Can You Afford A High Quality Editor? (The Answer Might Surprise You) by Catherine Foster

There are many decisions that factor into choosing an editor, but one of the most important for authors is usually the price. How much will it cost to edit your novel? Can you even afford it to begin with, or is this something so expensive that you need to take out a loan? What’s the ballpark for this kind of service? Unfortunately for many new authors, cost is also often a confusing question that doesn’t seem to become any clearer upon initial investigation. Many editors seem coy about offering up a flat rate, which can lead to a sense of elusiveness about price that many authors find frustrating. There is no set industry rate, leading to wild price fluctuations from one editor to the next. Can you determine worth between editors? Is there a way get a firm answer on what the final price for your project will be? Is it even worth it in the end? Can you even afford an editor?

The answer to these questions is yes … and most likely. Selecting an editor is difficult for many reasons. Currently, in the U.S. and in the rest of the world, there are no definitive tests or certifications that exist to standardize editors. This means that the onus of investigation into the practice and knowledge of each editor falls onto the consumer. Namely: you. Since there is no agreed upon way for an editor to point the consumer to a degree or certification to show his value, this means that each and every editor has his own way of demonstrating worth. Some positive things to look for would be many years of experience in professional editing, a significant list of clients or a record of edited and published titles, a well-designed website and a fully-entrenched social media presence. Red flags include a hastily designed website, spelling or grammar errors and someone without a list of references or much experience.

A good resource for finding reputable editors is through the EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association) or ACES (American Copy Editors Society). These are places that cultivate professional membership, and you can search profiles of thousands of qualified individuals. You can post a listing for an editor for whatever you are working on, and you will receive hundreds of responses in an hour. Your only decision will be how much money you want to spend.

The next step in selecting an editor is contacting them. Are they prompt in returning your e-mails? Do they edit your type of work? Some editors are academic editors while others work in the medical field. If you are seeking an editor for your memoir, you want someone who has experience with that genre. Do you like their personality? Remember, this is a job interview for a personal project, and you have to be able to work with them closely for (potentially) a long while. You want to be able to take direction from someone you like. Some other things to consider are: is this person clear and professional in their responses? Do they have an opening in their schedule for your work that suits your timeline? How will they communicate with you, and how will they make their edits? These are all important questions that will help you determine who you will select.

That brings us to the question of budget. There are many ways to determine to how charge for editing, and each editor is different. This is the cause for confusion among authors, and understandably so. At more professional places such as the EFA, it is the standard to charge an hourly fee, usually between thirty-five and fifty-five dollars an hour. Some editors charge by the word and some charge by the page. The matter can become more complicated when we define a “page”: to an author, they simply look at the number of pages in their word processor. To an editor, a page is defined as 250 words. There is usually some calculation necessary when looking at the total of the work, which renders the actual number of pages displayed double or more. An author, therefore, must be aware that if they are being charged per page that it will not necessarily be per the number of pages they believe but a much higher number. The same applies to the word count. Oftentimes different word processing programs count characters differently—a hyphen or an ellipses or a comma in one program is not considered a “word”, but in the transfer to the editor’s program all/some of those characters may become words. This may seem like a small detail, but when it is your dollar, they add up fast. It is something of which to be aware.

Should you just have a friend edit your document or find someone on Craigslist? They will be cheaper, certainly, but in our experience, if you are serious about getting your work published, you need a professional editor. It is possible to find someone through the classifieds in this way, but beware a discount price—the old adage that you get what you pay for is, unfortunately, true. Many of our clients are people who are on their second or third round from just such an experience. They hoped to economize, but in the end they chose to spend the money twice over to get the appropriate service they required—one which they all have expressed that they did not end up finding through lesser means.

How, then, can you make sure that you can afford your edit? The first step should be asking for a sample edit. There is a schism amongst professional editors: half of them do not provide sample edits, and the other half do. It is your right as a discerning consumer to ask for one. If you find an editor that you like and they don’t provide a sample edit, you may of course go forward, but you should proceed with caution. A sample edit serves to protect both you and your editor. Your editor is assessing how much work is involved in your piece and the time it will take him to complete this work. Only then can he give you an accurate quote of price. On your end, you will get a chance to see what he can provide, if you like his style enough for a thorough edit and if you truly want to pay for his entire service.

Once you are agreed, an editor should be able to give you an accurate quote based on that sample edit. If this is a time-based quote, he should be able to tell you how many hours it will take him to finish the job. It is important that he agree not to exceed this number, and that he agrees to finish the project at the same price even if he underestimates the time. If it is based on the number of words, it will still be an exact price. There should be a contract in place, and most editors require a certain payment schedule throughout the project and before delivery; this is normal. When you deal with a professional editor, you will find that you are contracting a person for a specific service, and that is all outlined in the contract. This is, again, for your protection and theirs. It may seem daunting at first, but it should be viewed as a relief. If you ever deal with an editor who does not have a contract, you should not ever pay any monies! This is a warning sign to you. Having a contract in place is a record that this person is obligated to provide exactly what they outline; they promise to do so by a certain date and time. You should read your contract carefully. You do have legal recourse should your editor not provide what they promise. While it should never come to that, it is a protection to you as well as to them. It is also something you can refer to as the project progresses as a record to make sure that both sides are holding to their end. This is a benefit to contracting a professional and part of your contracted service.

Each freelancer is different, and each way of handling payments is as varied as there are editors and authors. At The LetterWorks, we understand that editing can be expensive, and it isn’t always easy to work into your budget. We want everyone to have access to high-quality editing, and to meet that goal we try to structure creative ways to budget. We’ve worked out a lot of different ways to work with our clients, from changing the timeline to the size of the project to the methods in which we can work on it. We are ready to meet your needs in any way we can. Editing may be more affordable than you think. Please check us out and let us help you make your writing dream a published reality.

Author Spotlight: Kristy Gherlone

Kristy Gherlone was born in Maine into a family of musicians, writers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Much of the inspiration for her writing comes from her unusual childhood experiences, including the series of events that led her to the north Maine woods town of Millinocket, where she spent most her life.

After graduating high school, Kristy went on to the University of Maine.  In between attending classes, she co-opened a day care center and worked at the University child care center.

Later, she made the decision to leave school to start a family of her own, and raised three girls. She worked for several years at Baxter State Park, as a Behavioral Specialist, and then as an Early Interventionist for children with autism. She has a great deal of passion for children and nature.

In 2004, Kristy moved to New Hampshire. She married a wonderful man from the area in 2014, and finally found peace. She started writing, which was something she had always wanted to do, and released her first novel, The History Lottery, in 2015. Since then, she has published two more novels, Twelve Urns, and Innate Tendencies.

Recently, she has turned her attention towards flash fiction and short stories, and has appeared in seven different magazines. One of her stories, The Whupping Tree, was edited with the help of The Letter Works, and it will appear in The Mystic Blue Review very soon.

 

 

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction: Reading and Writing Memoirs by Melissa Heiselt

Truth is stranger than fiction,  and we love to be voyeurs. Unlike autobiographies, which detail a lifetime of achievements and more commonly feature the rich, powerful, or famous; memoirs are the distilling of a life. Any life. All comers are welcome to try their hand here as the genre has exploded in the recent decades. Perhaps as technology has burgeoned, pulling us further from the intimate lives of others, we subconsciously seek a replacement; be it social media, mommy bloggers, reality TV, or a good memoir. Here we can explore the nitty-gritty of a life we might never otherwise touch, crossing boundaries and borders forbidden to us. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls encounters deep poverty and abuse, Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom confronts aging and death with grace and humor, diaries by Anaïs Nin dive into unexplored paths of sexuality, and Memoirs by Pablo Neruda dances us around the globe to absorb humanity in all its glory and shame.

When writing a memoir, remember that it isn’t your whole life’s story; it is only a snapshot. Perhaps you want to share the profound insights you’ve discovered as you’ve aged. Maybe you ascribe to a religion or subculture that is massively misunderstood, and your life could be a window to educate the world about it. Each life is unique and has value as the face of humanity with beauty that can be cultivated with artistic framing. Written in first person, a memoir can be as natural to write as telling a string of stories to a friend. With the help of a memoir coach or editor, you can home in on the anecdotes that make the most impact and sharpen the focus of your work. It is the lessons learned, the harrowing journey, or your hilarious outlook on life that make a compelling read.

While detailing your life there will inevitably be other people involved unless you are a modern day hermit. You will need to carefully choose how to navigate the impact your work may have on those mentioned in it. While a memoir is nothing if not unfailingly honest, avoid using a bitter, vengeful tone. It is not an opportunity to exact revenge or seek sympathy by public shaming as if it were a backhanded Facebook post. Be aware that defamation and invasion of privacy laws are there to protect people who feel they have been wrongfully maligned in print, so it is in your best interest to acknowledge that you may (and probably do) remember things differently from other characters in your story. It is okay to change names of those involved, but if there are enough other identifying details that they recognize themselves or worse, their colleagues can identify them, you can still find yourself in trouble. That said, the law typically is on your side. This is your story, after all, protected as such by the first amendment, and as long as what you’ve written is verifiable, you have nothing to fear.

Writing your own memoir can be an incredibly cathartic experience. When speaking of her prolific diary writing, Anaïs Nin once remarked that she found, “life would be more bearable if I looked at it as an adventure and a tale. I was telling myself the story of a life, and this transmutes into an adventure the things which can shatter you.” To take all the drama, pain, and challenges of the past and illuminate and refine the truths that have transpired is a powerful experience. Even if you don’t intend to pursue publication, it can be a worthy writing exercise, challenging your ability to craft narrative from seemingly disparate parts and see a story emerge that had been hidden for a lifetime.

Memoirs remind us that we are all human and as capable of triumph as defeat. People continue to surprise us again and again, and this genre more than any other allows us to walk a mile in another’s shoes. What a transformative journey that can be.

What Kind of Writer Are You, Anyway? by Josh Smith

What kind of writer are you? Are you the type who can kick out a book a year, pad it a few short stories, and still manage to keep up on your emails? Maybe you’re a writer who labors meticulously on a single project for the better part of a decade. Do you drift somewhere in the median? There is no wrong answer, but understanding your natural tendencies, methods, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses will help you approach your writing from a more tactful place and help you direct your career into one that not only best suits you, but one that is more rewarding.

The first thing to consider is the rate at which you work. Everyone’s situations, routines, motivations, and abilities are different, but it’s good to understand where you fall on the spectrum of prolificacy. Some writers can dedicate long daily stretches to writing while others wait until their families are tucked into bed before hunkering down and toiling late into quiet nights to pursue their passion projects. Even considering wide schedule disparities, both types of writers could very well end up with a comparable heap of words. No matter the circumstances surrounding your writing, you know better than anyone if you are constantly firing on all cylinders and churning out waves of exceptional prose or whether you meticulously select each word, craft each phrase, and chart the rhythm of each passage to the pace of an unhurried muse.  Perhaps you fall somewhere in between. It is even possible that you fluctuate wildly between these poles. None of these approaches is wrong in any way, but it is important to recognize which one is YOU.

If you are feeling insecure about your word count, whether you feel you create too little over long periods, or you find that you overproduce and worry about slipping quality, consider ways in which you might leverage these factors to your advantage. For the slow writer, perhaps you have embarked on your project prematurely. This is more likely the case if you notice a decrease in your regular output. In this situation, it’s best to take a step back, make detailed notes and a thorough outline. If you lean toward visual thinking, draw some diagrams, or perhaps a map, but be careful not to let a tool become a distraction. Let the story you are telling guide you, but always be aware whether it is pulling or you have begun to push. If you’ve got every detail together but can’t seem to find the words to bring them to life, the problem could lie with your routine or your state of mind. Try setting aside a dedicated, uninterrupted block of time at least three days a week depending on the scale of your venture. Take care of all lingering chores and responsibilities and work out an agreement with your family or roommate(s) that will allow you to dig in without distraction. It may help to begin each session with a brief meditation. Still distracted? Many writers turn off their Wi-Fi or surrender their phones so as not to succumb to the pull of constant connectivity. If your work is deeply complex and multi-tiered, make sure you stay organized and keep any notes easily accessible during writing sessions and keep in mind a loose plan of attack when you begin. Avoid falling into research while you are writing, but jot down anything you need to look into and take care of it in advance of your next scheduled production period. Perhaps none of these instances apply to you—fear not! You may just require more time to properly translate your concepts from thought to text. If that is the case, stick with it and be mindful of moments of clarity. Remember how you reached them and use that information to curate an environment conducive to your particular mode of creativity.

If you are writing so much that it feels the story is going off the rails or meandering into too many unnecessary details, you might just need a side project to sate your creative impulse. An ideal option is getting into a freelance writing gig. Whether it is with a local paper or magazine or an online venue, there are paying jobs out there for the productive, timely writer! Start with areas of interest, such as book, album, or film reviews, or perhaps you have journalistic leanings and would like to write about events in your community. This path is not for all writers, but if output is your specialty, it can help you with focus and teach an economy of language that is best learned through experience. If this holds no appeal for you, start a blog! If you’re feeling a little insecure, you can always keep it anonymous, and it doesn’t need to be something you share with everyone, or anyone, for that matter. You have free reign on topics, no deadlines, no, length, style, or format restrictions. This is your chance to exercise all those excess ideas. When the time comes to sit down with the next short story or that novel that’s been wobbling around in your head, your focus will be in the right place. Not interested in blogging? You can also start mapping out your next project. If your writing stays on topic but you’re producing bloated, opaque slabs of text, get comfortable with killing your darlings. The prolific writer must also become the astute editor, or at least know an astute editor who can be trusted to amplify essentials and eradicate excess.

However you write, regardless of genre or format, intimately understanding your approach will provide critical insight on how to decide which ideas to pursue and how to present your completed works. It’s important not to pander to markets just because they are hot, but don’t pass up an opportunity to take advantage when they bend into your sphere. It may be tempting for fast writers to set their sights on churning out the next Game of Thrones, but adding to the noise leads to over-saturation and substandard work, not huge sales and global acclaim. If you’re looking for a mega-hit, remember that Harry Potter and Twilight weren’t riding the coattails of other works, they were exploring ideas that had not fully permeated popular culture. Instead of bandwagon-hopping, take a step back and consider the format and whether your productivity level would be an asset or a hindrance. A long book series is a smart goal for prolific writers, but write what you love, not what you think other people might love based on the popularity of another franchise. Slower writers should note that novellas and short novels have become increasingly popular in recent years and can be an ideal gateway for new readers. This is an exciting development because a novella can be anything you want it to be. Any genre or topic, standalone or series is an opportunity to make a big leap into the literary world without the daunting length of a traditional novel.

This path is yours and yours alone, so be mindful of its many twists, turns, and detours as you embark. Work to understand yourself and your potential; think about what you hope to achieve. Our literary dreams don’t always shake out as envisioned, but having a general direction will help guide you away from the many distractions and pitfalls you’ll encounter in your pursuit!

Why You Need To Stop Worrying About Adverbs and Learn to Love the Verb by Catherine Foster

Writers love to describe the world they have created for their audience. One of the things I most enjoy about working with authors is the passion they have in sharing their vision with their readers. The  delight of the written word is easy for me to pick up from my clients, and it fills me with joy to see how much we authors are connected in our love of writing and in our drive to describe our inner perceptions with our followers. We want to take them on a journey. We want them to see what we see, hear what our characters hear and experience the sensations of this universe of our making. The endeavor of writing and reading is a tremendous and fantastic undertaking. What could be better?

There are some pitfalls in this craft of writing, and one of the major ones I run across on a regular basis is the overuse of adverbs. This is a hotly debated topic in writing circles: are they wrong or are they okay to use? Let me frame it in way that moves away from correctness or incorrectness but rather more in terms of asking the question of how to make the most of your writing. It isn’t that adverbs are wrong. They are most certainly a part speech that is recognized and validated, and there are times when they are quite useful. The problem occurs when they start accumulating. I find that adverbs, like rabbits, are something that begin to multiply rapidly once they take hold. “ How can a modifier of a verb compare to a darling little mammal?” you might ask. You might even be right to ask, especially if you are also an editor and keeping a wary eye out for the overuse of similes and metaphors (for which there will be an upcoming blog post—be sure to watch for it!) But I would assure you that much like the critters of famed reproductive zeal, adverbs tend to multiply and flourish. Where there was once an occasional one or two, you start finding four, then six, and soon the page is peppered with words ending in that dreaded “ly”.

“So?” I can hear the belligerence in your tone all the way from here. “You already said that they  are a valid part of speech. What’s the problem?”

“Ah, you’re clever!” I would say, because you are quite correct to rebut my objections with the cold, hard truth. Adverbs, in and of themselves, are perfectly allowable (see what I did there?). However, as with most rules, it requires temperance and guidance to understand application. For instance: readers often experience fatigue when they encounter similar words and phrases. If they notice that many of the words you use look or sound the same, they will get bored and tend to skip ahead, even on a micro level. If they think they can predict what you are going to say, they will start skimming. Thus begins a watershed. The boredom with your writing style soon leads to boredom with plot. This is not a path you want to to lead your readers down. You do not want them to be bored with a single word. Not one! You want to create the sort of story that makes readers stay up, bleary-eyed, into the wee hours of the night, thinking to themselves “Just one more page”. You don’t want them to skip to the end or, far worse, shut it in the middle and forget where they left the book altogether. Do adverbs alone cause this? Perhaps not alone, but they are a part. They signal a masterful grasp of writing style to a reader—or the lack thereof.

At the beginning of the article, I discussed how much a writer wants to share their vision of their story with the world. They often employ adverbs to more accurately describe action in the story and give more life to the scene, but it has the opposite effect due to reader fatigue. What’s more, adverbs can indicate writer laziness. This seems counterintuitive, but consider the following sentences:

 

  1. The cloud floated lazily across the afternoon sky.
  2. She loudly shouted, “Hey, give that back, you idiot!”
  3. He angrily threw his towel to the floor.

 

In these examples, the adverb doesn’t add to the information being provided, even though at first glance it seems supportive. In the first sentence, the verb, float, is adequate. Clouds float. The nature of floating is that it is a lazy motion. It is not necessary to describe it any further; the laziness is implied in the verb itself. Providing an adverb, in this case, is adding two words together that mean the same thing. It is akin to saying “I have cash money,” or “I am drinking wet water.” It is simply unnecessary, and if you get into the habit of writing extraneous words, your readers will begin skipping them.

The second example is similar in that loudness is implied when someone is shouting. However, this example is even more important because it contains dialogue which gives the readers all the context clues that they should need to understand the tension of the scene. Whether you are writing anger, sadness, love or anything else, the emotion should be very easily gleaned by the dialogue. If you must rely on adverbs to prop up your writing, you need to take some time to extend and support that scene.

The third example brings us to the true lack of effort in hidden sentences here and there. In a first draft, these sentences don’t seem important. They are conveying action as part of a larger scene. Something else is happening, and this is just to get us to where the major action is. However, it is important to remember that each and every sentence must pay its way. There is no sentence that is too small to be examined. If you have even one bland sentence, your readers will lose interest. If you have a sentence in your story that is not worthy of having been written by a real writer, you need to go back and shore it up. Take this third example: it is functional but not spectacular. It conveys an action but nothing else. The adverb, angrily, should be omitted because surrounding dialogue or scene should set the emotions. If you must tell the reader that the character is angry, then you must question why you can’t communicate that point in a more subtle fashion. Let’s then reconstruct the remainder of the sentence with the adverb gone: He threw his towel to the floor. This leaves all of the stress on the verb, threw. This is a garden variety verb, and it lacks pizazz. If you are going to cut down on adverbs, then you need to dazzle with your verbs. Flung, tossed, chucked … These are all stronger and more interesting choices. They are a little more unusual, and they will interest readers in your story.

You took up the craft of writing because you are not like everyone else. You are a better writer with a story to tell. As such, you are going to have to find a better way to tell it This is going to require you to stretch a bit beyond the clichés and the treads of words that others before you have worn into common parlance. You are going to have to snap this language together in your own, unique way. This takes work. But it is why you are such a great writer! It isn’t going to happen on the first draft, and maybe not even on the second, third or fourth. On some hammering out of your story, you will find a way to make your mark on the puzzle that is our language, and when it is paired with that plot that is yours to tell, you are going to be absolutely brilliant.  One of the steps in this process is learning to cut out the crutch of adverbs. I know you can do it! I hope that this article helps explain why and how. I can’t wait to see you accomplish it and have a better story to tell when you get there. Good luck and happy writing!

 

 

 

 

An Author’s Guide to Dealing with Rejection by Amanda Wayne

You snap the mail box door closed and push up the red flag. There goes your baby. All those words you painstakingly wrote, rewrote, and revised are officially off to be judged by a complete stranger. As you turn away, you feel relief and anguish. Did you put on enough stamps? Did you fill out the address exactly right? What if they hate it and they talk about how awful it is over their morning coffee? What if they love it and you finally get that letter validating your hours, weeks, and years of hard work? What if you never hear anything at all? Days pass, then weeks, then a month. Finally, there it is waiting in your mailbox. A letter. THE letter. The one you have been waiting for. You tear it open. “Dear you, thank you for sending your story to us, however … blah blah blah.”

All authors experience rejection. The greatest and most prolific authors have all had stacks of rejections letters taunting them with their form words and empty reassurances to try again. Issac Asimov, who some call the father of science fiction, had this to say: “Rejections slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.” He went on to write or edit 500 books. Stephen King wrote, By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” Later, he would send the same rejected work back to the same publisher who would jump at the chance to publish his work. J.K. Rowling has even submitted works for publication under a pseudonym and had them rejected. One publisher even told her to take a writing class. A writing class? For the woman who gave us Harry Potter? Really?!

So you see, rejection is as much a part of the writing process as the writing itself. Rejection hones your skills, motivates you and even inspires you.  Each rejection gives you the chance to stop writing or continue. You can allow a one page form letter to derail your dreams or you can use it to fuel the next story and the next submission. Someone sitting at a desk with a stack of manuscripts or stories in front of them decided that your work wasn’t right for their publication. They sent out hundreds or thousands of those letters to authors just like you. Somewhere, another author is opening their mailbox and reading the exact words that you just read. Tomorrow, they may delete their work in progress and decide that this writing thing just isn’t for them. Make sure that author isn’t you. As Chuck Wendig said, “Rejection refines us. Those who fall prey to its enervating soul-sucking tentacles are doomed. Those who persist past it are survivors. Best ask yourself the question: what kind of writer are you? The kind who survives? Or the kind who gets asphyxiated by the tentacles of woe?”

Use the rejections as a chance to edit your work and to learn from what worked or didn’t work. Move the dialogue around, delete a scene that wasn’t working or maybe add in a plane crash. You can set aside that work and begin again on another day with another work in progress. One day, after you’ve published a few stories, you might happen across that old document, change a few things, and submit it anew only to realize that suddenly it does find a home.

So what should you do with that rejection letter? Keep it for posterity? Burn it in revenge? Post it proudly as proof that you put yourself out there and allowed a piece of your soul to be vulnerable? That’s really up to you. All of these are valid options to the soul-crushing rejection letter. Whichever you choose, remember that it was just a piece of paper. Don’t allow yourself to permit a sheet of paper to have power over you. You control your destiny. A piece of paper can’t stand up to that, right? After all, you invented a whole world and populated it with characters. You made those characters dance on puppet strings while you dictated what they said and how they lived their lives. A little piece of paper can hardly compare to that.

 

7 Tips to Avoiding Freelance Writing Scams by Melissa Heiselt

Whether you’re looking to earn some freelance writing cash on the side or just ready to switch gears from more creative endeavors, make the most of your opportunities by ensuring the jobs you take really will pay. Here are a few tips from the freelance writing pros who have been there and been scammed. Here is what we’ve learned:

Don’t pay to find work.

The more reputable freelance hub sites might take a percentage of your paycheck, charge the companies looking for reputable freelancers or both, but generally a monthly subscription fee to have access to the opportunity to find work is a red flag that you’re opening yourself up to a potential floodgate of scams. If you’re paying so your potential clients don’t have to, it generally means more of them will be, shall we say, underfunded. Many of these purported “databases” are actually pulling from other free sites you should be checking out yourself, including Craigslist. Upwork, Toptal, Freelancer, Fiverr, Guru, and Freelance Writing Gigs all have methods for attempting to screen out scammers, but some will still inevitably get through. Keep a wary eye out for potential clients who prefer to communicate through private email or Google Hangouts rather than the platform you’re using

Never agree to work for free.

NEVER complete the entire writing job before you have a contract. “Submit your best work and we might hire you” actually means, “Thank you for the free article, sucker!” NEVER accept “experience” or prestige points or whatever they’re selling as a substitute. NEVER accept terms that essentially say, “work now, we’ll pay when we get the money.” Be sure there is at least a solid contract in place you could use to take legal action before completing the work and expecting to be paid. And READ that contract. Some will substitute a far smaller amount in the contract for the one verbally agreed upon and hope you won’t notice.

Don’t undersell your talent.

Check the terms of your contract and ensure that you will wind up with a reasonable hourly wage. Don’t get caught up in the bidding war that is Fiverr by offering the most work for the least pay. You aren’t winning there, friend. Strategically offering a minimal bargain offer with the aim of enticing bigger job offers once they’ve had a taste of your phenomenal talent is one thing. Consistently underselling yourself undercuts not just yourself but the market as a whole. You have a skill many others lack. That is why they’re willing to pay someone else to write for them! Just because they’re hoping to pay the least amount for the best writing they can get does not obligate you to lower your standards to accommodate. You deserve to make a living with your skills. There is work out there for you. Name your price and stand firm.

Make sure the company is legit.

Can the representative clearly explain what the company is and does? Do they have a functioning email address? A working phone contact? Can you locate a physical address on Googlemaps? Is there some kind of web presence? Do they have reviews for their company online? Be aware: some companies are becoming more savvy and will put up a website to keep up appearances. Poke around and click through to be sure it’s functional and makes sense. If anything “feels” off, it probably is. There are so many real clients out there waiting for you to apply; don’t waste your time with anything sketchy.

 Poor grammar is a red flag.

If there are repeated, glaring errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar, you are probably not dealing with a professional. There are certainly exceptions, such as when you’re being asked to edit or write for a non-native English speaker, and that is clear in the job description. But by and large, if you are being approached by a “hiring manager” who seems to have abysmally poor communication skills, think twice and take a closer look at the company they claim to represent.

 Be wary of the unsolicited job offer.

There may be the odd headhunter looking for a contractor or a freelance hit on LinkedIn that is linked to a very real potential client. For the most part, however, an email from XYZ Corporation looking for someone with your exact writing talents really is too good to be true. When something like this comes through your inbox, at least do your due diligence in checking out all the above before responding. Scammers like to hit newbies, so if you’ve recently signed up with a freelance job hub, you will likely be a target for the first few weeks.

Don’t cash an overpaid check.

One of the oldest scams out there is another of those “too good to be true” scenarios. All seems to go well with Joe Client, contract looks good, communication is clear, all seems to be in order. Work is completed and they send you a check for $2,000 more than agreed upon. Do NOT attempt to cash that check believing it’s some kind of bonus for your stellar prose. Typically you’ll get an email noting the error and asking you to go ahead and cash the check, then write them a new check for the overage amount. In reality, the check is no good and will bounce and you will have paid them the two grand for your work. Instead, offer to tear up the check and wait for them to send a new one for the correct amount. Then take it to the bank to verify. If you’ve connected with them through Upwork or a similar site, just stick with the program and have them pay electronically so this can’t happen. You should also report them to the higher ups so they can help you handle the situation if the payment is still no good. If you came by the client on your own, you can threaten legal action, contract in hand. Worst case scenario, you will have lost your work, not the money.

These are just some of the methods to help avoid being scammed. There are always more, so be on the lookout for anything that doesn’t seem right. Remember to trust your instincts. Not everyone out there is a bad guy, and once you get a few true and honest jobs under your belt, the incidences of dealing with these scam artists will minimize. As you gain confidence in your reputation, you will flourish. If you do happen to fall prey to a scam, don’t feel bad; it happens to the best of us. Try to learn from it and move forward. Better days are ahead if you just keep trying. Good luck and happy writing!

 

 

Tips from a Developmental Editor: the Story Question Solution by T.N. Rosema  

 

At the developmental stage, many writers know their characters inside out. (“My heroine’s eye colour is green. She’s a Gemini. Her favourite television show is CSI New York.”) They aren’t always so clear about what happens in their story. Plotting is hard!

This blog focuses on just one plotting technique, simple but mighty. It’s called the Story Question.

The Story Question shows up in Dwight V. Swain’s evergreen Techniques for the Selling Writer. According to Swain, any marketable story has five elements.

  1. Character: your main character X.
  2. Situation: the story “trouble” requiring X to act.
  3. Goal: what does X want to achieve or retain?
  4. Antagonist: their job is to resist X’s goal(s). Weak antagonists can ruin a story!
  5. Disaster: the dire threat X faces near story’s end.

 

Now map these five elements into two sentences: a statement, and a question.

The Statement nails your Character, Situation, and Goal.

The Question nails your Antagonist and Disaster.

 

Here is Swain’s pulp-fiction example.

SITUATION

When humans suddenly begin to grow to 12-foot height

CHARACTER

John Storm

GOAL

Tries to find out why.

 

SENTENCE 1 (Statement)

But can he defeat

ANTAGONIST

The traitors in high places

DISASTER

Who want to kill him in order to make the change appear to be a result of an extra-terrestrial plot?

 

SENTENCE 2 (Question)

The Story Question isn’t a magic formula, but it can trigger meaningful decisions about your work.

This short story feels too lean because I haven’t really described my Situation.”

Is X moving towards her overall Goal here, or is this scene just padding?

No wonder the tension sags in Act Three of my novel. The Antagonist is weak.”

The Disaster happened early, so everything after it read like an anti-climax.”

(Etc.)

 

In conclusion, if your characters are vivid but your story is relatively thin, try forming a Story Question. It nails down your key elements, and you can begin to create a compelling plot.

 

THE AXE: How Do I Make the Cut With Literary Journal Submissions? by Josh Smith

One of the best ways for writers to establish themselves in the literary world is to have their work appear in journals, but where to begin? Catherine’s post on cover letters is packed with insight, so you’ll definitely want to give that a read! I’ll be expanding on a few of the other points she made and discussing additional elements that journal editors focus on when it comes down to making the big decision to accept or reject.

While there are thousands upon thousands of literary magazines out there, I am specifically addressing how we swing the axe at the journal I edit for, Loud Zoo. I know, I know, it’s not the New Yorker, and of course a feature in our little magazine isn’t a springboard onto the Best Sellers list, but it’s the venue I can speak for with regards to its inner workings, and much of this information can be recontextualized and applied to other publications.

Edit! Edit! Edit!!! While this seems obvious, we see a lot of work that is simply not ready for a public forum. Even experimental works that subvert the rules and are meant to read looser and more conversationally need to be edited as much as any other story or they will feel half-cooked, and the experiment will surely fail. In addition to working out the grammatical, punctuational, and other technical problems, editing also helps you fully develop the characters involved and the story you are trying to tell. Do you have someone whom you can trust to give honest feedback on your works in progress? Those people are invaluable. We used to go all in and give complete content edits to submissions we felt were lacking but were worth the effort, but these days we don’t have the time.

Read the guidelines. No, really. So many pieces we reject simply don’t fit the requirements of the submission call or the scope of the magazine. As Catherine noted in her post, we know most people don’t have the time to read every issue of every magazine, but we try to make our intentions with this journal as clear as possible on the website. Loud Zoo strives for social change, and while every piece we accept isn’t necessarily a cobblestone on the road to revolution, we don’t have much interest in purely escapist works. Nothing against escapism, but there are plenty of other outlets for it.

Don’t be a bigot. While I didn’t intend to discuss morality when I sat down to write this, bias tends to show up on the page whether we realize it or not, and a piece with potential can make us want to catapult our computers into the abyss at the turn of a phrase. This is not about censoring people with opposing views (what kind of ideology is ignorance, anyway?), it’s recognizing that as a writer, your words have meaning, and in this day and age that comes with the responsibility to have a basic understanding of and respect for your fellow humans. We are open to sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic, Islamophobic, bigoted, etc… characters and situations, with the caveat that you utilize them as opportunities to enlighten, rather than simply glorify or stereotype. There are always writers who think that shock is their key to the kingdom, but it is a transparent device unless it brings to light information that profoundly affects both your characters and your readers.

Dear male writers, women are people! Women are not just scenery or props for your male characters to do things for/at/with/to. It’s asinine that there is even cause to mention this and the previous point in 2017, but here we are. We reject so much work with hollow female characters that are described in immaculate physical detail, but have absolutely no depth or agency. Can you write fictional women who are not realistic? Of course! But unless you are working a complex or satirical angle that allows readers to gain something from the situation, you’re simply perpetuating inaccurate and harmful representations that our magazine will not partake in.

Satire isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s incredibly difficult to write, and even more difficult to write properly. We love well-done satirical works, but we don’t see many of them at all. If you are heading down this road, make sure you have a clear intention from the start, and that the final effect of the piece reflects that goal.

We see your clichés, and we’re not interested. So many stories rely on overused themes, arcs, and tropes, and while it is possible, it’s not likely to work something fantastic out of those molds. Nine times out of ten, the work comes off as contrived. If you’re only writing a certain genre or subject because you think it’s more likely to sell, truth is, it’s more likely to suck. That said, tropes are fun to subvert, and you can get fantastic results by taking something familiar and jettisoning it off into the unexpected. Whatever path you choose, be true to yourself and have faith in your readers. Seriously, readers are THE BEST. Take them by the hand, and they’ll follow you through the wilds!

Send notifications if your work is accepted elsewhere. Like most journals, we don’t publish reprints (again, read the guidelines!), and Googling every piece that comes through wastes time we could be giving to other submissions. We have sent an astronomical number of rejections based simply on the fact that the writer did not send a notification that their piece was accepted elsewhere. Confused about what constitutes a previous publication? It varies from journal to journal, but any time a work is made available to the public, that is a publication. See, it’s right there in the word! That means blogs, message boards, and even Facebook posts count as publications by our standards. If you shared something on a blog or on social media and want to try getting it published elsewhere, I highly recommend deleting it before you submit. We recently rejected a piece because it had already been published in four—YES, FOUR—other magazines! Next time you wonder why it takes so long for an editor to respond to your submission, remember these folks. Also, sometimes when you send us one of these wonderful acceptance notes, in addition to our eternal gratitude, we’ll be so bummed that we missed out on your piece that we’ll ask you for another!
Additionally, don’t revise a previously published work, change the title, and try to pass it off as new. This makes us think you should have spent more time editing in the first place, and it isn’t a loophole to bypass the previous publication guideline. There are several journals that actively publish reprints, so all is not lost if you have a story out there that didn’t get a fair shake.

I’ve given plenty of examples of how NOT to get published, but by now you’re probably wondering if there are more proactive ways to improve your odds. Honestly, this is the hardest part about trying to explain our magazine: what we are looking for and what we hope to achieve. We didn’t start this thing so we could run with the pack, so if there’s a piece you don’t think would fly in a more traditional litmag, it might fit with us. We are not interested in sequestering genre fiction from literary fiction. For us, it doesn’t matter if your work has space ships, dragons, and ghosts, as long as the result is a moving tale that gives us insight on something we didn’t realize we were missing out on. This is not the case with many other journals, so always be aware of each market’s specific restrictions. We’re primarily reaching for that spark that makes readers really connect with your words. Start with a concept that stirs you, keeps you up at night, and write it from the heart. If there are social or political connotations, explore them. Give us a tangible emotional impact, package it with deep truths, new ideas, and uncommon perspectives, edit it, then edit it again, and then maybe a couple more times, and you’re likely to wind up with something many editors can enjoy.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and I’m sure there are outlets who are seeking the exact things we want nothing to do with, so again—choose your submission destinations wisely. Like so much in life, advice like this is not absolute. Find what works for you and build from there, but never stop improving your craft, never stop growing (both as a writer and as a person), and always persist!

Websites that Authors Can’t Live Without by Amanda Wayne

Every writer needs a little help sometimes. We have compiled a list of our favorite go-to websites for those tiny little details that make all the difference. Take a look if you need some help figuring out punctuation, tense, or word choice. We also included helpful websites on where to publish, how to publish, and the writing process.

Grammar:

What is a Comma Splice, and How Do I Fix It?

http://grammartips.homestead.com/splice.html

The Ellipses

http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/marks/ellipsis.htm

The English Tense System

https://www.englishclub.com/grammar/verb-tenses.htm

Learn English tenses

http://www.englishtenses.com/

Punctuating Titles:

https://www.thoughtco.com/punctuating-titles-1857242

Rules for Comma Usage:

http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas.htm

Whoever vs. Whomever:

http://www.grammarbook.com/grammar/whoever.asp

Whoever vs. Whomever:

http://grammarist.com/usage/whoever-whomever/

Character thoughts:

http://littlecalamity.tripod.com/Text/Thoughts.html

Capitalization:

http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/capitals.htm

i.e. vs e.g.

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/ie

How to use an apostrophe

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/apostrophe

How to use a semicolon

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon

The Ps and Qs of ems and ens

http://www.yourvirtualresource.com/articles/emsEns.htm

Run on sentences

http://www.myenglishteacher.net/runonsentences.html

Compound words

http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/compounds.htm

Conjunctions

https://webapps.towson.edu/ows/conjunctions.htm

Lay or Lie?

http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000233.htm

Lay vs. Lie

https://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/agcomm/ontarget/grammartrap/lay_lie.htm

Point of View

https://literarydevices.net/point-of-view/

Was vs. Were

http://writingexplained.org/was-vs-were-difference

Plural Possessive Noun

http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/parts-of-speech/nouns/plural-possessive-noun.html

A scary easy way to help you find the passive voice

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/a-scary-easy-way-to-help-you-find-passive-voice/

Active Voice vs. Passive Voice

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/active-voice-versus-passive-voice

Issues vs. Problems

https://www.dailywritingtips.com/issues-vs-problems/

The English Personal Pronoun System

http://www.linguisticsgirl.com/the-english-personal-pronoun-system/

Characters, plots, and outlines:

Creating a character outline

http://www.writerswrite.com/journal/jun98/how-to-create-a-character-profile-6986

Novel Outline Template

https://images.sampletemplates.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Novel-Outline-Template.jpg

Naming your character (breakdown by popularity for area and decade)

https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/

Plot Twist Generator

http://www.writers-den.pantomimepony.co.uk/writers-plot-twists.php

Where to Submit:

Publications:

https://entropymag.org/category/where-to-submit/

https://trishhopkinson.com/where-to-submit/

http://www.thereviewreview.net/classifieds/calls-for-submission

http://www.bedlampublishing.com/submissions.html

Contests:

https://www.pw.org/grants

https://thewritelife.com/writing-contests/

How to Submit:

Writing a Great Cover Letter

Formatting your Story

Eleven Steps to becoming a Published Author

 

Have a website you can’t live without? Add it in the comment section! We would love to hear from you!