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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Typos Making You Crazy?

Roost of Rabbits by alojzm
You've finally taken the plunge into self publishing, and as soon as you download your first published novel, or take a gander at the shiny paperback you just slaved over, you discover the truth of the old adage:

"You never find the last typos until your book has been published."

The horrible truth is, typos are pesky little buggers that breed like rabbits on Viagra. The minute you think you've scrubbed out the last of them, you take one last look at your manuscript and find twelve more.

The other horrible truth is that your brain hates you. After the seventy-fifth readthrough (or the third--your statistics may vary), your brain will have translated all those typos into words it thinks are correct. This is why even professional editors and proofreaders have someone else read through their finished work before publication. (It's also why I should probably have somebody read through this before I hit "publish.")

What you need is someone to scour your manuscript for all those weird little details your eyeballs pass over because you're focused on whether you accidentally changed your protagonist's eyes from blue to brown or inadvertently had him take his shirt off twice in the same scene. When you're worrying about those things--which are really important--you miss the extra spaces, the extra commas, the misspellings of "the" to "teh" and other annoying errors that will turn readers off.

At Notes on Vellum, we know how to scour. So take your scouring to Scouring of the Shire levels by sending us your manuscript. We'll scrub out those rabbits and take away their Viagra. Base rates for proofing are a half-cent a word--that's $250 for a respectable 50,000-word novel. We can also do more complex editing--like taking care of those extra shirts and chameleon eyes--for slightly higher per-word rates.

For more information or to get an estimate on a specific work with a specific editing approach (proofing, continuity, substantive editing, developmental editing, etc.), shoot us an email at  We'd love to kill the heck out of all your typos.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Types of Rewrites

Rewriting and revisions can be a tricky business. The way I see it, there are three basic types of rewrites, each of which makes different demands. These are:

  1. Rewrites to strengthen your work before submission
  2. Rewrites to make your book better fit its chosen market
  3. Rewrites requested by your editor before publication

So how are these types of rewrites similar? And how are they different? Let’s break them down.

Strengthening Your Work Before Submission. Before you ever submit your book, you want to be sure it’s the strongest you can make it. This means evaluating every element of your story, from plot to characterization to the accuracy of your research to where you put that comma on page 47 (that one, there, about halfway down the page…). This is where you slave over every word until you’re completely certain your book is a piece of swamp sludge that no one will ever want to look at for any reason whatsoever because if you see it one more time you might just punch someone in the throat.

Okay, wait, you’re saying. Aren’t I supposed to work on the book until I love it more than my firstborn child? Well, one would think that would make logical sense, but in fact just about every writer I know says their book is ready to go out when they have reached a level of maniacal hatred toward it. I personally wait until I get to the point where I want to rewrite every single word on every single page. Then I send the damn thing out before I end up deleting the entire file.

I have no idea why our creative brains work this way, but it’s pretty common. I think it’s the whole familiarity breeds contempt thing. You second, third, fourth and nine zillionth-guess yourself so many times that you can’t tell what’s good and what’s bad anymore. So keep working until you just can’t stand it anymore, and then start sending stuff out.

In order to stay somewhat objective about this stage, it can be helpful to set up guidelines. A workflow might keep you on track, or a limit to how many revisions you’re allowed to do before you send it out to your chosen publisher. For example, you might say okay, I’m going to make four sweeps through: one for characterization and dialogue, one for plot and exposition, one for language and clarity, and one to hopefully catch all those lingering typos and grammatical errors. Add a bit of time between each sweep, and then promise yourself the book will go out after sweep four regardless of how you feel about it. Chances are, if you’ve given each step concentrated attention, your story’s going to be as good as you can make it by that time. It's also helpful to have someone else read it through, just to reassure you that it's not complete crap, and also to help find things that a reader might stumble over that you don't notice because you have all 100,000 words memorized by now.

Revisions to Better Match a Market. This could be a bit controversial, I suppose. However, marketability is a good goal. If you write genre fiction in particular, it’s essential that your manuscript meet the market expectations. Readers of romance novels expect a certain sequence of events (you can call this a formula, but if you’ve never written a romance it’s WAY harder than you probably think it is). Ditto mystery readers. Some other genres provide a bit more leeway as far as the plot “formula,” but there are still expectations. Your job as a writer is to meet the expectations without becoming completely predictable. It’s a tough line to walk sometimes.

If you think trying to meet a genre’s expectations is selling out, then you might not want to be writing genre books. On the other hand, if you truly feel your book won’t be the book you want if you try to fit it into market expectations, then you might need to look at a different market.

I think it’s important to understand genre expectations before you try to sell a genre book. It’s also important to stay true to your vision for the book. Finding that balance can be tricky, so the decision whether to revise for these reasons is going to be a very personal and individual one. Evaluate each book on its own, and in the end, go with your gut.

Rewrites Requested by Your Editor. This one initially seems like a no-brainer. You sold the book—now do your edits. However, again, I think there’s a certain amount of gut instinct you have to honor even in this situation. If your editor asks for changes that just don’t work for you, or that you feel are contradictory to your vision of the book, then some discussion might be in order.

Now, by “discussion” I don’t mean you should just tell the editor you won’t make the changes. I mean explain the reasons why you don’t want to make those changes and maybe come up with a compromise. If you’re willing to do a little give and take, then your editor most likely will be, too. And editors aren’t always right. I threw down with an author once over a scene I really, really disliked. She told me her readers would be fine with it, and she’d prefer to leave it. We ended up with a bit of a compromise—she made a few changes that made it more palatable to me, but in the end I still didn’t care for it. However, she knew her readers, and the book sold quite well. So I wasn’t really right on that call. Of course, I’ve had back-and-forth with my own editors on various projects, and maybe I was right and maybe I wasn’t, but in the end there have only been a couple of cases where I was really unhappy with elements of the final product. And even in those cases, the majority worked for the finished book. I still grumble, but the readers don’t even know there was ever a problem.

Overall, I think it’s important to have an editor you can communicate well with, and who you trust. (I personally am grateful to have editors who'll put up with me even though I'm a huge pain in the ass sometimes.) It’s also important to be willing to compromise even when you want more than anything to dig in your heels and keep your baby exactly the way it is.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Back to Rewriting

Even Walt Whitman Rewrote Stuff
Well, I went MIA for a while there... Didn't realize how long until I went to take a look. Anyway, I apologize. Several things derailed me, one of which was getting sick, and another of which was contracting a new novel. And that book needed rewriting (and will probably need more rewriting), so that at least gives me more fodder for new posts over the next few weeks, even if it kept me away from my blog posting.

For this week, I offer some links I've found addressing the subject of rewrites and revisions. All of these struck me as being chock full of Useful Information, so I hope you find something helpful.

Patricia C. Wrede--Revising. Discussing strategies as well as defining different levels of revision.

Mystery Writing is Murder--Lists and Layers. Discusses the issue in terms of second, third and etc. drafts, which, yeah, that's definitely rewriting and revision.

More from Patricia C. Wrede--Layering. Similar concepts to the above post, but a slightly different approach.

James Dashner--Lessons from a Rewrite, Part 1. Check into the other parts of this series, as well. A lot of good information.

Write to Done--Eight Simple Tips for Editing Your Own Work. Some good advice here, too, but ignore that bit about cutting 10% of your words. That's a little too cut and dried for me. However, the things to look at under that bullet point are definitely valid. Just don't sit in front of a calculator trying to get to 10%.

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Rewriting—Don’t Fire the Coach Just Yet

How is writing like hockey?
If Coach Q's mustache doesn't know, then I certainly don't.

In which KK indulges in another hockey metaphor. Because she can.

I’ve hit a bit of a wall in my rewriting. This is silly, I know, because I’ve only reviewed three chapters. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m feeling this way because I haven’t had time to push through the next three chapters. Something about having to make money to pay bills and stuff. It’s annoying.

Anyway, while I’ve been writing website copy and blog posts for clients and other stuff that doesn’t really feed my creative needs, my brain has been running in circles around the book I just finished. I was really excited about it while I was writing it. I was really excited about it when I finished it.

Now my brain is coming up with all kinds of things that are just wrong. Things my brain says to me:
  • Is there really a strong plot throughline? 
  • Did your secondary hero really have any kind of development? 
  • There’s such a backlash against vampires right now—will this thing even sell? 
  • Did you spend way too much time indulging yourself and not pay any attention to actually writing a decent book? 
  • Did you WASTE THREE MONTHS writing a PILE OF CRAP?!!

I’m sure some of you can relate.

Time to Fire the Coach?

Last night there was a hockey game. Okay, there were several of them, but the one I’m talking about is the one where my team got massacred and one of the dudes on the opposing team matched a record for number of points scored by a single player in a game. It was brutal.

After a hockey team—or any sports team, for that matter—loses a game, or loses a few games, or loses a game to a team they really should be able to mop the ice with (like the freaking EDMONTON OILERS OMG WTF still bitter), there’s always a fan reaction. A crazed, rapid, intense fan reaction filled with bad language. The discussion usually involves what players are underperforming, where they should be traded and for whom, and whether or not it’s time to fire the coach.

The truth of the matter is, while making judicial trades is probably a good idea, and sometimes pulling in a new coach can turn a team around (but not always), usually smaller adjustments are needed. Switching up lines, or working with players individually, or swearing at the team more in the locker room during intermission. I don’t even know—I’m not a sports expert. But I do know that trading the entire team and firing the coach is never a good option. Okay, rarely a good option.

When you get into a headspace where you’re pretty sure the book you wrote is a steaming pile of crap, you’re basically doing the same thing. You’ve gone from wondering if that right wing might play better at center to riding the coach and the goalie out of town on a rail. It’s the kind of reaction only a rabid fan would endorse. And what is a rabid fan, by definition? Somebody who’s emotionally way too close to the problem.

Chances are that my throughline is fairly solid. I’ve been writing for a long time—these things usually come together pretty well even when it happens on a subconscious level. And my secondary hero might need a bit of work, but it’s more tweaking than anything else. I don’t think I need to try to trade him to Calgary for another guy or anything that extreme. Tossing the whole book out as a steaming pile of crap would be like firing the coach prematurely.

What I need to do, then, is step back. I need to make notes of what I think isn’t working and how I think it could be fixed. I need to start making lists of scenes to write that will fill in the spots where things don’t flow right, or where a bit more insight into a character’s motivation will fill a blank. Maybe I need to write a new outline, based on the finished book, and see where the holes exist. Any of these techniques, or a combination, can help me take a step back from the problem and help me see what the issues really are. It’s objective. It’s goal oriented.

And then I won’t fire the coach. Because hey, the coach is me, and that would just be awkward.

One last note—I was Googling around for something the other day (I forget what but it probably had something to do with Marian Hossa because doesn't everything?), and ran across one of these articles in reaction to a game the Chicago Blackhawks lost. Questions about why the team was performing so poorly, whether half the roster should be traded, and yes, whether or not the coach should be sent packing. I skimmed it, then glanced up at the date.

It was from the year the team won the Stanley Cup. There’s a lesson there.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

You’re Done! Let’s Rewrite Stuff a Lot

It's a book!! sorta...
(In which KK uses weird metaphors.)

The book is done! First draft-wise, anyway. Now it’s time for rewriting.

STATISTICS and LOGISTICS: The book was written longhand in 3 spiral-bound notebooks. The fourth (red) notebook is a catch-all for notes and the story bible. Periodically during the writing process, I sat down with Dragon Dictate icon (Dragon NaturallySpeaking icon for you PC users) and dictated a few scenes into Scrivener. By the time the first longhand draft was finished, I only had a few scenes left to dictate. Right now it's clocking in at about 82,000 words.

PROCESS: Rewriting is where the real meat of producing a book happens. You can think of your first draft as the bones—the story’s skeleton, as it were. With rewriting, you make sure all the muscles and connecting tissues are in place, and at some point you’ll probably shove in some internal organs, or move them around, or switch their function a little.

My book has a big ass like Alex Ovechkin.
Now, in all fairness, you probably have more than just a skeleton once you finish your first draft. You probably have some tendons and ligaments, a few major muscles, like pectorals and thighs and upper arms and probably some good, solid ass muscles. (My book has good, solid ass muscles because it’s about hockey players.) There are probably some organs floating around in there—maybe a pancreas, some bile ducts, half a lung. Let’s hope it has a heart, too. That’s the most important piece. The heart is your reason for writing the book in the first place. However, if your heart—your theme, your voice, or your main message—is a little lumpy and is maybe shy a valve or two, don’t worry.

Your goal in your rewrite, then, is to fill in the places where the story doesn’t quite fit together. Where one piece doesn’t quite match another. Where we don’t know one character well enough, or know wayyyyy too much about another. When there’s not enough description or information for the reader to really feel like she’s there, living the story rather than watching it pass by in bits of print.

It’s hard work. But think about it. You don’t want to send that story out the way it is now. Heck, it’s got one arm hanging there from nothing but a chunk of tendon. What if that arm falls off and flops around on the editor’s desk? Awkward.

TOOLS: As with any major construction project, having the right tools is paramount. You’ll need physical tools as well as mental tools. You might need somebody to help you out. Heck, you might need a whole crew.

Mental tools: The most important mental tools for a rewrite are objectivity and patience. If you can’t look at your piece objectively, you’re going to end up leaving in a couple extra pituitary glands, or forgetting a kidney. If you reach a point where you’re not objective, either move on to something else or find somebody who will be objective.

Physical tools: Whatever you’re comfortable with. I do some revision right on the computer, while other bits—usually the larger ones—I’ll write out longhand. If I’m having a particularly hard time piecing a scene together, I’ll print it out and write on the printouts. Be flexible. If you feel like all the bits and pieces are getting muddled up in your head, try switching things up. Go from computer to longhand or vice versa.

I also keep my story bible on hand at all times. When I’m going through my rewrites, I’ll add facts, timeline bits, character background, etc., to the story bible. I’ll also write notes about things I mentioned in one place but didn’t carry through, or ideas about how scenes could be expanded or lead to different ramifications later in the book. Sometimes it’s complicated, like “Expand this relationship—we need to see more of this character.” Sometimes it’s stuff like, “OMG this is so stupid, let’s make it a running joke.”

Other tools: Sometimes it’s good to have a procedure to follow. I’m going to dip into a couple of books as we go: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers icon and Revision and Self-Editing icon to give my rewriting a tad more structure. I’ll let you know how working with these books goes for me.

Another great help is a critique partner. I send chapters to my best friend, and she gets back to me with detailed or not so detailed notes, depending on the need. (I sent her the first three chapters of this draft and so far her only comment has been, “OMG your vampires are drinking the wrong beer!” I’m still waiting for additional guidance.) If you have someone you know will be objective and helpful, make use of them as much as you can. Also? Send them gifts so they won’t feel like you’re using them.

This represents a good jumping off point for your rewrite efforts. In future posts, we’ll get into some nitty-gritty and pound this novel into shape.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Book Review: First Draft in 30 Days

icon icon Since this is a writing guide, about the only way I can effectively review it is by discussing my personal experience using the book. My disclaimer, then, is Your Mileage May Vary.

I've known Karen Weisner for a long time, and have seen her prolific output. Her blog posts and other resources on plotting books and writing them quickly have intrigued me for a while, so I decided to give the full book a shot.

The book presents a step-by-step method to produce a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline of a full novel. The result isn't a fully fleshed out first draft, but it lays out every detail of every scene so that you can go back and fill in the gaps to produce your full first draft. Because of the extensive planning that occurs as you go through Weisner's process, you can produce the full draft without having to stumble over plot issues, backtracking, or a need for extensive revision and rewrite.


I used the book to plot out a story idea I'd had brewing for quite a while. Going through the layering process helped me work out what I felt was a solid outline. I felt really good about it when it was done, although I took more like 45-60 days rather than 30. Still, it felt like a great start. I had a story bible, research ready to go, character names and backgrounds, worldbuilding, and a step-by-step plot outline just ready to be fleshed out into a full draft.

But when I started into that next step, everything stalled. I found the story drifting from the outline within only about 5 pages. The story stopped feeling fresh and motivated. I only got a few pages into producing that fleshed out novel before I stopped. The joy was gone.

I'm not sure why this happened. I think it had something to do with my process, and that another writer wouldn't experience the same kind of deflation after going through this process.

I've set my draft aside for the moment. I know I'll come back to it and be able to finish it, but for now it's on a back burner until I get really excited about it again.

Some aspects of Weisner's method, though, I've integrated into my routine--gathering notes and research in an organized set of files, for example. And I'm sure the extensive outline I constructed with the help of this book will eventually become a full-fledged novel. But I'm not sure I'll follow the full process through exactly as Weisner has it laid out, because it doesn't seem to mesh with my personal writing style. For those who thrive on detailed outlines, though, Weisner's method might be very helpful.

Click on the graphic above, or here icon, to purchase from Barnes and Noble.

Friday, December 30, 2011

What's Coming In the New Year?
Cool stuff, that's what! I'm still plugging away on my manuscript I started for NaNoWriMo, and when I get it done, I'll be doing a series on editing and rewrites as I do, well, editing and rewrites on that book. I suspect I'll scribble out the last pages during January.

In the meantime, I'll be offering reviews of some books that I think will help you in your own rewriting and editing journey with your WIP. I'll post these on Wednesdays throughout January. I'm also putting together another project I think you'll like--more on that as it develops.

Best wishes in the New Year, and I hope your writing journey shapes up well over the course of 2012.