Express Editing

iStock_000000568002XSmallby Patience Bloom

A few months into my job as an editor, my boss came over, plunked a manuscript onto my desk and said, “Fix this.” My deadline was days–not weeks or months. I knew very little about what I was supposed to do, but trusted my instincts. I love an editorial challenge (usually) so I jumped at the chance to shepherd this project to its state of perfection. The prose had real sparkle, but needed pruning–correcting of typos, word choices and removing all mention of feminine hygiene products. I ate and slept this story to the point where I grew to love it, warts and all. By the time I turned it in to production, I developed separation anxiety and didn’t want to see it go (though part of me was glad for the sleep).

A year after this, my boss-adjacent came into my office and said, “Fix this,” then gave me a heavy manuscript. Deadline: three days. No sweat! Sure, I had a new artist boyfriend to distract me, but while waiting for him at the super-trendy Bedford stop in Brooklyn, I edited like a maniac, tuning out my surroundings and, sadly, the boyfriend. Could I help it if I was deadline-obsessed? It remains one of my favorite books. The relationship did not work out.

More recently–like say, in the last ten years–boss-adjacent decided to schedule a book and I had two days to edit it–on screen, which I hate. I took a few deep breaths, knowing I was about to embark on the mother of all editing experiences. With plenty of Sprite, M&Ms, and curse words, I carried out my assignment. Again, I loved the story within the first few chapters and twitched with panic when I had to let it go. Now and then, I’ll hear a song, eat an M&M, see a cafe, and remember the many hours I spent on a particular book.

All these express editing experiences were tests, ones every editor should have, though not the ideal condition. Recently (like within the past few years) and without too much guilt–maybe a little–I went to an editor and said, “Fix this.” She had the same reaction I did–eager to take this all-important test.

When you’re forced to edit too quickly, you focus extra-hard on two things: 1. not missing anything 2. not rushing too much. In some ways, express editing can be advantageous. You immerse yourself in the work and never lose your flow. I’ve edited books over months and sometimes the copyeditor will come back and I can hear her/him wondering, “What were you thinking by letting this go through?” Even with a year-long stretch, I try to stay in that one story. The momentum is not as strong as when my imaginary deadline Furies are screaming in my ears. Express editing is not my #1 choice, but I can see how much I’ve learned from it.

Commercial Fiction and Other Profanities

Bestsellers area in bookstore - many books in the background.By Denise Zaza, Senior Editor, Harlequin Books

The oldest cliché around has to be about writing the great novel that will stand the test of time.  But really how many authors have done that?  If you can write a book that sells like gangbusters, I think that is pretty neat.  Not that I want to seem unsophisticated.   Yes, reading literary fiction is instructive and inspiring and essential.  Writing with scholarly excellence is a massive achievement that often comes with industry accolades and awards.  The creative process more than cold hard profit drives success, which is the highest ideal for art.

In my opinion though writing any manuscript that sells is a triumph.  But let’s face it, on the whole popular fiction is considered pulp—homogenized.  Generally it has been my experience that romance novels have the worst rap.  In fact I was once introduced at a family gathering as someone who is “polluting the earth with romances.”  (Nice to meet everyone, I’ll have the sanguine soup.)  Whether it all started way back with the inexpensive process of publishing mass market books or the “dime store” label, we all know what people mean when there’s talk about “trashy novels.”

So why the universal hang up about books or ebooks that entertain a mass audience?  There are many authors who write a lot of stories for eager romance readers.  In my view, category romance novels have value and worth and they’re often a bargain to boot.

For nearly two decades as an editor with Harlequin Books and overseeing the publication of hundreds of romantic suspense books, I’ve seen the wide appeal of commercial fiction.  I can personally attest to reading many letters from readers over the years about how uplifting, restoring and enriching the novels are.  In many cases the category books are a meaningful part of a busy life.  They offer escape and distraction.  They’re fun.  Readers depend on romance stories as an essential part of their lives.   Knowing this makes me take my job very seriously because I know how important the novels are to the readers.

Acquiring books that readers appreciate is consequential if not necessarily monumental.   But selling a lot of books is exciting.  I can only imagine the thrill for an author to gain popularity through her writing.  Not to mention the intimate partnership author and reader develop.  For me that’s real, that’s attainable and totally awesome.  (Fist pump—“Yes!”)

Come on, you all know it.  Everyone likes a good story with a happy ending.  It feels good.  Just like curling up with an old book.  Now that’s a classic that eclipses cliché.

Advice: You don’t have to write the greatest novel of all time.  Write a good story and be honest to your work.  Result: A lot of people will buy your book.  How cool is that?

What’s On Your Reading Device?

by Patience Bloom

I’m alwaysiStock_000016891929XSmall curious what other people are reading. Here’s what’s on my Kindle right this second:

Data, A Love Story by Amy Webb (adore anything having to do with online dating since I got my 8-year chip before meeting Dr. Bloom)

The Medium Next Door by Maureen Hancock (Can I help being really into psychic phenomena? Not even a tiny bit)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (I’m a little late)

Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser (The first celebrity I fell for when I lived in France)

The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss (As if! But we’ll see if I can learn something)

Sold to the Enemy by Sarah Morgan (hubba hubba)

Trouble Me by Laura Moore (This author is a sweetheart, met her at a conference, had to buy her book)

Dropped Names by Frank Langella (Can’t get enough of my celebrity gossip, this time from Dracula himself!)

A Body to Die For by Kate White (I heart suspense!)

And I can’t seem to read any of these fast enough. I’ve had several emergency projects to edit so my pleasure reading is relegated to weekends. Please share what you are reading, though proceed at your risk since we may compel each other to buy more books….

The Name Game

iStock_000008664639XSmallby Patience Bloom

I’m always curious about how writers come up with names for their characters. Names are important, especially if you have to live with the hero and heroine for 250 pages. You love these people and the name is part of the identity. My parents decided I had to be “Patience” since I was born a month late. Pretty funny, huh? But unless a name has special significance in the story, I like to see super normal names in romance, even common names like: David, Susan, Mary, Juan, Jason, Mike, George, Derek, Maria, John, Jessica, Jennifer, Kate.

In romance, there are no rules. But here are some things to consider:

Try to avoid unisex names: Lee, Reagan (?), Jordan, Morgan, Bobby/i, Joey. This is why: When I read about Bobby and Jake stealing their first kiss in the pantry–well, I giggle. Even though I know that Bobby is a girl, “Boy” keeps flashing in my mind.

Think beyond names we’ve seen a million times: Rafe, Jake, Tyler, Ryan, Chase. If I had a penny for how many heroes have these names… I mean, they’re okay but overused.

Rarer names are great, as long as they’re not too rare: like Ri8ck. Oh wait, that’s kind of cool. Never mind!

Overly flowery names like Patience Bloom rate high on the cringe-o-meter, though I may be alone in this. Maybe it just hits too close to home. Maybe the name seems too stylish or obvious: Jasmine (Jazz)–she probably looks and smells like a flower; Periwinkle (Peri), her eyes like “crushed violets”*; Cinnamon, who coincidentally drinks everyone’s favorite herbal tea; Rance (rancid from working 16 hours at the ranch); Trig (short for Trigonometry or Trigger because his parents love math and/or guns); Dakota–I know I’m probably the only one who doesn’t favor naming someone after a state, but it just makes me think of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith’s daughter every time. Ron Howard and his wife gave their children middle names from the states where they were conceived. Kind of ewwww, but I forgive Richie Cunningham anything. Kind of a pointless tangent…

The general rule is that if I notice the name too much, I’m not noticing your wonderful story. But then, you have to choose a name that feels right to you–my preferences, begone. Every editor has different likes and dislikes.

If you have trouble naming your character, just think of who your hero/heroine is–what name pops into your head Daniel Craig? You can always change it later.

*A description from Orlando Bloom by Virginia Woolf

What Is Your Stylistic Device?

style photoby Patience Bloom

I’ve written and read a lot, mostly critically. Over the years, I’ve wanted to bring up style issues, and I’m guilty of the crimes outlined below. I might as well confess to my sins and those I’ve observed in other guilty parties. You know who you are. Can you relate to any of these? Please fess up.

Sisters of the Semicolon: Is it a fancy comma? A real sentence? I don’t know; really. Some pepper entire books with them; incorrectly. With a complicated series, sure, you can use them. Some employ the mighty semicolon to add onto a sentence; thinking it’s really a comma. Not so fast, von Ryan*. There are rules for using a semicolon. If I see a semi-colon, I tend to stew over it. I don’t hate them; they just should be used sparingly. (I think that’s right)

One-sentence paragraphs bug me.

But I get why writers like them.

They create tension. Suspense.

Mostly, to me, they seem lazy.

Like trying to fill up the page with the least amount of effort.

And then the elephant jumped through the window.

Ecstatic for Ellipses: I was thinking…oh I don’t know…I’d like a Poptart, but…should I go to the deli or Duane Reade? The former might have…fresher ones…the frosted kind.

Conjunctionitis: And you thought I wouldn’t notice. But I do. Or rather, I don’t want to. And yet, on reality shows, most sentences in the narrations start with conjunctions: “And then this happened, and I had to call my manicurist for help. But she got a flat tire. [wa, wa, wa]” I take out those opening conjunctions as much as I can. But I’ll leave in a few.

Mostly Mozart: Too many notes (for shame!). Rick’s pizza was cold. Or: It would seem upon further elucidation that Rick’s pizza, ordered half an hour ago and delivered by a twelve-year-old who swerved all over the road–Rick saw him from his porch–had fallen short in the hotness department. Short can be sweeter, but I like Mozart too sometimes.

You Are Actually, Really Emphasizing: On an episode of Chopped, my husband and I noticed the number of times a chef said “really” within a minute: 5. It was really embarrassing, actually. When I see it in a manuscript, I tend to strike it.

Fragmentation: I used to like sentence fragments. Until now. I see them over and over again. Without warning. Where are those Poptarts again? On my desk. Half-eaten. Containing 8 essential vitamins and minerals. I think in fragments (I think) so it seems appropriate to read them throughout a book. Until my eyes start squawking. Then I wonder aloud, “Where are those long, sumptuous sentences, full of narrative power and really really great other stuff?” Fragments should be used sparingly or else they read like the one-sentence paragraph.

And those are my style thoughts this afternoon. Truly…

*I’m not advertising perfume. I just like this commercial.