Finding an editor

Okay, as I’m looking for what to do with my recently “completed” novel, one option is self-publishing. However, self publishing will require considerably more work on my part, including finding the professionals to do the tasks I can’t do myself.

One of those tasks is editing. Few writers are good editors, and fewer still are good at editing their own work. And I’m not one of them. That means hiring an editor. The problem is finding an editor for hire that is 1) competent, 2) not priced completely out of my league, and 3) after taking my money is going to do an honest job, including being willing to say about the story “trunk it and try something else” if that’s really what the editor thinks. Of those, #2 is the easiest to find.

There are lots of editors for hire, a quick google search turns up tons of possibilities. And I can quickly enough determine whether they are “affordable” (criterion 2 above), but how does one determine #1 and #3? How does one know that the editor in question is competent and willing to do an honest job, even to telling me things that the editor might think I don’t want to hear. (Well, I don’t want to hear “it sucks and there’s nothing I can do” but I’d rather hear that than either hear “it’s good but we can make it better” when it’s not or even “it’s wonderful, you don’t need me” when it’s not that either.

In “traditional publishing” the author doesn’t pay the editor.  The editor is instead paid by the publishing house. Supposedly, this deals with both #1 and #3.  The publishing house, supposedly, would only hire the editor if he or she were at least reasonably competent (please don’t write to tell me how wrong I am–I’m talking about the theory here, not how it works in practice). and the editor’s interest is in finding and publishing successful books, not in convincing you the author to send him or her money for “editing.”

In the not too distant past aspiring writers were warned by professionals in the field to avoid “book doctors” and many other “editing services” as people who will take your money and not really accomplish anything for you.  With the rise of self-publishing, however, the need for professional editors for hire is something that’s also on the rise.

So how does one find . . . how do I find . . . the editor that will do the job I need done?

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Scene setting

Sarah Hoyt has a wonderful piece on that over on her blog According to Hoyt. The key point is that when you write a story you’ve got this picture of the world and the people in it (even if they’re not “people” but walking cabbages or what have you). Your reader, however, doesn’t.  They come into your world knowing nothing about it or about your characters and the only things they know are what you tell them and what you show them.

Picking the right details to show, and when to show them, so as to create the picture you want to create, while at the same time not bogging down the story in excess detail, is a constant balancing act.  Ideal is providing those relevant details in ways that push the story along.  Heinlein was a master of this, better in some cases than others but very good at the telling little detail that establishes setting.  The classic example is “the door dilated” from Beyond this Horizon.  Everyone knows what a door is.  That it “dilated” rather than opened immediately told us that we were in a world different from the normal one.

Another excellent example is the Heinlein’s novel Friday.  The opening scenes just drip with details that set the scene all without bogging down a remarkably fast-paced opening.

So dig out some of your favorite stories, stories that created a vivid impression in your mind without bogging down in detail.  Go over them to see how the writer did it and “go and do thou likewise.”

Author’s Commentary on "With Enemies Like These" in Lawyers in Hell.

This was my story in the new Heroes in Hell book:  Lawyers in Hell. It was commissioned for the German webzine “Zauberspeigel” and published there August 11th:

Authors’ Commentary on
»With Enemies Like These,«
 a story in Lawyers in Hell

Michael Z. Williamson first approached me about writing for the Lawyers in Hell, with Janet Morris’ approval, of course.  I had had little exposure to the Heroes in Hell series before that—a short by Gregory Benford in one of the “Nebula Winners” volumes and a “fix up” (a novel made by editing several shorter works together) of Robert Silverberg’s Gilgamesh stories.  But that was enough to show that the world was different from the concept of Hell I’d grown up with.  It would have been very difficult to write interesting stories in that concept: “And they were tortured for all time. The end.”

With a basic idea of the world, I needed characters.  The first was easy.  One of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s quotes was personally important to me: “If a man neglect to enforce his rights he cannot complain if, after a while, the law follows his example.” So I had one character.  The basic plot was one I had wanted to use for some time, and it’s a classic:  two enemies forced to work together for mutual survival.
 
I wanted to do a little more with that plot, though.  I wanted to use an opponent who was a “mirror image” of the protagonist.  And so I found William Dunlop Simpson.  Both were US Civil War veterans, Holmes for the Union, Simpson for the Confederacy. 

Both were lawyers.  Holmes became a US Supreme Court Justice.  Simpson a South Carolina State Supreme Court Justice.

I had two characters and a basic plot device so I needed a setting.  As I said, I wasn’t very familiar with the Heroes in Hell series so I didn’t feel comfortable working in the main settings.  So I asked if I could maybe have my characters “fall into” another Hell, the Norse Niflehel with which I had some familiarity through an interest in the Asatru religion.  Janet approved the idea and from that point on the story just wrote itself.
 

Sometimes you get the bear…

And sometimes the bear gets you.

You know, I’ve always found that expression a bit annoying.  Wouldn’t it be:  “Sometimes you get the bear.  The bear gets you once“?

Be that as it may, the subject right now is writing, in particular getting stuck.  Most of the writers I know have had the experience of sitting down to work on a project and it just won’t come.  You sit there, staring at the page (screen these days) and the words just don’t want to come.  As I said, most writers I know have had the experience and I suspect most of the others just won’t admit it.  But I could be wrong.

The term for that is “writer’s block.”

I don’t like that term.  For one thing in every other job in the world, there are times when one doesn’t feel motivated, doesn’t feel “inspired,” when the body and mind say “I don’t want to do this.” They don’t get special terms.  There’s no “bricklayer’s block” or “engineer’s block” or “corporate CEO’s” block.  But writers?  Writers get to say “I have writers block” and people nod in sympathy and maybe buy them another beer.

You know.  I think that may explain writer’s block.

Seriously, though, there are times when the words come easily, where the story is just there.  You sit, your fingers fly over the keyboard, and words appear on the screen.  Magic.  It’s just about the greatest feeling in the world. (Just about.  I can think of one or two others that are better.)

Then there are other times, times when you sit there and write one word.  Then you sit there and write another word.  Then one more, each word like giving birth to a porcupine . . . breach.

And the thing is, at least in my own writing, there’s no difference I can tell between the results of the “easy” writing and the “squeezed out one agonizing word at a time” writing.  They’re just as likely to be good (as in “saleable”) or just as likely to be dreck.  Some of my published work is one, some the other.

The interesting thing is, writing for me rarely falls between those two.  It’s either one or the other but never, say, a little struggle to find the right words, or anything like that.  No, that’s reserved for editing.

In the Neolithic Age

In another Blog, the subject came up of people who claim “one true way” to write.  That if you want to be a writer, you must write this way and no other.

I answer them with this piece:

In the Neolithic Age
Rudyard Kipling

In the Neolithic Age savage warfare did I wage
For food and fame and woolly horses’ pelt;
I was singer to my clan in that dim, red Dawn of Man,
And I sang of all we fought and feared and felt.

Yea, I sang as now I sing, when the Prehistoric spring
Made the piled Biscayan ice-pack split and shove;
And the troll and gnome and dwerg, and the Gods of Cliff and Berg
Were about me and beneath me and above.

But a rival, of Solutr]/e, told the tribe my style was ~outr]/e~ —
‘Neath a tomahawk of diorite he fell.
And I left my views on Art, barbed and tanged, below the heart
Of a mammothistic etcher at Grenelle.

Then I stripped them, scalp from skull, and my hunting dogs fed full,
And their teeth I threaded neatly on a thong;
And I wiped my mouth and said, “It is well that they are dead,
For I know my work is right and theirs was wrong.”

But my Totem saw the shame; from his ridgepole shrine he came,
And he told me in a vision of the night: —
“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
And every single one of them is right!”

. . . . .

Then the silence closed upon me till They put new clothing on me
Of whiter, weaker flesh and bone more frail;
And I stepped beneath Time’s finger, once again a tribal singer
[And a minor poet certified by Tr–ll].

Still they skirmish to and fro, men my messmates on the snow,
When we headed off the aurochs turn for turn;
When the rich Allobrogenses never kept amanuenses,
And our only plots were piled in lakes at Berne.

Still a cultured Christian age sees us scuffle, squeak, and rage,
Still we pinch and slap and jabber, scratch and dirk;
Still we let our business slide — as we dropped the half-dressed hide —
To show a fellow-savage how to work.

Still the world is wondrous large, — seven seas from marge to marge, —
And it holds a vast of various kinds of man;
And the wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Khatmandhu,
And the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban.

Here’s my wisdom for your use, as I learned it when the moose
And the reindeer roared where Paris roars to-night: —
There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
And — every — single — one — of — them — is — right!

Why science fiction?

I write mostly Science Fiction and Fantasy, and more science fiction than fantasy.  So why these genres in particular?

I started as an inveterate reader of SF.  That all got its start back when I was first reading.  In first Grade the reading material was boring.  Boring.  Boring.  Boring.  One half of the class was reading about this stupid “Dick” and his stupid sister “Jane” (my mother had taught me to read at home and I was reading the Childcraft encyclopedias for entertainment).  The other half of the room was reading an equally insipid book about “Tom”.

Sometime about this time I was introduced to a picture book about a trip to the moon that appeared to be based on von Braun’s old Colliers series.  That got me started.  About the same time I remember watching coverage of several Apollo missions on TV.

A couple years later we moved and I changed schools and in the classroom library had a bunch of the “Tom Swift, Jr.” books.  This was the first Science Fiction I read that I knew as Science Fiction.  The next year I got introduced to others, including Heinlein.

All of this stuff ignited in me a burning desire to go into space.  I wanted to go into orbit, walk on the moon, see the moons of Mars pass overhead from the Martian deserts.  And the way to get there was to become an astronaut.  But in Fifth grade I started noticing a difficulty seeing the chalkboards at school.  This got worse and worse until in 7th grade I finally got glasses.  Given the standards of the time, where only military (or ex military) test pilots could become astronauts and that to be a military pilot (let alone a test pilot) one had to have perfect vision, that put paid to that idea.

And so Science Fiction filled the whole of the dream that could never come true.  I could never go, but I could at least read about it.  From that point on SF totally dominated my reading.  Some years later I started branching out a bit and developing more “rounded” tastes but it remains SF that I come back to when I read for fun.

So when I started writing, I started writing SF since that’s just the way my mind worked by that point.

My introduction to fantasy was a bit different.  A friend of mine handed me a book and said “Here, read this.” He was so serious about it that I didn’t dare refuse.  The book was “The Hobbit”.  Soon, I had read The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.  And, a few years later, I came across a book marketed as “for people who have finished The Lord of the Rings and are looking for something else to read.” Yes, “The Sword of Shanarra” was really marketed that way.  And while Mr. Brooks seems to get a lot of hate in certain segments of fantasy fandom, he’s probably laughing about that all the way to the bank as he turns out best seller after best seller after best seller.  In any case, Mr. Brooks’ books showed me that there was more Fantasy out there and so I added that to my reading.

One of the things I liked about both SF and the Fantasy I was reading is that the characters generally mattered.  What they did had an influence on the world far beyond what a high school student from a poor family like me could ever realistically hope to.  This was much what drew me to superhero comics and some of the other things I was reading.  This was so different from the “literature” I was being assigned as reading in school that it was a whole other world. (I have, of course, since learned that it’s quite possible to write about people who matter, who make a difference, without going into fantasy and SF, but by that time my tastes had largely settled).

By this point, even when I have a story idea that could be told without science fiction or fantasy themes I tend to write it that way simply because that’s the way the stories come out.  I enjoy Shakespeare (The Tempest is my favorite).  I’ve read London and appreciated it.  I’ve found the mysteries of Lawrence Block entertaining.  But I keep coming back to Science Fiction and Fantasy.

In romance, first loves are often ephemeral, but in this case the first love has been the deepest and the most lasting.

So it’s not really a case of “why write science fiction and fantasy?” but rather “why write anything else?”