We interact with the world in print as much as face to face in this, the Digital Age. We buy, sell, leave reviews, comment, text, and share our lives all through written language. Many who cross your way will know nothing about you aside from that indelible mark you leave on their page, or your own if you are a blogger, so make sure it reflects your intended image. Here are some of the more commonly misused words online. Say what you mean to say!
Breath vs. Breathe
The verb breathe means to inhale and exhale. “Just breathe in that fresh mountain air!”
The noun breath means the air that was expelled, or can be used to refer to life or vitality. “My grandkids are a breath of fresh air around this lonely apartment.”
Lose vs. Loose
Lose is always a verb meaning to find yourself without something, or to fail, as in the opposite of win. “I always lose at Mahjong, but at least I don’t lose my temper.”
Loose can be a verb meaning to release or let go, as in, “Loose the bloodhounds!” Or an adjective describing something not secure or put together, “I am just tying up all the loose ends.”
Affect vs. Effect
This one can be tricky, as both can be used as either a verb or a noun, and both can be used in multiple ways. The noun part is fairly easy, as affect is rarely used that way outside the field of psychology. Here’s a rule of thumb to help when you’re using one or the other as a verb:
Affect is more Active. The subject is doing something to cause a reaction. “Her mood affected the whole room.” “That cold snap really affected the my neighbor’s garden.”
Effect is more passive. It’s the result of something else. Or the power to produce results itself. “His speech had no effect on his audience. The video presentation finally produced the desired effect.”
Accept vs. Except
To accept means to agree or submit to receiving something, except means everything but that. “She gratefully accepted the award. She was ready for any outcome… except that!”
Side note: Expecially… what is this? It is not a word. Look up Mr. Rogers and his world of make believe inventor friend, Cornflake S. Pecially. I’ve always remembered this is an S not the X so many say because of that little rodent.
Hone in vs. Home in
To hone means to sharpen something, like an axe. Or your writing skills. To home, usually to home in on something, means to go home, or direct something to a precise point. Like a homing device. Or a pigeon. “He really homed in on their fears and created a panic.”
Defuse vs. Diffuse
I usually see this misused when trying to use the phrase “defuse the situation,” which refers to reducing the tension, or taking the sting out of an intense moment. To defuse is the one you want. Just like it looks, you want to de-fuse, or take away the potential catalyst for disaster. Just like defusing a bomb.
Diffuse means to disperse something widely. It can make sense when used in the phrase, “diffuse the situation,” but it means you are somehow spreading out the tension in the air or potential conflict rather than removing the threat through humor or some other strategy. It’s better used elsewhere.
Of vs. Have
Should have not should of, would have not would of. Could have not could of. Or should’ve, would’ve and could’ve work too!
This is the second in a two-part series. if you missed part 1, click here!
Welcome back! Last month I promised I’d get down and dirty with prepress details and insights when working with traditional print houses. Depending on your book, it may make more sense for you to self-publish and use a print-on-demand service like Lulu, or Amazon’s CreateSpace, but for the first editions of All of Yesterday’s Tomorrows, we were on a mission to create a limited release hardcover that felt unique and had character, an artifact that Ramez’s family, friends, and readers could treasure forever. Whether you have written a book and are thinking about self-publishing, or if you are operating an independent publisher, I hope this clarifies some of the mystery behind bringing a book into the world.
As you may recall, we had a last minute print house swap, which led to some cover measurement readjustments. Now this was not only an issue we had to shovel onto our brave jacket designer, Jason Yocum, but I also had to retool the file for the foil stamping on the spine behind the jacket. Fortunately, we only went with a single hit of foil, but if you add stamping to the front cover, be mindful of additional costs.
While we’re on additional costs, are you ready for the big one? Our primary financial surprise came in the form of shipping charges for proofs. Due to some color matching issues, we had to get a second proof of the jacket. Two jacket proofs and one text proof cost a mere $5 less than we paid to ship the entire order of finished books! We were aware of the base price for proofs, but we did not know that the shipping would be expedited and the additional cost would be added to our invoice. If you’re on a budget and not crunched for time, you’d be wise to ask for more shipping options on your proofs.
Another thing to remember is that proofs are the very last line of defense, so do your side-by-side comparisons and knock out all those edits before you send those final files to the printers! We’ll be happy to take care of this for you—our rates are right there on our homepage. This is an important detail, because both printers and eBook converters will charge for additional edits, and those rates are nowhere near as reasonable as ours!
Digital editions are somewhat less complicated during these stages, but that doesn’t mean they require less attention. What’s that? Did I just hear you say, “But Josh, I’m not going to release an eBook?” Let me stop you right there. I don’t care how much of a physical book purist you are, you aren’t the one who will be buying all of your books (I hope), so offer eBooks to your readers. Still not convinced? Digital books are a necessity for a lot of people with disabilities, and are significantly cheaper, which is great for folks with limited incomes. Even if you’re a heartless bastard, you can’t deny that a bigger audience pool equals more potential readers, and why publish if you don’t want readers?
If that last part applies, maybe we can work on you being less of a heartless bastard in a future post…
Until then, BACK TO EBOOKS! There are several DIY options for eBook conversion, such as Calibre, but these programs are notorious for their steep learning curves, so don’t even click that link if you struggle with everyday apps. If you’re feeling bold and have a simple layout, Bookow has an automated eBook layout program that appears easier to navigate than most, but if you have any specific layout elements in mind, you’ll want some human input. Fortunately, you can get an eBook conversion done for as low as $200, just make sure you’re getting both .mobi and .epub formats. Remember Bookow? They offer custom formatting from $250, but ultimately we went with Bookmobile because of the relatively complex nature of poetry formatting. Hot tip—poetry eBook conversions cost more due to this complexity. Our eBooks came out slick thanks to Arna & the crew at Bookmobile, and I fully endorse both their work and their customer service!
As soon as you have a manuscript that’s ready to publish, it’s time to also start thinking about high-resolution file formatting for both print and digital. Once you are in contact with your printer and eBook converter, start asking questions about files. If you’re not familiar with the deep and varied range of options available within PDF files, brace yourself, because both formats require specific types of PDFs with fonts embedded. Get measurements for EVERYTHING. Find out what file types each company needs for images and text. Our eBook cover had to be at least 300 dpi and a minimum height of 2560 pixels, so keep this in mind when you’re sourcing cover art as well! If you haven’t had any experience with digital design, you might be better off hiring someone to handle this for you.
At the very least, I absolutely recommend hiring a designer for the cover. This is one of the most discussed topics I’ve ever seen in the worlds of self and indie publishing, and while anyone can slap a title and author name on a stunning piece of art, that usually doesn’t make for a great book cover. Design as a trade has been so diminished by the wide availability of programs like Photoshop and even the MS Office Suite, that anyone who can navigate a computer thinks it’s as simple as stacking the required layers and making the text readable. I assure you, fellow do-it-yourselfer, that a trained designer has an understanding of how and why visual elements work that most of us couldn’t hope to grasp. Give them your money, it will absolutely help you sell books. The same suggestion applies to cover artwork. Self-publishing is plagued by bad book covers, and I’m willing to bet more than a few outstanding authors have missed their shot because despite what we’re taught, we judge books by their covers.
Are you forgetting anything?
Did you buy ISBN’s? You’ll need these before you can finish your cover and your title page, so get these early. You can only get them from Bowker and they’re not cheap. Buy a pack if you can, because your eBook will need its own number as well.
Did you get a barcode? There are lots of options out there, but I’ll mention Bookow again because we used their killer barcode generator. These barcodes meet all retailer requirements, are high-resolution, and the generator is free! Once I tested ours out, I made a donation because Steve at Bookow was super helpful when I inquired about poetry formatting, and this utility is just so good, you’ll feel like you’re stealing if you get these barcodes for free!
Want your book in the Library of Congress? Of course you do! You’ll need to submit some information to their websitebefore you send your final files to your printer and digital converter, as your PCN number will go on the publication data page. It’s a little confusing, but read the instructions carefully and you’ll have it in no time.
There’s a lot to this process, so if you have any additional questions, I’m happy to answer them in the comments!
Now that you know all the details that made this book a reality, get a copy for yourself!
We at The LetterWorks were recently involved in the publication of the first book by Bedlam Publishing, an indie publisher and sister company to TLW. (Full disclosure: I’m the Editor-in-Chief over there!) That book is Ramez Qureshi’s All of Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Collected Poems, and I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss some of the behind-the-scenes action that we don’t often consider when reading, writing, or even editing these wondrous little artifacts we call books.
It all started with the pitch. Bedlam doesn’t typically consider book pitches, as we are a tiny, D.I.Y. operation with a budget equivalent to the contents of the space beneath your couch cushions. Under normal circumstances, we can’t afford the cost of printing … but this was no normal circumstance. Writer, modern thinker, and all around top-notch individual, Ali Eteraz (whom we published in the first issue of our digital art/lit magazine, Loud Zoo in 2014), reached out to us with a poet, a vision, and a budget. We were definitely interested, and once he told us about Ramez and sent us a selection of his work, we were on board.
Ramez Qureshi was an astounding person. Both brilliant and compassionate, he earned his master’s degree at the age of 19 from the University of Pennsylvania and tutored underprivileged children in the area while in school. He was an avid reader and loved the arts profoundly. In addition to poetry, he wrote and published several critiques of books and gallery shows. Shortly after his college graduation, he was diagnosed with bipolar schizoaffective disorder, and spent time in and out of institutions. Through his struggles, Ramez held tight to his love of poetry, and those closest to him have stated that poetry and the poets he befriended through his online and local communities kept him alive for a number of years. The world lost Ramez in March of 2001, a victim of suicide spurred by his illness.
Ramez’s family made attempts to publish his work over the years, and though progress was made, nothing quite panned out. When Ramez’s sister, Sofia, met Ali, the gears began to turn once more. In the original plan, Ali was to act as the editor, making final decisions on selections and order, as well as writing the introduction. Unfortunately, just as the book was picking up steam, he was sidelined by personal projects and responsibilities, and had to walk away. After discussion with Ramez’s family, it was decided that we would proceed and I would take on a more active role. Nikki Moen and Catherine Foster (who pulls double-duty, working at Bedlam and The LetterWorks) jumped in to read through the thousands of pieces and start deciding which ones would make the cut.
At this point, Catherine’s role expanded into The LetterWorks territory, as Ramez’s family had a box of handwritten pieces that they wanted transcribed and considered for the collection as well. This box of poems doubled our pool, but Catherine worked dutifully and had them transcribed before we knew it! Attention: writers who love to compose longhand, we can help with those stacks of stories you don’t know what to do with!
As things started firming up, Nikki, Catherine, Sofia, and I went on a mission to find the perfect cover art. We scoured the web, reached out to artist friends, and passed images back and forth until we saw “Cosmic Love 1” by Artem Mirolevich on the fine art website saatchiart.com. When Sofia shared a dream she had had about an “art office” that was promoting an artist who used a parachute in his work, we knew we had it. Was it meant to be? Look at this cover and tell me it wasn’t!
We hired the incomparable Jason Yocum to design the jacket, and he was a joy to work with, even when we had to switch print houses at the last minute, requiring all sorts of measurement adjustments. (Thanks ‘n’ sorry, Jason!)
Wait a minute, did you just say you switched print houses … at the last minute??
That is correct. After working out the numerous details of production with [NAME REDACTED], there was a sharp and inexplicable price increase. When I politely inquired about said increase, I was met with silence. Ghosted by the print shop … So, I went back to my bookshelf and noticed that some of the best looking tomes from small presses had come from Maple Press in York, Pennsylvania. I reached out, got a quote, and we were back in business!
I highly recommend Maple Press if you’re looking to produce a book that has more character than your average print-on-demand book. Ramez’s family wanted something that looked and felt special, so we opted for a short-run of hardcovers with heavy, off-white, recycled paper with rough edges; which Maple delivered exquisitely. They were easy to work with, always friendly and professional, and, well … look at these books!!
Once we had completed two rounds of voting on which poems were most likely to make a great collection, Sofia consulted Associate Professor of Literature and Visual Studies at NYU Abu Dhabi, Shamoon Zamir. Not only did he help with the final piece selection, he ultimately developed the thematic order of the book. He also made a strong case for the title poem, which we nearly left out. “All of Yesterday’s Tomorrows” (the poem) is a forty-plus page experimental behemoth that explores Jenny Holzer’s Truisms, a Marxism conference, the Popol Vuh, statements made at the end of relationships, and somehow, quite a bit more. Ramez himself described the piece as “a philosophical meditation on the dialectics of arts and politics.” You may understand our hesitation to include such an extensive, experimental piece, but of course Shamoon was correct. We placed it at the end of the book, and while it’s not a light read, it is certainly Ramez’s most ambitious work. It evokes a tangible movement, and while you may not know where it’s taking you, its pull is undeniable.
We had a table of contents. We had a cover. We thought we were close. We had no idea…
Check in next time for Part 2, in which I get detailed about the prepress process in hopes of helping prospective publishers avoid some of the headaches and financial missteps we faced! In the meantime, you can buy Ramez’s wonderful book in the special edition hardcover (includes free eBook!), or all digital formats!
Ira Glass is one of the most recognized voices in radio. He’s the man behind This American Life, which has landed no fewer than six Peabody Awards, among other accolades and nominations. Glass has spent the last 30 years of his career as reporter and host for numerous NPR programs and was nominated for an Emmy in Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming. He is known for his thoughtful, relatable stories and was acknowledged for setting the aesthetic standard for nonfiction programming in both radio and television when awarded the Edward R. Murrow award. What is it about Glass that captivates audiences so effectively? Let’s take a look at two undervalued bits of wisdom from this four-part interview shared on YouTube.
1. Finding the Right Story
“Often the amount of time finding the decent story is more than the amount of time it takes to produce the story… if someone wants to do creative work, you have to set aside just as much time for the looking for stories.”
Did you hear that? Just as much time needs to be set aside for finding the story for TV or radio. Maybe not in exactly the same ratio, but this counsel is so relevant and necessary in the lives of so many writers, both fiction and nonfiction. It takes time to really find the right story to tell, and it’s important not to be discouraged every time you hit a dead end. That’s just the way this works! Ira admits, “between half to one-third of everything we try, we go out, we get the tape, and then we kill it…I think that not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap.” I’d like to add that this time spent on odds and ends that don’t pan out is not time wasted. All of that work, every interview, paragraph, and character sketch is just making you better at what you do. It’s an essential part of the creative process.
“… failure is a big part of success… you’re going to run into a ton of stuff and it’s going to go nowhere, and you should be happy about that.”
Why would we be happy about that? Because it means we’re doing it right. You have this lightning bolt idea, but toss it around, do the research, spend some time on it, and ultimately realize there are some key flaws and it’s not going to take shape the way you need it to. It’s okay to let that idea die! There’s a reason the age-old adage, “kill your darlings,” never goes away. It’s just a fact of creating good art. The key is knowing when to quit. Stop shoving effort into a blah story. Be encouraged by those discarded scraps of Not Quite. They are freeing you up to pursue something much better. Just keep looking, keep showing up and doing the work and you will be on the road to creating something special.
“You will be fierce. You will be a warrior. And you will make things you know in your heart aren’t as good as you want them to be. And you will just make one after the other.”
2. Ruthless Editing
“You have to be, like a killer about getting rid of the boring parts and getting right to the parts that are getting to your heart, and you have to be, you know, just ruthless if anything is going to be good.”
– Ira Glass
You’ve found the right story to tell? Fantastic! Don’t hang up your machete. The savage work has just begun. Create and stitch and solder together your anecdotes, reflections, and revelations. Then get brutal. You will have to make tough choices about what needs to be there, and what is a distraction.
“Things that are really good are good because people are being really, really tough, and you’re going to be really tough.”
Evaluate the purpose and power of each part of your manuscript, and if in doubt, cut it out. Read it again. Does something new stand out? It is surprising how much impact is made when you’ve left only what’s most meaningful. If it’s causing your work to lose focus or spin off kilter, it’s got to go. It can be hard to see your work objectively, which is why I recommend letting it rest before diving in with the carving knife. If despite all this you know you’ve got a story, you’ve cut what you could but still aren’t satisfied; consider hiring an editor to point out the areas that need work.
“You don’t want to be making mediocre stuff… that’s not why anyone gets into this. The only reason why you want to do this is because you want to make something that’s really memorable…”
Red ink bleeds across the page. Hard questions scrawled down the margins. Rewrite this whole passage? Really? Sometimes confronting your work after a thorough edit can be as daunting as running into Darth Vader in a dark alley.
“Editing might be a bloody trade, but knives aren’t the exclusive property of butchers. Surgeons use them too.” – Blake Morrison
Your Han Solo self might not think your beloved Millennium Falcon is in any need of repair, but you can’t see the entire ship from the cockpit. Here’s the thing: our minds see and feel the whole picture, and it’s incredibly important to recognize the many mini-jumps your brain makes when reading your own text that will be impossible for the reader to replicate. You know the protagonist inside and out, and it can be challenging to see where you’ve misled readers by providing incomplete or inaccurate information. You know it’s supposed to say, “He dashed over the log…” and your brain may not flag you that it actually says, “He dashes over the leg…” because it already knows what it should be. That’s what your editor is there for! Even the best of the best need editors, which is why the acknowledgements of practically every book published are practically gushing with gratitude for their editors!
Patrick Ness advises, “Learn to take criticism. Your first draft won’t be perfect, and it’s damaging to the book to think that it is. Every great book you’ve ever read has been rewritten a dozen times. This is the hardest thing to learn (trust me), but very, very important.”
A good editor will jump at light speed on issues with story arc and continuity in a developmental edit, or search with the uncanny precision of a Jedi for errant language in a line edit. The purpose of it all is to make your work the best it can be. At The LetterWorks you’ll find some of the most encouraging and gentle editing services out there, but they also strive for a letter-perfect edit. All the editors are authors themselves and fully understand the incredible honor it is to be entrusted with your younglings! It is precisely for that reason a manuscript may come back with some serious work to be thoughtfully considered and executed.
To reach publication, sometimes to even be considered for publication, your manuscript needs to reach a certain caliber. Even a vigorous plant is sometimes in need of some pruning to really let it shine and flourish. So take courage, and take up that pen. Let your editor be your ally.
As National Poetry Month comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on the art and its significance in my journey to become a better writer, and ultimately a better editor.
Poetry is often considered to be the inaccessible literary art form, and is arguably one of the most difficult to get right. In 2011, we experienced a resurgence in the popularity of art’s most unpopular medium. Poetry featured in publications like The Moth, and Button Poetry flooding the digital world of Facebook and YouTube with engaging narratives, brought it back to pop culture in a way that I wouldn’t have suspected as a closet-poet teen. I was always told back then to focus on more “practical” writing endeavors, grow up and let the poet die. Here’s why everyone was wrong.
Poetry is a powerful practice for mental health. Researchers from the University of Liverpool investigated the effect of poetry on the brain, and their findings published in 2015 suggest that poetry strengthens the mind in ways little else can. The flexible thinking and agility required to extract multiple meanings from Wordsworth’s “She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways” employ the same mental gymnastics we perform when navigating the unexpected in our daily lives. The National Association of Poetry Therapy embraces a body of research reaching back to the early 1920’s as basis for their therapeutic work. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith says, “Poetry invites us to listen to other perspectives, and to care about others who may not look, sound, or think like ourselves.” Embrace poetry, whether through sound, sight, or action and see what it does for you.
Poetry is built to evoke emotion, a sense of place, and presents abstract thoughts in a tangible way. These are effects every writer seeks to draw out as they write a narrative, whether fact or fiction. Take for example the way Carl Sandburg brings us, in just a few words, to a specific moment that inspires memories of a thousand of our own meaningful moments:
“See the trees lean to the wind’s way of learning.
See the dirt of the hills shape to the water’s way of learning.
See the lift of it all go by the way the biggest wind and the strongest water want it.”
~ Carl Sandburg, Landscape ~
Studying and putting into practice what you learn can improve your writing by orders of magnitude. Poetry is the practice of paring down your words until only the most necessary and meaningful remains. Catherine is fond of quoting Antoine de Saint-Exupery who once said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” I whole-heartedly agree, and no exercise is more effective in sorting that out than the writing of poetry.
The study and practice of poetry compels a writer to focus on word choice in a very detailed way. You consider things like assonance, which hones in on the vowel sounds within the words you’ve strung together; and alliteration, which refers to sentences or phrases with the same beginning sound. Consider that Carl Sandberg poem again. The concrete images, paired with metaphor, dressed in nothing but rhythmic repetition, a little alliteration, and assonance make it powerful. These devices are put to good use by talented authors for more than just poetry. They create music within any text and can evoke a sense of mood without being overtly… “rhymey.” (Yes, I just made that word up.) Take a look at this excerpt from Ursula K. LeGuin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea“:
“Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together.”
~ Ursula K. LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea ~
Notice the repeated word pairings, coupled with how the “S” and “W” sounds chase and echo each other? It seems to amplify the meaning of her words creating this flow and feeling of natural growth extending into eternity.
Last of all, poetry is practical. We see poetry all around us without noticing… a child’s picture book, your favorite song on the radio, a meaningful greeting card, and catchy ad jingles … it’s enhancing the messages in our lives all the time. Just because it isn’t flowery and old doesn’t mean it isn’t poetry. So you don’t see yourself taking up a job as an ad writer. That’s okay. Neither do I! It still brings value to your life, and especially your writing. And if you, like me, are a closet poet, take out that old notebook and add to it as part of your regular writing habit. Maybe you won’t publish an anthology of your own… and perhaps you will. Either way, the practice of appreciating and writing poetry itself will do wonders for every other form of literary prose you choose to write. So whether you want to become a great journalist, fiction writer, or biographer, I encourage you to nourish that inner poet. She just may feed you back.
Back in December, we posted about Harmon’s Embryo, which checks the strength of your plot. This blog talks about Boulter’s ECG, which checks the emotional pace or “heart” of your novel.
The Echocardiogram (ECG for short) is a technique from Writing Fiction by Amanda Boulter, senior lecturer for creative writing at the University of Winchester. The ECG is best applied to longer works such as novels.
If we accept that a story is about change, then:
What changes are triggered by the events within it?
How do our characters deal with these changes?
How does the reader experience these changes?
The answers to these questions form the emotional pace of your story. To visually chart this, we can create an ECG in three steps.
1) Assign each scene in your novel a score out of 20.
Boulter suggests this framework:
1-5 points: scenes of “deliberation / recovery”
6-10 points: scenes of “intrigue / emotion”
11-15 points: scenes of emotional conflict or physical action
16-20 points: the vital scenes of “crisis and climax”.
2) Plot all your scenes on graph paper.
3) Join the dots.
Here’s an ECG for a novel with 40 scenes:
So how can the ECG help us to strengthen our novel’s emotional pacing?
Avoid extended flatlines. Extended flatlines at any point will kill your novel. Too many contemplative navel-gazing scenes in a row, and the reader yawns. Too many blistering action scenes in a row, and the reader has nowhere to catch their breath. (“Oh…another murder?”)
Aim for peaks and troughs. The goal is to change it up, so that readers progress through a series of tension-contemplation cycles. If your novel follows a conventional structure, these cycles will rise to a climax. For example, ECGs for novels based on the popular three-act structure will show a left peak, rising peaks (or crises) in the middle, and the largest peak to the right.
Boulter’s ECG is a fun technique that shows the reader’s emotional journey through your novel at a glance. Use it to manage your story’s pulse and guard the reader against heart attacks!
Reader Request: What Do Editors Write? By Catherine Foster
A reader of ours reached out and requested a blog article devoted to shining the spotlight on what is on our editors’ private writing dockets. This seemed like an idea for an interesting topic, but also an excellent time to demystify some myths associated with editors. While it is true we wield the dreaded red pen, we are just as often the subject of one ourselves. Many—I daresay most—editors begin as authors themselves, and a great number of them continue to write and submit their works as they support their clients, as well. So it may surprise you to learn that we are all in this thing together! Editors often pass work along to each other for a simple “brushing up” or for someone to “glance over”—as professionals, we understand the necessity of having a fellow editor check our work, but I’ll admit that it takes a lot of years before it gets easier to accept constructive criticism and learn to make necessary changes to our beloved writing! With time, we come to anticipate and expect the work that comes after the joy of writing, but even seasoned authors’ hearts sink a little when we open a document and see nothing but slashes through paragraphs, big sections omitted and huge notations in the margin for our perusal. I share this with you so that you know that we have the expertise as editors but also the humanity; we have walked in your shoes but are most likely walking with you even now as we share the process from the same side. Editing requires precision but also gentleness, and anyone who has been writing and submitting for some time has been shaped by experience enough to have both. Here is a list of what is inspiring and humbling us into the best editors we are at the moment:
Josh Smith: Josh has recognized that he is a much stronger editor than he is a writer, and as such has been spending most of his creative energies on projects of that nature, the most exciting of which is the first book release by Bedlam Publishing, where he is Editor-in-Chief. The seeds for “All of Yesterday’s Tomorrows: collected poems” by Ramez Qureshi were planted by Ali Eteraz four years ago, and fluctuated between various states of production until last year when all the pieces really started coming together. It will be out in hardcover and eBook editions this spring, and is Qureshi’s posthumous debut. Once the book hits the print shop, Josh will begin work on the next edition of Bedlam’s annual art & lit magazine, Loud Zoo. He is also editing pieces for a prospective collection by The LetterWorks’ very first client, Brett Petersen!
His only current project that doesn’t involve editorial work is something of a musical experiment. A passable percussionist and frequent found-object musician, he inherited a bass and has been attempting to incorporate it into his sonic palette. With a stack of lyrics already written and more coming all the time, he’s trying to figure out how to play the music that’s rattling around them in his head, and then he’s sure to bother anyone within earshot with … whatever it is he thinks he’s doing.
Amanda Wayne: Amanda is currently researching the effect of brevity on connotation and denotation and the way in which readers react to word choice. (Read: spends too much time on Twitter.) She is also doing a study on how repetitive iterations of children’s literature forces parents to reassess the importance of literacy. (If she has to read SkippyJon Jones one more time, Mama Junebug is going to be mourning the loss of her kittyboy.) Occasionally, she manages to jot down an idea for a story. These notes, when later fished out of the toy box and read, appear to be written in crayon and are actually sketches for inventions to get toddler pee out of battery powered toy trucks or prosthetic arms so that a mom can hold a baby and also make herself a sandwich.
Melissa Heiselt: Melissa doesn’t have any focused work in progress, but she’s always tucking away ideas and developments for a couple of larger fantasy pieces that will likely be marinating for years yet. She feels as if she has some foundational gaps that she needs to work through before she spend too much time writing a monstrosity (or two) that would need a massive overhaul. [ed. note: this is a completely unfounded sentiment] She’d rather have the bones laid straight from the start. She occasionally writes poetry. Since discovering Deep Magic, her new goal is to flesh out some short stories to submit to that E-zine. She preaches all the time about making regular time to write because she knows all too well what happens when you don’t! It’s a struggle to regain those writing muscles that have atrophied, and it’s a vicious cycle that makes you not want to write because your work just isn’t up to your own standards anymore, but the only solution is to keep writing more things!
TN Rosema: TN is an accomplished poet, author and editor who helms a longstanding writer’s group. Their interests are pre-writing and manuscript revision.
Catherine Foster: Catherine began publishing poetry at age ten and has been writing and submitting ever since. She moved on to short stories and recently counted her number of published titles in the seventies. She’s written and had moderate success with everything ranging from poetry to short stories to memoirs and even dabbled in writing scripts. Writing has always been a part of her life, but over the past few years she’s slowly evolved into editing more and more. At the moment, she spends her time writing to penpals in prison, which takes up quite a bit of the time that she used to devote to creative writing, but she feels it is a more worthy endeavor at this stage in her life. It is fair to say that she is retired from writing and submitting at this time and focusing solely on the business of editing and writing for volunteer purposes.
So that is our team! We all come from different backgrounds and are at varying stages in our careers. We have a wealth of knowledge and continue to evolve. The important thing to know is that we are editors and writers because we cherish the craft and respect the language, and we entered this field because we have a passion for helping others succeed. If you have any questions or if we can help you, please let us know in the comment section or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, happy writing!
Did the Edmund Dantes, the Count of Monte Cristo, have an accent? What color was the dress Emma Bovary wore when she swallowed the vial of arsenic? When Van Helsing hunted Dracula, did he wear his brown boots or his black ones? Did Odysseus wax poetic upon the length of Circe’s hair before she turned his crew into swine? Was Lancelot born with blue eyes or brown?
You probably never thought to ask these questions because they aren’t that germane to the story or even that interesting to ponder. Some details of stories are important to note. For instance, it is a key plot point that Harry Potter bore a lightning-bolt-shaped-scar on his forehead. It is less important for us to know that Hermione has buckteeth and frizzy hair. It might be crucial to the fairytale Cinderella to mention that there is a slipper, but it is not pivotal to reveal that the shoe is made of glass. How can we know which things are necessary to include in our writing and which ones we should leave out?
This is a question, of course, of personal preference. There is no central rule that applies, and this article can only serve to illustrate one viewpoint, which is to champion the cause of minimalism. In the course of my career as an editor, I have seen many mistakes the authors make, and one that touches my heart most is when the frank earnestness of well-intentioned authors causes a mess of florid prose to pile up on the page. We often enter this craft because we have a love of words. Many of us have had a calling to write or have been writing stories since we were children. Some of us have vivid worlds and characters inside our heads that are fairly bursting out onto the page. It may seems counter-intuitive or even close to impossible to pull back on description. And why should we?
The answer is simple: when you include extraneous detail, you rob the reader of the experience of their own imagination. What color is the little mermaid’s hair? For those of you who have seen the popular cartoon, it is a memory that is now branded foremost in your mind. But in the original tale by Hans Christian Andersen, it merely says, by turns, “flowing” “long” “thick” “waving” and “beautiful.” Never, at any time, does he describe a color. This leaves you free to imagine a mermaid and her beautiful hair any way you see fit—until, of course, you watch a Disney version.
Why is this important? Because Mr. Andersen undoubtedly had an idea in his own mind about what constituted beauty. We might surmise that, as a person of Danish ancestry, he might find the standard of beauty to include traditional blondes with fine features. This is conjecture, of course, but whatever Mr. Andersen considered beautiful, he did not impose his own ideas into the story. As an author, he must have had an active imagination, and he must have had a firm idea in his head of what his little mermaid looked like, but by not imposing those ideas on us, the audience, we are each free to imagine her as a blonde, a brunette, a redhead, even Chinese or African. He gifted us a blank slate and said “beautiful”—this allows each of us to imagine her in our own mind. As standards of beauty change throughout the decades, the little mermaid stays fresh and relevant. Her hair color isn’t important. The author’s idea of beauty isn’t important. Each person’s unique vision remains a gift through each retelling.
Many authors want to fight for the right to hold onto their vision of their story. That is understandable, but is it more important than the right of each reader to discover the magic of their own imagination? If it is a crucial detail, then by all means, include that detail. But if you include a detail that is for your own purpose, just to communicate your own vision, you are robbing people of a reading experience for no purpose than your own ego. It is similar to watching the movie before reading the book—which do you prefer? Which makes a more lasting impact? Explaining details instead of allowing for imagination, even on a small scale, makes for one less bit of interest they will have in your story and your vision. The more you explain to someone, the less they are invested and the less they care. If they imagine for themselves, they will come to love your tale more. You will gain more in the end with restraint.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” This is something I urge every author to take to heart. It should be the guiding principle not of writing, but of editing. Trust yourself, but also trust your readers. They will thank you for it in the end, and you will see your fans multiply!