Category Archives: Writing

Exposing ‘Exposure Bucks’ (Hint: It’s not a real thing)

Looks like it’s that time again, and while it annoys the crap out of me to keep saying this, I will keep saying this so those new to the writing game understand: exposure is not payment for your stories. I’ll say that again for those in the back: EXPOSURE IS NOT PAYMENT FOR YOUR STORIES.

Don’t believe that bullshit from any “publisher” at any time. From this day forward until the end of days, do not believe the bullshit. Exposure is the lie some feed you to get your tales so they make money while you do not.

The reason for this post came about (again) following the ever-vigilant, and still wonderfully-crazy Alan Baxter calling out a “publisher” for just such bullshit. You can find the Twitter thread here. As you’ll see, the screenshots of the encounter show an utter refusal by Post Publishing Co to even entertain the idea they should pay for the stories they publish, but you will get a free epub of the publication ‘as payment’! That’s not payment, it’s grifting.

Also? $30 for an epub is just ridiculous – no one’s going to pay that for an electronic copy of an anthology. Hell, some won’t pay it for an actual print book. What this “publisher” is counting on is the contributors and their friends and family buying it – that’s how they make their money, and it’s predatory behaviour.

Read Alan’s replies for an understanding about how first publication rights can damage story saleability if you give them away for free. This is something all writers, especially those new to the gig need to know – those first rights are like gold and will likely be the most you’ll ever be paid for said story. Don’t give them away for nothing. When subbing, you’ll find the guidelines will ask for previously unpublished tales – that one you gave away for free? You’ll probably never earn on that. Reprint anthologies are few and far between.

It all comes down to placing value on your work. And you damn well should. I wrote a post on just such a thing (you can read it here), and the difference between the amount of publishing credits you have versus publishing credits that hold value. You better believe there’s a difference.

exposure 1

Look, I can’t make you sub your work to paying markets (although you should), and I can’t make you not give the stories you put so much time, effort, imagination and soul into, away for free so others can make money where you don’t (you see the issue there, right?).  What I can do is give you some things to keep in mind when researching markets to sub your work. For the following purposes, I’ll be dealing with anthology rights, but there is crossover for longer works.

PAYMENT:

  • You should be fairly compensated for the work you provide. Avoid those markets that offer no payment – they’re making money off you, not for you.
  • ‘Exposure’ is not payment. If you see anywhere that a publisher is offering you “exposure” as their “payment”, then run like hell… and let others know not to sub there.
  • Epub copies are not payment. They cost virtually nothing to produce and should be part of the payment for your tale (along with money, just so we’re clear) as a contributor copy – most publishers will (should) provide a contributor copy.
  • ‘Exposure’ is not payment.
  • DO NOT, under any circumstance, pay to get published. I don’t care what it’s for or why – money flows to the creative, not away. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever pay.
  • ‘Exposure’ is not payment.

RIGHTS:

  • ‘Rights’ are the licensing of your work to a publisher for a particular period of time. These rights should always revert to you once the stated time period has lapsed. Rights are not a gift the publisher ‘gives’ you, don’t let them tell you different.
  • Publishers will ask for first publication rights for a certain period of time (usually six months to a year is standard). Query anything longer. And if you see anything along the lines of ‘in perpetuity’, run far, run fast. (This may fall under ‘all rights’, which means that once signed, the story is no longer yours, like ever. Sold once, gone forever.)
  • These first rights should not be given away for free – it’s the most you’ll likely be paid for this story (see above points about being paid… with cash, like actual money).
  • Territorial and world rights are different, so always check which is being licenced for your story.

These are just some of the basics you should be looking at to protect yourself against predatory publishers. Believe me, they’re out there. Do you research. Ask around if you’re unsure. Social media and the writing community are a wealth of information – use it to protect yourself and your work.

It comes down to putting the right amount of value on your stories, of the time spent creating worlds and characters for readers. The publisher shouldn’t be the only one making money from a world YOU’VE created. ‘Exposure’ doesn’t pay your bills, ‘exposure’ doesn’t put food on your table, and I’m damn sure ‘exposure bucks’ aren’t any kind of legal tender. You wouldn’t expect a plumber, a mechanic, a lawyer or accountant to work for exposure. Creatives shouldn’t be expected to either.

Now go, make good art. And get paid for that good art.

So, I didn’t win a thing…

And that’s okay. It’s better than okay. It’s pretty damn awesome. It’s career-goal, achievement-unlocked awesome!

It’s been about two weeks since the Aurealis Awards were announced, and while my short story, Child of the Emptyness (Grimdark Magazine), was a finalist in the fantasy short story category, it didn’t get over the line. That honour went to one of the best humans I know, J. Ashley Smith for his tale: The Further Shore.

For those who don’t know, the Aurealis Awards are the premier literary awards for genre fiction in Australia. With the amount of talent on these shores, becoming a finalist is a massive undertaking and I count this as a hell of a win. To be included in this shortlisting was a welcome surprise, and I was chuffed to be on the ticket with one of my closest ‘people’ – the wonderfully crazy Alan Baxter – plus the other amazing authors putting out stellar work not only in this category but all categories.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t have loved the win – we all want to win, we’d all like awards and trophies and that acknowledgement of the work we put into musings. But small steps are forward momentum, and forward momentum is good momentum. Next step in career goal – Aurealis win.

bloody pen

Child of the Emptyness has an unusual origin – it was born from rage. Too often I was seeing female characters in battle situations being the only ones who cried or were horrified by the sight of blood (note for dude-bros: blood isn’t foreign to us, we see it every month for goddamn years), and I was done. From that rage Nyrra was born in all her blood-wearing, human-sacrificing, don’t-fuck-with-me glory. Is she empathetic? Maybe not, but she was never really drawn that way. She’s unapologetically herself. That’s what I like about her.

When I subbed this story to Grimdark Magazine, I was hopeful of a shortlisting, then chuffed to bits with an acceptance. The Aurealis finalist berth was the icing on a very cool cake, and while I couldn’t quite land the ‘cherry’ (yep, I see it), all told, it’s been pretty sweet.

There are people I need to thank that helped me get there. Adrian Collins of Grimdark Magazine for selecting and having faith in my story, and Mike Myers for his excellent editorial touch. And Devin Madson whose constant kicks up the bum to get the story written and her deft insight brought Nyrra fully into the light.

So while I didn’t win a thing, I won so very much. This finalist nod came at a time when I was seriously doubting my ability to tell a good story, a worthy story. We all have those moments. Sometimes they’re fleeting while other times those moments burrow deep, latching talons to bone and tainting your storyteller-marrow. It’s a world of shit, that feeling, but I’ll take the days where the talons aren’t as sharp, where the ‘I can do this’ voice drowns out the ‘no you can’t’.

And for those of you who also didn’t win a thing, I feel you. Keep writing, keep honing your craft, keep making magic – it’s the best gig in the world.

Let’s talk about slush, ba-by…

Let’s talk about you and me… Okay, okay, so my flashback to the ’90s is a little sad but kinda on point for this blog post. As one of the editors for the SNAFU anthologies, and with an upcoming submission window opening, Matthew Summers and I would like to talk about stories, slush, and selections.

Disclaimer time. The information provided here does not guarantee Matt and I will select your story for publication – plot, character, and voice will. But don’t send us a romance tale when it’s military monster horror we’re after. We will cut you.

Right then. Let’s kick this baby off with the guidelines for the open sub window for SNAFU: Last Stand (just click that link). While stories subbed to Cohesion Press have specific marks that need to be hit, one thing EVERYONE needs to understand when subbing a tale to ANY market is to not only READ the guidelines but ADHERE to them (the adhering is the most important part). Know your market.

Slush, we’ve all been there. Jostling for position, stuck in the hell that is the slush pile, shouting ‘look at me’ as you push toward the roped-off area that is the shortlist. So how do you get past the cordon? Look, reading is subjective – what I like someone else may not (they’re wrong), but if the past couple of SNAFUs have taught me anything, it’s that Matt and I are pretty much on the same page when it comes to story selection. Not once have we had to fight it out (I’d win because I fight dirty, just sayin’). But your opening line, your opening paragraph, has to hook us and the following paragraphs need to reel us in. Your start needs to be strong, and it needs to build from there.

Stuck in Hell by 13UG-13th

Your aim, at this point, is to get onto that shortlist, and a killer opening scene is just the way to do it. Does that mean exploding out of the gate all guns blazing? Perhaps. We love high-action tales, and that’s bound to grab our attention. But it can also be that one line that sets the tone for what’s to come. One of my favourite opening lines from a story in SNAFU: Resurrection is from Conviction by NX Sharps – ‘On the 152nd day of our posting at Fort Conviction, Private Olyver Bagwell shit himself to death.’  That certainly had us take notice.

But the follow-up has to hold water. If your story doesn’t make good on its opening promise, then you could be in some trouble. Think about the story you’re wanting to tell, of the character(s) leading us through. A tale well written isn’t going to resonate as much as one that has me and Matt fate-invested.

That being said, well-written is definitely going to get you a look-in. We want narrative that moves a story forward, we want wordsmiths who know how to give us those evocative visuals that bring the horror, the fear, the dread. Active voice is your friend here. Spelling and grammar? We got that, but too many errors and we’re pulled from the story – it’s the same for all those babies sitting in slush piles.  

With the theme of Last Stand, characters will need to make their mark here. Interpret Last Stand as you will, there are an infinite number of ways to incorporate that into your story, but make that tale linger, make us think about it long after we’ve finished reading. And give us action. Make our hearts beat furiously, give us those ‘oh shit’ moments, and make your monsters fucking terrifying. Remember, this is horror, monster horror… with guns and shit.   

One of the best and hardest part of this process is the final selection from the shortlist. Matt and I have passed on some truly great stories, which is always a difficult thing to do. And we don’t take these decisions lightly – a lot of time goes into decision-making, a lot of discussion and back and forths until we have the mixture just right. We don’t make acceptances as we go; something we love early on may not make the cut because a later story in a similar vein resonates more. Our aim here is to provide our readers with a variety of kick-arse tales, where you don’t know what’s coming but you’re hanging for it just the same. The overriding theme that ties them together, obviously, is ‘last stand’. Make it count.

So while I hope this helps you to understand our process, I also hope it helps you to understand the process for any slush pile you find yourself in. Writing truly is the best gig in the world, and rejections are a part of that. We know. Matt and I both sit the other side of the table, we’ve had stories accepted and we’ve faced that sting of rejection. We understand the work, the effort, the time and the angst that goes into getting those words onto the page, of wrangling your imagination into narrative. We salute every one of you.

And for those of you who make it to that final ToC, just a note here to let you know the work has only just begun. There will be edits. We may ask for tweaks, we may ask for rewrites, we may cut a little, we may cut a lot. Thing is, we’ve been doing this a long time, we know our audience and we know what they like. Be professional, not precious. Co-operation is key here. That’s a two-way street, and we have cut stories because of bad author behaviour. Don’t be that person. Keep communication lines open and listen to us as we’ll listen to you. Our aim here is to get the most out of your story, and we will work hard to make it so.

But just before I go, as you may have seen, the introduction for SNAFU: Last Stand will be written by Tim Miller (yes, of Deadpool and the new Terminator fame). As such, we understand the slush pile may well be large – Tim will be reading the final tales. And if that isn’t a reason to send us your very best, I don’t know what is.

Submission window for SNAFU: Last Stand opens April 1st, 2019. (No, that’s not a joke. Yes, we are laughing.)

Awards and Such Things

So a thing happened last week. My story, Child of the Emptyness (Grimdark Magazine #17), made the shortlist for the Aurealis Awards in the ‘Best Fantasy Short Story’ category. To say I’m stunned is an understatement. To say I’m chuffed to bits – also understatement.

Apart from the awesomeness that is being shortlisted, what makes this doubly, or even triply special is the amount of friends I find myself amongst – two of which are ‘my people’ (yes, it’s a thing, we all have them, I wrote about it). It’s a bit of a convoluted web this one, as I find myself sharing the fantasy story nod with one of my closest of people, Alan Baxter, who also got a nod in the ‘Best Fantasy Novel’ category, which also contains another of my closest of people (and bestie), Devin Madson.

Oh, but it doesn’t stop there! Also please find drinking buddy and he of the best-laugh-ever, J Ashley Smith in the Fantasy Short category. Add in the most wonderful Sam Hawke in the Fantasy Novel shortlist and… how the hell are you supposed to choose?  Huh? Huh?

And there are so many more: Joanne Anderton, Kaaron Warren, Rivqa Rafael, Maria Lewis, Shauna O’Meara, Kylie Chan… I couldn’t be more pleased for these wonderful people and amazing authors. The breadth of talent in this list is incredible to see – Aussie fiction is a deep, rich pool of unique voices that deserve to be read.

Make Good Art

But I want to make a shout-out to those who didn’t make the list. That’s right, you there, who sits down and makes word-babies every day (or every week, or whenever you can), you’re a goddamn star. To those who have the writer-imposteritis shouting in the ear yet still create worlds that are as vivid as the one in which we live – keep creating! To those who hope their tales will get the nod for which they so wish, then wonder what they need to do when their name doesn’t appear – I see you, I hear you, I feel you… I am you. We’ve all been there. Don’t give up. Because that character that’s whispering in your ear, urging you to tell their story may just be the tale those judges need. And if not? Well, you’ve created. You’ve put yourself out in the world, given joy to those who read it, and you should be damn well proud.

You got this.

The Write People

Let’s talk about people. Not random strangers or the fabulous old guy I saw at the bus stop today shouting at passing cars, but those writerly people other writerly people can’t do without… or shouldn’t do without. (This is going somewhere, I swear.)

All right, so we all know writing is a solitary endeavour. I’m talking about the actual act of it – sitting in front of the pc, the laptop, or putting pen to paper old-school. But it shouldn’t be a lonely one. There’s a misguided “romantic” notion of writers holing themselves up in a room, coffee cups balanced precariously as you tap away like a crazy person, the outside world and living people some figment of your imagination because you live wholly within the created and among your characters. And while the coffee cups and crazy person might have a ring of truth, writers need that connection to other writers.

My partner, bless his sarcastically-gifted soul, refers to them as ‘your people’, and he knows when I need to reconnect (for the sanity of us all) … although it’s usually preceded by “day nine of you in your pyjamas”.

This weekend I get to hang out with one of my favourite ‘your people’ – Devin Madson. She makes the trip up to Sydney every year for ComicCon where we can talk all things books, stories, wrangle ideas, talk work, and just shoot the shit. It’s also where we get to catch up with our other writerly friends and revel in the successes of this year and where we think our imaginations will take us next.

There’s a solidarity among writers – no one knows the highs and lows of writing and publishing, the “I’m not good enough”s or the sometimes crippling writer-imposteritis; they’ll empathise, sympathise, and let you know you’re not alone in this gig.

a-mindful-installationA Mindful Installation by Jennie Lynn Paske

But Devin is more than just ‘my people’. You may have seen my announcement of a short story sale to Grimdark Magazine. I’m super chuffed about the sale, not just because it’s a pro-sale, and not just because the story was good enough to be accepted but that the story was actually written. I’m time poor. I run a successful editing business, and work will always take precedence – bills to pay, food to eat, you know the drill –  which means when something has to give, it’s usually writing and sleep (and fuck those people who say “if you want to write, you’ll find the time”, you can shove your self-righteous, guilt-tripping bullshit up your arse… but that’s a post for another day).

Where was I? Ah, yes, Devin. She knows how time poor I am, but she also knows the less I write the more antsy I become.  So with gentle nudges and on-point questioning, she pushed me to write the story that had been gnawing at me, that I thought would be a good fit for GdM. When that first draft was done, she sliced into it like a writing partner should – cutting away the unnecessary and drawing out the good. And so ‘Child of the Emptyness’ was born, and without her it would still be gnawing at my grey matter and making me feel like a failed writer. I also get to share the Grimdark Magazine ToC with her and her awesome story, ‘A Touch of Malice’ – it’s a hell of a win-win.

I’ve written posts about the ‘village’ needed to raise a book, a story but all writers need ‘their people’. You may think you don’t have them, but you do. They’re the ones who will kick you up the bum when they know it’s a kick up the bum you need; they will ask if you are writing with genuine interest and without pressure; they volunteer to critique your work because they want to read your stories, they want you to succeed. This doesn’t have to be an every-day thing, likely it isn’t. But it’s there, and that’s enough to feed the soul.

So a shout-out to my closest of people: Devin Madson (who makes me a better writer, and makes me want to be a better writer); Kirsten Cross (killer storyteller, maker of shenanigans, and my sister from another mother); Alan Baxter (you know why, mister – it’s all in the ‘at least…’ 😊); James A Moore (the kindest of ‘kind sir’s); and Matthew Summers, who never fails to keep me on track.

So find your people, revel in your people, and be the ‘my people’ for others. Like I said, the act of writing is a solitary endeavour, it shouldn’t be a lonely one.

I am woman, hear me swear

This post is brought to you by a random person’s ludicrous assumption that writers who swear (in their books or in any other medium in which they choose to write ‒ yes, even social media) are held to some imaginary higher standard because they should be “capable of being far more eloquent”.

Fuck that noise.

This was in relation to an opinion piece, and much “offence” was taken by the use of the ‘c-word’ (not actually used in the piece), and the ‘f-word’, and the further assertion that the use of those words was especially offensive to women.

She found them offensive, I did not. I am woman, hear me swear. This, somehow, makes me a bad feminist, writer, and woman? Not sure really. Because again, fuck that noise. You’re not my gatekeeper. You’re not the gatekeeper for all women, everywhere, at any given time. Like ever.

I swear. A lot. I use fuck as a noun, a verb, an adjective and have, on occasion, used it as an adverb. I use it to describe things, decry things, denounce and deny things. I use it to uplift, to cheer, to encourage without fear. I use it to heal, in solidarity, to proclaim and protest. I use it as a weapon, a shield; hell, I’ve used it in jest. Don’t tell me it’s only for characters who are villainous, don’t equate it with rape on your soapbox of innocence. I’ll use the word however I choose – my life, my story, my fucking muse.

And I’ll do it in goddamn rhyme.

swear words

I’m a writer – words are my playground. All of them. I can use any I like, any that fit the idea, the narrative, the exposition, voice, character, dialogue I’m wanting to convey. I write horror and grimdark, there’s going to be ‘the swears’. As an editor, it’s my business to know words, their context, their use as storytelling and character devices. This includes all the swears.

And all the swears includes the word ‘cunt’. Yes, I use it. And I own it when I use it. I use it in writing, in dialogue – for characters and in my own. I’ve been called it and called out for it; don’t wear it, don’t use it. It’s offensive, derogatory, demeaning and vulgar. It’s a word that I’ll use, and you need to get over it.

So don’t come at me with your holier-than-thou attitude when you clearly don’t want to debate.

There are those who boo-hoo writers who use curse words in their writing, that it shows classlessness, an inability to write and use words “they” find offensive. That a “true” writer would find other words to get their point across… because by all the gods, vanilla writing that all sounds the same is exactly what readers want. Yes, let’s censor our characters! Why say: “off you fuck” when the snark of “off you fudge” falls so much better from cursed lips. Let’s not be reflective of a character’s true nature, let’s not let natural dialogue flow, or be true to ourselves or our stories.

I’m not going to censor my characters, and I’m sure as shit not going to censor myself because someone else thinks I’m doing things “wrong.” Thing is, I understand that all the swears may not be for you, and that’s fine – you do you. But don’t tell me that I can’t call myself a feminist because I say ‘fuck’ or ‘cunt’ or any other manner of the swears I deem appropriate for me (or my characters). You don’t like it? Well, I’d say you can “fudge” right off.

Beta Readers? You betchya!

So we’ve talked about editors and how to find them, now let’s chat about the unsung heroes and heroines of the publishing process: BETA READERS.

You’re damn right I put that in caps ‒ they deserve all the accolades they get.

For those unfamiliar with the term, beta readers are those who provide feedback on unpublished work before it goes to an editor. They are an essential cog in the machine that is publishing. Beta readers provide an objective overview from a reader’s perspective while giving insight into character(s) arc, plot, world-building, narrative style, and any inconsistencies.

So when should you engage betas?

You’ve finished the eleventy-first draft of your story, you’re probably sick of the sight of it, and you’re at that point where it needs another set of eyes (or three) to see how it’s holding up. Enter your beta readers. Now it’s imperative to point out that beta readers are not editors. You may be lucky enough that one of your betas is an editor, and may pick up spelling and grammar issues, but that’s not their role and it would be pretty uncool to ask them to do so while also providing story feedback.

There are a couple of ways to approach beta reading. You can make a list of things you’d like your betas to look for: eg. character agency and development, any plot holes, narrative style, and even something as simple as: does it make sense. Super-organised writers sometimes provide their beta readers with a checklist or a framework from which to work. Others just let their beta readers have at it, where they can provide feedback via electronic notes on the document, or just provide an overview at chapters’ end or at the completion of the tale.

The thing here is to be clear about what it is you’re looking for from your beta readers, and can they do so within a time-frame. Yes, a time-frame is necessary, especially if you’re working to a deadline. Just be realistic.

 

superhero_t_shirt_by_bangbangtshirts.jpg

Art by BangBang Tshirts

 

So where do you find these mythical creatures?

I’m hoping you have a community you can tap into. This is a big ask of someone, and generally it’s an unpaid project. Reciprocity is your friend here – if you ask someone to beta read for you, don’t be a twat and decline if they ask it of you.

There are groups on Goodreads that offer beta reading, but like with anyone you engage to assist with your book, be discerning in your choices. Hit up your social media sites, ask for recommendations. There are also paid sites that have beta readers; again, be discerning.

You’ll have noticed that I’m using the plural here, because you’re going to need more than one beta reader. I’d suggest at least three, but no more than four. Having too many eyes go over your story and the waters may start to get muddy.

When it comes to choice, try to find those who read in your genre (or alongside it), and even one who doesn’t – mainstream readers will give you insight into readability across the spectrum. Don’t ask a relative unless you’re sure they’re going to give you honest feedback, not just what you want to hear.

And that leads into the next part of the beta reader process: YOU.

If you ask for honest feedback (which is a given, right? Right?) then don’t get all precious, don’t take it personally, and for the love of all things holy and unholy, don’t get angry at them or their feedback. They’ve given freely of their time, provided honest insight in a bid to help you with your book. Be professional. Should you not agree with some of the feedback, you don’t have to take it on. Although should more than one of your beta readers pick up the same thing, then you’ve got an issue that needs to be addressed.

Again: don’t be precious.

In the end, it will be your decision what to take on, and what to let go. But you’re cultivating relationships here, be professional. And be thankful. Beta readers are helping you. Appreciate and respect that.

So we’ll end on some bullet points:

  • Find at least three beta readers – some that read in your genre and, if you can, one that doesn’t. Tap your community (writer community, social media et al.) for beta readers or suggestions; check Goodreads, or websites that offer the service.
  • Be discerning in your choices, clear in your decisions.
  • Ask for honest feedback and mean it – don’t be precious.
  • Provide guidelines for what you’re looking for with the beta read, and ask if it can be met within a realistic time-frame.
  • Reciprocity is your friend – if someone you’ve approached is a writer, offer to beta read for them (and mean it).
  • Be professional. You may not agree with/like the feedback you receive, but this isn’t about you, it’s about getting the best out of your story. Leave your ego behind.
  • You don’t need to take on every point your beta reader makes; the decision to move forward with alterations or not, rests with you.
  • If more than one of your beta readers points out the same issue – it’s an issue.
  • Don’t be precious (yes, it needs reiteration).

 

Remember, beta readers are the heroines and heroes of your publishing journey, be respectful to and thankful for them – they’ve earned it.

Finding the right editor, and when to run like hell

This post is brought to you by a Twitter thread I came across yesterday about the importance of editors. I recently wrote a post on just such a thing. If you’re disinclined to read that, I’ll break it down quickly: YOU NEED AN EDITOR.

Right then. Within this Twitter thread was information that needs to be addressed, so I’m chucking on my ranty-pants (they’re fabulous, by the way), and I’m going to give you some insights into what to look for in a good editor, and how to help find the right editor for you. Yes, not all editors will be the right fit. (I had a whole thing about editors being like pants, but it just got… weird.)

Aaaanywho, what had me don my ranty-pants was a writer explaining they’d been quoted $10,000 for an edit. I’ll just let that sink in. Ten grand. For an edit. Of one book. Oh, hell no. HELL NO. I don’t know who the so-called “editor” was who thought this was a reasonable quote. If I did, I would call them out on their bullshit. Because bullshit it is. I can’t even fathom an instance where quoting or even charging someone this amount is even within the realm of possibility. That, folks, is a scam. Run far. Run fast.

On the flipside, if you’re quoted say, $200 for a full edit of a novel – run far, run fast. No editor worth their salt would charge this little for a full edit. There’s a lot of skill that goes into editing, and most editors study to gain qualifications, to understand the nuances of English and its building blocks that go into great storytelling. Their qualifications and experience are worth more than two hundred bucks.

imagination

So, let’s break down the two types of editing (I’m not including manuscript assessments as that’s a whole different ball game). Deciding which is best for you depends on where you are with your book.

Developmental (substantive/structural) editing: This is detailed editing for structure, plot and sub-plots, story arc, characterisation, character arcs, and chapter arrangement. It’s your ‘big picture’ side of editing that looks deeply into motivations and conflict, agency and forward movement of both story and character(s). Story elements are broken down to ensure there is cohesion and clarity, as well as looking at pacing, premise, and world-building.

Copy (line) editing: This concentrates on style, tempo, language, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Copy editing goes through line-by-line to ensure syntax is on point, passive vs active voice, run-on sentences, and dangling participles et al. It checks the mechanics of the writing to ensure it’s on point. (Note: copy editing is not proofreading.)

Now, depending upon where you are with your story, it’s a matter of deciding which type of editing is best for you at this stage of your draft. You can ask for a combined structural/copy edit, but be aware that this would cost more as you’re asking for two separate types of editing to be applied – it’s a bigger job, therefore a higher charge.

Once you’ve decided which type of editing you’re after, how do you find an editor? A good editor. Nothing beats word of mouth. Those writers who’ve worked with good editors will happily sing their praises – ask around. However, this doesn’t mean their editor will be the right fit for you. And it is about fit. The author/editor relationship can be magic when you find the right person. It should be. It’s a meeting of minds to work toward a common goal – making your story the best it can be.

Your other option is to put out a call on social media for editors, but understand you’re probably going to be slammed with offers. And not everyone who says they’re an editor should be calling themselves such. I’ve heard horror stories of “editors” putting errors into work. It drives me to become Sweary McSwearface, as it gives those of us who love what we do, a bad name. Fuck those guys.

Here’s a checklist of things to do/ask when you want to engage an editor:

  • Seek out at least five editors to find the right one for you. Can’t find them in that first five? Contact another five then another five until you find the editor you click with. You’ll know. Trust me.
  • Try to find editors experienced in your genre. They’ll have a better feel for not only the market, but for what works (and what doesn’t) in the story you’re telling.
  • Ask for their qualifications, what formal training they’ve had and where they studied. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions; this is your baby they’re working on, and your money you’re parting with. Note: some fantastic editors don’t have formal qualifications, but their industry experience is beyond reproach, so don’t rule out every editor who isn’t formally qualified, just be discerning.
  • Those who edit for a living will have a website. Check the projects they’ve worked on, then mosey on over to Amazon and hit that ‘look inside’ option and see what you think. Do your research. It will pay off.
  • Ask for a sample edit. This allows you to see if the editor knows what they’re doing, if you like the way they edit, and if their editing style would work for you. If an editor says they don’t provide sample edits, walk away.
  • Cost is the main reason some writers choose not to engage an editor, and I get it, I do. But a lot of editors are quite happy to discuss and work with you on a payment plan. You won’t know if you don’t ask.

The above points are going to help you weed out the charlatans from the true, but trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel or seem quite right, then move on. There are plenty of good editors out there, you’ll find them.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, charging ten grand for an edit is egregious. It makes me want to find that person and slap them upside the head… a lot. Charging too little for an edit… well, you get what you pay for.

So what should you expect to pay? Well, it depends on the type of edit you want, the word count (or page count, editors price either way), and the amount of work involved. If we’re basing this on a novel of approximately 100,000 words with no excessive work involved, you should be looking at anywhere in the vicinity of $800-$1500. And even low-balling at $800 is a stretch. That’s a lot of money, yes, but it’s an investment in not only your story, but you as a writer.

Editing should be a teaching experience, and I like to use it as such. If I can explain to you why active voice works better in a high-action and/or high-tension scene, you’ll employ that in your next story. If I explain that shorter sentences convey tension better than longer, drawn out sentences, you’ll take that into your next tale. If I can show that the bloody mist spattering your protag’s face as their enemy chokes on their last, gasping breath craps all over ‘dying in their own blood’, then I’m doing my job right.

So don’t be afraid to ask questions, don’t be afraid to say ‘thanks, but no thanks’, and don’t be afraid to walk away, because when you find the right editor, you’ll find the magic.

To market, to market

Following on from my previous post about how you should edit your work (aka you’re an idiot if you don’t), I want to talk about markets and how subbing to particular ones may do more harm than any good you think a publication credit of any kind may be (I’m looking at you ‘for exposure’ and ‘token’, you asshats).

As you may have figured out, I have no love of ‘for exposure/token’ markets – it’s predatory, making money off writers by having them buy the anthology they have a story in, and having family and friends do the same. These markets are effectively making money off you ‒ you don’t see a damn cent… or very few cents. Fuck that noise. PAY THE CREATIVE.

There’s no reasoning or excuse for that bullshit. The ‘oh, but we’re just starting out’ crap doesn’t fly. Those who are serious about the publishing industry will ensure writers are paid for the work they do. Don’t have the money to pay writers? Get out of the business until you do.

And ‘token’ markets? $5 for a 5000-word story? If that’s the value you expect me to place on my story and the work and imagination, the craft, I’ve put into it? You can bite me.

Thing is, there are writers who are desperate for publishing credits, not understanding that it’s not about the amount of publications behind your name, but who those publications are. Those who target ‘for exposure’ markets for publishing credits are doing more harm than good for not only their writing but their reputation. Why? Because the ‘for exposure’ bar is pretty damn low. If (and that’s a big if) your story is edited, it won’t be by someone who knows what they’re doing, so there’s no growth to be had, no understanding of how successful storytelling works. It creates a cognitive dissonance that your work is great the way it is when that may not be the case at all.

Now if you sub to paying markets (which all writers should), sure there’s a chance of rejection, but that’s part of the gig. It’s always been part of the gig. Trying to avoid that won’t make you a better writer, it will make you a stagnant one.

exposure 1

When I’m slush reading for anthology subs and your cover letter lists a plethora of markets I haven’t heard of, and Google struggles to find said markets, then those publishing credits mean squat – it reeks of desperation. If another author’s cover letter has one publishing credit listed as Clarkesworld, for instance, I will sit up and take notice. Why? Because that shows me the author values their work, it means they’ve laboured over it, and gone through the process of story rejection that is imperative to improving your craft.

Rejections make you look at your story again, see where you can improve and how. And if feedback is provided, then this is a brilliant step in making your story better for the next market to whom you send your baby.

‘For exposure/token’ markets do nothing to improve your writing or your writerly-reputation. Why? Because the bar is pretty damn low, and the reason for this is to make money off you – that’s it. It has nothing to do with putting out quality – the cover art alone should tell you that. Money won’t be spent on a professional editor either. If (and that’s a big if) your story is edited, it won’t be by someone who knows what they’re doing, so there’s no growth to be had, no understanding of how successful storytelling works.

When it comes to marketing, don’t worry, they’ve got that sorted. It’s you. You and your family and friends. ‘For exposure’ and ‘token’ markets count on you and your circle to make them money. Money you won’t see, and money (if they’re ‘token’) that will far exceed that minimal outlay.

And they’ll do it again and again and again because people who aren’t serious about the craft of writing, about getting better at it, will keep subbing. All they want is credits against their name, not to become better writers.

Look, I can’t make you not sub to these markets, what I’m saying is that you should place value on your writing, value that what you do is worthwhile. If writing is truly what you love, then give it the respect it deserves.

And if rejection scares you, buckle up sunshine and take that plunge, you’ll be a better writer for it.

If not, then… happy swimming at the murky bottom of the pool.

TO EDIT OR NOT TO EDIT? (A STUPID QUESTION ANSWERED.)

To write is human, to edit is divine. ~ Stephen King.

You need to edit your work. Let me say that again, just in case you missed it the first time:

YOU. NEED. TO. EDIT. YOUR. WORK.

It’s not a difficult concept to grasp – even the above words are simple, but it appears a lot of writers believe this is a stage that can be skipped or is entirely unnecessary (I shit you not). They’re wrong. So very wrong. Like, drowning in oceans of wrongness. I recently saw someone proclaim they didn’t need to edit their story before subbing; they’d written it in one sitting and it was good enough to sub without an edit.

No.

Just no.

And fuck off.

There’s a certain level of arrogance and ignorance tied into believing your work, your stories, don’t need another set of eyes to go over it. Forget the fact that you might have misspellings, verb tense issues, punctuation and dialogue anomalies; that your plot isn’t on point, your character is inconsistent, or, hell, that the story just doesn’t make sense. How do you know the tale you’ve visualised has transferred to the page? Do you just not care? Or, are you so sure of your own “perfection” that no other input is necessary? That’s some high-level cognitive dissonance right there.

There are some stories that do just flow from your fingertips onto the page, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need at least a beta reader, someone to give you feedback, to ask questions of plot or dialogue or story direction. Things that will make your story better. Why would an author not want that? Why would you not want to improve not only your story, but your writing?

I’m a professional editor (yes, got the certificates and the industry experience to prove it), and I’m also a writer. Do I edit my own work? Of course I do. Do I send it to others to beta read? Damn straight. Do I have someone else edit it? Hell yes I do. Why? Because I’m too close to the story to see any issues it may have, because I want to know whether it makes sense, because maybe a question or note will make the story stronger, clearer, more kick-arse. Because I want MY BEST WORK out in the world, not just my: ‘fuck it, this’ll do’ work.

Of late, I’ve seen a surge in this ‘fuck it’ submission process, the belief that you just write and your subs will be accepted. Sure, there are places that will accept that “work”, and if ‘for exposure’ markets or ‘contributor copy only’ markets are your thing then… well, okay. You keep doing you. But why not aim higher? Do better?

It comes down to how you value what you do. How you value your readers. Writing is a craft, it needs to be honed, practised, built upon, and you never stop learning. EVER. If you believe you don’t need to edit, that you don’t need beta readers or those rejections that make you look again at your story and better it, then stagnant you will be, stale your stories will become.

edit all the words

Look, I can’t make you engage beta readers, I can’t make you use an editor or hell, even make you edit your own work, but I can guaran-damn-tee you, you won’t hit any of the success you’re wanting. Having a bibliography of pubbed stories in mags or anthologies no one’s heard of doesn’t up your author profile as much as you’d like to think it does. Give me a story published in Nightmare Magazine, or Grimdark Mag, Apex or Clarkesworld over multiple stories published in markets even Google would have trouble finding.

Writers are readers, we know the markets that accept only the highest possible standards, and those are the markets professional writers want to crack – and by professional, I mean those who take the process of writing and all it entails, seriously. Who know there’s more to writing than just words on a page.

It all really comes down to choice:

Be the writer who wants their work to be the best it can be, who wants constructive criticism for the sake of the story, who wants to be better, do better, and to break into those pro-paying markets who have the high standards for which you strive. To have publishers ask you to sub to them because they’ve seen your work and want it; to have readers search for your work because your tales resonated with them, because they love your storytelling.

Or…

Don’t.