Author, Editor, Publisher, Coach

Category: Client Discussions (Page 1 of 4)

General notes to and from my editing clients.

The Publishing Industry – A Tough Nut to Crack

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Prepare Well, and Elevate Your Prose

(This article originally appeared at another site back in March of 2011, from which it is now gone. Therefore, I re-post it here. NOTE: I may come back later [today is 25 September 2020] to update it, including how it applies to our standards at Evolved Publishing.)

I aim this post at aspiring authors who seek to publish, for the first time, via a traditional publisher.

I love to read fiction, and one of my greatest joys is the discovery of wonderful new authors. Yet they are not as plentiful as one might expect. If you’ve been trying to publish your first novel (and I don’t mean self-publish—anyone with a credit card can do that), you know precisely what I mean.

1) The traditional publishing industry is a notoriously difficult nut to crack.

2) Most agents require a referral, or preliminary contact at a writer’s conference, before they’ll take a hard look at a first-time author of fiction. Some agents express indignation at that statement but…come on…really? Who knew that just finding an agent who’ll read the manuscript would be such a daunting task—such a crazy concept? I didn’t…until I started the process. Yikes! Yet as broken as the industry is in this regard, first-time authors bear some of the blame—a great big chunk of it, in fact.

3) Most first-time authors are simply not ready for publication. Their work needs some…er…um…work. Most submissions that agents receive from first-timers are substandard. Agents, who are only human (Oh yes they are!), develop an auto-response psychologically: “Oh no! This submission is from a first-timer! Aaaaahhhhhh………” They must fight this tendency every day, I think. Some succeed—sometimes—and some don’t. The walls they erect against first-time authors of fiction are formidable, which makes our task of cracking that nut an insanely difficult one. Is anyone else losing his hair? Yeesh!

You must be a good storyteller, of course, but you must be more than that. You must be a WRITER. In other words, WHAT you write is important, but HOW WELL you write it is equally so.

4) Agents are unforgiving when it comes to the work of first-time authors. You can get away with much less than do established authors. Let’s face it: some poor writing makes it into print—but rarely from first-time authors of fiction. Do you think that’s unfair? You’d best get over it, and do what you must to break through those barriers. If you can’t accept that, please go back to your day job—save your sanity.

5) You must grab the agent on the very first page of the manuscript, preferably the first paragraph. In fact, why wait that long? Hook them with the FIRST SENTENCE! Front-load your piece; otherwise, they’ll never see all the brilliance that awaits them deeper into your manuscript. As a first-timer, and assuming you don’t have an “in” with the agent (referral, personal history, etc.), you have no reputation or track record to serve you. Therefore, grab them by the throat, right out of the chute, and don’t let go.

6) No spelling errors! No grammatical errors! Period! Do you want to be a professional? Outstanding! Then write professional prose. Oh sure, there are those moments when, for purely stylistic purposes, you violate the rules of grammar. Fine, but remember: you’re a first-time author. Agents will accept only so many of those “stylistic choices” before they determine that you simply don’t know how to write properly. Besides, if you minimize those stylistic flourishes, they’ll pack a much stronger punch (assuming you’ve executed them well); if you overload them, you’ll water them down, sap them of their effectiveness. Don’t be too cute by half, for the likely result may be the all too familiar: The agent stops reading your manuscript, perhaps with a frustrated sigh, and reaches for one of those wonderful little slips that start, “Thank you for allowing us to review your manuscript. Unfortunately…”

Good writing, even merely adequate writing, is an acquired skill. It requires rather a lot of work. Darn it! Yes, you must have some innate talent, but you must develop your natural skills to reach your full potential. You must work at it.

7) Read, read, and then read some more—fiction. If you write romance novels, for example, then read A LOT of romance novels. Know your genre. Know what passes as “publishable” material, but always keep in mind that the standards are higher for first-time authors.

8) Read, read, and then read some more—nonfiction. If you were going to be an electrician, you’d read books about electronics. If you were going to be an astronomer, you’d read books about astronomy. Need I say it? Well, all right: Read books about writing! There are some great ones out there. If you’re a first-timer, focus initially on those earmarked for beginners, and make sure that The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (Macmillan), is part of your arsenal.

9) Finally, if you’re serious about publishing your work, find an editor. Every beginning writer (and most established ones) needs an editor. We’re too close to our own work. We often make mistakes that belie our skill level, meaning we know better, but we may read right over those mistakes when self-editing. A writer’s mind puts up psychological barriers, as if it assumes that, if she wrote it in the first place, it must be right. Why else would she have written it? It’s rather as the old saw says: “Forest? What forest? I don’t see no stinkin’ forest. All those darned trees are in the way!”

When it comes to your fiction, think of your prose as the trees and your STORY as the forest. If an agent can’t see through the trees to find the forest, your STORY will wallow in perpetual anonymity.

‘Til next time, remember this: Writing well is not easy. It takes work. You mustn’t be lazy.

Narration: Who should tell your story?

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Narrative: 1st-Person vs. 3rd-Person

(This article originally appeared at another site back in March of 2011, from which it is now gone. Therefore, I re-post it here.)

It’s time, you tell yourself, to finally sit down and write that novel or short story that’s been burning a swath through your consciousness. Outstanding! Now you must answer the first critical question: Who’s going to tell your story?

In other words, which narrative voice will you employ? You have options, but for our purposes, since a second-person narrative is so rare (and difficult to pull off), I’ll focus on the two primary options.

     1) First-Person Narrator

          a. This would be a character from your story, typically the protagonist.

          b. You could have multiple first-person narrators, each telling their own parts of the story.

     2) Third-Person Narrator

          a. The most common form is the omniscient narrator—the God-like being that sees, hears and knows everything.

          b. It could be a secondary, minor character, a witness to the critical story elements.

          c. It could be a separate “interested party,” such as a news reporter.

Important Consideration

The truth is that most agents and editors (publishers) dislike a first-person narrative. Why is that the case? The simplest answer is this: Few writers pull it off well. Authors have so worn down agents and editors with poor first-person submissions, many of those agents and editors have erected an automatic mental barrier to them. Some are reluctant even to consider it seriously, let alone review the manuscript.

Don’t think badly of them. Under such a barrage of poor work, their reaction is perfectly natural. They’re only human, after all. (Oh yes they are!)

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t use a first-person narrative, merely that you have some hard work ahead of you.

We must overcome several challenges to create an effective first-person narrative. As the first-person narrator, we authors become the primary character; we personalize the narrative. That means we see everything through our eyes alone, which leads us into a few traps.

     1) We don’t remain consistent with the character-narrator’s voice, in both the main narrative and that character’s dialogue. She must have one voice, whether narrating the story, speaking to another character, or musing in silent monologue.

     2) We create a character-narrator with such quirks or limitations that they are no longer credible—believable—as narrator. If that happens, you’ve lost the reader.

     3) We offer insights into what other characters are thinking or feeling, even though the narrator, as one of the characters, can’t possibly know what’s in the minds of those other characters. When we insist on a first-person narrative, we trap ourselves into a single Point-of-View (POV), and we must adhere to it.

          a. You can get around this by having multiple first-person narrators, each telling their own part of the story. However, this is highly inadvisable in a short story, and in a novel, you must always break chapters when you change narrators. Furthermore:

                i. It would be advisable to include in your chapter headings the name of the narrator for that chapter, in order to prevent reader confusion.

                ii. You must establish a unique narrative voice, a distinctive style, for every one of your first-person narrators (no simple task), and that distinctiveness must shine through consistently in both their narrative and their dialogue.

     4) We tend to relay information, rather than bring the reader into the story. In other words, it becomes all TELLING and no SHOWING.

          a. I saw this, I heard that, I remember when this happened, I wish I had done that, etc. I, I, I, I, I….

          b. Every narrative struggles with SHOW versus TELL, but the problem is particularly acute in a first-person narrative, where the lines are grayer than the more black-and-white lines of a third-person omniscient narrative.

     5) There is a natural tendency to bring even a Past Tense story current, to jump into Present Tense, in order to indicate how the character-narrator now feels about what happened. This often smacks of Author Intrusion, and it happens much more frequently in a first-person narrative. After all, the author is the character is the narrator; it’s hard to draw distinct lines of separation.

          a. I’ll never forget those words.

          b. I wish I could have seen it coming.

          c. I remember that day as if it were yesterday.

          d. Looking back, I now understand how it all went wrong.

It’s not that you may never use such devices, but you must not do so within the Past Tense narrative. You may start a chapter or section with that sort of reminiscence, but only if the following are true:

     1) You use a story break (***) to separate it (the Present Tense Lead) from the main Past Tense narrative.

     2) Within the Lead itself, you must break paragraphs when you jump between Tenses.

     3) After the story break, when you’re back in the main narrative, as it were, keep it in the Past Tense.

     4) Only use this Lead mechanism if the character-narrator’s emotional and psychological states, as seen through her mind, is:

          a. Critical to the story, and;

          b. Something you visit throughout the story with some consistency.

          c. Be honest with yourself. If neither of these two is true, resist the temptation to utilize such Leads, and just stick with the main Past Tense narrative.

Ultimately, we should base our choice of first-person narrative on only one criterion: It cements a deep emotional bond between the reader and the character-narrator (usually the protagonist) that you might not otherwise achieve. That’s it—the only justification for a first-person narrative, in my opinion. If it fails to deliver on this, or if it detracts too greatly from the other characters, some of whom may be as critical as the character-narrator, we should revert to a third-person omniscient narrative, which offers certain advantages.

     1) It enables us to delve into every character’s mind, rather than just the character-narrator’s mind, to explore all of their emotional and psychological states.

     2) It brings the line between SHOWING and TELLING more into focus.

     3) It provides us greater flexibility in moving from one character POV to another.

     4) We’ll be less tempted to jump into Present Tense during an otherwise Past Tense narrative, and less inclined to engage in Author Intrusion.

In closing, let me say that a first-person narrative can be a powerful tool. It might make your work more provocative and thrilling, as you delve deep into the mind of the character-narrator at the heart of your story. However, you must recognize and meet the challenges that such a choice will provide. It will be more difficult to execute effectively than would a third-person omniscient narrative, but the payoff just might be worth that extra effort. If you don’t want to tackle those challenges head-on, stay away from the first-person narrative.

‘Til next time, remember this: To write well, you must work hard. To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn’t be lazy.

Just Wondering….

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS and READERS:

Are books becoming mere “Movies on Paper?” Does eloquent writing even matter anymore?

(This article originally appeared at another site back in March of 2011, from which it is now gone. Therefore, I re-post it here.)

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately—at least, “quite a bit” for me. I’ve read six thrillers in the past month, and one common thread has really jumped out at me. The authors of four of the six wrote them in what I could best call a “sparse style.” Were I feeling a bit snarky, I might call them “just plain sloppy.” The other two might at least challenge the average 12-year-old. (Remember: We’re talking about content otherwise meant for an adult audience.)

This raises a number of questions for me:

1) Is this really what the publishing industry wants? If so, is it because that’s what readers want?

2) Is this unique to the Thriller genre, or are other genres displaying the same lack of concern for quality prose?

3) Why do people read? If they seek nothing more than a “Movie on Paper,” why wouldn’t they just watch the movie? It’s a lot quicker… and cheaper.

4) Have our schools dumbed us down so much that no one even knows how to write anymore, or, for that matter, how to read? Does that mean we should throw up our hands and surrender? Give up on the language?

5) Whatever happened to editors? Are these successful authors now so comfortable with their positions that they no longer feel it necessary to “do it right”—which is to say, “write?” Is anyone else insulted by that, feeling a bit abused, or is it just me?

6) Why should I continue to spend my hard-earned money on books, if all I’m going to get is a different format for a movie I can watch… free of charge… in less than two hours?

Okay, so maybe I’m ranting a bit. Okay, so I’m ranting a lot. What can I say? When I read a book in which every other sentence is a 3- or 4-word, verb-free, content-free fragment, I can’t help but feel as if I have the hiccups. And between you and me, I HATE the hiccups. NOTE: I say this not as a writer or editor, but as a reader.

I look for more from a book:

A) Characters that live and breathe on the page, full of emotional and psychological depth that a movie hasn’t the time to offer;

B) Complex plot that goes beyond the movie-like car chases, explosions and eye candy;

C) And yes, a thoughtful exploration of the language, one that brings richness and wonder that no movie can match.

It’s not that I mind an occasional simple, quick, not terribly fulfilling read—a minor distraction from the stresses of everyday life. I just don’t want every book to be that way. Nowadays, it seems I must return to the classics for a literary excursion. Modern storytellers are decent enough… well, storytellers. However, I’m hard-pressed to call some of them—quite a few of them, in fact—writers.

Our language is a wonderful tool, a fantastic opportunity for the exploration of whole new worlds born of imagination and daring. Yes, I love a good story… of course! However, let me revel in the words, at least every once in a while, to make that exploration a richer and more satisfying one.

Is metaphor dead? Is simile obsolete? Are breathless, grunting sentence fragments all that remain of our devolved language?

God, I hope not.

Of the six authors I recently read, each of whom I’ve read before, I’m scratching three from my future reading list. I’ll not buy any more of their books. Ever. Perpetual hiccups are no fun, and I just can’t stand it anymore. As to the other three, I’m placing them on probation—one more chance, maybe two—only because I’m so attached to their characters.

I offer here an example of how to do it right:

Dean Koontz, in his book Forever Odd, could have simply TOLD us that protagonist Odd Thomas was lonely, and that he had only himself to blame for that fact. This would have been fine, if rather dull. Instead, he chose to SHOW us Odd’s state through metaphor:

“Loneliness comes in two basic varieties. When it results from a desire for solitude, loneliness is a door we close against the world. When the world instead rejects us, loneliness is an open door, unused.”

As I read those words, I could see Odd in my mind’s eye, standing at his open door, wondering why no one ever stopped by to visit. Dean Koontz took the time and effort, as he does in snippets throughout all his books, to raise the bar, to challenge and excite us with words—to write for us. Thank you, Mr. Koontz! Whatever you may think of his stories, at least he writes!

A note to modern writers, on the off chance that you care: “My patience is running thin. Write for me! Or I’ll just wait for the movie.”

‘Til next time, remember this: Writing well is not easy. It takes work. You mustn’t be lazy.

Some Great New Books Edited by Lane Diamond

Once again, I have been woefully absent from my website and blog. Apologies.
I’ve been on the road, traveling with my wife, for the past 3+ months, so work time has been hard to come by.
Nonetheless, since the last time we spoke, a few books I edited have been released. Let’s take them one at a time,
shall we?

FRACTURE POINT by Jeff Altabef

One of the things I really enjoy about Jeff’s books are his characters, which I believe are his greatest strength as a writer. Don’t get me wrong–he tells great stories, but I really love his characters.

In Fracture Point, Jeff gives us a glimpse of the futuristic world in which his A POINT THRILLER series all began. This is the world where his book Shatter Point takes place (Book 2 of the series), winner of the prestigious Pinnacle Book Achievement Award. So let me just tell you about Fracture Point.

An untrained spy and a rebel faction.
A mysterious scarlet-haired jazz singer.
Dangerous secrets guarded by a devious killer.

What could possibly go wrong?

Only everything.

Tom’s brilliant, but when it comes to people smarts, he’s clueless. When his older brother disappears, Tom opens the door to adventure and terror—and a beautiful red-haired spy. She stands in the doorway and spins a tale so unbelievable it just might be true. What if his carefree brother is not just a tennis instructor, but a spy who has uncovered a secret so explosive it could trigger a bloody revolution?

Tom will do whatever it takes to get his brother back, even if he’s completely unprepared for what happens next. He’ll need the help of would-be friends and foes, and a whole lot of luck, to outwit the psychopathic killer holding his brother hostage. And maybe, just maybe, he can rescue his brother and keep America from reaching the fracture point, too.

Amazon Kindle ; Amazon Paperback ; Barnes and Noble Paperback
;
Amazon Audiobook ; Audible Audiobook ; iTunes Audiobook

THE GHOST KING by Jeff Altabef

Yep, another great book from Jeff. This one is the second installment of his RED DEATH series, following up on the sensational first book, Red Death.

An Ancient Prophecy foretold.
An Evil haunts the land.
A battle looms against overwhelming odds.

Led by a powerful witch, a wild invading army threatens to tear the Soulless lands apart. To survive, the three tribes must join together, but old grievances and hatred divide them. Only Wilky can unite them, but when he glimpses the future, he sees only a glimmer of hope; too much of the future remains veiled in darkness.

As the battle approaches, King Dermot orders his brother, Eamon, to stay behind at the Stronghold and defend against a possible siege. Eamon, who took an oath to fight the invaders, defies his brother, risks everything, and plunges into a desperate race with Aaliss and Wilky to unite the tribes.

Enemies from all sides conspire against them. Only together can they hope to succeed against the witch who will stop at nothing to destroy them. Yet even united, they will need magic to defeat this enemy at their door.

As the battle looms, only one chance at survival remains–the Ghost King–but who is he, and what will be the price of their redemption?

Amazon Kindle ; Amazon Paperback ; Barnes and Noble Paperback

ROTA FORTUNAE by Isu Yin & Fae Yang

This one is exciting for me because of the scope of this project–not to mention its quality. The authors’ current plan calls for a series spanning 60+ books, called GRIMS’ TRUTH. I know, I know… but really, if ever I had faith in authors to complete their plan, it’s in the team of Yin & Yang. This one launches October 2, but it’s available for pre-order now.

Everything that has happened, is happening, will happen again.

Several turns after the disappearance of the High Queen’s successor, rumors of a plague spread across the Empire of Mu. Two parties, the Rebellion and the Council, clash over the strange phenomenon and its source, the Tainted.

Cruentus Fate, a young Royal from the second kingdom of Mu, becomes entangled in the battle for the Capital as she and her brother, Abyssus, seek out the truth about their relationship with the enigmatic Grim. Her life turns upside down when she’s separated from her brother and sold to the brothel by their father, the King of Macellarius. The brothel’s Madam, Fortuna, takes Fate under her wing and broadens her knowledge of the Empire, the war at hand, and the secret behind her existence.

With her new understanding, Fate sets out to restore balance to the Empire, and to recover her brother from their father’s clutches. First, she must rally the support of the unstable prince of the neighboring kingdom.

Around every bend lies another dark secret about the world she lives in, and the more she uncovers, the more entangled she becomes in the web of lies her family has spun.

Amazon Kindle ; Barnes and Noble Nook ; Apple iBook ; Kobo ;
Amazon Paperback ; Barnes and Noble Paperback

~~~~~

So that will do it for this time around–3 great books for your reading pleasure,
each of which I edited, and each of which I recommend wholeheartedly.

ENJOY!

The Problem with First-Person Narratives – Beware the I-Bombs! (Part 2 – Practical Examples)

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

This post is a follow-up to one I did some time ago: The Problem with First-Person Narratives – Beware the I-Bombs! If you haven’t read that one yet, this would be a good time to do so.

I’ll not repeat what I said in that post. Rather, I shall move right on the some practical before and after samples, identifying both the problem and at least one potential fix. I’ve used actual examples from pieces I’ve edited/reviewed/read, so as always, I shall not mention any writers’ names, so as to protect the not-so-innocent.

~~~

BAD: When I was young, I pointed out the inconsistencies as if I caught him cheating at cards, which he also did quite often.

Notes: The new opening below is a simple turn of phrase to not make it appear all about “I” at every moment. The second key change was making it not about “I” catching the cheating, but about “he” doing the cheating. Focus on the characters and actions around “I,” making it about them as much as possible, relying on the fact that we’re in the POV of “I,” and trusting the reader to react as “I” would want them to react.

BETTER: As a youngster, I pointed out the inconsistencies, as if he’d been cheating at cards or something—which he did quite often.

~~~

BAD: I used to think I could make a living as a skier, but then I realized that I was wrong.

Notes: This option, with its 4 “I” in just 20 words, is all telling and rather… well, dull. The second option takes us deeper inside the character’s true motivations, and concludes with a striking self-admonition (and commentary) in the form of monologue.

BETTER: I’d imagined skiing bringing me wealth and fame. Yeah, money and girls—a life to make most folks bristle with envy, at least the guys. I’m such an idiot!

~~~

BAD: I hear a sound from behind the garage, and I wonder what it might be. Maybe I should investigate.

Notes: Blah! Ick! Phooey! Where to begin? 1) It’s all telling; nothing actually happens. 2) Yeah? Well, we wonder too, so please give us something. What kind of sound? A prowler? A dog? An alien invasion? 3) The narrator suggests doing something, but again… nothing actually happens. Seriously, haven’t you always wanted to read a book in which nothing actually happens? No? Shocker! In fact, elsewhere in the story, the author suggests (again weakly) that the character is fearful of a stalker. Okay… so…? It’s time to engage the reader.

BETTER: I spin around as a loud crash echoes from behind the garage. It seems those tottering, beat-up old garbage cans are still good for something. I waste not a second in bolting for the back door, zipping inside the house and throwing the deadbolt firmly into place. Next stop: the phone and a 9-1-1 call.

~~~

BAD: I thought I’d be able to figure out how I got here in the first place, but I still couldn’t believe I was lost.

Notes: “But enough about me. What do you think about me?” That’s how these I-Bombs often feel, as if it’s just all about “me” and nothing else matters. Also, this violates almost every rule of Show vs. Tell, failing to bring the reader into the moment. Remember those 3 words: “in the moment.” The best fiction brings a reader in and allows her to experience the story right along with the characters, as it happens. Ah yes, 3 more important words: “as it happens.” In this particular scene, the author attempted—and failed—to paint the character’s fear at being so completely lost. She simply didn’t paint the scene for us at all.

BETTER: How did I get here? For that matter, where the devil was here? What a ridiculous situation, to be so utterly lost. I glanced around again, mindful of the knot growing in my stomach—churning, rumbling, threatening to seek escape at any moment. I spun around and… nope, no toilets out here. Well this is just great!

Another Note: I’m a huge fan of the writer’s directive to “make every word count.” However, you must create the story for the reader. This is a classic case of under-writing. As an author, you can’t keep critical secrets. It’s not enough that you see the image in your mind; the reader must see the image in her mind. So share!

~~~

BAD: I thought I might make her understand. I thought I could appeal to her feminine wiles. I thought I’d probably get lucky, in the end. I guess I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.

Notes: At this point, it seems as though I shouldn’t have to say anything. You should be jumping all over this and in your best Arnold Horshack voice (for you fellow old-timers out there), yelling, “Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! I know it, Mr. Kotter.” Nonetheless….

First, if you’re writing a first-person narrative, make it a point to use the Find function in MS Word, and type in “[space]I[space]”, and check the box that says “Highlight all items found in:”. This will highlight with a black box every instance of “I” in your manuscript. In time, you’ll want to do the same for variations: I’ll, I’m, I’d. Then, with the selections highlighted, scroll down and look for instances where those black boxes appear like a swarm of flies. Yep… time to revise.

In the case of the example above, the word “I” appears 10 times in 38 words. Umm… no. Just no.

BETTER: She’d come around in time. After all, how could she resist my manly charms, my smooth moves, my irresistible… well, me?

She didn’t respond at all. She just turned around without a word, and left.

~~~

BAD: I saw smoke rising over the downtown district.

Notes: This is the simplest of all remedies, and it falls smack under the heading of “Show, Don’t Tell.” The first-person narrator, the character, is telling the story, so if he conveys some action, we know it’s because he saw/heard/felt it, etc. So just paint the picture for us.

BETTER: Smoke rose over the downtown district.

~~~

I hope those examples will help guide you in trying to eliminate your own I-Bombs. Of course, my alternatives above are just a single example, in each case, of how you might fix the problem. Ultimately, your own style and voice will dictate the fix, and that’s fine. Just fix it! No carpet-I-Bombing allowed. 🙂

~~~~~~~~~~

An Opportunity for Aspiring Writers to be Published Authors

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Over at the Evolved Publishing website today is a post about my services as writing coach. Specifically, I’m looking for that one “special project” to help an author achieve his or her dreams, and to help make Evolved Publishing that much better.

If you’ve created a good novel-length story but your actual “writing” still needs some work, and you think I can help coach you up to “publishable,” then stop by and check out the post linked below.

Would a Writing Coach Make Sense for You?

Butterfly - Mark Twain

~~~~~~~~~~

“I have a Kindle Paperwhite, and I love it! It’s so easy on the eyes that I can read on it for hours, just like a paper book, in any light.” – Lane Diamond

CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW FOR DETAILS:

~~~~~~~~~~

Grab Your Readers Right from the Start, and then Hang On!

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

I think it’s safe to say that most folks have a short attention span these days, distracted by a million things going on all at once. Readers are getting harder and harder to find, as the percentage of people who say they read less than one book per year continues to climb. And those readers who are still in the game have approximately 7,629,954,813 books to choose from, and those are just the books self-published in the last 24 hours. :p

Seriously, as writers, our job is to grab hold of the reader quickly – certainly on the first page, hopefully in the first paragraph, and best yet, with the very first line. And yet, too many authors give short shrift to that opening line. These days, they do so at their own peril.

When I set out to write Forgive Me, Alex, my psychological thriller, I recognized the importance of the opening. Indeed, I obsessed over it. I wrote one I thought was quite good… and trashed it. I wrote a new opening that I though was truly excellent… and trashed it. Then I wrote one that was nothing short of brilliant… and trashed it.

I finally figured out that, while it was so critical to come up with a grabber of an opening, I was simply trying too hard. It took me far too long to realize that a literary jab would be the best option, like Mike Tyson throwing a series of lefts – Pop, pop, pop! Furthermore, I liked the idea of not just a quick jab on the first line, but an even quicker jab on the second line, which functioned as something of a punchline (pun intended). Here’s what I settled on:

—–I never expected to be a killer.

—–Who does?

Now, is that stunning, extraordinary prose? Not even close. It’s quick and simple, my version of the Pop, pop!

Reader response has been pretty good, as several have indicated they saw that first line and thought, “Oh, what’s that about?” Perfect.

In my sequel, The Devil’s Bane, (assuming I ever finish the darn thing) this is my planned opening:

—–Not the typical Saturday night out; Maria Molinari would always remember this day, if only she lived through it.

—–Not likely.

Once again, I tried to use the second line as a quick punchline to the first. And once again, I hope it will raise in the reader’s mind a question that he simply must answer. We’ll see.

Quite often, writers make the mistake of starting out with setting, painting a vivid scene for the reader. The problem is that without context – some story that takes place within that setting – the scene becomes irrelevant. Dear writer, please… start with action, drama, intrigue – something that makes the reader sit up straight and yearn to see what comes next. Do it right away, right out of the chute, in the fist paragraph. If you can, give it real punch, that Pop, pop! we talked about.

Of course, you’ll then want to roll right into a scene that keeps the reader engaged, anxious, excited. If you can provide that thrill of anticipation right from the start, all else being equal, you’ll have a much greater likelihood of attracting readers. Remember: many readers nowadays sample a piece online to determine if they might want to buy it. Don’t squander that opportunity.

~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Author: Is Your Editor REALLY an Editor?

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

I’ve been working the last couple of days to catch up on submissions at Evolved Publishing, where I, as managing publisher/editor, am responsible for such things. I always wade into our submissions queue with a sense of hope and optimism, though that doesn’t usually last long. I hate to say that, as it sounds so negative, but it’s the harsh truth.

One of the most frustrating things for me is to have to review a submission for which the author has clearly spent little time revising and polishing. Nothing irritates me more than seeing someone’s rough first draft. I always want to fire off a harsh note, but I refrain out of simple courtesy and professionalism — traits I wish those authors shared.

Equally as frustrating, but aimed at a different target, is the piece that has been “professionally edited” prior to submission. My first reaction to seeing that in an author’s email is to thank the heavens. However, what I find upon opening the manuscript is often discouraging.

A recent submission mentioned this editing, and even included the editor’s name and links to Facebook and website pages. After reading the first paragraph of the manuscript (1 simple mistake and 2 bad choices), then the rest of the first page (2 more obvious mistakes and several more bad choices), I had to go to that editor’s pages to see who this person was. It was another writer who, apparently not having a lot of luck as an author, decided to hang up a shingle as editor. This person’s qualifications? I don’t know. I can’t seem to find any.

Now, I’m sure the author in question paid for this editor’s services in the hopes that she would have a final manuscript that was clean, polished to a fine sheen — a true professional presentation.

She should get her money back.

I’ve also recently received inquiries from authors who stated that they paid for editing services previously, but that they still felt their manuscript needed some work. They wanted to know if I was available to edit their piece, and if so, at what rates. When I told them, they gasped a little, having already paid for editing once. I understand; I really do. However, it’s not my job to work for less than minimum wage to clean up another editor’s poor work.

This — editing or writer coaching — is like any other product or service: you get what you pay for.

The problem seems to be that, just as anyone can publish last week’s grocery list and call themselves an author, anyone can hang up an online shingle and call themselves an editor. In this internet age, the old “Buyer beware!” adage is more relevant than ever. So what is an author to do? How can you be assured you’re getting good work from your editor? The simplest answer is to get a second opinion, and maybe even a third.

Before hiring an editor or writing coach, get a sample edit. The sample should cover at least 1,000 words, and it should offer enough in the way of edits and instructional notes to make you feel comfortable that the person knows what he’s talking about. And then? Get a sample from another editor/coach, and compare the two. Is one apparently far ahead of the other in terms of skill and insight? Well, there’s your choice. Are the two really close? Then maybe a third opinion is needed.

At the very least, hop on the phone (or Skype, as I use) and talk with the editors/coaches, and get a feel for them. Which one sounds like you’ll be able to work with her? Which one can offer you concrete answers to your questions? Which one can point to previous success stories?

REFERENCES: This one is tricky, because I think it’s entirely possible for someone to be both relatively new and very good. Hey, we all started somewhere. However, when in doubt, and lacking any other method for deciding between candidates, let those references guide you. Get contact information on those references, and a blessing from the editor to contact them. Hey, this is a job interview, after all!

Finally, if the editor in question is one of the many who first came to the industry as aspiring writers, then switched modes and became an editor, read their work. If they have a book or two published, at least take advantage of the free sampling available at retail sites. If their work seems less than stellar, not up to your standards, then you know that’s an editor to avoid. Yes, editing and writing are, in many respects, two different skill sets. Just because someone is a great editor doesn’t mean they’ll be a great writer, or vice versa. However, if the editor’s own writing is laden with errors, bad prose and structure, and utterly clichéd stories and characters… do you really want that person editing your work?

So please, be careful in choosing your editor, lest it be money down the drain. No editor can guarantee you success, of course, but a good one will help you grow as a writer, and make your finished product one that you can be proud — and certain — of. In this internet age, there are a lot of unqualified people passing themselves off as something they’re not. Exercise caution and due diligence, and remember: you get what you pay for.

What Does a Writing Coach Do?

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Every writing coach is the same, and each one is different. Wait… huh? Yep, all writing coaches seek to dig deep into a writer’s needs, to help them reach the point where they’re producing professional-grade material that’s worthy of a broad reading audience. However, each coach may have a unique mix of specialties and focus.

And so, as an author (or one who aspires to be an author), you should always analyze what your coach/editor has to offer, engage in a candid discussion BEFORE committing money, and perhaps get a sample analysis/edit of your writing. If a coach/editor balks at providing one, run. Run fast.

I’ve seen writing coaches advertise that they focus on content: plot, characterization, setting, etc, but that they don’t spend too much time on the “technical” aspects of writing, such as grammnar, strength of prose, structure, and so on. To me, that’s like saying to the new marine recruits at boot camp, “Okay, this is a gun. You use it to kill the enemy. Let’s move on.” …and then not showing them how the gun functions, how to break it down and clean it to keep it in good working order, and how to reassemble it.

My opinion: There are a million decent storytellers out there, but there are precious few “writers.”

Thus, my approach to coaching is to say that it makes no sense to try to separate the trees from the forest. Of course content is important, but if you can’t write professionally, yours will be just another amateur book. (I know… I’m such a hardass!)

Seriously, though, my approach has always been that if I can’t help you become the best writer/author you can be, then there’s really no sense in us working together. It’s not all about the money. If I can’t stand up and shout to the world, when you’re done and your book is available, “Hey, everyone, go buy this book, because it’s awesome!” …then we (meaning you and I together) haven’t done our job.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

However, unlike as in the image above, you’re not a kid. You’re a professional (or soon will be), and you deserve the appropriate respect and consideration.

Want a touchy-feely-please-tell-me-how-wonderful-I-am support system? Yeah… I’m not your guy. Want someone who will tell it like it is, and work tirelessly to address every issue that affects your career? Then maybe I’m your guy. Don’t get me wrong: I try to keep it as upbeat and positive as I can, because I think that’s important, but not if it ever interferes with the end goal. Hey, I know we creative types can be a bit… er… touchy. *smiling* But sometimes, a little tough love is the best kind.

So what is my focus as a writing coach?

CONTENT: Yes, of course I address the essential elements of plot, characterization, setting, a proper climax, etc. However – and this often surprises people – it may not be the first thing we address. Let’s face it: if readers can’t find the forest through the trees, because the trees themselves (your prose) are impossible to navigate, then the forest (your story) becomes irrelevant. Thus, we may need to address at least some of that before we get too far into content.

GRAMMAR: Look, professionals know the rules, so if you’re going to be a pro, we need to address even this mundane stuff. Don’t break into a cold sweat about this. The truth is that if you have a good teacher, one who’s focused on your specific needs, you’ll learn it more easily than you think.

ESSENTIAL STRUCTURE: It’s not just which words you use to tell your story, but how you choose to place those words that will determine how well readers respond. Use structure to ramp-up the tension. It’s often critical to choose just that right place to break a sentence, or a paragraph, or a chapter. I’ve been told by readers that this is a particular strength of mine, and I’d like it to be a strength of yours by the time we’re done.

STYLE: This will be uniquely yours, as it is with every writer, and a Writing Coach’s job is to teach you how to enhance your writing while remaining true to who you are. We all grow, and learn, and progress… but we remain who we are. That’s important, yet you must be ready to grow as a writer, willing to say on occasion, “Well, that’s not the me I want to be. I want to be this me.”

PRIMARY COMMANDMENTS OF EFFECTIVE WRITING: The first two of these you’ve no doubt heard countless times before; the third, maybe not (since it is, I believe, a Lane Diamond construct): 1) Show, Don’t Tell; 2) Make Every Word Count; 3) Keep It Strong and Direct. What do each of those things really mean? Well, we’ll certainly talk about that if we work together.

CONVERT YOUR BAD HABITS INTO GOOD HABITS: All writers bring some mix of bad habits to their work. Those can vary greatly from one writer to the next, yet certain bad habits are more universal than others. Here are just some of those: 1) SOBs (State-of-being Verbs); 2) Passive Voice; 3) Infinite Verb Phrases (An Act without an Actor); 4) Wordiness; 5) Excessive Proper Nouns; 6) Awkward Dialogue Tags; 7) I-Bombs. There’s more, of course, and we’ll tackle each issue as we encounter it.

So what is your next step?

If you think you’ll benefit from working with a coach, and you think, based on what you just read, that I may be able to help you, send me an email at Lane@LaneDiamond.com. Please put “Writing Coach Needed” in the Subject line.

I’ll arrange to to have a one-on-one talk with you (no charge), and I’ll look at your work to give you an idea of where our focus would need to be (no charge), and we’ll talk about the ultimate cost, of course, should we decide to move forward. I’ll be selective, and I typically only work with one student at a time, but even if I can’t help you right this minute, I may be able to get you on the calendar in the near term.

Here’s to your writing dreams becoming a reality!

Writing Coach for Hire: Lane Diamond

THIS POST IS FOR WRITERS:

Are you looking for a Writing Coach? Do you need someone to provide highly-customized, one-on-one training? Do you need help with plot development, creating great characters, ramping up the power and efficacy of your prose, where to find resources to help you advance your writing career, formatting and uploading files as a self-published author, building a social media presence? All of the above?

I can help. To learn more, please visit this page: http://lanediamond.com/writing-coach/

~~~~~~~~~~

« Older posts

© 2020 Lane Diamond

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

WordPress SEO fine-tune by Meta SEO Pack from Poradnik Webmastera