Friday, August 17, 2018

Pre-Editing Saves A Lot Of Work

I figure, we are living in a world where we just create definitions to suit our purposes, so with that said, I decided to create my own definition. OK, so I may not have created the actual word, but I am going to use it in a completely different manner.

According to the Department of Translation, from the Universite' de Geneve, the definition of PRE-EDITING IS...

Pre-editing consists in processing the texts before machine translation. It typically involves correcting mistakes in the source text (mainly grammar, punctuation and spelling), removing ambiguities and simplifying structures. For statistical MT, it may also involve adapting the text in such a way that the input text is a closer match to the texts the engine has been trained with, which can help the MT engine perform better.

Now, while this deals with the concept of translating material from one language to the next, I think we can utilize this same concept of PRE-EDITING in the publishing world.

My definition is.

 pri -ˈedət/
gerund or present participle: editing
  1. 1.
    to consider the elements of a writing project prior to the actual writing of the manuscript. for the purpose of insuring all of the potential errors are eliminated before moving too far into the writing. 
    synonyms:plotting, planning, outlining, getting your act together before getting screwed too far into the book.

OK, so I know I have most of you out there screaming that this is nothing more than the whole pantster vs. plotter argument. Sorry, but this is not that. This is a method of simply taking the time to think through the potential elements that may come into conflict as you write. 
Walt Disney in a Pre-Editing (planning) Session

Before you begin any writing project, it is crucial to take the time to fully think about your characters; their goals, motivations and conflicts; and the over-all storyline you are thinking about. All of these elements have to work together.

What I see with many authors, is that individual elements work great as long as those elements remain as an individual. Putting those ideas together creates issues.

Let me give you an example of this thinking, outside of publishing. My mother-in-law loved going to those "Street of Dreams" open houses. These are the one's where the designer let their minds wander and create homes that are to die for. She also loved visiting other people's homes and seeing what they have done. But here is where the problems would start happening. She would re-decorate the living room, but then realize that the dining room did not match. So she would re-do that room with new furniture, but then the furniture did not match the living room. So she would change the furniture and then the paint or the carpeting did not match. Changing those elements now had a trickle down effect to the hallway and the bedrooms... which would... you get the idea.

Although she was a fantastic person, pre-editing was not a strong element in her character.

One common story arc in romance is that of the two people that seem polar opposites getting together. This indeed makes for a great story, but it requires that pre-editing to make sure that there are things that are hidden away in each of the characters, things that only the writer knows, that makes these two compatible. If you don't take the time to plan these out before starting, you will end up having to likely insert "stuff" in the middle of the plot just to take care of the issue.

You may end up with multiple scenarios that could happen. That's fine. At least you have thought though those ideas BEFORE. If you see the story heading into a direction of complete failure, you can re-adjust quickly before getting too far.

What about conflict? Again, there are some great conflict themes out there that you can use, but if that conflict becomes a situation that cannot be solved in the real-world, then you have a problem.

I have an author I am working with that is planning out her new story. We have a situation where we wanted to create a reason why these two characters might not be able to get together, and we wanted to connect it to a will. On the surface, the plan sounds like it might work, but to insure no problems happened once she got to that point in the story, it required researching some historical precedents that would have made that work. That research revealed several things: 1) every time we thought we had a solution, it required going back and re-framing the early part of the story; 2) we found legal solutions that did not work as a precedent but actually worked as a reverse argument; and finally 3) we found a better plot issue.

Pre-editing also allows a reader to examine the over-all plot and conflict in the story. What might seem like a complicated plot only turns out to be a complication that could have been fixed with a simple phone call. On the other end, what might seem like a straightforward plot, involves at least a three volume set of historical research just to get the writer out of the jam.

What this process does for a writer is to eliminate the massive "over-haul" that would be required to get the writer back on the right track. This is part of the reason why, as an agent, I like to work with an author through those earlier planning times and chapters. Trying to fix an issue that blows up in our fact during chapter 18 may require a reconstruction of all that writing in chapters 1-17. This is something no writer would want to do.

You can be a pantster all that you want. I am, in no way saying you need to outline to the page number exactly what is going to happen in the story. What I am saying is to think before you write. Consider all of those potential issues between your characters, conflicts, plots and so forth.

And then write.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Know Your "Dream" Publisher

One mistake I see so many authors make, is simply throwing their story to the wind and hoping
someone will grab it. This happens as well with agents, but that is a different story. With the publishers, however, most of those rejections new authors get is not due to poor quality writing. The issue stems from writing that does not match the voice and the style of the publisher.

SIDE NOTE: I will not use specific names of publishers in this post.

One thing you have heard me say, time and time again here on this post, is that your writing fits with maybe 3 different publishers out there. OK, I might be able to get up to 5, but that is it. Just because a publisher takes contemporary romance does not mean that your story fits with EVERY place that takes contemporary romance.

Now, when I said this is different than agents, knowing which publisher you should submit to does not begin in the research as to where to send your story, which is what you would do with an agent. This starts BEFORE you even think about writing your story.

This begins when you just have a glimmer of an idea for a story.


That's right. The common mistake writers have is that they just sit down and start writing a story, not thinking about where their story really needs to sit on that bookshelf in your local book store. They do not think about which publisher it really needs to be with.

I ask this question a lot during pitch sessions. Where do you see your writing going? Which publisher do you think your writing being best placed with. Answers vary from: "I think it fits with everyone. This is a pretty common plot." to "I really want to be with this publisher, they so rock!" The problem with each of these stems from a writer not knowing his or her market. In the first case, the writer is only focused on the plot (which does have some play in all of this but not as much as a writer may think). In the second case, the writer is just focused on the glamor of a publisher and still, not whether the writing fits or not.

SIDE NOTE: The author who said the second one was pitching a genre the publisher did not represent.

Doing that research of the publishers goes to a much deeper level than plot. Yes, this does have some issue but it revolves more around the writing. As you start doing the research here, take the time to always look at WHO is publishing the story.

When I go to the publisher book signing at the Romance Writers of America conference, I always get similar genre books and keep them sorted when I get home. This way, I can look for those differences

Let's take a look at a few of those ideas:

DEPTH OF PLOT This is not a matter of adding more "stuff" to your story, but more of an issue of the speed of the story. When a writer adds a lot more depth to the story, it will read slower. This is where you really see a huge difference between series and single title stories. This is also where you see a difference between the mass market story and the literary fiction story.

How much back story does the publisher tend to use? If it is a historical novel, how much of the real life history do they bring into the plots, or is it all surface level history.

LAYERS OF SECONDARY ELEMENTS This is very similar to the plot analysis, but it also takes in the number of secondary characters, the depth of the world building, the amount of conflict.

Many publishers are already thinking of books for a series and will often develop plots that have those secondary characters being so much in the front, they almost become sub-protagonists. Not quite to the surface, but enough to set the scene for a later book. Now, I fully understand many of you are already thinking of other stories with other characters, but for the publishers, they are already layering those elements in. Other places, even though they want a series, keep those secondary characters to those who "interact but don't get involved."

The layers of secondary conflict is also an issue. Some publishers like to propel the characters through a story where they have to continually unlock harder and harder conflicts to get to that final resolution. Others want to just keep it simple, focus on building to that one conflict and BAM! solve it.

TYPES OF CONFLICT This is a plotting issue. I could go on and on but I want to keep this pretty broad right now. Some publishers like more external conflict getting in the way of the characters. Others want it only about the characters getting to know each other.

Each type of conflict will mean a different type of plotting and character development. This is directly connected to the issues in the prior two things we have looked at. More in-depth conflict requires more depth of character and plot development.

LEVELS OF SENSUALITY - Yes this is an issue, but it does not just differentiate between Amish and Erotica. This involves when and how the sensuality is added.

I just wrote about this idea earlier in the week. Some publishers want that sensuality to be almost like a character in the story, or the conflict holding the people back. Others simply want the sensuality to be a stage the characters go through.

The language too is a factor. How graphic do the characters talk during their moments together? Even the descriptions of body parts plays a role.

BALANCE OF NARRATION AND DIALOGUE This is connected to the speed in which the read happens. We have all heard, that narration slows a story down, and it does. One thing I always heard from one particular publisher during those spotlight sessions at RWA Conferences, was this issue. We want those fast fun reads. Did they say no narration? Nope! But was this a hint to the authors? Yes.

This balance also happens to be one of the big differences between women's fiction and mass market, or literary fiction and mass market. More narration is a tool used, not for an information dump, but for slowing the reader down to enjoy.

SIDE NOTE: If you write for a publisher who is not a big fan of narration, and you use it heavily for an information dump, understand that your readers are not fans of that. That might be an issue why your #'s are down.

VOCABULARY, LANGUAGE AND SENTENCE STRUCTURE This one is really simple. Do you use big words? Do you use general vocabulary? Are you sentences frequently straight forward Declamatory, Informative, Interrogative or Exclamatory? or do you tend to go for compound, complex sentences with an integration of passive voice to balance the active voice?

I know this sounds strange, but it is a HUGE factor.

STRUCTURE OF THE STORY Let me again say, this is not a plotting issue, but how the story is composed. This is also not an issue of 1st or 3rd person. This gets into things such as:
  • Do the chapters tend to be broken up into two points of view on the same topic - one from the hero and one from the heroine?
  • Do the stories tend to begin with an info dump or world building first and then move into the character development.
  • Do the stories tend to try to start with the central conflict and layer in the characters solving the problem, or do they take it in reverse.
In many ways, this is like how people develop an argument. Is it deductive or inductive reasoning. 


So how does your writing fit in with all of this? If you have a particular style and approach you prefer to write with, it is up to you to find the publisher that is your best match. Think of this as a publisher version of MATCH.COM. 

I will also add that you can learn to write this way. If you are like that author I mentioned at the beginning and want to write for a given publisher, then that author NEEDS to change her voice.

Yes, I know this is why you go this route, and that is the best way for you. If you have a style that simply is 100% unique and 100% different then yes, take that route. But please, you cannot blame the publishers for not being open to that voice of yours. This is an issue of YOU not doing your market research and sending a product to them that was not what they were looking for.

This is a full workshop I teach. Just send me an email and I am happy to help all of you out!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

#MSWL This is what I want in New Adult

Sometimes a song says it better than anything else.

This is what I want in New Adult Romance. It is the message and the theme, not the plot...

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Is The Swearing And The Sex Necessary?

I tweeted about this over the weekend, but I wanted to take some more time today to discuss a trend I am seeing more and more in the romances that are out there.

Authors seem to believe that adding graphic language, or sex scenes that would make most porn starts blush sells books. While those stories may sell to a certain group of people out there, these authors are missing the point. Romance is about the Happily Ever After. Romance is about watching a romance build into something worthwhile.

Now, don't get me wrong. Hot scenes are fine. Language, when necessary is fine. But when authors are using this to build their story around, they are missing the mark.

When I have taught creative writing to high school students, one of the first questions I get asked is, "So, is it OK if we put swearing in the story." My answer is always the same. "IF it is necessary." I then give them a couple of examples to prove my point.
  • Vietnam fiction is often filled with a lot of language. I read 13th Valley in my undergraduate work at the University of Puget Sound. The professor openly noted the language, but he also followed it up with a great piece of analysis. This war sucked. There was nothing good about it. In all honesty, that language was the only way to describe what they were going through.
  • For you parents, you will understand this one. We have probably all done this. Have you ever stepped on a Lego or a Barbie shoe, in your bare feet, in the middle of the night? My bet is "Oh, ouch" was not the words you used. Language is appropriate here.
  • This one I know we have all done. You know that moment when you bang your elbow on that point that is not so "funny?" Again, my bet is the language you use is pretty darn colorful.
The point is, language is appropriate, IF the characters would normally speak this way. The language is appropriate if it adds to the story, or adds to an understanding of the character.

Now let's talk about the sex scenes. When I started thinking about this post (and the twitter comment this weekend) it was due to a contemporary novel I was reading. The only conflict in the book seems to revolve around the two characters deciding if that chapter long sex scene was either good enough, or if they would be embarrassed when they returned to work the next day. We are not seeing any development of the characters or their relationship.

This is especially true for the romance genre. This is a genre about watching two characters come together, to learn about one another, to grow as a couple. I am sorry to say this, but if the author believes that they are getting together in bed is good enough, or that they learn that the other person likes some particular position, or their growth as a couple is just how long they can do it, the author is missing the point. 

I'll be very honest. Writing a romance and leaving out the bedroom scenes is tough. Guess what? You have to rely on storytelling. You have to rely on the characters actually talking and doing things together. You also have to rely on your ability as an author to create a realistic conflict. 

So, before you add that language or add that scene, ask yourself, is it really necessary...