Saturday, May 26, 2012

My Recent Craft-of-Fiction Articles on Other Blogs

by Jodie Renner, freelance editor

Here are some of my craft-of-fiction articles that have appeared in recent months on other blogs:  


Jan. 2, 2012: Don’t Lecture Your Readers

Jan. 10, 2012:  Appeal to the Senses — and Emotions

Jan. 15-16, 2012:  Show Those Feelings – and Reactions!

Feb. 13, 2012: Some Dialogue Don’ts

March 4-5, 2012: Set up Your Story in the First Paragraphs

March 11-12, 2012: It’s All About the Writing

March. 26Tips on Picking up the Pace

April 9 – Cut the Clutter and Streamline Your Writing, Part I

April 23 Cut the Clutter and Streamline Your Writing, Part II

May 7 – Creating a Scene Outline for Your Novel

May 21 - Cut the Clutter and Streamline Your Writing, Part III


Jan. 11, 2012: Tension on Every Page, Part I

Jan. 14, 2012: Tension on Every Page, Part II

Jan. 2012: Tension on Every Page, Part III

Mar. 8, 2012: Heightening the Suspense, Part I

Mar. 11, 2012: Heightening the Suspense, Part II

Mar. 14, 2012: Heightening the Suspense, Part III

April 2, 2012: Check Your Facts, Ma’am!

May 20, 2012: POV 101: Get into Your Protagonist’s Head

May 23, 2012: POV 102: How to Avoid Head-Hopping  

May 26, 2012: POV 103: Deep Point of View, or Close Third


Naming Your Characters

Hyphens, Ellipses and Dashes

Questions for Your Beta Readers

Show Your Setting Through Your POV Character’s Eyes

Expressing Thought-Reactions in Fiction


Creating a Worthy Antagonist

Thrillers vs. Mysteries

Those Critical First Five Pages

Every Scene Needs Conflict and a Change

The Editing Process: Interview of a Freelance Editor  

Jodie Renner is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and other crime fiction. Please check out Jodie’s website and blog, as well as her group blog, Crime Fiction Collective.
Jodie’s craft of fiction articles appear regularly on various blogs, and she has published two popular craft-of-fiction e-books in the series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Style that Sizzles and Pacing for Power.

Both are on sale at Amazon, and you don’t need to own a Kindle to buy and read Kindle e-books – you can download them to your PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone. Style that Sizzles will be out in paperback soon.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Interview with Robb Grindstaff, Freelance Editor

I recently interviewed fellow freelance editor and Facebook friend, Robb Grindstaff, about his take on the freelance editing process.

JR: What should authors look for in an editor, and expect from an editing process?

RG: Look for compatibility in work style, a good working relationship, a good “fit,” for lack of a better term. Editing is a collaborative process, but with a freelance/independent editor, the writer is ultimately in charge of all decisions. If you don't understand why your editor made a change or suggested something, ask. You should get a reasoned, rational explanation, which may or may not agree with your instincts. Listen to your editor, but in the end, you have to be true to yourself, your work, your voice, and make the decision that's right for you. Your editor shouldn't be offended by that. Your editor should always be trying to edit to improve YOUR story in YOUR voice, not rewrite it the way he would have written it.

JR: What do editors hope for in clients or expect from clients? 
RG: I hope for clients who want to learn, who have thick skin and don't get offended if I write a cryptic comment in the margin that might say, “This doesn't make sense,” or “This sounds awkward,” or “I'd drop this, it's too _________ (fill in the blank).” And writers who will ask for an explanation if I'm too cryptic and don't tell why or give a suggestion on how to make something better. And it’s okay if, after listening to me, you say, “I get what you're saying, but I'm going to leave that word/sentence/paragraph/scene as is.” I won't be offended. I try to go back to writers and ask, “What are you trying to say here?” or “What is this scene trying to accomplish?” I want writers who come back to me and say “Why did you strike this sentence? I thought it went to portraying the character's state of mind.” The most important work will come from that back and forth discussion on points of either disagreement or lack of understanding on either part.

JR: What level(s) of editing do you provide? Do you charge one overall fee or different fees for different processes? 
RG: I provide three basic levels of editing, or any combination thereof.

Lowest level is a basic proofread, which is just to correct typos, punctuation, spelling, and grammar errors—purely a technical, mechanical edit. This should always be the last edit in the process before sending your manuscript out to agents, publishers, or uploading to the self-publishing process.

A line edit or copy edit is a much more in-depth, detailed line-by-line editing of the manuscript. A line edit looks at the writing, the prose, the word choices, sentence structures, continuity and consistency. A line edit can also look at some larger issues such as pace and flow or organizational structure of the novel. 

The highest level edit is an analysis/critique—also called a manuscript assessment or evaluation. This doesn't provide a line-by-line edit, but a detailed report that looks at the major issues in crafting a novel: narrative arc, plot and subplots, point of view and perspective, characterization, voice, use of setting, pace and flow, organization, and will provide an analysis of any recurring issues with the writing itself. 

The best way to remember these is that a line edit looks at the writing quality, and an analysis (or critique or evaluation) looks at the story (although there is certainly some overlap).

A developmental edit is a customized combination of all three levels of editing in a longer process, designed for each writer's specific needs. It starts with a first or early draft, then progresses through rewrites and revisions.

Prices are also customized for each client because every manuscript is different, based on the level or type of editing and how involved that editing will be. Before taking on a client, I read the opening chapters of a manuscript, provide a sample edit of the opening pages, make a recommendation for what type of edit (unless the writer has specifically requested a particular level), and provide a firm price quote at that time with no surprises later. General rates can run from $1 per manuscript page (approx 250 words per page) for light proofreading, up to as much as $6 per manuscript page for full developmental editing over a period of weeks or months.

JR: Do you charge by the page, hour or word? Why did you choose that method? And what are some pros and cons of your method of charging. 
RG: I use a combination of methods to determine a price quote in advance, customized for each manuscript and each writer. On my website, I publish price ranges based on per manuscript page, estimating 250 words per page, so writers can estimate a general price based on the size of their manuscript and the type of editing needed. When I do a sample edit, I estimate how much time I think the edit might take, compare that to my per page rates, and then try to come up with a firm price quote that is fair to me and the time I'll need to invest in order to do a professional job, as well as fair, reasonable, and affordable to the writer. As a writer first and foremost, I understand that most writers don't have gobs of cash lying about in which to hire editors. I'd rather have three clients at modest rates than quote higher rates and have no clients. I compare my rates and prices against the “industry standards” chart on the Editorial Freelancers Association website to ensure my rates are well below "industry standard."

JR: Do you do a free sample edit or edit a chapter or section at a low fee, as a sample of how you’d handle their work? 
RG: As noted above, I always do a free sample first—no charge, no obligation. I usually read the first 20-30 pages of a manuscript, then do a sample edit of the opening 10 pages or thereabouts. That's the only way that I can get a true feeling of what type of editing is needed, how involved it is, how much time it might take me, in order to quote a fair price to the potential client. It's also a key factor for the writer to determine if I'm the right editor: Do I edit the voice out of the work? Do I “get” the story and what the writer is trying to accomplish? Do I catch little errors and big issues in the opening pages? Do I have sound recommendations and suggestions that help the story and the writing? Does the writer get the impression from my sample edit that she would enjoy working with me or find me annoying?

JR: Fees and payments – how do you work that? Half at the start and half at the end? Pay in installments as the editing proceeds and edited sections are sent to client? 

RB: In most cases, I request half in advance to schedule the work on my calendar. The remaining half isn't due until I complete the work and send the finished product back to the writer. So we both have to have a measure of trust, of course. For most edits, I edit the entire manuscript and send it back all at once. After I complete the edit, however, the writer has me on retainer for up to 90 days as she goes through her manuscript and my edits, for questions, clarifications, for me to read revised scenes as needed, or to discuss different ways to handle any particular issue. For the longer (and more expensive) developmental edits, I can customize the payment schedule based on the milestones in the development process, and break it into three or four payments as appropriate and as meets the writer's needs and budget. In all cases, I'm flexible, and have worked out a variety of arrangements to meet the writer's needs.

JR: Do you have any tips for writers looking for a freelance editor? 

RG: When looking for an editor, I recommend a three-step process, and I recommend checking with more than one editor so you can get a feel for how each one is different in order to select the one with the best fit for you and your work. The three steps to follow: 1) get references, 2) get a free, no-obligation sample edit, 3) get more references.

Also, keep in mind that at any given moment, I (or any other editor) may have clients lined up on the calendar for weeks or even months in advance, so don't wait until the last minute and expect to find an editor sitting around with no work, ready to start on your manuscript tomorrow. If you do find an editor with no work, let that raise an eyebrow. Sure, there are times when I might be available to work in another client this month, but there are times when I am taking reservations 90 days in advance.

JR: Thanks for dropping by, Robb! Always interesting to hear about the process and services of other freelance editors.

For an interview of Jodie Renner about the freelance editing process, please go to this link at The Thrill Begins Blogspot.

Writers - do you have any questions for Robb or Jodie about the freelance editing process and their approach, process and services?

Robb Grindstaff's info:


Jodie Renner is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and other crime fiction. Please check out Jodie’s website and blog, as well as her group blog, Crime Fiction Collective.
Jodie’s craft of fiction articles appear regularly on various blogs, and she has published two popular craft-of-fiction e-books in the series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Style that Sizzles and Pacing for Power.

Both are on sale at Amazon, and you don’t need to own a Kindle to buy and read Kindle e-books – you can download them to your PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone. Style that Sizzles will be out in paperback soon.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Those Critical First Five Pages

by Jodie Renner, freelance editor    

Congratulations! You’ve finished the first draft of your novel! Now it’s time to go back and polish up your first few pages. Then later you can do a third—or tenth—rewrite of that all-important first few paragraphs to create the most enticing hook possible. For today, we’ll talk about the essential ingredients of the first five pages, as most agents and acquiring editors—and readers—will stop reading by the fifth page, or sooner, if the story and characters don’t grab them by then.

In February 2011, I attended a workshop by literary agent Kristin Nelson at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference, in which she had attendees anonymously submit the first two pages of their novel. She started reading the submissions and stopped at the spot where she lost interest. In many instances it was after the first or second paragraph! Sometimes she made it almost to the end of the first page, and in one case, even halfway through the second page. Then she told us why that manuscript, as written, would be rejected. (Not a single one of those made it.)

In a follow-up article in Writer’s Digest (Oct. 2011), Kristen gives four examples of submissions and where and why she stopped reading three of them (all on the first page): “too much dialogue,” “overuse of description,” and “lack of tension.” In her workshop, “lack of clear protagonist,” “unsympathetic protagonist,” “boring” and “confusing” were other reasons given.

After Ms. Nelson's workshop, I heard a lot of “If she’d only read a little further, she would have seen that…” or “That wasn’t fair. She didn’t give me a chance. How can she judge a manuscript by only reading one page?” Unfortunately, agents get tens of thousands of submissions a year, and if you don’t grab them within the first page or two, the sad reality is that your book will probably be rejected. And of course, as readers, most of us will read the back cover and maybe the first page, then decide based on that whether to buy the book or not. And even when I’ve paid money for a book, if it doesn’t grab me by about page ten, I’ll discard it.

One of the main reasons agents, acquiring editors and readers will reject a book after reading the first few pages is that they’re confused. They need to get a picture right away about whose story it is, why we should care about that person, and roughly where and when the story is taking place. Once readers have a handle on the main character and the setting, they can relax and settle into the story world. Of course, you also have to spark their interest with a problem early on—put your protagonist in some hot water with an inciting incident, so the reader can sympathize with them and start rooting for them.

Whose story is it?

It’s important to start out the novel in the viewpoint of your protagonist, as the first person the readers read about is the person they start identifying with, and they’ll feel cheated if suddenly, after they’ve invested some time and effort into getting to know this person and bonding a bit with him, he suddenly turns out to be not someone they should be rooting for at all, but in fact the antagonist, whom they’re supposed to be hating, or worse yet, a minor character or someone who gets killed off a little while later.

As Steve Berry, bestselling author and sought-after writing workshop leader, told a packed room of eager aspiring writers at Craftfest, part of Thrillerfest 2011 in New York, “Always start your book in the point of view of your protagonist.” I think this is excellent advice, as the readers—not to mention agents and acquiring editors—want to know right away whose story it is, who to start bonding with and cheering for.

Here are the first questions your readers will be asking:

Why should I care about this character, anyway?

Readers aren’t going to invest time reading a story about a character they don’t like or can’t identify with, so make sure your protagonist is likeable and sympathetic, to draw the readers in to identify with him or her. And make them well-rounded and complex, with hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses, and inner conflict. And of course have them confronted with a problem—an inciting incident—within the first few pages, as conflict is what drives fiction forward. A perfect character with an ideal life is both annoying and boring—not a formula for compelling fiction!

Where and when is the action taking place?

Without drowning us in long descriptive passages right at the beginning, give the readers a few hints very early on—definitely on the first page—of the setting of your story: Contemporary? Past? Future? Country/Culture? Urban/rural/wilderness? Which city or town? And so on. Don’t confuse and frustrate your readers by making them wonder where on earth all this is happening, and whether it’s in the present or some other time.

Why should I read this story?

Show your stuff in your first five pages or so. Draw the reader (or agent or editor) in with a great first scene, well-written, with interesting, complex characters, some intriguing action, and compelling, natural-sounding dialogue. Include your inciting incident and initial conflict, and hint at greater problems to come. Introduce or hint at a worthy adversary—a cunning villain or attractive but maddening/annoying possible love interest. And write your first pages in the same tone, style and voice you’ll be using for your novel, so the readers will have a good idea of what they’ll be getting into. And of course, continue in this same tone (suspenseful, humorous, serious, romantic, etc.) for the rest of the novel, so the reader won’t feel cheated or misled.

But don’t get bogged down trying to perfect your opening pages in the early stages – wait until you’ve got all or most of your first draft written. By then, you’ll be “in the groove” and you’ll know your character and his/her problems a lot better, as well as the resolution, so this part will flow so much more easily.

© Jodie Renner

Two related articles by Jodie: “Act First, Explain Later” and “Set up Your Story in the First Paragraphs

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION,  CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity: VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories and Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. You can find Jodie on her Amazon Author Page, at, and on Facebook.