P.S. Dear Writer,

A while back, I took a survey and asked if any of you would be interested in sharing some of your editing secrets here on my blog.  For people who have never written anything longer than a college thesis, the thought of actually writing a novel may seem daunting.  But to those of us who have thrown our hat into the authors’ ring, we know that writing the first draft can actually be the easy part.  We’re creative.  There are a lot of brilliant stories spiraling around in our heads.  But what we want is a brilliant story told magnificently.

So if you’re interested, what I’d like to do is feature one of you every Tuesday from the second through the last Tuesday of each month until I run out of willing victims participants.  The topic will be your editing process, and I’ll ask you to answer the following:

  1. Please share one to three* tips or tricks that you use when editing your work, how specifically you use them, and why they work for you.
  1. What was your biggest repeated mistake when you first started writing?  What is your weakest point of editing and why?
  1. Have you used any editing methods previously that just didn’t work for you? If so, what were they, and why didn’t they work?
  1. Please tell us something about your current work in progress or your most recent completed work (or both), and tell us where we can purchase your book(s).
  1. If you have any other news to share with us, please feel free to do so now.

I’ll then provide a link to your blog (as well as link[s] to anything else you want included), and if you send me a photo of yourself, and/or your book(s), I’ll be happy to include those as well.

If you are interested in participating, please email me at the link in the picture below:

email(*I asked you to share only one to three tips or tricks to keep each post short enough that people will read it in its entirety.  If you have more helpful hints that you’d like to share, I’ll be happy to feature you more than once.)

Time to talk:  Is this a feature that you’d be interested in reading on my blog?  Would you be willing to participate?

Dirty Little Secrets

If you’re a writer like me, you already know it’s always a good idea to have someone else proofread your work before you declare it finalized.  Actually, it’s best if several “someones” can proofread your work and point out any errors.  Of course, this outside help doesn’t do much good if they’re not proficient in spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  And I know you already know that simply using the spell check feature is not a reliable method of proofreading.  I don’t know the particulars of other writing or word processing programs, but I’m going to share some of the dirty little secrets I’ve learned while proofreading my work in Microsoft Word.

I start by searching the entire novel for a period followed by an apostrophe as well as a question mark followed by an apostrophe.  Sometimes these are warranted in that I may have written dialog wherein another person was quoted.  But more often than not, I’ve found that I made a mistake and meant to put an end quotation mark rather than an apostrophe.

The next thing I do is cut and paste one chapter at a time into a blank document.  Then I search for quotation marks.  Word highlights my searched items in yellow so I can see them easily while I scroll down.  On the left side of the screen, it tells me how many searched items were found.  If there’s not an even number of quotation marks, I already know I can expect a problem.  (The exception to this is, of course, when a stream of dialog is continued to a consecutive paragraph, thus eliminating the end quotation mark from the original paragraph and causing an odd number to occur.)  Viewing one paragraph at a time within one chapter at a time makes this go quickly, yet it’s also where I catch the lion’s share of my typographical errors.

Once that part is complete, I work on the novel as a whole rather than breaking it into individual chapters.  The next order of business is to search for “[space] and she” then “[space] and he.”  When the search results turn up, I then manually scan each entry to see if a comma appears before the word “and.”  Because of the grammar rule regarding using a comma between two independent clauses, this is one that sometimes gets missed when I’m writing quickly.  (And it’s also a comma that Word often wants to direct me to eliminate, though it is actually supposed to be there.)  Those are about the only punctuation corrections that I trust to searching as opposed to looking for them manually.

Next, I move on to spelling.  Of course I run spellcheck and see what turns up.  But that’s never enough.  After that, I search for any variation of character names (such as Michelle versus Michele – both spellings are technically correct, though I’m going for consistency), street names, city names, and any other proper nouns.  Occasionally, we can make an error like that and never notice it, and the computer will also never catch it for us.

Finally, I look for consistencies.  For example, I tend to sometimes interchange “toward” and “towards,” as well as “backward” and “backwards.”  (With these words, as well as afterward/afterwards and backward/backwards, the ones ending with S are the British spelling.  Without the S is the American spelling.  Technically, both can be considered correct, and Word never alerts me to either.)  Also, if you prefer to use the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma or the Harvard comma), you may want to search for “[comma] [space] and” to make sure you were consistent throughout your work.

So there you have it… a few of Rachel’s dirty little secrets to make your life a little easier.  I hope this helps.  Happy writing; happy proofreading!

Let’s talk:  Do you proofread your own work?  Do you do your own editing?  Do you have any dirty little secrets (on proofreading) that you want to share with us?

Tropical Fish and the Greek Alphabet

Tropical fish and the Greek alphabet aren’t the only categories that include betas.  “What else?” you ask…  Beta readers, of course!

As writers, we need to enlist the help of beta readers to identify any potential problems before we unleash our story on the world.  For the months (or years) that we spend writing, we hear from others just how creative we are and what a cool idea our current work is progress is.  But when we ask for beta readers, we hear crickets.

Oftentimes, people really don’t have the time to commit to reading a book.  But for many people, I believe the reason they don’t volunteer is because they have no clue what is expected of them.  So for those people, I offer this post.

A beta reader is essentially a test pilot (or unfortunately sometimes a crash dummy).  As a beta reader, you are not expected to be a grammar or punctuation specialist.  That is a job for the proofreader and should have been done before the book made its way to you.  That being said, if you do happen to find any grammar or punctuation errors, I’m sure the author would love to know.  (Last year, I beta read for an author friend who wrote a chapter book for the 9 to 12 age group.  He sent a specific list of questions and specifically told me that I was not to look for any errors under any circumstances, as those were already addressed and he would not be making additional changes.  However, despite his instructions, when I found the word “heal” instead of “heel” as it referred to a person’s foot, I told him anyway… And he was grateful.)

Beta readers are good way for the author to learn if the story makes sense and is able to be followed without difficulty.  They let the author know if certain characters are weak or if the dialog sounds forced.  They identify if the story is interesting and if the descriptions paint a vivid picture.  Some questions an author might ask a beta reader are as follows:

  1. Did the book hold your interest from the very beginning? If not, why not?
  2. Did the style of writing appeal to you? Why or why not?
  3. Are there any parts that should be condensed or even deleted?
  4. Were there parts where you wanted to skip ahead or stop reading?
  5. Could you relate to the main character? Were you able to put yourself in her shoes?
  6. Did any characters need more development? Which ones and why?
  7. Is there anything that might have made any of the characters more interesting or three-dimensional?
  8. Were there too many characters or too few? Were any of their names too similar?
  9. Was there enough conflict and suspense to keep your interest?
  10. Did you feel that the story started to lag at any point? Where?
  11. Were you ever confused at any point? If so, were your questions soon answered?
  12. Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in timeframes, locations, characters’ histories, or any other details?
  13. Did the dialogue sound natural? If not, was a particular character’s dialogue worse than others’?
  14. Was there too much description or explanation, or not enough?
  15. Was there too much backstory or too many flashbacks? Could any of it be deleted and still make sense?
  16. At any point, did the story feel rushed? Did any part of it drag on too long?
  17. Were you able to accurately predict the end before you got to the end?
  18. Were you satisfied with the end? Was the end believable?
  19. Was this book too long or too short?
  20. If this book was published, would you recommend it to others? Would you read anything else by this author?

Many of those questions may not even be applicable to certain stories.  It’s certainly not supposed to feel like a homework assignment or create more work for the beta reader, but it should identify any specific potential problems to the author that they can address before they either seek a literary agent or self-publish.

Another reason people may not be beating down a writer’s door to volunteer to be a beta reader is that they’re afraid to criticize the author’s work.  Friends, I guarantee that a good writer would appreciate your well-meant constructive criticism a lot more than they’d appreciate a yes-man who gives only false compliments.  You don’t have to feel like those two angry judges on The Muppet Show when you offer your suggestions.

So there you have it.  YOU may very well be the difference between just another book and the next New York Times Bestseller.  Your efforts will probably be recognized in the book’s Acknowledgements.  You’ll likely get a free copy of the finished book, and maybe even an autographed first edition.  And your writer friend will value you more than you know.

Time to talk:  Have you ever specifically been asked to be a beta reader for a friend?  Did you accept the challenge?  If so, were you honest with your critique, or did you whitewash it?  If you’re a writer, do you rely only on friends and family to beta read for you, or have you ever asked strangers?