Marry your Editor

In a previous post, Quick! Find an Editor! Go!, we had a lively conversation regarding writer resources. From this conversation, I gleaned these four tidbits:

1.Writer’s This link was provided by Serena(e) Artiste, and it has a lot of seminars and there is some free content which is probably meant to entice you to purchase the seminars. I didn’t locate a listing of editors, but I did sign up and will now get lots of adverts for seminars. And some free content!

2. Preditors & Editors

Preditors and Editors, this was suggested by Ms. Brandy at Blood Toy and Russell J. Fellows.  This site is one I want to discuss in more detail, because it is the precursor to what I envision. You see, P&E was constructed back in the dark early days of the internet. As they say in the About page on that site,

Preditors & Editors was founded in July 1997 by Dave Kuzminski as a resource and a simple compendium for the serious writer, composer, game designer, or artist to consult for information, regardless of genre.

Web design has come a long way, baby. (Now women can smoke cigarettes and die of cancer, too! Thanks, Virginia Slims.) That is, if you look at the web site, you’re going to see coding that looks…  Let’s just say it’s not been redesigned for some time.  Nevertheless, the intent is good-hearted and there are extensive links.  Which one do you click first? I went with AAAAA BOB’S PLUMBING.  Alas, the link was dead.

The organization of the site is alphabetical. There is no categorization or any search widgets or any optimization. Back in the wild wild west days of the web, they frowned on pictures. Pictures slowed down website loading and the people with 2400 baud modems hated you. Times, they are a-changing.

This website, sort of like most churches I’ve seen, exists in a time-warp that takes us back to the days of 1997: The Backstreet Boys are singing “Quit Playing Games (with my heart)” and Elton John is making another gazillion dollars off Candle in the Wind.  Remember Jewel? Foolish Games. (The churches are usually still back in the 1950s. “We love hymns,” they say.) Time travel exists!

I digress. One of the things the site does well is warn against publishing scams. Thus, the predator part. Or Preditor. See what they did there?

They have umpteen zillions links, if you want to click through them.

The website does NOT seem optimized to reflect the giant sea change in Indy and e-publishing.  We’re more savvy out here, and we’re used to being able to sort our content of databases by more than alphabetical. I want a specific kind of editing, with a certain price range, and someone in my own currency. Quick, find it! Not with that website. This feels a lot like craigslist.

3. UK Artist’s Yearbook. Ah, the Artist’s Yearbook, now in it’s 114 edition. Or so. That’s a lot of £11 going in someone’s pocket. Or several someones. I haven’t seen it, though Vanessa-Jane Chapman told me about it. In a southern English accent. She says it’s splendid and lovely.  There’s articles and lists of resources and such.

4. Which lead me to the Writer’s market. (USA). Right. So the Writer’s Market, that’s the US equivalent of the Brit one above, and thus the idea that no good idea goes unpunished is supported.

Back to the website with editors information. Amidst the examination of such an object, Dave S. Koster pipes up (in that Alaskan drawl he has… do Alaskans drawl? I’m sure he will turn out to be from Iowa) and says, “The real question though is how do you find an editor you can work with and who won’t send you back something that really doesn’t help?”  That sent me to idea #2, which is to use dating software to match up authors with editors. Why not? Choosing a spouse and choosing an editor are similar ideas. While there’s some things about an editor that I might not look for in a wife, by changing the human factors that make up good matches, you can ask a flurry of questions and find ideal matches for professionals in the the Indy world.

The bare bones of such a website would be the information Preditors has on it. A greatly expanded database with coding to determine important things like price, and personality, nationality, schooling, experience, and a resume, all of them searchable by the end user would produce something that would create at least an ebay experience, if not an experience.  The first one, ebay of editors, is quite do-able. The second, that one would take some money and a team of programmers some time, and the payout isn’t there.

But the idea of a dating website could also be applied to authors. I know there’s a few sites that do this already, sort of, like goodreads and smashwords.  But how about a matchmaking site where we help you marry a book? You’re a reader, come in, tell us what you like, what you dislike, rate these books, and let’s match you up with some choice authors. The authors present us with their curriculum vitae, and the pedigree of their book. Who were the editors? Traditional or Indy? Can we buy it in paperback?

There’s something like 3 million books on amazon. That’s 3 BILLION words. I can’t read that many. You can’t read that many. But out there in the slushpile, there’s some gems and we don’t know it yet.

There’s the name for the website:

Sometimes I want to Beat WordPress With a Large Wooden Spoon

No, really. Is there a special setting somewhere for comment threading? I KNOW other sites have it, but mine does not seem to have it.  Or do I have to pony up some cash to get that feature? Someone in the know, cough up the goods. I’m stymied. And I really wanted to say stymied.

Edit: I think I found it. Settings, Discussion, Enable Threaded Comments. See? I just had to root around for a while and I’d discover the answer. Yeah.

Quick! Find an editor. Go.

Is there a resource where we can get a book that lists editors, their specialties, books they’ve edited, contact information, location, and a blurb about them?

It’d be a phone book of editors, of sorts.

Or do I need to write it?

It’d look sort of like this:

Name: Bob the Clam
Type of editing: Line/Copy/Content/Developmental/Proofreader/Beta reader/critique partner
Books edited: Gone With the Wimp, Catcher in the Sty, Rudes, To Kill a Mockingjay, A Light We Can See, Last 100 Words, the Wrong Brothers, Girl Off a Train, Kim Kardashian: Shellfish
Location: Australia
Preferred genres: Any, Climate Fiction, books about fish
Pricing: US$.08 per word, first 100,000 words, discount after.
Glowing recommendations:
Jim the Clown, Author: Bob really helped me. You see, I always boldly and dramatically use adverbs. Eventually, I’ll learn to promptly and regularly remove them. Then I’ll live victoriously. However, Bob also removed only half the words in my manuscript, very cautiously. He performed his work terrifically and quickly.

If this already exists, splendid. Where is it? Is there a secret website known only to the in-crowd authors?

If not, is it something you’d pay a dollar for to buy on the great slushpile? You think an editor would pay to be in it? What about if the editor pays extra for a big blurb while everyone else rides for free? Or is this odious, and you authors are saying, “I’ll find my own darned editor, Pontius, you miserable bar sinister! I don’t need your help.”

Everybody’s got an Opinion, but Who has solutions?

I’ve been engaging in an interesting dialogue with all’y’all about the review system, partially driven by my desire as a reader to see the quality books rise to the top and the not so good ones sink to the bottom, never to be sold again. Then again, that’s not a kind sentiment. Some of the people who publish poor books may have put in just as much effort as the superstar who excretes gold every time they pick up a pen.

I don’t want to read their books, though. That’s not unkind. Maybe.

In the meantime, one solution is suggested by the erudite editor, M.J. Moores. She probably reads my posts with a red pen in her head. I imagine she’s saying, “No, Pontius, you shifted tenses. And you used the adverb ‘probably’ which contributes nothing to the sentence, because I *am* reading with a red pen in my head. So it’s a sure thing.” Or not. She also must get tired of being thought of as the stuffy editor type. And she doesn’t read as stuffy. Her posts are all kinda golden.

Ha. English teachers aren’t allowed to use red anymore, it might hurt a student’s feelings. And if he’s Korean and you write his name in red, it’s like death or something.

My point here wasn’t to belittle her editorshipness; after all, I need people like her to produce a half-way decent story. [Note my super awesome employment of the dreaded semi-colon to good effect.] No, it was to say that she has a solution to the review problem. We cannot fix Amazon, nor are they inclined to listen to us tell them their review system is broken. We can, however, help by giving good reviews. I don’t mean doling out 5 stars like they were candy  at a parade! No, I mean giving high quality reviews. Honest, high quality reviews. MJ has detailed the dirt here:

How to post a high quality review.

If you’re already doing that, great. If you’re not, please start. Don’t give out 5 stars unless the story really is 5 stars. Be parsimonious. Give 4s to people if you HAVE to grade ’em high, and 3s if the story is average. The authors will understand. It’s not even the stars that are as important as the text.  That’s where the rubber meets the road.

Here’s some of my product reviews, which I think meet the standards for both describing the product and lightly poking fun at it while I do:

The Black Ships. 

Dorothy Gale’s Coffin Cover. 

Dark Defiance.

Ink for my printer. (Extra points for the Shakespeare reference, eh?)

Disney Princess Toddler Rolling Backpack. I deducted a star because the handle is too short for me.

Kindle is dead. Long live the Kindle!

My trusty DO1200 Kindle died. I received it as a gift from my mom about 3-4 years ago, and this past week the screen went all Etch-a-sketch on me.  I tried the various fixes. I gave it medicine. I tried to nurse that thing back to health. But it was all to no avail. I failed.

Being a good failure, I ordered another one from my Great Amazon Overlord.

Me: Oh GOA, please send me another Kindle.

GOA: What did you do to the last one?

Me: It’s an Etch-a-sketch.

GOA: User error. You broke it.

Me: No, it just stopped working. Maybe it’s a warranty defect.

GOA: …

Me: Hello? So send me a new one.

GOA: $55.

Me: Here.

GOA: 😀

Yar, that’s the deal. It got here today. It’s charcoal grey, and looks the same in screen size, but there’s no button on the front, like the old one. I do not like change. I want a button. I may glue a piece of round plastic on it so I’ll have something to mash when I need a placebo.

Now to see what books I need to download on it.  Anyone want to send me a nice free book or two? I’ll give you reviews. Which reminds me, I need to drop a review on Kurt Brindley’s book. Sorry about the delay, Kurt.

How to Get Honest Reviews

In Amazon, you can click on the reviewers and that gives you an email (sometimes). Find reviewers you like from reviews on similar novels to yours and email them a request to review your book, and comp them a copy of the book for an honest review. Be very professional when you do so you do not taint your reviewer in any way. Or have someone else do it on your behalf.

I’m not sure how to comp them a book, though you can send books to someone directly on their Kindle. They must know the name of their kindle device so you can email the manuscript to them, and they must add your sending email to the permitted senders list. Some people may be wary about accepting direct books, but it works. Do not send PDFs. Those do not scale. Send a Word document.

Perhaps those that have done this process know a better way to comp books. If so, I’d love to hear it.

This is in response to Brandy’s comment about gaining honest reviews.

Also, M.J. Moores writes a tremendous piece on the other side of this, here:

Reviews for your Book.

I also read an interesting piece on whether authors should pay for reviews.

See here:

Should Authors Pay for Book Reviews?

The longshot of that is no, you shouldn’t. There is an alternative, which is to solicit reviews. As the article says,

Going through the process of getting blurbs, testimonials and reviews is one of the best exercises in feet-on-the-ground book marketing any author can have. It will teach you a huge amount about how books actually get sold, and how your book is being received. That’s incredibly valuable learning for any author.

The hard part is figuring out how you go about the process, etc. It’s much easier said than done.

I’m learning English this week

I found a website to teach me English.

I know how to write it. I know how to speak it. I’m an American native and this is my first language, and arguably only one. But I didn’t know the names for stuff, and the verb section is quite interesting… especially the tenses.

And “was” isn’t always bad.

You hate Amazon and the slushpile, but want to reward good new authors?

A lament I frequently read hereabouts is that people in general loathe the mighty Amazon for how their system permits anyone to publish a book and call themselves an author.

The system in place permits anyone to review a book, leaving between 1-5 stars to indicate their like/dislike of the book, and comments after.

Further, book is listed in categories selected by the author and then assigned a sales rank in that genre.

The problem lies in discovering good books that meet a minimum criteria for quality. As I posted yesterday, the readers judge your book on basic criteria such as grammar before they are willing to get on to the actual content of the book, that is, the plot, story, characterization, and so on.

I’m biased on this. I want a book that has the assurances of quality. So, for instance, if someone publishes something, there ought to be credits. Who were your proofreaders, your line editor, developmental editor, and so on? What’s their track record? If I look at your developmental editor, will I see a resume including dozens of books by other authors that are good quality?

Maybe requiring the same sort of care that goes with submitting a book to a traditional publishing company ought to be put in the author’s submissions to the public. Not just a paragraph, a freakin’ page on your plot, summarily executed so we can know exactly what we’re getting into.

And then there’s the reviewers. A review that does not discuss the book in question is not a useful review. Perhaps a separation of the review process into Pro/Con, or Good/bad/ugly. Separate the important things into categories so we can hit the salient points, such as structure, grammar, typos, characterization, story arc, and so on.  We ought to be able to review the reviewers. What’s their reputation? Do they write good reviews or just leave lots of 5 stars and nonsense comments (“Fantastic Read! 5 Stars!”) that are worthy of an eBay feedback? I suppose the “5 of 6 people found this review useful” is the application of this, but it’s not done in a way that weights the reviews to influence where the book appears.

Further, there ought to be a statement under the penalty of perjury where the reviewer reveals any relation to the author: Friend, family member, know them through blogging, acquaintance, stranger. Just like the reviewers on blogs where they reveal any sort of relationship for the purposes of bias, I want to know what possibilities exist.

Finally, there ought to be a way to sort based on cascading criteria that you decide. Maybe popularity isn’t what you’re looking for. Certainly price point doesn’t indicate quality.

And then consider the idea that you could have something like the Netflix deal where you are asked if you liked or disliked certain movies. You rate ’em with a few stars, and after rating a few dozen books, the thing comes up with movies it thinks you will like.  Can we do this with books? The difficulty lies in categorizing and assigning values to new books, but if someone writes as well and similar to a well-known author, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to discover them through a program that does this. I would limit the submissions for this to authors that can demonstrate they had a team of some kind that assisted them in publishing. I know I’m biased on that point, but the slushpile is created by loner self-publishers for the most part.

There’s a book plot for you: the Unpublishers, a book mafia group of bibliophiles who go around getting people to withdraw unworthy manuscripts from the market.

The Experience of Reading

Six years ago, Professor Eric Schwitzgebel wrote a piece on the experience of reading. What he meant by this is how you experience the reading, describing what your brain does when you read the text. He says that there are three primary ways to experience the text – visual imagery, a voice saying the words in your head, and the actual awareness of the pixels on the screen or the ink on the paper.

That’s simplifying a bit, but you can read the full post here:

The experience of reading.

It’s probably more of a combination of things for most people. I tend to hear the words and conjure up images. My imagery is pedestrian, if what I see in movies is any indicator of what others see.

Reader’s Opinion: Yes, we are judging your book based on form, not function

First off, the following reviews I selected at from books picked at random. I did not read the books. I do not know if they have the errors or problems indicated. My purpose here isn’t to shame those authors or attack their work, it’s to point out what the fickle public is going to do to your book when you release it into the wild. They will savage it if they detect weakness. Read on:

Amazon review from Brian Harmon’s Rushed (Rushed Book 1):

FlashKnickers says:

Totally agreed. OVERLY LONG descriptions of everything, endless chase scenes (also overdetailed and dragged out). Too many typos, non-existent editing–how can you use the word “ghastly” in two consecutive sentences?–and honestly, would someone who died in the 1970s be using “LOL” and saying things are awesome, super-this and super-that? I found myself skipping ahead just to get through scenes that took 10 pages to explain five seconds’ worth of action that really didn’t require so much detail and description.

Amazon review from Jarvis Gatlin’s The Books:

Teresa Rambo
Besides the poor punctuation and senseless conversations, there was no plot development nor did I get a feel for the characters. It jumps around from setting to setting without explanation of how or why. I gave it a try but can’t give it over one star.

Amazon review from Cristin Cooper’s Until Now:

Teresa Rank
Very poorly edited — author doesn’t know the difference between there, their & they’re or your & you’re. I find this very distracting….and NO, I am not a grammar Nazi!!!

No, Teresa, you’re no grammar Nazi. And I like that you capitalized Nazi. We know you’re no grammar Nazi because your ellipsis had four periods, not the requisite three, and I’m wary of the em-dash you put in there. But why would desiring an author to have their homophones straight make you a monster concerned with a strict interpretation of grammar and punctuation and extinguishing entire races of people while conquering all of Europe?

Anthony Vicino at One Lazy Robot discussed why he believes that ratings and reviews don’t matter anymore (sort of!). His post brings up the fact that a well-edited author with a strong following of readers will gain skewed review statistics which makes the review system ineffective.

That may be true, but for the non-edited author, the readers aren’t your friend, yet, and they’re (There? Their?) out for blood. They won’t be leaving you a 5 star, or a 4 star. They’re going to 3 or lower star you.

The above reviews aren’t given to bash those particular authors; I went through the list of kindle books and culled the ones with only a few ratings, as I believe that books fall in to three categories: Well-written with underutilized marketing, poorly written with angry readers, and well-written with a lot of marketing/readers. There’s some other categories, but for today’s experiment, I looked for books with ten or fewer reviews. My assumption is that a sprinkling of poor reviews will cause others to shy away from the book and effectively kill it. If you read a review that describes a book with obvious editing errors, are you going to bother to read it? No.

The main takeaway here is that the book you sweated your way through and wrote in snow, rain, mud, and pestilence, that book you finally capped and told the story with 120,000 words, if you didn’t use editing, it’s going to fail.

For that reason, you need to engage proofreaders. Proofreaders are warm bodies who look for homophones, run-ons, awkward constructions, and tyops and flag them for you. They look at sentences and flag the awkward or wrong ones. They’ll do what Word 2013 does if you turn on the grammar. That’s the bare minimum.

Then we have the other people who will hone your text. Developmental editor? Yeah, you want one. See the complaint up there about Harmon’s book? What flashknickers is pointing out is the lack of a developmental editor, or possibly any editor. The problems that are obvious to a reader were not obvious to the author and you can’t erase 2 star “you didn’t edit” reviews.

Then there’s the story editors who will address your constant waffling on tense. They’ll insert commas where you desperately, desperately, for the love of all things holy, please please please NEED ONE. They’ll rip out your semi-colons and put periods on the comma splices.

Editing Removes Barriers to Story Immersion

Speaking only on my behalf, when I read a book I desire to immerse myself in the world. Immersion means to go under water or to be completely in something. Anyway, I want immersion. I don’t want story sprinkling. I want to be there with your character. I want to see what they see, experience what they experience. I want it to be vivid and interesting and there are setbacks and intense conflict and we are arcing and overcoming and trying and failing and doing all the fantastic stuff that a book is supposed to do. It is a complex endeavor to string 120 k words together in a cohesive fashion and tell a story and make the reader live there.

I heard this quote in church yesterday, from George Bernard Shaw. I think it applies to your writing as much as to anything else you do.

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

George Bernard Shaw

You want to be a candle or a torch? You’ve done this hard, hard work and then you just throw it out there on the web. $.99, buy my book. Why don’t you finish it before publishing? Spend the money and take your book from the “meh” level to the “ahhhh” level.

Mistakes Eject Your Reader From the Story

As a reader, when I see a mistake such as a missing comma or misused comma, it irritates me for a moment. Normally, my irritation is not your concern. If I’m reading your book, it should be. I’ll grant a few a mistakes and let it go. If you have an awesome story to tell and you’re a great storyteller, I may grant you leniency, but in my head your book still has a “deducted one star for no editing” sort of label.

Not just that I’m irritated, I’m also ejected from the story by your error. I am thinking, at that moment, about “why didn’t the writer put in a comma” rather than “what’s next? What happens next?” You NEVER want me to think about your craft. The underlying structure of words and sentences, spelling and punctuation, those things the reader should never think about. When they do, your text has failed and you have ejected the reader from the story.

Don’t Ask Me to Proofread the Book I Bought

When you get a homophone error (they’re their there), that’s a sure sign you did not engage a proofreader. Books that aren’t proofread and contain exhortations from the author to “drop me a line with any mistakes,” is a two-fold message. 1st message: “I want to fix my errors and I know they’re in there.” Yep. You won’t see Real Published Brick and Mortar Authors saying such things in their prefaces or afterwords. Why? That sucker is edited, that’s why. There ARE no errors in there.* 2nd: “I want you to pay for my book and then do the work I’d pay a proofreader to do by sending me the errors.” So, Tom Sawyer, you want me to paint your fence for you and pay you for the privilege?

*Yes, I know that errors do creep in to paper books. A majority of them do not have more than one or two nits. Big publishing houses tend to police the stuff they churn out pretty well. At least when I read some work from Penguin, I won’t be critiquing the author’s use of punctuation.

Where is your professionalism? It doesn’t matter that you’re a strong, independent author with a strong independent voice. Your voice has errors. Get a strong, independent editor to help you speak better.

If Someone Sends You a Note Telling You About Errors, Act on it

If you do ask readers to send you mistake reports, then in my opinion you have a short grace period between publishing the book and publishing your revisions. My assumption is that someone will have read it and sent you a list of mistakes. This is a lot nicer than leaving you a nasty review and shooting the book. If they’re right about the mistakes, GO FIX YOUR TEXT. Do it right away. Do not save up the errors for a really big edit. Fix it before anyone else sees that stuff. And by errors, I’m not talking about the endless revisions to your text that you might do to make the story better. I’m talking about grammar and punctuation errors. By the time a few months have passed, your eBook should be free of errors.

In fact, I wonder why Amazon authors who do get bad reviews about homophones or emails with lists of their mistakes don’t fix them, and address their detractors with a rebuttal: “Thanks for pointing out these problems with the text, I did a rewrite and revision and am grateful you contributed to the work in this manner.” It’s that whole idea that complaints allow you to see where your book is not doing the best and fixing it.

Your Text, and Only Your Text, is the Thing We Will Judge You On

I can only judge an author by their work. I don’t know most of the people whose work I read; I have their books and that art has to stand on its own. Errors and mistakes indicate to the reader that this author didn’t think it was necessary to dress up for the wedding, that they could come in ratty short, flip flops, a torn t-shirt, and without bathing for week. “Ignore the stench,” they say, “this is just the real me and you just need to get used to it.” I get that you have a unique voice and that the rules are there to be broken, but what I see a lot are rules that are not broken to create a stronger story, they’re broken because you didn’t have the bucks to hire another person to fix them and maybe you just don’t know that your semicolon habit is aggravating us to death.

Perhaps this is the only book you’re going to publish. If so, you don’t need to worry about gaining future readers to future works, and don’t care if the customer isn’t satisfied and puts your name on a list of “authors I will never read again.” But they’re going to give you poor reviews, and you won’t be read by the legions of readers out there.

“But Pontius, I’m awesome at editing,” you say. Maybe you are. Would you bet a two star review on it? Maybe getting one bad “you didn’t edit” review won’t submarine your book, but two or more of them are like the kiss of death. You cannot fool the reader.