Tag Archives: editing

On Knowing a Published Author

It can be difficult to be a writer sometimes. Not just because one’s prolonged ability to stare at a blinking cursor seems to improve and lengthen with each looming deadline. What if you’re the sort of writer who doesn’t have deadlines? you ask. I would venture to say that all writers have deadlines. Some are mandated by a publisher, like the end of the year, or month, or week, or day.

Other writers, like freelancers, or those whose income doesn’t depend upon their turning in (or even finishing) their work, have less concrete deadlines. These types of writers might feed their ambition by setting personal goals for themselves, like so many words per day, of anything, no matter what; or to finish a novel by the time they’re thirty. I am the type of writer who employs these more flexible deadlines for myself. My deadlines hover in the realm of, Write that blog post about the upcoming election sometime before whoever gets elected finishes serving his/her full term. Or, Finish your novel before you are dead (but maybe after Grandpa dies, so as not to offend him with your copious use of the d-word).

Yes, it’s difficult to be a writer. Especially when there are so many times that I come home planning to spend my evening writing but then am met with any number of obstacles that would wear upon my conscience and motivation until I shelve the laptop and succumb to temptation. These temptations, of course, manifest themselves in the form of tasks and responsibilities such as cleaning the bathroom, snaking the basement drain, clearing my attic of squirrels’ nests, or promising social enticements like the conversationally awkward, unable-to-grow-facial-hair guy in his mid-thirties who’s been pestering me for a date for the last six months, or going with Grandpa to pick out a cemetery plot.*

Last but certainly not least, being a writer can be difficult when you have friends who also fancy themselves writers. Because sometimes your friends end up being funnier than you, or more eloquent, or more concise, or more published. Such is the case with my recently acquired friend Katie Savage. Now, to be fair, Katie has managed to do a lot of things before me in life, such as be born, get married, have children, reach the age of thirty and still wear makeup, etc. So she’s obviously superior to me in many ways, and I shouldn’t take it personally that writing happens to be one of them.

But (as briefly as possible because I know I’m losing those of you who don’t even know me and are only here for what you thought would be but are now beginning to suspect is not a review of Whirlybirds) I did take it personally, at least at first. Before I even knew Katie, people were telling me I needed to know her. Mutual friends of ours told me on multiple occasions that we had a similar sense of humor and similar writing styles. I was not closed off to these comparisons or (what I would learn later were) compliments, but the fact remained that there existed no feasible way in the course of normal life to get an introduction to this mystery person, so I shrugged it off.

Until one day. On that day, I walked into my boyfriend-at-the-time’s apartment to pick him up for whatever we were planning to do that night. He was in a particularly good mood and couldn’t wait to tell me why. He had just finished reading his friend’s “thesis,” I think he called it. I’ll let you eavesdrop on the rest of the conversation.

“Oh? You read someone’s thesis?” said I, mentally calculating how long a legit thesis would have to be in comparison to my fledgling and surely-not-thesis-length novel, which had been in his possession for some months now, and which he had not yet finished reading.

“Yeah, it’s my friend Katie Savage’s. It’s more of a collection of essays, really. I think she’s going to turn it into a book or something.”

Of course I recognized the name. I also felt slightly deflated by all this information but nodded, smiled, and did all the supportive-girlfriendy things a woman will do, as congenially as she possibly can, when her boyfriend is praising another woman.

However, I was also ready to drop it and move on. “So. You ready to go?”

“Yeah. You know, I really think Katie is probably the best writer I’ve ever known.”

And there it was. Heart: cracked. Balloon: deflated. Self-esteem: vanished.

Some of you might want to defend this mistake, but before you do, let me just try to explain why his parting comment was so hurtful.

My identity as a writer is everything to me. Absolutely everything. If I don’t have my writing, what do I have? Nothing. And if I don’t have the support of the person I’ve given my heart to, what do I have? Nothing. To be compared to a peer by mutual friends and thereby feel in immediate competition with her was bad enough, though tolerable. To be told, however, to my face, by the love of my life, that she was better than me was insufferable. Even if it’s the truth.

If you occupy the role in my life of Holder of my Heart, then you can tell me any truth you like except this one. Tell me I’m too short, too plain, too weird, too stubborn, too rude, too blunt, too emotional, too callous, too poor, too smelly, too unkempt, too attached to my dog, too crass, too analytic, too obsessed with baseball, too Democrat, whatever. I can take all those truths. But – and I’m sorry if this is asking too much of any potential suitors out there who might be reading – if you claim the title of my boyfriend (or someday husband) and don’t think I’m the cleverest, most articulate, most fun, most talented writer you’ve ever personally known, well, then, my heart just won’t be able to withstand that.

Now, I didn’t bring you through all of that to focus on what a poor decision that particular boyfriend made on that particular day. I brought you through it to help you understand the jealous, competitive obstacle I had to overcome in my heart when I actually, finally met Katie for the very first time. Luckily, to be concise, her writing is as good as everyone says it is, and she is as cool a person as I had been told, so it wasn’t easy to dislike her, even though I tried very hard. (Sorry, Katie – both that I tried to dislike you and that you’re finding this out for the first time in a public blog post.)

I’ve also brought you all this way to set up the proof that you can trust me. Katie and I have known each other for about a year now, and though I think we can legitimately be called friends, I don’t think we can legitimately be called close. Therefore, you know now that whatever I have to say about her book (which I swear I’m getting to) will not be driven only by my sappy desire to praise my friend.

So, if anyone besides the author-in-question herself is still reading, I shall thus commence my review of Katie Savage’s first published book, Whirlybirds and Ordinary Times: Reflections on Faith and the Changing of Seasons.

Quickly, I’m going to get out of the way the things about the book that did not particularly push my happy-reader (or, as the case may be, happy-editor) buttons. And then we’ll get to the flowery stuff. First, without knowing much about the book beforehand, I wasn’t exactly enticed by the vague, wordy title. Without the cover design (which I’ll get to in a second), I wouldn’t have even been able to deduce what the word whirlybird refers to. I’d never heard that word. On the cover, however, is a framed depiction of what I grew up calling a helicopter. Not an actual helicopter, mind you, but one of those seed-pod things you throw up in the air as a kid and watch as it twirls down to the ground, much in the manner of (duh) a helicopter. So there was that mystery solved.

But I didn’t particularly love the “ordinary times” part of the title either. It just seemed so bland, and to be perfectly honest, a book that purports to be written about one’s personalized reflections of faith already isn’t likely to be one I’m gonna pick up off the shelf unless I happen to know the writer in real life because I’m just not that interested in very many people’s personalized reflections on faith. That is an aspect about my personality and reading self that many may view as a character flaw, and I guess that’s fine. We all have our literary preferences. But the point is, I was disappointed with the term ordinary times. Until, that is, I received the book in the mail and opened it up to the table of contents, wherein I discovered that Katie has organized her essays in a manner that follows the calendar of the Christian church – a large portion of which includes something we call Ordinary Time.

Ah, of course! I thought. It’s a play on words! How clever! And so, I came to quite like the title, and all the more for the fact that I greatly respect titles that seem vague and meaningless until one has read some portion (if not all) of the book. It’s like a reader’s reward, or something. It’s nice.

As for the cover design, it’s cutesy and pretty-looking. But it’s not the most engaging, most compelling, most tempting cover I’ve ever come across. Part of the reason for this is that, though I’m not exactly a design specialist, I have had the luxury of knowing some really amazing cover designers. My former coworkers Joey and Tyler, and my personal friends J.R. and Arthur, are all better designers than whoever designed the Whirlybirds cover, and that’s not Katie’s fault at all. That’s the fault of Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster), for not employing more creative, more talented designers. (If any representatives from Howard Books are reading this, please click the links from J.R.’s and Arthur’s names above. They really are very good designers, and you could use their help; I’ve seen your other covers.)

The last thing I was disappointed with (which, again, is not Katie’s fault) was some of the editing. There are a few minor, fairly inconsequential things I would’ve done differently, and that’s okay. But the one thing I could not abide through the entire book was the capitalization of pronouns referring to God. It is a common misconception in Christian writing circles that God pronouns (he, him, his, himself) ought to be capitalized. The truth is, they’re abysmally distracting, and nothing uglies up a layout faster than a page full of capital H’s. Plus, it’s a basic tenet of the Chicago Manual of Style.

So, Howard Books, you’re 0 for 2 on your book production staff. Might want to do some hiring in the near future. I am available, if you’re handing out jobs. Oh, and if you are handing out jobs, you might want to hire new layout designers too. The layout of this book employed a magazine-article style, which is intolerable. There are pull quotes on almost every page, which is, again, so distracting. Helpful in a magazine article – when you’re skimming because you only have five or ten minutes in a waiting room. But this is a book. People are reading every word. Release the pull quotes. (I did end up not hating them, though, at certain times when I wanted to write a long comment in the margin next to one and they afforded me extra space for doing so.)

Okay, so now we get to the stuff I like about this book, which is, honestly, everything else. Everything that Katie did herself, in fact. Since I am a woman, I can’t comment on an audience for this book. I mean, she does talk about things like the relative size of her breasts, and breast feeding, and breast pumping, and squashing her sore, milk-filled breasts with the strap of a heavy bag. (Don’t worry, if you think you’re sensing a theme. If I remember correctly, all of the breasty references are constrained to one chapter…two, max.)

Katie writes about other stuff too. Like a difficult summer she experienced as a teenager when a friend died at church camp. And a harrowing, riddled-with-misadventure trip through Europe one Christmas holiday. And the hilarious shortcomings she views in herself (such as the fact that, for a long time in her life, she never cleaned underneath her oven knobs). And an awkward evangelism experience she had to participate in one time, in which she was to play a drunken demon, even though she had never actually been drunk and wasn’t sure what it looked like.

The best thing I found about Katie’s book is that, despite the subtitle potentially scaring off certain readers, with all its mentions of faith and reflections, it’s really just a book about the human experience. And it just so happens to be written by someone whose experience includes believing in Jesus. It’s true, there are references and allusions to Christian-y things that might escape a non-well-read, non-Christian reader, but that won’t really detract from the quality of the reading experience. Katie writes with both a depth comparable to theologians and an accessibility that will invite and welcome anyone who isn’t actually interested in all the God stuff. She spends enough time talking about non-God stuff that anyone who is not drawn to those parts will still remain engaged and interested, but for those who are drawn to them, she also ties everything together beautifully in a way that any author I’ve edited could only hope to do.

The margins of my copy of Whirlybirds are filled with my notes, mostly of laughter. But there’s also a fair amount of assent and agreement because, as it happened, the further I got in Katie’s book, the more convinced I became that we are twins separated at birth (never mind the fact that she’s two or three years older than me). There were even a couple of times when I read my own thoughts on the pages. Sometimes I loved this. However, the third or fourth time it happened, I began to feel I was running out of material for my own future book. When that happened, I underlined the sentence and wrote in the margin: Dammit! She’s stealing all my lines!

Which brings me to the d-word I alluded to before. Which I finally feel comfortable admitting that I (sometimes) like to use in my writing, and Katie is the reason I’m finally willing to admit it publicly, in front of Grandpa and the world. See, Katie uses this word no fewer than four times in her book, and once, at the very end (when she must’ve thought we all stopped reading), she uses the s-word! So, I’ve succumbed to this self-inflicted peer pressure and have decided that if Katie can do it publicly, then by golly, so can I, dangit. Well… I’m still getting used to the idea.

Anyway, the point is, this book is really good, and if you know Katie, you should definitely read it. Heck, you need to buy it! If you don’t know Katie, I still think you would enjoy it. And if you are not a Christian and don’t know Katie, well, I still think you’d like it. If for no other reason than the abundance of one-liners, or, as stand-up comics like to call them, zingers. There’s a lot of them, and I’ll just give you one because one of the Amazon reviews quotes a whole bunch, and that made me mad because I felt that those particular lines were spoiled for me, even though they really weren’t, and even though the book is pages and pages full of them, so it didn’t really spoil anything at all.

The one I liked in particular is actually one of the ones having to do with breasts. It’s near the beginning, and Katie talks about the changes her body went through during her first pregnancy. It reads thus:

My pregnant breasts were as dainty as my regular breasts, and my delusions of bountiful cleavage – even cleavage that lasted only a few months – rapidly faded.

The reason I liked this line so much was that it produced this margin note: And now, so have mine! :(

And those delusions of mine have faded even more now that I’ve finished the  book and realized just exactly how similar Katie and I really are. So, that’s a bummer (about the breasts, not the similar personality thing). But here’s the thing: Katie’s a damn good writer, and everyone should know it. And now, I can agree with that old ex-boyfriend of mine. She probably is the best, most talented writer I have the pleasure of personally knowing. And, it’s actually pretty cool that now my shelf reserved for Authors I Personally Know has two books on it!

Thanks, Katie, for being brave enough to publish a book. You’re a great author. And thanks also for making it all the way to the end of the Most Tangential and Off-Topic Book Review Ever. By the by, can I come to dinner sometime soon? I’d love to get my book signed.

*Apologies to my grandpa, who took a few hard hits in this post. For the record, he neither bases his love for me on the foulness of my language nor lies at death’s door. On the contrary, he’s really quite genial and hospitable and still has an impressive spring in his step. I do hope he’ll forgive me.
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You Know What Happens When You Assume . . .

*Intro: I wrote this initially for work. It did not end up getting used, but I still think it’s worth sharing. So here it is – pretty formal sounding because it’s intact the way I wrote it for its original purpose.*

I am privileged to be part of the editing team for Immerse Journal. It is a lot of fun getting to help shape these articles for youth workers that push the envelope and provoke thought and discussion among communities of leaders.

Recently, though, we had sort of a debacle that was the unfortunate result of some miscommunication between the editorial staff and one of our potential authors.

On the author’s side of things, the sentiment was that the article had been edited poorly and had removed the author’s voice and style and pretty much everything that made the article belong to the author. On my part of the editorial side, I was confused by my perception that this author was upset by a couple of grammatical corrections. (What I didn’t know at the time was that I never saw the author’s original article.)

I ended up sending a formal and somewhat stuffy email to this author, explaining that the edits (not knowing there were larger edits at stake) were nonnegotiable. The author, feeling like he wasn’t being heard or respected, replied with a short, succinct email explaining that he was pulling his article altogether.

I left the conversation assuming the author was egotistical, pompous, pretentious. I am sure he left the conversation feeling like Immerse was being run by a bunch of unreasonable, impersonal, corporate snobs.

Two weeks later, I found myself in the same room as this particular author in a relaxed social setting, completely apart from and unrelated to the office or Immerse in any way. A friend of mine who knows us both said to me, “Have you met {So-and-So} yet?”

I answered no, and my friend dragged this author over to me and made the introductions.

Funny thing is, we initially looked at each other sheepishly. What I saw was a young, friendly-looking guy fairly close to my age. Nothing egotistical, pompous, or pretentious about him. I guess I can’t answer for what he saw when he looked at me, but judging by his friendly smile and warm handshake, I am guessing something similar.

The first words out of both of our mouths began with, “I’m sorry…” And from there, we sorted out the complications and miscommunications and were able to see each other as human beings.

I walked away from that encounter with feelings of relief and redemption as well as guilt and shame. I was relieved to know the author wasn’t a jerk. I felt redeemed by his gracious acceptance of my humanness, my flawed-ness. I felt guilty and shameful for having assigned negative attributes to a faceless person whose story I didn’t know.

In our dealings with those around us, even (maybe especially) in disagreements, may we all tread with caution and an awareness that we are all humans, all in this together, all participating in individual stories as well as a larger story. And may grace never be in short supply.

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ARSON, by Estevan Vega

Now that I’ve changed course slightly in the direction of my career, I think it’s time to do a review of and tribute to my favorite book and author from my tenure at Tate Publishing. A lot of bad books crossed my desk at that company, along with a fair amount of mediocre-to-decent books. And I also saw a small, select few really good books.

One of those really good ones was Arson, by Estevan Vega. Estevan was an editor’s dream author. He was enthusiastic and cooperative from the start. He was ambitious and driven, going to all ends of the earth to get big-name endorsements for his book. Some he got, and some he didn’t, but nonetheless, his effort did not go unnoticed. Before I even began the edit on his book, I expected to enjoy it not only because he was so excited about it (because bad authors get excited about their books too) but also because he was humble about it.

During our introductory phone conversation, he didn’t brag to me about his writing abilities, like some authors do. He didn’t tell me the long, hard road he’d been down to get to publishing, like some authors do, as if somehow hard work means they deserve to be published (in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t; only good work deserves publishing). He didn’t even tell me that this was his third book to get published. (Of course, I did already know it was his third because I had googled him before I called him.)

When I asked Estevan to tell me about himself, he mentioned that he was still in college, that he spends most of his time writing, and that his dad was the one who first encouraged him to pursue writing. That was it. He was straightforward, honest, and humble. The thing that endeared me most to Estevan was that he was respectful of me as his editor right from the very beginning. He immediately seemed to understand the relationship we would have and also seemed to be looking forward to it. He appropriately communicated his expectations of me, which were not unreasonable, and I reiterated my role in the process.

After hanging up the phone with Estevan, I couldn’t wait to get started on the edit of Arson (even though we did have one major disagreement right from the beginning – the title). Estevan originally had a different title, and I liked it a lot more than the one that got finalized. I presented my arguments for the other title logically and respectfully, and he appropriately considered them and then went with his gut. Which is fine, since it’s his book and not mine. It took him a full month to give me the final decision on the title, and because he carefully weighed all the options and opposing arguments before he made up his mind, I cannot fault him for going against my advice.

And as for the book as a whole? Estevan didn’t have to brag about his ability. His talent spoke for itself.

From the first line of Arson, I was hooked. The book is a psychological thriller, a supernatural coming-of-age story that employs masterful character development, fast-paced and natural dialogue, and plot surprises to keep the reader interested until the very end. The most intriguing thing, for me, was that the title of the book is the main character’s name.

Arson is a teenager who is “different.” He has the ability to create fire with his mind, but like most teenagers, all he wants is to be normal. He lives on the edge of a small town with his grandparents, and the reader gets the feeling they’ve moved there as a result of a tragic accident in their past; it’s hinted at but not confirmed that the accident may have been Arson’s fault. Lonely, isolated, and trying to survive adolescence, Arson spends his summer days working at an ice cream shop and his evenings alternately avoiding the wrath of his bipolar grandmother or keeping her company and assuring her of his love.

Before long, a new family moves into the abandoned house next door, and Arson’s curiosity about the girl his age who always wears a mask eventually gets the better of him. In true teenage fashion, Arson and Emery plunge headlong into a complicated, emotionally charged, and, at times, infuriating relationship, while each tries to keep hidden the skeletons threatening to burst out of closets behind them. Even though they aren’t sure they can trust each other, they enter a unique friendship that will lead them down paths of no return, forcing a deeper bond than perhaps they feel ready to commit to.

I wish I could tell you more because there’s so much packed into the plot, the development, and the backdrop. But part of the fun of the book is that it confuses you just enough to keep you hooked (kind of like the show Lost), so I don’t want to ruin anything.

But the book is definitely one that deserves (and may even require) a second read. The themes are dark, the emotions are perfectly captured and portrayed, and the story is compelling. And what’s more, it doesn’t end the way you thought it would. What more could you want in a book? This one is definitely worth buying and having on your shelf. And the best news is, Estevan is working on the sequel, so if you fall irrevocably in love with Arson’s character (as I did), you won’t have seen the end of him just yet. (The only downfall is that I probably won’t edit the rest of the series, so the books will be lacking in editorial quality, for sure! ;) I’m mostly kidding.)

Interested parties and intelligent readers can purchase Estevan Vega’s Arson directly from the publisher, or beginning May 4, it will be on Amazon.

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The Editor’s Job

Authors are like children. They’re whiny, they’re impatient, they’re rude, and they’re dense, but most importantly (and most like children), they’re ambitious. Ambition does not always yield positive results. But that’s entirely dependent upon the operator – much like how most computer problems can be traced back to the IT techs’ favorite error, the old I-D-Ten-T. I-D-10-T. Get it?

Published authors throughout history, especially those who attempt work with editors or co-authors, have time and again proven themselves to be some of the most stubborn, bull-headed, idiotic, irritating people on earth. But they have also proven themselves to be some of the most determined. And for that, puffed-up or annoying (or ignorant) though they may be, we must commend them all. For nothing has ever been accomplished in the history of the world without determination.

That said, from a professional editor’s point of view, authors really do create more headaches than necessary. I didn’t know what a headache was until I became an editor. Most of the problems an editor has with an author can be undeniably traced back to the fact that the author does not understand the editor’s role nor his own role in the editing and revision processes. If more authors understood the intended and ideal dynamic of the author-editor relationship, more editors would make lifelong careers out of their positions, and fewer authors would stress unnecessarily over their “babies.”

The editor’s job is objectivity.
Yes, I understand that you spent twenty years slaving over your book. But it’s not going to take me nearly that long to tell you what’s wrong with it. Yes, I understand that your great-great-grandmother thinks it’s comparable to Shakespeare. But your great-great-grandmother also thinks that Abe Lincoln is still president. You’re not Shakespeare, and I’m not going to treat you like you are. You’re also not J.K. Rowling. Or Stephen King. Or Mary Higgins Clark. Or John Grisham. Yes, I understand that all 5,823 minute details of your actions day in and day out are interesting to you. But they won’t be interesting to anyone else, especially readers who have never met you. Yes, I understand that you’ve watched a lot of crime shows and therefore know all there is to know about detective work and lingo. But guess what – I’ve seen all those crime shows too, and I can tell that you ripped off the seventy-eighth episode of CSI in your book, and your readers will be able to tell too. Try again. “Try again.” That’s the essence of the relationship between the editor and the author. The editor points out the places in the book where the author needs to try again.

The editor’s job is not to format the manuscript for you.
It is not my job to fix your spacing and indents. It’s also not my job to write a proper bibliography page for you. If you don’t know what you’re doing, do some research! Yes, I know how to create a bibliography page because I had to know how in order to get the college degree I wanted to get. That doesn’t mean it’s my job to fix yours for you. It’s also not my job to check your facts. If you write a book that talks about Hitler’s African ancestry or posits that the United States was founded in 1301, I might notice these mistakes, or I might not. It’s not my job to be a history buff, nor is it my job to Google all your facts. That’s your job, and your name is going on the cover, so if your facts are wrong, readers are going to blame you, not your editor.

The editor’s job is certainly technical.
It is absolutely my job to point out your grammatical and other technical errors. If a word is spelled wrong, I get paid to notice (and to fix it). If your commas are misplaced, I’m supposed to re-place them. If your apostrophes are backwards, I’m supposed to face them forward. All of that is my job. If I miss one thing in an entire book that you happen to find after I’ve finished my edit? You should be thanking me that I found all the other errors and left only that one. I’m human too, remember.

The editor’s job is not to be your friend.
Don’t send me a friend request on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, or any other social networking site. I have a personal life aside from my professional life, and if you’ve done a Google search for my name, you’re going to find my personal social networking profiles, which you have no business looking at if they are not open and public to everyone. Our relationship is and will remain strictly professional. Garner your fans from your readership and friends and family. (There are a few exceptions to this rule, but in general, do not friend-request your editor. The basic rule you should follow is – if you like your editor and he or she friend-requests you on a social networking site, then go ahead and accept. But do not initiate the request.)

The editor’s job is to be timely, professional, and respectful of the author’s baby.
But in return, the author should be willing to learn, cooperative, and receptive to the editor’s suggestions and expertise. The editor is not giving you a personal opinion. The editor is providing you with the reaction the “average” reader (not your friends and family) will have upon reading your book. Plus, your editor gets paid to do his job and to do it well. So trust him. He’ll almost always be right.

The editor’s job is not to design your book’s cover or to market your book for you.
No matter what type of publishing service you are using – one that provides cover design service or one that does not, or one that provides marketing services or one that does not – your editor is not the expert in those fields. Let the editor edit the book. Let the designer design it. And let the marketing rep market it. Authors’ stress levels would be so much lower if they just let each person do the job he or she is paid to do.

Editors become editors because they love to read.
Editors become editors because they loved discussing literature in their college classes.
Editors become editors because they are detail oriented and good at catching “the small stuff.”

Editors quit their jobs when authors drive them crazy.

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The Delicate Author Dance

It has been far too long since I posted. Unfortunately, the doing of my job has been getting in the way of the writing about my job. And also, nothing in a month has popped into my head that has made me think, I should blog about that!

So I guess this post might suck. But let’s soldier on and see where it takes us anyway, huh?

I have some tough authors on my plate right now.

One is frustrated with me because I asked her to cut a lot of her book. Unfortunately, her book isn’t very good, but she doesn’t realize that. She thinks (as many do) that God wrote the book for her and that it is therefore blameless.

Another is upset with me because she’s written a sordid, in-poor-taste sex scene that very blatantly goes against our company’s standards of publishing, and I’ve asked her to take it out. She argues that I’m stifling her creativity as a writer. I wish I could tell her that it’s not an issue of creativity; it’s truly an issue of taste. I’ve often posited that I’m one of the most liberal (if not the most liberal) editors at the company in terms of the kinds of things I let slide in my books for the sake of good literature. So if I find this scene to be in poor taste, that’s saying quite a lot. Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to say that to her, at least not in those exact words.

Still another is irritated because I rewrote her teaser and author bio, and they don’t sound like her voice. I did my best to explain the concept that the backmatter should be more a product of the publisher’s voice than the author’s, in order to be the most marketable for the book. Of course, that was editor code for “your teaser was really, really terrible.” She didn’t get it. She’s very old. And then she gave me a lecture about how Santa should not be an icon in the Christian home. I didn’t have the heart to tell her she’s fighting a useless battle with that one.

On a more positive note, I’ve got one author singing my praises because she is a terrible writer (she’ll admit it herself), but the work I did on her book disguises that fact pretty well. Another author has informed my boss that he will not publish with our company again unless he can work with me again. And one final author has informed my boss that I need a raise, and he called me a couple of weeks ago just because he “missed” me (he had been out of editing for about a month, and once they’re out of editing, they don’t hear from the editor [obviously]).

So, as with any job, there are ups and there are downs. One just has to hope that the ups can outweigh the downs somehow or at least be somewhat balanced.

So far, this is probably the post I’m least proud of. I hope something interesting and worth blogging about happens soon.

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Author = Arrogance (Not Writer)

*This post is not at all a specific reflection on my company or its authors. It’s an observance of the industry as a whole. And the trend I discuss here is not only prevalent in the publishing industry but in any industry you’ll ever scrutinize.*

Is there a difference between an author and a writer? Absolutely.

Without even looking the words up in the dictionary, I have decided that yes, there is a difference, and quite a resounding one, at that.

If you asked me, I would tell you that I’m a writer. I am not, however, an author. Though I haven’t looked the words up, I am pretty confident that author denotes (if not denotes, at least connotes) publication of some kind. I am not published. I have never been (credibly) published. Sure, I’ve got high school and college pieces in literary publications, but those don’t count. Nothing I’ve ever written can be found on a shelf, whether cyber or oak. Nothing I’ve ever written can legally or taxably be purchased. Therefore, I am not an author. But a writer I am, through and through.

Okay. So. We’ve established that writer does not automatically mean author. But here’s the real question: Does author automatically mean writer? And the answer to that is an equally resounding no!

The availability of resources to get onself published does not mean that one should be published. Just because one has something to say (or thinks he has something to say) does not mean it should be said, and if said, does not mean it should be heard by the masses.

The publishing industry is just like the rest of corporate America, and no, this is not meant to be a diatribe on capitalism, wealth, or Republicans. But the truth remains that those who have money and resources get published, and those who don’t, don’t. That’s why not all writers get to be authors, and it’s certainly the reason why not all authors can be called (by those with respectable taste for the industry and craft) writers.

Is that why I’ve never been published? Because I don’t have any money? No. Certainly not. I work for a company that will publish my work for free if I so desire. It’s one of the perks. I’ve never been published because I’ve never attempted to be published. I’ve never had the desire. I’ve never felt like I’ve had anything worth saying that people should have to pay money to hear (or read, rather). I suppose that’s why I blog. At least if I piss people off, they haven’t wasted any money, only time.

It definitely takes a certain amount of arrogance to let oneself be published, whether the process is self-sought or one is paid to do it. The bottom line is, every author who gets a book professionally published is sending the public a message that what he/she has to say is not only worth listening to but is worth paying money to get.

What if Hyde Park were run this way? What if the public speakers refused to stand on their soapboxes until the potential audiences paid cash at the gate? The crowds would have been smaller, and there are several famous people who never would have garnered the large audiences they did if this had been the case. So why are we forced to pay for books, which are just what public speeches are, except on bound paper and mass-produced? And why indeed are not all writers given the chance to be authors, and why are many authors such disgraces to the community and industry and art of writing itself?

This is a depressing trend, and there’s no end in sight. Even with the downturn in economy, the book market is still flooded with simpering, insentient drivel that deserves not even acknowledgment, let alone a monetary reward or even profit. (See any book published by a politician.)

So back to it. I’m a writer. Not an author. So what makes me qualified to be an editor? Well, just because I haven’t got the arrogance or financial resources to get myself published doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about. But that still doesn’t convincingly explain why my authors should trust me. So listen up.

Any authors or would-be authors should look at it this way. Unless you’re Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or John Grisham or Sara Gruen or heck, even Tina Fey, apparently, chances are, you’re digging into your pockets and drawing on your personal resources to get your book(s) published. You’re paying us, in other words (“us” being the publishers). But, and here’s the rub, the publisher is paying me to fix your book.

Let’s repeat the simple math on that one – you (the author) pay money to get your book published. The publisher turns around and pays me (the editor) to make your book good before it goes on sale. By logical default, that makes me the expert, the professional – the better writer, in laymen’s terms – and therefore, the one who is right in 99 percent of our disagreements. And that’s why you should not argue with me.

All of this is not to say that I’m completely humble. In fact, I’ve never claimed to be humble, and this post pretty much proves I’m not. Just because I don’t have the guts to ask people to pay me in order to read what I have to say doesn’t mean I don’t think highly of what I have to say. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be the writer and maintainer of multiple public blogs. I wouldn’t force my writings upon my friends and family as soon as they were completed. Of course I have something to say. And of course I think it’s worth hearing. And as soon as someone drops a contract in my lap without me having to do any legwork whatsoever, I’ll consider having my name (and words) printed and bound and put on a shelf accompanied by an unreasonable price. But until then . . . I’ll just complain about the fact that I’m a better writer than most authors out there (including Tina Fey).

P.S. Here’s more evidence of my non-humility: if you read this blog on a regular basis and don’t comment, please comment! I only do this for the comments. If I were doing it for posterity, I’d pull an Emily Dickinson and become a hermit and stash all my writings in a cedar chest to be found and revered upon my death. But I’m not humble. I want to be revered now!

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Baseball Stadium Hot Dogs Are the Best

Though it’s easy to make fun of the sillier portions of my job because those are the things that stick out in people’s memories, there are a lot of great aspects to my job too (as would be expected). Moments of brilliance, even, and moments which assure me I’m in the profession I’m supposed to be in. I encountered one such example today in a book I’m reading about baseball.

Let me set up the backdrop for this book.

First of all, when I took a look at my schedule for April, I was slightly dismayed to see that I’ve been assigned not one but two books about baseball, both fiction based on fact. Surely this was a mistake? Surely these books were meant for my fellow editor and good friend Reese, who loves baseball more than any of the rest of the editors? Why in the world would my boss give me, a professed Denver Broncos and Kansas basketball fan and active hater of baseball (and soccer), two entire books on baseball?

So I looked at the teasers. Both sound mildly interesting, for baseball books.

So I called the authors to discuss the books.

For the book I read (and finished) today, neither the teaser nor the phone call did much to get me excited about the book. The author told me it’s a fictional novel based on his son’s junior-year high school baseball team. He went on to tell me that he’d kept a scorebook and detailed log of each game throughout the season and that the book progresses game by game. Fantastic. (Sarcasm.)

When I opened up the manuscript on Monday (yesterday), the copy editor’s note warned me that the book is heavily peppered with baseball lingo. No problem. I played softball for eight years. I know that K stands for strike, even though that’s never really made sense to me. My confidence soon retreated when I was greeted right off the bat (ha! get it? I didn’t even do that on purpose!) with a ridiculously confusing sentence about “a groundout to short” that induced a “six-to-three-to-four double play.” Just when I thought I might have deciphered that sentence and was ready to move on, I was hit with the description of the next play as an E-6.

We’re reduced to numbers and letters now? What is this, some kind of baseball Morse code?

I tapped out a professional “wtf” e-mail to Reese the Expert, who promptly answered and explained everything. (Apparently, the field positions are numbered, and six stands for shortstop, and E is error.) Armed with my new knowledge, I proceeded through the play-by-play, game-by-game narrative, which was peppered with subplot points between games and chapters.

At the end of the day, I was surprised to realize I was more than halfway through the book and itching for more. So this morning I got right back on it as soon as I got in to work and worked steadily through it all day long again. Twice I teared up when it looked like the baseball team was going to lose an important game and a chance for the state championship only to pull comebacks and win both times.

Then, in chapter forty-two (of forty-four), just after the team has clinched its spot in the state championship series and I’m coming down the home stretch and thinking that while the book has been a really fun read, it’s also been kind of predictable, BAM! The narrator dies.

What’s that, you say? That’s right. My narrator died. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the climax was the death of the narrator. Sure, I’ve seen main characters die (my literary self even hoped for Harry Potter to die, only because that was the last thing my reader self truly wanted or expected), but I’ve never seen the principal character as the narrator die.

At first I was angry. Then, as the tears began to flow for a third time since beginning the book (cause of death was a sudden, unforeseen coronary) and I realized how emotionally invested I have become in this story – as a reader, not just the editor – I had a fleeting vision of myself sitting in an auditorium and standing up out of my seat to begin a slow, respectful clap, all the while allowing a huge smile to spread across my face.

This is why I do what I do. So that I can congratulate brilliance. My author pissed me off by killing his narrator, and that’s exactly what made the book. No longer did it matter whether the high school team won the championship or whether that outcome was predictable. This death of a principal character (for the narrator is the father of one of the players on the baseball team), of a character the reader has unintentionally – and perhaps even unknowingly, up to this point – come to love, was unforeseen. Therefore, the author has succeeded.

Sol Stein said that readers love to predict what’s going to happen, but even more than that, they love to be wrong. And how true those words are.

My hat is off to this author, who surprised me in the best way. He got me to love a book I didn’t want to love about a subject matter I’ve never cared anything about. How can we define success any more clearly?

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Secrets of the Industry: Do You Speak Editor?

What your editor is really saying . . .

When you get your edits back:

“Your manuscript has a lot of potential.” = You’ve got a lot of revision ahead of you.

“You use so much description!” = Your adjectives are too many and your diction too pretentious.

“I think this could be a great tool for [insert insanely specific market here].” = Nobody but your family and the five people interested in fountain-coin-collecting is going to buy your book.

“I think there is definitely a specific niche market for your book.” = If your marketing rep can find that niche market, she/he will deserve a huge raise!

“Don’t be alarmed by the amount of text I’m suggesting you remove. It’ll help bring focus to the story.” = Your book is too damn long, and nobody will read past the first 30 pages.

When you encounter a problem/issue:

Dear Editor, Why was the foreword/preface/introduction/afterword left out of my book?
“My apologies; it must have gotten overlooked somewhere along the way.” = You never sent it to me, you dimwit.

Dear Editor, Why does the endorsement read differently than the one I actually sent in?
“I reduced the word count on your endorsement because it wouldn’t fit on the back cover otherwise.” = Your endorser has written stupid things, and I’m making him/her look smarter than he/she really is.

Dear Editor, Why is my book so expensive?
“The higher the word count, the more expensive the price.” = Printing is expensive. You rambled on for two hundred pages and didn’t cut what I asked you to cut.

Dear Editor, Why is there a different teaser on my cover than the one I sent in?
“Authors often have trouble trying to write their own teasers because they’re too close to the material. I merely took what you wrote and refined it for maximum marketability.” = Your teaser sucked.

***Another great line straight out of a real-live, contracted book (a line that may or may not have been revised in editing):
“Adolph knew their relationship was coming to a showdown.”

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Nine Writing No-Nos

I meant to post last week, but I contracted cholera (not really, my mom thinks it was the flu) and was out of commission for a good three days. I did continue to go to work, but I don’t remember anything that happened during those three days or anything that I edited. It was not good. My colleagues would talk to me, and I knew they were talking to me, and I would just stare at them blankly. Then I would go into a coughing fit and worry everyone for about nine seconds. Then I’d blink and stare at my screen as if nothing had happened.

The one good thing about being on my deathbed at work was that I got a lot of pity, and two of my male coworkers happily refilled my orange juice cup all day long. Ah, chivalry. It’s nice to milk it.

A post I’ve been wanting to do for a while is one that addresses the rules of writing that I rigidly enforce with my authors and then break in my own writing.

However, before I do that, I’d like to give two reasons I break said rules.
1. Jim Wilcox
2. Lynne Truss

1. I have told this story a lot because it’s so flattering. But perhaps there are a select few who haven’t heard it yet. When I was in college and taking Advanced Grammar with my favorite professor ever, Jim Wilcox, I frequently went to him with grammatical questions that gave me particular trouble. After I posed one such question and provided two “right” answers and asked him if there was a preferred one, he said something to the effect of:

“Audra, you are so good at grammar that you can start making up your own rules.”

Then he suggested we write a grammar book together. A project I’d have dived into wholeheartedly if not for fear I’d let him down because I possess not half the wit he does.

2. Ay, Lynne Truss again?! Yes, Lynne Truss again. I consider her my friend, though she does not know me. I feel she is one of the only people in the world who would truly understand me. In her book Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, which we discussed at length last time, in her chapter on commas, she discusses the comma splice (which she sometimes calls the splice comma) and the grievous sin of using it. She goes on to say the following:

Now, so many highly respected writers adopt the splice comma that a rather unfair rule emerges on this one: only do it if you’re famous. . . . Done knowingly by an established writer, the comma splice is effective, poetic, dashing. Done equally knowingly by people who are not published writers, it can look weak or presumptuous. Done ignorantly by ignorant people, it is awful.

The comma splice is not a rule I tend to break often. However, I take the principle she applies specifically to the comma splice and apply it to my writing style as a whole. Technically, I would fall into her second categorization: done equally knowingly by people who are not published writers, it can look weak or presumptuous. However, with the support and laud of Jim Wilcox behind me (which I don’t necessarily have now, but having it at one time is as good as having it for life), I am easily bumped to the “established writer” category so that my violation of any rules of writing is pulled off (in my opinion) as effective, poetic, dashing.

That said, let’s get on with it. Here are nine rules I regularly enforce with my authors but break regularly myself and in fact did so in the first two posts on this blog.

1. Don’t veer too much from the thesis. You’ll lose the reader’s interest. Stick to the point.
But alas, as the afternoon wore on and the little bugger did not show up – acting like a perfect bastard of a grade-school boy who promises to meet you at the fence separating your babysitters’ backyards at four o’clock so you can discuss your ‘relationship status’ but then mysteriously goes AWOL without so much as a note impaled on the links of chain – where was I? Oh yeah. As the afternoon wore on . . .

2. Parenthetical thoughts are rarely essential or even effective. Stay focused and leave these out.
People who have sub-par grammar can still be hilarious, or kind, or sensitive, or good listeners, and they all can certainly still purchase my dinner! (On the flip side, people [such as myself] who have consistently excellent grammar can also still be hilarious, kind, sensitive, and good listeners! But I’d rather not purchase your dinner, so don’t ask.)

3. Don’t speak directly to the reader; he will find it jarring and intrusive.
And if you, the proverbial reader, don’t actually exist? Well, more for me I guess (though I’m not really sure what that means).

4. Don’t overuse adjectives. One or two will suffice.
Anyway, because of my brilliant, clever, witty, humorous e-mail, I decided . . .

5. Don’t use scare quotes. They are rarely, if ever, necessary.
Oh wait, that last is just a lingering memory of a funny Super Bowl commercial about “flowers in a box.”

6. Cite your sources, avoiding the Internet where possible.
According to Cyril Connolly (whoever the hell that is – we all know I got the quote off some such pedantic, I-need-to-look-smart-without-having-to-do-much-work Web site like writingquotes.com or something), “Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self.”

7. Don’t overdo it with the analogies, metaphors, similes, or allusions. And don’t mix your metaphors.
Two days ago the thoughts were all silvery and slick, swirling around in my head, waiting to be plucked out with a pensieve. And today? The thoughts are on vacation.

8. Do not use a hyphen in place of an em dash.
However, our training teaches us not to squash their dreams in the editing phase – that’s for the marketing reps to do!

9. Do not refer to future or past points in your book; if it’s in a previous chapter, they’ll know it’s there because they’ll have read it already; if it’s coming up, they’ll get to it.
I choose my friends based on factors like connection and chemistry, not whether they know the difference between when to use its and when to use it’s (more on this later, though).

So there you have it. I’m one of the world’s worst violators of sacred writing rules. Blame Jim Wilcox for giving me a huge ego. Blame also Pam Bracken, another of my college English professors, who commended me for speaking directly to the reader in a formal paper in one of her classes. She even said, “Normally I hate this, but you do it so well, and your style is so conversational that I couldn’t help but be drawn in.” And I got full credit on that paper.

It’s definitely time to sign off. I know this post wasn’t awesome. For that reason I’ll leave you with this. I have a collection of real sentences from books we have published or are publishing. Most of the sentences in this collection are outrageous or just poorly written. They are all worth second reads. Every now and then I’ll share some with you. Here’s one of them:

Our historical neglect of doctrine has produced untold congregations of spiritual retards.

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Editors Have Feelings Too!

The idea for this blog popped into my head today when I was at work. Imagine that, me getting writing ideas from a job where I read books all day long. Original, huh?

Well, the book I was reading mentioned something that put a funny thought into my head that I then turned into the following e-mail for my fellow editing colleagues (of whom there are approximately 25):

Editor Confessions: Peccadillos

Though I properly revere Mr. Huxley and certainly always afford him the appropriate amount of respect he is due . . .

I sometimes can’t help but think, if I had been his editor, I probably would have suggested we put a comma in his title so that it would read: Brave, New World.

Though I’d like to pretend I come up with brilliant and clever witticisms off the top of my head, I spent a fair amount of time piecing together the perfect, humorously intelligent words for this e-mail. After all, it’s always a little nerve-wracking to send a mass e-mail to my editing colleagues, knowing it will automatically be scrutinized for errors upon a first read-through, then scanned for humor and its true message upon the second. We’re editors. We’re bookworms. That’s just how we operate. So I did my best to stay concise and was pretty proud of myself for coming up with something that would garner (at the very least) a “haha, yeah,” or an, “I’ve thought that before too!” or even something as heartfelt as, “I thought I was the only one!”

After I clicked Send, I mused to myself about how there was possible blogging material in that e-mail. I thought, How many ridiculous notions have I had that are solely a product of this job, or how many ridiculous sentences have I read that I’d love to share with the world, or for that matter, how many great sentences have I read that I’ve wished I could heap upon society and say, “See here! This is a great piece of writing!”

Yes, it was all one continuous thought. My thoughts, in true teenage-rebellion form, do not follow the rules of grammar that my job, mouth, and fingers mandate us all to follow day in and day out. I truly have a classic-lit-worthy alter ego lurking somewhere in the recesses of my brain.

Anyway, because of my brilliant, clever, witty, humorous e-mail, I decided this morning at work, at 11:38 and forty-three seconds (approximately), that I would start a blog dedicated to the woes and joys of my job; a job which is, indeed, my dream job and which I would not and will not trade willingly any time soon.

Then, after coming to the conclusion that I am indeed the funniest person I know (wait . . . what? just-go-with-it!), I got back to work, keeping a surreptitiously professional eye on the taskbar in the right-hand corner of my screen, watching (butnotwatching) for that glorious bringer of laud, that symbol of acceptance, that beacon of affirmation – that tiny little envelope that says by telepathic message youhavemail – to appear. At which time I envisioned myself opening scores of e-mails from my colleagues (who are really my friends) praising my wit and charm and telling me they had laughed so hard they peed a little (just a little).

But alas, as the afternoon wore on and the little bugger did not show up – acting like a perfect bastard of a grade-school boy who promises to meet you at the fence separating your babysitters’ backyards at four o’clock so you can discuss your ‘relationship status’ but then mysteriously goes AWOL without so much as a note impaled on the links of chain – where was I? Oh yeah. As the afternoon wore on and the Envelope of Doom did not make its appearance and my co-workers did not shower me with praise and laughter, so my self-esteem and high regard for myself began to retreat. Even more so as, even further into the afternoon, I mentally began to read imaginary e-mails to the effect of, You’re stupid! and, Why’d you send that time-wasting e-mail? and, Nobody wants to see you naked! (Oh wait, that last is just a lingering memory of a funny Super Bowl commercial about “flowers in a box.”)

And thus, here I am. Aware that my co-workers do not find me funny. Aware that no one knows about this blog. Aware that I break many of the rules of writing I rigidly enforce with my bevy of authors on a daily basis. Aware that I am alone, friendless, loveless, and . . . wait. That’s someone else’s story.

Welcome to my blog, whose main purpose is not to entertain you but rather to exercise my writing muscles (which, ironically, do begin to elasticize themselves after edit upon edit), to be an outlet for my work-related frustrations, and to be a venue for my boasts about how lucky I am to be so young and have found a job I love so much. And if you, the proverbial reader, don’t actually exist? Well, more for me I guess (though I’m not really sure what that means).

According to Cyril Connolly (whoever the hell that is – we all know I got the quote off some such pedantic, I-need-to-look-smart-without-having-to-do-much-work Web site like writingquotes.com or something), “Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self.”

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