Getting Edited and Editing

 Guest blog: Hear from a writer on the ups and downs of editing                 

 meg_benjamin          By Meg Benjamin 

Earlier this year, Samhain Publishing, which bought my first book, Venus In Blue Jeans, as well as nine others, announced that they were closing. Like most of Samhain’s authors, I was saddened. I knew many people who worked for them, a very talented bunch.

But Samhain’s closure had a more immediate effect for me. It meant that my novel Running On Empty was no longer scheduled for publication. I could have tried to find another publisher; but the chances of anyone wanting to take on the third book in a trilogy where the other two books belonged to Samhain were slim at best. I could have let it go, leaving the trilogy unfinished, but I didn’t want to do that.

My third choice—and the one with which I decided to go—was publishing the book myself. Self publishing (or “indie” publishing) is increasingly widespread. An entire industry has sprung up for authors who want to present their own, professionally produced books, including experts in art, editing, and formatting.

Self-meg-benjaminpublishing involves two main expenses—covers and editing. Of the two, beginning writers are more likely to spend on the former than the latter. They’re making a big mistake.I came to this conclusion from a unique perspective—I was a freelance copy editor myself for several years. At one time I had large chunks of the Chicago Manual of Style memorized (note to fellow copy editors—it goes away with time). No way I would edit my own stuff.

On the simplest mechanical level, you tend to read through your own errors, even your own typos. You know what’s supposed to be there, and your brain supplies it even when it’s missing. But a good editor will do a lot more than just catch your mistakes. A good editor will tell you where you’re going wrong in your story and your characters. Editors come to the book cold, without any information about your struggles to get it finished (unlike, say, critique partners). More importantly, they’re not paid to be your friend. The editor is there to provide you with a flat assessment of the weak spots in your work, along with some hints about how to fix them.That’s what you want.

My editor was brutally frank about the highs and lows of Running On Empty, my newest book.I won’t lie—some of it hurt. The pain of criticism is necessary and frequently based on your realization that your work wasn’t as perfect as you thought. When readers complain  indie books are “unreadable,” they may be referring to works that haven’t received the benefit of an independent editor. I was able to produce a much better work thanks to my editor’s guidance.

Years ago, I was part of a critique group led by a well-known author. Group members ranged from rank beginners to seasoned, multi-published writers. A couple of the beginners had never been critiqued before, and they both responded with very public meltdowns. Eventually they both withdrew from the group after a loud denunciation of all of us for our lack of sympathy with their writing. Do I have to tell you that neither of those writers ever made it into print (at least so far as I know)?

Editing does cost a lot. Many editors charge by the word, and most of us write books in the 50,000 to 90,000 word range. But the investment pays off. Edited books may have weaknesses, but they’re usually things the author knowingly chose to do.

For better or worse.

(Meg Benjamin is an award-winning author of contemporary romance, including the Award of Excellence from Colorado Romance Writers. Visit her at or )


G & A FOR 2014

goalWhat’s G & A?  Not General & Administrative in a budget expense document, nor Grief & Aggravation in slang shorthand. It’s “goals and achievements,” a blog hop for my publisher, Prism Book Group, taking place January 20 and 21, 2014.

A blog hop links together a number of bloggers around one topic, and you, the reader, can hop from site to site to read them easily. This one focuses on me and my fellow writers, what we’ve achieved, what we see coming up in the next year.  Click on the Linky link below to travel to other authors.

Serendipity plays a big role in my writing. I’ve learned to see this as an achievement. While ideas for stories and books frequently swim around in my brain for years, the particulars depend heavily on coincidence. Take the manuscript I’m currently working on. Because it’s a romance, a woman and a man meet and fall in love after many problems. But the particulars—their characters, the setting, the dialogue, the supporting cast—frequently develop from happenstance in everyday life.

One theme I think will resonate throughout the story is what value do we place on friendship? This question occurred after I saw The Armstrong Lie, a documentary film about the bicyclist. Some friends turned against him as his deceit was revealed; others struggled against betrayal out of loyalty to him and the team. He, too, talks about the bonds of friendship. This theme could be the strong underpinning for my entire plot.

As I watched the revelations from a once-heroic figure, I realized I could base a character from my NEXT novel on him. A person who would make any sacrifice to win, yet a man who seems to value personal loyalty above almost anything else. A parent who must somehow figure out how to retain the affection of his children in the face of his moral downfall. An individual held captive by our collective guilt in many situations that excuse bad behavior if “everyone is doing it.”

Another coincidence: Colorado’s recent floods. Mother Nature or luck pulls people out of their ordinary rounds, and they’re forced to react unexpectedly. They can respond in admirable or despicable ways. In my upcoming novel  (possibly titled Rocky Mountain Rebirth or Rocky Mountain Renewal, slated for publication summer 2014), one of the wild fires that periodically sweep the forests plays a major role. And in the manuscript I’m working on, I’ve decided a flood like the ones the state experienced in 2013 will be a major turning point.

My goal for 2014 has fallen into place on its own—finish a new novel. I hope and trust the cycle will continue indefinitely, goal-achievement-goal-achievement, as long as I can drag myself to the keyboard


Click with your mouse on this Linky Link to get to 21 authors and their thoughts about Gs & As

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“The Good Parents” as Extraordinary Story

Stories can hold the sum of mankind’s knowledge, desire, and feelings. We learn better if our information comes in the form of tales. They needn’t be particularly dramatic or scary, but somehow they need to be human, connect to us through emotion.  For me, religions and philosophies are specialized stories, and hard sciences are palatable only if they are related in anecdotal fashion. A friend of mine believes I majored in psychology purely because the case studies resemble mini-tales. 

Everyone has his own story. It might be funny or frightening, instructive or entertaining. It might bore some and excite others. Telling a story well, so others can relate to it easily, is the duty of the writer. I have a long list of types of stories I don’t like: zombies, vampires, blood and gore, evil. Also not keen on most sports or tragedies. Don’t like offerings that include torture. Okay occasionally with deaths. I especially don’t like poorly written work. I know the definition of this varies according to the hearer/reader, but, as the untutored viewer said of art, “I know what I like.” 

I especially adore stories about ordinary people. Now that I think about it, I like stories with characters much like my friends—bright, curious, with kindly impulses, interested in what’s around them.  Like my friends, these characters hit highs and lows, have flaws and fortes. They face the challenge of surviving in a world that often is cruel and uncaring, nourishing within themselves  a careful consideration for their own well being and the same for others.. Examples—“Pride and Prejudice,” “The Things They Carried,” “White Teeth.” 

I’ve found a book that meets my qualifications and is a joy to read. “The Good Parents” by Joan London. Set in the author’s homeland of Australia, it features a teen-aged daughter seeking to reach adulthood through the time-honored fashion—an older man—along with the turmoil experienced by her mother and father, aging semi-hippies. There’s a mystery, in fact several mysteries: will the daughter meet a terrible fate and will a disreputable but powerful man in the mother’s past bring doom?

The beauty of this book, however, is neither plot nor action. Rather, the intricate weaving of the inner thoughts, the external impacts, the complex relationships, of the characters make you read faster and faster, to track the lives of people who somehow seem as close as dear friends or beloved relatives. The main characters as well as the secondary ones upon whom only a few pages may be expended are as faceted and radiant and entrancing as a diamond. Through this treatise on one family’s lives, I grew to appreciate my own more.

“The Good Parents” is truly an example of how ordinary people can have extraordinary lives.

I Hate to Be Paranoid But. . .News

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts today released its annual Count, examining issues of gender discrimination in some of the nation’s major literary venues for 2012. The previous Counts have fueled considerable media response by revealing the wide disparity in rates of publication between male and female authors in nearly every genre.

This year’s Count demonstrates that some outlets have heard VIDA’s message—critically-acclaimed magazines such as Tin House, Poetry and Threepenny Review were particularly noticeable for the positive attention editors are giving to create a more balanced publishing landscape.

But as the conversation over these issues has grown louder, some magazines seem to have become tone deaf. The 2012 Count reveals that the gender discrepancy in venues such as The Paris Review, The New Republic, New York Review Of Books, Times Literary Supplement, The New Republic and The Nation has either stagnated or grown quantifiably worse since VIDA’s Count began. See Thanks to Goodreads for publicizing this study.