Tips 'N Treats: Week 2

Welcome to the Pi Day edition of Tips and Treats!

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My Tip

Describing Unknown Items/Processes

My tip this week is geared more for my speculative fiction writers, but I’ve made it relevant for those of you writing completely within Earth, too.

You’re chugging along, really getting into that intergalactic space war. The characters bored a ship headed for parts unknown.

And then someone pulls out a “monodiexonerator,” uses it to “rearrange a wall,” and puts it away.

He did what, now?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably never heard of a monodiexonerator (which would be because I just made it up). You may also be thinking “that’s really cool. How did he rearrange that wall?” You read on, hoping to find out, but you don’t. And that’s okay because you’re really caught up in the story.

But the characters keep pulling out made-up devices to accomplish tasks with no explanation of what that process looks like or remotely how it’s possible. You start to feel distanced from the story. The world feels unbelievable. You lose your reading steam and either reluctantly finish or pull a DNF.

Authors, you don’t want this to be your readers.

Feeling disconnected from the story is a big reason readers put down books. Maybe readers get confused by all the stuff that’s happening without any description of what it means. Maybe they get annoyed that all the cool science is being brushed aside. Whatever they start thinking, confused or annoyed readers are not a good thing to have. They stop reading. Even if they power through, they might give the book 3 stars on Goodreads, say it was okay, and move on to a planet with pastures more to their color liking.

At this point, you’ve lost a reader. They aren’t buying your sequel, or your sequel’s sequel, or even the first book in the new series you wrote after punching up your writing and learning to more fully immerse readers in your world.

How do you keep this from happening? Describe your unfamiliar items/devices.

Let’s back up. Character A pulls out the monodiexonerator, a cylindrical object with a cone-shaped protrusion at one end. He doesn’t seem to press a button, but a red light shoots from the cone to strike a solid wall of polished chrome. The light disappears on contact, and the chrome surface melts, almost like the snow Character B once saw on Planet X.

“How did you do that?” character B asks.

Character A holds up the monodiexonerator, indicating a fingerprint pad on its rounded surface. He explains how the monodiexonerator is linked to his brainwave patterns and how he used his will to direct the device to the appropriate outcome.

Character B is suitably impressed.

As is your reader, and they eagerly read on.

Now, isn’t that more interesting than just saying Character A used the monodiexonerator on a wall?

If you’re reading science-fiction or fantasy, you expect to encounter science or magic you’ve never heard of and that doesn’t exist. After all, that’s a major trope of the genres. Good authors integrate that technology/magic into the story. Great authors make that technology/magic feel so realistic that the reader could picture using that device or casting that spell. Show that device, and describe that process. Immerse the reader in your fantastic world. This doesn’t mean to offer highly technical explanations for your devices that prove how they could work in the real world. Readers who want hard science will read hard science-fiction. Make your technology/magic part of the story and part of your characters.

You can take this a step further. Let’s use the old example of magic always taking a price from the user. You could simply say that Character A cast a spell and felt pain. It definitely gets the point across—there is a cost for the magic. Dig deeper. What kind of pain? Physical? Emotional? Spiritual? Where does that pain settle? Is it a lingering pain, or is it sharp and over in an instant? Keep asking those questions until you find a type of cost that works for your character and your world. Make that magic and its cost part of your character and, thus, your reader.

Now, I promised to make this relevant to my readers who are writing strictly real-world books. Not all items or processes are widely known about. Even if the name rings a bell with many readers, they might have no idea what that process actually looks like. Let’s use reiki as an example. Real quick, reiki is a Japanese form of energy therapy that involves laying one’s hand over an area to transfer negative energy away from a trouble spot. If you have a reiki master in your book, you could say they performed reiki on someone and then say that person started to feel better a few hours later. That gets the point across, but it isn’t very interesting. More importantly, it gives no description of how reiki works or what your character is feeling during the process. If you’ve never experienced reiki yourself, do some research. If you can swing it, even go through the process yourself. First-hand experience leads to the most detailed scenes.

Now, translate your research or experience into your writing. Describe what your character feels during the process. Are we with the master? Do they feel the buildup of negative energy? Do they struggle to transfer that energy, or is it a smooth process? What (if anything) do they learn about the other character during the session? If we’re with the person receiving therapy, do they feel a change after the process? Do they feel the flow of energy? Answering these questions and putting those feelings into the story makes the whole process feel so much more real. It also engages your reader in what’s happening. Engaged readers keep reading and pick up more of your books. You might even inspire a reader to seek out reiki for their own needs. Then, not only do you have a dedicated reader, but you’ve helped someone. And all because you explained an unknown process.

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Guest Tip

Please welcome this week’s guest editor, Kimberly Hunt of Revision Division. Kimberly has worked with authors of both fiction and non-fiction, as well as had experience with project and business management. She’s here this week to offer some insight on author/editor communication—specifically how to communicate with your editor. Without further ado, here we go.

Tips for Communicating with Editors
People have different strengths. This statement shouldn't surprise me, yet I'm still taken aback by the real-life examples demonstrating this fact. As a professional editor with years of business and project management experience, I take good communication skills for granted. The inspiration for this post came from an insightful author who pointed out to me that professional communication does not come naturally to everyone. Since I have a soft spot for helping writers, I've pulled together tips for communicating effectively with editors.

Initiating Contact
Breaking news - like some writers, editors can be introverted too! How you reach out to editors should be determined by their preferred methods of communication. If the editor's website has a contact form, use it. If their Twitter profile says, "no DMs," then respect that. If you or the editor prefers written communication over phone calls, stick with email. While I think a discovery phone call is fantastic to learn about goals and set expectations, I protect my time carefully by vetting potential clients via contact forms and email first. Efficient use of time is critical for a freelance editor who gets paid by the hour.

What to Communicate
So how do I efficiently deduce if an author is a good fit for my editing expertise? Or maybe more importantly, you want to know how to evaluate if an editor is a good fit for you, your book, and your budget. See my previous post for where to find professional editors and what questions to ask. Once you've connected, here's what information you should expect to provide to an editor: the genre and blurb or synopsis for your book, your target audience, estimated word count, and desired timeframe to complete the editing project. Be prepared to pay a rush fee in some cases. Plan ahead to avoid this and be aware that experienced, professional editors book months in advance. When discussing what types of editing you want, be knowledgeable about the options and use the editor's vocabulary to be clear about what you want. But still ask questions! The definition of what is included in a developmental edit varies from editor to editor.

How to Communicate
If you "interview" several editors to make a selection, don't be shy about letting them know. For anyone who avoids confrontation it might feel dreadful having to give bad news but be diplomatic and professional. Don't leave them hanging after you got an editor excited about possibly working with you. Politely say, "No thanks, I selected someone else." If there's a chance of maybe working together in the future, say so. But there is no need to disclose the great deal you got from someone else. Most professional editors set their rates within the industry standard range based on their level of experience. See the Editorial Freelancers Association for common rates per editorial service.

Setting Expectations
Once you've selected an editor that best fits your needs, how do you ensure they will deliver what you expect? I like to align expectations right at the start with an agreement documenting all that we've agreed upon concerning the type of editing to be done, when work will be completed (especially if we're talking multiple rounds) and how payments will be handled. It's like a contract but less intimidating. For me, it's helpful to discuss and agree on the manuscript format for editing, the way changes will be tracked, and the number of rounds between author and editor. Editorial style is a fuzzy concept, but just like an author's voice, it has a subtle impact. You may be able to discern the editor's style from a sample edit. Are you looking for a coach who points out what works well along with what needs to be improved? Do you want only the indisputable errors to be touched? Should the editor only identify problems or also suggest solutions to resolve those problems?

Ongoing Communication
Sometimes the process is as simple as a sample edit, editor's full edit, author's review of feedback, accept/reject changes and revision if needed. Other times it's a bit of back and forth with explanations and brainstorming. Do you know how to follow up on their progress without hovering? You should if it was discussed in the initial discovery call or documented in the agreement about expectations! Align early on communication preference and frequency and then trust. Trust that you've done your due diligence to carefully vet professionals and selected the best fit for you. If you asked other writers for referrals and checked references, then you need to trust the editor to handle your manuscript with care and get the job done on time. Give them space to do the work. I offer weekly progress updates for bigger editing projects that span multiple weeks. It's fair to ask for a status update on occasion but be cognizant of impeding progress. Don't distract them with requests for reassurance or questions of "How are you liking it?" Recognize that you're on the same team. Your editor wants your book to be a success almost as much as you do.

Final Communication
Editors like reviews just as much as authors. I encourage my clients to give me feedback about my edits because I take pride in delivering value promptly. I want to hear about how my suggestions were received. Did I meet or exceed expectations? All of my clients are asked to share a review of my services. Keep it professional and diplomatic. Share how you as the writer felt about the process and the final product. Did you learn something? Is your book better for it? If yes, then I did my job well. And as an editor who loves romance, I'll call that a satisfying "happily ever after."

~Connect with Kimberly:


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