A. Victoria Mixon, Editor
Editing       Testimonials       Books       Advice       Swag       About         Copyright

Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.
  • By Victoria Mixon

    The pen is mightier than the sword.
    Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy

    If you’d like to cut straight to the chase, I’ve finally explicated the text in its entirety of section 107 of US copyright law, the section disputed by (mostly self-publishing) plagiarists.

    However, if you’d like to read more about how this pertains to you personally as a writer, please feel free to read on!

    Folks—I’m reluctantly breaking into my regularly-scheduled series of Free HOOK Edits today due to an alarming experience my publisher and I had yesterday: we discovered my work quoted in more than one self-published book without our permission.

    Sigh.

    People. Read copyright law. I own the copyright on everything I write.

    YOU MUST GET MY PERMISSION

    So I’m posting here the full text inside the copyright symbol link on my banner:

    Everything you write is copyrighted automatically when you write it, writers. You don’t even have to post a copyright symbol.

    Just so you know.

    Everything on A. Victoria Mixon, Editor and Victoria’s Advice Column is copyrighted. Everything I’ve written as guest posts is copyrighted. And everything in my books is copyrighted.

    Because I’ve written it, now, haven’t I?

    This means:

    IT IS ILLEGAL

    , . .to post more than a few lines or to publish anything at all from any of my work without my express written permission. (From me.) Not even just chunks of posts. Not even guest posts I’ve written for other people’s blogs. (I grant those people First North American Rights to post my work in full, but the copyright of my written words remains mine.)

    Frankly, I’m pretty easy-going about letting you do this if you just ask permission. I most recently granted permission to Lori L. Lake to quote me in a book of exercises she’s putting together for her class on fiction. She asked nicely, and she even had the foresight to send me incredibly kind fan mail about my own books two years earlier.

    Here’s my email—drop me a line!

    JUST ASK PERMISSION

    There is a tiny little bit of wiggle room in copyright law, and there’s a good reason for this:

    1) It’s okay to. . .

    . . .re-post a sentence or two or even a brief paragraph or two of copyrighted material in a periodical without permission so long as:

    • it’s not the most valuable material in the piece, and

    • you’re not undermining the commercial value of it to the author, and/or

    • you’re quoting it for “review purposes”

    You can even express a negative opinion on it if it’s a review, as this loophole was originally designed to allow periodical book reviewers to spread the love without getting entangled in red tape. It works exactly the same way on the Internet so long as you cite it properly and include a link to the author’s site.

    A periodical is a publication that regularly puts itself out-of-date by issuing new editions, i.e. newspapers, magazines, etc. They’re periodic. That’s why they’re called ‘periodicals.’

    Although there are not as yet any legal precedents I know of, blogs are considered periodicals.

    If you use more than a few lines or a brief paragraph or two, you don’t include the citation and link, or you try to make money off it without permission, of course it’s plagiarism—the very worst type of copyright violation—and you’ll get a DMCA Take-Down Notice or Cease & Desist Letter and possibly your ass sued by the rightful owner of the copyright.

    Personally, I like to know if you’re referring to my work so I can keep track of what’s out there. But it’s okay, either way, so long as you cite it properly as coming from me and include a link to http://victoriamixon.com.

    2) IMPORTANT!

    This wiggle room does not apply to your published works that are not periodicals

    This means if you want to quote someone else in your book or novel, you or your publisher must get their express written permission.

    Read this carefully, people: express written permission.

    You can’t just pick up quotes from other published works—including periodicals, like blogs—and put them into books that you then put up for sale. This is attempting to copyright for yourself and make money off someone else’s copyrighted works without their permission.

    Now you can see why, in any professionally published book that uses quotes, you’ll find a list of attributions in the front matter specifying that these quotes “are reprinted by permission of [the publisher/author].”

    It is also interfering with the author’s own copyright of their work. If they choose to publish their work at some later date, you’ve created a situation in which you can give the US Copyright Office headaches over which of you owns the work. This is so unfair to the true author that it’s not even real. And it creates the serious potential for loss of income for them. This is why:

    IT IS ILLEGAL

    IT IS IMMORAL

    IT IS STEALING
    (Remember: thou shalt not steal, you Christian authors)

    AND YOUR ASS CAN BE SUED FOR IT

    . . .for loss of income, impinging upon the reputation of a professional author, and even punitive damages, at the discretion of a judge, if you are a repeat-offender. This means YOU, people cobbling together ‘your’ books on writing from the works of others. That’s “repeating” your “offense.”

    Are the legal fees and huge fines going to be worth it to you?

    They can easily run into tens of thousands of dollars.

    Plus, you lose both your book and your reputation. Anybody who has to tangle with the US Copyright Office just to clarify that they own the copyright to their own words is going to make sure that everybody in your community knows what a crappy thing you’ve done. For crying out loud.

    Do you think other writers and bloggers can’t afford to sue you? The National Writer’s Union has lawyers available—either free or wildly-inexpensive—for this express purpose: protecting authors’ copyright. I have used them before, and I’m happy to use them again.

    Also, Amazon and other online booksellers will simply block your book if it’s reported in violation of DMCA, even if it’s just a little partial violation like quoting a few measly paragraphs of one author’s work. My publisher is a really polite person. He’ll send you a friendly email first. But if you do not respond in a timely manner, he will request that your book be blocked. And the booksellers will cooperate. They want no truck with this crap.

    Even epigrams are protected under copyright law. Many authors—especially famous ones—charge for epigrams, because they and their publishers have a huge vested professional interest in making sure their works are not re-used by random authors latching onto their coattails. This has to do with aspects of copyright law that determine the value of the quoted material compared to the value of the book or novel in which it is quoted.

    So do yourself a favor: don’t force any quoted author—or copyright judge—to go there. They can not only block your book and sue your ass, but also hurt your feelings really badly.

    If you’ve posted more than a few lines or published any of my work at all from anywhere without my express written permission—from my blog, someone else’s blog, my books, etc—please do us both a favor and REMOVE IT NOW. Otherwise, my publisher will have to send you a DMCA Take-Down Notice, and you and I both have better things to do.

    Or better yet: just ask permission first.

    I know there’s a blogger out there whose entire blog is composed of his ‘thoughts,’ which are not his thoughts at all, but posts lifted without permission from other blogs. If you courteously request that he follow normal “fair use” of using only a few lines or a brief paragraph or two with citation and a link, he replies with an email full of faux-legal gobbly-gook about “fair use,” meant to intimidate you into submission. It happened to me. My publisher and I were not intimidated. That blogger was required by law to follow normal “fair use” or take my post down. He threw a hissy-fit, but he took it down. He knew he could be sued.

    However, other bloggers might cower and let him to get away with it, while his readers naturally assume that he has politely asked those authors’ permission. Don’t be fooled by him, you guys—if you read his email carefully you’ll see that legally he is forced to say “he thinks” this is “fair use.” He can’t claim that it is. . .because he knows it’s not.

    Also, some major publishers, like Writer’s Digest, use excerpts in their books without jumping through all the loopholes, because they have license to the copyrights of the quoted authors. This means they are those authors’ publishers.

    That’s not you.

    It’s not me either.

    My publisher, Prentice Hall, acquired permissions for the quotes and paid for the cartoons used in my book Children and the Internet: A Zen Guide for Parents and Educators.

    And I ask express written permission from my clients for all testimonials, quotes, and even submitted questions on my blog and advice column, including the webpages that I post for clients.

    Think about it. It’s only common courtesy.

    3) Links are all goodness

    I link to you guys, too. The Internet is one big ole snuggly interconnected network. Every time you link appropriately to someone else’s blog, you’re making a friend.

    Friends are goodness.

    Just remember, everyone: copyright protects you as well as the authors you love. These laws apply to your own works, keeping the world of written words fair for everyone.

    It’s not a profession if you don’t get paid for your work.

    And writers are professionals.

    Besides, no one wants to get whacked upside the head with something even mightier than a sword.

    See if you can identify the snippet of US copyright law used by violators to justify plagiarism. (Hint: it’s not that easy to misunderstand if you read the entire thing and actually comprehend the words.)

    For more on copyright law, try the University of Texas at Austin (or here if you’re in the UK).





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    In August of 2009 I was starting my independent editing business, so I ran a free HOOK Edit Special: readers sent me the first 150 words of their novels, and I did a quick Developmental Edit on each one, followed by a Copy & Line Edit. You can still find all those Sample Edits under my Editing Services. But I thought I’d bring them back here to my blog this spring.

    Let’s edit a hook page twice a week—every Monday and Saturday through March, April, and May—shall we?

    Just to remind you: picture a vaudeville stage for your hook scene. Your reader’s out there in the limelight, and you’re in the wings with a crook cane. What you are using to interrupt them in their finest hour, right when they’re hitting their warbling high C, and yank them willy-nilly into your parallel universe?

    We’ll kick it off with:

    My guitar case bounced, by Marie Devers





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Those of you who have read The Art & Craft of Fiction know that I first came to tightly-structured plot through Syd Field’s great book on scriptwriting, Screenplay.

    Field is one of the top two scriptwriting teachers in Hollywood.

    The other is Robert McKee.

    So last year I finally read Story, McKee’s canonical work on writing. I know—kind of late to the party. McKee is credited with naming and defining such essential writing techniques as the ‘inciting incident,’ ‘plot points,’ and ’set-ups and pay-offs.’ He’s been doing this work forever, and his name is probably the best-known and most-revered among scriptwriters. However, I must admit that I found a certain amount of Story unorganized, repetitious, and sometimes just irrelevant to the points he was making. So read it if you like—it’s worth knowing what McKee has to say.

    I actually learned to use three-act structure for fiction from Field. When I wrote about three-act design in The Art & Craft of Fiction in 2010, structure was a dirty word in the online writing community. ‘Pantsing’ was the popular mode of creating stories. And prose structure based upon scriptwriting was considered just ridiculous. So I had mixed feelings about venturing into the piranha-infested waters of the blogosphere with what I already knew was an unpopular idea.

    I did it.

    But I was wary.

    And I got pushback. “Entirely different forms!” I was told. “Novels and scripts can’t compare to each other.” “Don’t confuse yourself by writing for the wrong audience!” With perhaps the most insidious and spectacular of bad advice: “Don’t plot. It sucks the creative juice out of your story.”

    By now we all know that this is craziness. Both forms of storytelling rely heavily upon dialog to establish and develop character while illuminating subtext; both are best shown in scenes rather than exposition*; and both need solidly-designed structure.

    I’m not sure why, but these things were either unknown or simply ignored by a lot of writing teachers in those heady days of the mass explosion of aspiring writers onto the publishing scene, when the number of people hoping to become professional writers escalated so quickly that new writing terms had to be invented: “POV,” “WIP,” “pantsing.” (Writers who have been writing since before that era even now don’t necessarily know what those terms mean—they’ve only existed since the birth of mainstream blogging and its attendant rise in aspiring authorhood.)

    Now there are plenty of books on writing that address structure. And this matters. . .because structure is the most important thing, I believe, that Robert McKee ever contributed to the teaching of our craft.

    So check him out: An Interview with Robert McKee

    * In fiction, exposition is a type of narrative summary that ‘exposes’ anything the reader can’t get from the sensory experience of a scene. In screenwriting, though, everything is set in scenes—so exposition is a term used for explanation and/or background information, which usually appears in dialog. And in playwriting, exposition refers to the second act, in which the first act is illuminated through essential backstory.





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    We’ve spent February learning to understand the players in the publishing world: freelance independent editors, agents, and writers.

    So this week while I’m off on vacation, let’s get a little silly as we examine the whys and wherefores of an excellent author bio.

    Have you ever wondered why agents want to see an author bio paragraph in a query letter that is—as least ostensibly—supposed to be entirely about selling them on one particular book?

    They don’t want to hear about your other unpublished novels or ideas, but they do want to know whether or not you have any published books, even if they’re not the same type. They don’t want a detailed plot of this particular book, but they want hear what you do for a living if it matches your subject. They don’t even want to know the ending of your story (which they’re such sticklers about with synopses), but they want to know if you’ve won a major writing award, although it obviously didn’t lead to literary representation.

    Why?

      Sterling Lord
      New York, New York

      Dear Mr. Lord:

      A hopped-up madman and a psychotic angel shift the steering trannie into neutral and roll silently backward down Hyde Street into the San Francisco dawn of 1949.

      “America is my soul,” says Sam Eden as he and the saint with God in his eyes creep out Brody’s steep San Francisco driveway toward the sunrise. Sam and Brody roll all the way to the pencil-thin heaven-piercing masts of Fisherman’s Wharf in a turgid, angel-heavy silence under the clouds, leaving Brody’s cigarette-girl wife from the alleys and red velvet backroom paradises of the International Settlement to wake to the grainy dawn between the baby in the sad sheets and the god-who-is-not in her womb. They are off to find the roads of America. Before they’re done, they’ll have met and kissed all the hobos and streetwalkers and tired seraphim turning crumpled bills into salvation on this cusp of the last mid-century before God’s throne falls with a crash to shake the ages through the blood-bellied sky.

      I am seeking representation for my literary novel, BACK ON THE ROAD, completed at 70,000 words.

      Unfortunately for you, I am a belligerent drunk and an idiot. I style myself on my hero, Jack Kerouac, whom I am certain wiped his feet on women and despised his social inferiors as much as I do. I write exactly the way he did—putting a roll of paper towels in my typewriter and letting the words just breathe out onto the page in all their original genius and life force, after which I allow no one to edit a single word. I’ve submitted this query to I don’t know how many agents, all of them complete morons who couldn’t tie their shoelaces without their mommies, and gotten it bounced back in my face faster than a speed-addict’s rubber band. You might think I’m a joker, but actually I’m just a mean son-of-a-bitch who’s been convicted of assault and battery against at least three of those agents, not counting the ones who were afraid to press charges. I feel terribly sorry for myself and am only interested in an agent I can call up at all hours and insult horribly in my frequent black-outs. If you don’t believe me, ask around.

      I keep submitting my stories to magazines, but they are staffed entirely by my unknown enemies who know I can write circles around them any day. I wouldn’t waste my time on contests, which are beneath me. Even you are beneath me. But what choice do I have? I hate you already.

      Over-professional demeanor is not one of my glaring faults.

      Sincerely,

      The author who will never get representation because now the agent knows what kind of person they’d be dealing with if they took this project on





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    We’re talking this month about the mechanics of the publishing industry: understanding freelance independent editors, understanding agents.

    So today let’s talk about understanding writer credentials.

    There’s something very important that you should know.

    Dashiell Hammett wasn’t the world’s greatest writer. He wasn’t even the world’s greatest self-marketer. But he had something essential to success as an author:

    credentials.

    Hammett had been a professional private eye for the San Francisco Pinkerton Agency for years when he began writing his ground-breaking, gritty, realistic PI mysteries set in—you guessed it—San Francisco.

    The British author Ivy Compton-Burnett was one of the eldest of an enormous mixed family full of malice and intrigue. Her twin youngest sisters committed double-suicide in their locked bedroom on Christmas Day, while the rest of the family was sitting down to dinner, and are now suspected of having been lovers.

    Compton-Burnett was once told by an incredulous interviewer that real families don’t act the way they do in her fiction: secretive, back-stabbing, prone to multiple marriages and bare-faced lies and theft and suicide and even murder by neglect.

    “Oh, but they do,” she said.

    Stephen King uses a medical expert.

    So what does all of this tell us?

    Successful authors have great credentials.

    If at all possible, you should have professional experience in the subject matter of your fiction. Failing that, you must become a professional researcher and find an expert who does. Interview. Study. Read the books, watch the documentaries, analyze the reference material.

    When an agent reads an author bio that says, “I don’t have any experience in this field, but I can picture it,” I’m afraid that’s a donation to the circular file right there. However, when they read one that says, “I’m a retiring homicide detective with the Chicago PD,” for a mystery about an unsolved series of murders in Chicago’s notorious Englewood neighborhood or, “I’ve been the head of ER at the Las Vegas Valley Hospital for eight years,” for a novel about a recovering gambler turned doctor who gets embroiled in a local casino scam that implicates the head of a fictional Las Vegas ER or, “I spent two years interviewing young streetwalkers in the red-light districts of San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and LA,” for a white slavery horror novel set in the underworld of West Coast prostitution. . .then that agent’s going to sit up and take notice.

    Even Compton-Burnett—who wrote literary novels entirely based on inner-familial warfare—could have said, “After sixty years as the matriarchal eldest sister of a mixed Victorian family of twelve, four of whom died young and all of whom bear intense hostility toward each other, I have accumulated a certain knowledge of human nature within the confines of the traditional Victorian family milieu.”

    Of course, the quality of her writing helped.

    If you’ve been on this planet long enough to learn how to write business (query) letters to total strangers, then you’ve been here long enough to accumulate complex, persuasive, and utterly intriguing data on human existence.

    So do yourself a favor.

    Use it.





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    We’re talking this month about vetting publishing professionals as you work your way from your original inspiration all the way to actual publication—particularly the role that freelance independent editors play in this journey.

    And a funny thing happened in the publishing industry thirty or forty years ago.

    We went through all of this the first time. But it wasn’t independent freelance editors we were talking about then. It was somebody else.

    It was literary agents.

    Did you know that we didn’t always have agents? Of course you did. Once upon a time, there were writers, and there were publishers, and ever the twain did meet. Writers queried publishers’ editors, and publishers’ editors acquired and edited their manuscripts.

    Then someone wrote a book claiming everyone was a writer, they just didn’t know it, and suddenly Being a Writer became one of the Top 10 Luxury Destinations. Suddenly writing magazines were born. The writing workshop was born. The writers’ MFA was born.

    The flood was born.

    And suddenly publishers’ acquisitions editors were drowning in manuscripts from everyone who up until then had been a writer but just hadn’t known it. Was the first literary agent some acquisitions editor’s husband or wife trying to pick up part of the workload so they’d still have someone to talk to over the dinner table? The best friend of a bunch of acquisitions editors? An acquisitions editor gone renegade? (Plenty of them do.)

    We know that Morton Janklow of Janklow & Nesbit Associates was the one who bumped agents’ commission from the old standard 10% up to the current standard 15%. He also sued William Morrow for trying to refuse to publish a book. This is what happens when you tangle with an ex-lawyer.

    Not only that, but publishers routinely told writers, “You don’t need an agent.” (Some of them still do.) You know why? Because they didn’t want writers thinking agent representation was a guarantee of publication.

    It’s not. There are no guarantees. Publishers themselves have been known to buy books and then refuse to publish them.

    Even so, these days agents are everywhere, the gatekeepers of the inner sanctum, and I support them with all my heart.

    You bet I do.

    Even though they cost money. They’re not essential. And they can’t guarantee publication.

    The big stick that agents carry is access to publishers’ acquisitions editors and the leverage to negotiate advances. Top agents understand the business of the industry because they help make it. The contract itself isn’t rocket science. My husband and I have signed real estate contracts that make publishing contracts look like Sesame Street.

    You can learn them. You have to try.

    There have also always been small presses, as well as imprints of large presses, who commonly work directly with authors, no agent involved. My friend Cynthia Wall, author of The Courage to Trust, was asked to write her book by Cypress House Publishing and is now being asked to write a sequel. (Did Wall hired an independent editor? Yes, she did. Does she share her royalties with an agent? No, she does not.)

    And as the economy carries us all toward the waterfall of the Death of Giant Advances, negotiation is becoming less an issue of leverage and more an issue—as it should have been all along—of long-term goal-setting and, most importantly, cooperation.

    In fact, with the advent of self-publishing, the implosion of the big houses and concurrent rise of small presses, and the massively-networked ease of Print On Demand and e-publication, agents are actually becoming less essential.

    And there are literary agent scams. Boy, are there. You track them down the same places you track down freelance independent editor scams: Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware.

    But I still recommend agents. Some of my best friends have been agents. Agents have the time and motivation to keep an eye glued permanently on publishing, track its permutations, network with other publishing professionals, build relationships with publishing houses, attend conferences, hash over late-breaking industry news in graphic detail, and generally manage an author’s career so the author has time to—guess what?—write.

    Besides which, agents like this stuff! Writers, if they’re smart, like to write. They’re not the same thing.

    Most of all, the agent’s role as gatekeeper is more important now than ever.

    The truth is that the business of selling fiction is nothing like the craft of creating it, and if you’ve put all your energy into learning the craft you can easily be mowed down by the maddened hordes stampeded toward the business end. Agents may have been invented to alleviate this problem, but now the sheer numbers mean, honestly, that the busiest agents need agents of their own. (This is why they hire assistants, rely increasingly on recommendations, and even refuse unsolicited submissions.)

    Agents building relationships with top freelance independent editors only makes sense in today’s publishing environment. Those of us in the trenches with aspiring writers know who has the fresh ideas. We know who’s in it for the long haul and who’s just an amateur looking to take advantage of what seems like little more than a glorified lottery. We also know how to turn an over-used plot into a fresh take on a proven idea. And we have the time to help.

    Agents and acquisitions editors—although they also know a lot of this stuff—do not.

    As publishers’ acquisitions editors edit less and less, more and more agents struggle to edit their clients’ manuscripts without either the time or training to do it effectively. Don’t believe anyone who tells that you excellent agents aren’t taking on editing chores. They are. And this bodes ill for everyone concerned. . .especially the reader.

    As the economy makes the growing lack of publishers’ in-house editing more and more obvious and entrenched, it becomes much more important for agents and their clients to differentiate the really good independent freelance editors from the amateurs.

    This difference is absolutely essential for the modern aspiring writer.





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    You don’t have to floss all your teeth. Just the ones you want to keep.
    —dentists’ motto

    For the entire six years since I began this blog, everyone in the publishing industry has been weighing in on the big question: “Do you really need to hire an independent editor? Don’t agents love you just as much without one?”

    This is complicated by the use of “editor” for three different jobs in the publishing industry: someone in charge of the writing staff of a periodical (a magazine or newspaper editor), someone who acquires manuscripts for a publisher (an acquisitions editor), and someone who, independently and freelance, works with an author to translate a manuscript from talented amateur to talented professional.

    Most folks point out that the blogosphere is absolutely ripe to bursting with amateur critiquers peddling themselves as independent “editors” without actually offering more than what you could get from a moderately-accurate grammar- and spell-checker.

    And this is an excellent thing to point out.

    Always hire a freelance independent editor with whom you feel comfortable,
    knowing exactly what you’ll get for your money.

    I don’t mean they’ve just taped Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules to their monitor, either.

    I mean:

    • They know how to read a synopsis and/or manuscript and help the author create from their original vision a concrete, smooth-moving, tension-laden plot to grip the reader from hook to climax.

    • They know how to disentangle a currently frustrating manuscript and show the author what’s redundant, what’s sagging, and where to write new scenes to move the plot powerfully forward.

    • They know how to find out what’s going wrong when a seemingly beautiful manuscript comes back time and again from agents with a “not quite” rejection letter.

    • They know how to line-edit paragraph after paragraph after paragraph of both first-draft and heavily-polished material into professional style without losing the author’s unique voice.

    • They see enough manuscripts to recognize rookie mistakes and common overuse of specific techniques.

    • They’re familiar enough with the mechanics of publishing to know what authorial tricks publishers are likely to baulk at, especially from newbies.

    • They know not to put a comma between a subject and verb, no matter how long the subject or how wispy the verb.

    • They’re also keeping a keen eye on the Gutenberg-sized shake-up of the publishing industry.

    • And they even know what’s wrong with Leonard’s 10 Rules and why.

    I mean they have glowing, enthusiastic, explicit testimonials from previous and current clients, both published and unpublished, explaining exactly what those clients like about their services, posted somewhere easily-accessible to all and sundry. (You shouldn’t have to ask. Why keep such things secret?)

    In an ideal world, there’s actually some way for you to engage them in brief conversation about their deeper understanding of the craft before you even discuss their editing services.

    I mean they know a hawk from a handsaw, people.

    If every manuscript being queried today had been through a really good (not just copy edit) professional edit first, the quality of manuscripts agents saw when they opened their inboxes tomorrow morning would jump like a kangaroo. (Just as the quality of the manuscripts publishers’ editors get from agents is—hopefully—measurably greater than what they get through direct submissions.)

    So why doesn’t everyone recommend good independent editors for all aspiring writers?

    It’s mostly confusion.

    Independent editors are on the cutting edge of the changing face of publishing. Unless you know what you’re looking for, reputable independent editors are impossible to differentiate from amateur critiquers trying to make a quick buck off the industry. There used to be very confident, definitive-sounding explanations out there written six, five, even just four years ago assertively claiming that edited manuscripts are no more attractive to publishers than unedited manuscripts.

    Well, this is silly.

    Of course well-edited manuscripts are better-written than unedited manuscripts. Even Hemingway’s manuscripts were better after Maxwell Perkins got his hands on them. Even Kerouac’s scroll manuscript was unpublishable before he and Malcolm Cowley spent a month working it over. Even publisher’s editor Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye had to be edited.

    Agents and publishers just don’t want you to think professional editing—even really good professional editing—is a guarantee of publication.

    It’s not.

    There are no guarantees.

    It’s also partly a very real sense of responsibility. Although my list of requirements for potential independent editors is reasonably exhaustive, many publishing professionals don’t know where to find such an editor on short notice, particularly one they can personally vouch for.

    And it’s also financial.

    Independent editors get paid.

    In today’s publishing industry, the burden of paying the editor very often falls on the shoulders of the writer. And so—as the number of aspiring writers continues to explode, while traditional publishing houses continue to unload anything they consider ballast in their efforts to make their cash flow as lucrative as possible—the modern aspiring writer takes on yet another chore.

    However, you know what? That’s okay. Because decades ago, the aspiring writer expected to spend years and years learning their craft before publishing.

    And now they don’t. They expect to be published within a year or two—even less than a year—after they begin learning to write. Amazingly. . .sometimes they even do!

    They have freelance independent editors to thank.





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    6 Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    budmancover22I’m happy to post this guest essay by the insightful Mark Budman, author of My Life at First Try:

    English is a second language for me. I learned it as an adult.

    The accident of birth and immigration is both a curse and a blessing, but “blessed is the one who is cursed.”

    For example, I struggled with the first sentence of this paragraph. Should it be “the second language” or “a second language”? My first language, Russian, has no articles.

    On the other hand, my bilingual-ness gives me the ability to come up with an unexpected turn of phrase.  Words that are so familiar to the English speaker take on a new meaning to me. I play with them as a child, savoring every syllable.  I twist them, I may even break them, but most times I assemble them into something original and powerful. The end result of the accident of birth is the power of the unexpected and the originality of an outsider.

    When I step away from the English language, I get a foreigner’s view that helps me to navigate the intricate labyrinth of creative writing. Yet, as I mentioned before, I have a harder time fighting the Minotaur of grammar. And clichés—they might sound fresh to me—therein lies another danger. So no matter how long I have been immersed in the sea of English, I’m still a newbie.

    A newbie who yearns and perceives and perseveres.

    Mark Budman’s work appears in Weird Tales, Mississippi  Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine, Iowa Review, McSweeney’s, Turnrow, Connecticut Review, and the WW Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward. He is the publisher of the flash fiction magazine Vestal Review and co-editor of both the anthology You Have Time For This from Ooligan Press and a Young Adult flash fiction anthology from Persea Books in 2009. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press in November, 2008. http://markbudman.net





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    1 Comment
  • By Victoria Mixon

    I am very pleased to post this essay by my friend Lucia Orth, author of the 2008 critically-acclaimed Baby Jesus Pawn Shop:

    I came across some old notes in the past few weeks from an interview and the follow-up research I did while working on the early stages of my first novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, set in the Philippines during the Marcos regime.

    I had the title of the novel and the main character, Doming, but I didn’t yet have a feel for the other main character, Rue Caldwell. Her name, to her, does not mean “to rue” as in to feel sorrow, but rather—as noted in the novel—the plant “rue,” also known as the “herb of grace.” (Thank you, Oxford English Dictionary, always a source of evocative connections.)

    In thinking about my years in Manila, I remembered an entomologist I’d met there. Insects! But, of course. As a child I loved insects and had no fear of them. In Manila I’d shown my own toddlers the rhinoceros beetle and the giant atlas moth, both found on our lanai.

    Rue’s occupation would be biologist/botanist, now specializing in rice pests (rice being the basic food of the Philippines). Through common friends, I tracked the entomologist I’d met in Manila down to Washington, D.C., and out of the blue I called him. Why? I just wanted to talk to someone who’d lived in the Philippines, traveled the country—someone who knew its biology and botany.

    “Yes, there’s a lot a biologist might do there. The most important issue right now is a moth, the yellow stem borer, completely undistinguished, that’s the leading cause of blight. It drills into the hollow stem at the egg-laying stage. There’s no damage shown on the outside, but also no yield, as it severs the growing part.”

    “Hmm,” I think, “stem borer, interesting word…cuts off the growth.”

    “So instead of green on the inside, when we cut the stems open we see brown.”

    Beat. Wow, I’m thinking.

    “This damage is called deadheart,” he says.

    He didn’t understand my audible gasp of realization. I had just glimpsed not only Rue’s occupation, but also a sense of who she was, where she came from, and the rest of what the novel might be. I began to understand how she would perceive things, how she would rely on logic, what she would notice, and how, although she could look through her microscope and see the “enemy,” she could not examine her own heart, nor would she look closely at the heart of the country—the Philippines.

    Her work would become both her anchor and her way of seeing the world.

    There have been other times in writing when I’ve found a word—especially from science or nature—that provided a new insight: the transgressive sea (a term from geology) and scotobiology, the biology of darkness. I’ve used both these words in essays. But the word deadheart, and all that it came to mean, stands out as the discovery (other than the title) that gave me the novel Baby Jesus Pawn Shop.

    No reading is useless to the writer—it’s all discovery: science magazines, the dictionary, the newspaper. As Robert Olen Butler said in a workshop I took with him years ago, quoting Henry James, “A writer is one on whom nothing is wasted.”

    From the New World Encyclopedia:

    Entomology is the scientific study of insects. Insects are arthropods (phylum Arthropoda) belonging to the Class Insecta. With around 925,000 described species, insects comprise the most numerous and diverse group of animals, representing more than half (about 57 percent) of all identified animal species, and date back about 400 million years. It is a specialty within the field of biology.

    Lucia Orth-BW-96Lucia Orth worked for a non-profit organization in Manila for five years and now teaches law in the Indigenous and American Indian Studies Department at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. She spent spring semester of 2009 working in Trento, Italy and presented a writing workshop on “Placing Your Story” at the Writers Garret in Dallas, Texas, on June 20, 2009.

    Departure,” an excerpt from her novel-in-progress, was published in the Asia Literary Review, (Winter 2008, Hong Kong). She is also a contributor to the anthology Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond, Andrea N. Richesin, editor (April 2009). Lucia can be reached through her website.





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    3 Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    omg-its-amy3

    I’m very happy to post this guest essay by the curiously refreshing Amy Carey, author of numerous articles on parenting, fitness, travel, and health:

    I used to think writer’s block was a myth. Maybe writers got distracted or felt uninspired, but certainly they weren’t unable to write.

    Then, for several months last spring and summer, I found myself approaching my laptop with every intention of finally producing a sentence, only to spend the next twenty minutes glaring at a blank Google Doc. Every time I attempted to get something down—even a blog post or an idea for an article000I would eventually wander away, having typed nothing. My belief in writer’s block was cemented after only a couple of weeks of drumming my fingers on my desk and yanking my hair out, strand by strand.

    I finally broke through my block one October, when, desperate to get the words flowing, I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (with little intention of completing the challenge; who can average over 1,500 words a day for an entire month?). I wasn’t even going to tell anyone about it.

    Low expectations aside, I immediately found myself writing. And talking about writing. And blogging about writing. By the end of November, I had a lump of 50,000 words. The challenge of NaNoWriMo—I hate to lose —along with the novelty of writing fiction, something I haven’t done much since high school, fueled me through the month and a bit beyond.

    Completing NaNoWriMo built my confidence as a writer; I could power through those nights when I felt less like writing and more like swigging wine while reading blogs. But the experience didn’t cure my writer’s block for life. I continue to struggle—sometimes daily—with putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. When I do, my inner writing coach spurs me on with a few suggestions for working through the block.

    * Write something else. Whatever it is that you’re trying to write, it obviously isn’t working. Go a different way. Start a new blog, write a sappy scene for a romance novel, document how to cook cashew chicken. After you get some momentum going, if you must go back to whatever it was you were trying to write, maybe the words will flow more easily.

    * Don’t think ahead. Put aside any thoughts about, “Who is going to read this?” or “Where is this going?” Wondering who will buy the essay you’ve just started or about all the obstacles that stand between you and getting a novel published only encourages writer’s block. For now, focus on getting something written.

    * Change your venue. If your brain goes into hibernation at the sight of a blank page in Microsoft Word, buy a composition book and write freehand for a while. Or if sitting on the couch with your laptop inspires you to do little more than play Bejeweled and watch American Idol, go to another room or leave the house altogether.

    * Take on a challenge. Don’t simply promise yourself that you’ll write for 30 minutes every night. Instead, find a writing contest to enter, compete with a friend toward a measurable goal, or at the very least, set a timer and write as many words as you can in a short amount of time.

    * Deny your inner perfectionist. When every sentence seems to be coming out wrong, just keep going. You can fix it tomorrow. And for the love of god, turn off the spell checker.

    Amy Carey is a full-time writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been selling freelance articles since 2000, inspired by her children, what she reads, and where she goes. Her work has appeared in Women’s Health and Fitness, Baby Years, iParenting.com, and Bay Area Parent. Amy is also an experienced technical writer who specializes in software documentation for end users and developers. She is a survivor of NaNoWriMo 2008. Check out her website at: http://www.amycarey.net/





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    3 Comments




Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by PanMacmillan. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


TERISA GREEN, represented by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans' fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, forthcoming from Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I'm working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez' debut novel, The Shoebox, and her up-coming The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star, which agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff's abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.

Google