The Momentum Blog
How to write a book in a Colombian taxi and get strip-searched for cocaine – the guide you’ve been waiting for
Posted March 20, 2013 by Nathan M Farrugia
The edits are due tomorrow and I’m squashed in a taxi somewhere between an industrial port city and a small fishing town in Colombia. I’m with two of my friends from Australia and our new friend, Natî, the owner of the hostel we had been staying at. With the night off work, Natî joins us for a round trip and the opportunity to spray our arsenal of pressurized foam cans at the policia. Carnaval starts today, after all.
The trip is a two hour journey, which I think is enough time for me to finish the edits, or it would be if Natî wasn’t teaching us the words to all the Colombian songs on the radio. I have my laptop perched on my legs and a bottle of Club Colombia perched somewhere in-between. A Cuban cigar is shoved unceremoniously in my mouth—like most things are, I guess.
Last time I blogged about editing my novel, The Chimera Vector, I gave a behind the scenes look at the editing process with lots of pretty pictures and step-by-step explanations. I really enjoyed exploring the depths of the editorial process and just how much an editor helps shape a novel. This time I was hoping to continue the journey with you, but editing The Seraphim Sequence turned out a little different.
It’s dark and the driver overtakes another convoy of buses. He slips in front of them moments before we collide with oncoming traffic. This is scary the first time he does it and I pee my pants just a bit, but after he does this twenty times I get used to it.
My plan was to complete the edits for The Seraphim Sequence on my flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles and from Los Angeles to Miami and from Miami to Bogota, Colombia. While my friends watch movies and drool on their travel pillows, I was to peck away at the keyboard for many of the 25 hours, eager to complete as much as possible before our vacation officially starts.
But our vacation starts at Melbourne airport when one of my friends puts his platinum airline card to use before it expires next month. He boards the plane with no less than twenty bottles of alcohol “borrowed” from the lounge. His bag clinks with each step and the flight attendants give suspicious stares. Our tray tables and pouches are quickly populated with a variety of beverages and when offered a choice of wine, my friend replies, ‘All of the wine.’
I didn’t get much editing done.
So I only have myself to blame when I’m sitting in a taxi trying to write the last scene. The scene is set at Denver International; the airport is almost shredded from the action and conflict crashing through the last twenty chapters. I hope to bring it to a quiet, mournful close. Or that is the plan, anyway. It is more of a distracted, drunken close because the radio is pumping Gangnam Style, I’ve had too many cervezas (beer) and Natî is already wielding the foam cans.
My laptop and I are the first victims of the foam spray. The taxi driver is next, albeit by accident. It was aimed at me, but the foam sprays half his face and the steering wheel instead. I am worried for a moment but he is good-natured about it and laughs—as he narrowly misses another oncoming car.
Natî sprays a tollbooth worker and also two passers-by, nearly knocking one of them off a bridge. My friends’ encouragement fades quickly when they realize one of victims was a police officer. I’m worried we will get arrested soon but fortunately we run out of foam.
By this point everyone needs to pee—quite literally everyone, even the taxi driver who cannot drink alcohol while driving but drinks the sodas we buy for him. He pulls off the road, a dark unlit stretch flanked by a steeply declining forest on one side and a cornfield on the other. If there is a place to begin the first act of a horror movie, this is it.
I stand as close to the dark precipice as possible without falling in, and unzip; vaguely aware that we have formed a line along the road to relieve ourselves, including Natî, who drops her phone and accidentally pees on it. Once we finish, we jump back into the taxi and continue our journey. I am still no closer to finishing that scene.
Our destination, Barranquilla, is nothing like we expect. The city is sprawled, industrial, and the streets remind me vaguely of Port Melbourne. Exhausted, we say goodbye to Natî and our driver, and throw our bags in our rooms. We’re starving and have been running on beer for the best part of the day.
It’s midnight and all we can locate is a fast food restaurant—a sort of KFC clone—but we’re tired and don’t care. We catch a taxi, only to realize it is just three blocks away and we could’ve walked. We secure a table and order a family-sized meal for three. It later arrives in the form of a mountain: fifty pieces of chicken. The girls on a nearby table giggle. We shrug and call ourselves estupido gringos. They start laughing and soda comes out their nose. There’s an awkward silence and we start eating our fifty pieces with plastic gloves given to us by the staff—something we initially found hilarious and then later admit were kind of useful. We leave with a dozen pieces still untouched and return to our hotel with stomachs over capacity.
On the way back, policia stop and search us for cocaine. They are surprisingly friendly and gentle. I am not sure if this is a horror movie or an erotic short film. As their hands pad up my legs I try to think of other things. I wind up thinking of plastic gloves and fried chicken, which oddly enough does not help.
They’re disappointed we’re not carrying anything illegal, but they’re excited to discover one of us is a police officer in Australia and start comparing kit and firearms. We say goodbye to our new friends and return to the hotel. I’m exhausted but I open my laptop and, sober and determined, finish writing. The climax at Denver airport draws to a satisfying close and The Seraphim Sequence is at last complete. To celebrate, I pass out. The laptop slides off my knees and hits me in the neck.
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Posted May 15, 2012 by Joel
Nathan M Farrugia’s recently released debut novel The Chimera Vector has dropped into a sea of digital content at the centre of a global conversation around the future of reading.
Ebooks are slowly cannibalising print sales. The traditional gatekeepers of book publishing are embroiled in a dispute with the US department of justice. Amazon is dominating digital publishing both with its closed Kindle platform and huge self-publishing push, and the threat of a monopoly (or monopsony) looms. Fear mongering around the death of the paper book, bookstores and book culture is rampant.
Enter Nathan Farrugia, the first debut author to work with Pan Macmillan Australia’s new digital imprint Momentum. Initially planning to self-publish, the ex-Australian Army infantryman describes ‘stalking’ me through the ‘long grasses of Twitter’, recognising the need for professional editing for his content. He happened to catch my attention at a time when I was just about to undertake the Unwin Fellowship in the UK and was helping set up Momentum in Australia. In other words, I was busy.
Although I initially agreed to take on the editing job, it became clear that the book would be perfect for Momentum, even though the imprint hadn’t been announced at that point. The story was exceptionally fast-paced and action-packed and blended genres in a fresh and fun way. What followed was an awkward few weeks in which I had to convince Nathan I was working on his edit when what I was really doing was trying to sign up his book.
Thankfully, when the offer came, Nathan was convinced that an experimental digital-only publishing imprint fit with his ideas about the future of storytelling and digital consumption. From the get-go Nathan wanted to work with a publisher who was willing to experiment with price, territoriality and copyright restrictions. He was adamant that he wanted to sell his book at a low price with no DRM. ‘DRM actually encourages piracy instead of protecting against it,’ he says. Far from being concerned about piracy, we shared the belief that if you sell content that people want at a price they’re willing to pay then piracy becomes a non-issue. It’s refreshing (and rare) to come across authors who are as informed, engaged and enthusiastic as Nathan – but Momentum has attracted its fair share of them so far, and I’m looking forward to finding more.
Although Momentum was only able to sign up the straight-text book of The Chimera Vector, Nathan had far more ambitious plans. They involved launching the ebook along with an app, audio book and graphic novel to encourage accessibility across different types of media.
‘There are enhanced ebooks, there are transmedia products, there are a few book apps with bells and whistles. But nothing cohesive, nothing integrated, nothing truly groundbreaking. Is that really the best we can do?’
Nathan and his agent, Xavier Waterkeyn, started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the planned book app, but despite raising over $US40,000 it fell short of the ambitious $140K goal. Nathan and Xavier are now slowly funding the bells and whistles themselves, working on audio, graphics and wireframing in their spare time.
The ebook of The Chimera Vector has led the way as Momentum’s first debut author, shooting straight into the top ten on Apple’s iBookstore at launch last week and attracting promotion and sales around the world. The ability to launch a debut author with a digital-only book and still stand out from the crowd proves that publishers will still have a role in connecting authors with audiences, in and out of print, for many years to come.
You can buy Nathan M Farrugia’s The Chimera Vector DRM-free from the ebook retailer of your choice here, and it will also be available soon in print-on-demand.Amazon, apps, debut, DRM, ebooks, editing, FutureBook, iBookstore, Kickstarter, monopsony, stalking, Unwin Fellowship
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Posted May 10, 2012 by Joel
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about editing this week. Tomorrow I’m speaking at the Residential Editorial Program, an intensive editing course run by Varuna for professional career editors. My topic is about the future of editing, and although I find myself talking about this almost every day of my working life, it’s hard to sum up precisely how I feel.
And then Rich Adin from The Digital Reader blog gave me a little push.
I’ve been toying with this idea for some time now. I haven’t gotten very far with it because of resistance from editorial colleagues, but I’m wondering if professional editors should certify that a book has been professionally edited as a way to assure the author’s customers that the book was edited?
Adin is talking about self-published authors here. And it’s an extremely noble idea. Adin identifies most of the (many) problems with the idea himself on the post. These include how to penalise bad editing, who decides on certification, who ensures that authors follow the advice, who will promote the value of such certification and, the biggie, “what fee schedule is reasonable for a certification process?” However, he goes on to say that “few of the problems cannot be overcome”. Here I have to disagree with him, and I think the reasoning comes down to this umbrella term – “editing”.
Editing is more than just good proofreading – making sure the author has used the right “your” and “their” and “its” and ensuring that a character with blue eyes and blonde hair remains blue-eyed and blonde throughout the book. A ‘certified’ edited book, in the sense that Adin means, wouldn’t be worth the electrons it was typed in if the book was well proofread and the continuity worked but was still a giant pile of crap to read. In traditional publishing (still the best in show for professional editorial standards, despite objections and occasional dropped balls), the editorial process starts at commissioning. Extremely badly written books don’t get published in the first place. Books that are commissioned usually go through at least one big picture edit that sorts out many of the structural problems (like the six chapters written before the plot starts, the inauthenticity of the setting or the sheer stupidity of a character). Then there’s at least one line edit (or copyedit, depending on your country of origin) and then multiple rounds of proofreading by both freelancers and in-house editorial staff. A huge percentage of editorial work is sent to the author to get their approval, but there is also a lot of stuff that flies under the radar and is just fixed without the author’s knowledge because it’s obviously, glaringly incorrect. All part of the invisible service.
And you know what? Even with all that (and I very much doubt a ‘certified’ editor working with a self-published author could provide all that) not every book that is edited well is a good book. Editing – to a massive extent – is an invisible gloss on a book. I’m frequently enraged when book critics claim that a given book wasn’t very well edited. The kinds of things that can be changed (but are left as is) and the kinds of mistakes that creep in (and are not fixed) are often not the fault of editors, but of the author, the typesetter, the printer, the conversion house and so on and so on and so on. The editor might take ultimate responsibility, but it is almost impossible to determine how ‘well’ a book was edited by looking at the final product.
The other problem with this idea is the cost. The market for self-published, unedited ebooks has proved that there is a proportion of the reading population who are willing to pay a lot less for work that is not edited at all (or edited poorly by non-professional editors). This market is largely driven by price. I’m not convinced that a ‘certified’ editorial scheme is going to make the quality of these books much better unless a lot of money was spent. To address the problems with a certification program, you need an independent third party with a stake in the book with knowledge of editorial skill and the infrastructure to carry it out. And all of that costs money – money that readers of self-published writing don’t want to pay.
Having said that, there is clearly a market for paying slightly more for a well edited book – and that’s to buy it from a publisher. I’m not saying publishers do it perfectly, but it is extremely high on the priority list for our books to go out with as high a level of quality as possible – and it is usually the biggest cost associated with producing a book. Traditional editorial workflow has been built over generations, is constantly improving and it is run efficiently and with razor-thin margins. How, precisely, can self-publishing improve on that?
I do think we can do a better job of ‘selling’ this idea to the reading public. At Momentum, all of our books have the name of the proofreader and the line editor (if appropriate) on the copyright page of the book. It’s one way that we can prove to a sceptical reader that all of our books are edited by real, professional, vetted editors (who are also human beings).
An extract from the copyright page of The Chimera Vector
We also have an email address so that if you do spot errors in our books you can let us know. So far we’ve received two emails from concerned readers, and in both cases they received responses and the errors were corrected.
But I wonder – what else can we do? What do readers expect? Are you willing to pay more for better edited books – or is price more important? Sound off in the comments – I’m curious to hear what you think.Tagged: certification, ebooks, editing, quality
Posted April 19, 2012 by Nathan M Farrugia
Phase one is the structural (or content) edit. This phase involves the editor working with the author on the structure of the manuscript: the plot, the characters, the setting, the pacing, the logic of the world in which the story is set. To ensure that all the shit makes sense.
Xavier, my agent, once said to me, ‘So many manuscripts land in my inbox where the plot hinges entirely on the stupidity of the characters. At all times this is what you should be working to eliminate.’ Unfortunately, many writers storm off in a huff, never to be heard from again. But a rare few (too rare unfortunately, in Xavier’s opinion) swallow their pride, acknowledge that their draft currently sucks [no more suckage. Really] and needs work.
I know this because I was one of them.
He was of course talking about plot holes. And phase one is where you make your plot holes your bitch.
And iIt can take several rounds of going back and forth between the author and the editor before phase one is complete. Sometimes this can take place before a contract is even signed.
And in Sometimes Land there is an in-between phase known as the line edit. This is when the language, sentences, repetition and pacing are cleaned up line by line. (Here in Australia, this is often merged into phase two.)
Phase two is the copy-edit. Once everything is structurally sound and the story does not suck balls [you can have balls, just no more sucking. Do something else with them] or other ball-related objects, the manuscript is passed on to the copyeditor like a game of pass the parcel and the copyeditor will look at language, style, sentence structure, expression, spelling, grammar, punctuation and your underwear drawer. The copyedit is the nuts and bolts of the editing process, it is intensive and detailed and did I mention intensive?
, aAnd it is what gives the manuscript a professional finish.
The editorial report
But what does an editorial report look like? Well I’m glad you asked (you didn’t) because here is mine:
Well, the time has finally come for the editorial report. Again, my apologies for taking so long to get this done. This has been a pretty big couple of months, but I wanted to make sure that your work got the attention it deserves, and that has meant stealing time when I can.
And it certainly has felt like stealing time. Every time I get to dip in to reading The Chimera Vector, I’ve been utterly absorbed by the story. Your pacing and action scenes are taut, exciting and visual. The novel barrels along at breakneck speed and barely allows you to draw breath. However, you’ve also managed to create some quite touching human relationships – particularly with Sophia and Adamicz and between Jay and Damien. Real characters and a totally unreal story are a great combination – and you’ve nailed that balance for the most part with real panache and stellar prose.
However (there is always a however) there is a lot that can be done to make The Chimera Vector even better. Your strength in carving out spare prose to create action is sometimes to the detriment of scene and setting. Your commitment to plot sometimes leaves character arcs and motivations unclear. The problems with The Chimera Vector put me in mind of the iceberg theory of narrative, which states that – just like an iceberg – 20% of your story must poke out of the water, suggesting the other 80% of the story beneath. In your book, there is plenty of story above the waterline, but it doesn’t imply that there is enough going on below. This isn’t to say that there isn’t more going on beneath, but the story depth hasn’t been effectively communicated to the reader.
Keep in mind as you read through that this is not meant to be prescriptive. All suggestions really are just suggestions. Not all of them are going to resonate with you, but I hope that at the very least they help you identify the issues and come up with your own solutions to some of the issues with the manuscript.
Notice that last paragraph. “All suggestions really are just suggestions”. Some writers think the editor will change their work and force them to produce an entirely different story, which makes them reel in horror. Well, that might be true in Hollywood. E.g. LOL I Am Legend.
Side-note, this can in rare cases make a better movie, such as The Bourne Identity, which was loosely based on Robert Ludlum’s book of the same name. And The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, which were completely unrelated to the books and yet are among the best action thriller spy movies of the last decade.)
Where was I? Oh right. The editor, whether contracted through a publisher or hired directly by you, is more likely to pull a Bourne on you (hopefully without the shaky-cam bullshit) than an I Am Legend. So fear not. How much the author decides to take on the editor’s advice is up to the author. Obviously, the more advice the author takes on, the better for the book. And if the author decides to ignore most of the advice then the book will suffer — although the publisher has due cause to terminate the contract before that happens. Hopefully though, it won’t come to that.
So moving along. My editorial report gets down and dirty, into specific issues. Here is one example:
The plot of The Chimera Vector races along so quickly that I could, at times, literally feel my heart beating faster. That takes some damn fine writing skills, and I applaud you for it. However, there were a couple of plot points that felt a little bit undeveloped, as if perhaps they were added in and then forgotten. This may not be the case, especially given you are planning to write more books in the series – but I’ve detailed them here for you to review.
I really like Sophia’s synesthesia, especially early on. However, as the story develops it becomes a bit distracting – taking away from the descriptions of the places and people she sees, and I couldn’t help wondering why it was added in – as it doesn’t seem to serve the plot.
One thing about the first phase of editing, the structural phase: the editor does not actually do the work for you. They are not the co-writer. But their report and their suggestions will help you to make the changes yourself. Why? Because you’re a big boy/girl/hermaphrodite [I believe gender non-specific is the PC term] now.
Anyway, here are some more annotations for your viewing pleasure.
(Sidenote: my blog editor got distracted by The Muppets on YouTube, so no more red text from here on out.)
Oh look, an unwelcome cliché:
And a point of view suggestion:
A suggestion to cut an entire scene:
Or write a new one:
Remove some cumbersome language:
Edit Like A Boss:
And in case you’re feeling inundated with the negative annotations, a nice sprinkling of praise to keep you going:
While all of this work would ordinarily be done in Microsoft Word, I actually did something completely different. I knew there were a few scenes that needed to be swapped around, shuffled, moved earlier or moved later on, and some scenes written completely from scratch. To do all of this in a word processor is a bit of a nightmare. Jumping back and forth, getting confused as to what I put where, losing track of the overall flow of the storyline, all the stuff that brings a writer to their knees, weeping tears of despair into their gin. But not so. Not when you have something like Scrivener at your disposal. Shuffling stuff around in Scrivener is so easy. SO EASY.
LIKE PLAYING MINESWEEPER IN GOD MODE.
I imported my entire manuscript as an RTF file into Scrivener, complete with comments. I did the in-line editing in Word first, because I wasn’t sure if Scrivener could handle that. And then I broke the manuscript up, chapter by chapter. This was a bit tedious, but once you know the shortcut to create a new break (command + K), you can break up 100 chapters in under 10 minutes. I named each chapter, mostly to make it easy on myself, and color-coded them according to the character’s point of view. LOOK SO PRETTY.
After I was done shuffling the existing scenes around, I thought I may as well take advantage of Scrivener and write the new scenes while I’m here. I’ve already used Scrivener to plot Book 2, but this is the first time I’ve actually written a new scene in it. I was a bit excited and maybe peed my pants a little. GOD IT WAS EXCITING.
And before I knew it, the structural editing was all done and the manuscript was whisked off to PHASE TWO for the copyeditor to work her magic. And if you’re curious as to what this magic might look like…
Think of your manuscript as a really good head of hair. The editor is your hair wax. Wow, that’s my worst analogy ever. OK, let’s try again: think of your manuscript as a computer program and the editor as the debugger. They will test and discover every flaw, bug and error in the manuscript they can find.
Because no one wants you to release Windows 98 again.
balls, digital publishing, ebooks, editing, lolcats, scrivener
Posted April 18, 2012 by Nathan M Farrugia
Where I talk about editors, iPads and the INTERNETS
In today’s post, I’m going to share what it’s like to have your novel edited. By a publisher. Or what it’s like to wax your inner thighs. No, just kidding. The editing is much more fun. And I never waxed my inner thighs, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Because I’m with a digital-oriented publisher, it’s only fitting that my editing be delivered to me through the INTERNETS. Not only that, but you can say goodbye to making corrections by hand, on a mountain of paper. It’s all digital now, baby. Which means the joys and torments of Microsoft Word’s track changes. (To be fair, as much as I laugh at Microsoft, their word processor is pretty solid. And yes I’ve tried OpenOffice’s Writer, Adobe’s InCopy and Apple’s Pages — didn’t like ‘em. And I’ll get to the awesomeness that is Scrivener in a minute.)
Digital publishing is — whether you like it or not — the future. As much as paper books will always be around, its the children of this world who will dictate how we experience storytelling. And I can tell you one thing, they won’t be picking up a hardcover.
How to edit on an iPad
Rather than print out the manuscript and edit by hand, my structural editor took a more digital approach. He drops my manuscript into Dropbox as a PDF, then annotates on his iPad. Once he is finished with the structural edit, he converts it back to a Microsoft Word document with all annotations intact and emails it to me: the author jittering with nervous anticipation on the other end of the Interwebs.
Traditionally, editors will do precisely what I described above, only on paper. Or they might write them as haiku and deliver them in gluten-free fortune cookies via genetically enhanced messenger pigeons.
Having had no prior experience with an editor, I must say I was impressed with the thoroughness that goes into the editing process. Many authors underestimate the role of the editor, and some — eager to self-publish on Amazon — skip it entirely, or substitute it by giving it to friends to read instead. If your friends can give you honest, blunt feedback, great! But they aren’t editors and unfortunately can’t substitute for one.
As I discovered, editors don’t just read your manuscript once. They read it three times. In each pass, they write more comments and adjust their initial comments. My 450 page Word document came back with 425 comments.
What does an editor do?
I thought it might be fun or annoying or annoyingly fun to have this blog post edited. Before your very eyes. Like real magic. See the red text, highlighted text and crossed out words? That’s one part of the editor’s job: the “line edit”.
So to do this properly I’m going to share with you my editorial report and some annotations my editor wrote in my manuscript. While this means you get to see all my mistakes and sloppy writing, it’s also a great way to see the insides of the book making process! [I’m giving you one exclamation mark for the whole piece. And that’s generous.] And this is why I think there aren’t many blog posts about this. Because writers are a bit reluctant to reveal their pre-perfect writing.
Oh noes, no one can see my book before it’s perfect! - author of Twilight
[To be accurate, the author actually said she was "too sad" to continue work on the book and said she was putting its completion "on hold indefinitely". But I like your quote better.]
What if they find out how much I suck? – Paranoid vampire
“The first draft of anything is shit” – Ernest Hemingway [fact check: quotation]
Almost every author will go out of their way to thank their editor in the acknowledgements of their book because they know just how much the editor has helped complete it. But does anyone else really know what goes on behind closed doors?
Unless you work in the publishing industry, you probably don’t know just how closely involved the editor is with each book. And you probably figure editors are well paid too. Unfortunately that’s not the case. If we I could change the industry with a magical wave of Harry Potter’s wand (and I can totally mention Harry Potter and not have everyone question my sexuality) the first thing
we’d I’d change do is tripling triple the editor’s salary. They are after all the most crucial element in the recipe of book-making [yo, this is predicative. So no hyphen]. Unless you write about glittery vampires.
But what exactly does an editor do? Well, what they don’t do is change the author’s style of writing (unless it sucks) [use a different word. Too much sucking and vampires already] or babysit the author’s children or nurse their insecurities or send them Farmville invites on Facebook. Well, I hope not.
What they do do do do do (sorry got carried away there) is explore the manuscript and analyze what is and isn’t working. And most importantly why. They tease out the weaknesses and help the writer make their work the best it can possibly be. And then it’s up to the author to decide whether they want to make those changes.
But gone are the days where an editor will work intimately with the writer on twenty, thirty or even forty drafts. These days, there is pressure to publish more books more quickly [awkward phrase]. If you want your manuscript to even be considered for publication, it should already be 99% perfect by the time it lands on the editor’s desk, or the slush pile/recycle bin, intern’s in-tray or Hogwarts. If it’s 98% ready, then it just might be considered too much work. And no, I’m not kidding. Publishers in this day and age don’t have time to mess around with extra work.
That’s your job.digital publishing, ebooks, editing, iPad, lolcats, self-publishing