NaNo writers: Don’t choose an editor now

Cheers to everyone writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month! We’re getting to the midpoint of November, and the middle can be a tough slog for any writer. (“Oh, you’re at that part of the book?” Neil Gaiman’s agent once told him).

If you’ve been thinking about publishing the novel you’re writing — or if you’re sure you will never, ever publish your novel — let me tell you this (and I have my editing tiara on as I say this): Do not make that decision in November. Right now, let the words flow. Write some absolute crap. It’s okay. This is exactly the time and place to do donuts in an empty field. Don’t get too bogged down in the idea of fixing it later. Crap will still get you to 50,000 words, and in November, that is your goal.

The next step is to leave your novel alone. Ignore it for the entire month of December. Put it in a desk drawer, as Stephen King advised in On Writing (though now that’s probably a metaphorical desk drawer). This is key. Let it simmer, let it percolate. Let yourself recover. Forget exactly which sentences tumbled out because you were within 150 words of the day’s word count goal and you didn’t care what came out to get you there. Remember only the highs you felt when a plot point worked itself out, when you suddenly knew what to do with Chapter 10, when you wrote something so glorious you weren’t entirely sure it really came from your own brain.

Then, in January and February, pick it back up again. Read through it with fresh eyes. Let your inner editor come back out to play.

Then decide whether you want to publish this thing.

In March, I’ll be offering a $999 copy editing special for NaNo writers, but if you’re still in the thick of writing, don’t email me about it now. Copy editing comes way after writing. Write the thing, let it sit, then read through it again and fix the spots that jump out at you. Fix the macro things, like adding or subtracting characters, throwing out a whole scene, rearranging scenes or chapters, or writing transition paragraphs.

When you’ve got that down and you’re pretty well happy with it, go through a third time and pull out some editor tricks:

Change the font (Garamond is a nice choice to mimic a printed book), or bring your manuscript from Scrivener into Word, or even print the whole thing out (with page numbers). Trick your eyes into thinking that you’re looking at something entirely different.

Make a style sheet and refer to it as you reread. Do you use any nonstandard spellings or phrases? Write them in the style sheet so you can keep them consistent. List the full names of all your characters, too. (That way, you don’t have to find where exactly in Chapter 2 you introduced that minor character when his name pops up again in Chapter 17 and you have to check the spelling.)

Here’s a few more tips from Making Professional Editing Work for You, a post by fellow editor Allison K Williams:

What can you do to prepare, and how can you bring down the price?

There are some basic technical fixes you can apply to your manuscript that will improve your writing remarkably in a short time.

  • Search for “ly.” For every single adverb in your manuscript, ask if you really need it. If the adverb’s in a dialogue tag (that’s the “he said” part), rewrite the dialogue to make the tone or emotion clear, or use an action.

“You’re hurting my arm!” he said angrily. (Adverb states the obvious)

“You’re hurting me!” He wrenched his arm away. (Use an action)

“You’re hurting me!” (Trust that the dialogue’s tone is clear)

  • Search for “being” “doing” “going” “began” “continued” and “started.” Most sentences will be stronger if you just use the verb.

“He began to get angry” vs. “He got angry”

“She was doing her knitting” vs. “She was knitting”

  • Read through the manuscript focusing on only one character. Are their actions consistent? Does their dialogue sound uniquely like them and not like another character? If you removed the dialogue tags, would you know who was speaking? Repeat for every character.
  • Is your manuscript within the usual word count for the genre? If not, look for cuts. Ask of every scene, “Does the main character’s journey move forward? What important discovery or action happens here?” Cut the least useful scenes. Use the old screenwriter maxim, “Get in late and get out early”—does every scene start as late in the action as possible? Does every scene end as soon as it can? I trimmed a client’s book from 130,000 words to 95,000 words without cutting any of the actual story by editing out characters getting out of their cars and walking down hallways. Start scenes when the action starts.

Your book will be stronger for all this work. In January and February. Bookmark this post and come back then.

For now, happy writing!

Bits and updates

Happy Friday! I’ve got a few interesting bits and updates from the past week-ish.

As I mentioned on Facebook, I have an immediate editing slot open for a completed, unpublished novel, preferably romance. (I read historicals, the occasional paranormal, and contemporary romance; my past fiction work is all contemporary fiction, romantic elements optional.) Hit me up! The newly updated Rates page now includes pricing for fiction under 40k words. Quotes and sample edits are always available for novel-length works.

If you’re working on a NaNoWriMo novel: YAY!! Go you!! But hold that thought re: getting it edited. I’ll have a post up tomorrow talking about why.

My post Don’t get suckered: National Association of Professional Women went up almost three years ago and still draws comments from women who say that NAPW is up to the same tricks. Journalist Nikki Gloudeman’s new post at The Establishment, Anatomy of a Scam: The National Association of Professional Women, is a deep dive into the experiences of former members and whether they think membership is worth it (spoiler: no), who exactly runs the organization, what it’s like to work for NAPW (spoiler: awful), and what the future holds. My post is linked in the piece, and I chose not to be interviewed for it because anxiety gets the best of me sometimes, but nevertheless, this is an excellent piece. Recommended reading.

Lighter recommended reading: this post on How Huge Door-Stopper Fantasy Novels Get Made, with plenty of photos showing the hard covers getting foil stamped, the pages being printed and bound, and the cover and dust jacket added. (You’ll have to add your own somnolent How It’s Made narration.) The post returned to me the term signature. Presses like this one print books in signatures, or chunks, of 32 pages. A half-signature is 16 pages.

Folded and cut signatures. (Photo via
If you’ve ever read a book that had a bunch of blank pages or an unexpected Notes section at the back, it’s probably because there were pages left in the sig or half-sig, so the publisher either left them blank or added the Notes heading. The pricing of a print run is also based on how many signatures each book will take to print. Months ago, I read some romance-related post (at Cooking Up Romance? Smart Bitches Trashy Books?) that wondered why category romances run exactly 192 pages, and I can tell you: it’s because 192 pp = 6 sigs. If a book ran even a page longer, it’d cost more to print; much shorter, and you’d have to argue to call it a novel, I suspect (back-of-the envelope calculation puts 192 pp at 48k words). But at the time I could not for the life of me remember the term signature. Now that I remember, of course, I don’t know where I read the question. (I ran into the other room and shouted at Matt, “Signature!! The word is ‘signature’!” He was just confused. It didn’t help either of us.)

On smart editing tests

At You Don’t Say, John McIntyre digresses a bit to describe his test for copy editing candidates:

Back in the day, when The Sun was still regularly hiring copy editors,* my brutal applicant test contained a short article that had nothing much the matter with it. Any applicant who went to town on it, penciling in multiple corrections or recasting sentences, was automatically disqualified, because such an editor would (a) take forever to get anything done and (b) bring down on my head a storm of complaints from writers about edits that could not be justified.


*We were repeatedly interviewing and testing because as soon as my hires displayed their mettle, they were promoted off the desk or plucked from the paper altogether by parties like The New York Expletive Times.

This reminds me of the proofreading test I took when I was hired at Monotype (now Six Red Marbles), also in Baltimore. Anxious to do well, I’d been studying the Chicago Manual of Style and boning up on grammar. My prospective boss, Jay Bernarding, slid across the desk a Spot the Difference photo set (which reminded me of the Double Check game on Highlights children’s magazine covers). He told me there were seven differences between the photos and would time how long it took me to find them. I did so pretty quickly (and that’s one reason I got the job), but he later told me that some people couldn’t find all seven, some took more than five minutes, and he was looking for people who could see what was wrong on a typeset page rather than trying to edit text that had already been through two or three passes with several editors and was about as good as it was gonna get.

NPR News graphic recreating a Highlights magazine

Click through to see the full-size image. Download it and open in Paint if you suddenly have a burning need to find and circle all 12 differences.

Doing a chair dance of joy

I’m back! I had managed to permanently ban my own IP address (using the iThemes Security plugin on this here WordPress install) because I had too many *&!$^ wrong password attempts. I’d set the security nice and tight because I’ve been dealing with brute force attacks on the site, and I could only whitelist my own IP temporarily. (If you’re locked out of your own site too, iThemes has posted some useful directions for fixing lockouts.) Admittedly, however, it took me awhile to follow the trail of breadcrumbs to discover the IP perma-ban, remember to take my laptop to my local Tim Horton’s for an iced capp mocha and some wifi, get my user also blocked because clicking “log in” with the saved password never &*%# works, go back home to discover and then follow the iThemes directions to release any and all blocks on my IP or user, become mystified as to why this wasn’t working, then log in successfully through the WordPress app on my phone with the wifi off to whitelist my IP there, releasing the perma-ban, and allow me to actually. log. in.

I’d complain more, but two things are true: iThemes Security was actually performing quite well and doing the thing I installed it to do — it had no way to tell that this was really me trying to log in — and I did fix it in the end without breaking any part of my site.

And some bonus editorial content for the day: At the Chronicle, Rachel Toor says some lovely things about copy editors in The Better Angels of Our Writing:

My experience of receiving editing, both substantively and line by line, is that it’s like love. Good copy editors see me not just for who I am but for who I want to be, and they help me get there. They point out what I do well, but they also notice my tics and bad habits and try to break me of them.

Now I, too, want to be friends with Carol Saller and Mary Norris.

On not italicizing Spanish

Today I’m editing an article that talks about translation in the bilingual classroom. There was a section of dialogue that was tough to edit clearly: A student read aloud a few sentences from a book, including a line that was spoken in the book, then discussed with three other students how to translate those sentences. The students asked one another in English about this or that word in Spanish, and I used quote marks, offsetting commas, and italics to clarify which words the students spoke, which words they were discussing, and which words were part of the quoted material or their translation. (If the article is freely available when it’s published a few months from now, I’ll link it so you can see what I’m talking about.)

I didn’t even bother to italicize every instance of Spanish, thanks to a video posted by author Daniel José Older last year (before his novel Half-Resurrection Blues was published; which you should definitely read):

The text I’m editing is academic, not fiction, but that doesn’t really matter. It would have been doubly more confusing (and, I decided, wrong) to try and italicize all the Spanish simply because the article as a whole is in English, and it wouldn’t have been true either to the way these bilingual students spoke or to what the reader needed to understand.

The overarching questions I ask as I’m editing are “What are you saying here? How can we get that across to readers so that they get it right away?”

These days, I don’t reflexively italicize Spanish. When I’m following a style guide that does, I stop and think about whether each instance of italics would serve the reader. Today, it would have just gotten in the way. Out it went.

Pirates of the Caribbean gif: