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What’s Editing?

Published April 16, 2016 by swankivy

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Well, this was a hard one for me. I’ve helped plenty of people with their novels over the years, and while some of them were pretty close to the level required to get serious consideration in the publishing world . . . most were not.

And to be honest, for most of the time I was providing beta reading for others . . . I probably wasn’t ready either.

You don’t really know sometimes. (And sometimes even when you’ve had a success or two, you might secretly think you’re a hack and you’ll never get anywhere with anything else you write.) But the truth is? Nobody’s going to respond well to being told “you are very, very, very far from ready.” It’s just not a constructive thing to say.

And believe me, the publishing world will be happy to say that to these folks without your help.

If you’re helping someone who just isn’t ready for publishing and you know it for sure, probably the best thing you can do is make global suggestions and some light copyediting. Don’t tell them they write like a beginner or don’t have a chance. Not only will they not believe you; they’ll think everything else you said is misguided too, and may refuse to consider your suggestions. (That said, there ARE writers who can handle having you tear into their manuscript and spit it back out again. It takes time before you know who these types are.)

And if you’re the writer getting some not-so-glowing commentary from someone whose opinion you’ve solicited, please don’t be insulted if they tell you you need more time with it, more practice, more editing . . . but at the same time, I beg of you. Please. Please. Do not try to jump into publishing with a first draft, and do not believe for a second that “editing” is just a matter of running your spell-checker.

(I’m sad to say I recently had someone hit me up for editing whose work was bafflingly awful but he thought he just needed a last glance on his query, and when I told him he needed far more than minor tweaks, he sent me seven vile e-mails about how actually I am the one who’s a sucky writer, full of curse words and incomplete sentences, with follow-ups claiming he’d put the misspellings into his curse-out e-mails on purpose and expected me to find them. This tirade was followed by him trying to add me on LinkedIn. Some people.)

Lucky

Published March 12, 2016 by swankivy

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After all the frustration and sweat of drafting, the slog of editing, the toiling in the query trenches, and the flailing in the sea of submission, getting a book deal is not “easy” even if everything goes relatively smoothly. And even when we have fun with some aspects of our craft, WRITING IS WORK.

So please, please, if you know a writer who is fortunate enough to get paid for what they probably spent years of their life on, do not imply that their paycheck is undeserved. Especially since many of us don’t ever get paid decently for what we’ve put in, and almost all of us have a stack of books that led up to this point–books that were our labor of love; books that we were never paid for. That’s not “unfair” either, but to say we’re “lucky” to be paid when our work sells is a massive misunderstanding of what we undertake for a chance to get it out there, and it certainly isn’t a shame for us to be treated like we’ve made something worth paying for.

The Truth Hurts

Published February 13, 2016 by swankivy

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I’m a pretty harsh critic when I beta-read my writer friends’ manuscripts, so sometimes they’re surprised when I tell them there’s not much to fix! Sometimes they even think I’m just telling them what they want to hear, but the truth is, I usually have to be honest either way. And if someone isn’t ready to pitch agents, I don’t tell them they are.

If I do tell them they’re ready, I mean every word of it.

But, having been on the other side of this situation too, I know it’s sometimes baffling to get compliments you don’t expect, and it can be hard to figure out how to swallow them. Funny how sometimes praise is harder to process than criticism. . . .

Still a Thing

Published January 3, 2016 by swankivy

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I CANNOT BELIEVE I HAVE ACTUALLY HEARD PEOPLE SAY “NOBODY READS ANYMORE.”

And they meant it in a condescending way, too, as if I’m the one who’s out of touch.

Let’s get one thing straight: YOU and PEOPLE YOU ASSOCIATE WITH may not be readers, but I’m not gonna judge you on that. We all have our favorite ways of enjoying fictional universes. If you prefer yours in a movie, that’s great for you. But it certainly doesn’t mean the HUGE WORLD OF LITERATURE is obsolete just because YOU don’t participate in it. It’s a thriving industry and the culture surrounding it is vibrant.

Do not ever ever EVER say this to a reader or a writer. If you feel compelled to belittle their interests because you don’t share them, you belong in the trash can.

December First

Published December 1, 2015 by swankivy

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You “won” NaNoWriMo. Congrats and awesome job. Now take a deep breath.

And DON’T send newly finished novels to agents. Ever.

If you’re high on the thrill of finishing a novel and you’re just utterly tickled with your project, you will need a little bit of time to come down from that cloud and read your own book with a critical eye. This is definitely something you should do repeatedly before it gets submitted anywhere. You may be surprised by how many mistakes you made, how many thoughts you forgot to tie up, how many sentences you can improve, and how much better you can make it with some polish. This step cannot be skipped by running spellcheck.

It is also highly recommended that you get a test audience to read your book after you’ve gotten it as good as it can get on your own. Test readers will be able to give you perspective you may not realize you need.

You need time to develop your pitch materials as well. If you already had them done before writing the book, that’s great, but constructing a synopsis and a query letter also requires time and thought.

But finally, agents are not going to be impressed that you wrote a book quickly and “won” NaNoWriMo. Objectively, it’s quite a feat to write a book in 30 days, yes, but agents become interested in you only if that book is a GOOD book. You owe yourself some incubation time to make it better, and submission is not a race. You don’t want to be one of the people in the crowd waving a manuscript and drooling, charmingly enraptured with your story but woefully unprepared to go professional.

With very few exceptions, the only NaNo novels you should be submitting directly to agents on December 1st are NaNo novels you wrote a year ago.

 

Everybody Can Relate

Published October 23, 2015 by swankivy

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Sadly, yes, this is based on a real conversation I had with someone who believes “nobody” actually reads science fiction. Apparently I don’t know my market and there’s not really anyone reading the hundreds of magazines that accept stories like mine. Not to mention that “everyone” doesn’t exactly relate to romance, thanks.

What’s surprising is how often people who don’t know much about publishing markets are willing to unload stunning wisdom about how they work, and how consistently they think anyone who doesn’t believe them is “in denial” or “refusing to listen to criticism.”

I did not apply your “criticism” because you were completely wrong about who I’m writing for, not because I can’t handle feedback. Thanks.

One Star

Published September 19, 2015 by swankivy

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Every couple of weeks or so there’s some new train wreck featuring an author who couldn’t handle a bad review unloading all over a reviewer. Maybe it sounds like common sense, but authors aren’t supposed to reply to reviews. Even good ones! No! Don’t respond! Don’t engage!

“Why shouldn’t we?” you may ask. Well, partly because reviewers need to feel free to be honest about their opinions, and if you reply to reviews then future reviewers may not want to review at all if they think they’re being watched. Also, it’s just part of being professional; there are some cases in which I might thank a reviewer (like, if we’d had previous contact, or they were an online friend, or they contacted me personally to discuss the book and invited interaction with me), but I would never initiate contact with a customer who is reviewing the book for other members of my audience, not for me.

And it should go without saying, but you should never argue with a reviewer or sic your friends on them in the comments. Getting unfair, snotty, pointless, opinionated reviews that stab you in the soul is indeed part of publishing a book, and though there are certain instances where you can request removal of reviews if they include ad hominem attacks, unmarked spoilers, personal information reveals, or harassment, it’s better to just leave them alone. Having some less flattering reviews actually makes your book look good; it removes the potential for readers to think all your reviewers are fake.

And if your reviewers really are being unfair, that usually shows in the words they choose. As of this writing, my book has a single one-star review on Amazon in which the reviewer claims that I didn’t cover a certain subject AT ALL ANYWHERE while admitting he only read a small portion of the book, and spews various “gotcha” fact-check claims that are based on misconceptions my book would have corrected if he had read it. People can draw their own conclusions from that–and from the two dozen five-star reviews.

I’ve learned plenty of interesting things about how people are reacting to my book while reading reviews, and I’m grateful for it when they’re not 100% sweetness and light. You should be excited if someone’s willing to think about your book in depth and offer up some gently critical thoughts on it, even if it’s too late to apply them to this book if it’s already published. Still, remember reviews aren’t really for you. They’re for other readers. And they have every right to say they didn’t like your book.

The Significance

Published August 15, 2015 by swankivy

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I’m kinda disgusted to inform you this is an Actual Thing People are Saying. White is “normal”; anything else is obviously forced diversity, a political statement, or bowing to political correctness. White is viewed as the default for everyone, and if a character is not white, there should be a reason. Well, I disagree. (While attempting to laugh and cry at the same time.)

This is not to say that characters of color in novels should be presented as neutral themselves. “Color-blind” narratives don’t actually help. Making a cast “diverse” by writing them exactly like you would write a white character but giving them “ethnic”-sounding names and darker skin does not accurately reflect the experience of a person of color. Their color IS seen even if some of us white people pretend it doesn’t matter (or that THEY are the problem if they notice and are affected by racism or discrimination).

It should just be handled as a not-neutral, not-invisible part of their character, and while background characters can certainly be incidentally any color without comment, a realistic character will move through the world with an experience that reflects their race. That is also true if they are white. (And they may be able, in a world that DOES treat them like it’s fine to consider themselves the default, to “ignore” race in a way no one else can, while saying the REAL racists are the ones who claim there are still problems.)

This phenomenon also extends to LGBTQ characters, non-male characters, characters with disabilities and illnesses, and characters from non-majority culture or religions. The “OMG THE PC OVERLORDS ARE COMING TO TAKE OUR FREE SPEECH” crowd sees all of these deviations from “the norm” as attempts to force diversity where it doesn’t belong, in the name of creating an unrealistic, hippy-dippy, artificially diversified picture of humanity. But in reality, THE WORLD ACTUALLY IS DIVERSE, and the “mainstream” voices that drowned out the marginalized ones are actually the ones at fault for making this political.

I cannot speak for my friends of color, but I have certainly heard them tell me they’re sick of not having their own narratives in mainstream fiction–that they’re tired of being tokenized or fetishized while being relegated to having their works marketed to “certain audiences” should they dare to put themselves at the center of their stories (while “white” stories are marketed to everyone and presented as if they actually are neutral).

I can speak from a female perspective and a queer perspective, though. I am quite irritated that “adding a woman” to the cast is seen the way it is (usually acceptable only as a love interest, taken as a “feminist statement” if she is not designed to be “gotten” by a male character). Stories about girls and women are chick-lit, women’s fiction, “for girls”–even if they’re primarily mysteries, adventures, SF/fantasies, or thrillers.

I am quite irritated that if a story has a queer protagonist with a queer experience it’s whisked away to a queer section so we can just talk to ourselves, while if there’s a queer background character it’s usually comedic or strategically placed, and if there’s more than one queer in a story that’s supposed to be mainstream then we’re just pushing the gay agenda on people.

And don’t even get me started on disability, which is almost always either an opportunity for someone else to learn from the “inspiration” the disabled person provides OR an opportunity for the disabled person to find a cure or get rehabilitated as the center of their character arc.

My biracial character in the story referenced in the comic–who is one of three love interest guys, and the other two are black, while the protagonist girls are white–does not have a “reason” to be biracial,  nor do the protagonists have a “reason” to develop an interest in more than one person of color except that they happened to be there and that’s who they were. The character’s race is not irrelevant to him as a person, and they do discuss it occasionally in the story, but it is not the center of a story arc and it does not singularly define him.

Basically, if you asked me why my love interest is biracial but you didn’t ask me why my protagonist is white, I think you have some assumptions to unpack.

Here, have a couple cute doodles of characters from the book.

cassiejamieterrell

mulligandia

Self-Insert

Published July 28, 2015 by swankivy

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Woohoo! Issue 50, so we have another long comic!

So, yeah, when I was a teenager I seem to have had a habit of making my characters kinda look like me, though they were always reasonably different from me when it came to their desires and personalities. But as I drifted away from modeling their looks on my own, I found that some people were determined to see them as “me,” no matter what I did.

While it’s frustrating that some people insist on considering similarities as evidence that characters are self-inserts, I don’t really see a reason to deliberately create characters who are nothing like me just to answer and fight this misconception. We tell stories about people who are sometimes kinda like us. That’s all right for authors to do, though they can be boring for others if the stories we write are nothing but idealized versions of ourselves or wish-fulfillment fantasies.

We DO put ourselves into our characters. But at least in my case, that does not mean those characters “are” me, nor do their characteristics manifest identically to the way those same characteristics might manifest for me.

Long story short: writers, there’s no need to attempt to excise every particle of yourself from your characters in the name of avoiding the self-insert, and readers . . . just remember things aren’t necessarily what they seem.