Sojourns in Publishing

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

Review: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (Harold Fry, #2)The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I initially picked this up to read on its own, but my husband told me he’d read reviews that recommended reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry first. I’m so glad he encouraged me to follow their advice, because it made reading Love Song a more immersive experience. While I enjoyed Unlikely Pilgrimage, Love Song hit me in deeper places because I had greater context for this story. But even if I hadn’t had that, this book still would have kept me up until 1:30 in the morning reading to the end—and then cathartically weeping into my pillow for about fifteen minutes, as quietly as possible lest I freak out my poor husband. Yes, that’s exactly what happened a mere 6.5 hours ago, and now I have to pull my shit together and get to work.

Rachel Joyce knows how to lay out complicated emotions and motivations without it seeming obvious to the reader or even the characters themselves. I lost count of the times her words illuminated some aspect of my own emotional landscape in a way that makes the difficult and messy seem beautiful in all its wabi-sabiness. The book left me feeling like I want to be a more loving and selfless person and, in a way, see the world like Queenie did. It makes me want to craft a sea garden of my own.

Rachel Joyce is remarkably adept at telling a story by moving forward and looking back without making the arc feel jagged. Actually, “arc” isn’t the right word: Joyce’s storytelling style reveals nuances by pulling back one layer, then another, and another, and so on, until the “climax” is a thundering, aching revelation in your head and chest as you finally realize you’ve been digging towards this truth the entire time, rather than being carried along by something as linear as an arc.

By the time I was done reading I felt I’d been on a very real inner journey that went beyond the activity of reading for entertainment. No, it’s not a conventionally exciting book, but it is a riveting and exquisite book if you appreciate character study and development that doesn’t just navel gaze or indulge, but rather casts a spectrum of light on the symbiotic relationship between our multifaceted inner selves and the complicated world around us. It’s the kind of writing that can teach the reader about themselves.

Damn, this book has clearly given me all the feels. How could a book that is mainly about a dying woman in hospice be so uplifting? Somehow, it works. I’m probably going to end up talking to my therapist about it.

View all my reviews



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


Photo credit:

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.






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:


Family mansion


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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?




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.)

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