How Do I Choose Character Names?

Someone recently asked me how I choose character names, and I had to admit that it varies by series.

Unexpected Heroes

For Unexpected Heroes, my epic fantasy series, I started with baby name sites that had a “meaning” search. I’d type in a meaning that was significant to the culture, then I’d search for names I liked that fit the pertinent alphabet or could be altered to fit. (Yes, for that series, the letters mattered.)

After a while, I got tired of doing a search every time I needed a name, and I made a list of possible choices for easy selection, sorted by applicable culture. That made it quite a bit easier to hunt whenever a new character appeared.

To be fair, only two of four cultures cared about the meanings of their names. One cared very, very much, and one just had a pool of traditional names that they used. The third culture cared about as much as modern American culture, which is to say that some people did and some people didn’t, and choosing by sound was way more important. The fourth culture chose almost entirely by sound, stringing together lots of syllables just for the fun of it.

What can I say? They’re different…

Anyway, since *I* cared about the meanings and it helped me choose, I kept a list of the meanings. It’s on this website, if that sort of thing interests you.

Return of the Fae (in progress)

For my new series, which is contemporary fantasy with a sprinkle of science fiction and large dollop of mythology, I would have originally told you that I chose the human names by origin and random selection and the fae names by ancient-history origin. Which is true…

But when I was answering the question for the person who asked, I realized that quite a few of the names are also inside jokes. Ahem.

Some of them will be explained in the story. Though not immediately.

Some of them won’t. I’m cruel like that. I’ll just enjoy the jokes myself.

No, I won’t be listing the meanings of the names for this series on my website, because they aren’t culturally meaningful. I might list some of the origins, because that would be. But we shall see. The first book hasn’t even been published yet, so I’ve got time to ponder how much I want to tell you and how much I want to leave to amuse myself privately.

I know, I’m mean. Think of it this way—it gives you something else to think about after you finish the story. 😉

Relatively Haunted series (yet to come)

My pen name is working on an adult cozy paranormal mystery series, but I don’t expect publication for a while. But just for the sake of covering all my bases, here’s how I picked those names.

Mostly by random, honestly, with a bit of “origin matters.” Modern characters were almost entirely random. Sometimes I asked people for a name and used that one. Sometimes I used a random generator.

For historical names, I used a random generator set to the proper country, or occasionally did an internet search for names that fit multiple criteria, like country AND religion.

Other than that, I just made sure I hadn’t already used the name (I kept a list) and that it wouldn’t be too much like someone else in the same story. Easiest name choosing ever.

Best Tips

If you’re trying to choose names for your characters, here are some of my best tips.

  1. Decide what’s important to you. The sound of the word? The meaning? The origin? The number of syllables? Whatever matters, write it down.
  2. Try out a few baby name sites and find one that allows you to search by the factors you identified as important.
  3. If not much matters and you just need a name, try a random name generator. You can find ones for regular human names or for fantasy or whatever. Seriously, just search the internet.
  4. Write down all the options you like every time you do a search. It might save you from a search the next time you need a name.
  5. Try not to confuse your readers with names that sound too much the same. If you can make them not start with the same letter, that’s great. If you have too many characters to make that work, at least give them different vowels or different numbers of syllables or don’t rhyme them. You know, make them sound very different.

I think that’s it, folks. There you go, a naming primer. 🙂

Happy writing,
Marty C. Lee

© 2023 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Research Books in 2022 and earlier

Instead of a “category” of book reviews this month, I thought I’d give you a list of books I’ve read for writing research. This list doesn’t include business or actual writing subjects like plot & character, just side topics that I needed to know more about for my stories. I’ll try to remember to post a new list each year. Some of the research is for books not yet released (or written).

Please remember that 3 stars still means I was happy with the book. Also keep in mind that I was rating these on the “useful for research” scale, not on how well they were written.

Weapons

Warfare and Weapons, by Christopher Gravett (3 stars)
Weapons, by Jim Ollhoff (3 stars)
Weapons of Fantasy and Folklore, by John Hamilton (3 stars)
Archery, by Adam G. Klien (3 stars)
Archery, by the Boy Scouts of America (3 stars)
The Crooked Stick: A History of the Longbow, by Hugh D.H. Soar (2 stars)
Longbow, by Robert Hardy (2 stars)
Illustrated History of Arms and Armour, by Charles H. Ashdown (2 stars)
Weapons, by Deborah Murrell (2 stars)
Weapons of Ancient Times, by Matt Doeden (1 star)

Setting & Nature

Desert, by Amanda MacQuitty (3 stars)
Volcano and Earthquake, by Susanna van Rose and James Stevenson (3 stars)
Earthquake, by Jen Green (3 stars)
Escape from the Volcano, by Felicia Law (2 stars)
Surviving an Earthquake, by Heather Adamson (1 star)

Animals

Big Cats and Wild Dogs, by Jen Green et al. (3 stars)
Wolves, by Emma Child (3 stars)

Culture & Character

Hustlers, Harlots, and Heroes, by Krista D. Ball (3 stars)
Handbook to Ancient Greece, by Adkins & Adkins (3 stars)
Between Us: How Cultures Create Emotions, by Batja Mesquita (3 stars) (for a work-in-progress)
The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over, by Jack Schafer (4 stars) (for a WIP)

Science & Miscellaneous

Packing For Mars, by Mary Roach (4 stars) (for a WIP)
What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank, by Krista D. Ball (3 stars) (Fun story: her rant against stew made me realize I had a solution for that, which I did use in Seed of War. I found it amusing and satisfactory; how about you?)
Deerskins Into Buckskins, by Matt Richards (3 stars)
Bleed, Blister, Puke, & Purge, by J.M. Younker (3 stars)
The Body: A Guide for Occupants, by Bill Bryson (3 stars) (for a WIP)

I think that’s all for now. You can probably expect to see a lot more space and mythology books next year, if I can’t get enough information on line.

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Writing Update: New Series

Well, to tell the truth, I’ve actually been working on TWO new series. One is adult paranormal cozy mystery (still clean, because I don’t write steamy), and itwill eventually come out under a name variant. No worries; I’ll announce it. The second series wasn’t supposed to be started until after I finished the mystery trilogy, even though it’s under my usual name. I didn’t even know *what I was writing next for young adult, so it made sense to work on the other one first.

I did have a few ideas I was kicking around, but they were very different ideas, and nothing was producing plot or characters in my brain. So I kept thinking while I wrote the mysteries. I had plenty of time, right?

Then my daughter read me something off… Twitter? Facebook? Somewhere on the internet that she reads things. It was a “what if mythology is wrong” kind of thing, but I’m afraid don’t remember exactly what it said. I laughed, as one does, and quipped back about how it could be right if such-and-such.

Then I stared at her. I could write such-and-such. It would unite MOST of the ideas I’d been kicking around, which was even better than picking one or two of them. There was enough available material with lots of variety. I could have a TON of fun subverting expectations. I could mash together real-life science and history with very unreal other stuff and have a whole new (fake) history that would (incorrectly) explain so much.

So I decided to go ahead and write it.

The series is contemporary fantasy with a dash of science fiction and a great big splash of mythology, so it’s different from my first epic fantasy series but still feels close enough to be “mine.” (One of the reasons the mysteries are coming out under a pen name is because they are so different. The other is that they’re aimed at adults rather than teens.)

Anyway, that was back in early April. I did some quick concept ramblings and character picking, then I started doing research. Due to the very different sources that I’m mashing together, I had to do a lot of research. Plus, even when it probably doesn’t matter, I like being accurate. I’m nerdy like that.

Good news, though. The way I’m setting it up allows for a very long series, if I want to keep writing it and readers want to keep reading it. 😉

Then I had to do some character studies. Sure, I could just learn about my characters as I went along, like I did with my first series, but that’s a lot slower. It took me eight years to finish my first series, and four of those were just finishing the first book. I don’t want this one to take that long to get started, so I’m working more deliberately. Experience has to be good for something, after all.

Then I started plotting the major beats. That created the need for more research. Sigh.

Finally got through that (for now?), and started working on the more detailed outline. That turned up some major problems. I hate when that happens. So I worked on motivations for the past couple of weeks before returning to the outline.

As of now, I have all of book 1 outlined on my max outlining level, and one chapter for book 2, as well as over half of book 2 on the one-sentence-per-chapter level. (Book 2 volunteered…) I also got the entire prequel novella drafted, so progress is being made.

My tentative plan is to write the new series and submit it to my critique group, leaving the already-outlined mystery stories for when I’m blocked or need a break. Eventually, I’ll get them both finished.

Will it work?

I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. 🙂

Marty C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

My Writing Method, Per Brain

I’ve actually been learning a lot about my own writing over the past three years. I know I’ve told you about developing my outlining system and about some of my experiences with specific books (see the Writing Process tag for posts), but I don’t think I’ve told you what I’ve learned about my own brain.

I’ve been fascinated by personality tests for decades, so when I heard about Clifton Strengths, I was very intrigued. A “personality” system that talks about your strengths in dealing with the world, rather than introversion or sensing or openness? Tell me more! So I took the test and started learning.

Turns out there are good reasons why I love personality theory and learning about everything. I have Individualization (enjoying differences) in my top ten, and Input (collecting stuff–in my case, information) and Learner (obvious…) both in my top TWO. And Intellection (thinking about stuff) in my top five. In fact, my top ten Strengths include FOUR thinking Strengths (and four get-it-done Strengths).

Yes, I spend a lot of time sticking stuff into my brain and then thinking about it and then thinking about how to use it. And then thinking about it just for fun. And then thinking about it some more because I don’t know how to stop. Ahem.

Anyway, when I was trying to learn how to use my brain better to write better AND faster, I concentrated a lot on the lower four of my Top Five, because Input was only useful as a background power for absorbing story and giving me energy pennies. Achiever and Responsibility are get-it-done Strengths, so they seemed obviously useful to, you know, get it done. And Intellection is my steering wheel for life. No, really. It’s not the invisible engine (Achiever and Responsibility–go, go, go!) or the frame (Input and Learner, making the shape), but it’s what I semi-consciously use to drive everything, all the time. First I think, then I do. Learner, of course, is my research superpower.

And indeed, improving my usage of those four did improve my writing speed, along with my improved plotting method. But something still seemed to be missing. If my outline process was pretty much working now, and my research process was pretty much working, and my goals were pretty achievable, what was wrong?

It was only a little while ago that I learned I had underestimated Input. Yep, #1 Input, that I thought was only good for background stuff and energy pennies is actually doing a LOT behind the scenes. I finally realized that Input is the one handing me all the puzzle pieces of the story.

Ideas? Why, thank you, Input.

Characters? Yes, Input has it.

Plot? Hi, Input!

Conflict? Input to the rescue!

I just didn’t realize how much Input was running things. Input, darling girl that she is, keeps shoving new puzzle pieces at me. Most of them don’t fit, so she takes them back again, only to hand me a new selection. It’s the “take back again” that threw me off my understanding. So many false starts, so Input isn’t really helping, right? Surely it’s Intellection’s pondering that’s finding my ideas.

Not really. Eventually, something will click, and Intellection will grab a piece and smoosh it down into the outline. There it goes! And Learner will run off to research how to make everything fit together, and Achiever will update the outline with the new plot points and characters. And then Input will nod and shuffle through her puzzle pieces to see what else might spark ideas (no matter how little they might resemble each other on the surface). Yep, it was Input’s idea in the first place, and she’s ready to go find the next one.

Which means that all the crazy reading I do isn’t just giving me energy pennies (still very important), it’s filling out a ton of pieces for Input to shuffle around when I’m brainstorming.

I’m sure you’ve heard writers talk about where their ideas come from—overheard conversations, random thoughts, etc. Mine come from Input handing me a strange collection of puzzle pieces and seeing if any fit together. Never mind that the colors don’t match, because if the edges are the same shape, Input can turn them into a new photomosaic. You just won’t see the whole picture until she’s finished. 😉

Yep, Input runs the show very quietly in the background, and you never quite know what she’ll come up with. But it will be amazing. You’ll never be able to tell that the puzzle pieces didn’t originally come from the same picture, because the picture will be soooo cool.

Now, back to writing for me, and for you, back to… what are you working on?
Marty C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Updated Day in the Life of a Writer

The last time I mentioned my writing routine was two years ago, and things have changed since then. So here’s the latest. Keep in mind, it’s a work in progress as I figure out what works for me and what doesn’t.

I don’t write or do business on Sunday, and Saturday tends to be erratic, so this is for weekdays. Minus Thursday, which I will discuss below.

I wake up at 6 am. I shower, dress, eat breakfast, and read my scriptures. I throw a load of laundry into the washer, then I go for a walk (this is new). I don’t actually like exercising right after breakfast, but I’ve discovered that I get it done more often then, and more importantly, it increases the amount of writing I get done. Sigh. So I do it anyway.

In the winter, I walk on my treadmill, because the outside air is too cold to breathe. In the summer, I might go outside. While I walk, I ponder my writing project for the day. If the chapter/story is new, I’ll turn on my phone recorder and talk to myself about the plot, or ask myself questions, or very roughly sketch out scenes or dialogue. If I’m still working on the same chapter/story, I’ll ponder plot holes or where I need to add details. I’m still working up my time & distance, so this walk doesn’t take long. Even so, those few minutes of warming up my brain for writing have made a huge difference.

On Thursday, which is a non-writing day, I’ll plot AHEAD of where I’m working. The next story or chapter, or the next series, or even wishful thinking. I discovered the hard way that I can’t plot story B on a day that I’m writing story A, or else I can’t actually write story A. So I save the extra plotting for when it won’t mess up my writing for the day.

I now have my own office. Yay! It’s the smallest bedroom in my house, but it does have a door to shut out disturbances. I even got a light for the door that glows in different colors so I can color-code my availability. I have white boards and bulletin boards and four bookcases (two are hidden beyond the others) and an extra table. I even have artwork for prettiness. My kids gave me the blue flower triptych, the tree photo was taken by my grandfather, and I embroidered the two pictures by the bookcase. The big whiteboard is for plotting & writing notes, and the smaller one is for tasks & reminders. There’s nothing on them in the pictures because I had just set them up.

Ideally, by 8 am, I’ll be at my desk with a full water bottle. I turn on classical music very, very quietly and try to write new stuff until noon, though sometimes “write” means “outline” or “brainstorm” or “research” or “pick names” or “world build” or any of the other author-y tasks that sometimes have to come before actual writing. (Now that I plot-walk in the mornings and use Thursdays for these tasks, I get more actual writing done on the other days.) I also resort to side tasks when writer’s block is being stubborn or when I don’t feel well.

I’m not particularly fast, but I try to get 1500 words by lunch. With the new addition of my morning walk, I’ve gotten 2000 words moderately regularly, and once or twice as many as 3000. I’d love that to be a regular occurrence. I’m sure you’ve heard of writers who can write 10,000 words/day (good for them!), but I used to get about 5000 per MONTH, tops, so I’m still faster than I used to be. (By the way, don’t compare yourself to others. Nothing good comes of it.)

On Thursday, my critique group takes the place of my morning writing.

After lunch, I take a break and do more-brainless activities, like house cleaning, reading, errands, or social media. I try to get my laundry folded. Sometimes I give up and take a nap.

Around 1 or 1:30 pm, I get back to work. After a quick spin through my email, I spend some time editing my own work and/or beta reading/critiquing other people’s stuff. I also use this time to go over my own beta feedback. I love my beta readers. 🙂 I love finding out what’s working in my stories and what needs to be fixed. (If you’d like to be a beta reader, let me know…)

Most of the time, beta reading for others is also fun, since I tend not to accept beta reads that bore me. Reading other writers’ works-in-progress is actually a good way to learn more about your own writing, by the way. Somehow, it’s easier to see mistakes in someone else’s work, and THEN apply the lesson to yourself.

In a couple of hours, I switch to business things like marketing, budgeting, or formatting. This is not the funnest part of my day, but it needs to be done. Always keep track of the business stuff, guys, or you’ll be sorry later. As you set up your system, try to imagine how much trouble it will be doing it that way when you have a lot MORE of it. Granted, you will still probably have to redo your system at some point, but planning ahead might postpone the remodel.

I stop either when my husband gets home (on days someone else cooks) or when I need to go make supper. Occasionally I have an important task that has to be finished after supper, but I try not to do that too often.

Did I miss anything you wanted to know? Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Happy writing,
Marty C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Writing Update: Legends 2

I was telling you about how I wrote the “fairy tales set on my fantasy world.”

Now that I had all the source-tales selected and assigned to cultures, with factors chosen for each and the rough outlines done, the next step was actually writing. My main goal was to rewrite the fairy tales as if they came from my own fantasy world, but each story ended up handling the source material in different ways. Some of the stories are based on different versions of the same fairy tale (like Snow White), some are based on similarly themed stories (like The Stonecutter), and some are the result of firmly mashing together completely different tales while cackling wildly (Twelve Dancing Princesses + Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves + Rumplestiltskin. Underwater. With mermaids and pirates.). *shrug* When I got to the last story, I even threw a ballad into the mix.

For whatever reason, the two most wildly mashed-up stories ended up being set in the same culture. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s because of the culture… The Nokai are rather interesting. (They’re the mermaids-without-tails who think that there’s no such thing as too many parties. Don’t think that makes them only silly–they have plenty of experience hunting sharks, and they’ll happily bat their eyelashes at you while they bargain you out of your last coin.)

For various reasons, including chance, I ended up writing the long stories first. Some of them went fairly quickly (for me) and were pretty close to being finished after a draft or two. Some had to be majorly rewritten. The Japanese story about a stonecutter who kept wishing to be more powerful was problematic, and I had to change the entire character arc to make it fit the romance I wanted it to be. Grrr, I hate that! But it’s a better story now, which was the point.

I got partway through Red Riding Hood and had to delete half a chapter because I suddenly realized it was turning dark–way too dark! I don’t write dark, and I really wanted the story to be funny, so I had to back up and reconfigure a motive. In case you’re wondering, I can describe the finished story as “What if Red Riding Hood was the wolf?”

Then the last story stalled completely because The Frog Prince depends on magic my world doesn’t have. But I really liked the story, so I polled the internet for stories that fit a partial idea I had, and found a ballad that fit my needs. (Scarborough Fair, if you wanted to know.) By the time I finished fixing the problems, the ballad was the main source and The Frog Prince had become one aspect in the story, along with The Brave Little Tailor and Cupid & Psyche. I see those skeptical looks you’re giving me… Really, it works. 😉

Some stories needed more research than others, too. The frog story, for instance, made me look into seaweed harvesting, wool infections, and the average rate of spinning thread. Yes, that’s all for the same story. I promise, it makes perfect sense within the story. 🙂

And as a bonus for my beloved readers, one of the stories is exclusively available through my newsletter. I took Dick Whittington and Puss in Boots and smooshed them together into The Cat’s Fortune. And it’s FREE! (With a signup to my newsletter…)

On another world, so long ago that truth has faded into legend, a cat and a boy seek their fortune together. You think you know the story, but do you?

Orphaned and homeless, young Aktar travels to the city of Rapata for a better life.

But it seems the rumors of gold-paved streets are false. Can he find a home and a job before he starves?

Maybe with the help of a foundling kitten.

A retelling of Puss in Boots and Dick Whittington, set on the fantasy world of Kaiatan, home of the Unexpected Heroes.

Click here to get the free story!

It will give you something to read while you wait for the rest of the Legends to come out, May 2022. Preorder available now at your favorite retailer!

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Writing Update: Legends 1

I just finished the final edits on Legends of Kaiatan, which is pretty exciting! Looking back at old posts, I promised to tell you about them, so now seems like a good time.

I had the idea for this story collection a long time ago, back when I was working on… books 3 & 4, I think. At the time, the premise was pretty vague. Stories “loosely based on Earth fairy tales, as they would be if they came from Kaiatan.” Back then, I frequently used Red Riding Hood as the example when I was gushing to people. What would that story look like in a land of shapeshifters? (Oddly, Red ended up being almost the last story I finished, because it gave me troubles. Ahem.)

When I finished book 5 (the contemporary short stories) and started working on the fairy tales, they gave me more trouble than I expected. As is always the case.

I started by reading through all of Andrew Lang’s “colored” Fairy Books. Yes, all of them, I think. Plus some Asian and Irish and English fairy tales and some Greek/Roman myths and the Arabian Nights. So much reading… Fortunately, I like reading.

As I read, I made notes about potential story ideas. Anything based on pure magic wouldn’t work, since Kaiatan doesn’t have “magic that can do anything at all.” Anything with ghosts as a vital part wouldn’t work. Actually, lots of them wouldn’t work. Sigh. But I did end up with a list of 20-30 fairy tales that MIGHT work.

From there, I sorted the ideas into the Kaiatan cultures that would work best. Then I took the list to my critique group and discussed possibilities. Finally, I selected ten stories that I thought I could write well. Armed with that list, I started plotting.

I wanted a variety of stories, so I chose some to be romantic and some not, some long and some short, some funny and some serious. And mixed those up among the cultures. Yes, I am very good at over-thinking. It’s a superpower of mine. On the other hand, it does let me give you some very deep worldbuilding and interconnected plots…

I copied summaries of the source tales into my plotting files and started sorting the different versions into major plot beats, marking differences. For instance, in the Snow White story, I noted the different villains (not always the step-mother, did you know?) and forms of murder, as well as the general timeline.

I spent weeks copying and pasting and summarizing and reordering and deleting and altering…

Once I had the plot beats identified, I started deleting what I couldn’t use and translating what I wanted to keep into outline notes.

In the process, some ideas died and had to be replaced with others. I thought I was going to use Icarus, for instance, but even though it’s a winged story already and I have winged people, when I started plotting, I couldn’t make it work. Le sigh. All my ideas should be good ideas, but sadly, that isn’t true.

And I’ll talk about the actual writing in the next post. 😉

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Finding an Editor

As I mentioned in an earlier writing post, I’m in a lot of Facebook author groups. A frequent question is “How do I find/choose an editor?” (Sometimes preceded by “Do I really need an editor?” but the answer to that is “Usually.”)

So, let’s talk about editors.

First, not all editors do the same thing.

Developmental editors work on big picture items, like plot, character, theme, broken endings. Sometimes they give you a shorter report, like an editorial assessment, and sometimes they give you comments all through your book. Ask what they do…

Line editors work on your prose. Do you have paragraphs in the right order? Do you make sense? Can your sentences be improved? Are you having the effect you want? If your story is good but you want to sound better, this is frequently the kind of editor you want.

Copyeditors work on the nitty-gritty stuff. Did you get your character’s eye color the same every time? Is the spelling and grammar right? Did you accidentally use the wrong word? Did you have Thursday and Friday and then Thursday again? Some editors will combine line and copy editing, so ask. Editors will sometimes define their own work a little differently, too, so ask…

Proofreading. Here’s the controversy: true proofreading is done AFTER formatting (reading the proof…) to make sure it’s formatted correctly and printing errors haven’t crept in or the layout gone wonky. Now that most formatting is done electronically, you frequently find editors billing light copyediting (grammar, spelling, punctuation only) as proofreading. So ask how they define it. 🙂

Now that you’ve chosen a kind of editing, where do you find an editor??

Lots of places. Facebook groups. Linked In. Professional organizations like EFA or ACES. Referrals from other authors or from reading the acknowledgement page in your favorite books. If you have a local university with an editing program, you can ask if they have any last-semester students who want work. Seriously, this is the easiest step, even though I used to think it was hard.

So how do you choose the right one?

An excellent question.

Research.

Start by reading their websites or Facebook pages or whatever they have. Check out their reviews or testimonials. Look for experience in your genre. See if they offer a sample edit (free or paid). They probably don’t have samples already posted, but if they do, read them. They might or might not have prices listed, but if they do, eliminate any that are out of your budget. No, you may not ask them to drop their price or take a royalty share. If you really like them, you can haunt their page to see if they ever have a sale.

And/or you can post your project on a job board at one of the professional organizations and THEN do the research for the responders.

Talk to them and/or request sample edits.

Now email/call/message all your chosen finalists to get a quote. If they offer a free sample, ask for one. If you’re willing to pay for sample, you can query the editors who do those. Don’t ask a paid-sample editor to do a free sample. Follow their guidelines for how much and how to submit. DON’T ask twenty different editors to sample-edit twenty different chapters in hopes of getting your book edited for free. First, that’s rude. Second, the different styles will show, and your book will be weird.

Also, developmental editors rarely do samples because of the nature of their work. If you’re looking for a dev editor, you’ll have to depend heavily on testimonials and an interview with them.

Read your sample edits.

When you get the samples back, don’t even look at the quote yet. Read all the comments in detail. Read your work before and after editing. See what you like and what you don’t, both in corrections and in communication style. It’s okay if you don’t agree with everything they say, but if you don’t agree with MOST of it, at least after thinking about it, then they aren’t the right editor for you. (I once declined an editor who uncorrected my subjunctive mood. If you don’t know what that means, then don’t use it as a filter.) Competence is important, but a good fit for your book is just as important. If they don’t get what you’re doing with your story, they aren’t the right editor for you. If they make you feel bad, they’re not the right editor for you.

If you have questions about any of the suggestions, follow up with the editor. Ask lots of questions. Now is a much better time than after you’ve paid a deposit and suddenly decide you don’t like the editor. If they can’t explain their suggestions, they’re not the right editor for you. If they’re rude, they’re not the right editor for anybody.

Look at budget and scheduling.

Hopefully, you’ve narrowed your choices down after going through the samples. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a clear favorite. NOW is the time to read the payment quotes. If you can afford your favorite, go with that editor. If you can’t afford your favorite but the next two or three choices are pretty satisfactory, pick one you can afford. If you can’t afford any of your favorites, you either need to save up or start the process from the top.

No, I really don’t recommend picking an editor solely by price. I see a lot of horror stories about authors who did that and then had to pay for ANOTHER editor to fix what the first editor did.

Also make sure the editor has an opening for you that will meet any deadlines you have. Some editors are booked for months in advance.

While you’re at it, read the contract, too.

Sometimes it’s called Terms of Service or something else. It’s perfectly normal to ask for a deposit, even a non-refundable one. It’s normal to reserve copyright on the edits UNTIL final payment, but then it should be released to you. Make sure you know when payments are due, and how. Make sure you know the deadlines on both sides. When you have to have the manuscript in? When will it come back? How do you submit, including prep work and app/format? What format will you get back? Read all of it, boring or not. If you can’t go along with all the terms, you can ask the editor for an amendment, but if the answer is no, find a different editor with a contract you can fulfill.

Did I miss any of your questions? What else do you want to know?

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

© 2021 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

How I Deal With Feedback

I’m in a lot of author (and reader) groups on Facebook, and recently, I’ve noticed a lot of people asking questions about how to deal with beta or editor feedback. So I thought I’d tell you how I do it. 🙂

(I usually work in Google Docs, though Word’s commenting functions work in the same general way.)

So, I sent a book or short story to a beta reader or editor, and now I’ve gotten it back. What next?

First, I just read through it.

If I find something I easily agree with (spelling errors, stupid mistakes), I might or might not hit “accept” as I read. Either way, this is just a preliminary run. The goal is to read, not to change. I don’t have to agree with the edits. I’m just reading.

Second, I put it down and cry.

Okay, really, this step is optional, but I frequently use it. Feedback hurts sometimes, guys, and it’s okay to admit that. I find that I recover faster if I just admit the hurt. So I take a break, rant PRIVATELY (not in public, not on social media!), cry, take a nap, eat chocolate… whatever I need. Sometimes this only takes a few minutes. Sometimes it takes a couple of days before I feel ready to face the feedback again. The more years I’ve spent getting feedback, the shorter this step USUALLY is. Thicker skin is truly something that develops with practice for most people. Anyway, I stay away from the feedback until I feel ready to face it.

Third, I accept the easy stuff.

If I didn’t hit “accept” as I went, I go back and do it now for all the changes I already agree with that don’t require rewriting. Punctuation, grammar, spelling, small word choices, fixing oopsies. All the easy things. Yes to this one, yes to that one, sure whatever, yes, yes, if you say so, yes.

Fourth, I fix or make a list of the harder but obvious fixes.

These are the things I agree I should fix and I see how to fix, but they require actual rewriting, rearranging, additions, subtractions, whatever. Depending how much I’m dreading the rest of the feedback, I’ll either do all the fixes now or start a list to fix later.

Fifth, I reconsider the icky stuff.

These are the reasons why I have the crying step in my process… This is the comment about hating my character. This is the comment about needing more emotion. This is anything I don’t know how to fix. This is anything I don’t agree with. “What do you mean you don’t like my favorite part, buster?”

Unfortunately, this is usually the part that takes the longest. Ick.

I pull out the homework.

I make a list of the might-be-right-but-don’t-know-how-to-fix to ponder and/or discuss with my critique group and set that away for later. Maybe I need to learn a new skill. Maybe I need to rewrite the whole scene or write something elsewhere in the book to support it. Maybe my critique group will tell me the beta reader is crazy and I don’t need to change anything. (Sadly, that’s not the most common answer.) When I figure out how to fix the problems, I’ll come back to them.

“You put in too much world-building here. It’s boring.” Okay, well, most of my readers like my world-building, but let’s look at that page very carefully. What do I absolutely need to have? Keep that, of course. Is there anything that is completely frivolous? Move it to my deleted scenes file. Now the borderline stuff… it adds color and makes the world more realistic, but what’s the minimum amount necessary to do that? Can I cut it in half? Add just a vibrant detail or two? Split it into bits and pieces so it’s less dump-y? Several of the above? Slice, slice, slice.

“Your characters did something stupid.” Did I not give enough mental explanation/motivation? Did I make a change-of-direction too quickly? Did I miss a step in their character arc? Did I skip a setting/plot description that would explain why their decision was necessary under the circumstances? Did I not exert enough pressure on them? Did I leave any “smarter” possibilities open? Do I need a confrontation scene? Did they ACTUALLY do something stupid??

That only leaves comments that might be wrong.

I very carefully read the rest of the comments, one at a time, very slowly. I dissect those suckers down to their component parts, looking for any part that might be right.

Sometimes they’re right about the symptom but wrong about the disease.

“Your ending stinks.” Ouch. WHY does it stink? Let’s go research endings, shall we? Add it to the homework list… (As it turns out, my ending was fine. My lead-up to the ending needed work and a lot more page-time, and I needed a confrontation scene. Now my ending is great, thanks.)

Sometimes the reader is not my audience or doesn’t get the book.

(This kind of comment should rarely come from your editor, or else you have the wrong editor.) “I think you need more romance.” Sorry, honey, this isn’t a romance book. “When are we getting to the sex?” Yeah, never. Actually, if the answer is that simple, they’ll get eliminated in the first round, but sometimes they’re more complicated and I have to think if they fit my genre/book or not. “Why did you skip over the interesting part in the middle? I think there were pirates!” Um, no, there were no pirates, and I skipped the boring journey. And pirates aren’t going to fit. But hey, I can put pirates in a different book for you, okay? “Your use of contractions is lousy.” Well, the different cultures use contractions differently, but I can explain it better, I guess.

Even with these comments, though, I analyze to see if I somehow gave the wrong cues and skewed reader expectations. Do I need to fi something ELSE to avoid making future readers ask the same wrong questions? Depending how far off the comments were, the reader is sometimes added to my do-not-beta list.

Sometimes the reader is just wrong. Or a jerk.

As always, I analyze these comments to make sure I don’t need to change something, somewhere. Then I delete the comments with a fair amount of satisfaction. Take that. If “jerk” is the problem, I also add the reader to my do-not-beta list. Look, don’t be a jerk, people.

By the time I get to this point, I should be finished with everything except my list of homework. Time to go write again!

In a later post, I’ll talk about choosing an editor.

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

© 2021 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

My Job as a Manipulator

No, I’m not serious. Not really.

But there’s an internet game where you describe your job in a way that makes it sound bad. So a police officer might say she locks people in small rooms or scares small children with a weapon, or a teacher might say he ruins teens chances of a better life by writing bad recommendations (i.e. bad grades). Yes, I know that isn’t really the way it is– but if you look at it sideways, it can be. That’s the point of the game.

If I were playing the game, I could tell you that I brainwash people. Sure I do. I manipulate them into believing what I want them to believe. I put my own words in their heads. I make them picture what I want them to see. I make them remember something other than their own memories.

What? you say. Isn’t that illegal or something?

Well, it would be if I were doing it in real life, but I’m an author, remember? I’m only doing it to you within the covers of a book.

If I do my job right, then when you read my books, you’ll be immersed in my world. You’ll picture the scenes I want you to see. You’ll hear my characters’ words in your heads. You’ll remember my story instead of just your own life. Your real life will disappear while you live the imaginary life I created for you…

I just highjacked your brain.

*cue evil cackle*

And it’s all legal. In fact, if I’m very good at what I’ll do, you’ll beg me to do it to you again. 😉 And again, and again, and again…

Ah, now you’re getting interested. And just how do I do this, exactly, you ask?

Well, that is too complicated to discuss in just one post, but I’ll give you a few hints.

First, it’s a careful balance. If I tell you too little about a scene or a character or a world for you to picture it/them, it won’t draw you under my spell. But if I tell you too much, then you’ll get bored and remember your real life. I can’t have that, now can I? So I have to figure out just the right amount of information to spark the picture in your head without jolting you back into reality. That’s right, my world is more fun than your world. Stay a while and play…

Second, it’s about choices. What words will evoke the right emotions without being distracting? Will a precise but unusual word bring the picture to life or overshadow it? How would the character say it? How would the character NOT say it? The more natural the writing feels, the less likely you are to notice the way I’ve made you think what I want you to think.

Third, it’s about emotion. If I can make you feel for the character— or from the character— then I can really brainwash you. I might even make you temporarily forget who you are. If you feel my character’s emotions, like you are my character, then I’ve really won. You don’t even exist anymore, because you’ve become my creation.

*cue more evil cackling*

And that’s why I can describe my job as being a brainwashing, manipulative telepath. I put my thoughts directly in your head (okay, almost directly) and take over your brain. Until you put down the book.

Here, have another book. You know you want to…

Happy brainwashing reading,
Marty C. Lee

© 2021 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.