Editing Your Manuscript

Remember those speakers at writers conferences who said you need to borrow or buy a professional editor to help you with your manuscript? Well, if you haven’t followed their advice, it’s not too late.

I’ll confess that I did not use a professional editor to prepare my manuscript for submissions in the 1990s. I did belong to a feedback group that provided a lot of advice and suggestions. Good, but not the same thing. Later, I was fortunate to have a professional editor look over my manuscript and begin editing before the “2016 publisher” went out of business.

My full-on experiences with an editor have come with my current publisher, first with Mistaken Identity, then with Connections. I’m not sure if there’s a “standard” for processing a manuscript for publication, but the process set up by my publisher seems logical and has worked well for me.

Initially, my editor marked up the submitted manuscript and returned the file to me via email. I read the marked up manuscript, making changes to a “clean copy” file of the manuscript. When I returned the new file, I noted in the email any variance from the editor’s changes and any significant changes I made. We then completed a second editor-author edit exchange for each book.  

Once the galley had been created from the second round clean copy, I had two opportunities to make any final changes, first by reviewing a PDF version and finally by reviewing a print version.

Here’s what I’ve learned from this experience:

  1. If you think that those “A’s” you scored in English/grammar classes prepared you for the challenge of being a professional editor, you are mistaken. As I was, you may be confident that your manuscript is in pretty good shape, but there is a lot more to the task.
  2. If an editor gives you a list of global style changes, take the time to make them. This person knows what is current and acceptable and can help you with consistency and word flow. This can be from an editor at a conference, an editor to whom you submitted your work, or the editor assigned by your publisher.
  3. If an editor asks you a question about a character, relationship, event, time reference, or anything else, don’t just answer the question in a note to the editor, answer the question in your book. I found that the answers can be provided in a sentence here or there. Even more importantly, the questions may point out an “oops” in your plot line or a character’s behavior.
  4. If an editor makes a word or format change, think about how it might be applied elsewhere as you read your manuscript again.
  5. Finally, don’t be too timid to challenge your editor’s changes. If it’s a technical edit that you aren’t sure of, look it up in your own source and send off an email to discuss it with the editor. If your editor challenges something in the story itself, think it through and then discuss it with the editor. Editors are good and necessary, but they do not claim to be perfect. Right or wrong, the discussion will help you to hone your writing skills.

Another Writing Career Reboot – Considering the Offer

The emails expressing interest in the first two books of my mystery series raised a number of emotions. First, I was quite surprised by the timing, about five weeks after submission. Second, I was thrilled with their enthusiastic comments indicating that the team had clearly read both manuscripts. Third, I was cautiously optimistic given my experience with a previous publisher. Fourth, I was skeptical since the particular publisher, Zimbell House Publishing, requires an author’s investment.

I’ll go right to the heart of my dilemma. In the 1990s when I set out to be a published author, I was told that I should not have to pay anything to reach that goal. Furthermore, the vanity press was not used by real writers and real writers groups did not recognize a self-published individual as a legitimate author.

I don’t believe that such a stigma continues today. Furthermore, what ZHP offers is not self-publishing services but a partnership between the publisher and author. I knew about this requirement when I allowed my manuscripts to be matched with ZHP on the Authors.me website and put the issue in the cross-that-bridge-when-we-get-there category. ZHP’s emails brought me to the bridge.

The process I went through is not important. I considered many things that any writer would when evaluating a publisher’s offer. In the end it came down to these questions:

  • What will ZHP provide in ancillary services, such as marketing tools?
  • Does the organization/team seem up to the task based on what is known about ZHP?
  • Is the investment amount reasonable and feasible?
  • If not ZHP, what am I waiting for?

My research was limited to reviewing the author list and product catalog via the ZHP website and asking process and contractual questions of the acquisition manager. I also took a look at ZHP’s footprint on Amazon and the internet in general.

An unfortunate reality stuck in my brain: The 2016 publisher that went out of business while working on my book was known to me personally as were writers published by the company. I was also familiar with the publisher’s personal work ethic. None of that knowledge or familiarity helped me get my book published by that publisher.

Clearly limited information and a leap of faith would play an important part in my decision about ZHP. The most important question – What am I waiting for? Do I think there’s a publisher out there who will take on a first-time author free of charge or even give me an advance? Will that publisher provide all the support and the higher royalty rate that ZHP promises? How many more months or years will it take to find that theoretical publisher?

With some nervousness, but mostly confidence, I signed the contract two weeks later. Much progress has been made on both books in the intervening months. Check out my Books tab for info about the Kate Starling Mysteries series and an opportunity to review the first book, Mistaken Identity.

The partnership has worked for me in my particular circumstances. It may not be for everyone. But it is an option available in this 21st century and I am delighted.

Another Writing Career Reboot – Renewing the Search for a Publisher

If you’re familiar with my blog postings from 2017 and 2018, you know my writing career has been full of starts, stutters, stops, and restarts over the last three decades. While I’ve learned a lot about writing and the publishing business through conferences and networking, there’s been limited success. I’ve completed four novels—one has been hidden away, one has been put aside for future consideration, and two are currently in play. The 2005 publication of Suspect was not successful or even memorable, and my short-term experience with a publisher in 2016 was disheartening.

But there’s always hope, right?

In 2017 I pitched both Mistaken Identity and Connections to an editor and an agent. I received some good comments from one and nothing from the other. I took those comments and the advice that I received from the editor I worked with in 2016 and set about polishing the two manuscripts.

My next task was to send out more queries. The internet is great, but it was quite tedious to find viable editors, publishers, and agents to approach, even with the help of Writer’s Market. This is not news to any unpublished writer. Many publishers require a writer to go through an agent. Some are no longer accepting new authors or unsolicited submissions. Nevertheless, I found a dozen feasible prospects in January 2019. It was a start.

While all those I queried were accessible through the internet, only a few accepted email queries with attachments. A few accepted email queries only and would ask for chapters if interested.  About half provided a link to either the Authors.me or the Queryme.Online website, each of which provided a platform for the author to submit a profile and manuscript.

The first time I used Authors.me it matched my work to other perspective editors and publishers as well as the publisher who “sent” me. I was able to do a quick look up to research the match and agree to or decline the opportunity. I was also provided a link to my profile so that I could monitor progress for all my submissions.

Queryme.Online linked me directly to the particular editor/publisher’s account and provided me with a link to monitor the status. As is typical, some of the queries were rejected immediately while others went unanswered for many weeks. Painfully slow progress was visible through the review cycle on Authors.me or Queryme.Online.  

As time went by, I questioned if working on the third novel in the series was a waste of my time since neither of the earlier series novels had been published. I considered starting a totally new book with a fresh idea. Still, I was determined to continue sending out queries. In addition, I made plans to attend a couple of regional conferences to do pitches and network.

Unfortunately, the notion that I might never be published made itself comfortable in my mind.

And then I received the email I had been waiting for. A publisher was interested.

Considering the Offer—in my next blog.

Give Harmony a Chance

Does anyone else feel like they woke up one day not long ago and everyone in the USA seemed a bit tense? Maybe it’s because I’m retired and have more time on my hands to notice what’s going on around me.

My uniform for my previous day job of 40 plus hours per week included a set of blinders. It was almost impossible to catch the day-to-day drama of being a citizen.

Even my first year of retirement was focused on personal projects that had been ignored and postponed for years:  yard work beyond an occasional mow, house work beyond the occasional vacuum, sorting through stacks of items stowed in the garage or spare closet, writing the book I started years before.

And then it was 2015 and the Presidential election caught my attention. One of my first posts in May 2016 was about Trump running. Rereading that post recently I was amazed how both correct and wrong I was in my speculation. But that’s another issue.

I don’t believe the election or Donald J. Trump himself caused the tension in our citizenry. But it occurs to me they both exacerbated the soup of divisiveness that had been simmering for years. A soup, by the way, which is now a full-fledged and very large pot of Mulligan stew.

Although I dwell on this situation during my evenings digesting the day’s news, I don’t know precisely how we got here or what can be done to go back to “better times” or even if the “better times” are merely my personal fantasy.

I suspect that we need to listen to each other’s ideas without judging, perhaps by viewing the idea from the other person’s perspective. Okay, I know what you’re thinking: It’s impossible to truly walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I agree, but the effort to do so would be a beginning.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Before you lash out to criticize or rebut something really stupid said by someone who is clearly an idiot – Stop, take a breath, and ask the person politely, “Why do you say that?” or “What makes you think that?” Don’t be aggressive or accusatory or denigrating. Stay calm and ask.
  • Before you forward an email, text, Face Book post, or Tweet – Think about the consequences. Will this information do harm or good? Will receiving this information inflame or relieve the recipient? Do you want to be responsible for perpetuating hate or unease? Do you know things NEVER leave the internet?
  • Before you respond to a statement, question, or accusation – Slow down and consider what you are about to say. Did you understand the other person’s words? If not, ask the individual to repeat or explain. What can you say that would be positive?  What do you know about the subject? Should you do research or ask more questions? Above all, DO NOT try to FIX the person’s thinking.
  • Remember it’s not about YOU, so don’t take it personally. Even if it seems at first glance to be about you, it probably isn’t. Ask yourself why you’re angry or upset and make sure you approach the issue calmly.

Hey, it’s worth trying.

My Mother’s Hands

When I was a child everyone said I looked like my daddy and I agreed. As I became an adult I thought I resembled my Aunt Olga, Daddy’s sister, and her older daughter. I’ve even been accused by elders in my father’s family of being someone from the “old country.”

Imagine my surprise when I began to notice Mother’s reflection in my mirror, or her smile in my photograph, or her opinions in my freely-given advice. But the most frequent reminder of my mother is my hands. They are her hands—the coloring, the way the veins are more visible when I’m stressed, the curve of the fingers, even my fingernails (if only on one hand).

Mother’s hands were her creative tools. She embroidered. She painted, both canvas and ceramics. She sewed clothes for me until I was a young adult. She crocheted.

When I was a young girl she created my clothes, my dancing costumes, and doll clothes with her Brother Sewing Machine. For at least thirty years, she oiled and cleaned that machine before and after each use.

As I moved into my teens and later when she retired, she turned to all types of craft projects: ceramics, embroidery, needle point, crocheting, and ceramic dolls. I have boxes full of unfinished kits in my garage. Maybe someday maybe I’ll finish them.

The bookshelves and walls of my home are full of her work, all completed with precision, artistry, and unconditional love. So when I glance at my hands and see my mother’s, I take a tour through her museum.

That’s when I realize how special she was and how grateful I am for my time with her and for all the items she left behind, including that unconditional love I mentioned.

Grand Canyon Adventure – End of the Journey

Since December 19, 2016, when Anne brought up the idea of hiking at the Grand Canyon, there was a month or two of research, three monthly attempts to make a reservation at Phantom Ranch, and over 60 training hikes of various lengths and durations culminating in the final (and I must say awesome) success of the Grand Canyon hike itself.

IMG_0445The importance of training for this type of hike cannot be overstated. If one wants to hike the South Kaibab (7.5 miles) or Bright Angel (10 miles) trails, one must understand the seriousness and brutality of the “up-ness” and “down-ness” of this hike. If you plan to stay at Phantom Ranch your load will be lighter than if you plan to camp out. In either case practicing with your full load is important.

I suppose the amount of training is relative to age (i.e., the younger you are the less training you need). Okay, I’m sure that’s true, but one should nevertheless take my advice into consideration.

We drove the 2600-mile round trip between Missouri and the South Rim, taking three days going and two days to come home. Driving through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona is worth the time if you have it. The wind turbine and solar panel farms are incredible.

20180429_173240_resizedThe volcanic lava fields seemingly springing forth from a desert mesa in New Mexico are mind-blowing. The rock formations across the Southwest United States are not only beautiful but humbling.

20180501_115025But there are cities, small and large, that are interesting too. We stopped for the night in both Amarillo, TX, and Albuquerque, NM. And it didn’t hurt that we had great weather. But oh that wind!!!

IMG_2281IMG_2250On our way to the canyon, we spent an afternoon in Old Town Albuquerque (established in 1706). The area is charming and the shopping opportunities abound. Each locally-owned store has its own story and character. Here’s a link to a bit of history: http://albuquerqueoldtown.com/index.php?page=history .

Our return trip started early the day after our hike out. We grabbed a quick breakfast along the interstate and headed to Amarillo—about half-way home. Anne and Shayna had the perfect place in mind for our celebration dinner. We’d driven past the “no-way-you-can-miss-seeing-this-place” location on our way to the canyon. Perhaps a little over-the-top, but it held a special place in their family history.IMG_0434

IMG_0438We drove from our hotel on the east side of Amarillo a little farther east to The Big Texan Steak Ranch. Nothing about this establishment is small—not the sign outside, the huge dining room, the desserts, nor the 72-ounce steak which is free if you can eat it ALL (including baked potato and salad). (Check it out: https://www.bigtexan.com/72oz-hall-fame )

IMG_2395Certainly one cannot overlook the charm of the roving singers, two men who can perform, without hesitation and in harmony, ANY song that is requested.IMG_0441

Our steaks and baked potatoes were cooked to perfection and delicious. By the way the young man did not meet the 72-ounce steak challenge that night.

IMG_0452Having started our adventure with Margaritas, we toasted our successful trip with the Big Texan’s super-large Margaritas with super-large jalapeño garnish.

And on to the next challenge.

Grand Canyon Adventure – Back to the Top

20180504_054922_resized_1The full moon-glow competed with the rising sun above the canyon wall as we readied to depart Phantom Ranch.

We had enjoyed our stay but were eager to accomplish the rest of our challenge. As promised the weather was great, starting off a little cool, but we’d be shedding our outerwear soon enough.IMG_0354

The walk to the bridge across the Colorado River and the Bright Angel Trailhead was less than a mile from our cabin. Our muscles were covered in Anica salve and we were ready to meet the challenging 10-mile hike UP-UP-UP to the South Rim. IMG_0361Oh, by the way, we had no choice. The only other (feasible) ways out were by mule or helicopter—neither of which were acceptable.

20180504_060900_resizedThe three of us hiked together—at the same pace—until we made it to River Rest House, about 2 miles from the trailhead. Of course, you may remember it was all uphill paralleling the river on our way to Phantom Ranch. Therefore, this trek was all downhill with a gradual slope and less rocky path.

Once we passed the rest house we started up the familiar step-like, rocky, switch-back trail. In short order we hit a rather steep log and rock formation. It was at this point that Shayna darted by me and said something like, “See you at the top.” I thought she meant the top of the particular structure we were climbing. Following suit, Anne apologized for passing me so she could move at her faster rate. It was then I recalled the “everyone at their own pace” rule and I realized “the top” meant the South Rim.

But what the heck, I felt great, in little if any pain, and the day was beautiful. Oh, and we were hiking in the Grand Canyon.

Remarkably, I made it to the half-way mark at Indian Garden by 9:45, four hours from our Phantom Ranch departure time. There were a couple exciting moments getting there but I was pacing myself well, drinking water, and snacking as directed. I was actually on track to meet the 6-9 hour window for completion. (SPOILER ALERT: It didn’t happen.)

One of my exciting moments came when I fell off a rather large rock while reaching my foot to a smaller rock to step down. Apparently uninjured, I was in the process of getting to my feet when a group of young men came up the trail. They offered me help and easily hoisted me to up and guided me to a chair-high rock. I confirmed my lack of serious, if any, damage. We chatted for a bit before resuming the hike. They stayed with me as we crossed several creek-like streams of water crossing the trail. At some point I told them I was okay and they resumed their normal pace and were out of sight quickly.

These young men were the first of many “trail angels” who I met that day. There were also several individuals who were coming down from the top who brought messages from Anne and Shayna to the “lady in the red hat.” Strangely enough, these messages were rather comforting.

Anne and Shayna waited for me at Indian Garden. The young men were there too. Everyone seemed glad to see me. I didn’t realize I deserved so much concern. Of course, in retrospect, I get their point.

Anyway, we left Indian Garden around 10 am and I was quickly alone at my slower speed. 20180504_082046_resizedEven coming upon the 3 mile (from the top) rest house I felt great. My legs and hip were okay. I was okay. There was just enough shade along the way to rest occasionally. Each time I stopped I took a picture.20180504_110225_resized

The last picture shows Indian Garden toward the middle of the photo. I’d come a long way. But I was approaching the 1.5 mile (from the top) rest house and I was running out of juice. My resting periods were getting longer than my hiking periods.20180504_125457_resized

I asked a young couple who were heading down how far it was to the 1.5 mile rest house where I planned to refill my water container. As with most hikers, the woman said, “About 10 or 15 minutes.” No one ever knows the distance in feet/miles. During our chat I mentioned I was low on water but planned on filling up at the rest house. She earned her trail angel status by insisting, without hesitation, that I take a bottle from her supply.

Ironically one of the men who carried a message to me earlier in the day on his way down was returning to the South Rim. He helped me fill my newly acquired water bottle—twice—at the 1.5 mile rest house and walked with me for a brief period, definitely qualifying as a trail angel.

It was about 2:30 pm and I was sitting on another shaded rock contemplating my boots when I noticed someone stopped close to me. I looked up and the nice man said, “How are you doing?” or something like that. I was feeling sort of woozy so conversation wasn’t my priority. I don’t think it took him long to realize I needed some assistance. I had not come to that conclusion yet, but I was not looking at me sitting on the rock.

It was then that Anne called. She and Shayna had made it to the top and wondered where I was on the trail. Before my cell phone went stone cold dead (remember all the pictures I was taking?), I was able to communicate where I was and that a nice man had just offered to help me finish the hike.

Turns out Tim, my new hiking friend, was an experienced hiker who had done the North Rim trails and South Rim trails numerous times. He understood what was happening to my body. I really didn’t want to eat or drink anything more. I felt like I would explode. He made me eat some gummy bear-like snacks and drink more water.

As we walked and rested, he explained why I needed to do that. He told me about a time he had fainted during a hike in the Grand Canyon and a Park Ranger had stayed with him and walked him out. I told him he had officially paid-it-forward by helping me. Did I mention he was carrying my pack as well as his own? Yes, another full-fledge serious-class trail angel.

So we were once again resting and I was actually feeling better—drinking water and eating gummy bears. I knew Tim had exchanged texts with and subsequently talked to his wife, but I did not realize she sent her brother, Bill, and brother’s wife, Gina, down the trail to help. Also an experienced hiker, Gina took my pack from Tim, and soon suggested that he go ahead to the lodge. She and Bill promised to escort me the remaining mile-or-so to the top.

As my new coaches helped me ration the water and snacks and maneuver safely up the trail, I began to feel better and hike faster. I’m sure it was the euphoria of believing I was going to complete my adventure on my own feet, albeit with a great deal of encouragement from Gina and Bill. These two friendly souls are hereby dubbed my most supporting trail angels.

We made it to the top around 4:30 and Gina offered to accompany me to my lodge. She graciously hung around for several minutes then helped me get to my room. We said our goodbyes with my expressions of eternal gratitude for their help.

As I stood alone in my room around 5 pm—about 11 hours from Phantom Ranch—I surveyed with gratitude my luggage, slogged graciously by Anne and Shayna from the car to in my room.

I took a shower and located Anne and Shayna for dinner. We enjoyed a congratulatory toast, but decided we would properly celebrate this fantastic achievement with a final toast on our road trip home.

The final chapter soon.