Thursday 26 November 2020

Guest Blog - Editing Process Q&A - Alys Earl

This week's guest author is Alys Earl who has given us a detailed inside into their process. 

AW Earl is a writer, storyteller, and performer whose fiction combines literary, genre, and folkloric motifs, and whose non-fiction involves them being quietly angry about transgender issues and the much misunderstood history of marriage. Living in Suffolk with various children and cats, they are currently seeking representation for a series of novels about modern day faeries in Norwich. Their debut novel, Time’s Fool, was published by Unbound in 2018, and their collection of illustrated ghost stories, Scars on Sound, was released in 2017. 

(See their books below)

Do you do several drafts before you send your manuscript to the publisher for editing, or do you just send the first draft? 

I always do several drafts before sending anything on to a publisher, whether I’ve been commissioned or not. I like to have a very clear idea in my head of what I’m doing, and how I want to achieve it before I’m ready to work with someone else on it. This is partly because my intentions tend to change a lot over the second and third draft, and I don’t want to mess my editors about by having something that goes off at a complete tangent to what we’d discussed, or what the first draft implied. Time’s Fool, for example, was originally conceived as a gothic romance - it was only by the third draft that I realised I could not force it in to that shape, and that it really found itself as something of a tragedy. It would have been impossible for an editor to do a fair job on what was pitched (romance) without turning it in to something quite other than the story it needed to be, and I needed the space to find that out for myself without wasting another professional’s time.

I am also, alas, something of a perfectionist and really don’t like people to see my work unless I’m already fairly satisfied with it.

How many times do you go back and forth (on average) - does it vary with the publisher or with the story? 

With Unbound publisher, we had three lots of edits - the structural, the copy, and the line edits. I’m not sure how typical it was, but there was only one exchange at each stage - so, I received comments, worked on the suggestions, and then had my changes approved before the next stage. So, that was three times, and then a final proof read.

What kind of changes/suggestions do they make? are they just minor ones or are they major? (any examples?)

I’ve never been asked to make any seriously major changes to my work. In my experience, editors have been concerned with helping me draw out the story as I wanted to tell it, with an eye to the audience’s ease, enjoyment, and comprehension. This has involved moving some bits about, adding or deleting sections, getting rid of a few ‘darlings’ (I love a terrible pun - editors tend not to), or occasionally rewriting a scene or chapter so that it is more dynamic, or affecting. I’ve never been asked to change a character, or their motivations, only to make them clearer.

Similarly, copy editing is more focused upon honing narrative voice than controlling it - I tend to have quite a lyrical style, and a lot of the feedback was about helping that to ‘sing’. Copyeditors look for clarity, consistency, and - for want of a better word - elegance of voice, rather than any particular style.

Then, of course, there is accuracy. My books have a strong historical aspect, and editors are brilliant at catching, or questioning, historical points - and indeed, stopping authors from getting too carried away with including them. My editor for Time’s Fool caught some absolute howlers, as well as (thankfully) stopped me including an entirely unnecessary paragraph on the history of medieval beds.  

Does it go through various stages, like developmental, copy editing and then proofing? Or is it straight into copy and proofing? Or again, does that vary on book and publisher? 
In my experience, editing starts out with a sort of long-lens, looking at the structure and the narrative or the book, and gradually hones in to the content, then on the word choice, and finally the details like punctuation and spelling convention.

What would you say best practice is in regards to accepting/rejecting edits - is there always a discussion, or do you feel you have to accept all/some of them?

I try to keep in mind Neil Gaiman’s adage about editing: that if someone says there is a problem with a bit of your work, they are almost always right. If they try to tell you how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. Grumble as we might, editors know their jobs, and can see our manuscripts with clearer eyes than we can ourselves. As such, I tend to accept about 80-90% of small changes without question. Larger changes, I would often wish to discuss, or use as a starting point for implementing my own solutions, but in the vast majority of cases some level of editing is necessary or they wouldn’t have spotted it. Often shifting other bits around the contested section solves the problem just as well, or better, than their suggestion.

This approach almost certainly bores my editors rigid and no doubt comes off as very contrary, but as I said above, I’m a perfectionist. I am also, according to one editor I’ve worked with “terrifyingly workmanlike” about my stories. My structural editor for Time’s Fool spent a good few minutes reassuring me that it was a very decent manuscript, and the fact he’d marked it up so much didn’t mean I’d given him some dreadful scrawling that would need to be entirely rewritten. My attitude, though, was very much “Yes, but there are problems, or you wouldn’t have marked it up. So. How do I best go about fixing them?”

The only time this approach fails, I think, is when you and your editor have significant creative differences or outlooks upon life. When I was first starting to submit things, there was a little spate of stories about agents or editors asking (often marginalised) writers to change a character’s gender, race, or sexuality, - and that for me is a huge issue. Before handing your work to someone else to look at, it’s really important to know those things upon which you are not willing to compromise - the changes you will not make, not even if they are make or break changes as regards your contract, and for me questions of identity and morality feature very strongly in that.  In addition to these, it’s worth having a list of things you would rather not alter, but could be persuaded upon. Everything else is up for discussion, for the service of the story, and the service of the reader.

The point I’m trying to make is, a good editor who understands your work would not have flagged something unless they genuinely felt there was a problem there. Do you really want this story to go out there with your name on it, if it has a problem that was pointed out to you, and you have done nothing to fix?

Do you find it hard to embrace the suggestions/changes given? 

Yes of course I do! Writers are delicate, touchy creatures and anyone who pretends that they aren’t is lying. But, ultimately, it comes down to integrity.

The pact I make with my readers is that I’ve done everything in my power to make this story as good as it can be, and that involves listening to my editors unless their advice is about one of the things upon which I will not compromise. So, while I have a couple of friends I can vent to about all the things I’ve been asked to do to my novel in order to make it readable, I also just grit my teeth and do them.

Thank you so much for taking part.

Autumn in the market City of Barchester, and two bright students begin their final year at University, content with old friendships, paying lip-service to old dreams. Until, that is, an ill-conceived prank introduces them to Julian.

For Sophia and Steven, the friendship they form with this worldly stranger marks a coming of age, a possibility to embrace the needs and longings they have never had the language to express. But Julian has his own secrets, and as the nights grow longer, it becomes clear that not all desires are without cost; that some things should never be brought into the light.

Time's Fool is a novel about monstrosity, about desire and communication. It's about the self we present to the world and the needs we whisper to ourselves in the darkness. It is about honesty and the fear of honesty. It is about the things we refuse - refuse to say, refuse to seek, refuse to believe - because sometimes, ignoring those things is all that keeps us sane. 

Click on the book cover for the Amazon UK link. The Amazon US Link is HERE

If UK based, you can buy the epub version on Hive UK HERE 

The past will hurt you if you turn your back on it. A village under the shadow of old magics. A book of poems that twists the minds of those who read it. A woman imprisoned by a poisonous love. Grown from the dark soil of the British Folk Tradition, these stories ring with a half-remembered music of loss, haunting and revenge. From the nurse recalling her monstrous charges, to the woman with scarred hands who is warped by a power from the past, these are tales of civilisation falling away, of something older and more dangerous coming through. With illustrations by Ruth Tucker, these lyrical, Gothic stories capture the horror that lies in the English landscape and the darkness of the human heart.

Click on the book cover for links to purchase from Lulu. 

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 176

This week's picture prompt was created by Russian artist Ruslan Svobodin, and calls this Trigger the Cat. I rather love it. 

I had used it in my new Tricky book, although I realised now I didn't encompass the gun, but still, the idea is to use the prompt in whatever way works for you. And it's also opened up a whole other sub plot! So very useful. Here's a snippet. (The last Tricky tale on the blog was at Week 175)

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

There is also a Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there

Black Cat

Tricky’s new body meant that she wasn’t too puffed out by all the stairs that wound up to the top room in the tower. There were a couple of landings along the way leading off along corridors, but they contained nothing of interest to her. When she reached the top landing she faced the door which was open, and looked in. Lucien was at his desk, head down writing something. His birds were all there too, in all the alcoves and on all the window ledges, but none of them registered her presence.

She carefully stepped into the room. She didn’t plan to try and retrieve her Obsidian stone with him sitting there - didn’t think she actually could, as there wasn’t enough space between chair and cabinet. Plus she was confident he would sense the change in energy if she got that close to him, and she wasn’t going to risk it. She stepped inside the doorway, and stood to the left of it, in a corner where the circular outer wall met the inner wall, and waited.

Lucien was scribbling furiously, intent on whatever he had to tell. Then he laid his pen down and rolled the piece of paper up and made a strange squeaking noise with his lips, no doubt calling his birds to him. But it wasn’t a bird that came, it was a cat, and this one wore a strange device.

Now Tricky didn’t go in for all this ‘all witches must have cats’ malarkey. She wasn’t into them at all; they prowled about thinking they were something special, demanding attention and food when it suited them. Moody bloody things too, they were, and she didn’t care for that kind of attitude. She wasn’t going to chase after an animal that didn’t serve a purpose, although many would argue they did. Yes, they caught mice and other such small creatures, many that didn’t need catching, and they might spot the existence of ghosts and other energies, although it could just as easily be a fly, but she didn’t want cat hair getting into all her clothing and her food, she didn’t want it in her garden shitting up the place, and she didn’t want half rotting ‘presents’ turning up on her doorstep. Oh no, they weren’t for Tricky. But it didn’t surprise her Lucien had one. He was that sort. He didn’t just go in for the magic or the power; he went in for the image too. And though birds might be his forte, cats gave him the look he was after. And this was a black cat of course. No other would do.

She found it interesting the cat paid no mind to the birds - although they were big birds and would stab that cat soon as look at it. And she was surprised it tolerated wearing a contraption. He clearly had a hold over it. It seemed birds weren’t just his thing.

The cat jumped up onto his desk and sat in front of him, offering its back. The contraption, affixed round the front legs and underbelly, was a tube which Dufray popped the letter into. He then made some other strange noises and the cat hopped down and went out of the door, off to deliver Lucien’s missive. Tricky wondered where it was going.

Then Lucien stood up and took his thigh-length black jacket off the back of the chair and put it on. Buttoning it up, he moved over to the wall and preened himself in a mirror. One of the birds screeched, startling Tricky. Lucien said aloud, ‘Don’t worry, I won’t be long, and you can join me if you like, eh?’ He turned and looked at the Jay that had made the noise and offered an arm. It glided down and perched on his forearm and together they left the room.

Tuesday 24 November 2020

Guest Blog - Editing Process Q&A - Akshita Nanda

The next Guest Author is Akshita Nanda, a Singapore based author, with some interesting experience to share. 


Akshita Nanda's first novel, Nimita's Place was shortlisted for the 2017 Epigram Books Fiction Prize for unpublished manuscripts, and the 2019 Singapore Book Awards for best literary work. It was adapted into a staged reading for TheatreWorks in 2019. Her second novel, Beauty Queens Of Bishan is published by Penguin Randomhouse SEA. She has worked as a lab researcher, as an educator and for 12 years as a journalist and critic for The Straits Times. She is currently studying at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

Books reerenced in this Q&A:

I've had 2 novels published: Nimita's Place (Epigram Books, 2018) co-won the Singapore Literature Prize for English fiction in 2020 and was shortlisted for the Singapore Book Awards 2019. It has also been adapted into a theatrical reading.

The second is Beauty Queens of Bishan (Penguin Randomhouse SEA, 2019)

I've also created an interactive online story for readers aged 9-14, commissioned by the National Arts Council of Singapore, with publisher Tusitala Books. It's online here till Nov 29.

All three works went through some form of editing.

Do you send a proposal before a book is accepted? Do you send in an outline first and get that okayed or do you go straight to the full draft?

Both my novels were written before publishers were found for them. I'm currently working on a third, without a publishing contract. 

I'm represented by the Jacaranda Literary AgencyI do speak with my agent, Jayapriya Vasudevan, while developing the elevator pitch, but she has the difficult task of representing books that I want to write, rather than getting me to write what a publisher wants.

The interactive online story was the first one where I sent a pitch in for approval but I was given carte blanche with the narrative and plot. The publisher Tusitala Books did explain what media sources and tools they were using, which helped me shape my story outline and not ask for features they couldn't include with the story.

Do you do several drafts before you send it to the publisher for editing, or do you just send the first draft?

Several drafts. I hand-write all my first drafts. Typing them into the computer is the second draft.

I edit several times and then give the edited version to at least 3 friends I trust deeply. I've also paid for professional editing, via someone my agent recommended.

Once all the feedback is in, I collate it and decide what needs to be changed. Only then does my agent receive a submission copy to show to publishers.

How many times do you go back and forth (on average) - does it vary with the publisher or with the story? Does it go through various stages, like developmental, copy editing and then proofing? Or is it straight into copy and proofing? Or again, does that vary on book and publisher? 

There's usually a structural edit, where an editor goes through the course of the story and suggests what should or should not be changed.

With the second novel, this involved me writing an extra chapter for earlier development of a minor character.

After the structural edit comes the line edit, where one or more editors go through the novel line by line and suggest changes or ask questions.

There’s usually at least two rounds of editing - including with the online story - before the text is sent to layout. After layout, I proofread the galleys before they are sent to print.

What kind of changes/suggestions do they make? Are they just minor ones or are they major? (any examples?)

Examples of changes include the extra chapter for book 2. With the first novel, I wrote it to alternate between past and present. The editorial team thought it would be better to have several chapters from one timeline put together, rather than alternating timelines between every other chapter. At first I was resistant but it did work better for readers and didn’t involve me rewriting anything, which was great.

Both my books have been edited by at least one person unfamiliar with the culture being represented in the story. That’s led to some interesting dialogue about differing cultural assumptions. No editor has forced me to make changes I didn’t eventually want to make. All were respectful of what I was trying to achieve.

What would you say best practice is in regards to accepting/rejecting edits - is there always a discussion, or do you feel you have to accept all/some of them? Do you find it hard to embrace the suggestions/changes given? 

There is always a discussion. Both editor and writer will need to make clear to the other why changes are considered necessary. If a writer can defend their rationale, editors tend to accept it.

If an editor can defend their rationale, writers tend to accept it.

I have had 17 years in the publishing industry, including 6 as an editor of books and 12 as a correspondent for a newspaper, so I am aware that writing IS a team effort and that there are many hands and eyes shepherding copy to print. I know that often I am too close to the text to be objective - and also that in the end, my name is on the book. I know what hills to die on and what changes to accept gracefully.

Thanks you so much for taking part.

A light-hearted story, Beauty Queens of Bishan centers around stereotypical rich Indian families in Singapore, yet it does not leave out other parts of the community and how they all come together in the beauty parlours of the average-class heartland of Bishan. In Bishan, the busiest suburb of Singapore, thirteen small beauty parlours co-exist quietly, offering haircuts, bikini waxes and facials at no-nonsense prices. All that changes when a swanky new salon opens. D’Asthetique (Beauty is Skin Deep) is run by April Chua, the stylist to the stars. April’s plan for Bishan includes controlling her competitors through a new society, NAILSO (Neighbourhood Alliance of Independent Lifestyle Service Operators). The only person who dares to protest is the chubby Gurpreet Kaur, owner of Monty Beauty Spa. Both have clients in the upcoming Grand Glam Singapore Beauty contest. Will April’s shoe-in Candy Kang prove yet again why she is Singapore’s sweetheart? Or will Gurpreet’s client, Tara Chopra, prove a star on stage as well as in court? 

Thursday 19 November 2020

Guest Blog - Editing Process Q&A - Dale S Rogers

Our next Guest author is Dale S Rogers, author of Christian Romantic Suspense and Children's book. She's had an interesting journey on with her editing experience with publishers. 

 South Carolina native, Dale currently lives in North Carolina with her husband and three cats. With several family members involved in writing, Dale soon found herself drifting in that direction, eventually joining her high school newspaper staff. Continuing her interest in writing after graduating from Anderson College and the University of South Carolina, she penned articles and stories, as well as poetry, eventually starting a novel. Since then, she has written two novels for teens and adults. She also loves music and dance, and has participated in several musicals and even one movie.

Do you send a proposal before a book is accepted? Do you send in an outline first and get that okayed or do you go straight to the full draft?  

The guidelines for publishers who don’t require agents vary. Some want the entire manuscript, while others might want the first three chapters or just a query. The important thing is to follow their instructions properly. (This applies to agents as well.)

Do you do several drafts before you send it to the publisher for editing, or do you just send the first draft?

It takes several drafts before a manuscript is ready to send to a publisher. It’s a good idea to have someone else read it first, so you can get an idea of how others view your work. Even then, the editor will find things to change.

How many times do you go back and forth (on average). Does it vary with the publisher or with the story?

When my novel, Lighthouse on Tortola, was edited by someone at the publishing house, I added my comments and suggestions, then they took it from there. But when my publisher worked on Orange Snow, my picture book, they wanted it to be from a certain perspective, so we went back and forth two or three times.  

What kind of changes/suggestions do they make? are they just minor ones or are they major? (any examples?)

There was nothing major with my novel, but they didn’t understand a couple of situations, so I made them more clear. My editor also made some suggestions concerning punctuation, which I didn’t always agree with. My picture book editor wanted the book to have “a treasure,” which I had to work toward, then she added some children’s activities relating to the story.

Does it go through various stages, like developmental, copy editing and then proofing? Or is it straight into copy and proofing? Or again, does that vary on book and publisher?

In both cases, after I sent my final draft, the publisher sent me the galleys, which are pretty close to the final version. Even then, I found some errors, and that was the last time I had any real input before the books came out.

What would you say best practice is in regard to accepting/rejecting edits. Is there always a discussion, or do you feel you have to accept all/some of them? 

It’s important to respect the editing the publisher does, but I sometimes find changes I disagree with. I try to be polite and explain my reason for not liking their suggestion.

Do you find it hard to embrace the suggestions/changes given? 

Sometimes I do. I didn’t feel all of the suggestions made for my picture book were necessary, but I knew the publishers had a particular vision for the line of books they were putting mine in.

Thanks so much for joining.

Dale recently released Lighthouse on Tortola, a romantic adventure which concerns  a photojournalist on assignment in the Caribbean, and Orange Snow, a picture book about a young girl’s imagination and a blustery fall day. They’re both available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

A debut novel filled with suspense as Photojournalist Andra seeks to clear an innocent person’s name and find evidence against a wealthy adversary. But she isn't isn’t expecting the biggest twist of all... falling in love.

When Andra goes to the British Virgin Island of Tortola on a magazine assignment, she never expects to become involved with a tour guide bent on revenge. Pulled into his world of intrigue, she must learn who she can and cannot trust while striving to prove the truth concerning the Ahoskie Diamond Necklace.

Lucy likes to imagine things. That's what she was doing one windy autumn day, waiting for Mom to pick her up from school. She was thinking how wonderful it would be if snow were... orange! And how fun it would be to play in. Just for pretend. But do you ever wish pretend could be real?





Wednesday 18 November 2020

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 175

This week's picture prompt is by Igor Zenin a Moldovian photographer. He calls it Sunset Run We've actually had another of his way back on Week 10! That one was called Dancing Trees - clearly he likes doing these (and I like using them).

Another snippet for you from my currently WIP - Tricky's first book. It's coming on nicely. (Last Tricky piece was Week 169)

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

There is also a Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there.


Tricky rose early the next morning wanting to catch the dawn light. It also meant she didn’t have to shield herself when coming off the jetty to cabin as the world was still sleeping and despite the risks of the trees, she slipped off between them as the sky turned from ink black to grainy grey, still an hour off dawn. She headed towards the hillside out west of the village and climbed to the top where only the low lying shrubby pines could hold on, and she looked down over the rest of Clancy, spotting the fresh water lake off to her left. She made her way towards it, using spurts of energy to get there before the crack of dawn appeared on the horizon. It was the county’s water reserve, and fed the towns within. It was also an ancient site, having survived the shift unharmed. The forest nibbling at its edge had much to talk about, should it ever choose to speak, with much of the landmass having been turned over around it, yet it remaining intact. It was considered sacred and contained elements lost to all the other counties. It was patrolled, and few people were allowed into its realms, though Tricky knew at this time in the morning there would be no one to stop her.

Tricky wasn’t going there to raid it for elements, not this morning at least. Today she was here to see the sprites, which would be coming out soon for their morning cleanse. People had stopped believing in such fairy tales, which was all the better for them - and her. It meant they could exist in private and keep their purity, and meant she could visit them. Their energy was particularly valuable and she hoped to soak some up, if she could get close enough. They were shy and suspicious, and didn’t take well to any observer, particularly not human.

Humans didn’t believe trees were sentient. They saw them as solid and stationary, and unfeeling. They cut them down and used them for their own means - and Tricky had to be honest and admit she used them too, but she tried to be respectful when she did. Like populations of all living things, they needed culling from time to time. Trees had benefited from the recent cull of the human population. It had given them back land and air and returned many precious elements they had lost. Tricky was particularly interested in how they used them. She noticed species of trees unseen before, leaf shape and colour something new and seemingly unnatural. Green was no longer the standard in trees, dark purples and deep blues had been growing up amongst them. They brought with them their own types of energy, ones that Tricky found far more useful due to their intensity.

When she was within a metre of the water’s edge but still obscured by trees, Tricky sat down, making herself comfortable as she looked over the water. It was turning from a dark mirror, to one that had light rising from within it. The light along the horizon line turned royal blue and tricky watched as shrubs and bushes along the shoreline began to move.

They were like dancing ladies as they stepped out into the shallows. The edge of golden light growing across the water silhouetted them in her view. They splashed and cavorted, and twirled round. There were no faces, but legs and arms, and bushes at the tops that looked like heads. She wasn’t yet familiar with the reason for this ritual, she only knew they were the essence of trees that broke free and came to embrace the water. Was it their way of bringing water to the trees? She didn’t know. She only knew that once the tip of the sun crested the water’s far edge, they would rush back into the trees and not be seen again until the next morning. She had to be fast if she wanted to reap any nourishment from this visit.

Tricky took in a deep breath and stilled her thoughts, opening her mind’s eye and pushing her own energy up and through it, sending it out towards the water, feeling out where theirs was. When she touched the edge of theirs it sparked and flashed, but yet they remained oblivious. Each spark and flash sent a shot of electric energy back to her, which she absorbed until she reached a point where she thought her hair must be standing on end. Then she carefully pulled back her own energy, and sealed it up, mentally binding it back with her own body energy. Tricky felt full.

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Guest Blog - Editing Process Q&A - Fred Nolan

Our next Guest Author is Fred Nolan, who gave me a really in depth look at his editing process. 

Fred Nolan is a speculative fiction writer from Texas. He has published short stories, technical construction articles and one novel, (Alexei and the Second Empress, with Emery Press Books). He lives near McKinney with his wife, children and old retriever.

Do you send a proposal before a book is accepted? Do you send in an outline first and get that okayed or do you go straight to the full draft?

I’ve only ever answered one call for a pitch, and it was rejected, so I might not be the right one to answer this. I sense that, these days, the more you can write and polish before having the agent or publisher look at it, the better.

Do you do several drafts before you send it to the publisher for editing, or do you just send the first draft?

I could never send a first draft, mine are too sloppy and overwrought. And as far as the number of drafts go, “several” is an understatement.

For novels, what I normally do is finish the first draft and immediately start working on known issues. For example, if I moved the main character’s home from the beach to the mountains, I’d start making changes and deletions with key word searches, for example sand, waves, and seagulls.

When the known issues are done, I let the book age. Unless you have a deadline, you shouldn’t look at it for at least a month. Three months is probably best. The idea is to let the writer’s natural defensiveness wear off, and, in time, be able to read the book like a reader.

After it ages, I do my first major read-through to get a feel for what I have, and look for major cuts. There’s no use in revising a paragraph until it shines if I’m just going to cut it.

The second read-through is for gathering a to-do list. I’ll identify crutch words, patterns in punctuation, look for issues with chronology, voice and so on. If changes occur to me I’ll make them on the spot, but this is more for finding global issues. Here’s a notable example: with my book’s early drafts, I leaned very heavily on conjunctions. That’s a pretty deep hole to climb out of, when you have to fix your sentences down to the DNA.

During this phase, if I find, for instance, six major things that need work, I’ll go through one at a time, six times in all, fixing only one issue at a time. Of course, there aren’t six things, there are usually one or two dozen.

By this point you’ll have a true mess on your hands. The book is still a first draft, but with a bunch of craters where you’ve made large cuts, and removed all your crutch words. This is, by all means, the worst of all the drafts. Time to polish.

What I do is go through a sentence at a time, modifying the book like an optometrist: “Better A? Better B?  Better A or C?” After any change at all I go back and start reading from the last paragraph break. This is back-crushing work, and you fall out of love with the book pretty quickly this way. But that is a feature, not a bug. Once you’re tired of the book, it’s easier to cut paragraphs, move things around, put characters through more trauma, and so on.

By now I’m easily a month into revisions, if not two months, and not including the month I let the book age. Once I think the book is ready for beta readers I sign myself up first. I’ll read in a non-modifiable format at least twice, and try to get through the book without changing a thing. That never works, so those two readings become at least three.

The last reading is out loud. There is nothing quite like hearing a work you believe to be finished.

For those not in a hurry can I suggest letting it age for three months a second time? If you do that, you’ll still find things you that need changing. I know that sounds absurd, but it’s true.

What kind of changes/suggestions do they make? are they just minor ones or are they major? (any examples?)

I’ve never had a publisher suggest major changes, knock on wood. It bears mention, I’d rather a publisher suggest major changes than simply reject the submission. I believe that happened once with a short story submission.

Does it go through various stages, like developmental, copy editing and then proofing? Or is it straight into copy and proofing? Or again, does that vary on book and publisher? 

If I limit my answer to novels, I’ve only published with Emery Press Books. Wendy’s edits were much less invasive than mine. I will say, she found misspelled words in three different languages (English, French and German) and she had some historical perspective on Imperial Russia that I didn’t have. But generally her remarks tended more toward proofreading and layout, and less toward developmental editing.

 How many times do you go back and forth (on average) - does it vary with the publisher or with the story? 

Once. I answer this question more fully below, but I try not to bicker with a publisher about edits.

What would you say best practice is in regards to accepting/rejecting edits - is there always a discussion, or do you feel you have to accept all/some of them? 

With eight published works—one novel and seven short stories—I don’t think I’ve ever refused an edit. Negotiated, yes. Refused, no. I am the one being paid therefore the editor is my customer. We’ve all heard the saying that the customer is always right, and I suppose I’m old school in that regard. I believe my most aggressively-edited story was my most recent (Junk Mint, with The Gateway Review). The best advice I can offer is smile and nod.

When I say negotiated one specific example comes to mind. Wendy preferred a more conventional approach to numbers: numerals for ten and up, spelled-out words for anything less than ten. But I hate it when I see prose that reads: “By the age of nine, John owned 10 dogs.” I asked her to reconsider for all numbers to be spelled out, within reason, i.e. “By the age of nine, John owned ten dogs.” She agreed, but if she hadn’t I would not have insisted.

Do you find it hard to embrace the suggestions/changes given? 

I’m glad you followed up with this question. Yes, I do, every time. When someone else changes my work, it is agony.

Even more than that, I cannot stand one-star reviews, lukewarm praise, poor book sales and promotional videos with no views. It’s always said that writers need to have thick skin but nothing could be further from the truth. We’re the ones with the souls made of glass; you don’t want a salty old ship captain writing books, you want to leave writing to the poets. 

So be professional, be cordial, try to answer every email within two days. Do your research: make sure you know the editor’s name, manuscript wish list, preferred pronouns and form of address. That professionalism should extend to the editing phase, too, but by all means hold on to your passion. In short, don’t listen if someone tells you to develop thick skin. That is the opposite of what you should do.

Interesting. Thank you for taking part.

For more details about Fred's works, you can visit his website. 

These are the final days of the tsars and Alexei Shafirov, an infirm skeptic, is bedridden after a fall. Throughout the long recovery his loved ones speak to him of fables, uprisings and a royal family under house detention. At the heart of their stories is Alexei Romanov, the heir apparent. Like him, the Romanov boy is a hemophiliac, near the center of a decades-old political cabal. Both children are prone to mischief, self-indulgence and illness. But some insist their connection runs deeper than that.

Alexei and the Second Empress is an account of the end of Imperial Russian, told in equal measures fairy tale and cruel realism. It is a story of opulence, folklore, addiction and secrets. And the most profound of those may not come to light without a price.

Monday 16 November 2020

Review: The Last Resort, by SJI Holliday

The Last ResortThe Last Resort by Susi Holliday
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do like how SJI Holliday comes up with these intriguing tales. This is another one that compells you to keep turning the page.

Seven strangers gathered on a remote island to experience what? That is the premise. It takes a sort of sci-fi twist (which might not go down well with devoted crime or mystery fans) which includes advanced technology able to access memories, and definitely has a very Black Mirror feel. But I wouldn't liken The Last Resort to And Then There Were None by Christie though, it was more like the film, The Game, with Michael Douglas. Nothing is quite what it seems.

Each chapter flicks between different character POV's, and also flashes back to something from the past, which is undefined. I would say that you are waiting for something to happen all the way through, and every now and then you are thrown a bone to keep you going, but really it is the last 20% where you get clobbered with it all, and it really does feel like that. It is a shock, and a cleverly played red herring really, but I liked the very end, which sort of twisted things again. Susi Holliday likes to do that and is what keeps me returning as one of her faithful readers.

Why not a 5 star? The ending made the rest feel null and void, as though there hadn't been much point to it really. Connecting with characters and getting invested and then wham! It was like another story being introduced, which might have been hinted at along the way, but felt added at a later stage. But it was sewn up well at the very end though, with a slight twist, which personally helped keep the books integrity.

View all my reviews

Thursday 12 November 2020

Guest Blog - Editing Process Q&A - Lizz Schumer

Our next Guest author is Lizz Schumer

Lizz Schumer is a journalist, author, and educator. She currently works as the senior staff writer at Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, and Prevention magazines and her writing has appeared at or is forthcoming in The New York Times, VinePair, Serious Eats, Bon Appetit, HuffPost, Salon,, Entropy Mag, The Manifest-Station, Wordgathering, Punchnel’s, Ghost City Review, and many others. She also teaches journalism and communications at New York University School of Professional Studies and provides one-on-one writing coaching and workshops with The New York Writing Room.

Her first book, Buffalo Steel, came out from Black Rose Writing in 2013 and her second, Biography of a Body, will be released by Unsolicited Press in January.  It’s available for preorder here.  (see details after the interview).   

Do you send a proposal before a book is accepted? Do you send in an outline first and get that okayed or do you go straight to the full draft?

Because I am allergic to outlines, (despite realizing and fully acknowledging their utility!) I never do them for my creative work. I know many authors have queried outlines in addition to, or as a follow up to their query letters, and that it’s generally more common in nonfiction publishing than the work I do. I’ve seen a number of publishers request them for particular genres, but those aren’t the genres I’m working in, as a rule. I’ve always got a full, polished draft ready to go before I query, but I would never send more than requested at the outset.

I’ve never been commissioned by a publisher, per se. The way I’ve done it, I’ve always sent a query letter with however much of my manuscript each agent or publisher requests in their submissions guidelines online. That’s usually between 20-50 pages or the first couple chapters. If the editor likes what they see from the query letter and sample pages, they ask to see the full manuscript. Once they evaluate that, they send a publishing contract to sign. At that point, once I decide whether to work with them, we’d enter the three-stage editing process (developmental/structural, copy & proof).

Do you do several drafts before you send it to the publisher for editing, or do you just send the first draft?

Oh my goodness, my heart drops at the very idea of letting anyone see a first draft! No one sees my first drafts, and only my writing group sees the second, third, and sometimes fourth drafts too – and even that makes me nervous. My first drafts are generative; I put everything that might feasibly make it into the work onto the page and then cut, rearrange, edit, and polish from there. I’m a wordy writer (as you may be able to tell!) and I often say that it takes writing through a question to figure out my answer. I’d be shocked if anyone sent their first drafts to publishers, to be honest. That seems like a very risky move, and I’m certainly not arrogant enough to think my early drafts are good enough to see the light of day, much less an editor’s desk.

How many times do you go back and forth (on average) - does it vary with the publisher or with the story?

It really varies quite a bit. As a journalist, I go back and forth with my editors on my stories at least a handful of times, depending on how much our visions differ for how the end product should read. When I’ve worked with an editor for a long time, I can usually get to know what they’re looking for, and that cuts down the number of passes we need to make. I also try my best to submit clean drafts that are free from grammatical and syntactical errors and, when I have access to it, adhere to the publication’s style guide.

For my creative work, it varies widely. I’ve submitted to literary magazines that just give it a quick copy edit, and I’ve worked with literary editors who want to really shape and direct the piece together.

For both of my books, we’ve gone through a light developmental edit, then copy editing, then proofreading over a course of three or four passes that take a year or so.

What kind of changes/suggestions do they make? Are they just minor ones or are they major?

When I go through a draft with an editor, they’re really only fixing things like repetition or redundancy — in one manuscript, I’d repeated an anecdote twice in two different sections, for example — and any inconsistencies or inaccuracies, like misspelling Lego as LEGO or spelling a character’s name two different ways. I think that’s an interesting distinction between hybrid poetry and fiction, perhaps. Because I ensure that every word is really essential before sending a draft to my editor, there’s not much quibbling over which belong and which don’t. In that respect, my earliest draft is pretty much “finished,” to the extent that any work ever is!

The most dramatic edit that we did on my most recent book, and maybe this is another difference between genres, was adjusting the lineation so it read as intended once the book was formatted. I wrote it in Google Docs, and obviously the bound book will be quite a bit smaller, so some of the poetic sections looked very different in the new format, and needed to be adjusted so we could retain the intended meaning. In some cases, I had to decide whether to break up lines or insert additional spacing, and how to use first-word capitalization. We also discussed whether to use numerals or write out the title headings, since that creates a different experience, as well.  

Another thing I did, which is another aspect of editing, was working very closely with my publisher’s cover designer to find cover art that represented not only the content but the tone of the work. We went back and forth a handful of times on font, title and byline position and sizing, until we were both happy with it. That’s one of the main reasons I choose to go with indie publishers, or have so far: I’m a collaborative writer and creator, so I really appreciated the opportunity to provide input on that aspect, as well. 

Does it go through various stages, like developmental, copy editing and then proofing? Or is it straight into copy and proofing? Or again, does that vary on book and publisher?

Since I wrote hybrid poetic memoir, there aren’t really any plot holes, or really much plot, to be frank. My writing isn’t generally character-heavy, so that doesn’t particularly apply either. My manuscript really doesn’t really change much, content-wise, from the draft I first send to my editor, through the final product. 

I try to submit clean copy, so there aren’t usually a lot of copy edits, but invariably a couple of things sneak through. I’ve had editors suggest that we reshape a piece a bit, enhancing some elements and pulling back on others. My favorite editing story actually comes from when I was studying for my MFA at Goddard College. One of my advisors there told me, “Not every story needs to be told verbatim,” and that really stuck with me. At the time, I was writing my way through my first book, and really struggling with which vignettes to highlight and which to gloss over. When I stepped back and considered the weight of each section and whether it really needed to be included, I came away with a tighter, more balanced book. I’ve applied that advice to literally everything I’ve written since, and I think it’s served me well.

What would you say best practice is in regards to accepting/rejecting edits - is there always a discussion, or do you feel you have to accept all/some of them?

In the best cases, there’s almost always some degree of back-and-forth. Some edits, like copy edits, aren’t really negotiable. The English language is what it is, with very few exceptions. I look at the editing process as a relationship, and there’s always some give and take in any healthy partnership. I trust that my editors are good at their jobs, that they believe in the work and want to send the very best version of it out into the world, and I know my editors know that I want the same, too. I tend to accept the vast majority of suggestions my editors give me, because I know that sometimes I’m just too close to what I’ve written to see it accurately after awhile. And an objective third party will almost always be able to pinpoint issues better than its creator.

That said, there have definitely been times in my journalistic work where editors have had a heavier hand than I’ve been totally comfortable with. I think all of us who have freelanced for any length of time have those stories. There’s one piece in particular, at an outlet that shall remain nameless, that rewrote basically the entire story and changed the voice so dramatically that it didn’t sound remotely like me. I considered asking to have my byline removed, and if it had happened today (now that I’m older and more confident), I would have advocated for myself more strongly. But it’s rare that even heavy-handed editing gets that egregious. We’re usually able to find a middle ground and the work that results is always better than it would have been without editing.

Do you find it hard to embrace the suggestions/changes given?

I used to, when I was first starting out. But now, I really value the editing process. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “kill your darlings.” I think that speaks to how emotionally challenging editing can be. Especially when you’re writing highly personal narratives, like I do, editing can sometimes feel like your own perception and expression of your very life is being questioned. But I look at the editing process as a journey toward refinement. There’s definitely a moment of anxiety when I first see a Google Doc full of comments and suggestions, but once I dive in, I actually get excited to engage with the work under an editor’s guidance. It’s fascinating to see a fresh perspective on something I’ve usually worked on for months or even years once it gets to that stage, and to collaborate with someone else on making it even better. It’s a humbling process, but one that makes me a better writer and creates a better result, every time.

Thanks so much for taking part in this blog series.

BIOGRAPHY OF A BODY is a lyrical meander through the development of a messy, flawed, imperfect human and what it means to live in a society that both pulls a person into itself and fiercely pushes back. In personal essays and snippets of verse that shift back and forth through time and place, Lizz Schumer fidgets with the puzzle pieces of a life that are at once starkly unique and glaringly obvious. Schumer probes the influence of religion on a person's psychological development, how the legacy of traditional femininity works their way under her skin, and the many pitfalls of living in a body that doesn't always conform to expectations, both from within and the world pressing on it. Follow her as she grapples with an eating disorder that threatens to consume her body and soul, undergoes a sexual awakening that reverberates through her social structure and understanding of herself, tries to find her place in a world where the rules are always changing, and fumbles to understand how much of her personhood is a compilation of outside influences she can barely pinpoint, and how much is wholly her own. This is less a narrative than a trail of breadcrumbs through an experience, where strange things whisper from the shadows and draw the reader into the dappled darkness. Readers will find themselves wandering along with her, grasping onto vivid insights and suggestions of feelings that will stay with them until long after the last page is turned.