Social Media for the Anxious & New, part 2

Welcome back to Monday. I keep trying to develop portal technology so that we live in a reality where it’s only ever Thursday and then there’s always a 3-day weekend, but all my efforts get thwarted somewhere around the moment I realize I only know about advanced math from Futurama and Rick and Morty.

Let’s get back to work then, okay?

The series on social media use continues today. On Friday, we talked about how mistakes are gonna happen, and how I really believe you can do this, and today we’re going to get detailed about what exactly goes into a tweet, a blog post, and a status update.

Before we get into this, I want to point out that if you’re thinking someone else (from a publisher let’s say) is going to handle all this for you so that you don’t have to, even if you pursue the most traditional route of publishing possible, you’re going to be in for a huge shock – the publisher’s marketing department does not solely exist to relieve you of the burden of being an author, and yes, in (insert current year here), part of being an author is being able to interact with an audience in an actionable way. Let me further burst that bubble by saying that writing is a part of what an author does, and reaching out and informing/building an audience is another part of the author-effort.

Sure, yes, you can farm this out via some services where you pay a person half a world away to tweet for you or update your blog for you (a lot of “work few hours make bank” systems operate this way), but when you farm off part of what can help you connect with an audience, how is that going to help your audience see you as more than a book dispensary?

Audiences want and have come to expect more than just the author-machine who cranks out somewhat formulaic books and slaps a name on it without breaking new and interesting mental ground, treading forever on their name and established reputation rather than doing what got them their name and reputation, the writing interesting stuff part of author-effort.

I think by breaking down good composition of social media elements, it can demystify them, and it can make it easier to do and more relevant to an author, even one who is still working on book one or someone who’s stuck a few books in when their publisher folded up their tent.

This doesn’t have to be scary. This doesn’t have to be burdensome. Also, assume in every one of these cases that communication is a two-way street. You do your part by bringing information and personality, the audience can do their part by responding. You can encourage that response, but you can’t force it. And when you’re just starting out, yes I know, it’ll feel like you’re talking to nobody, but keep at it. Like a corn field and Ray Liotta, people will show up.

We’ll go one step at a time through this:

A Tweet

I’m a huge fan of Twitter for getting out morsels of information at a good pace. I think it’s great warm-up for writing the longer things I do throughout the day, and I like the gratification of seeing people respond in near-realtime.

Because a tweet is capped at 140 characters, concision becomes the chief constructive element – and that 140 count includes spaces and punctuation and links to things, so first and foremost any tweet that builds around a link (whether that’s to a blog post or an Amazon page or whatever) has to more substantial than just the naked link dangling out there.

Before the link, include some words so that your audience knows this isn’t spam from a Nigerian who’s happy to part with gold he can’t show you in exchange for all the banking information you can manage. The act of being personable in a concise way, ahead of the link, renders the overall effect of the tweet to not be blatant in its salesmanship. Look, selling and linking are part of getting eyes on product, we all know it, but we don’t need to do it in some cold and dry way.

Putting your personality into even a few words, and making sure that you don’t repeat that every few hours once you figure out what that string of words is, will go a long way to conveying to the audience that yes, in fact, you are a real person, really trying to do a real task while appearing really vulnerable.

What words, you might ask? The ones that sound like you. The ones that you say, the ones you think. And while there do exist plenty of books of words about selling things, and some of them are even worth reading, any word that sounds like you and is an honest expression of who and what you’re doing is going to beat out any magic sales-word. In fact, it’s the melding of the sales stuff and your own stuff that’s going to help you establish your non-authorial author voice, which is the voice you’ll use when you’re talking about what you’ve done or what you’re doing.

And here we get to the part of the text where I tell you to tweet often. And not just the sales opportunities, I mean the life stuff too. About your dog, about your dinner, about your feelings on dystopic pudding. The caution here is that while dispensing what I imagine  are your numerous opinions and 140-character rants, be mindful of who’s seeing that stuff. Just because you only have 4 followers, don’t think that the word can’t travel to those people you’re cattily talking about. This is not a schoolyard, you do not need to assert dominance with virtual urine so that someone will take you seriously.

A Status Update

In other forms of social media, you’ve got much more space to operate in, and depending on your relationship with that medium, you can easily use it to blog. I’m not a huge fan of the practice, because I have this blog, but things like Facebook and Googe+ are other tools in the toolbox that can make social media a bit less ornery and a bit more mainstream for your creative life.

It’s important to remember here that you’re working with a signal-to-noise ratio that’s different than what you see in Twitter. The pace of Twitter turns its messages into burst transmissions and you can easily blink and miss things. In other media, there’s a volume of information happening simultaneously and it’s easy to get lost in the tide. When the world is a awash in Pokemon, political memes, and those photos from last week’s party, it’s hard to stand out.

Stand out by having something to say that’s more interesting and communicative than provocative. Anyone can write a few hundred words of hypersensitive invective, anyone can erect a soapbox in the center of a three-ring circus. Don’t fall prey to the temptation of attention-grabbing like it’s some rare and finite thing we’re all competing for. When you put your guts on the page, when you say what you need to and don’t churn up people just to churn them up “because even bad attention is attention”, you’ll build that audience out of sterner stuff than people who check you out to see what the latest outrage, tragedy, arrogance, whining, or problem-you-have-with-the-world-that-demands-it-change-not-you is.

Again, this is authorial voice on display. Talk about your work. Talk about the work-in-progress. Talk about the strides and stumbles. Don’t think the audience will run at the first sign of things getting tough for you, people love a good success story as much as they love to be supportive.

A Blog Post

We conclude today with the largest of the three pieces of social media – the blog post. Loads of people write them. You’re reading one right now, if you hadn’t noticed. (Or maybe you got this emailed to you thanks to the signup box over on the right)

Here’s an entire blank canvas, available for free, to do with as you like (okay, I’m paying for this site so I can get the dot-com I want, and so I can get some bells and whistles that help me, and there are some restrictions on content if you use a host like WordPress or Blogspot).

So what do you write about? My answer to this when it gets asked on panels is, “Yes,” because you can write about anything. Look at  this blog – I talk about mental health, addiction, semicolons, recipes and kitchen stuff in between all the posts on queries and publishing and motivation.

There’s no wrong answer here, so long as you’re sharing your worldview and your creativity in an active way. Yes, you can use a blog to track the dates on a book tour, or as a respository for your guest posts and snapchat takeovers. But if you want to do more than just archive your efforts, an audience is built out of the breadth of content partnered with a voice and perspective broadcasting it.

You’ll develop that voice, that perspective, and ultimately that audience through consistency. Post often, post authentically. Practice, just like the tweets and status updates above. It does get easier.

And to answer the question of “How long should a post be?” I have no good answer for you. I’ve written posts that are a few hundred words and had a huge reception. I’ve written super long posts and had an equal reception. I’m starting to think that even though a shorter post is easier to knock out, like so many other things in life, it’s not the size, it’s what you do with it.

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I encourage all of you, and I believe in all of you. You can do this. Keep at it, even when it’s tough. Even when you’re sure that no one is reading. (Small note: one of the ways you can have people reading is by telling them that you have something they can read – they won’t know you’ve done a thing otherwise.)

You can always find me on social media (on Twitter, on Google+), and I’ll be your audience.

Let’s meet back up here on Wednesday when we’ll do part 3 of this series – what to do when you make a mistake.

 

See you then. Happy writing.

InboxWednesday – Social Media

Holy mother of chicken fingers, Wednesday crept up on us pretty quick there. Next thing you know, it’ll be Friday and I’ll get a tweet from someone about to get turnt up for the weekend. (The first time I heard that phrase, I thought someone said turnips, and pictured someone having a really good weekend playing Stardew Valley.)

But we’re not there yet, creatives. So until then, let’s do what we do on Wednesdays and grab a question from my inbox. Remember, you can ask me any question you want, because even the ones that don’t go on the blog get answered.

Let’s do this.

John, I’m a 57-year-old man writing his first novel. My two kids are in college, my wife works full-time. I am financially stable, and I thought writing would be a good thing to do. My question is: what’s the point of social media? What good does it do me, when I’m not a teenager or not really good at it, and what platforms should I use for what purpose? My schedule in the evenings and weekends is open, so time is not a problem, but how do I best use these apps? – J.

J. (you asked not to use your real name, no sweat), thanks so much for your question. Congrats on taking the dive into writing. What you’re asking is big and good and it’s got some moving parts, so let’s do this in pieces.

These are my opinions, other people may disagree, and that’s totally alright. I want you to first know that you need social media. NEED it, like critical in the modern day NEED, because the traditional publishers aren’t going to dump buckets of money at your door to do the marketing for you. You know your book, and you know who you are way better than they ever will, so there’s freedom to being your own marketing machine. You can develop a system that’s custom  to you, and because it’s playing to your strengths, you’ll use it with less difficulty.

What I’ll do is breakdown each platform with a definition, an example where I can, and the pros and cons. Then I’ll use my social media as a case study. J., follow me on this, this is gonna be a lot of words, but you can do this, it’s just one step at a time, it’s not overwhelming unless you let it be. Don’t quit on this, let’s rock and roll.

Can I give you two ground rules? These are important. Write this on a post-it note. Carve them into the foreheads of your enemies:

1. Social media IS NOT just sales link spam. There’s a reason it’s called “social” media – being a person who does X (in your case, writes books) is the honey to the sales spam vinegar when you’re building a group of people you interact with.

2. Practice using it. Regular use, even if you’re just goofing around with filters or hashtags or puns or whatever will help you get better when you do have something important, like links to a blog post or a fundraising page or a promo for an event you’re attending.

Primary Platforms
What I call a “primary platform” is the social media where you’re the most comfortable. Maybe you’ll develop more than one of these, and that’s awesome. A primary platform is where you can reach a certain number of people, and you’ll know you can reach them without having to do anything that you haven’t already done before.

Secondary Platforms
A secondary platform is social media that’s new to you. You’ve never used it before, or you barely use it, and if you gave it more time, and did a little research, you could get better at it, but you’re maybe okay with it being more on the perimeter of your social media stuff.

I’m going to spot you one free primary platform – email. You’ve written emails before. It’s pretty comfortable. And along with the ability to write emails, you’ve got a list of people to sends email to, so that’s a prepped audience. I know what you’re thinking, “John I can’t email these people that I’m writing a book.” And I’ll go ahead and ask you what about being creative is so bad that these people would run from you like your a clown on fire handing out mayonnaise and guacamole? It’s okay to let the world know you’re creative.

With me so far? Let’s look at specific platforms then. Each platform is going to take some time, especially when you’re just learning how to use it. No, you don’t have to be perfect at it, there is no perfect at it, but you’re going to need to take seconds/minutes to write things occasionally. Even if/when they’re wholly unrelated to the specifics of the book you’re writing.

Facebook
For me, professionally, Facebook isn’t my best option. It’s great when I want to tell people about work like we’re sitting on the porch with drinks and I’m just chatting about the day, or I want rant a little about video games or my weird neighbors, but I have a hard time turning that into sales. That’s not to say it’s impossible to do it, I know plenty of people who make that happen, but I know just as many people who keep the sales off Facebook, and use it more as a social pool for communication – one more way they can be a person first and a selling entity second.

The Pros: Everyone’s on it. Okay, not my mom, not that one guy I know who believes in chemtrails, lizard people, and nanochips inside vaccines that will one day activate and subjugate us, but like, loads of other people. Whether you just have an account for yourself, or you get a Page together where you specifically interact with an audience because of something you do or a way you identify (an author, a publisher, a whatever-er), you can communicate with other humans. It’s pretty easy to use, you just type in a box at the top of the page, you click Post, and boom, done.

The Cons: There’s a lot of people on it, and they’re going to talk about everything from politics to babies to work complaints to strange anime references to screeds about how they deserve preferential treatment to questions about robot apocalypses. That signal-to-noise ratio can be tough to parse through, and something as earnest and interesting as your “Hey I started writing a book” can totally get blown out of the water by your friend Sharon going on a rant about how the brown people are ruining this country and how we need to feel guilty about something that happened three hundred years ago that started our alleged national dumpster fire rolling down a hill.

Twitter
Twitter is my jam. I love Twitter. Each tweet is 140 characters, and that includes spaces. Yeah I know, there’s talk about expanding that, but even if they did, I’d keep it to 140. The concision Twitter has trained me to develop is critical when I’m speaking and editing – words are potent, and having to pick and choose how I describe something means I put a premium on clarity over flashy vocabulary.

The Pros: You can find a lot of like-minded people on it. I follow a heap of writers, creatives, editors, agents and people whose opinions and ideas interest and encourage me. Also, because of its fluid nature, I can jump into conversations or start my own pretty easily.

The Cons: It can feel like you’re shouting into the Grand Canyon while standing in London fog. You may have no idea that your words are reaching anyone, and especially at the beginning, it can be discouraging. But every once in a while, you may get surprised about who reads what you’re saying, who replies, or who shares what you say with their heap of people. (I have had a few “Oh shit, that person knows what I write!?” moments in the last year, they’re awesome).

If you do go with Twitter, and need a person to start with, start with me

Google+ (Google Plus, G+)
I have to admit J., I fell out of love with Google+. We grew apart because we both changed – G+ changed its layout, I found my groove with Twitter and other platforms. But Google+ is a viable longer form platform that you can use and build circles of people with. These communities share interest (you can build a writing circle), and there are large and active groups of people doing the same stuff you do, but as with any large mass of people, check that signal to noise ratio and don’t let the negative people poison your progress.

The Pros: It doesn’t have the glut of extraneous content the way Facebook does. It isn’t capped at 140 characters the way Twitter is. You can say a lot on a topic, you can read a lot about a topic, and you can get eyes on what you say. It sounds ideal, right? But …

The Cons: In a world where you’ve got other, more visual social media popping up, where there’s more immediacy and speed and interest, G+ can become an afterthought. Even with this blog, G+ is just one more place where I put posts, and occasionally chime in to specific groups, but otherwise, my attention is elsewhere.

Snapchat
This is a new one for me, as in I really started getting serious about it less than a week ago. This is the first of three platforms I’m going to talk about where you can use stills, video, and audio to get a concise message across. I’m hugely in love with the concept, and it’s easy to use once you check out how other people are using it.

The Pros: Again, concision is valuable. Short video can be personal and effective. Captions and filters can help put together an idea and package it for the current moment.

The Cons: A lot of snapchat is aimed at fashion or celebrity, and a lot of snapchat (at least when you google people you should follow on snapchat) skews younger than you or I, J. But don’t let that throw you off, because you don’t have to interact with that userbase if you don’t want to. It’s not the most intuitive interface, so you might have to fumble a bit early on to get a handle on it, but the good news is that the snaps you do send out only last 24 hours, and so there’s no great lasting shame in the snap of the inside of your pocket while you went to the grocery store, as happened to me earlier this week.

Instagram
There’s an intimacy possible in the visuals we present to the world. They’re a glimpse into our lives that goes beyond “buy my thing”, and I think the sharing of you-see-what=I-see is super important if you want show that what you do is not mysticism or impossible, and that you’re grateful for life. Instagram is tons of photos, it’s primarily visual, and it’s a great tool for showing (literally) more than telling.

The Pros: The peek behind the curtain is interesting. It’s honest, or at least it should be. It’s got a great interface, you can knock it out with a few clicks on your phone. Getting comfortable with hashtags (think of them as indexing tools) will make your production that much easier.

The Cons: If you’re like me, you suck at taking photos you’d call interesting. This is in part due to a lack of practice, and also due to a pressure I feel from the signal-to-noise discussion that Instagram is “supposed to be” all pictures of lunches and random bragging selfies of people better looking than me doing things I can neither afford nor have the means to do.

Periscope
Here now we’re at the fringe of my expertise. Periscope is a video broadcasting tool, that allows you to stream video to an audience. It’s not something I’ve really gotten my hands dirty with yet, but I’m going to be changing that over the course of this week.

The Pros: Streaming video! Live broadcasts! That’s huge. Gone are the static walls of text (said the guy writing the blogpost), and interactivity is at a premium. This is a big deal if you have something to say and want to get it out with immediacy and emotion. But …

The Cons: Building an audience to check out the broadcast takes time, as it does for any of these platforms. Also, given the projected nature of this content, you’ll need something to say or show – a lot of “Uhh” and “Um” won’t hold an audience’s attention. No, I’m not talking production values, I mean pure content. Figuring out what your content is goes a long way to helping steer it out of your head and to other people.

Anchor
Another new one for me, it’s an audio platform where you record short notes and receive other short notes or responses in return (they’re called waves, because nautical theme). I have barely tried this once, and haven’t even set myself up yet, but that’ll change over this week too.

The Pros: If you’re like me, you tend to have a logjam of thoughts that sear your mind and need to be let out, and quick bursts of audio are great for me when I’m feeling particularly laden with urgent purpose. And because you don’t have to see me, I don’t have to feel as awful about being one of the not-pretty people as I do what I do (note: this discomfort comes up for me on Snapchat something fierce) I need to play around with this more.

The Cons: If you’re like me, as you talk, you gesture. You work in the visual space in front of you, making air quotes and hand-based diagrams. They don’t always translate to audio, because despite allegedly having moves like Jagger, you can’t hear my hands make the “so this is like this and that’s like that” gesture.

Pinterest
Pinterest is a repository for static content (like blogposts), where you can collate information about a particular topic. You can have a board (a group) of pins (links) about whatever topic you want, although I have to say they’re a little draconian about butts, curves and intimacies.

The Pros: If you’ve got a lot of blog content to give out, if you want a lot of content to read, Pinterest can be a gold mine. With one of the big two browsers (Chrome, Firefox), you can get an extension to allow you to pin stuff through a simple right-click context menu, and it is an easy way to have a lot of resources at hand.

The Cons: It can be a swallower of your time. There’s so much stuff out there, and so much of it more signal than noise that you can blow a day pinning material one thing after another, stepping away from that writing that needs to happen because “just one more Pin” turns into “three hours later” pretty quick.

Blogging
I was on the fence about calling blogging a form of social media, because social media is becoming more and more conversational and concise, and blogging can range in length and frequency of use. But blogging has a communal aspect, so it’s social media for our discussion.

The Pros: You can say what you want, how you want, as often as you want. Your blog can be a home base for what you’re doing, giving you an unfettered and uninterrupted space to paint your internet real estate how you like.

The Cons: Audience growth is slow, and you can get discouraged by staring at views and thinking you’ll never get past ten or thirty or whatever. You can, you will, you just need to consistently put out good ideas in clear ways. Good content gets read, so make stuff that expresses clearly what you want to say and how you feel.

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So let’s use me as a case study. Out of the nine social media platforms I just talked about, I’ve got accounts on all nine, but I would call Twitter and this blog my primary platforms. I’m more comfortable here and at 140 characters professionally than anywhere else. Facebook sees daily use, but that’s more personal or anecdotal. I talk about what I do, but I don’t really do what I do with the people on Facebook. It feels weird to me, like I’m asking my family if they want to help me out, and I suppose that idea will need to change, but right now, I like this divide between pro-John and off-hours-John.

Snapchat has been my new vector for socializing, and my small as all get out following is clients, friends, a few celebrities who don’t get annoying, and professionals I learn from. My goal there is to get better at using the service, and I’m not going to do that without giving it a go myself. If you want to find me on Snapchat, I’m at johnwritesstuff.

Instagram and I don’t really know what to do with each other. It’s there, I am following some interesting people, but I don’t post much, mainly because I don’t know what to post. I don’t work visually, so I struggle to put up anything other than various doughnuts or foods I’ve eaten, which perpetuate that social pressure and make me feel bad, so then I use it less, and onward and onward that cycles. But I’ve got a youtube video queued up to watch after I write this post, so maybe I’ll learn some new stuff.

Pinterest is my recipe and idea hole. It doesn’t seem very conversational, but it’s a great education tool for me. Want to learn about business strategies,  enchiladas, candle-making, and old movie posters? I can do that all in one fell swoop.

The remaining platforms are on my “To check out” list, and I said on Twitter the other day that I wanted to try Periscope later this week, I’m thinking Friday. Hmmm.

On the whole, I divide part of my workday into check the various feeds, but not all at once. I’m on twitter throughout the day, I check Facebook in the morning and while I eat lunch, I snapchat now when an idea hits. I blog three times a week. I pinterest or read pinterest usually after work, because some of that relaxes me.

Because time is the most precious business commodity, I’m picky about allocating it. Were I new and starting out, I’d pick one or two platforms and get comfortable. I’d give myself a wide deadline of like 3 months with daily experimentation to see how it fits for me. If a platform didn’t work out, I wouldn’t go back. You don’t need to have all of them going in order to market your work successfully, and you certainly don’t want a pile of responsibilities that take you away from the writing when they’re supposed to be supporting it. So, J., you do what works for you, and if that’s one thing, awesome, if it’s eight or more (because there are more platforms I didn’t cover), awesome too.

I believe you (and anyone regardless of age or gender or genre or whatever) can learn to use this stuff and connect with other people both professionally and personally. It might not be instantaneous, but it can be done.

Hope that answers your question J.

I’ll see you guys on Friday for more blog times. Have a great middle of your week, don’t let the jerks get you down.

Happy writing.

InboxWednesday – When Do I Talk To An Editor?

Good morning everyone, I hope you’re doing well, and that your Wednesday is a delightful one. While you’re reading this, I’m at a doctor’s appointment, so spare a good thought that I’m doing alright and the muzak or the bill hasn’t sent me into a murderous rage.

Today’s topic for #InboxWednesday comes to us from five different people, all asking the same question.

When do I need an editor, and when should I bring in an editor into what I’m writing?

I love this question, so this answer is going to be somewhat meaty, but it needs to be.

Here we go …

There’s no wrong time to bring in an editor. It’s just the role the editor plays will change relative to when they get involved with your manuscript. I’m going to break the writing process down into 3 periods to illustrate this.

Early Stages of Writing
I’m categorizing this as “the period of time when the majority of a draft isn’t written, the ideas are maybe just bullet points, or maybe they aren’t even written down yet.” Yes, I know that’s nebulous, but there’s no way I’m going accurately ballpark a percentage as to how much is on paper versus how much isn’t. And even if I could, there’s no percentage required so you “unlock” editor access.

You can bring the editor in at this point to help you work through those decisions yet to be made (what’s the conflict, what’s this character’s arc look like, what’s the action beat between this moment and that one, etc) as well as to hone the decisions you have made (if you do X when you’ve already got Y, they’ll feed together; why are you starting the book at that spot, when the spot two paragraphs later seems way more in line with what you’re doing; etc)

This is developmental work, where the manuscript’s foundation is laid through decisions and conversation. It’s a fertile land where there’s so much potential and so much story ore to mine.

The hard part, at least editorially, is knowing when to steer and when to be along for the ride. It’s easy to turn someone else’s work into something the editor would create themselves, just by passing a few comments and closing a few options. That’s the danger in “I don’t think you should” coming up in the developmental process. An editor isn’t there to steer this process completely, their presence is as stabilizer and lookout, keeping the craft afloat as the writer navigates MS shoals and other nautical metaphors that I wish I was better at making up.

It’s a very “do it by feel” issue, since some writers are going to be more receptive to the presence of someone else while they’re making the story, and some are going to see it as more an intrusion of something personal, closing ranks as they protect the fragile idea. Neither side is wrong, though it can be a frustrating experience to be consulted and then shut out while making suggestions based on the limited information you get from conversations.

Middle Stages of Writing
Let’s categorize the middle stages as the time when the manuscript is being written, lie by line, chapter by chapter. This is the production stage, when there’s already a road map and the decisions of development have led the writer to put their ass in the chair and make the words happen.

Bringing in the editor here takes away the developmental element, and instead brings in the editorial process. The chapters, paragraphs, sentences, beats and concepts now exist beyond the idea stage, so the way they’re broadcast to the reader (the words chosen for them) become the focus. Here an editor can ask what the writer meant in a particular line, or that they’re unclear with naming something consistently. It’s the editorial process you’d expect, happening still when the body of the MS is still being crafted.

It’s sometimes tough for people to see this as anything other than meddling, like a backseat driver asking if you’re ever going to get to the destination. I’ve heard it described as the person who hovers over dinner being cooked to the point where you doubt whether you’ve boiled the water correctly.

At this stage, it’s not about sowing doubt. At least, doubt isn’t supposed to be spread here. This is a chance to purge it, by finding the elements that are working along with the elements that don’t. Yes, this one sentence kind of rambles and doesn’t work in this investigative beat, but this character dialogue over here is just fantastic. It’s worth pointing out the good as well.

Many writers make the mistake of running a credit/debit T-chart sort of thing when they get feedback, thinking that all the comments are to be weighted equally and that every comma splice or vague pronoun undoes the part where a joke works or the action is well made. No, it doesn’t. When something in the MS works, it works, and that’s independent of the fact that six pages prior, there are too many “she” in a sentence. Calls for revision do not undo the praise. At least, it shouldn’t. But that might be an issue to address outside of the writing process for some people.

An editor here shifts also to motivation, to keep the writer going, stoking the fire so that the creativity behind the MS doesn’t go out, replaced by some new hot idea, shiny thing, or distraction. The writing process is about endurance and discipline, and there are so many people, places, things, blogs, words, comments, ideas, and fears that eat discipline and leave doubt and disappointment as a lovely pile of scat for the writer to step in and then drag around on all the rugs.

The Later Stages of Writing
The manuscript is complete or nearly so, let’s say it’s the last few chapters or maybe it’s just been read by a spouse or a close friend as a beta reader. Here the editor takes on the role that most people think of when they think editor – with the tools laid out to work through the manuscript’s ideas and presentation so that it’s in the best shape possible to do with whatever the writer wants.

In addition to flagging grammar, plot holes, unclear motivations, craptastic dialogue, the editor can also keep an eye out for what comes next. Want to query? See if the editor can help you frame them. Want to self-pub? Maybe the editor has some advice. You won’t know until you ask, and asking’s free, so ask all the questions you have.


There isn’t a “wrong” time to bring an editor into your work. Yes, there’s a budget to consider, because you have to pay the person you’ve hired to do a job, but there’s no rule you’re breaking by doing it at some time other than when you’re absolutely finished.

It’s worth pointing out my own experience, that if you hire me in the early or middle stages, I’m going to want to work with you in the later stages as well, so we both walk the manuscript towards completion and through editing without additional surcharges or doubling down on the expense. But that’s just me, and I don’t speak for everyone doing this.

Bias as aside as I can get it (I like being hired, it helps me afford lunch), an editor is an asset to your writing, both specific to the manuscript as well as a resource for later work as well. People I’ve worked with months ago still get answers to their questions, and still get counseled on whatever issues they’re facing. There’s no walk of shame for a client. Once you’re in the rolodex, and neither of us have fired the other, you’re in the rolodex.

So make use of editors. Their job is to help you get the MS to wherever you want it to be. Don’t let some arbitrary convention and some absolutist sentence that editors can only show up at a certain point stop you from getting your MS out of your head, onto the page, and out to readers.

Follow me on Twitter for more info about this and other topics about writing, publishing and stuff.

Happy writing. Have a great Wednesday.

Some Thoughts on Professional Stuff

I’m writing this post in the throes of the weekend blizzard, punctuating each paragraph with a sip of cocoa and a disbelieving stare out a window upon a world that looks like some off-white hellscape.

Originally, I meant to write about the importance of determination, of being diligent, and of staying the course when so many voices (internal and otherwise) may form a chorus to chase you away from whatever you’re creating. And then I fell into a bit of a rabbit hole.

A friend of mine talked to me a bit about a situation he found himself in, where he received criticism for what he was doing (he’s an editor), and his critic was taking a roundabout way of saying he was exploiting writers and profiting from their newness in creating. It’s a completely bogus claim because my friend, let’s call him J, is one of the most forthright people I know. I don’t always agree with him, but I respect his work, and I think he’s smart enough, talented enough, and good enough, to help people create amazing things.

In reading what this critic said, it brought to mind a number of experiences and a number of frustrations I’ve encountered in the last two decades as a professional. Today, I’m going to detail some of them.

1 A freelance editor is not required if you’re going to submit your work to be traditionally published.

There is an editorial process that occurs during publishing, and it’s not a quick skim of a document and a cursory pressing of F7 in Word. There is no etched in stone rule that says you need to get an editor before you get published. I can’t make you get an editor. But I can tell you that if you’re serious about getting your work published, then you should be serious about doing everything you can to get the MS in the best shape possible before it leaves your hands to face some kind of judgment or decision about its acceptance or rejection.

If we weren’t talking creative arts, if we were talking cars, we’d be discussing how you go show off your car, and how you’d want it polished and tuned and waxed, right? You’d want it in its best show shape. Now you could clean it yourself, wax and buff each piece with a cloth diaper or a cloth of baby eyelashes or whatever car people use, or you could spend the money and have a professional service detail it. And likely, you’d justify that expense by saying, “I’m getting the car cleaned up so that it stands a good chance at winning a prize at the car show.”

Maybe you built that car by hand, laboring on weekends or late nights. Maybe you sunk a lot of sweat equity into the process. You learned things about refitting pieces, about upgrades. You busted your ass to make your car the best it could be. This is no different than what a writer does working on that manuscript. It doesn’t matter if it’s their first or their ninth, a manuscript gets built by the author a piece at a time, and there’s sweat equity invested in the production.

Do all you can to get your MS in the best shape possible so it can be sent off with the best possible chance for a positive reception. Often that means getting an editor. You don’t need to get the car professionally detailed before the show, but going that extra step might make the difference between the blue ribbon (or whatever award you get at a car show, maybe a gold wrench) and going home watching someone else celebrate.

2 An editor’s job can be accomplished by a good friend who reads a lot.

There is more to an editor’s job than reading. Yes, reading is a part of it, but there’s constructive technique also. Techniques about language usage, about understanding story structure, about being able to look objectively at components or looking at emotional elements dispassionately. I’m sure a good reader can point out that sentences don’t sound right, or that some parts of the story fall flat, but I wouldn’t expect that reader to be able to tell you what you can do to change it for the better specifically.

Likewise, that “good friend” may not want to be as objective with you as someone you don’t know. A friend is going to want to maintain that friendship, and that decision will often prevent the objectivity a situation calls for.

Oh I can’t tell Gary that his short story sucked, because Gary brings that chili dip to poker night.”

As before, the goal is to have the best manuscript possible, Gary’s chili dip be damned. So that professional you’re bringing in, part of the expense there is a level of objectivity. The editor doesn’t know Gary’s chili dip, and doesn’t know if Gary has a tell where he always exhales before he bluffs anything higher than two pair. Gary’s non-manuscript existence doesn’t factor into whatever the editor does. The job is to produce the best manuscript, no matter how nice Gary is. That requires a level of disconnection between Gary-the-person, and Gary-the-writer.

If the issue is that Gary won’t show his MS to anyone except a friend because he doesn’t trust anyone else to see his work, then that issue is Gary’s. It’s also an issue likely not easily solved with hugs and tacos. But we’ll talk trust in a second.

3 An editor can’t be trusted to understand what the writer is trying to do. The editor is going to change the MS (presumably for the worse).

This is the part of the blogpost where I really struggled. I can take this idea in two directions. I can say on one hand that a writer has to go into that working relationship with the editor knowing that the MS on the start of work isn’t going to be the MS at the end of work. The changes might be small, just commas. The changes might be deletions of text. But change is gonna happen. That’s just the nature of development.

On the other hand, I can come at this and say that the writer-editor relationship is not fueled or aided by ego. Both the writer and editor are presumably human, and presumably fallible. Thinking the MS is so untouchable and perfect is a trap that results in little productivity and high resentment.

If a writer cannot trust that the editor is saying whatever they’re saying with the intention of getting the best work out of the writer, then the writer needs to reconsider their expectations around editing. Editing is not sugarcoating or rectal smoke blowing. If a character is weak, if a motivation is unclear, if participles dangle, and plots don’t resolve, the writer can expect to hear about it.

Would you trust the plumber to fix your leaky sink? Would you trust the bus driver to deliver your kids safely to and from where they need to be? Yeah, you maybe don’t know these people intimately, and even if you vet them, there comes this decision where you have to trust this other person to perform the task set before them. If it doesn’t work out, if the bus driver is late, if the sink still leaks, if the editor is tough to work with, make other arrangements. That’s what contracts are for.

4 An editor doesn’t care about anything other than getting paid.

I can say with 1000000000% certainty that there are some real scumbag editors out there. I can say with 1000000000% certainty that there are some real scumbag publishers out there. There are people in this world who care more about paychecks than people, and more about a list of credits than a list of experiences.

Those people are the minority. Maybe for some people they’re the majority, because some people have only been operating in the figurative waters just around the pipe where the sewage spills out, but the rest of the body of water is far less murky and far less packed with weird lifeforms best left to nightmares.

There are good editors out there. Plenty of people who really care about seeing the writer succeed. As cheerleaders, trainers, sparring partners, collaborators, sounding boards, and whatever role the editor is tasked to play, the editor has an interest that extends past the invoice.

Let’s suppose you (yeah, you) and I are working together. It’s our best mutual interest for this working relationship to be successful. If we each do our parts, you end up with a manuscript you can publish. We work together on revisions, we go back and forth to get the words into their best shape. In the end, you’re satisfied with your MS, and I’m satisfied with how I helped you. When this works out well, maybe you tell people to look me up when they need an editor, and I’ll tell people to stay on the lookout for your book. People helping people.

There are the cynics out there who say what I just described is the unrealistic pipe dream, it’s the impractical daydream of someone who has never done “serious” work and someone whose opinion can be discounted and discarded because “the right people don’t know who I am.” There are plenty of people who look at my words, my Twitter stream, this blog, and say I rub them the wrong way. That’s fine. I am not out to be the world’s best friend. I am here to be the best me I can be. And quite frankly, maybe we could spend some time collectively trying to make the world less cynical and shitty, shake up the establishment and maybe, just maybe, see more success all around.

I don’t know anybody who says, “Oh I love what I do, but that whole receiving paychecks thing really messes up my day.” Yeah, I know many people feel they deserve more pay, but I don’t know anybody who says they hate getting paid. Yes of course, people like getting paid. But that doesn’t mean the only reason people do whatever they’re doing is because there’s a paycheck waiting.

5 An editor doesn’t need a contract or need to get paid because the writer has been working on this book in their free time, and no one’s been paying them.

Yes, an actual sober human said that to my face at one of my panels at a convention some years back. And as you’d expect, the panel was about hiring freelancers and working with them. This sober human then went on to say the same thing about layout people, artists, graphic designers, and any other freelancers I had spoken about at the panel, just so no freelance stone goes unturned.

I’d like to think I laughed. I am reasonably certain I made a face and insisted this person is entitled to their opinion before extricating myself from the room. I don’t think I told this person to engage in sexual relationships with themselves or with their mothers. I’m sure I was thinking it.

When someone does a job, they deserve to be paid in a valid form of currency as would be spelled out in a contract that details the structure of whatever work needs doing. Paying with “exposure” does not pay bills. You can die from exposure.

It’s shocking to me that some distinction happens where someone wouldn’t stiff the electrician or the dog groomer but they can find some corkscrew-y rationalization for not paying the people who helped them make something creative. It can’t be the lack of tangible product, because when the electrician is done, the lights work, and when the editor is done, the manuscript is in better shape. Maybe it’s a sense of entitlement that they should be paid for writing it, that publishing is some great bleeding of money, death by a thousand expenses. Whatever it is, it’s patently stupid and asinine.

Contracts help structure the working relationship. Someone does a job, they deserve to paid for their hard work. If the writer is about to balk that no one paid them, then they need to do something to reward themselves. Go get a sundae. Go to the movies. Drink root beer and watch monster truck rallies. Do something. Hard work gets paid, period.


Originally, there was a 6th item here, about professionalism, but I thought it would be better to address that one personally before we wrap this post up.

“Professionalism” is a big subjective concept that relies on a lot of expectations and assumptions. It’s something that I spend a lot of time thinking, analyzing and worrying about. I wasn’t always concerned with how professional I was, but then again I wasn’t always aware of there being much in the world beyond myself and whatever itch I needed to scratch.

I don’t have a big fancy office. I don’t wear a tie to work. I don’t work for a big publishing house. None of those things mark me as unprofessional. Rather than let some commute or dress code or address define me as a professional, I let me work do the talking. That distinction, for me, is a huge one.

Good work, and good workers, are worth the cost. You hire me, you’re going to get someone who wants to see you succeed, but also someone who’s going to use the word “suck” in a comment about what your character is doing on page 9, because it sucks. I’m also the guy who’s going to write “Oh snap!” in a comment when your heroine starts kicking ass, because that’s awesome.

I’m not an editron-8000, some robot that just edits dispassionately.  I’m John, a guy who edits. My professionalism is defined on my own terms. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put my bathrobe back on before I have another cup of cocoa.

See you for #InboxWednesday. There’s a great question queued up.

InboxWednesday – Writer’s Market, Brands&Platform, and Twitter

Good morning everyone. Hope you’re doing well. Welcome back to #InboxWednesday, where I answer questions emailed or tweeted at me. Today, we’re doing 3 questions, all about things writers can do to help their writing.

If you’ve got a question, ask it.

John, what’s the Writer’s Market and is it a big deal? – Aimee

Aimee, this is the Writer’s Market.

2016-01-19 09.38.37

I’m not a fan of the mint green color.

It’s like a phone book for publication. In its 820 pages are listings for magazines, book publishers, literary agents, trade journals, and contests. In earlier editions they had a lovely chart of rates and prices for jobs, replaced now by articles about earning an income, writing queries, and book proposals. To be honest, I preferred the list of rates. I don’t think it’s wrong or bad to talk costs if you’re also going to talk about income opportunities. Still, it’s a useful book for when you’re looking for destinations for that manuscript.

Now, it is the Deluxe version, which does mean there’s a not-deluxe version, and this is that moment where I point out that you want to spend the dollars for the Deluxe Version. The one-year access to the online database is critical if you’re trying to get your MS out the door. Also, it’s often more accurate than the text.

It’s not that the text is completely wrong, just remember that this book was an MS itself, and that means it’s possible that since going to print some of the people and businesses listed might not be available anymore. The online database tends to be more current and more accurate. Also, it’s 2016, an online database should be standard for any resource.

The book runs about $50 on Amazon for the Deluxe, $30 for the standard. Save your pennies and go Deluxe, your MS deserves it.

Using it is super easy: You find the appropriate section of whatever info you’re looking for (let’s say you wanted to write for Montana Magazine, because you like big Buttes and you cannot lie), and read about what they accept (non-fiction, no more than a 1000 words per piece on average it seems) and how they accept it (email, after you query with a sample and an SASE). It’s worth noting these lines: Responds in 6 months to queries & Pays $.20/word.

This knowledge allows you to bang out some simple math (an 800 word essay on rocks would pay you $160) and put together a calendar (if you submit in July while on vacation, you can get a reply when you carve your Thanksgiving turkey). Knowing how much you’ll get paid and when you can communicate with people, combined with the fact that you can do this everyday with hundreds or thousands of opportunities can pack your writing schedule and strengthen your writing ability. Also, you’ll get rhinoceros quality skin from the rejections. Big wins all around.

Hi John! I’m a new author, I mean I’m trying not to call myself aspiring, and I have been reading a lot of blogs. I see a lot of people talk about brands and platforms. I don’t know what they are, but they seem important. Do I need a platform? How do I get one?  – Mary

Mary, this question has a lot of moving parts, so let’s go step by step.

A brand is an image, it’s an idea packaged and presented in a particular way or with a certain sensibility. As a writer, your voice and the work you do is your brand. The Mary brand is characterized by certain things that draw an audience to you, and no matter what story you’re telling, you’ve left specific fingerprints on it. (Maybe you love sentence fragments, or all your sidekicks have eyepatches, whatever)

Mary, brands are for cattle and jeans. You can’t boil down an author to a few regular habits or pigeonhole them due to genre and expect an accurate picture of who the author is and how their work is. This isn’t like producing the same material over and over again, so that batch 10 is just like batch 573. Writing is an art with growth inherent in it, so I want to see a change in products over time. I want characters to develop. I want plots to grow complex. I want to see writers get better at what they do.

Anything you put your name on is, to some degree, your brand. You can spend an obscene amount of time thinking about it as if your brand is under fire and in need of preservation or not. (Hint: It’s not) Do the best you can do, push yourself, stretch yourself, and let someone else ascribe a “brand” to you.

A platform is the way you broadcast yourself. Maybe that’s a website. Maybe that’s a blog. Maybe that’s social media. Maybe it’s a combo platter.

Don’t panic. Platforms are for standing on, or if we’re talking video games, jumping on while trying to avoid getting attacked by stupid digital ninjas. Giving the author one more thing to worry about, one more thing to divide their attention and increase anxiety is not conducive to making the most out of what a platform can do. You just want to write and then talk about stuff.

Yes, platforms are important. But they’re not more important than the act of writing. Loads of writers fall into that rabbit hole where they spend hours and days talking about writing, talking about marketing writing, talking about critiquing writing, and critiquing the talking about marketing of writing, that they skip the part where they should be writing.

Yes, you need to tell other people that you’ve written a thing, or that you’re writing a thing currently. You need to tell people where and how they can acquire what you’ve made if your goal is to earn income from making the thing. The platform is how you do that.

Having one is easy. Blogs are free. Social media is free. You can teach yourself to write concisely for Twitter. You can connect your blog to Google+. You can make time, like that 15 minutes while you eat that muffin and drink your coffee, to tweet about what you’re going to do today. Writing a tweet is barely a few sentences, and even if you labor over them, do you really think it will take all 15 of your allotted minutes?

You can broadcast what you’re doing while you’re still doing it. I said I was going to blog, and here I am, writing this blogpost. When I’m done, I’ll tweet again. It’s up to you to define and carry out a schedule that works for you. The platform is under your control, not the other way around.

Start small. A few tweets. A simple blog you update regularly and consistently. What do you put on it? How about regular updates as to your word count, or maybe the good news that you bought a Writer’s Market and made a list of 7 publishers you want to query before the month is over? If you’re about to ask me where you find the time, I’m going to ask you if you really need to be watching that TV show, really playing that game of solitaire and/or how seriously you’re pursuing getting your MS done and out the door. Make the time, even just a few minutes. Seriously. Yes, you can tweet just before you floss. I won’t tell.

Hey John, I’m on Twitter and have no idea where to start. What do I do?

I love Twitter. I would marry Twitter and our lives would fall into a glorious debauched decay. Yes, there’s a lot of complaining about the future of Twitter, that they’ll do away with its two principle elements (concision and chronology), and maybe that will change my mind on it later, but for now, I think the world of the microblogging format.

Treat Twitter like those telegrams you see on TV. You’re writing short, tight little ideas down and broadcasting them to people. You want to tell them that you’re working on chapter 11, you want to tell people that you’re tired of feeling you’re not good enough, you want to tell people that the secret to a really good cake is slipping some instant pudding into your batter, you’ve got 140 characters (including spaces and punctuation) to do so.

Twitter’s impact is not in its follower count (the number of people who will see what you tweet when you tweet it), but in its brevity. It forces strong and clear word choice. It forces punch. A weak ramble of a sentence, a mush of words, isn’t going to make sense to people, nor will it move them. It’ll just be another bit of palaver, in between all the other applesauce spit out into the world.

That said, it can be an open window into your world. It can invite creepy guys, harassment, anger, morons, hatred, bigotry, distraction, violence, or tedium. True, it doesn’t have the greatest methods for walling yourself off from that, but the whole Internet doesn’t have great walls from that. You have the ability though to do better than software – you can make active and deliberate choices to engage or ignore. You can protect yourself rather than cower. Or, my personal preference, you can not let that stop you, not assume that the worst of the universe is somehow waiting for you because you’re just you, and the world is not out to get you or silence you from all of time and space. It’s a tool, and it can be abused, by others and by yourself

Yes, you can totally misuse it. Tweet over and over that you’re selling something? People are going to get very tetchy and then choose to stop following you. Use a lot of automated software to bait people into weird salesy conversations and you’ll find that many people won’t respond. Tweet infrequently to solicit or sound desperate (often for sales, are you seeing a pattern here in this paragraph?) and you’ll have a hard time being a person people want to parlay with.

There’s a reason it’s called “social media.” You can use it to socialize. Communicate about not just the work. Why not? Why not tell the world that in addition to writing a great action scene today, you also have a turkey roasting in the oven?

If you’re about to say, “Who cares about that?”, I shall respond with, “Who are you to determine what someone else will care about it, and who is it hurting for you to talk about dinner and how good your house smells?”

Start your Twitter adventures by following people. Follow editors (like me, or Amanda or Jeremy), follow writers (like Chuck or Delilah or Stephen King), follow whoever you want (like him or her or this guy or grape jelly or that lady). Read what they have to say, talk to other people. Communicate. Share. Repeat this process until you’re happy with who you communicate with.

You can do this.


Looking ahead to my Friday schedule,  we’re going to be talking about promoting yourself and your work. See you then. Enjoy your Wednesday.

Happy writing.

How To Hire and Afford An Editor

Good afternoon everyone,

I usually don’t write afternoon blogposts, but this post spawned from quite a few comments, emails, and tweets, and I think it’s really important that we’re honest about this stuff.

We’re going to talk money. We’re going to talk realities about writing. We’re going to talk about seriously making a go of being a writer. Let me start off by saying that I am not a definitive expert, I’m not saying my way is the best way in all the universe, I’m just going to tell you how I work, and arm you with knowledge so you can go forward, no matter where your writing life takes you. If that’s cool with you, keep reading. If not, I’ll see you Monday where we’ll talk about … something that I’ll figure out over the weekend.

In order to have this all make sense in an orderly way, you (the reader) and I have to agree on some stuff. What we’re going to talk about will be a hypothetical situation using real-world numbers, so while I may make up things like the name of a book, or a particular schedule, I’m using my actual rates and actual planning strategy. If this paragraph sounds vague, don’t worry, this will all make sense when we get into it. So let’s agree on some things:

1. You’ve written something that needs editing. Let’s say it’s 20,000 words. The genre or title doesn’t matter right now, we can make it up later.

2. You’ve selected to work with me out of all the editors you could have chosen. This is convenient because I’m the one writing this post. It would be super weird if I started writing about someone else.

3. You’re willing and wanting and interested in moving your MS forward. This isn’t some fact-finding mission where you’re dipping your toes in the water as you dilly-dally out of fear, you’ve committed to making this happen for yourself.

All set with those three things? Then let’s get to it.

How To Hire An Editor, and What An Editor Does

Step One: Email the Editor

This is a pretty straightforward step, but it’s a big one. It’s scary to do. Maybe the person won’t answer. Maybe they will. Maybe they’ll be a dick. Maybe they’ll brush you off because you’re new to this (I’m assuming in our example you’re new to this, is that cool?)

What’s the email look like? It’s polite, first off. It mentions your name, it addresses the person by their name (Mr./Mrs./First name/whatever title they like), it describes what you’re interested in doing without sounding like you’re a four-year-old desperately in need of a cookie before dinner. When you talk about your MS, you mention the word count and maybe the title. You thank them for their time, and you leave the door open for them to reach you when it’s convenient for them. There’s no template, but those are the basics.

Then you wait. You wait for the response, and hopefully it’s a positive one that moves things forward. The response usually starts a correspondence, a few emails get tossed back and forth, and during this exchange, that’s where you figure out if you can work with the person. You get a handle on how they treat you, you get to gauge their interest. There’s always going to be some element of uncertainty, there’s always going to be some part of your brain that isn’t wholly sure, but that’s where the next step comes in.

Step Two: Get a Contract, Give Your Manuscript To Them

Here’s the big part. Here’s the nervous part. Once you start to hash out that you want to work with this person, you’ll need to figure out how much it’s going to cost you, and when you want this work done by. Yes, this costs money. No, this isn’t free. Just like calling a repairman or going to a doctor isn’t free, getting your MS professionally worked on isn’t free. This is ideally a definitive step up from the work that a beta reader or a critique group can offer, as you’ll be getting more technical and more intensive advice. We agreed already that you’re serious about doing this, and it’s really a dick move to say you’re serious, get an editor all set up to work with you, then bail on it when the talk turns to money. This is someone’s job here, this is how they pay their bills, feed themselves or their families, and keep themselves going. Just because it has to do with this thing you make in your off-hours, lunch breaks and weekends while the kids are asleep doesn’t reduce it’s importance as a product of your hard work or theirs. They’re taking this seriously, and you should too.

The contract is anywhere from a page to a few pages long (Mine’s 4, if you count the glossary on the back page), and it has some critical elements to it.

a) It has the name of the editor and the name of the writer (this is actually important)

b) It has the name of the project

c) It has the word count of the project

d) It has the amount of money to be spent on this project

e) It has either one due date or a schedule of milestones, where X-amount of progress is made by a certain time (like 5k done every week for 4 weeks)

f) It has the method of payment spelled out (Paypal, actual paper check, money in an envelope to be handed over, whatever) and how that payment will happen (one lump sum, in installments, half up front, half at the end, etc)

g) It has a ‘kill clause’ which is a set of instructions that spells out what to do if this relationship between writer and editor doesn’t work out (this is usually a statement about how much is owed based on the work already completed, or a flat fee to cover time and work done)

h) It has a section on what exactly is being done to the MS (developmental edit, copy edit, changing every character into a poodle, whatever)

i) It has a statement on how the MS will be delivered and when/how comments will be made and given (as a Word *.doc, *.docx, a cunning use of flags, etc).

j) It has the dated signatures of everyone involved

If a contract is missing any of those things, don’t sign it. Ask for them to be put in. You can do that. You can also ask for anything in the contract to be clarified. You’re the client, you can have things explained to you, that’s not unreasonable or stupid, especially when you’re new to this whole process. Ask your questions. If the person balks at you for asking, don’t sign the contract.

If you’re looking at the above breakdown and saying “John, what about rights? Who owns the MS while it’s getting worked on?” I’m going to very patiently offer you a cup of tea and ask you who scared you about rights being lost. I know we can all find horror stories about people stealing work, and it can be scary to deal with legalities when you’re just a person who wrote a thing in Starbucks and while the laundry was on its rinse cycle, but please PLEASE promise me you’re not going into your writer-editor relationship with some notion that everyone is out to get you and steal your work. The vast majority of people don’t do that. If you ever ask me for a recommendation for someone to work with, anyone I send you to will never do that. I don’t do it. It’s bad practice. It’s awful living. If you do have that experience, I’m sorry. It’s not the norm. Don’t hold everyone to the bad example.  To the technical point, the work is yours and remains yours. I just looked at the contract I use, and while there’s a section about how it’s not my fault as an editor if you get a rejection letter, there’s no section that says I assume ownership of your MS while I’m working on it. Note: I’m not a lawyer, I know some though, and this can get discussed later if the need arises.

When you sign, you’re committing. And the editor is committing. If the situation changes, say more work needs to be done, get a new contract. If you need to change dates, get a new contract. If you’re going to change the arrangement in any way, get a new contract. It shouldn’t be a problem to have a new printed. If it is, if for some reason there’s any weird hinky sense that something’s amiss, feel free to exercise that kill clause and extract yourself from the situation.

That kill clause though is a two-way street. Yes, you’re hiring a person to do work for you, but they’re not your slave or story-puppet. You as a client can get fired too. Make too many unrealistic demands, fail to live up to your end of the deal, jump on social media and start trashing the person you’ve just hired to work for you, and you can very easily find yourself holding an unfinished manuscript, an invoice, and a curt letter telling you to suck some eggs. Both you and the editor are in this together, so it does neither of you any good to treat the other poorly.

If you’re cool with all that, sign the contract, send your MS over, and commence more waiting.

Step Three: Getting feedback

I think this is the part where people start drinking. I don’t drink, but I have heard from people that when you’re waiting for and when you receive feedback is when you crack open your preferred adult beverages and start heavy pours into large glasses.

Most feedback, at least when I do it, is in Comments and Track Changes, two functions of Microsoft Word. I like Word. It’s pretty universal, and while it has some flaws and hiccups, it does a better than decent job at highlighting things. Here’s are two examples of things I edited recently:

EDITEDTEXT01

EDITINGPASS01

(no, those examples were not written by the same person, and no they’re not part of the same MS)

So, this is what the editor does. They go through the document, a line at a time, a word at a time, and flag things. They chop sentences that need help. They leave comments as to why things get chopped, or why things need to be changed. Yes, your work is going to get all marked up. No, that’s not the end of the world.

Because you still have the ability to ignore the change(s). These are suggestions. Yes, they’re influenced by the editor’s experience and knowledge. Yes, they’re informed based on the context of the MS, but they’re still optional until you click Accept Change (this is an okay but not great picture of one way to do that, I tried to get a shot of the right-click menu, but couldn’t figure it out)

ACCEPTCHANGE

You retain an enormous amount of power in this relationship because you don’t have to accept every change suggested. Because the editor isn’t always right. You may have a context where you don’t want to change a particular word or phrase, you may have a good reason to use the word you did where you did when you did, and frankly, your ability to stand up for yourself and say “I’m good with what you’re doing except that one thing over there” is critical. Personally speaking, I’d make a face at you if you blindly accepted all my suggestions without at least reading them.

This process of comments and in-line changes is called “a pass”, and usually a number of passes happen while the editor is working on the document. The number varies on a few factors like how much work the MS needs (if you bring something that’s early in development, assume it’ll take more time), the timeline, the word count, and the type of editing that’s happening (there are more factors, this isn’t a comprehensive list). Every editor is different, so mileage varies. I usually do 2 to 3 passes, looking at a different aspect each time. The first pass is almost always big ticket items like plot and description and structure, but later passes zero in on things like characters and word choice and plot pacing.

Passes happen, lines of communication stay open between editor and writer (no, neither of you get to fall off the face of the earth, sorry), until everyone involved is satisfied with the MS. Then it goes back to the writer who does with it as they planned to do. I cannot stress enough how important it is that everyone involved with an MS answer their damned email in a timely fashion. People who are unreachable are seldom worked with a second time, and since lots of editors and writers fraternize often, it’s tough to shake a label of “slow to respond” once it gets stuck on you. Answer your emails. Promptly. Fully. Honestly.

That’s the process. The whole process. Unmasked.

How To Afford An Editor

So, we’re going to say that our example MS is a 20,000 word part of a serial about a farmpunk syndicate of chicken and dairy farmers. Sure, that sounds pretty badass, let’s go with that.

You email the editor, and the math shakes out to this:

20,000 words X .03 cents per word = $600

Now you have your contract, and it says (I’m making it up here) you’ll pay $100 a week for 6 weeks. (Me personally? I usually do half up front, half at the end). How you get that $100, that’s up to you. Yes, it might mean you go a week without a rug shampoo’ed, or little Billy only gets to buy thirty things from Amazon not forty – sorry Billy.

I know $100 a week for 6 weeks is a lot of money. It’s money that comes maybe out of the fund that pays for mortgages or tuition or medical bills or rainy day savings. I know that it’s money earned through hard work, and you may have a lot of things in this world that take enough money from you already. I get it.

That doesn’t change the fact that this is what you want to do, and it’s the editor’s job to help make that happen. Because on the other side of the coin, it’s their job too, and this is how their mortgages, medical bills and whatever else get paid.

As a writer, you’re more than just the storyteller who types or writes. If you’re going an indie route of publishing, you’re also the publisher and marketer. Having your work edited is part of those publishing and production costs. It’s easier to market and encourage sales when what people are buying is less fraught with errors and is presented effectively. Editing helps turn your story into a book (margins also do, but that’s a different topic), and you want this to be a book, which is why you sought out the editor and signed that contract.

When you were working out the math on cost and payment, figure out a strategy that works for both of you. Yes, sure, you could pay a dollar a week for 600 weeks (that’s eleven and a half years, give or take), but while that’s super fair to you, how is that fair to the editor? And what does that say about how much you care about getting this work done?

Be willing to cut out that sixth latte a week. Question if you need to buy that third box of Cheez-Its, or that artisanal tissue dispenser. When you were serious about writing the MS, you made time in your schedule for it. Now that you’re serious about getting out into people’s hands, make room in your budget. It’s a sacrifice, but look at the rewards. Is the satisfaction of having a finished MS turned into a book that people can buy and say nice things about worth the spending of our example $600? That’s the choice you need to make.

Over time, I’ve stopped challenging everyone who balks at the cost of an editor. Some people just aren’t going to come around, because they’ll point to a college degree or a day job or kids or cats or a stamp collection as reasons they can’t afford an editor. Other people will just point blindly at any old reason, because some part of moving forward scares the snot out of them, and it’s easier to be upset at how expensive something is than it is to admit they might be scared about what happens next, and there’s a comfort in playing the familiar roles of “not good enough” or “victim” or “it’ll never work out for me”. I think it’s all a bucket of horsefeathers and applesauce, but people gonna people.

It’s my hope that this information helps you, it’s my hope that the 2700-something words here has de-mystified some elements of what happens post words-going-on-page. I don’t think publishing should be a scary hidden process behind curtains and in ivory towers. I think knowledge is for anyone interested and anyone who pretends like this is destroying “how things should be”  isn’t someone I want to have a root beer with. You there, reading this, you’re good enough to keep writing and keep getting closer to your dream. Whatever the hell it is. I want to see you succeed, and if I can help you get there, awesome. If I can’t, then it’s still awesome, because I bet there’s someone out there who can help.

If you have questions or comments, speak up. If you want to chat in 140-character bites at a time, find me on Twitter. For longer stuff, email me.

I’ll be back on Monday and we’ll talk … something. I don’t know yet. I’m open to suggestions.

Happy writing.