Welcome to the Business

My primary market as an editor is made up of self-published authors. I do some work for small publishers, and some for non-publishing businesses (that’s usually combined with copy writing and consulting work), but indie authors are my favorite. One thing that I try to convey to newcomers is that they are a business now. Most understand this, but every so often something sneaks by them. Forgetting that can lead to some seriously unpleasant shocks.

There’s been discussion for a long time about whether particular support businesses are truly a good thing for self-published authors. There are book doctors and marketers and self-pub presses and more. We recently had the Hydra contract debacle as well. The most common concern,though, is Amazon, and it’s come to the fore again with the Internet sales tax initiative in the US (which Amazon is backing).

Tracy Hickman has warned many times over the last few years that Amazon is not your friend. Other writers I listen to, like Sarah Hoyt and Kris Rusch, have occasionally made similar warnings. The fact is, no one in this business is your friend. We’re businesses. We have bills to pay and things to do. With some of us smaller folks, you’ll get something closer to a friend. We’re personal, we interact closely with our clients, you get a human being when you call (please check your time zone, the missus really hates 2 AM business calls), and some times we fall in love with the project we’re working on. Just the same, we’re service providers, not bosom buddies.

Amazon is the same as any other business. They will do what they see as the best thing for themselves. I have no problem with that! At the moment, they provide an excellent (though not perfect, I hate their price controls) service for authors, and their market penetration serves our industry very well. The trouble is when legal issues, such as the execrable Internet sales tax proposal, give an artificial advantage to big, powerful companies like Amazon. It’s a great time to be an author, especially one with the gumption to self-publish, but that depends on a free and open market. Onerous regulations, complicated administrative processes, and byzantine entry requirements all give a huge advantage to big companies with big legal teams. Those kinds of barriers impede their smaller, more responsive competitors, which in turn hurts customers because it reduces competition. Being self-interested, those big companies will run with that advantage. The bigger they are and the more disconnected the administrators and executives are from interacting with their customers, the more likely they are to squeeze the maximum advantage possible out of the opportunity. That’s just the nature of business, because it’s the nature of human beings.

So whether your considering posting your work on Amazon, or hiring an editor, or paying someone to tend your lawn, always remember this. They’re not your friend, and that’s okay. Find recommendations from people you know and trust. Spread the word on how a particular business treated you, well or poorly. Don’t be afraid to walk away from an unresponsive company. Do business where you’re well-treated. It’s your business, and you deserve the best.

Customer Promotion – Well-Traveled Rhodes

I just wanted to let you all know that one of my recent customers has her book available for free on Amazon as a promotion: Well-Traveled Rhodes. This is Human Wave mil-sf, and I had a great time reading (and editing!) the book. Some of the twists even managed to surprise me, which doesn’t happen very often. If you don’t see this until after the promotion is over, I still recommend picking this book up if you enjoy character-driven military stories, or just want more Human Wave reading.

Sharing my Suffering

Because sharing is what friends are for, right? I came across this recently, and had to put it up for you to see: a list of dreadful phrases. I read most of it, caught in the hilarious horror of it all. Of course, I’ve never been guilty of a phrase like those. Nope, not me. I have an alibi, I was just a witness, I didn’t hit submit, and it was all the influence of bad company and cheap paperbacks. A tip of the wordsmith’s hat to Glenn Reynolds for pointing me there.

Where is the Story?

My most recent writing and editing project has been an autobiography. Not my own, not at my age. I’ve been part of a project to assist a local woman to compile all her journals, notes, previous memoir attempts, and all the other bits and pieces of her history. The question our team has come back to over and over is this: what is the story here?

A lot of the editing I’ve done has been fiction. When an author writes fiction, they have a story and direction in mind. There are exceptions of course: I had a writing professor in college who held that the greatest literature had no plot whatsoever. We didn’t get along so well. Back to the point though. Fiction comes with a direction built in. When I do content editing for a fiction piece, I am trying to help the author focus the writing on what strengthens that idea that he already has. It may need fleshing out in one spot, or it may need unimportant bits trimmed off, but the idea is there.

With the story of a real person’s life, it isn’t so clear. There is a lot of work involved in finding the story. A story isn’t just a series of events, it has a direction and a meaning (even a grey goo story where the meaning is “there is no meaning to anything”). There are stories in a person’s life, but they’re not always as obvious. Part of a writer’s job (with the help of an editor sometimes) is to give the reader just the parts they need to understand and appreciate the story. As readers, we don’t need to see each step of a character making dinner, or every time someone stopped to use the restroom, unless it’s relevant to the story or helps us understand the character in an important way. With a biography, we have to find what the story will be so that we can focus on that. Some of that may come from the subject himself: what did he think was most important in life? Into what did he put the most effort? What had the biggest impact on his experience and actions? As we learn more about the person, our direction may change – it’s changed at least twice in this project, homing in on what makes her life so interesting.

As editors, we have to develop an eye for this kind of thing. What draws people in, what makes this story worth reading? How can we emphasize those aspects? Then we go to the implementation. Where is the story thin, that it needs more details? Where do we need to cut out unimportant distractions? What are the most important events and people? Why are they the most important?

So how do we develop that? Do what you do anyway: read. Read everything you can find. Then dissect it: why was a particular book or story effective? What drew you in? That’s the difference between a consumer and a fellow craftsman. The consumer takes in the story, enjoys it or not, and moves on to another. A craftsman wants to understand how it works and why, and he works at it. There is no substitute for that. Find the story, identify it, and add the tools that brought it out effectively to your toolbox.