Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Most Repeated Advice for Authors

I just returned from one of the largest events in my industry: the American Christian Fiction Writers conference, held in Nashville this year. For three days, around six hundred people attended workshops, lectures, continuing ed courses taught by the giants in our field.

This year I concentrated on things that would guide me through this maze of hybrid publishing--being both independent and traditional--but with special attention to those courses about indie publishing. Guess what the #1 piece of advice was? I doubt it will be a big surprise.

Hire an editor.

Just before being indie became vogue--what? Four years ago? Five?--stodgy traditionalists sneered at the idea that anyone who went the "vanity publishing" route could be considered a serious author. They hadn't jumped the hoops, paid the dues. Their works were destined to be inferior. They'd never rise above the stigma. I know the attitude, because I was a stodgy traditionalist.

Things are far different now. Those of us who once snubbed indie--and fed on crow for quite a while afterward--are now among the number of those who learned how wonderful it is to have complete control without having to share profits. Eventually, the pros in the publishing industry began advising and guiding those who once were learning as they went along.  And, as I said before, advice #1 is--say it all together, kids--"get an editor."

Judging by the whoppin' increase in my freelance editing business, indies are listening.

Having your manuscripts edited professionally is the most expensive thing you, as an indie, can do for your career. The sticker shock is apparently wearing off as authors realize they can earn their investment back. Wise authors understand that they have to invest in their products and build their readers' trust.

But why is the edit the most expensive part of the process?

Think about it: No one else in the entire process has to know your manuscript as well as you do in order to do their jobs. No one. A cover designer needs only the story basics; a formatter needs to know what you want italicized, how you want your title page to look, what design you want for your chapter headings and scene breaks.

But an editor can't do her job unless she delves into your book. She doesn't know whether you have an effective story arc until she's read the story. Can't help you with your weak spots until she knows what they are. Can't know that what you wrote on page 12 is repeated almost verbatim on page 51 unless she's deeply involved.

That not only takes time, it takes expertise.

So, how do you get the most bang for your buck?

Know what you're doing. Know what you want.

Different editors have different terms for the same type of edit sometimes and it's frustrating as the dickens. What some call a "content" edit, others call a "developmental" edit. What some call a "copy" edit, others call a "line" edit. One thing that is the same across the board: Proofread. A proofread shouldn't be confused with an edit; it's necessary, but different. If you think you're hiring a copy editor, and the manuscript comes back with only spelling and punctuation corrected, you didn't get your money's worth.

Here are some tips to help:

  1. Do as much as you can to correct your own mistakes. What you can catch yourself saves your editor from doing it, and if he charges by the hour, that savings can add up. Do you already know you have pet words and phrases? Hunt them down. Check your punctuation by skimming the page for it rather than reading so you're actually focusing on the punctuation. Print the document and read it aloud. The different format, and the fact you're hearing it out loud, will help you catch things that you wouldn't ordinarily catch.
  2. When you're done, have a critique partner catch as much as possible. Make corrections based upon those recommendations--then proofread your corrections.
  3. Know what kind of edit you want. A content or developmental edit covers everything about the craft of writing: characterization, story arc, setting, plot, dialogue, narrative, literary devices, etc. A copy or line edit covers everything pertaining to the mechanics of writing: progression of thought as presented through sentences and paragraphs, sentence structure, word choice, etc.
  4. Make certain you and your editor are on the same page about what you expect in an edit. Find an editor who will provide a sample edit. Most will, because it lets the editor know your expertise while helping to determine a cost estimate. If you're primarily getting corrected spelling and punctuation when you want to know whether your POV is deep enough, then you need to keep looking.
  5. Understand that it takes roughly 30 days to do a good edit, and that some--if not most--editors demand partial payment up front. Like other editors, I require full payment. The funds go into an account until I finish the job.
  6. Understand that whether or not you agree with the editor's work, the editor did the work. Unless you expressed a content edit and received a proofread, the work has been done, and the editor is to be paid for her time. Plumbers are paid for the time it takes them to repair a sink. Doctors are paid for treatment time. Editors are paid for editing time.
  7. Know that the piece is yours and you ultimately have the final decision. If you disagree with something the editor suggested, don't do it. It's your work, your decision.
Ideally, you'd start with a content edit, then the copy edit (which is pointless to do if the content is is flawed), and finally a proofread (which is pointless to do unless the craft and mechanics of writing are corrected).

Give yourself and your editor time. While this manuscript is being edited, prepare its marketing schedule, design ads, start arranging for guest posts. There's always something you can be doing. Ultimately, you can earn back what you spend on your final product. 

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Knowing When to Retreat

I was lucky enough to attend a two-week residency at the Golden Apple Studio two summers ago. My sister, a well-respected and talented artist in her own right, and her successful, and very handy-to-have-around-the-house-and-residency husband, own the retreat and built it from the ground up. Golden Apple sits on the Atlantic Ocean in Maine, and if you ever have an opportunity to attend, you won't be sorry. You can find more information at

Here I am at the Golden Apple Studio artist residency.
Wait a second; that's not me. That my old, dusty, manual
typewriter find (thanks to my daughter, Dennae).
Well, I had the old and dusty part right. 
I had a dual professional purpose in attending. I needed to work on the first book of a second series I'm writing, and I also wanted to try out the new camera I'd just been given by my insanely generous brother. Not only did I manage to nearly complete the book, but I also took in excess of 1400 pictures. My third reason, though, was personal. I wanted to spend time with only my muse (along with new friends, family, and food) to re-evaluate the direction my writing career was heading and to decide if I needed to make adjustments. But if it were not for my sister's and brother-in-law's generosity (also insane) in inviting me, I would never have been able to afford both the tuition and transportation to attend in the first place. And that, my friends, would've been a great tragedy. I learned so much more during those two weeks than just what I was able to complete on my book or accomplish with my camera. So much.

Residencies, retreats, weekend getaways--there are several names used for those occasions when artists of all kinds carve out the time needed to recharge, rest, reinvent, review, and work on projects that need completing or begin new ones. I expected, and experienced, all of that. What I didn't expect, however, was how four strangers from different backgrounds, ages, experiences, world views, religions, and lifestyles could bond as we did. I may never see any of these women in person again, but I feel tied to them in a way I never could have felt if they were merely LinkedIn contacts.

I was one of two authors in attendance, and we were joined by two artists. Our days were spent in our individual studios, with breaks for breakfast and lunch and a wonderful communal meal at the end of the day. We were free to wander into the other studios to observe what they were doing or to stay holed up and work until our stomach growled and the upcoming meal was announced. I did some of each. During the two weeks we were each invited to present to the other three artists and our hosts, Shelley and Greg, a mini program showcasing what we were all about as creative artists. Both Yvonne, the other author, and I read from our manuscripts. The artists, Anne and Erin, showed us past and present work from their portfolios. I was blown away by how much I appreciated work in genres I would never have taken the time to ponder before. Believe me, it was humbling.

I've not had a chance to return to Golden Apple, but I hope to someday. In the meantime, I'm planning to create my own retreats on occasion. As with most people these days, and authors are no exception, life has a way of sucking out all the energy and creativity from our souls. What little time I have left at the end of the day is too often spent playing mindless games of FreeCell on my Nook, rather than working on my latest chapter (or writing a blog post, for instance). From time to time, I need an uninterrupted period of time when I can let loose my creative urges and do what I hope I do best--write.

Let's face it. We all need a respite once in a while. A weekend at a hotel is one way to enjoy a mini retreat. Sharing a room with a colleague saves money, and working side by side keeps us on track. Hotels often have lounges or cafes that would work just fine when the urge strikes to get out of that room. My personal favorite would be a week in a cabin deep in the woods where only the birds can witness my struggle with the written word.

How about you? Have you been on a retreat? What would be an ideal getaway for you?
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4 E's of an Effective Critique Group

by Lisa Lickel

Critique Groups aren't for everyone, or for every writer, for that matter. But groups that meet regularly for encouragement, craft growth, and marketing exchange, not to mention the chance to talk shop with others of our ilk, has benefits to being a solitary author. Here are five backbones of effective groups.

Four E’s of Effective Critique Groups

Groups of people who come together for a common purpose such as critiquing each other’s writing but have different perspectives are surprisingly strong. Writers of non-fiction, poetry, historical fiction, romance, or thrillers, should be able to read and comment on work that is not a carbon copy of their own. Poets are experts at distilling language and creating rhythms and patterns that make any kind of writing sing. Non-fiction authors see facts in a way that fiction writers may sometimes gloss over too readily. While it’s good and important for all writers to step outside of his or her own box, there is also a good argument for writers of like material to be able to exchange ideas. Good writing is good writing no matter the style or type, and the same basic understanding of how language works, rules and when to break them, applies. Be wary of critique partners who continue to back away from discussion because they don’t care for or understand a genre.

Effective critique groups meet regularly, whether in person or online. Critique partners agree how to work with each other, and keep their commitment to the best of their ability. At some point, vacation or other appointments interrupt a schedule, but good groups commit to each other, at least for a season of time. Beware the writer who attends only to have his or her own work critiqued, or the opposite, the writer who only wants to critique others.

Authors have different gifts and abilities. A critique should not be confused with an edit, although there is some crossover. One author may have a good handle on mechanics such as punctuation, another may see the big picture or find the holes in the story. Another may be good at brainstorming when a member is stuck, or see repetitive or clichés to fix. Critique partners should listen and respect individual styles without resorting to rewriting for a group member.

Image result for creative commons clip art writing groupsCritique is not another word for criticism. In fact, one definition of critique is “to find the merit.” No matter how much work an author’s submission needs, the foundation of an effective critique is help each other grow in craft, a job which will never be finished. Groups should set common goals as well as individual member goals. One goal may be to help each other publish, so members would share information. Another may be to find marketing outlets, or to find an agent. The goal may be as simple as learn how to write better dialog, good cliffhangers, or finish a project. No matter the dynamics, good, effective critique groups encourage each other and never disparage another’s work, or make any issues personal. Remember, successful authors want thousands of strangers reading their work. One or two differing opinions on a small scale is merely good practice.

Below is a sheet of Guidelines, which may be copied and distributed to your individual group.
Clip art from Creative Commons

Suggested Guidelines for Effective Critique Groups

Critiques should be constructive in nature, not overtly negative, and never personal. A good discussion should not devolve into arguing or badgering or overly defensive behavior.

·         If you have time, read the submission straight through before commenting

·         Think about what you enjoyed about the submission and which parts gave you problems

·         Comment on the portions that made you stop reading or confused you—was it the punctuation or word choice or point of view or research?

·         Comment on areas you liked

·         Remember, if you question a word or statement, it’s up to you to find the proof. Check spellings in a the dictionary, or do a quick Internet search if you are not sure the author is correct in facts. Give your supporting resource

·         Offer suggestions for different usages but do not rewrite for the author

·         If you are comfortable with mechanics, point out problems with punctuation or spelling or grammar or other problem areas such as overused words/phrases or proper tense; other formatting issues such as proper em dashes, quotation usage, paragraph and line spacing

·         Point out style problems and offer suggestions if you are comfortable; style errors include stilted dialog or dialog that doesn’t seem to fit a character, telling vs. showing, overly long exposition, flabby or missing transitions, wordiness, head hopping amongst characters or for nonfiction, not answering a question or missing information

·         Comment on story problems, offering suggestions on inconsistent story line, character development, character trait errors such as sudden name or eye color change, discrepancies in factual information with supporting resource, overuse of narrative or monologue, overuse of italics, dashes, ellipses; issues with clichés, stereotypes, unbelievable plot lines, pacing and flow of the story according to genre, proper length, and proper denouement; for poetry, articles, and other non-fiction, comment where you feel comfortable, such as did the end meet the need, were there proper attributions where needed, did the flow work for the subject

·         Find something positive to contribute to the discussion, even if the submission is not the type of work you would normally read

·         Authors should listen to/read the comments and consider the merits of each critique without resorting to an attempt to please every position or every reader’s taste

From Lisa J. Lickel, 2016
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Friday, August 26, 2016

Review: "'Trickle Down Theory' and 'Tax Cuts for the Rich'"

by Thomas Sowell (Hoover Institution Press, 2012)

Reviewed by Donn Taylor

      I'm recycling this review because it is directly pertinent to issue in today's world and because it behooves us as writers to get basic facts right.

     Sowell's title repeats two often-repeated shibboleths of today's political spin. In this very short separately published essay, the distinguished economist and Hoover Institution scholar Thomas Sowell examines both concepts in the light of historical reality. His overall finding is that neither of

the two concepts is supported by reality.
First of all, among economists there is no "trickle down theory," for the term is a political term used to argue against a caricature of what economists have actually said. What economists have argued is that at times "existing tax rates are so high that the government could collect more tax revenues if it lowered those tax rates, because the changed incentives would lead to more economic activity, resulting in more tax revenues out of rising incomes…."
            Sowell continues by documenting what actually happened when high tax rates were lowered in the 1920s and under presidents Kennedy, Reagan, and George W. Bush. "What actually followed the cuts in tax rates in the 1920s were rising output, rising employment to produce that output, rising incomes as a result and rising revenues for the government because of the rising incomes…." Sowell cites actual figures showing that "people in the higher income brackets not only paid a larger total amount of taxes, but a higher percentage of all taxes…." Further, the "hard data" show that "both the amount and the proportion of taxes" paid by those with lower incomes went down, while "both the amount and proportion of taxes" paid by those with higher incomes went up. And the higher the income, the sharper the increase.
            Consequently, Sowell shows, the political caricature that these were "tax cuts for the rich" is false: tax rates were cut for everyone, everyone profited, and the government received more revenue—a win-win for all concerned.

            Politicians can be expected to falsify truth to serve their own purposes, but it is more disturbing that leading journalists have repeated these falsifications and some historians have enshrined them in history books. Sowell quotes several of these and contrasts them by quoting the actual persons (e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon) who were misrepresented. He also follows these and similar misrepresentations through the Reagan and Bush administrations.

            Sowell's writing is clear and easily readable. But perhaps its most impressive feature is his extensive documentation. The number of pages devoted to end notes equals about one third of the number of pages of text. The documentation leaves no doubt that the author has thoroughly researched his subject.
            The result is a thoroughly readable explanation of the historical truth about an important and much-misrepresented subject. It should be required reading for everyone who intends to vote in any local or national election.
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