Expert Authority and Critics

I had an exchange with a person I’m sort of “friends” with over on deviantART the other day over critiquing someone’s work.  (Think Facebook or MySpace “friends” here.)

This person’s been a very active, prolific writer for a couple of years now, and she’s grown a lot in the amount of time I’ve known her.  She cowboyed up and joined a couple of online critique groups and watched and learned from the critics.  She stopped writing so much fan fiction from Avatar: The Last Airbender and started working on her own creations.  I don’t read her work – she writes what she calls “romantica” and it’s not my taste at all – but I do read her critiques from time to time.

A little background.

Some months ago, deviantART implemented a critique system, by which artists can rate and critique other artists.  They give from one to five stars on vision, originality, technique and impact.  While useful for critiquing literature, dA – like most other online critique forums and sites – isn’t conducive to providing a method of critiquing a full piece unless it’s very short.  So the critics end up giving copy editing advice and corrections on spelling, grammar, word choice, punctuation, show vs. tell, and passive/active tenses.  Oh, and POV sometimes.

This particular lady has been an active critic on dA for quite some time.  She’s usually first on the scene and goes line-by-line through the piece inserting her “corrections”.  A couple of people have sort of taken her to task on this.  They feel this is copy editing, not critique.  She doesn’t offer much input on story issues, characterization, plotting or anything which requires a larger context to work in.  For one because she can’t with a system wherein authors are submitting their pieces one bit at a time (a chapter, for example, or a scene/partial chapter).

I didn’t know she’d been called out on this before, so when she posted a how-to on critique – giving and receiving – I told her I thought she did a good job, and while I didn’t agree with every point she made, I did think it was a good, useful guide for people.

She got very defensive.  She implicated that because she was part of more than one critique group, she has the knowledge about how it’s done, and this (her method) is how it’s done, period.  And instead of attacking her critique method, why don’t I join a crit group and go crit someone?

I stepped back, reiterated how valuable I thought her input was, and pointed out that not only did I join a crit group, I helped found (a now-defunct) one.  And I wasn’t attacking her critique method, only stating that making spelling, grammar and punctuation corrections is copy editing, not critique, and that I felt critique went beyond the available scope provided.  I explained how critique is generally done in Story, Section, Scene, Sentence and Word scopes, but only the latter three are available when the piece is submitted in small segments.  (There are probably more aspects, those are just the ones I can recall in descending order of magnitude and importance.)

I stand by my statements, and didn’t apologize for them.  She can get defensive if she wants, but the fact is, copy editing is very helpful to writers struggling with those aspects of their writing.  But correct grammar and diction and style and usage and punctuation in a story with huge plot issues and arc problems is useless.  Both weaknesses will get the author rejected.  She also moves from the assumption everyone she reads is seeking publication – something she’s not doing to the best of my knowledge – which is incorrect.

What do you think, writers?  Those of you who utilized crit groups, did you get feedback on your overall story, or just the immediate section, be it a chapter or two or a few scenes?  And if you’re a critic, what do you look for in a piece you’re critiquing?  Less – i.e., a small portion of the story?  Or more, meaning a bigger portion so you can see the larger contexts/problems?

Sound off, everyone.  Let me know.


All original content © 2009 DarcKnyt
ALL rights reserved.


What Editors Do … or Don’t

Jack Kerouac Manuscript Photo in San Francisco...

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and I don’t have as much industry knowledge as I should for someone who wants to be published, so I’m posing this as a question, really.

I’ve learned from industry blogs and such – like Nathan Bransford’s, for example – that editors don’t really edit very much, if at all.  Editors buy books.  They receive manuscripts from agents and sometimes directly from the public (not so often, I’d imagine), and they pore over them to determine which books they want to take on.  Then they pitch the books to the publishing committee of the publishing house and the ones to clear that hurdle actually get published … eventually.  After much editing and back-and-forth stuff.

But the editor doesn’t really do much editing.  Some, perhaps. to get the manuscript to a point of being publishable (in their opinion), but that’d be story issues or inconsistencies more than what I’ve come to think of as “editing”.

Copy editors, on the other hand, don’t get the Internet and blogosphere notoriety of editors.  They, however, do what I’ve always thought of as editing.  They look things over, make sure the language used flows and is grammatically correct, fix spelling and punctuation problems, and note any typos and nuts-and-bolts linguistic problems (which, in my opinion but I don’t know for sure, would include if-you-say-it-this-way-it-will-read-better suggestions, too).  They are the little red-pen demons who slash and dash through the manuscript and fix what needs fixing.  But they don’t see the manuscript until it’s already accepted by the publishing house and being prepared for publication, so the copy editor doesn’t seem to have a role in deciding if the book is worth printing or not.  It’s already been screened, theoretically, by the agent (if used), the editor, and the publishing committee.

I’ve always wanted a job where I’d sit down with a red pen or a blue pencil and actually do the editing of manuscripts.  Okay, not always, but long enough.  Unfortunately, with no experience and no credentials, I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen.  It is a dream, though.  (Though I’ve recently learned from my buddy Sherri that copy editing isn’t as easy as it sounds; gotta be careful not to alter the original voice of the author in favor of your own by chopping/rearranging too much.)

Copy editing jobs are few and far between.  I can gather experience by doing copy editing for others pro bono, but I’m not sure how serious experience of that nature is taken in the industry if the manuscript never sees print.  So I continue to wonder – how do I get into that field?  How can I break through the glass wall without killing someone to open a job vacancy?  Hm.

So, the question is – if copy editors do editing, and editors buy books, why the heck are “editors” called “editors”?  I assume at one time they did editing, but if that’s not the focus of the job anymore, shouldn’t the title be changed?  Publication Acquisitions Representative, or Manuscript Acquisitions Manager, or whatever?  And why the “copy” portion of “copy editor”?  Why not change the title there to simply “editor”?

Seems a lot would be cleared up if they did this.  It’d make more sense of an industry desperately in need of making sense.


All original content © 2009 DarcKnyt
ALL rights reserved.

Tantalizingly Close

Adobe InDesign

Check out that adverb in the title, eh?  Huh??  I asks ya, huh?

Okay, seriously.  I got a call from a recruiter yesterday (as you read this), the message from which made my heart stop for a moment.  She stated clearly she saw my documentation experience and wondered if I’d be interested in a copy editing/proofreading job.

My heart spiked.  I called her back immediately.

She wasn’t available.  I held.  I had to talk to her.

When she finally picked up her extension I tried not to sound overtly breathless.  I tried to calm myself.  We had a few moments of discussion wherein she explained the position pay started at the top of my range and went a little beyond.  The distance was a tiny concern and I made sure not to mention it.  She described the position and asked if I was interested.  I forced myself to wait a beat, then answered “yes.”

Alas, not to be, it seems.  The client company wanted experience with Macs (nope) and Adobe InDesign (nope), since the company is a publisher. By the time I hung up with her I’d made her vow before Almighty God she’d ask if the client would work around those hurdles and consider me for an interview, and she asked for a copy of my resume.  I sighed and then wept after hanging up.

So close.  So. Frickin’. Close.

Well, tomorrow (today as you read this) is a new day, and I can always go after another dream job.  Right?

Have a happy Easter, everyone, or a blessed Passover, or if nothing else, a fantastic weekend.  See ya Monday with the first of the Cast of Characters.

God bless,

Trying to Clear the Log Jam

Old book bindings at the Merton College library.
Image via Wikipedia

Well, over the last few days, I’ve done some serious blogging, but no fiction work.

I can’t tell if I’m depressed over my job situation and prospects, or if I’m just … in a dry spell.  Whatever the case, it’s annoying as all get out.

I’ve tried reading.  Over the last few weeks I’ve read more than I read all of last year combined.  I’ve been thinking about reading some of my craft books to see if those break something loose.  They helped — briefly — when I originally read them.  Well, some of them helped.  One of the best books I own on the craft is Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell.  It covers a lot of things, and gives an overview of another book he wrote on plotting.  He gives some great tips and examples, and even a couple of terrific exercises.  Good stuff.

So maybe that would help.  Problem is, I don’t feel motivated to read it.

Ultimately, that’s the problem, I think.  Motivation.  Not having any ideas doesn’t help either, but lacking motivation is a major issue.

Another issue I have is guilt.  I feel guilty about writing when I’m out of work.  I don’t give myself permission to do it.  I feel guilty about not working on my current novel, my semi-finished manuscript, or something I’ve promised someone else.  I have a literary fiction piece I could plow into again, but I can’t get excited about that project either.  I can’t get around the guilt of feeling I should be doing something else when I want to write.  Search the job boards, help clean the house, play with the kids … anything.  But writing?  Can’t seem to get that one in the schedule.

Late at night I read, but that’s not helping as much as I thought.  I’ve pounded down a couple of novels in a couple of weeks, put one down because it stank, and now have started another.  So I’m pretty busy as a reader.

None of that is helping me write, though.  Even though it should.  Meanwhile I have yet another idea for a novel languishing on a legal pad on my desk.  And I’ve got about ten others I could tweak and torque if I didn’t like any of the other things I have simmering too.

So maybe ideas aren’t the problem.  If not, it’s motivation.  And guilt.

Those are pretty tough obstacles.  Do any of you out there struggle with getting yourself by an obstacle to something you love doing?  What tricks and/or techniques do you have for getting around the blockade?  Writers, what do you do to get over those blocks that I haven’t tried yet?

Sound off, y’all!