Friday, February 22, 2019

How to Write and Publish--8--Grandma's Life Story

People often tell me things like:

“I want to write my life story for my grandchildren, but I don’t know how to begin.”

“Somebody needs to write about Grandpa. He’s had an amazing life. Would you consider doing it for us?”

“Grandma wants to write her stories, but she doesn’t know how to use a computer.”

I’m a writer, I often speak to seniors’ groups, and I am fascinated by people’s stories, so this subject is important to me.

Whether you’re the grandparent, the child, or the grandchild, this is a post just for you.

First, let’s affirm that this is a worthwhile project. Reflecting on life is a good exercise for anyone. When you write about it, you start to notice threads and themes. Ideally, you find a theme of redemption.

Also, when your parent or grandparent is gone or has dementia, suddenly you think of all the questions you’d like to ask them, and it’s too late.

The second thing to establish is that your goal isn’t a published, bestselling book. That sort of goal will tempt you to shape the story as you go, hamper the free flow of memories, and make you vulnerable to false promises from pretend publishers. Your goal is to write down a life, primarily for the younger ones in the family.

If you like, you can limit this to a small and quite manageable project, as my sister Margaret did years ago. She got Mom and Dad to write down five or six stories from their childhoods, and Margaret added a few she recalled them telling her. She typed them up, added pictures, and had them copied and bound at a local printer.

Our children loved this book.

For a bigger adult-book-sized project:

1.       If you can make this work as a group project, wonderful. Usually, it needs two committed people: the grandparent telling their story, and one younger person who knows about computers and online research.

2.       Gather what you already have, like the letters on fragile onionskin paper that Uncle Johnny gave me, that Dad had written to him during the CPS years. Pictures, letters, postcards, journals—all of it will be valuable.

3.       This will all look like a huge task. You’ll start to think—We’re not writers. Why don’t we hire a writer to do this? The truth is, unless you’re quite well off, you won’t be able to pay a writer what he or she is worth.

Also, unless the subject of the book is a celebrity or historical figure, it’s unlikely that you can publish and sell enough copies to pay for a writer.

Usually, this is a work of love, not money.

4.       My method for my own future memoir—and all kinds of writing—is dozens of jotted notes to jog my memory. The other day I found a paper that said, “Going to school in the manure spreader.” That will be worth about 2000 words I think. Seriously, the manure spreader. What a reputation we must have had in the neighborhood. Ok, I digress. If you’re writing your own story, I recommend these jotted notes. Once we pass age 50, ideas show up once and then they’re gone. So capture them while you have the chance.

Also, if you can, recruit the children and grandchildren to jot lists of stories they recall Grandma telling them or pieces of history that are unclear.

5.       Choose a method and start recording stories in detail. Grandma can type on a typewriter, type on a computer if she’s managed this skill, or write longhand and then someone else can type it up later.

She can talk to another person who can take it all down as she speaks.

She can record her stories on a computer program like Audacity and save the files to be typed later. There are also talk-to-text programs and online transcription services. I am not an expert at any of this, but I know they are handy for people who would rather talk than write.

6.       Decide on a basic structure for the book. Do you want to move along chronologically, starting with birth and marching straight through the years? Are there eras that deserve more focus, such as the Depression and the war years? Do you want the book to follow separate themes such as travels, education, work, and family? Or do you want a general theme such as God’s guidance or surviving catastrophes or recovery from loss? If so, you’ll select more stories and memories that fit that theme, and omit others.

7.       A simple accumulation of memories makes for a fine book, but it’s good to ask “What does this show us?” about each incident. Does it show Dad’s personality, what Depression life was like, or God’s provision? Does it show the beginnings of your fear of speaking up? This will help shape your story and give it another layer of depth.

8.       As the stories accumulate, assemble and sort the memorabilia you’ve gathered. Letters and such can be included whole, quoted from here and there, or used only to verify events and dates. Photos can jog memories and can be included in the book at your discretion.

9.       If you’re the person helping Grandma with her book, one of the biggest decisions is whether and how much to alter and edit her story. On the one hand, it is her story to tell and she needs the freedom to tell it. On the other hand, if she talks about Uncle Elmer’s gambling habits and Cousin Ethel’s dirty floors, you’re going to have a family uproar--louder if you're Kropfs or Smuckers and quieter if you're Yoders, but an uproar in any case.

Also, if she repeats herself a lot, you should cut it down, with her permission. If it’s poorly written and hard to read, it will need some gentle edits.

Of course it will need basic proofreading—spelling and such.

The more it’s her words telling her story, the more authentic it will be and, in the long term, the more valuable. 

That is my opinion and you are allowed to disagree.

10.   I recommend an online printer for this kind of memoir. Here are a few possibilities:
Create Space (
Lulu (
48 Hour Books (

At these sites, you upload your document, and they help you format the book and design a cover. Then they’ll “print on demand,” which means printing the amount you need, when you need them, usually for a reasonable price.

You are hiring them to print the book for you. They are not publishers in the traditional sense. Sometimes you can order extra services such as advertising your book or putting it on or Ingram, the big book distributor. I don’t recommend these services, especially for this sort of book.

11.   If you don’t want to work online, find a local printer and see what they can do for you. For a memoir, 50 copies is a good number for a first printing—more if you have a large family, less if it’s small, using Mennonite standards for “large” and “small.”

Here are a few printers that friends of mine have recommended.
Carlisle Printing (
Schlabach Printing (
Masthof Press (

12.   If you find that people are passing the book around and asking for more, and you’re ordering 50 or 100 books at a time to meet the demand, then it might be time to re-publish the book with a professional cover, an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and bar code so bookstores can carry it, and a copyright page with all the necessary information. Or you could talk to a publisher about buying and re-publishing it.

13.   Putting a book together is not an easy process, but the generations to come will thank you.

Our Story:
Mom was the storyteller of the family. She is gone now, and I keep thinking of questions to ask her. One of these years I want to write her story—not so much a chronology of her life but a collection of the stories she used to tell us. I hope I can get my siblings to write down their memories for this project. I never pushed her to write her story because she told us so much of it verbally, but I should have encouraged to write more of it.

I wanted Dad to write his life story because it had so many intriguing historical elements—Civilian Public Service and settling Mennonite refugees in Paraguay, for example—and because he told us so little of it.

He spent four summers at our house and spent many hours on the couch with a lap desk on his thin legs, writing with pen—or “ball point” as he said—on paper. Our daughter Emily transcribed his work and did very basic editing—turning MN into Minnesota, for instance.

Writing the book did not turn Dad into a storyteller, which should have surprised me less than it did. He still preferred dry recounting of events. But that’s ok. It was his to tell.

I felt that there were two big gaps in his story: he wrote very little about his and Mom’s courtship and life together and almost nothing about his relationship with God.
“Ach, I don’t want it to be a romance novel!” he said. All right then. We left it as it was.

Dad’s grammar and sentence structure were excellent as always, so we didn’t change that at all unless he repeated himself.

Dad chose the title: A Chirp from the Grass Roots, an imagery of a little cricket on the farm with something to say. He wanted sheep on the cover.

I was going to take my time with finding a printer, but suddenly I heard that he was going to a family reunion in three weeks. What a perfect book launching that would be, surrounded by a few dozen nieces and nephews. So I went online and found 48 Hour Books, where their turnaround time is literally 48 hours.

I contacted my friend Ellen Gerig who takes beautiful photos of local scenes, and yes, she had a picture of sheep in a field that I could use.

48 Hour Books had a great tutorial that walked me through formatting the pages. I added a few photos at the end, which wasn’t too difficult or expensive, since they were not in color. I uploaded the cover photo of sheep and also one of Mom and Dad for the back cover, and someone there helped me design the cover layout. I wrote the copy (words) for the back cover.

The cost was around $6 per book. If you ordered 100 copies you got 25 more free, so that’s what I did, and they reached Oklahoma in time for the reunion. I’ve ordered at least two more printings since.

It has not been a money-making venture at all, but I’m so glad I pursued it. One reader told his daughter who told me that Mr. Yoder is a much better writer than his daughter. I was delighted that Dad got a rave review.

Your grandparents' stories deserve to be written down. So do yours.

Here's Dad and Ernest Witmer signing books for each other.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

How to Write and Publish--7--Publishing Articles

You’ve polished your skills with a blog, letters, and journaling. It’s time to submit a short piece for publication.

This time there’s a gatekeeper. You offer your material. Someone else decides if it’s worthy of publication. Or not.

Yes, it’s terribly nerve-wracking, and it can be devastating if they reject your work.
If they accept your piece, though, you get to experience the thrill of an acceptance slip and usually a check. Then after a very long wait, you get the sample magazine in the mail and there is your name above the words that you wrote.

Sky-diving and roller coasters are nothing. This is where the real thrills lie.

Stuff to remember:
1. Read. Newspapers, magazines, websites. Which ones cater to your interests and beliefs? Which ones are similar to your writing style? You’re an expert in something—cooking, welding, hiking, cleaning grass seed, telling stories to children, correctly interpreting the Book of Revelation. Read publications geared to those subjects.

2. Think of submitting your story or article like applying for a job. You’ll rise to the top of the stack if you do your research by reading their magazine/newspaper/website, emailing them for information, and asking for their writers’ guidelines. Also ask for a sample magazine if you can’t borrow your mom’s or get it at the library. Prepare to pay for it.

3. Here are some things to find out: Do they accept outside submissions or is everything done by their staff? Do they need fiction [rarely, to be honest] or nonfiction? Short articles or long? Exactly how many words? How-to’s, profiles, news, inspiration, humor, doctrine? Who makes the decisions?

4. Writers’ guidelines are just that, a guide to help you get it right. Most magazines have a paragraph of tiny print toward the front of the magazine with information for authors. If they say they don’t accept work from freelancers, don’t mail them anything. Otherwise, find an address or phone number and ask them for their writers’ guidelines. This will tell you what they want, how many words it should be, how it should be formatted (double spaced, etc.), and how it should be submitted (mail or email). It will also explain how much you’ll be paid per word. This goes for Sunday school papers, newspapers, ezines, etc. If you follow their guidelines, you will win points with the editors.

5. The industry is constantly changing, and every publication has different rules, so get specific information for each one.

6. It will be to your advantage to get to know editors and other gatekeepers. Go to writers’ conferences. Take a tour of Christian Light Publications or Herald Press if you’re in the area. Don’t be afraid to ask to speak to an editor. Ask what their needs are right now and how you might fill them.

7. Publications are concerned about “rights.” You have to decide which rights you’re offering them. Sometimes the specific words vary but generally it’s like this:
a) Full rights or all rights usually pays best but it means they own your story and you can never use it anywhere else. Generally full rights isn’t a good idea.
b) First rights means they are the first to publish this piece. You can publish it later in another publication.
c) Second or reprint rights means you’ve published it somewhere else already but you’re offering it to this publication as well.
There are other rights having to do with electronic reprints, anthologies, etc., but these should be all you need to know about for now.

8. Look for anyone-can-try features. These are usually handled a bit differently than regular articles and it’s easier to get accepted. Reader’s Digest magazine is known for accepting personal humorous stories. I got started writing for the Register-Guard through its weekly Write On feature. Reiman magazines (Country, Taste of Home, Reminisce) have always encouraged readers to contribute. The Daily Bread accepts devotionals. Newspapers print letters to the editor.

9. Write a story or article. Follow the instructions precisely. Edit and polish. Get feedback from your writers’ group. Send it in. Wait.

10. If you’re accepted, celebrate! When the editor asks you to do a rewrite, cooperate, and don’t take it personally. When the article comes out, celebrate some more. Make copies for your mom and your writers group. Pass around donuts. Feel the thrill!

11. If you’re rejected, you’re allowed to be sad and all the other emotions that come when you deeply invest yourself and they don’t want you. Except it’s not that they don’t want YOU. It’s actually that particular story they didn’t need. Being sad for a day or two is normal. A few tears and wadding up the article with its red marks in the margins, that’s normal too, and saying bitter things about the magazine to your husband, who will be wise enough not to defend that editor for just doing his job, or tell you not to take it personally.

Believe me, I know what a rejection slip feels like.

However. You might get a rejection slip and you are completely devastated. Days and weeks pass, and you can’t recover. That paper becomes so much more than a note about your article. It’s your dad glowering at you for talking too much, the teacher docking your grade because of your messy handwriting, and your big brother calling you Fatty fatty two by four.

You know you can never write again.

[Actually, this can happen after you publish an article too, when a reader calls you up and reams you out because you mentioned their name or revealed too much about your church’s faults. I get a chill recalling those phone calls.]

The result is the same: you are silenced.
You have to look at the big picture:
a) The rejection slip, a relatively small thing, brought out the much larger rejection in your past that still affects you today. Get help. Figure it out. Find healing. Keep writing.
b) God gives you a voice and he wants you to use it. You have a spiritual enemy who wants to silence you. The oversized despair you feel at the rejection slip and the shaming words of the offended reader are tools used to silence you. Put on some armor. Go to battle. Find help. Keep writing.

12. Despite the proliferation of online media, people also like paper and ink publications. I can’t possibly list all the potential markets for you, but here are some in the Anabaptist world, both on paper and online. Some of these don’t have a website. In general, if you’re already familiar with the magazine, you probably have the cultural awareness to write for it. If not, be gracious and careful.

Forever His Princess (
Daughters of Promise (
Vibrant Girl
The King’s Daughter (PO Box 127, Mercersburg, PA 17236. Send SASE* for writer’s guidelines or email Send $4 and a 6x9 SASE for a sample copy) 
Calvary Messenger
Family Life—produced by an Amish publisher in Aylmer, Ontario
Blackboard Bulletin  “
Young Companion      “
Companions (
Story Mates
The Mennonite (
Sword and Trumpet
Just Plain Values
Ladies Journal
Keepers at Home
The Budget
Mennonite World Review (
Radi-Call (
Anabaptist Voice ( or 3287 Highway 201, Due West, SC 29639)
Rod and Staff Publications—various take-home Sunday school papers—no website
Crosswind (
Farming Magazine 1-800-915-0042
Nature Friend 1-540-867-0764
Beside the Still Waters (devotionals written by conservative Menno/Amish men)

13. If there are this many publications in the Anabaptist world alone, and this list isn’t exhaustive, then you know there are hundreds or thousands more in the big wide world. There’s a magazine that fits your skills, somewhere.

14. *SASE means Self Addressed Stamped Envelope. Now that you know that, you are part of the Inner Circle of Real Writers. You can hold your head up high at writers’ conferences and speak knowledgeably to confused beginners.

15. If you work your way up to writing for Farm Journal or National Geographic, the process is more complicated. You’ll pitch ideas and get assignments before you ever write. For now, go write something refreshing and insightful for Keepers at Home or Companions.

16. Yes, you. That’s a great idea elbowing at the back of your brain. Go write it out. Send it in.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

How to Write and Publish--6--Literary Ideals vs. Sending Beth and Marmee to the Seaside

Before we climb that mountain of submitting our work to magazines, let’s go on a side trail that needs to be hiked.
I needed money.

It was 1987. We were volunteering at a boarding high school for Native American students in the wild northern reaches of Ontario. We were expecting our second child, and I wanted a new car seat for this baby.

For our oldest, we had bought a secondhand car seat that was all awkward straps and buckles that invariably woke up little Matthew when he was strapped in or taken out. Plus, it was so outdated it probably wouldn’t have protected him much in a crash.

So I wanted a fresh dreamy modern car seat with one strap that pulled down over the baby’s head and clicked into place.

However: we didn’t have money. We received a stipend of about $60 a month. We had to buy our own clothes, diapers, peanut butter, postage stamps, shampoo, and transportation to visit family back in the U.S.

The Ontario Health Plan paid for our medical care. So we could afford to have a baby, but we couldn’t afford a car seat, which was going to cost about $75.

I had a small child and we were 125 miles from the nearest town, so employment opportunities were nonexistent.

Maybe I could write!

Paul sent a memo to Merle Burkholder out at the mission headquarters: was it legal for me to write for a US publisher under our current work status in Canada?

Merle said yes!

I was familiar with the Sunday school papers from Christian Light Publications, so they were an obvious choice. I think I wrote to CLP and asked for their writers’ guidelines, because somehow I knew to center the title halfway down the first page and repeat it at the top of subsequent pages.

I sat in our cold little closet at the end of the house, typed out three stories from my personal experience, extrapolated a lesson from each, and mailed them to Harrisonburg, Virginia.

CLP bought them all!!!!!!!!! They sent me a check for each!!!!!!! I had enough money for a car seat!!!!!!!!

Yes, I kept and framed that first acceptance slip, and it hangs on my office wall.
On a trip out to town, we bought a big new car seat that would last from the newborn stage to toddlerhood. It came in a big box. Did I mention it was new? And it had a handy dandy strap and buckle that could slide down over the baby’s head and click neatly into place. I can still see the pretty upholstery—a streaked blue and gray.

I paid for it with money I had earned from writing.

Perhaps you’ve caught the hint that this was a big moment in my life.

That car seat served us until it burned up along with the rest of the van in 1994. Emily was sitting in it that night. Matt, hearing her cry because of the smoke, went back and unbuckled that nifty buckle, raised the strap, released her, and brought her to safety.

The car seat was worth every penny I earned and spent.

I recall feeling that I was trying a bit too hard to manipulate a good lesson from my story that would work for a Sunday school paper, but that was the only qualm I felt about writing for the publisher I chose, for pay.

Maybe you also need to earn money, but you struggle to reconcile your ideals of Excellence and Art and Literature with catering to a magazine’s lowbrow readers so you can pay the bills. If so, you’re not alone.

Here’s an excerpt from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women:

Six weeks is a long time to wait, and a still longer time for a girl to keep a secret, but Jo did both, and was just beginning to give up all hope of ever seeing her manuscript again, when a letter arrived which almost took her breath away, for on opening it, a check for a hundred dollars fell into her lap. For a minute she stared at it as if it had been a snake, then she read her letter and began to cry. If the amiable gentleman who wrote that kindly note could have known what intense happiness he was giving a fellow creature, I think he would devote his leisure hours, if he has any, to that amusement, for Jo valued the letter more than the money, because it was encouraging, and after years of effort it was so pleasant to find that she had learned to do something, though it was only to write a sensation story.

A prouder young woman was seldom seen than she, when, having composed herself, she electrified the family by appearing before them with the letter in one hand, the check in the other, announcing that she had won the prize. Of course there was a great jubilee, and when the story came everyone read and praised it, though after her father had told her that the language was good, the romance fresh and hearty, and the tragedy quite thrilling, he shook his head, and said in his unworldly way...

"You can do better than this, Jo. Aim at the highest, and never mind the money."

"I think the money is the best part of it. What will you do with such a fortune?" asked Amy, regarding the magic slip of paper with a reverential eye.

"Send Beth and Mother to the seaside for a month or two," answered Jo promptly.

To the seaside they went, after much discussion, and though Beth didn't come home as plump and rosy as could be desired, she was much better, while Mrs. March declared she felt ten years younger. So Jo was satisfied with the investment of her prize money, and fell to work with a cheery spirit, bent on earning more of those delightful checks. She did earn several that year, and began to feel herself a power in the house, for by the magic of a pen, her `rubbish' turned into comforts for them all. The Duke's Daughter paid the butcher's bill, A Phantom Hand put down a new carpet, and the Curse of the Coventrys proved the blessing of the Marches in the way of groceries and gowns.

We note that Father, being an artistic soul, says, “Aim at the highest, and never mind the money.” But then, he can’t afford to send Beth and Marmee to the seaside.

Later, this happens. 

Little notice was taken of her stories, but they found a market, and encouraged by this fact, she resolved to make a bold stroke for fame and fortune. Having copied her novel for the fourth time, read it to all her confidential friends, and submitted it with fear and trembling to three publishers, she at last disposed of it*, on condition that she would cut it down one third, and omit all the parts which she particularly admired.

"Now I must either bundle it back in to my tin kitchen to mold, pay for printing it myself, or chop it up to suit purchasers and get what I can for it. Fame is a very good thing to have in the house, but cash is more convenient, so I wish to take the sense of the meeting on this important subject," said Jo, calling a family council.

"Don't spoil your book, my girl, for there is more in it than you know, and the idea is well worked out. Let it wait and ripen," was her father's advice, and he practiced what he preached, having waited patiently thirty years for fruit of his own to ripen, and being in no haste to gather it even now when it was sweet and mellow.

*pretty sure that means it was accepted for publication

Once again we note Father prioritizing the perfection of the book over selling it now.

You will always have people who accuse you of not “aiming at the highest.” Maybe you don’t tell them you had a story in Companions because they mock CLP for being so conservative, Mennonite, and formulaic, and for not using the word “kids.” Maybe you have your own misgivings because they changed the little girl’s pajamas to a nightgown, as they did in my story.

One person accused me of selling out because I wrote for a secular newspaper and I wasn’t allowed to preach the Gospel in my column.

Another one gently chided me for consistently tying the endings of my newspaper columns into a neat bow. He likes to read the New Yorker, that elite literary magazine, where stories don’t have happy endings or tidy resolutions.

Donald Miller, in Searching for God Knows What, writes of going to a writers’ conference, which I understand was our very own Oregon Christian Writers event.

In a review in Spectrum magazine, Trudy Morgan-Cole describes Donald’s description as “funny, but also annoyingly patronizing and chauvinistic.” I agree.

The lady sitting next to me was writing a wonderful series of Christian devotionals for girls who were taking ballet classes, and the lady on the other side of me was writing a series of devotionals you could read while drinking tea. When she told me this, a lady in front of us turned around and smiled because she was working on a series of devotionals you could read while drinking coffee. I told them their books sounded terrific, because it is true that some people like tea and some people like coffee, and for that matter, some people dance in ballets.

I admit, I’ve been a bit mocky myself at the swarms of people at OCW writing devotionals. And I’ve foamed at the mouth about all the smiling clueless lipsticked Englisch women writing Amish novels.

But let’s be clear: devotionals sell. Amish novels sell.

If you want to grow old and poor waiting for the New Yorker to accept your brilliant literary work, that is your privilege. The rest of us bend a bit. How far you bend is up to you and your conscience, of course.

Jo March wrote sensational stories for the Weekly Volcano [what a perfect name] before she decided, with some gentle guilting from Mr. Bhaer, that it wasn’t worth it. 

Two women writers I know flexed from their ideals so they could put their children through college. One wrote Amish novels. The other held her nose and wrote romances, including the required three sex scenes per book. I judged the former more harshly than the latter, knowing of course that neither has any obligation to agree with my ideals, and they were the ones with bills to pay.

In the long term, the newspaper was a better fit for my style than the Sunday school papers were. But I have no regrets about writing for CLP.

CLP has its traditions and guidelines, but they’ll give a beginning writer a chance. They bought my stories, paid for a car seat, and let me see my name in print. I’ve sent many people their way since.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with accommodating a publisher’s wishes and the readers’ tastes so you can earn money. Only you can decide how much you're willing to bend your ideals to sell a story.

Monday, February 18, 2019

How to Write and Publish--5b--More Editing

[We're still talking about types of editors.]

4. The freelance editor.

Your writing group and your husband have read your story, but you need someone to take a look at every verb and comma before you send it off to a magazine. Where do you turn? 

Who can make sure your book comes together coherently before you self-publish, or before you submit it to Harvest House?

Freelance editors to the rescue!

Blog posts and newsletters don’t usually need an editor beyond your husband or critique group, but any longer work that you self-publish should have an independent editor work on it.

The higher the stakes with submitting to a publisher, the more you need an editor.

How do you find one? Word of mouth is the best. I ask around at author events, and without fail, every author has their go-to editor that they’re happy to recommend to you. Twice, I’ve been blessed enough to sit beside people at the authors’ table at the county fair who were both authors and editors. Kelly Straub edited Tea and Trouble Brewing with great finesse; Toni Rakestraw twirled her magic wand and formatted my books for print and Kindle.

I ought to include them both in our will.

My friend Esta’s marketing-expert brother John recommends UpWork, an online resource. I'm sure there are others equally legitimate.

We made an exception to the no-family-as-editor rule after Emily got her degree in communications. She set her fees and did an excellent job with Fragrant Whiffs of Joy. For the most part, we were not mother and daughter but calm and indifferent acquaintances, to quote Jane Austen.

Except for that one time. But never mind that. We learned how to not do things with the next project.

I’m hoping Emily has time to edit these posts to make a short book that I can hand out to all the inquiring people who tug on my sleeve and ask for help. I would love to coach them all, and can't of course, but maybe a booklet and prayer will at least get them started.

Often, writers make good editors.

Emily says:

One important note is that editing other people's work is one of the best ways to improve your own writing. I know this is true because most of my writing classes in college followed the writer's group format, where we all critiqued each other's work, and my teacher's explanation was that deeply looking at other people's work and figuring out how to make it better was actually the best way to learn to write better.

 My opinion is that the best/most economical way to edit is to "trade edits" with someone who's at the same writing level as you are. It could happen in a writer's group, but if you're writing a book-length project it might be easiest to just swap with one person. It might not seem like "saving money" because of all the time it will take, but since you're learning so much as you edit, you come out on top in the long run.

Beginning writers are notorious for imposing on their more-experienced friends. “I know you just got out of the hospital with your twins, but I was hoping you wouldn’t mind looking this over. . .??"

I know. You won’t have any money in hand until the magazine buys your article, and they’re not likely to buy it until an editor polishes it, but an editor costs money. Round and round you go.

What is that in thine hand? If they live nearby, clean their kitchen or bake cookies for them. Do you have a piece of dress fabric they would love to have? Mail it to them. 
As Emily said, you can trade edits if you’re at the same experience level.

Better yet, sit down and figure out a way to pay them what they’re worth. You’re a writer. Your imagination is that good.

Sheila Petre says:

What I pay others, for whom I am not trading edits, is a percentage of what they will get for the published piece—if it is published. Depending on how much work they put into it and how much I get paid, I will pay ten to twenty percent. Stephanie Leinbach edits the editorial for my girls’ magazine and she gets a complimentary subscription for it, though I am pretty sure I have sent her additional compensation occasionally as well (a book or two, cash in the two-digit range, a box for her and her family.)

 Because I do so much editing for free, anything is a bonus. So if you just stick a ten or a twenty in your envelope with an SASE, I am very happy. It seems like writers could be more creative than they are: postage stamps, Subway cards, gift certificates for your little catalogue store, stickers for my children to play with while I edit—but no, those are just the things I fantasize about as I stare down into the envelope full of their words. Follow the golden rule, folks—it shouldn’t be this complicated.

Of course, if the freelancer is not a friend, you will need to pay the set fee and that is that. 

Morty Miller, a former student of mine, charges by the page. She says:

I’m a licensed proofreader. But I also do some editing as in making suggestions for a smoother flowing sentence, or how to reword things to perhaps paint a clearer picture of what the author is trying to say. 

When you send your work to an editor, you need to be thorough and specific about what you need. Services range from line edits and proofreading [the exact terms and services vary a bit] where they check spelling, punctuation, and consistency with Oxford commas and such, to in-depth edits where they delete whole sentences, move paragraphs, and suggest major revisions.

If you’re not using paper and ink, make sure your editor uses the “Track Changes” feature so you can tell exactly what has been altered.

I’ve had a few bad experiences with freelance editors changing words and phrases in my book manuscripts when I only wanted punctuation and spelling edits, without marking their changes, and I had to go through the entire book line by line to find and correct their helpful additions. I was not happy.

I learned to be really precise and clear about what I was hiring them to do.

But I’ve also had editors who, with permission, snipped and curled a phrase here and there, tucked paragraphs where they belonged, and made the whole thing smooth and shiny.

Those editors are gold.

Here’s some information from Manuscript Editor Online:

Types of Editing

The most intensive form of editing is substantive editing. The document is evaluated as a whole and problems of structure, organization, coherence, and logical consistency are corrected. Sentences may be removed or added. Paragraphs may be rewritten, condensed, or expanded. Blocks of text may be moved from one section to another. 

Copy editing
The editor corrects problems of grammar, style, repetition, word usage, and jargon. 

Proofreading is the lightest form of editing. Minor errors are corrected. Minor errors include:
errors of grammar and style (e.g., verb tense, units such as ml, use of numerals and words such as “5” or “five”)
errors of capitalization, punctuation (e.g., the use of commas, semicolons, colons, periods, dashes, apostrophes)
errors of spelling and word usage (e.g., to/too, affect/effect)

5. The Professional Editor

These are the editors who work for publishers. After the soul thrilling raptures of selling a manuscript to a magazine or book publisher or newspaper, you discover with a bit of alarm that your work will be gone over by an editor, or several. They will be thorough. They will not be your buddy. They might send your work back for revision, heavily marked in red.

But ultimately they will make your story a lot better.

You don’t pay this editor like you do a freelancer. This is all part of the happy package of having your submission accepted.

My editor at Good Books was a woman named Delphine who consulted me about significant changes and did her best to preserve my voice and style. I was very sad when she retired.

I had four different editors in my years with the Register-Guard newspaper, and a good working relationship with all of them, but I didn’t get to know any of them very well. While none of them ever made huge changes in my articles, the small changes they made were always for the better.

May you all be so lucky.

Next: Sending short pieces to a publisher.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

How to Write and Publish--5a--Editing

You need an editor.

Sorry to break it to you.

Remember that post about the lovely idea in your head that looks a bit less attractive when it’s on paper? An editor can help you restore your work to its original intended vision.

Yes, there's self-editing, and you need to do it thoroughly. Some writers are sure that if they’ve been over their own work fifteen times, an editor couldn’t improve it.

Those of us who have bad experiences with editors conclude that we can do this better ourselves, thank you very much.

Once you’ve worked with a good editor, though, you will love her, appreciate her, rely on her, praise her in the gates, and weep when she retires.

We all need someone to look at our work and catch what we’re missing. Self-published shorter pieces such as blog posts might need only types 1 and 2 below. Longer works, either self-published or sent to a publisher, need more kinds of editors.

Here is a chart about different types of editors.

Here are some of the “editors” you need:

1.       The cheerleader.

My friend Ilva sent me an email the other day and said she loved the excerpts from The Eye that I posted. She loved The Eye back in the day, she said.

That’s not the only thing Ilva has ever said about my writing. Not by far. Ilva has read my form letters, newspaper articles, and blog posts. She always says the same kinds of things: I love this! I understand! You made me laugh! You made me cry! You are wonderful!

Every writer needs an Ilva, someone who thinks everything they write is amazing. Maybe your mom is this person for you, or your best friend.

I noticed on Facebook today that my old friend Heidi linked her daughter’s blog and said, My daughters writing... so good!!! I can identify... I love your honesty and putting it in perspective!"

You need someone like that. You know deep inside that not everything you write is breathtaking and beautiful. But you need That One Person who lives under this delusion that you and your work are just astonishing, always.

Go find your Ilva.

2.       The practical skimmer.

We learned long ago that things work best if I don’t expect my family, especially my husband, to be my editors. [There is one exception to this which I’ll explain later.] Paul doesn’t think or express himself or relate stories like I do. He doesn’t find the same things funny.

In the form letter days, lacking a critique group, I would get Paul to read my writings. He would work his way down through a long letter without changing the expression on his face. “It’s fine,” he would say.

“But isn’t it FUNNY?” I would wail. “That part about Matt and his experiments—I was trying to make it funny!”

“I guess, but I already knew about it, so I couldn’t really laugh.”

This did not make for marital harmony.

Over the years, a lot of people have asked if I made up incidents for the newspaper, or embellished things that happened. I could always tell them, no, I didn't, because Paul in particular and also a few of his offspring have a pathological dislike for exaggeration, and they always brought me back, grudgingly, to the bare facts.

For example,when I wrote about the grass seed harvest almost 20 years ago, I said that when the cleaner is running, the warehouse shakes and rumbles.

"No it does not!" said Paul. "It vibrates and hums."

How could he!? That was so far from reality!

We compromised. If you go read page 149 of Ordinary Days, you will find that the warehouse vibrates and rumbles when the cleaner is running. 

Another time I had Paul read a poem I had posted on my blog on Thanksgiving. I thought it expressed the deep feelings of my heart. “I don’t really get it,” he said. “It seems like you're asking for sympathy for your hard life."

Oh mercy. That wasn’t my intention at all. So I deleted the poem. That afternoon a niece told me she had read it and related to it, but when she came back to re-read it, it was gone. So I posted it again, feeling vindicated, and got more response than for any other poem I’ve posted, I think.

We finally settled on an arrangement where Paul read my newspaper articles before I sent them off, but only to correct any glaring flaws, maybe about seed cleaning or family history or theology. And of course, to check any inclination toward over-inflating the truth. In addition, if I mentioned Paul or any of the children, they got to have veto power before the column went to my editor.

Paul is good at catching the glaring errors. If I don’t expect him to do more than that, we are both happy with the arrangement.

Find yourself a Paul who will read your article and say, “It’s fine,” and then you know it is.

3.       The critique group.

The idea of a writing group is to share your work with peers. You read their work and find ways to improve it. They do the same to yours. You all share questions, advice, and motivation.

A good critique group member has a sharp eye for detail and is also kind, honest, punctual, supportive, and humble. He or she will point out flaws in your work without ever making it personal and take your suggestions with similar equanimity.

You need to find a group that’s roughly at your skill level. If you’re a complete beginner, you’ll feel lost in a group with Francine Rivers and Jane Kirkpatrick.

I’ve been blessed to be a part of a few different writing groups. First it was one of Verda Glick’s Writers Workshops by Mail. Verda had designed an efficient system: all our submissions circulated in a package. When it arrived, I read the others’ comments on my story and put in a new one. I also read the others’ work and wrote a page of comments for each. I dropped out of this group, regretfully, when I began writing for the newspaper because I couldn’t keep up with both.

I think I wrote to Verda, in the beginning, and asked her to add me to a group.

Sheila Petre, a writer and editor from Pennsylvania, says:

Many non-internet-using Anabaptist writers are part of writer’s workshops by mail, groups who trade editing skills with each other. Each scribbles her opinions on the other’s manuscripts using a separate ink color. This is my favorite kind of editing to give or receive. 

Later I took a write-your-life-story class, and after the term was over we kept meeting for about a year. I still run into one of the women on occasion.

Then there was Red Moons, a semi-professional group that was a great help in writing for a secular audience. There was a copyright lawyer in the group and one who wrote for National Geographic Traveler and led the group, so the resources were plentiful. The leader had read my columns in the paper and invited me to join. When the leader and the meetings moved an hour away, I stopped attending.

For the last six months I’ve been a part of the Fictitious Five, a group of Christian fiction writers. Two of them have 3-book deals with a publisher, so they know what they’re doing.

One week, we email out new chapters to all the others. We read, add comments, and print them off. The next week, we meet at Pat’s house. When it’s my turn to be on deck, everyone takes a 5-minute turn talking about my paper. Then it’s Amanda’s turn, and we each talk about hers for 5 minutes. And so on. I am new at fiction and this group has been invaluable. They see things in my stories that I would never catch, but they are kind. For instance, last week Pat noticed that I had the word “placed” three times in one sentence.

Amanda, one of the Fictitious Five, invited me to join the group. She and I had met back when she owned a small bookstore, and she knew I was interested in fiction.

If you want to be part of a writing group, don’t wait for an invitation. Libraries often have information about groups in the community. If you know any local writers, ask them if they know of a group you could join.

Maybe you can start your own group, in person or by mail/email. Decide how similar the group needs to be. Is it ok if the members are writing fiction, nonfiction, articles, books, Christian, and secular? If not, decide your specific parameters.

The key to success is clarity about expectations: how often do we meet, and where? How much do we write for each meeting? How long do we discuss one chapter? What kinds of help and information do we need?

--more information on editing tomorrow--