Michael DiLeo has a lot in common with Craig and Elisa. Like Elisa, he's a native Long Islander and a Yankees fan. Like Craig and Elisa both, he's a Beatles fan. He's also the author of two books. His novella, Images of Broken Light, opens a window into the lives of three New Yorkers in the days leading up to John Lennon's murder. It was a pleasure to work with Mike on this project. Here's what he had to say about the story, his writing process, and what it was like to live through that time.
Q: What inspired you to write this novella?
Michael: I’ve dabbled in screenwriting in the past (I wrote two screenplays in my 20s—unproduced of course!) and was reading an article on screenwriting a few years back. The author of the article suggested a screenwriting exercise: to come up with four, one-sentence movie ideas—the kind of one-sentence pitch that writers make to Hollywood studio execs. The lesson was that you don’t have a good movie idea if you can’t describe the story in one sentence. That is what Hollywood execs look for. Think of the one-sentence movie descriptions you see in TV Guide. The writer suggested coming up with four ideas and then picking one to actually write as a screenplay. So I came up with four ideas. The first three were high-concept, popcorn movies. An action movie, a science fiction movie, and a comedy. I thought they were all pretty decent ideas, but they weren’t necessarily original.
The fourth idea came out of the blue. My one-sentence idea was: “Three New York Beatles fans struggle with the dawn of a new decade in the days leading up to John Lennon’s assassination.”
So I looked at my four ideas and tried to decide which one to write. And every time I thought about it, my heart kept coming back to the John Lennon idea. It was the least commercial of the four ideas, but after ruminating for a while, I decided that the first three ideas were nice, but the Lennon idea was the one I had to write.
As a New Yorker who was thirteen when Lennon was killed, that whole period in New York after he died was so seared into my memory that it felt to me like it happened yesterday. And it always seemed to me that New Yorkers were affected by his death more than people anywhere else. The fact that John Lennon could have lived anywhere—but he chose to live in New York and had become a part of the fabric of his neighborhood in Manhattan. I don’t think to this day that New Yorkers who loved Lennon have ever gotten over it. That is what I wanted to write about. So I wrote the screenplay and then used that as the basis for the novella.
Q: Have you ever seen any of the surviving Beatles in concert?
Michael: I saw Paul in 1994 at Giants Stadium and then again a few years ago at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Q: Has John Lennon’s murder had a lasting impact on you? If so, in what way?
Michael: Yes, definitely. For one, it still makes me angry when I think about what happened to him. Yes there is sadness of course, but also anger in the way that he died. I’ve spoken to other Beatles fans who have said the same thing. Had John Lennon died of a heart attack, or had been hit by bus, the whole thing would have a different feel. That he was gunned down by a crazed fan who traveled halfway around the globe with the express purpose of killing him—that is where the anger comes from and what has always made the tragedy so much more painful. His death is also the thing that ironically made me a Beatles fan. I was a 13-year-old who was vaguely aware of who the Beatles were and I knew that the guy in Wings was a Beatle. What I didn’t know was that my Frank Sinatra-loving mother was a secret Beatles fan. And when I watched her almost faint when she heard the news of her death, it was a shock. That and the wall-to-wall news coverage in New York of Lennon’s murder turned me on to the Beatles. I used this scenario for one of the characters in the book.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Which aspects do you enjoy and which do you struggle with?
Michael: I wish I had a more set writing process than I do. I work long hours at my “real” job to go along with a long daily commute, so my biggest obstacle to writing is just finding the time to do it. And when I do, it is never at any kind of set time and place. It is really whenever I can squeeze in some time. Definitely not ideal! That being the case, I lean on my screenwriting training. When you write a screenplay you have to map out the entire script almost scene-by-scene before you write one word. And you very much need to know the ending of your story. So I’ve taken that into my fiction writing. I know a lot of writers who start a novel have a general idea of where the story is going and then they let the story lead them where it goes. With the limited time that I have to write, I really need to map out the whole story ahead of time. This way I can write the story in short bursts because I already know exactly where the story is going and how it ends.
When I sat down to write Images of Broken Light I actually wrote the last sentence of the book first. Then I went back to the beginning and started the book, always keeping that last sentence in mind, with everything I wrote building to that moment at the end. I recently read an article by Stephen King where he said he likes to have a general idea of where his story is going and then he lets the story take him along the rest of the way. But in the same article he said he knows a famous writer who always writes the last sentence of his books first! And I thought, wow, I’m not the only one!
Q: Aside from being a Beatles fan and a New York Yankees fan, you’re also quite the James Bond enthusiast. Tell us about your book The Spy Who Thrilled Us.
Michael: Yes, I am a James Bond geek and have been since I was about five years old. My brother and I are movie buffs. He has now written seven books on classic movies. When his first book came out and I went to his book party, everyone at the party kept asking me, “When are you going to write your book on James Bond?” And I thought to myself, why not? If anyone was going to write a book about the James Bond films, it should be someone like me. So I decided to write a “best of” book on the films that allowed me to sort of geek out and give my opinions on every aspect of those films. It was a fun book to write.
Q: What’s next for you as a writer?
Michael: I’m not sure yet. I have two ideas that I am toying with. One is an idea loosely based on my college days. I’ve made a lot of notes on it and I think there is a book in there. But it is a very personal story and I don’t know if I’m ready to write it yet. I’m also not sure if I should write it as fiction or non-fiction. The other one is an idea for a horror story that just came into my head recently. My wife is wondering why I can’t find a genre I like and just stick to it. Beatles? James Bond? Now horror? I don’t know, I guess I’m all over the place!
Several days ago, we posted a breakdown of how we created the cover for Glenn R. Burkey's self-help business book, The First Class Way. We were so taken with Glenn's story of business success and personal development that we asked him to answer a few questions. He generously agreed.
Here's Craig's conversation with him:
Q: When did you realize you needed to write this book?
I had been on a journey to find out why I did, what I did, when I did it, and at about the 22-year mark I found Bob Proctor. His teachings about paradigms brought everything together that I had been studying. When that happened, I started to feel this need to get everything that was in my head out and organized so it would make sense not only to me but also to others.
Q: What was the most difficult part of writing it?
Actually, believing in myself regarding my writing style. I had hired a writing coach who didn’t get what I was trying to say and the way I was trying to say it. So even though I learned some things from her, I had to let her go and finish it on my own.
Also, making the time to write. I always knew that I was a morning person, so eventually I figured out that I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to write. I am at my best in the mornings.
Q: What is the biggest mistake business owners make?
By far, it is blurring the lines between their business and themselves. Owners of small to medium-sized businesses have a tendency to treat their business like a piggy bank. I coach them to take care of the golden goose and it will take care of them. I coach them to pay themselves what it would take to hire someone to do what they do, and maybe just a little bit more. By the way, I coach them to treat their employees the same. Pay a little more than market to help them get good people.
The second mistake is that they don’t invest in themselves through personal development. Most of them rise to their level of incompetence and stay there. They either go broke or cash out with the excuse that it was the competition, the economy, the government, the employees, or any other excuse they can think of for their predicament.
Q: What is the value of business coaching?
When you are in business, there is no where you can get an unbiased opinion on anything. Everybody you talk to, including your spouse, has an agenda. They want something from you. A business coach has an agenda, too, but his agenda is simply coach you, as fast as you are able, to go out of your comfort zone and grow as an individual. The coach knows that your business can never be any bigger or better than you are. But he also knows that people learn at different rates and tries not to get you into the panic zone. If the company does get bigger than you are, you may subconsciously sabotage the business to get it back down to your comfort zone.
The Professional Business Coaches Alliance estimates that the return on investing in a business coach is about 10 to 1. I personally believe it is much higher than that.
Q: At this stage of your life, after building multiple businesses, what gives you the most satisfaction?
A satisfied client. When I can take someone from being stuck, someone who is owned by their business, someone who isn’t having any fun anymore, and someone who can’t remember why they started their business, and help them fix it, my heart sings! My job is to coach them on how to do it. Once I do that, it lasts them a lifetime.
Q: You’ve been a Marine, a student, a builder, a husband and father, a salesman, and now a writer. What’s next for you?
At 75 years old, because of the work I have done for the past 25 years on my personal development, I now have a future that I get to choose. What I mean by that is I didn’t know why I did, what I did, when I did it. I now understand that I was programmed by my parents, by schools, and by society. I now have the awareness to begin dissecting my paradigms and determining what serves me and what doesn’t. When I discover something that isn’t serving me, I can change my belief about it, which will then change my actions.
As a young man, I escaped my childhood by running away, which saved my life. At 20 years old, I was the happiest, most congenial person I had ever been because of that escape. Then life took over. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I didn’t know how to live life on life’s terms. I went on a 30-year journey of not living life true to myself. I medicated my feelings with alcohol. I now have that same feeling I had when I was 20 years old. I, for now, want to just bask in it.
Then at 49 years old, I began my real journey in life, free of alcohol. What’s next for me is to be the father and mentor to my family and those I coach to seek the truth. And I intend to do that by showing them.
The book was a step in that direction. Getting my story down in writing so that those that follow me will have a reference for their lives.
To learn more about Glenn's business, go here.
To order Glenn's book, go here.
One of our recent clients is Glenn Burkey, the owner of 5 Star Business Consulting & Coaching in Painesville, Ohio. Glenn brought us his business self-help book, The First Class Way, and we provided the full publication treatment for him: editing, paperback and hardcover production, and e-book design. Here, Craig breaks down his long history with Glenn and how he approached the design of the book's cover:
When I was a high school senior in suburban Fort Worth, Texas, one of my closest friends was Melissa Burkey. We worked on the newspaper staff together, and I was a frequent guest at her house. I adored her, her mom and dad, and her siblings. Still do. Always will.
At that time, her father, Glenn, was a builder. I didn't know much about his background or his business, just that he was an exceptionally busy guy. After Melissa graduated from high school, a year behind me, the family moved to Ohio. I made a few visits over the years—one in the mid-1990s, where I saw Glenn run a marathon, and another in 2003 when I was covering the Oakland Raiders for a West Coast newspaper.
A few months ago, Glenn contacted me and said he'd written a book. I was only moderately surprised. I'd known him to have a curious and engaged mind, a vital tool for writing. He asked me if I could help him prepare it for publication, and I was glad to do so.
The First Class Way is a fascinating book, both for Glenn's personal story of towering business success and failure (I had no idea), and for his plainspoken, actionable advice on personal and professional development. Glenn's a business consultant and coach now, helping business owners discover how they can, in his words, make their work "provide a lifestyle, not a life sentence."
Here's the cover we came up with for his book:
A few things to note:
Obviously, the approach here was businesslike, much like Glenn's book. Different choices would have been made for a novel, or a book of narrative nonfiction. Much as with writing, effective book cover design involves deep thinking about content, audience, and objective.
In the days to come, we'll have more about Glenn, his book, and his business.
In the meantime, you can visit his website here, and find his book here.
Daniel Boucher is one of our editing clients. We became acquainted with him through his wife, author Kendra Elliot, who's published by our same group. Later, when Daniel was seeking a copy editor for his new novel, THE STORYTELLER, Craig jumped at the chance to work with him. Here, Boucher talks with Craig about bringing that story to life.
Q: You chose to write your novel THE STORYTELLER for the Kindle Worlds platform, adding it to the Lee Goldberg-William Rabkin series. What intrigued you about going that route?
Early on Lee had posted a contest to get published in THE DEAD MAN's canon series. I entered but didn't win. However, the idea I had at the time never left my head. It kept knocking and knocking until finally is started screaming at me to be written, so I started writing it with the understanding that I could submit it under Amazon's Kindle Worlds program, where I could add my story to the Dead Man World.
Q: Your novel is notable in that it's both an homage to and an extension of the original book in the series. How fun was that?
It was a lot of fun—but also a bit of a challenge. I had to keep re-reading the first novella, FACE OF EVIL, to make sure I had my story straight. Also, there's a lot of homage to some of my favorite authors throughout, as well as one *big* homage to a very well-known author (hint: it's not Stephen King). We'll see if any readers figure that one out.
Q: I know you submitted this manuscript to rigorous editing—on the developmental end from Jacque Ben-Zekry and with copy editing by me. What did you learn from that process? Why is it important?
With Jacque I learned how to identify and address plot issues (it's a continued learning mind you), as well as the value in trimming content to pick up the pace when there's simply too much going on. It was hard to make the cuts where she had suggested, but in the end I was excited by how much better it read.
With you I learned that I have problems with it's and its, that commas can be overused, the importance of understanding that there a lot more words in the English language for moving about than "he made his way over" and that a copy editor, like a dev editor, can offer a lot when it comes to sprucing up story.
The biggest—most important—thing I learned was that I'll never release another work that hasn't been dev/copy edited. Why? Because no matter how ready you think—you KNOW you are—you're not.
Get. It. Edited.
Q: Anybody who follows you on Facebook gets a steady diet of movie recommendations and the full menu of your cultural interests. When did you decide to start blending those interests with a desire to write fiction?
I've loved movies for a long as I can remember, but it wasn't until I read CUJO (probably worth noting that I'm a die-hard King fan) that I learned reading could be fun. Since then reading has always been a visual experience for me. That may sound weird, but a good book really unleashes my imagination and I have no trouble visualizing what happening. Having said that, the combination of the two was never "planned" but is just a natural piece of me. I like it. And, if I like it, it makes sense that others will too.
Q: You and I are both married to other writers, which means we probably ought to start a support group. How much of your works in progress do you share with Kendra?
A support group? Where do we find the time?
Kendra and I share everything—except our writing. She's very much a keep-it-close-to-her-chest writer when she's writing (even her agent doesn't get to see it until it's done!). I try to read everything she writes once it's ready, and I'm always in awe of her skill.
As for me, well, what I write doesn't fall under her umbrella of interest. But she's always taking time to stop and help me when I need it. I'm sure I annoy her with all the noob questions.
Q: What are you working on now?
Believe it or not, a romance. I'm a huge romantic comedy fan and love to read anything by Susan Mallery, Mary Kay Andrews, Elin Hilderbrand and the like. While my novel is not necessarily a romantic comedy, it does have humor and (I hope) captures the "feel good" vibes like those of the previous authors I mentioned. I'm excited to write it, and I'm sure that'll remain, right? Authors never get tired of writing, right?
One of our most treasured friends in Montana is Richard S. Wheeler, an author of impeccable grace and almost unbelievable output. Over a 40-plus year career as a novelist, he's published more than 80 titles.
In recent months, he has re-released his memoir, An Accidental Novelist, which we find to be a most remarkable book. In it, Richard writes vividly and honestly and lovingly about the writing life, including his marriage to Sue Hart, a longtime professor at Montana State University Billings who had a profound influence on Craig. (Click here for the remarks Craig gave at her memorial service in 2014.)
Richard is a wonderful writer. More important, he's a stellar human being. We're thrilled to share this Q&A that Craig conducted with him.
You recently released a new edition of your memoir, AN ACCIDENTAL NOVELIST. Did you do any revising/updating from the version that was originally published 10 years ago?
Only a new dedication to my late wife, Sue, including her birth and death dates, but I didn't make any text changes about our late-life marriage.
You write vividly of past professional lives—journalist, book editor, ranch hand, etc. How did those things prepare you for the writer's life?
Hemingway considered journalism a form of literary apprenticeship, and so do I. Book editing gave me critical insights into the art of writing. But most importantly, my forays into other occupations, such as wrangling horses, opened the real world to me. The worst thing a future writer can do is hang around literary circles. Go spend a day witching water in drylands, and write about it.
In your experience, how much do nature and nurturing come to bear in the development of a writer? Do you consider yourself innately talented or did you become what you are?
I have few natural skills as a storyteller and had to learn all that from the roots up. Attending genre fiction conventions helped. My mother had been an English teacher, and I did absorb some grammar. There's no one route to success. Each person needs to cobble together the gifts and habits that will help conquer a difficult and competitive field. I consider Jack London's life an example of shaping a career out of what you're born with.
One of my favorite parts of the book delves into how you and your late, deeply loved wife, Sue Hart, came to the decision to marry and how to live as married people. How did the two of you make that work?
Distance and sovereignty. We had separate homes, careers and incomes, but in common a love of writing, literature, and tastes. We'd known each other for decades, but by the time we talked of marriage we were old and didn't want to build anew, like young couples. So we lived separate lives, and each meeting was a honeymoon.
You're an astute commentator on how publishing used to be vs. what it is now. What's your advice to a nascent writer?
Go with the new. I can offer nothing of value to aspiring writers. My world is now history. Five minutes with you would help an aspiring writer more than an entire book from me. I do have one prejudice, though: steer clear of all master of fine arts education. And in particular, avoid all MFA orthodoxy.
You made your reputation and your living as a writer of genre fiction, which is a world apart from the literary-fiction sensibility that dominates most university settings. Have you made peace with that lack of critical recognition, and if so, how?
I used to grumble at academics. I was ready to show them genre novels that contained every quality ascribed to literary fiction. But recently I've concluded that literary and popular fiction are two different worlds. They appeal to different types of readers, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Where did that lead me? I quit being embarrassed about being an author of popular fiction, and I no longer cared whether critics and academics consigned my writing to oblivion. I reach people who are bored by literary novels. That's a happy place to be at the end of my life.
You read widely. What do you make of today's fiction?
I can't generalize here. I'm seeing some of the best fiction I've read in years, and the best of it doesn't pigeonhole as literary or popular. Someone's written a compelling story. And yes, I'm talking about your work.
What's your own assessment of the career you've had?
I earned a living in a field where almost no one does.
Read more about Richard at his Wikipedia entry.
His considerable backlist can be found here.
The following is an excerpt from Elisa's upcoming book, The Writer's Habit. Here she discusses the importance of rhetorical purpose as applied to novel writing.
Your awareness about what and why you are writing—that is, your rhetorical purpose—will assist you in how well and/or for whom you write. Remember what I said earlier: writing is a series of choices and decisions.
For example, I have an idea for a novel: What if a woman walks into a coffee shop and sees a man who was her next-door neighbor when they were children? What if she hasn’t seen him in thirty years, when he and his family left town mysteriously in the middle of the night? What if, in present day, this man and woman are instantly attracted to each other? What if the man is keeping a secret connected to that move?
Sounds like I’ve got the makings of a Mystery/Romance. So now I have to make some choices. For instance, I know that it’s not good to reveal too much information too soon in a mystery; otherwise, I’ll lose my readers’ interest. And readers of romance don’t like when the hero and heroine get together too soon. So I need to make good decisions about creating suspense, like the heroine putting the puzzle together one piece at a time, or the mystery man showing up unexpectedly at her home or workplace.
I also know conflict is important in stories, so I need to think about what kinds of scenes will create conflict, or how to capture conflict on every page, be it through dialogue, description, or putting my characters somewhere they don’t want to be.
When it comes to characters, I need to determine their likability. If a protagonist is too unlikable, will readers be willing to invest in her? What do they look like? Is the mystery man handsome or creepy-looking? What are their flaws? Is the heroine nosy or afraid of confrontation? Are they attracted to each other despite being married to others, or are they each single?
I also need to choose appropriate names for my characters. Do I want popular, general names like Michael, John, or Heather, or do I want unusual names like Severen, Ravelle, or Marika? How will the name reflect the identity of the character? Perhaps I want a name that connotes some kind of symbolism, like Reade for a librarian, or Faith for a woman who is overly trusting.
And let us not forget how important a title is in terms of persuading an audience to pick up a book. Childhood Neighbors doesn’t really hook a reader, or hint that the story is a mystery. However, The Boy in the Basement might pique our curiosity.
Writing is about decision-making as much as it’s about language and expression and persuasion and communication. Good writers make good decisions. Bad writers make bad decisions. And sometimes, good writers make bad decisions. I think the cause for some bad writing is fear. When the writing is bad, it signifies that we’re afraid of doing it wrong, or getting the bad grade or the one-star review. We’re afraid that people aren’t going to get it. Worse, we’re afraid that they’re not going to like it. Hell, we’re afraid they’re not going to like us. We’re afraid of being no good.
Fortunately, we can fix that. And we will.
Craig's seventh novel, Julep Street, came out today. To mark its release, he writes below about its journey from concept to manuscript to honest-to-goodness book, and some of the issues an author must think through on the way to publication:
By a happy accident of the calendar, I've had several opportunities to speak to students and civic groups in recent weeks, and during the Q&A portions of the talks, I've fielded some variation on these two questions:
1. How long does it take to write a book?
2. How do you know when you're done with one?
Each is answered with two simple words—"it depends"—and a cavalcade of anecdotes. Do I tell them about my first novel, 600 Hours of Edward, which was drafted in a feverish 24 days? Or my second, The Summer Son, which needed a year to cook and a half-dozen significant rewrites? Or any of the others, all of which came with their own distinct challenges, and all of which announced their readiness in different ways.
With the release of Julep Street, I can speak in specifics, because this book's journey through the manuscript phase and, ultimately, publication was unlike any other I've written.
I started writing Julep Street in 2012, at a leisurely pace (for me). It got interrupted late in the year as Edward Adrift, the follow-up to 600 Hours, pushed insistently at my brain and demanded a quick gestation. In 2013, I finished Julep Street's first pass and a couple of rewrites, and I sent the manuscript on to my then-agent and my then-editor at Lake Union Publishing.
Responses were slow in coming. And when they arrived, they weren't what I was hoping to hear. My agent found the protagonist, Carson McCullough, unlikable, and the book wasn't the high-concept project she'd been hoping to see. (Spoiler alert: One of the freeing discoveries I've made about myself is that "high concept" isn't really my strength. I'm OK with this.) My editor found Carson's dog annoying and suggested that the manuscript wasn't quite there. The problem, for me, is that "there" was a squishy concept; I didn't know what it was or how to reach it. So I put Julep Street away and moved on to the next few books.
Here, I have to give credit and appreciation to my literary wingman, Jim Thomsen, who loved Julep Street from the start and would gently inquire from time to time about it. That kept the manuscript in my thoughts and was a crucial factor in my picking it up late last year and seeing its possibilities with fresh eyes. Thank you, Jim. I owe you. Again.
Upon re-reading the manuscript, I saw my way through. I found deeper empathy with Carson and wrote a more fulsome version of him. Hector, the dog, became a crucial character unto himself. The thematic aspects of the story, lurking beneath the prose I'd squeezed out in 2012 and 2013, became more pronounced in 2016. At long last, I had a manuscript I was ready to prepare for publication. The resulting book is out now, and I couldn't be more proud of it. And I'm pleased to have received validation in the form of strong reviews. (Here, too!)
So what made the difference for Julep Street? Time and perspective, I'd say. The well-grounded criticisms of my former agent and editor were given a chance to seep into my brain and come out through my fingertips in needed revisions. In waiting more than two years between setting it down and picking it up again, I gave my writing and my sense of story time to develop. Reading it fresh, I saw its flaws, its successes, and its possibilities. I acted on all of those, and then I released the manuscript into the editing and publication process.
Here at Lancarello Enterprises, we can't tell you when it's time to bring others into your story. That's your journey, and it's personal and unique. Our best advice is to write as well as you can, develop a strong relationship with your manuscript, rewrite until you've done all you think you can do, and then put some faith in professionals to help you realize its potential. When you've reached that point—when you're ready for developmental editing, copy editing, or publication design—we'll be ready to talk. Always.
We're just a click away.
With apologies to the Talking Heads, you may ask yourself:
Why do I need a writing class when I’m not a writer?
With further apologies to the Talking Heads, you may tell yourself:
I do my job and I do it well. That’s enough.
We’re sure you do, but we’ve seen the research, and we can say this with full confidence and without reservation: A better writer is a better communicator, and a better communicator is a more successful employee, even if your business is widgets and not words.
But don’t take our word for it. Consider this article and its attention-grabbing statistic:
Nearly three-quarters—73.4 percent—of employers want better writers for the jobs they hope to fill. In fact, it’s No. 3 on the list of sought-after attributes, behind only leadership and ability to work with a team. And believe us: If you’re an effective writer, you’re likely to be a better leader and team member than you’d otherwise be.
Now, consider this quote from the article, from Basecamp founder Jason Fried:
If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. … That's because being a good writer is about more than writing clear writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else's shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate. Writing is making a comeback all over our society...Writing is today's currency for good ideas.”
We’re sold. And that’s where we come in.
Elisa Lorello, our lead on writing workshops, built her early career on teaching technical and business writing and approaching the craft from a rhetorical-composition standpoint. That means she can tailor workshops to the specific needs of employers and employees. Whether it’s writing more effective memos, organizing information and ideas, or establishing the proper tone, she can lead workshops that meet your objectives in a stimulating, fun, interactive way, and at a cost that’s affordable for the individual or for an entire firm.
We bring up cost for an important reason. Whether you’re an executive or a frontline worker, your company is already losing money. Consider this, from David Grossman’s report The Cost of Poor Communications: Among businesses with 100,000 employees, companies reported an average annual loss of $62.4 million attributable to miscommunication among employees.
Maybe you don’t have 100,000 employees. Maybe you have 10. That’s still $6,240 a year, lost to an inability to communicate well.
We’d like to help you recoup some of that.
Interested? Contact us today.
The following is an abridged excerpt from Elisa’s book The Writer’s Habit, launching on May 25. For more information on pre-order exclusives or future classes, please join Elisa's mailing list.
We have arrived at my favorite part of the writing process: revision. It’s what I call the blood, sweat, and tears of writing. It is simultaneously the sandbox and the mudpit.
Revision is where the magic happens. Revision is, literally, re-seeing. It’s the opportunity to see your manuscript with new eyes and to make it better. Like a piece of clay that’s been molded into the basic shape, revision is where you take a step back, look at your writing from different angles, and use all your tools to reshape, refine, and add the intricate details that bring your story to life.
Writing is rewriting. Whereas drafting can be somewhat carefree, revision is more methodical, although recursive. Some rewrite as they go along, chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, even sentence by sentence. With each one they stop, read, and rewrite, reread and rewrite again. There’s no wrong approach to revision, but a writer who doesn’t revise is selling the writing short.
Revision is where the decision-making gets done. Have I chosen the best words? Should I begin a new paragraph? Does the fragment achieve a rhetorical effect, or is it just bad grammar? Do I have enough description? Is there too much telling and not enough showing? Is the dialogue authentic and fluent? Does the action move too slowly? Too quickly? Are the stakes high enough? Am I telling the truth? Have I persuaded my reader to care? To laugh? To respond? To keep reading? Revision gives us the opportunity to keep making it better, to hone our craft and sharpen our skills, and to keep writing.
The number of revised drafts are limitless. Some revise a couple of times, others get into ten or more revised drafts. Revision is never really finished—in just about every book I’ve published, I’ve since found something that I wish I could tweak a little bit more, make a little bit better, be it one word or one sentence or even a scene. But if you’re a contracted author, a weekly television series writer, a student, or a journalist, you have a deadline. At that point, you have to call it finished. Even if you don’t have a deadline, at some point you have to call your book finished, otherwise you’ll never get it published or write another one.
What follows is a sample of revision choices to take into consideration. They don’t have to be addressed in order or one at a time. Chances are some of these are always in the back of your mind at any stage of the process. Some writers even make a checklist (see Nathan Bransford’s revision checklist in How to Write a Novel). Do whatever works best for you.
Revise for Meaning
I often don’t know what my novel or memoir is about until after I print out the manuscript, sit down with a pen, and begin to read, making notes in the margins usually in the form of questions or insights. Sure, I’ve just drafted a 55,000-word story. But I still find myself asking, What is this really about? Sometimes that question doesn’t apply to the entire manuscript, but a scene or character’s behavior. I may ask questions like: What does she want? Why is she so afraid? Why are they fighting? Sometimes the answers come right away, and other times I need to dig deeper. Revising for meaning isn’t about explicitly spelling out everything your characters say and do and why. It’s about keeping your reader invested in their journey. Above all, you want to respond to the reader’s foremost question--Why should I care?—with a story that engages the reader through dialogue, description, and all the other ingredients of storytelling we discussed. It’s about getting to the heart of the matter.
Revise for Audience
Earlier I said that I don’t think about audience when I’m the drafting stage. However, when it comes to revision, audience plays a role because once your book is out in the world, it’s no longer yours. It’s theirs.
When Duran Duran wrote the theme song for the James Bond movie “A View to a Kill” in the mid-80s, singer Simon LeBon said, “It had to be a James Bond theme. It also had to be a Duran Duran song.” In other words, there were two audiences to consider. (This example also applies to style. And interestingly, the popularity of the song well exceeded the popularity of its namesake.) If you’ve already established a readership, you might have an idea of what those readers love and expect from you. Does that mean you have to give it to them every time? No. But in many cases what they love aligns with what you love. If you haven’t yet built a readership, then I recommend you take a cue from Mr. Rogers and imagine one reader. Stephen King’s one reader is his wife. Mine varies, but I choose one and then stick with him or her. Thus, when you’re revising, read your story through their lens. Will they find this character likable? Will they understand what’s happening? Will they react emotionally? You also need to keep readers in mind when it comes to sentence structure. Long, eloquently worded sentences may be beautiful, but will too many of them interfere with your reader’s ability to process what they actually mean? Likewise, will a succession of short, choppy sentences be too blunt?
Also, keep in mind that you’re not going to be able to please everyone, so don’t try. My mom reads all my novels, but she doesn’t like my use of profanity. Some might think your love scenes are too explicit; others may think they’re not explicit enough. Beta readers help you gauge all of this, which is why it’s important to enlist their help, or the services of a developmental editor.
Revise for Genre
Every genre—mystery, science fiction, romance, horror, suspense, action/adventure—has certain distinguishable traits. And although you don’t want to be too formulaic in your application of those traits, you don’t want to stray too far from them either. I remember a writer who branded his novella as a romantic comedy. When I read it, I thought it was well-written and I liked the story. But I saw none of the characteristics of a rom-com—no overt chemistry, especially in a dueling way; no humorous situations spurred on by character flaws; no witty dialogue or banter; no high concept. In his case, rather than rewrite the story, I would simply rebrand it as contemporary or literary fiction.
Genres can be combined—paranormal romance, mystery horror, science fiction fantasy—and those can be quite fun to write, if not to market. Above all, you want to best serve the story and not the genre. If you’re writing mysteries because you think mysteries are trending or will sell better than, say, science fiction, most readers will see through the insincerity of that. However, if you write mysteries because you can’t get enough of reading them yourself, or you have an idea that won’t let go of you, or you simply want to try it for fun, then your reader is likely to join you.
I say it again: write the novel you want to read. Sometimes it’s not so much about finding readers as it is about them finding you.
Revise for Organization
In just about every draft of this book, I’ve re-organized either in terms of dividing and classifying the book into sections, determining which chapter comes first, second, third, and even at the paragraph level of individual chapters. (I even rearranged this list of revision choices.) In my latest novel, Big Skye Littleton, I made a big revision at the beginning: Whereas I had originally started with Skye stranded at the Denver airport, recalling a conversation she had on the plane, I revised to begin the story midflight, the conversation taking place in real time, and moved the Denver airport scene to another chapter.
Whether it’s at the paragraph level, chapter level, or scene level, make sure your readers can follow the sequence of thoughts and/or action.
Revise for Detail
Have you provided enough or too much? Have you given readers glimpses into the characters’ inner lives, or are they left needing more (something my developmental editor always flags me for not doing enough)? Have you painted a clear picture or is it murky? Did you change a character’s name mid-story without realizing it? (Yes. I’ve done that. Several times.) Check all of these things. Your reader will thank you.
Revise for Voice
Regardless of whether you’re writing novels or nonfiction, there must be a distinct voice, be it a character’s, narrator’s, or writer’s. It is equally important to consider tone, especially if you’re writing something like a letter seeking support or action. Tone can be easily misinterpreted in electronic communication, such as a text, social media comment, or email. Even something meant to be friendly can be interpreted as belligerent.
Revise for Clarity
Clear, concise, fluent—that’s what I encouraged my students to achieve at the stylistic level. The first one, clarity, is making sure your sentences are properly constructed—no dangling modifiers, bad fragments (as opposed to the good ones that add emphasis or lend to voice), or endless prepositional phrases (another flaw of mine, as are too many parenthetical phrases). Clarity also applies to the story you’re telling, whether a plot point or a conversation between two characters or just the complexity of the story in general. That’s not to say that stories can’t be complex. Stories may have puzzle pieces that readers attempt to put together along the way. However, if your reader has to stop reading, go back to the beginning of a sentence or someplace else in the paragraph, chapter, or book to gain clarity, you’ve taken that reader out of the story. You’ve disengaged them. You’ve made them work harder. And you’ve undermined the story you’re trying to tell.
Reading out loud will help you quite a bit with revising for clarity. A sentence that looked perfectly fine on the screen may be a mouthful out loud or not make any sense at all.
Revise for Pacing and Direction
Is your story dragging in some places and racing in others? Are there too many things happening at once? Does the climax come too soon? (No one likes that.) Is your story anti-climactic? Is your timeline accurate? Your beta readers will be essential in determining whether your story’s pacing and direction work. So will reading out loud.
Revise for Style
I have to be careful with co-opting someone’s style if I’ve been reading their books or watching their movies or TV shows while I’m working on a novel. For example, I watched a lot of The West Wing at the time I was writing Faking It. I got into Gilmore Girls while I wrote Why I Love Singlehood. And at the time of this writing, I’ve been reading Nora Ephron’s columns and articles from her journalism career.
Revising for style is about making sure every word belongs. My ultimate goal would be to read a final draft of my manuscript and say: “It’s perfect. Every word that needs to be there is there. Every word is the right word. The best word. Every sentence is the perfect length. The perfect depth. The perfect rhythm. Every word, sentence, paragraph, and the sequence of dialogue fulfills its purpose.”
Writing is, for the most part, a solitary act. And yet no writer works alone. Any professionally published book goes through several phases of editing before it’s published. Part of the process as a writer is to revise and hone the writing until every word is in its right place, every sentence reads clearly, concisely, and fluently, and every paragraph and thought is organized and arranged.
Unless you are a super-genius (just ask Wile E. Coyote), you will need to hire professional editors to assist you. You need someone with proven experience and a reputation.
If you are self-publishing a book and can’t afford an editor, then you aren’t ready to publish.
Depending on which stage of the process you’re in, you’ll need to call on one of the following (typically in this order):
A developmental editor
A copy editor
A developmental editor looks at the big picture. Rather than focus on things like grammatical issues and style choices, a developmental editor will help you make sure your story and characters follow a full arc, that your timeline meshes, that no plot holes are left open, and more. In other words, a developmental editor is there to help you make the story the best it can be. If you’re writing a memoir, a how-to book, or some other form of nonfiction, the goal is still the same: make sure your sequence of events works, make sure your directions are well-organized and easy to follow, and/or make sure the readers are engaged.
Developmental editing typically happens in several passes. Your editor provides you with a letter addressing all aspects of character development, story arc, pacing, etc., along with a manuscript complete with embedded comments addressing the specific references to those aspects and issues. You then get to work rereading and rewriting, based on your editor’s suggestions. (Do you need to take every suggestion? No. But if you don’t, ask yourself why.) The manuscript is then passed back to the editor for another round of examination, and then the two parties proceed with some number of back-and-forth passes until you both agree the story is where it ought to be (or until the deadline requires the story to be where it ought to be).
While the developmental editor is looking at your manuscript from a big-picture standpoint, copy editors handle the finer issues, those of grammar and mechanics, while providing a second line of defense on the global issues the developmental editor focuses on. (The fact is, all levels of editing, if done right, have some overlap with each other; a good developmental editor will point out nettlesome style issues, and a good copy editor will find a hole in your novel’s timeline.) Copy editors make sure your sentence structure is correct, your references are accurate, your tenses match, and that “Febreze” is spelled with one “e” rather than two. They’ll make sure your modifiers don’t dangle and your parenthetical phrases don’t take over. Trust me on this: They will save your bacon. And they’ll make sure you didn’t write it as “save your bake on.” Typically, this happens in one pass. You address any notes the copy editor has made in addition to the corrections, and unless you have additional questions, you’re ready for the next stage.
Your manuscript is getting into better shape with each editing pass. Now it’s time for the proofreader. Proofreaders generally deal with the typeset, “final” version of the manuscript, and the job is to make sure all the clichéd “i”s are dotted and “t”s are crossed. They make sure no one missed an incorrect there, their, or they’re. They look for typos, spacing errors, and overlooked spelling or punctuation errors. They make sure the pages are in sequence, or that the author’s name isn’t misspelled atop every other page (yes, this has happened). Some proofreaders like to do this with either a printed proof copy of the book, or with a PDF of the interior formatted manuscript.
Tips to editing success
In my experience, finding the right editor for you is as important as finding the right spouse. You need to have a rapport. You also need to trust their judgment. It helps if they have a working knowledge of the genre or the subject matter you bring to them.
Also, when hiring an editor you’ve never worked with before, ask to see samples of their editing first.
Finally, make sure you allot enough time for each editor to accommodate your publishing schedule as well as their schedule.
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