I love Writer’s Digest, and I really, really like the guest columns that Brian Klems will often feature in his corner of the WD world: The Writer’s Dig. He’s thoughtful, funny, and always seems to show up just when I need him. Would that make him a superhero? In my world, I guess, but you’d have to determine that for yourself…
Just like whether or not you’d like to outline your novel. You don’t have to, of course, but it is one way to get the proverbial ducks to align without worrying about missing one or two details . . . er . . . ducks? along the way. Now, this is coming from a dyed-in-the-wool, to-the-letter Virgo who makes to-do lists for her to-do lists. I write down the money I owe for my monthly bills in three different places to make sure I don’t miss any due dates, but I almost never outline a novel once I start writing it. I have a line, a scene, or even just a character with a loose idea of the plot and start. It’s the only place in my mostly structured life that I can actually kinda let loose and fly by the seat of my pants, which might explain why I put my money-making efforts into reading books for a living and not publishing them.
Having said all of that, here is the article from the brilliant K.M. Weiland hosted by Brian Klems and Writer’s Digest.
Mention the word outline in a room full of writers, and you’re sure to ignite a firestorm of passionate debate. Writers either love outlines, or they hate them. We either find them liberating, or we can’t stand how confining they are.
My experience has been that more often than not, those who swear they dislike outlines are thinking of them in the wrong ways. Outlines are not meant to trap you into preset ideas or sap your creativity before you start the first draft. Outlines are also definitely not meant to be lifeless Roman-numeral lists.
For those partaking in National Novel Writing Month this year, I’ll aim to share some interesting writing tips, motivating quotes, and intriguing articles about novels and their creators. I want to keep your spirits up, be your cheerleader as I am not participating myself this year. The last couple years I’ve missed NaNoWriMo, but I’m aiming to get back in the swing next year! Now, on to the article about the legacy of the novel and how its history may not be as recent as we once thought…
I was misled by my advisers, as Bertie Wooster would say. At university in the early 1970s, I was led to believe the novel originated in England in the 18th century, and no professor told me otherwise as I pursued my PhD in the 1980s. Sometimes Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was mentioned as a prototype, but according to literary dogma the novel experienced a kind of virgin birth with Pamela, Samuel Richardson’s epistolary novel of 1740. But outside the walls of academe, in those alternative classrooms called used bookshops, I kept coming across books that certainly looked like novels but obviously predated Pamela. There was not only Lady Murasaki’s Tale of Genji, a huge novel written around 1010, but the shorter Tale of the Lady Ochikubo, written a few decades earlier. I picked up the Everyman’s edition of The Story of Burnt Njal, a 13th-century Icelandic fiction that was labeled a “saga” but looked very much like a realistic novel. I came across multivolume Chinese novels from the Ming Dynasty like The Golden Lotus, a sordidly realistic novel from Shakespeare’s time. I read Robert Graves’s White Goddess and was puzzled by his reference to “a novel called The Recognitions” that dated from the 4th century. There were novels in the 4th century?
In the last two posts, I’ve discussed beta reading and proofreading and how these processes will enhance the writing in your books and ultimately boost book sales. The more professional and easier to read the content in your book is, the more likely people will buy it, tell others about it, and leave you shiny 5-star reviews—no matter what genre you’re writing in. But in the vast world of fiction, genres like horror, erotica, paranormal, and sometimes sci-fi, can be seen comparatively as “less than” their literary and more “slice of life” type counterparts. If your work falls under any of those (or any combination of those) styles, investing in any one of these three services will do a great service to your book or novel and its subsequent sales.
Going a step beyond beta reading and proofreading, copy editing is far more invasive as a process. It is looking at the construction of the writing, each sentence, to make sure the words within that sentence work well together and to make sure each sentence builds to the next one without being redundant, overly complex, or laden with passive and unbalanced language. Unlike its more simplistic counterparts, copy editing will take on issues with layout, formatting, and developmental continuity (at every level, from running headers to table of contents to lists of figures and images to the color of your protagonist’s hair and the name of their one and only cousin).
Because this process is much more invasive and, in my opinion, more strict, I chose the definition provided by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Yes, it is a British source, and it’s an articulate and detail-oriented definition that leaves little to doubt. That’s precisely what I like about it.
Here is how they define a copy editor –
A professional copy-editor begins by checking that the copy is complete. Do the chapter titles and other elements match the list of contents? Are all the illustrations to hand? Is there a list of captions? What system of referencing is required? Are there footnotes or endnotes? Then the editor cleans up a copy of the document, fixes page set-up, spacing and fonts, cuts unwanted formatting, creates a stylesheet and starts to identify problems.
Working through the material, the copy-editor corrects errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, style and usage, but also very long sentences and overuse of italic, bold, capitals, exclamation marks and the passive voice. They correct or query doubtful facts, weak arguments, plot holes and gaps in numbering. In fiction, they also check that characters haven’t changed their name or hair colour, look for sudden changes from first to third person and monitor the timeline, among other things.
And, here is how they define copy editing –
Copy-editing takes the raw material (the ‘copy’: anything from a novel to a web page) and makes it ready for publication as a book, article, website, broadcast, menu, flyer, game or even a tee-shirt.
The aim of copy-editing is to ensure that whatever appears in public is accurate, easy to follow, fit for purpose and free of error, omission, inconsistency and repetition. This process picks up embarrassing mistakes, ambiguities and anomalies, alerts the client to possible legal problems and analyses the document structure for the typesetter/designer.
One of the things that beta reading, proofreading, and copy editing seem to have in common is that they all look at the “larger” and “smaller” elements of the document simultaneously. It then becomes a matter of who fixes what and when. If you are pursuing the craft and services of a copy editor, it is most likely you have not published your book yet and it has not been under a proofreader’s loving gaze. You may copy edit before you select a beta reader, but you don’t necessarily have to. Especially, if you can find a beta reader who copy edits. (Or, a professional readerwho does all three…)
Having a clear understanding of what a beta reader, proofreader, and copy editor bring to your document will help you select the right services for your document—no matter which stage of the game you are in. The great thing, in this quick-pub age, is that you can now, technically, perform these services at any stage of the game. However, knowing how hard it is to delete stuff off of the Internet, it may be a good idea to be more proactive, take some time, and get your manuscript edited before you publish.
Some writers and authors may wonder at the real value of investing in a beta reader and what kind of services will actually be provided.
“Well, I’ve got a cousin who reads lots of books. He’ll help me.”
“My best friend is an English teacher; she’ll give me good advice.”
While these options may seem like solid and cost-effective solutions, relying on friends and relatives for constructive, literary feedback can put writers and authors at a disadvantage. Most especially if that close circle of advisors errs on the side of camaraderie over criticism.
Since Merriam and Webster kind of let me down in their definition of “proofreading,” I decided to test the vast information waters of Google and got a Wikipediadefinition of “beta reading” that is a bit more extensive, and articulate to boot.
…a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading is typically done before the story is released for public consumption. Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context.
See? All kinds of fun things going on in that definition. Let’s unpack some of it, shall we?
“a non-professional reader” — Now, looking at that, you might jump back to the beginning of this article and say, “Hey, my cousin isn’t a professional reader.” Or, “Neither is my English teacher friend!” And this might be my only bone of contention with Wikipedia’s definition: beta readers should be professional readers. Granted, not every single reader in your audience will be a professional reader–they don’t need to be. However, if you want an honest, educated, and sometimes hard-to-swallow reading of your book and an effective opinion on how those non-professional readers will receive your book, you want someone who knows how to read books critically and not just for passing pleasure.
Ahh! Not “critically”?! Right?
Yes, critically, because there will be professional readers–critics, of course–who may (or eventually will) read your book, and their opinions are the ones that get passed around on social media and will reflect on your book. Which, for some of those non-professional readers, will determine if they buy it or not. What you need to ask yourself is, will your cousin or your best friend be honest with you about your writing even if their opinion is unflattering? This is where growth as a writer comes from, being able to take constructive criticism that doesn’t feel “constructive” when it’s being heard or read.
But, like Amanda Shofner’s quote above says, you need to remember that a beta reader’s opinions are not about you personally–even though your work feels deeply and inherently personal–but your book. The object that will reflect your work ethic, your effort, and your professional image as an author. Writers can also expect comments that are strictly personal opinions–even from professional beta readers. An author doesn’t have to take every piece of advice/criticism/guidance provided; you want the story to be yours, and it should be. But a beta reader can make sure that your story will be presentable and meet commercial readers’ expectations. Something a non-professional reader may not be able to provide, even if they are willing to be blatantly honest (with minor exception to that English teacher, actually).
“typically done before the story is released” — Unlike proofreading, beta reading does not have a specific place in the publishing process other than before you release the book to the public. However, if you’ve already published the book and you’re getting reviews that mention inconsistency in character development, plot structure, or the entire narrative’s arc, a single round of beta reading would definitely help to clear up those kinds of issues.
“not explicitly proofreaders or editors” — This much is true. Not all proofreaders are beta readers, not all copy editors are beta readers, and not all beta readers are proofreaders or copy editors, but they most certainly can overlap. Effective proofreaders and copy editors will comment on things that a beta reader would comment on, but they may not change them for you. On the flip side, effective beta readers will comment on issues with grammar, spelling, punctuation, even if they may not know how to change or correct them for you.
Overall, investing in beta reading services is making an investment in yourself, your craft, and your potential book sales. The adage that you need to spend money to make it didn’t become an adage for nothing. Hiring a beta reader will boost your book sales because the results will show every kind of reader that you cared enough to put out the best book that you could by making effective use of all the tools at your disposal.
Have you hired a beta reader recently? If you haven’t, would you consider it now? Would love to read about your experiences and opinions in the comments below!
I work for this lovely lady, Ingrid Prescott, and she’s created a new lifestyle and wellness brand: Lovin Self. By combining a deep passion to work for herself with an even deeper passion to help people fulfill their own dreams, combat stress and fatigue with daily life, and take responsibility for the choices they’ve made, Ingrid promotes Lovin Self with the 2BMe campaign and jewelry line and Essential Moments bath salts and teas.
If that wasn’t enough, Ingrid set up another campaign, the iMatter Campaign, which includes a pledge card detailing how making this pledge guarantees SELF one day per week to be pampered and removed from “the daily grind.”
To further her message, Ingrid asked me to create a monthly newsletter with stories about fulfilling your dreams and making your daily life more simple by taking real, genuine care of SELF. I get to choose each month’s topic, the stories included, and conduct the research for each of the stories that require it. You will find links to each new issue in the sidebar of this blog: The LoveLetter.
So far, the newsletters have touched on building organization in one’s life, learning to truly love SELF without being selfish or self-centered, how to build emotional muscle, and dropping the mental baggage we all inevitably carry around with us. It’s a positive and uplifting message, when most of today’s messages seem to be so negative, divisive, and limiting. Lovin Self, the 2BMe campaign, and Ingrid’s and my efforts are all for expanding one’s life toward the ultimate limit: making that “impossible” dream come true.
Even though I haven’t been very regular here at the blog–I mean, last year’s NaNo stuff is still up for Pete’s sake–I have been active in other forums. Mainly, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Though, I’m sure you all already know about FB and Twitter because I’ve employed modules here, I just thought some of my readers may enjoy and employ Pinterest for story boarding, collecting character-bio ideas, and sorting articles on publishing, writing, and editing advice.
And, I’m sure you all needed one more outlet to collect data from, am I right? #infooverload
Though I have plenty of other boards that may interest the casual Pinner, especially ones with an affinity for Marc Bolan or Tim Curry, here are the few of my boards that other readers, writers, and book aficionados may enjoy!
Hello Fellow Writers, Readers, and Annual Novelists!
NaNoWriMo is up and running, and I’m so sad to say that I won’t be starting a new novel this year. I won’t even technically be taking part in NaNoWriMo (or, National Novel Writing Month) as a word-tallying member of the website, that is.
I’m going to be taking part in my own version of NaNoWriMo, which I will handily call NaNoFinMo, or National Novel Finishing Month. In 2012, when I officially began taking part in NaNoWriMo, I actually completed the story I started writing. In 2013 and last year, I only got about 3/4 and 1/2 way through those stories, respectively.
So, for this year’s NaNo goal, I will be taking the first two weeks-ish to finish the serial killer novel I began in 2013 (working title: Survival Instinct) and the last two weeks for the dark lesbian erotica I chronicled last year (working title: Midnight Ladies). Though, I think that “little” collection may take me beyond that amount of time. Maybe Survival Instinct won’t take the full two weeks at the beginning of next month *crosses fingers, partakes in wishful thinking*.
What’s great about this is that I technically don’t have word counts to meet each day, because my overall goal is simply to finish the stories, get a rough draft I can “trunk” until I feel ready to come back and polish them. My plan right now is to chronicle the spectacle adventure as I did last year: so, tune in to the same MeliSwenk channel for the same MeliSwenk fun as you had last year!
You did have fun with me last year, right?
Because I certainly had fun with all of my readers last year. And, I’ll be glad to get back into some regular blogging, too! I have recently cut some of the fat and scored some extra time for networking and general, all-around friend-making.
Looking forward to getting started! Who’s with me? And, what are your writing goals for NaNoWriMo (Or, NaNoFinMo) this year?
Okay, maybe not so much the importance, but the inevitability of it. You will fail. You may not finish every story you start. It’s okay; there are other stories to tell. And even that partial chapter you punched out about the CEO-zombie attack will help you write the full-length KKK-zombie novel you knock out next month. The important part of failure here is that it teaches you that you can keep on going. Even if the first story you try doesn’t quite meet expectations. You gotta keep trying! These quotes aren’t all Issue 110 has to offer. Check it out, and then subscribe! Authors Publish Newsletter is free and drops right into your inbox; why not?!
There are incredible quotes here from some authors I’ve read and others I haven’t, but clearly should! Churchill’s was my favorite out of the seven, and these quotes aren’t all Issue 105 has to offer. Check it out, and then subscribe! Authors Publish Newsletter is free and drops right into your inbox; why not?!
A table or other desk-like apparatus, surrounded by mementos, pictures, notes, and other books, items of a writer’s and a reader’s life. Reminders of why we write to begin with, and silent inspiration looking down upon the creator from walls, or up from floors. The space used to create is special to each author, despite their inherent similarities. Not only do we create worlds for others, we ultimately create a space where we feel comfortable enough to do that creating. Nesting, in a special way, for the abstract babes that will eventually grow there.
Having a special room to create is not a new concept, nor was it something Virginia Woolf created out of thin air. Writing is often a wholly isolated action, and if we’re going to spend all that time alone we need to be reminded of the connections we have to humanity, to the world around us. That’s what makes for great writing.
Hopefully, these spaces will inspire you in the construction of your own writing room.