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The Editor’s Eye for the Writing Guy

Whenever I tell other writers that I have written and published a novel, they often ask me about the editing process.  For many, editing seems like a daunting and seemingly insurmountable task, but with the help of a beta reader or two, the process can become much easier.  I would like to share my process.  It is far from perfect, but it’s what I usually do and what has worked for me.

There are certain things that are needed before going into the editing process: a finished novel, an open mind, a critical eye, and the drive to get it done. 

  1. A finished novel is fairly self-explanatory.  I suggest it being finished only because I can sit and edit constantly and not move forward for months.  If you think of things you know need to be fixed, make a list and keep it somewhere safe where you won’t lose it (been there, lost several).
  2. Many writers see their novels are their children. No one wants to hear their children being criticized, but when it is in their best interest, you may want to listen to your beta readers and what they suggest.  You don’t need to always listen to what they say, sometimes it won’t work or it’s a personal preference, but be open about fixing things. Try not to get too attached to a certain phrase or metaphor.  In the editing process, as much as you love that line, you may need to cut it or tweak it.  I clung to an analogy comparing England to dingy mashed potatoes but realized the entire chapter needed to be reworked and obviously, the potatoes had to go.
  3. A critical eye goes hand-in-hand with an open-mind.  You need to be able to look at your own work and see the problems in it. Where are you lacking? Where is there too much? If you wrote the story over a long period of time, did you style change from beginning to end? There is no way that after a first or second draft your book is ready for publishing.  Look harder for mistakes and issues that need tinkering with.  One cannot always rely on their beta readers to find every issue, so being self-critical will definitely help when perfecting it before it heads into your readers’ hands.  As a reader, what would make you annoyed or want to change?
  4. Seeing a stack of two hundred and fifty pages laying on your table can be incredibly daunting.  How will you get through all of it with all your other life commitments?  My suggestion is to set a manageable goal for yourself each day or each week.  You won’t always accomplish it and other days you will exceed it, but just try to press on and get through it.  if you are having a day where you reread the same line over and over, step back and do something else for a while or try reading a different chapter. No one said you had to edit the book cover to cover, you can skip around.

My process for editing, can be a long one and a repetitive one to many, but it’s like a rock tumbler.  Each revolution through the story polishes it more and more.

  1. My first editing process (if I hold off until the end of the book) is making the edits I have on my list, things I know need to be fixed, which can include changing characters’ ages or descriptions, changes in continuity or style, passages you have been eying since after you wrote them. I may go through this process more than once just to make sure I got everything.  **As a tip, I like to print out my entire manuscript, then make changes with a red pen by writing in the margins or attaching pieces of paper where I have rewritten chunks of a chapter or scene.  If you tend to miss your changes, go over the pen with a highlighter (I prefer pink) to make the changes stand out.
  2. Leave your draft alone for a while.  Putting away, get some distance from it and make it so you don’t recite the memorized phrases instead of actually reading them.  If you haven’t given your book to a few people to read, you should do so now. Their feedback will hopefully be helpful during your next session. Make sure they will give you honest feedback and most importantly, they will actually do it. Explain to them what you want them to look out for and be specific, write it down even.
  3. Read your story, make notes on areas that need correcting or altering and if any areas are boring.  As you go through and tweak things (mine tends to be wording and adding more since I’m an underwriter. If you are an over-writer, you may need to prune your manuscript), highlight them and mark them in a distinctive pen on your manuscript. Take the feedback from your beta readers and see what they suggest.  If it should be changed, do it now. If you are unsure, save it and wait until you are all done and reread the story again to decide if it needs to be done.  Typically, I go through this editing phase about twice. When doing historical fiction or anything that needs research, make sure you fact-check what you are unsure of still.
  4. Leave it for a week or two. Now, reread it. This is going to (hopefully) be lighter editing.  Read it aloud.  Are there words that need changing? Is any of the dialogue stiff or awkward? Sometimes it may be beneficial to have someone read it to you in order to catch awkward parts that sound fine in your head, and during the reading process, you may also come across typos. 
  5. The final stretch! I call this typo time. I was a writing tutor, so I am familiar with most rules of grammar and can correct most of my work (I still need to look up lay v. lie and a few other rules that always need refreshing). If you have certain rules you know trip you up, make an index card of the rule to keep with you while you go through it again, but if you would rather have someone else deal with grammar, I would suggest finding a proofreader online or a friend who is willing to take a look at it. I go over my work with a fine-tooth comb and often hand it off to my mom who is good at catching mistakes I miss.  At this point, you are done fiddling with your text hopefully. Word changes may still occur, but remember the point is fine polishing, not overhauling. If you are still unhappy with it, I would go back to step 3 or 4 for another round or two of edits.

The point of this post is hopefully to empower you to be your own editor.  The input of others is important, but first and foremost, you should be writing a book you want to read. Take the process into your hands and be self-critical without being self-defeating.  It is your work, your book, and while an editor is a great tool, you should ultimately be responsible for perfecting your writing as it is a process through which you will grow to understand your flaws and what you need to do to become an even better writer.


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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell You’re an Indie Writer

books lined up

When you are an indie or self-published writer, you come across a strange phenomena.  Should you tell people you are not traditionally published unless they ask?


For several decades, self-publishing was referred to as “vanity publishing.”  Vanity publishing was when a writer would pay to have their books printed in limited runs, and they would then try to sell them.  The vanity aspect comes from the stereotype that self-published authors were people who were not good enough to be published by a major publishing house or were hipsters who were too good for the publishing world and wanted only limited copies of their books. 


Modern self-publishing is quite different.  Self-published authors are not under contract with a publishing house, but now, this is mainly because they choose not to be.  By self-publishing authors maintain all artistic control over their work from the cover, to the formatting of the book, to the content.  There is no interference from editors or agents telling them what to write next or what to stay away from.  Some writers do fit the stereotype and self-publish because they have been rejected repeatedly by the industry, but most authors choose it for the freedom and the profit margin, which is often better than what the major publishing houses are willing to give.


Sadly the stigma of self-publishing being an act of vanity still exists mainly because most people don’t realize how common self-publishing is with sites like Amazon, Lulu, or Lightning Source.  After publishing The Earl of Brass, I have found myself holding back when someone mentions the publishing process.  I’ll skate around it by nodding and saying that it was a lot of work and took a while to get ready.  When I have mentioned it was self-published, people who were enthusiastic suddenly deflate, as if the book lost its worth because it wasn’t chosen by a major publisher to be printed.  Because I am new to this phenomena, I am still unsure how to respond to it, but I think the best way is to have people read it, hopefully enjoy it, and then say it was self-published.  That way, they realize it wasn’t self-published because the quality was poor but because I wanted to do it that way.  As I explore my experiences in this endeavor, I will create blog posts about what the process was in publishing in paperback and ebook form and how I prep my books for publication.  If there is ever a topic anyone wants me to explore, just leave a comment or message, and I will try to write a hopefully helpful post.

The Earl of Brass is on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Book Depository


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Why Steampunk?


Before I go on about my preferred genre, I should probably explain what steampunk is since most people stop me after I have already begun to speak about it to ask what exactly I mean. Simply put, steampunk is a marriage between historical fiction and science fiction. It’s the Victorian Era that never was, and instead of moving toward combustion engines, steampunk stories tend to explore how the world would be if steam technology became the predominant mode of transportation and energy generation in the nineteenth century. Most stories are set in the mid to late 1800s, but that isn’t always necessarily the case with some stories being set in a neo-Victorian future.

There are three reasons I write steampunk stories (each of these reasons will be explored further in this post):
1. Playing with the past
2. Exploring modern social issues out of context
3. Victorian aesthetics

Playing with the Past
Some of the most fun I have writing is utilizing real people and places within my work. Several historical figures make an appearance in The Earl of Brass or The Winter Garden, including Lord Carnarvon, David Hogarth, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert (as a corpse), and in the future, I can see many other real people making cameos. More importantly, places are key to creating a richness in a story that delves into the past. A good chunk of my research is scouring Victorian maps and texts for places my characters can go and how they looked in the 1890s. The research can be fascinating and lead to more plots or simply a nice place for your characters to go to for a night on the town. Creating a realistic landscape even with the changes I have set up in my universe has been something I have worked on throughout my writing career, and about halfway through the second book, I realized how their world would really be.
To wrap up this section on playing with the past, I have to mention technology. Most people tend to think of carriages, coal, factories, and horse poop when thinking of Victorian technology, and while that isn’t far off, science and medicine were just about to take off. The Victorian Era is a launching point from which many of the things we have today began. Medicine is a topic I work with quite often, and part of the reason is because the Victorian era was half in the superstitious past and half in the modern world. In The Earl of Brass, the main character, Eilian Sorrell, has a prosthetic arm that can flex when he commands it to. Obviously there were prostheses, but they were not nearly as advanced. In the world of steampunk, I can sprinkle in modern ideas but only use materials that were available in the Victorian Era (no stainless steel, no biotechnology, no aspirin).

Exploring Modern social Issues out of Context

Another way to bring mingle the past with the present is to focus on issues that are prevalent today but set the story in the past. Some of the issues I have explored are: climate issues, humanism v. capitalism, LGBT rights, and equality. some of these issues were present in the 1890s, especially LGBT issues with the Oscar Wilde trial and the brief movement in Germany around the same time. Part of the reason I like to do this is because it allows the reader to see what they might not notice in the modern world they take for granted. Working these issues into the Victorian Era breaks the common misconceptions, and by approaching it through a creative rather than preachy or academic way, people are more likely to listen. My hope is that my LGBT characters will capture the reader’s hearts and that you will feel for them because they are humans who hurt and are victims of the world’s prejudices by no fault of their own. As a writer, integrating modern issues into the past helps me deepen my understanding of the issue by having to research it, get into the characters’ heads, and make sure the theme is coherently coming through. By having a purpose, you make a judgment of that issue and take on both sides by creating conflict between opposing characters or between characters and society.

Victorian aesthetics
This reason is a lot more vain and visual. I love the pictorial representations of the Victorian Era. The tug and pull of artisan lace and fabric with the utilitarian mass-marketed goods of the working class always thrills me. When I think of the Victorian Era, I always think of fog rolling in off the Thames as a woman in a bustle and corset walks between gas lamps. There is something sinister yet romantic about the era. The Victorians were a pretty morbid bunch with their postmortem photography and momento mori usually made of human hair. When you contrast any “wild” place with London, the grime of the era becomes so apparent, but the civility and rigid manners still outshine any detractors of the era. Then comes the next question, what lies beneath the starched shirts and laced corsets? To understand the Victorian person, one must understand the culture and why there was a need for structure and decorum, yet it is imperative to remember that they were humans just like us. No matter where they lived or what they wore, they had the same desires as we do now, and the universal humanity in all of us, ties the modern steampunk writer to the likes of Oscar Wilde or Dickens.

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