Kristen is away at a conference in San Francisco….so that means today, you get ME! And despite what the title implies, I’m not here to talk about the failed New Year’s diet (ask me if I even bothered).
No, today, you get a super special fun rant from me about food in the fantasy genre. Why? Because I can. But also, because it’s a real problem.
Not to mention that our characters are going to end up with some serious nutritional and health issues if all they ever eat are bread and cheese.
Don’t get me wrong, I love me some bread and cheese as much as the next person. But…even if the story is loosely Ye Olde Faux Medieval, there seriously has to be more than just bread and cheese in the larder.
It seems like such a small thing, doesn’t it? Of course Our Heroes™ are going to pack food for their quest or steal it along the way (or buy it...why do they never have money to buy stuff?). Bread and cheese seems simple and safe to use. Yet, these details, as seemingly throwaway as they are, define the difference between amateur hour and professionals.
Because why have bread and cheese when you could have dried figs and honey, sweet spiced mead, smoked meats with cracked pepper crusts, and hard savory biscuits that soften when used to soak up the juices of any meat or stew cooked over the campfire?
The Locavore Diet
If we are dealing with a fantasy setting that is pre-any-kind-of-industrialization (magic notwithstanding), then there are certain things we have to keep in mind.
Good world-building includes consideration of climate and geography. Do characters live in tropical mountains regions or cold mountain regions? This question naturally leads us to comparisons with more familiar, Earthly parallels. For example, tropical mountains could easily be the rain forests and mountains of Rwanda and the Congo. Cold mountain regions could be Scandinavian or maybe Inuit.
While we might not be writing an exact transposition of those cultures into our fantasy world, there are some hard facts about climate, farming, and resources that we need to understand, and real information about those regions can help us. Year-round farming may be possible in the tropics, but food spoils faster in the heat. Farming is a bigger gamble in cold climates as there is just one shot at a growing season. On the other hand, characters have a refrigerator right outside their door for nine months of the year.
Geography and seasonality also determine the nutritional profile of a character’s diet. Colder climate settings could mean increased meat and dairy, possibly with fish and root vegetables. This is a diet that also happens to suit the body’s ‘insulation’ and energy expenditure needs to survive the cold. Warmer climates provide an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, all which have high water content which help keep the body regulated and healthy.
Locals might drink well water and be okay, but Our Question Heroes From The Kingdom Next Door™ probably shouldn’t. Without indoor plumbing, sewage systems, and water filtration, I’m pretty sure that giardia would also still be a thing. And magical springs are a whole other headache. I mean, what is the bacteria in our digestive tract supposed to DO with enchantments?
Too much? TMI? Whatevs.
Ye Olde Tupperware
Going back to the whole pre-industrialization thing, let’s stop for a moment to consider food storage.
On the one hand, it’s kind of awesome to think of a world that’s by default 100% organic and 100% non-GMO (mostly because they don’t have any other choice). Also, there’s no low-fat anything unless it’s a vegetable or straight-up starvation. And there’s the eternal toss-up between dying of hypertension/heart disease because of all the salt used to preserve food or dying of some really nasty gastro-intestinal parasite (that wears a little wizarding hat because hey, magic!) because Guidwyfe Jellichoe wanted to try this new-fangled thing the traveling physick had mentioned called a ‘low-sodium diet.’
In very general terms, food preservation breaks down into a couple of processes: salting, smoking, spicing, and sun-drying. There are probably more, but let’s just roll with these for now. The mains goals of preservation are to remove moisture or change the chemical balance to slow sensitivity and decay. Each has pros and cons that are dependent (you guessed it!) climate and geography.
Salting gives us delicious things like salami and bacon, but there was a time when salt was either hard to come by or fairly expensive if you didn’t live close to the ocean. Smoking works, but it’s pretty miserable to do when you live in 100F heat with matching humidity. Sun-drying is only as good as the number of hot, sunny days that coincide with a harvest. Using spices is one of the ways people change the chemical balance of food. An example of this would be making curries – which, incidentally uses spices that only grow in those climate regions…which is kind of a neat trick on nature’s part, though I still take issue with covering 2/3 of the world in UNDRINKABLE water. LOL
If Our Heroes™ need to take food with them, how are they going to carry it? What kind of pre-industrial packaging are we going to have? Leaf-wrapped lembas? Hard, smokey cheese wrapped in linen? Wax-sealed clay jars for wine? Again, think about the impact of geography and season on the food storage and transportation options for Our Heroes™.
Have a Snickers, Cait
I know that I tend to be a little over-enthusiastic about going down research rabbit-holes. It’s the frustrated ivory tower academic in my soul. And the beautiful part about fantasy is that it really doesn’t require all that much research.
But, it DOES require the time and effort to think things through. Just because we are writing fantasy doesn’t mean we get a pass on facts, logic, and realism. If anything, it SHOULD hold us to an even higher standard of rigor in order to help the reader become fully immersed in the world and invested in the characters.
Thoughtful, unique details can make a moment come alive. Illogical or trite details can turn a reader off faster than Gollum can say, “Sssssally sssssellsss sssseashellssss.”
Just a little time spent with Dr. Google, Professor Wikipedia, and Head Librarian Google Books (all free except for some parts of Google Books) will be worth its weight in cursed dwarvish gold when it comes to creating a fantasy world that readers want to visit again and again and again…
Have a Snickers, Cait (Redux)
No matter how ranty I seem, teaching about fantasy world-building is one of my favorite things to do (no joke). And, this Friday, I’m teaching one heck of a class on it. Three hours live (plus recording) of 1,001 things you can do to make your fantasy world stand out from the crowd (something that no amount of newsletter advertising or Rafflecopters can do for you long-term…).
Taught by USA Today BSA Cait Reynolds February 22nd, 7-10 PM EST ($99)
THIS IS A 3-HOUR CLASS BECAUSE THERE IS LITERALLY SO MUCH TO COVER! (Remember, you also get a recording of this class to keep forevernevernevernever)
Come prepared to take LOTS of notes and ask lots of questions!
This class will cover a REALLY wide range of topics, including (and certainly not limited to):
WTF is etymology, and why does it matter?: What are the fundamental rules of creating names, vocabulary, and language;
This land is your land…: We will dig into geology, geography, cartography, and probably some other ‘graphy-s’, and how to use them literally in world-building;
Keeping it real: Tips and tricks for keeping your characters relatable to readers, even if they have tentacles/magical powers/chip implants;
Trope is as trope does: What elements of fantasy are ‘required’ for the genre, and how to separate those from the eye-roll-inducing tropes (I’m looking at you, servant-girl-turned-magical-warrior-princess!);
Thinking it up vs. thinking it through: Just because it seems like a cool idea to have glow-in-the-dark dragons doesn’t mean it actually is, and who knew it would come back to bite you in chapter 17, stalling out your book, and…yeah…or, how to spot ye olde speed bumps before they wreck the carriage;
DETAILS ARE FUN!: This is the motherlode of all the different nitty-gritty details that either lure the reader into the deep end of immersion or leave them cold in the kiddie pool;
We’re all hunters here, searching for the elusive, nearly mythical creature known only as the Good Beta Reader.
The feeling of finding a good beta reader is a lot like what Japanese marine researchers felt when they caught the first image of the giant squid in 2013. Read about it here because it’s just so cool. It’s a whiff of the miraculous and literally inspiring.
Yet, it took a three-man crew more than 100 missions and 400 hours crammed into a tiny submersible to capture that image. We can totally, relate, right? I mean, we writers patiently paddle through the depths of the interwebs and wade through endless writing group cafe meet-ups in order to find our very own giant squid…er…beta reader.
It would be so easy to just settle for smaller squid, a couple of octopus, or even a cuttlefish. Anyone here immediately think of the South Park ‘Human CentiPad’ episode when I said that? There are lots of people out there who seem willing to be our sounding board.
What we want with a good beta reader is a squid who will become delicious pan-seared calamari with a side of chipotle aioli—enjoyable with a bit of bite. All too often, though, we end up tangled in tentacles, with suction cups stuck to our words, and hooks buried deep in our psychological soft spots.
Well, today, I’m going to teach you how to navigate treacherous waters and avoid getting mauled by predators. How? With the Reynolds & Lamb Field Guide to the North American Beta Reader.
The Beta Critic
It is easy to identify Beta Critic tracks by the copious amounts of red ink. The Critic often camouflages itself by wearing sophisticated scarves and dark nail polish. These creatures subsist mostly on coffee, white wine, and the tears of writers.
The Critic’s mating call tends to attract newer, more idealistic writers. Mates are drawn in by warbled promises of help in improving their writing. During the gestation of the draft, the Critic stays by its mate’s side, crooning a melodic mix of condescending encouragement and passive-aggressive critique.
Critics are extremely protective of their mates during the gestation process. They will snap in warning and attack to fend off any other beta reader who wants to offer a different opinion. The Critic considers itself a solitary apex predator and expects all other writers and beta readers to agree with it.
Mates must often try several times to leave the Critic, needing to recover from the failed escape’s emotional mauling. Permanent and debilitating scarring is often prominently visible on survivors.
As writers, we needcriticism, and not just the ‘constructive’ kind. Hard criticism forces us to face and work on major flaws. It re-energizes us with a little healthy anger or challenge. Tough love is tough, but it’s the love that makes it so powerful and transformative.
The Beta Critic takes a good thing like tough love and strips it of the ‘love.’ They turn blunt honesty into blunt-force trauma in order bolster their own insecure egos by breaking down someone else’s. Even if they promise us to be better, to be kinder, we need to remember that a Beta Critic can never really change their spots.
The Beta Gusher
This friendly little fuzzy creature is easily lured out into the open with promises of being able to read stuff for free. They are known for their distinctive chirping noises and an unnatural perkiness.
One theory posits that the Beta Gusher evolved from the primordial camaraderie of the book club, developing in a petri dish of chardonnay and bad chick lit. Another school of thought believes the Gusher is a result of Amazon KDP’s tinkering with literary quality DNA.
The Gusher is highly adaptable to any genre, as well as to both in-person and online critique groups. They lure writers by emitting pheromones designed to trigger feelings of being empowered and encouraged.
Gushers are not without their defenses, should they receive actual criticism. It only takes an astounding .006 seconds for them to go from bubbly to blubbering. The Gusher’s guilt trip can induce temporary paralysis in the author. Prolonged exposure to Gusher guilt can result in extreme fatigue, depression, and social anxiety.
All fun aside, I get why we fall for Gushers. They deal praise like crack. Nothing is as addictive as validation of our dreams. And, we DO need our cheerleaders for those moments when the world gets rough with our dreams.
But, when it comes to being a critique partner, what we need most is honest feedback, kindly given. Support and critique are not mutually exclusive concepts. In the long run, a Gusher becomes a serious drain on our time, emotions, and energy.
Speaking of creatures who drain time and energy…
The Over-Committer Beta
The Beta Over-Committer is a multi-habitat creature found in all climate zones…all at the same time. Tracking the Over-Committer requires a specialized set of skills, such as the ability to smell broken promises a mile away and having the patience of a saint.
Of all the beta reader species we have examined today, it’s the Over-Committer that can actually do the most damage to authors. They are unique in their near-viral ability to take over its host critique partner.
Like insects flashing their eyespots to deceive predators, the Over-Committer flashes moments of thoughtful feedback and productivity to attract their prey. Authors are lured by the promise of useful critique and a partner with enough energy to power a small café of aspiring writers.
However, once the writer has taken the bait of a partnership, the Over-Committer attacks. Armed with incisors of sincerity, they go for the jugular, injecting their victim with multiple manuscripts to review. Afterwards, they administer small doses of gratitude as boosters to keep the prey docile and compliant.
Personally, I’ve been a victim of the Over-Committer many times in my life. I’ve also over-promised and under-delivered before, but the difference is that I didn’t defend myself by creating a cult of personality to justify or excuse my failures. Over-Committers combine the worst of the Critic and the Gusher, leaving us diminished, depressed, disenfranchised.
And the hardest part is that we never see it coming.
Good beta readers both give and take in equal measure. They put aside their ego and needs to invest in our work, and they expect the same from us. That kind of balance requires trust, compassion, commitment, and expertise…
Which means that good beta readers are basically unicorns.
The Unicorn Beta
So…does that mean we give up trying to find a good beta reader?
They are out there, and together, we can not only find them, but we can become better beta readers ourselves. To that end, I’m teaching a class this Friday where I’ll be handing out maps, equipment checklists, and freeze-dried wisdom to help you be successful in your hunt for the ever elusive Good Beta Reader.
Go Fish: Finding the Right Beta Readers
Instructor: Cait Reynolds Price: $55.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Friday, August 24, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Whoever said that writing a book is a solitary job is an idiot.
It takes a village (or at the very least a Facebook group, some friends, and possibly a bottle of wine) to write a book. As writers, we need other writers…and non-writers. But, how do we find the right mix of people to support us? What do we do when they don’t? How do we communicate what we need effectively to beta readers and crit partners? And what the heck is an alpha reader?
What’s more, how do we take the feedback from beta readers and use it correctly? It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of spinning our wheels on endless edits of the draft of the first draft, to react big and badly to criticism, or to drown in the obligations of reciprocating beta reading for our seventeen new best friends and their manuscripts.
Fear not! This class is going to show you how to hunt down beta readers like big game, befriend them in a way that puts Dale Carnegie to shame, and create long-lasting, mutually-beneficial beta and crit partnerships that are so Hufflepuff/Gryffindor, it makes my Slytherin soul cringe.
This class will cover:
Wherefore art thou?: Where to find beta readers;
Alpha betas, beta betas, omega betas: The different types of beta readers, and why we need them;
Fish or cut beta: What to do when a beta reader relationship isn’t working – fix, fight, or flight?
I’m looking at the beta reader in the mirror: Are you the best beta reader you can be, and why improving your own skills will make you a better writer;
Gospel vs. grain of salt: How to balance thoughtful consideration of critique with Pavlovian instant tweaking, and why beta readers should never be the one holding the map on the hike.
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
All authors need a brand, so this class teaches how to locate and cultivate your audience into passionate fans who BUY YOUR BOOKS!
How can you grow your platform and turn your name alone into a bankable asset? Not as hard as you might have been led to believe.
You DO NOT need to be a tech guru/mega-high-pressure-sales person to excel at this. In fact, best you aren’t.
Yet, the reality is that in the digital age of commerce, consumers rely on brands more than ever in human history. They’re overwhelmed and we can help them out….by finding US.
Consumers (which is code for readers) buy from who they know, like and trust. In a sea of infinite choices a powerful NAME is a tremendous asset.
Can you say “James Patterson”?
The single largest challenge all writers face in the digital age is discoverability and connecting with our audience is a challenge but nothing we can’t handle.
This class will address:
What is a brand? How to make one uniquely your own.
How to BE YOU! You’re a writer, not an insurance salesman!
Harness your imagination & creativity for better results (No one likes SPAM, so don’t serve it!).
How to use this information to locate, engage and cultivate an audience.
Myths about exposure.
Common scams that will wreck your brand and earning ability.
Why most promotion is a waste of money.
A list of expensive and not-so-bright ideas for reaching readers.
Knowing when and HOW to promote.
Overall this class is about working smarter not harder. This class is to teach you to think strategically so all energy is focused. Sure, we have to hustle, but why not hustle and there be an AUTHENTIC PAYDAY for all that hard work?
GOLD LEVEL AVAILABLE: This is you working with me (Kristen Lamb) for 90 minutes building, defining, refining your brand and putting together a PLAN! Time is money and professional consulting saves BOTH.
****A FREE recording is included with purchase of this class.
More Than Gore: How to Write Horror
Instructor: Kristen Lamb Price: $40.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: THURSDAY, August 30th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST
Humans have always been fascinated with what scares them which is why horror fiction is a staple genre. It is also, quite possibly, the most challenging genre to write. Giant bugs and chainsaws just don’t get the screams they used to.
Blood, guts, gore and shock factor are low-hanging fruit (and always have been) and worse than that? They simply don’t have the impact they used to.
Audiences are too desensitized. This means we need to work harder to dig in and poke at what REALLY frightens/disturbs people.
Though this genre is extremely challenging to write well, there is an upside. The horror genre lends itself well to the short form (novellas and short stories).
Believe it or not, some of our staple horror movies–and the BEST horror movies—were actually adaptations of short stories and novellas (1408 by Stephen King and Hellbound Heart by Clive Barkerbeing two examples).
Meaning, if you want to go Hollywood? Hollywood loooooves horror.
In this class we will cover:
The science behind fear and why people crave it. Why fear is even healthy!
Psychology of fear, thus how to locate the pain points.
Why audiences are craving MORE horror (Yes, this actually does go in cycles).
The different types of horror fiction.
The importance of character in horror.
How horror can actually resonate much like literary fiction.
How to generate page-turning tension that will leave readers with a story they can’t stop thinking about…and that might even give them nightmares.
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
Keywordpalooza: Tune in, mellow out, and learn to love keywords for Amazon
Instructor: Cait Reynolds Price: $55.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Friday, September 7, 2018. 7:00—9:00 p.m. EST
It’s one of the universe’s great mysteries… the same word can both boost and drown your book in a category (mind BLOWN, man!).
Keywords also seem to evolve every five minutes…or are we the one evolving, like a butterfly having a dream of SEO (trippy, dude!)? Like gravity and Jane Fonda’s hair in ‘Barbarella,’ the popular rules for using keywords value over-inflation and the slavish following of fads.
But, like Talbot’s tweed and mother’s pearls, certain marketing strategies and techniques are enduring classics that stand the test of time. They’re not flashy like bellbottoms, nor do they yield dramatic overnight results like ironing your hair. Yet, ignore trends, and we risk getting left behind…kind of like buying electric typewriter ribbon because that whole ‘computer word processing’ thing will never take off.
This class won’t just help you turn on, tune in, and drop out of the keyword rat race. We’ll also cover:
Fully body contact SEO: when and where to use keywords, and what publishers know that you don’t;
Fantastic keywords and where to find them: which websites, lists, search engines, and Magic 8 Balls yield the best keyword research results;
Mix and match like a Parisienne: no, seriously, how to mix consistent ‘classic’ keywords with the latest trends like a Frenchwoman wears a crisp white shirt with this season’s Hermes scarf;
Same bat genre, same bat book, different bat keywords?: learn the differences between keywords for ebooks, print, and audio;
And so much more!
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction
Instructor: Cait Reynolds Price: $55.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST
Speculative fiction may be a way of seeing the world ‘through a glass darkly,’ but it can also be one of the clearest, most pointed, and even most disturbing ways of seeing the truth about ourselves and our society.
It’s not just the weird stuff that makes the settings of speculative fiction so unnerving. It’s the way ‘Normal’ casually hangs out at the corner of ‘Weird’ and ‘Familiar.’
But it’s trickier than it seems to get readers to this intersection without letting them get bogged down in the ‘Swamp of Useless Detail’ or running them into the patch of ‘Here be Hippogriffs’ (when the story is clearly about zombies). How do we create a world that is easy to slip into, absorbingly immersive, yet not distracting from the character arcs and plots?
This class will cover:
Through the looking glass darkly: How to take a theme/issue/message and create a world that drives it home to the reader.
Ray guns and data chips: The art of showing vs. telling in world-building.
Fat mirror vs. skinny mirror: What is scarce in the world? Valuable? Forbidden? Illegal? What do people want vs. what they have vs. what they need?
Drawing a line in the sand: What are the laws, taboos, limits of this world? What is unacceptable to you/the reader/the character? How are they the same or different, and why it matters.
Is Soylent Green gluten-free and other vital questions: All the questions you need to ask about your world, but didn’t know…and how to keep track of all the answers.
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction
Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb Price: $55.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST
It’s a time-honored tradition in literature to take an ordinary person out of his or her normal life and throw them into a whirlwind of extraordinary circumstances (zombies/tyrants/elves/mean girls optional). After all, upsetting the Corellian apple cart is what great storytellers do best.
It’s also that very same ordinariness and normalcy that first gets the reader to identify then empathize with the characters and stick with them (and the book) through to the end.
But, what do we do when our ‘ordinary’ protagonist lives with a chip implant and barcode tattoo, and our antagonist happens to be a horde of flesh-eating aliens…or a quasi-fascist regime bent on enforcing social order, scientific progress above ethics, and strict backyard composting regulations (those MONSTERS!)?
How the heck is the reader supposed to identify with that? I mean, seriously. Regulating backyard composting? It would never happen in a free society.
This leaves us with two challenges in creating characters for speculative fiction: 1. How to use the speculative world-building to shape the backgrounds, histories, and personalities of characters, and 2. How to balance the speculative and the relatable to create powerful, complex character arcs.
This class will cover:
Resistance is futile: What does normal look like for the characters? What’s different or strange, and how to get readers to accept that retinal scans and Soylent Green are just par for the course.
These aren’t the droids you’re looking for: What are the discordant elements around the characters? What are their opinions about it? What are the accepted consequences or outcomes?
You gonna eat that?: Whether it’s running from brain-eating zombies or fighting over dehydrated space rations, what is important both physically and emotionally to the character? What is in short supply or forbidden?
We’re all human here (even the ones over there with tentacles): The basic principles and techniques of creating psychological touchpoints readers can identify with.
Digging out the implant with a grapefruit spoon: In a speculative world, what are the stakes for the character? The breaking point? The turning point?
And so much more!!!
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction
Instructor: Kristen Lamb Price: $55.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST
Speculative fiction is an umbrella term used to describe narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes but it not necessarily limited to fantasy, science fiction, horror, utopian, dystopian, alternate history, apocalyptic fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction.
Basically, all the weird stuff.
Gizmos, gadgets, magic, chainsaws, demons, fantastical worlds and creatures are not enough and never have been. Whether our story is set on Planet X, in the sixth dimension of hell, on a parallel world, or on Earth after Amazon Prime gained sentience and enslaved us all, we still must have a core human story that is compelling and relatable.
In this class we will cover:
Discovering the core human story problem.
How to plot these unique genres.
Ways to create dimensional and compelling characters.
How to harness the power of fear and use psychology to add depth and layers to our story.
How to use world-building to enhance the story, not distract from it.
***A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle
Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!) Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.
Kristen has written over twelve hundred blogs and her site was recognized by Writer’s Digest Magazineas one of the Top 101 Websites for Writers. Her branding methods are responsible for selling millions of books and used by authors of every level, from emerging writers to mega authors.
Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.
Harsh, I know. Alas, sometimes tough love is necessary for the greater good. Cait Reynolds here today, and what I’m about to reveal is the secret heart’s cry of pretty much every freelance editor (at least the ones that don’t just run manuscripts through Grammarly).
Having worked as a freelance editor for many years, I’ve seen it all from the articulate and amazing, to the works of pure WTH?
I’ve also been given ARCs of books that are ‘professionally edited,’ but are appallingly full of typos, grammatical errors, and trite characters and plots.
I’m not necessarily blaming the editors in these cases. I get it. Sometimes, a work is simply so awful that we would have to completely rewrite it just to get it into passable shape. And, for a fraction of a penny per word, it isn’t worth it.
While there are definitely things editors can do to start helping to correct and cure this epidemic of literary mediocrity, there are things that writers need to do as well. That’s what I’m going to focus on today.
An editor hates…
1. When writers think they don’t have to do at least one or two rounds of their own editing before sending us a manuscript.
I’m not just talking about proofreading for commas (though, that’s another thing coming up). Everyone is in such a rush these days to get their work up on Amazon as fast as they can. So many authors finish up a “manuscript,” hit save, and then email it to their editor without a second thought….or a second look.
Let me throw out this hypothetical situation. Say we were sending this manuscript to an editor at Harper Collins or Penguin. Would we hit save and then send it off without combing through every line?
Or, would we let the manuscript sit for a week or two, giving our brain time and distance so we can go back at it with fresh eyes? Would we read through it critically, looking for (and correcting!) everything from typos and inconsistencies to doughy dialogue and plot holes? Would we repeat this process at least once if not twice more?
We probably would because we know the editor is probably hard-to-please with extremely high expectations about the degree of polish in any work they receive.
So why is sending a manuscript to a freelance editor any different? It shouldn’t be.
Freelance editors aren’t entirely innocent in this, either. We take on work instead of asking for a sample to see what the manuscript is like and then refusing to work on it until the author has gone back and cleaned it up. But, Amazon KDP has both exacerbated and preyed on authors’ fear of rejection to create a murky industry that cycles off of accepting mediocrity as a norm.
2. When authors shop around for the cheapest editing services instead of the best editing services.
Editing is one of those things in life where we really do get what we pay for.
Professional freelance editors with experience and training beyond “I love reading,” and “I’m a writer, too,” are pretty rare commodities these days. If we are lucky enough to be taken on by one of these editorial unicorns, we should expect to pay the going rate for unicorns.
Many authors don’t want to go that route because it would mean having to save up money and probably publish fewer books. I don’t think that’s a bad thing because not every idea will make a good book.
Also, like cheese, wine, and wisdom, good ideas and stories need time to mature. We need time to noodle and daydream, to experience those moments of sudden inspiration while doing the dishes or walking the dog.
Instead, far too many authors slap down 60,000 words for whatever idea pops into their heads and then rush on to the next idea. Because if we’re not putting out three books a month, we’re gonna get tossed off the KDP Hamster Wheel of Death.
Producing books in volume means paying for production with an eye to getting volume-discounted services.
The average going rate for editors who provide services to these authors is about $240 for two rounds of editing on a 60,000-word manuscript.
Let’s say that an average editing effort takes 20 hours. That’s $12/hr (before self-employment taxes). It’s only our aversion to fryolators that keeps us from going to work at McDonald’s.
I’m not even going to talk about how authors will pay $500-$800 for a custom cover design but want that $200 editing job to cover concept editing, line editing, and proofreading. It’s enough to turn an editor into a jumper. Or cover designer because screw this $h!t.
An editor gets stabby when…
3. All an author does is accept track changes and sends the manuscript back for round two.
Yes, I have received manuscripts back like this. It’s like the author just ignored all conceptual, content, and craft comments I painstakingly made. This is frustrating because it makes editing incredibly tedious. More than that, it’s disheartening.
When a writer ignores editorial guidance, he or she is also turning down the opportunity to become better at the craft of writing. A good editor doesn’t just catch typos and minor inconsistencies. A skilled editor can identify a writer’s strengths and weaknesses and teach the writer to enhance the first and correct the second.
I’m not sure why writers are so often dismissive of editorial suggestions. Is it because they are in such a rush to get the book out (I see you, KDP Hamster Wheel of Death) that they simply don’t have the time to do a proper editing job?
Or, could it be that they don’t want to take on the daunting task of tearing apart a completed manuscript and painstakingly reworking and rewriting it? Maybe it’s because they’re afraid that trying to improve their writing would imply they’re not that good to start with and probably would never be able to get a traditional publishing contract.
Ignoring editorial guidance is also disrespectful. Let’s go back to that Harper Collins example. How inclined would we be to ignore an editor from Harper Collins who returned our manuscript with suggestions for not only reworking a good third of the book to tighten the plot, but also for learning to be more succinct yet vivid with our descriptions (meaning we need to go page-by-page on our own and make changes)?
So, why ignore guidance and suggestions just because an editor is freelance?
4. There are stupid grammar and usage mistakes in a manuscript.
Seriously. While I get that there are some fine points with grammar that we all fumble with from time-to-time, there is absolutely NO excuse for using the wrong word or using a word incorrectly.
Words are a writer’s business, like medicine is a doctor’s business. How much would we trust a doctor who glanced at a fractured tibia and said, “Uh, seems like you broke your leg thingy.”
How about a list of cringe-inducing usage mistakes I see every single day in manuscripts and self-published books?
Lossed (not even a word)/lost
Are some of these typos or bleary brain slip-ups? Maybe, but frankly, these should be caught and corrected long before an editor ever sees the manuscript. However, when the wrong word is used consistently, that tells me the writer doesn’t actually know the meaning.
Even worse, when I see incorrect usage that has made it into the final book, I’m ninety-nine percent sure the editor doesn’t know what he or she is doing…or committed seppuku halfway through the editing process.
In terms of grammar, I get that we all have different levels of training. However, just like we don’t want a broken-leg-thingy doctor, I don’t want to see writers who don’t know and don’t bother to learn the most basic rules of language.
5. When we can tell all a writer really wants is the look-at-me-I-published-a-book participation trophy.
The National Association of Recovering Freelancers* put out a study that said four out of five freelance editors suffer a nervous breakdown due to the near-lethal combination of shoddy writing, shoddier story conceptualization and development, and repeated exposure to bad grammar.
*I totally made up the National Association of Recovering Freelancers, but now that I think of it, I really like the acronym, N.A.R.F. Very ‘Pinky and the Brain.’
What drives freelance editors to give it all up? Why do they consider it more productive to search Pinterest compulsively for DIY seashell crafting than to edit a manuscript?
Part of it is the money. It’s also the soul-dulling tedium of slogging through clunky prose, bad grammar, and tired tropes (at $0.004 to $0.006 per word). Most of all, it’s nihilistic realization that so many writers care more about seeing their name on Amazon than whether their readers are getting the best possible story they could write.
Without the Amazon KDP platform, almost none of these writers would ever stand a chance with literary agents and traditional publishers. While the pre-KDP era was far from perfect, repeated rejection had one MAJOR benefit: either the writing got better, or it was never inflicted on the unsuspecting public.
It was the publishing industry’s equivalent of telling the broken-leg-thingy doctor to either go back to school or consider a different career like professional Zamboni driving.
See? Not all gatekeeping is a bad thing. But, freelance editors now have all the work and none of the power, and the reading public is the worse for it.
Harsh but hopeful?
The fact that you are here and reading this blog gives me hope. It means you actually care about becoming a better storyteller and craftsman. It isn’t that freelance editors want to see perfection right off the bat. We merely long to see progress.
Freelance editors do this because we love the written word. We are unflaggingly idealistic, optimistic, and altruistic…until we’re not.
If you or someone you love is a freelance editor who is showing signs of stress (common signs and symptoms include wild-eyed staring at the screen, increased consumption of alcohol/caffeine, and muttering, “Alas, poor literature, we hardly knew ye!”), N.A.R.F. recommends the following treatment options:
Vitamin D. Take your freelance editor outside and reassure them that the light will not actually burn;
Laugh therapy. Expose your freelance editor to a minimum of three minutes of cat videos twice a day;
Calm panic attacks. Repeating “All is right with Strunk and White,” in a low, soothing voice will help ease anxiety;
Homeopathic literature. Provide your freelance editor with Pulitzer Prize- or Mann Booker Prize-winning books. A selection of classic literature will also work in an emergency;
Career development. Gently suggest that your freelance editor consider a different career…
Perhaps something in cover design?
I love hearing from you!
What do you WIN? For the month of JUNE, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Remember Moonlighting? Dave and Maddie were the hottest thing ever…and then they kissed…and it was still kinda hot…and then they really got together and settled down to blissful domesticated bickering. And…we all stopped watching.
Because it was boring.
Remember the X-Files? The lucullan feast of smoldering restraint that was Mulder and Scully? Chris Carter refused to give the fans what they wanted with a kiss at the series end, and while fans gnashed their teeth, it was a kind of pro forma gnashing because we were still interested and could still dream about what might happen.
While the episode-based storytelling of television allows romance to be the B-plot (and only when it feels like it), novels are different. Whether we are writing squeaky clean romance or too-much-wasabi-level-hot erotica, we are always dealing with the same basic principle of THE TEASE.
And for all that romance gets a bad rap and is scorned as being ‘easy’ to write, sustaining the delicious, rippling tension and fizzing chemistry between characters is one of the hardest techniques to master. This class can help you (literally) keep the romance alive well past the 80,000-word mark and beyond!
Topics covered in this class include:
‘So, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want’: recognizing what the reader wants, what the reader really wants but doesn’t know, and what the reader needs;
How to Flirt with the Reader: giving an inch but taking a mile when it comes to sweet/romantic/sexy moments;
Clean and Mean: putting the spark in sweet romance and fanning the flame without risking the brimstone;
Down and Dirty: putting the emotion in erotica so every encounter leaves the reader panting for more…for more than one reason;
The Speed Dating Trap: how to balance interest, interaction, and attraction without falling for the trap of insta-love (just add fate/pheromones/booze);
Making it Last: how to chart a course for romance and pace it so it lasts…all book long…
There’s something dashingly defiant and alluring about a proper young lady who throws caution (and often her petticoats) to the wind and picks up a sword to fight for what she believes in.
Whether it’s Eowyn from Lord of the Rings or Elizabeth (Badass) Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, we all love that moment when a woman rises up to prove she’s more than society ever expected her to be.
Yet the market today is flooded with fantasy and historical that carry more trope baggage than Marie Antoinette for a long weekend at the Petit Trianon (sheep not included).
In fantasy, there are girls raised in servitude who suddenly discover their magical powers and royal heritage and must (really quickly) learn to wield swords and spells in order to save the kingdom.
Historical often isn’t much better, taking naive nineteen year-olds and turning them into near-legendary brigands, highwaymen, and pirates within the space of a few months.
Lack of believability, lack of character depth and arc, and lack of world-building/historical knowledge are the three major pitfalls when creating Ye Olde Action Heroine.
Luckily, this class will give writers a map with all literary here-be-hippogriffs clearly marked. Whether your gal is besieged by dragons, in a castle under siege, or in a castle under siege by dragons, this class can help!
This class will cover:
En Garde! Choosing her weapons wisely;
Ye Olde Fight Club: getting real about time & training;
Why, How, and When: how to realistically get her on the path from baking to badassery;
Hard Knocks: how to use failure and lack of skill mastery to create compelling character arcs;
The Joan of Arc trap: how to avoid creating miracles and martyrs (unless you really mean it);
The Pirate Bride: defining femininity in fantasy and historical in order ‘rebel’ against it;
Consequences: what are the short- and long-term consequences of flouting convention?
World Building & Re-Building: getting fantasy and historical settings right for your characters;
Female characters have evolved from ‘damsel in distress’ to the ‘hardcore badass.’ Problem is, fictional females escaped one boring mold only to end up in another even MORE boring mold.
But with lipgloss AND karate!
Strong female characters fascinate audiences on the page and on the screen. From Atomic Blonde to Wonder Woman, Special Agent Scully to Dr. Laura Isles, women can exude power and danger in a variety of ways.
Sadly, the badass female has devolved into a tired trope with the depth of a puddle.
This class is to challenge the concept of the dangerous woman as protagonist and antagonist. Creating a powerful woman involves more than handing her weapons, a black belt, and a terminal case of RBF (Resting B$#@% Face).
Expanding ‘who’ the dangerous woman IS;
Still waters run DEEP;
The ‘Tomb Raider’ effect;
Combat, weapons, tactics;
Expanding her ‘arsenal’;
Generating authentic dramatic action/tension;
Making the dangerous dame ‘likable’;
As an author, competitive shooter, and former combatives instructor, there are few characters I LOVE more than a kickass female action hero. Conversely, fewer things vex me more than the tired cookie-cutter female action hero trope. Women can be powerful in a myriad of ways, beyond hand-to-hand combat and shooting everyone in the FACE.
This said, while we’ll explore a wide variety of powerful women, if you long to write that female action hero, this class will (hopefully) make sure you do her justice.
Editing is essential for crafting a superlative story. We clip away the excess, delete the superfluous and prune away the detritus to reveal the art. Yet, editing is something we’re wise to handle with care.
While lack of ANY editing is a major problem today, editing too much, too soon is just as big of a problem. Perhaps an even a bigger one.
For clarity, not all ‘editing’ is the same.
Today, we aren’t discussing proofreading and line-edit. Correcting punctuation, spelling, and grammar is perfectly fine. Moving some commas around is unlikely to endanger story integrity. We’re addressing the perils of premature contentedit/developmental edit.
If we think about this for a moment, what I’m saying should make sense. If a work is only partially finished, there’s no way we can truly know what to cut and what to keep. We don’t yet have enough content/context necessary for clarity.
Editing too early is detrimental in a variety of ways.
Early Editing Uproots Subconscious Seeds
Our subconscious mind is an amazing machine. Stephen King referred to the subconscious as ‘the boys in the basement.’ The prudent author allows those ‘boys in the basement’ to do their thing.
The best way to help? Stop interfering. The subconscious mind can see the big picture in ways our conscious mind cannot.
Unlike our conscious mind, the subconscious is always working. Busy, busy, busy. It’s fitting all the pieces together in ways we’d have a tough time consciously doing.
King has his analogy, and I have mine. I think in terms of planting and cultivating a garden.
We have a story idea (overall image of the ‘garden’ we want). Then we might write out a log-line, major plot points or detailed outline (a plan). Overall, we’re at least generally aware of the story we want to create.
As we write, our subconscious mind is planting seeds that, when viewed in a microcosm of one or three chapters, will frequently seem to make no sense. The idea needs time to put down roots and grow large enough for the conscious mind to accurately discern whether it’s something to keep or something to cull.
Also a garden generally is not a singular plant. A garden is comprised of many plants of various types, colors, heights, widths, etc. Until our garden reaches a point where we can get a view of the creation as a whole we’re wasting time. Pruning, moving, replacing is wasted time and energy because we’re working blind.
Maybe that hyacinth needs to be moved because it’s too tall OR maybe we need to chill out and wait for the peonies planted nearby to come in.
Once all we’ve planted grows and blooms, THEN we have a way better idea of what plant needs to be moved, which should be filled in more (add in more coleus), and what’s a WEED that needs to GO.
Story as a Garden
I love to garden. In the fall, I decided to start over after a blight ravaged everything I’d cultivated for six years. I removed all the plants, and prepped for spring. After widening the stones (since I wanted a larger garden) I filled the area with at least a couple thousand pounds of clean soil topped with mulch.
Since I had yet to plant anything intentionally, anything that popped up over fall and winter clearly was a weed.
This all changed once I began planting. I had an idea of what I wanted: a beautiful garden bursting with blooms known to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
Once I had the idea, I planted the bulbs and spread the seeds. Yet, if I ever hope to have my dream garden, it’s critical for me to resist the impulse to pull anything green and sprouting because it ‘might’ be a weed.
Until whatever seedling poking through the mulch grows to a certain point, I have no way to discern flower from weed.
Same with story. We don’t realize that a possibly mind-blowing idea is trying to germinate and take root in the fertile soil of our overall idea.
By editing too early, we can possibly uproot some mind-blowing twist or turn. We might remove the wrong character or delete a scene that should have stayed.
Y’all might find this hard to believe, but it actually is possible to edit all the life/magic out of a story.
Early Editing Feeds Fear
All writers experience fear. Many of us suffer from Imposter Syndrome. We’re prone to believe unless we are a New York Times best-selling author we are a fraud. If we don’t have twenty books under our belt or an HBO mini-series based off our stories, we aren’t real authors.
The problem is that we’ll never have ANY of this if we consistently fail to finish. Perfect is the enemy of the finished. No half-finished novel has ever become a runaway success.
A story doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’ to be a hit. In fact, plenty of decent and even some outright dreadful novels have skyrocketed to the top of the charts.
Stories (like all art) are subjective. It’s impossible to craft a story everyone will love. There are way more than fifty shades of reader preferences.
Fear can paralyze productivity and halt professional growth. You know what? Maybe our novel is awful, but that isn’t necessarily because we lack talent.
We might simply be NEW. How many of you can pick up an unfamiliar instrument and are immediately ready to play on stage for money?
Storytelling is an artisan skill that takes years of training and practice. We get better by doing, by failing, then understanding what went wrong where and why. Then, armed with this new insight we write another story, and a better story.
Editing is a common coping mechanism used to allay anxiety. Maybe we fear we really aren’t any good. We really are talentless hacks. Our book is terrible. Why are we even doing this? A brain-damaged hamster has more talent. On and on.
Thing is, perhaps all of this is true. We won’t know until we submit a finished product for peer review (and even then nothing is set in stone).
Yet, if we keep editing and reworking, this buys us time. We want to know if our writing is any good, but also can’t bear to think it might be truly awful. So long as we remain in literary limbo, we can hold onto our illusions.
My book is as good as (insert mega author), even better! I just have to tweak a few scenes before querying…
I want all of you who’ve even started writing a novel to embrace what a HUGE step that is. The world is brimming with people who spout nonsense like, ‘Yeah I always wanted to write a book, except I never could find the time.’
In their minds the ONLY reason they aren’t the next George R.R. Martin is a lack of time-management skills. We all know this is bunk. And yet? We have to be really careful we aren’t doing the same thing.
Getting past the hard part—starting—is a fantastic step. Now finish. Pros don’t find time, we make time.
Early Editing KILLS Momentum
If we continue to go back changing things chapter by chapter, changing, changing, changing, either due to critique group feedback or our own self-edit, what happens is that we KILL our forward momentum with a big ol’ red-penning, back-spacing machete.
We can prune or progress.
Do that long enough, and it becomes hard not to be discouraged and ultimately give up. If you have been reworking the first act of your book for months, it can very easily end up in the drawer with all the other unfinished works.
Beginnings are not something I recommend spending too much time ‘perfecting.’ The big reason is that very often beginnings will change. Once we write the entire story and actually possess the BIG PICTURE, only then can we judge the merit of any opening.
We may have started too soon, too late, with the wrong hook, etc. Yet, if we spend weeks or months futzing with the opening, we get far too attached.
This means it’s all the harder to let it go because it’s a Little Darling. I’ve seen writers crater excellent plots because they refused to part with the opening they love. They would rather retrofit the rest of the novel than cut or change the beginning.
Great, now we have a super pretty opening…but the rest of the story is ‘meh’ because it’s all been redneck engineered to serve the first chapter(s) instead of the overall story.
An Editing Process I Recommend
There is no ‘right’ way when it comes to process. All I can do is possibly share one to try. If you have a way that works? Fabulous. But, if you have a hard-drive bursting with unfinished stories, maybe try something new.
When I write a book (fiction or non-fiction) I leave any kind of content edit for after I’ve finished the entire first draft. FYI: Any time I ignore my own advice and don’t do this? It’s a disaster.
Now, is it okay to reread what we’ve written the previous day (session) in order to get grounded? Absolutely! It’s also perfectly fine to correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors.
But, if the correction has anything to do with the STORY (narrative, dialogue, setting, etc.), instead of deleting and/or ‘fixing,’ try this. Make notes of what places you believe at the time should be fixed, deleted, changed or even expounded.
NO changing or deleting. Period. Feel free to highlight and…
Make Notes then Move ON
My advice is—instead of changing/correcting, etc.—to make a note that you believe something should be taken out/added/changed at a later time, but leave it be. I also recommend making notes in color. Red, purple, blue.
This technique is valuable in other ways. For instance, it helps maintain momentum when we hit places in the WIP where we need to fact check or research. I’ve been coauthoring a Western and am new to writing historical.
Trust me, it’s easy to lose a whole day on the Internet researching. Instead of stopping, I might write the scene with the people and in another color, make a note, ‘Research first class trains in 1870s.’
This allows me to keep writing instead of wandering off and making myself an expert in 19th century American rail travel.
Another way this method helps is if you’re writing and find yourself STUCK. If you have a log-line and a solid plot idea that’s fantastic. Yet, there will be times when we can’t seem to fit the pieces together…so skip ahead.
When I hit a wall, I might write ‘AND THEN ROMI DOES SOMETHING COOL AND FINDS A CLUE’ and pick up at the next logical place. In the meantime, my subconscious will be working on my problem even while I sleep.
Often the ‘answers’ my subconscious comes up with are WAY better than anything I could have planned. This also makes for some psychedelic dreams 😉 .
This approach also keeps me from fixating and giving my brain vapor lock trying to figure it out. The longer we pause and stay in one place the harder it will be to finish. I am not judging. Literally one finger pointed at y’all and three at me.
In the End
Don’t look back, or you’ll turn into a pillar or unfinished novels 😛 . Once you’ve made it through the first draft…THEN go make the core changes to your story if/as needed.
You may be surprised.
Something you believed HAD to be changed six weeks previously might actually have morphed into the coolest part of your story. Or maybe it was perfectly fine and can be left alone. When you go back to those notes, odds are you’ll feel differently about what needs changing and even why and HOW it needs changing 😉 .
What Are Your Thoughts?
Are you addicted to over-editing? Do you keep reworking and reworking and seem to always get stuck? Are you a perfectionist too? Afraid of failure? Or maybe afraid of success? Me? Yes to all of the above. I am a work in progress, too.
Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve….
For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my ON DEMAND Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .
And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get both Plot Boss and Art of Character in the Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND). Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN!
Also, REMEMBER my Bullies and Baddies: Understanding the Antagonist is THIS WEEK and this class will help you plot faster and tighter than ever. Join me March 29th (7-9 EST). Recordings are always included FREE if you can’t make it and also for you to be able to review.
I love hearing from you!
And am not above bribery!
What do you WIN? For the month of March, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
What is a brand? A platform? Why do we need one? How do we get one? Better still how can we create a brand with the power of driving book sales and still have time left to do THE most important part of our job? Writing more books.
This book demystifies branding and social media and harnesses the same passion and imagination we authors use to write books, then uses that to locate and cultivate a devoted fan base. The methods taught in this book can weather any technological upheaval, and is virtually fad-proof. The new cool social site might change, but your platform will remain.