DBW Review: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

I picked up Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by editors Renni Browne and Dave King because several of my editing colleagues recommended it as a solid resource for authors. There are many books on how to write and comparatively few on how to edit your own writing. Yet this is such a critical task for writers if they want to submit a solid manuscript for further editing or publishing. I was really looking forward to reading through this book, and I’m glad to say it was a winner.

Self-Editing for Fiction WritersSelf-Editing for Fiction Writers is focused on the details of stylistic editing. The authors assume that you have already dealt with the larger structural concerns of plot, character arc, and theme. The book covers a broad range of topics relating to the mechanics of editing: showing vs. telling, characterization and exposition, point of view, proportion, dialogue, interior monologue, sound and voice, repetition, and scene beats and breaks.

What I Liked

I mentioned that a lot of topics were covered in this book. Each of them are discussed in a great amount of depth without becoming overwhelming. The authors cover several angles and explain why certain situations require different treatment from others.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter, “Show and Tell,” which brings new life to the old chestnut that you should be showing something to the readers rather than telling them about it. All writers receive this advice at some point, but Browne and King bring a balanced perspective to the discussion, clearly illustrating when to use show and when to use tell.

To write exposition at length — describing your characters’ pasts or events that happened before the story began or any information your readers might need to understand your plot — is to engage your readers’ intellects. What you want to do is engage their emotions. (p. 10)

The writing style is clear and engaging, and avoids the lecturing style that sometimes happens with “how to” books. Editors have a somewhat unfair reputation as nitpicking sticklers, and I’m happy to say there is no sign of that here — instead, the authors are positive and supportive as they outline the issues that writers often struggle with and potential solutions.

Plenty of examples are used in each chapter to illustrate the points, and at the end of each chapter there are useful checklists as well as practice exercises.

What Could Be Better

This book is so well-written that it was difficult to find any issues with it. However, as we writers know, there’s always something that can be improved!

Most of the examples in the book are bracketed with detailed explanations of what the examples are illustrating. Once in a while, though, an example is thrown out where the authors assume that the reader will identify what is right or wrong with the passage without help. One place that stood out for me was in the chapter on “Voice,” where the authors provide an example of five different character monologues from the same book and say, “Every voice is distinct.” How they are distinct is never explained, and I feel this weakens the helpfulness of this example.

My only other wish is that the book contained even more practical exercises. There are usually about three per chapter, and having more (and shorter) exercises would make this resource even more valuable.

Favourite Learning Moment

My favourite part of this book is not a particular moment but an overall thread that gets woven throughout the narrative. There is a lot of focus in the book on how to bring out characters and their emotions. The authors discuss several areas where these can be displayed, such as through dialogue, interior monologue, and exposition from the character’s point of view. They also talk about how character development can be combined with the advancement of plot, the establishment of setting, and the revelation of key information.

If each element of your story accomplishes one thing and one thing only, then your story will subtly, almost subliminally, feel artificial. When everything seems to be happening at once, then it will feel like real life. (p. 183)

Verdict

This is the best book I have ever read on how to edit your own writing. Pick it up, read it, and read it again. You won’t regret it.

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If you are interested in reading about other writing resources, you may want to take a look at my Resources page. And if you’re looking for more tips on self-editing, I have recently written a post on why you should try a style sheet when editing your work.

What do you find is the most challenging aspect of self-editing? Which resources have helped you with this difficult task?

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

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Announcement: My New Editing Site

Dear readers,

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned I was working on a new project. Well, here it is — my brand new editing site — Sue Archer, Wordsmith. I’m excited to share it here with all of you!

In addition to my day job, I have recently started up my own freelance editing business. Collaborating with self-publishing authors has been such a rewarding experience for me. I’d love to have the opportunity to work with some of you someday. 🙂

If you have the time and the interest, I’d appreciate it if you could visit my site and let me know what you think in the comments below. Please be honest — I consider it a work in progress. I have also started up a blog on my new site that will be focused on editing and self-publishing tips for writers. If you feel that’s something that would be useful for you, please feel free to follow.

Doorway Between Worlds won’t be changing – I’ll be continuing to blog about communication here, and I won’t be doing any more posts advertising my services.

And finally — in the spirit of “the big reveal,” I thought it was time that I showed all of you the real me behind the avatar:

Sue Archer, Wordsmith and Editor

Thank you to all of you for your support!

 

Sue

The Many Ps of Book Marketing

I love learning, and the Editing Goes Global conference was a great opportunity to pick up all sorts of useful knowledge. Last week, I shared some tips from editor Arlene Prunkl on how to write good comments. Today, I want to pass along some nuggets of wisdom I learned from Beth Kallman Werner in her session “The Many Ps of Book Marketing.”

Ms. Werner has worked as the Director of Sales and Marketing at Kirkus and is the founder of Author Connections. She has over twenty years of experience in editing and marketing, and it definitely showed in her presentation. I was scribbling notes like mad. I couldn’t possibly include all of her thoughts here, but I thought I’d share some of the highlights.

Her session focused on the four Ps of marketing (product, position, price, and promotion) and how they relate specifically to book marketing.

Product

Werner started off by discussing some of the misconceptions about marketing, including the idea that marketing is disconnected from other parts of the publishing process. Marketing doesn’t begin after the book is finished — it needs to be considered right from the beginning.

If you want people to invest their time and money in your book, then you need to start with a quality product that will engage your audience. This seems like an obvious point, but part of creating quality is thinking about your potential readers as you are writing the book. Who is your target audience? You want to know this from the beginning. Engage with your audience in advance of writing, so you know who you are writing for and what they need.

Position

How can you position your book so that it is appealing to your audience? Readers look for different things when deciding whether or not to pick up a book.

Decisions, decisions a tower of used books

Decisions, decisions…

Here are some things to think about.

  • Will the cover get their attention?
  • Is the blurb appealing? Many readers will buy a book on the basis of the blurb alone.
  • Does your book have reviews of your work on the cover (or elsewhere)?
  • Is your book about a timely topic?

One interesting tidbit that Werner shared is that readers generally don’t care about who has published the book. So being self-published is not a strike against you. The exception to this is certain areas of non-fiction, where having a recognized name behind you (like a university press) can go a long way.

Even if you position your book well, it may still take some time before you see a substantial readership. Werner mentioned that it is not uncommon for this to take 18-24 months.

Price

The number one consideration here is whether your target audience can afford your book. Sometimes it makes sense to release an e-book first and see how it makes out before investing in the costs of printing. You don’t need to take on everything at once.

If you have a global audience, then you may need different prices for different regions, based on what is considered reasonable.

During the session, someone asked whether it made sense to have free giveaways of your book. Werner mentioned that there are four reasons for considering a giveaway:

  • To launch a product or a brand (and you are a brand)
  • To generate leads and sales (for example, if your main income is not from books, you could give away a book at a speaking engagement to generate other business)
  • To maintain your brand (if you have been away for a while)
  • To perform damage control (when something has gone wrong)

Promotion

A lot of discussion took place in the session on various aspects of promotion. There are so many ways to promote your book: blogging, SEO, social media, direct mail, readings and signings, events, print advertising, online advertising, etc. You can’t possibly do them all. Think about what you are comfortable doing and then determine which of those tactics will be effective for your book.

If you decide to go ahead with an event, for example, think about whether your target audience will be at that event. Where will you be branding yourself best?

Don’t forget about your budget. Will you be getting a return on your investment?

As a blogger, I definitely sat up when Werner started talking about blogging. She said that lots of people tell authors they need to have a blog, but this isn’t always true. Books have a 100% attrition rate — no one is going to buy your book twice. So if you have a blog with 200 followers, how many books are you going to sell directly through that blog?

Werner believes that blogs are beneficial for non-fiction writers to show their expertise. They are also good if you have something new and compelling to say. Otherwise, they are a huge time commitment, and you may be better off focusing on writing your book.

If you are going to blog, make sure you get things to people when they are the most receptive to reading (based on time zone).

The bottom line: Will your blog help you sell books?

I could go on and on, but I’ll have mercy on my readers and stop here. As a final note, I thought I’d share one of Werner’s other myths about marketing: Marketing is an unbearable chore. As she puts it, marketing is to “take on the fun of sharing what you’ve done.” You can tell she really loves her work!

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For those of you who are writers, do you have marketing tips to share? Do you agree or disagree with Werner’s position on having a blog? For readers, what do you look for when deciding whether or not to buy a book?

Image © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar/ CC-BY-SA-3.0

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Walk the Right Path: Three Tips for Writing Comments

While at the Editing Goes Global conference in Toronto, I had the opportunity to attend a session led by the wonderful Arlene Prunkl, an experienced editor who works with self-publishing clients. During the session, she talked about how to give feedback to writers in a positive and compassionate way. I believe her tips are useful not just for editors, but for anyone who has been asked to provide comments on someone else’s work.

While listening to Arlene, it occurred to me that writers asking for feedback are in a similar situation to the character of Neo at the beginning of the movie The Matrix. They know something is not quite right about the story world they are living and breathing. But they’re not quite sure what the problem is. They seek out an editor, who offers to show them the truth.

That editor needs to be careful when delivering feedback, or the writer is going to regret choosing that red pill.

Matrix Red pill or blue pill

Can I put this off until tomorrow?

 

Here are three simple tips provided by Arlene on how to word your comments positively.

1) Avoid using the word “you” in an accusing way. (“You need to change this.”) Refer to the problem, not the person.

Don’t be like Agent Smith and make your writer feel like a worthless insect.

2) Write your comment in the passive voice. (“This sentence can be tightened.”) This helps you to convey the information in a neutral tone.

Be a calm mentor, like Morpheus.

3) Show flexibility by using words like “perhaps” or phrases like “you may want to consider.”

After all, the writer is the One who wrote the text, not you. Respect the effort that has been put into the text. And remember, you don’t know everything. Sometimes there is no spoon.

If you do your job right, the writer will suddenly see the text in a new way. And they will have the confidence to change things for the better.

Matrix code

“I see…everything.”

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

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Images from the movie The Matrix

Do you find it difficult to provide feedback to writers? What has worked for you? Have you ever read comments that made you cringe?

Interview with Carol Saller from University of Chicago Press

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the upcoming international editors conference that is being hosted by the Editors’ Association of Canada this month. I’ve been interviewing some of the conference speakers in advance of the event.

Subversive Copy EditorI’m excited to be able to share with you my interview with keynote speaker Carol Saller, who is well known in the North American editing community. She is the editor of the online Chicago Manual of Style Q&A and the author of the fantastic book The Subversive Copy Editor. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

(For those of you who are not familiar with the Chicago Manual of Style, it’s the standard style guide used by most American trade book publishers.)

I expect things to get a bit hectic over the next couple of weeks while the conference is going on, so I may not be able to post. I’ll be sure to share with you any tidbits that I pick up from the event!

 

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Interview with Brendan O’Brien, Editor and Writer

Today I’d like to share my interview with Brendan O’Brien, originally posted on the blog The Editors’ Weekly. Brendan lives in County Cavan, Ireland, and has over 26 years of experience as a writer and editor. He will be speaking at Editing Goes Global, the first international conference for editors.

(The conference is being held in Toronto, Canada in June – so those of you who are writers or editors and are in the general area may want to check it out.)

In other news, wallcat from My Inner Geek wrote a great follow-up to my Black Widow post from last week. It’s been wonderful to see all the lively and respectful discussion around the topic of female characters.

Finally, my apologies for being late in replying to comments last week. I’ve been down with a pesky virus but am now recovering. I should be back to my usual schedule with an original post for next week. 🙂

 

Cheers,

Sue

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Review: The Editor’s Companion by Steve Dunham

The Editor's CompanionFor those interested in editing resources, I have recently written a review of Steve Dunham’s The Editor’s Companion for the official blog of Editors Canada, the Editors’ Weekly.

As always, comments either here or on the Editors’ Weekly site are welcome.

For those of you who edit (whether your own work or someone else’s), do you have any good resources to share?

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It’s DBW’s first anniversary! If you have not had a chance to complete the reader poll, please stop by and have your say on changes for Year 2. Thanks in advance for your feedback!