Sojourns in Publishing

Writing. Editing. Designing. Producing. Printing. Reading.

#WhyWritersMatter

In response to the Writers Union of Canada’s #WhyWritersMatter campaign, I got to thinking: I’ve been a (mostly private) writer since I was a child; it’s how I sorted out my thoughts and mapped my way through life as a kid and young adult. I write to understand my world and myself and others.

Writers matter because there’s something about pen to paper that feels undeniably grounding. Writers matter because anyone who reads those ink-marks can travel together on a landscape that can include and transcend physical geography. Our worlds, within and without, are expanded, transformed, united.
As a writer, reader, and editor, I can connect profoundly with others I’ve never met in person. I am changed by what I write, and I am changed by what I read.

Writing is, to me, the most human, unifying act we can engage in, whether we’re the author or audience. Tangentially, editing is about promoting those voices, tying all the threads together, weaving together lives and people and experiences from all over the world and throughout eras.
Last but not least: I met my husband through a writers’ forum and knew he was someone to pay attention to because of a haiku he shared. Best seventeen syllables of my life.

Book review: Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott

gtafukgerus

Photo credit: Marinaendicott.com

This was the perfect book to end 2015 and begin 2016 with. I was absorbed right from the start and couldn’t put it down (often reading until 3 a.m.!) even though it is by no means a fast-paced story. The emotional undercurrents are weighty, complex, elusive, urgent, and unpredictable—as they are in “real” life. The characters and dialogue feel authentic; I recognize myself (or someone I know and love) in each main character—even the less likeable ones—and appreciate how their respective stories, contradictions, flaws, struggles and perspectives are relevant and loosely bound to the rest. That thread of commonality appeals to me on a deep emotional level, so I got a lot of gratification from seeing that laid out with such care. I’ll read more by this thoughtful, sensitive author without a doubt—I like how she sees the world, and our clumsy, imperfect grace as we try to find our way.

 

A brief Malbec-fuelled contemplation on editing

Last night, while taking in this piece by NPR, I reflected on how the more I work with books, the more I realize that editing goes way beyond spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I mean, of course it does, but seriously, I don’t have enough years left on this planet to do everything I want to do in publishing. There’s so much involved! It’s exhilarating to consider exactly what goes into making a book come to life—from the author’s initial inspiration to the outline of a manuscript to the printed result in the reader’s hands. I find it particularly sweet that once it’s out there in the world, that book has a life of its own. It’s more than a product; it’s an actual living thing that touches other lives to one degree or another.

 

Plagiarism PSA

Most of the time, I can tell when an author’s voice changes and sounds like Wikipedia or content from an academic site. I rather delight in finding those sources and shining a great big light on where the author has copied and pasted, because plagiarism really, really gets my goat.

DO

NOT

STEAL

ANOTHER’S

WRITING.

Because I will find it and point it out with many notes in the sidebar.

Groovy (editing) thoughts

If you find that you must separate two words (such as “will, will” “is, is”, etc.) it is better to simply choose another word or play with rewriting the sentence. Don’t let the technicality of words get in the way of the message. In a sense, words themselves must be invisible in the same way that we see the effect of the wind in the leaves of the trees and the motion of the clouds; we don’t see the wind itself, but we see what it does.Image

Proofreading for Self-Publishing

Proofreading is something that happens after thorough editing; proofreading and editing are not the same thing. Furthermore, there are different modes of editing. For the purpose of this post, let’s assume your manuscript has already been fully written, rewritten, and has had solid editing. If you want to aim for an error-free book after it’s been printed, you should perform three post-edit proofreads.

When it comes to proofreading for self-publishing, have the copy as clean as possible before layout; for the sake of efficiency, you want the designer to make as few changes as possible after it’s laid out. I aim for as much perfection as possible before then by following these steps:

  1. When the manuscript is written in full, have it thoroughly, professionally, and objectively copyedited. It’s up to you how many times you want that to happen. Once? Twice? It depends on how many people are involved and how many changes happen as a result of feedback. Once is probably not going to be enough. Ideally, I’d say at least twice. It’s worth the financial investment to have a working relationship with an editor, not just a one-time transaction.
  2. After all editing rounds are complete, have everyone involved in the project agree that it’s been edited and tweaked as much as it’s ever going to be.
  3. Give it a first proofread while it’s still in a Word document.
  4. Make corrections to that Word document as found in the proofreading round.
  5. Have the book designed.
  6. Once it’s designed, look at the PDF and give it a second proofread. Remember—one round of proofreading will catch at least 95% of existing errors, as is industry standard); 100% is not realistic at this point. Mark up any stray errors on the PDF proof with the Adobe tools.
  7. Give the marked-up proof back to the designer; they will refer to the PDF to make any revisions in the native file where the book block was designed.
  8. After those corrections have been made, look at the PDF proof again; perform a third proofread. It should be as close to perfect now as it is ever going to be, providing no new additions or significant changes have happened (beyond correcting those errors found while doing that second proofread).
  9. If you’re satisfied that all errors have been remedied, and if everything else looks good (cover, back of book bio and synopsis, design elements, etc.), get everyone to sign off in agreement that this is the version you all want printed.
  10. Authorize the designer to prepare the book design files for delivery to channels (printer, distribution channels, wherever you’re getting it printed up).

At this point, you can certainly feel free to proofread a hard copy. Let’s be real: you’re likely going to scrutinize your first hard copy and sweat bullets over errors. Your editor likely will, too. It’s just part of the whole deal—the human factor that we can’t edit away. There comes a time when you just have to let go and be human. After all those editing and proofreading rounds, you deserve to relax.

If you do find errors in the hard copy, decide how important it is; if there are a few minor ones, I’d be inclined to just let it go. I try to avoid making any changes after it’s become a hard-copy book; printers charge fees for post-publication revisions. Before you submit files to printers and distribution channels, talk to your printer about what’s involved in having a preview hard copy; that’s also a good time to find out if there are any post-publication revision fees, and what it would mean for your title’s availability while undergoing said revisions.

More than anything, edit and proofread the h-e-double-hockeysticks out of your book before it gets printed—and then trust that all is well in the universe.

Matthew Carter, Designer of Verdana and Georgia

Matthew Carter, designer of Verdana and Georgia

I love both Verdana and Georgia. It’s fascinating to see the individual behind typeface design.

Before You Start Writing, Do You Know Where the Story’s Going?

So, you have a fantastic idea for a story, but you’re feeling overwhelmed about where to start. An easy and simple first step is for you to define the story arc. A definable arc is needed to capture the audience’s interest; in the creation stage, it will help you write with direction. Generally, strong story arcs include the following elements:

  • Setting

  • Characters

  • The main character’s driving desire (what does the main character want?)

  • Developing problem (what prevents the main character from getting what they want?)

  • Conflict (the action of the character’s driving desire being challenged)

  • Escalation

  • Crisis

  • Resolution

  • Dénouement (final details that wrap up the loose ends of the story)

For example, in the modern version of the story of Cinderella, the arc could be defined as follows:

Setting

Family mansion

Characters

Cinderella, stepsisters, mice, cat, fairy godmother, Prince Charming

Characters’ driving desire

Wants to go to the ball

Developing problem

The stepsisters are jealous of Cinderella’s beauty and won’t let her go to the ball.

Conflict

The stepsisters tear apart the dress that Cinderella made for herself out of scraps.

Escalation

Cinderella despairs, but is helped by the fairy godmother and gets to the ball. The prince is enchanted by her and dances the night away with her until she must flee at midnight.

Crisis

Cinderella has fallen for the prince, but is restrained from being with him as she is a prisoner in her home, and is ashamed of her rags and lowly appearance.

Resolution

The prince sets out to find her, and by using the glass slipper she left behind, he confirms Cinderella’s true identity.

Dénouement

Cinderella goes to live in the castle with the prince and lives happily ever after, while the evil stepsisters are excluded from the grandeur of Cinderella’s new life.

Get back to basics—don’t browse Facebook or Twitter or even Google for inspiration. Walk away from the computer. Take a blank piece of paper, write out the story elements as listed in the left-hand column, and simply fill it in with the most basic details for now; it’ll help you break down your vision into smaller steps instead of overwhelming you with the big picture.

Thinking of Becoming an Editor?

 

 

Image

Photo by innoxiuss (Thinking at Hell’s gate) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Today I had a conversation online with someone who has a teacher’s degree and is interested in freelance editing to supplement their income. It sounds like a natural fit—and it very well could be—but it doesn’t automatically qualify one as an editor. It also doesn’t follow that anyone with strong grammar, reading, and writing skills can simply decide to be an editor and then become one in a matter of a few days or weeks.

Similarly, being a writer does not qualify one as an editor. Very few writers that I work with are able to edit their own work accurately and objectively, much less anyone else’s; it’s a completely different frame of mind. (I’ve had a very hard time writing creatively in the last year and a half that I’ve been editing full-time.)

My own experience—and I consider myself to be a relative neophyte—is that it’s an ongoing process that involves education, motivation, compulsion, inspiration, trial and error, humility, flexibility, teachability, and hard-won experience. I would add that it helps to have a love of language and communication, a desire to understand more than to be understood, and an inclination towards empathy, tact, and perfectionism.

If you’re brand-new to editing and want to explore the field, consider the following seven steps before building a website, designing a business card, and charging for services:

  • Start from scratch and build credibility. The quickest way to do this is to get some experience by performing pro-bono proofreads for people who will endorse you after the work is done. Not-for-profit organizations are a good place to start.
  • Acquire a solid dictionary and thesaurus (such as Cambridge or Oxford); you should also have a hard copy of the Chicago Manual of Style and/or the AP Stylebook on hand; there’s more to proofreading and editing than being strong in grammar and good at writing.
  • Subscribe to editing, literary agent, and publishing accounts on Twitter/Facebook; read the blogs of editors, your favourite writers, respected literary magazines (local, national, and international), and publishers (indie, vanity, and traditional).
  • Connect with a professional association such as the Editor’s Association of Canada. 
  • Consider an online course.
  • Start a blog and talk about publishing; write simple book reviews (they don’t need to be complicated) and interview authors.
  • Join Goodreads, if you haven’t already.

I don’t wish to imply that there are countless hoops to jump through before one is “allowed” to be an editor; there are no secret rituals, it’s not a rarefied society, and it’s not a holy calling. If that were the case, I wouldn’t be doing it. But in the same way that one is not a writer by virtue of owning a word processor, nor a graphic designer by owning a version of Photoshop, one is not an editor simply by dint of knowing basic grammar and how to read and spell.* It means, among many other things, having a good grasp of the technical aspects while being alive to the human aspect of language—and the humanity of the writer. When all that is in place, that’s when you can start thinking about becoming an editor.

 

* (But if you don’t know basic grammar or how to read or spell, you’re pretty much dead in the water.)

A good book at the right time.

When I was twenty, I had a frothy dream that I’d discarded right when I was on the cusp of acting upon it. This dream haunted me over the ensuing years as I struggled within an unhappy, ill-advised marriage and the exhaustion of parenthood. What was the dream? Well, I’d wanted to move from Toronto to Montréal, live in an apartment that had a wrought-iron balcony, learn French, and live a fabulous Montréal life. Instead, I’d married too young and ended up in BC. I’d think of my old dream sometimes whilst drinking a glass of red wine, feeling maudlin and listening to Blue Rodeo’s Casino album as the rain pelted the windows.

Disoriented from the eventual death of my fourteen-year-old marriage, I journeyed from rural Vancouver Island to Toronto as I stumbled back to my hometown, seeking the impetuous version of myself that I’d left behind in 1990. The autumn of 2005 found me back in the city, but the young waif I’d been was nowhere to be found. She was gone for good.

My new friend Warren (a writer and bookseller in Ottawa whom I’d met in an online writer’s forum in the summer of 2006) listened patiently as I waxed poetic about my old dream of cobblestone streets and the inherent sexiness that permeated all things Montréal. He was such a good friend, in fact, that he took the train from Ottawa to Toronto one day and helped me load up my U-Haul for the drive east, only two days after Christmas. I was finally moving to Montréal, albeit sixteen years late.

Once in la belle province, I crashed temporarily in a cramped, roach-infested bachelor suite in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. It was so cold that my face hurt. My honeymoon with Montréal was turbulent, but I was in love with the city despite being broke, frozen, and clumsy at communicating in French.

Soon it was spring, and Warren attended an author’s brunch at the Black Tomato in Ottawa where he met Montréal writer Yves Beauchemin, author of Charles the Bold. He described how I’d finally followed my dream of moving to Montréal and had him sign a hardcover copy of this book—specifically for me—which he surprised me with shortly after. Suffice it to say that Warren found Montréal exceptionally sexy during that visit.

I devoured Beauchemin’s book and identified with the protagonist, Charles, who was born in 1966, just three years before me. Through the story, I saw Montréal in a new light, one that made more sense than my soft-focus, music video fantasies of old. It was then that I first learned what “two solitudes” meant, and it defined the next few years of my life.

A month after reading Charles the Bold, I moved out of anglophone Notre-Dame-de-Grâce to francophone Villeray, where I finally had my wrought-iron balcony. My French improved, and I walked to and from the Marché Jean-Talon on a daily basis. Four months later, Warren relocated from Ottawa to Montréal; by then we’d fallen in love and moved in together, exploring the city and loving it all exactly as it was. We froze together; we took the Métro together; we bought baguettes and fromage from the marché together; we took French classes at an employment centre in Little Burgundy together—though, admittedly, he alone was the one who shovelled the snow from our wrought-iron balcony and winding staircase.

A year later, we were engaged to be married; two years after that, we exchanged vows on a beach on Vancouver Island, where we now live relatively snow-free.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,181 other followers

%d bloggers like this: