Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What Writers Need to Know About Editing

Let me start off by saying this:

Most people do not enjoy getting edited.

My very first editor told me it sounded like I was trying too hard.
(Of course I was, I wanted to get published.)

An accomplished writer friend of mine put it this way the other day over lunch:
“Once you get over the initial shock, you put your writing aside, then a few days later you pick it back up and realize that the editors were probably right about a lot of things.”

I can tell you this: Kim and I, knowing how delicate editing can be, try very hard to be as gentle when making comments and suggestions as is humanly possible.

When a writer is in the Developmental Editing stage, editors can be extremely valuable when it comes to helping more clearly form the idea of your book. All of you have spent time talking about your manuscript concept. The questions we ask are designed to help construct a fuller vision of the book you want to write. From there, a basic skeleton outline is formed, a great help when you’re ready to tap out the first draft. When a first draft is complete, your editors will read through it, offering suggestions on several different things:

Order/ Structure
Does the order make sense? Will this book be written chronologically, or begin with the crux of the story and work its way back with what led up to it? If self-help, will it begin by describing the problems, or offer solutions first?

Rearrangement of Ideas for Better Flow
With the first draft, your biggest task is just to get the ideas down. Once this is done, outside input on the arrangement of each thought can prove to be very valuable. If there is a ‘hiccup’ in the flow, or a portion that’s too long or ill-placed, you could confuse your readers, or lose their attention.

Any Gaps or Missing Information
For example, if industry-related jargon is used that the common reader won’t understand, or if a name or idea is introduced that the reader might have trouble connecting to the previous thoughts, such as a sudden rich uncle that was never properly introduced into the text.

Points to Enhance
Often, there is GOLD within the manuscript that the writer isn’t extremely aware of.  A phrase, or two words put together that could grow into a powerful paragraph. We as editors help you to see where the gold like that is.

Narrative: choosing the type and style, the voice you’re portraying Conversational, lecture-y, all business, authoritative, etc. We also make sure that once you pick your style and voice, you stay true to it throughout the manuscript. Sometimes writers tend to switch out mid-stream.

 Story of "Missed It" Book
About fifteen years ago, I read a manuscript that, in the beginning, knocked it out of the ball park. I can still remember it, it was historical fiction, descriptive, exciting, and had a strong female main character. She did incredible, gutsy things. Three-quarters of the way through the manuscript, my strong main character fell in love, lost her moxie, and turned to mush. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was, and still am.  As editors, we want to make sure that doesn’t happen in any book.

When we get to Substantive editing, in my opinion, it’s in that stage when a writer needs to first don their thick skin. You’ve just pounded out that first draft, and it’s been a labor of love. You feel you’ve put in your best effort, there has been no small amount of mental and physical exertion, and you’re proud of what you’ve done, as well you should be. But, in the famous words of a friend of mine in the broadcasting business: “Do you want advice, or approval?”

Most of us, once we’ve finished that first laborious draft, are looking for the latter. I know I always am.

It’s an editor’s job to view a manuscript from the angle of the reader. Even if it’s the best story or self-help idea ever, if the presentation is hard to read or unclear, you won’t get your message across, which is the main goal.

The things we’re always going to be looking out for are:

Are we seeing the same words or phrases over and over again? ---Just about everyone does this to some degree---Why is this not okay? Because readers, either consciously or subconsciously, pick up on patterns. Once they do, the wording will begin to lull them into disinterest, something we don’t want.

Also, the same thoughts might be expressed more than once in different places and in different ways. This an attentive reader will also pick up on. If we catch these within your manuscript, we’ll comment on them. This does two great things for the manuscript: a) creates more room for other thoughts and b) keeps things fresh.

Thesaurus: This is where the good old thesaurus can become your best friend. You don’t want to use cliché phrases or the same old overused words. Instead of the term ‘words’, like I just used, you could say ‘expressions’, ‘messages’, or ‘remarks’. Variety being the spice, your thesaurus is the spice cupboard.

Does the wording go drastically from calm to radical, or soft to dramatic in a manner that’s not conducive to what is being said? Are there multiple exclamation points, or words all in caps?---If the writing is strong enough, you won’t need either exclamation points or caps, never wanting to sound like the reader is getting yelled at or advertised to. (I repeat, strong writing does not require exclamation points.)

Is it consistently the writer’s, or does the personality fluctuate?
Many writers tend to ‘hide’ within their narratives, even though they feel deeply about their subject or story. Sometimes they’ll start out being extremely open, and then recede into a more gray, dull narrative. If we see this, we might not express it to the author in those exact words, but ask questions and make suggestions to bring them back out. Also, an editors’ job is not to change your manuscript so much that you no longer see the ‘you’ in it. Quite the contrary. The other day, an author friend told me that his book he’d had worked on elsewhere wasn’t even recognizable after his editor got through with it.  In my opinion, this is an epic editor fail. Our job is to see to it that your voice comes through.

Three more super important things to keep in mind while working on your manuscript:

The best advice I ever got from a seasoned writer: Be brief.
Say the most in the least amount of words. Readers’ minds like this, they like the challenge of the subtle versus the long, drawn-out, obvious sentences. Readers like to think for themselves, and leaving nothing unsaid robs them of this.

Often it can be difficult to translate a thought, memory, or scene from our minds onto the keyboard. A lot can get lost in translation, too. Try to view what you’re writing as if reading it for the first time, and try to be considerate of your readers. If appropriate, when describing something, try to give background. In both fiction and nonfiction, hit as many of the five senses with your words as possible. Sight, sound, taste, touch, smell.

Readers are smart. They know when someone isn’t telling the whole story, holding back. I once interviewed the owner of a huge, very successful business, and asked him more than once how he came to own such an empire. He was evasive. When the recorder was shut off, he suddenly shared that he’d acquired the business through a divorce.  How different that story would have been, (and how much more authentic), had he been forthcoming. He could have stated that something good had come from a difficult situation, and talked about how he’d worked really hard, building what he’d gained the hard way, on his own merits, into an even larger empire. Now that would have been a good and very relatable story. Having to go with the content of the interview, the printed story lacked truth and luster. When writing, in many cases you’re better off with as much transparency as possible.

As editors, we’ll re-work sentences and paragraphs so that your word count is decreased (because very few people want to read an 800-page book these days). In doing this, though, the intent is not to change the meaning at all. In fact, often when a paragraph or sentence is pulled in with tighter writing, the meaning is enhanced.


Before edits:

Yes, that’s the beginning of it---less drama and the less ego. But what you then discover is that you actually get bottom line benefits.

What I encourage my clients to do is give me a list of all the stuff that they care about in their strategic plan. What are their goals? What are they trying to change?

After edits:

That’s the beginning of it. Less drama and ego. You then discover that the bottom line gets the benefits.

I encourage my clients to list everything they care about within their strategic plan. What are their goals, what are they trying to change?

In many cases, edits are hardly noticeable, other than the fact that the reading moves along at a livelier pace.

First and foremost, your editors are your friends, we’re here to help, and we want to see your book on the bestseller list!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Personal Brainstorming: Getting Past the Writer's Blocks

It's hard to get the message out in three-and-a-half-minutes on TV, no matter how great you are at brevity.

I couldn't do it.

So, here's what I really meant to say during my last TV interview:

Personal Brainstorming

Q: If you have a speech, letter, article or even a book to write, how does a person get started?

A: Begin with personal brainstorming. Like a brainstorming session you might have with others, just by yourself. Start pouring your ideas into a notebook, Word doc, napkin, whatever's handy. Write down anything and everything. The first step is to compile as many random ideas as possible, since it's so much easier to delete content rather than have to create it later.

Q: How does a writer go about creating that content, since so many writers get writer's block fairly early on?

A: Since exercise makes one stronger, writers need to get a writing workout in each morning, when the mind is still uncluttered. Three handwritten notebook pages of whatever comes into the mind unleashes that power and encourages writing to flow.

Handwritten is the best way to go. That's the method many prolific writers use.

The trick is to turn off the 'inner editor'. The one who wants sentences to instantaneously come out perfect, make complete sense and have proper form. That's not what you're after. When you relax and write whatever comes into your head, you'd be surprised at what emerges. You're not looking for ideal content, you're looking for unrestrained ideas. You can categorize, organize, and make it stellar down the road, or an editor can do that for you.

Q: What would you tell the person who is just plain stuck and can't get the writing out of their head?

A: I'll give you two writer's tricks. My favorite is to step away from the keyboard, go for a walk, clean something, get a snack. People get stuck because they're putting too much pressure on themselves. Ideal writing happens when the shoes are off, the eye muscles are relaxed, and the brain isn't all stressed out.

The other idea is to make a game of it by putting a time limit on the writing. We can tell ourselves we've got ten minutes to do x amount, then just write or type. We can do that with our minds, and many times we'll be amazed at what we can accomplish when we make it a race against the clock. Be true to your time limit, and at the end of that time, hit the 'pause' button.

*You can find me on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Magazines: How to Get Your Work Mentioned

A friend just sent an email, asking how she could get her book mentioned in several area magazines.

I have a few ideas when it comes to local and state magazines:

Some publications are about preserving stories that are classic Idaho. You might consider asking them to publish an excerpt from your book. You might ask your editor for their opinion on what portion could be a ‘stand-alone’ story.

Another thing you could do is create a ‘teaser’. Write up a condensed anecdote, and then include a plug about your book in italics below, or include it in your bio, should they decide to publish your work.

Are any locals or media VIPs involved with your story in any way? Are there facets of your story that they might be keenly interested in? If so, contact them and see if they have any ideas, or if they'd be willing to pass your book information along in a strategic manner to those who could really give you some traction. Make whatever you submit larger than just you or your subject (s). Magazine editors are always going to be looking for things that pertain to their area, and their genre. Things many people will have a connection to.

My personal belief when it comes to magazine articles is that the trick is to tie in to other stories so it doesn’t look like you’re openly plugging your product, etc., and then subtly put something (anecdote, story, mention) about your book so that readers will be curious, not wary of an obvious self-promotion. There is art to the classic teaser. In this way, a mention of your published work is appropriate. If readers like your story, they'll naturally want to read more.

Another thought when it comes to approaching magazine editors is to use the WOW factor.
When sending a letter to the editor, first and foremost, be brief. These poor people read words all day long. You've got to grab them right away, so don't work gradually up to the WOW of it, put it out there right off the bat. You can list your awards, credentials, etc. later. Much later. Maybe in another email altogether, or include it in your magazine bio.

The biggest deal with editors is going to be presenting to them why it's interesting, and why their readers will eat what you have written or will write up. Once you've got a story idea, subtly add in your plug within the piece about your book or as an informational blurb at the end, or use an excerpt or rewritten ultra-condensed version of your book for an article along with a plug/ website, etc. about the book.

I think that method could get you some good ink. No guarantees, but my opinion is that this will work far better than the in-your-face methods so many others use...making it difficult and not too tempting for editors to give it the nod. 

Once you've been published, make sure to tell those who made that happen 'Thank you.'
That's a very important step.

Overall, here is the greatest lesson:

Don't be a pushy pen.
Feed them something they want to eat, and sprinkle in a little self-promotion as a condiment, not the main course. 

*You can find my other random thoughts about writing on Twitter.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Creative Work of the Mind

From the book, "The Einstein Factor" by Win Wenger, Ph.D. and Richard Poe:

In 1788, Friedrich Schiller wrote a letter to a friend who was having difficulty coming up with fresh ideas. He wrote:

"The reason for your complaint lies in the constraint which your intellect imposes upon your imagination, for you reject too soon and discriminate too severely."

Schiller continued, "If the intellect examines too closely the ideas pouring in at the hinders the creative work of the mind."

*You can find these and other random thoughts of mine on Twitter.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Press Releases and Why You Need Them

Press Releases and Why You Need Them

By Amy Larson

A press release is your chance to tell the world of your book’s great worth. Let’s face it: we’re writers, not always marketers. By following the right steps and/or hiring the right people, you can create a press release that gets you and your book the attention you both deserve, giving book sales a shot in the arm, and getting you noticed.

Like a few quirky people we’ve encountered who talk about themselves in third person, you’ll be doing the same thing here…and it’s okay. You are telling editors, reporters and others what your book is about, who you are, and why they should care, in the form of a “Hey, this is news!” release. Press releases can be an important piece to a complete press kit, or they can arrive on a desk or screen accompanied by an additional ‘pitch’ letter.

You’ll want to send a press release to any and every local and/or national media source you can think of, and to anyone who is going to be a proponent of getting your book known, including:

-newspapers, daily and weekly publications-editor
-online newspapers or news sources-editor
-TV stations-news director
-radio stations-news or public service director, if applicable
-notable bloggers
-book reviewers
-those industry leaders that would be interested in your chosen topic
-trade association leaders
-heads of PR for various organizations that could benefit from reading your book

There are several methods for your off-the-charts-fantastic press release’s distribution: You can email them, fax them, or print them up and put them in the mailbox. There are also several services that can assist you with this.

Now, how to write it up?

With a press release, you have a limited amount of space, so every word counts. Your headline is your lifeline, and it’s got to make eyes pop. Start by asking yourself: “Why is what I’ve written about news?” What, essentially, is the ‘it’ factor behind anyone wanting to read your book? This is where you’ll use every ounce of your book’s ‘sizzle’. Be as concise here as humanly possible, and if writing the release yourself, get a second or third opinion from a word expert. Do not put something out there that’s misspelled or displays incorrect use of the language.  A bad press release is…well…bad press. Make your main point early, clearly and with strength, and do it in the briefest way possible. Media experts and readers have an almost nonexistent attention span these days, due to our busy lifestyles, so the words are going to have to reach out and grab them. If you happen to have an enthusiastic quote or endorsement from a (big, very well-known) VIP, consider using that in the body of your press release.

Some things to avoid: Don’t use shop talk! Re-think any wording that’s business related, that you assume everyone else will know. Using uncommon terms is a sure-fire way to turn people off.

Make sure to incorporate contact information, or it’s all for naught. You’ll also need other important items, such as the date, city where this exciting news is coming from, social media, website, and blog links, along with an email address and a number where you can be reached.

When your third person news pitch is complete, compose another small paragraph for ‘About Us’ or ‘About the Author’ information. Keep this very brief and relevant. If your press release serves its purpose, readers can look up further information about you.

Even though we might all be writers, press copy is a different critter. Compare it this way: Imagine a public speaker who has one full hour to talk with an audience, allowing them to get familiar, then gradually and masterfully delivering the message. Contrast that with a stand up comedian who has three to four minutes to gain the trust of his audience, make his point, connect and make them laugh. Not everyone has the knack for putting what's vital into one page or less. Your press release is your introduction into the world, and it needs to be rock solid. Take that into account, think about what an expert can bring to the table, and proceed accordingly. PR pros, public relations and marketing firms are around for a reason.

Congratulations on your new book, and here's a to successful launch.

For a press release template, see here.

*To contact a professional copywriter, see here. 

*You can find these and other random thoughts of mine on Twitter.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What Is a Personal Author Profile, and Why Do I Need One?

Personal author profiles offer an interesting and digestible way to distill information about you. Akin to a few scrapbook pages of your life (but in words), profiles help your readers view a cross-section of yourself that inspires intrigue, making them want to find out more. Highly recommended, the author profile describes you as a professional and a person.

A lengthier equivalent to ‘the elevator pitch’, profiles are created to quickly capture and hold a person’s attention, enticing them to read your work in full, thus inviting you into their lives.

Not necessarily ‘selling’ you or your book, this is a tool to let people know what you’re all about, and can be especially helpful when working with new clients, as an introduction to be sent out before speaking engagements, or anywhere you’d like to more subtly promote your cause or platform.

With an Author Profile, you are not singing your own praises, but allowing your Publisher or 'camp' to do it for you. The profile is yours to use in any beneficial way you see fit.
Here are some suggestions:

As a part of your website content 

As an excellent prep tool for interview and networking conversations, taking you to the next step in business and reader relations

Use all or portions of your profile for introductory blog posts

Within posts or emails as a hyperlink, or as a part of your email signature
Post the link to your profile on Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, etc., or better yet, have others in your ‘camp’ post your profile for you, generating even more activity.

Portions of your profile can be used in cover letters for those interested in having you speak or for organizations that would want to purchase your book in bulk.

Use anywhere you might want to clarify your background, career plans, or the direction in which you would like to go. Your profile gently defines what your goals are in specific terms, giving examples and explaining the ‘why’ behind what you do.

Utilize your profile when those considering you for speaking or bulk book purchase are dealing with a high volume of other applicants. This concise introduction will allow them to feel as if they know you more intimately. Your profile sets you apart from the generic. Your story is what differentiates you from others in your field.

Take full advantage of your profile, using it as a place to subtly and personably promote your cause or platform.

*If you are an author or businessperson, I specialize in profiles, having written for a business magazine for years. Message me here to set up a phone interview.

**You can find these and other random thoughts of mine on Twitter.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Meet The Tree-ras.

I recently read a blog post that said, (somewhat loftily, I thought):

"I don't just blog to fill space."

Well, good for her, but my take on that is 'Why the bleep not, empty space can be seriously boring!'

What to write about?


Jerry Seinfeld made up a show about nothing, and it ran for how many years?

One creative writing instructor says, "Take an inanimate object and write about it. Write about what's on your desk."


I'll have to warn you, this is where it could get dicey.

I'm a slob sometimes, and because there are far too many items on my desk to name (and because my pride won't allow me to snap a picture of them all), I'll just go with one item today. It's my photo tree, which stands proudly by my computer.

There are only two photos of myself on the metal tree. The rest are complete strangers, ancient pictures of those I deemed 'strong women'. I discovered their long-forgotten images at a dusty-smelling antique shoppe in Hyde Park, where I tirelessly dug through a boxful to see who would make the cut.  Only people that had 'the look' got to hang out on the fabled branches. The look of aggressive, ambitious, women who didn't take any crap. One girl looks like she could eat someone's liver, and her sister or mother or whoever it is in the background looks (I swear!) exactly like Ashley Judd.

This tribe of sheroes cheer me on day in and day out. I can practically hear them saying, "You're going to kick it in your content writing job today," or, "You know, you really should be writing more authentically. Aren't you tired of writing everyone else's voice but yours?" or, as in the case of the little mean girl, "I'm about to eat your liver."

The woman leaning confidently against the door of her cruiseship cabin never says a word. She doesn't have to; her affluence speaks for itself. I don't always like the way she looks at me, to be honest. I get the feeling she might have been a real pill to live with.

One photo looks like a group of either housemaids or private school students, I can't tell which. If it's private school, someone really missed it on the uniform choice. I actually like to think they are hardworking housemaids, busting their backsides to get the job done each and every day. Heaven only knows the vast creativity that lurks behind any frustrated woman holding a mop.

These are my people.
I have no clue whatsoever who they are, yet they cheer me on each and every day when I turn on the office lights and hit my PC's 'on' button.

You've now all been properly introduced.