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Getting Rid of Filter Words

I am currently revising “Called to Account“, my novel based on real events in County Clare during the Great Famine. The story is narrated by the main character. He is very much the Victorian gentleman, in his background and his behaviour. I’ve tried to give him an appropriate voice. But I worry that he appears too detached from the horrific conditions he is witness to.

So I am grateful to Chris Graham for sharing this timely article about filter words, how to avoid them and when to use them to advantage. Here’s a passage from quite early in my book as it is at present:

As we departed the building the noise from the crowd seemed louder. It appeared that some manner of dispute had erupted near the entrance to the lane. A number of individuals were engaged in fisticuffs. It was clear to me that, were the situation not dealt with, the contagion could spread.

And here it is without the words rendered in bold:

As we departed the building the noise from the crowd grew louder. Some manner of dispute had erupted near the entrance to the lane. A number of individuals were engaged in fisticuffs. If the situation were not swiftly dealt with the contagion could spread.

Do you agree that increases the feeling of urgency in the situation, without losing the natural restraint of a gentleman with a typical English stiff upper lip?

And, whilst you are pondering that, take a look at the cover I designed in Canva and tell me what you think of it.

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Your Editor is Your Friend

Is your book ready for editing? Are you sure? Read these tips from Melissa Bowerstock before you send it off, then do everything she suggests. You and your editor will become friends for life and you will have the best possible book to launch on the reading public.

Working with Editors

Update #1 – Dominique Kyle

Throughout 2019 I intend to post updates on each of the authors I featured in my “A Date With . .. .” series in 2018. Dominique Kyle was my first date, back on January 11th last year. You can read the original interview here. She very kindly broke into a climbing holiday in Sicily to provide this update.

In the original interview, we talked about her series about a young woman stock car racer which had the protagonist, in the fifth book, investigating a paedophile gang in her Northern English home town. Dominique bemoaned the fact that, unlike her protagonist, no woman reached further than a semi-final of the World Championship since 1980. A good place, it seemed to me, to begin our recap by asking if that was still the case.

Courtney Finnikin – Image taken from her Twitter feed

Apparently it is, because: “Courtney Finnikin qualified this year for the 2018 F2 Stocks world championships semi-final but withdrew.”

The other subject that we discussed last year was what Dominique saw as the refusal to face up to and discuss the activities of grooming gangs. Throughout 2018 there were a number of successful prosecutions, government debates and reports, documentaries and drama documentaries. At the same time: “Sarah Champion (MP for Rotherham) has been working tirelessly for change on many issues to do with abuse, new identikit grooming gangs have come to light recently in other British towns, court cases continue, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has continued and they launched the ‘Truth Project’ last year for abuse victims to put their accounts on record*, the UK Parliament signified its determination to end the sexual exploitation of children around the world by ratifying the Lanzarote Convention, national days to raise awareness of grooming gangs have been organised by County Councils – the list is endless.

This is a double-edged sword for an author. Two years ago, my book was cutting-edge, taking on a subject that no one wanted to tackle (and which publishers were wary of touching due to the perceived inherent ‘racism’ of the subject), and now it may come across as a tawdry ‘jump on the bandwagon’, and the whole subject may soon become tired and passé. This was why I didn’t make it a one-subject book. By including the topic of organised abuse gangs in a series that is mostly about a girl trying to make it to the top in the Stock Car racing world means that it will always be part of a wider dialogue.”

Nevertheless, Dominique has not “noticed a sudden rise in interest in my book at times of national interest in the subject. I changed keywords and search terms for the book while the ‘Three Girls’ drama was being advertised and when Sammy Woodhouse brought out her book. I’ve done promotions at key times. I’ve tweeted out on the subject using the hashtag that the County Councils use on their national awareness days. But I don’t know if any of these have had any long-term effect on raising the profile of the novel.

I would like the book to reach either girls in danger of being groomed, or parents and carers who don’t know anything about the issue, to raise awareness. To this end, my most successful ploy has been to make it known that I always make the book free on the first of every month. I put this in my author profile on Amazon, and now, even though some months I don’t advertise or even tweet about it being free, I usually get around forty downloads of the book – so someone out there is finding it! It doesn’t appear to lead to sales of the rest of the series, and I don’t even know if the people downloading it are actually reading it, or even what demographic they are, as no reviews ever arrive on Amazon, but I am hoping that this means that the book is getting out to at least a few people who need to read it.”

Meanwhile Dominique “has been getting the six-book series through an editor. A year on and the editor has only managed to complete five of them, as she likes to leave a couple of months between each to make sure she has substantially forgotten details of the story-line so she can come to each book fresh… However, I had a real piece of luck getting this editor, so I genuinely value her input.

Another author who I met through Goodreads recommended her own editor who is a medieval expert. I was dubious. Why would a woman who knows everything there is to know about some very ancient history, want to edit a series about modern car racing? But I approached her anyway and she fell on my series with every appearance of joy saying that she’d spotted it out there in the ether and had been wanting to take a look at it! Apparently, she’s a secret petrol-head who for years was a marshal in the Formula Ford format (which used to feed into Grand Prix F1) and grew up driving cars around fields! And the author who recommended her to me had no idea about this… So, a marriage made in heaven, I’d say. She’s so picky that I get emails saying, ‘now that you’ve set the date of your first book at 2007 – you cannot use that model of VW as it did not get launched onto the market until Autumn 2009’. Doh! You get the picture…”

With no new writing having taken place “for nearly eighteen months”, she “tried to get going again. But I struggled to work out what to write. My ‘Not Quite Eden’ series is quite unusual, both in its subject matter and by having an awkward anti-heroine as its main protagonist, so I didn’t want to disappoint fans by my next book seeming too tame.”

She “started three, but one (despite the promising subject matter following a girl who joins the FEMEN protest movement) turned out surprisingly bland; one I couldn’t follow through on because it is about an anarchic young male wheelchair-user and I need my two wheelchair-using nephews co-operation on it and they’ve both been too busy; and third I originally wrote in the mid 1990’s and it now seemed too old-fashioned! So by the end of this year, I still hadn’t written anything that was close to being suitable to be released into the world.

Finally, I picked up my nineties ‘first’ novel and decided on a seriously radical re-write/edit, treating it as though I was adapting it for a TV serial and as though it wasn’t anything to do with me. And suddenly, I had a breakthrough and I was flying. No one can get a word out of me now. Work doesn’t get done. Friends don’t get emails. My husband mutters ‘tappity-tap’ as he passes me on my laptop.

I have no idea if fans of my current series will like it. They may hate it simply because it is so different, and they hoped for more of the same and I may get blasted by ‘disappointed’ reviews. But I don’t care.

One of the revelations I had when I picked up this old manuscript, was that over twenty years ago, when I was not much older than the featured protagonists, I was taking on the subject matter of domestic violence and ‘coercive control’ – a term that has only recently been coined and put into law. And I was amazed to find that the way I wrote about it then, when still in my early twenties, was as though the coercive control aspect in it was simply what was to be expected in male/female relationships. However, I am relieved to find that I had a campaign going on in the story line against the outright domestic violence side of it – which was still a substantially unrecognised/under-recorded phenomenon then. How times have changed! So I’ve left it set back in 1995, but I’m bringing out the message in a way that wouldn’t have been understood by readers twenty-four years ago. And at last I’m thoroughly enjoying the whole process of writing again.”

So it seems that Dominique is still as controversial as ever and determined to write about topical aspects of the relationships between men and women. I wish her every success.

Her Amazon book page is here

*There is another ‘Truth Project’, as I discovered when I googled the term. I have provided a link to the correct site. (FP)

A Date with . . . Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson is a retired Military Cop from Seymour, Texas. As well as moving around quite a bit as the son of a cowboy, his military service took him to Korea, France and Vietnam but he loves his home town:

“ I was born in Seymour, but spent twenty years in the military. My dad was a cowboy and cook, so we moved to other places during my early years. In fact most of my early education was in schools in Wichita Falls, Texas. After retiring from the military service we moved back to Seymour because our parents were in bad health, and we stayed after they passed away. Seymour is a small ranch and farm community,with a population under three thousand. However, we have two museums here. The Baylor County Historical Museum, and the Whiteside Museum of Natural History. Seymour is in the Permian Basin (think oil) where a dig site has been providing Permian reptile fossils for well over a hundred years. In fact, we have a 300 million year-old amphibian named after our town, the Semouria. The Whiteside Museum of Natural History has a huge display of animals from mammals to dinosaurs and reptiles. Schools from around Texas and Oklahoma bring students here on field trips, and many do return engagements. Students love to visit the museum, as do adults.”

PENTAX Image

Tom is passionate about pulp fiction (the real stuff, not the eponymous movie). I wanted to know what attracted him to the genre?

“First I became a collector of the old pulp magazines, and was fascinated by the yarns written in the 1930s & ’40s, and even the earlier stuff by Johnston McCulley. It was really a time for heroes, and Johnston McCulley and a few others started the costumed/masked crime fighters long before Superman and Batman tackled crime in comic books. The explosion actually happened after the Wall Street crash of 1929.

The public was tired of gangsters in suits and expensive automobiles while the rest of humanity stood in lines at the soup kitchens.

They wanted heroes and the Dime magazines gave them those heroes. While living in Wichita Falls, Texas I had access to the movie theaters in the 1940s and thrilled to the Saturday Matinee serials. These were stories right out of the pulp magazines, and I loved those old serials. As an adult I started collecting the serials- I’m now at 100 and counting, and this led to collecting and reading the hero pulps. As a writer of SF, I wanted to write new stories of the old pulp heroes, and have enjoyed some success in that genre. I don’t think I will ever tire of the hero stories. And you’re right, the movie, Pulp Fiction has nothing to do with real pulp fiction.”

Tom regularly collaborates with Altus Press, he explains how the partnership began:

ALTUS PRESS is owned by a very nice gentleman in Massachusetts named Matt Moring. My wife and I started the publishing imprint of FADING SHADOWS in 1982. We started publishing a hobby magazine that year, plus in 1995 added genre magazines and published new writers from around the world.

In 2002 I had a stroke and we had to slow down, so in 2004, 22 years after starting our imprint, we ended the FADING SHADOWS imprint.

Around 2005 Matt Moring contacted me wanting stories from the pulps to reprint. I began supplying ALTUS PRESS with the material Matt needed, plus he hired me to write Forwards and Introductions to his books. When he learned that I had researched many of the old pulp series, he asked me to let him print them, so he began publishing a lot of my work from the FADING SHADOWS period. At 78, I’m pretty well retired now, but I’ve recently written another Forward to ALTUS PRESS upcoming book, THE DOMINO LADY

Tom began writing whilst in the military:

I was a reader from an early age. Comic books at age 7, and the classic novel like Tom Sawyer by age 11. So I’ve always loved to read. My dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps and become a cowboy. But I hated ranch and farm life. At age 16 we moved back to a ranch where Ihad to work after school and on weekends. I decided that wasn’t a life I wanted, and when I turned 18 I joined the Army and left ranch life for good.
In the early 1960s I was a desk sergeant for the MPs in France. While my units were on patrol I would create plots and characters and write little scenes of action. I guess I was bitten by the bug, so to speak. But I didn’t do anything with my interest until after a touring the jungles of Vietnam. When I returned home in 1970, I sat down and wrote two novels that would become the first two stories in the JUR series. I wrote them in long hand and pencil. Paid a typist to put the first one in manuscript format, and made copies which I mailed off to SF publishers.
Just as quickly I started receiving rejection slips. I needed to learn the trade. So I stuffed the manuscripts in a drawer and started writing articles and columns for newspapers and magazines. And when we started the FADING SHADOWS imprint after I retired from the military, my wife and I got into editing and grammar.

While researching the Mike Shayne magazine the publisher put me in contact with James Reasoner, the current Shayne author at the time, and James heard about my SF stories and wanted to read them. I sent him the first story and he made some good suggestions which I took to heart. I rewrote the first novel, and in 2002 submitted it to a publisher.

The publisher wrote back accepting the novel and asked for more.

I wasn’t doing anything at the time so sent the second novel to them, then the third. That began my real writing.
But you asked me about the military, didn’t you? My career field was law enforcement, but my training was infantry. I spent a couple tours in Korea, the first on the DMZ under fire in 1959-60. A wonderful three year tour in France, and a tour in Vietnam 1969-70. I spent most of the 1960s overseas. When in the States I had a hard time getting out of Texas. I think I was stationed at every military post in Texas. I joined the Army on November 24, 1958, and retired February 1, 1979. I still feel the military was a better option for me than ranch life. Twenty years in the military, and twenty years in publishing. I don’t regret any of it.

Looking at the covers of Tom’s books (some of which are reproduced here) it’s obvious that he does his best to imitate the style of the 1940s pulps he loves so much. How much of that is down to him?

I do most of it myself, though sometimes I use one of our old FADING SHADOWS artists to illustrate and a designer to set up the cover. I first look for a pulp cover that’s in the public domain, and if I can design the title, I’ll do it myself. I want something that will catch the eye of the reader. I don’t really care for modern book covers.

Tom is married to his editor – and he has encountered every self-publisher’s worst nightmare (not that the two are in any way connected!).

Ginger, my wife, does a good job editing my books. I will go over the manuscript several times until I’m happy with it, but then I turn it over to Ginger and she catches the things I don’t see. I do have too many files, though.

Once, when we uploaded a manuscript for print and eBook we uploaded an unedited file instead of the final version.

One of my readers saw the problem and let me know. I had to pull the book and upload the file again. Unfortunately, I had ordered 26 copies of the paperback for book signing, and that was a waste of money since the book was full of errors.

Some people regard pulp fiction as the bottom of the literary barrel, both from the presumed quality of the writing and from the subject matter and the culture it promotes. How does Tom respond to such criticism?

I’ve heard this a lot. And some of it is true. Pulp was formula, and the writers were trying to make a living at a penny a word during the Depression. There was little plot, little characterization, but lots of action. Lester Dent, the author of Doc Savage (as Kenneth Robeson)struggled to move from pulp to the slicks because he thought Doc Savage was junk and he would never be recognized as a real writer. But if we compare the sales of Doc Savage to the sales of Hemingway, Doc Savage probably sold ten times more books than Hemingway, and today Doc Savage is more popular than Hemingway. Unfortunately, Lester Dent died in 1958, so he never knew how popular Doc Savage would be. Some great writers wrote pulp fiction. They had to if they wanted to feed their family.

I was unaware of Tom’s age when I asked him the standard question about fitting writing in around working for a living.

With my retirement and what my books bring in I make good money. Besides, at 78 I’m too old to work (LOL). I’ve always heard never quit your day job to become a writer. But we are well off and have no worries about finances. If I never sold another book, it would not hurt our income in the least.

Not surprisingly, Tom’s favorite authors include a few who write ‘pulp’:

There are so many writers I admire. Past writers would be Edgar Rice Burroughs (remember Tarzan?) Robert E. Howard (Conan). I have spent time with many of the pulp writers. Today’s writers I would have to say K.G. (Gail) McAbee, who can write anything and it’s going to be good! And a dozen others, but if I mentioned a few and left out others I would get in trouble, so I will leave it at this. LOL

Asked to reveal something unexpected about himself, Tom confesses that

I am addicted to coconut. I love coconut pies and coconut cakes. I am as bad about coconut as some are about chocolate (LOL).

I really enjoyed my conversation with such an engaging gentleman – I hope you did too. Connect with Tom on Facebook, at Amazon and via firstrealmpublishing.com.

For the latest Pulp news, check out Tom’s blog here.


Dan Alatorre’s WORD WEAVER Writing Contest for November 2017 – let the NEW games begin!

Dan’s contests are always worth entering, if only for the critique which is provided for each the first 50 entries this time around.

Source: Dan Alatorre’s WORD WEAVER Writing Contest for November 2017 – let the NEW games begin!

“Writers not helping each other? Rubbish.”

This is why I’m excited about being part of this ‘scary story’ project.

My story is based on real events that took place in the North Atlantic in December 1835, involving an Irish ship en-route from Nova Scotia to Limerick.

Source: “Writers not helping each other? Rubbish.”

Quality: #atozchallenge

One of the many engineering projects I worked on in the 1980s was aimed at increasing the quality of the synthetic fibre the company produced. There were two benefits claimed for improved quality:

  • We could reach more discerning – and, therefore, more lucrative – markets for our product, and
  • By reducing the quantity of product that was rejected, we could significantly increase productivity.

Later, whilst working for another organisation, I was part of a team introducing a concept called Total Quality Management (TQM).

TQM is a philosophy based on the work of an American, Professor W.E.Deeming. An engineer and statistician, Deeming was instrumental in creating the Japanese post WWII industrial ‘miracle’. As producers in the USA and Europe found themselves unable to compete with Japanese quality in the 1980s, they began to adopt the same underlying principles. Soon they were incorporated into national and international standards. The International Standards Organisation, for example, defines TQM as: “A management approach of an organisation centred on quality, based on the participation of all its members and aiming at long term success through customer satisfaction and benefits to all members of the organisation and society.” (ISO 8402:1994)

Implementation involves every member of the organisation in thinking about how to improve the way they carry out their individual functions, and seeking ways to continue improving. A great deal of effort is put into training so as to ensure every member of the team develops his or her full potential.

Quality Principles for Creatives

How might these principles be adopted by creative people, especially writers? After all, we mostly work alone. We can still aspire to continuously improve in everything we do. Great artists regularly produce sketches and studies in preparation for a significant painting. A writer will produce several drafts of a novel before showing it to a trusted beta reader. Jeffrey Archer is on record as producing at least ten drafts of every one of his novels, all in longhand. Only then is the book released to an editor who will suggest further improvements.

But a book is more than the content. There are many other factors that contribute to the quality of the finished article, including cover and formatting. It is at this stage that the work ceases to become the product of a single individual and is handed over to a team that might include an agent and publisher as well as editor and cover designer. All members of the team need to have in mind the single goal of “success through customer satisfaction”. In this case, of course, the customer is the reader.

What steps do you take to ensure reader satisfaction? How easy do you find it to work with others – beta readers, cover designer, editor – to achieve that aim?