Mini-Rant on Copy Editing

I wasn’t an English major, but I had a few good English teachers through the years who gave me an appreciation for proper use of the language. As such, I guess I became enough of a language purist that it bothers me to see a drop in the quality of copy editing in published works.

I don’t mean the stylistic choices that authors make, or even the words that authors make up — I’ve done that myself, and I like what Orson Scott Card said about it to our Literary Boot Camp class: “I’m a writer, it’s a word if I say it’s a word.” What has bothered me recently is seeing too many wrong words, usually homophones*, left in the text.

I understand the editing process can be lengthy and we’re all human — as I mentioned, I wasn’t an English major so I’m not sure about some of the rules (and I don’t remember much of the terminology). Sometimes an author can catch errors and the publisher chooses not to fix them because of cost, as happened with my book. But sometimes the copy editor just blows it.

Is it too much to ask for a copy editor to know that “led” is the past tense of “lead” (as opposed to the soft metal, “lead”), and that an archer would have someone in their “sights” (connoting vision) rather than their “sites” (locations)?

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*Like homonyms, but they just sound alike.

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25,000

Yesterday I passed the 25,000-word mark on MARE NUBIUM, which for me is pretty good progress for a week. Considering the time I spend at my two jobs, I don’t know that I can maintain that pace (this week I had the advantage of some concentrated time in a hotel room). I’m going to try not to get down on myself if I slow down a bit — so long as I don’t stall out again.

The good thing is, given my 100,000-word target, this means I’m roughly a fourth of the way through the thing. But now I should quit with the blog entry and try to get a few words in. 😉

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Twenty Thousand

In my inchworm-slow progress writing the novel I’ve outlined, a milestone of sorts: crossing the 20,000-word mark yesterday. Considering the most recent additions were achieved in very small steps — a few hundred words here, another few there, mostly in between panels and in the morning before ConCarolinas opened — that ain’t all bad.

Now, to get the next 80,000 words done. Onward and upward.

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Counting Words, Backward

In an effort to apply one of the lessons I learned in Dave Wolverton’s writing workshop — and to cleanse my mental palate before biting off metaphorical chunks of my novel — I turned to a completed short story with the aim of cutting its 12000+ words down to fewer than 10000.

Primarily I stripped a tedious opening “chase” in which I revealed a lot of world-building details but not much else down to its essential elements: the world is dangerous, and the character gets caught. I also cut out two sections from a second point of view (POV), sprinkled what was really needed from those sections in a few other places, and even added an additional fight scene.

In all I think I cut 3000 words and added back 500 or so, and last night the word count stood at 9970. Now, to see if any editors like it….

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ConCarolinas Schedule

Opened my ConCarolinas schedule this morning to find that I’m assigned to a half-dozen panels, including one I specifically didn’t want to be on. So here goes:

Friday
6:00PM – Best Books You’ve Never Heard Of – NOW ACCEPTING SUGGESTIONS 😮

Saturday
9:00AM – Fantastic Animals – That is, animals as characters in fiction … done well and poorly
10:00AM – The Science Panel – What’s up in the world of science, especially with respect to story potential
5:00PM – Putting the Science in your Science Fiction – A nice follow-on to the 10 a.m. panel

Sunday
11:00AM – Where’s My Personal Jetpack? – In which I whine (and channel Daniel Amos*) about not having a rocket pack
3:00PM – Cover Letters – What to do and what not to do, as demonstrated by the slush pile

The con is the 30th of May through the 1st of June, in Charlotte. Visit the ConCarolinas web site for more info.

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*Quick, without resorting to Google: who was Daniel Amos?

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The View From (Under) the Slush Pile

Some of my writing friends asked me about what I look for when I read slush for Baen Books; especially, what makes a book a good potential fit for the Baen line.

Before I answer, let me point out that if a manuscript is at all close to being publishable, I pass it to the publisher, Toni Weisskopf, and let her make the call. She instructed me early on that she only expected me to send her the top 1% of submissions, but I’ve actually sent her more than that. Some I’ve only marginally recommended, if I thought they were good books but might not be quite right for Baen.

That being said, I don’t know if this characterizes any kind of Baen “profile,” but I look for:

1. Stories that are adventurous and fun at their core. Think “golden age of SF.”

2. Stories that are exciting, if not actually action-packed. (Lots of people believe a Baen book must have a battle, brawl, barfight, gunfight, knifefight, or fistfight on every other page. That’s not entirely true, but it’s not entirely false either. Baen fans appreciate action; and what’s more, they know well what makes for realistic action and are ruthless about inconsistencies.)

3. Stories that make sense — e.g., with science, economics, etc., that ring true — and are internally consistent. (This requirement is quite clear in the Baen guidelines.)

4. Stories in which characters’ actions and the consequences of those actions make sense and seem plausible.

5. Stories that, under all the events and characterization, are essentially hopeful. Basically, in a Baen book you should know pretty well who the good guys and bad guys are, and the good guys need to win. Dark and difficult things may happen in a Baen book, but the whole story can’t be dismal.

Note that manuscript mechanics — spelling, grammar, and punctuation — aren’t on the list. That’s because, as Toni puts it, “Story trumps all.” So a good story (i.e., a good SF or F story) has a chance even if the manuscript isn’t pristine. But you still need to proofread well and correct all the typos you can, because you don’t want us to get distracted from the story you’re trying to tell.

When I ran this list by Toni, she wrote,

You can also add that I want to be charmed by the author. Slush is like a blind date — heck, it’s like speed dating — first impressions count. And there won’t be a second date if we don’t see something that could sustain a longer relationship.

Respectfully submitted,
the GrayMan

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Clear Skies in Utah, But No Meteors

At least, none that I saw this morning as I walked and jogged near the hotel area. C’est la vie.

After a day of travel that was 4 hours longer than it should’ve been — one flight cancelled, missed the shuttle bus and had to wait for the next one — I arrived here late last night for Dave Wolverton’s writing workshop. Hopefully I got enough sleep that I’ll be able to pay attention. (Wish me luck.)

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P.S. It occurs to me that posting this is something of an OPSEC violation. If I thought anyone cared, I might desist.

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The State of Science Fiction

My fellow Codex Writer, Rick Novy, posted a pair of blog entries on the relative decline of science fiction compared to fantasy. He made a clear distinction between the written word and movies: both genres do well in theaters, but for some time F novels have sold better than SF. I think the revitalized LOTR franchise and the wildly successful HP franchise explain some of the current popular interest in F as a genre, but they don’t explain the decline of SF.* (Read Rick’s comments: F Vs. SF, and Who’s Right?)

I agree with Rick that the “new wave” of SF, while it freed SF to tackle things it hadn’t tackled before, also hurt the genre in a fundamental way. I discussed this with Alethea Kontis and Edmund Schubert last year at Dragon*Con, and said then I’d like to see some research into the number and circulation of genre magazines year-by-year from the pulp days to today. I contend that the numbers — which no doubt fluctuated year-by-year due to natural variation — probably fell off precipitously around the conjunction of the “new wave” with the success of the Apollo program. That is, just as the core readership of SF saw the realization of a SFnal dream, their own literature seemed to turn against them and delivered a completely new reading experience that they didn’t appreciate as much.

Maybe I’ll do the research myself, in my copious spare time. [:rolleyes:] Oh, yeah, I’ll get right on that.

With respect to the movies, I’ve pointed out to many people that a great many of the top grossing films are SF or feature SFnal tropes, and they’re usually surprised to realize it. It’s easy to say that movie audiences tolerate SF because the movies make the SFnal elements more accessible than do books — you can see the starship, rather than just imagine it — and that’s why SF readership has declined. But I think there’s more to it than that. If most of us read in order to escape our humdrum, workaday world, F now offers us a clearer escape path: we see items every day that populate many SF stories — computers and cell phones and other gadgetry from which we might be happy to escape for a little while — but not many of us see elves or wizards in the office or the house.

I hope Rick is right, and SF as a genre has matured rather than having died. After all, the novel I’m trying to write is pure SF about environmental engineers working to keep a lunar colony alive. Not exactly riding the current wave, am I?

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* For non-fen, LOTR = Lord of the Rings, and HP = Harry Potter. For the really acronym-challenged, F = fantasy, SF = science fiction, and SFnal = science fictional.

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Mayday, Mayday

Not that I’m really in distress, just a little frazzled.

I’m back from the Manufacturing Extension Partnership conference, and trying to get lots of loose ends gathered together — tying them will have to wait — before I head out again for Dave Wolverton’s writing workshop. At least today I got my web site updated, and bills paid.

Onward …

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