Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Dragons Mourn

Fantasy writer Anne McCaffrey passed away last night. I am not a reader of fantasy in general, but some of her books hold honored — and permanent — places on my bookshelf. Her Dragonriders of Pern series is *the* classic for novels about dragons, but none of those is the novel I remember best.

In the 80s, Ms. McCaffrey wrote a little-known horse story called (on this side of the Pond) The Lady.┬áIt’s set in Ireland in the early 1970s and follows the lives of the Carradyne family. I was, I think, only a few years older than Catriona, the protagonist, when I read it for the first time, and I was just as horse mad as she. I’ve owned multiple copies of this book. I’ve read it so many times that my copies tend to fall apart. The last time, I ordered several copies, because I was afraid it might go out of print. The story is an old friend, a best friend.

Thank you, Anne, for the dragons and the horses. As a friend of mine noted, a Golden dragon has gone Between….

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Are all novels publishable?

Writing a novel is just the first step towards publication. After writing, the novel needs to be edited — maybe rewritten, maybe several times. Some manuscripts need more editing than others, but with no exception, every manuscript needs at least one editing pass before it’s ready to see the light of day.

The best way to edit is to learn to do it yourself, but I don’t want to focus on that in this post. Instead I want to talk about the alternative. Many people don’t want to do their own editing. Some don’t feel like they can trust critique groups or beta readers. Others think they aren’t skilled enough to be able to edit their own work. So these writers try a different solution: they hire a freelance editor.

Freelance editors vary in experience and skill, just like writers. Some are published authors. Some used to be fiction editors in the publishing industry. Others just hung out a shingle. Freelance editors offer different editing services at different price levels:

A copy edit (or line edit) is the least expensive service, but it includes only a clean up of spelling and grammar. An editor local to me charges 1.5 to 3 cents per word for a line edit. For my 100,000 word novel, that would be $1500 to $3000.

A developmental or substantive edit is considerably more expensive. This edit includes an analysis of structure, pacing, character development, and plot. My local editor charges 3 to 6 cents a word for substantive editing, so $3000 to $6000 for my novel. Most of the time the editor doesn’t actually do the rewriting either (or at least not all of it) — just tells you what needs to be done.

That’s quite a bit of money to spend, particularly since after you make the rewrites following a substantive edit, you may still need a copy edit to have a finished, proofed manuscript. Would it be worth it? Without a doubt, a good editor can make a manuscript a lot better.

But is the manuscript ready to be published?

Here, finally, is the point of this post. After you’ve paid this money and gotten a professional edit, is your manuscript guaranteed to be good enough to be snagged by an agent or purchased by a traditional publishing company?


Not only is there no guarantee, in most cases it simply won’t be good enough.

Say, for argument’s sake that manuscripts were rated on a quality scale from 1-10. A manuscript of quality level 9 or above is required for traditional publishing. A freelance editor could bump your manuscript up to 2 points higher on the scale. If your manuscript starts at a 7 or 8, that’s great! But if the manuscript you wrote is of quality level 6 or below, then even with editing, you’re still out of luck as far as traditional publishing goes.

Here is the hard truth about freelance editors: As talented as many of them are, they are not magicians. They cannot take a fatally flawed manuscript and make it great. A good editor can make ANY manuscript better. But very few manuscripts, no matter how much time and effort and money is put into them, will ever be good enough to outshine 99% of other submissions, and THAT is what is required to get an agent and sell a manuscript to a traditional publisher.

Some writers write three, four, five, or even more novels before they write one of high enough quality that they are able to sell it to traditional publishers. That’s not a failing! They studied their craft, they practiced, they honed their words. They earned their way up the quality ladder. Don’t feel cheated if you don’t start at the top or if an editor didn’t make your manuscript perfect. You have to pay your dues just like everyone else and learn to write high quality manuscripts. That takes work. Hard work. With no shortcuts.

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Wanted: a year-long challenge

At the beginning of November, I challenged myself to get up at 5 every morning and work on my novel. That has gone so well that I want to challenge myself to a year-long goal. This one, however, I want to be fitness- or diet-related. The caveat is that meeting the challenge has to have a payoff commensurate with the effort — success is not its own reward, but thank you for playing — and my husband will have to agree to the payoff terms. The challenge will be all-or-nothing though, so he wouldn’t have to cough up the reward unless I am 100% successful.

So I want to hear your opinions and ideas. What challenge should I undertake? What reward should I ask for? Here are some challenge ideas I’ve thought of, in order of difficulty:

  • A year of working out, a minimum of 30 minutes a day, 6 days per week
  • A year following the Primal Lifestyle workout recommendations
  • A year following the Slow Carb diet
  • A year without sugar
  • A year without grains
  • A year following the Primal Lifestyle diet
  • A year following the Primal Lifestyle diet AND workout recommendations

The degree of difficulty from the top of the list to the bottom of the list is massively different, and it would require some pretty significant motivation for me to commit to something at the bottom of the list. In all honesty, I don’t think my husband can afford the challenges at the bottom of the list. (I’m not sure he wants to afford the ones at the top of the list either, for that matter.)

As far as rewards go, I’ve come up with two: money or a trip. Money would probably be used for a trip. My husband isn’t wild about the idea of a trip, because I don’t like leaving the dogs alone — ergo, he would get stuck at home while I was off doing something fun. I won’t lie and say that’s not a risk. It would depend entirely upon the trip. I don’t think he’d much enjoy a week at Bitterroot Ranch.

So I want and need your comments on this one. What challenge do you think I should undertake? What reward should I request?

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Inspiration, part 2

In my last post, I found pictures to represent most of the major characters in my work-in-progress, Doubting River. I saved one important character for his very own post — River, the title character. Before we talk about River, though, I want to talk just a moment about setting.

Doubting River is set in a small, imaginary town in rural Mississippi. This photo is actually startlingly close to how I imagine Marlie’s farm to look.

Now let’s talk about River. River is a curly coated retriever, just like the dog I named for him. I don’t have any pictures of my dog here, though, because I haven’t had him out in the field, and River is most definitely a field retriever. Instead I asked my dog’s breeder to share some of her photos. First, here are some shots of curlies in their natural habitat.

In the book, Charm and Lucas are training River for an AKC retriever field trial. These trials are extremely competitive events open to both professional and amateur trainers. Of the seven eligible retriever breeds, the vast, vast, vast majority of the dogs who run in the trials are Labrador retrievers. In addition to Labs, a small number of golden retrievers and an even smaller number of Chesapeake Bay retrievers compete. The other four breeds are virtually unheard of in the sport, and to my knowledge no breed other than Lab, golden, or Cheesie has even won. That includes curly coated retrievers.

Dawn doesn’t compete in field trials, but she does do hunt tests through various organizations. These photos aren’t, then, exactly representative of what Charm and Lucas will be doing, but I think you’ll get the idea.

See the fake gun in the next picture? That’s common in some venues. In a real hunting situation, the dog’s handler would be shooting the ducks that the dog retrieves. In a hunt test (and field trial), the live flyers are shot by someone in the field so the handler can focus on the dog. The handlers are still required to carry a gun in some venues, however. This picture also has a good full-body shot of a curly. They’re taller and leaner than the other retrievers. My River (the living, breathing one) stands 28″ or 29″ at the shoulder and, at 16 months old, weighs about 90lbs.

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Inspiration, part 1

A writer friend wrote a recent blog post about pictures that inspire her. That sent me on my own hunt. My journey took a different path, though, and I ended up searching out photos that resemble the main characters in Doubting River, my novel-in-progress. Although none of the actors I ended up choosing were the inspiration for the characters, and none match the pictures in my mind exactly, the ones I chose below are pretty close.

The protagonist is Charm. He returns home for the first time in almost twenty years after the death of his sister’s husband and reluctantly agrees to stay and help with her farm and injured son. This photo of Adrian Grenier captures two of the physical features that stand out most to me about Charm: his wavy brown hair and his killer smile. Charm is one of those people who has learned to use his looks and his smile to manipulate others.

His sister Marlie is struggling to right her world after her husband dies and she discovers their farm is near foreclosure. Her focus on restoring things to the way they were blinds her to her son’s need for closure. I never really thought of Charlize Theron as embodying Marlie, but this picture captures Marlie’s short, wavy, red hair perfectly. Too bad Marlie doesn’t have many opportunities to smile like this.

Lucas is Marlie’s nine-year-old son. His leg was shattered in the same accident that killed his father. As his family crumbles around him, he clutches his father’s last wish — to win the local trial — certain it is their salvation. This picture is of Ty Panitz, the young actor who plays Parker Booth on Bones. He is perfect as Lucas all the way to the blond curls spilling into his hazel eyes.

And then, there’s River, the title character in Doubting River. He’s a curly coated retriever — and my own dog is his namesake. Look for pictures of him in a follow-up post.

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