Clara, the no-longer-unsung-hero

Dear readers

 

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(Okay, it’s not actually Clara; but it could be. Image copyright ‘minoir’, Flickr)

 

This is Clara Finlay, who shall forever henceforth no longer be an unsung hero. Clara is one of the very rare breeds of professionals who work under completely unrealistic timeframes with nearly always unreasonable demands, with a near-zero error rate, who isn’t paid nearly enough and almost never gets any credit. What’s worse, it’s really difficult for these people to argue for a pay rise because when they do their work at their absolute best… No. One. Can. Tell. They leave no trace; they leave no calling card. They are the ninjas of the publishing industry. They are our editors.

How do I know this? Because I used to be an editor. A good editor, yes, one, worth her weight in salt. But Clara here is a great editor, worth her weight in saffron. I specifically asked (okay, begged) my publisher if I could work with Clara again after working with her on The Chocolate Promise and said, “She will make me work like a sled dog and eat kilos of chocolate but my book will be so much better for it.” And I’m confident to say that during the edit for The Beekeeper’s Secret, both the former and latter came true, and my book is a much, much better novel because of Clara’s nimble ninja fingers.

I’m not talking about picking up typos, spelling mistakes and punctuation errors. This is not what editors do. (Well, yes they do but it’s only a tiny portion of what they do. There is also a proofreader who comes after that who takes a last sweep for those things.) No, what a great editor does is to get inside your mind as an author and somehow know what it is you were trying to say and then help you say it better; get inside your character’s mind and help your character say it better; provide you summaries of reflection, analysing your characters and plots and then showing you what it looks like to a reader (which might be probably is totally different to what it looks like to you as a writer).

A great editor will ask literally hundreds of questions of you. Questions like:

  • Did you realise that you used the word ‘disquiet’ on page 86, 134, 257 and 301? Did you mean to do that?
  • On page 33, Alice shrugs. Why? Is she annoyed, bored, or rude? To which as an author I might think, actually I have no idea why! And then I have to have a conversation with Alice to find out why she is shrugging. And Alice might tell me she is bored, or she might tell me that she is remembering when she was five years old and … a new scene is born that gives an entirely different depth to Alice and infinitesimally more satisfaction to the reader.
  • This here, where you reference legal document XYZ and you say it means ABC… I looked it up and to me it meant XXX. Which is it? To which, I need to go and research the document again and find clarity, or I might decide to remove it altogether and rewrite the paragraph around it.
  • I think you have a timeline problem. In 1975 Mary was 6, but on page X in 1984 she is 23, and then a decade later on page XX she is 35 and her sister, who was 8 in 1974 is now… Could you check throughout? OMG, I hate these questions! There is a lot of chocolate eating over these ones as I pull out my calculator to start all over again and search the ENTIRE bloomin’ document to find EVERY instance where this could be wrong! (Cocktails may also ensue.)
  • I’m not sure you can say this? I think it might be copyright. Oops! Lucky!
  • Do you think George would say this? He seems a bit more conservative to me.
  • Do you think Marcia would think this? She seems a bit more enlightened to me.
  • And my favourite: NQR?.. which is editor shorthand for politely saying, “not quite right” or sometimes written more bluntly as, “recast?”. For a blunt interpretation, it means: I think you’ve been a bit lazy and could work a bit harder here and make this a better sentence. Having a bad day, were we? Would you like to try again?

A great editor lets you, the author, solve all the problems yourself, and be in charge of your words and intentions at every step, and yet you would never have gotten there if they hadn’t probed you and asked the difficult questions in the first place.

And on and on we go, for 100,000 words, or around 320 pages. If your editor has worked on hard copy, by the time you’ve gone through and accepted/ rejected/ changed/ added/ expanded/ explained your way through with your red pen, your pages look like a murder scene.

If it’s been done in Word with ‘track changes’, it will be so colourful you’ll think mardi gras has arrived in your document and you’ll barely be able to read the words for the highlighting, colour and added notes.

But when it’s all cleaned up and it’s sparkling white and shiny again, there will be no sign of the ninja whose swift, sharp knife had cut up those pages.

She will have done her job and disappeared once more into the night.

But I want you to know, Clara (and all editors whose diligence graces my books’ pages), that I see you. To me, you are heroes.

I know how hard you work.

I know that you are almost always the last person to touch a manuscript before it goes to print and therefore countless others before you have missed their deadline and pushed the timeframe further and further behind until someone slaps it on your desk and tells you that you can have two days to do two weeks worth of work and it has to be your best work ever, despite the fact that it might take you two days just to read the blasted manuscript, let alone touch it with a pencil!

I know that you’re financially undervalued. I know that it’s near impossible to argue for your worth when the only time someone notices you is when you’ve missed a typo on page 98 and a reader phones the publisher to complain. They didn’t see the four thousand and sixteen things you did; they just saw the one thing you missed.

I know that most people have no idea how skilled you are, how much breadth of general knowledge you need, how sensitive you are, what a great sense of humour you have, or what value you actually add other than picking up spelling mistakes.

I know that when a book does well that you might miss out on the awards and the travel and the publicity and cocktails.

But you will never miss out on my gratitude and deep love for the great work you do. Plus actual gifts. If no one else gives you gifts, I will!

From the bottom of my heart, thank you!

 

A Writer’s Year Plan

It’s been a great year for me and it hasn’t been by accident. At the end of last year, I wrote down my reflections of the year, I pinpointed the things that went wrong and wrote strategies for how to avoid them or deal with them if it happened again. I wrote down all the great things that did happen and all the things I wanted to change. And I mapped it all out, both personally and professionally and then I executed it, month by month. And I did it all in Leonie Dawson’s Create Your Shining Year workbook.550x381_AffiliateGraphics_2016

You know how they always say that when you write something down it’s more likely to come true?

That is the value in year planning.

In my last post, I introduced you to the year planner that changed my life in 2015. In this post, I want to tell you about some of the things I wrote down in my year planner that came true, even when I thought they were just fanciful, fun dreams.

The funny thing about writing these things down was that, for the most part, I completely forgot about them. And then months later, when checking in, I stopped and went, wait a minute! I just did that! Better than that, often what I wrote down came true, yes, but in a way that was even BIGGER and BETTER than what I’d written.

Here’s some:

  1. Get new author pics. I was lining up a friend or my sister to do this for me and then about two weeks after I wrote this, my publisher emailed out of then blue me asking if Allen & Unwin could organise this for me, with a professional photographer and a makeup and hair person. Whoa! Yes please! Thank you, A&U, you are generous and wonderful and make me look much better than I feel.
  2. Do yoga. I wrote this down, thinking I’d like to do a class. But you know what? We did better. My husband and I decided we needed a private yoga teacher and it was possibly one of the best things we’ve ever done for ourselves.
  3. Fly to Sydney to see my publisher and agent (for no other reason than to see them). I did this and it was great not only to catch up when things weren’t so hectic but because EXTRA things came directly out of the fact that I did that: (1) totally unexpectedly, I was invited to submit a manuscript for a children’s book that I’d been scribbling away on; (2) I got a new title for my next book, The Beekeeper’s Secret (thanks, Tom); and (3) I booked a flight to the UK! (see next point)
  4. Fly to the UK. I did it! That one was totally a ‘wish list’/ ‘in your dreams’ thing and yet… it came true!
  5. Pay off the mortgage. Okay, this one was also an ‘in your dreams’ thing. But the thing with this one is that I didn’t specify which house to pay off. In my head, I was thinking our family home. But what has happened is that our beautiful tenant has left our other property (our family home before this one), so we put it on the market and we’ve just got a contract for it and that will pay it off. So it’s all good.

I also invested in my business systems.

  • I changed my focus from social media and began a quarterly newsletter, and when I mentioned it to my publishers, they offered to help out with some prizes for some issues. (Did I mention how great they are?)
  • I made a book trailer for The Chocolate Promise / The Chocolate Apothecary.
  • I got a personal assistant. This was also an ‘in your dreams’ thing (almost laughable). But guess what? I did it! Only for a couple of hours a week, sure. But it is a great move and I’m so pleased I’ve done it.
  • I invested a lot more time into my financial bookkeeping systems, spreadsheets of what contracts are where and when reporting periods happen, actually went and found all my contracts (I know, I know). In other words, I really took the legal/financial stuff a lot more seriously and set up processes to help manage the growing correspondence about this. (Truly, I’ve no idea how authors who have ten or twenty books all published in different regions and with translation rights keep on top of it all. But since I do hope that will be me one day, I guess it’s best I try to figure it out now.)

The other great thing that happens when you start writing down not only what you want to happen, but also what does happen, and what unplanned successes came along, is that you get into the FLOW of synchronicity and more and more good things come your way.

Great surprises and beautiful blessings for the year of 2015

  • A New York agent took on The Chocolate Promise and is hopeful of selling it.
  • I have contracts for The Chocolate Promise to be translated for the German market!
  • Kim Wilkins (Kimberley Freeman) gave the most beautiful speech about me and my book at the launch of The Chocolate Promise this year and it will stay in my heart forever.
  • I received an ABIA nomination for The Tea Chest and my publishers flew me to Sydney to attend the awards.
  • I got to take my sister, nephew and Dad with me to the UK, for fantastic family support on my research trip there. Lots of gorgeous memories were made and I even got to tick off another of my year’s ‘fanciful’ things to do… play Canasta!!! (We are Canasta tragics in our house and spent many hours laughing ourselves silly over the cards in the Cotswolds).
  • I have learned so much about myself as a writer, woman, mother, creative and human being this year (and I’ll get to another post about that soon).

Leonie Dawson’s 2016 Shining Year Workbooks  are on sale now but stocks are already running low. I cannot recommend them enough. You can choose just the personal life book, or the business book, or both, and you can get them in digital and print copies. They are a small investment in what could be a huge return on your dreams.

Leonie’s books get right to the heart of what it means to live, of what it means to have a business (the big ‘why’ of why we do what we do), of what it means to be alive and have dreams, and then grounds that in real visionary activities. I can’t wait for mine to arrive and to dive into planning the next beautiful year of my life.

The Tea Chest #1 Bestseller & Goodbye Dear Jasmine

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 11.25.47 amLife’s a funny thing. This week started out difficult for several reasons and then gotIMG_2421 really tough, with me having to make the heartbreaking decision to euthanase my cat Jasmine, who was 18 years old, and had been with me since a week before I turned 20. That’s almost half my life. Her loss is very much the end of an era.

She’d been with me from university through relationships, house moves, marriage, miscarriage, a baby, and finally my dream of becoming a career author. And now she’s gone.

And then today, a fellow author alerted me to the Allen & Unwin website. My debut novel, which Jasmine helped me write by sitting in my lap and drooling on my pants till I had to lay tissues down while she purred, has just ranked no. 1 in their Top 10 Bestsellers.

Proud? Yep. In awe? Yep. Grateful? Hell yeah. Sad? Yes, sad too.

It amazes me that really sad and really happy things can happen at the same time. It amazes me that, on my last day with Jasmine, I could lie in bed with her, grieving, and be hungry for goodness sake. Hungry! Like, how could my body just keep going on doing its thing when this really important and special part of my life was ending?

I have no words of wisdom here to share, just an observation that really awesome things and really sad things don’t always happen at neatly scheduled times. Life just keeps dishing stuff up and sometimes it’s brilliant and sometimes it sucks. But I guess there’s always hope that more good stuff is on its way.

I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has been buying and reading The Tea Chest. Thank you.

And to you, my dear Jasmine, thanks for the company on this crazy journey of life.

Jasmine, Christmas 2013
Jasmine, Christmas 2013
Jasmine in healthier days, off to greet my horse Lincoln
Jasmine in healthier days, off to greet my horse Lincoln