Monday, June 27, 2011

Writing is to Pitching as Diving is to... Dancing?

Writing is like scuba diving. The writer floats, cocooned and alone, exploring a foreign world. Danger lurks if one doesn't plan well, but myriad treasures await discovery. It's quiet. Peaceful. An intensely personal experience.

Sometimes the writing experience is a virtual treasure trove of brilliance:
Picture perfect photo by Clarita from
Sometimes more craft than creativity is required for survival:

Thanks to heirbornstud for this photo from
It's true, that not all underwater environments are equally interesting. If, for instance, I were to stay close to home, my options are limited to the frigid, murky waters of Lake Michigan, where I might expect to see:
By Ladyheart from

In order to have a more satisfying diving experience, with pristine water and exotic experiences, funding must come from somewhere in order for me to see this:

Sadly, no sea turtles swim in Michigan lakes. Photo by Bandini from  
In order to get funding for one's grand adventures, one must pitch the publisher / producer / studio. And while writing may be like diving, pitching is more akin to exotic dancing.

A different skill set. Pic from Dave at
The problem is immediately obvious: diving is insular and self-exploratory. Exotic dancing: not so much. Furthermore, excelling at one involves a completely different skill set than excelling at the other.

I'm sure there are many accomplished divers who are equally fantastic at shaking their groove thang on stage. But in my mind, the two professions are at opposite, er, poles.

"I'd rather be diving." photo courtesy of Mary B. Thorman from
For me, the toughest part of being a writer isn't the writing. It's the pitching. I love talking with people, schmoozing, and diving into new stories, characters, and plots. But I hate the thought of doing it for money.

My established writer friends have repeatedly told me it's not my writing that holds me back; it's that I'm not "putting myself out there." And I am not alone. I know many talented writers who can knock your socks off with their written words, but who equate "pitching for a sale" with "taking your clothes off for money."

Well, no more. It's time, dear writerly friends, to stop paddling around in our own little puddles. Time to get out of the water and cast aside our prudish notions of pitching. We need to learn to dance as well as to dive.

To all aspiring and not-yet-where-I-want-to-be-in-my-career writers out there, I propose this: go dancing! Spend at least half as much time learning how to pitch as you do working on your writing.

Get out there. Go to at least one conference, pitch session, or networking event this summer. Take notes. Practice your dance moves in a mirror and in front of friends before you take the stage. But take the stage!

No one is born knowing how to write. Or dance. Both are learned skills. We owe it to ourselves, our characters, our worlds, our supportive friends & families, and our careers to study both. Because no one believes in our writing as much as we do.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tips for Tackling the Rewrite

Every writer knows the drill:

*  My manuscript is done!  I'll just hand it to my editor for a quick polish. I rock!

*  AACKK! What's with all the markups? I thought it was done. Now I see it's just doomed. I suck.

*  It's lurking on my hard drive, taunting me. I can't bring myself to open it. I'm overwhelmed.

Time passes. One day...

*  ~Pulls on big-girl panties. Opens file.~ Time to get to work. I will.

Rewrites can be hard. Oh, the actual work is rarely all that difficult. But getting into the correct mindset  -- one that revels in the challenge instead of wanting to sit rocking and muttering in a dark corner -- can be brutal.

I recently worked with a writer who thought his manuscript was ready for my editorial services. Instead, it's in need of a rather drastic rewrite. I worded my thoughts on the matter as delicately as possible, but I know they probably still seemed harsh.

Every writer wants a reader that says: "This is fantastic! I loved every single word!"

Anything less is a letdown. Which means no one wants to hear: "This manuscript is not yet ready for an editor. It first requires a significant amount of rewriting and polishing."

Agony. Cue Bon Jovi's "Shot Through the Heart." Set it for infinite repeat play...

But rewrites don't have to be painful. Some tips for getting through them.

1.) Break Up With the Current Manuscript

Your love affair is over. The words in their current form are NOT perfect. The sequencing and story line needs work. Accept that though your eyes see only assets, other (more objective) eyes see major flaws.

So be strong. Break it off. Tell the book that it's over. No matter how much it begs or bribes, you and it are through. You want out of your existing relationship. You're going to pick up the pieces and move on.

Photo by Scott Liddell from
2.) We Can Still Be Friends (With Benefits)

A rewrite doesn't mean that you throw everything away and start from scratch. Instead, it's an opportunity to redefine your relationship with your story and keep only what works best. 

Keep a copy of the old manuscript somewhere. No matter what happens in the rewriting process, the original story will still exist.  You can always go back to it, if you need to. (Once the rewrite is underway and the story gains new strength, you'll be surprised at how rarely you wish to revisit the past.)

3.)  Don't Plan the Wedding Before the Date is Over

Rewriting doesn't mean the time already spent on the manuscript is wasted. It just means that more time is required to make sure the project is viable. Beware of rushing headlong into querying or self-publishing. Take your time and enjoy the process.

When beginning a rewrite, I suggest revisiting your original outline (and, if non-fiction, your existing Table of Contents). Rewrite in bite-sized pieces, chapter by chapter.

Start with Chapter 1. Determine exactly what you want it to convey. Know how you are going to hook your reader and keep him or her turning pages. Rewrite it for sentence and paragraph clarity. Then give that chapter to a few trusted Beta readers. Ask such questions as "Is this clear?" "Is it compelling?" "Would you keep reading? Why or why not?" (For further ways to make the most of your Betas, see A Cheat Sheet for Beta Readers.)

Polish Chapter 1 until it is as good as you can possibly make it. Then turn your attention to Chapter 2.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

4.) Focus on the Relationship

A rewrite affords an opportunity to delve deeper into whatever compelled you to begin the book in the first place. Re-examine your rationale. Do you still subscribe to the theories you had when you began writing? If so, are they clearly explained in your book? If your theories have evolved, how can you use your change of heart to strengthen the project?

A rewrite also allows you to re-evaluate the relationships within the work. Can you ratchet up the dramatic tension between the protagonist and antagonist? What about between the hero and heroine? Can you add layers to your primary (and secondary) characters that will enrich the story and, ultimately, enrich the reader?

Of course you can. And every time you improve upon a relationship within the text, remember to rejoice that you had the opportunity to do the rewrite. The work would have suffered without it.


What's your best tip for rewriting? What helps make the mere thought of undertaking a rewrite bearable? Add your tips to the comments below.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Advice to a New Author: Before You Hire an Editor

While trolling Craigslist for a suitable shed I could turn into a chicken coop, I ran across a post from a "new author" that said, in part: "I have a manuscript and desire an editor to review and make suggestions... any insight anyone can give me would be helpful."

Since I'm a sucker for new writers asking for help, I contacted the poster. A lengthy e-mail dialogue ensued. So many of his questions were common for writers who have finished a manuscript only to wonder "NOW WHAT?" So here is my two cents' worth of advice:
Photo by Scott Liddell from

1.  Betas Before Brass Tacks

If you have just finished your manuscript, you may be more in need of a beta reader than an editor. You could pay me or any competent editor to perform that service for you as well, but you may be further ahead to first find 2 or 3 readers familiar with the genre in which you write. It might be advisable to wait for a professional edit until your beta readers have read and reviewed your manuscript and offered their views on the structure and content.

2. Be a Savvy Shopper

All editors are not created equal. Some charge by the hour. Some charge by the job. Some charge by the word or the page. Solicit several quotes, both for turnaround time and estimated charges. Then, do the math necessary to compare apples to apples so you know what you're agreeing to.

For example:

I charge from $1 to $2 per page for editing. Quick reads with minor corrections bill at the low end. Major edits, fact checking, formatting and consistency issues, and revisions that take more time bill at the high end.  On average, a 100K manuscript has 300 pages. (Properly formatted, with 1" margins and double spacing, 250 words per page is the rule of thumb.) The math is pretty simple.

I know of one "editing service" for a vanity press that charges between $.018 (for light copy editing) and $.029 (for major editing) per word. While, on the surface, this looks inexpensive, simple multiplication reveals that you'd be paying between $4.50 and $7.25 per page. The same 100K project could cost between $1,800 and $2,900. (This is significantly higher than every competent freelancer I know.)

It's true, cheaper isn't always better. But it's worth your while to know ahead of time what you can expect to shell out.

3.  Know What To Expect

When bidding a major editing project, I typically edit the first 3 to 5 pages free of charge. That gives me the opportunity to see how much editing and revision the work requires so I can make an informed bid. It also gives the author the chance to see the sorts of changes and comments I provide, and to determine whether he or she thinks we can work well together.  If the editor you've chosen has a different bidding policy, you might want to ask for an edit of only a few pages at first to make sure the two of you are compatible.

Some editors differentiate between their fees for a light copy edit (primarily grammar, spelling, and punctuation) and a major manuscript edit that includes formatting, continuity, construction, plot, and other big-picture things. Know what you want. Know what you need. That way, you'll understand what you're paying for.

4. Do Your Homework

When hiring an editor, get testimonials from former clients. If a freelance editor is reluctant to provide you with the names of satisfied customers, consider that a red flag violently waving in warning. Take a few moments to check out some of the books they've edited. If at all possible, scan through them or read a chapter.  Notice the editing in the book and pay attention to how it "reads."

5. Remember: You're the Writer

Don't expect your editor to rewrite your book. That's why God created ghostwriters and co-authors. Truth be told, most editors are perfectly competent to do rewrites. But when I wear my ghostwriting / co-authoring hat, our relationship changes. So do my rates.

Turn in your best, most polished product to an editor.

Editors don't mind misspellings and rough edges. We live for finding typos and errors in parallelism. We relish discovering plot holes and inconsistencies. What we don't take kindly to, however, is a client who turns in a rough draft expecting us to wave our magic Word wand and make polished, publishable prose. You're the writer. If you expect the editor to do a great job on your manuscript, be willing to step up to the plate and do your job first.

6. Do Not Argue With the Nice Editor

...Because, really, life is just too short.

(I found my chicken coop, by the way: A lovely 8 x 8 structure, complete with windows and a mini-loft that weighs a freaking ton.

Moving it was a total dog and pony show that involved, at one point, my friend holding a 10 foot section of 4" PVC pipe above his head to hoist up the electrical wires that hung too low over the road so the trailer and shed could inch underneath. But I digress...)

Have you every worked with a freelance editor or are you an editor?  Please share any pertinent words of wisdom for new authors (or for chicken coop movers) in the comments below.