Why I freelance

At the end of October, I had eye surgery. I was supposed to be resting afterward.

I did, sort of, until I got a developmental editing project, a bunch of articles to write and edit, a few rush-job editing projects, a health care communications project …

And in the middle of all that, I finished a rough draft of my novel-in-progress.

So, November was busy. My eye hasn’t exploded, fortunately.

I’d always rather be busy than unbusy, so I’m not complaining (but don’t tell my ophthalmologist what I was up to). Theoretically things have slowed down for the moment, but sometimes the freelance life means not knowing what your day is going to look like until you switch on the computer that morning.

Turns out I like that freeform sort of flow, since I can also, say, duck out to volunteer at my daughter’s holiday boutique (she demanded I look the other way while she was shopping for me) or take my son to Cub Scouts, while still meeting deadlines. Or run over to the farm during CSA season to pick up our share of produce. Or meet a friend for lunch and a write-in. None of that was possible when I was stuck in an office for eight-plus hours a day, then stuck in traffic for another hour-plus, so I do appreciate the freedom. (Especially considering how many hours I also spent last month sitting at the eye doctor’s office.)

It’s not the life for everyone—you have no co-workers to gossip with/about, and if you’re having computer problems you can’t exactly call the IT department—but I concentrate better when it’s quiet. This sounds like a paradox, considering I spent 20 years in noisy newsrooms, but I got pretty good at tuning out the phone chatter, TVs perpetually blaring news updates, and other assorted white noise; now, I don’t have to. I can just focus.

So I’m not sure yet what December is going to be like, but it’ll be fun to find out.

What I’m reading: I’ve gotten slightly obsessed with “Giant Days,” the off-the-wall, goofball story of three friends and roommates trying to survive both college and romance troubles, which is both hilarious and beautifully illustrated. (Side note: Apparently I’m going to read every comic book Boom! Box publishes because that’s how it is.)

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I don’t let the kids read this one, because there’s a fair amount of sex- and drug-related humor—the characters are in college, remember—and even though the dialogue does an amazing job of hinting at what everyone is talking about without ever being graphic or explicit, I’d rather wait until the kids are closer to YA-level age. Still, so few TV shows, movies or books really get at the sort of confusion, questioning, and small steps toward adulthood that happen in college; this comic comes pretty close. And bonus, it’s set in England, so you get to imagine all the dialogue with British accents.

And I just finished “Posted” by John David Anderson, which unsurprisingly is amazing, because “Ms. Bixby’s Last Day” was also amazing and made me cry. Anderson is great at detailed, lyrical storytelling that somehow still sounds like it’s coming from a tweenage boy.

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It’s about what happens at one middle school after phones are banned and kids grab sticky notes to send messages to each other instead, and how even that low-tech system spins wildly out of control when kids start to use the notes for attacks and insults. It’s also about how a change in social status can wreck a solid-seeming friendship. Plus plenty of Dungeons & Dragons jokes for this former D&D player. My one note, and it’s a minor note, is that when Frost, the main character, describes himself as “part of the chorus” in the beginning, it’s a little too accurate; he’s a thoughtful observer of everything happening around him, but he isn’t exactly driving the action until close to the end, and the main drama centers around two other characters. Still, the book is well worth reading, especially for kids who’ve had their own experiences with bullying, online, offline, or through mean little notes.

Editors for Hire

Writers’ Rumpus is always worth reading, and this post is a great summation of how and why to hire an editor.

WRITERS' RUMPUS

Editorial cat

You’ve revised and polished your manuscript, which your critique group has been helping you tweak, and perhaps you’ve even received feedback from a beta reader. You could now run it through the publishing gauntlet, or in view of the stiff competition in the industry, you could take one more step in refining your story. You might consider hiring a freelance editor to give your manuscript a review by one set of professional eyes.

One difference between an editor at a publishing house and a free lance editor is position. When your manuscript is chosen for publication, the in-house editor has thoughtfully selected it from among the many in his/her pile, therefore that editor already loves the concept and is invested in what you have written. In the case of a freelance editor, the editor doesn’t have to like the manuscript in order to work on it and it may not…

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Talking to writers

For the first time, I set up shop at a writers conference as an editor-for-hire, claiming a table at the recent New Jersey Romance Writers’ Trade Expo. And it was fun.

I wasn’t able to attend the actual conference (next year!) but looking over the schedule, I was struck by how similar the workshops were to what I’d seen at other conferences: focusing on plot and characterization, marketing your work, learning the ins and outs of the publishing industry. And the other conferences I’ve attended have been either general/all genres, or kidlit-specific.

I opted for candy over swag, per the suggestion of Jennifer Lawler, whose developmental editing classes I’ve been taking through the Editorial Freelancers Association (I highly recommend her classes, and she’s fun to follow on Twitter, too: @JenniferLawler). But I decided to have some fun with it and set out three bowls: regular candy, nut-free candy, and sugar-free candy, with the sign “An editor checks the details.” It got a couple of laughs, which was what I wanted. (For the record, no one took the sugar-free candy.) I had leftovers, but conveniently it’s Halloween, and we get a crowd of trick-or-treaters.

I did worry that I would be sitting there the whole time staring nervously into space, but a steady stream of people stopped to say hello and take my info. And it struck me all over again how universal the conference experience is for writers. I asked everyone how the conference had gone for them, and I got the expected range of answers. One attendee pitched a few manuscripts and had gotten five requests, which is amazing. Another was at her first conference ever and had developed a bit of a deer-in-headlights look; I told her to go relax and take in everything she’d learned. I loved hearing about everyone’s successes, what they were working on, what they were doing next.

The whole experience was a useful reminder that we’re all learning the same things, no matter what we write, and no one is going to understand the process better than another writer.

It was a nice time, and I do appreciate the NJRW for having me. I hope the attendees have success stories to share next year, and I hope to be there to hear them.

How to help

Between the multiple hurricanes and the Las Vegas shooting, it’s been a horrific few weeks. It’s hard to know how to absorb so much tragedy and loss of life. I constantly admire how quickly people step up to help—it’s the bright spot, always, and makes me feel hopeful when there doesn’t seem to be much hope around. So in that spirit, I thought I’d share a few links.

As people in a few of these articles say, giving cash is better than giving things. Cash doesn’t need to be transported, housed, or refrigerated, and it frees up these organizations to use the donation however it’s needed most.

Also, there are inevitable scam organizations that crop up after these sorts of events. Charity Navigator is one way to check whether a charity is legit or to see how much money it spends on staffing and overhead vs. how much it actually spends on the people it’s helping. (Side note: Charity Navigator is itself a charity and accepts donations as well.)

I’ve previously given to the Red Cross (which, incidentally, said as of yesterday that it had enough blood supply to help in Vegas, but if you’d like to help keep them stocked, here’s how to find a blood drive in your area), Austin Pets Alive, and various food banks, but there are a number of other options.

Another caveat: Right now the focus is on Las Vegas, which is completely understandable. But please don’t forget about the hurricane victims. As a resident of New Jersey, I can tell you that there are still people unable to live in their Superstorm Sandy-damaged homes five years later. Hurricane recovery takes a long time.

The kidlit community has stepped up again with PubforPR, an auction to raise funds for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico; you can bid on everything from signed books to critiques from editors and agents.

Otherwise, this is a good summation of things you can do for Las Vegas:

http://abc7chicago.com/how-to-help-las-vegas/2479000/

And this offers a good list of charities for Hurricane Harvey and Irma victims:

https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/how-to-help-donate-to-assist-hurricane-harvey-irma-victims/70002574

National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is an association of organizations that’s been helping communities affected by disaster since 1970. They’re currently helping victims of Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey: https://www.nvoad.org/howtohelp/

Be well and be safe, everyone.

Notes from an editor

A newsroom colleague asked me once why I would want to run a newspaper. “To make it better,” I said. He nodded respectfully.

I’m not much interested in running newspapers these days (though I do still write for them on occasion), but I think my answer still applies to editing in general. Why be an editor? To make something better.

I’ve been editing professionally for a long time—copy editing, proofreading, and now moving into developmental editing. I’ve edited breaking news on deadline, fiction and nonfiction manuscripts, movie reviews, and obituaries. I get equally annoyed by typos in books, on restaurant menus, on shoebox packaging, and in TV news crawls. (Every single news channel has typos. This is a bipartisan aggravation.) I analyze while reading. It’s a habit.

I’ve worked with a lot of writers, and in my experience, these are the elements crucial to the success of the writer-editor relationship.

Trust. Though that trust can be unnerving. Frequently I’d tell a reporter I’d tweaked parts of their article and offer to show them the changes, and they’d just shrug and say, “I trust you.” Then I’d neurotically wonder whether I should make them read the tweaks anyway.

They trusted me because they knew I wanted to help them produce their best work. They knew I wasn’t going to change things that didn’t need changing or throw in words they would never use (every writer has a “stable” of words they use most often; if you add words that don’t blend with the rest because they’re too flowery or esoteric, you’ve muddied the voice). They knew I was keeping their viewpoint in mind. And they knew I was neurotic enough to make them read the changes.

Understanding. It’s not just doing your job well—it’s understanding how the other person does their job. When editing a newspaper or magazine article, I knew the reporter had spent hours, sometimes days, collecting enough research to put an article together, and even more hours figuring out the puzzle of arranging the article. When I’ve beta read or critiqued fiction, I’ve kept in mind how much work went into planning out the elements of plot, character, voice, and theme. I respect what it took for the writer to complete their work, and I respect that changing that work might not be easy.

At the same time, the best writers I’ve worked with understood that it took time for me to do my job and that I couldn’t just skim something, run spell check, and call it done.

Knowledge. If I’m not familiar with the writer’s subject matter, I’ll take the time to get familiar, because I think research is fun. (Yes, I’m nerdy. And?) I know what it feels like when the person editing or critiquing your work hasn’t done their homework. During a writers conference held at my college, the critiquer admitted that he wasn’t familiar with science fiction, and proceeded to mumble his way through some vague commentary on my short story. Was my story any good? Probably not. But the critiquer didn’t offer any suggestions for making it better, and I felt out of place for even asking.

I don’t think there’s any shame in looking up something you don’t know, whether it’s about a specific subject or about the conventions of a particular genre. If I don’t have that knowledge, I can’t help the writer.

Ultimately, the writer needs to remember that the editor is looking out for their best interests, and the editor needs to remember the writer is the one whose name is on the story. Egos need to stay out of the process. If the writer and editor work together, they will make the work better.

KidLit Cares: Hurricane Harvey Relief Effort

Reblogging this from author Robin Newman, who is also participating in the auction. I love how the kidlit community comes together to help people!

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KidLit Cares, the brainchild of the incredible Kate Messner, is an online auction to support the Red Cross relief efforts in communities hit by Hurricane Harvey. Over one hundred and fifty AWESOME donations from authors, illustrators, editors, agents, and the SCBWI. Please visit Kate Messner’s website by clicking here. And if you’d like an in-person school visit OR Skype visit AND some signed books from yours truly, please click here and leave a bid in the comments. So open your hearts, open up your wallets, and let the bidding begin. The auction ends Tuesday, September 5, 2017 at 8pm EST.

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THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! 

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In research mode

I like research. Geeky to say but true. I like having perpetually new reasons to learn more about the world around me. Sometimes that means a trip to the library, and sometimes it means a road trip.

For my day job recently, I wrote a magazine article about historic buildings saved from demolition when they were repurposed as performance venues — good for historic preservation and the local arts scene. (You can read it here.) My research was a combination of interviews and in-person visits, so I could get a sense of what these sites were like. In other words, multiple road trips to parts of the state I don’t often visit. Two things about New Jersey you probably didn’t know: It has a number of centuries-old buildings (one of the original 13 colonies, after all), and most of the state is much prettier than whatever you saw while stuck in traffic on the Turnpike or while hustling through Newark Airport. Lovely scenery plus learning about historic architecture equals a win.

Meanwhile, I am doing research for a novel-in-progress involving abandoned amusement parks and rereadings of “Beowulf.” It will all make sense in the final draft (theoretically), though reading “Beowulf” is a pleasure in its own right for the beautiful language.

Inevitably, I overdo it; I have more knowledge than I could possibly need for whatever I’m working on. But that’s a good thing. Better to thoroughly know your subject than to patchwork-guess your way through. You never know when that newfound knowledge will be useful in a different setting.

I don’t know what I’ll be researching next, but I can’t wait to find out.