editing

Five things I wish I could tell my pre-published self

I had grand intentions to write this earlier in the day, and post in a timely fashion even, but it got busy (a good thing!) and I found myself with no time. And of course, in my off time, I was doing important adulty things like adjusting my budget and looking at emails. Back to night blogging.

Though not very far in the process myself, I feel like I’ve already come a long way and there are a lot of things I’ve learned since I first started. First a disclaimer: this is all from my process, things that have happened to me, things I’ve learned and taken away. They may not be the same for you, and your own experience may vary–but these are the kinds of things people ask me, and you may find them helpful. And so, a listicle!

Five things I wish I could tell my pre-published self:

1. Getting a submission rejected isn’t the hardest part

For years, and years, and years, the one thing holding me back from submitting anything, anywhere, was fear of rejection. I saw very talented friends submitting their fiction through the process best known to be tried and true successful, querying an agent, and getting rejection after rejection. From this, I held up rejection as the absolute worst, and figured it was better to keep writing fanfic forever than it would be to risk my original fiction and have it turned down. I already knew that being turned down that way would be like having my own self rejected, so I was pretty much willing to avoid that prospect indefinitely.

It took a real kick in the pants to get me to the point of ever submitting anything, and a direct invitation from an awesome person.

And when I got past the amazingness of getting accepted, I came to realize there were worse things than the prospect of rejection. Which, in the end, is really the process of finding the best fit for author and publisher and nothing more. And that “worse” brings me to my next item, which is…

2. The first pro edit will rip your soul to shreds

I’m exaggerating. Slightly.

The day I got my first pro edit back, I wanted to hide in a hole, never write again, take my manuscript back from the publisher and light it on fire, cry (I definitely did that), yell, drink a lot (I probably did some of that), and wondered just what the hell I had gotten into.

It was, bar none, the most difficult edit of my life, not only because it had a lot of issues to fix, being my oldest manuscript (from 2003) but a lot of rewrites were involved, and I finished with a different editor from the one that I started with.

So I’m not exaggerating when I say the first edit is hard. It’s not like working with a beta reader (or maybe it is, depending on how intensely you work with a beta). They will catch things you never could have thought would still be in there, no matter how many passes you’ve already made. They will point out things you may disagree with, and it will be difficult to decide how to incorporate those edits. It might be hard to see the line where the edit is optional, versus highly recommended, versus required. Edits like publishing house style, of course, are always required.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it–I’m not sure if anyone has a good first pro edit experience. Maybe I’m wrong and someone will comment to prove that to me! The important takeaway is that it gets better, and easier. You get stronger and more confident, provided you learn from the experience and take that into each subsequent draft.

I’ve said before, Hemingway said write drunk, edit sober. I say read your edits drunk, incorporate them sober. It’s medicinal.

3. Be an author the editors WANT to work with

From the very first, uphill battle, though, my goal was to be an author that my editors would want to work with. After I was thoroughly tenderized from my first edit, I started to see the importance and merit in a lot of what I’ve begun to call their “tough love.”

It’s the editor’s job to see the forest for the trees. They have a bigger perspective, they have industry experience, and in many cases, they can spot the flaws and problems that are invisible to you and whatever friends have helped you get the manuscript to its second draft.

In order to be an author that people want to work with, there are some mandatory baseline items. You have to pay attention to your publisher’s house style. If they go by the Chicago Manual of Style, invest in a copy. Make sure your manuscript conforms. If they use emdashes, make sure to use emdashes–like so–instead of other formatting styles – like the space, dash, space, that I used to use – see what I did there?

Here’s the thing: your editor should not have to spend extra time on things that should already be done. Such as a single space between sentences, instead of the two spaces a lot of us grew up with. I think I just dated myself there. Microsoft Word’s find-replace can even fix that for you, so there’s no excuse.

Their job is to make your manuscript better. But first, don’t you want it to be the absolute best it can be before they ever lay eyes on it? Not only does it make their job easier, but they’ll see you’ve mastered the basics and they’ll turn their attention to places where your manuscript really needs work, content as well as line edits.

Conventional wisdom says never turn in your first draft. Conventional wisdom is absolutely correct. No one’s first draft is perfect. There are always things to find. If you don’t have people who can do a good, hard edit for you, there are writer’s groups you can join, or you can even approach pro editors and ask if they’ll do a sample pro edit for you, to see what you’re getting into. Many of them will do that, all you have to do is shop around. And this is also important, I think, to see whether you can work with a pro edit, or whether your reaction is just “No!!!!” But there’s a major reason it is so important to listen to your editor and work well with them.

4. The things your editor says are the things the reviewers will say if you don’t do diligence with your edits

I learned this the hard way with one of my own novels. Many of some negative elements in reviews for From the Inside Out mentioned things that were an initial concern of one of my editors, or things where I had made a half-hearted stab at things she’d asked me to do, but hadn’t taken that as far as I should have. And I kind of wince at all of the reviews that say “needed more editing,” because, well, that’s my fault. It wasn’t that the editor didn’t point out those things–it was that I didn’t incorporate them, or didn’t do them as fully as I ought to have.

Every edit for any manuscript I’ve had since then, I have paid scrupulous attention to my edits, asked more questions if I didn’t understand an edit, and made sure the editor and I were both happy with the final draft before it goes for its line edit. And I stand behind every manuscript I’ve had since then. And in my own opinion, working with my editors has gotten better and better. I hope they feel the same way!

When the editor asks for changes, it’s not because they hate your manuscript, think you’re terrible, or are trying to make your life difficult. It’s because the changes will almost certainly make your novel better. And if you’re not sure about that and feel very strongly about your original draft, the head editor is usually available for questions if a tie-breaker is needed. You’ve (typically) got the option to override suggested changes, as the author it’s your novel, but don’t forget the editor’s name is on that book too, as the editor. They’re invested in the edits because it’s their job to make you look good.

And when you look good, the reviews are good … usually.

5. Take reviews with a grain of salt. Or a block. Keep writing.

Popular opinion of most authors you’ll survey is “DON’T LOOK AT YOUR REVIEWS.” But if you do, for the love of God, be prepared and fully braced for negative opinions. Maybe they have a point. Maybe it’s like they read a completely different manuscript from the one you wrote. But either way, they will have an opinion, they will express it, and it may not ping you the right way. It may sting, or it may outright hurt and make you want to throw your keyboard on the ground.

But, really, what’s a negative review (or ten) going to change? The manuscript is done, it’s published. Once it’s out there, it’s open to interpretation. Some people will like it, some people won’t. Reviews let other people know what that person thought. In a way, they’re not really for you, they’re for those other people, the ones who might read your book.

Take what you can from the reviews, hold the good close to you and cherish it, and shake off the bad. What else can you really do? Wait, let me answer that: for the love of little green apples, do not, DO NOT, do not ever engage with a reviewer if they’ve left you any slightest nuance of a negative review. You may be tempted to engage with them and correct them for something you think they’ve said that is “wrong” about your story. It is not worth the shitstorm that will rain down upon you from the masses. It’s not your job to tell a reviewer that they read your story wrong. The story needs to speak for itself. Once it’s out there, that’s it. You had your shot, now it’s their turn.

Some other authors have advised having a third party screen your reviews, and share the positive ones. This is not a bad idea, if you know yourself and what your reactions to criticism (you feel unwarranted) might be.

At the end of the day, no matter what, reviews shouldn’t stop you writing. An author is someone who basically has to write, after all. Or, rather, an author is like a shark. Keep swimming or something dies.

That’s what I’ve got to share this week! I hope it was helpful, or at least gave a few of you something to think about. This is all a work in progress for me. Next year, I’ll probably have five new things I would have told the me-of-now.

Next week: tackling effeminophobia. What the heck is that, why is it terribad, and where does it come from?

Maintaining Visibility: How Often to Publish?

Conventional wisdom from authors attending the Gay Romance Northwest meet-up covered the subject of how often an author should publish in order to stay on the readers’ radar. The answer surprised me: there’s a push to publish quarterly to stay on top.

I am a prolific writer myself, but the thought of putting out something every quarter seemed pretty exhausting. After all, the process involves brainstorming, turning out a first draft, going back for the first edit, submitting, doing another, potentially more extensive edit for pre-publication that might involve re-writes, and galley approval. All of that for one manuscript–then the prospect of juggling four (or more!) manuscripts a year can be overwhelming.

That led me to take a look at my own experiences over the past year and a half. I started out submitting three manuscripts right out the gate. By the end of the year I’d submitted two more and gotten them accepted. Fireborn came out last summer, Signal to Noise came out in autumn, From the Inside Out in December. This year, I’ve had the three volumes of Appetite staggered from March to May to July, and Courage Wolf Never Sings the Gorram Blues made its serial debut in May, and its anthology debut last week. Convergence comes out next week, and The Fall Guide will come out in December. In the meantime, I have Body Option, The More Plausible Evil, and Klaxon at the Core accepted and going through various parts of the editing process. And I’ll be starting Dragonspire next month! Not to mention, I have other short stories planned for anthologies or collections due at the end of the year and beyond.

No wonder it feels like writing is its own part-time job, on top of my already full time employment.

So, without intending to or planning for it, I seem to have positioned myself for that ideal “publish quarterly, or around that” philosophy. At least for the first couple of years!

Now I ask the question: is it really necessary? Are readers so fickle or easily distracted that an author needs to keep up with the demand and publish quarterly, or lose their readers?

When I was younger, I remember waiting years in between books for certain authors. Most notably, I think the longest I ever waited for an author was Melanie Rawn, and her next published title was a huge break from her previous work. It was more of a contemporary urban fantasy, where before she had been working on otherworldly epic fantasy, vast in worldbuilding and political scope and, I think, a trilogy that will remain forever unfinished. That aside, authors worked in the framework of years as opposed to the go, spend, buy consumer culture we have going on today, and I was accustomed to waiting at least two years between books for the “big name” authors.

The landscape of m/m fiction seems to come with different expectations. Regardless of what the big name authors say, I think it’s good advice for someone getting newly established, like myself, to make a push to get something published on a regular basis to get your name out there.

At the same time, in my opinion I think it’s also important to pace yourself, and make sure you and the people you’re working with are satisfied with the quality of the material you’re putting out there. When you rush something to an artificial deadline, no matter the reason whether it’s keeping your name out there or just a determination not to change dates, it’s all too easy to make mistakes in the process, whether re-writes are part of it or not.

When you feel rushed, stressed, or under the hammer to produce, that’s also when the quality starts to suffer. And that’s definitely when it’s time to take a break. Whether you’re getting yourself established or already at the top, telling the best story that you can is what really matters. Everything else falls into place from that.

Where the hard part begins

Concrit is hard…but it’s the most important aspect of writing, and I don’t think I can over-stress this point.

I’ve heard so many people say, many times over, that writing your novel, just getting it all down, is the hardest part.

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Respectfully, I disagree. Writing is the easy part. Writing comes naturally. Even self-editing, to a point, is easy because it’s proofreading for yourself. You know what you meant; you see what you expected to see. The absolute hardest, most challenging aspect of writing is, hands down, receiving and incorporating constructive criticism. The hard feedback. Your editor’s content edit.

My editor friend Amanda Jean has made a post regarding editing basics here, for the curious, or those new to the editing process. It’s from the editor’s perspective, and I’m going to touch briefly on the process from the author’s side of things.

In her post, Amanda mentions that the content edit “rattles the bones of the manuscript,” and when you get your novel back from that kind of shaking, what do you do?

Everyone familiar with the old Hemingway saying? “Write drunk, edit sober?” I’d say read your edits drunk, incorporate them sober.

The very first professional edit that I got back was probably one of the hardest blows I’ve ever received as a writer. I am not exaggerating one tiny bit when I say that I was utterly devastated. It was just so much. It was like a mountain of red. The more comments I read through, the more numb and horrified I got!

Looking back on it, I can admit that the manuscript needed a lot of work to bring it up to publishing standard. At first, that work–heck, even the prospect of that work–seemed insurmountable. I had issues, questions, and hell, even a few instances of “no, you’re wrong!!” How do you even begin to tackle that, especially when it involves a lot of work, even re-writes?

Back then, my reaction was basically to roll around feeling very sorry for myself before I started to piece things back together. I didn’t really have a method. It was more fumbling around in the dark, at that point.

Now, my practice is to read through the edits, and set them aside. Give things a chance to sink in a bit. Go through them a second time, and jot down questions for the editor, if you have them. Some edits are mandatory, like grammar or style; some are subjective, like re-phrasing, trimming clutter, removing scenes or adding them.

Sleep on your questions for the editor. You may get some insight if you let things mull around in your head for a bit. That often helps, too, if some re-writes are being asked for, but you’re not sure where to start.

When you’re ready to start, email any questions you still have for the editor, get your answers squared away, and prepare to dig in.

My preferred way of incorporating edits is to set aside large blocks of time and just go through them change by change. I use Track Changes, so I go through accepting changes (those damn commas!!) and resolving editor comments, tracking my own changes so that my editor can see what I’ve changed so that they can perform a final review.

Some of those subjective changes are where it gets dicey. What if your editor makes a change that you don’t want to incorporate? When it comes down to it, you’re the author. However, something to keep in mind is the fact that if something came up on the editor’s radar, it’s more than likely something that will pull your reader out of the story, or otherwise cause something to snag. Depending on your relationship with the editor, you can discuss it with them. You might also want to discuss it with a third party or two and get some outside opinions.

After working with concrit for over a year now, I’m starting to develop what I feel is a good sense for when to incorporate the crit, versus when to stick to my guns. On a recent manuscript that I received, my editor axed the epilogue. On my first read-through of the edits, my gut response to that was “NOOO! MY EPILOGUE!” (That’s the second time that’s happened to one of my stories, by the way.)

By the time I got through the linear edits and reached the epilogue, though, I was able to hit “accept” to axe the epilogue without regret. The story was definitely stronger without it, and the ending I’d crafted in the final chapter was a better place to leave it, overall.

There were two other places in the story where the editor recommended I trim a scene here, take out an element there. I made the case for keeping those things, and received a “fair enough, we can keep them” in response. Happily, I work really well with my editor, and I let them know at every step that if they thought further changes were needed, or if they felt strongly about cutting something I defended, I was willing to be flexible.

The editor usually has a wider view of things, more objective distance, than the author who’s so close to the manuscript and knows exactly what they meant to do, but not necessarily how that came across.

What this means is, frequently, the editor may be telling you things you don’t want to hear about your story. Even, to a point, things that you disagree with. And this is what makes concrit so hard. What do you have to incorporate, and what should you, even if your instincts first say “NOOO?!”

Alas, there are no easy answers for that question. This is one of those cases where everyone has to find their own path. Something really important to keep in mind, though, is the fact that it’s editor’s job to help make your manuscript better. They’re not in it to tear you down or make you feel bad about your writing – they’ve put a lot of work into editing. (Seriously, a lot of work – and editing is often a thankless task.) They’re putting in the work to help bring out the best version of your manuscript in order to get it published.

What gets it there, though, is the way you incorporate those edits and craft those re-writes. And in the best of all possible outcomes, it’s something that puts a smile on your face and has you writing your editor an effusive thank-you note for helping it get there.

And don’t forget the drink. Every time you despair, raise a glass and keep editing. And no matter what, keep writing!

Using MS Word Track Changes, with visual aids

Greetings!

This evening’s post is about a tool that I use quite a bit in both my jobs, the day job and the writing job, and I’ve heard through the Twitter grapevine that there are a number of writers who haven’t heard of this tool, or don’t know how to use it.

I’m taking it upon myself to provide a layman’s guide to MS Word’s Track Changes feature. Once you start using it, it’s hard to imagine editing, or incorporating edits, without it!

Click any image to make it larger. Sorry the embedded images are so small.

Step One: Turning On Track Changes

Best to start simply. I’ll run through all three steps in Word 2010 as well as the older version. Below, you can see Word 2010.

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In the upper menu, locate the Review tab and click on it.

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The “Track Changes” button is right in the middle of the review toolbar. When you hover over it, it lets you know the keyboard shortcut as well as what it does. Click Track Changes once, and you turn it on. After you’re done incorporating changes and using the feature, click it again to turn it off.

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Once you’ve turned on Track Changes, anything that is added or deleted will be tracked in a different color. (Usually red, if you’re the first person making changes.) Deletions will be strikethroughs. There’s also a handy line on the left-hand side to let you skim through and notice paragraphs that may contain tiny changes, such as comma deletions/additions.

Step Two: Accepting and Rejecting Changes

Using the Accept/Reject changes feature took me a bit longer with Word 2010, because they made separate buttons for “comments only” vs “all changes.”

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Over on the upper right part of the toolbar, you have the review buttons. When you click “next,” it highlights the next change that your editor made.

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Here we have the “accept” button highlighted. The “Accept” button in Word 2010 will accept the editor’s proposed change and automatically move you to the next one. This is a fantastic feature when you have a lot of edits to get through but, like me, you’re a control freak and want to look at every single one of them. ^_^

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And here you can see I’ve gone through several edits and accepted each one of them, bringing me to the comment. There are a couple of things to do with your editor’s comments. My personal preference is to leave the comment there if there’s something I’m adding to resolve the comment. Track changes is still on, so my editor will see what I’m adding in response to her comment. In this case, it’s a comment I’ve resolved in the previous volume, so I don’t need it. Click the “Reject” button highlighted in the circle.

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The comment disappears, and the next comment is highlighted. Now I’m going to show you how to delete the comment, but add a change to resolve it. The editor made a suggestion about something my character would be very likely to do. In this case, I rejected the comment…

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…and I added a little to the sentence, incorporating my editor’s suggestion.

Step Three: Adding Comments

The third feature I’ll show is how to add your own comment. This feature is especially useful if you need to reply to a comment that your editor made. Rather than replying in the editor’s comment (which they wouldn’t necessarily notice), it’s better to add your own, so they can use their own review pane to go through your comments in turn.

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To add a comment, select a chunk of text. Usually you’ll be selecting a specific sentence, paragraph, or passage to which your comment applies. Notice the “new comment” button above.

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After you’ve highlighted your text, click new comment, and type away! Here I’m adding a comment to my own document so that, when I go through and self-edit, I remember to consider adding more detail.

And that’s using Track Changes for MS Word 2010! Here’s a quick rundown of the same features for the older version of Word.

Step One: Turning On Track Changes

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You may need to add the Review buttons from the Tools menu, I’m sorry I skipped that step. Basically I always have the Review toolbar open on my old Word program.

Here, I’ve circled the Track Changes button to show you where to locate it on the toolbar and turn it on.

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And a quick example of some changes I made, with Track Changes enabled.

Step Two: Accepting and Rejecting Changes

There are no separate buttons for comments and changes here. The arrow keys will take you to and from every change and comment in the document.

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Here, the first change I made is highlighted.

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Click the “Accept” button to accept the change. If you click the downward arrow beside it, you get the option to accept all changes in the document. I only recommend that option if you’ve read and agreed with all changes. My preferred method is going over each change individually, but your mileage may vary.

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Here, the previous change has been accepted. Unlike Word 2010, you have to click the “Next” button to get to the next change or comment.

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After accepting a few changes, I came along a change that I’m not going to incorporate exactly. So, here, we’ll click the “Reject” button.

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I made a different word choice, and Track Changes is still on, so the editor will be able to see that change.

Step Three: Adding Comments

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Pretty much the same! Select your text.

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Add your comment. And there you have it!

Hope this has been somewhat helpful. If you’ve got other tips and tricks, or handy Track Changes tutorials of your own, feel free to share the word. And do let me know if this helped you in any way. 🙂

Have a great rest of the weekend, everyone – go out and enjoy the super moon!

Upcoming content … when I find the time!

Things I have meant to blog, not ranked in any particular order:

Book reviews:

I meant to roll out a book review feature every other week or so, but the sad fact of the matter is that I don’t get to read as many books as I’d like to. I have a veritable stack, physical and virtual – Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker, the new Melanie Rawn fantasy, and a pile of ebooks, including the copy of Queer Fear that I won during the Hop Against Homophobia.

Last month I finished a couple of books. I could review Bound, but it’s hardly a new release. Quite a popular book, though!

Consider the prospect of book reviews a work in progress. I managed a mega-review a couple of weeks ago; I may be able to roll out one a month and have to consider that good.

Conference/meet-up news:

I’m registered as an author for Rainbow Con 2014, so more on that later. What it means for the immediate future is I won’t be able to take my typical two-month writing vacation in November. I’ve got to reserve a week for February, because my parents rented a guest house in Florida and want me to join them, and I need another week for April to attend the conference. It’s going to be way too much fun, I can tell already, though I feel somewhat presumptuous attending as a full-fledged author.

Tips and tricks of the trade:

Coming soonest, hopefully, a brief tutorial on how to use the Word Track Changes feature, on MS Word 2010 and the earlier edition. (The two are very different, and now that I’m used to it, I prefer Word 2010’s version.)

It still surprises me that a lot of writers don’t know how to use this feature. It’s a basic staple of editorial work, so when the author doesn’t know how to use that feature to incorporate edits, it can make everyone’s job harder.

My plan is to give a quick rundown on how to turn it on and how to use it to accept/reject edits and add comments. The three basics! I really hope it’ll be something people may find useful. I planned on getting that posted this past Saturday, but the weekend provided some unexpected challenges.

No rest for the wicked:

I can’t remember the last time I talked about my current projects in any depth, but this summer is shaping up to be super busy.

Klaxon at the Core is the sequel to Signal to Noise, and I’m currently writing that one. It’s progressing really well, and I hope to be finished by the end of the month. The original beta editor for Signal to Noise volunteered to beta Klaxon before I submit it for publication, which is fantastic because not only is he a superfan, but yay continuity!

The More Plausible Evil is back to the outline-wrangling stage. An editor friend that I’ve had a writer/editor relationship with has reconnected with me, and we’re going to be working together to usher this from first rough draft to a much better, fully developed second draft! Right now the outline is giving me trouble (and there are only so many hours in the day) and I intended to have to outline finished last weekend. This weekend or bust! The More Plausible Evil is due in November.

Body Option is a mecha story I’m planning to write for a September anthology. So long as I get started by August, I think I’ll still be okay on this. There will be action, sci fi, and a man and his mech. It’s not intended to be a long story, and my outline is only two pages – that’s a good sign, for me. (Watch it end up being 40k.)

Somewhere in there I expect I’ll be incorporating edits and doing any necessary re-writes for Convergence and The Fall Guide.

And after that! You’d think I’d take a break, but I’ll be writing My Sexual Superhero, a story about a geek and the charismatic hook-up who saves him from his sexual doldrums. It’s for a submission call for December, and it’s early enough in the planning stages that making my poor geeky protagonist work two retail jobs will fit in just fine.

That’s it for updates – more to come! And if you’ve got content for the author blog to suggest, I’d love to hear it. 🙂 Have a great rest of the week, everyone!

Cover for Convergence

Sorry for the absence! I’ve had a lot to do, gearing up for my foodie trip to Chicago later this week. I’ve also been working to meet daily word count goals for Klaxon at the Core, and now I have the galley for The Competitive Edge to proof before I leave Thursday morning.

I have a sneak peek to share! This is the cover for Convergence that was shared with me yesterday:

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Convergence will be a part of the “Proud to Be a Vampire” collection coming out this October. Really looking forward to it! And that gives me two autumn releases this year. Because technically, The Fall Guide comes out in autumn (Dec 3) after all.

The graphic artist is awesome and the cover is absolutely everything I wanted it to be. Looking forward to this, so much!

Caution: Writing works in progress

A few small updates…

I haven’t been writing so much this month; I finished three stories last month, finished a chapter of something else this month, and I suppose I’ve been taking a bit of a break.

Top priority: finishing edits on The Competitive Edge and getting them back to the editor for final review. And I need to get that done, soonest, because: *drumroll*

Substantial edits have come back for The More Plausible Evil. The in-document edits aren’t so bad, I think I could blaze through them in a day or two. But the overall story has two major issues, one that I could probably resolve, the other that I can’t because my beta thinks the story is too short for everything that’s happening. She thinks it would work better around my usual length, which is ~80-100k.

Tough one. So, I’ll incorporate the edits to bring it to a good second draft, submit it, and present it to the press to get their take.

The Fall Guide has a publication date of December 4th, 2013, and I have to think what to put on the cover. This is one of those where I’m contemplating saying “…dealer’s choice?” All I can think of is palm trees. That…yeah, probably better not.

What else? Oh yes, this month I need to finish plotting the sequel for Signal to Noise, because I’m going to start writing it this month and it’s next month’s focus point.

Final word: don’t forget to sign up for my giveaway! Tomorrow is the last day to win a free book. :3