Confession time: I haven't read a single book in my To Be Read pile since the pandemic started.
I know. Bear with me. At first, there was a totally reasonable excuse. I was in the midst of my final term of graduate school and there was no time. When the pandemic first kicked off, it was consuming my whole attention as we are a multi-generational household and we had to figure out our "new normal" in order to keep everyone safe. Everything went online. Shopping became a scary undertaking. Exercise regiments were established. Sanitizing protocols were put in place. It was A LOT.
But then the MA program ended and I was jobless and home bound like many other unfortunate Americans.
Sure, I started freelance editing. I was job searching. I was formatting my books for print. My hometown of Portland, Oregon was thrust into the spotlight due to our nightly protests. We were occupied by federal agents. A Proud Boy was shot and killed downtown. My entire state of Oregon was on fire. We acquired a new pet. My daughter started online kindergarten. The election drama has been INTENSE this year and fractured my personal relationships. I started a new job. The holidays are coming up. Financial stress is real. The list goes on...
For a lot of the country, things leveled out or went back to normal or never changed much to begin with. For my particular nook in the Pacific Northwest, we've been bombarded with hit after hit and strangely enough, for me, pleasure reading has been the most impacted by this near continuous "state of emergency." Constant vigilance is EXHAUSTING.
There were and still are a lot of things, BUT I also have A LOT of books. And in the past few months since our lovely Little Free Library opened, the pile has only grown bigger.
I have resorted to purchasing books in multiple for the library, especially the ones that appeal to me, because I haven't been able to fulfill my mental promise of "reading this book quickly and then adding it to the library." Nope. The books intended to hit the library shelves AFTER I read them are now are stacking up and collecting dust alongside all the book presents and impulse splurges from the last year.
I literally haven't even been able to finish a pleasure read I started over winter break back in 2019. My track record for books read in 2020 (that weren't school, work, or craft related) is a big fat zero. I'm not sure what the deal is. I seem to have some kind of mental block when it comes to reading books that has persisted throughout the entire pandemic and resulted in stacks of unread books, even ones that desperately appeal to me, just moldering on my nightstand and dresser and end table and book case.
It doesn't help that I've been working so diligently to FINALLY wrap up the Metal Heart trilogy and get all of those books available in paperback and ebook formats (*fingers crossed* for audio format one day). Whenever I want to selfishly pop open a book for pleasure reading, some weird voice in the back of my head takes over and says: Not today! Finish YOUR book instead.
It made sense at the beginning of the pandemic that all my excess resources were consumed with "solving this problem." There wasn't extra brain space to dive into an alternate reality. I concede that point. Many others have commented on just this phenomena. There's even science to back me up.
But we're eight months in now. There are constant adjustments and shifts, but nothing quite like the massive upheaval in Spring 2020. And I've also been letting myself slip into other realms. My free time is filled with Netflix and Pokemon Go and stupid puzzle/narrative games on my phone. Those alternate realities are OK, apparently.
I'm feeling itchy and antsy and mentally stalled and incredibly GUILTY. I've started multiple books, thinking: This is it! This is the one! This is going to break the cycle! And then read about a chapter in and can't seem to focus any further than that. Books that I was stoked to read. Books that I NEED to read for craft purposes or just to be a better human in general.
It's becoming problematic that someone with an MA in BOOK PUBLISHING, who WRITES BOOKS, and regularly stocks a COMMUNITY LIBRARY full of books is struggling to read them. I can't even blame doomscrolling as I've worked over the last month or so to purge that habit.
I'm buoyed up by my continual interest in the idea of reading. I believe that there will be a time in the future, possibly even the near future, where I can redistribute my headspace and pleasure read a book again. In fact, the one that's been sitting on my end table and calling my name for the last few days is Undead Girl Gang.
What's holding me back from tearing into it right now? That depressive dip, that weird sense of loss that hits when I get about a chapter in and realize that I can't go any further. I am now afraid to start a book because I fear that I won't be able to finish it. Anxiety sometimes be like that.
I will mark it a victory if, in the next few weeks, I can crack open this fun YA novel, read it, and churn out a review. No pressure on this book, but some pressure. I need a win here.
Until then, happy reading, my friends -- if you are able. If you're not able to read, you're not alone, and we're in this together. We'll get back there one day. Your TBR pile is not a negative statement about you as a person. It's more of a condemnation of the times. It's been a rough year and however you've chosen to survive it, and whatever thing you had to let go of to be here today... it's OK.
The books aren't going anywhere.
Dialogue can make or break a story. Dialogue can infuse excitement and intrigue into your novel or it can fall dull and lifeless onto the page. It's so crucial to storytelling and characterization and world-building and it's such a tricky balance to have it achieve all three at once.
Ten Quick Tips for Editing and Improving Dialogue
Of course there are many more that just ten things to talk about, but this will be hopefully be a helpful springboard to managing those mistakes that nearly every writer runs into when it comes to capturing authentic, but compelling dialogue for our readers.
There's always the debate of how much dialogue is TOO MUCH dialogue, and I would say that really depends on two things: the writer and the reader. Some writers are always going to include more dialogue because that's their writing style. They like to have their characters interact often on the page. Some readers are more engaged by dialogue than by descriptive prose. I have a sibling whose eyes glaze over when they encounter too much landscape description, so they'll skim sections until they hit a patch of dialogue and pick up from there.
The onus is on the writer to determine where their strength lies, and just how much dialogue is too much.
I'm a victim of over-dialoguing (I LOVE TO HAVE MY CHARACTERS TALK TO ONE ANOTHER) and so my editing and revision process for my own writing is usually to go through and cull out huge chunks of dialogue. I weed through the thorns to find the beautiful sparkling roses within, and cobble together the best dialogue for the most engaging and natural sounding interactions.
My relationship with dialogue has really changed over the years I've spent writing and revising. I originally was opting for more "natural" sounding dialogue which included pauses and filler words and stammering, but it's just quite cumbersome to read, to speak aloud, and just doesn't work as well on the page as it does on the screen. So I've revised my attitude towards dialogue (but not the frequency of use) and I find it much more exciting for me to write and for others to read.
Stay tuned for the next blog post on the exciting perils of dialogue punctuation! ;)
So it’s not a developmental edit?
No. It’s not. While developmental editing does look at language as a function of the entire manuscript, its primary focus is on larger structural functions of the story like timeline, pacing, character development, and authenticity. Developmental editing is taking a macroscopic look at the book, while line editing is applying a mesoscopic (middle or intermediate) lens to the content.
And it’s not a copyedit?
Nope again. Copyediting is the final microscopic lens of editing. Copyedits correct errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, fact-checking, word usage, and style. A copyedit wants consistency, and it seeks to eliminate glaring language errors that will distract readers and pull them out of the story.
What might a line edit look like?
There might be some elements of both developmental editing and copyediting involved in a line edit, especially because the goal of this type of edit is to upgrade the language for clarity. A reader will not achieve that blissful feeling of sinking into your text if it has glaring inconsistencies. So along the way, line editors will likely address any or all of the following elements:
Why is it important to know the difference?
You might be looking to hire a freelance editor for a manuscript, and they’ll likely be versed in a wide variety of editorial services. You need to know the right one to select for your manuscript and how to most effectively communicate your desires. Of course, any freelance editor worth their salt is going to help you select the right service from the get-go, but arming yourself with knowledge even before approaching a contract is highly suggested.
Or, if this is your first time stepping into the publishing world with a manuscript, folks are going to be using these terms to inform you of the next steps in their process. And once any type of editing is done, it’s up to the author to incorporate, apply, or revise. Some edits are much more time-consuming than others, and line editing falls into that middle territory. You’ll need to parse through all the individual edits, but it’s not nearly as complicated as a developmental edit. On the other hand, you likely won’t just be clicking “accept all” for all the spelling and punctuation errors to be magically fixed. You’ll want to investigate each line edit, and it might even require some work on your end.
The ultimate goal of a line edit is not only to elevate the manuscript, but also to improve the craft of the writer. A writer cannot address their tics if they can’t see them. They won’t know about the potential power of certain words or phrases until someone looks at their writing and points these things out. All editing seeks to improve a manuscript, but line editing in particular has the ability to have a long-lasting effect on writers themselves.
This was written for and originally appeared on the Ooligan Press blog on May 11, 2020.
I am pleased to announce that Metal Heart is now available on Amazon for purchase via paperback and ebook. It's been a long time coming and I can't wait to hold a copy in my hands and share it with the world in an exciting new format!
"Eleni Garza watched her parents die in a terrorist bombing that stopped her heart. Prothero, a shady corporation, saved her life by implanting her with experimental nanotechnology.
To repay that debt, Prothero enlists her in military service. During a routine combat simulation, strange powers emerge and Eleni discovers she may have a cure for a global virus. She may, in fact, be the cure to the virus.
Now she must escape a heavily fortified military base and deliver the cure to the same terrorist organization that killed her parents."
AND it's been newly revised and streamlined for print, which makes this the SECOND edition. I spent Summer and Fall 2019 reducing word count and otherwise cleaning up errors and fitting it better into the overall continuity of the trilogy.
I've offered to purchase author copies of Metal Heart, sign them, and hand deliver them around the Portland Metro area in September 2020. If you're interested, shoot me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Otherwise, you can purchase your own copy now.
It started out on a whim. I'd driven past a couple of these colorful independent community libraries in my neighborhood, and always dreamed about establishing one in our little corner of Portland. It was just a dream, and I didn't put much stock on it because we live on a dead end gravel street.
But then someone developed the vacant lot next door into townhouses and the city created a bioswale sidewalk that is maintained exclusively by the city and is technically not residential property.
And the final clincher: I hit Level 40 on Pokemon Go and could officially nominate a Pokestop. Little Free Libraries that are NOT situated on residential property have been known to become Pokemon Go stops, so it seemed like killing two birds with one stone. Create a Little Free Library, possibly garner a Pokemon Go stop that I could spin without ever leaving my house. Could it be true? Was such a thing even possible? BUT with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing, I knew it couldn't JUST be a home for neighbors to exchange books. It needed to be a waystation for food, hygiene products, COVID supplies, and other essential items.
All I really wanted for my 38th birthday was $380 to turn a weary and faded old closet into something cheerful and bright and chock full of resources for my neighborhood. I ended up scoring $500 (thank you friends and family) and we set about cutting shelves, refitting the door, sanding, painting, and affixing Pokemon stickers (of course). We also purchased a plaque and charter number that allowed us to register our Little Free Library on the global map. Now I'm officially a library steward. ;)
With the leftover funds we purchased culturally specific books from local Black authors Brian and Josie Parker (Believe in Wonder Publishing) and a wide array of diverse books from our local Gresham bookshop Books Around the Corner. Trace Kerr, an author friend, sent us a delightful book-filled care package all the way from Spokane, Washington. It boasted TWO copies of our book baby The Name We Take. And another author friend, Laura Stanfill, publisher of Forest Avenue Press, sent us a copy of
Our first Little Free Library Friday stocking session took place last Friday. And I go out daily to assess the food pantry aspect and restock important items like hand sanitizer, disposable masks, and feminine products. We cleaned my daughter's room over the weekend, and ended up with a couple gallon freezer baggies full of perfectly usable playdough, crayons, and markers as well as some preschool workbooks. Hopefully those will help tide folks over who are scrambling for school supplies in the absence of in-person instruction.
While I'd like to pretend there is a strong literary nuance to our library, my main focus is on supplying our community with books and resources to survive the next year. And honestly, the distinction between "good" and "bad" books wanders too far into a territory of classicism and intellectual elitism that I don't truck with. Somebody's "crap" book is another person's pleasure read. Literacy is literacy is literacy. We're all in this together, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. And maybe the best way to give back right now is to leave a book and lend a hand without being a judgmental a-hole.
One of the more important aspects of this project was having it greenlit by one of my MA cohort members, Desiree Wilson, who wrote her thesis on Little Free Libraries predominantly operating in wealthy neighborhoods and usually stocked with books for white folks (Spatial Politics and Literacy: An Analysis of Little Free Libraries and Neighborhood Distribution of Book-Sharing Depositories in Portland, Oregon and Detroit, Michigan). That concept really helped me develop what kind of books I wanted to stock on our shelves (diverse!), what readers I wanted to focus on (young adults and kids need books!) and how I wanted to steward (like a boss!).
If this idea intrigues you, I strongly encourage you to read Desiree's research paper before moving forward.
And to also consider, right now, what kind of needs your community has and how you can best serve it.
Since I'm graduating from Portland State University this weekend with an MA in Book Publishing during a time of social revolution, I wanted to share with everyone my final research paper (not a thesis, but close enough) that was based around understanding the role authenticity readers play in the editorial process and how to best incorporate them into Ooligan Press. The role of an authenticity reader (re: sensitivity reader, targeted beta reader) is often controversial for many reasons, but I want to underscore the reason that I believe their work is so crucial: they augment authenticity within manuscripts and reduce the perpetuation of harmful negative stereotypes that directly impact marginalized communities.
I do not believe that authenticity readers are THE solution to the inequality in book publishing, nor do I believe they are a band aid solution. I believe they are a tool that both authors and editors should incorporate into their processes as a crowd-sourcing method of fact checking, especially fictional content. If authors are writing outside of their own lived experiences, they need to do their research. They need to do A LOT of research. If editors are acquiring "diverse" books that are not Own Voices, they need to do their due diligence and ensure that these manuscripts are not actively harmful to depicted communities.
In both cases, writers and editors need to ask themselves if the writer is the best person to tell that story. Writers need to be critically examining whether they are occupying space in the industry that could otherwise be allocated to a BIPOC or a member of the LGBTQ+ community or someone with that lived experience. It is a moral question and it is one that we should absolutely be asking ourselves every time we sit down to write.
This doesn't mean you have to stop yourself from writing. But it does mean you need to be highly aware of the optics and the privilege of trying to get that work published. You can write whatever you want. But the publishing industry is a cultural medium and representation in the industry matters. It always has. Own Voices is another tool to clear out space for marginalized voices in the publishing community, a more powerful and effective tool than authenticity reading.
In my opinion - the controversy around this aspect of the editorial process is manufactured. Authenticity readers are not cultural gatekeepers because acquisitions editors and publishing houses and marketing departments already do that work. The perceived threat lies solely in the idea that marginalized communities might actually get A VOICE in the process and that it might be corrective to white, cis-hetero authors who dominate the market share of the industry.
The threat is a perceived one and it exposes another ugly layer to the truths that have been unveiled over the last few weeks as the Black Lives Matter movement has gained national and global prominence. White supremacy is systemic and authenticity readers and BIPOC editors and writers threaten the power of that system.
But the use of authenticity readers is not just about Black representation. It's about representation as a whole and the goal is to provide another system of fact-checking for accuracy in depiction, especially in the current framework where we have a dearth of editors of color actually employed in the industry, and a wealth of dominant paradigm writers seeking to incorporate greater diversity into their manuscripts.
Authenticity readers have been utilized at publishing houses and by authors for a decade or more, but their role is arguably growing more controversial. Why is that? Authenticity readers have influence over manuscripts, but they aren’t editors. So what is their ultimate role in the editorial process? Through interviews with authors and editors, as well as a survey of 72 publishing professionals, and an ethnographic case study at Ooligan Press, this research paper seeks to determine where in the editorial process sensitivity/authenticity readers should be involved and how authenticity readers influence the overall editorial process.
The result of the collected data is that manuscripts featuring communities that are not part of the authors lived experience should undergo authenticity reads in order to more accurately depict those cultures or communities. The reads should happen before or during the developmental edit. Both authors and editors should take part in employing authenticity readers, and it is suggested that multiple authenticity reads take place. Authenticity reading is not prescriptive, and individual authenticity readers are not wholly representative of their communities. Authenticity readers should not censor a manuscript, nor should they be used to shield it from criticism. Their role is purely to vet a manuscript for inaccurate or stereotypical portrayals.
The data compiled in this research was used as the basis for moving forward with formalizing the authenticity reading process for Ooligan Press and developing a database of PSU students and alumni to serve as volunteer readers for future acquisitions.
I knew I wasn't ready. I knew it wasn't the right time. I'd JUST finished up the long road to completing my MA Book Publishing thesis and the accompanying oral exam last Friday and was staring down the barrel of an agent first 5 pages evaluation on Saturday morning that I'd signed up for MONTHS ago during happier times with stars in my eyes and more hope for the world.
I knew it wasn't going to go anywhere. I could tell the night before. I could tell when I woke up that morning and felt my guts already twisted up in knots.
I was not mentally, emotionally, or spiritually in the right place to go forward with this manuscript evaluation but I'd already paid $50 so I gamely put on a blazer and red lipstick and posed myself in front of a virtual bookcase in the middle of my untidy living room for 14 minutes of feedback that was akin to drinking poison.
The strangest part is that I smiled and laughed and repeated the phrase "that's fair" to this agent over and over again without the slightest indication that they were cutting me deep with their words. I've never had this extra power of looking at my own face while my poor little artist heart was being broken and the impact of staring into my own eyes during an agent evaluation was profound.
When I finally shut the lid of my laptop and immediately set to the task of deep cleaning the bathroom, I replayed those moments over and over again and the biggest noise in my head, besides the cranky whirring of the bathroom fan, was "I paid for this shit?" And I wasn't talking about the toilet.
I am wrapping up 18 months of deep diving into the publishing industry (ostensibly now, a master) and I just need to remind my fellow writers of something...
Agents need us. Publishers need us. Editors need us. The entire publishing industry needs writers to submit their work. They truly do. Without writers, there is no content to push. There are no agents. No editors. No publishing industry.
And it goes beyond that.
Agents and publishers aren't just acquiring our content. They're acquiring our networks. They're looking at our social media presence and backgrounds and pondering just how many people are in our contact lists. They don't just need our work. They need our personhood, our authority to tell and sell this story. And, if you look at the writing conference industry of which I am a willing participant, it looks like they also need our money.
Writers dump SO MUCH MONEY into their craft, into writing communities and workshops and MFA programs across the world and into the publishing industry. And yet somehow, SOMEHOW, there's this constant background chatter that WE are wasting other people's time. That other people's time in this industry is almost always inherently more valuable than ours and we should be paying for the privilege of their time.
Because there are so many writers out there and any one of them could fill our shoes and, and, and...OK, let them. They gotta do what they gotta do. Everyone does.
But for me, especially right now when so many things have been thrust into stark relief, I have to look myself in the eyes. I am forced by circumstance to stare in a digital mirror and be accountable to myself for what choices I make and what things I perpetuate in the publishing industry by participating in them.
I am done paying agents for their counsel.
In fact, the bigger reveal is that I knew I was done paying agents before I even had that fateful meeting. I knew I was done earlier last week, when I registered for a writing conference and had no desire or motivation or interest in signing up for an agent evaluation.
There are others ways I need to spend my time that will boost my craft AND grow my contact list AND allow me to create content. The possibilities are almost dizzying. And if I look myself in the eyes while doing any one of those things, I don't think I'll wince inwardly and feel the need to tell myself, "you deserve better."
Not at all.
Very swiftly, everything changed. A global pandemic has emerged over the last few months and shaken the foundations of countries across the world. Everyone has felt the impact. Everyday life continues to change and evolve as time passes. What was the norm last month or a week ago or a day ago may be dramatically different today or tomorrow.
The big economic and societal changes are also shaking up the writing and book world, and have impacted my personal writing plans, as I'm sure they've fractured yours. We are not alone if having to adjust our lives, our way of thinking, and our priorities.
But some of the beauty of this change is that much can be shifted from the in-person format to the digital realm without having to sacrifice the content. There is valid loss to the human connection inherent in conferences and workshops, but that's the sacrifice we have to make right now.
Yes, video chatting services are awkward and technology sucks and we sometimes talk over one another and everything is tough, but I've personally found a lot of comfort in both the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and the ebook publishing platform Smashwords stepping up to the plate.
In a time where so many are financially hurting, they are offering free digital writing workshops for their members and published authors. They have given me, and maybe you too, something to look forward to in a future that has dramatically reeled into uncertain territory. I had plans for my graduation and post-graduation life. I had plans to attend conferences in-person and create print and audiobooks.
Many things are now on indefinite hold. Except these awesome free workshops that are going to fill my April and provide me with much needed inspiration and information.
And at least one paid opportunity for a manuscript evaluation through SCBWI that sparked some hope in my chest. Sure, maybe things have been postponed or rescheduled or cancelled.
But I'm clinging to these little nuggets of workshop shaped hope where I can find them. Maybe you can too.
Technically, it's a "final research paper" but part of my Book Publishing masters program is to complete a research paper VERY similar to a thesis, that entails doing some kind of data collection. I've chosen to do both surveying and interviewing to collect data on how writers and editors employ authenticity readers and how they help shape the editorial process. So far I've received a couple dozen responses, but my goal is to get at least 100 survey responses before April 24, 2020.
The survey link is here: https://forms.gle/JNtTJgxsa9jkg9eU7
The big question: How do authenticity readers impact the editorial process of a manuscript?
If you’re an author, editor, publisher or authenticity reader in the book publishing industry please consider taking this survey to help gather data for a graduate thesis in the Portland State University Book Publishing program.
The paper is seeking to understand the ways in which authenticity readers are employed in the editorial process, by whom they are most commonly employed within the industry, and how their inclusion helps shape the overall editorial process of a manuscript.
Personal information in the survey will be kept confidential. Interested parties can also indicate if they’d like to participate in a short interview with some expanded and more detailed questions, along with completing a consent form.
This survey will close on Friday April 24th, 2020. All survey participants who include their emails will be entered into a random drawing for a $10 Powell's e-Gift Card.
Please share this survey with your networks in the book publishing industry and help spread the word.
My 2020 Pubwest conference experience took place on Friday, February 21, 2020 and was very much centered around the idea of growth.
Professional growth: I was roped into a publishing speed-dating circle which quickly stripped me of my fear of networking although didn't compel me to hand out any of the 20 newly printed business cards I'd brought along with me. Haven't yet perfected the skill to move from introduction and conversation to pressing a card into someone's palm yet. One of these days?
Platform growth: I sat in on a panel that quite nicely articulated the possibilities of growing audience platforms and really made me see that while my books continue to be downloaded at a steady trickle, I largely know nothing about the people reading them, what they think, or why the numbers keep going up. I'm ready in my author growth to start engaging with my readers in a more substantial way.
Publishing growth: I went to two different panels that gave me completely opposite feelings.
One, the Editorial: Own Voices imbued me with dread and frustration that important changes in the publishing industry are moving at a glacial pace. It felt like a stalling and reiteration of old conversations that I'd hoped the industry has moved past in the last few years.
The other, the keynote panel about "Ensuring a More Literate Future for All" on Friday featuring Guy LeCharles Gonzalez (Panorama Project), Andrew Proctor (Literary Arts), Laura Brief (826 National), emblazoned me with hope that books like American Dirt can start important conversations about how we can bridge the gap and start to address real solutions to the lack of diversity in the industry. Institutional change is slow and plodding, but individual change can happen at a rapid fire pace. Sometimes it's as easy as making a choice to change, and as hard as doing the work to implement that change.
The sentiments of that panel are nicely captured in this Publisher's Weekly article by Jason Boog: Pubwest 2020 Looks Forward to a Diverse Future.
Personal growth: On a personal level, as an author, I've recently begun asking myself an important question when it comes to writing and publishing: why are you the best person to tell this story? And sometimes I don't have a good answer and it's not problematic. And sometimes I don't have a good answer, and it is problematic. I've taken up various causes and lead the charge because I believed it was the right thing to do and maybe it was the right thing to do, but I wasn't the right person to do it. I think we could all benefit, especially white folks, from stepping back and asking ourselves that question more often. Are we the right person to do this thing or take up this space? And if we're not...then maybe we need to step back and give someone else that opportunity.
That all being said: I've been fortunate enough in my time at Ooligan Press to experience the hubris of fumbling through issues around authenticity and who gets to tell the story and I think some of the biggest takeaways for me as an author and editor are: do your damn research. The likelihood of getting something wrong statistically decreases the more work you do to really understand what you're writing about. ALSO: hire some sensitivity/authenticity/targeted beta readers.
Why are you the best person to tell this story?
At Ooligan Press we're working on some initiatives that reflect current publishing industry practices. I'm proud to be a part of the teams making those changes, and I'm proud to work alongside people who value those practices as well.
Little things add up over time:
1. We are changing our house style guide to foster more inclusive language in our manuscripts, marketing collateral and outward facing materials.
2. We are developing a database of sensitivity/authenticity/targeted beta readers who can assist in current and future Ooligan Press projects.
There are more things we could do to reflect the changes we want to see in the wider publishing industry, but we only have so much time in the program.
All the other change and growth is what comes after.