How Social Media Screws Your Book Review

Blog Articles

Amazon comes under fire a lot, it seems, for its treatment of authors in general: They delete books and then later apologize but still don’t put them back in a timely manner. They have let reviewers who admitted to not reading a book keep their reviews up, or “trolls” to punish an author by putting up one-star reviews—this got so out of hand at one point that famed author Anne Rice had to step in and make news by signing a petition for Amazon to better protect its authors. And most recently, Amazon has cracked down on reviews by refusing to let friends or family members post them—even when those reviews are fair and unbiased—simply because they know of a connection between the author and the reviewer.

In this day and age, being an Amazon “author” is one of the easiest things to do. Literally. Anyone can sign up for an account and post their book, letting it drift off to become one more piece of literary flotsam ebbing along on the shores of the great, wide web.

What’s hard though, is marketing your books—and yourself—and that requires a network of people around you who are willing to vouch for your authenticity as a writer. i.e., you need friends and family members willing to go to bat for you. Authors you’ve worked with or schmoozed at conventions. People on Facebook that you barely know except by random waterfalling “friend of a friend” connections, who surprised you by accepting your request for reads and reviews.

So why is Amazon punishing these reviewers?

The history of Amazon’s book review process is a pretty storied one (bah-dum-tssh!), and goes back many embattled author complaints into the past. One notable instance was in 2012, when a group that called themselves “No Sock Puppets Here Please” (NSPHP) found that some authors were boosting their books with “sock puppet” accounts—fake accounts they made for the sole purpose of reviewing their own work. There were even authors who admitted to paying for reviews, like Todd Rutherford, who eventually anted up to over 300 paid reviews.

NSPHP created a petition to stop the sock puppets, and Amazon listened and took what they said to heart, deleting thousands of reviews from people who even might have possibly known the author or were also authors themselves.

Wait, what?

That’s right. Amazon started deleting book reviews from other authors because they “might have been colleagues.”

As J.A. Konrath said in regards to the signers of the NSPHP petition, “You have killed an annoying mosquito using a nuclear weapon, collateral damage be damned.” Sure, some sock puppet accounts were deleted, but overall, it was well-intentioned, honest reviews that mostly took the hit.

Ouch.

Since then, Amazon frequently tries to police its own forums and reviews, making an attempt to not let authors use sock puppet accounts.

Okay, I’m with you on that, that’s good.

But this can get a little out of hand from time to time, when people who know the author and have read the book are suddenly stripped of their ability to write an honest review. In the author groups and forums I frequent, I see people complaining because fellow authors in their same circles have had reviews deleted because they’re “colleagues.” People who post openly and honestly in the comment about their relationship to the author—whether it’s personal, like a friendship, or professional, like a fellow writer—are getting the same treatment: the axe.

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Amazon is a great site, and it has done wonders for getting authors to reach audiences with their books. The Kindle is king of ebooks, and as of 2014, 19.5% of all books sold in the U.S. were Amazon Kindle titles.

But sometimes their intuition isn’t so… intuitive. Case and point with authors getting reviews deleted or refused by people who “know them” because Amazon wants to avoid angering the NSPHP denizens again. So they’ve effectively made themselves scared natives sacrificing their sheep and prettiest virgins to the volcano god to appease its rumbling, even though it hasn’t rumbled in years. NSPHP doesn’t even exist anymore.

There must absolutely be a policy in place to protect both the author and the consumer, but someone who knows and (probably) likes you who goes and reads your book and wants to leave a review is not the same as an author creating a sock puppet account or paying people to review the book or flood it with undeserved praise in order to up the rating. Amazon needs to learn to differentiate between the two, and cull the numbers in a better fashion rather than going full scorched-earth.

Is there anything you can do to protect yourself as an author? Yes, a little, but it’s not guaranteed. Amazon can still delete reviews whenever they feel like it, based on whatever hoodoo rules they’ve recently started developing. Check your social media sites and know what apps have permission to view your information. Goodreads, which is owned by Amazon (along with these other companies) can share your info if you’re logged into them with your Facebook account. That means Goodreads knows who’s on your friends list and can tell on you like a digital version of Gríma Wormtongue whispering in King Amazon’s ear. Make your friends’ list on Facebook private, make certain you’re not sharing app information with Amazon or Goodreads (or any other company Amazon owns), and make certain you don’t connect your Facebook account to Goodreads if it’s connected to your Amazon author account.

Jeez, that’s a lot of work!

I know, I know. It’s a rabbit hole, and you’re poor Alice, falling forever and wondering what you did to deserve this. Eventually, another site will start to rival Amazon on book sales, or Amazon will wise up and start thinking realistically about the realization of deleting the comments on a new author’s books because they were done by the only people the fledgling author knew and could comfortably ask to review them.

Maybe that will happen soon, but until then, learn how you can protect yourself from getting your reviews deleted, and be wise with your social media sharing.

Photo: weheartit

 

Yangon, Myanmar

Real Editing Samples

This week’s short story comes to us anonymously! Below is the review of the untitled piece, as well as some suggestions for how to make it even better. Any suggestions or questions can be put in the comments section below.

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One of the very first things you want your reader to do is be intrigued. You have to really pull someone in within the first few paragraphs so that they have a reason to keep reading. That means you’re going to need to give your reader one of two things: Action, or mystery.

Action and mystery are great openers; they will pull your reader in. But it will do absolutely nothing if there isn’t anything interesting for us to find out. If your character is going through a series of nonsensical  movements (to your reader, at least), and we don’t know why, that’s not mystery, it’s just confusion.

You have a beautiful set up here: “Fiercely hot, steaming, tropical Yangnon, largely unknown to western eyes.” But that isn’t followed through with anything. It immediately gets dismissed by the next sentence. “How to explore? I find a 10:00 p.m. cycle ride-out and arrange to have dinner with friends.”

How to strengthen your opening? Remove the weak area.

How to explore? I find a 10:00 p.m. cycle ride-out and arrange to have dinner with friends.  We set off into the night time of Yangon.

“Fiercely hot, steaming, tropical Yangon, largely unknown to western eyes, I’d arrived at the very edge of my world, and my nerve.  In the hot darkness, a line of car headlights illuminates a hazy scene of pavement diners.  Hopping on and off the crowded pathway, we salsa along the jagged edge of the traffic. We turn down narrow alleyways, squeeze between market stalls heavy with bananas and mangoes, and along half built, half-lit streets. Street signs are few and far between.”

Already this is building a world for me. I can imagine it, I can smell the mangoes, I can see the people. That’s great! That will pull your reader in. Where are they going? What are they doing in this tropical paradise? I want to know more!

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Notes 2. In the paragraph following the beautifully described world, you have your character somewhat frantically going to find directions. This pulled me out of the story. Apart from showing their state of mind, and letting us know that there’s somewhere they need to be, which could be summarized neatly in a few sentences at the start of the following paragraph, this particular paragraph doesn’t do anything for your reader. In a short story, you’ll have less time to pull your reader in. This paragraph could easily be shortened and joined with the following one, or removed and summarized in fewer sentences.

Screenshot 2016-03-28 18.17.54.pngNotes 3. You definitely want to specify to your readers about anything related to temperature. Given that we Americans can’t figure out degrees in Celsius to save our hides, we instinctually fall back on the Fahrenheit degree base, and twenty-four degrees in Fahrenheit does not a pleasant bike ride make! If your readers might be from various parts of the English-speaking world, make sure to specify things like this just so they don’t have to double take to figure out what you mean.

Notes 4. For British/UK English, the standard is to keep the ‘s’ at the end. (Towards/backwards) This is simply a matter of where you intend for your main audience to be. Again, if this is elsewhere in the English-speaking world outside of America, this would probably stay in. To publish in America, however, the ‘s’ would be taken out (toward/backward). Small differences, but they can add up. The same can be said with any s to z changes. In America: organize, realize, recognize, etc. Outside of America: organise, realise, recognise. And of course we Americans also remove the ‘u’ from words like colour.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the short story!  You got a lot of detail and description in for such a small amount of pages. You definitely have a strength in creating a vivid landscape. I could see the story. I could picture what was going on. Your imagery was beautiful and strong, and really pushed me through it. There was a great flow to the way you described everything. There is a little to be corrected as far a pace goes, like with the part that stalled me, but overall, it was a fun read.

I wanted to mention, as well, that after having read this story, that I have no idea what your character looks like, if they’re male or female, or even what they’re wearing. I kind of argued with myself about even mentioning it, because I honestly can’t tell if I like it more without the protagonist having an identity. It did nag at me a little, but then, it’s my job to notice things like that.

Thanks so much, Anonymous Inkling, for letting me read and critique your short story! I will be sending along the rest of my critiques later on. For those of you who want to read the full piece, you can find it here:

Yangon, Myanmar

Fiercely hot, steaming, tropical Yangon, largely unknown to western eyes, I’d arrived at the very edge of my world, and my nerve. In the hot darkness, a line of car headlights illuminates a hazy scene of pavement diners.  Hopping on and off the crowded pathway, we salsa along the jagged edge of the traffic. We turn down narrow alleyways, squeeze between market stalls heavy with bananas and mangoes, and along half built, half-lit streets. Street signs are few and far between.

I dance alongside my companions hopping over gaping holes in the unlit pavement, rapidly chatting while casting around for scarce landmarks.  We continue past juice stalls where petite, raven haired women feed sticks of sugarcane into the jaws of ancient industrial mangles, solid, glossy, dark green monsters, next to them, tailors are bent over elegant Singer sewing machines. I scribble down hieroglyphic directions, TL elephant temple, TR rickshaws, alleyway straight arrow, TL… or would that be R in reverse? Too late, we cross the main road and run over a tiny footbridge.

We hop onto a narrow path of gangplanks past a parade of dark, wooden, open fronted shop houses.  The cavern-like interiors are entirely exposed. Rooms are lit with bare, single light bulbs and piled high with dusty stock and family belongings. On high shelves. tiny spirit houses adorned with orange and pink temple garlands glow against the dark wood. The smell of incense wafts out. The locals end their day over the evening meal at simple wooden tables and straight-backed chairs, hypnotized by the ubiquitous TV. We stride purposefully past, unable to resist glancing sideways to peer into their lives laid bare, one eye on the gangplank.  One family space after another is surreptitiously examined as the inhabitants simultaneously look up into our strange European and North African faces. Warm smiles and nods are exchanged in a mutual understanding of reciprocal curiosity.  We turn the corner and enter the restaurant.

After much engrossing conversation, suddenly it’s 9:40 p.m. I say goodbye and head out. Round the corner back along the gangplank, more smiles and nods. Across the main road, TL into the alleyway back onto the half built street. This is all right, I can do this. Did I see that yellow sign on the way? Never mind. Into the next street. Was it left? Hang on, find a streetlamp, still got fifteen minutes, it’s not that far.  Check the map. What’s this street called?  It’ll look familiar in a bit. No, it doesn’t. Definitely not.  Ask that street vendor over there. He gently takes the map from my hands and very slowly turns to his light. Oh no. I hop from one foot to another desperately trying not to be impolite. This street? This way? Yes?  Twelve minutes. Right, I’ll get there. Just dance around people and traffic a bit faster.  Okay, this is it. Go. Got to get there, don’t want to keep them waiting, once in a lifetime experience. Why didn’t I leave earlier?  Getting closer now, it’s round this next corner and up past the Swiss Embassy. Just need to jog a bit now. I wonder if that’s where that car’s going? Probably.  Yes, there’s the sign, Bike Rides, Yangon. It’s 9:59 p.m.

###

The bikes are allocated; they’re good quality mountain bikes.  We twist and circle around each other in the courtyard testing the feel of the brakes and changing up and down the gears. The group is a mix of thirty-seven friendly expats, independent travelers and regular cyclists, German, Dutch, American, Canadian and Burmese.  The leader is a fifty-something affable Australian expat with a confident, funny Burmese wife.  He’s straight up as you’d expect, and mildly curious.

We file out of the gate, and I’m ecstatic. We’re cycling around the capital of Burma in the middle of the night, not due back until 1:00 a.m. We circle onto the main road and soon start to pick up speed and file onto a highway, fluorescent marshalls slot in along the line.  As we settle down we’re a fluttering constellation of lights against an inky sky. The line moves into a steady pace and some of the regulars draw alongside for deceptively casual conversation while keeping an eye out for potholes and street dogs. At twenty-four degrees Celsius it’s just cool enough to ride and the breeze is welcome.

We file down city streets, past night markets of smoky food stalls and endless pavement banquets.  Before the intersection, we’re told it’s the left fork in case of separation.  Accelerating across the lights as one, we swoop leftwards disappearing into the blackness like a shoal.  We pick up a swift pace along blissfully traffic free roads.

Everyone is warmed up and tuned in and we spread out as confidence grows. The tarmac is undulating in places, and it’s largely dark, so you need to be a confident rider. This is no tourist trundle. We spool down a long section and past the ornate white palace of the City Hall and toward some of the more decrepit colonial buildings at the waterfront. They’re poorly lit, so I’m straining to see much. The Customs House has been renovated, and the Strand Hotel that entertained Rudyard Kipling is imposing and impressive. The high court is a little like St. Pancras station in London. I make a mental note to read Orwell’s Burmese Days.  We pass the port authority and come into the central area.

I’ve teamed up with a Canadian who peels away from the line. I follow instantly and we head towards the 2,500-year-old Sule Pagoda, in the middle of what is now a huge roundabout.  Its endless golden spire punctures the dark velvet sky. The white dome is encircled by grotto-like shrines, their interiors brightly lit in citrus limes and lemons. It’s a fairy tale, fairground sight. We swoop onto the curve and spin around the outside, stealing glimpses at the golden Buddha’s heads surrounded by multi-colored sunbursts of flashing neon lights.  We sprint round a second time, faster, leaning into the road, laughing with glee and exhilaration at this fantastical, surreal merry-go-round, and race off to catch the others.

The group is on the road out of the city now and we begin a gentle climb, I start to feel my thigh muscles burn. It’s about 11: 30 p.m. The pace slows a little, but is still good as we reach the flat and start the long home stretch. Soon the leaders stop and the line concertinas into a tight group. We climb off the bikes to stretch our legs and gulp down some much needed water.

People chat and examine each others’ bikes. As my heart rate and breathing slows I look up at the night sky and feel the tranquility and eeriness of a strange city at rest. The quiet chatter of the other riders floats through the darkness. Then for no reason at all, I turn round. There, in the middle of an enormous jet black sky, gently glowing like a huge mythical, golden palace is the Schwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist Pagoda in Myanmar. It stands on a hill and at 325 feet, dominates the Yangon skyline. It contains the oldest Buddhist Stupa in the world. I’m rooted to the spot. I look at my watch, it’s past midnight. I feel giddy with awe and surprise.

 

Photo: A Link And Travel Tour

 

 

 

 

The Accidental Plural (of Native English Storytelling)

Editor's Suggestions

The Accidental Plural of the Native-English Speaker’s Story

By Kelly Kobayashi

The way that we tell stories as a culture, as a community of smaller tribes, is defined as greatly by our writings as by our oral traditions.

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We’ve all asked someone about their family or childhood adventures. And surely they have responded with animated theatrics such as, “My mom was useless, man. She used to call me up at 3:00 a.m., drunk at the Kwik-E-Mart, begging me to pick her up. She used to dance, totally plastered, to All I Want for Christmas is You and knock the Christmas tree over.”

Or, “My Grandpa Walt was UNBELIEVABLE! He used to chase us through the house with the garden hose—through the house—for real! Grandma would catch us all and beat the smiles off our faces! But it was worth it! God, I miss him.”

If you read between the lines of stories such as these, then you know instinctually that the 3:00 a.m. Kwik-E-Mart, dancing-Christmas-tree-collision, and indoor-hosing-and-beating escapades each only happened once.

But you also know from the speaker’s language, the way that we native English-speakers—with our rather bad, but infective habit of constant exaggeration—these single scenes of life added up to create the human being standing before you now. This pluralization of the event is a sign of emotive power. The speaker so cherishes or reviles or has become defined by certain aspects of his life that they have expanded within him. “We once…” morphs into “We used to…” He must share this story, and the story almost tells itself as repeated occurrences.

These stories that you must share, the stories that stretch themselves beyond once in a lifetime—these experiences and growth spurts and belly-aching fits of laughter and moments of absolute humiliation have defined you as a person. They’ve crystalized into the moments you value, or at the very least, hold most intimately to your core, whether you like it or not. The inspirational and the horrific.

You know which stories you share in accidental plural form when introducing bits and pieces of yourself to those around you. So too should you attempt to share these bits and pieces of your singular expertise through your writing. All the things that you “used to” see, feel, participate in, be excluded from, or covet secretly are your gifts to give through your own storytelling.

Kelly Kobayashi is an editor, author, and ever helpful book reviewer. She works with both published and unpublished authors, and has a deep love of the written word. For more information, or to contact Kelly about her beta reading and book reviewing services, please contact her at her website, here.

A Culture Addicted to FREE-How FREE is Poisoning the Internet & Killing the Creatives

Blog Articles

Certainly an interesting view on the issue surrounding new writers trying to get the exposure they need in order to be paid!

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Image used with permission from the creator Ira Gelb. Image “Not for Sale” used with permission from the creator Ira Gelb who’s an activist in stopping Human Trafficking but authorized this image for use outside.

It’s funny, at various junctures I’ve felt propelled to tackle certain topics, even when that made me very unpopular. My biggest leviathan to date has been this notion of artists being expected to work for free, and I believe the reason that this topic is weighing so heavily on me is that, for the first time in years I’m no longer enthusiastic about our future.

In fact, I’m downright frightened, because of THIS.

I Feel Sick

Yesterday morning on my Facebook, a friend shared this open letter to Oprah Winfrey from a local performer in the Bay Area, Revolva, whose act caught the attention of mega-icon Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah was holding The Life You Want conference and the producers contacted Revolva to see if she…

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Style vs. Messy Writing

Attitude & Critiques, Uncategorized

“Writin’ a book is a big durn deal, ya dig? Sometimes, people be like’n ta change the way they be writin’… to repre-zent a way of speakin’ or actin’ that ain’t necessarily the way it’s suppose to be written… ya get meh?”

But then again, sometimes people mistake passive or messy writing for stylistic choices.

These two are not the same.

Some of you who may be new to writing probably don’t think much about what an editor might say (or do!) to your manuscript, but the fact of the matter is, you can have the cleanest draft ever, and if your editor is skilled, they’ll send back a red-lined manuscript that makes you want to weep. There’s a big difference in writing and editing a book, and most people (editors included) have difficulty with that, because writers understand the book in a way that is completely different than readers or editors do.

Writers know all of the intimate details of a book (like we discussed previously), and sometimes, they can get a little butt-hurt when someone suggests anything changes. This is NORMAL. And trust me, everyone does it.

I try to remain professional when I edit, always making certain that my inflectionless type isn’t going to offend… but there are some writers who are bound to get hurt because that’s their baby you’re trying to cut in half here. I get it. I TOTALLY DO. Because I have had to suck up the pain of a mean edit, cry over my keyboard, and then start the hacking anyway, and it totally feels like losing a limb. It really does.

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Pinterest
The actual stages of getting a book edited.

One of the things that I see authors cling to, time and again, is the old “That can’t be changed because it’s a stylistic choice, not XYZ whatever editor says.”

Let’s clarify something here, okay? Messy and/or passive writing is not typically a stylistic choice, and therefore all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the world won’t help.

There are certain things that we, as editors, must do, and cleaning up these instances is not a grudge; it’s our job.

  • I have worked on books for people who spoke English as a second language who’ve accused my attempts to clarify the common American phrases they were using incorrectly as attacking their stylistic choice. (These were not intentional… it was a case of simply misunderstanding their meaning or use.)
  • I have worked with authors who have honestly fought with me over ending a sentence on a preposition (which is TOTALLY OKAY).
  • I have had people fight with me over deleting ‘and’ or ‘but,’ because it’s ‘okay’ to start sentences with them… (Not every other line, it’s not!)
  • I’ve even had authors argue with me on words that were misspelled entirely and claim it as a stylistic choice. No. Spelling the name of a country wrong in a historical fiction piece is not a choice. It’s a mistake.

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No. Bad author! Bad!

My point is that some authors (maybe you?) have some serious bones to pick with their editors over changes that are totally required. Grammar and punctuation are two of these things.

One of the biggest ‘stylistic choices’ I’ve run across though, is that of the passive sentence.

When an editor looks over your manuscript, s/he is going to look for several elements, including something we call ‘voice,’ which is the style with which you write. Styles might include quirky ways the character’s dialogue is displayed, like above, particular repetitive habits, phrases, sentence structure (using fragments, for one), or any other way in which your particular author’s ‘voice’ comes through the words.

Pick up a book, any book. If you open that first page, the way in which one author writes may be similar to another, but they each have their own voice that is undeniably them. It is your editor’s job to preserve this voice in all of their edits and to maintain your stylistic choices.

There are books that occasionally defy the typical writing process. One such book, Crank, writes from the perspective of entries of a person falling into drug addiction. As the author goes on, the writing becomes less stable and more chaotic, more poetic, mirroring the character’s slipping sanity. This is a stylistic choice, most definitely. And it works! The editor preserved that choice while also doing away with sloppy or passive writing.

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One of the style guidelines of the companies I’ve worked for told its editors to do a search on the words was/were throughout the document and correct them if necessary. So a sentence like, “The purse was stolen,” might be okay if your character says it in dialogue, but in your narration it would typically be a no-no. (Unless it’s something like say, a crime novel where you don’t actually know who took the purse.)

The proper way would be something more like, “He stole her purse,” which assigns blame, or “Someone stole the purse,” which leaves it a little more ambiguous. Now, this is not an exact science, because someone is going to write in such a way that the passively worded sentence might be more appropriate. In that case, it would be a stylistic choice… but most people don’t do that on purpose, and the rest of the writing will define that for an editor.

Incorrect: Henry was standing by the tree when she was pulling into the driveway. Her arrival was making him wait.

Correct: Henry stood by the tree when she pulled into the driveway. He was waiting for her. (This last ‘was’ is fine, because it’s an active sentence where Henry, the subject, is the one performing the action.)

I walked into the lobby, and in the corner, a song was being sung by Sam. <-This type of sentence is unfortunately very common, and it’s a bit messy.

I walked into the lobby. In the corner, Sam was singing by himself. <-This is a better way of phrasing it, because it corrects the passive bit, ‘a song was being sung’ to the active voice, ‘Sam was singing.’ In this way, the ‘was’ is still correct, but the passivity has been removed from the sentence.

Again, these are not stylistic choices. They are examples of messy writing that everyone at some point is bound to do—yes, even editors on the occasion!

The most important thing to remember in writing in a particular style (which could include passive sentences/voice) is to make it abundantly clear in your writing so your editor can tell the difference. If you have a couple of instances of messy writing but the rest of your work is clean, you probably can’t argue it’s a style choice.

If you have a character that purposely speaks with a specific dialogue that requires the butchery of American English spelling, that is a style choice. If your narrator dictates the story in an unusual style, then make sure your editor can tell.

One piece of advice that is of the utmost importance is this: If your editor doesn’t know, can’t understand, or doesn’t see the connection, neither will your readers.

Happy writing, Inklings, now get to work!

 

 

 

Take a Peek…

Real Editing Samples, Uncategorized

Want to see what actual editors would recommend you work on?

Send it in!

Who knows? You could be next.

This portion of the blog will be dedicated entirely to editing actual samples sent in by Inklings Anonymous group members! Interested? Take a look below:

If you want your piece reviewed anonymously, please e-mail me your information via the contact page of this blog.

No hardcore erotica or poetry, please!

Do not submit your piece in the discussion comments. You may post a comment stating you would like your work reviewed, and state the genre, length, and whether or not the piece has been self-published previously.

Yes, you may still submit your piece even if you’ve already self-published it. In fact, I encourage you to. 

Submitted pieces can be up to 5 pages long, and may be a sample of any part of your work, For instance, you could send in pages 1-5, 21-26, or even 47-49, etc. It may be a section from a short story, novella, work in progress, or novel. We may not use all 5 pages, but will send the corrections back to the author. You are welcome to ask questions about anything posted on your work.

Please be aware that your work will be featured on the blog without identifying markers hidden, so if you have a really specific, weird character name you use that people might see, you might want to substitute it with something else before you send in your work.

Send in your work, Inklings!

 

The Secret Good News!

Blog Articles

Waiting around to hear back for that rejection you just know is coming can be one of the most painful things you will ever do as a writer.

You worked for this. You sweat for it. Hell, maybe you even bled for it.

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“Yes, paper cuts do count in this industry, thanks very much.”

And then there’s one day when the clouds part and pure, unadulterated Monty Python God-in-the-Heavens sunlight beams down on you… the planets align (literally, in my case), and that rejection… Becomes a yes.

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I’m stoked to announce that my soft sci-fi book has been accepted for publication!

I’m not gonna lie, I may have cried a little (Okay a lot, and my waste bin was full of tissues–don’t judge), after I read through the whole email three times just to make sure I wasn’t fooling myself. And then maybe my husband and I celebrated with a bottle of champagne because

YEAH! I’ve got a book coming out, baby!

I’ll have more updates later on, once I have a better idea of things, but look out for my book to hit shelves in 2017!

*Happy dances out of the room.*

 

But You Don’t Really Care for Edits, Do Ya?

Attitude & Critiques, Uncategorized

The Editor’s Perspective: Giving and Receiving Feedback

By Toni Adwell

Most editors have horror stories about authors being obstinate, oblivious, or downright rude about any changes being made to their work. Don’t get me wrong: I understand where the authors are coming from, too. Some editors and proofreaders have no tact, and there are certain critiques and edits I’ve gotten on my writing that baffle me as an author.

“Your intro comes on too strong.”

“You mean I’m not supposed to hook and engage the reader?”

When it comes down to it, though, there are certain aspects of writing that cannot be compromised the majority of the time, such as grammar and spelling. I’m not talking about dialogue and style, because sometimes those will cause exceptions. When I write dialogue for the Troll in my FanFic, it’s nowhere near grammatically correct, and the spelling reflects my attempt at the Jamaican accent it’s based off of in World of Warcraft.

What I’m talking about are authors who refuse to recognize changes that need to be made due to passive voice, dangling modifiers, common word choice mistakes, such as lose/loose, than/then, their/they’re/there, assure/ensure/insure, and so on.
Those are non-negotiable in the body of the work.

That being said, here are a few friendly tips when giving or receiving critiques and edits:

  • Keep in mind the difference between constructive criticism, and being an asshole. “This is incorrect because of xyz, so here’s what to keep in mind, and an example of what to use instead.”–Good. “Your work is horrible, and as a result I’m not able to differentiate between your work and you as a person, so you must also suck!”–Not good.
  • Tone can be lost in translation on the Internet. What might sound polite to one person can sound completely rude to another. Don’t assume people are being jerks with their critiques/edits, unless it’s obvious like the example above.
  • Remember, even if you don’t like what you’re reading/editing/critiquing, that someone put a lot of effort, work, and likely heart and soul into writing the piece. It’s not cool to trash someone simply because you’re not down with the subject matter. If you can’t handle the content, then correct the technical mistakes, and suggest another editor/proofreader to go over the work for said content. The same goes for their ability to write. “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”–Ernest Hemingway
  • We’re losing the ability to be polite in our society, and even if you don’t agree with what someone has to say about your work, thank them for their time, and move on. You’re not going to convince someone to change their mind about it, especially when what a person likes is opinion-based, but they did take time out of their day to read it and respond. Even if they’re being asshats, you don’t need to stoop to their level–you are not a mirror for their behavior. “I respect your opinion, even though I don’t agree. Thank you for your time.” You don’t have to like someone, or their opinion, to be polite to them. 
  • The hardest one? Don’t take it personally. It’s really difficult not to, because of how much proverbial blood, sweat, and tears goes into writing. Hell, sometimes the blood, sweat, and tears are literal. Your work is made from a piece of you, and when someone is down on it or doesn’t like it, that can be a major blow to your self-esteem and ego. The best thing you can do is listen to what they’re saying with your mind, and not your heart.

TL;DR: Don’t be a jerk, don’t assume others are jerks, be polite, and don’t take it personally.

Do you have any horror stories about an editor or an author? Feel free to vent in the comments. No need to name anyone or their work, but sometimes you need to get things off your chest so you can move on. It’s cathartic!

Keep your chin up!

The Always Aspiring Writer

Toni Adwell is an editor with Damnation Inc. and an aspiring author. You can find out more about her at Legends of the Wordsmiths (http://lotwordsmiths.blogspot.com) where she gives book reviews, World of Warcraft fanfic chapters, and excerpts from her own work. 

The Editor’s Perspective: POV and you! …And you… and…

POV and You!

This week we’re exploring different POV styles and how to use them effectively.

Point of view mistakes in writing make up a bigger portion of my editing tasks than you would believe. Many burgeoning new writers may not take the actual method of different points of view into account when they’re working and trust me… it shows. Point of view is an insanely important part of writing; it can make or break a scene, a chapter, or even a book. It’s incredibly important to be aware of the different types and why you should recognize when to use them and how to remain consistent in that style. When I see a book come across my desk with bad POV mistakes, it makes me question the validity of said book being there.

This is NOT the impression you want to make on potential publishers, editors, or readers.

We’re going to take a look at the different types of point of view, or POV for short, and give you a brief break down of why and how to use them, and keep you from making a huge rookie mistake and switching your POV mid-sentence.

(Yes, I have seen this happen… more than you know.)

For the purpose of maintaining consistency in your writing, I am also going to show examples of head-hopping and tell you why you shouldn’t do it!

First, the different points of view:

First Person

Second Person

Third Person

     Limited

     Omniscient

First Person

First person is a cool way to literally have your writer ‘slip’ into the character’s brain and see the word from this perspective. The use of the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘me’ or ‘my’ are going to dominate this POV. Why? Because you are the protagonist. You experience the world with the immediacy of someone who’s there and witnessing it firsthand.

Example: I didn’t want to go to the mall, and shook my head curtly. I could already see tears welling up in her eyes, no doubt in an attempt to guilt me into going. I stomped my foot.

“Not again, Clarissa!” I shouted.

First person is used often in genre fiction like Y.A., autobiographical writing, or memoirs. It is never used in academic writing, so please never write your assignments this way!

Adult fiction can be written in first person, but I personally don’t see it done well very often. This POV can often be tricky, but we’ll cover that another week!

Second Person

Second person is unique in that it’s more informal and conversational with the reader. When you write on your blog (as I’m doing now), you are speaking directly to the reader and addressing them as though they are in the room with you. ‘You,’ ‘your,’ and ‘yours’ are going to be the words du jour with second person, since your ‘narrator’ is going to speak directly to them.

Example: Henry’s always getting fired up over nothing, but that’s the sort of thing you’ll come to understand about him. He’s probably just blowin’ off steam, so I wouldn’t take it too personal, if I were you.

Second person is often used in direction/instruction writing, advertisements, songs, blog writing, or occasionally in speaking. It’s not often used in fiction writing, unless your narrator/protagonist is attempting to directly speak to the reader, otherwise known as “breaking the fourth wall,” which pretty much means that your protagonist is expressing awareness of the fact that s/he is being observed by an outside source.

Think of Deadpool’s dialogue… even in a video game, he expresses plenty of awareness of his surroundings by addressing the player directly, and even grabbing health bars to beat other characters with. He is the epitome of a second person view, because he has no problem telling you right where you can shove those bars, either.

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Definitely one way to show sentience…

In fiction writing, you have to have a particular style and skill in order to switch successfully in and out of second person and any other POV, so this should be used sparingly.

Third Person

Third person is the most popular POV to use in American fiction. Most novels you will read in America (and probably some other English speaking countries!) will be written in third person limited or third person omniscient, which I’ll cover in a moment.

Third person limited is more preferable to omniscient, at least in my experience, and is most typically what you’ll come across in modern fiction. It gives your narrator’s voice the ability to describe the world from an outsider’s perspective (like if you’re watching it through a video camera), while still focusing on the main protagonist and relaying their thoughts and feelings. ‘She,’ ‘he,’ ‘it,’ ‘they,’ ‘them,’ ‘her,’ ‘him,’ ‘his,’ ‘hers,’ and ‘its’ are going to be common in this POV.

Example: Amy held her breath, back pressed against the wall. The cold seeped into her bones, but she couldn’t move. The tip of a broken floor tile jammed its way painfully into the underside of her boot, but she didn’t dare make a sound. He might hear it.

Third person omniscient means that your narrator is still looking at things from an outsider’s point of view, but instead of expressing just one character’s intentions, it can express all of them. Third person omniscient means that your narrator is essentially invisible and watching the characters do their thang. They are not a character in your story. They do not express personal thoughts, feelings, or emotions. Something that is important to remember is that in third person omniscient, your narrator is an outside observer, which means that they cannot understand the internal thoughts your character has, and therefore, cannot describe thoughts or feelings that the characters themselves have not already expressed.

Correct:

Harry ran down the sidewalk, his tie furiously flapping over his shoulder. He waved frantically to the bus as it pulled away from the curb. “Wait!” he screamed. “Wait!”

At the stop next to him, Francine flipped her arm over and frowned down nervously at the watch on her wrist. “Thirty minutes ‘til the next one,” she said with a sigh.

Incorrect:

Harry ran down the sidewalk, feeling his lungs almost burst inside of his chest. Ugh, he thought, if I keep this up, I’ll get a stitch in my side.

At the bus stop, Francine glared down at her watch. Thirty minutes, she told herself, biting her lip. I’m gonna be late on my first day!

Third person omniscient is a trickier style to use, because when some writers attempt this, it becomes third person limited with… HEAD-HOPPING. (You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you?) The incorrect example is actually a perfect example of something you shouldn’t do.

Let me let you in on a secret: Most editors and publishers are going to hate head-hopping, and most newbie writers are going to do it. Why? Because they don’t know how to consistently write in a proper POV, or because they think they can tackle third person omniscient, and… they can’t. That’s not a dig. If you’re not quite there yet with your ability to write in third person omniscient, keep trying but don’t submit that work until you’ve been able to clean it up once or twice at least and make sure you’re not making us feel like  we’re hearing voices.

(Unless your character, is, in fact, schizophrenic, in which case, okay, cool!)

Don’t ever put two characters’ independent thoughts on the same page unless you’re writing in third person limited and putting page breaks in between them to signify a POV switch from one character to the next.

(A page break is easy: three or four pound keys or hashtags, as the kids call them nowadays (###), or three or four asterisks (***) mid-page will do the trick.)

By head-hopping, you will end up creating a muddled, confusing scene in which we are simultaneously reading different characters’ minds. It’s not pleasant, it’s not good writing, and as an editor, it’s literally one of the most frustrating things to fix because I basically have to reconfigure entire portions of story to best fit who I think is the main protagonist based off of your writing. Basically, it becomes character Jenga, which is not as fun as it sounds.

Unknown

Like this except more tears. My tears.

Whether you are writing in first, second, or third person, make absolutely certain that you don’t deviate into another style. How can you keep track of this? Double check the pronouns from each of the styles, and pay attention to what you’re writing.

Does your third person limited style end up head-hopping? Figure out which person is your main character, and then focus on them. Make sure your first person style focuses solely on one character, like you’re in Being John Malkovich staring through his head. If you go second person, make sure your style is addressing the reader as though the character is aware of their presence and doesn’t question their narration of important parts of their life to an invisible stranger.

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I said don’t question it!

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At any rate, it’s really easy to accidentally make your writing sloppy by skipping around these various points of view… and more people than you realize end up doing this by accident.

Remember: Pick ONE and stay with it. You’ll save yourself (and future publishers!) a lot of headaches in the end.

 

The Editor’s Perspective: Too Much Information

Too Much Information...

One of the things that I consistently see—and am guilty of myself—is the habit of over-sharing.

Writers often have the difficult task of not only making up absolutely every part of their story down to where their character has an unsightly mole or embarrassing birthmark, but to do this mental and physical creation for every single character in their story. It’s exhausting!

Think about it: Imagine your friends or coworkers, or even family members. We’ll say just pick three at random. What do you know about them? Favorite color? How many fillings they have? When they were born? Their parents’ current city? The place they lost their virginity? Their first car? Their pet’s name from when they were ten that they use as a password? The amount of their bank account/s?

Now imagine their personal drives, inspirations, or fantasies.

Do they have a tortured secret from their past that haunts them to this day? Was their first love a con artist? Father an abusive drinker? Do they hate alcoholics for that reason? Are they one themselves? What’s their ultimate goal, their dream in life? What makes them keep going, even in the face of complete and total hopelessness?

Hell, what’s their favorite position in bed?

Likely, you won’t even have half of the answers to questions that specific, and probably not at all to that last one about your family members.

 

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Please, no Jaime and Cersei Lannister jokes… except this one.

Moving on…

A writer may not have this specific information, but imagine knowing a person on a much more in-depth scale and then having that depth of knowledge for 10 other people in your book—or even more, if we’re going with Game of Thrones again. Now imagine that you have three stories that you’re working on concurrently, and each of those people also has those individual properties, and not to mention they’re in different genres, so it’s an entirely different type of world…

Oh, and some of them may only exist for one page. Or not even show up in the story at all.

What I’m saying is, there is a lot of information going on in a writer’s head at any given time, and sometimes it’s hard to compress that information to determine what goes into your book and what stays off the page.

I recently edited a short piece where the author randomly decided in the middle of an unrelated paragraph to go into detail about the character’s very specific job, her age, the length of time she had been at said job, the people she liked there, what she hoped to accomplish at the job in a couple of years, and the respect she hoped she garnered from her co-workers. It was random, it was waaaaaay too in-depth, especially given the parameter of what she had been talking about before, and it was absolutely over-share.

The toughest part? Not one single thing about that woman’s job mattered to the story at all, and given its awkward delivery and general unimportantness, it had to be completely cut. Do I feel bad when I make these suggestions? Yes, I do. Someone worked really hard to come up with a believable character with believable background information and wants to show that information. Are the changes necessary?

Let’s just say this: Nine times out of ten you can cut entire paragraphs of over-share from a book and not just make it shorter, but make the story better.

I thought you were supposed to be detailed in writing?

Absolutely! When world developing, it’s good to be as thorough as possible. There are numerous sites whose soul purpose is to help develop worlds and characters with intense detail. In the past, I’ve used LitLift to keep track of specific things about characters from their shady pasts and emotional and physical scars down to height, weight, eye, and hair color. Not all of these things make it into the pages of a book, and honestly, not all of them should. That does not mean you shouldn’t have that information before you write.

Think about how much more information J.K. Rowling was able to divulge about her Harry Potter series after the final book came out. The information you keep back can oftentimes be important to the development of your character or world, but still not entirely pertinent to the story itself.

Confused yet?

Writing differs from world building in that you have to be far more selective about where, when, and even if that information you’ve worked weeks, months, or years on makes it into the final cut. It’s basically having a giant bin of Legos and having to sift through it for all the exact right pieces. Could you use all of those pieces to build a cool spaceship? HELL. YES. Legos are amazing. All of those pieces would fit together one way or another.

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But would they be the streamlined, coherent, amazing spaceship you saw on the box? Uhm… maybe, if you tweaked it here and there, and kinda squinted your eyes and tilted your head…

Okay, no. But that’s basically what writing a book is like.

So how does a writer determine what goes into the story?

This part is going to be difficult, no matter how many times you write a book. You have allllll that information rolling around in your head, itching to get out. Sometimes you know your character’s personal information better than you know your own. Being that close to it, you literally can’t see the forest for the trees. So what helps cut down what the necessary information isn’t?

Outlining and plotting out your story like a well-crafted blueprint, that’s what.

When I was younger, there was no way in hell I was going to outline my work before I wrote. It wasn’t that I was against it, but I’d get the idea and I’d just go for it, full throttle, no easing back until the words had left me.

As I got older and went to school for writing, I started to learn more about the Hero’s Journey and other methods of crafting your story, and outlining became MUCH easier. Using even a vague pattern for outlining your story will give you a better idea of where it’s going, what your important plots and subplots should be, and if you really need to crack that joke on page 156, or divulge your character’s reason for doing that thing on page 79.

Can you sew a pair of pants by hand? Sure, but it’ll be messy as hell. Can you use a pattern to make it much more neat and then clean it up when you’re done? YES. Nobody’s going to want a pair of jeans with seventeen buttons on one pant leg and no fly, or a scarf that’s way too big—

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Never mind. Sorry, Mr. Kravitz.

What I’m saying is that giving yourself time to plan and outline the story before you start writing will give you knowledge about the highlights and important areas in your story, and also tell you which parts can get chopped off right away. Sometimes people write out of order because the parts come to them that way. I do this sometimes when I find the urge to write a particular scene before I’ve gotten there. It can work because I’ve outlined specific instances to happen, so my brain is still working out how they go together, even if I have several pages from the beginning and end done with no middle sections.

Your outline should always be in the order that your book needs to go, regardless of how you write. It gives you a ladder that you can follow to reach the top, even if you’re hopping from the third rung to the eighth.

Does outlining guarantee your story will be right the first time?

In no way does any planning you do beforehand guarantee that everything will work perfectly in the long run. There are always complications in writing, and sometimes, your character will simply run you into a corner before you realize what’s happened. Sometimes the outline needs to change because you realize that parts of it won’t work or don’t suit the direction you’re trying to go. Maybe the goal changes and you need to rewrite that super sweet space battle or remove it entirely.

Just like your writing won’t be perfect the first time around, your outline will often change as the story develops and fleshes out. It’s the nature of writing. It’s a living, moving, writhing, sometimes bratty piece of work. It occasionally has a will of its own and will make you feel like you’re trying to convince a toddler not to stick that shiny thing in their mouth. But the important thing is to push through it and get to the end, whether you’re happy with it or not…

…And then hire a crazy awesome editor to clean it up for you. ;p