Friday, May 31, 2013

What Makes Editing Professional

I love it when I hear from readers.

Coming back to the blog and going through the comments left here, I was gratified to see how many are actually not spam. Apparently, people actually read what I put on here. That feels good.

I especially liked the comment Skye Warren left on the post "On Paid Services for Indie Authors" on April 1st, because Skye really took the time to join the conversation. Her comment was practically a post in itself. Certainly was a lot longer than my May 26 post. She said:

One of the problems is the narrow defintion of "editing" to mean proofreading, when in publishing-speak it actually refers to content editing and line editing. Can an average person with an English degree and sharp eye for typos become a proficient proofreader? Maybe so. But can they come close to a professional editor in term of story structure, character development, deep POV, voice? No, that's really a professional editor. Not saying someone couldn't move up that way, but it takes all the experience and knowledge of any fully professional endeavor. And the people who can do it well are not only making a full time living this way, they are booked for months (sometimes years) out. So can you get them to work on your manuscript on a barter system? No. You can't. So implying that indies can achieve anywhere near a quality level that publishers do (even smaller publishers) through barter is misleading.

Now I'm not a stickler for editing as much as some. I put my first two books out on more of a whim, and though they'd been read by upwards of 10 critique partners/beta readers, I didn't have them professionally edited. But as soon as they sold even a few copies and I decided to continue on as a self pub author (a publisher, really) I put 100% of their sales into editing. But even then it was copy editing, or basically, proofreading to fix any errors. Now I've finally been able to move into content editing, line editing, and proofreading. Thank goodness! Because I know these are quality "minimums" for a publisher, which is what a self publisher really is. By minimums, I'm saying that it will, of course, happen that we'll publish without them. Our first books, we're just seeing how things go. But if we want to be taken seriously as a self published author, these are things we must do. They're not optional, and the only way to get professional services is to pay for them.

Skye brings up a couple of very good points. The word 'editing' is, indeed, often misunderstood. To be publishable, a novel needs four types of editing. Pavarti K. Tyler does a great job of explaining the first three:

→ The Content Editor
This is the professional eye which looks over your manuscript with a fine tooth comb. They will catch things like inconsistent character behavior/speech, style issues, thematic variances and readability. A content editor will be able to help you adjust your language by audience (lit fic vs. YA – there is a difference!), make sure everything makes sense, has believable dialogue and a plausible plotline. Many people skip this step, thinking their editor who fixes commas will do this as well. If you are lucky, they will, although the cost for editors who are that skilled is quite high and often times, even if the individual is capable, their attention to other issues in your manuscript might mean they miss something that could make the difference between an ok story and an epic novel.
→ The Copy Editor
In journalism, a copy editor is essentially a fact checker and someone who protects the publication from libel. For our purposes a Copy Editor is more like a professional proof-reader. Someone who performs this task usually does minimal rewriting for the sake of efficiency of prose as opposed to stylistic choices. They check the manuscript for clarity and flow. In my experiences most copy editors will also do line editing as the two are tied closely together and work well as a two part process.
→ The Line Editor
... The line editor generally isn’t there to discuss story arc or make sure you understand how to use a dialogue tag. Instead, they are there to make sure you are putting out the best quality product possible. Line editors will go over each sentence to make sure it is ready for publication. They check for grammar, punctuation, spelling, consistency and word usage (Is he your Principle or your PrinciPAL?) and can often assist with rewriting/rewording sections that need help.

And the final type of editing your book will need is proofreading (and proofreading, and proofreading again, so many times it will drive you crazy). Sometimes this is considered part of the line editing job, and sometimes it's mentioned separately, but no matter how you talk about it, the task is the same. Proofreading starts when your book appears to be ready to print (or upload, as the case may be), in other words, when you think all the errors have been corrected and the book is error-free. It's the step of catching all those misspellings, missing commas and homonym-substitutions ('slough' for 'slue') that somehow got through anyway. And it's not done until that wonderful final pass when not a single error is found in the whole book.

The second great point that Skye brings up is that for reasons I think I shall never understand, some indie writers actually think it's okay to skimp on quality. Of course, that gives the rest of us a bad name, so just like those first groups of black students in 'white' schools in the 60's, we really have to shine if we're going to challenge the stereotype.

Skye's third great point is one she demonstrates rather than talks about, because she's a victim of it.  I do freelance editing for online ad copy, so maybe I see it more blatantly than a lot of people. But do a little research and you'll find it's a common practice for people who make a living by providing a particular service to try to convince gullible members of the public that they are indispensable.

A related misconception is the idea that all qualified editors want to edit full-time for a living, and none of them choose to write books, except maybe books about editing. Real life, of course, is much more diverse than that, which is why there are plenty of 'real' editors out there willing to trade their services for something they need and either can't or don't want to do. 

A fact we tend to overlook - maybe because it's so obvious - is that editing skill doesn't come from money, it comes from training. And the level of editing required for book publishing can only be gotten by a combination of high-quality training and personal dedication to the craft.

Sometimes it's tempting to take the easy way out and say that money is the answer. For the lucky few with enough money, it means writing a check or setting up a funds transfer and going on in the blind faith that the book is now publishable. For most writers it's a convenient excuse to skip the editing process, as it's too expensive anyway.

But we're novelists. Creativity and clever solutions are our specialty. So we really can't get away with using the money excuse. We just have to work together and make it happen.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Jury Farm

Janie only wanted to know where her sister was.

Ellie Barbour was a lot older than Janie, and Grant said she would have been fourteen now. It was Ellie's birthday today, Grant said, but they couldn't talk about it. They had to remember Ellie in their hearts but make everybody think they forgot her. Grant was very wise about things like that. He was almost as old as Ellie and he was their brother.

So Janie pretended to forget Ellie but remembered her very much in her heart. Which means she didn't even talk about her to Grant. Only to Mommy.

Ellie had gone over the fence, Janie had reminded Mommy, and gone down the road and found out where the noises were coming from. The snorting and humming and whining and thumping and scraping didn't come from alligator cricket tournaments or monsoons or wild moose parties, Ellie had said. They were made by giant misshapen cars with huge claws, digging holes in the earth. And then Ellie had been taken to the police station, and nobody had seen her since.

And now Janie had been taken to the police station. There were two parts to the office she was in, and the officer was meeting with her parents in the other part, with the door closed. She had tried to listen through the door, but the secretary had music on, and she couldn't hear a word. So all she could do was wait, and pretend very hard to not remember Ellie. And she could read.

Nobody knew she could read. Not even Mommy knew that, because reading isn't something you do in your heart. Reading is something you do with your eyes, and you just do it, and there really isn't anything to talk about. But it really helps when you're stuck in an office with nothing else to do.

So Janie found a spot near the window by the secretary's desk where there was a stack of papers, gave the secretary her most innocent smile, and started reading:


Pre-Harvest Report
Jury Farm Project


To provide a reliable source of individuals qualified to serve as jurors at all court levels throughout all states and territories.

Progress Toward Goals:

Repeated here for reference purposes, five main objectives established at the outset of the Project are relevant at this stage:

  1. To build a self-contained habitat ("the Farm") for jury candidates ("the Candidates").
  2. To seed the population of the Farm with persons under the age of 30 months, who are wards of their respective states and do not receive regular visits from their families of origin.
  3. To raise the Candidates in an isolated setting, ensuring that they remain untainted by any knowledge of real events which could disqualify them from serving as jurors.
  4. To educate and condition the Candidates to be optimally qualified to serve the prosecution as jurors in any trial in any court in the United States.
  5. To harvest the Candidates as needed to serve in jury trials.

The current status of Progress toward each of these objectives is outlined below:

  1. The Farm is approximately eighty-four percent (84%) built, which conforms to the timeline set forth by the Plan, as amended. The remaining sixteen percent (16%) represents the final phase of construction, to accommodate the expected population growth as the current population matures and begins to reproduce (See p. 32 of the Plan, section 12: "Sustainability").
  2. Four thousand, five hundred thirty-eight (4,538) qualifying Candidates have been transported to the Town over the sixteen (16) years since Stage One of construction was complete. These consisted of two thousand, two hundred sixty-eight (2,268) males and two thousand, two hundred seventy (2,270) females, and they have been living in small groups in homes on the Farm, along with adult caretakers they believe to be their natural parents.
  3. Isolation has been completely successful with the following exceptions:
    1. A total of six (6) Candidates were exposed to construction in progress, and had to be terminated.
    2. A total of eight (8) Candidates showed persistent curiosity regarding life outside the Farm, and had to be terminated.
  4. Education and conditioning have been highly successful. The following methods were implemented:
    1. Schools. All the Candidates attend school from Kindergarten through Grade Twelve (12), and some attend preschool as well. Eight hundred four (804) students will begin attending college in the fall. Curriculum and teaching methods promote a binary ('either/or') thinking style, to help Candidates efficiently identify trial defendants as either good or evil.
    2. Home. All the homes are run by trained staff whom the Candidates believe are their biological parents. Education and conditioning in the home begins before the Candidates start school, and continues throughout childhood.
    3. Neighborhood. Conditioning is extended to the Candidates' neighborhoods and every aspect of their lives. For example, the Farm is divided into fifty-six (56) sections, each named after one of the fifty-five (55) states and territories of the United States plus the District of Columbia. Each of these divisions is in turn given one or two designations which mimic common town names, such as  'Springfield' or 'Hillsborough.' This way if an attorney asks a Candidate during voir dire where he or she resides, the Candidate will be able to provide an appropriate reply in full honesty.
  5. Harvest of the first crop of jury Candidates is scheduled for the third week of June. This inaugural crop will be small, only one hundred twenty (120) Candidates, as outlined in the original Plan, as amended.

Harvest Methods and Best Practices

Several factors set the inaugural harvest apart from subsequent harvests, including the smaller size of the crop and the fact that the harvests do not yet form a part of the Candidates' lives or cultural frame of reference. To this extent, conditioning for this inaugural crop cannot be complete, as previous harvests form a necessary part of Candidate conditioning under the Plan. 

The following methods and practices are being strictly adhered to for the inaugural harvest:

  1. Surprise. No advance warning or indication will be given to any Candidates that any harvesting will occur, except for the fact that the subject of jury duty is presented in their education as an important civic duty in a free society. When the inaugural harvest occurs, it will be a surprise to both the members of the crop and their peers.
  2. No publicity. No Candidates except those who are an actual part of the current crop will be aware of the harvest until after it is complete.
  3. Final conditioning step and guarantee of confidentiality. As outlined in the Plan, as amended, the aftermath of the harvest will be leveraged to achieve maximum efficiency in the trial process, as well as to allow for the retirement of some veteran staff members. To complete the conditioning process, the disappearance of the harvested Candidates will be explained as a brutal mass murder, with appropriate graphic details and evidence provided. After serving as jurors, to preserve the integrity of the Farm's confidentiality and ensure a continuous supply of jurors without activist interference, the entire crop will be returned to Farm property for termination.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Happy Birthday

This will be a very short and very personal post. I would like to say happy birthday to someone very special to me. You know who you are.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Storytelling by Gap

One of the nice things about having a blog is that if you're terrible about keeping track of dates, you can look back at it and see when things happened in your life. But sometimes it's the gaps between the posts that tell the biggest stories.

Okay, so my gaps don't tell stories to anyone but me. Guess that means I'll have to translate.

There's a gap from March 6 to March 15. That's when I found out some family members were about to be homeless.  We all worked around the clock for about 48 hours to put their things in storage, and then they moved in with us.

There's a gap from March 23 to May 20. Yup, almost two months. That's because around the third week of March, I realized I wasn't making enough money for the new household.

And now I'm back. Or at least I'm on my way.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Guest Post: The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

I'm delighted to have Luke Bellmason back, this time with his science fiction short story, "The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales":

WHEN that Aprilis, with his showers swoot, 
The drought of March hath pierced to the root,
And bathed every vein in such licour, 
Of which virtue engender'd is the flower;
And smalle fowles make melody,
That sleepen all the night with open eye,
So pricketh them nature in their corages;
Then longe folk to go on pilgrimages,
And specially, from every shire's end of Engleland,
to Canterbury they wend.
-Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, Late 14th Century, Earth
Many are the suns of the nine galaxies and greater still the number of worlds which circle them; so that a being may live a thousand years, travel every day of her life and yet touch naught but a small fraction of this great domain. And yet, there is one solar-system among this multitude which can claim its greater share of visitors, for it lies like the centre of a great wheel, with all others spinning round it.
In one constant steady stream do these travellers come, spacer-pilots all; be they helmsman of the smallest tug or commander of the mightiest starcruiser. Each decade at a time all must take the same Pilgrimage. On liners such as this one do they meet and journey to the system called Vale. Where the all pervading laws of the Federal Galactic Spaceflight Licensing Authority decree each pilot's licence must be issued, then at ten-year intervals be checked, updated and, if found to be in order, renewed. For, to ignore the authority of the FGSLA is to go the way of the pirate and the fugitive and to spend ones life always one parsec ahead of the lawman, or lawwoman, or lawbeing.
And so it was that I found myself aboard such a vessel, the passenger ship 'Canterbury', among a small band of such travellers; talking their strange language of approach vectors, mass distribution charts and power output characteristics. All were as different as could be; of age, of race, of bone and skin and of status, yet all in common they were, for none of the other passengers would wish to listen to them, nor could they have understood their strange speak had they tried. None, but me. For my eye and ear being that of a story-teller, and a story-collector, was a role for which one must be proficient in many tongues and many disciplines.
To find such gatherings as this was the meat to my bread. For all the years have I crossed the great star empires and no play of actors, no trillion-budget Sim-O-Rama, no holo-mersive virtuality, could match the simple tales of spacer folk. And in my time have I listened and recorded such tales and stored them in my trusted MultiSens, later to transcribe into the oldest and simplest of recording forms; these written words which I put before you now.
As our voyage began, seven such travellers there were upon the Canterbury, though as nearer to Vale we ventured, certain I was that others would join. For four days and three nights would we fly; suspended in limbo, between reality and whatever realm for which one might wish to invent a name. For the 'hyspace' into which starships jumped in order to expedite their journey from star to star was no place at all; rather, it was something other than space. Some other plane which could not be travelled to, only travelled in.
And while all manner of sports, mental diversions and the studying of exam books would fill our days, by way of the restrictive licensing laws of the Interspacial Travel Commission, our precious evening hours would be spent in the lounge-bar between the hours of nineteen-hundred and twenty-three thirty shipboard time. For it was a fact widely accepted by spacers that only the pleasures of a well stocked bar could truly guard against that feeling of unpleasant monotony, of being nowhen at all, of the mind-warping possibilities of the perfect infinity of hyspace. So it was that evening, in the lounge after dinner, our group of travellers assembled. These seven characters were as new each to the other just exactly as they are to you now, and so before I make further progress, I think it reasonable to give you the same advantage as afforded them by sight and proximity and describe to you the qualities, appearance and bearing of each, as it seemed to me;
At first, to my right there sat The Smuggler. A Human he was, dressed in the clean white robes of one recently discharged from hospital. He appeared aged and showed the weariness of a life spent too long among the stars. While his body manifested a certain lack of vitality, it was behind his eyes where the true madness of the man was displayed. That look I had seen so many times in the eyes of men who had stared too long into void. This fellow had surely been tinged by this spacer's madness. But also there was another particular sickness about him which was not so obvious; on occasion he would wrap his hands and arms tightly at his body as though pushing against some great force. His face would contort and he would be lost to us for a moment until some pill or a swig or more of brandy would return him.
Beside him sat what one might call his opposite, for they were both in the business of trading goods, but the Merchant had remained true to the laws and regulations which I earlier spoke of. His appearance, in contrast to his neighbour, bore out the greater wisdom of abiding by these laws. For though he was almost as old as the Smuggler, his lifestyle demonstrated that there was more profit to be made in a long life of honest work than a short life of misdeed. The Merchant's suit was plain, pale yellow and of the highest quality. He was a man of wealth, it was clear, but also of good taste, which made one wonder if the two might be skills harmonious to good business.
And at the Merchant's side there sat a young woman; slim, athletic, quiet and calm. Her serenity appeared to come from a lack of something that the others possessed. A missing nervousness perhaps, arising from one who felt capable in any situation and who feared nothing. She had presented herself to us as the Assassin and had added little more, only to give us assurance that none of us need fear her, for none among us were on her list.
Then next in sequence came the Knight; a feline creature of the worlds where sentient life had descended from the felis catus family. He explained at length the nature of his Order, the details of which I will dutifully withhold from you so as to avoid cracking any eggs which may remain unhatched.
Then proceeding in the other direction from my left, sat the Miner. A quiet and thoughtful kind, with thick silver hair and a coat of plated metal. Of the group, he was the most jovial, quick to share a joke and seeming to quite enjoy being in company at last. He would hang on every word the others spoke, I noted, and would listen intently, as though trained as myself in the arts of transcription and reportage.
To the Miner's left side was an avian of some two metres in height, covered in shimmering brown feathers and towering above us all. Every word she uttered came delayed through the soulless interpretations of a translator box hung about her neck. Seldom did she speak, but the box continually chirped our words back to her through a headpiece. She sat perched on the edge of her seat with her talons gripping the hard metal frame of the bench. her eyes darted between us, and the quick jerky movements of her head made it hard to tell quite in which direction she was looking. When I had enquired at first as to her profession so that I may make record of it, she chirped a long burst of indecipherable twittering, which the interpreter box hesitantly broadcast as 'Slaver'. Perplexed as we were by this title, the avian declined any further questions.
Finally, at the very end was seated the Scout. She wore the gold uniform and insignia of the Galactic Astrogation Squadron. I was somewhat puzzled by her presence among this group as it was not usual to find military or federal personnel travelling on a civilian vessel, when a naval ship would have been available to her at no cost. Yet, her boots and her clothes were quite worn and not to the high standard one would expect for one of her profession.
And so, having thoroughly been appraised of all in our company, at hardly past the stroke of eight by the ship's clock, I came upon the reason by which I had attended to this party.
"For these three nights to pass more merrily," stated I, "and for the entertainment of all yet at a cost of nothing, save for the consumption of a few bottles, I propose that each of you tell your tale. For each mortal to be born and each to die must have one story to tell, and not less than one. And tell them shall you each in turn, and by your nature will each labour to outdo your fellows."
There was much chatter, but all appeared agreeable and if any found the suggestion objectionable, none made it known. And yet each in turn bore such modesty of their own humble story, sure that any account of their lives would be no great tale to be told. To this remarked I, "take my assurance, as one who has collected tales and scribed them for the pleasure of others, that it is equally as impossible for each of you to see the mystery which abounds in your own experience as it would be to know even the merest details of a complete stranger. And it is such mystery as is required to fill our long nights."
So this was our resolve, but quickly did arise the matter of where to start. To whom would fall the honour and the burden of beginning? At once, I withdrew a coin from my pocket; a relic of a long distant world it was, as was I. Upon one side was forged a star and on its reverse a queen.
"We will start at either my left hand or my right," said I. "For the Miner shall call it." All were again agreed and with great anticipation I tossed the coin toward the ceiling and the Miner did call, "stars!".
Upward the coin span and tumbled above my head, passing by planets and nebula in an eye's blink as the Canterbury hastened on though the upper dimensions of hyspace. And as the coin was once more gripped by gravity I reached out and snatched it tightly. At last I looked to my right, at the contorted and pained countenance of the Smuggler, revealing as I did so the upward face of the queen. And so began the first of the tales; the Smuggler's Tale, and what need of more words?
The Canterbury Tales Volume 1 by Luke Bellmason will be released on Amazon in June 2013, with a special edition hardcopy coming to Blurb soon after. It will feature three short stories, The Smuggler's Tale, The Merchant's Tale and the Assassin's Tale plus a special two-part story The Knight's Tale.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

So Where Do I Start?

The last few months have been quite an adventure, and I'd like to tell you about it. One of the things I try to do in this blog is give an honest look at what life is like for me as a writer, and the picture would be wildly inaccurate without a look at the last few months of my life. Besides, adventures tend to make for interesting stories.

That, all by itself, is a challenge. Trying to take all those events over all those days and nights and boil them down into a concise narrative is a tough enough job. Then on top of that you have the fact that it's not just my story - there are so many others who have lived various parts of it with me.

I've chosen to share my own life here, not theirs. So if the story seems a little ambiguous sometimes, please bear with me. It's out of respect for someone else's privacy.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


It has been nearly two months since you have heard from me, and I apologize.

It sure has been an adventure! And like any adventure, or any ball of yarn the kitten's been into, it's going to take me a bit to figure out where to start and how to give you anything but a complete tangle of events and people.

Stay tuned.