Category Archives: Editing and Proofreading

3 Reasons Graphic Designers Should Never Edit Books

3 Reasons Graphic Designers Should Never Edit Books

3 Reasons Graphic Designers Should Never Edit Books

There are 3 reasons graphic designers should never edit books, despite your genuinely good intentions in doing so. So many do this as a form of “value add” for the clients who hire you to design their books. What you don’t realize is that you may be causing more harm than good.

#1 of 3 Reasons Graphic Designers Should Never Edit Books: All Editors Edit Differently

While it’s in all authors’ best interests to have as many different pairs of eyes as possible on their books, to catch as many of those last-minute typos as possible before publication, this practice also comes with its challenges. This is because they can give the same work to three different editors, and each one of those people will copy edit it differently from the others. Every single time. Without exception. And then the proofreader will make even more changes that will seem to contradict these editors’ recommendations … unless authors specify which editorial style guide they should all be using right from the very start. In other words, there’s no “one right way” to do this, which can be very confusing/frustrating for authors at times.

That’s why simplicity and consistency in editing is so important to every author’s sanity and why graphic designers should stick to designing alone. Otherwise, you’re just adding one more opinion to an already-complicated group of opinions. Believe me, it can be more confusing than helpful.

#2 of 3 Reasons Graphic Designers Should Never Edit Books: Editorial Style Guides

To take this a step further, English is far from being a simple, straightforward language. That’s much of the reason why editors and proofreaders sometimes contradict each other. There are many different editorial style guides associated with the English language. In fact, each different English region has its own: the UK, Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. We all have different ways of spelling and punctuating the English language, so we each use different style guides.

To achieve the desired simplicity and consistency mentioned earlier, my company now creates a customized editorial style sheet for every single one of our authors. The styles are driven, first and foremost, by each author’s preference (if any) as to which primary guide we should use (e.g., The Oxford Style Manual for British authors, The Chicago Manual of Style for American authors, a special blend of the two for Canadian authors, et cetera). From there, the customized editorial style sheet is created by the primary editor. All other proofreaders and editors follow that editor’s lead for every book published by that author going forward. Since most graphic designers are not privy to which style guides are being used, you are not in a position to make any changes to the books.

#3 of 3 Reasons Graphic Designers Should Never Edit Books: Stick With Your Specialty

Editors would never recommend graphic design changes to a book; they know that’s the graphic designer’s specialty. That respect should go both ways. Editors know their jobs best and are most familiar with which style guide will work best for a particular project. So, when graphic designers see things that you think might be wrong, I recommend you leave it be. It’s okay to send a note to the publisher or author questioning a certain word, phrase, or punctuation mark. But never change it on your own. You may just be changing something that was correct exactly the way it was and undermining the agreements made between the editor, proofreader, and author. It’s best to just stick with your own specialty and let the editors stick to theirs.

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Proofs and Three Parables by George Steiner

Michael LaRocca of MichaelEdits.com

The Wikipedia entry on proofreading includes four works of fiction in which one of the characters is a proofreader. The novella Proofs and Three Parables is one of them. The professore is one of the more memorable protagonists I’ve encountered in a long time. His skill as a proofreader is unrivaled. No mistake escapes him, however tiny, in the most trivial printing jobs. His eyesight has been damaged by years of exacting work, exacerbated by self-neglect, and he may be going blind.

Alas, this is a subplot.

The novella deals mainly with the fall of Communism. It’s the most readable thing I’ve seen on the topic, brief yet illuminating, simple without being simplistic, not as boring as I’m making it sound. The author is also passionately concerned with the tradition, culture, and fate of Judaism.

But I’d rather dwell on the professore’s character as a proofreader because, well, you do know what I do, right?

Now the burn seemed to smart behind his eyes.

Thirty years and more a master of his craft. The quickest, most accurate of proof-readers and correctors in the whole city, perhaps in the province. Working every night, and throughout the night. So that the legal records, deeds of sale, notifications of public finance, contracts, quotations on the bourse, would appear in the morning, flawless, exact to the decimal point. He had not rival in the arts of scruple. They gave him the smallest print to check, the longest columns of figures to justify, the interminable catalogues of lost and found to be auctioned for the post-office and public transport. His proof-readings of the bi-annual telephone directory, of electoral and census rolls, of municipal minutes, were legend. Printing works, the public record office, the courts of law vied for his labours.

But now the sensation of burning, just behind his eyes, felt sharper.

With an opening like that, the reader must read on. I know I did.

(For the record, I’ve only been editing for 28 years, and I use Word to zoom in on small fonts all the time. No phone books, but I’ve done some awesome work with sales catalogs.)

He hated litter. Waste paper struck him as the very waste of waste. At times, if the winds blew a piece towards his feet, he would pick it up, smooth it, read closely and make any correction needed. Then he would deposit it in the garbage receptacle, feeling obscurely rewarded and saddened. Any witness to this rite would have thought him deranged.

I’ve never done this, even though I do pick up litter. The professore is “a man whose obsessive scruple in respect of the minutiae of print, whose bristling distaste in the face of the approximate and the loosely mistaken, were magisterial and pedantic to a degree.” He’s also the kind of man I’d debate the Oxford comma with, but I fear I’d lose in the face of his stamina.

Since I mentioned Judaism, let me quote the professore.

Do you know what the Kabbala teaches? That the sum total of the evil and miseries of mankind arose when a lazy or incompetent scribe misheard, took down erroneously, a single letter, one single solitary letter, in Holy Writ. Every horror since has come on us through and because of that one erratum.

When his replacement replies that proofreading a hand-bill for an auction of used farm implements and manure sacks isn’t important enough to demand perfection, the professore disagrees.

It is just here that it matters more than ever before. To act otherwise is utter contempt. Contempt for those who cannot afford to look at a fine book, at quality paper or crafted type. Contempt for those who have a right under God, yes, under God, to have a flawless hand-bill, also for a sale of manure! It is just for those who live in rural holes, in slums, that we should do the best work. So that some spark of perfection will enter their wretched days. Can’t you understand, how much contempt there is in a false accent or a misplaced serif? As if you spat at another human being.

Technical editing since 1991. Business editing since 2006. MichaelEdits.com

© Michael LaRocca 2018



Hiring a Fiction Editor, Part Two

Marnie Lamb

2. Set a budget.

Hiring a professional editor is expensive. As with hiring a professional contractor, working with an editor will cost at least a few hundred dollars and possibly up to several thousand, depending on the service and the amount of work your manuscript requires.

Some editors charge a flat, per-job rate. One benefit of this approach is that both editor and writer know exactly how much the job will cost from the outset. However, from an editor’s perspective, a flat rate can be problematic because it requires her to estimate the time involved in editing a manuscript, including time for administrative duties. Even for experienced editors, estimating is an imprecise science, particularly if the editor and writer have never previously worked together. To guard against over- or underestimating, some editors present a range of fees, with a minimum and maximum.

Other editors bill by an hourly rate. This is often easier for the editor because it saves him the conundrum of estimating. Yet for the author, an hourly rate can be risky because the ceiling price is unknown. You can try to negotiate for a flat rate instead, but be aware that some editors won’t agree to a per-job rate. I once had an editor tell me that she didn’t believe in flat rates. Her perspective was that her time was worth a certain amount per hour, which is completely valid.

So what are the average hourly rates charged by editors? On its website, the Editorial Freelancers Association in the United States provides a chart of common rates. Copy editing starts at a rate of US$30 per hour, substantive editing at US$40 per hour (see https://www.the-efa.org/rates/). Editors Canada does not publish suggested rates, but I can share anecdotally that most Canadian editors will charge rates comparable to those of their American colleagues.

Two points mentioned in part one of this article are relevant here: First, a manuscript page is usually defined as 250 words (though for proofreading, this number is closer to 400 or 500 because a formatted page will be single spaced). Second, Amy Einsohn generalizes that copy editors work at a pace of anywhere from one to nine pages per hour; Editors Canada estimates the editing pace for structural or stylistic editing at one to three pages per hour (see https://www.editors.ca/content/what-do-editors-charge). If you multiply the number of hours needed to edit the manuscript times the hourly rate… well, you can do the math. Flat rates won’t necessarily be cheaper because they are based on the editor’s hourly rate times the number of hours that she thinks the job will require.

Don’t forget about tax. Like hairdressing or repairing cars, editing is a service for which practitioners can charge tax. In Canada, once an editor has earned an annual total of C$30,000 per year from his editing business, he must register with the federal government to obtain an HST number. Thereafter, he is required to charge tax for his editing services. Some editors choose to apply for an HST number even before they’ve hit the minimum threshold of earnings. In Canada, a Canadian editor working with a Canadian author will charge federal tax based on the province in which the author resides. Hence, an Ontario-based editor will charge 5% tax (GST) to an author who lives in British Columbia but 13% tax (HST) to one who lives in Ontario.

As you can see, a budget of $400 will not suffice in most cases. Unless your manuscript is short, has already been through a critique and several substantive edits, and requires only a light copy edit, which is not the case for 99% of manuscripts, you’re better off spending that $400 on a writing course or a writing coach.

3. Research editors with whom you might want to work.

Researching an editor’s specialties and contacting only editors whose skills and interests match your needs saves time for both writer and editor.

An excellent way to find editors is by using the free Online Directory of Editors (ODE) from Editors Canada (https://www.editors.ca/ode/search). (In the United States, the Editorial Freelancers Association has a similar directory.) The ODE lists each registrant’s editorial skills (e.g., copy editing), media or genre of specialty (e.g., fiction), and subject fields in which she has worked (e.g., family). You can choose from a drop-down menu in any or all of these three areas or type keywords into a general search bar. One word of caution: Searching for a skill, media, and subject field all at once will show you editors who have experience in all these areas but who don’t necessarily have experience in the intersection of these areas. That is, editors who come up in a search for “copy editing,” “fiction,” and “family” may not necessarily have copy edited fiction manuscripts about families.




Therefore, it’s wise to conduct further research by reading the profile statements and looking at the websites of editors who pop up in search results. For example, my ODE entry includes substantive editing as a skill. I have experience substantive editing journal articles, grant applications, and resumes. While I enjoy this type of editing in certain contexts, I’ve chosen other editorial services as the focal points of my business. My website showcases these services, including manuscript evaluation and copy editing. If you’re seeking substantive editing for your manuscript, contacting an editor who lists experience in “substantive editing” and “fiction” is completely fair. But because those terms are likely to yield dozens of potential candidates, digging into the backgrounds of some candidates should help you narrow down the list to those editors who are the closest matches.

If you’re interested in hiring an editor to undertake multiple types of editing, as some self-publishing authors are, then be sure to look for editors who can handle all the kinds of editing you need (e.g., structural editing, stylistic editing, and copy editing).

While you’re digging into an editor’s background, double check whether his ODE entry and website contain spelling or grammatical errors (surprisingly, I’ve found a few). Also consider how long the editor has been in business and what sort of testimonials he has garnered.

When you’ve decided on a group of editors to whom you’d like to reach out, limit your first round of emails to no more than five or six people. Emailing thirty editors is tantamount to sending the same resume and cover letter to thirty employers: the broader the target, the less likely you are to hit the bullseye. If the first round of queries doesn’t yield a hire, embark on a second round, again of only a few people.

4. Craft a detailed introductory email and prepare a sample from your manuscript.

Write a detailed, courteous (see point five) email introducing yourself and your manuscript and answering the questions I posed in part one of this article.

During the initial negotiations, an editor may request a short sample from your manuscript (perhaps ten pages) so that she can assess which type and level of editing are required and how long the job will take. Although you should have a sample available before contacting an editor, don’t send your sample when you first reach out to her. Don’t presume that an editor has the time or desire to read your manuscript. Remember that at this point, you’re only querying. You and the editor haven’t yet agreed to collaborate. Also, many people will not open unsolicited attachments from unknown individuals, and emails containing such attachments may end up in the receiver’s spam bucket.

If you have a deadline (e.g., you’re writing a family memoir and want it completed for a relative’s eightieth birthday), by all means share that with the editor and make it a parameter of your agreement. But in that case, plan ahead. Editors can’t necessarily accommodate a quick, urgent turnaround. The more experience an editor has, the more likely he is to be booked weeks or even months in advance. If you procrastinate and then want your manuscript edited immediately, you might get lucky and locate an editor who has the right credentials and is available right away. You might have to compromise by hiring someone whose experience and background are not exactly what you’d been seeking. Or you might have to jettison your original deadline to respect your chosen editor’s availability.

5. Be courteous in all your interactions and give each editor a final response.

Editors talk. We have associations with conferences, monthly meetings, and email discussion groups. Many of us are friends as well as colleagues. If you’re sending out a slew of emails that sound unprofessional, suspicious, or generic, editors might pass on this information to one another as a warning (e.g., “Has anyone else received an email from a guy looking for an editor for his 200,000-word manuscript on a rebellion by Martian dry cleaners?”). The greater the number of editors who are contacted, the less likely each particular editor is to be hired for the job. Hence, many editors don’t want to spend time responding to queries that sound as though they’ve been sent to dozens of other editors (failing to include the editor’s name in the salutation screams mass email). If your query falls into this category, you might find yourself receiving a lot of nos or no responses.

It’s astonishing how many people lack basic email etiquette. Often, I don’t receive a final response from writers who have queried me about editing their manuscripts. I’m fine with not being hired. The editing market in North America is a free one, and writers are at liberty to choose whomever they’d like to work with. Both writer and editor must be comfortable with their mutual arrangement. If a writer feels that I’m not the best match for her, then our working together is not a good idea. But I do get a bit grouchy when I’ve taken the time to correspond with and offer advice to a budding writer, only to have that person go silent and leave me dangling.

So regardless of whether you hire a particular editor, if you’ve corresponded with that person, be sure to thank her for her time and let her know your decision. Editors are busy professionals, and any time spent corresponding with you may not be billable even if the editor is hired and is definitely not billable if she isn’t. So be grateful that you’re getting free advice and respond accordingly.

6. Recognize what an editor can—and cannot—do for you.

An editor can provide an honest, unbiased, professional assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript. An editor can offer practical suggestions for improving your manuscript. An editor can help you make your manuscript the best it can be.

Note the word “help”: the onus is still on you. An editor can provide an insightful manuscript critique, but if you choose to ignore parts of it, that may result in the manuscript not realizing its potential. Likewise, an editor can suggest edits to a manuscript, but you have the final say as to which ones you accept. Certainly, you should act on and accept only critiques and edits that make sense to you and with which you’re comfortable. But be aware that rejecting too many of the editor’s ideas defeats the purpose of having hired an editor in the first place.

An editor cannot guarantee that a traditional publisher or agent will accept your manuscript. While having an editor assist you is likely to increase your chances of getting published, it’s important to understand that an edited manuscript offers no promises. Many other considerations, mainly surrounding the marketability and potential sales of a book, come into play in a publisher or agent’s decision to accept a manuscript. Be suspicious of any editor who makes promises about your manuscript being published—unless he owns a publishing company and is telling you that he will publish the manuscript himself.




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You may be thinking that hiring an editor seems like a lot of work. Perhaps, yet consider this: How many years of work did you put into your manuscript? Surely, your manuscript is as important to you as a kitchen renovation, so why not take the same amount of care in finding the right person to help you take your project to the next stage? Even if you plan to self-publish and don’t need to worry about polishing a manuscript to please a publisher, think of your readers. You have only a single chance at that all-important first impression. Do you want a weak structure, confused paragraphing, and multiple typos to be part of that impression?

Lest you think that all of this advice is coming from the perspective of an editor only, let me share a personal story. Ten years ago, I was a published short story author who had a book-length manuscript, a young adult novel. The manuscript had grown out of the thesis I wrote for my master’s degree in creative writing. I’d been shopping the manuscript around to publishers without success and wanted an honest, non-academic perspective on the story. After searching the ODE, I found an editor and hired him to conduct a manuscript evaluation. His enthusiastic feedback confirmed that my manuscript had value outside of an academic institution. The evaluation included a few suggestions for structural improvements, which I implemented myself.

Several years later, after having sent the manuscript to several more agents and publishers to no avail, I heard that my manuscript evaluator had started his own publishing company. Resubmitting my manuscript to him in the hopes that it would be published seemed like fate. Last spring, The History of Hilary Hambrushina was published, after an eighteen-year journey from academic thesis to published book.

My story is proof that working with an editor can be a rewarding experience that ultimately results in success in finding a publisher. I hope that it will inspire you in your own publishing journey.

Happy editor finding!

© Marnie Lamb

Marnie Lamb is a Gemini incarnate: half writer and half editor. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor. Her short stories have appeared in Journey Prize Stories 25 and various Canadian literary journals, including filling Station, The Nashwaak Review, and The Dalhousie Review. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, was published by Iguana Books in the spring of 2017. She pursues her other love, editing, as the owner of Ewe Editorial Services, which offers copy editing, manuscript evaluation, indexing, permissions and photo research, and proofreading services. When she is not writing or editing, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out fashions—preferably ones with polka dots—at Toronto’s One of a Kind Show.

Hiring a Fiction Editor, Part One

Marnie Lamb

As a freelance editor, I receive queries from aspiring authors seeking editing for their book-length fiction manuscript. Getting a book published, particularly with a traditional publisher (as opposed to a hybrid or self-publisher), is even harder now than it was a decade ago. More and more, publishers and agents are seeking polished manuscripts. If you’re an author, working with a professional editor can improve your chances of having your manuscript accepted for publication. However, simply requesting “editing” in your email query without further specification is similar to saying, “I want some renovation work done on my kitchen, but I don’t know what type of renovation I need or what my budget is.” Just as a kitchen can be renovated in many ways, a manuscript can be edited in many ways.

Many authors don’t have a strong sense of what occurs between a manuscript’s acceptance and its appearance on a bookstore’s shelves or website. And why should they? The publication process is not a basic subject of a secondary-school or university education. When I launched my editing career in earnest, I was a published short story writer with three university degrees in English literature. Yet until I began taking editing courses, I didn’t know the difference between a copy edit and a proofread. But having basic knowledge of the steps in the publication process, including the different types of editing and their order in the process, will serve you well if you’re contacting an editor. The more specific you are about what you want for your manuscript, the more an editor will be able to help you and the more likely you’ll be able to choose the right editor for the job.

Let’s look at a typical first email from a budding writer looking to hire a fiction editor: “Hi, I’ve just completed my first novel. It’s 100,000 words, and I’m looking to have it edited. What you do charge?”

Now let’s break down the problems with this email:

I: Who are you? What is your background as a writer? Do you have a degree or certificate in creative writing, or have you taken any courses in that area? Do you have publications or a website? Granted, many writers seeking editing are first-time authors without a lot of credentials or an author website. But providing even a few details about your writing background is a helpful clue to the editor about what type of editing you might need (e.g., “I’m a yet-to-be published author who has just completed the novel writing workshop at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies”).

My first novel: What are the title, subject, and genre? Whom do you envision as the audience? How would you summarize your story in a sentence or paragraph?

100,000 words: This is a good start, but word count is only one chapter in your manuscript’s story. What is your manuscript’s history: How many people have read it? Are they experienced writers or other professionals who regularly assess creative writing and who have no emotional connection to you, or are they your family and friends? How many drafts has it gone through?

Edited: What kind of editing are you seeking? What is your goal for your manuscript? Are you looking to self-publish it or submit it to a traditional publisher or an agent?

Charge: What is your budget? Do you have a deadline for completion of the editing?

As you can see, the initial email is vague. It doesn’t provide an editor with enough details for her to determine whether she’s even the right person for the job, let alone whether she’s interested in undertaking it. When I receive such emails, I respond requesting the missing details, particularly the type of editing that the writer is seeking. Many writers come back with quixotic ideas like “I want the prose to sing” or muddy direction such as “I want the book to be a good read.” But these statements don’t give an editor any sense of what the writer actually needs.




You don’t have to provide an editor with answers to all the questions I asked above, but you should at least be able to talk about your manuscript’s history and your goals for your manuscript. Teasing out such details is time consuming for everyone involved. So in the interests of saving time, frustration, and potentially miscommunication, here are some steps you should take if you’re considering hiring a fiction editor.

1. Determine which type of editing you need.

To return to the kitchen metaphor, let’s say that you’re selling your house and you want to update the kitchen (the manuscript) to entice potential buyers (publishers and agents). Each type of editing represents a different type of renovation. For a fiction manuscript, these are the potential types of editing, in the order in which they need to be completed.

Manuscript evaluation: A manuscript evaluation is a ten-to-fifteen-page critique of a book-length fiction manuscript. The critique focuses on areas such as plot, structure, characters, dialogue, setting, and writing technique and style. In our kitchen metaphor, a manuscript evaluation is the equivalent of a contractor, designer, or realtor looking over your kitchen and making a list of suggested improvements. That person doesn’t make the improvements. Rather, he itemizes what he thinks the kitchen needs and you decide which items to act on.

While not an absolutely necessary stage in the editing process, manuscript evaluation is highly useful for most writers. If you haven’t had your manuscript critiqued by an editor or writing instructor, taken a writing course, or been part of a writing group, I strongly recommend that you begin with a manuscript evaluation. Writing is like any other skill: it’s developed in part by having people critique your efforts. This critique is particularly valuable to those who haven’t studied the craft of writing, either formally or informally. Even if you have had a writing teacher or fellow participant in a workshop read your manuscript, obtaining a second (or third or tenth) opinion from a dispassionate source is wise. If nothing else, an evaluation will show you the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript, which will help you decide whether you want to proceed to the more costly and time-consuming steps that follow in the editing process.

In Canada, manuscript evaluation has standard rates. The Writer’s Union of Canada, which offers a manuscript evaluation service performed by anonymous reviewers, charges C$125 for the first ten pages of a manuscript (in publishing, a manuscript page is usually defined as 250 words) and then $2 for each subsequent page.

Structural or substantive editing: Structural editing refers to big-picture editing of both content and form. Structural editing is the equivalent of adding or removing walls, building an extension, and reinforcing floors. Unlike manuscript evaluation, structural editing addresses all structural problems, rather than merely pointing to the biggest ones. Once your manuscript has been evaluated, it will most likely need at least some structural editing. Alternatively, you may decide to skip the evaluation and instead hire someone to help you with the structural editing. This editing could comprise a total tear-down or just a few well-placed tweaks. Depending on your arrangement with the editor, she might suggest the changes or make the changes herself.

Stylistic or line editing: This type of editing involves combing through a manuscript line by line and smoothing paragraph and sentence order and construction, clarifying unclear wording, and eliminating wordiness. The kitchen renovation equivalent is adding or removing cabinets, replacing appliances, and retiling the kitchen floor.

Copy editing: Copy editing is what many people think of when they hear the word “editing”: checking and correcting spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and word usage. For the kitchen renovator, this equates to updating the wallpaper or paint, installing a Lazy Susan in a cabinet to ensure that pots and pans are easily accessible, and recycling that rickety chair that you’ve never gotten around to fixing.

Proofreading: The final step in the editing process is proofreading, which involves reading text after it has been placed in its final format. A proofreader double checks page numbers, ensures that design specifications have been followed, and fixes typographical and formatting errors and any flagrant mechanical booboos missed by the copy editor. In our kitchen metaphor, this amounts to buying matching cushions for your chairs, ensuring that cabinet handles are not loose, and replacing your rustic cutting board with a sleeker model to complement the kitchen’s contemporary look. Proofreading is frequently confused or conflated with copy editing. Unless you’ve already found a publisher and your manuscript has been put through page-layout software such as InDesign and a PDF file generated, you’re not looking for proofreading.




For all types of editing other than manuscript evaluation, keep two points in mind. First, there are different levels of edit: heavy, medium, and light. The heavier the edit, the longer the task will take. For example, in The Copyeditor’s Handbook, Second Edition, Amy Einsohn estimates that a copy editor typically works at a rate of four to nine pages per hour for a light copy edit, two to seven for a medium edit, and one to three for a heavy edit. (These are generalizations. Many factors, including the number of words per page and the complexity of the material, influence an editor’s pace.) Second, the rates for editing services vary, depending on the type of editing and the amount of time the edit takes. I’ll talk more about rates in part two.

The biggest error that most writers make when contacting an editor is assuming that their manuscript is at a later stage than it is. Most writers need manuscript evaluation or substantive editing; their manuscripts simply aren’t ready for copy editing. You wouldn’t update the wallpaper on a wall that you might end up removing. So too is it illogical to copy edit a manuscript that needs substantive editing. Your manuscript could be edited to have sterling spelling, gorgeous grammar, and perfect punctuation. But if the manuscript contains chapters or paragraphs that are confusing, repetitive, or tangential, they will need to be reworked or even cut from the story before publication. Then the sterling spelling, gorgeous grammar, and perfect punctuation—and the expense of paying for them—will have been for nought.

If you’re uncertain about what your manuscript needs, don’t fret. You can still approach an editor, giving him some sense of what you might need (e.g., “I think I need substantive editing”). Editors will appreciate the fact that you’ve tried to understand the terminology.

Regardless of the type of editing you’re seeking, you should have a complete manuscript, at least a first draft, if you’re approaching an editor. You can’t renovate a kitchen that exists only in theory. If you’re seeking help with a first draft that is still in progress, you’re looking for a cowriter, ghostwriter, or writing coach, someone to help you write the book, which involves a different skill set than editing. While some editors may offer these services, they are not editing services.

For more details about the various types of editing, visit the Editors Canada website: https://www.editors.ca/hire/definitions-editorial-skills.

© Marnie Lamb

Marnie Lamb is a Gemini incarnate: half writer and half editor. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor. Her short stories have appeared in Journey Prize Stories 25 and various Canadian literary journals, including filling Station, The Nashwaak Review, and The Dalhousie Review. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, was published by Iguana Books in the spring of 2017. She pursues her other love, editing, as the owner of Ewe Editorial Services, which offers copy editing, manuscript evaluation, indexing, permissions and photo research, and proofreading services. When she is not writing or editing, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out fashions—preferably ones with polka dots—at Toronto’s One of a Kind Show.

Why It’s Critical to Outsource Editing

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

With the introduction of hybrid publishing, today’s authors have so much more creative control over their books. They ultimately have the final say on everything from conception to publication, but some fundamentals remain. Professional editing is one of them. 

Professional Authors Use Professional Copy Editors 

Why do some greenhorn authors resist having their work copy edited by a professional? Perhaps, three underlying reasons are the cause: one, they fear that their work might be stolen if they share it with a stranger prior to publication; two, they fear that the context of their work might be changed during the editing process; and three, they fear the price. Let’s address each of these concerns one at a time. 

1. Fear of Copyright Infringement 

First and foremost, the chances of anyone having his or her manuscript stolen and published by someone else—particularly an editor—is next to nil; however, writers can give themselves peace of mind by protecting their copyright ahead of time. Doing so will help to alleviate this fear.




2. Fear of Changed Context (Loss of Personal Voice) 

It is important to understand that a copy editor’s job is simply to enhance a writer’s story as it is—to offer helpful suggestions that might have been overlooked or not considered at all. 

Simple copy improvements: 

A second set of eyes will catch those unobvious errors—such as transposed words and letters, punctuation issues, or improper word usage—that an author is simply blind to after reading the same thing over and over again (and that electronic spell checks sometimes miss). 

Story development improvements: 

Have you ever been trained for a new position by someone who knew the job so well that he or she unconsciously went about many of the details and neglected to discuss them with you? He or she had been doing it for so long themselves that they were unaware of everything they were doing. As a result, you received only part of the information, which made it difficult to follow the entire process from start to finish. In much the same way, writers can sometimes see a scene so vividly in their own minds that, when they transfer it to paper, they unwittingly leave out important details that the reader will need. A good editor will point this out and ask the question, “How exactly did we get from ‘A’ to ‘B’ here?” This type of commentary gives writers an opportunity to go back and fill in the blanks that they didn’t realize existed beforehand. (This is more common than you might realize!) 

Professional copy editors work with writers to enhance their stories while keeping the original voice intact, and the smartest and most successful writers all take that advice seriously. It’s important.




3. Fear of the Price of Copy Editing 

There is the price of something—and then there is the cost. The price of editing can seem excessive to some. However, you should consider two important things here: the upfront financial investment that ensures a quality, saleable product (the price); or the loss of sales on the back end that stems from an unprofessional product, riddled with errors (the cost). The best writers know the value of a professional copy edit, and they make sure to have it done on every book they publish. The price is worth it because it will reduce unnecessary costs down the road. 

Outsource a Copy Editor to Polish a Book

The reality is that self-publishers’ books are competing in the marketplace with trade publishers’ books. Trade (traditional) publishers always have their books professionally edited. Always. This is why they can boast such high quality. If you want your book to stand out from the crowd and represent you as the business professional you truly are, then it’s best to outsource a professional editor. You’ll get the best result if you do.

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Time-management, Productivity, and Efficiency for Busy Professionals

Jennifer D. Foster, freelance writer, editor, and owner of Planet Word

I think almost all of us are aiming for balance in our professional and personal lives.

I’m not a certified expert on time-management, motivation, or productivity. And I don’t have all the answers. But I’m a fairly successful freelance editor and writer, who’s happy to share the strategies and best practices I use in order to keep my clients happy, juggle multiple editorial jobs, and keep sane in the process.

I’ll give you a brief synopsis of how I got to where I am professionally and what I do, to give you some overall context, then I’ll talk about specifics.

I’m a freelance writer, editor, and mentor, with 20 years’ experience, 14 of those as a freelancer. As the sole proprietor of my business, Planet Word, I wear many hats and tackle many projects. I work on everything from adult and children’s fiction and non-fiction, consumer and trade magazines, web content, newsletters, and ads to style guides, curatorial material, press releases, annual reports, and book reviews. My clients and projects are vast and varied—just how I like it!

My first degree is an honours double major in sociology and mass communications from York University in Toronto. For my second degree, I went to journalism school at Ryerson University, also in Toronto.

After graduating from Ryerson, I got a two-month internship at Chatelaine magazine, while Rona Maynard was editor-in-chief. I wrote a few articles, did some fact-checking, and sat in on editorial meetings, but I wasn’t hired, as there were no staff jobs available. It was a fantastic view into the editorial world, and I wanted more!

I then worked for about three years as assistant editor at Homemakers magazine, under the leadership of Sally Armstrong. She was an inspirational boss and gave me my own section to edit after less than a year there, and after two years there, she sent me on a feature-writing assignment to the Philippines.

After Homemakers, I headed to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) as writer and editor in the Marketing and Communications department. That was a dream job, where I got to utilize both my editing and my writing skills. On particularly intense or trying days, I’d leave my desk to wander in the galleries, remembering why I was working there in the first place! After 2.5 years, I went on maternity leave and never looked back. When my son, who’s now 14, was six months old, I felt I was going brain dead as a stay-at-home mom and decided to launch Planet Word. I had no idea what I was doing as a new business owner, but I told all of my friends, family, and business contacts that I was available for freelance writing and editing.

Fast-forward to now, where sometimes I’m juggling up to half a dozen client projects at a time, with overlapping deadlines. This is very stressful and extremely demanding, but I find the following strategies help me get through even the most intense work periods.




Know Yourself and Your Work Style

My main tip is to know yourself and your work style and embrace them both wholeheartedly.
I know that I like lots of natural light, myriad lists, an uncluttered work space, lots of herbal teas and salty snacks, great variety in my projects and that I thrive under work pressure. Be your own best friend and work with yourself and your quirks—not against them. Don’t compare yourself to others and how they work: one magic formula does not fit all, and I believe everyone’s a work in progress, so be kind to yourself.

Woody Allen said 80 per cent of success is showing up. I couldn’t agree more, so that’s why I make an effort every work day, which is often seven days a week, to wake early, eat a decent breakfast, get dressed (yes, no pyjamas or sweats for me!), and be at my computer for 9 am. I treat my freelancing for what it is—a successful business and a professional undertaking. Call me crazy, but I feel very unmotivated and unprofessional sitting at my desk in pyjamas. Getting dressed and being at my desk for 9 am gets me into the right frame of mind to work.

Carpe Diem

I’m high energy, detail-oriented, and work well under lots of pressure. I think that’s how I came out of the womb! But I’m always open to trying new strategies, and I know that I have room for ongoing improvement. My theory is carpe diem. Treat each job as a privilege. And take each day as a gift and run with it. Which brings me to another tip: don’t procrastinate! I know—we all do it. But try and jump into a project right away. As a freelancer, I never know what’s coming down the pipe and when, so I need to tackle each project as soon as possible.

Speaking of trying something new, I wanted to share a time-management method that I discovered last year, while I was writing a feature on beating writer’s block for Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique. In a nutshell, this is how it works:

Step one: Pick your task.

Step two: Set a timer (traditionally, it’s for 25 minutes).

Step three: Work on that sole task until your timer rings.

Step four: Put a checkmark on a piece of paper after the timer rings.

Step five: If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (typically, it’s for three to five minutes) and then go back to step two.

Step six: After you have a total of four pomodoros, take a longer break (typically, it’s for 15 to 30 minutes). Reset your checkmark count back to zero and then return to the first step.

The main premise is to work in 25-minute blocks of time (called “pomodoro sessions”), followed by breaks. Each pomodoro session requires your full attention on a single task and then you take a break. The supposed results are improved productivity, burnout elimination, work-life balance and distraction-management.

Maybe some of you may have already tried it, and maybe it works for you. I tried it a few times, but I realized I’m more of a head-down, just-get-the-job-done kind of gal, so the timer going off was, ironically, a major distraction for me, and I found this method more irritating than anything, so I ditched it!

Make Lists

I’ll confess that I’m a list junkie. I make lists for almost everything, whether it’s business or personal, and I get a thrill crossing things off the list. My husband’s now doing it, after years of initially thinking I was crazy! He was always amazed at how much I’d get done in a day, and I told him it’s partly because I thrive on using lists. Now he’s a convert, and sometimes we jokingly fight over who will get to cross completed tasks off the chore list! Crossing jobs off a list gives me a great sense of purpose and accomplishment, and it motivates me to see lines through completed projects and tasks. I used lists with all my in-house jobs, and I’ve continued that method with freelancing.

It may shock you to know, however, that I work with a hard copy calendar and pen-and-paper lists—call me a dinosaur, but I love to get and stay organized on paper. I spend so much of my day on a screen that it’s a welcome change to actually use my hand to write, though my handwriting is atrocious! I have a work calendar that gives me a month at a glance, as I’m one of those people who needs to see the big picture, as well as the details. I write down when projects are due, and that way I can see where the bottlenecks are/could be, and that helps me know right away if I can take on any more work. I also use lots of highlighters and different coloured pens, so projects and deadlines stand out.

I make a list for the upcoming work week, usually on Sunday night, so I know what is due when and to whom for the upcoming week. That’s a smaller version, if you will, of the bigger picture. If my workload is light for that week, then I put on my marketing hat, contacting clients I haven’t heard from in a while, reminding them I’m available for work, or contacting potential clients (and yes, I have a list of potential clients!). Before going to bed, I add to the list, cross off tasks completed or move them to a newly created list. I also have an organized plan for each work day and that keeps me on track and motivated. Maybe there are apps or programs to do this, but hard copies work for me.

I also find creating editorial checklists helpful, depending on the size of the project. If it’s only a few pages, then I don’t create one. But if it’s a major project, like copy editing a 300-page cookbook, I develop a checklist in addition to the style guide I’m using. They are often a simple Word doc or sometimes I write out my checklist. I usually use the checklist at the beginning and at the end of my project, to ensure I’ve been thorough.




Get Through Every Email

Another time-management and motivation strategy I use is making it a priority to get through all of my emails before the end of each day. It’s a quirk of mine, and I realize it sounds freakishly anal and maybe impossible, but, again, this a strategy that works for me. I find it soul-crushing to open up my email in the morning, only to find a long stream of neglected emails/clients. Sometimes that just means a quick and professional acknowledgment of the email, stating that I’ll respond in more detail the next day or very soon.

Regular Breaks, Exercise, and Self Rewards

Another tip: I make time each day for regular breaks and exercise. They are essential for my sanity and my productivity. I do weekly hatha yoga, and I have an ex-racer greyhound who needs multiple daily walks. Exercise helps me manage stress and allows me to brainstorm or work through an issue I may be having with something I’m writing or editing. Bestselling author Gretchen Rubin says that doing 10 jumping jacks will boost your mood and increase your energy. I haven’t tried that yet, but maybe I should! Even when I was an in-house editor at Homemakers and especially at the AGO, I took time for regular breaks. As I mentioned, on particularly stressful days, I’d wander in the galleries, enjoying my favourite Emily Carrs and Tom Thomsons. I have very fond memories of the Yoko Ono, William Wegman and Hermitage exhibitions because I was able to enjoy the art during a weekday morning, often avoiding all the ugly weekend and afternoon crowds. For me, breaks are a form of escapism and regeneration, a chance to lose the work chains and give my brain time to recharge and think freely, which really aids in efficiency and motivation.

I’m also a big believer in self-rewards. I will say to myself that after I get X number of pages edited or y number of pages written, I will treat myself to, for example, wandering in some of my favourite neighbourhood shops or cafes, watching a BBC show, or to some pleasure reading.

Also, I take advantage of any downtime or lulls in work. Freelancing is feast or famine, so I use downtime to re-energize, strategize, and sometimes make more lists! I visit arts and antique markets, visit with friends or family, or think of potential new clients or story ideas. I also meet with fellow editors and writers to commiserate, often sharing work tips and strategies.

Just Say “No!”

Another tactic I use is just saying “No!” No to a client, no to a volunteer opportunity, and even no to myself for doing any more work that day. My theory is, it’s better to pass on a project than to take it on and do a less-than-spectacular job and ruin your precious reputation. Clients appreciate the honesty, which keeps your integrity as an editor intact. Almost every client I’ve ever said no to has come back another time with another job or another part of the job I originally declined. I recently had to turn down a copy editing project for a main client because of prior work commitments, but I was approached by that client again several weeks later to proofread the same project. Fortunately, I was able to say yes then.

I also don’t have a problem with making some nights a “get-your-own-meal” or “cereal night” at our house. My husband likes to cook, but he gets home from work around 7 pm. He is very understanding and so is our teenaged son. They’re used to this occurrence and know that sometimes a decent weekday meal isn’t going to happen, because “Mom’s on deadline again!”

Switch to Something New

Another way for me to meet deadlines and stay motivated is to work on multiple projects in one day or just switch to a different project altogether. As I mentioned, I wrote a feature last year for Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market on beating writer’s block, and many of the writers, editors, publishers, and writing instructors I interviewed do this. If my mind is wandering or if I need a break, I put aside that project and start on another. For example, if I just can’t look at that annual report pdf one more time, I’ll try writing a page for my YA novel, start working on my next book review for Canadian Children’s Book News, or research or brainstorm potential authors for the next season of Rowers Readers Series, for which I’m the administrative director. Sometimes that’s all I need to feel motivated to finish or return to the first project.

Positive Energy, Kind People

My final strategy is, surround yourself with positive, kind people. I express regular gratitude to those people in my life, as I know success is never a solo venture. It may sound cliché, but having family and friends who are supportive and respectful of you and your work will do wonders for your self-esteem and your peace of mind, which in turn has a favourable effect on your productivity, motivation and efficiency.

*****

Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto, Canada-based freelance writer, editor, and mentor. She’s been in the writing and editing business for two decades, and her company is Planet Word. Jennifer’s clients are from the book and custom publishing, magazine, and marketing and communications fields and include The Globe and Mail, Art Gallery of Ontario, D. F. Plett Historical Research Foundation, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Canadian Children’s Book News, Dundurn Press, Ontario Dental Association, and Firefly Books. When she’s not busy spilling ink for her first novel, walking her greyhound, Aquaman, or reading, Jennifer enjoys travelling, antiquing, gardening, camping and yoga. She’s a long-time mentor to novice editors via Editors Canada and novice writers via the Professional Writers Association of Canada. Jennifer is chair of Editors Toronto and administrative director of the Rowers Reading Series. Find her online at lifeonplanetword.wordpress.com.

The Science of Revision: Words Are All We Have

Jack Strandburg, Freelance Editor at J. S. Editing Services

Revising fiction, whether in the form of a short story, novella, or novel, is more than spell and grammar check; every fiction writer knows that; otherwise there would be no need for editors, and having recently started a freelance editing business, I’m thankful for that fact.

I have edited more than thirty-five novels in various genres, and although different genres offer different challenges, and “what to look for,” the common goal among the genres is to capture the reader and throw him or her into your world.

A work of fiction, if written well, consists of three major components – Character, Plot, and Setting. The argument of whether one is more important than the other two can, and is, discussed in books and articles ad nauseam, and for that reason, is beyond the scope of this blog.

My intent is to provide a set of guidelines on how to approach editing in all three components to produce the best possible story.

You probably got enough sleep last night, so I won’t bore you with a lot of narrative; instead I’ll stick with examples, which I believe does a much better job emphasizing my point . . . you know –show v. tell.

I will spend a little time on the three major components, but want to focus more on a topic, that perhaps does not command as much attention, yet, in my mind, is as equally important as “the Big Three.”

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Character:

We want the reader to “see” our characters, so we strive to provide as vivid a physical description as possible. We accomplish this by using similes and comparisons.

“In the eyes, round beneath soft brows, the slender, finely shaped nose, and full lips, I saw both sensuousness and refinement.”

“His measured walk resembled a skilled countryman as distinct from the shamble of the general laborer.”

“Joe left Arizona to attend college in California,” tells the reader little about Joe, but “Joe said goodbye to his parents, left his rural home in Phoenix, and drove to California to study engineering in UCLA,” not only reveals much more about Joe, but perhaps raises the question, why did Joe drive rather than fly?’

Plot:

Ensure there is conflict and obstacles for the protagonist, the antagonist presents a challenge, and the flow of events is seamless.

Ensure the accuracy of factual information. For example, if a character travels from New York to Spain, he or she should not complain about the rental car’s lousy gas mileage.

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Setting:

Show v. tell when describing a place in your story, with heavy and frequent references to the five senses.

Word Power

When I edit, either for myself or for a client, I spend at least as much time, if not more, on word power. The goal should be to write each sentence in the least number of words as possible, provided, of course, it does not change the meaning or sacrifice what the writer wants to say.

Most writers know to avoid adverbs by either eliminating them, or substitute more powerful verbs.

Weak words and phrases, such as “that, had, have, would have been,” (the list is far too long for this blog) are, in the majority of cases, are unnecessary. They function only as a distraction to the reader. The same applies to overused words and phrases, such as, “the fact that, all of a sudden, at the very least, in spite of, and if nothing else.”

I see a lot of unnecessary words and phrases, and although not necessarily considered “bad writing,” and usually skipped over while reading, when such words and phrases are eliminated, their distraction is obvious.

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“He thought to himself to “he thought.” (who else would he think to?)

He nodded his head” to “he nodded.” (as opposed to nodding his shoulder?)

“He shook his head to indicate no.” to “he shook his head.” (Granted, he might shake his head for another reason, but the context would indicate whether he was responding to a question).

“He got up out of bed.” to “He got out of bed,” or even better, “he climbed out of bed,” which eliminates the unnecessary “up,” and also substitutes a more powerful verb.

Of course, we have the ever-popular phrase I read in books, newspapers, and hear in movies and TV shows.

“Past history or past experience.” All history and experience is “past.”

A number of verbs used to link a second verb are prevalent in fiction writing, most notably “take and took,” “made and “make.”

“He made a move,” to “he moved.”

“He took a shot,” to “he shot or he tried, or he attempted.”

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During the first revision of my first commercially published novel, the editor cited the elimination of two unnecessary words – that and had.

Of course, has and have can be included by default.

That can be eliminated in most (not all) cases unless the writer was referring to a specific person, place or thing. (that man, that chair, that city).

Before: “By the way, I just wondered if you think that this dress looks good on me.”

After: “Does this dress look good one me?”

Before: “Suddenly, I thought that perhaps she should go back over there and sit down on top of the fence.”

After: “She should go sit on the fence.”

Eliminate or substitute all forms of “some.” (someone, somebody, sometime, somewhere), by instead being specific in identifying the person, time frame, or place.

Minimize the occurrences of pronouns within the same sentence or paragraph.

Before: He got out of bed. He went to the bathroom. He washed his face and shaved. He took a shower. He dressed and went to the kitchen. He made breakfast. (6 sentences, 6 occurrences of “he”)

After: He climbed out of bed and went to the bathroom. After a shave and a shower, he dressed and went to the kitchen to make breakfast. (2 sentences, 2 occurrences of “he”)

By applying these concepts during your revisions, you will produce a much tighter,  much cleaner, and easier to read story.

© Jack Strandburg

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The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

Michael LaRocca of MichaelEdits.com

There are no rules to assure great writing, but there are ways to avoid bad writing.

That’s from the introduction to The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. It’s also the focus of the book.

Lukeman presents examples of what not to do. If you see something in them that reminds you of something you’ve written, then you know what you need to fix.

I feel like adding that you should be grateful to have something written and fixable. The empty page is the worst.

Anybody who’s been in this business a while has seen thousands of manuscripts from all over the world. Remarkably, writers everywhere are doing the same things wrong. If you read tweets and blogs from most editors, you see a whole lot of snark about it. But Lukeman decided to group these mistakes into categories, set forth definite criteria for rejecting manuscripts, and write one of the most helpful books I’ve ever laid my hands on. Hence this review.

Lukeman also acknowledges something I’ve been saying for years. We don’t always need five pages. We might shoot down a manuscript within the first five paragraphs. Does that sound cruel? Well…




Agents and editors don’t read manuscripts to enjoy them; they read solely with the goal of getting through the pile, solely with an eye to dismiss a manuscript — and believe me, they’ll look for any reason they can, down to the last letter.

I do this. By starting his introduction this way, he hooked me. Absolutely. I was reading to figure out why my work in progress wasn’t going so well. But once I found the answer, I didn’t put this book down. I enjoyed learning from all of it.

I could list his criteria, but that’d be kinda like stealing. Read the man’s book. I got mine at the library. If you can’t do that, Amazon comes to mind. So does my favorite, Better World Books.

People send me manuscripts, wanting me to evaluate them. I’ve told more than one author to go read The First Five Pages and then get back to me. Yeah, I’m turning work away, but that’s because some manuscripts require too much of it. Lukeman will teach you how to do that work yourself, if you’re willing to learn. If you’re a real author, you’ll enjoy learning. If not, that’s a valuable lesson too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to return to my regularly scheduled snarking.

Technical editing since 1991. Business editing since 2006. MichaelEdits.com

© Michael LaRocca 2017

The Ins and Outs of Outlines: Plotters Versus Pantsers [PART II: PANTSERS]

Jennifer D. Foster, freelance writer, editor, and content strategist

What an honour it is to be able to share this article from
Jennifer D. Foster that was originally published in 2016 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published. There is so much information here that I’ve split the article into two separate guest posts. This second one deals with what Jennifer describes as “pansters.” Enjoy the read!

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Behind every successful novel or short story is an outline, right? Maybe. Some authors swear by a detailed plan (they’re known as “plotters”), while others, namely those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants  writers  (known as “pantsers” or “SOPs”), despise outlines. New York Times best-selling author Joseph Finder, for example, believes that “writing without an outline is like doing a high-wire act without a net. Some people can do it, but wouldn’t you really rather have a net? I would.” New York Times best-selling author J.A. Jance, however, says she “met outlining in Mrs. Watkin’s sixth-grade geography class in Bisbee, Arizona. I hated outlining then; I hate it now. I do not outline.”

What exactly causes this great divide?

By examining this question of process via authors who do and don’t outline—and why—and via key insights from a selection of those working directly in the world of publishing, including authors, agents, writing instructors, editors, and publishers, we’ll get front-row seats to this age-old debate. For those looking for practical how-tos, tips on creating an effective outline will help send you on your writerly way.

PLOTTERS VERSUS PANTSERS: THE GREAT DEBATE

Pantsers: The Cons of Outlines

For those who love to hate outlines, the writing process is viewed as more organic and free-flowing. Weiland believes many authors are “so talented and so able to hold the entire novel in their heads. They simply don’t need the tools that help the rest of us achieve that same end product.” Key West, Florida-based Meg Cabot, a number one New York Times best-selling author, is one such writer. “Because writing a book, to me, is like taking a trip. I know in my head where I want to go. I just don’t write out an elaborately detailed itinerary. Because the fun part—to me—is figuring out how I’m going to get there, and checking out the interesting sites I see along the way.” Author Harlan Coben is another New York Times best-selling writer with a similar mind-set. “I don’t outline. I usually know the ending before I start. I know very little about what happens in between. It’s like driving from New Jersey to California. I may go Route 80, I may go via the Straits of Magellan, or stop over in Tokyo … but I’ll end up in California,” he says. In an interview for the U.K.’s The Telegraph, he clarifies further: “E.L. Doctorow has a wonderful quote on writing where he says that it is like driving at night in the fog with your headlights on. You can only see a little bit ahead of you, but you can make the whole journey that way. I concur, except that I know, in the end, where I’m going.” And, interestingly enough, for Coben, “there is no ‘why’ I don’t [outline]—you just do what works for you as a writer.” Sims believes that memory plays a role in why some writers, like Coben, don’t outline—they can hold seemingly endless amounts of material in their heads before turning it into a book. But she muses on the impact time may have. “I sure wouldn’t tell him to change, but I wonder how that method will work as he gets older and the brain cells get a little less efficient!”




Pronovost looks at it this way: “Instinctive writers sometimes hold a book’s architecture in their mind—essentially, the outline for them is something private, maybe even sacred, and speaking it out loud or commit- ting it to paper can feel counterintuitive or even rigid.” Deborah Grabien, author and editor at Plus One Press in San Francisco, California, is in full agreement. “As  both a writer (eighteen published novels and music journalism) and an editor of other peoples’ work (two anthologies of short fiction), I loathe outlines. I find working with an outline the functional equivalent of trying to dance in a straitjacket or having sex while wearing a suit of armor. My mantra is, ‘A writer writes, period; just tell the damned story.’ An outline is rigid and, for me, unworkable.”

Embracing the Serendipity

Many writers simply love the serendipity and unpredictability of writing that comes without an outline. They don’t like what Finder calls being “constricted by the steel girdle of an outline.” Hiyate agrees. “The biggest flaw is, you can write yourself into a corner, and the characters are fighting where you want to go with them. Or, because you’ve planned too much, some of the spontaneity—and suspense—might be lost.” Cabot concedes: “Story ideas don’t come along often, and when they do, you have to treat them with care. Outlining them too thoroughly—even talking about them too much over coffee with a friend—can actually ruin them, because it can make you feel as if the story is already told. And when that happens, if you’re like me, you’re dead.”

MacKinnon explains it this way: “Some authors might be less inspired to start writing if they think they have the story all figured out. They find the story as they write it. Maybe they need the excitement of finding the characters’ motivations and the plot as it unfolds to them as well.” J.A. Jance is such an author. “I start with someone dead or dying and spend the rest of the book trying to find out who did it and how come. Knowing what the end will be would make it impossible for me to write the middle,” she says. “I think if I knew what the ending would be, my motivation to write would disappear, as would the sense of discovery. I write for the same reason people read—to find out what happens—and I have never read the end of a book first.” Her reasoning? “This way, I discover the answers at the same time the characters do. This morning, at 60 percent of a book, I just found out that a character I thought was dead isn’t. If I had written an outline, would that even have happened?” Finder, a big fan of outlines, agrees in this case: “That’s just the kind of unpredictable twist you want, because if you didn’t expect it, your reader won’t either.” And that’s exactly why, says Cooper, the biggest hazard of outlining comes to those who refuse to deviate from their meticulously plotted course. The story may have decreased energy or mystery or sense of surprise—for the reader and for the writer. Writing without an outline or with only a loose outline ideally allows the story to unfold like a movie as it’s being written.”

Sims, who has worked on both sides of the outlining fence, can relate to Jance, Finder, and Cooper. With her Rita Farmer mystery series, she’s had to put together a very detailed outline for each book for her agent. But, she says, “the more detailed I got while outlining, the more frustrating the process, because my natural inclination is to figure out a lot along the way. Things come to me, answers to difficult plot questions appear as I write chapter after chapter. And, of course, as I develop characters, I get to know them better and better, and they themselves suggest action, plot points, resolutions, and so on.”

Remaining Surprised

For Black, despite her attempt, outlines do not work. While she’s not against them and “envies” people for whom they do work, for her “they are a little deadening,” and here’s why: “With the first novel I wrote—one I wrote, sold, and then withdrew because I saw its failings all too well—I used a pretty detailed outline. But I found that my ‘knowing’ what was going to happen took out some element of something like a romantic, if rocky, relationship with the book. I wasn’t intrigued by it. The process was a bit like paint-by-numbers for me, and finally I realized that the product was a bit that way as well.” So for Black, spontaneity and what she calls “openness” are imperative. “One of the great benefits of winging it—or making it up as I go along—is that I feel fluid not only about such things as what is going to happen but also about the deeper meaning of the story. I like being a little stupid about my own work as it’s in process, so I don’t fight too hard against its natural process of evolution.”

Green, a creative writing professor at Western University, cautions against outlines in terms of their relationship to the organic processes of change and revelation inherent in writing. “If one is a micromanager in terms of adhering to the outline, the pleasure of discovering that your character is going to do something that you didn’t know he or she was going to do (like a real human being, your character is unpredictable) seldom happens, and formula fiction often rears its head this way. If writing is discovery (and often self-discovery), the fully outlined and adhered-to story can become a ‘product’—albeit a professional one.” When it comes to writing, Green has “found it more valuable to keep a charted summary of each segment or chapter after it’s completed than to try to chart it in advance (like a journal of the novel; Steinbeck did this).” The purpose? The summary “lets me review it each morning and see clearly what has gone before and what I should be addressing next. Then comes the actual writing that day, and often (in best case) the sense of wonder at what has been created at day’s end. And repeat the next day. And the next. In that sense, it’s a kind of reverse outlining and progression, tied into what has come before.”




In her book Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True, Chicago, Illinois-based, New York Times best-selling, and award-winning author Elizabeth Berg says, “there are two kinds of writers: those who start with a plot and those who end up with one. I am one of the latter.” Berg says the few times she tried to plot a novel, “it was as though the book rebelled—it went another way entirely, and then all those notes I’d taken to follow the ever-so-neat sequence of events I’d planned were in vain.” Like Jance, Black, Sims, and Green, for Berg “part of the joy in writing fiction is the surprise of it, the discovery of things I hadn’t known were in me or that I wanted to say, or, more likely, the way those things chose to be said.” Berg starts her novels only with a strong feeling of something she wants to say and/or understand, and the novel helps her do it. “I find almost nothing more enjoyable than to be working on a novel and wake up not having any idea what’s going to happen that day. It keeps me interested. It keeps me excited. If I had to write what the plot told me was ‘up’ next, I’d be bored—it would feel too much like homework.” Like other pantsers, for Berg “the magic in writing fiction comes from taking that free fall into the unknown and, rather than making things happen, letting them.”

Mockler, who outlines depending on the project, shares Berg’s overall sentiments: “I’m not a fan of obsessively outlining every scene because, for me, it kills my desire to write the story. Writing is a process of discovery, and you can miss great nuggets and details if everything is pre-planned. Too much focus on the structure and not enough on the characters and details and themes can make the writing seem formulaic and flat.”

FINAL FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The reasons why some writers outline and some don’t are as vast and varied as the creators themselves. Bottom line? Use whatever structure, or lack thereof, works best for you, without judgment. “Explore and experiment, and figure out what best unleashes your creativity,” says Weiland. Writing is a highly individual and personal process, a journey of finding balance and what works best. And the tools and techniques that work best for each writer are always based on “personalities, backgrounds, and circumstances,” emphasizes Weiland. If you choose to go the outline route, then remember, she says, that outlines are “about discovering your story and organizing it, so you will then have an accurate road map to follow when writing your first draft.” But, stresses Wiese Sneyd, remember not to become too attached to your outline. “Outlines need not be written in stone, but in sand. And don’t buy into the idea that an outline is essential to writing. It’s not,” she stresses. “I know many writers who sit down every day and write into the dark, so to speak. They allow the story and the characters to carry them rather than relying on an outline to do so.”

Regardless of your path to the finished product, keep this quote in mind, from Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, for inspiration: “Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

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Watch for Jennifer’s feature in the upcoming 2018 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market in mid-September 2017.

Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto, Canada-based freelance writer, editor, and content strategist. She’s been in the writing and editing business for two decades, and her company is Planet Word. Jennifer’s clients are from the book and custom publishing, magazine, and marketing and communications fields and include The Globe and Mail, Art Gallery of Ontario, D. F. Plett Historical Research Foundation, Greystone Books, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Canadian Children’s Book News, Dundurn Press, Ontario Dental Association, and Firefly Books. When she’s not busy spilling ink for her first novel, walking her greyhound, Aquaman, or reading, Jennifer enjoys travelling, antiquing, gardening, camping, and yoga. She’s a long-time mentor to novice editors via Editors Canada and novice writers via the Professional Writers Association of Canada. Jennifer is chair of Editors Toronto and administrative director of the Rowers Reading Series. Find her online at lifeonplanetword.wordpress.com.

© Jennifer D. Foster 2017

The Ins and Outs of Outlines: Plotters Versus Pantsers [PART I: PLOTTERS]

Jennifer D. Foster, freelance writer, editor, and content strategist

What an honour it is to be able to share this article from
Jennifer D. Foster that was originally published in 2016 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published. There is so much information here that I’ve split the article into two separate guest posts. This first one deals with what Jennifer describes as “plotters.” Enjoy the read!

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Behind every successful novel or short story is an outline, right? Maybe. Some authors swear by a detailed plan (they’re known as “plotters”), while others, namely those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writers  (known as “pantsers” or “SOPs”), despise outlines. New York Times best-selling author Joseph Finder, for example, believes that “writing without an outline is like doing a high-wire act without a net. Some people can do it, but wouldn’t you really rather have a net? I would.” New York Times best-selling author J.A. Jance, however, says she “met outlining in Mrs. Watkin’s sixth-grade geography class in Bisbee, Arizona. I hated outlining then; I hate it now. I do not outline.”

What exactly causes this great divide?

By examining this question of process via authors who do and don’t outline—and why—and via key insights from a selection of those working directly in the world of publishing, including authors, agents, writing instructors, editors, and publishers, we’ll get front-row seats to this age-old debate. For those looking for practical how-tos, tips on creating an effective outline will help send you on your writerly way.

PLOTTERS VERSUS PANTSERS: THE GREAT DEBATE

Plotters: The Benefits of Outlines

Elizabeth Sims, Florida-based author of the award-winning Lillian Byrd crime series, says her favorite method is to “jot down some basic ideas for a plot, focusing on what I call ‘heart-clutching moments,’ then work out the rest as I write the book. Beyond that, I’ll often look ahead two or three chapters and write a paragraph for each one that simply says what has to happen in that chapter.” And she prefers to use the term story  map, disliking the word outline. “The term outline seems to connote rules and distasteful work. Story map brings to mind discovery, adventure, and getting somewhere,” emphasizes Sims, who’s also a contributing editor for Writer’s Digest. Lynn Wiese Sneyd, owner of LWS Literary Services in Tuscon, Arizona, refers to outlines as “tracks,” and Mary Lou George, a Toronto, Ontario-based mainstream romance novelist, likens them to a “road map,” stressing that her willingness to “prepare them is the only thing that separates me from the animal kingdom.”

Regardless of what they’re called, outlines, for those who prefer them, are a godsend. “For me, the outline is crucial,” says George. “A good outline helps me plot and pace the work. It can keep me on track and help me identify weaknesses in my story. I can see where I’m going to run into trouble before I start writing, and I can structure the story accordingly.” How does an outline help her? “I map out what’s going to happen in each chapter. If my story involves a mystery that needs to be solved, I highlight the clues, misdirection, etc., just to keep track. I list each scene. That way, I can get a feel for high-tension points in the story and pace accordingly. Once I’ve mapped everything out scene by scene, I know where I want to introduce a love scene, a confrontation, some mystery, or a funny bit, just to keep them wanting more. I get a feel for whether it’s all going to work to my satisfaction.”




Sims feels that “an outline is well worth the trouble when writing a mystery.” So does Kathryn Mockler, Toronto, Ontario-based publisher of The Rusty Toque (an online literary, film, and art journal); senior editor at the literary magazine Joyland: A Hub for Short Fiction (Toronto); and creative writing lecturer at Western University in London, Ontario. “If you are writing genre fiction or screenplays, you pretty much have to have a tight structure, and outlining can be helpful for that.” Nita Pronovost, editorial director at Simon & Schuster Canada and a former senior editor at Penguin Random House in Toronto, Ontario, agrees, adding: “Often, genre writers have more practice using the outline as a technique and tool that guides their creative process rather than stifles it.” Jennifer MacKinnon, a freelance editor in Newcastle, Ontario, and a former editor at Scholastic Canada, concurs. “Mystery novels need to have very specific events happen for the story to work in the end, [and that’s why] it may help writers work out some plot holes and structural and pacing issues beforehand, which would mean less editorial revisions later.” Finder feels the same holds true for his novels. “Thrillers have too many moving parts. They’re all about plot. They’re almost always too complex to write without doing some sort of outline in advance.” For his novel Power Play, he took his writer friend Lee Child’s advice and “brazened” his way through it, sans outline, which “wound up taking me several months longer than usual, simply because I wasted a lot of time on plot and on characters that I ended up cutting out.”

Unleashing Creativity

No one knows how long the controversy over outlining has been around, but it’s a bristly debate with deep roots. One thorn of  disagreement stems from the notion of creativity: Plotters feel outlining is advantageous and part of the whole process, boosting creativity. Pantsers feel outlining squelches their creative flow. “If you feel like you need an outline in order to write or feel that an outline releases your creativity, then you should use an outline,” says Wiese Sneyd. MacKinnon believes that “even with an outline, the author has thought creatively about the story and the plotting and the characters.” And Toronto, Ontario-based award-winning author and freelance editor Janice Weaver stresses that new writers should be mindful not to “adopt the mind-set that the outline is somehow the enemy of creativity.” George agrees, adding that an outline is “there to help me, to enhance my creativity. That’s its reason for living. I don’t look at my outline as written in stone. I created it; it’s mine to morph into whatever I choose. It’s as adaptable as I want to make it.”

Sims says, for her, the greatest benefit of a story map is “anxiety reduction. You get up and grab your materials, and you can start that next chapter knowing at least basically what you have to get done in it.” Wiese Sneyd concurs. “As you venture into the storytelling and the manuscript, an outline can ease the anxiety of creating that which has never been created: unique characters acting within a unique story. It can shed light on a writing process that otherwise takes place in total darkness.” Philadelphia-based non-outliner Robin Black, author of the novel Life Drawing and the short story collection If I Loved You,  I Would Tell  You This, expands on this notion. For her, one of the downsides of not outlining is that “it is definitely a less secure process—emotionally, I mean. When I wrote my fully outlined novel, I knew what I was doing every day. … I enjoyed the lack of panic that nothing will occur to me next, or that I’ll take some giant wrong turn.”

Taking Control of the Process

Another benefit of outlines, according to plotters, is being in the driver’s seat. “It partly has to do with control. It feels good to know ahead of time where the story is going and how it ends. The blank page can feel very unsettling,” says Wiese Sneyd. “I’ve heard some authors say that their out-line consists of a beginning and an ending. Their job is then to fill in the middle.” For Wilmington, North Carolina-based Wiley Cash, New York Times best-selling author of A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy, “the greatest benefit is that it offers you the chance to see the totality of your idea. I’ll typically outline a novel once I know who the main characters are, so that I can get a sense of how I see their lives unfolding and how their lives will flow with and against the narrative.” His rationale? “Each character has a tiny plot evolving inside him or her, and it’s important to keep that in mind before you try to develop the arc of the broader narrative.” Cash says he won’t look at the outline for months while he’s writing, “but it will always be there in the back of my mind. It’s like the map in the glove box that you’re hesitant to get out and unfold because you think you may recognize a landmark around the next bend in the road. But the map definitely gives you some peace. It’s there if you need it. For me, outlines are the same.”

Pronovost also agrees with the outline-as-map benefit. “The initial outline is a kind of map. I can sometimes spot narrative problems right from the outline, which means that the author is saved the aggravation and time of falling into a potential black hole in the story.” For her, outlines provide “clarity of thought, organization, direction … an architecture to a story, and it helps the author (and editor) retain a kind of muscle memory of the framework long after the outline has been put aside and the work on scenes and chapters begins.” And, she says, “what an outline can do, especially for new writers, is save them from becoming too involved in the journey and becoming lost in the maze of superfluous narrative.” Weaver concurs: “Outlines are especially important for new writers, because those are the people who sometimes lack the discipline or the critical distance needed to see the problems with their manuscripts.” Pronovost also stresses that “the outline provides a way for the author to think from the point of view of the creator and from the point of view of the readership.” How, exactly? “The outline creates awareness in the writer of the techniques they are using to tell the story: what each chapter covers, what the main actions are, how each segment opens and closes, where the major turning points occur, and so on. That’s taking care of the reader’s experience, something an author should always consider.”

Treating the Outline as a First Draft

Scottsbluff, Nebraska-based K.M. Weiland, author of Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and the fantasy novel Dreamlander, has an interesting theory about the pros of outlining. “Many authors who don’t use an outline are actually using their first drafts as an outline of sorts—from which they then figure out the story’s problems and use it as a template to write a better second draft.” So, she says, “outlines are my rough draft. And then when I actually go to write the first draft, it’s actually the second draft. Since I already know what’s going to happen, it’s where I get to fine-tune those ideas, smooth them out, and explore them further.” For Weiland, “outliners do most of the major revising in the predraft process, which allows for much faster (and, dare I say, more fun?) first drafts and much less revision time afterward.”

Karen Wiesner, genre author of more than one hundred novels and of First Draft in 30 Days and From First Draft to Finished Novel, agrees. She used to be a pantser, but after writing sometimes twelve drafts of a novel to finally get it right, she decided to give outlines a try. “With the right preparation, you can create an outline so complete, it actually qualifies as the first draft of your book and includes every single scene of your book. You can see your entire novel from start to finish in one condensed place. An outline like this … contains every single one of your plot threads, unfurled with the correct pacing and the necessary tension, culmination, and resolution from beginning to end.” For Wiesner, the outline is “the place to work out your story settings, plot conflicts, and in-depth characterization before starting the actual book. This allows you to focus on scenes that work cohesively together and advance all of these. Additionally, tension, foreshadowing, dialogue, introspection, action, descriptions, etc., can best be done within the outline, building strength while adding texture and complexity.” The best part? “Creating an outline like this puts the hard work of writing where it belongs—at the beginning of a project. If you work out the kinks in the story in the outline, you ensure that the writing and revising are the easy parts.” Wiesner’s analogy cements her argument: “When I write a book based on a ‘first draft’ outline, pure magic happens because I watch the skeleton—the framework of the book contained in my outline—putting on flesh, becoming a walking, talking, breathing story.”




Like Weiland, Pronovost, and Wiesner, Weaver believes an outline can save a writer both time and frustration. “Ideally, it will force you to think through the events of your novel before you ever put pen to paper, and in doing so, it can reveal potential pitfalls, uncover creative opportunities you hadn’t considered, and give you a broader perspective. An outline can condense that process and minimize the wrong turns, and that makes it more likely that you’ll finish what you started.” Sally Cooper, Hamilton, Ontario-based author of Love Object and Tell Everything and creative writing professor at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario, agrees with Weaver’s thoughts. “A good outline helps me think through the story ahead of time, so I avoid writing myself into an unresolvable corner. Outlines also create direction, signposts, or goals to look forward to and meet.”

Kathy Lowinger, Toronto, Ontario-based author and former publisher of Tundra Books, says that, “oddly enough, a detailed outline can be of most use to those who write beautifully. For them, it is easy to write a great sentence or paragraph or even several pages without benefit of a good skeletal structure. Eventually it becomes apparent that the plot isn’t well thought out, but good writing can hide the plot flaws for a long time.” She also believes that for writers who claim to be smothered  by an outline, “I always think that they don’t understand what an outline is. It can be changed if it isn’t working, but,” she cautions, “the author has to understand that a single change should be looked at in the context of the whole work.”

Speaking of the whole work, Weaver has a fitting metaphor regarding outlines. She likes to compare a manuscript to a jigsaw puzzle. “Your job as the writer is to make all the pieces fit together to form a complete and pleasing picture in the end. The outline is the photograph on the puzzle box—it’s a guide to remind you what picture you’re ultimately trying to create. Sometimes you’re contending with a puzzle that comes with extra pieces that don’t quite fit. A big challenge for most writers, in my experience, is recognizing that those extra pieces don’t belong, and having the courage to let them go. An outline can relieve you of some of those decisions by making it clear when something doesn’t fit.”

A Word to the Wise for Plotters

Even pro-outliners caution against following an outline blindly. “If you get extremely detailed and rigid about the outline process, you can rob yourself of the chance to stumble upon something awesome,” says Sims. “An outline can and should be fluid. Be okay with throwing an outline away and starting over or slicing and dicing and adding in new stuff—even if you’re halfway through your book. If you get a gut feeling you ought to try something drastically different, give it a go.” MacKinnon concurs. “The outline is just a written guideline. Most authors I know would never let an outline get in the way of a good story. If inspiration hits in the middle of writing, and the characters or story seems to be going in a different direction, they follow their instincts and go with the story rather than the outline.” Cash holds the same theory, stressing that “the greatest drawback is that there’s always the risk of being shackled to your outline. Trust me, you won’t disturb the universe if you don’t follow it.”

Pronovost feels the same. “Just because a writer has a plan doesn’t mean she has to dogmatically stick to it. There is always room for creativity in any structure, including in an outline. A rough, flexible, dynamic outline—one where change can occur throughout the drafting process—is a very practical tool.” Kevin Morgan Watson, publisher at Press 53 in Winston–Salem, North Carolina, agrees. “An outline should be, to borrow a phrase from the movie Ghostbusters, ‘more of a guideline than a rule.’ A writer should always be open to new ideas that present themselves during the writing process. When that little voice says, ‘What if my character does this or goes there instead of following the outline; I wonder what would happen?’ I think writers should listen to that voice and take the detour.” He cites the “wise words” from American poet Robert Frost as further evidence:

“No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

Shaping the Story

For Sam Hiyate, literary agent, president, and co-founder of The Rights Factory in Toronto, Ontario, “outlines are essential for helping shape a story. You wouldn’t start building a house without blueprints. Why start a novel without one?” For Hiyate, who’s also a creative writing instructor at the University of Toronto and a publishing instructor at Ryerson University, “the most important thing is to write an outline at the level of detail that makes you comfortable. Some writers might have one [outline] that is two pages, whereas some might want ten to fifteen pages. If you have it in bullet points to start, you can still enter a chapter or scene with a lot of possibility, as long as you know where it will quickly go.” For him, it’s all about “writing with the level of detail that will keep your writing spontaneous and fresh.”

For number one New York Times best-selling author John Grisham, outlines are the Holy Grail of productivity and structure. “The books are carefully outlined before I ever start. Chapter by chapter, from beginning to end. And usually tedious and boring and even painful—but it’s the only way to make sure the story’s going to work. Usually the outline is fifty pages long. And the longer the outline, the easier the book  is to write. I have started several books and put them aside—and a couple of times I’ve gone back and been able to finish them.” This level of planning for an outline on the part of the author could be an example of what novelist and short story author Terence M. Green refers to as “the micromanager, who plans the whole story out in advance before the actual writing. I think it’s fair to say that the writer who benefits the most from the micro-planning is the one most concerned with plot, and plot intricacies and twists.”

George sees an outline as a life-enhancing literary safety net. “If you run into trouble, it’s never too late to create an outline to help you along. It can be as detailed or as sketchy as you’d like. Sometimes, when I’m having a crisis of confidence, I will hone the outline in order get reassurance that my story has merit. That, alone, can get me writing again.” And George stresses that the outline may be for the writer’s eyes only. “Remember that no one else needs to see the outline.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to update it or stay faithful to it—it’s so unlike a spouse in that way. In fact, my relationship with my outline is probably the best I’ve ever known.”



Best Tips of the Trade

Looking for some writerly inspiration not only to create but also to nail an effective outline?
Our industry experts weigh in with these helpful tips.

“If your book were divided in pieces, what would they be called? How many pieces
(acts or parts) would there be? What would happen in each segment? Summarize in
only a few sentences, not in a thousand pages. Does your outline have a climax? If
not, why not? Does your outline have a clear beginning, middle, and end?” —Nita
Pronovost, editorial director at Simon & Schuster Canada, former senior editor
at Penguin Random House

“Don’t confuse your outline with a summary of your novel. Keep your outline brief.
It doesn’t even have to be comprised of complete sentences. Don’t be afraid to
change it or move things around, and consider putting it away once it’s completed.”
Wiley Cash, New York Times best-selling author

“Know your characters. Think in terms of scenes, like a filmmaker. Include thematic
and symbolic beats, not just plot points, and be open to throwing the outline out the
window if the story takes a promising turn.” —Sally Cooper, author and creative
writing professor at Humber College

“Outlines are a great way to think through a story, to envision a story, much like a drive
across the country or a family vacation: You can plan it down to the hour of every day,
but it’s in the detours along the way where the better story, the better adventure,
may be hiding. And what’s the harm in taking a detour to see what is there? If you
work from an outline, make it a loose guideline. Give yourself permission to veer off
course and explore.” —Kevin Morgan Watson, publisher, Press 53

“The outline is simply a tool; don’t let it intimidate you. Use it as an aid to pace your
novel well. Read it over from time to time. Your outline can help you identify slow
points in your story. It can remind you that you’ve forgotten something and, if so,
then how necessary is that something? Or maybe it was key, and you can’t neglect it.
The outline will help you make decisions.”—Mary Lou George, romance novelist

“Be flexible. Think of an outline as a collection of puzzle pieces. At first you think a piece
might fit well here, but then you see it fits better there. Keep moving the pieces around.
Don’t be afraid to toss some and add new ones.” —Lynn Wiese Sneyd, owner of
LWS Literary Services

“Think of your outline as the bird’s-eye view of your manuscript. It’s meant to show
you the best path to take—and to reveal any roadblocks long before you get to them—but it shouldn’t prevent you from taking the odd side road on your way to your destination. An outline can take many different forms, and if one technique is too restrictive or makes you feel too constrained, try another. One bad experience with outlining doesn’t mean all outlines are bad.” —Janice Weaver, award-winning author and freelance editor

“Don’t be afraid to make a mess. Writing is like life: glorious, unpredictable, full of
passion, woe, and joy. Be okay with ambiguity as you map your story; you’ll figure
it out. And be open to making parts of your outline rough and other parts very detailed.
Don’t worry about following any particular form.”—Elizabeth Sims, award-winning
author and contributing editor for Writer’s Digest

“Start out with what your central quest is; give your protagonist a series of trials of various
flavors (by that I mean level of difficulty, mood, etc.) to overcome; and put the resolution
in the protagonist’s hands. And make sure that the protagonist is marked by
each trial in some way. This holds for almost every novel, whether the quest is something
intangible like acceptance or tangible like the Holy Grail.” —Kathy Lowinger,
author and former publisher of Tundra Books

“Use the outlining phase as an opportunity to build story structure. The single most
important factor of a story’s success and salability will be the strength of its structure.
The outline is the place to start figuring that out so you will be able to place the important
plot points and other structural moments at exactly the right place to allow
them to achieve their utmost power.” —K.M. Weiland, author

“When writing a short story, I’ve found it useful to take a sheet of paper and divide it
into three (usually Intro, Body, and Conclusion, the Body being the substantial part
of the page). By filling in these sections with ideas and details, the story can come to
life in a general way. The actual writing of the story is where it can come to life in its
particulars. For a new writer of fiction: Know the ending of your story. If one has this
in mind, the goal is clear, the path straightens itself.” —Terence M. Green, creative
writing professor at Western University, novelist, and short story author

… to be continued

Watch for Jennifer’s feature in the upcoming 2018 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market in mid-September 2017.

Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto, Canada-based freelance writer, editor, and content strategist. She’s been in the writing and editing business for two decades, and her company is Planet Word. Jennifer’s clients are from the book and custom publishing, magazine, and marketing and communications fields and include The Globe and Mail, Art Gallery of Ontario, D. F. Plett Historical Research Foundation, Greystone Books, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Canadian Children’s Book News, Dundurn Press, Ontario Dental Association, and Firefly Books. When she’s not busy spilling ink for her first novel, walking her greyhound, Aquaman, or reading, Jennifer enjoys travelling, antiquing, gardening, camping, and yoga. She’s a long-time mentor to novice editors via Editors Canada and novice writers via the Professional Writers Association of Canada. Jennifer is chair of Editors Toronto and administrative director of the Rowers Reading Series. Find her online at lifeonplanetword.wordpress.com.

© Jennifer D. Foster 2017