Friday, May 25, 2012

What Editors WISH They Could Say

Photo by Marion Crawford
Like most authors, I get asked, from time to time, by aspiring writers, if I could spare a minute or two (what they really mean is a week or two) to look over their newly completed manuscript and give them feedback.

The problem is that complex and misunderstood word, "completed."

In the words of the infinitely wise Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, "You keep usin' that word. I don't think it means what you think it means."

After trudging through the muck of a raw, you're-obviously-not-smarter-than-a-fifth-grader, unproofed manuscript, I (and every other author/editor in the world) have attempted to sugar-coat my outrage at the audacity of this selfish person to ask me to waste my precious time when they obviously haven't even lifted a finger to truly complete their manuscript.

Let me make it simple. Completion = writing first draft + editing + rewriting + editing + rewriting + editing + rewriting + editing + editing + editing. If you've gotten this far, then you're serious enough to hire a professional editor to catch what you've missed and polish your work to a gleam before submitting it.


If not, please let me be of further assistance. I recently ran across this (real) editorial response that made me not only laugh out loud, but jump to my feet, throw my fist in the air and yell, "YES!!" just like I did at the end of Babe. (Don't roll your eyes - I know you did too). Notice how this editor starts out biting-her-tongue nice and then the cat begins to claw its way out of the bag.

Please, please, dear aspiring writer, do your spit shining before submitting your manuscript. Don't ever deserve a letter like this. I've omitted the names to protect the guilty. I really don't know why.

Dear Arrogant Idiot,

I am sorry, but I cannot be a part of this. Your manuscript is nowhere near ready for anyone to read, much less buy. It is extremely rough and I am finding that merely editing it is totally inadequate. There are entire sections that make no sense, and many areas demonstrate redundancy and extremely awkward constructions. The disorganization and lack of direction make it difficult for your readers to follow your thought processes.

Honestly, AI, I've spent almost an hour on one page trying to figure out what in the world you were trying to say.

After struggling through this horrendous manuscript, I find that you are not a writer, no matter how badly you want to be one. You will always have to self-publish because no editor of any reputable publishing house would read more than a few lines of your manuscript before tossing it in the trash. I fear that you will be cheating people by selling even one copy of this grossly inadequate book.

You need a reality check, AI. You cannot write! You are self-deceived and delusional. Find something else you are good at and develop it to the best of your abilities. Writing is not it.

Most sincerely,
Editor with a splitting headache


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Insight into WriterSpeak

Deb at a book event for Mom NEEDS Chocolate
I frequently get asked by aspiring writers to clarify writerspeak terms, so here's a few that I thought might be helpful to those just getting their feet wet in the sea of publication.

Copyright: Exclusive legal right to an artistic or literary work that is original and fixed in tangible form. Copyright exists for the life of the author + 70 years.

Permission must be granted from the copyright owner to use more than two lines of a poem, song, or passage. A copyright owner can be tracked down at

Public Domain: Work available for public use, usually because the rights have expired (e.g. the author is long dead and more than 70 years have passed).

Libel: A false printed statement about a living person that may damage his/her reputation, occupation, or business. Libel does not apply to stated opinions or dead people. Corporations and products can be libeled as well as individuals; beware of stating false statements as opinion (there's some gray area here but I wouldn't chance a lawsuit).

Invasion of privacy: May include intrusion upon seclusion (people have a legal right to their privacy), public disclosure of private facts (e.g. medical problems, sexual practices), false light (false portrayal that would be offensive to "reasonable" people; can be positive or negative), and commercial appropriation (using someone's name or image to endorse a product without permission).

I hope this helps un-muddy the water a bit. Special thanks to Jennie Miller Helderman for her excellent educational information that contributed to the above.