Editing: One Of My Superpowers

Day after day, month after month and year after year, I have shaped my life around words. (And my words around life.)

I have taken, and continue to take, many, many courses, classes and workshops. I have been edited myself, and read books and articles about using words, and written and edited hundreds of pieces of writing. I have learned from it all.

And in the course of doing all that, I have become a strong wordsmith.

Editing is one of my superpowers. It’s not as flashy as scaling skyscrapers or similar, but it does come in handy.

Leslie Lang, Writer, Journalist, Author, Family History, Personal History, Memoir, Hawaii, Big Island, Talk Story Press, Editor, Editing

A Truth: If you are self-publishing a book, you must — in order to be taken seriously — spring for two things: professional editing, and professional book cover design.

I don’t do cover design, but I can definitely help with editing.

This article, showing what are purportedly some actual errors that got into print due to a lack of editing, is eye-opening. What if this were your book?

“An Australian publisher has destroyed 7,000 copies of a cookbook after a recipe called for ‘salt and freshly ground black people.’ The recipe, for spelt tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto, was meant to call for black pepper, but a typo led a computer spell-checker program to insert the erroneous word.”

That is an over-the-top example of the importance of editing, true, but much less dramatic errors will also cause readers to discredit you and your book.

This Huffington Post article ‘Honor Your Readers, Hire an Editor’ lists some of the comments at Amazon.com about one self-published book that wasn’t edited well. Horrifying.

Your spouse, the English major, or your friend that’s really good with words might help you with earlier drafts. But trust me: Once you’re getting serious, you need to hire a professional editor who knows the business.

From Go-Publish-Yourself:

It’s the Book Editing, Stupid. Why You Need a Good Book Editor

If you don’t spend time and money with a good book editor, everything else you do to publish and market your book won’t matter. A poorly edited book is a waste of time and money. Every dollar you spend promoting an error-prone book might as well be spent in Vegas. Read the rest

From www.forbes.com, Business section:

Thinking Of Self-Publishing? Ben Galley Has Some Advice

…Objectivity and professionism are key, Galley said, emphasising the need for self-published authors to take care over the editing of their manuscript:

Editing is an imperative. It is what will set you apart from other self-published authors out there. Self-publishers think they don’t have to put the work in, that people will be forgiving, but that’s wrong. You have to be as good as, or better than, traditionally published books, and traditional publishers’ editors are very good at their job.

“Editing is the key to being taken seriously. You can do one or two rounds of editing yourself, but then you have to give it to other people because you’re not objective enough to take it to a professional level.” Read the rest

Hawaii self publishing book editor More on the importance of hiring a professional editor herehere and here. I could go on.

I edit self-published books (and other works) often, and am happy to help you with yours. Here are some comments I’ve gotten just this month from editing clients:

• “Thank you for your help on this project! Your work is first class. I think you’re awesome.”

• “I must say I am absolutely impressed with your thorough work. Thank you again for doing this for me.”

Are you self-publishing a book, or working on another type of writing that you want to ensure is as polished as possible?

I’m happy to talk with you about how we would work together. You can reach me at 808 964-1494 or leslie@leslielang.com.

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Post-Hoopla Report

Leslie Lang, Talk Story PressThe hoopla of the holidays has died down, the week-long flu my family “enjoyed” shortly after New Year’s has ended, and here we are.

I enjoy the holidays, but am always ready to get back to Real Life when they are over. (I did not much enjoy the flu.)

We’re on to a new calendar with what always feels like a new, fresh start. The fireworks are over and now it’s about sitting down and achieving. Anything is possible!

I started the New Year – or ended the last one, actually – by reorganizing. I repurposed a couple rooms in my home and switched them, meaning my Talk Story Press office ended up in a new spot and got a major restructuring at the same time. It’s a better situation and I like it.

As I moved things, I cleared through all my office files, while also rearranging them so they are more organized for how my work has evolved. I’m happy to have done this. When my space and work is well-organized, so too is my head.

And now I’m back to it. My plate is filled with:

  • Writing/editing/consulting for businesses (for instance, I still manage and edit the active Hamakua Springs blog, and do ghostwriting/social media/other writing for businesses, as well),
  • Editing (at present I’m editing a memoir for an interesting, long-time Hilo resident, and a small self-help book for another client)
  • Writing the occasional magazine article, and
  • Working on personal and family history projects.

The personal and family history projects are always so interesting and satisfying. I’ve just finished interviews with an older woman whose son and daughter-in-law have commissioned a book about her life. Interviews with her reveal that her father had fought for Japan in the “Russo-Japanese war” before immigrating to Hawai‘i during sugar plantation days; and that her parents always worried about being shipped off to a concentration camp during World War II (fortunately, they were not).

Another project in the works is a book I’m doing for a client whose father died unexpectedly. By interviewing his siblings, mother and daughter, I am creating a narrative of her father’s life; put together with photos, it will end up as a lovely, printed book.

I have a couple projects for my own family in the works, as well. For decades I’ve gathered family stories and pictures and done genealogical research, but it’s no good to anyone if it’s just scraps of paper in a file drawer (or two), right?

That’s why I’ve gone into this personal and family history business with such delight. I find it very satisfying to help a family capture the stories that tell how it all unfolded to get them where they are now.

Because otherwise, anything you know about where your family came from, and how your grandmother came to be the person she is, and all the rest of it, it all just sort of poofs into the air and is gone when you are.

Maybe your father has told you a handful of stories about his childhood; but how many stories? Four? How many of those you pass down? One? None? It’s not too late.

Do you know where your grandparents came from, and why? Maybe your children aren’t interested now, but they might be later in their lives, when there’s no one around anymore to tell them. Or their (future) children or grandchildren might want to know – and even if you never meet them, they will know you and love you for having preserved that information for them.

Taking raw material and turning it into a published book that can sit on a shelf, available to anyone who’s interested as it passes through the generations – this is a delight. Whether it’s for my family or someone else’s, it feels so good to preserve these stories of ours.

If you’d like to hear more about my writing, and maybe read an occasional bit from a current project (shared with permission), please sign up for my quarterly newsletter. There is a Talk Story Press newsletter coming out soon. And never fear, your email address is always safe with me. I’ll never share it.

Also, once in awhile I offer a special deal on a personal history project through my newsletter, so sign up at right to keep in the know.

How about you – are you all organized and rejuvenated for a new year? Is it time to work on a part of your family history, or the story of a parent or grandparent, that needs to be preserved and printed? I’d be happy to discuss how we could work together in 2013.

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Personal Historian

Before It’s Too Late!

personal history, personal historian, Leslie Lang, writer, Hawaii writer

Have you dreamed about recording a parent’s story? Or writing about the history of your family, and the path it took over the decades – now, while your grandparents can still tell you what they know? How about documenting the history of a company you built up from nothing, or recording the life of a long-beloved family home?

Lots of people consider such a project, but often don’t actually get around to doing it — either because they lack the time, and/or, very often, because they don’t have the know how or specific skills to pull it all together. And once someone is gone and it’s too late, there is often such a feeling of regret.

This is where a personal historian comes in.

Personal historians are storytellers, often (but not always) hired by a younger generation to capture, organize and preserve the stories of an older one. They are experts who know how to carry such a project to completion.

The Association of Personal Historians defines a personal history as:

…the story of a life, or stories from a life. It may be a memoir, a tribute, a life story, an autobiography, a biography, a video biography, or an oral history. It may also be a legacy letter or ethical will, expressing one’s values, wishes, regrets, observations about life, lessons learned, and so on. Many personal histories are books, a growing number are captured on video, and some are still simply audio.

Personal historians are creative professionals who help both celebrities and “ordinary people” tell their life stories. A personal historian may be engaged to help individuals, families, communities, or organizations preserve memories, images, voices, stories, and histories – often (but not always) in narrative form.

personal historian, personal history, Hawaii writerAs a personal historian, I use my many, many years of personal interviewing skills to sit down with someone and glean the story they have within them and want to preserve. They review everything, and then I put it all together in a professional, finished format.

Your stories and photos can end up as a high-quality, professionally designed book for your family or organization.

Another option is to put together a video project, using whatever combination of recorded audio, video clips, photos, musics, effects and narration work. The result is a polished multimedia project you can share by computer or disk, show at a celebration, memorial or other special get-together, and keep forever.

Why hire me, specifically? I have decades of experience working as an interviewer, writer, journalist, author, editor, cultural anthropologist and historian. I am a digital “junkie” who enjoys putting professional projects together on the computer. My friends say I am a Storyteller.

Please let me know if you have a project in mind and would like to discuss it.

And if you’re not ready to do your personal history yet, I’d like to encourage you to sign up for my quarterly newsletter. You’ll also get email notifications when I post here to the blog. It’s a way to get more comfortable with who I am, and the work I do, before jumping into a project of your own. (Do not be afraid! Girl Scout Promise: I will never abuse your email address, and I work hard to make my monthly newsletter interesting and worth reading.) 

Thanks for checking out my website, and I’d love to talk to you about a personal history project when you’re ready.

top photo © Mikle15 | Dreamstime.com  / middle photo © Karin Hildebrand
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Q&A With Darien Gee About Her New Novel ‘Friendship Bread’

Darien Gee, author of The Friendship BreadDarien Gee is a Big Island writing dynamo, and acquaintance, whose new novel Friendship Bread (Ballantine Books/Random House) comes out April 5, 2011.

It’s a great read! I read some of it and really liked it. (It’s so nice when you read the writing of someone you know and don’t have to struggle to think of something nice to say.) I’m looking forward to the book coming out. She kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about her new book and her writing, and our Q&A follows. But first, if you’d like to know more, here’s where you can:

You can buy the book here. Do! It’s a good book, and you should support our Hawai‘i writers.

This is Darien’s fourth published novel. She’s definitely got it figured out! Here’s what she told me:

Q. Your newest novel’s genesis came about when your daughter brought home some Amish Friendship Bread, which definitely makes the rounds and we’ve all had it. How old was she, and where did she get it? Were you the type to bake?

My daughter Maya was eight when she walked through the door holding a Ziploc bag of Amish Friendship Bread starter and a few slices of the bread. She’d received it from one of her homeschool friends.  I actually told her to forget it, that we weren’t going to do it, but then I tasted the bread and I was hooked.

Q. Do you still have that starter going?

I do. I also have one that a friend gave me from 2006. Both are still going strong!

Q. Tell us how your novel idea formed from that.

On the day that Maya brought home the starter, I was standing in my kitchen eating the bread when I saw a woman in my mind with strawberry blond hair, regarding the bag of starter with the same initial apprehension. That was Julia. I could sense a sadness hanging over her, but I didn’t know what it was about. I started writing that night.

Q. What’s something you particularly like about this book?

I love the anecdotal characters of Friendship Bread, like Gloria the fortune teller, A.A. the biker, Connie the laundromat manager, and Clyde the pharmacist. They were a happy accident that ended up being an integral part of the structure of the book. I found they served two purposes: one, they showed how the bread was moving through the town and touching the lives of everyone in it, and two, they gave us a break from the intensity of the primary narrative. These characters were fun to write, because I got to stand in their shoes and just witness their lives spilling onto the page. I could see how their peripheral lives intersected with my main characters in an indirect, but sometimes profound, way. It was a good reminder about how interconnected we all are, and that we are not alone even when we think we are.

Q. Tell us about how you got started as a novelist; about deciding to sit down and write your very first novel. What made you do it? How old were your kids then? How did you do it?

Good Things was my first published novel, and I have one unpublished novel that I was offered representation on a few years prior. That story is now a little dated and I’m not sure I want to bother rewriting it versus starting something new altogether. Each time I read it, though, I fall in love with the characters all over again, so we’ll have to see.Good Things was written when my daughter was four. Each subsequent Mia King novel coincided with the birth of another child, and you can see it in my acknowledgments. My last Mia King novel, Table Manners, was tricky because my deadline was a few weeks after I’d given birth, but it worked out well in the end.I had some writers tell me that writing with young children was too difficult and that I’d be better off waiting until they grew up, but I didn’t want to wait—to be honest, I felt like I’d waited long enough. Friendship Bread, my fourth novel but the first one written under my own name, Darien Gee, will be published when my youngest is two and a half.

Q. How is it the process different now that you are on your fourth published novel? What has changed?

The process is the same. In some ways, Friendship Bread was a bit like starting over again—I ended up with a new agent, a new publisher, a new name (even though Darien is my real name, I’d never published anything by it). What changed is that I have more confidence about my work, about being able to tell a story that resonates with readers. I’m also better at navigating the business of writing.

Q. You seem to be publishing a book a year. Tell us about how you keep that up. What is your writing schedule/routine?

My original goal was a book a year, but then Friendship Bread took longer because in a way I was starting over. I don’t have a schedule and every time I try to set one, I don’t stick to it. I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to writing and edits, though, and I listen to my inner self—when it’s time to write and things are flowing, I write. Even if I’m tired. Even if it’s inconvenient. I’ll tell my husband that it’s time and we’ll re-juggle our schedules. If I’m in a lull, I give myself the time off and not force myself to write. I trust the creative process but I do integrate deadlines and personal goals. Everyone is different but this seems to work well for me.

Q. The novelist Isabel Allende starts writing a new book every year on January 8th. Do you have any writing superstitions?

I don’t have anything I would call a superstition, but I do have several processes. I rarely stop writing mid-chapter—I always write to a close. If I know I can’t get there, I may not write at all that day and wait until I can. I cannot leave things hanging and when I do, it takes me forever to get back in and I just don’t have that kind of time. I also seem to write better at night. I can work on edits or handle the business aspects of writing during the day, but when I’m working on a first draft, on a new story, I prefer darkness and solitude. I used to pass my husband and children in the hallways around dawn—I’d be heading to bed as they were waking up.

Q. What advice would you give to others who want to tackle writing a novel?

To go for it, to not give up. I have some tips on writing from a UCLA extension writing class. You can view them by going here (http://www.friendshipbreadkitchen.com/pantry/on-writing).

Q. What’s your next project?

I’m almost done with the second book in the series. It’s called Memory Keeping and picks up about six months after Friendship Bread ends, in the summer of the following year. Some familiar characters are back and some peripheral characters, like Connie, have moved to the forefront, and there are newcomers, too. There isn’t that much Amish Friendship Bread in this book, but we’ve moved onto something just as appealing: scrapbooking, thanks in part to Bettie Shelton, founder and president of the Avalon Scrapbooking Society. It does move through the town but in a completely different way and for completely different reasons than the first novel.

Darien Gee is the author of three novels under the name Mia King: Good Things (2007), Sweet Life (2008) and Table Manners (2009), all published by Berkley Books, Penguin USA. Her fourth novel, Friendship Bread, will be published in hardcover by Ballantine Books in April 2011 and has sold foreign, audio, e-book, and book club rights.

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‘America Writes Home’

mailbox2America Writes Home is a website with a wonderful collection of some existing pre-1920s letters, giving a flavor of that time before iPhones and email.

They are indexed by state, for the most part. Really fun to poke around in. So many stories!

Do you have old letters? Have you thought about how to preserve them so others, now or in the future, can enjoy and learned from them too? There are suggestions at this website.

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Selling The Book

MoneyThis Wall Street Journal article How Authors Move Their Own Merchandise, by Joanne Kaufman, is about how much effort writers put into marketing — selling — their own books these days. It’s out of necessity; the publishing world has changed a lot.

It starts:

To gin up sales for her 2009 essay collection “Bad Mother,” Ayelet Waldman rewarded those who preordered the book with such lagniappes as a donation to a scholarship fund or a copy of a novel by her husband, Michael Chabon. “I think all of that got ‘Bad Mother’ on the New York Times best-seller list,” Ms. Waldman said.

Ayelet Waldman is one author who has learned the benefits of giveaways and social networking.

Eager for lightning to strike twice, she began working the Facebook rolls before last summer’s publication of her novel “Red Hook Road.” Those who preordered (or sent an email explaining their lack of interest in preordering) were entered into a drawing to win an iPod loaded with music thematic to the book. Read more

My favorite is the part about the writer who put up a slideshow on his Facebook page. It showed famous people reading his novel. I just love that. Watch for that when I’m peddling a novel one day.

Read the whole article here.

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Christopher Kimball & The Troll

kimballI have been on Christopher Kimball‘s email list for years, and though I don’t live in New England and I don’t have time right now to cook the wonderful foods he writes about, it’s great writing and I always take time to read it.

He is, according to Wikipedia, the bow-tie wearing founder, editor, and publisher of Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines, and formerly publisher of the now defunct Cook’s Magazine. I know him from Cook’s Illustrated — what a neat magazine that is. Here’s his Christopher Kimball blog. And I love reading his occasional emails, which talk about the sugar season in Vermont and relay charming small-town stories.

This is a funny, timely, small-town story that came in his email today. Could it be true? He represents it as though it is. And of course it could be — people are crazy.

Back in Vermont, here is a recent story that sounds completely made up. A resident of a nearby town is very well liked but more than a little crazy and a bit of a drinker—you never know what he will do next. His wife came home one day and noticed that he looked a bit shaken. He said, “I caught a troll!” and proceeded to lead her upstairs. When they got to the bedroom, she heard a voice from the closet shouting, “Let me out! Let me out!” Well, he had all sorts of furniture stacked up against the door to keep the troll in. Once the way was cleared, she found a very pleasant, rather short gentleman in disarray, shaken after having spent a few hours locked up inside. He was working for the U.S. Census, had rung the bell, and, as soon as the door had opened, the husband had somehow mistaken him for a troll, spiriting him upstairs. No word yet on the impending lawsuit.

My favorite sentence in this bit is: “…as soon as the door had opened, the husband had somehow mistaken him for a troll, spiriting him upstairs.”

I cannot think of anything else to say about this, except: Thanks for the good laugh!

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