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Exercise Wednesday: That’s a big number

October 8, 2014


For about half the population, that’s a scary number. For the other half, it’s a fond remembrance of when they were young. Either way, it’s an emotionally loaded number–a figure that has meaning beyond just marking the end of your fourth decade. Forty may be the beginning of the end. Maybe it’s the beginning of a second, better half of life.

Maybe it’s a number that once seemed impossible to reach, if the person was in a violent situation or had major health problems.

Whatever the case, today’s exercise is to write about a character’s reaction to the number forty (or feel free to substitute a number of your own choosing).

Time limit: 30 minutes.

Rejecting Editorial Suggestions

October 6, 2014

Recently a comment in an online forum for editors I participate in provoked much discussion, and it occurred to me that it might be interesting for you writers to be privy to something editors  talk about when you’re not around.

An editor new to the business wondered what other editors do when their editorial comments and revision suggestions are rejected by the author.

Whether or not the writer incorporates suggested revisions seemed to be a big concern for the in-house editors in the forum (and freelance editors hired by publishing houses to work with their authors). The job of those editors is to communicate house style and insure the work meets house standards.

When an author is uncooperative, the in-house editor may have no recourse other than to give up and  turn the manuscript back to the acquisition editor with a list of recommendations.  You usually can’t fight house style and direction, and as a writer, you should know that when you turn the revision process into a fight with an in-house editor, the magazine or publishing company you thought would be publishing your work may not publish it after all.

The relationship between an independent freelance editor and a self-publishing author is different. Editors in the forum told about writers (no names were used!) who rejected their suggestions and produced books riddled with errors or who rushed to self-publish books that were clearly not ready. Every editor, it seems, has stories like that. It became clear that the original poster and some others worried about how their client’s work would affect their reputations as editors.

As the forum discussion progressed, there seemed to be some consensus that the reading public understands the author is responsible for the book’s contents, not the editor. Experienced editors know that once they’ve given the writer thoughtful advice—and backed it up with standard guides  like the Chicago Manual of Style along with conversations with the writer about how their choices affect the reader—that what to do with editorial remarks is the author’s decision.

One experienced editor on the forum wrote that “editing is a diplomatic awareness-raising exercise, not a battle of wills,” and I agree with that. I actually enjoy working with a writer who will push back on my suggestions. It keeps me on my toes when I have to explain myself, and my experience has shown me that conversation between editor and author can help the writer clarify her vision.

I think my job as an editor is to offer suggestions and other information that enables the writer to make good choices more confidently. My goal, the goal of any editor, should be to help the writer achieve her vision for the work. I don’t think my job is to give orders or impose my style or vision on the work. I believe editing is two-way conversation, not a sermon from the mount. Maybe you’ll work with an incompetent editor or one with a God complex, but they are not as common as the movies and New Yorker cartoons would have you believe. Editors want to help, not hinder, the writer.

So back to the original question the forum member posed. What do editors do when their editorial comments and revision suggestions are rejected by the author? The fact is, we cannot do anything but cringe when our names appear in the book’s acknowledgements and the reviews comment negatively on the editing or problems we know could have been avoided had the author adopted our suggestions and taken more time with her work. But it’s the author’s name on the front of the book, not the editor’s.

Editors have no control over the self-published author’s output, nor should we. Some of the saddest words in the world are, “My editor made me do it.” The author is the decider and should remain in control of the work.

We editors can offer the best of our experience and knowledge to our clients. We can explain the reasoning behind our revisions and suggestions. But after that, we can only hope writers will  truly listen and carefully consider our advice before they decide to act on it or reject it. We hope our suggestions will not be dismissed out of hand, and we hope that writers will give their work all the time and effort it deserves. But we cannot do anything to make sure that happens. So what do editors do when their editorial comments and revision suggestions are rejected by the author? Ultimately, we let it go.

Mary Ann de StefanoMary Ann de Stefano is the editor of The Florida Writer (the official magazine of the Florida Writers Association) and MAD’s Monday Muse. She is also a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30+ years experience in publishing and writing consulting. Besides working one-on-one with writers who are developing books, she designs author websites. Mary Ann does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.

Get a sneak peek at the conference program

October 5, 2014

Forty-five faculty, twice the number of workshops over last year, five panels, and plenty of new things, all outlined in the program for the 13th Annual Florida Writers Conference, now online. Even a quick glance at this 100+ page document will tell you that this is one event you won’t want to miss.

Conference Program Cover

It’s a Hollywood theme, so plan on joining your fellow writers as we all walk the metaphorical red carpet at the Royal Palm Literary Award Banquet on Saturday night.

“Stars of Florida Writers”

Annual Conference

October 23-26

$375 for the entire weekend, which is from Friday to Sunday with all meals included. ($35 additional for Thursday evening workshops)

Register now. Single-day registration is available. | Questions? Contact

We look forward to seeing you at the conference!

RX from the Book Doctor: Avoid the Conjunction Compunction

October 3, 2014

By Bobbie Christmas

b. christmasA fellow writer recently asked me if it was okay to start a sentence with the word and or but. She said that members of her critique circle said it was okay and that publishers didn’t care if their writers started a sentence with and or but.

I thought her question and comment gave me a perfect subject for a blog that reached more writers than just the one who asked the question, so here goes.

The following words are conjunctions: and, but, so, therefore. Conjunctions should tie compound sentences or lists together. For example, My dog likes to run, and he runs away, every chance he gets.

While strict usage says that conjunctions should not appear at the beginning of a sentence, few periodicals demand strict adherence to every grammar rule. Conjunctions can in fact sometimes appear at the beginning of a sentence, especially for effect. Doing so can add impact, and if so, readers and publishers don’t seriously object. Here is an example of using a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence for impact: John said he wanted to rescue me from my drab life. But in the end, he turned out to be more villain than rescuer.

As with any technique, however, overuse grows repetitive and therefore becomes objectionable. One or two sentences that begin with a conjunction are okay, but more than one on a page, more than four in a chapter, and you have weak writing. Perhaps publishers and readers don’t object to weak writing if a story is strong, but does the author want to be labeled a weak writer? That answer is left up to the writer.

Usually the conjunction can be moved or deleted and the sentence becomes stronger. Weak: We went to a movie. And then we went to dinner. Stronger: We went to a movie and then to dinner.

Weak: Mary laced up her shoes. But she laced them haphazardly. Stronger: Mary laced up her shoes, but she laced them haphazardly. Weak: I wanted new shoes for the event. So I jumped into the car to drive to the mall. Stronger: I wanted new shoes for the event, so I jumped into the car to drive to the mall.

Avoid repetition! If too many sentences begin with the same word, such as and or but, the writing grows pedantic. Be a strong writer, and here’s how: After you have written your first draft and while you are in the revision phase, seek out all the sentences in your manuscript that begin with a conjunction and consider other ways to make the sentence strong. Recast sentences to avoid conjunctions at the beginning or link sentences to make them compound, and your writing grows stronger.

Yes, publishers may accept conjunctions at the beginning of many sentences, but persistent creative writers always look for ways to improve their writing.


Yours in writing,

Bobbie Christmas

Owner, Zebra Communications

Excellent Editing for Maximum Marketability

Coordinator, FWA Editors Helping Writers

Contact Bobbie at

Exercise Wednesday: The unexplained number

October 1, 2014

Back before Anheuser-Busch bought out the Latrobe Brewing Company, and Rolling Rock was a cool regional beer, there was a lot of mystery about what the number 33 on the label meant. While there are many theories about what the 33 really means, no one is really sure at this point.

Today’s exercise asks you to find a solution to what 33 means–or what another unexplained number or numbers mean.

Take a number where it wouldn’t normally be, and let your imagination be your only limit in figuring out what the number means and why it’s there. Or, you could take a page from JJ Abrams and the Latrobe Brewing Company and make the numbers a perpetual mystery.

Time limit: 30 minutes

The Bane of Every Writer’s Existence: Procrastination

September 29, 2014

By CP Bialois

CP Author PhotoOkay, before I get started I admit I can be the ultimate procrastinator. There is nothing as fine-tuned as the ability to effectively put off till tomorrow what you can do today. At the same time, I hate it beyond description. It’s an evil, vile thing that’s on the same level as liars, cheats, and taxes. Yet, we all happily do it on a regular basis.

We all have our reasons for procrastinating. Others may do it to heighten their senses as a deadline closes in, or the thrill of the rush down the homestretch, many may even just hate doing anything. For me, it’s a simple matter of putting off what I don’t want to do.

I know it’s a trait I developed when it came time for me to mow the grass, shovel snow, or do anything besides play and make a mess as a kid. Making the mess was fun, cleaning it up wasn’t. Still isn’t, at least not to me.

As I grew older and stepped into the work force, I had no problem in switching that part of me off to do whatever job I was assigned. I figured I was being paid to do something and it was my job, so I did it. Nothing could be simpler to me. My mentality was something my coworkers and friends dubbed, “The Machine”.

Switching into Machine Mode was easy at work, but when it came to writing it proved an elusive beast. When it switches on everything in the world is great. I can edit about a hundred pages a day and write from sunup to sundown without a second thought. It’s a funny experience as nothing can piss me off when in that frame of mind. It’s when I’m out of it that I get cranky. Especially when I’m trying to switch it on.

Have you ever seen those old cars that had to be cranked to start? Or had a lawnmower that refused to fire up no matter how many times you pulled that damn cord? That’s exactly what it’s like getting into Machine Mode. There are days when it refuses to kick on no matter how much coffee, chocolate, or pleading I do. And it’s because of that, I’ve grown to hate procrastination.

As the years moved on, I grew to accept that I can’t switch on the machine mode in the house. So, to break free of procrastination and get into the groove I started going to the library to write and you know what? Once there I switch into Machine Mode without any effort. It’s a tremendous feeling which has led to another of one day wanting to live above a nice, small town, country library. I don’t know if that’ll ever happen, but at least I managed to find a way to break free of the procrastination cycle.

What tips or tricks do you have to get yourself motivated?

Get a young writer off to a good start

September 28, 2014

–by Kristen Stieffel

Attending a writers conference is one of the best things one can do to kick a writing career into gear. Many of us, I’m sure, only learned there was such a thing as a writers conference pretty late in life.

One of the best things we can do for our next generation of writers is introduce them to this wonderful resource early. Florida Writers Association’s Youth Writers Program offers a Youth Writers Conference in conjunction with the FWA conference next month.

On October 25, young writers from around the state will gather to learn, critique, and develop friendships. They’ll hear from bestselling YA superstar Trisha Leigh, bestselling romantic-suspense author Mary Burton, and literary agent Saritza Hernandez, among others.

The Youth Writers Program is designed for kids of middle school and high school age. If you know a young writer who qualifies, consider bringing them to the conference.

We’ve planned a full day of learning and networking, and we’ll also honor the winners of the Youth Royal Palm Literary Awards.

The conference will be held at the Orlando Marriot Lake Mary October 25, 8 a.m.–5 p.m., alongside the FWA conference. Registration for the youth conference is only $50 for members and $65 for nonmembers—an investment that will provide immeasurable returns for a young writer. The registration price includes a conference goodie bag, all conference materials, two refreshment breaks, and a full banquet lunch.

For more information, visit to register.

Kristen Stieffel 1 in wide

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. Kristen has edited a variety of projects, including business nonfiction and Bible studies, but she is a novelist at heart and has edited novels for both the general market and the Christian submarket. Kristen is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers. Her fantasy novel Alara’s Call is under contract with OakTara, along with three additional books in the Prophet’s Chronicle series.


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