Sunday, 22 April 2018

Bad Language

My irregular series highlighting common mistakes that make me want to do the angry dance. Who has incurred my wrath this time?

This is the most horrifying thing when people write about zombies

HORDES. ZOMBIE HORDES. Hordes are large groups. Hoards are secret stores. Please, this kills me a little more every time.

"Save Big"
Marketing speak is often a culprit of bad language.
"Save big."
No. Big is an adjective. Save big what? Coins? Christmas baubles? Testicles?
Lulu actually mean "save money." Though even that is disingenuous. You would actually spend money, which is the opposite of saving it. What they mean is that you will spend less. Or rather, they are offering a discount on their usual price.
Either way, the printer/distributor Lulu has made disappointing.

"that game suffered an apparently torturous development process"

It was probably a tortuous development process (long, convoluted, winding), rather than a torturous one (involving torture). Though who knows with big publishers?


Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Tips For Working With Editors

Over on the ALLi website you'll find an article where I give various tips on how to choose and work with editors. Here's a backup of the article.

These tips can save time and money when working with an editor. It follows on from my article about Ways To Polish Your Manuscript.

Polish first

Make your work as good as possible before sending it to an editor. These self-editing tips will help with that. The editor can then focus on bigger issues. Or, if they are paid by the hour, you’ll save money because they won’t waste time fixing all the small errors you could have spotted. I’ve edited books for others that are a joy because they are so well-polished that I can focus on more complex issues of style and structure and character.

Provide information

If you use a particular style guide then let the editor know. Likewise if you have a house style covering things like which numbers will be written as words, serial comma use, -ise versus -ize etc., then pass that on too. If you don’t have a fixed style that’s fine, those things will come up in queries: but having one can save a bit of time (and money). I’d recommend that anything of this type that is raised by your editor should form the basis of your style guide for the future, or add to your existing one. After working with a few people you’ll have a comprehensive list of your editorial preferences, and it will soon become a subconscious part of your writing, aiding consistency.

Get a free sample

Most editors will edit a sample of your work for free, usually a few pages, and provide a quote based on that. Make use of the service. If (after due consideration) you don’t agree with their suggested changes, or you don’t feel like you’d enjoy working with them, then go elsewhere. It helps if author and editor think along the same lines. And if the editor made suggestions where you can see that your work would be improved by them, then you’ll be off to a great start.

Pay for a partial edit

If you suspect your work has problems of style and repeated errors, then you could save a lot of money by getting an editor to just edit a few chapters. Then whatever common things they pick up on (mistakes of style, grammar, sentence structures, overuse of passive voice, speech tags, punctuation etc.), you can go through rest of book yourself fixing those. Then you’ll really understand that issue, and be less likely to make the mistake in the future. Also any future editorial work won’t require the same little things being pointed out again and again.

Likewise you could get an editor to look at just the areas you feel are weaker, such as the opening of your novel. I did this once with a short story collection where I knew most stories were good since they’d been polished in the past; some had even been published already and just needed a few tweaks. However, other stories were brand new, more experimental, and I was less sure about their strengths. In that case I just paid a substantive editor to work on the new stories.

Types of edit

There are different kinds of editorial process.

The first edit (called the developmental, structural, literary, content, or substantive) will flag up the “big picture” story, character and prose issues. Much of their work will be suggestions. They can’t rewrite your book and make the decisions for you, but they will suggest what it is needed, and give pointers on how to do it – whether it is throwing out unneeded characters, adding in a subplot, working on style, or coming up with a different opening or ending. You read the suggestions, decide which way to go, rewrite as necessary. Yes, the author does the bulk of the work, because it’s your book.

Common advice is that it’s generally better to have two different editors than have one act as both literary editor and proofreader. The benefits go beyond fresh pairs of eyes, or the fact that one person will never find all the typos and errors in a book. The description of a developmental edit above shows why one editor can’t do everything – it is not a “final” edit, because you’ll make changes after that, which may well introduce new errors and create a new version of the document. Likewise there’s not much point the editor spending too much time correcting typos in sections that they are recommending for deletion and rewriting. The assumption is that after the first editor you will do more work. Sometimes a lot more.

When the book is deemed “finished” it needs at least one final pass for error-catching, ideally by a person who hasn’t read it before. This may be referred to as a copyedit or proofread (there is a difference between these, but both are final-stage types of edit). This is generally cheaper and quicker, and less work for you after it - ideally just making changes to errors and typos.

I use this two-step process. After I’ve done my first draft, as polished as possible after various re-reads, software tools and so on, I send it to my literary/substantive editor. They focus on the big issues like character, plot, style and so on. After more rewriting, restructuring, edits and fact-checking, and only when I’m satisfied that it’s the best it can be, it goes on to my proofreader for the final polish.

Use the right editor for the job

As well as finding the right type of editor, there are some other considerations.

Genre. Some editors specialise in particular genres or styles. They are more likely to know the tropes and expectations of the genre than one who is a stranger to it. Likewise they all have their own specialisms in terms of writing – one may be great at dialogue, another at structure, another at developing mood. This is where an editor who is also an author can be a big help.

Nationality/region. If your editor is in a different country (e.g. UK/US) then make sure they are familiar with your country’s spellings and idioms. If the book’s content is heavily tied to a region or subculture where there are all sorts of nuances of language or dialect then it might be advantageous if the editor is familiar with that area.

Editorial variety

There are benefits to sticking with the same editor over time. They get to know you and your style, the rapport is strengthened, and the writing can be taken to the next level. Sometimes it also becomes cheaper because they know your work won’t contain basic errors any more.

There are also benefits to working with different editors, since you learn different things from each of them, like having different teachers.

I adopt a mixed approach: I have my favourite editors, but when they are busy I never mind trying out a new editor.

Don’t look at it as just one book

When you work with an editor you are not just working on that single book. You are learning things that you will take forward and apply to future works. I always learn a huge amount from my editors, and I have worked with a lot of them over the last ten years.

Realise that you need more editing at the start of your career

Editing costs can go down over time as you become a better writer. Early in your career money spent on editing is as an investment in your writing future. When I left paid employment to become a full-time writer I invested most of my savings in my business, from buying ISBNs and software to going on writing courses and setting aside the money for editing and proofreading costs for a number of books.

Over time an author’s style and writing improves, especially if they’ve worked with good editors, until they end up with first drafts that need far fewer tweaks. (I work on the assumption that an author needs to write 5-10 novels, in a reflective way that involves feedback from others, to become fully proficient in the craft side of writing. The art side is a different matter, but in both cases good editors speed up the process.)

Related to this growth in skill, there is nothing to stop you going back to previous books and revamping them after you have a few more titles under your belt. I’ve done that with my early works, applying new skills, choosing new covers, reformatting interiors, and writing new blurbs. A lot of the rewriting was easy because I had learnt more in the interim, having worked with other editors.


Friday, 30 March 2018

Recent Promo Images And Videos

A selection of promotional images and videos I've used since the last post on this topic.

Enter the haunted gallery - Karl Drinkwater's Horror Collection
All work and no play makes Jack ... Move Below. With Them. They Move Below

The Bayeux of Turner

A story for brainy people (and geeks). Cold Fusion 2000

2000 Tunes. One love.

A new Harvest Festival trailer - my favourite one.


Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Friday, 23 March 2018

Ways To Polish Your Manuscript

Over on the ALLi website you'll find an article where I give various self-editing tips. Here's a backup of the article.

An author should always aim to make their book the best it can be. Unless we are literary geniuses, you can’t get away from some element of human feedback. Working with a professional editor is the gold standard, but if for any reason that doesn’t occur there are still other things that can improve a work. And if you do use a professional editor the tips below still apply, since it is best to do edits and rewrites before sending the work to an editor. The better the work is, the less time they have to spend correcting basic errors, and the editing costs on a more polished manuscript may well be cheaper too. If your book was important enough to write, then it’s important enough to nurture.

Read through the work multiple times

This is basic, but still needs stating. It’s also important to vary how you do this. Sometimes you need to get away from the screen, so print a draft out on scrap paper (I often do two pages per sheet) and sit in the open air with it. Mark it up with green and red pens (ideas and corrections).

Use software tools

Here are some writing and editing tools for authors that can flag up potential errors – though you’ll then need to apply human consideration to understand the issues raised and weed out false positives.

Critique groups

Make use of critique groups. You may be lucky enough to have a local face-to-face one (or you could set one up – I’ve been involved with both types in the past), but there are also many online groups that may be useful.

Beta readers

Many authors have a small and trusted group of committed superfans who act as beta readers – reading the work when it has gone through numerous edits and is just about finished. They can give lots of useful feedback. Many authors provide a questionnaire to guide the beta readers. This ties in to developing a good-quality list of newsletter subscribers.

Writing courses

Go on writing courses. Look out for the ones that give you one-to-one time with a tutor so you can discuss your work-in-progress. I have been on a lot of courses. Here are some tips for attending courses. Though note that residential courses can be as expensive as working with an editor, so weigh up the best use of your money.

Read out the work

Reading your work aloud really helps to pick up on clunky phrases and repetitions that you miss on the page. I started doing this when I was preparing my novels for audiobook versions, but now do this on everything I write. If it reads well, it flows well.

There are also lots of software options. I purchased a professional SAPI voice from Cereproc in a half-price offer, and use it with the free software Balabolka to generate an mp3 file of any document. The quality is excellent and I can listen to the book on my phone anywhere (even walking or exercising) and make notes of phrases to change. Lots of improvements will be spotted this way. A final tip – I purchased a Scottish voice. This makes me hear the novel in a new way and it becomes unexpected and fresh, so that I hear the words spoken, not the words I expect.

Rinse and repeat

None of those stages are one-offs. Some of them you will do multiple times across the whole work, or for specific problem scenes as you rewrite them.

To the future!

The biggest problem with first books is that they are often not quite ready; there’s good stuff in there but there hasn’t been enough rewriting and editing in the rush to get them out the door. Established writers are better at spotting weak points but beginners don’t have that experience yet: so make use of everything you can and invest in your book. We want our work to shine because our reputation, fanbase (and how quickly it grows), and future book sales all depend on it. Ratings and reviews hang around for a long time, and we owe it to ourselves and our readers to make a great first impression.


Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Tank (La Cisterna), by Nicola Lombardi

I had never heard of Nicola Lombardi before. That's not surprising. He is an Italian horror author and this is the only one of his books translated into English (as far as I am aware). I only became aware of this book because it was in the preliminary ballot for the Superior Achievement in a Novel category of the 2016 Bram Stoker Awards (the same year as one of my books was in the preliminary ballot, though for a different category). I like to follow prizes so acquired many of the books on the preliminary ballot, to discover new authors and titles. And then, of course, it took me a long time to get round to reading them ...

Well, I read a lot, and only two of the books I'd acquired from the list really moved and horrified me. This was one of them. (The other was The Sadist’s Bible, by Nicole Cushing.) I finished The Tank last night and the ending was every bit as bleak as I'd expected.

I'm not going to tell you what it's about, or what the titular Tank is for. No, it isn't the kind of tank with a gun and metal treads. But this story follows a single character through a year of their life, and almost every moment of it takes place within just a few rooms. In lesser hands that could be repetitive and slow, but I never felt that was the case here. I was always compelled to read on, even when I occasionally felt sick. I _had to know_. And the character arc and revelation both rewarded me and punished me for my morbid curiosity, totally in keeping with the contents of the story. Some things are so horrible that they create a sick fascination; the imagination wondering "What would it be like if ..." and refusing to stop prodding and probing. Here the reader almost experiences the same gruesome obsessions as the protagonist. Why are we doing this? What awaits us? Will our soul be permanently degraded by the experience? And what is the worst punishment for a crime?

The story is set within a totalitarian fascist regime, the New Moral Order (NMO). We have the stifling observation and secrecy of 1984 crossed with the moral bleakness of The Road, and told through a perspective that isn't a million miles away from "potentially deteriorating mental stability of a lonely lighthouse keeper" stories.

I thought this book was brilliant. It did everything it should, but with the most important being: make me pick up the book again and carry on. To know the truth even though I suspect what it will be, and it won't be pleasant.

There is one element I haven't touched on. The translation. Much as I hate to criticise things, it sometimes reads as if Google did it. On the one hand we get strange turns of phrase that wouldn't come about from a native English speaker - and that's actually not a problem. If anything it adds to the charm and the alien-ness of the thoughts, and the freshness of the imagery, and I would keep that aspect. However, there are also a lot of typos and incorrect words, and they are all ones that would have been easily picked up by a native-English proofreader (e.g. "the voices were suddenly louder know.") Now, please bear in mind that I am a stickler for punctuation and writing and grammar. I make my living as a writer and editor. I have been known to drop books for far fewer mistakes. So, the fact that I give this five stars DESPITE THOSE ERRORS is a huge vote of confidence. I am sure the original work in its native language is much more eloquent, and the issues are all minor translation issues that could be easily fixed whilst keeping the bulk of the translation exactly as it is. It's as if I am looking at the original story through a dirty window. And the view is enough that, despite the grime, or the barriers to communication, I keep looking. That's actually high praise. This is truly one of the most compelling and horrible books I've ever read.


Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Lost Solace On Jera's Jamboree

I love the great reviews Lost Solace is getting. The other day I came across this one, on Jera's Jamboree. Have a read of that first. It got me thinking.

I’m really glad that the reviewer loved the book, and that they commented on some of the things I tried to do. In particular, one of the rules of fiction (or a blurb) is that you have to show the character, what they want, and what’s stopping them – as soon as possible. So I turned that on its head and asked: what if I break that rule and don’t even reveal what the protagonist wants until the final chapter? That led me to think of ways of working with that, hence the focus on immediacy and dragging the reader into a compelling high-risk scenario, and trying to make the characters immediately identifiable. When I work with writers I often instil various rules in them, but always emphasise one that is above everything else: you are allowed to break any rule of fiction at all, as long as the end result works.

I have the story arc plotted out for all three books of the Lost Solace trilogy. I am so excited about writing them and continuing Opal’s quest, since the first book only hints at some of the stuff going on.


Friday, 9 March 2018

The Sadist's Bible, by Nicole Cushing

I had little idea of what to expect with The Sadist's Bible, having never read Nicole Cushing's work before, but I was quickly pulled in. There is no dallying about - we get a strong premise right away, and are dropped into the crux of the situation in a way that inspires confidence in the author. Then there are twists I didn't see coming, and imagination that surprised me - not easy to do - and I was left pondering this fascinating and horrible tale that does not overstay its welcome. My favourite books leave me wanting more, but being denied it. This fits that pattern.

Some elements reminded me of The Hellbound Heart, others of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. The book impressed me in both concept and execution. From me, that is high praise. 5*

[I've avoided spoilers, but be warned that this book contains some (well-done) extreme horror and potentially upsetting content.]