Idelle Kursman

Book Recommendation: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Title: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print

Author: Renni Browne and Dave King

Publisher: HarperPerennial (A Division of HarperCollinsPublishers)

ISBN: 0-06-270061-8

Pages: 240

Publication Date: March 1, 1994

A writer friend of mine suggested I read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and I am so glad I did. The book is not only helpful for editing, but it also offers a wealth of guidance during the actual writing process. Authors Renni Browne and Dave King have worked at The Editorial Department for a number of years, and they offer sound, practical, and easy to follow advice. Each chapter covers the most important aspects of story writing like showing rather than telling, paying attention to point of view, and pointers for writing dialogue. The following are a few words of advice Browne and King offers fiction writers:

  1. They write about beats in dialogue. “Beats are the little bits of action interspersed through a scene, such as a character walking to a window or removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes—the literary equivalent of what is known in the theater as stage business” (p. 102). Beats can also include interior monologue, or a character’s inner dialogue. Beats serve three purposes: 1.) They give readers insights into a character’s personality. 2.) They add rhythm and variety to dialogue. 3.) They allow readers to form a picture of what is happening in the scene. But at the same time, Browne and King caution too many beats can interrupt a scene to the point that it loses its tension or flow.
  2. Be careful about proportion in your writing. Do not fill in every detail and leave nothing to the reader’s imagination. Example: “Joe saw the orange and white cat with the light green eyes and short whiskers run across the sixteen-foot oak tree whose leaves had fallen down this past month.”
  3. Avoid needless repetition. Example: “Sue missed the house she lived in while growing up. The house was spacious and comfortable and her parents had hosted many parties at this house. Sue thought about the house often.” The writing will not flow and interfere with the readers’ enjoyment of the story.
  4. Stay away from cliches, such as “Think outside the box” and “The pot calling the kettle black.”
  5. Avoid -ly adverbs. Strive for strong verbs in place of a weak verb with an adverb. For example, replace “Angrily she put the book on the desk” with “She slammed the book on the desk.”
  6. Do not overuse as and -ing constructions. Although they are grammatically correct, a writer should not use them in a story because, as Browne and King explain, they “…take a bit of action…and tuck it away in a dependent clause” and “they sometimes give rise to physical impossibilities” (p. 156). Examples: “As she unpacked her suitcase, she glanced at her mother from the window” or “Unpacking her suitcase, she glanced at her mother from the window.” Better: “She unpacked her suitcase and glanced at her mother from the window.”
  7. Do not overuse interior monologue to the point where it is constantly interrupting dialogue, repeating what is already mentioned in the actual dialogue, or packing them in with too much information.
  8. Use dashes (–) for interruptions and ellipsis (…) for gaps in the dialogue.
  9. This is probably the flaw fiction writers hear the most: Show, don’t tell. Instead of telling readers a man is greedy, show him paying his workers a meager wage while keeping all the profits for himself. The authors also write, “Are you describing your characters’ feelings? Have you told us they’re angry? irritated? morose? … Keep an eye out for any places where you mention an emotion outside of dialogue. Chances are you’re telling what you should show” (p. 11).
  10. Do not keep shifting the point of view. The point of view may be in the first person, it may be omniscient (not inside any of the character’s heads), or third person. When choosing third person, keep it consistent. If the writer wants to change the point of view, there has to be a scene or chapter break.
  11. When writing dialogue, be sure to use contractions (I’m, can’t, etc.) because you want to write the way people talk. You can also include sentence fragments. Avoid using complex words with many syllables unless that particular character uses them all the time. You want to write dialogue that sounds natural.

Important points to keep in mind!

The book includes a checklist and exercises at the end of the chapters. I recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers as a reference book. For this fiction writer, I found it truly helpful in the writing and editing processes.

Idelle Kursman is an editor, proofreader, and SEO copywriter. She is also the author of the novels True Mercy and The Book of Revelations.

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Book Review of Anxious People

Book Review: Anxious People is a Winner

This year has been heartbreaking. I lost both of my parents. Countless other people have lost loved ones. There were many job layoffs and jobs furloughed. Families and friends could not get together, even for Thanksgiving. Reading Anxious People is just what I needed. A bank robber on the verge of losing everything holds people hostage at an apartment viewing the day before the New Year. Readers learn the backstory of most of these characters, including the policemen who rescue them.

Swedish author Fredrik Backman combines insights about life, adding humor and some absurd conversations as he chronicles the hostage drama. The theme is life is a struggle and everyone carries their own pain and anxieties. We often cannot create the life we desire but should instead try to get through as best as we can while hopefully cherishing some good memories along the way. At the heart of the story is the despair we often experience when things do not go our way or we cannot save our loved ones from themselves.

We meet a father and son police officer team working on the case. The father is a widower who misses his wife, attempts to boost his son’s confidence in his police skills, and despairs that he cannot help his drug-addicted daughter. The bank robber recently experiences job loss, is in the process of getting divorced, and cannot pay the rent for an apartment. In addition, the robber’s spouse wants full custody of their children. The hostages have their stories as well.

Many of the keen observations about life come from the police officers reminiscing about their late wife and mother. She was a priest and this is just an example of what she used to tell them:

We can’t change the world, and a lot of the time we can’t even change people. No more than one bit at a time. So we do what we can to help whenever we get the chance…We save those we can. We do our best. Then we try to convince ourselves that that will just have to…be enough. So we can live with our failures without drowning” (p. 203).

The witness interviews consist of absurd conversations between the various hostages and the police officers that I found too annoying to be funny, but the dialogue and background information gave the story depth and insights. Backman builds a fascinating character with Zara, one of the hostages, in detailing her meetings with her psychologist prior to the main action.

The writing is superb, the plot is brilliantly woven, and the story is peppered with sharp observations about life.

I must be frank. This has been an all-out crappy year. But reading Anxious People reminds me we must get through these times and try to be there for each other.

Idelle Kursman is the author of the novels True Mercy and The Book of Revelations. They are for sale on Amazon and many other places.

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Look Forward, Not Back!

Two Reviews for The Book of Revelations

I am proud to receive two reviews for my new novel!

One is from Amy Shannon, a noted book reviewer who runs the website Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews. I highly recommend her site for reviews on a wide variety of books. Amy wrote the following:

“Kursman pens a magnificent story in The Book of Revelations. I have read work from this author before, and I really enjoyed it. The characters were intense and very intriguing. This book deserves a second read! (and maybe more). The thrills and intrigue is written clearly and the characterizations are engrossing. It’s a powerful read, and so intense, with both heart break and heart fulfillment. This definitely kept this reader turning the pages. It’s a great story to follow and try to figure out what will happen next. This author’s characters develop and interacts well with the other characters. I have fast become a big fan of (this author). I look forward to reading more by this author. This book is a definite recommendation by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.”

The second is from Diane Donovan, an editor who runs Donovan’s Literary Services. Diane also writes reviews for Midwest Book Review, a highly regarded as well as affordable book review site. Diane herself offers an array of services for writers seeking help to improve their writing. She wrote the following about The Book of Revelations:

“In The Book of Revelations, Christine Goldberg has struggled for a large part of her life to get to the successful point she enjoys today, with a family, a good job, and security. All this is threatened by the emergence of an ex-boyfriend who is in search of the apex role in his acting career, the only thing that thus far has remained elusive to him. 

Ryan Monti is fixated on his goal, shallow, self-centered, and a part of her past that Christine didn’t want exposed. He’s also successful. His success hasn’t led to contentment, but to an obsession which has led him to being considered one of Hollywood’s shining stars. 

When blackmail enters the picture to complicate Ryan’s life, his uncertain relationship with girlfriend Megan, and his reconnection with Christine, it throws them both together despite their feelings about the past, and everything begins to change. 

Idelle Kursman builds a fine story where the past intersects with the present in two very different lives and personas. She paints a fine portrait of Christine, who faces life with the professional demeanor of a businesswoman with more savvy and independence than her younger self; and Ryan, whose personality hasn’t veered much from his obsessions and uncertainties even as he’s cultivated uncommon success in his life. 

Ryan’s feelings about reporters mirrors his casual use-them-and-drop-them attitude about everything in his life, from his girlfriends to his colleagues: ‘Ryan had no real relationships with other journalists or anyone else in the media. He considered them a nuisance and always tried to avoid them by wearing a hat, sunglasses, and nondescript clothing in public.‘ 

At first, it’s hard to see the connections between these two disparate individuals aside from their early encounter. The surprise lies in their evolution and shared revelation over a closely-held secret that holds the power to change Ryan’s life like nothing else. Ryan grows and changes throughout the story, finally developing into the man he should have been all along. 

The Book of Revelations explores different kinds of revelations, confrontations, and changes. It considers how one door opens as another is still closing, and explores changed concepts of family connections, trust, and truth. 

Readers interested in a chronicle of lies, truths, and revised lives will find The Book of Revelations an emotional ride into the choices and consequences of two disparate individuals who find their lives coming full circle in unexpected ways. It’s highly recommended reading for those who like to see their characters evolve later in life, and for readers who know that no story is set in stone until the end of life.”  

I would like to thank Amy Shannon and Diane Donovan for their wonderful reviews and support! Readers, don’t forget to check out Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews and writers, please consider using Donovan’s Literary Services. I highly recommend both of their work!

The Book of Revelations is available on Amazon in print and ebook.

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Interview with Professional Editor Kristen Tate

For this month’s post, I am pleased to interview professional editor Kristen Tate. I hired Kristen for developmental editing, copy editing, and very soon, the interior formatting of my second novel. I am a pantser – that is, I plan very little as I write. This writing style most often requires many edits after the first draft is finished.  In my case, I had great difficulty with both the characters and plot and was at a loss on how to refine and improve it. I needed help and was worried I would have to abandon the project if I couldn’t make it work. Fortunately, with Kristen’s guidance, direction, and tremendous patience, I was able to polish the writing into a finished manuscript that I am satisfied with. I asked Kristen to share her experiences and insights in the writing world in an interview and she agreed.

1. Q. Please tell me about your background and how you came to enter the field of freelance copyediting?

Reading has always been the thing I loved most, so I looked for a job that would pay me to read. At first, I thought I would be an academic and I got a PhD in English, which was a (mostly) wonderful experience. My job this week is to read Bleak House and Paradise Lost and write about them and show up in class and say smart things about them? Yes, please! But then I had to face the challenging realities of the academic job market. I had a toddler and a baby at that point, and it wasn’t going to be easy for me to relocate somewhere for a job. After a while, I started doing pro bono editing work and exploring jobs in publishing, as well as getting freelance work as a copywriter. I had a client who was self-publishing a book, and that was the first time I realized that I would be able to build a viable freelance career focused on book editing. I took some additional courses to hone my copyediting and developmental editing skills and started to build my business, little by little.

2. Q. I saw your name on Joanna Penn’s list of copyeditors. I hired you because I thought you did an excellent job on my manuscript’s sample edit and your price was reasonable. How do you stand out in the large field of copyediting freelancers?

I try to be authentic and relatable in all of my communications, whether that’s a blog post or an off-the-cuff tweet. We get so many generic marketing messages these days that simply sounding like a real human can help you stand out. I also draw from my training and experience as a teacher. My job is to help authors improve the book we are currently working on together, but my mission is to teach them skills they can use in every piece of writing they will do in the future. My clients learn to trust me, and at least half of my projects during any given year are from repeat clients or from client referrals.

3. Q. What do you enjoy most about your work? What do you dislike about it?

I love working with words and stories every day. My job is to make sure authors tell the best story they can and that readers have the best experience possible. What could be better than that? I love that I can set my own schedule and work processes. The downside will be familiar to anyone who freelances: I’m also in charge of invoicing, accounting, taxes, website maintenance, and all kinds of other boring things that just have to get done.

4. Q. I believe I speak for many writers when I say that I wish I could write full-time or have a job using my writing skills instead of writing whenever I have free time. What would you advise writers like myself?

This is something I have come to believe as I have gotten older: All of us have a vision of a perfect future life – if only I could do X, then I would be happy. The truth is, if you were doing X you would still have a lot of the same challenges, they would just take different forms. That said, it’s easier now than ever before to build a career around writing skills. But you’ve got to be self-disciplined and realistic and learn how to be a freelancer who can make an income. Those are different skills than writing skills, and not everyone wants to learn them.

5. Q. How did you receive training for copyediting?

I started by taking the professional editing certificate sequence at the University of California at Berkeley and then supplemented that with developmental editing courses offered by the Editorial Freelancers Association. I also learn a lot from my thousands of virtual editing colleagues, whom I’ve met in online forums, through professional associations like the Editorial Freelancers Association, and at editing conferences like ACES. And I read and read and read. Writing craft books, grammar books, novels, business books – all of it teaches you to be a better editor.

6. Q. Please tell me about the level of difficulty entering this field? Do many copyeditors work for publishing houses or other related companies full-time?

It’s not necessarily hard to enter the field as a freelancer, but it can take quite a while to find your footing. Many copyeditors do work full time in house, though a great deal of that work is outsourced to freelancers now. If you live in a place where there are publishing companies, getting some in-house experience can be really valuable, and you may find that you love the work and want to stay. I did an internship at Chronicle Books and enjoyed every minute of it. It’s exciting to walk into a bookstore and see a book you helped with on the shelf. I do occasional work for publishers, but most of my work is with independent authors, and I think that’s where the growth will be for freelance editors. 

7. Q. How do you find the self-publishing field today? Is it flourishing? Are too many writers publishing their work unedited and thereby harming the reputation of those who choose to self-publish?

I think the self-publishing field is starting to mature. There is so much good information out there these days and a lot of tools and services that can help writers put out a professional product that is indistinguishable from a traditionally published book. There are also a lot of authors who have had traditionally published books and are moving some or all of their work to self-publishing, which helps raise the bar and standards for everyone. 

8. Q. Do you do other work besides copyediting?

I also do developmental editing (also called content editing), which involves helping authors fine-tune the big-picture aspects of their books like plot and character arcs and narration. But editing is my full-time job. I’m working on a novel manuscript as well, but it may never see the light of day. I see myself as an editor/reader first and a writer second.

9. Q. What books do you recommend for writers? For those interested in copyediting?

I spent 2019 reading a different writing craft book every week, so I have a lot of recommendations! Writers can check out my blog archive at https://www.thebluegarret.com/novel-study, and I’m also gathering the reviews into a little book called All the Words: A Year of Reading about Writing, which should be out in February 2020. For anyone interested in copyediting, I’d recommend The Copyeditor’s Handbook and Workbook by Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz (look for the most recent edition, published in 2019), The Subversive Copyeditor by Carol Fisher Saller, and The Smooth-Sailing Freelancer by Jake Poinier.

10. Q. Are there writing organizations that you have had dealings with that you can recommend to writers who would like to improve their writing and/or marketing skills?

I’m a huge fan of podcasts. Writers are knowledgeable and generous with their knowledge, and you can learn so much from their experiences. My favorites are Write-Minded, with Brooke Warner and Grant Faulkner; the Story Grid Editors Roundtable; the Editing Podcast; and, of course, Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn. Jane Friedman also has remarkable amount of well-organized, in-depth information for writers on her website.

For writers looking to build a virtual or in-person community, I think participating in one of the NaNoWriMo events and joining a writing circle there can be a great way to start. There are also so many fantastic regional writing conferences, where writers can learn about both the craft and business sides of being an author and can build connections with other writers. I’ll be attending the San Francisco Writers Conference in February on behalf of the Editorial Freelancers Association.

11. Q. Is there anything else you would like to share?

Whether you want to publish a novel or become a book editor, stick with it. Persistence in the face of difficulty, doubt, lack of time, imposter syndrome, and all the other ordinary demons is the thing that will get you where you want to be. You’ll learn along the way, and you won’t regret the time you spent pursuing your passion, whatever the outcome is. I love what Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird: “Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”

Thank you, Kristen for your assistance and willingness to share your wealth of knowledge.

My second novel, The Book of Revelations, a women’s fiction and will hopefully be coming out soon.

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My Interview with Eva Lesko Natiello, Best-Selling Author and Book Marketing Consultant

I attended two BookBaby conferences in Philadelphia and heard author and marketing consultant Eva Lesko Natiello speak at both of them. I was so impressed, not only with the success of her best-selling self-published novel, The Memory Box, but also her generosity in giving other writers very practical and useful tips on book promotion. So I decided she would be a great person to interview for my website.

Q. Please tell me about your background and how you began your writing career.

A. My writing career actually started when I left my first career to start a family. I have always had a daily need to do something creative, and it has taken the shape of many things over the years from painting, singing, sewing, cooking, crafts, etc. I actually had never intended to write a book, but I had just moved to New Jersey from New York City where I was living and working. Moving to the suburbs with young children plopped me into a new social circle of suburban moms. There is a definite way things are done in the suburbs that’s different from the way they ‘re done in the city. When I started writing my novel, I knew instantly that I wanted to set this psychological suspense in a bucolic suburb where the community of stay-at-home moms, a sub-culture all its own, would help highlight the juxtaposition of conformity and deception.

Q. How long were you writing before you began your novel? Did you take classes to polish your writing skills?

A. I basically started writing when I was writing my novel—though I didn’t know I was writing a novel at the time! I actually did take a writing class at the New School when I was about halfway through my novel and needed direction. It was an invaluable experience.

Q. How did you come up with the idea for your novel, The Memory Box?

A. One day I read a story in The New York Times about people Googling themselves. It mentioned that a 17-year-old boy, who was living in Los Angeles, Googled himself and discovered he was on a missing persons list in Canada. He had no idea until he Googled himself, that he was a victim of parent abduction. The fact that someone could find out something so personal about himself from a Google search was a fascinating concept to me.

Q. You have spoken to audiences about your journey to becoming a self-published author. Please explain it here briefly because I know other writers will be inspired by your story.

A. To be honest, self-publishing was a back-up plan. I had hoped to be traditionally published. But after three years of querying agents and receiving 81 rejections, I had to make a decision: give up and tuck the manuscript away, or learn everything I could about self-publishing and publish on my own. I had no idea it was going to find so many readers and hit the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. So many wonderful things have happened along the way. None of which would have happened if that manuscript were still on my computer.   

    Q. How were you able to promote your self-published book so that it became a New York Times bestseller?

A. That took a lot of hard work! And a good deal of time. Building sales momentum takes time when you’re an indie and you’re wearing all the hats. I started marketing in my community where people want me to succeed and I received a ton of support. One of the things I did early on, in the first year especially, was to get book clubs excited about The Memory Box. It’s a great book club read and people love to talk about it—mostly because it has a shocking ending. I attended as many book club discussions as I could. To date, I’ve attended over 200!

Q. Do you think the publishing world is slowly beginning to accept self-published authors or is there still a great deal of bias?

A. Oh definitely! Every day you hear about another traditionally published author coming over to the indie side. That’s when you know there’s real value and power to self-publishing.

Q. You have your own business helping writers promote their work. What types of services do you offer?

A. I help authors prepare to self-publish and share everything I do with my own books. I also coach authors on book marketing—giving them the tips and tools they need to increase visibility for their books in order to find readers and sell books.

Q. What type of authors should consider investing in a publicist? Is a marketing strategy always needed?

A. There’s definitely a lot of value in publicity, whether that’s with traditional media, book bloggers, influencers, etc. Before hiring a publicist, an author should consider how commercial their book is, or if it has a unique hook, or perhaps, if writing non-fiction, if the topic is newsworthy.

I also want to add that whether an author hires a marketing consultant or not, every author needs a marketing strategy. It’s impossible for a book to find its readers, gain traction in regards to sales, and have any hope for visibility without marketing. There are just too many books published in any given year. And if you’re an indie author, it’s even harder for your book to get noticed. But once authors learn a few targeted marketing tools and strategies appropriate for their book, genre and for them as an author, it feels incredibly empowering to know that they are moving the sales needle.

Q.  What common mistakes do you see beginning authors making that you would like to warn them about?

A. I recently published an article on Medium titled: (Mostly undiscussed) Advice for Beginning Authors. You can read it at https://writingcooperative.com/mostly-undiscussed-advice-for-beginning-authors-73f31e9e869d. 

Q. Are there particular books you recommend to help writers develop their craft?

A. I really like Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.

 Q. Please share some trends you are noticing in the book industry.

A. I see trade authors self-publishing and I see self-published authors publishing some trade books. So, what’s emerging is the hybrid author: someone who publishes in more than one way.

Recently, I had a phone consultation with Eva about a book cover design for my new novel. She provided me a wealth of tips and information.  If you are a writer, I highly recommend her services and advice. To sign up for her newsletter, go to https://evanatiello.com/.

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