Industry Q and A: Amanda Jean, Editor

Amanda edited both of my works that were published through Less Than Three Press, and I am infinitely grateful for that. I learned as much reading through her comments and suggestions as I had through numerous workshops and classes. She also has a humorous and kind way of leaving those comments that I truly hope to emulate when I give critiques. I consider Amanda to be a great friend and a wise teacher, and I am so pleased to introduce her to you. She has some fantastic advice for anyone hoping to get into the industry.

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Name: Amanda Jean
Company: Less Than Three Press, LLC
Position: Editor
Genre: LGBT Romance
Astrological Sign: Cancer

Q: What is your relationship with the book you work on and the writer of that book? We’d love a brief description of what you do and how it pertains to the author.

A: I wear many hats when I edit any given project. Each requires a slightly different approach; the relationship I form with a five hundred-page high fantasy novel is different from my relationship with a thirty-page short story. My hat also depends on the strengths of the writer. Some have a great grasp of world building, and some are more character-driven. A major consideration of what my primary focus will be is the author’s level of comfort with the English language. If I’m spending most of my time correcting comma splices, fixing dialog tags, and nagging them about run-on sentences, developmental editing takes a second chair. Writers comfortable with English language rules receive a lot more nitty-gritty content edits on the first pass as opposed to those who need more help.

My personal strengths are in developmental and structural editing. I catch contradictions, weak spots in the narrative, inconsistent characterization, and even factual errors (I love research. Ask me how!). Redundancies are another big one with me. Because my focus is heavily on the content and stylistic aspects of stories, authors tend to have two reactions to my edits: great happiness or great displeasure. There’s rarely a middle ground. Editors who don’t give extensive content suggestions tend to receive less extreme reactions, although some authors do feel very protective of their comma placements.

Q: How can an author help in this process?

A: By having a history of receiving and utilizing critique, honestly. Authors new to publishing are sometimes taken aback by how thorough and unforgiving editor comments can be, though we all do our best to soften the blows. I use emoticons. And feeling words.

Discover your own method for coping with difficult edits (I suggest booze and/or .gifs of kittens) and come at the edits as objectively as you can. Do this even if you feel like the editor has it out for you and is going to ruin your vision. Really sit back and consider why the editor made the suggestion they did. If it’s an inconsistency, don’t hand-wave it away; readers will notice laziness. If it’s poorly developed character motivation, dig deep and find a way to communicate what’s going on in their head. Some authors do basic patch jobs to fix holes—expositional dialog, how I loathe you—and others use the opportunity to enrich their story and take it to entirely new places. If you do the latter more than the former, I guarantee your editor will adore you for it.

We don’t make suggestions to hear ourselves talk. Even if we do secretly hate your story, our time and energy went into it too; why would we want to risk it being picked apart upon release? Editors want the story to thrive. That’s why we’re editors.

Q: How did you end up in this field?

A: My original career goal was to do something in abnormal psychology, but the long and short of it was that I realized that clinical work wouldn’t gel with me. I reassessed my skillset. My knack for the written word, along with my history of informational article writing and editing, academic editing and tutoring, and nearly a decade of experience as a beta reader all added up to one potential field. I changed my major from psychology to communications and consulted a few people I knew in the industry. Journalism is not for me, so that left fiction.

I joined up with LT3 when a friend of mine who publishes with them discussed an editing experience she’d had with the company; she thought I would be a good fit, and so I sent a query letter and joined the team within a month.

Q: Do you have advice for others who want to get into your field?

A: Be sure this is the avenue you want to pursue; even in what is considered to be a niche corner of the wider publishing world, the reality is that the work is hard, the hours are long, and the opportunities are limited. With the Big Five publishers, editing positions are fiercely competitive and require novel-length resumes just to get a foot in the door. My niche, digital-based publishing and specifically LGBT fiction, is not nearly as cutthroat (and doesn’t require me to relocate, bonus!), but I got lucky; I was hired with around a year and a half of industry-relevant experience, despite the fact that most companies call for at least two, and that’s for entry-level work.

As for how to get said experience? Take every composition class, every technical writing class, every esoteric class that deals with words. Depending on location, finding opportunities to develop editing skills may be difficult; online workshops are useful, if pricey. Freelance. Beta read. Academia is a great place to start. Join college literary magazines, newspapers. I never had to take an unpaid internship, but nearly everyone I encountered recommended it to me. If the world of academia is long gone, learn independently, and find small digital publishers to get involved with—zines are great for this. Poetry, straight fiction, stories long and short; any experience is good experience. When I freelanced, I wrote and edited a lot of copy for internet-based businesses. No paying gig is too small when you’re learning to navigate professional editing and building your resume accordingly.

More generally, my advice would be to read widely, as it keeps you sharp. Develop an appreciation for pedantry. Understand that editing is a craft entirely apart from writing, and that talent in one area does not necessarily denote talent in the other. Learn a swift work ethic if you haven’t already. Have patience and empathy for the emotions of authors. Buy copies of TheChicago Manual of Style and become intimately acquainted with its hefty pages. And send query letters. At worst, they’ll say no.

Q: What is your favourite aspect of your work?

A: Receiving the manuscript back after the first round of edits is usually an interesting time. It’s when the evolution from a rougher draft to a more refined story that is starting to resemble its ultimate form begins. Seeing my nit-picking comment or suggestion spark an idea that improved the narrative in an unexpected way? Cool feeling. Probably my favorite.

I also like the part where I get to hold paperback copies of something I’ve edited in my hands. That’s super nifty.

Q: What do you listen to while working?

A: I’ve made several “editing” mixes, and the key to a good one is including music that is already very familiar to you. Low-key tunes don’t hurt, either. My staples include Elliott Smith, Neko Case, Rufus Wainwright, and a lot of instrumental soundtracks. But sometimes dead silence is the best ambiance.

Team Tweak’s Tips: Writer’s Block and Empathy

It’s been a busy week, but the weekend is finally here. Friday night, while everyone else is out socializing, you’re at home with your True Love: writing. You have adventures to take your characters on, worlds to build, relationships to develop … And then nothing happens. Your cursor blinks at you, and you blink back. Riveting stuff!

The Great Enemy has come to your door. Writer’s block.

writer's block

But … is it an enemy? Or is it a warning sign? Your body feels pain and fatigue when you’re doing something you shouldn’t. I suspect that your creativity feels writer’s block to let you know when something isn’t right.

This can be as a result of other things, but today I’m talking about empathy, how important it is to writing and how sensitive it is. And how your writing can suffer if you’re not careful …

Character-driven writing requires empathy. As writers, we step into the shoes of our characters, know what they’ve done and what they’ll do, understand their motivations, know how they’ll react … And it must be consistent. Not only that, but we do it for Every. Single. Character. Whether they’re a major player, the cashier at our protagonist’s favourite shop, or an elderly gentleman waiting on a bus bench.

Several much better and more experienced writers have spoken on the subject. Here are a few examples, though there are many more out there:

http://thewritepractice.com/empathy-story/ “Why Empathy is the Key to Story”

http://crimsonleague.com/2013/06/08/creative-writing-and-empathy-how-writing-fiction-helps-you-connect-with-others/ “Creative Writing and Empathy”

http://www.tayarijones.com/on-writing-with-empathy/ “On Writing With Empathy”

What I want to talk about is one of the down sides to this requirement.

I recently visited my hometown to spend time with friends and family. My husband and I spent two weeks with three or more social engagements each day. Prior to our trip, I thought I would have time in the evenings or mornings to work, but no such luck. I sat in front of my computer, completely incapable of connecting with the story. It took me a few days to figure out why: The empathic muscles I would use to write were being used to socialize.

I would call this empathic overburdening. In a social situation, I try to empathize with the people I’m with, much like I would with my characters. How is my friend feeling? What would make my grandmother feel better? How can I bluff and win this board game? By the time I got home, I couldn’t empathize my way through a wet paper bag.

After making those observations, I have this advice to give: If you’re having trouble writing—in particular in the arena of character development—then I recommend reorganizing your time and giving yourself the mental space to work. If your muscles are working overtime trying to keep up with a social life, you may not be giving yourself the chance to understand and channel your characters.

If you’re experiencing writer’s block, this can be a factor. Take a look at your life–does it support your writing aspirations?

Like grammar, dramatic tension, plot points, and all the other tools, time management and understanding the space you need for writing is just as important!

Carver’s Cuts: Part Two

Here we are again, with some of those pesky critters found while going through an intensive editing process. Keep an eye out! These words can potentially weaken your writing.

As always, if you’d like to add some words or discuss the ones I’ve listed, please leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Feel / Felt / Could feel, etc:

I know I’m a perpetrator, but I actually see a lot of other writers doing this as well. Once I noticed it this became a definite Pet Peeve (I have kennels full of peeves, honest). For me, the issue is that you don’t need to say that your character felt something, not unless your character usually doesn’t feel things, or the fact that they are feeling it is unusual or noteworthy in some way. For example:

No: “Tara felt a cold wind, making her shiver.”

Yes: “A cold wind made Tara shiver.”

Yes: “Although everything seemed perfectly still around her, Tara felt a cold wind, making her shiver.”

I suppose it’s a question of passivity … If you’re describing something as an experience, you could throw in as many “feels” and “felts” as you’d like. But I’m beginning to join the school of thought that every action has a perpetrator, and actions will be more immediate and engaging if described from the “point of view” (sort of) of that perpetrator.

Other senses:

“Feel” and “felt” were the big ones for me, but what I said above goes for the other senses as well. You don’t need to say that your character saw or heard something, you can just describe the sight or the noise. The fact that you’re describing it is a strong indicator that your character observed it. Exceptions to this would be when the sensation is unusual in some way, or if the narrator is third person omniscient and you need to specify what your character can and cannot observe.

Started / Began:

Unless the fact that they started to do something is extremely important, I do not recommend using these words. They take up space. For example, is there a difference between these two sentences:

Example A: “Tara started walking to school. Upon arrival, she grimaced at the sight of so many brand name jeans.”

Example B: “Tara walked to school. Upon arrival, she grimaced at the sight of so many brand name jeans.”

I suspect that I (and maybe we), use “began / started” because we are watching our narratives unfold as we write (I believe that’s called “Seat of the Pants” writing). When our characters begin an action, we don’t know if they’ll be interrupted right in the middle. So watch out!

Updates and Critique Announcement

Howdy! Carver here, with some updates about the Team Tweak goings on and an announcement:

Updates:

  • Our very own Marisa will have a piece published in CommuterLit early next week! Keep an eye out for her, and go enjoy the other pieces CommuterLit has to offer.
  • The team’s YA novels are going very well. We’re all reaching the end. Next step: querying! Remember that Gina posted a fantastic set of pointers for those of us taking that step. Leona jump-started the process, and it may have been … ill-advised. Read more here about an agent-querying pit fall here.
  • In early 2014, Leona will have a novella out through Less Than Three Press. About mermaids, magic, and love. More information here.

Announcement:

Is there a page giving you trouble? A few paragraphs or a bit of dialogue? A query letter, summary, or synopsis? Maybe there’s some plot outlining that you want to talk out with someone.

Go no further, my friend. Team Tweak welcomes you to submit a section of 250 words (give or take a few) for critiquing. Every week, we’ll post one of these critiques, so you’ll need to be comfortable with a public discussion on your piece. After posting, we’d be happy to talk about our comments and suggestions.

If this sounds good to you, then please submit your piece to teamtweakto (at) gmail (dot) com. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Remembrance Day

Even when we’re buried in our stories and other worlds, it’s important to pop our heads up and acknowledge the sacrifices made by soldiers around THIS world to fight for their countries, families, friends, and sometimes perfect strangers. Although war itself isn’t something that I support, I do, however, feel awed and grateful for the people who are willing to lay down their lives for others. Because sometimes there’s very little choice, and sometimes the war is about human rights and protecting those who can’t protect themselves. And it amazes me that there are people out there who are willing to leave their homes and fight to try and make the world better.

On this day, remember them. Not just the big wars, but the smaller conflicts and the humanitarian aid missions. And not just the soldiers, but their families who support them and helped them carry on, and those who lost them.

To the heroes:  Thank you.

remembrance-day

Thanks for looking out for us.

Carver’s Cuts: Part One

Every time I do an editing push, maybe taking a few days to read over this or that novel, I inevitably notice one more chronic issue that drives me nutty. I don’t know where they come from. I swear they just grow whenever I put my manuscript down. And then editing is like turning a log over. Lots of squirming things and me going, “Eek!”

Loooooog

Sure it looks good, but what’s underneath?

As authors, it’s our job to cut out these little many-legged critters. Today I’m starting a series of posts called “Carver’s Cuts,” and I’ll be talking about those unnecessary words that bore holes in our manuscripts. Not to say they aren’t good words (is there such a thing as a bad word?), but that they might pop up a little more than is absolutely necessary.

I hope this is as helpful to you as it is to me. I’ll be back next week with another set. And if you can think of some that you find in your own work or prevalent in our www dialect, or if you have a different opinion about the ones I’ve listed, let us know!

  • Managed: I don’t know why, how, or when I started doing this, but I stick this word everywhere without realizing it. It’s always, “I managed to do this, he managed to do that, she managed not to use ‘manage’ in every single sentence …” Really, the number of times you need to put “manage” in front of an action should be absolutely minimal, otherwise you’re watering down your text.
  • Just: Again, I don’t know how, why, or when I started to do this, but my characters apparently “just” do this, or “just” do that. Reading through my own work turns my vision red sometimes, because there are so many of them and they are completely unnecessary 99.9% of the time. The only reason you might need “just” is in a comparative situation, such as, “Tara wasn’t hungry, she just needed the comfort of peanut butter garlic toast.”
  • Tried: Exactly like “managed,” I found myself using “tried” far too often, so I made a pact with myself. I would only use it if a character tries and fails to do something. Even then, only if the narrator is inside that character’s head and we know for absolute certain that they are trying (though in some ways, all characters are trying for their authors /rimshot). Like so many of my other unnecessary words, “tried” merely watered down my text.

Book Review: The Puppet Masters

Title: The Puppet Masters
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Publisher: Doubleday (1951)
Genre: Adult science fiction and action
Length: 175 pages (reasonable)
Series: None

Rating: 3.5 tweaks out of 5

Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters is a classic, genre-defining novel that gave birth to a legion of other stories about aliens arriving on earth and enslaving the human race. It is definitely worth reading, if only to see what Heinlein predicted back in 1951 and to get a taste of how the people back then envisioned their world, the universe, and the future. Personally, there were aspects of writing style that I picked up on and hope to employ in my own work. The few issues I had with the novel could be credited to the times in which it was written.

In The Puppet Masters, “Sam” is an agent in the employ of a secret intelligence organization that protects the United States of America and answers only to the president. He goes on a mission with his boss, the “Old Man,” and “Mary,” a red-headed beauty and equally dangerous agent. Their objective: To investigate reports of a flying saucer that landed in Iowa. What they find is, to all appearances, a prank. However, they can smell that something is fishy, and they notice people are acting strangely and wearing mysterious humps on their shoulders. So begins the war between humans and Titans, the slug-like parasitic aliens from a Saturnalian moon. Sam plays a vital role in defense and eventually offense against the Titans in a quick, energetic read.

To writers in the 1940’s and 50’s, the solar system and the universe provided a fertile garden for creatures and ideas. Every planet had life forms, including Venus and Mars, and humans travelled freely between them. On the future Earth, cars fly, cosmetic surgery takes seconds, phones are implanted, and marriage is a financial transaction. Heinlein made some very interesting predictions about technology and society. As a sci-fi writer, I hope to make similar leaps so that someone reading my work sixty years from now can laugh or nod in wonder.

I most enjoyed Heinlein’s skill in keeping his narrative bouncing along. The Puppet Masters races forward at breakneck speed, with minimal description. That’s not to say that it was lacking in anything. Heinlein managed to describe just enough, keeping my imagination alight with visions of flying cars, heater guns, and alien races. His dialogue and narrative voice are sharp and witty, and he doesn’t spend time in long conversations. The plot itself suffers from no issues that I saw. Everything is tight and makes sense, and carries the reader to a satisfying ending.

The biggest issue that I had was that the female protagonist, Mary, goes from a dangerous secret agent to a meek and fragile wife character in the snap of Heinlein’s fingers. Her dialogue drops from witty repartee to repetitions of “Yes, dear.” This was disappointing for me, though I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise, considering the time period. Perhaps in conjunction with this issue was the lack of strong characters. Sam was a sturdy fellow, as was the Old Man, but everyone else was faded, leaving me somewhat dissatisfied.

Those were small irritations, though. I recommend The Puppet Masters to anyone who enjoys science fiction and uncomplicated adventure.

Author Bio:

Robert Anson Heinlein (July 7, 1907 – May 8, 1988) was an American science fiction writer. Often called the “dean of science fiction writers”, he was one of the most influential and controversial authors of the genre in his time. He set a standard for scientific and engineering plausibility, and helped to raise the genre’s standards of literary quality.

He was one of the first science fiction writers to break into mainstream magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940s. He was one of the best-selling science fiction novelists for many decades. He, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke are known as the “Big Three” of science fiction.