Writing about Writing


A.A. and Intellectual Property

While writing my book, What Dark Passages, there was a point where I was going to reference a song. It was going to be something just in passing, a character singing the lyrics at work. But right before I started typing, I had a feeling I should check if I was allowed to quote those lyrics.

Turns out, I wasn’t. If I wanted to quote lyrics, I was going to have to get permission. So I cut the reference down to a simple ‘she sang this song, people laughed at her’.

Whew, dodged a bullet there.

Unfortunately, my research skills failed me later.

In the course of the novel, one of my primary point-of-view characters, Richard, goes to Alcoholics Anonymous. I downloaded various freely available pamphlets and information about A.A. and did all sorts of research to make sure I was portraying it as accurately as possible. On the pamphlets and booklets, I didn’t find anything copyright related, so I thought it was ok.

My editor, however, knew better (thankfully!).

Turns out A.A. has an intellectual property policy that states I’m only allowed to freely use their material if I am a member of A.A. writing material specifically for A.A.. Otherwise, I need to get permission from their IP Policy group.

I’ve been in contact with them and, at this point, I’m still hopeful I’ll be able to get this ironed out before my planned release next month. If the approval takes too long, however, (or if they flat out say ‘no’), I’ll be forced to remove the quotes and rewrite those sections. Not something I want to do.

So let this be a lesson to always double, triple, and quadruple check for relevant IP policy anytime you ever want to quote something when writing!


Single Space vs Double Space

In my search for an editor, I happened upon a piece of advice on manuscript submission – always use single spaces after a period. I’d heard about the single space vs double space battle, yet even though I’d heard about it, I’d never really thought about how it might affect my own work.

According to an article on Slate.com, typographers decided on the single space long ago. It is recommended by both the Chicago Manual of Style, and the Modern Language Association Style Manual.  However, due to typewriters and their monospaced fonts, double spaces became the norm in the interest of readability.

Monospaced fonts are few and far between these days, however, so why do we still double space? With modern fonts it isn’t required for readability anymore. The truth is – it is a waste of both space (consider a book or magazine publisher – space is money – so best to save it any way possible!) and keystrokes (think how many keystrokes you could save a day, a week, or a year).

For me, it is pure habit. When I learned how to type on keyboarding class, it was drilled into our heads to use two spaces after a period. My thumb taps that spacebar twice before I even have time to think about it. Muscle memory is fast!

So where do my readers stand? Single or double?

I know I’m been firmly on the double space bandwagon for years, but I’m switching now, as hard as it is.


P.S. In spite of attempting not to – I still double spaced after every single period while writing this post, except for this one (I hope). 

P.P.S. Whoever came up with the Find/Replace function is a lifesaver! Fixed thousands of double spaces in less than a minute, whew!

Finding and Selecting an Editor

I’ve reached the stage of my self-publishing saga where I need to find an editor. And, like most things, it’s turned out to be more complex than expected.

I have a few qualities I am looking for in an editor.  First, I want someone who is interested in the genre of book I’ve written.  Getting a children’s book editor to copy-edit a psychological literary fiction isn’t necessarily going to be a good fit.  You would prefer someone with experience in your genre.  So that’s my first qualification.  Second, I would like to find someone that either lives in, or has spent time in, the Vancouver area.  A lot of my scenes are based on real locations in the area and I think it would be useful to have someone familiar with the actual location to give input on my descriptions.

Initially, I went to the BC branch of the Editors Association of Canada (EAC) for my search.  They have an online directory of editors where you can input some specific qualities and it spits out a list.  I did this, and picked out 3 editors who looked like they’d be up my alley.  I sent them emails and awaited their replies.  I received responses and, unfortunately, all of them were booked up.  However, one editor was kind enough to direct me to another resource listed on the EAC webpage that I’d managed to overlook – the BC Editors Hotline.

So the gist of it is: I email the hotline my request and key information about my project, the hotline coordinator sends the request out to all of the members, and anyone interested is free to respond to my post.

I didn’t know what to expect with my post, but the response was far greater than expected.  I received 18 emails within a day and a half.  Yay!  People are interested!

So I set about the task of separating out the editors who sounded interesting to me and the ones who did not.  Cutting the list down was easy to begin with.  Three people spelt my name wrong.  My name! How could I ever trust an editor who can’t even spell my name correctly in the email they send asking me to hire them.  It’s not like it wasn’t right there in the hotline post, right above the email address which, by the way, also includes my name.

Boom, down to 15.

Next up was availability.  I posted the date I aim to have the manuscript back by, but a few folks still put their hats in the ring for a later date.  I’m ok with that, and if anything changes they could move up the list, but as is their ranking dropped relative to those who were more likely to complete the editing in the timeframe I need it by.

Next – experience.  Some people directed me to websites, others listed relevant experience in their email.  I tried to pick out the ones who looked like they’d worked on a similar genre.  That relates back to the first quality I posted above.

Then there is attitude – in a tight field of what looks to be really skilled people, I turned to this.  Some emails were very business-like, and that’s ok.  Other’s seemed downright friendly and genuinely interested.  I like kind people, so I gravitated to these emails.

In a related note – I was disappointed with one individual in particular.  I’m not going to name names of course, but I just want to point out that I’m not a fan of overly pushy or rude people.  I’m certainly not going to work with someone who makes me feel uncomfortable just by reading their emails.

Finally – price.  One of the most important and hardest things to talk about is price.  It’s like when you negotiate a salary with a possibly new employer – it’s a little awkward.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much I like someone if I can’t afford them.  And the range of quotes I received has been nothing short of surprising.  The lowest quote was $650USD, while the highest was up to $3700CAD.  That’s a huge range!  And the worst thing is, based off what I’d heard at the self-publishing seminar I attended earlier this year, I was expecting to pay around $600CAD.  Basically, I wasn’t ready for how high the quotes would be, and my bank account wasn’t either.

That said, I slowly whittled the list down from 18 to 3.  And last night I made my final decision.  It wasn’t easy, and I’m really dreading contacting the people I didn’t choose to give them the bad news.  I would probably be a terrible manager – I hate giving people bad news.  And I hope they all know I appreciate their time and understanding.

But I’m looking forward to getting this done.  Judging from the samples I received, this editing is going to be huge for helping polish my novel and ensuring it looks as professional as possible.  And that is something that, in the long run, will pay for itself.

Bad Habits

As I go through the editing process on my novel, I’ve noticed I have a number of bad habits in my writing.  This isn’t surprising, everyone has bad habits, both professionals and amateurs.

For example – I’m reading a novel by a favourite author of mine, Steven Erikson.  He’s published over a dozen novels and, in my opinion, they range from great to amazing.  But I noticed something recently that surprised me – he has a habit of writing run-on sentences.  On some pages, I found paragraph long sentences broken up by a half dozen commas!

Now, I don’t want to insinuate he’s a bad writer or I’m better than him in any way, because A. I think he’s amazing, and B. I could only dream of writing like he does.  I just think that, in the grand scheme of things, littering your books with paragraph long sentences probably qualifies as a bad habit.

I have a lot of bad habits.  I managed to pick some up on my own during re-reading, the rest had to be pointed out by my beta-readers.  Here are some of my most common problems:

  • I overuse the word “just”.  I just can’t help myself.  I cut my usage in half during editing.
  • There was over 130 uses of “there was”.  I’ve trimmed it down to less than 20.
  • It seemed to be ok at first, but I also realized I overuse “seemed to”.  I had over 70 instances, and it’s been trimmed down to less than 10.
  • “That” is a generally extraneous word that I kept typing when I didn’t need to.

The good news is the above problems are easily fixed.  Whoever came up with the ‘Find’ command deserves a giant hug.  Seriously.

There were other problems, of course.  I had a few sections where I was telling instead of showing, so I ended up writing in entirely new scenes to compensate.  Those kinds of problems take a lot more time and effort to tackle, but they’re worth fixing.

What about my readers?  Do any of you have bad habits in your writing?


Now that I’ve received feedback from as many beta readers as I believe I’m going to hear from (Less than half got back to me, something to note in the future), it’s time to start editing.

I tend to edit as I write.  I’ve been known to spend over an hour working over a single paragraph, trying to get it to flow just right.  The good news is, extra effort while writing my first draft should leave me with less work to do when it comes time to do a full-on edit.  If we take into account the amount of time I spent going back and fixing things as I went, then I’m probably on my second or third draft by now.

That being said, I’m certainly not immune to making a boatload of mistakes.  It’s the nature of the craft, when you’re so close to it you see things as you want them to be, not necessarily as they are.  I still need to do a good, thorough edit just as much as anyone.

For a lot of writers, editing tends to be the most dreaded stage of writing, because it doesn’t feel creative. In fact, it almost feels the opposite, because you end up spending a lot of time deleting sections of writing that you put so much of yourself into.

In an early section of my book, one of my characters reads over a suicide note he’d been writing for two years.  When I put his note together, I was structuring it off a few real-life ones I’d read online, while also using it as a tool to provide some backstory on the character.  However, the note became a point of contention for a number of my readers, who pointed out that it was too long, too this, or not enough of that.

So, with that in mind, I spent the day re-writing the note to try and take into account any criticisms while also maintaining the original purpose.  The interesting thing about re-writing is it takes a lot longer than writing the original.  Here I am going back and forth between tabs, making sure I keep the really important points, deleting the less important ones, and restructuring the sentences with a slight change in voice.  By the time I’d finished producing a second, and then third note, I’d spent three or four times longer than when I’d written it the first time.

It felt like hacking at a wooden statue with an axe, and then slowly gluing it back together in a different pose.  But at the end of the day, if I’ve done my job correctly, the new pose should look better than the old one.

I’m thankful there aren’t a lot of sections that need to be totally re-worked like this, because I fear if there was I might get bored and frustrated, and not do the best job possible.

How do you, my readers feel about editing?  Is it a strong or weak point for you?  Do you dread it like I do?


Name, Genre, and Finding Betas

The last time we talked, I provided a list of steps that I needed to take to get my book ready to publish.  Since then, I’ve trucked through the first few steps, but I may have gotten hung up on something I really didn’t expect.

First, we’ll talk about the small progress I’ve made.

The Name

The idea for this book came to me about 3 years ago.  I had just finished writing a short story about a man lost at sea.  I really liked the tone and wanted to explore those kinds of emotions in more depth.  One night I was walking home from work and a plan began to coalesce in my mind.  I wanted 3, maybe 4 characters.  They would be struggling through major emotional upheaval, and I had a great climax in mind that would bring all their stories together.  I even had two perfect characters I had created in the past, one from a prose-poem I had written in University, the other I had created while listening to a song by the band Bloodsimple.  The story would essentially be about the darkness in our lives, so I called it: Darkness.

As the idea took shape and I began to work on an outline, the story became not just about our darkness, but about emotional recovery from traumatic events and dealing with our past.  The name Darkness had always been meant as a placeholder, but as time went on it became harder to think of the book as anything else.  I was attached to it, and the idea behind it, even though the book had outgrown my temporary title.  One idea was to name it Through the Darkness, as a way to represent the emotional journey the characters take.  But a quick search on Amazon.com revealed at least 3 other books with the same name, so I scrapped that one.  Then my good friend Colin came up with an idea, and it sounded perfect.  It represented exactly what I wanted, and a search on Amazon came up with zero other books with the same name.  So barring any drastic changes during the editing process, I believe I’ve settled on a title.

I present to you: What Dark Passages

The Genre

Through this entire process, I never really thought about the genre.  I just wrote the book I wanted to write without worrying about fitting it into a specific genre.  Now that I have to classify it, though, I started to wonder just what exactly did I write?

I went to a couple websites that are supposed to help with classification.  One of them does a short quiz.  It listed my book as a Suspense Thriller.  I laughed and moved on.  Eventually I decided I would go to Amazon.com and search the categories to find out where mine fits.  I figured if I could find similar style books, then that should be my genre, right?

After a while, I started to zero in on Literary Fiction.  But I thought, if I’m selling my book on Amazon.com, I don’t want it to just be grouped in with 45,000 other books, I need to narrow it down even more.  And within the remaining sub-categories I spied the word “Psychological”.  I clicked it open and perused the available books and theme list.  That’s when I knew I had found my genre.

Genre: Psychological Literary Fiction

Beta Readers

I have to admit, when I was coming up with the list of challenges I would face “Finding Beta Readers” wasn’t at the top of the list.  I had this idea in my head where I would post my information in some of the various Beta Reader groups out there and helpful people would line up and everything would be just rosy.  Unfortunately, I was overestimating the interest my work would garner…by a lot.

There could be any number of factors involved, of course.  I tried to be very upfront with the mature nature of my novel, because I don’t want anyone surprised (in a bad way) by the content.  Could that have scared people away?  Or it’s possible I didn’t do a good enough job getting people interested.  This weekend I wrote up a proper description, the type of thing you’d see on a website or on the back of a novel and added it to one of my posts.  I’m hoping it helps.

I have other steps I can work on while I’m waiting for this to happen, but if I don’t find betas, it will eventually stall out the entire process.  Impartial eyes are one of the most important aspects of editing, because as much as I trust and value the opinions of my close friends and family, it’s impossible for them to be completely unbiased.

So now I’m reaching out to the WordPress community.  If you, or anyone you know, are interested in beta reading an 80,000 word Psychological Literary Fiction novel, give me a shout!  It just so happens I have one right here.  I may be biased, but I think it’s a pretty good read.

I can be reached at: journeyofawannabewriter@gmail.com

UPDATE 3/24/13 – One of the hardest things to have these days is patience.  I was so excited to get my book out there that, I admit, I was feeling a little down at the initial lack of  interested being beta readers.  But if I’d had just a little more patience, I would have been writing a very different section.  As of now I’ve had 4 different people contact me about being beta readers, so the ball is officially rolling and I’m excited for the feedback to start coming in!

Here’s the book blurb:

Alex’s parents died when he was eight.  Since then, he’s been on the outside looking in, wondering what his life could have been…what it should have been.  Now, crushed by unbearable loneliness, he looks toward one, final solution.

Melissa is tired of being a victim.  She wants nothing more than to move on with her life.  But she is still haunted by the man who attacked her outside a club five years ago.  A man the police never found.  

Richard is a paramedic who made a mistake that cost a little girl her life.  Now, fresh off a lengthy suspension, he can’t avoid confronting the mistake he made.  At the same time, his marriage is coming apart at the seams, and the only comfort he can find is at the bottom of a bottle.

Joel has made mistakes.  Horrible mistakes.  But turning the tables on his abusive father and putting a bullet through his hand isn’t one of them.  Now his father, looking for revenge, has found him. There may never be redemption for Joel, but he has a family to worry about now, and he must protect them at all costs.

Next Steps

Finishing my draft felt great.  It was like getting a monkey off my back that had been crashing cymbals on my head for years.  I wanted to do this for so long, and now I’m finally done, right?

Not even close!

There are so many steps to go, the list is almost discouraging to look at.  I’m a writer, a creative guy, this stuff isn’t really my bag, ya know?  I avoid lists like I avoid fist-sized spiders.  But it needs to be done.  Lucky for me I have a partner who is good at lists, tasks, and getting the type of stuff done that I consider boring.  That doesn’t mean she’s going to do it for me, it just means she’s going to harass me until I do it.  This is a good thing because otherwise it would take me a lot longer to get these things done.

So how did I figure out the steps?  I’m fortunate because I’ve been able to draw from two sources on where to go from here.  First is the fantastic website IndiesUnlimited.  They just published a piece called I’ve Written a Book, How Do I Publish It?.  In it, they run through a sixteen step process on how to take your book from first draft to published book.  The information here is absolutely invaluable.

I was also extremely lucky in that the Federation of BC Writers held a self-publishing fair just this last weekend at the Vancouver Public Library.  Among the list of speakers was best-selling author Martin Crosbie, who gave a very positive and helpful talk about what has and hasn’t worked for him in the jungle that is Amazon.com.

So, what do I have to do?  I present to you, not necessarily in order, my list:

  • Confirm a name for the book.
  • Figure out what genre it fits into.
  • Write a short description/”elevator pitch”
  • Second round of edits.
  • Find beta readers, send book to them and await feedback.
  • Edit from beta reader feedback, then send to new batch of beta readers.
  • Edit again.  If I’m happy at this point, find a copy-editor and send to him/her.
  • Final round of editing.  Should be finished at this point.  Or should I send out Advanced Review Copies and do one last edit, if required?
  • Create Amazon.com author page.
  • Get an ISBN for both physical copy and ebook.
  • Prepare ‘front matter’.  Copyright.
  • Figure out the front cover.  What do I want it to look like?  Hire someone to do it or do it myself?
  • Do I want a barcode?
  • Format.  Can hire a professional formatter, or try and do it myself.
  • Upload ebook, check formatting works.  Order physical copy to review quality/format.
  • Publish.
  • Promote.  Promote.  Promote.
  • Promote some more.

Whew.  There we go.  No problem.

I will, of course, provide semi-irregular updates on what’s happening as it happens, or sometime after it happens, as always.  This is, without a doubt, the ‘not fun’ part of putting out a book.  But it is absolutely essential, and I’m looking forward to getting through it and learning everything I need to know so that future books (I *do* plan to keep writing, you know) are easier to publish.

Like any process – the first time is always the hardest.