From Writing and Freelance

Short story submission tips…

I’ve been sifting through submissions pretty quickly lately, trying to figure out why I can have such an immediate reaction to a story.

Here are the things I had sorted out before:

1) Starting with backstory.

2) Highly dramatic first sentence followed by something boring, like backstory.

3) General cheesiness, spelling errors, writing in stereotypes…

But those are all don’t-do things.

Here’s what I’m noticing now:

1) Lots of surprising details.  If you say, “We’re in a winter forest” and follow up with lots of details proving that it’s a winter forest, meh.  But if you follow up with a) a perceptive detail about winter forests that I would not have known unless I was in one, like the sound of rain that comes when heavy frost melts at sunrise or b) something out of place, then I’m interested. And fake details like “The grocery store was big” are a red flag for boooooring.

2) Voice.  If I get the sense that the story has a strong personality, that’s good.  But it must be a surprising personality.  Scientists that are hopeful about some bright future–meh.  Scientists that are maaaaaad–meh.  But mad scientists who act out of hope, well.  I don’t see that too often.  (Although I do feel like printing the story out so I can fling it across the room when I read a story with interesting voice and all they do is kill themselves.)

Make things real, moody, and surprising–from the first sentence.  Then, don’t go back to vague and predictable. I’ll at least make it through the story to the end.  Not many people do this AT ALL.  Maybe one in twenty, one in fifty.

Indypub: Bookstores and Bookstores

Is your local indy bookstore a good one or not?

How do you know?

I went to two bookstores over the weekend, while I was on the road, that ended up clarifying this for me.  I’ve seen the same types of things at other bookstores, both bad and good, but this trip solidified things for me.

The first was Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins.  This was an excellent bookstore:  while a lot of old chestnuts were on the shelves, I found myself picking up books that I’d never heard of and saying to myself, “You can’t get them all.”  A lot of the shelf space was dedicated to books that were facing out.  There were shelves and shelves of recommended reading, for each shelf category.  There was an area for writers to give readings, do signings, etc. The atmosphere was like that of a coffee shop or a small-town library.

The second shall remain nameless; there are a thousand like it.  The books were shoved so tightly on the shelves that I couldn’t get them out, in places.  The books that were on the end caps didn’t look particularly interesting.  The shelves were cheap, rickety, and old.  The books toward the front were sale books ($2 hardcovers), lots of regional interest books, and thrillers that looked familiar even to me, who doesn’t really read them.  No recommended reads; the feeling was, “Get as many books in here as you can, as cheaply as you can.”

Now, I bought books from both, but I won’t be going back to the second bookstore.  I picked up a book on mushroom cookery there–something that I already knew I wanted.  I got a headache from the lighting and sneezed a lot.

I found lots of books that I didn’t know I wanted at Old Firehouse Books.  I felt comfortable and relaxed doing so.

My factors, in descending order of importance:

1) Discovery of new, interesting books.

2) Comfortable atmosphere.

3) Sense of community.

More books did not seem to be a factor.  One of the excellent bookstores I visited, Wild Burro Bookstore, had a tiny selection.  But I had to put dozens upon dozens of books back.  And I talked to the owner for an hour 🙂

Is this reproduceable in online bookstores?  Are there good online bookstores that weed out uninteresting, run-of-the-mill books, saving me the necessity of going numb looking for new stuff or constantly collecting recommendations?

How to Edit Your Ebooks, Part 5: Tense and Verb Choice

The saga continues…the theme of the day seems to be, “Point it out but don’t necessarily edit it to death.”


I’m not going to go into the fine art of selecting tenses much here; my goal is not to be a book on perfecting your style and grammar, but how to edit.  However, I will go into a few points.

What tense to use.

Most works of fiction are going to be in past tense.  He went; she dreamed; it flew; they discombobulated.

Now, in the normal course of speaking in past tense, some things are going to be in the past, relative to the main action of the story.

In dialogue, you should generally use past tense to indicate things that happened in the story’s past. “She went to the market,” he said.

In non-dialogue, you should start off using past perfect tense.  She had gone to the market to buy groceries, but she’d been stopped on the street by the cops, who weren’t looking for her but thought she might know where he’d gone. However, this can be really repetitive, so after throwing a few “hads” in to show that the reader has moved further back in time,  you can switch off to past tense.

Beware using any present or future tenses in non-dialogue, if the main body of the work is in past tense.  It usually means you’re writing so intensely that you forgot your characters were a) in the past and b) not you.  You might want to leave those tense shifts, if you feel they add to the story and won’t confuse your readers, but otherwise ax them.

This is not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t write a story in present or future tense.  If you’re writing in present tense, then use the past tense for actions that happened in the past; if you’re writing in the future tense (which is hard to sustain without getting annoying but can be done), I would advise using past perfect to indicate past actions:

He will go to the rocket and open the door.  Ten years ago, he had been too cowardly to stay on the same continent when the rocket took off.  But tomorrow he will go.

In my opinion, use of the future tense is so weird to most people that if you slip into the past tense, people will assume that the past tense is the main tense of the story and the future tense is just hypothetical.  I suggest using the past perfect to keep people from doing that.  But do what works for you–just do it consistently.

Simpler verb tenses

In general, of all possible verb tenses, use the simplest available.  Don’t use have/had (perfect) or was ____-ing (progressive) tenses unless you really need them, for example, to show that something that happened in a past tense story happened before the main action of the story (perfect tense) or that the characters were doing something when they were interrupted (progressive tense).

One, tenses are there to indicate meaning, and you shouldn’t use a specific tense if you don’t mean what that tense means.

Two, reading all those wases and hads and -ings gets repetitive and old.

Verb Choice

Weak verbs

A lot of people have trouble with using too many of the same verb, usually a weak* or overused verb:

  • be
  • go
  • look
  • seem
  • try
  • do
  • think
  • tell
  • show
  • put
  • get
  • see
  • begin
  • start
  • give
  • use
  • want
  • feel
  • have

You may want to keep a list of verbs that you overuse and add to it as new ones pop up.  They probably will.

The most difficult of these words to eradicate or at least reduce my usage of, at least for my brain, is be.

I suggest the place to get rid of be and other weak verbs is in the content editing phase that your writer brain has to do before sending the work over to the editor brain.  However, your writer brain may be completely blind to be verbs.  Just writing this paragraph is giving me self-conscious fits, to be honest, but I’ll just plow ahead and edit this later, which is exactly what your writer brain may have to do with your work:  send it over to the editor brain and hope for the best.

If so, have your editor brain scan for weak verbs (you may want to do a search for the various be tenses, because it’s hard to catch them; your brain may just elide over them).  Highlight them, insert comments–whatever your system is for marking something for your writer brain to look at later.  After you’re done, send the document back over to your writer brain and have it deal with the cases individually.

Your writer brain (or your writer, if you’re editing someone else’s work) will not like this, but having the editor brain pick verbs is a mistake.  In fact, it may be better for your editor brain to do the highlighting, send it over to the writer brain, and then let both sides of your brain leave it alone.  You may end up doing more damage to your work than it’s worth, getting rid of those weak verbs.  But have the editor brain review for those verbs anyway–to make the writer brain self-conscious enough about it that you’ll use fewer of them on the next story.


You may have heard of the “rule” that you shouldn’t use a lot of adverbs in your writing.  Using too many adverbs is a symptom of a different problem rather than a problem in itself:  there’s nothing wrong with using adverbs.  There’s just not enough right with them.

One, use of adverbs often coincides with use of weak verbs.

Two, use of adverbs gets repetitive.  And the more repetitively you use anything in language, the less it means.  If you’ve ever done the trick where you repeat a word until it becomes meaningless (e.g., saying “pizza” literally 500 times), you know the feeling.  Too many adverbs are mentally numbing; the brain sees the -ly pattern so often that it numbs out.  (There are non-ly adverbs; interestingly, people don’t have problems with them unless you start using that specific adverb too often [e.g., often].)

But, again, you may want to just point them out with your editor brain and hope your writer brain does better next time.

Passive voice

Another “rule” is that you shouldn’t use passive voice.  He was given the big guns.

There are good reasons for that:

You’re using a lot of was/has constructions, which gets annoying.

You’re concealing information.  Who gave him the big guns, eh?  Your readers want to know.

However, sometimes you will use passive voice.  You want to conceal information; your characters don’t know the information; your characters or narrator would naturally, habitually use the passive voice (e.g., anybody who’s ever worked for the government).  Or you just want to break things up.

If you have a good reason for using passive voice, go for it.

If you don’t, weed it out:  don’t use passive voice if it doesn’t mean anything.  Words mean things; passive voice means something; if you’re a writer, you can break “rules” like this, if you mean it.

You will have the same concerns going on here as you do with editing verbs in general, so you may want to point out unnecessary instances of passive voice and then leave them alone, using your writer brain to write the next story with fewer instances rather than screwing around overmuch with your current story.

*A “weak verb” is also a technical term that indicates how a verb is conjugated; I mean here verbs that are so overused as to be relatively meaningless.

How to Edit Your Ebooks, Part 4: Text Editing Strategies and POV

When I was doing tech editing, the first thing I would do was format.  One, I like formatting (so sue me), and two, I felt like it allowed me to get a feel for what was going to be in the document.

Now, however, I do my text editing first and format editing second, on ebooks.  Why, I’m not sure, but every time I try to do the formatting first on my ebooks, it gets under my skin. Maybe it has to do with the nature of working with other people’s stuff vs. my own; I don’t know.  Regardless, you may want to do the formatting first and text editing second.

Text editing, in this context, is reading through the work line by line and looking for errors in the text itself–the things that wouldn’t change if you copied all the text and pasted it into another file as unformatted text.  This can also be called line editing or copyediting, but isn’t quite the same, as you’ll be including proofreading in this stage as well (in shorter documents).

I suggest the following strategy:

  • For short documents (short stories), don’t bother with a style sheet, go through the document once to text edit, once to format, and once for a “sanity check,” or a flip through to make sure there are no big uglies.
  • For medium-length documents (novellas), use a style sheet, go through the document once for style and consistency, once for nitpicks, once to format, and once for a sanity check.
  • For longer or more complex documents (novels, collections), clean up the document, go through a critique group or beta readers to catch brain farts if nothing else, then finish as with the medium-length documents.  You may want to have someone else read the book after you think you’re absolutely done with it.  I guarantee something will jump out.

You also may want to test out your results on readers you know to be at least somewhat anal about grammar.  Keep an ear out for people who make fun of unnecessary apostrophe’s and extra or missing, commas.  Go through the editing process on your own, then hand the story over to your Guinea pig.  If you’re leaving a lot of problems in the document, you may want to have someone else edit.  If you’re leaving a few oopsies (one or two a chapter), don’t worry about it; you’re probably doing it well enough.

Before text editing, I double-check the following, to save time (and yes, I will go into more detail about these later):

  • Make sure my word processor is set up for curly quotes, then do a find-and-replace on ” and ‘.
  • Make sure all my m-dashes are coded as a proper m-dash and not as two hyphens or space-hyphen-space (find-and-replace).
  • Change all two spaces to one space (find-and-replace).  I can’t seem to get myself out of the habit of typing these.
  • Spell check.

Spell check will often help me catch inconsistently-spelled names; I add the correct spelling to the dictionary so the incorrect ones stick out like a sore thumb.

If you are not familiar with editing, you may want to focus on one or two things at a time, then go back through for another pass.  However, this can cause you to become “blind” to your document, or unable to see any errors.  If you get to that point, set the document aside for a while or have someone else take over.  When you’re editing, it doesn’t do any good to phone it in.

The urge will almost always be to edit too much.  Remember:  trust your writer-brain.  If you’re fussing around with a lot of edits, walk away from the computer, take a break, write something new.  Editor brain wants perfection and order; writer brain wants to tell a story.  Trust your writer brain, because you’re not selling perfection, you’re selling a story.  When writer brain wants to make errors on purpose–let it.


In general, each section of a story should have a definite POV that should be clearly obvious to the reader.  Not only should the “person” be consistent (first person I, second person you, third person he/she/it/they), but the person at the center of the action should stay the same throughout the section.

This becomes tricky in third-person omniscient work; the whole point of having a third-person omniscient POV is to be able to see from multiple people’s perspectives.  However, an excessive amount of shifting perspectives, even when handled perfectly, is annoying–and when it’s not clear to the reader that a shift has occurred, it can make a section unreadable and disorienting.

This is one of the hardest things to edit if you’ve screwed it up, because there are no objective rules on how to do it.

However, if you set subjective rules for yourself on how to handle your shifts in POV and then use them consistently, you will (subconsciously) train your reader how to follow along when you shift.

Some possibilities:

  • Keep to one POV per chapter, and make sure it’s obvious within the first paragraph whose POV you’re using.
  • When shifting POVs inside a chapter, add an extra white space, and make it obvious, etc.
  • If you’re using first person POV, only see what the character can see and think what the character can think.
  • Avoid “head-hopping,” that is, seeing things from another character’s POV just because it’s convenient or funny or whatever–pick a plan for POV shifts, and stick to it.
  • If you’re using third-person POV, put characters’ actual thoughts in italics, e.g., This stupid editing series will be the death of me. You don’t need to add, “she thought” afterwards; generally, readers are sophisticated enough to catch on after the first few times you do it.

Once you have your rules set up (and added to your style sheet, if using), go through the document looking for breaks in the rules.  You might find it helpful to search for “I/He/She” or “Me/Him/Her” throughout the document.  During times when you’re deeply into your character, it’s not unusual to slip from “She” did whatever to “I.”

As with many things in editing, if you do it consistently, you can probably get away with it.


Society of Secret Cats Reviews!

I have reviews on “The Society of Secret Cats.”

Julie says:

I really enjoyed this – kind of like “Where the Wild Things Are” mixed with a bit of Lewis Carroll and a dash of J.R.R. Tolkien with the scary spider creatures. My only complaint really is that it seems almost like too big of a story for a short story…would love to see a novel with this world, or even a novella. It reminds me of those dark yet whimsical stories I loved most when I was a kid (and still do!)

And Karen says:

Dream time adventures that make me glad my cat sleeps with me!

In the interests of disclosure, I must say that they both got free copies of the story, and I know them.  But so very happy 🙂

Indypub: Perks.

Something that finally hit home over the trip was that I lots of people, personally, who now read ebooks.  A lot of them are close family and friends.

I realized that I didn’t want them to have to pay for ebooks.  They’ve done enough in my life, one way or another, that I can’t really ever repay them. So I’m working on setting up a list, getting their preferred formats…

Of course, these are also the people who are getting stuck with my annoying questions and requests for help, etc., so it’s not like “free” is really the operative word here.  And I’m not done; I have to go through my contacts list and check everyone’s names twice, to see if they’ve been naughty or nice.  But I have a nice start to it.

It’s weird how strongly I feel about it.  On the one hand, sure, I have a spot every week where people can download my stories for free on the weekends, but I know they’re not all using it.  And then some of them will go along and buy a big block of them, and I know very well it’s someone close to me.  So July may be low in sales 🙂

But it’s worth it.

I’m not a doctor, or a mechanic, or a lawyer, or IT or anything that could easily benefit the people around me; this is what I have.  I’m proud to finally be able to share something.  I think it’s a Midwestern thing.

How to Edit Your Own Ebooks, part 3: Writer’s Prep

To start out with, I want to define two terms for the context of what I’m writing:

  • Editing
  • Rewriting

Editing is when you fiddle with the small details, using your editor brain.

Rewriting is when you fiddle with the larger details (style is a larger detail made up of many small choices, by the way), using your writer brain.

Editing is checking for missing commas.  Rewriting is checking that you’ve nailed your ending and have left the readers wanting more.

Now, professional editors will use “editing” differently, and break it down into stages, one of which may be “line editing,” which is checking for the same kind of thing a writer will do when rewriting.  That’s okay.  For our purposes, editing is what your editor brain does, and rewriting is what your writer brain does.

You should use the writer part of your brain to get your story ready for the editor part of your brain.   The editor part of your brain, exposed to a naked first draft, will become whiny, irritable, and resent the story more than is necessary.

So first, back up the original version of your story and double-check that you’re not making changes to that version.

Second, do a writer’s sanity check:

  • Run a spelling and grammar check.  As you run through it, note down any terms, spellings, or phrases that you don’t want changed in a separate file.
  • Read through the work, looking for big oopsies of consistency in content (for example, in scene 1, your main character is male; scene 2, your main character has unintentionally become female; I, for example, have a hard time remembering that I’ve changed a minor character’s name in the middle of the book).
  • Also look for the things that your spelling and grammar check can’t pick up, like homonyms and gobsmacked sentences that read as gibberish as you scan through.  Big uglies only.

Do this very quickly, rather than slowly and meticulously.  Slow and meticulous is for editor brain, not writer brain, and you will get to the slow and meticulous stages in a bit.  You’re looking for the things that jump out at your writer’s eye, because those are the things your editor brain likely won’t catch.

Once you’ve done this, your story is ready for first/beta readers or a critique group, if you’re using them.

Tips on first readers, etc.:

  • It’s your damn story, not theirs.  You’re the expert, not them.
  • That being said, if you like a piece of advice, use it.
  • Your primary purpose is to find out whether your readers liked the story.
  • If the readers didn’t finish the story, find out where they quit reading.
  • Politely listen to any excuses about why they didn’t read/didn’t finish the story, but keep in mind that a really good story will overcome pretty much any rational excuse other than, “I lost the book.”  And even then, another copy of the book will be obtained.
  • Readers may not be able to articulate why they did/didn’t like the story.  That is okay.
  • Try to find readers who read what you’re writing, but it can be helpful to have readers who don’t, too.

Again, do not feel obligated to make any specific “fixes” based on comments.

If you find yourself saying, “Damn it, I like my commas messed up exactly the way they are,” you should probably leave them alone (at this point, anyway, while you’re wearing your writer hat).  You may be wrong, and your readers may hate the way you use commas.  You will consider this later, when you have your editor hat on.  Don’t worry about it now.

Next, and most importantly as far as your editor brain is concerned, make up your mind that your story is good enough to be published as an ebook.  There are two ways to do this:

  • Write a story that is good enough.
  • Rewrite the content of the story until it’s good enough.

I have to caution that no story is perfect; a lot of writers want to write perfect stories, and when their first drafts don’t come out the way they want them to, they rewrite the story.  Or when they discover that they don’t know as much about writing as they thought (for example, when to head-jump effectively), they will rewrite.

Yes, some stories need to be rewritten.

However, writers tend to be insecure and do far more rewriting and far less self-acceptance than they should.  Consider affirming the goodness of your story a few times before you take an axe to it; the problems of your story may be more in your head than they are on the page.  Rather than being the parent who nags your baby into a nervous, self-defensive, perfectly-well-behaved wreck, be the parent who makes sure your child has clothes on, knows not to bite people (unless they deserve it), and kick them out the door.

As a writer, I struggle with this as much as anybody.  As a parent, too.  But our kids and stories have to get out the door, sooner rather than later, and with kindness rather than demands for perfection.

Know this:  once you hand your story over to your editor brain (or to an actual editor), you are done making content changes. It is a complete and utter waste of your time to start editing and then make a content change, because you must start the editing process over again.  Do not waste your time.  Do whatever it takes to make peace with yourself and your story before you start editing.

Finally, once you’ve decided that your story is good enough and is ready to go up, do a writer’s sanity check one more time if you’ve made any changes.  You’ll be surprised how much you can screw up with one innocent little change.  Revert to your original version, if necessary.


When you create your story, use indents, not tabs.  Or double carriage returns after paragraphs.  Set a formatting style that makes your paragraphs look the way you feel comfortable with, but don’t hard-code extra crap into your work.  Your internal editor will thank you.

How to Edit Your Own Ebooks, part 2: Other People’s Work

Another non-nuts-and-bolts intro-ish post.  The nuts and bolts will follow…

I’ll mostly be covering editing your own ebooks, but there are things you should know if you edit other people’s work.  Plus, if you find that you have a hard time editing your own work, you might want to consider trading edits with another writer or group of writers.

In a sense, you’re always editing for someone else.  The part of your brain that writes is not the part of your brain that edits, and I sometimes find it helps to compartmentalize them, so they don’t mess up each other’s work.  I’ll even leave my writer brain comments like, “Nonstandard usage” or “awkward phrasing; rewrite?”

Just as it’s difficult to write with someone standing over your shoulder, checking your grammar, asking you whether you really think it’s realistic for the hero to accidentally lose his shirt in the middle of the scene, telling you that the ending of Chapter 1 is lame and wanting you to go back and fix it instead of writing Chapter 7, it’s difficult to edit with the writer in the room.

No matter how crazy, messed up, unintelligible, self-indulgent, or even illegal a work is, a writer won’t (and shouldn’t) be able to see that clearly.  The urge to create is not the urge to have all your buttons in the right buttonhole.

Even if you’re right, other writers will not like your edits until after they’re done handling them.  When they are done handling your edits, they will probably like your edits (unless you genuinely over- or under- edited).

That being said, here’s how to reduce the amount of conflict that may arise with your writer:

  • Save the sarcasm for people who will appreciate it.  Never get snarky in comments, emails, or other forms of communication with the writer.  There is no such thing as a reasonable amount of sarcasm.  Assume the writer has a gun and is willing to use it.  (I have broken this rule from time to time and usually regret it.)
  • Do not go beyond your scope.  Do not edit content.  Do not tell the writer that their characters are flat, plots hackneyed, etc.
  • Find out the chain of command on the project.  If the writer is a self-publisher, then the writer is in command.  If someone else is publishing the book, then the publisher or client is in command.  The editor is never in command; all the editor’s suggestions are just that.  However, the writer’s wishes may be thrown out the window in situations where the publisher says, “It must be so.”
  • Insert a comment into tricky areas rather than attempting a rewrite.  As an editor, you must stay away from being a writer if you want your editor brain to perform at its best.  Let the writer do the writing (and rewriting).
  • If you find something consistently wrong according to the style guide/dictionary/resource list, ask if it was what the author intended rather than meticulously “fixing” the thing throughout the document.
  • If you find something wrong but you like it to the point where you’re willing to defend it, insert a comment saying so.
  • Follow a TWO-strikes rule in standing up for what you believe in:  if you point something out, the writer refuses to change it, you explain why, and they still refuse to change it, then drop it.
  • In case of conflict between the writer and publisher/client, make sure both parties have the objective information they need to know, in as unbiased a form as possible.  After you present the information, you may state your opinion, making it clear that it is your opinion and you will update the document with whatever they agree on.  And then stay out of it.

In a situation where you’re not the writer and editor for a project, think of yourself as a butler, an extremely professional, highly-trained servant, whose job is to point out that m’lord’s tie is askew but not that m’lord drinks too much.  And if m’lord says, “I know my tie is askew, Jeeves, I want it that way, dammit,” then your answer is, “Very good, m’lord.”

A further consideration when you’re editing for other people is whether you should charge them for it.

The answer is:  you should.

You can charge in trade by making them edit something of yours (or for some other price, like a favor owed), but you should never edit for free.  Editing is the work of (as previously mentioned) a highly-trained servant.  A writer gets the pleasure of creating, of having their name in print (or online), etc.  A highly-trained servant gets the pleasure of doing thorough, good work that is appropriately rewarded.  Creators take the risks; they may be paid far less than their work is worth, or far more (in terms of time spent).  Editors should not have to share the risks; they are employees, not principal creators or publishers.

So how much should you charge?

According to Writer’s Market, which has a “What should I charge” article, updated yearly, you should charge $16 (low), $46 (average), or $100 (high) for copyediting or $15 (low), $31 (average), or $75 (high) for proofreading.  However, most editing jobs are bid by the word or page instead of by the hour, so that’s not terribly helpful.

Here’s my rough guide to how to give a pricing estimate.  Keep in mind that you may end up charging more (because of your experience) or less (because of lack of experience or a really bad market for editing services); if you’re trying to make a living at just editing, I would do more research on rates for your particular speciality.  But here’s a way to guesstimate:

  • First, find out if it’s fiction or nonfiction.
  • If it’s nonfiction, get a sample before you estimate.  If you have to deal with a lot of bolding/italics, section headings that need to go in the Table of Contents, indexing, glossaries, quizzes with answer keys, cross-referencing, etc., charge double or triple what you would charge for fiction.  I suggest not editing complex nonfiction until after you have handled a few fiction titles and a collection of short stories or two.
  • Find out whether the text was originally a file or has been scanned in.  Charge at least one and a half times your normal rate (or double) for scanned material.  Dealing with scanned text is a pain and often difficult to get into a reasonable state.
  • A page (8 1/2″ by 11″) of text in standard manuscript format is about 250 words.
  • A page of single-space text is about 500 words.
  • For straghtforwardly-formatted fiction or nonfiction, like a memoir, I suggest charging from 1-2.5 cents per word for proofreading, 2-5 cents per word for copyediting, $1-2 per 2500 words for formatting, or 2.5-7.5 cents per word for all of the above, after you’re sure you can do a professional job by taking on a few free or very low priced projects for the experience.
  • Fancy formatting should always equal a higher rate, if you’re doing ebook formatting.  Troubleshooting is a time sink.
  • Ask for 1/3 to 1/2 of the money up front.
  • Always have at least a Statement of Work agreed upon, detailing who does what, by when, for how much, and how the money will be paid.  (Note to self:  add a couple of sample SOWs at the end of the blog series.)  I’m no lawyer or contract specialist, so take due diligence before sending a SOW out or agreeing to one.
  • It is sometimes worth it to go through a third-party website like Elance that will ensure you get paid and that the client can’t screw you over.
  • Never turn down a bonus.  When you edit, you’re in the service industry, and people in the service industry get tips from time to time, even if it isn’t standard.  This is perfectly acceptable.

On the other hand, you may need to hire an editor that you don’t know personally.  In that case, I strongly recommend reading the rest of these posts as I put them out before hiring one.  Any time you hire an employee, you’re responsible for everything that employee does in your name, so you better know the process well enough to make sure your employee is doing a good job.  The tips on guesstimating rates apply here as well; do not hire an editor for a percentage of the profits.  Editing involves NO risks with regards to the content of your work, and editors should not be paid as if they are taking those risks (they shouldn’t get screwed if the work doesn’t sell, and they shouldn’t get rewarded if it’s wildly popular).

If an editor does not complete the job (or pretends to complete the job but obviously spent no time doing so), do not pay the additional amounts and register a formal complaint through a third party, if using.

If the editor completes the job poorly, first (politely) attempt to get the editor to fix the situation.   Do not pay any extra money, unless you mis-represented what the editor was supposed to do in some way.  If the editor can’t or won’t, pay the agreed-upon amount, spread the word as professionally as possible (leaving an honest review on a third-party site is appropriate), and never hire the person again.  It is often better to be able to wash your hands of a person by paying the full amount.

If the editor goes above your expecations, give a bonus.  Whether you are paying your editor through trade or by cash, you can always tip your editor:

  • Thank them profusely, publicly, and often, especially if you lost your cool at any point during the editing process (they will probably tell you it happens a lot and not to worry about it; nevertheless, it’s not fun).
  • Send a bonus via PayPal.  There isn’t a rate for bonuses, like 15% for wait staff or anything; whatever you send will be appreciated.
  • Write a glowing personal recommendation, post it on your social networks (and any third-party sites) along with a permanent link to their site, and send a copy to them personally.
  • Acknowledge their help inside the finished work.
  • Send a copy of the finished work.
  • If you see them in person, buy them supper, chocolate, or whatever is appropriate.
  • Recommend them personally to other people who need editors.

Really good editors (I’m not counting myself here) have a passion for serving others (no matter how sarcastic they are about it) and love to be appreciated.  Please do so.

And finally, if you’re an editor, it is perfectly acceptable to ask your clients to give you feedback on third-party sites or write recommendations for you.  If they don’t do it, let it go, but it’s acceptable to ask.





How to Edit Your Own Ebooks, part 1: Intro

For me, driving is like taking a shower:  I get all kinds of inspiration.  Yesterday on the way to picking up Ray I realized I know how to edit, I know how to make ebooks, and tons of people are like, “I can’t possibly edit my own ebooks…”  Aha, says I, “Of course you can.”

Keep in mind this is a first draft–and hasn’t been properly edited yet.

The first thing you need to know about editing your own ebooks is that you can do it.

It’s a skill (and in some ways an art, albeit a very cold and analytical one), and if you like words, you can learn it.

Actually, editing involves a lot of skills; it’s usually better to break editing into a number of different steps.  However, the more times you look at a particular document, the less you’re going to be able to see what you need to see.  Finding the balance between keeping a narrow focus and dulling your eyes through repetition is always a challenge.

I’m going to cover how to edit ebooks, mostly for yourself, but with a few notes in case you end up editing for someone else as well.  I will not cover how to edit POD books or other formats; I don’t have enough experience with POD yet to be able to give the down-in-the-weeds process that editors have to know.

The second thing you need to know is that fiction isn’t perfection.

I used to work as a technical editor; documents were meant to have no personality whatsoever, to be able to be read as smoothly as glass.  Grammatical perfection, stylistic clarity, and faithfulness to requirements were the pillars of my job.  We argued about sentence length (under 20 words), font size, and the correct color of green to use to indicate changes on certain documents (bright red was apparently an anathema on those things).

The writers never got a byline.

Fiction is a different beast.  With fiction, you want to know who wrote it.

Writers tell stories; if we need to misplace a comma in order to do so, we will.  As a writer, as you know that sometimes it’s better to break the rules.  But when you put your editor hat on, it will be tempting to fix all the broken rules and rewrite everything into perfection.


When you’re editing your own fiction, it might seem like you know the work best and therefore would never “fix” something like that.

Nevertheless, you will be tempted.

Writer brain (that creative and sometimes tortured playground) is not editor brain.

When you invoke editor brain, it’s almost like developing a split personality–your priorities change.  Your way of looking at the world changes.

The beginning-level editor thinks all imperfections are stupid and will try to talk writer into changing them.  Even if you’re the writer as well as the editor.

However, as editors get more experienced, they learn that some imperfections are perfect.  An experienced editor will stand up for their writers, defending elegant imperfections against Merriam-Webster, the Chicago Manual of Style, and even Internet Trolls.

The trick is knowing which imperfections are perfect and which are just typos, brain farts, or pure ignorance.

You may also need to edit some non-fiction.

Before you do, determine whether the non-fiction is allowed to show personality.

Some non-fiction, like this piece, like many blog pieces, memoirs, travelogues, etc., has personality and should keep it; the personality is one of the selling points of the work.  However, clarity appropriate to one’s audience takes a bigger priority in non-fiction than it does in fiction.

With fiction, the question of, “Will the audience understand it?” is often answered with, “Not at first.”

  • For example, in a mystery, you don’t want the readers guessing the ending too soon; there’ s always something that you want to conceal in fiction.
  • You will also have times when a character is extremely emotional or garbled in some way or other; you don’t want to un-garble the character if it’s more important that the reader understand the character is garbled than what they’re garbling on about.
  • Fiction writers also play with words and use them in inventive ways (like “garbling on about”).

With non-fiction, the question of “Will the audience understand it?” should generally be answered with “yes.”  (However, the more the audience is supposed to be reading something like a story, the more leeway you have with the question.)

A word on the process of editing:

Editing ebooks is not the same as traditional editing.

Traditional editing usually involves a built-up process separating editing into three main roles:

  • Acquiring editor:  selects the book, develops the “vision” of the book.
  • Copy editor:  researches consistence, sense, content, style, grammar, etc.
  • Proofreader:  ensures the book is ready to print (formatting, nitnoids).

Any freelancer will tell you that the traditional editing process goes right out the window when the client doesn’t have the money to pay for all that, and that you’re just supposed to make it “magically all better” for people who really don’t understand the process.

If you’re editing your own ebooks, you’re responsible for all three of those roles.

I will not cover the first role.  You’ve already selected your book (you wrote it, didn’t you?).  Your vision for your book, that is, who your audience is, how you’ll market the book, how you want it to look–those things are beyond what I’m going to cover here.

I will cover both the copyediting and proofreading roles.  I won’t separate them out; if you’re doing both of them, there’s no point in keeping them pure and distinct (and duplicating work, therefore wearing your eyes out all the faster).

As you read, keep in mind that this is my process.  Every editor has their own process; the important thing is to develop your own process, one that fits the amount of editing you have to do and the order in which you like to do it.  Don’t dwell on something, like an acronym list, if your readers don’t want and don’t expect it.  Take breaks when your eyes start to gloss over the small details.  If you catch 100 things and miss one, that’s fine–no editing job goes perfectly.  You will always miss something.

And, if you start to hate your work as you edit it…that’s normal.  No matter how good something is, when you apply your internal editor to it, in full strength, it peels apart and looks like the biggest pile of crap this side of Hercules’ stables.  If I’m editing for a client (or just cleaning up my first drafts), I make sure never to tell them what I think about anything until after I’m done editing, because my clients (even if I’m doing the writing) are always idiots and completely insane until after I’ve turned editor brain off again.  Editor brain is not nice; that’s not its job.

When you’re editing yourself, you don’t get to escape that feeling.  It’s all right.  When you’re down in the weeds of editing (in the copyeditor and proofreader stages), you will more than likely hate what you write, with a passion.  Focus that passion on fixing only the imperfect imperfections.

As soon as you’re done editing, you will step back and say, “That’s amazing.”  Your emotions about what you write will change in between one breath and the next sometimes.  It’s pretty funny.

Editing your own work isn’t some big mystery or anything.  It’s a process; if you know the process and you have some basic talent with words, you can do it.  Editing well is about restraint, about trusting your writer brain when your editor nerves are screaming that that comma is wrong, all wrong.

So if you find that you’re able to damp down your writer brain for a while and think analytically, you can edit your own stuff.  It might just make you a better writer, by learning how to trust yourself.

Contracts blog.

An awesome blog written by (among other things) a lawyer, “The Passive Voice.”

Here’s his latest, on “Don’t Sign Dumb Contracts”:

With both publishers and agents, PG recommends a “minimum wage for authors” – a dollar (or Euro, etc.) amount that the author receives every six months or year for a book. If the author doesn’t receive that amount, all rights to the book revert to the author, free of any publisher’s or agent’s claim.

An example of a minimum wage clause would be if an author doesn’t receive at least $5,000 in royalties in any year for her magnum opus, Dogs and Cats Can Get Along Just Fine, she can send a letter to the publisher and/or agent notifying them that she is retrieving her rights and they don’t have a piece of the book any more. The publisher has a year to sell out any hard copies in stock, but can’t print any more.

Yeah.  I am totally following this one.