Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How Editing Groups Work (Part 2 of 4)

Procedures for an Editing Group

When I started the Scribe Tribe, I knew what I wanted to learn, and I didn't want distractions or disruptions. The longer the group met, the more I was able to write what I called procedures or guidelines to make us more efficient. I wrote the following advice for face-to-face groups, but most of this can apply to on-line groups.

1. Members commit themselves to (1) submit a manuscript as often as the group agrees; and (2) edit each submission received.

2. All members submit manuscripts to each other. Members agree to read all submissions and write comments on the manuscript. Send the edited manuscript to all members.

3. Except in unusual circumstances (and all members must agree), we ask non-submitting members to leave the group.

4. On MS Word, members submit publication-ready manuscripts, such as double-spaced, 12-point fonts, one-inch margins, headers on each page, starting the first page 3–4 inches from the top.

5. Members write editorial comments on the manuscript. They ask questions, point out difficulties, or suggest a different outline or approach. They often write a summary comment at the end of the manuscript.

Friday, March 25, 2011

How Editing Groups Work (Part 1 of 4)

Beyond what I've written in previous blogs, here are reasons for joining or starting an editing group.

1. It’s a humbling experience: Someone can always help improve our writing.

2. An editing group is one way for us to learn professionalism. Remember the principle: A group edits my work, it does not criticize me.

3. An editing group offers a sense of identity. We’re no longer alone in our desires and ambitions.

4. We associate with other people who can understand us and our dreams. An editing group can offer support and affirmation as we pursue our craft.

Join an editing group,
learn from others,
and prepare yourself to become an outstanding writer.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Being Edited (Part 6 of 6)

Here are additional reasons for joining (or starting an editing group).

1. Being part of a group enables us to dig deeper into ourselves. As we pull from within, we more readily accept ourselves, others, and our world. It doesn't matter whether we write theological texts, murder mysteries, or personal-experience articles. The more we write, the more we look inward and examine ourselves.

2. We offer support and affirmation and become a true mutual-help group. About the second year of the Scribe Tribe—the editing group I organized and led for nine years—I realized that we not only helped each other, but we also cared about one another. As members shared their writing, regardless of the topic, they shared themselves. I learned to appreciate and to care about them. They reciprocated: They cared about me.

Through the years, I've watched writers discover healing from childhood trauma, rape, incest, divorce, addiction, and countless other problems by writing about them. Many who didn't specifically address their issues found acceptance among other writers and that gave them the courage to resolve their problems.

You want to become a good writer?
Start with a willingness to be edited.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Being Edited (Part 5 of 6)

No matter how long we’ve written or how good our prose, others can see things we miss. When I first began to write, I invited several other eager-to-publish writers to join me. We didn't know much, but we shared what we knew. Every person who remained in the Scribe Tribe at least five years became a much-published writer. One of the "graduates" is Marion Bond West, Guideposts' most-published writer. Suzanne Stewart's first book sold more than 200,000 copies. Two alumni have been full-time editors for two decades.

I want to give a few reasons why I strongly advocate every writer becoming part of an editing group.

1. Good editing groups offer a diversity of capabilities, backgrounds, interests, and knowledge. I'm not naturally analytical, and I focused more on word choices and sentence flow. Other members taught me to recognize logical progression and development of ideas. And I became a better writer.

2. Being part of a group allows us to receive and to give. We learn from the others, but we also teach them. We see areas of their writing where we can help them. It's as simple as the Sunday school teachers who say, "I never understood the Bible until I taught a class."

3. Being part of an editing group offers new writers a sense of identity. We belong; we're not alone. We don't have to hide our writing. We meet with others who understand and struggle with the same problems. They encourage us to open ourselves on the page.

The major reason I believe in editing groups is simple:
They work.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Being Edited (Part 4 of 6)

In a previous blog I referred to editing groups and distinguish them from critique groups. Members of editing groups edit each other's manuscripts. If they do it well, they learn more about the craft and become more sensitive to good writing.

In editing groups, members mark on the manuscripts—either with a pen, or on the computer they use comment boxes in Word texts. They do that before the meeting, and no one reads manuscripts aloud at the meetings. With the proliferation of the Internet, more groups are moving into editing each other on-line.

I detest critique groups and I'm quite vocal about objecting. Writers spend half the meeting time reading aloud the manuscripts and members make comments. I consider that a waste of time. We write for the eye not the ear (with the possible exception of poetry). Some writers read their manuscripts aloud to listen to the cadence and pick up sentences that don't flow, but that's different.

Editors don't sit and read submissions aloud. As their eyes race across the page, they recognize the quality of the writing.

We help other writers when we edit them;
we rarely do much good critiquing when they read aloud.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Being Edited (Part 3 of 6)

To be successful as writers, we have to learn that we always need to learn. We never reach the place where someone can't improve our manuscripts. The struggle many of us face is that our writing isn't as good as we thought it was. Writers sometimes beg me to read their articles and say, "Just be honest. Correct anything you see."

They use the correct words, but they rarely mean them. They usually mean, "Tell me how wonderfully I write." Until someone points out their weaknesses, they don't see them.

That's been true for me and I've become a better writer for having been edited. Although that's true, I wrote for several years before I could look at an edited manuscript and detach myself emotionally.

These days, my wife reads everything of mine before it goes out and sometimes my assistant, Twila, peeks at my work. Through the years I've learned to be thankful for Shirley's excellent eye. I'm embarrassed when a bad sentence sneaks past me; I'm grateful when she asks, "Can you clarify that point?" Or Twila will ask, "Did you leave out a few words?"

Serious writers can find help and they'll accept help because they're serious. They can take on-line courses or correspondence courses; they can attend conferences; they can read books on writing. We have such an abundance of resources that it leaves us no excuses for not improving our writing. I believe that writers learn best by being part of an editing group as an ongoing, learning experience.

Serious writers continue to learn
because they're serious.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Being Edited (Part 2 of 6)

Even though editors improve our manuscripts, they want to start with well-written articles and books. Everything we can do to make our work outstanding not only sells the material, but it makes editors' work easier.

Too many beginning writers seem to think that if they write their material, edit it twice, and send the manuscript through Spellchecker, it's ready to publish.

That's a good start, but not enough.

Perhaps that's obvious, but my wife, Shirley, edited a magazine and curriculum for 20 years. Occasionally, she received submissions with notes that said, "God gave this to me, so you won't have to edit it, you can publish it just as it is."

Not once was the quality of the writing good enough and was usually extremely bad. I didn't know any of the writers, and I never saw their manuscripts, but they were probably individuals who couldn't stand anyone to change their writing. Too bad. None of them got published.

Get editorial help before you submit a manuscript.
Accept help from the editor after you submit your manuscript.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Being Edited (Part 1 of 6)

After I had been writing for three years and had published more than fifty articles, the late Charlie Shedd met with the Scribe Tribe, our editing group of eight writers who met every third Tuesday evening and edited each others' material. Charlie read the first chapter of my first attempt at a book and spent twenty minutes dissecting my manuscript.

It hurt to have him slash sentences I had written and rewritten ten times. But he caught things I hadn't seen. Intellectually, I knew he critiqued my material; emotionally, I felt he critiqued me.

Although I've now published more than 100 books, I still don't like it when an editor rips apart my prose. No matter how hard I try, editors find ways to tweak sentences or delete words. Unless you self-publish, someone will always edit behind you.

Being edited is part of the getting-published process.
If you can't accept editorial changes,
don't write for publication.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Money for Books (Part 3 of 3)

Publishers and Royalties

Rose Hilliard, editor at St. Martin's Press, asked me to point out the difference between royalty rate and advance royalty. The royalty rate is based on sales of the book. The rate is generally the same with all publishers but there are exceptions.

The royalty advance is a percentage of what the publishers expect the author to earn in the first year, so they receive it in advance—that is, before they complete writing the book.

Most publishers pay half the royalty before writers finish the manuscript. They pay the second half if "the manuscript is deemed acceptable," as one contract reads and another contract says, "upon receipt of a satisfactorily edited manuscript." For new writers it means the publisher edits the manuscript before they pay out the second half.

A few publishers pay in thirds and the final payment comes out when they release the book.

Authors receive no additional checks until they have sold enough copies of the book to pay back the advance. If the book doesn't sell enough copies to pay back the advance, writers don't return the advance.

A group of editors with whom I spoke at a conference, estimated that only about 20 percent of books paid back their advances. (Don't worry, the publisher won't lose money.)

Advance royalty is what I call
a good-faith payment by publishers.