Category Archives: Musings

The Forgotten Branch: Author Jack Beritzhoff Remembers the Merchant Marine

Merchant Marine Recruiting Poster - Library of Congress

As we approach Memorial Day, most Americans are conscious of honoring those who have served in the military, so it isn’t surprising that nearly all of us could name the three largest branches of the armed services — the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy (of which the Marines are the land troops). Quite a few of us could add the Coast Guard to that list.
Very few, however, would think to include the Merchant Marine, what Jack Beritzhoff, former merchant seaman and author of Sail Away: Journeys of a Merchant Seaman, calls “the forgotten branch of the military”:
Continue reading The Forgotten Branch: Author Jack Beritzhoff Remembers the Merchant Marine

Spreadsheets to Galleys: How to Budget Your Self-Published Book

New Year, New Spreadsheets by SaraE

After I wrote recently about why self-publishers need to use professional editors, a number of folks emailed and commented, asking just how much such an endeavor would cost. It was a tough question to answer — I know what I would charge for many services, but it’s difficult to say what the market cost might be, especially for services that I myself don’t regularly provide. Understandably, some correspondents were anxious, wondering if they should jump in, not knowing what the whole process might cost.

This week on, Miral Sattar, CEO of the publishing-services marketplace site BiblioCrunch, posted what I found to be a quite thorough rundown of what it might cost to put a self-published book through as professional as possible a publishing process.

She posited a fairly typical book, weighing in at around 70,000 words. She made no further stipulations — fiction vs. non-fiction, for example, or thoroughly workshopped, researched, and rewritten (I was obsessed about the need to rewrite my essay as a student, still remember) vs. hastely pulled together. The style, genre, and initial quality of the prose do make a huge difference in terms of the kind and amount of editorial work that needs to be done, obviously. Ms. Sattar was trying to explore a median case.

She based her standards and pricing on the Editorial Freelancers Association’s posted rate sheet, which is as close to an industry standard as exists.

Here in brief is Sattar’s rundown (each entry has a low and a high end estimate):


PSA: Stopping Bullying and Isolation Before They Start

Social Isolation

So, I was going to share a post about the lawsuit against Penguin’s Author Solutions subsidiary, but an article my daughter wrote about an organization that she’s been involved with for the past few years just came out, and with it a video that both she and my wife Maura helped to create (heck, I played sound engineer on the voiceovers!).

Beyond Differences is a student-run organization that seeks to change the culture of America’s schools one school at a time, eliminating social isolation that leads to bullying and worse. So today’s post is a public service announcement instead.

I’ll let Julia take it from here:
Continue reading PSA: Stopping Bullying and Isolation Before They Start

Seven Deadly Myths and Three Inspired Truths About Book Editing

Reworking, rewriting, removing by mpclemons, used through a Creative Commons license

I originally wrote this as a guest post for Joel Friedlander’s wonderful self-publishing resource site; it sparked a lot of great conversation and feedback, and it occurred to me that the information might be of interest to a more general readership. If you’ve ever groaned at typos, continuity errors, plot holes or just plain bad writing in a book or blog post, here’s my prescription:

I’ve edited lots of books — children’s books, fantasy, memoirs, self-help, textbooks, and especially books about myths. Myths? I like myths. Heck, I love myths — if we’re talking about myths as “great poems, [that] point infallibly through things and events to the ubiquity of a presence or eternity that is whole and entire in each.”*

If we’re talking about myths in the more negative sense of “untruths,” however, I like them less — especially if they’re myths about my profession and vocation.

Myths and Misinformation about Book Editing

There’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about editors and what they do. Here are seven of those myths that I’d like to clear up:

Myth #1: A good writer doesn’t need an editor.

In these days of self-publication and “service” publishers — who take a percentage of sales for letting the author do all of the work — you hear this a lot. “I’ve slaved over this manuscript for years. I checked it through a hundred times. Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar comes up clean. It’s ready for publication.”

Want an example of a professional book from a world-class author who convinced her publishers to put out the book as-is, without a deep developmental edit (see #3 below)? Look at J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Pretty good book, and it’s sold millions of copies, absolutely — but it’s at least a hundred pages longer than it needs to be. There’s needless repetition, uneven pacing, and side-plots that go nowhere. You’ll notice that the previous and subsequent books in the bestselling series were much shorter and much tighter. Rowling worked more closely with her editors.

Here’s the fact: if you want your book to be strong, clean, professional, and appealing, for it to affect the readers as you want it to affect them, you need to have it professionally edited. There’s never been a text written that didn’t need editing. By the time you’ve spent weeks, months, or years on a project, you can’t see the words any more. You can see the ideas — the concepts, arguments, plot, and characters — but not every word that’s on the page, or that isn’t, or where there are gaping holes in logic or jumps in style. An editor will. It’s what they’re paid to do. Continue reading Seven Deadly Myths and Three Inspired Truths About Book Editing

Publishing Snake Oil

My guest post over at has sparked quite a lot of good conversation, which is great. Good thoughts, good questions, good suggestions — the perfect blogging storm.

That post also connected with another blogger, Candace Johnson, who used my post as a jumping off point to discuss some of the shadier corners of the publishing marketplace, Snake Oil Salesmen in the Editing Biz. In particular, she’s discussing two kinds of questionable “services” that are offered to writers: first, a site that charges authors to become part of a mutual editing group; second, sites that offer to read and review your work for a fee. She discusses each of these in depth.

For what it’s worth, here is my response: Continue reading Publishing Snake Oil

What Is Reading?

A Tale of Two Cities, Four Ways by Linda Gardner (grandgrrl/

Whether I’m flipping paper pages, scanning through an ebook, listening to an audiobook or reading into a mic, reading a book is reading a book. Or is it?

As much as anyone, I live through words. I’ve been a professional actor. I’ve edited books. I’ve written them. I’ve narrated audiobooks. I’ve designed ebooks. It would be reasonable to say my life centers around words — that my life centers around reading.

But what does that mean?

My earliest memories have to do with books: being read to by my parents, reading along to picture books narrated on scratchy 45s, hiding under my covers with a flashlight and The Hobbit or Encyclopedia Brown. Many of my dearest adult memories are book related: reading the same copy of Ender’s Game side-by-side with my soon-to-be-wife; reading Where the Wild Things Are to my first-born and realizing that I remembered every word, having not seen the book in twenty-five years; reading all seven of the Harry Potter books (and many others) aloud to each of my daughters.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what exactly reading is — Continue reading What Is Reading?

Inauguration Week: Ritual and Renewal

Here’s a thought that first occurred to me on the third weekend of January some years back, and that feels all the truer to me now:

I love that presidential inaugurations now take place the week of MLK Day. Not only does it make  for a lovely extended holiday for some schools (most years), but we have created a secular ritual of loss and rebirth that satisfies my mythically-oriented but ultimately agnostic soul.

Think about it: every third Monday of January, we here in the US celebrate the life of man who called to the better angels of our nature, and who died in the struggle to get our nation to live out its creed—that all men are created equal. Every Martin Luther King Day, I listen to King’s speeches—the “I have a dream” behemoth, the “I have seen the Promised Land; I may not get there with you” Pisgah sight—and they fill me with both great hope and a great sense of loss. I cry. Every damned time. It’s pathetic. Only it’s not.

Then, every fourth year, on twentieth of January, we indulge in the audacity of our on-going revolution, an exercise that embraces the idea that not only are we all one nation together (whatever our differences), but that we can, will, and do work continuously to make ours a more perfect union. Continue reading Inauguration Week: Ritual and Renewal

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop


Ken Schneyer tagged me for this meme in his own post last week.

I’m a bit late posting this… Been madly finishing work on an audiobook and trying to care for my very flu-felled wife. But here’s my response!

What is the title of your book?

Risuko. That’s Japanese for “Squirrel,” which is the protagonist’s nickname.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A couple of places:

First of all, I read an article about a war widow in sixteenth-century Japan who set up a  school (of sorts) that trained young girls to be kunoichi  (female assassins, spies and bodyguards), all under the guise of being shrine maidens (miko) — something like the Shintō equivalent of novice nuns.[†] I’d always been fascinated with the Japanese Sengoku (civil war era), so when I read that, I thought, Wow! There’s a story someone should write! A while later, I had an image of a girl climbing a tree… and realized that someone should be me.

The other thing that got this started was reading the Harry Potter books with my kids, loving them, and thinking, Now, what about these has to be fantasy? As I’ve been writing Risuko, my intent has been to write a story that feels like a fantasy — but isn’t. Continue reading The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

Crazy Is as Crazy Does – Madness and Narrative

Silver Lining Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

My family watched Silver Linings Playbook last night. We all really enjoyed the dark romantic comedy, but I couldn’t shake some misgivings.

Talking afterward with my eldest daughter (who’s just finished taking a college Intro to Psychology class), I realized that part of the discomfort I was feeling had to do with the portrayal of the mental and emotional states of the two main characters, Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). As Sasha pointed out, the two actors give fine, nuanced performances, but really, even given what little I know, their portrayals of two characters struggling with heavy-duty psychological issues had very little to do with clinical psychology and a lot to do with storytelling convention and narrative design. As we talked about it, I had this epiphany: in any story, madness (like magic, murder, etc.) is first and foremost a literary trope rather than an expression of objective psychological reality. Continue reading Crazy Is as Crazy Does – Madness and Narrative

Bending the Story without Breaking It: Prophecy and Time Travel

Prophecy and time travel - Hourglass by Rachel Caitlin (TrueLovesKiss) on Used under a Creative Commons license.

I was just reading a really fun time-travel story (Heather Albano’s Timepiece), and a thought that had been bouncing around in my head for a long time came clear to me: from a purely narrative point of view, time travel is prophecy’s long-lost (and possibly evil) twin.

Don’t get me wrong — they’re clearly very different plot devices, and stories that include one or the other tend to play out in somewhat different ways. But they do essentially the same thing to and for a plot. They bend narrative logic so that it can snap in interesting and unexpected ways. Continue reading Bending the Story without Breaking It: Prophecy and Time Travel