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Mini Lesson: First-Person vs. Third-Person Narration

Mini lessons have been getting a bit long lately, but luckily this one is short & sweet!

I've been seeing far too many advice posts for writers that incorrectly define first-person and third-person narration. So I'd like to clear things up.

First-person narration is narration that—unsurprisingly—uses first-person pronouns, meaning the narrator refers to themselves as "I." So you'll be seeing words like "my," "we," "our," us," etc. in the narration. It's how, most often, you would speak to a friend about your life experiences:
  • I went to the store.
  • My backpack fell on the ground.

Third-person narration uses, appropriately, third-person pronouns, meaning the narration describes all characters (including the perspective character, if any) as "he," or "she," (or "ze," or other pronoun preferences) or by name. So you won't see words like "I" or "my" outside of direct thought and dialogue. For example:
  • Alex went to the store.
  • Her backpack fell on the ground.

So, where does the confusion come in? Well, I keep seeing people refer to subjective narration as "first-person." These are not the same thing! In fact:
  • Both first- and third-person narration can be subjective (limited to the narrating character's point of view; also sometimes called "close" narration).
  • Both can also be omniscient! (All-knowing, or unlimited.)
    • The caveat here is that omniscient first-person narration is extremely rare. It is usually told in hindsight to explain how your narrator could know everything that happened and what other characters thought or felt. Often, the narrator turns out to be unreliable. 
    • Some examples:
      • Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn As Told by a Friend by Thomas Mann
      • How I Met Your Mother (TV show)
  • Both can be written in either past or present tense. 
    • Or future, in theory, though I haven't seen that. If you have, please share an example in the comments!

Bonus: It's also possible to have second-person narration, addressing the reader directly using the second-person pronoun "you." This is rare, especially in longer forms like novels, but it does happen and can be quite powerful. Examples:
  • You walk to the store.
  • Your backpack falls to the ground.

So there you have a quick overview of pronoun options for your narration. Remember: the pronouns you choose do not affect whether your narration is subjective or omniscient, which is a separate choice you have to make for your story.

Still have questions? Ask in the comments!

Mini Lesson: Punctuating Interrupted Dialogue

I'll admit, today's mini lesson focuses on a pet peeve of mine: punctuating interrupted dialogue. I've seen so many different (incorrect) versions, and they do get quite inventive, but we definitely need to clear this one up.

As a foundation, I am assuming you all know how to punctuate basic dialogue—rules like using a comma in place of a period with a dialogue tag, not capitalizing the tag if it's after the dialogue, etc. For a simple example: "Hello," she said.

Today I want to focus specifically on what happens when something (or someone) interrupts a character who's speaking mid-sentence. There are three different ways to write this correctly:
  1. Use a speech verb with a modifier. For example: "Look over there," she said, pointing to the corner, "over by the bookshelves."
    • Because you're using a speech verb (said), you punctuate it like any other dialogue tag, with a comma before the closing quotation mark.
    • In this case, the extra action (pointing to the corner) is added on following a comma because the modifier is subordinate to the main verb (still said).
    • Because you're interrupting one sentence ("Look over there, over by the bookshelves."), a comma is also used to lead into the second half of the dialogue, and that second bit of dialogue is not capitalized.
      • Keep in mind, the dialogue in this example could be two separate sentences: "Look over there. Over by the bookshelf." This is a different speech pattern, and if this is how you'd like your character to speak, then there would be a period after "corner," and the second bit of dialogue would be capitalized:
          "Look over there," she said, pointing to the corner. "Over by the bookshelves."
  2. Use an em dash inside the quotation marks to cut off the character mid-dialogue, usually with either (A) another character speaking or (B) an external action.
    • A: "Look over there—"
      "By the bookshelves," Jamie added before Sheila could clarify. 
    • B: "Look over there—"
      A stack of boxes clattered to the ground.
    • Including the em dash at the end of the line of dialogue signifies that your character wasn't finished speaking.
      • Sometimes unfinished lines of dialogue end with an ellipsis. This is grammatically correct, but it signifies your character trailing off as if losing their train of thought or drifting off to sleep, not something or someone else interrupting their words.
    • If you want to make a point of the speaking character's action interrupting their own dialogue, you could also use this punctuation, writing:
        "Look over there—" She snapped her mouth shut so she didn't give the secret away.
    • Note that in most such instances a new sentence starts after the closing quotation mark, so of course the first word would need to be capitalized.
    • If instead you're following the interrupted line with a dialogue tag, you would leave the tag lowercase, as usual. For example:
      • "Is everything—" she started to ask, but a sharp look cut her off.
  3. Use em dashes outside the quotation marks to set off a bit of action without a speech verb. For example: "Look over there"—she pointed to the corner—"by the bookshelves."
    • Do not merely use commas, because in such cases there is no speech verb, and therefore it isn't a dialogue tag and can't be punctuated like one.
      • Wrong: "Look over there," she pointed to the corner, "by the bookshelves."
        • Pointed isn't a speech verb, but this punctuation indicates that she is "pointing" her words to the corner. If we were to replace pointed with called, this punctuation would become correct, as in example #1 above.
    • Do not put the em dashes inside the quotation marks if the line of dialogue continues after the interruption. 
      • Wrong: "Look over there—" she pointed to the corner "—by the bookshelves."
    • Also wrong? Putting em dashes half in and half out, or combining em dashes with commas. If you're segmenting a line of dialogue without using a speech verb, make sure to close the quotation marks after the first bit of dialogue, use two em dashes around the interruption, then open the quotation marks again for the second part.
  • Bonus: If we're tuning into someone's dialogue in the middle, you can absolutely open the dialogue with an em dash or an ellipsis, making sure not to capitalize the first word. For example:
        Sheila found Jason leaning against the wall. "—why we'll never go to Starbucks again," he was saying.
          (Or: "...why we'll never go to Starbucks again," he was saying.)
    • This does not work if we're catching a full sentence, in other words if there would have been a period (or question mark, or exclamation point) had we "heard" what came before. In such a case, the narration or tag can clue us in to having missed part of the dialogue:
        "So that's why we'll never go to Starbucks again," Jason finished explaining.

As you can see, there are many ways to punctuate your dialogue. Each option affects the speech pattern of your character as well as the flow of your narration, so make sure your choices are intentional. Words matter, and so does punctuation!

    Have questions? Would you like to suggest a Mini Lesson subject? Share in the comments!

    Authors Helping Houston

    To support relief efforts following Hurricane Harvey, authors in a variety of genres have pledged to donate their royalties from the books on this page. I've been lucky enough to work with several authors among those participating, and I'm sure the books listed include some great reads!

    So if you're looking to fill up your reading list, please consider purchasing some (or all!) of these books before September 17th. You can also show your support for the generosity of these authors by leaving an honest review after reading.

    Click on the photo to learn more!

    Graphic describing Authors Helping Houston fundraising effort

    A Glimpse of the 2017 RWA Conference

    Last week, I had the opportunity to drop by some of the national Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando, so I thought I'd offer you all a glimpse of the fun!

    I got to see this year's very creative, "coloring wall" advertising from Avon:

    Early on:

    Toward the end:

    And I had the pleasure of attending this year's RITA Award ceremony, where I got to hear the amazing Beverly Jenkins speak while accepting her Lifetime Achievement Award. I also had the chance to celebrate the fantastic Sarah Andre and her accomplishment of being named one of this year's RITA finalists in the Romantic Suspense category!

    RWA slide announcing Tall, Dark and Damaged by Sarah Andre, edited by Anya Kagan, as a 2017 RITA finalist in the romantic suspense category

    I spent plenty of time chatting with romance writers, authors, and lovers—including the aforementioned Sarah Andre, whom I finally had a chance to meet in person after years of working together:

    Romance author Sarah Andre with fiction editor Anya Kagan at the 2017 Romance Writers of America RITA Award ceremony

    And C.F. Francis, a new author in the Touchstone Editing family (pictured with Sarah after the RITAs):
    Romance authors Sarah Andre and C.F. Francis after the 2017 Romance Writers of America RITA Award ceremony

    Did you make it to RWA or another conference this summer? What was your favorite part? Share in the comments!

    Mini Lesson: Hyphenating Compound Adjectives

    I've written before on the importance of syntax and the nuances conveyed by minor shifts in wording. But words on their own are insufficient, and there's a reason we've developed all sorts of extra marks to augment them. Using punctuation correctly is important not simply because "that's the rule," as some might believe. Rather, slight differences in how we use punctuation marks can significantly alter meaning, and therefore a reader's experience. Ensuring we can all understand the intended meaning is why the rules exist in the first place.

    Today, I want to focus on the hyphen, specifically when it comes to compound adjectives. More and more, I see authors (and their editors and proofreaders) forgetting or misusing these hyphens.

    I can hear you thinking, "What does it matter? Readers understand it either way!" While I could go on and on about the richer picture writers can create with a fuller toolbox, I'll try instead to illustrate the value of that one little line (-).

    First up: what is a compound adjective? Generally speaking, it's an adjective—a descriptor—made up of more than one word. The first word usually modifies the second one, and combined they describe the noun that follows. For example, in "a six-page document," the compound adjective is "six-page," with six describing the (number of) pages, and the whole thing together describing the noun document.

    So why do we need a hyphen? Because the words making up the compound adjective need to stay together to retain their meaning. Examples below will illustrate this more fully, but the basic rule you need to know is that compound adjectives before a noun should always be hyphenated.

    With that out of the way, let's dive in. Picture if you will: a light brown table.

    Got it?

    Now picture a heavy brown table.

    That's right, light in the first example refers most correctly to the table's weight. (In theory, it could also be a table for light, or made of light, but let's keep it simple for our purposes.) I would feel comfortable betting that at least half of you interpreted the first use of light as referring to the shade of brown. Why? Because we're becoming so used to people forgetting hyphens that we're conditioned to read combinations like "light brown" and "light-brown" as interchangeable, even though they aren't.
      If we really want to stress that light is describing the sturdiness of the table, we'd often add weight, using a distinct adjective: a lightweight table. However, remember that this is just one example and we don't always have the option of adding a clarification like that so easily.

    Now consider if instead you were talking about a light jacket. If your main character (MC) grabs a light blue jacket on their way out the door, we should reliably know that the jacket is blue and that it's only a little chilly outside—the jacket is lightweight. If, however, your MC grabs a light-blue jacket, all we know is the color of the jacket, not how warm it is. And if they're grabbing a light-blue jacket that is also lightweight, you could say it's a light pale-blue jacket (or a lightweight light-blue jacket—grammatically correct, though awkward).
      Of course, you can also substitute pale-blue for a more specific color, but remember that if the color is two words, it also needs a hyphen when preceding a noun. For example: a sky-blue jacket; a royal-purple robe.

    If your head is spinning a little bit, try this little trick: if you can't split up the words describing the noun without changing the meaning, you need a hyphen. Let's look at some examples:
    1. Our original example was a light brown table. If we split up the adjectives, we would get a light table that is brown, or a brown table that is light. It's a little awkward, but the meaning is clear. And if that's the meaning we want, we wouldn't use a hyphen.
    2. However, the table in #1 is brown. If you wanted its color to be lighter, then it would be a light-brown table (hyphenated).
    3. How about a purple skinned fruit? Splitting these adjectives, we'd get a skinned fruit that is purple or a purple fruit that is skinned. Makes sense, as would a skinned purple fruit. 
    4. But what if you wanted to describe specifically that the fruit's skin was purple? I think you know the answer: a purple-skinned fruit, meaning it can be any color inside but the skin is definitely purple.
    5. If the compound isn't made of adjectives, the need for a hyphen is even clearer. A sky jacket that is blue is very different from a sky-blue jacket. And "a blue jacket that is sky" simply makes no sense.
      • If you're asking yourself what a "sky jacket" is, you're not alone. But I could imagine characters who fly routinely, whether in the future or on a different planet, having a "sky jacket," the same way we have water shoes.

    Hopefully it's clear now why it's important to make intentional choices in your writing, even when it comes to something as small as a hyphen. But there's one more compound adjective type I'd like to touch on briefly: multiple colors. 

    In some cases, one color modifies the other: a blue-green scarf. For many, it would be a no-brainer to use a hyphen if that read "bluish-green," but "blue-green" is correct as well. What color is this scarf? A bluish green.
      Remember, hyphens are required when the compound adjective precedes the noun. If you're saying, "the scarf is a bluish green," no hyphen is necessary.

    What if instead you wrote "a blue-and-green scarf"? Then we'd know the scarf is both blue and green (maybe striped, maybe polka-dotted, etc.). Note that the order of the colors is interchangeable, so we could write "green-and-blue scarf" and retain the same meaning.

    So why can't you write "a blue and green scarf"? Let's go back to our tip of splitting the adjectives: "a blue scarf that is green" doesn't make sense.

    Furthermore, what if we had more than one scarf? Imagine a store, selling scarves. What color are they?
    • Blue and green scarves: some scarves are green; some are blue
      • Another way to say this is that the store sells blue scarves and green scarves. Like before, if you can split the adjectives this way and keep your intended meaning, you don't need a hyphen.
    • Blue-and-green scarves: all of the scarves are both blue and green.
      • Note that it's correct (and necessary) to hyphenate multiple words in a row like this, even if it looks a little weird at first. A pet peeve of mine is seeing errors such as "black and white photos." If you have black photos and white photos, you might need a better camera, so make sure to add those hyphens!

    It may seem pedantic, but words and punctuation are your tools for communicating with readers, for creating a vibrant world they can picture, and for drawing them into the story you mean to tell. The more dextrous you are in wielding those tools, the more nuance and impact your writing will have. Hopefully today we've sharpened one of the tools in your collection!

    Questions? Suggestions for future "Mini Lessons"? Post them in the comments!

    Featured Author: Sarah Andre

    Normally we save our featured author posts for the end of the month, but since Sarah Andre's Capturing the Queen (Damaged Heroes, book 2) releases tomorrow, this seemed like the perfect time for an exception.

    I've had the pleasure of working with Sarah on all three of her novels. From the very first set of notes I sent her and every time since, she's blown me away with her ability to internalize and process critiques, then truly transform her story during revisions. Her willingness to accept feedback and her drive to create gripping romantic suspense allow her to improve immeasurably between drafts, with just a nudge in the right direction. Underlying her skill with revisions is also an incredibly creative mind that keeps me (and her readers) guessing with exciting, unpredictable plot twists.

    I'm so glad to have the opportunity to help her writing grow into its vast potential, and I already can't wait to read book 3 in the Damaged Heroes series! 

    For her visit on our site, Sarah decided to share some thoughts on writing compelling heroes for romantic suspense:

    This June marks the third consecutive year I’ll publish a romantic suspense edited by Anya, and the third consecutive year she’s virtually shoved me from my unwavering path toward irate reviews.

    Perhaps it’s my myopic view as a writer to assume everyone knows my protagonist like I do, because it’s always a shock when both my critique partner and Anya read the first drafts of my novels and send back the blanket summary: Your hero is an ass.
      Editor's note: I have never said that sentence to her. 😉

    What? How could that be? I adore him! He suffered a terrible childhood and has now made a success of himself. Surely it’s clear why he behaves this way, utters that remark, or how every decision he makes plunges him into deeper chaos? And how can you not feel sorry for him when his world finally crumbles at his feet?

    Last year I sent a four-page email filled with anguished questions like this back to Anya. I’ve been writing for twelve years, what basic craft principle am I not getting? Her answer was simple:
    Externally you can keep the same plot issues with his fiancée, his dad, etc., but internally there has to be more at stake—a status quo that’s shaken from the moment of his return, and keeps falling apart.

    Stakes. A status quo that’s shaken. Keeps falling apart… Her words were a two-by-four to the head. For all the online classes, craft books, and workshops I’ve absorbed, I’d made the most basic newbie mistake: I focused on my protagonist’s external conflicts (plot-driven approach) when the riveting aspect of a novel is the internal struggle (character-driven).

    We’re all flawed in real life, and we all hold a world view or universal truth that is somewhere on the bell curve of skewed to destructively wrong. But it’s our belief, it’s what makes us feel "safe," and it’s basically unshakable.

    The character arc and happily-ever-after part of a romantic suspense is when the hero sees the error of that belief and grows as a person while also capturing the bad guy. My task was to make his world view much more tangible than: he had a tough childhood, so he acts like this now. It meant distilling that broad paintbrush stroke to a fine point: he wants extreme wealth and power with no emotional ties so he’ll never again face the emotional and financial destitution he experienced as a child. NOW, in this distilled form, I’m going to shake that belief system like a can of soda!

    Why is the character-driven approach more riveting than plot-driven? She went on to explain:
    It’s good that you have him pulled in a thousand directions and therefore he has to prioritize, but right now those directions don’t really matter because his internal world doesn’t really matter [to the reader]. 

    This also meant I had to rewrite and revise in much deeper point of view. Every thought and action out of him or the characters he interacted with had to be filtered through the hero's fear that the life he’s built is cracking and falling apart.

    Although this was my story’s status quo, I hope Anya’s insight has helped you look at your protagonist in a new light too.

    Sarah Andre is a 2017 RWA RITA® finalist and writes "romantic suspense that keeps you up all night." She lives in serene Southwest FL with her husband and two naughty Pomeranians. When she’s not writing, Sarah stays crushingly busy in various volunteer positions which she complains about loudly, but secretly enjoys. Her latest romantic suspense, Capturing the Queen, releases June 13, 2017.

    Connect with Sarah on Twitter & Facebook, or sign up for her newsletter!

    Featured Author: Janine Southard

      Last month, we started a new type of post here on the Touchstone Editing blog: guest posts by featured authors! We've worked with some amazing authors over the years, so we've invited some of them to provide additional perspective on both the editing process and publishing in general.
      I am probably Janine Southard's biggest fan. She and I first worked together in 2010 when she submitted a short story for a call for submissions I had out for my Circlet Press anthology Masked Pleasures. (Her story, "Heir Apparent," is one I still remember vividly, all these years later.) It's strange, looking back now, to think that hers was a name I once didn't know, that at one time she was just another name in the slush pile. Since then we've worked on a handful of projects together, each one more fun than the last -- I remember, while editing one of her books, when I had to stop reading because I was laughing so hard at a tongue-in-cheek comment one of her characters had made. (That book became Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story, which you should definitely check out if you like to laugh.) Not every writer can successfully pull off comedy, but Janine does it, amidst her talents of writing science fiction, fantasy, erotica, and more. 
      I could go on and on talking about how much I love Janine's books -- and I do, frequently, to anyone willing to listen -- but for now I'll let you hear from her in her own words: 

    The Editing Process: A Writer’s POV
    By Janine A. Southard

    Yay! The first draft is finished! For many writers, this is the hardest part. But that draft isn’t ready for general human consumption yet. So: what next?

    Everyone has a different editing process (usually rooted in their drafting method), but here’s how it looks for me.
    1. Put the draft away and don’t look at it for a while. (Steven King recommends 6 weeks. Sometimes I’m too impatient—or get too distracted—to make the exact 6 week mark, but I try.)
    2. Re-read it myself and make changes like I would if it were someone else’s. Usually, this is just line editing stuff (i.e., making the words more prettier), but sometimes it turns into a huge plot upheaval.
    3. Send this neatened draft to my critique group... or force my spouse to read it first.
    4. Whichever didn’t happen in step 3.
    5. Make necessary changes and send it off to my developmental editor. What? You don’t have an editor? Have you thought about Touchstone Editing? (Yes, I’m shilling. Because Jen Levine has been a wonderful editor for me. One book she helped me with won a Cygnus Award in 2016.)
    6. Wait impatiently for notes from the editor.
    7. Receive notes from the editor and be too scared to open them because what if it’s horrible and I don’t know what to do?
    8. Actually open the notes. Freak out because I don’t know what to do. (8.5 Get over the freak out and start brainstorming fixes.)
    9. Spend two weeks adding and subtracting scenes. Every song on the radio is about my manuscript. Every moment is thinking about how I could fix things. Every podcast contains some little nugget that would make the book so much better.
    10. Send it back to the editor. Sometimes, it doesn’t need a second developmental look and is ready for line editing. Sometimes, we repeat steps 6-9.
    11. Receive notes to make the words read more smoothly, or where to maybe reorder things. Try to take all the notes, but sometimes they’re just wrong. For instance, I once had an editor who was brilliant at story, but didn’t do science fiction. She didn’t think “Terran” clearly meant “from Earth.” I ignored that note after polling my friends/family/mailing list, but that was the only note I tossed. Most of the time, though, the editor is definitely right. Remember, you picked the one you’re working with for a reason. Take the advice. (Unless it really bothers you. Because, in the end, it’s your manuscript.)
    12. At this point, I’m sick of my book. I’ve read it too many times. Made too many tweaks. Even reading it to my cat has lost appeal. I am relieved when I send it to the copyeditor/proofreader. (This is usually a different person than the developmental editor, who may or may not have been different from the line editor.)
    13. Get the proofed version back. Slog through it in one night. Even if it takes 6 hours to go over every misplaced comma and consistency check. It’s painful to read at this point, so getting it done fastest is best. (Lucky for me, my spouse recognizes this activity and makes me dinner while I moan about how awful this whole book is. Why did I write it in the first place? Waaaaah.)
    14. Finish! At this point, I’m formatting and self-publishing. You may be choosing to send it off to agents and publishing houses. The point is: the manuscript is as ready as it’s going to be. You’re as ready as you’re going to be.
    There you go. That’s my whole editing process. Hating the book is actually helpful at the end, by the way, because it helps me accept editorial notes on tiny things that make the piece better. Like, all I want to do is make the manuscript go away, and that’ll happen faster if I don’t fight for obsolete comma rules.
    Remember that you trust your editor. Your next book will have different problems after all you’ve learned.

    Photo by Jeremy Barton

    Janine A. Southard writes speculative fiction from coffee shops in Seattle, WA. All her books so far have been possible because of crowdsourced funds via Kickstarter. She owes great thanks to her many patrons of the arts who love a good science fiction adventure and believe in her ability to make that happen.

    Get a free piece of fiction when you sign up for Janine A. Southard's newsletter. The newsletter will keep you current on things like her latest release dates approximately once a month. Your address will never be shared, and you can unsubscribe at any time. Plus: free ebook!

    Dos and Don’ts for Interacting with Editors at Conferences

    Photo credit:
    Later this month I’ll be attending Balticon, a science fiction and fantasy convention in Baltimore, Maryland, for the second time. Over the past decade, I’ve attended a number of conventions geared toward readers and writers, and I’ve had my share of both good and bad interactions with people who found out I’m an editor.

    It can be hard to approach someone in any social situation, even more so when you’re an author who has poured your heart into your work and now fears rejection and/or harsh criticism. I get it—I’ve been on that side of the exchange before. In case you’re like me and worried about putting your foot in your mouth, here are some easy dos and don’ts for approaching an editor in person (at conventions or elsewhere).

    • “My name is Author McAuthor. I write magical realism about blood-thirsty unicorns. Nice to meet you!”
        Introduce yourself. Even if you have nothing particular to say, putting a face to a name is always nice, and if we end up working together later—or when sending a query—you can say, “We met at that unicorn convention in Pittsburgh in 2017!” Bonus points for being specific about what kinds of things you write, because that will make you stand out. (Extra bonus points if you really do write magical realism about blood-thirsty unicorns.)
    • “Do you have a minute to chat? I’m working on a romance novel that I’d like to have edited, and I’d love to know what to do next.”
        You don’t have to commit to working with someone, but after introductions, you can still pick their brain about next steps and ask them for advice. This is also a good way to find out what their schedule looks like if they are someone you want to work with in the future.
    • “Hi, I saw you on a panel earlier and would love to chat more about the serial comma while we both enjoy our piña coladas!”
        Don’t be afraid to approach us in social situations, like at a bar or at lunch. Most often, we’re there to interact with others in the industry—just like you. But don’t trap us for half an hour listening to you talk about yourself; engage us in meaningful conversation! (Piña coladas are an added bonus.)

    • “Oh, you’re Editor McEditor. You rejected one of my stories once, which was a huge mistake.”
        No good can come of this. If an editor rejected your work, I can assure you it was nothing personal. But if you introduce yourself to an editor for the sole purpose of saying something snarky or mean-spirited, you’d better believe they’re going to remember you from then on. And not in a good way.
    • “I’m working on a story about a man who meets a woman and they fall in love and then she gets pregnant but the twist is he’s an alien, and then it turns out she’s cheating on him with a centaur-turned-villain whose name is Henrick…”
        Unless we’ve asked you to, don’t pitch us your book on the spot. And then, if we do express interest, definitely don’t tell us the entire plot. Sum it up for us in a sentence or two (typically called an elevator pitch), and then, if we’ve requested it, email the manuscript for us to look at later, when we’re not surrounded by distractions. It’s not that we’re not interested in your work; it’s just that this is not the time or place to be getting so granular—again, unless we’ve specifically asked you to. (In that case, all bets are off: go wild!) One more thing: if an editor does invite you to submit materials, don’t forget to follow up and note when and where the connection was made.
        If an editor is obviously in the middle of a meeting with someone, don’t interrupt. Sometimes this is the only time we’ll have to see clients from other parts of the country face to face, so this time can be precious to us. If you’re only available for a short time, try signing up for a pitch appointment to be sure you have our full attention. If you can be more flexible, a quick “hey, can you chat for a few minutes after your 4 o’clock panel?” will suffice—as long as you’re okay with hearing “no.”

    These are just some basics, but if you have specific scenarios you’re wondering about, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below (or shoot us an email).

    And if you’re going to be at Balticon in a couple of weeks, let me know! I hope to see you there.

    May the Fourth Spec Fic Authors Special

    May the Fourth be with you! In honor of stories celebrating the speculative, the weird, and the fantastical, we're offering a special discount for speculative fiction manuscripts:

    Book a speculative fiction project by 5/15 and get 15% OFF!

    • Manuscript must be speculative fiction. Any length or sub-genre counts!
    • Project must be booked by May 15 and must be scheduled to start by December 31, 2017.
      • Note that your project doesn't have to be ready by 5/15, but you do need to book a spot by then.
      • A signed contract and a deposit are required to book a spot in our schedule. For more info, see our FAQs.
    • The 15% discount will be applied to the final invoice.
    • Only one promotion can be applied to any one service.

    Featured Author: Deek Rhew

      Welcome to a new type of post here on the Touchstone Editing blog! We've worked with some amazing authors over the years, so we've invited some of them to provide additional perspective on both the editing process and publishing in general.
      First up is Deek Rhew. Deek impressed me from the very first time I worked with him. He swears he was intimidated by the notes in my first editorial letter, but rather than getting discouraged, he sent me a detailed list of both questions and proposed solutions to the problems in that draft of 122 Rules. Ever since, I've been excited to watch where that combination of humility and determination will take his career!
      So without further ado, meet Deek:

    I'm honored to get to guest post for Touchstone Editing. Anya Kagan was the editor for both of my books, Birth of an American Gigolo and 122 Rules. So when she invited me to write about editing from an author's point of view, I jumped at the chance.

    I can write a rough manuscript in about three to four months. I started my latest sci-fi thriller, Xtractors, at the end of January and am about 2/3 done with it. Forgoing life throwing me a curveball, I should be done with it by May. Sounds great, doesn't it? A whole book in three months! Send out the press releases and line up the agents, here comes the next best seller!

    Only not.

    While I can finish the rough in a few months, I will spend six to nine months editing it. This sounds like a long time, and I suppose from the outside, it might be. To clarify, here's a rough timeline of the process:

    Months 1–4: Rough draft. This is the no-holds-barred, raw writing of the manuscript. This process is ONLY about story. The manuscript will have passive voice, adverbs aplenty, talking heads, on and on and on. But that's okay. Here, I let my imagination off of its leash and kennel my analytical mind as it will only get in the way and stifle creativity.

    Months 4ish–12ish: Editing, Round One. In this phase, I:
    • Dive deeper into the characters, their motives, their thoughts, and their lives.
    • Iron out story flaws and plot holes.
    • Remove as much "telling" as possible (this is harder than it sounds). "Telling" is information told to the user as apposed to showing them. For instance:

        Jane dove like an insane person into the car.
        Jane ran full speed, her arms pumping and her sneakers pounding, across the street. At the last second before she ran into the side of the vehicle, she leapt. Landing on her butt, she slid across the slick, hot hood of the car. She caught the rim of the window with her fingers and flipped, like a gymnast going for the gold, into the front seat.
    • Work on the character arc, making sure that the characters grow.
    • Remove passive voice.
    • Remove grammatical errors.
    • Fix word choice.
    • Etc. etc. etc.
    There are a lot of things going on during this pass, not the least of which is fixing my writing weaknesses and bad habits. These are sometimes incredibly difficult to catch because, well, they're my writing weaknesses and bad habits, but I do my best.

    After I finish each chapter, I read it out loud. This is a often a multi-pass through process to ensure that everything sounds good to my ear. I think this is especially good for dialogue. Until it sounds just right to my ear, I'll keep reworking it until I'm satisfied.

    Okay, so Round 1 is done! Grab a Coke and a pizza, finally time to celebrate! Well, actually no. Now it's time to let this thing ferment and work on something different. Mid-January of this year, I finished a nine-month round of edits on the second novel in the 122 Rules series: 122 Rules - Redemption. This book is now sitting on a shelf waiting for me to get back to it while I write Xtractors. I need to distance myself from this work for a while and get a little perspective before I go back to it.

    I'll finish a full round of edits on Xtractors, and then I'll do another round of edits on Redemption. This will probably take another month, most likely two. Only after I'm satisfied with this pass through will I turn it first over to my wife, Erin Rhew, who is not only an author but an editor too. Once she's done, I'll turn it over to Anya here at Touchstone for her to do her worst.

    No matter how good I think it is, Erin and Anya will find a ton of problems. Honestly, I think that's awesome. I know that being an author is an evolving, learning experience, and that each manuscript will (hopefully!) be better than the last but never perfect.


    Erin is good at content edits and amazing at line edits. She'll grammar the stink out of my book. Anya will help me tear it apart and put it back together in ways that I never imagined. The first editorial letter I got from her for 122 was a sucker-punch to the gut. Even so, I look forward to seeing what ways she'll find to improve my book.

    Excerpt from an editorial letter for 122 Rules

    If you get an editor that tells you to give them your raw, unedited manuscript, you give your editor the boot. If they tell you that your work is great and doesn't need much work, you need to tell your editor to take a hike. Unless you're Shakespeare or Stephen King, that's not going to happen. You want someone willing to work hard. You want someone that not only knows the truth about what you need to fix but is also willing to tell you.

    If your editor doesn't tell you, then the reviewers on Amazon will.

    Thanks so much, Touchstone Editing and Anya!

    Deek Rhew has been enthralled by the written word and storytelling since he picked up his first Stephen King novel It. On his way to work one day, a scene so vivid flashed through his mind that he felt compelled to pull over and put it to paper. Having neither quill nor parchment in which to document the image, he laboriously pecked out the first chapter of his debut novel, 122 Rules, on his phone.

    Connect with Deek on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest on his books, news, and upcoming events.

    Touchstone Editing Turns Two!

    Technically, we're a little bit past the official two-year mark, but we decided to postpone the celebration due to last week's Writers for Hope auction. Now, however, it's time for a party!

    Over the last two years, we've:
    Photo credit: Skley via / CC BY-ND

    Thank you for being a part of it all!

    And what's a party without some door prizes? Enter below for a chance to win one of two 30-page critiques, or one of two 15-page critiques!

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    2017 Writers For Hope Auction for @RAINN01!

    The fourth annual Writers for Hope Auction is happening today! Each year, editors, agents, and authors contribute amazing auction items to raise money to combat sexual assault, and 100% of the proceeds go to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the United States' largest anti-sexual assault organization.

    There are over 100 items being auctioned off today. Whether you're looking for a critique opportunity, or new books to read, or a great gift for a friend, this is a wonderful chance to get what you need while also standing up against sexual assault and supporting a wonderful organization that fights back. Bids start at only $10!

    Don't forget: this is only a one-day auction, and bidding closes at 11:59pm EST (8:59pm PST). Watch out for those last-minute bidders!