Monday, July 23, 2012

Self-Editing for Dummies

Oh, calm down, I’m not really calling you dummies. But after thinking about my post the other day regarding the dearth of attention paid to editing lately, I realized that some portion of the blame must come to rest on the author, as well. The better we are at self-editing, the lesser our dependence on outside editors to catch all those little things that are dragging our stories down. Which, of course, puts us in a better light–both when editors and publishers read our submissions, and when our work (eventually, hopefully) finds its way into the hands of our readers.

So–how do you become a better self-editor?

1. Practice. Repeat after me: the first draft is not a finished work. Yes, you may complete your first draft in a rush of adrenaline and endorphins and think it’s the best thing anyone has ever written, anywhere. It’s not. Never send out something until that first fine rush has ebbed and you start to doubt. Once the doubt is there, you can start looking for all the things that are wrong, and begin to fix them. And fix them, and fix them, and when you think they’re fixed, see #2, below.

2. Other Eyes. My friend Steph has a great post over here about the necessity and value of first readers. The more eyes you can get on your work–knowledgeable, practiced eyes–the more chances you have of finding those things that editors will (or should) only fix later anyway. So those problems won’t be there to trip up your readers later.

3. Tools. Don’t underestimate the value of your word processor’s built-in spell-check and grammar-check; at the very least, they should make you slow down and look at possible problematic areas of your work. But they’re only the very minimal basics. One tool I love is Cliché Cleaner. Run your work through this handy little program to find clichés, overused expressions, and internal repetitions. It’s amazing how much one tool like this can help you clean up your work. You may have your own favorite cleanup tools–just don’t forget to use them.

4. Distance. Remember that first rush we talked about, that comes with completion of your first draft? One way to avoid falling victim to its siren song and sending your story out too soon is to get some distance from the work. Let it sit until it’s no longer totally fresh in your mind–a week, a month, even longer if you have the luxury. There’s nothing like coming back to it with some heightened objectivity to clear away the tint of those rose-coloured glasses.

5. Humility. No matter how competent or skilled a writer you are, you will always benefit from remembering that you are not perfect and neither are your early drafts. Expecting that your work will need polishing allows you to see its flaws more easily. Accepting that others will spot problems that you haven’t seen will make you more open to using their suggestions wisely.

For more advice on good self-editing, I highly recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King. Got your own self-editing favorites? Share them in the comments!

Image courtesy of Kadellar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, July 20, 2012

TPP E-Sampler

Third Person Press has a little summer reading treat--or teaser--for you. We've put together three stories, one each from Undercurrents, Airborne, and the newly-released Unearthed, in a free sampler ebook.

The stories included are: "Winter Bewitched" by Sherry D. Ramsey, "Mind Drifter" by Julie A. Serroul, and "Mud Pies" by Nancy S.M. Waldman. The e-sampler is available in .epub and .mobi formats (one zipped file) from the Third Person Press website, and in many formats from Smashwords.

If you haven't read our anthologies and would like a taste of the stories to see if you'd like them, now is the time to take some for a test-drive!

Where Have All the Editors Gone?

Okay, okay, I know that all the editors have not gone away. I know that there are many dedicated editors out there slaving away in the word mines to help writers wrangle their manuscripts into things of beauty. I do not want the entire Internet editorial community to descend upon me, angrily wielding their blue and red pens as weapons of vengeance.


I detect a noticeable lack of editorial input in far too many of the books I read these days.

If you follow me on Goodreads or take note of my occasional reading update posts hereabouts (or on my website), you’ll know that I am not a snob when it comes to reading. I read traditionally published books, I read self-published books, I read e-only books, I listen to audiobooks and self-produced audiobooks. If it sounds interesting to me, I don’t quibble about the format or the provenance, I’ll give it a try.

In fact, I will even cut some slack to the authors who are self-pubbing, to a certain extent. If the writing and plotting and characterization and ideas are strong overall, I can forgive a few little grammatical or syntactical missteps. I usually find it a bit sad when a story fails to reach its full potential due mainly to a lack of editing, but it won’t make me bail on the story.

But traditional publishers, I have to say: I hold you to a higher standard. I expect that you will have given your authors the benefit of proper editorial input. You are supposed to be the “gatekeepers”, after all; the setters-of-standards. This is not to say that I expect to love every traditionally published book–there’s no accounting for taste, and there are plenty of (IMHO) bad tradpub books. But regardless of how far they fall short of my expectations in story or plot, I expect them to be line edited.

And I am disappointed, with increasing frequency of late.

I expect words to be used properly. “Occupied” is not the same thing as “preoccupied”.

I expect you to weed out repetitions. When the word “faience” comes up five times in three pages, it’s kind of noticeable.

I expect that characters’ names will remain the same throughout the story.

(Sadly) I could go on. But I won’t. Maybe I’m just in an editorial frame of mind lately, having recently finished an intense bout of line editing for Unearthed. And I won’t say I caught everything there, either. But if traditional publishers want to continue to publish good authors–if they want to be thought of as some kind of legitimizing force in publishing, I think they owe their authors something. And their readers, too.

I think they need to spill a little more corrective ink on those manuscripts. Or soon there’ll be nothing at all setting them apart. And then where will they be?

Image courtesty of jppi.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Seeing Voices

With apologies to one of my favourite writing physicians, Oliver Sacks, I titled this post, Seeing Voices, because that's what it feels like when I'm fully engaged in writing characters I know well.

So how do you come up with complex, interesting characters? Get them to talk. Engage them in conversation. Ask them questions not only about the predicament they're in and what they think about the other characters, but also their past, their pet peeves, their first love, their father, what they like to eat, whether they like to exercise or have health problems. Not all of this information will find it's way into your story, but some will and all of it will inform what you write.

In his book The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell suggests doing "voice journals." His technique is to write for five or ten minutes in an unedited, stream of consciousness journal from the voice of that character. Though this writing will be separate from your story, what comes out of it will definitely show up there. It's a great way to get unstuck if your story has stalled.

And that leads us to the other benefit of tapping into the voice of your character. Plot. Characters carry out our plots. Once we know what motivates them, what their secrets are, what frustrates them, we have so much more information about what needs to happen and why.

My writing goal this summer is to finish or revise several short stories that got stalled for one reason or another. But we all know how difficult it is to pick up a stale project and breathe new life into it. I couldn't even remember some of the character's names, much less where they were emotionally when I left them stranded!

I came up with an experiment to get to know them again. Get to know them better. I put all the main characters from these stories in the same "room" and let them talk. While this might work as a mind-only thought process, I wanted something more concrete, so I am writing this conversation complete with setting (sketchy, just enough to find out what type of furniture they sit on and how), actions, body language and internal perceptions by participants.

My character mash-up helped immediately. The interactions zapped me right back into their lives and their personalities. Of course bold Sannis would speak first and naturally, Gama (a grandmother whose given name, I realized, hasn't even been revealed yet) would provide a nurturing comment. But it also worked because other characters surprised me. Reticent, confused Lanyard didn't let himself be pushed around by the others. Sukey, young and protected, spoke up and offered insights. Chim was late and the others seemed to expect this. Some were tolerant, others not so much. Candace's differences from Sukey were readily apparent in her wide-eyed awe of the adults, especially Sannis. And in this safe environment---finally---Sannis began to open up and let her insecurities show.

This exercise made me excited about these people once again. Seeing their voices on the page reminded me that they are well-developed characters I don't know nearly as intimately as I want to. Plus, I feel a need to resolve the situations I left them in. When I started this, I thought it would be a quick one-time writing exercise. Now I think of it as on-going dialogue.

Whenever I need to, I can eavesdrop on these characters and find out what I need to know.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Unearthed at Smashwords

The electronic version of Unearthed is now available for download in many formats (for Kindle, Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions, and .pdf and text files for your computer) through Smashwords.

A great summer reading deal at only $4.99!

Also coming soon to the various sites for your specific devices.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Call for Submissions: Flashpoint Anthology

We are now open for submissions to Flashpoint, the fourth volume of The Speculative Elements.
What to Submit
We are looking for short stories of up to 10000 words and poetry up to 100 lines, from Cape Breton writers. Stories and poetry must be in the speculative fiction genre. This includes: science fiction, fantasy, horror, magic realism, and paranormal (for example, ghost stories).

Stories/poetry that combine genres, such as mystery and science fiction, or romance and fantasy, are welcome, but all stories must include some speculative element. To improve your chances of acceptance, please click over and read our expanded submissions guide

Submissions should in some way fit the theme of the anthology, which is "Flashpoint." This theme may be broadly interpreted either literally or metaphorically (think fire, heat, the point where things explode, the moment of change, etc.) and writers are encouraged to think outside the box. Be creative and set fire to your imagination!

Submissions should be of a professional quality, original, and preferably not have been previously published in any media. We will consider reprints, but please indicate where and when the story has previously appeared. Writers may submit up to two stories at once for consideration (if you submit early and your story is rejected, you are encouraged to submit again before the submission period ends). Poetry submissions may consist of up to five (5) poems at a time. Snail mail submissions are acceptable but will not be returned; please send a disposable copy of your manuscript. Do not send your only copy!

The anthology is open to submissions from writers who live in or have a substantial connection to Cape Breton Island. You may, if you wish, explain your connection in a cover letter.

Submission Period
We will be accepting submissions beginning July 1, 2012. Please do not send submissions before that date; they will be deleted and you will have to submit again. The deadline for submissions is March 31, 2013. Submissions must be postmarked or emailed by the submission deadline.

What Not to Submit
  • We are not interested in stories or poetry written for children.
  • We are not interested in fan fiction, pornography, or excessive/gratuitous vulgarity, violence or gore.
  • We are not interested in "slice of life" anecdotes. Stories should be character or plot driven and have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Payment is a flat rate of $100.00CDN for short stories and $30.00CDN for poetry. Each contributor will also receive one (1) contributor's copy of the anthology.

Please read carefully: formatting is important!
(Read here to see why!)

Submissions should be:
  • Typed or printed in black ink...
  • double-spaced...
  • on one side of white 8.5 x 11 paper...
  • with one-inch margins on all sides.
  • Please use Courier, Times New Roman, or Arial-type fonts.
  • Author's name, address and email address, as well as an approximate word count, should appear on the first page, along with the title of the work.
  • Do not double-space after periods (you can set your word processor to ignore this if you do it out of long-ingrained habit).
  • Do not use so-called "curly quotes" or "smart quotes".
  • Set and use tabs for indentation of first lines of paragraphs.
  • In general, keep formatting as simple as possible.
  • For further guidance and an example of proper manuscript format, please consult William Shunn's excellent articles at A brief cover letter may be included but is not necessary.
Submissions which do not meet the formatting guidelines may be rejected or returned to the author for re-formatting before they are read by the editors.

Where to Submit
Submissions must be emailed as an .rtf attachment to, or mailed with a business-sized SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) for our reply to:
Editors, Third Person Press
c/o P.O. Box 1897
North Sydney, Nova Scotia
B2A 3S9

If possible, please include an email address we may use to contact you.
Any questions about these guidelines may also be emailed to the above address.

We look forward to reading your stories!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Author Interview: Wade Rideout

Q: How long have you been writing, and what kind of stories do you most like to write?

A: I've been writing for as long as I can remember. I like to write a mixture of fantasy and science fiction which is a conundrum I've yet to solve.

Q: What sparked the idea for your story in Unearthed? Can you remember?
A: I wanted to do a new take on an old story. The whole deal with the devil thing, but with a twist. I was curious to see how things would play out if the smartest, most charming being that ever existed had to compete for souls with another powerful entity. How would he handle the situation? At the end of the day, it's a business and he's been at it a long time, and so I thought "What would he do if someone tried steal some of that business?"

Q: What's the best/worst writing advice you've ever been given?
A: The best advice on writing I've ever heard was in an interview with Dennis Lehane, the author of Shutter Island and Mystic River. His advice to new writers was to remember that "Nobody cares." In the sense that nobody is watching you, tabulating how you're doing or if you're good enough. In the the beginning, no one is keeping score. Nobody gives a shit. Embrace the freedom in it, because once you make it, you lose that freedom. The worst advice I've ever received, has believe it or not, been from publishers. If you submit a story or book to 50 different publishers, you will get responses from both ends of the spectrum. One may read your work and think it's exceptionally good, while another may think it stinks. It can be confusing when you get conflicting ideas and responses to a piece of work, but at the end of the day, writing is for a large part subjective, and that's why I advise any writer to take criticism objectively and not to heart.

Q: What are you working on now, or what's your next planned writing project?
A: I'm in the brainstorming phase of a new book tentatively titled 'Renegade Cyborg Werewolf Cop.' It's a love story. And yes, I'm serious.

Q: Have you ever read something and thought, “I wish I'd written that!”? What was it?
A: There are many books I'd wished I'd written, but the one I'd choose above all others would be 'The Old Man and the Sea' by Hemingway. I've read it close to thirty times. It's a beautifully crafted novella unlike anything I've ever read before, or am likely to read again.

Thanks, Wade!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Author Interview: Julie A. Serroul

Julie A. Serroul
Q: How long have you been writing, and what kind of stories do you most like to write?

A:  I have been writing since I was a young teen, mostly poetry and personal essays then, or observations about life too long to fit in my diary.  It was my adult years before I tried my hand at crafting a short story, although some of what I had played with before could be considered the bones of a story.  My favorite type of story to write is one that has a contemporary setting but contains fantasy or supernatural elements.

Q: What sparked the idea for your story in Unearthed? Can you remember?
A: The story came about from a series of questions that I asked myself.  What if human evolution had required us to burrow underground to survive?  We are very adaptive and resourceful creatures.  How would we adapt, what animals, plant life, or resources would we harness to enhance our lives?  What if that branch of evolution co-existed with our own?

Q: What's the title of your story in Unearthed? In general, do you get the title first, or do you write the story first? Do you remember what prompted this particular title?

A:  My story is called "Uprooted", which is, in several ways, applicable to my main character as well as the theme.  I am terrible at titles.  Only rarely do they come easily to me, and never before the story itself.

Q: Please tell us: one book you've read recently, one book you're reading now, and one book on your to-read list. 

A:  I am re-reading the series starting with Game of Thrones.  I plan to read the series starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo after that.

Q: What's the best/worst writing advice you've ever been given?
A:  The trick with writing advice is to learn to adapt the suggestions that will fit your writing style, if you feel they will help and if they are from a source you respect, and ignore the rest.  The advice that I hate the most is any that starts with the phrase, "You must do this," or "You must never do that".  For example, the entire debate about whether to outline or not before starting your story.  To me, stories will evolve as they will, and it will be different for each person.  It may even be different from story to story for an individual writer.  Just grab onto any wonderful ideas, characters, settings, etc., in any form.  And then use whatever method necessary to get it from your head and onto the paper.  If it doesn't coalesce into a full form in your mind, then you may need to outline some or all of it to pull it together.  Whatever gets the job done.

Q: What are you working on now, or what's your next planned writing project?
A:  I'm currently polishing a short story entitled "Scorpions" and preparing it for submission to a market.

Q: Have you ever read something and thought, “I wish I'd written that!”? What was it?
A:  I'm frequently envious of another writer's talent.  Dean Koontz, Bob Salvatore, Nancy Kress - these and many others evoke that in me.  But it doesn't discourage me, it fires me up to reach for that lofty level of literary accomplishment. Whew, say that five times fast.

Thanks, Julie!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Author Interview: Lorena Mann

Q: How long have you been writing, and what kind of stories do you most like to write?

A: I've quite literally been writing as long as I can remember. I prefer to write fantasy because that's what I like to read the most, but I also enjoy writing literary fiction.

Q: What's the title of your story in Unearthed? In general, do you get the title first, or do you write the story first? Do you remember what prompted this particular title?

A: The title is 'To Soar the Endless Sky'. I absolutely write the story first. It's far easier than titles for me; I struggle with those.

Q: Please tell us: one book you've read recently, one book you're reading now, and one book on your to-read list.

A: I recently finished Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin and I'm currently reading Namaah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey. The Sisterhood of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson is on my list to read next, but I have a hard time finding free time so it could be a while before I get to that one!

Q: What's the best/worst writing advice you've ever been given?

A: I was given pointers on using point of view by someone who either didn't fully grasp it themselves or just explained it poorly. I rewrote ten entire chapters before I realized what I'd originally written was correct.

Q: What are you working on now, or what's your next planned writing project?

A: I am currently in the final editing phase of a full length fantasy novel called "Forged for Destiny." I've completed the whole trilogy to at least first draft so getting that one published and then finishing the other two will take up all my time in the foreseeable future. 

Thanks, Lorena!