The “fiction” in historical fiction; and the why

Those of you who have followed me for a time know that some of my favorite editorial projects are works of historical fiction; the truth is, historical fiction has been one of my favorite genres since I was in grade school.  (Anyone remember the We Were There series?)  Perhaps that’s why, during those projects, I’ve noted one challenge that continually plagues many of their writers—especially newer ones:  “Exactly how much fiction is acceptable in historical fiction?”  Even more seasoned writers have issues, but their challenges are more generally along the lines of,  “When is fiction acceptable in historical fiction?”  Either is a common problem.

Part of a recent  interview with best-selling, award-winning author Hilary Mantel  on NPR’s  Fresh Air  briefly addresses these two questions.  (If you listen to the interview, which focuses on the two finished books in Mantel’s trilogy about Tudor England,  Wolf Hall  and  Bring Up the Bodies,  her comments on writing historical fiction run from about 16:18 to roughly 19:38.)  Her answer is simple, yet complex.

I make up as little as possible.  I spend a great deal of time on research, on finding all the available accounts of a scene or incident, finding out all the background details and the biographies of the people involved . . .  it’s really in the gaps, the erasures, that I think the novelist can best go to work . . .

She then steps into the topic that, in my mind, states the very purpose for writing historical fiction in the first place: to tell “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say—the part of the story that history books cannot easily convey; the part that relates  why  what happened, happened:

. . . inevitably in history, in any period, we know a lot about what happened, but we may be far hazier on why it happened. And there’s always the question: Why did it happen the way it did? Where was the turning point?

In other words, facts are facts, whether they involve a person or group of people, an act or event, or a time or place; but, the why and the how . . . now, that’s where the “story” in history comes in!  At least, that’s my opinion.

So, now that you know the challenge of historical fiction (and how to meet it), get back to that draft!

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
phone: 407-495-4801 (temporary)
text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

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The top ten mistakes authors make, new or not!: from getting-published.com

Off the bat, let me warn you that I do not endorse the Getting-Published.com Web site, or the related BooksToBelieveIn.com Web site, or any of the products and services mentioned there because I do not know anything about them; however, I present their list of “The top 10 mistakes new authors make and how to avoid them” as one of the most thoughtful, in-one-place lists of common author mistakes I’ve come across in recent times. Below are the ten points of Getting-Published.com’s list (with some needed editorial adjustments on my part), along with some minimal commentary of my own; for their complete discussions, please visit their site.

     1. Placing a “forward” in your book  . . .  the truth is, few books should even have a foreward!  (And, be careful with the title on that “acknowledgments” page, too!)

     2. Using a “spell checker” to substitute for professional editing  . . .  I don’t need to go any farther in this discussion, do I?

     3. Falling victim to predatory editors, designers, publishers, and agents  . . .  Web sites do exist to help you weed through the greedy, villainous, untrained, unscrupulous, ungrateful b$#@%ds that give us all a bad name.

     4. Forgetting that your book’s title and subtitle are the most important pieces of sales copy your book has!  . . .  Seconded!  And, when your editor suggests that you might want to consider options, please, do consider them!

     5. Forgetting to apply the “Who cares?” test to every sentence of your content!  . . .  ’Nuf said on that one!

     6. Being ambiguous or unclear  . . .  The authors of the list discuss this so well that I won’t even bother trying to restate it:

This is one of the main reasons that authors can not edit their own books. Ambiguity creeps in because they are too close to their own work. . . . The author can see it very visually, because they are writing down what they see in their imagination, but it just doesn’t always get communicated well in the text.  [all errors in original blog text]

     7. Being inconsistent and arrogant  . . .  In fictional works, I’ve found that the major issue is inconsistency; in nonfiction works, it’s more often arrogance—as explained at the blog.

     8. Placing the wrong information in jacket copy and other promotions  . . .  The blog provides a good, informative discussion of this point, too.

     9. Mismanaging schedules and sequencing of your project  . . .  In addition to the blog’s issues with sequencing, I more often find that authors have trouble fitting editorial assistance into their project’s schedule. Editors should be involved in a project as early as possible so that a rapport can be established during substantive reviews, copyedits, and proofs. Nonfiction authors also need to allow time for research and fact-checking. And, if artwork is involved, additional time needs to be included for researching provenance and securing rights.

     10. Allowing “fear storms” to destroy your confidence  . . .  Yet another reason to form a publication team instead of venturing out on your own.  Run with your idea—write, write, write. But, then, rely on a good team for advice. A good team will not try to take away your authorial privilege; rather, its members will complement and support you and provide professional assistance—and constructive suggestions, not destructive criticisms.

Remember to visit the original blog post at http://getting-published.com/toptenmistakes.php for complete discussions and to thank them for putting together such a good list.

Excellent work, guys,

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
phone: 407-495-4801 (temporary)
text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

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Categories: Editing, Writing

“Ten ways to save the publishing industry”: from the Guardian

For several days, now, I’ve been watching an article/commentary that appeared in the online version of the Manchester Guardian, “Ten ways to save the publishing industry,” by experienced publisher Colin Robinson.  The article has drawn quite a bit of controversial and insightful conversation on what he believes needs to be done to create a healthier publishing industry.

I’m happy to say that my chief concern for the publishing industry turns up third on his list. While Robinson’s new publishing model

dispenses with a variety of traditional functions . . . other tasks such as editing and design take on additional importance. Ensuring that books are readable and attractive is a vital way for publishers to stay afloat in an ocean of self-published titles.

I would like to point out that I don’t think the jab at self-published titles is necessarily warranted; as I’ve noted before, small presses have fought for years to improve their reputation on the editorial side . . . just as, apparently, some of the major houses have lost sight of what elements make up a quality product.

While other discussions related to the editorial function and the reader’s experience turn up throughout Robinson’s piece, I want to look at the comment string that has developed, too—there, I found two comments that were overwhelmingly relevant to my concern for the editorial industry.

One was made by “Jeniche” (note that Jeniche’s use of the term “gatekeeper” references a statement by Jeff Bezos, chair and CEO of amazon.com, that implied many of the long-time roles of publishers might be obsolete):

If publishers wish to keep gate-keeper status they really need to start employing people who know what they are doing. People have turned to self publishing in part because they are pissed off by the hypocrisy of gatekeepers. The [gatekeepers] bang on about the need for quality writing, good editing, blah blah blah and then fall over themselves to sign up the most atrocious garbage with inflated advances. Throw out the middle management and sons and daughters of wealthy chums who work as interns and start employing people with a good balance of life experience and literary expertise.

The second relevant comment was written by manyeyedhydra and begins with an excellent question. Her answer, in fact, was the central guiding principle in a publishing entity I ventured into a few years ago:

What is a publisher’s chief asset – it’s their writers.  A writer no longer needs a publisher, but publishers cannot exist without writers. Publishers need to brand this thought right down into their DNA. The world has changed. They need to think about what they can offer writers that is better than the writer going it alone. They need to unearth the best writers and provide the necessary polish to make their works considerably better than their peers. . . . They need to be the ones putting these writers forward right at the start and getting it right.

I couldn’t have said it better myself; so, I won’t!  Take a look at the article and its comments and let me know what strikes  you  as important . . .

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
phone: 407-495-4801 (temporary)
text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

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Three years later . . .

It’s difficult to believe that nearly three years have passed since my “landmark” post (aka, rant), “Reality Bites”, about having to find employment outside the editorial services business.  Chief among my explanatory rants were these two reasons:

[1.]  Just as people have come to think they can put together a brochure, a Web site, or a newsletter without the need of a trained, professional designer, now the presumption is that they can complete the task by clicking on the spell-check button and eliminate the need for an editor.

[2.]  A sad tangent of this phenomenon is that a majority of readers no longer even expect properly edited copy. They take in written text, mistakes and all, viewing it without acknowledging or analyzing what message is conveyed or how the message is conveyed.

That second reason was a tangent of what I saw as an impending scenario for the demise of the publishing industry; little did I know how quickly that demise would hit a major—by many standards—publishing house: Signet, an imprint of New American Library.

Self-Publishing is no excuse; neither is e-publishing

A few months ago, I was enticed to start reading a series of vampire novels because several of the folks I work with on my current assignment were raving about them. In particular, they spoke of the intricately interwoven story lines that connected each novel, and its characters and relationships, with the others. The premise of the series also sounded interesting. So, I borrowed the first volume and was poised to join in their excited, almost daily, discussions.

Now, while I haven’t been able to validate the information, the earlier volumes in the series were allegedly self-published and may have been initially released only in electronic form. For the record, I have no issue with either form of publishing; in fact, several of the authors I have worked with over the years chose to self-publish their works, primarily in electronic form, for a variety of reasons. My only caveat with either has always been that authors take enough pride in their work to continue following some semblance of the route to traditional publication, especially by not skipping over or cheating at the reviewing and editing and revising steps of the process.

Sadly, this book suffered greatly from what appears to have been a total disregard for those steps!  I struggled to continue reading past the first few chapters . . . and I only forced myself to finish the book because my coworkers (accountants, by training and trade) would not stop encouraging me to keep reading.  “It gets better,” they told me.  They just could not comprehend my irritation over the distractions that were keeping me from enjoying the magic of the book.

Indeed, the story line  might  have been as intricate and well written as they thought it was.  But, I couldn’t even notice the story line because of the grammatical errors and editorial blunders—and, believe me, this book had practically all of them!  And, even if the story had been originally self-published and even if the advice of an editor had been side-stepped at that time (still a major mistake, in my opinion), the version I was reading had been commercially published by a division of the Penguin Group.

Too many errors to read around!

In no particular order, here are the distractions that drew my attention away from the author’s talents (as well as any interest in buying future books written by her or sold by Signet): comma splices, illogical arguments, misplaced modifiers, bad paragraph breaks, missing words, misused words, sentence fragments and broken clauses, out-of-place “cutesy” words and not-very-well-known slang (including abbreviations), and even misspelled words!  I would dare to say, you could not read twenty pages without finding examples of each!  Oh; and, I forgot to mention that a question mark is seldom used at the end of an obvious question.

A few other bits of information that feed the fear for editorial quality in my mind: (1) more than one title in this series has appeared on The New York Times bestseller list; (2) the author has won numerous other awards and is immensely popular among her fans; and (3) not one review or mention of her books or one interview even mentions the problems above . . . as if they don’t exist!  One somewhat encouraging side note is that, as popular as the author and her different series are, none have been reviewed in the The Times—my hope is that this is because the editorial review board there feels that the reader’s experience suffers because of the book’s sloppiness.

Regardless, do I fear the end of professional editing for no reason?  I can only hope not—for my sake and yours—but at this point, that is only a hope!

Wishing you better experiences,

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
phone: 407-495-4801 (temporary)
text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

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Busy in the background

For those of you who have noticed (and wondered about it), my absence from public involvement can be attributed to two things:  first, the time that my full-time job takes through the week—and a consequential recharge/relaxation time  I  take over the weekends—and, second, a couple of projects that I’ve agreed to take on in my “spare” time.  That said, if  you  have a project you need help with and you don’t need too quick a turnaround, seek me out.  By the way, you’ll note some new contact information below.

For now, I hope you’re having a relaxing yet productive summer,

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
phone: 407-495-4801 (temporary)
text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

I may be MIA for the time-being,
but don’t forget about me!

 

Pushing back my possible return

I’ve just accepted an employment situation that will require me to postpone my return to business—you know, old dogs learning new tricks takes time!  With this new occurrence in mind, I’m currently looking at launching my revival later this year or early in 2012.  That will allow me the time I need to continue with behind-the-scenes work (as outlined in my previous post) and to continue tending to some additional development ideas, ideas that shall remain secret for now and until the rest of my chore list is in place.

Thanks for your patience; and, have a great fall season,

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
PO Box 1168, Orlando, FL 32802
phone: 407-495-4801 (temporary)

Watch for my possible return to business
late this year  or  early in 2012!

 

Moving forward on my “revival”!

I just wanted to provide all you followers with a quick update on my continuing thoughts about reviving the-freelance-editor.

To date, I’ve worked primarily on this blog, getting a design in place and adjusting the sidebar to fit my new goals and objectives. At this point, I’m pretty happy with it, so let me know of any errors you notice or any information you think is missing. Behind the scenes, I’ll be working to refine some aspects of search engine optimization that are problematic in blog-based Web sites without appropriate attention . . . but that won’t affect you or your experience!

The next four chores that you will notice are

  1. finishing work on my new “writing emergency” site at www.anEditor.com, where anyone will be able to hire me for issues and problems that require quick turnarounds;
  2. getting a new contact form set up and in place;
  3. improving my social media presence on Twitter and LinkedIn; and
  4. updating my primary Web site at www.the-freelance-editor.com—you’ll see that I’ve made a minimal start on the home page.

I’ll keep you up to date as changes take place, especially changes relevant to my second chore; that way, you’ll be able to start signing up for updates via these blog posts.

Thanks for your interest and continuing support,

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
PO Box 1168, Orlando, FL 32802
phone: 407-495-4801 (temporary)

Watch for my possible return to business on October 17, 2011!