Angela James presented her workshop Before You Hit Send in New Hampshire last month. James is an engaging and lively presenter, even when she’s talking about something as dry as the direct address comma. Her presentation style is conversational and witty, and never condescending. This is good for someone like me who has strong storytelling skills, but is weak with grammar. Don’t get me wrong, I still need an editor, but I’d prefer to eliminate as many of the potential errors in advance to make the process as expedient and efficient as possible. Angela delivered real world strategies that made me feel like I will deliver a more polished manuscript.
Before You Hit Send is offered online as a multi-week course; the day-long workshop is a pared-down version of that course and it is still bursting at the seams with information. We had handouts with the PowerPoint slides and I still took close to 40 pages of notes. I can summarize the headlines here, but the value in this workshop comes from the examples Angela offers to demonstrate her points.
My personal highlights
Use descriptive words, but be careful of overwriting. A little subtlety can add polish to a story. She provided multiple powerful examples here.
Read your story out loud or use voice to text to read it to you. This will allow you to hear things you might otherwise miss.
- Where your dialogue sounds unnatural.
- Is the story boring?
- Did you leave out a key piece of description (e.g., your character moving to another room).
- Notice where your attention drifts from the story.
DO NOT edit as you listen – take notes or add comments to a Word or Kindle document.
Don’t overlook the basics such as formatting and spellcheck (even if Word does check your spelling as you type). She also offered tips on how to use MS Word’s Find and Replace function like a boss. I learned how to make paragraph marks appear in MS Office 365! This will mean nothing to 90% of the readers, but it was huge to me.
“Punctuation is there as support, not to carry the load.” Pare down your exclamation points. If you need to show excitement or extreme emotion of any kind, use words, not !!!!
Eliminate garbage words from your expository writing, but remember the rules are a little more lenient for dialogue.
James asks her editors to ensure that something is grammatically correct for the story being told. This is especially in true dialogue. It’s unlikely you’ll find “coulda” in Victorian England, but you might find it in modern conversation.
Don’t use dialogue to convey information that the character already knows just so you can educate the reader: “As you know Bob, …”
Engage all five senses, BUT NOT ALL IN ONE PARAGRAPH!
Don’t tell the story in backstory. Your characters need to interact on the page. It’s their actions and dialogue that convey the story to the reader successfully.
The Editorial Relationship
When I interviewed her prior to the workshop, Angela talked about how the editorial relationship should be a partnership. In the workshop, she offered some concrete examples.
- When you selected a publisher, you also selected an editor and a certain editing ideology.
- Every editorial relationship is different. She maintains a professional relationship with all of her writers, but she has become good friends with some of them.
- The editorial relationship will evolve. There is more explanation earlier in the relationship, but you do develop a shorthand and a better understanding of expectations the more you work together.
- Your editor is your best line of defense against a negative review. That doesn’t mean hiring a good editor will eliminate ALL negative reviews, but they understand readers and what the market wants.
When working with an editor, you want to balance the edits with author voice. “Commas are not the hill you want to die on.” An editor should NOT eliminate your voice. An editor should:
- Make suggestions,
- Show by example, but NOT rewriting entire paragraphs. Rewriting is the key word in that statement, changing the order of the text is not the same thing.
- You are allowed to say “I don’t agree with this, can you explain your thinking here?”
- You can’t reject every comment.
- Read the editorial letter and then walk away to give the comments time to percolate.
- When you are reviewing a contract with either an agent or a publisher, it is acceptable to ask how the editing process is handled.
- Questions to ask your editor
- Do you read for pleasure? What?
- Do you use Track Changes?
- Do you offer an editorial letter?
When to stop editing.
6 years is too long. If you are unsure if you are done, set the story aside and come back to it with fresh eyes.
By the end of the day my head was ready to explode, but in a good way. The downside of learning all these polishing tips is that when you see a lack of sophistication in a story, you can’t un-see it.
The online course is offered two times a year and will be offered again in September. Registration is now open. For more information, visit http://nicemommy-evileditor.com/before-you-hit-send/. You can also read my posts to learn more about Angela and her thoughts on publishing.
I thoroughly enjoyed the day and I’m excited to implement my new skills on my work in progress. I’m hoping my schedule will allow me to take the class in September, but if not, I will definitely be signing up for the early 2017 offering.
Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.