Today is a Great Day to (re)Write

Steve
Laube
, a literary agent and president of The Steve Laube Agency, has
been in the book industry for over 31 years, first as a bookstore manager where
he was awarded the National Store of the Year by CBA. He then spent over a
decade with Bethany House Publishers and was named the Editor of the Year in
2002. He later became an agent and has represented over 700 new books and was
named Agent of the Year by ACFW. His office is in Phoenix, Arizona. The following blog post is shared by permission from the
Steve Laube Agency blog
James Michener, the bestselling novelist, once
said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” And today is
your day to follow suit.
No one knows your work or what you are trying to
accomplish better than you. In that sense you can be your own best editor.
In a 1958 interview with The
Paris Review
Ernest Hemingway was asked,
“How much rewriting do you do?”
Hemingway replied, “It depends. I rewrote the
ending to Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was
satisfied.”
The stunned interviewer asked, “Was there some
technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?”
Hemingway said simply, “Getting the words right.”
Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory
, said, “By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the
first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred
and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is
essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.”
It is the same for both fiction and non-fiction
since the principles are similar.
Overall Structure
Does your book have a natural flow? Do things
build toward a goal or do they flit about like a confused rabbit?
Recently I heard from a number of professionals
who have started having someone else read their work-in-progress out loud. This
is better than reading it out loud yourself because an objective read could but
the wrong emphasis on the wrong word and change the meaning of the paragraph.
Could you rearrange things better? Recently I
suggested a client remove three chapters from their non-fiction proposal to
bring the total to 13. Thirteen weeks equals a typical quarter of a year which
fits many small group and curriculum requirements.
Consider “numbers” when structuring something
like a devotional. 365 days. 90 days. 60 days. 31 days. All work. But remember
that 40 days is the number of days in Lent. But having something with 112
readings doesn’t add any sort of marketing hook to the project.
Word Choices
Look for repetitive words of pet phrases.
Recently I noticed a client’s proposal talked about the number of years they
had been doing something in consecutive chapters. Most likely the repetitive
sentence crept in during some previous cuts and text rearrangement, but when I
read it the first time the information jumped out as being completely
unnecessary.
Years ago I worked with a great writer who loved
to use the word “very.” I crossed nearly every instance of the word. After
sending him the manuscript I received an email with the word “very” repeated
500 hundreds times. He said he was trying to get them out of his system.
In a recent interview with The New York Times Magazine, captured on YouTube,
comedian Jerry Seinfeld discussed how he can spend up to two years developing a
joke. No matter what you think of him as a comedian you must admire this
attention to craft. The seeming simplicity of finding the right “funny” word
consumes his creative process.
One of my favorite tools for word choice is The
Synonym Finder
by J.I. Rodale (the hardcover edition). Often looking for
the right word spurs new inspiration.
Today is Your Day
It is quite possible to tinker with something
until it no longer works. But today release that fear and tinker away. Insert a
different anecdote into your presentation. Try a different opening to your
story. Give yourself a few hours of dedicated revision.

What are your favorite methods for effective
self-editing?

The Editorial Process ~ by Steve Laube

Steve
Laube
, a literary agent and
president of The Steve Laube Agency, has been in the book industry for over 31
years, first as a bookstore manager where he was awarded the National Store of
the Year by CBA. He then spent over a decade with Bethany House Publishers and
was named the Editor of the Year in 2002. He later became an agent and has
represented over 700 new books and was named Agent of the Year by ACFW. His
office is in Phoenix, Arizona. (www.stevelaube.com)
It is important to understand the process through which a book takes
under the umbrella called “The Edit.” I meet many first timers who think it is
just a one-time pass over their words and that is all that will ever happen.
And many who self-publish think that hiring a high school English teacher to
check for grammar is enough of an edit.
There are four major stages to the Editorial Process. Unfortunately
they are called by various names depending on which publisher you are working
with, which can create confusion. I will try to list the various terms but keep
them under the four categories.

Rewrites / Revisions/ Substantive Edit

These can happen multiple times. You could get input from your agent
or an editor who suggests you rewrite or revise those sample chapters of the
full manuscript. Last year I suggested that one of my non-fiction clients cut
the book in half and change its focus. We sold this first time author. But the
writer had to do a lot of work to get it ready for the proposal stage.
There are some publishers that will do this stage after a book has
already been contracted because they saw the potential in the proposal. And
note that this stage isn’t always necessary. It all depends on the quality of
that final draft you turned in to your publisher. Few get it perfect the first
time.

Line Edit / Substantive Edit/ Content Edit

Already you can see a descriptive term repeated. This stage is where
the editor, usually a senior editor, or an editor is hired by the publisher to
look at the book closely. This stage can morph into a rewrite (see above) if
there are substantive changes. In some ways it is like a mechanic pulling apart
an engine and inspecting the parts, and then putting it all back together
again.
Sometimes this stage is very light sometimes it can feel heavy handed.
Neither is wrong. Trust the editor to have the desire to make your book better.
Remember that this stage can be a form of negotiation. Ultimately it
is your name on the finished book. An editor should not dictate but should
facilitate. It is ultimately a partnership. And if you find that perfect
partner…do what you can to work with them over and over. But also do not blind
yourself into thinking that you are always right.

Copyedit

This can be done in-house or with a freelancer. One friend of mine
calls this stage “The Grammar Police.” The copyeditor’s job is to check
grammar, punctuation, spelling, and consistency. If your book has unusual
spellings (like characters with Czechoslovakian names) consider creating a
separate document called a style sheet which should be submitted with your
manuscript so the copyeditor will know you meant to spell a word that way.
Consistency is the key.
This edit takes a special skill. The editor is technically not reading
for content. They are looking at each word for accuracy in communication.
It can be a stage fraught with humor. Like the time a copy editor
changed the phrase “woulda, coulda, shoulda” to “would have, could have, should
have” because the first was grammatically incorrect.
Unfortunately this stage can also be fraught with danger if the
copyeditor suddenly takes the role of substantive editor, after that stage has
already passed. I’ve heard stories of character names being changed, entire
scenes rewritten, etc. If you have trouble at this stage, appeal to your senior
(or acquisitions) editor and see if the changes had been approved before being
sent to you.
Again, remember that this can be a place for negotiation. But if you
are breaking the rules of grammar or spelling be prepared to defend yourself. But please, Never Burn a Bridge.

Proofreading

If the line editor is looking at the paragraph for content, and the
copy editor is looking at every word for accuracy, the proofreader is looking
at every letter and punctuation mark for perfection.
Again, this takes a special skill. I once sat on a plane next to an
amazing freelance proofreader. I proudly showed her an article I was writing.
She found ten mistakes per page. Every one of them was my fault for being
sloppy. I ate humble pie with my bag of peanuts.
This proofreader is the last protection you have before the book is
tossed into the market.

Error Free Publishing

With all these eyes on your book you are guaranteed to have a product
with no typos or errors of any kind….oops…that isn’t true.
Despite every effort and a lot of smart people working on your book,
an error is bound to slip through. I remember one book where we had the author,
three of his students, myself, a copy editor, and two proofreaders go through a
book. Eight people. The book was published and the author’s critics found a
dozen errors within the first week. Sigh.
Do your publishers a favor. If you find an error? Make a note of it
(page number, line number, and error) and write a quick note to the editorial
department of that publisher respectfully pointing it out. A file is usually
kept of every book and when it is time to reprint the book they can go in and
correct the error. And in the ebook world the digital file can be corrected
fairly easy.

Doing New Things

“Sing to GOD a brand-new song. He’s made a world of wonders! He rolled up his sleeves, He set things right.” (Ps. 98:1, The Message)

Do you like doing new things?

I thought I did, until I had to do a really important new thing—find a job. Then I realized that what I really like is routine.

I enjoy the comfort of getting up in the morning and knowing, within some parameters, what I’m going to do that day.

Writers straddle this line

We love working on our existing manuscripts—crafting characters, deepening plots, adding in those glorious sensory details. We love writing, but more than that we love having written, as Dorothy Parker said.

I treasure the opportunity to spend more time with my characters, messing up their lives and figuring out how to fix it. I dread coming to the end of the book—until I’ve written “The End” and then I love it.

For about 30 minutes.

That’s when I first start to think about what comes next: Starting a new book. Shortly, the creative paralysis sets in.

Can’t afford to shut down

Knowing this about myself as a writer, coming to a screeching halt is what I need to avoid when looking for a new job. After all, as a job applicant, there is only so much you can do—and then you’re waiting on some company’s Human Resources department.

So I determined to move forward with an idea I’d been toying with for several years, but never had the time to pursue: freelance editing. This week I debuted WritingOnTheFineLine.com.

What fine line?

You’ve heard someone say, “There’s a fine line between ‘this’ and ‘that’.” Well, I see fine lines everywhere. For instance, there’s a fine line between:

  • Being ready for publication and being published.
  • Having completed a manuscript and having that manuscript ready for publication.
  • Having the desire to write and having the determination to complete a manuscript.

I believe, based on my past experiences and my skills, that I can help writers cross over the fine line separating them from the next step on their journey.

What you’ll find on my site

On Tuesdays, come Into the Edit with me as we look at one author’s writing before, during, and after my edit. Ane Mulligan was this week’s author.

Thursdays we’ll look at ways you can improve your writing (also known as self-editing) to move you closer to your goal–whether that’s publication or ministry-related. Today begins a two-part look at ways to add clarity to your writing.

Then, on Saturdays, stop in for a clever or humorous writing quote as a way to ease out of the week.

Doing something new can be scary, but The Word addresses this, of course:
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! (Isaiah 43:19, The Message)

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying a new playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor/writer at WritingOnTheFineLine.com and as a contributor here on Novel Rocket. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and
reported for
The Indianapolis Star.

Keyboard image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Search and Destroy … er … Find

Now a literary agent at WordServe Literary, Barbara J. Scott has been a book editor for 13+ years and has more than
30 years of publishing experience, ranging from newspapers and magazines to
books. The fiction line at Abingdon Press exceeded all sales expectations, and
Barbara has been credited for kicking off a well-rounded series of quality,
highly-reviewed novels. Among her many published works, Barbara is the
co-author of best-selling novel Sedona Storm, as well as the sequel Secrets of
the Gathering Darkness, both published by Thomas. Nelson. 
Over the years I’ve harped at authors
never, ever to turn in a first draft. Some writers think the editor’s job is to
spiff up their grammar, correct misspelled words, change passive voice to
active, eliminate repeated words and phrases, or do laser surgery on their
mixed metaphors.
Word travels in publishing circles about
whether you’re a professional or you’ve made your living on the backs of good
editors. You don’t want to be known as a hack writer.
Hopefully, the electronic tool known as search and find will make your
self-editing chore more enjoyable.
1. Passive voice (one of my pet peeves): Passive voice
is created by using a form of be, such as am, is, are,
was, were, being, be, or been and followed
by the past participle of the main verb, or gerunds comprised of a present
participle (ending in “ing”) that functions as a noun. Learn more in Hacker’s Rules
for Writers.
Search for these words and recast your sentences to make them
more active. Examples:
Passive: He was jumping over
the cliff into the river below to escape.
Active: He jumped over the
cliff into the river below to escape.
2. Qualifiers: These words
clutter up your writing. Sometimes I think writers use them to boost their word
counts. Examples: begin, start, started to, almost, decided to, planned to, a
little bit, almost, etc. Examples:
With qualifier: Mary felt a little
bit out of place among the nouveau riche.
Better: Mary felt out of
place among the nouveau riche.
3. Weasel Words: These words are
easy to spot. You can drop them and no one will notice. My high school English
teacher told me that if you could replace the word very with the word damn,
you didn’t need it. Other examples: really, well, so, a
lot of
, anyway, just, oh, suddenly, immediately,
kind of, extremely, etc. I’m sure you can come up with your favorites.
With weasel words: Suddenly, she stood up and said, “Oh well,
let’s retire to the drawing room and just stay out of his way.”
Better: She stood and said,
“Let’s retire to the drawing room and stay out of his way.”
4.Adverbs: I don’t hate
adverbs, but they “usually” are unnecessary, especially in dialogue tags. Your
prose should communicate a character’s state of mind without using a tag line
such as the example below. Use search and find to look for an ly followed
by a space or a period.
With adverb: “I’ll kill him,” she
said ferociously. (Really?)
Better: “I’ll kill him,” she
said.
5. Extraneous thats or thens: Use the global search-and-find feature for the word that.
If you can understand the sentence without it, you don’t need it. You notice I
didn’t write, then you don’t need it. Both of these words are over used.
Writing is rewriting, and rewriting
involves self-editing. It’s your job to turn in the cleanest manuscript
possible to your agent or editor. Use the search-and-find tool to speed up the
process.
Can you think of other ways you can employ the
search-and-find feature in Word to edit your work?