Archive for the ‘Editing’ Category

Well you can tell that I’m not busy and stressed as I was as here is my next post, really soon after the last one.

Today, I started the polish of Moonfall. Normally, I’d wait a few weeks between the tidy up and a polish to get beta reader feedback. However, as the MS is booked in with the editor I can’t really wait.

Because I have RSI and arthritis and so on, I have to be careful how long I spend on the computer. The longer I spend on the computer the more attention I have to pay to ergonomics. One of the ways I tackle this is that I print out the MS in bits, read them, edit them and then key in changes later. On the weekend, this was proving a bit difficult so I went to Office Works and bought a copy stand. This allows me to have the MS held up at screen height, next to the screen and made the transcribing of the corrections so much more quicker, but also less demanding on my neck. I have a small space to work in and that meant holding the print out and trying to type stuff in. With the copy stand I have both hands free.

Here is a picture of it here. I was quite lucky because it was only around $50. I was expecting it to be more.

Today I started on the polish, now that I have sent Moonfall to beta readers. I’ve been having problems with the beginning of the book from the start. Not only because a mad woman wrote it. I fixed up the continuity stuff but then found I went on a bit. I was downstairs washing dishes and thinking about the problem when a solution came to me. I was so pleased. I managed to cut about 2000 words out of the first couple of chapters and reorganise it a bit better. I am pleased with the day’s work. I think the rest of the story is going along nicely so we will see how it goes tomorrow.

Writing books can be hard work. I think I drove myself to the very edge on the weekend. I’m surprised my brain is even working at the moment.

I believe going to see the new Solo moving probably helped me wind down. I loved it. Then again I loved the old Solo tie in novels, Han Solo at Stars End and so on. Matthew and I are both geeks and love Solo so we enjoyed the film. We saw Deadpool 2 last week. What a ripper! So funny and in your face. I like how it is so meta…aware of itself, Deadpool speaking to the audience as well as the other characters. Next one we are looking forward to is Ant Man and The Wasp.

Meanwhile…back at the book farm…I have uploaded Dragon Wine Volume Two. This is the third and fourth book in one volume and at a price that is cheaper than buying them separately. I intend to do a box set of the final two books too, maybe early next year and then the complete box set. Right now Dragon Wine Volume Two is only up on Amazon, but it will go up at other retailers soon. I just have to update Calibre before I can convert the file.

And once I have had a peek at the edit of Skyfire (due today) and work out how much work I have to do, I will put Skyfire up for pre-order. That’s my big news. I’ll come back here and let you know when it’s up.

So as a tease, here is the cover of Skyfire, coming soon to preorder status. The cover is from Frauke at http://www.crocodesigns.com


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This blog post is brought to you by systems failure. I have marking to do but the Uni’s website is down and all marking is in the computer system so damn…I also have face to face marking from 12 but that has a work around. I can’t even access my schedule. So either I’m going to sit there or the system is coming back on line and I’ll know when it is over.

This blog post is brought to you by a glitch…I think that would make an excellent short story title for the domino effect of a glitch and the end of the world. I’m sure someone has already written that. But there would be on evil overlord because the necessary spreadsheets for world domination would be inaccessible.

This post is going to be about writing. If that bores you look away now.

I’m currently revising or tidying up the first draft of Moonfall, which is the last part of the Dragon Wine series. This is a daunting task. You see the draft was written by a mad woman who obviously had no idea of continuity. I was suffering from RSI and some sort of brain fugue at the time of drafting and I wrote it in half hour sessions…and it shows.

I am up to chapter four. Oh man I want to kill this MS. I want to stab it in the heart. I want to pull my hair out. I wail into the darkness – why am I doing this?!

It’s painful. I can’t tell you why apart from the above. I have to think to fix the ms just to get it to beta readers. Then when they tell me what’s shit about the draft I have to think again and fix it. Then I send it to the editor who will no doubt tell me how completely shit it is again and I’ll have to take vitamin pills and think up some more stuff.

Why? Why am I doing this? Writing fiction? Writing any goddamn thing? I must be completely mad. I could be sewing or vegging in front of the tele or reading a book or drinking tea with friends.

If this sounds familiar to you then I am not alone. If you haven’t been through this then maybe you’ll recognise the signs at some stage. If you write perfect drafts without pain and are marvellous and gorgeous I could hate you.

I have to face the music. I was happy with the draft when I drafted it. It was the final instalment and I thought it kicked ass (arse!) but in the cold light of revising I can see so much wrong with it I want to cry. I don’t cry though, I get ranty.

Here I am ranting!

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I was bright eyed and bushy tailed yesterday.

This morning not so much.

Of course there are a number of reasons for this. Yesterday afternoon I sent off Ungiven Land (The Silverlands Book 3) for proofreading after quite a while working through the toughest edits yet. It was going to take me a lot longer but on Sunday I hit of spot of chapters that had light edits and I pushed through them and built up some momentum. That left yesterday morning to finish it off. I had some family obligations during the day, but after that I did some more tinkering and sent the book off. It’s a bloody long book at 145,000 words.

Then yesterday evening, I picked up the revision I was doing of Bloodstorm (Dragon Wine Part 4) without much recollection of how much more I had to do. Well, I was further along than I thought so I pushed through and sent that book off to the editor last night. It’s a shorter novel at just under 90,000 words. I think I have more work to do on a battle scene but the edit will help with that I think. It gives me a month to think about it and make notes. I needed to push it off my plate as I have important PhD stuff to do.

So you would think after an excellent sleep that I’d be ready to roll and full of vim and vigour. Obviously my stories are still in my head. I was thinking about both of them while driving and drove right past two turns offs to my university and didn’t realise until I made a t-junction. Oops! So I had to go to another entry and park in a different spot. Then I realised I hadn’t brushed my hair. This called for emergency coffee and I hope  it kicks in soon.

After having these deadlines I don’t think I like them. I had listed Ungiven Land for pre-order on Amazon. For some strange reason beknownst only to my back brain I put down 31 May 2017 as the delivery date. However, I had not allowed enough time for processing proofreading changes so I had to push it back by two weeks. Amazon lock you out of the file about 3-4 days before release btw. I have had now had my pre-order privileges revoked for one year because I pushed back the date. Thank god for that. I can’t be tempted to put in hard dates that give me stress. I don’t want to do that again because that deadline plus the ones I had with the editors really put the pressure on.

As I don’t have more fiction planned other than putting up books of which I have the rights back, I’m going to give deadlines a miss for a while. I have my PhD novel to think about.

Fingers crossed I get some covers this week because Shatterwing and Skywatcher are ready to go. Deathwings and Bloodstorm the next two parts of the Dragon Wine series are coming soon.

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I have an exciting blog interview planned but it’s not ready yet. I am waiting for some answers to come in. In the meantime, I thought I’d post something about what is happening with me.

I’ve been experiencing a lot of stress lately due to an external issue. This has been hard on me. I’ve had to take sick leave from my PhD and I’ve had awful stress and anxiety symptoms and I find it hard to concentrate. High stress and anxiety increase my overall pain levels so it can be rather debilitating. I haven’t been able to read much at all, or invest in watching a movie or write fiction. I do walk a lot and I’m losing weight.

We live in an ableist society and so we are brought up thinking that we should be able to do everything and when we are not we get over critical of ourselves and also stress about how people view us. For me, I hate labels. I was sent to a psychiatrist last year to assess my stress and anxiety after a panic attack at work. I wasn’t sent to the psychiatrist until about four or five months after the attack. By then I’d been on meds and had two different lots of counselling and was feeling much better. I didn’t want to have a label and so was pleased that the psychiatrist said I wasn’t suffering from any psychiatric disorder. Even though this attack was brought on by an injury at work that I was having trouble adjusting to and workplace shenanigans. But shrug.

I believe my inherent ableism affects my outlook on my physical disabilities as well. The RSI and arthritic conditions limit me. I hate to be limited. I am a doer. I am an ablelist. It is part of who I am. There is so much I can’t do now and I hate it. I try not to think about it. No wonder I’m stressed. So I hate to acknowledge that these things make me less than I want to be. I know I should just suck it up right. I’m getting older. Well I’m 56 not 76!

But here I am again. Sigh. Having symptoms and it sucks.

My approach to Indie publishing has been to publish books that have been previously published and that I have the rights back to and books that I’ve already written that made it to acquisitions but weren’t bought by publishers. (This doesn’t include the book that is/was with my agent as we still have hopes). Last November, I wrote the short novel, Opi Battles the Space Pirates because that was just fun. However, while I’m not actively writing new stories, there is a bit of work in getting the books back out there and the new ones published.

The rights to Shatterwing and Skywatcher have been returned to me. This meeans they are no longer available. Before they can be relaunched they need to be proofread. Shatterwing is done and I’m just waiting on the map and the new cover. Skywatcher is still in progress in proofreading. My approach to this was work from hard copy that way I can use my tilt board and make it as ergonomic as possible. However, it’s still hard work! Concentration people!

My apologies to Dion who bought Shatterwing and then found he couldn’t buy Skywatcher as Pan Mac took it down. He wrote to me to say : Wing dust! It ended in a cliffhanger. In my defence, I had asked for the books to come down in May 2017 so I could have time to prepare but something went missing in the communication and I had no notice of when they would or did come down. They just disappeared from the Internet.

As per above, concentrating has been hard. Deathwings copy edit is done. I was a good way into it before the external stress causing business came back and overwhelmed me. But as I was nearly done, I managed a few more hours. Deathwings is now with the proofreader.

The new covers are in progress too. And I have Russell K looking at the maps. I’ve outsourced as much as I can. I have three weeks to finish revising Bloodstorm before it’s due at the editor. I think that’s doable, even if I only do an hour per day. However, if I don’t make the deadline, it will take longer to get Bloodstorm out.  No great dramas, except for readers because a lot happens in Bloodstorm.

For more of the Dragon Wine series, you guys will have to wait. I have a PhD to do. Although if this external stress thing doesn’t resolve I will probably go part time on the PhD for a little while.

The Silverlands series. Argenterra and Oathbound are published. I have to do a little bit of stuff to get the print file of Oathbound ready. I also need to pay someone to do the formatting for the Smashwords edition of Oathbound. I can do it, but it’s a bit difficult on the physical side of things. (Oh I hate admitting that–it’s the ableist in me!).

The edit of Ungiven Land is in progress. I may have a bit of work to do when it comes back to me later in the month. I had a chat to the copy editor this afternoon. Apparently I’ve developed new bad writing habits and may have my work cut out for me. My editor wanted to know if it was okay if she picked me up on things, suggested new scenes etc. I said go for it.

That’s what I want. That’s what an edit is for. Make me sweat. I want a better book.

This week I heard that I have the rights to The Sorcerer’s Spell back. That’s a sexy paranormal novel that is published under the Dani Kristoff name. That needs the same treatment. New cover, proofreading, new ISBNs etc. I have a half started sequel somewhere. If I’m to work on that then it will be dictation software! If I can concentrate. A lot depends on what happens over the next few weeks and months. However, finally I might get a male torso on the cover! A first for me.

There is administrative stuff that is done and heaps not done. Just registering ISBNs and Catalogue in Print stuff takes time and energy. I wished I earned enough to pay an assistant! Hahahahahaha!

Fun is over. Back to work.

And just for fun I’ll put a cover image of Argenterra here. It’s new low price is USD 2.99. I also revamped the blurb for this.

Sophy is not looking for a talisman: she is the talisman!

Sophy is snatched from our world during a ghost tour. Landing in the lush world of Argenterra, she’s the odd one out. She can’t use the land’s native magic, the given, even though her friend Aria, and everyone else, can.
Worse still, she’s a faded version of herself and doesn’t fit it at all.

Abandoned by Aria who marries a handsome prince, Sophy travels the land with Oakheart, the high king’s ambassador, to explore the mystery of why there is a crystal leaf growing inside her.

Then the accidents start to happen and she realises a dark force wants her: alive or maybe just dead…Argenterra with subtitle

For more information on The Silverlands Series and buy links, click here. Have you got your copy of Argenterra yet?

Also if you are interested in signing up for my Newsletter. Click here.

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I’ve done a series of blog interviews on the topic of beta readers previously. Recently though, I’ve had some thoughts on the timing, or better still at what stage of your drafting/writing/revising process it works best. This was sparked by receiving some excellent feedback on a work in progress.

Not everyone uses a beta reader, but if you look in the author comments or acknowledgements in your favourite books you will see people who  have been thanked, usually as first reader etc. For myself, I need beta readers like I need air. God forbid that a published work of mine was raw and that my first feedback was from a reviewer or a bunch of readers. Thankfully, mostly everything except my blog posts have had a reader, editor etc before being published. Even my Indie published fantasy, Argenterra, had beta readers and an editor before being published. I also beta read for author friends. Not all of them return the favour them being busy with contracted deadlines etc, but I get something out of it. I get to read their books before everyone else and sometimes I get a present of a nice shiny book! I also learn!

I have also used the services of a manuscript appraisal service when I first started out, also I have workshopped a novel with Envision (a fantastic program that no longer exists), that was Argenterra BTW! I also won a Longlines Fellowship to Varuna Writers’ House for Dragon Wine back in 2006 and part of that was feedback and also sharing with other writers there. For Dragon Wine I used the services of a continuity editor which was really useful too.

The ideas and the words are my own but feedback help shape ideas, perspectives etc which are all valuable. Even reading your book aloud to yourself will pick up stuff. Really! Read it to someone else and then heaps of things will jump out at you even when you’ve proofed and polished the text within an inch of its life.

Maybe because I’m an extroverted thinker that beta reader comments work for me. I need a sounding board and I work fairly quickly too, which means I can’t play with one story for ten years with no fertiliser from other people. I usually have several novels or short stories going.

An important consideration in having a beta reader is to have someone who gets what you are doing, who has some interest, sympathy, knowledge, way of thinking etc that gels. Your mum is probably not the best person. Even your kids…although mine usually pick up typos etc after the fact. You need some distance, someone you can trust to be honest and helpful at the same time. More importantly, you need to be ready for feedback. You need to be able to accept criticism because that’s what it is all about. If you want a beta reader to say “OMG! This is the best book on the planet ever!” Give it to your mum. Not that it is not great to get positive feedback, it is…

So it is hard to get good beta readers. If you write a lot it is even harder to share the work around them. Also, you need to return the favour, unless you are paying for a service. If you are paying for a service expect a detailed report and expect to pay upwards of $500 (more these days). Remember you want to be a beta reader that your reader buddies can respect. This means you have to give feedback on things like structure, character, pacing, setting etc too. Your beta reader doesn’t have to be another writer. A reader who likes the genre you write in can be very helpful. I mean they are a sample of your audience right? Your feedback might be a lengthy document, an annotated MS, an email or even just a conversation. It all goes into the mix.

Also different readers have different strengths. You might get a reader who is instinctively good with pacing. Another with character development. So having more than one is helpful. I was going to say essential but we can’t have everything.

I have trusted beta readers for a range of stories. I probably have one who reads anything I write and I read hers. I believe we trust each other, although we have different perspectives.

Timing! Finally I get to the point. This is interesting. The timing varies for me. I might send my MS off just before I send it to submission, when I think it’s fairly polished, but not finally polished just to check that it’s not fatally flawed. Or I might send a tidied up first draft. I never send a story with a gaping hole in it (unless I didn’t see it). I may have a few x in place of names, but usually the story is fully formed. At a minimum a tidied first draft. My older work needs a few drafts before they are ready for beta readers. I’m finding that with The Crystal Gate, the sequel to Argenterra. The third installment is an incomplete rough draft and a nightmare!

You see, Argenterra has been worked on over many years, had many revisions, cut backs etc. The sequel has sat in the hard drive minding its own business and stagnating. Essentially it is a tidied first draft, maybe a tidier second draft. More recent work for me means that the first drafts are much better. I used to be a panster! Now I straddle the fence and plan a bit. Older drafts can be a lot of work, especially if you didn’t make notes!

So the minimum I believe is a tidy, good first draft, where you have  a full story etc and there is something to comment on. I sent The Crystal Gate for a beta read and it’s a tidy second draft. Why?

I have trouble listening to the little voice in my head that says things like “You’ve said that twice now. Maybe cut that.” or “You’ve written the action but what is the character feeling? What is the character’s emotional journey?” Or “That’s all well and good but could there be too much going on in that scene?” But because I’m focussed on my end goal of getting through the revision I don’t stop to deal with those things. I need a second opinion. (Insert LAZY here). I need a kick up the bum. I need to know what’s working and what’s not before I invest too much, before I make a wrong decision. This is where beta reading comments come in. I got some this morning. Some were the kick in the pants stuff-the stuff where I should know better but didn’t. Other comments point out flaws I didn’t notice or thought I could get away with, others highlighted aspects that I hadn’t thought of at all. I know that in addressing these comments I’m going to make the work better. I don’t have to agree with everything that my beta reader says. I’m going to wait for the other beta reader’s comments before working on the MS again.

Essentially the comments have filled me up with enthusiasm, ideas and identified trouble areas where I need to do more thinking. I love this.

I think I would be less likely to be accepting of feedback if I had polished the story to the nth degree and thought it was amazing and gorgeous and nothing could be improved. Nothing could be worse that having someone say-this is fatally flawed, you need to restructure this. You might take that from an editor maybe if you could see their vision. So far I haven’t had to restructure anything majorly at all. For this reason, I think getting feedback on a good draft is better than a polished draft you have no brain power to accept feedback. It can be done. I’ve worked with someone who had been edited and a reader picked up something which meant it had to be edited again and the issue addressed.

Of course, the timing is individual. Some people I know won’t let me read for them until they think their MS is perfect. Naturally enough I don’t get to read for them very often at all.

Now I wrote this post because I’m working on a rough draft of The Ungiven Land, Silverlands book 3. It’s hard work even thinking about this story so procrastination helps. This blog post is brought to you by procrastination!



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I’ve been thinking through the notion raised in the first review of Shatterwing that an editor or copy editor made a mistake on  because it contains ‘sexual brutality’, that they somehow overlooked this, or that they failed to warn me in some way or that it should have been removed before publication.

I think there is a confusion here about what an editor and copy editor do. To my mind, editors assist in improving the content, the expression of the ideas but are not censors of content. I believe a commissioning editor exercises that role when they decide to commission a work or not or accept a work with a proviso…say I’ll take this if you change x & Y and or Z. They may do this for a variety of reasons. This was not the case. Shatterwing was acquired as a dark fantasy and it deals with some gritty and less than savoury aspects of the world setting.

The inclusion of any such content is entirely my decision. My name is on the cover after all.

I wrote Shatterwing (and Skywatcher) a long time ago, when some pretty nasty things were going on in the world. To some degree the content is me processing this through the narrative. When I was doing the copy edits I did stop, think and question. Some parts of the narrative are not comfortable to read and I may have deleted a line here or there voluntarily, but I didn’t change anything materially.

I have no issue with people liking or disliking this aspect of the work as that’s entirely a matter of taste. I am grateful that people are willing to review and discuss the books.



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The wonderful Nicole Murphy and her team of volunteers put on a wonderful day last Saturday (April 5), presenting the inaugural Canberra Writers Day and the Aurealis Awards. The venue, University House, particularly the Great Hall, had wonderful charm. There’s this long gold fish pond in the quadrangle that I’d love to take home to my place.

Conflux Inc with Nicole at the helm put up bid to run the Aurealis Awards for two years in Canberra. Nicole wanted to make it worthwhile for people to come up for the ceremony and thought up a professional writers day.

The first thing I have to say is that both events were very well run. Nicole and the team were excellent. That’s pretty awesome for a multi stream event. Also, I know it was hard financially as there was absolutely no sponsorship money to be had for either event. That’s pretty tough going. I did note that Escape Publishing put an ad in the Conflux Writers Day booklet. Awesome.

I had a full day and I presented a talk. The plenary sessions were pretty amazing. Joanne Anderton, Kaaron Warren, Ker Arthur, Ian McHugh. All of them had inspiring and interesting presentations on their processes, their journey.

Joanne blew me away with her writing process and her copious notebooks, all so clean. Mine are NOT clean but I do have a similar weakness when it comes to notebooks and pens. I do much less thinking though. But then Joanne is an amazingly talented author and bloody hardworking.

Kaaron shamed me most terribly with her talk on using the minutes when you don’t have hours to write. I’ve known Kaaron a long time and I’ve always admired her talent but also what a devoted mother she is and how family focussed. She’s an inspiration.

Keri talked about her journey to becoming a published author and a New York Times best seller. Her story was a amazing. She persevered when many would have given up. Thank you for the inspiration Keri.

Ian McHugh talked about submitting work, write and submit and repeat was my take away message. Ian always inspires me with his focus and the stories he writes.

I went to the shorter concurrent sessions, which were 20 minutes long. I gave one myself on ‘You are not alone’ the value of writing relationships. It was about writing groups, writing buddies, writing dates and writing retreats. But I ran out of time, which surprised me and I forgot to talk about the really good part of writing retreats- the socialising (read drinking and talking crap). Someone came up to me afterwards and thought I was going to talk about relationships in writing, you know science fiction with romance. I laughed so hard. I would have loved to talk on that topic.

Craig Cormick was awesome.  I have to reprogram my head to say I’m going to win at this writing gig. Marcus Armann talked about Evernote and Scrivener and I’m now tempted to buy the later writing program, particularly after catching Phil Berrie with his word frequency proofing/editing talk. Scrivener has analytical tools that does that stuff. I’m always repeating myself when I don’t want to.

Russell Kirkpatrick sorted his mob into top downers and bottom uppers in the world building sense. He’s definitely a top downer, planning his worlds and then writing the story. I’m quite near the other end. To me it’s story first with an idea of the world, but often I build as I go.

Chris Andrews talked about blogging, which was an excellent session. I learned something. See Chris!

The lovely Shannon B Curtis talk about using Microsoft Word to navigate our novels. That was also very interesting.

The Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild had a table selling books (theirs and others) and I bought a copy of Joanne Anderton’s collection, The Bone Chime Song and other stories and lost it. (so if anyone found a copy. It could be mine).

Overall it was great to network with people and also see the new faces. Again I didn’t get around to everyone to chat.

Congratulations to Nicole Murphy and the team for a wonderful event.


I didn’t take many photos during the day, except this one of Russell Kirkpatrick. (Happy birthday Russell for tomorrow!!!).

Fantasy author, Russell Kirkpatrick, presenting at Conflux Writers Day

Fantasy author, Russell Kirkpatrick, presenting at Conflux Writers Day

PS I’ll have to write about the Aurealis Awards in another post. My time has run out this morning. I decided to get up early to write. Though technically writing a blog post doesn’t count as writing.

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What is a beta reader? A beta reader is a first reader, someone who looks at a novel in progress, either at the early stages, the mid-stages or the late stages.

Beta readers read for free. Sometimes in exchange they will be offered return beta reading by the other author. Where payment is involved, this is usually a manuscript appraisal, which can be expensive and is more formal. Some writers do seek this service to help them develop their novel.

As a writer I have used beta readers for my manuscripts and been a beta reader for a number of authors. With my commencement of editing studies, I thought there were some parallel elements to what an editor does. An editor may read through a manuscript and provide critique and analysis, where they are looking to provide structural and copy edit type feedback.

The usefulness of beta readers are many fold and depending on the author and the reader can reveal a range of useful information for both parties. As a writer getting feedback on how the plot stands up, how the characters are working and the like is extremely valuable. So too, is getting feedback on what is not working. It is not a good use of a beta reader to seek to win praise, because that’s not going to help your work. Praise is nice of course, but you are really looking to see how a critical reader will react to the story. I’ve had beta readers provide very little feedback, saying only that they like it. It really isn’t any use asking these people to read again because there’s no learning involved.

As a beta reader, I find the process teaches me a whole lot about writing, and about the issues that a writer can face when writing a complex story. I also gain satisfaction from helping a friend. I have some talented friends.

Some writers have formal critiquing networks and this is also very interesting to examine as part of this series of blog interviews.

So the first interview is from Gillian Polack whose novel Life Through Cellophane has been picked up for reprint by Momentum Books. Her website is here.

Thank you Gillian for responding so quickly to my interview questions.

1. How many beta readers do you have and how long have you used beta readers in your writing process?
I’ve used beta readers since the CSFG novel critiquing circle took a look at Life through Cellophane. I don’t have a set number or a set process. Sometimes I ask for volunteers if I have specific problems with a novel and sometimes I run a story past a critiquing circle and sometimes I will ask someone particular to have a look and get a handle on where I am.

2. In what ways do beta readers assist you in developing your novel for publication?
The biggest assistance they’ve been is in helping me define my audience and what kind of book it is. I don’t write bang in the centre of genre, and it really makes a difference in explaining to a publisher “This is alternate world steampunk” or “Domestic horror with added chocolate” if I know what readers think. The beta readers also help me improve the internal balance of the novel – if they go to sleep, I know I’m in big trouble.

3. Do all your beta readers pick up the same points?

No two beta readers have ever picked up the same points on anything major. One will focus on the lack of romantic interest and another will wonder if I checked the history (poor soul, they didn’t know what hit them when I cited sources for an hour) and another will pick on the opening and point out (completely correctly) that it doesn’t quite fit the rest of it. One reader will say that the novel would be better if I dumped strand A of the plot and another will say “No, strand A is perfect – she should dump strand B.” What I get from all of this is a sense of how readers actually interact with my work, which helps me sense how it’s doing what it’s doing.

4. Do you sometimes target your beta readers to particular areas based on the experience you had with them in the past? For example, one reader is good at plot holes, another reader is good at grammatical issues and another might be good at style. Or do you take what comes?
I have one friend who beta reads for the complexities – she has a wonderfully convoluted brain and she makes very telling comments when the various layers in the text aren’t equal or balanced. I have had beta readers who check for grammar, but they tend to be frustrated. I make errors (everyone does) but quite often my grammatical errors are intentional, especially incomplete sentences. I don’t need to turn incomplete sentences into complete sentences, for the most part: I need to decide if they belong at all. They’re a part of my style and I tend to overdo them. Speaking of style, the best style editors I’ve ever had have been my editors – they have picked up on things that my beta readers missed. Still, when someone makes good comments along any of these lines (especially concerning plot holes!) it makes me very happy.

5. Do you always want the same thing from the beta reader for each novel? For example, when you have deadlines and only have time for high-level feedback?
I’ve been very lucky with deadlines. No, not lucky. I’ve set up a pattern whereby I have a lot of time to revise and rethink. I know that this pattern of work won’t endure forever, but while it lasts I’m making the most of it and learning as much as I can from the comments of others. This means that I have the luxury of choosing whether to seek beta readers for a particular volume and when to seek them.
Since each of my novels is rather different from the previous in many ways, I ask beta readers to look for different things. One I just asked to read a novel to see if it was tolerable for a male reader and if it made sense.

6. How hard is it to find a good beta reader?

I have so much trouble answering this. Sometimes they’re lined up, wanting to read my manuscript and sometimes I manage without them, for they are not to be found. It’s hard to find someone who understands what I need to hear about the book, and that it’s not the same as what a reviewer explains to a potential market. When I find that person, I am grateful, for their words can be golden.

7. Do you have any advice for readers who want to be beta readers or even editors in the long run? For example, what type of commentary to you prefer?

Learn how to look at a manuscript to see what it can be. Once you can see what that particular writer is capable of, with that specific story, then seeing the ways the writer can bring it into being isn’t that hard. A lot of people see the story as they want it to be, not the best it can be within itself. Comments that tell me how more appearances of this character would be gratefully accepted help because yes, it’s good to know that the character works, but they don’t help nearly as much as knowing that the subordinate story is woefully underdeveloped and lacking in the lovely complexity that makes the main story so good. Telling me that my grammar sucks doesn’t help unless you give examples and even then, you’d better be very careful that you’re right. I’ve been told off for non-existent grammatical errors and I’ve also been told off for using words that don’t exist, which only demonstrated (when I check, which I tend to) that I knew more grammar and had a wider vocabulary than that beta reader.

The best beta reader of all is a reality check on my telling of a story. They don’t need to know the technical reason why something doesn’t work (although an editor really does need to know – this is a big difference between the two) but if they can explain where it doesn’t work and how for them it has failed, I can work out the reason. In other words, complete and honest (and hopefully tactful) comments are very, very handy.

Gillian, thank you very much for an interesting start to this series of blog posts on beta reading. As I have a number of these on hand, I’m sure this will be an interesting series.


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First a little about you Laurie.

I’m the Submissions Editor at Black Library, based in Nottingham, UK. We’re the publishing arm of Games Workshop, so we deal exclusively with science fiction and fantasy stories based on the Warhammer gaming backgrounds. In the past, BL was more diverse (with general sci-fi and thrillers being released on the Solaris label, etc) but that was a little before my time here.

I asked Laurie for a photo so that you can track him down at Gamesday.

Thoughtful Laurie

I’ve been with the company since January, although I did a lot of freelance work for them for many years before that so I knew most of the authors and editors on a social level, as well as professionally. I had also been organising online fan-fiction contests in my spare time and releasing PDF anthologies of the submitted stories, just for fun.

From an early age, I was always fascinated by language and the written word–I upset my primary school teachers by finishing their reading scheme at the age of six, and having to bring my own books with me to school. I read ‘Lord of the Rings’ aged eight, primarily because my mum bet me £10 that I couldn’t. In hindsight, I think that appealing to my immature, mercenary nature was probably quite a shrewd move on her part. That’s the dangerous thing about having parents who are teachers: you never know when you’re being tricked into learning something.

My role is actually focused on discovering new authors, and either working with them on new projects or helping them to refine their style to fit with Black Library’s range–to use a music industry term, I’m the A&R man! We have a very peculiar readership (dare I say, fanbase?) in that almost every BL reader also seems to want to have a go at writing for us, too. We actively encourage this by having an annual ‘submissions window’ where we accept amateur writing samples and project pitches, and I’m trying to arrange more workshops and seminars at our events so that people know what sort of things we look for in prospective authors.

Why did you become an editor?
I actually became an “editor” long before I started working in publishing, although not in the sense you’d expect–for seven years I ran an audio-visual production company, so I was in fact a film editor and sound engineer. I like to think that the skills involved in editing, in any medium, are transferable at some level. Hollywood film editor Walter Murch famously said that editing takes ‘a certain kind of personality’ where you have to help craft ideas and refine other people’s work; both on a small scene-by-scene scale, but also in the wider context of the whole piece, the genre, the culture etc.

In short, I became an editor because I have that kind of personality. I’m opinionated, I’m a compulsive fact-checker, I like to have structures and procedures in place that I can follow and amend…but I also love to get involved at the creative level. Inside every editor is also usually a frustrated writer, but while I dabble in a lot of artistic fields I like to think that I work best in helping to refine the work of others.

What is the most important aspect of your editing role?
Well, for editing as a technical or artistic skill, it’s diligence and a keen eye for detail, or the ability to help craft ideas towards a goal. That goal depends on what you are editing, and why–it can be as crass as ‘to create a product which will sell to our customers’, or it can be to help an author craft something truly special, something that is an absolute pleasure to read. Usually, my goals fall somewhere in between… although as a lifelong fan of the science fiction and fantasy genres, I often edge towards the latter even when I perhaps shouldn’t…

But if we’re talking about my role as Submissions Editor, it’s actually far more important to create and maintain good working relationships with our authors. As I said before, I knew a lot of the guys before I started working in-house for Black Library, but I have also discovered a few new authors in the last eleven months or so, and so I’ve been able to build rapport with them right from the start of their careers with us.

Certainly, there have been times when my editorial style clashes with a writer’s personality, and I’ve gracefully handed these chaps over to other editors on my team–there’s no point in trying to force it, when what we really want to do is collaborate with them on great fiction. If an editor loses interest in an author’s work, or if the author feels they aren’t getting anywhere with that particular editor, then it’s time for a rethink.

Which areas of editing to you find the most enjoyable?
I love seeing a project through, from commissioning right up to the finished, published story. Although the publishing industry often moves at a near-glacial pace, I’ve already got some work from my authors in print even though I’ve only been here for eleven months. Without fail, even though I helped them thrash out the synopsis and refine the prose, guide them through rewrites and sort out the proofing copies…I still always read the finished, printed book. There’s a degree of finality in holding that novel in your hands, and I still get excited by that ‘new book smell’, especially when I know that I helped bring it into being.

In your view can editing be taught?
I think the basic skills of copy-editing and proofreading can be taught, but not so much the personal side of things. You can’t force someone to be creative, diplomatic and amiable but still to remain critical. If they don’t have the basis of that within them already, then they won’t be able to learn it. It’s about being a ‘people person’, or at least being extrovert enough to interact with others in a productive way.

Having said that, I often ask my editorial colleagues to check my responses before I send them back to authors–I have a tendency to be overly factual, which can sometimes sound officious or curt on paper. I find written feedback the hardest to give, which is strange really. My senior editor is Nick Kyme, who is also a successful author himself, and he has really helped me to find a suitable ‘vocabulary’ when dealing with my own authors: even if the message is harsh or very critical, it’s important to find a constructive way to deliver it, and to be direct without bruising egos along the way. As with anything, it’s an ongoing process, but once you find your rapport with an author you can sometimes get away with being a bit more direct or cheeky.

Something which Nick said to me very early on, which has always stayed with me in this role, is to ask yourself this: ‘Does it matter? And is it cool?’ (Believe it or not, I’ve got those words taped to my computer monitor so I always remember them!) This piece of advice came from me over-analysing author submissions, and picking fault with storylines or even character names. Especially working in the genres that we do, I had to constantly remind myself that there weren’t really any ‘facts’ as such, and that as long as something was AWESOME, it didn’t matter if it was actually possible or not. It illustrates my point perfectly – it’s important to learn the skills you need, but to constantly develop your own attitudes and the way you interact with your authors.

Do you have any advice to aspiring editors?
Aside from needing the obvious fastidious personality and attention to literary detail, you mean? An editor not only needs to know the difference between there, their and they’re, but also needs to be able to communicate those sort of facts to others in a helpful and diplomatic way. It’s fine to check your facts–I always have dictionary.com and Wikipedia open on my desktop, for first-stage research and basic fact-checking–but a good grounding in the English language and an academic spirit are invaluable.

It’s also very important to consume as much literature and media as you can. It’s good to have examples of tone, imagery and style that you can pitch as ideas or to help develop an author’s work, but it’s also vitally important so that your author doesn’t accidently “borrow” the plot of an old episode of some TV program, and you unknowingly approve and commission it!

As with most careers in this age of devalued university degrees, in order to get a foot in the door you’re going to need some experience in the field. For me, this was doing freelance video and literary editing on contract for Games Workshop, and it allowed me to get to know people in the industry, and specifically the company I wanted to work for. When there was no role available, I honed my skills by running the aforementioned online fiction contests and acting as an editor there.

Although everyone on the BL editorial team happens to come from an academic background (degrees, masters, post-graduate study, foundation courses etc) this is not necessarily required to be good at the job. For example, I have a BA in Cultural Media and Film Theory, and a BSc in Digital Post-production Technologies, and I have also studied English Language and Linguistics…but none of that directly relates to editing or the role itself. A professional qualification in publishing would be far more valuable to someone looking to get started in the industry, and that would still be secondary to actual experience.

The Black Library can be found here

Here is a scary shot of Laurie, which is probably why he signs his emails (Pedantic Corrections Goblin).

Scary Laurie

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