print it in chapbooks and on the back of napkins individually numbered for collectors.

The bottom line is this — Do whatever you can to get your work into the hands of the people who want it. Get your work out there, by any means necessary. Just don’t hurt others on your rise to the top – this is my crafty disclaimer – don’t be a jerk about it, don’t be a douchebag, and for the love all that is good in the world, don’t ever forget what’s important to you as you try and get published, whether that’s family or friends or the future or…your dog. Show love and respect and you’ll be rewarded. I promise.

6. Don’t you ever quit.
This is hard. Writing may be an easy task, but to produce the art and craft of it, that’s difficult. It can be stressful. It can be upsetting. It can aggravating as you encounter and learn from your mistakes. You may hear some feedback that you don’t want to hear. You may have to make some choices and accept some truths that don’t always make you a happy camper. You may want to throw your hands up. You may put down the pen and paper for months or years at a time because somebody somewhere said something that just stuck in your mind. You may feel so overwhelmed that you decide you’re better off taking up knitting.

Don’t do it.
Don’t give up.

Not because some guy on the internet says so. Not because all the books in your library say so.

Don’t quit because you don’t want to let yourself down.

Here’s the quote from Richard Bach – “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.

It may feel (or may actually turn out to be true) that lots of external people and forces line up against you, keeping you from getting your work out. Don’t quit.

It may feel like there’s so many other books out there that are EXACTLY like yours, and you can think of no reason why someone would take your book over the one next to it. Don’t quit.

It may feel like there’s some giant knot in your head that just stops the words from flowing. Don’t quit.

This is what you wanted to do, isn’t it? This is how you’ve elected to demonstrate your talent, your brilliance and your creative soul, yes?

Then why wouldn’t you stick it out?

If you feel the need to do it for external reasons. You can always #doitforbuttons (I realize I’ll have to explain that later, maybe I will tomorrow on Google+) or do it for Johnny, but always, and above all else, DO IT.

You can get support. There are loads of writers, editors, friends, new friends, enthusiasts, experts, people, children, wives, future wives, sports nuts, comedians, postal employees, strippers, farmers, spiritualists, life coaches and chiropractors who absolutely support you.

You can improve your skills. You can take classes. Hire professionals to teach you. Sit in on writing groups. (I will always advocate talking to someone over book experience alone…but I can recommend a lot of books to augment those improvements.)

Like Andy Dufresne says ‘Hope is a good thing‘, and I hope you realize how important it is not to quit.

Don’t quit. It will be worth it.

Having said all that….let’s move forward maybe a little talk about some technique…

Some Things You Should Know About Writing (To Get You Started), Part 2

I continue from the previous post, found here.

3. The difference is not if anyone can do it, but how skillfully it can be done
You can write. Anyone can write. The issue, the unspoken part that everyone is too often shy to include is “well”, as in: Do you write “well“?

Now this may not win my any popularity contests, but I’m not here to curry favor, I’m here to talk about writing in all the flavors, warts, shades and arenas. 

Yes, you can say that “well” is a subjective term, something that comes down to my opinion versus yours, and yes, just like Obi Wan Kenobi teaches us, that can be true from a certain point of view.

But let’s go past this hand-holding schlock and be clear — not everyone who’s writing, hell, not everyone who’s got books on the shelf or available for download, writes well. Sure, they can string together some paragraphs and stack together a few chapters that describe a story from beginning to end, but that’s sort of like saying there’s no difference between a newly paved highway and the old muddy path in the wilderness.

Writing well takes practice, skill and talent. You can learn how to make better choices, how to craft stronger and more evocative sentences and even become comfortable with the elements of story structure and novel development. But that’s only because you put work into it, and you improved. That makes you somewhat of an exception.

A lot of people are going to stare a page until their eyes bleed, until they stroke out and until they reduce themselves into quivering masses trying to do what you did. Because, and there’s no nice way to say this – not everyone is meant to be a writer.

Let that sink in. And before you flood my inbox, let me just point out that if this were any other skill, it wouldn’t be much of an argument.

I can do some really simply juggling. I understand the hand-eye coordination. But that doesn’t mean you want me at your next birthday party tossing chainsaws around.

I can identify most of the parts of my engine without having to Google them. That certainly means though that when your car makes a grr-khshunk-plock-plock-vrrrr noise, you don’t call me.

I really believe that you know you’re meant to be a writer the way you know you’re meant to be a teacher or meant to be a parent or meant to be a llama farmer. It’s as much a calling as a gift and while you can improve your skills at it, for some people it’s just not in the cards that they write the next great best seller.

You should try, by all means, try your hardest. But you’ll discover very quickly, (especially if you’re honest with yourself) if you’re meant to do this either more often, more professionally or with more enthusiasm.

4. Writing is going to teach, show and tell you a lot about yourself – you may not always like what you discover, but it may be important
When you’re sitting at the desk, or stretched out on the couch, or set up wherever you go to write, even if it’s the most crowded and noisy place possible, it still comes down to you and the page. The blank page. Staring at you with all that square whiteness. Taunting you with all the possibilities and openness and lack of words. And you’re going to sit there for as long as your patience will let you (maybe a few seconds, maybe minutes, maybe hours) until you start filling that page with your thoughts.

Now along the way, as you tell that story about Abigail the sex-crazed milkmaid in love with Grutnar the Viking Prince, you’re not just telling the story about some Swedish hussy and her berserker sex machine, you’re showing part of yourself.

Okay, maybe you’re not Swedish, and you’ve never considered the possibilities of being pillaged like a coastal town, but the act of writing about it awakens within you some revelations. You’re going to find out what you like to say, you’re going to express your imagination, you’re going to spill not just fiction, but also some truth on the page.

Maybe that scene you wrote this morning where the Viking spills his mead and the woman throws the bowl at his head is what you wished you could do the last time someone at the office spilled coffee on you. Maybe that passionate lovemaking scene where the ecstasy was so potent it blew the thatch off the hut was how you wish your spouse was on Tuesdays after bowling league.

Your truth sneaks out in your fiction. You can’t help it. You shouldn’t even bother hiding it.

Maybe the fiction isn’t the truth. Maybe the truth is in your approach to writing. Do you start a lot of projects and never finish anything? That’s a fear of commitment. (If you do happen to do that, I have someone you should talk to, ASAP)

Do you tend to edit as you go along, so that you spend all this time, but never make any real progress? That’s a whole heap of self-doubt. (And for that, I have two people you could talk to, here and here, ASAP)

(the last 2 will come tomorrow…here’s the link.)

Some Things You Should Know About Writing (To Get You Started)…(part 1)

Here in is my list of things that you should know before we go any further. This list is both a combination of personal statements and business-y ideas.

1. Writing is only as scary and/or as difficult as you make it
When someone sets out to write, usually what goes through their mind is the idea that they’re going to tell a story of some length that they may or may know when they get started. They have this whole movie in their head, and by writing it down, they get to share it with people who are hopefully interested in that same experience.

Usually when people start this, they’re very seldom discouraged. When the words start to flow out and hit the page or screen, there’s a surge of excitement, a moment of “Ooh I’m doing something creative!” and the celebration gives way to more words and those words form sentences and paragraphs and pages…up to a point.

Then there comes the point when the initial enthusiasm wanes. Maybe it’s because the thirty minutes you set to write have lapsed. Maybe it’s because someone came home and you’re too embarrassed to go on with them tromping through the house like an ogre. Maybe it’s just not fun anymore when you reached page ten or fifteen or thirty or sometimes, even page two isn’t as fun as those initial paragraphs.

So, like anyone else, you put it down for awhile, with the solemn promise made to yourself that you’ll pick it up later and that spark will somehow rekindle itself to life.

And in that moment, in that break, fear becomes an avalanche and you lose yourself of which way is up.

So let me introduce you to an idea that may dampen those initial fires, but will help keep them burning longer. Writing is only as scary and/or as difficult as you make it.

I say this because you can easily go online and find a lot of people complaining about writing. You can find any social media network and make a ton of friends who have flat out burnt themselves into shriveled husks because they got a rejection letter or worse (like worse by a power of ten) are the people who are so afraid of getting that rejection letter that they never sent anything out. (You may notice that those people are the ones who do the most complaining, not necessarily the loudest).

Can writing be scary? Sure.
You know what else could be scary? Walking across a busy street or eating that weird casserole your aunt always brings to holiday parties. (As if anyone is going to eat something that is both salmon and charcoal colored.)

You know what makes writing not scary? Practice. And education. And support. You can find those last two things in the company of experienced writers (Hi!) and the first one is all you — practice is your opportunity to push yourself forward.

Onto point 2…

2. Writing is the act of making decisions

I am a control freak. I love control. Some of my favorite video games allow me to be the angry and vengeful deity of virtual lives and cities, dispensing doom and catastrophe with abandon. Some of my favorite characters exude control the way creepy bus station homeless guys exude that ammonia smell.

Now I can hear some people saying, “Too much control is dangerous.” and that’s true, too much of anything is dangerous, but I’m talking more about the exercise of control, not just the possession of it.

Writing is a chance for you to be in charge of something. Whether that something is a fantasy world of knights and wizards, or whether it’s just a few sentences about a hapless accountant who wants to tap dance on stage…it’s your creation.

Does the hero get the girl in the end? You decide.
Is there even a girl to get? Up to you.
Is this world of your creation a magical land where goblins cavort at the feet of Easter Island statues and make eldritch sacrifices to the winners of American Idol? Entirely your call.

(more to come…)

So, you want to write a book?

Hello! It’s been a while hasn’t it?

I’m glad to see you again, or if we’ve never met, hello, it’s a pleasure to meet you.

What I’m doing here, what I want to be doing here, what I plan to do here as consistently as possible, is to talk about writing, publishing, the world of books and marketing and sprinkle in plenty of tangents about my life, nerdy things and random articles that make me think.

First and foremost, we’re here to talk about writing.

I’m assuming that at some point, you’ve seen writing. You’ve read a book or two. Maybe you’ve considered trying it. Maybe you have tried it.

Maybe it’s just something you dabble in when the house is quiet and you don’t have anything else distracting you.

Maybe you’re doing everything possible to make a living out of it.

Whatever the case, you can be better at it. And no, it shouldn’t take a great deal of expense or aggravation to make you better it. This is putting words on paper after all, and not launching a probe to Venus or sending a kid off to university.

So here I am, here to help, here to walk you through getting better at writing, here to pull back the curtain occasionally and show you that writing’s boogeymen (boogey-people?) aren’t all that scary and that you can in fact get very good at this, if you work hard.

I’m The Writer Next Door.

Let’s get started.