From Studio Ghibli's Whisper of the Hearta story about a girl in junior high who dreams of becoming a writer...

Nishi: It’s a special kind of rock called a geode. Hold it close to your eye and look inside. That’s right, like that.

Shizuku: Wow. Look at that.

Nishi: Those crystals are called beryl. There are pieces of raw emeralds deep inside them.

Shizuku: Aren’t emeralds worth a lot of money?

Nishi: Sure, but they need to be cut and polished first. When you first become an artist, you’re like that rock. You’re in a raw, unnatural state, with hidden gems inside. You need to dig down deep and find the emeralds tucked away inside you. And that’s just the beginning. Once you’ve found your gems, you have to polish them. It takes a lot of hard work. Oh, and here’s the tricky part. Look at the crack in the geode.

Shizuku: Okay. Nishi: You see that big green crystal there? You could spend years polishing that, and it wouldn’t be worth much at all. The smaller crystals are much more valuable. And there may be some even deeper inside that you can’t see.

I highly recommend all of Miyazaki's films. I'll be doing a blog post about them in the future...


Apologies for neglecting my blog. It's been a busy and rather stressful month. I had surgery to remove my gallbladder in October--in the weeks leading up to it, I was in and out of the E.R. and the doctor's office. I've had a stone measuring 1.9 cm inside me for a while, and after 7 attacks over two weeks, the surgeon said it was time for the gallbladder to go.

So here I am now, minus one gallbladder and plus a few abdominal scars. But now I can have all the bacon I want without fear of (serious) repercussions. Though I should probably, you know. Be healthier.

Send me a SASE and I'll send you a bookmark!

I've got bookmarks for Back to the Good Fortune Diner now! If you'd like you, send me a SASE and I'll be happy to forward a couple on to you:

Vicki Essex
c/o Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
225 Duncan Mill Rd., 6th floor
Don Mills, ON
M3B 3K9

In writing news, I'm working on my third book, another MMA story set in the same universe as Her Son's Hero, and starring Kyle Peters, Dom's wrestling coach. No release dates yet, but I'll keep you posted.

Also, I've finally finished my YA Western fantasy! It's been a project I've been working on for almost 3 years, and I'm hoping to get some beta readers and start sending it to agents in January.

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Michael Mandarano is a freelance copyeditor, proofreader and formatter, and (full disclosure) a former colleague of mine from Harlequin Enterprises. Last year, Michael proofread Her Son's Hero and also helped Wynne Channing format her book What Kills Me. I've asked him to tell us about what a copy editor can do, especially for authors looking to self-publish.

So you’ve downed that eighth cup of coffee, pulled an all-nighter and finally completed your work in progress. Your baby is complete. So what now?

Well…you could run a spell-check, close the file and start figuring out how to get your masterpiece into the hands of readers. Yes, you could do that. But therein lies the most common mistake made by indie or self-published authors and, in my opinion, the most damaging one to make.

The manuscript you’ve just poured your heart and soul into may very well be the next Fifty Shades of Grey or Beautiful Disaster, but without a trained and focused eye (and one that’s a bit more removed than yours), it’s bound to contain typos, inconsistencies and other errors that have slipped through the spell-check cracks.

In short, you need a copy editor.

As a copy editor, my job is to take a completed manuscript and smooth out the wrinkles. By this stage, you and your editor (make sure you have one of those, too) will have worked out the major issues in your story: plot and character development, proper use of dialogue, showing versus telling, and so on. Focusing on these top-line elements is extremely important, but it also leaves lots of room for smaller errors to remain undetected. In fact, often the editing process itself inserts errors into the manuscript that weren’t there before.

A good copy editor will go through your work and catch errors of spelling, grammar, punctuation, inconsistency and awkward phrasing. It’s what we do. Some like to call us detail-oriented, while others prefer the term anal. I prefer the first! 🙂 A good copy editor will do all these things while ensuring your author voice remains strong at all times. It’s your book; we’re here to give it that polished and professional look that readers have come to expect.

So once you’ve made the smart decision to hire a copy editor, what can you expect?

First off, I usually ask for the completed manuscript to get an idea of what level of copyediting is required, and to give an estimate of the total cost. I provide competitive per-hour rates and complete honesty when pricing projects. No one likes invoice shock!

Depending on the length of your book, my standard turnaround is usually one to two weeks. At the outset, we’ll discuss your preferences regarding spelling (American, British, Canadian) and whether you prefer any particular dictionary or style guide.

I copyedit most often in Microsoft Word using the Track Changes feature. It’s the easiest way to edit a manuscript with complete transparency and, combined with the Comments feature, allows me to explain any changes I make, as well as add suggestions here and there. For those using Word alternatives (e.g., OpenOffice or Pages for Mac), no worries — they’re compatible!

When you receive the marked-up file, you’ll go through the manuscript and choose to either accept or reject my edits and read the comments throughout. If you have any questions at that point, send them along!

And that’s it! You’ll have a polished, ready-to-be-published manuscript that you’ll be proud to present to readers.

Next up: formatting and producing an ebook. Stay tuned for my upcoming post on this topic…

For a limited time, I’m offering discounted copyediting rates to authors in need of my services. Drop me a line for details, and be sure to mention this post. And stop by michaelmandarano.com if you’d like more information about me and my work.

Best of luck!

Why yes, this is my car.

Editing your work is like detailing a car. Wikipedia says it best:

Auto detailing (UK: Car valeting), is the performance of an extremely thorough cleaning, polishing and waxing of an automobile, both inside and out, to produce a show-quality level of detail. Besides improving appearance, detailing helps to preserve resale value of a car.

Sure, you've probably gone over your work a hundred times to make sure your character arcs are completed, you plot makes sense, the timeline is accurate. You've probably run spell check a hundred times since you started. So what's left?

Plenty. As car detailing implies, in order to get the best performance out of your vehicle, you have to take your writing apart paragraph by paragraph, line by line, word by word. The goal is to ensure every single word has a purpose and isn't gumming up the works.

A good way to do this is to isolate chunks of text so you can focus on the words rather than the flow, which you're likely so used to by now, you can't imagine how it'd sound without that loose, weak sentence in there. There are lots of different ways to do this. For example:

  1. Read your work backwards.
  2. Randomly select pages and read through them, but do not read sequential pages.
  3. Search for particular words, symbols or phrases that you may have overused.

I like the third method because my word processor can count and highlight all times I've used a search term in a book. This is especially good for spotting a word that appears more than once on a page—something your editor will immediately pick up on and will likely want to fix. Everyone has different words they overuse, so it might be easier to ask a critique partner to point them out to you.

A few search terms I've used and overused:

suddenly: I've not known many things to happen suddenly, and I've found there are better ways to surprise the reader. Suddenly only prepares them for it when allowing the event to happen is much stronger. A monkey attacks you and you scream!

rather, very, little, pretty: Strunk and White advises that you avoid these qualifiers as they suck the life out of prose.

seem: this is a weak verb and prone to overuse when simply stating a fact is better. See my post on Seeming and Feeling.

just: I'm just not sure where I picked up this habit. It just seemed to sneak up on me pretty suddenly.

!: According to Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, you should eliminate as many exclamation points as possible, limiting yourself to only 3 per 100,000 words. I caught myself with 101 instance in my most recent work.

smil*: for smile, smiling, smileyness, etc. I tend to focus too much on characters' faces, and will sometimes limit their reactions to what happens in the head and shoulders. Being more specific when something makes someone happy, or even eliminating the smile and letting the dialog speak for them will sharpen things up. A good resource to check out is The Emotion Thesaurus from the Bookshelf Muse.

Eliminating, replacing and rewriting will get your work to a buffed shine and have your writing performing at its peak.

What words do you overuse? How do you do your nitty-gritty editing? Tell me in the comments below!



I've sold my second book to Harlequin Superromance!


In many ways, this is a greater achievement than selling my first because it means 1) I'm not a one-hit wonder and 2) I survived a second round of crushing rejections and managed to keep a toehold on this thing I call a writing career.

Only a few details for now:

  • It will most likely be released in early 2013 (January or February, according to my editor).
  • The working title is "Prodigal Daughter's Fortune" but will most likely be renamed.
  • The story features a Chinese heroine going back to the small town where her family owns a Chinese Restaurant. There, she reunites with her old high school crush, who she used to tutor. His son needs help with school, and there's no one better than his old tutor to help. As he reacquaints himself with his classmate, he fan old flames as well as bitter memories. It's a country-meets-city reunion story with a hint of sweet and sour.
  • The first draft is complete and I'm polishing it now.

So there you have it. Not a RITA Award nomination, but just as good, if you ask me. 8 )

Welcome to another installment of interviews with... okay, so the feature doesn't have a catchy name yet. I'll think of one eventually!

Today, I've tagged Yvette Farkas, the editor of Toronto Graffiti, a comprehensive collection of photos and interviews with the artists documenting the history of graffiti art in Toronto, Canada. This massive 500-page book took her ten years to put together, and it was entirely self-published.

I chatted with her about the process of putting such a huge project together, and what it was like self-publishing this labor of love.

A bio in her own words:

I grew up spending a lot of time in the fields of martial arts and medicine. TCM, Ayurveda and yoga, specifically. I currently work as a web and graphic designer for a charity by day, and teach yoga part-time. In between, I work on creative, positive projects like this book.

Toronto Graffiti is a massive compilation of interviews and photos about graffiti art in Toronto. What drew you to this project?

This was a selfish endeavour. You see, this is the kind of book I had always wanted to read. I was very curious about the artists who painted these incredible works of art on the walls and wondered what they were like. I kept waiting for a book like this to come out… hoping to find something like this in Tower Records or Pages or somewhere similar.  That did not happen.

Although I was shy, my curiosity eventually got the better of me and I decided to leap in and just go for it. I had already started photographing walls since the late 90’s, but by 2008 I started to actively pursue it full-time. This included doing interviews and much of the research for the other sections.

Ten years is a long time to be working on this. How did you keep yourself going? Didn’t you ever just want to give up?

The first seven or eight years were spent taking photos and checking out graff shows and hip hop events. Yes, there were many ups and downs. There were many long, long nights. Often, and for what seemed like the umpteenth time I thought “yes, this is why people pay a professional to do this” (A “professional” transcription service, graphic designer, legal clinic, fundraising coordinator, PR guru, web designer, research assistant, proofreader, general gopher etc.). But since I had no money, I couldn’t do that. Also, I didn’t want to entrust such a precious project to anyone else. It would have been a lot of back and forth, and I’m a bit of a controlling perfectionist.

I had a vision for the book, as did the artists who collaborated with me. It was our combined preferences that helped sort out the details.

Eventually, I did get help at various levels, which was great. My intense passion for the art, deep interest in the artists behind it, as well as the potential of this book inspired several people to come forward and offer their services for free. This was amazing and I will always be grateful to those individuals.  Some of those freebies included proofreading, translating, grant writing, editing, various levels of communication between people from around the world, getting the legal, health and safety sections written by top professionals, and PR training. One of the artists in particular came forward to really help out and co-produced several sections of the book.

How did you find resources and people to talk to for Toronto Graffiti?

Lots and lots of research. I had to cross-reference and quadruple-check everything. I asked the artists lots of questions, I asked their opinion, I asked the professionals for advice. I got contracts written up for clarity. I had processes set up to ensure privacy and safety.

There are many graffiti-related websites online. You have to go through them to weed out what is most relevant.  I emailed everyone I could find an email for. I called everyone I had a number for. This included hospitals, specialists, lawyers, colleges, schools, the government, (this included all 44 Toronto city councillors) social workers, youth agencies, the police (to ask them what their official stance on graffiti was) etc. The list goes on and on, but you get the idea.

I took notes and memorized a lot right on the spot. I followed up with EVERYTHING, with EVERYONE and any little bit of info that was passed to me that could potentially lead to another piece of the puzzle. I showed up at every event my schedule allowed for. It was like following a trail of breadcrumbs. Getting copyright permission for over 1000 photos is no small feat, let me tell you! Tracking down original photographers is next to impossible at times.

This project is unique in that the subject matter is quite sensitive, and had to be both allowed and supported by the community. I was lucky enough to be granted permission and generously given support.

You have to really prepare when you talk with someone. No one likes to have their time wasted so you need to show up completely prepared and ready to go. The onus is always on you, not anyone else. You only get one chance so if you mess up, it’s not likely that person will give you another shot.

But of course, since I am genuinely very interested and have wanted to dig deeper and know more about these amazing artists, it was easy for me to think of questions because I had been thinking them for nearly 20 years.  Some people might think such an undertaking is a bit crazy--there may be some truth to that, but it’s a passion project, and very few people ever get an opportunity such as this. It was stressful at times, but truly an honour to be able to help put this book together. It’s just incredible, really. Sometimes I still can’t quite believe I got this shot.

The book is entirely self-published. What were some of the challenges you faced getting the book printed and distributed?

The best option besides getting the right publisher to pick it up would be P.O.D. (Print on Demand). Unfortunately, due to the size and orientation of the book, (landscape and nearly 500 pages) this was technically impossible.  (At least it is at this time. This will probably change in time as the machine’s capabilities expand.)

It meant I had to pay to order a minimum amount from a proper print shop.  This is expensive. I took odd jobs where I could and saved as much as possible from each of my paycheques to save up for the first print run. I also had several friends and family members come forward to give donations.  (Thank so much to all of you!) I also presold some copies to help raise money. Another friend made some beautiful jewellery to auction off to help raise some money.

You have to ensure that your files are set up in the proper format for the printer. You have to lay out your manuscript exactly as per the printer’s specs.  All your images have to be top notch quality to print properly; you have to educate yourself about things like “the gutter” and “pantone press” colours. It’s a huge learning curve.

If you are planning on selling your book, then you need to have four other things in place. If I had known this at the beginning… along with many other things, then I wouldn’t have had to backtrack so many times. It would have saved me a lot of headaches. So for you readers, DO remember these items and follow them in this order;

1. Copyright your work

2. Register it with the National Library of Canada

3. Ask for a block of ISBN’s. (From the National Library of Canada)

4. Purchase a barcode. (Make sure you get one from a proper company otherwise it may not scan.)

If I could have done P.O. D, then setting it up through something like Amazon would have been a cinch. But as I had to order a minimum, I then had to think about where I would store boxes and boxes of books. How would I deliver them? How would I pick up any leftovers? (I don’t drive and they’re pretty heavy.) I had to coordinate with the booksellers’ schedules as I worked not only during the day, but part of the evenings and weekends, too. Being able to connect with the right person at the right time was often challenging. You also have time restrictions. Books are taken on consignment, so I have to go back before the end of the consignment period to pick up any unsold copies. There are many other items to remember, but these are just some of the basic things you need to think about.  However, if you are self-publishing using the P.O.D option, then you won’t have to worry about these things as the printer will take care of all of this for you.

You need to be very, very organized. Get a great day timer and get into the habit of both memorizing and writing down appointments. Neatly, legibly and in pencil so you can erase it should it need altering. Get all pertinent information at once if possible. This will save you headaches when there is a sudden change in schedule, weather, or traffic!

What advice do you have for anyone seeking to self-publish their book?

If you love it and feel passionate about it, then definitely go for it. Share it with others, get the word out, but do yourself and your love justice. Go all the way and put 100% into it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and then ask for clarification if necessary.  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You will, so get over it. You will also change your mind about many things once you start seeing different ways of doing things. Date and keep all “different” versions of your project. But make sure you stay true to what feels right for you.  Don’t worry about timelines--take your time and just do your best. Edit, edit some more, sleep on it, put it away for a while then review it again with fresh eyes. Then ask people whose opinion you trust to give constructive feedback. Make sure you are covered in terms of the legal aspects. Pay people their dues and appreciate them if you work with others. Very important point.  Good luck and happy publishing!


Check out the book at: www.torontograffiti.ca

Buy the book here: http://www.torontograffiti.ca/buybook.htm

EDIT Nov. 25/11:

NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON: http://www.amazon.ca/Toronto-Graffiti-human-behind-wall/dp/0986655104/ref=pd_rhf_cr_p_t_1

3. In urgent moments, there isn't time to think.

It's easy to get caught up describing the sweeping emotions of a first kiss, or the hot and heavy action of a first...well, anything else. And as writers, we sometimes lose ourselves in the art of turning those huge emotions and life-changing moments into metaphors, comparing them to the rushing of tides and the swell of music.

I did this in my manuscript. Not all the time, but certainly at moments when the action alone would have carried the reader through.

Here's the thing: Sometimes, there's no need to describe anger "ripping through her" or fear "shafting through her heart like an icicle." Sometimes the reader needs room to experience the emotion on his or her own; to react to the moment and just feel what the character is feeling.

No need to compare it to sunshine and happy bunnies; no need to make it melodramatic. Just let it happen.

"Simple is often more poignant," my editor, Victoria Curran, writes. "The ideal is for the writing to serve the story and not call attention to the writer, which is why I cut back on the metaphoric language in more urgent moments where it seemed wrong for characters to be self-aware and comparing something they were seeing or feeling to something else. In these moments, pacing is usually more important than fresh imagery."

Now in editing, whenever I come across what my editor calls a "movement of emotion"--happiness bubbled through her, rage punched a fist through his chest, confusion wafted a fog through his brain--or I start using similies or metaphors to describe some character's reaction, I ask myself, does the reader get this? Have I built up the character, conflict and tension enough so that they understand exactly what the character is feeling at that moment?


2. Take it out of the eyes, head and shoulders.

He smiled. She grinned. His eyes sparkled. Wariness crept into her eyes. Her mouth twitched. He shrugged. She lifted a shoulder. The corners of his mouth tautened into a grimace. Her brow furrowed. He waggled his eyebrows. She sucked in her cheeks. He frowned. Her lips pushed out mulishly. He pouted.

These are all great descriptors, but people are more than head and shoulders. Their body language extends beyond what they do in the most expressive parts of their features.

In my line edit, my editor noticed I frequently went back to the eyes and lips. It occurred to me as I made these corrections that I almost never look people directly in the face when speaking with them in real life. (I'm not being rude, I swear--it's an old childhood habit of deference.)

So I asked myself, whenever I was in the hero or heroine's POV, what would they notice if they weren't looking into their face? And how would the characters they were watching express themselves if they had no face?

He shuffled his feet. Her hands fluttered nervously. She never stopped moving. He held absolutely still. He punched the wall. She stamped her foot. She danced around. He straightened. His spine stiffened. She squared her shoulders. She took a deep breath. He sagged. She twisted a curl around a finger. He rubbed his temples. She shuffled her papers.

By making the actions specific, you can keep it out of the head and shoulders and give the narrative more depth and color.

Another easy fix? Adverbs. I know your writer's craft teacher says keep away from them, but used sparingly (aha!), adverbs can tell a reader what they need without drawing attention to complicated writing.