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I started life as a listener, became a writer, worked as an editor, and drifted into being a lawyer. While a listener, I learned to love stories. While a writer, I learned to tell them. While an editor, I learned to tell them well.

It never occurred to me until I became a lawyer that the process of writing is a mystery to many people. Law schools have something called “law reviews” where students edit each other’s “case notes.” “Case notes” are not notes at all but are long deadly dull treatises on legal subjects not even a lawyer can love. The point of being on the law review is to learn how to pick a subject, write about it, and use a legal style manual to make sure all the citations and use of punctuation throughout the deadly dull case note are consistent. The theory is that later on, when lawyers write trial memoranda and appellate briefs (intended to keep the reader awake, unlike case notes), their written work will look professional instead of sloppy and haphazard. A legal brief with correct grammar and punctuation and consistent citation style is the equivalent of putting on a suit to go to court instead of appearing in your pajamas.

In the book publishing world, everyone knows traditional publishers have editors and proofreaders and copy editors. Their function is to make the fiction and nonfiction books the house publishes look professional. Like lawyers, publishers set standards for their written work by designating the style manual or manuals and the rules for punctuation, grammar, and citations that will make the house’s book internally consistent and appealing to readers. The point is not that every publisher uses the same style manual or follows exactly the same rules. Rather, the point is consistency within the works the house offers for sale.

One of the last steps in producing a brief for the court of appeal is editing and proofreading it. Proofreading yourself accurately is nearly impossible. Back in my editor days, we used to take turns acting as proofreaders for other editors’ projects because after anyone has read and re-read a document a number of times, the accuracy rate for proofreading slips into the toilet. Since I work without staff, I have to proofread my own work; and I have found that reading aloud and taking the sections of the brief out of order help me find my errors. And because I used to teach writing and grammar and punctuation, I do know where those pesky commas go. (They are logical little beasts; and no, they don’t go where you pause to breathe when reading out loud.)

This has always been my world. First, the story. Second, the writing. Third, editing the work. Whether writing poetry, fiction, non-fiction or legal briefs (a sometimes blend of fiction and non, but never mind), I never thought of deviating from this routine. And I’m not going to stop now.

But after I published my novel and began to read author discussions on various forums, I was surprised to discover that many who call themselves authors do not respect the process of editing. They see it as optional. That, in my mind, creates a problem in the world of self-publishing. Whereas a reader can rely on a traditionally published book to be edited and internally consistent, buying a self-published book can be a crap shoot. It might be presenting itself to the world in its professional dress. Or it might have been let loose still wearing its pajamas. I’ve downloaded a few of those books, and I haven’t gotten beyond page twenty-five in any of them. And failing to respect the editorial process leads to a divide among reviewers. A lot of them either won’t consider a non-traditionally published book, or they demand assurances a self-published book has been edited.

Treating editing as optional hurts everyone in the self-publishing community. Ignoring the editorial process is a mistake. A good editor has the art of cleaning up a manuscript while preserving the authentic and individual voice of the author. Good editing is never, ever optional. No reader wants to buy a book still in its pj’s.

Chicago Manual of Style

The Grandaddy of Style Manuals

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Legal Style Manual:  Dreaded Blue Book

Legal Style Manual: Dreaded Blue Book

California's Answer to the Dreaded Blue Book

California’s Answer to the Dreaded Blue Book

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This week I managed (finally) to figure out how to post the cover of my novel on my blog. See, there it is on the sidebar. Now don’t laugh. Sometimes I think writing and editing it was easier than finding out how to use that pesky little image widget. (Just kidding.) And then there was the problem of how to post links to Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I googled and goolged and googled before I got that right. And I’m not sure those links are all pro, but they work. That’s all that counts.

I decided to publish Dance for a Dead Princess myself for several reasons. One, the whole business of finding a literary agent seems to have changed radically. Back in 1995 when I found the lovely lady who represented Summer’s Child, the whole process of agent rejection was more like a stately dance. I sent my book summary and sample chapters off in discreet navy folders, and they came back in my prepaid envelopes with “No Thanks” scrawled on the cover page. Moral of story: a human opened and at least looked a them. Until by and by, a human liked them and represented them.

Summer’s Child came close but did not sell, and another author appropriated my title (without asking me, but never mind), and my agent retired while I built a law practice and raised my children. (No small feat, by the way.) Then, a year or so ago, when I dove into the Literary Agent Ocean once more because I now had two novels I wanted to publish, I was shocked at how things had changed. Just their websites were hostile and uninviting. “Closed to submissions.” “We do not consider unpublished writers.” “We only accept referrals.” Couldn’t they have just written it out, “We are just TOO GRAND to ever read a WORD you’ve written even if it’s only a Cover Letter”? Or “If you’ve NEVER BEEN PUBLISHED we do not consider you LITERATE no matter how many GRADUATE DEGREES you have.” And then, the ones who had a tiny chink in their website armor allowed email submissions to which they promised NEVER TO REPLY. (But logical question: at some point weren’t all now published authors unpublished and didn’t they turn out to be both LITERATE and ENTERTAINING? Doesn’t that sort of squash the Literary Agent view of the Unpublished? Just a thought.)

Now, I am a lawyer, and law is not a profession known for being touchy feely. But I at least tell people when I am not going to represent them. And I do so in very polite lawyerspeak on ivory twenty-pound bond, personally signed by me, which they can cherish for a lifetime along with my highly impressive letterhead. (Don’t laugh. If you are a lawyer, you are selling your brain, so your letterhead has to be IMPRESSIVE to convince the client your brain is worth the fee.) “Dear Ms. XYZ, having considered the facts of your case, I have concluded I am not the right attorney for your file. Best of luck with your matter. Very truly yours, etc.”

Now, I hasten to add, one or two agents wrote me polite and professional turndown letters; and I respected their sincerity. In particular, they acknowledged what a feat it is even to create a novel even if mine was not right for them. But they were the minority, and I just didn’t see the point of beating my head against the closed Literary Agent Door. It reminded me of trying to get into social clubs in high school. The Cool Kids were never going to let you in no matter your merits because they had deemed you unworthy without ever taking time to even talk to you.

Anyway, Literary Agents were a barrier to entering the world of author. But they were no longer insurmountable. And even more importantly, I had seen what traditionally published authors go through. Back in the day, before I found My Agent, a published friend of mine shared her tribulations as her then-agent tried to turn her into Olivia Goldsmith (who was hot at the time; she died during plastic surgery. No comment.) My friend did not want to write the Big Hollywood genre thrillers the agent wanted. So her next move was to Agent Two, who, so far as I know, let her be herself. But I noticed that when her publisher published her books, she had to do all the work of promoting it. And I don’t mean being flown around first class from New York, to Boston, to London, and Paris with appearances on the Today show and GMA. No, my friend had to call the local bookstores, beg for book signing dates, haul her books there, and hope someone would show up to see her and ask her to sign one. In short, she was doing all the work, and it was not glamorous.

Now, I gave up big law firm practice to work for myself. There are upsides and downsides, of course, to that decision but I am my own boss. (And I’m pretty nice to work for, by the way.) So it made sense that if I was going to be a writer (and I’ve been a storyteller since the day I was born and a writer since age 11), I would light out for the Territory on my own. Hence decision: self-publish.

On March 30, 2013, I uploaded Dance For A Dead Princess to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords, armed only with my favorable Kirkus review and determined to figure out how to tell the world about my book. A great read. Cheaper than a Starbuck’s latte and lasts longer too. In the past month, I have floundered as I learned the ways of promoting a book. Some sites are very straightforward: send us money. Ok, I can handle that. Some sites have RULES that are as complicated as magic spells (and which makes me wonder if it would be easier to order a spell from California Psychics). The RULES go like this: You must have x stars, x reviews no longer than x which were not created under a New or Full Moon. Wow, mind boggling. Worse than the California Rules of Court. (Trust me, those babies are better than sleeping pills!) Of course, my question for those sites – pardon me for being lawyerlike – is how do you get x reviews with x stars under whatever moons your prescribe until you can let the word know your book is out there? Isn’t publicity designed to inform readers you and your book exist so they can create the x reviews, with the x stars under the required moons? Or am I being too logical?

Anyway, my novel and I have emerged into the new world of Novel Promotion where right now I feel as if I’m standing under a dark sky watching all the tiny little stars of all the books in the world shine down at me. But I believe in Dance or I wouldn’t have come this far. So I’ve just got to figure out how to help it shine a little brighter so readers who would love it will find it. This is a new journey, and I’m up for it.

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Kirkus Reviews

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