Hands up who forgot to put her new release on her own blog…

Look, it’s been busy, okay? In the last six weeks I have left my job, released a story in the Another Place in Time anthology, done a lot of freelance editing work, written a metric ton of blogs for Queer Romance Month including these on historical romance and happy ever afters, announced the sale of my Regency gay romance trilogy to Loveswept, and lined up another project TBA shortly. And it’s my birthday tomorrow. Frankly, I don’t think it’s unreasonable that I forgot to put my own blog tour and new release on my own blog.

*abandons plans to launch social media promotional service company*

FlightOfMagpies300Right, well. Flight of Magpies is out (*cough*yesterday*cough*), the reviews are nice, and you can find the various bits as follows (the giveaway runs till 2 Nov so you may still have time to enter):

I will also be visiting Becky Black in the near future, in the unlikely event you need to hear me communicate ever again….

Review policies, or How To Not Become A Stalking Author

It hasn’t been an impressive time for the author community in the last few days. Kathleen Hale got a full page article in the Guardian (trigger warning for stalking, general warning for repellent disingenuousness and dishonesty) which allowed her to massively extend her stalking campaign against a reviewer. Another author one-upped Hale by travelling the length of Britain to hit a reviewer over the head with a wine bottle, leaving her needing stitches and pressing charges. What next? The British government selling arms to writing groups on the sly?

This behaviour, coming on top of far too many incidents of online and other harassment, has led to a lot of angry pushback, including a number of blogs holding review blackouts to make the point that authors need reviewers. I see reviewers saying things like, “I’m going to stop reviewing, it’s not worth the stress,” or “I’m only going to read books from dead authors because at least they won’t come round my house.” (On the evidence of this week, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Some people will clearly resent that one star from beyond the grave.)

Of course, most authors aren’t like this. Most of us don’t respond aggressively to reviewers in words, let alone call them at work and turn up at their house and write malevolent articles in national newspapers about them and physically assault them. Most don’t, but because of the way fear and intimidation work, a number of reviewers are scared that the next time they one-star a book, the author will be one of those few who do. So the question going round reviewers is, very simply, how do I tell?

cathy p

Various solutions have been mooted. The #AuthorYes hashtag has been used to name authors who have a track record of not being aggressively unpleasant at people. Suggestions have been put up of kitemarks or websites to identify ‘safe’ authors, and just as quickly shot down as impractical. Some authors have their review policy (‘I promise not to stalk you!’) stated on their website (as I do), but a lot of people have pointed out that that means nothing. It’s behaving well that counts, not claiming that you don’t behave badly. Words are empty.

And this is true, but I’d like to give a reason why a public review policy works for me.

My page says that I don’t read Goodreads or Amazon reviews and that I will never respond to them, either directly with abuse/stalking/wine bottles over the head (that bit’s implied), or with encouraging my fans to go after reviewers.

You may say: Yeah, whatever, you could be lying. And I could. This is the internet; people lie. I could be poring over every word posted about my books on Goodreads. I could be making obsessive lists of people who say mean things and drawing angry penises on them. I could not be a cat-owning freelance editor at all. Maybe I’m an international hitman who writes gay romance while I’m waiting to shoot controversial politicians, and the cat is a catfish. You’ll never know.

But the point isn’t whether I can make you believe I don’t hale out over reviews. (This is a new verb which I hope to see adopted.) The point is, my posted reviews policy keeps me on track.

I know reading Goodreads /Amazon reviews is a bad idea. I used to read them, and discovered what a bad idea it is first hand. I have done a flowchart on what a bad idea it is. But I’m still tempted because I’m a human. When I go to Amazon and see on the thumbnail that the number of reviews has jumped and the star rating has changed, my finger twitches over the mouse. But I have a posted review policy and if I click, I’m a liar.

And say I am a liar. Say I fall off the wagon and read my Goodreads reviews (declaration: this has happened) and there’s something really stupid and wrong there that any reasonable person would understand I just had to take issue with…

Well, I’m already a liar to myself by reading the review. But if I respond, I brand myself publically as a liar—as someone who has just done something she said she would not do. If I so much as subtweet a grumble about a bad review, someone will recognise it and know I’m a liar. If I link to it on my Facebook page with a hurt comment about ‘why are people so mean?’ in the hope that my fans will give the reviewer a hard time, I will be waving my hypocrisy and dishonesty like a banner. If I leave a snide or angry comment on a review, I will deserve extra condemnation because I said I wouldn’t do that. I’ve given myself a Toxx clause, to make myself stay the hell away.

This is not to say that reading reviews is a bad act. Read them by all means if they don’t act like Dr Jekyll’s potion, turning you into Author Hyde. But obsessing over reviews is where all this appalling absurdity seems to start.

So I have a public stated review policy, not because I expect anyone to take my word for it, but because it raises the stakes for me when I’m tempted to read reviews, let alone respond. It’s the reminder of your weight stuck to the fridge door, the green sash of the Victorian teetotaller, the Note To Self that says: Right now I am thinking clearly how I should behave, and I am taking this opportunity to control the behaviour of my future self, who may be less reasonable.

Obviously I hope that I’d never behave like Hale even if I read every word of every one-star review. Frankly, I’d hope that nobody would. But even normally reasonable people can get obsessed if they feel they’ve been wronged (eg by someone giving their masterpiece a mere three stars on Goodreads), and the internet fosters obsession. We all know how quickly upset can turn to anger and retaliation, how fast responses can escalate, how very easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole.

I’ve nailed my review policy across the mouth of the rabbit hole. To reassure reviewers, sure, but primarily to keep myself out.

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FlightOfMagpies300Flight of Magpies is out on 28 October, and the blog reviews (which I am allowed to read, so there) are looking nice.

Don’t forget to check out Queer Romance Month, and just a reminder of my somewhat fantastic news, if you missed it…

Announcement: KJ Charles Regency m/m trilogy to Loveswept

I’m pleased* to say that Loveswept, an imprint of Penguin Random House, will be publishing my Regency gay romance trilogy Society of Gentlemen, starting August 2015.

*pleased, n., Brit. Leaping up and down, squealing with joy, and running in circles making noises only audible to dogs

This is Loveswept’s first queer romance.  I am absolutely delighted to be doing this with them. Here’s what Society of Gentlemen is about:

Society of Gentlemen is set at a time of incredible privilege for the few and social turmoil for the many. Regency England is torn by war, poverty and social unrest, ruled by a draconian government. People are starving, rioting, rebelling. But the aristocrats dance on, in their glittering existence of balls, gambling, silks and scandal…

The trilogy covers three couples between autumn 1819 and spring 1820. A young Radical discovers his noble birth and is catapulted into a world of privilege, fashion and murder with a dandy as his guide. A government official and a revolutionary seditionist find common ground in their unconventional desires, under the threat of the gallows. And a lord in love with his valet struggles to find a way across the social abyss that divides them.

I am running out of adjectives for how thrilled I am about this. Obviously because me! Trilogy! Loveswept! Penguin Random House! ME!!!  But there’s another reason which is a great deal more serious and less about my kudzu-like ego.

Badge-1-300x300Back in August, I was involved in the conversations that led to Queer Romance Month. One of the reasons a group of authors put QRM together was our frustration with the idea that queer romance is a subgenre of romance, like erotic or historical — something distinct from, you know, basic default romance. Sure, queer romance is a specific thing that people look for, for good reasons, and marketing requires all books to be tagged in such a way that people can find them. But queer protagonists are as valid as any other, those love stories are as important as any other, and those books might need to be tagged but they sure as hell don’t need to be segregated, to be published and reviewed and treated as something inherently different.

That was what I wrote about in the first post to go up on the QRM site, ‘Love is Not a Subgenre’.

Women are not a subgenre of men, and queer is not a subgenre of straight, and multicultural romance is not a subgenre of romance about white people. … It shouldn’t be ‘making it a factor’ to have other characters taking centre stage. It should just be a reflection of our world, where actually lots of people are gay or female or Asian or trans or mixed race or bi or asexual or or or.

I believe passionately that the big romance publishers should be publishing all kinds of romance, queer and het, with protagonists of whatever age or race or colour or creed or gender identity. Tag them for search, yes, just as you’d tag any book. But publish it all together.

I’m delighted my trilogy will be Loveswept’s first gay romance, to join the other books putting queer romance in the mainstream. I hope there will be many more, with gay and lesbian and trans and bi and many other protagonists telling their stories alongside their het counterparts until it becomes, as it should be, an unremarkable thing.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer and all that. But I find it intensely pleasing that I wrote ‘Love is not a Subgenre’ out of frustration on this very topic when we began setting up Queer Romance Month in August, yet that I can announce this trilogy while QRM is still running in October. And I’d like to see this deal as a sign of better things on the way in the genre, a broader and more inclusive reach. Because as I said in my QRM post, it’s pretty simple really. Queer romance is romance, people are people, love is love, and we can all use another good book.

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A Fashionable Indulgence (Society of Gentlemen 1) will be out from Loveswept in August 2015.

For a taster of the Society of Gentlemen world, my short story ‘The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh’ features two characters who will appear in the trilogy. It’s in the anthology Another Place in Time, available on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and ARe, along with five fabulous m/m historical romances by five of my favourite writers, and is a Dear Author Recommended Read. All proceeds from its sale go to support AllOut.org., so go buy it, okay?

Read more on ‘The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh’ and my inspiration for Society of Gentlemen here.

Flight of Magpies, the third in my Charm of Magpies trilogy, is out on 28 October, and the blog tour with giveaway starts at Love Bytes 22 October. God forfend I should shut up about me any time soon.FlightOfMagpies300

If you’re new to queer romance, hit me up here or on Twitter @kj_charles for recs, or visit Queer Romance Month for fascinating posts, flash fiction, giveaways and tons of good book advice.

Living in a Box: gender and genre

A lot of people are angry about the gendering of children’s books. Well, just look.
activity books
Boys are brilliant, girls are beautiful. Boys have adventures, girls are surrounded with pretty ornaments. Check out @lettoysbetoys if you want to go into the whole sordid mass of pink and blue that is gendered children’s publishing.

Just to head off two things at the pass:

1) It is perfectly possibly to publish for kids who like pretty frilly things (or things that go, or dinosaurs, or adventure) without slapping a gender exclusion on it. Usborne and Parragon have both stopped publishing specifically ‘Girls Activity/Sticker/Doodle’ books without noticeably reducing their output. @LetToysBeToys tweeted this interesting image just today from one of the most obnoxious purveyors of gendering. See? Not that hard, is it?

neutral

2) Girls’ and boys’ brains are not ‘hard wired’ to like particular colours. Any preference is entirely cultural. A Ladies’ Home Journal article from June 1918 decrees, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Meanwhile pink in Japan isn’t historically associated with femininity, but with sex. A ‘pink salon’ is a brothel that specialises in oral. Just saying.

Back to the point. I have two kids, a boy and a girl. My son is a scabby-kneed thug with a head full of football who draws dinosaurs and spaceships. He also draws flowers. Aged 3 he had a pair of trousers with big yellow sunflowers on that he wore till they fell apart. He used to wear his big sister’s dresses all the time to nursery, and when I painted her toenails, I painted his too.

Here are some things that adults have said. Adults dropping off their own kids at nursery; adults at family barbecues with kids and grandkids running around.

  • Why are you wearing a dress? You look like a girl.
  • Aren’t those girls’ trousers?
  • You don’t want to let him wear make up… [with knowing look, like he’s about to catch The Gay from exposure to nail polish]

They don’t say these things so much any more, of course, because he doesn’t do it any more. He’s five now and he’s learning. They taught him. They taught him when he was three years old, crying on my lap because his three-year-old friends had mocked him for wearing a dress. (Hmm, I wonder where they learned to do that.) They taught him that the doodle book he’s been happily using for the last 12 months must be rejected because now he can read ‘For Girls’ on the front.

Don’t start me on what they are teaching my daughter. Don’t even start.

‘Bastards,’ you cry. ‘Who are the jerks pushing this crap on our kids? Who are they?’

Well, they are us. They are children’s publishers, an industry dominated by intelligent, thoughtful, politically aware, socially liberal women, who publish ‘Brilliant Pirate Book for Boys’ and ‘Pretty Princess Book for Girls’ because it sells, and because if Usborne and Parragon aren’t doing it, then the other players can swoop in and clean up on their market share. And they are the people who make up that market share, because that’s what ‘it sells’ means: people buy it. You buy it. I buy it. Because it’s easy to snatch a colour-coded sticker book off a crowded shelf. Because it takes work to know a child. Because one book can’t hurt. Because girls like pink and boys like blue.

So we tell kids what the norms are, what shape box they should fit in, and because kids are the most conformist creatures outside ants, they do their obedient best to fit. But kids grow. And if your box doesn’t fit when you’re three, it sure as hell won’t fit at twenty-three.

I’ve been privileged to be part of Queer Romance Month, running through October, several posts a day, with authors and allies talking about all aspects of queer romance. The theme we set for the event is, ‘Love is Love’. But alongside that, a second theme that’s coming out incredibly strongly from writers and readers is, ‘I need to see myself in books. I need to know that I’m not alone.’

I would have given my right arm for some believable, realistic queer characters when I was a teenager. Maybe then I would have seen myself and learned that there’s nothing wrong with me. (LA Witt)

For the first time, I’d read a story with two main protagonists with whom I could relate. I desperately wanted them to be happy. I recognised their fears, hopes, and dreams, because they weren’t dissimilar to my own. I felt represented in the pages. It finally all made sense. (Amy Dunne)

When I look at gendered kids books, I see part of a machine that tells children what they ought to be and want, churning out the boxes for kids to go in. When I look at QRM, I see adults crying out because their boxes didn’t fit them, and they hurt.

As a man with a degree in youth ministry, when I finally came out between the ages of 24-26, I was pretty much a junior high school girl in the body of an adult male, and I behaved as such. I think many of us who were closeted for so long faced this challenge. I’d never been kissed, never been on a real date (not with guy or girl). I ended up, for the next several years, on a relationship crash course of growing up. Those people who never lived in the closet don’t understand why a 25 year old gay guy might makes stupid choices that the rest of world figured out when they were fourteen.

Because we were never fourteen, not like everyone else. (Brandon Witt)

Let every child be a pirate or a fairy. Let boys have pretty prince books if they want them, and girls have adventures if they like. Let princess sticker books have stickers of dragons and swords as well as bangles and cupcakes. Let boys wear dresses and girls wear shoes that are designed to be hard-wearing instead of sparkly. Let kids grow into adults who can accept their own feelings, the way they look, the way they are, without measuring them against the social norm and finding themselves wanting. Stop telling people to be pink or blue, when we all know there’s a rainbow.

‘But the market wants gendered books,’ producers cry. ‘There’s a demand. People want boys’ shoes to be tough and girls’ shoes to be pretty.’ Yes, they do, and they tell three-year-old boys off for having painted toenails, and all the rest, because adults live in boxes too, hemmed in and misshapen by habit and unexamined assumption and laziness.

Change is rarely painless. I know it’s very difficult to be the publisher who says, ‘Let’s not gender books’ when Sales are showing you that they outsell the rest, or who says ‘Let’s publish queer romance alongside het’ when you’ve never touched that market before.

But it’s a lot more difficult to be the little boy who just wanted to wear a dress to nursery.

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Support Let Toys Be Toys and the associated Let Books Be Books campaign here and sign the petition against gendered books.

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign supports wide representation of race, gender, LGBT people, people of color, people with disabilities and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities in children’s/YA literature. Find out more here or via the hashtag on Twitter.

And don’t miss the moving and thought-provoking posts coming every day in October from Queer Romance Month.

News, new release and Queer Romance Month

It’s all about the exciting news this week.

First we have the release of gay historical romance anthology Another Place in Time. This is a collection of six stories put together by the lovely Susan Lee, ranging from Knights Templar to 1940s America, written by a selection of some of my favourite historical authors and also me. It’s being published to coincide with the US LGBT History Month, and all monies raised go to All Out. What I’m getting at is, go spend some money. The first reviews are in and stellar.

a consistently high quality anthology, not one of the short stories was less than a 5 star rating for me and I can honestly say I absolutely loved every single one of them (Sinfully Sexy)

ATIPfinalMy story, ‘The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh’, is my first foray into Regency. I’ve always loved Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances and had immense fun writing one of my own, with a hungover black sheep, a dangerous gambler, and a game of cards for very high and just slightly kinky stakes. I had to learn how to play ecarté for this story, dammit: the least you could do is read it. (This one is very high on the sexytimes, incidentally. Because I felt like it, that’s why.)

Badge-1-300x300Second: October is Queer Romance Month! A group of authors decided to put queer romance front and centre, and this is the result: a full month of posts, flash fiction, recommendations, giveaways and chat about all aspects of queer romance, by a bewildering variety of authors. I’ve been uploading posts all morning, which took ages because they’re too interesting not to read. Check out my introductory post on Love is Not a Subgenre here, and return daily through October for all the goodies. (And follow us on @queerromance too!)

Thirdly, of less import to anyone but me: I’ve made the leap. As of last week I’m now a full time writer and freelance editor. So, uh, more books from me (hopefully), and I’m at kjcharleswriter[at]gmail.com for anyone looking for development/line editing who hasn’t been scared off by this blog. Get in touch!

FlightOfMagpies300And finally, book 3 of A Charm of Magpies, Flight of Magpies, will be out at the end of the month. Stay tuned for a giveaway mid-Oct.

That’s it for news, unless you want to hear how my cat’s doing. (Eating craneflies. Bet you’re sorry you asked.)

 

Keep up on Twitter or join my Facebook group for extra book info and sneak peeks.

Ten Ways for Authors to Fail on Social Media

There’s been a lot of social-media career immolation going on this week. It may be the full moon. People making idiots of themselves is not a particularly edifying sight, so I’m not linking specific cases, but here are my basic principles of How Not To Do It for authors.

1) Interact online if you’re no fun to interact with.

Everyone tells you to be out there. Have a Goodreads or Facebook group, chat on Twitter, have a community, let them get to know you. But what if they don’t like you? I’ve had the experience of disliking an author’s online personality so much that it’s seeped into how I regard their books. I’ve chosen not to pick up books that would have otherwise been autobuys.

Obviously, authors have been unlikeable throughout history. This is why we have to sit alone in small rooms with our imaginary friends. But in previous years, it was reserved for their long-suffering loved ones and their editor. Now fans can get a share too.

This is a tricky one to judge, since most people don’t set out to be jerks. And I’m certainly not suggesting anyone should be silent, or a doormat. There are things we all need to stand up for, and stuff that shouldn’t be let go. Some people make their, uh, bracing interactive style a positive part of their brand (i.e. forceful without being a jerk). But if you’re getting into thin-skinned sulks, insulting your own fans, or picking fights with potential readers, you’re probably better off backing off.

2) Be vile.

Right. If you, the author, post a hilarious video/meme or an amusing blog post or whatever, and the response is, ‘wow, that is really racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic’, the correct approach is as follows:

  • Look again at what you posted.
  • Consider why the objection has been raised and if it is valid. If you can’t see what the problem is, ask, and listen to the answer with an open mind. You might learn something.
  • If you have caused real offence, even if you had no intention of doing so, apologise, and try to learn from the experience. If you think saying it was worth the offence caused, or that you’ve been misinterpreted, try explaining why and listening to the responses. Again, you may learn something.

If you stick your fingers in your ears, make disingenuous excuses, dismiss the complaint without considering it, mock the complainant or encourage your fans/followers/family to attack them, be aware that you might as well put ‘YES I AM A RACIST’ or whatever at the top of your website, because that’s what’s going to spread about you, and it will spread like herpes and be as hard to get rid of. It might even be accurate.

We are all crass or clumsy sometimes, and nobody likes to be called out. But empathy is a basic writer skill. Don’t reserve it for your own hurt feelings; summon it up for the people who were insulted or distressed by what you said and brought it to your attention in the hope that you’d listen to them. Or, as Chuck Wendig so wisely puts it, Don’t be a dick.

Obviously, not all offence is equal. You can offend a lot of men simply by being female on the internet, for example. And any kind of political discussion may upset someone: that’s politics. But I’m not talking about arguing gun control. I’m talking about things that mock, belittle or insult minority or vulnerable groups – the rape joke, the thoughtless use of ‘retard’ or ‘gay’ as a synonym for ‘stupid’ or ‘rubbish’, the cartoons and videos and memes that casually, lightly, cruelly sneer at women, or racial groups, or whatever aspect of people’s identities.

Because if an author lacks the empathetic skills to understand why, say, ‘retard’ is a horrible word to use for ‘stupid’, and the linguistic ability to find an alternative, or the heart to care why they should – well, it doesn’t say much for them as a human being, but it’s a crashing indictment of them as a writer.

3) Bore.

ThinkOfEngland72web

LOOK A BOOK I WROTE A BOOK BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT NOOOOOOOW

Take Twitter. Most people don’t follow 5,000 accounts on Twitter, and if they do, they’re probably not that interested in you anyway. Most people follow a few hundred accounts, so their Twitter streams are not fast-flowing torrents. Therefore if you do automated tweets, multiple daily book plugs, retweeting FFs, repeating your jokes in case someone missed them etc, you might once hit the attention of the person who follows 5,000, but you will definitely annoy the crap out of the far more valuable person who follows just 200, of whom one is you.

Apply this principle to your preferred social media outlet and its own ways to be annoying (flooding Facebook with book spam, or…whatever it is people do on Tumblr, I don’t know, it scares me). The point is, don’t go after new fans without considering people who are already interested enough to follow you. That’s how mortgage companies behave, and nobody likes them.

4) Forget who you’re talking to.

I think of this as three circles of people.

Fans. Fans like extracts, early looks at covers and blurbs, writing updates and hearing about your massive yet fragile ego work. Love and cherish fans, because they deserve it. Consider setting up a group/place where you can interact with them directly, share goodies and give them things they’ll value, in a way that doesn’t overwhelm your general social media presence.

The wider potential readership. People who might be interested in reading your books, but don’t care about cover reveals, new blurbs and so on. Or people who don’t read your books and probably never will but who like your social media and will share posts, retweet, etc. Swamping these people with marketing will not convert them into fans. If you blog/tweet/pin/exist in an interesting or amusing way, that may convert into sales, directly because you’re interesting, or via retweets and links and signal boosts that make other people aware of you. Or it may not, of course, but promising a cover reveal later this week!!! four times a day definitely won’t. ‘Too much promo’ is a really common reader complaint, and there’s just no need for it, when the internet offers all kinds of ways to talk to different groups of people with the stuff they want to hear.

People who will never read your books or share your content. Not everyone is a potential reader, tragic though that may seem, and promo-ing to these people is a waste of time. Focus on the people you want to talk to and don’t fret about meaningless numbers. I pick up rugby accounts whenever I tweet about my team; they slough off like sunburnt skin when I get back to queer romance; I’d be an idiot to focus on retaining rugby followers at the expense of, you know, readers.

5) Argue with reviews. Complain about reviews. Start fights about reviews. Bribe people to pull reviews.

(I added that last bit to the header because I have just read an author’s blog in which she makes it clear she’ll refund the cost of the book to dissatisfied readers as long as they don’t leave bad reviews. I, uh. No. No, no, no.)

Reviews: Just leave it. I don’t care if the review is the most baseless, nastiest thing you’ve ever seen. I don’t care if it gives one star based on the blurb, your hairstyle, or the fact that they misread The Magpie Lord as The Moggie Lord and were disappointed because it wasn’t about cats. JUST LEAVE IT. You know that famous incident, where an author argued with a bad review and everyone on the internet sided with the author and then the reviewer changed her mind and rated it five stars? No, you don’t, because it never happened. Grit your teeth and walk away. (Or use my handy flowchart!)

Passionate, committed, interactive readers are as important to authors as keyboards and caffeine. That doesn’t change just because one of them is passionately and interactively committed to hating your book.

6) Do lists of ten things if you only have five things to say.

Um.

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KJ Charles is the world’s least convincing social media guru and you probably shouldn’t listen to her. She is on Twitter, answers book questions on Goodreads, and has a Facebook presence for chat, author page for book news and group for fans/people who want goodies–join up! There’s also books, which you can buy, and free stories, which you don’t have to.

Tea and No Sympathy: the Invisible Editor

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 14.05.06

Editing is an underrated, underpaid skill in large part because it’s invisible. Good editing, in the reader’s experience, is a negative. Some people may note the absence of typos, or the lack of stumbles over poor sentence structure. Nobody but editor and author knows about the rambling, pointless plotline, the ending that weakened the whole book and had to be redrafted, the inexplicably omitted antagonist, irritating repeated word, massive plot hole, or 5000 words of unnecessary verbiage. By God you’ll see all that if it’s left in, and leave scathing reviews accordingly, but with a properly edited book, for all the reader knows, the author delivered an impeccable MS and every plot twist, satisfying scene and well structured ending is her genius. Nothing to do with anyone else, oh no.

And of course, because editors are invisible, you get people thinking they don’t need them. Authors who refuse to accept editing, self-published authors who say, ‘I’ll get my friend to read it over’. And, worse, people who work as editors without really understanding the job. People who think it’s about tidying up, who have no idea how to tackle deep structure or tonal issues or limp characterization, or how to do that without breaking an author’s heart.

Dinner party man: What do you do?
Me: I’m an editor.
Dinner party man: Don’t they have spellcheck for that?

I learned to edit working on travel guides. There is no room for sloppiness in a printed travel guide. There was no room for bringing them out late, either, since they are out of date from the day the author delivers. We used to edit in shifts, splitting MSS to finish them. People sometimes slept in the office. After that, I worked at a large romance publisher for several years, where the book turnaround was insanely fast. There is nothing like editing four books in a week and reading six slush MSS in between to get you good at X-raying a book, seeing the bones, and rearranging them to make a functioning skeleton. Do that enough and you don’t just have a vague feeling of wrong: you know exactly why this character’s decision weakens the book; why that scene, brilliant in itself, destroys the pacing, or alternatively needs to be twice as long; why these two plot points have to be rearranged; why this character ought to live rather than die.

I really feel this book should end on the obliteration of the entire human race.

(Editorial email from me to author. She agreed.)

As both an editor and an author who has benefited greatly from editing, I know how much work goes into this. I know how hard it can be to identify the problem with your own MS, and how hard it is to write the email that explains what has to be changed. I know that nobody wants to hear ‘massive rewrite’ and that it actually doesn’t feel that much better if the editor calls it a tweak. And mostly, I know that editors are the unsung heroes when it goes right, but the first in the firing line when it goes wrong.

Because, if you think for a moment, ‘This book is badly edited’ is kind of meaningless. What that actually says is, ‘This book is badly written and the editor didn’t fix it.’ But that’s the job. The author’s hacked out the raw material and the editor’s there to do anything from a light polish to a full-blown carving operation – but leaving no fingermarks, with no trace of her presence, just letting the story shine.

So when you read a book and you don’t notice anything wrong with it, spare a thought for the ninja editor, reading the clunky and the poorly structured, the repetitive and the nonsensical and the really quite alarming, the badly spelled and the just-not-quite-perfect…so you don’t have to.
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KJ Charles is a freelance editor and author. Thanks to Andrea Pina for the inspiration for this post!