Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Singular "They"

As mentioned previously in this blog, various official style guides now accept the use of "they" as a singular pronoun, as one way to avoid sexist constructions using "he" when it could be either gender. For example, "they" is singular in the following sentence: "When an author finishes a first draft, they know they still have to do a second draft." Within this context, I give you the American Copy Editors Society's winning Limerick of it's 2019 Annual Grammar Day Tweeted Limerick Contest:

The all-purpose he is passé,
And he or she gets in the way.
Ip, ey, co, and heesh
Make readers say "Sheesh!"
Which leaves us the singular they.

            —Claire Valgardson (@CMValgardson, http://effective-editing.com/)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Guest Post: Karl Johanson on Suggested Revisions

Karl Johanson is editor of Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine. His editorial in Issue #8 contains a wonderfully ironic list of things that can go wrong in one's writing. I asked to reprint it here.

I’ve know in my time some coaches who were extremely inspirational. They could cheer you on and you were inspired. They could yell at you and you were inspired. They could stand in silent contemplation on the sidelines and you were inspired. I wish I had that talent, as the only aspect of editing I don’t enjoy is having to say 'no' to many of the submitted works. I appreciate the creative process, often as much as the finished products of creativity. I wish I had something truly inspiring to say to the writers I wind up saying ‘no’ to, as they truly inspire me.

In general, I’m not the type to make fun of those working at being creative. However, if I were, I might say something such as:

Dear sir or madam:

Thank you for allowing us to consider your science fiction story. We like this story and would like to publish it in an upcoming issue of our magazine, but we feel it requires a few very minor alterations to make it publishable.

I liked the premises (premi?) of your story. The concept of having a story which considers the complex and subtle sociological and personal implications of changes in technology is a good one. However, we feel the story would have a broader appeal if it instead focused on violent conflicts which make use of this new technology.

With regards to your, sentence structure remember that, commas are supposed to be cues for where a person should breath if, they’re reading the story out, loud.

The characters in the story should all have nicknames, alternate between their real names and their nick names throughout the story to help the readers remember who is who. The nick-names we suggest for the characters are, in order of their appearance in the story, Spanky, Spiffy, Wheezer, Bif the Crusher, Sarge, Amazon Tracy, Tycho, Zoltron Man and ‘Six-gun Pete’. (Write in a couple stun gun fights between Sarge and Zoltron Man.) In addition, we would like you to add another character to the story. A lovable furry orange alien named Chester, which leaves a trail of slime where ever it goes, which the other characters slip on throughout the story for comic relief.

Developing the characters while furthering the plot and action was a bold choice, but it can often be dull. Better to stop the action all together and give a long drawn out listing of unrelated events from the various characters’ pasts to develop them. Also, tell us about the personalities of the various characters, without confusing the readers by relating these personality traits to anything that actually happens in the story.

The story needs a good kicker for the ending as well. Simply using the plot, dialogue and action to resolve the main story points and conflicts, while juxtaposing them with the parallel personal conflicts of some of the characters, leaves the reader wondering where the really big explosions are. Perhaps it can turn out that they’re all living on a miniaturized duplicate of the Earth. And all of the characters somehow get changed into mice or aardvarks, except Spiffy. For the epilogue, Spiffy should recite the following soliloquy: “Mankind, after millennia of crawling up from the cosmic slime, one invention and innovation after another, slowly moved its way into space, which was not only its destiny, but its birthright! (Aren’t exclamation marks great?) And Man didn’t worry if the universe took issue with this incursion into its dark and airless regions. Man pushed, pulled and slid sideways into this destiny, with a belly full of raw oats and bravery, and a particle cannon full of positrons ready to do Man’s bidding in a cold, dank, star studded, impersonal universe.” We know that your story doesn’t actually take place in space, or have anything to do with space travel (and yes, the universe isn’t actually ‘dank’), but we think the readers will let this slide.

If these changes are acceptable to you, then you likely don’t have much artistic integrity, in which case we don’t want your story after all.

Karl Johanson

Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine can be found at http:www.neo-opsis.ca

For a brief sample video of Karl giving actual advice to writers click here

For more Karl advice to writers, check out this page of videos of Karl's presentations at various conferences.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

New Editorial Standards


Editors Canada, the professional association of Canadian Editors, has released updated definitions of types of editing: Editing Skills. It's important that anyone seeking an editor understands that "editing" can mean a number of different things and therefore to make sure that the "editor" they hire understands which type of editing the client is looking for.

As an acquisition editor, I frequently had to tell authors that their manuscripts were not quite to publishable standards and suggest that they work with an editor before trying the next publisher, only to be told they had already paid thousands for editing. Of course, what they paid for was copyediting or proofreading, when really what they needed was structural editing (sometimes called substantive editing) or stylistic editing (also called line editing), or etc. Their manuscripts would be spelled correctly and not have a comma out of place, but that none of that matters if the surprise ending of one's mystery novel is that the butler did it. If one takes a manuscript that has plot or character flaws to a copyeditor, they won't necessarily comment on these structural flaws. They will assume that you're happy with the manuscript as is, and just want copyediting. Copyeditors are given all sorts of rubbish to edit by clients who are not looking for the editor's opinion, just that they do their job and fix the grammar. It therefore behooves the client to know what they are asking for.

And what they actually need. Clients often present us with copyediting, when really, copyediting would be premature. One should always start with a structural edit as there is no point copyediting a scene that may be revised or deleted. Some authors think their first or second draft is good enough to go ahead, but "good enough" really isn't in today's competitive market. EssentialEdits.ca always starts with a sample edit so we can tell the writer whether (1) the manuscript is ready for professional editing, or if it needs a few more preliminary drafts (that is, go back to free writers' circles, beta readers, etc.), or (2) the client needs structural or stylistic editing. Some clients who come for copyediting do not appreciate being told their content still needs work, or worse, think we're just trying to upsell them to an extra iteration or more expensive kind of editing. We're open to just copyediting if that's what the client wants--there are occasions when that even makes sense--but we always start with an appraisal of a writing sample & synopsis/outline so we can tell the author what's needed and they see a sample of our editing before committing to an expensive contract.

If you are interested in a more detailed breakdown of editing standards for each type of editing, Editors Canada's Professional Editing Standards 2016 outline what you may expect in each category.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Setting Goals for Writing

One of my goals for 2018 was getting published in Pulp Literature, and here is Issue 21 (fifth anniversary issue!) of Pulp Literature with my story in it.

My second goal was to place a story each month, but that appears to have been over-reaching. I only placed six stories in 2018, though I sold a seventh first week of 2019, so maybe that one almost counts.

My third goal (in support of the first two) was to have as many stories out in circulation as possible. In addition to the six I placed in 2018, I had another thirteen stories sitting on various editor's desks awaiting a decision. At the peak, I had 20 stories in circulation at one time and gathered a total of 35 rejections. Selling short stories is largely a numbers game. Writing is only the first step; keeping them out there until they sell is equally important.

My goal for 2019 is to finish the damn novel.

Monday, December 3, 2018

"A doctoral student and their advisor walk into a bar. The advisor orders a draft and they sit in awkward silence for eight months."
—S***T Academics Say, Facebook Page, Dec 3, 2018.

These days, one of the things I specialize in is coaching graduate students through the writing process. It's astounding how many folks get caught in blank page syndrome or writer's block for months at a time without seeking help. Or who find themselves overwhelmed by their advisor or committee's feedback, when really, the feedback was (should have been) really helpful, had they been but able to interpret it. And I love helping students maintain their motivation and momentum as thesis-writing angst inevitably sets in.

By the same token, it's sometimes heart-breaking when students seek my help when they've left it too late. I've had a couple of cases where students wanted my help two weeks before the deadline for submissions or the meeting with the Dean about what to do now that they've failed. If they had only approached me five months earlier, they'd be graduating instead.

Or even the successful students who approach me for simple copy editing (APA or Chicago or MLA formatting) two weeks before their submission deadline. It never seems to occur to them that all 400 of the graduating class(es) are going to be seeking copy editing those same two weeks—because no one wants their thesis rejected by Graduate Studies becouse of some simple formatting error—and it's only those who booked their editing weeks or even months in advance who are going to actually have editors available. I'm usually able to work one or two extra theses or dissertations in by working overtime and on weekends, but that means double or triple time charges, so not everyone can afford that. If only they thought to book help earlier.

Of course, people often think of editors like the guy at the copy centre: open to walk-ins 9-9, no appointment necessary, and your work back Wed, Today for a rush job. But editing isn't like that. You need an editor who understands your discipline and maybe a bit about your topic, so that means shopping around: generic copy shop is not the model here. And you need to book ahead because the good editors are already working on large projects weeks if not months in advance, and you may not always want the editor that's free to take on your thesis/dissertation/book today. It's like, if you forgot to book the wedding photographer, you can find one the day of, but um. . .that same day booking explains why some wedding photographers are still in business.

For a free booklet on successful thesis or dissertation writing, go to Writing Strategies for Theses or Dissertations

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Short Story Submissions

The elements that we consider make up a "well written" story tend to be those we've observed in stories we like. When we consider stories for Neo-opsis, the first thing we consider is, "did we like the story?" not "would my English teachers have approved of all the elements of the story?" One story didn't have what some would consider the best writing techniques, but when I read the story, I felt like I was in the story watching it, rather than looking at words on a page. That to me is far more important than whether their grammar was perfect, if their tenses always matched, etc.

It's easier to fix the grammar in an interesting story than it is to make a well-written boring story less boring.

—Karl Johanson
Editor, Neo-opsis Magazine