Eva van Emden
Freelance Editor and Proofreader

May 23, 2014

Molotov Hearts by Chris Eng

Molotov Hearts by Chris Eng Trying on a pair of pants isn’t a subversive act, is it? For a teenage girl who sees another world—a world of friendship, authentic self-expression, freedom, ideas, and great music—in a group of punks who hang out downtown, the first step to changing her life is buying a pair of jeans. Jenn manages to find new friends and an escape from her home life, but her escape is based on deception, and eventually it can’t continue. How can Jenn escape her crazy mother and take control of her life?

This book is very much about identity, and the importance of finding a way to be yourself. The book has a lot of heart. It’s about the importance of taking action to change your life, but it acknowledges the power of a generous act by a stranger. In the end, Jenn manages to finds a way to solve her problems herself in a way that doesn’t match violence with violence. Although a romance acts as the catalyst for Jenn’s transformation, there’s no message here that love fixes everything. In fact, the boyfriend is almost an innocent bystander while it’s the women who really make things happen. Love may or may not happen, but you have to fix yourself first.

Part of the reason this book speaks to me is because I know the author. Chris and I went to the same high school in Victoria, B.C., and the physical and psychological setting of the story is vivid in my mind. However, even if you’re not a Victoria native, I can recommend this story about identity, love, and the power of punk.

Molotov Hearts is available from Powell’s Books or Amazon. Buy the PDF at Chris’s webstore, or read it for free at HoodieRipper.com. Check out Chris’s new series, Switchblade Queens.

Reviewed from my own (paper) copy of the book.

February 15, 2014

Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers by Scott Norton

Developmental Editing by Scott Norton

In developmental editing, an editor works with an author to shape the structure and content of a manuscript. This can start early in the writing process, or it might begin once a draft of the manuscript is finished. Developmental editing is done more often with non-fiction books, where the emphasis is on the author’s subject matter expertise rather than writing expertise, and it is generally done to improve the book’s quality and effectiveness at reaching its target readership.

I think developmental editing is the most difficult, although potentially the most rewarding, form of editing. It takes insight and creativity to find a theme or a narrative thread that will make the facts come alive. And it takes the greatest tact and communication with the author.


  1. Concept: Shaping the proposal
  2. Content: Assessing potential
  3. Thesis: Finding the hook
  4. Narrative: Tailoring the timeline
  5. Exposition: Deploying the argument
  6. Plan: Drafting a blueprint
  7. Rhythm: Setting the pace
  8. Transitions: Filling in the blanks
  9. Style: Training the voice
  10. Display: Dressing up the text

Scott Norton takes a lot of the guesswork out of this process by breaking it into separate tasks (see the contents listed in the sidebar). Each chapter has a case history to demonstrate the techniques being discussed. Structure is a constant theme, and the case studies typically use the initial and revised table of contents as a starting point for the editing. There’s valuable discussion on deciding how to approach the material, how to present it, what aspects to emphasize, and whether to order material according to a timeline or by following an argument.

The detailed case histories make the book come alive. Each case history is developed as the chapter progresses, and it shows the table of contents of a manuscript before and after editing, which neatly summarizes the changes. Although the author-editor relationship doesn’t get a chapter of its own, the case histories illustrate a variety of ways this can go.

At a little over 200 pages, the book isn’t unmanageably long, and it’s an attractively published small paperback that you can keep as a reference book without breaking your bookshelf. The further reading section at the end is a thoughtful collection of other good books on related topics with a short description of what each book offers.

Related reading

This article by John McPhee on structure discusses the choice between chronology and theme and describes how stuck a writer can get without a framework.

January 9, 2014

Insurance for freelance editors: WorkSafeBC

Keep your home office ergonomic.
Photo by Janet 59. Some rights reserved.
As a freelancer, you may be without a safety net if you lose your ability to work—especially if you don’t want to rely on having a spouse with employee benefits. Well, here’s a start: in B.C., you can opt for voluntary WorkSafeBC coverage. Yes, editing is a very safe job, but there’s still a risk of developing repetitive strain injuries, or neck and back problems.

Personal optional protection

WorkSafeBC offers personal optional protection for self-employed people. This will cover your lost income and pay your medical expenses if you are injured in your work. You can apply to cover from $1,500 to $6,492 of monthly gross salary, and because of the low workplace risk for editors, coverage is cheap. Editors fall into rate class 762043: Writing, Publishing, or Map Production (no printing) (confirmed by phone call). The rate for this classification is $.10 per $100 of coverage, so to cover a gross salary of $2,500 per month, the annual premium is $30.

Incorporated businesses

You can’t apply for coverage if your business is incorporated; only the owners of proprietorships and partnerships are eligible (see item 12 on the application form).

Limitation of legal action

If you opt for WorkSafeBC coverage, you might be limiting your right to sue your client if you are injured on the job (see item 11 on the application form). This is the basic term of the “compensation bargain” behind mandatory worker coverage programs. The positive side is that some clients may prefer to deal with contractors who have WCB insurance.

How to register

You can apply for personal optional protection online. There’s also a registration form you can fill out and send in.

Further reading

Wikipedia: Workers’ compensation
Workers Compensation Act

December 29, 2013

The Elements of Expression: Putting Thoughts into Words by Arthur Plotnik

Arthur Plotnik: The Elements of Expression There’s an expression in Dutch: Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg. It translates approximately as, “Why don’t you just act normal? That’s already crazy enough.” And how right the Dutch are: rhetorical flourishes, weak jokes, arty effects, obscure language, and the breezy style that Strunk and White warned against are all reasons to toss a book over your shoulder. But, taken too much to heart, won’t this keep-it-normal philosophy result in Soviet-cell-block-grey writing? The literary equivalent of overcooked cabbage and brown rice without salt may not get thrown across the room, but it will end up gathering dust under the bed.

Somewhere between these two extremes is writing that catches attention without bolting on superfluous ornaments. The Elements of Expression tells you how to use concrete images and unfamiliar combinations of words to produce writing that is fresh and expressive and brings delight to the reader. Arthur Plotnik provides techniques for injecting force and power into your writing, and suggests a variety of places, from rap music to Shakespeare, to find new language. Most importantly, he tells you how to make this new language your own.

Don’t waste time finding your single real voice. We rarely find our real voice . . . Our voice can be a new voice—or several—that we make real, a voice in harmony with our roots but capable of expressing the full flower of the evolving self. Like everything that breaks from the ordinary, the new voice entails risks, apprehensions, missteps. These are reasonable costs of liberation.

I expected this to be a book about writing, so the chapter on oral presentation was a delightful added bonus. We’ve all been tortured by the People Who Should Be Banned from Presenting (the flaunters of their unpreparedness: “Prepare? Do gods prepare?”). In keeping with the theme of adding expressiveness, Plotnik pleads for effective voice modulation. In the past, the baby-talk sound of the kindergarten teacher who traversed an entire octave in one word and the android-like delivery of newscasters made me think that the best modulation is the one that nobody notices (“just act normal . . .”), but when you’re a small figure on a distant stage, the audience needs more animation than you would use when speaking face to face. Plotnik tells you how to use volume, tempo, and phrasing to make your presentation sing. He finishes with his own checklist of methods for reducing the terror (bring a marked text and an extra copy).

As always, Plotnik is a joy to read. He shares his secrets generously, and he empathizes with the yearning for effective expression that all writers, however casual, feel.

Other books by Arthur Plotnik

Better than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives (review)
Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style (review)
Elements of Editing: A Modern Guide for Editors & Journalists
The Elements of Authorship (review)

November 26, 2013

The Elements of Authorship by Arthur Plotnik

Arthur Plotnik: Elements of Authorship Arthur Plotnik is always fun to read. In this combination manual and memoir, he lays out all the ins and outs of the world of writing—and he’s done it all: studying at the Iowa writers’ workshop, journalism, commercial writing, editing a magazine, you name it. If you’re committed to being a writer, this is your guide to the landscape of the trade.

The contents

  • Studying to write—the highlights of the writers workshops
  • Lessons to be learned from journalism
  • Writing full-time
  • Writing at home
  • Working as a commercial writer
  • How to please editors
  • The personal lives of writers
  • Getting published (“The Pit and the Pinnacle”)
  • Style and how to write well
  • Finances of writing and contracts
  • Being a poet
  • Technical considerations
  • Becoming obsolete
Every so often a newspaper reports on the “fecal dust” that blows through certain cities from the open latrines of shanty-towns. The imagery sticks in one’s mind, with that piercing word fecal and the unsettling notion of airborne waste. We thank heaven we don’t breathe it, yet day and night we are assailed by toxic drivel from office, media, and motor-mouthed acquaintances. Choked on this fecal verbiage, people turn to the literary word for refreshment.

For writers, the listener’s time is always suspended until the words can gather force. One attraction of writing is this magical opportunity to rummage for the bon mot or perfect squelch or ultimate love call while the world stands frozen. And so the writer struggles with words, chooses them with care, arranges them to refresh the listener’s mind and ear, then heaves them out and shops for better words and rearranges them for hours, days, months, until nothing can be added, excluded, or shifted to make them more refreshing, more stimulating. But when the words are uncorked in print, the effect is instantaneous: “By God, that’s what I would have said if I’d had a year to think about it!”

—“What Readers Want”

October 2, 2013

When to capitalize “the”

The Canadian Press Stylebook has a very handy entry that cleared up a capitalization problem I’ve struggled with in the past: when to capitalize “the” before or in a proper name. Here’s a short summary of their recommendations:

Titles of works starting with “the”

Include the article and capitalize it:
The Taming of the Shrew
The New Yorker

The exception is the names of almanacs, the Bible, dictionaries, directories, handbooks, and so on.
the Encyclopaedia Britannica

“The” before a proper name

In general, lowercase the article:
the Supreme Court
the Panama Canal
the Constitution
the Beatles
the University of Victoria

See Canadian Press Stylebook, 16th Ed. p. 287 “The”

September 28, 2013

Robert Mackwood at Word Vancouver: A literary agent’s take on publishing today

Today I was at a Word Vancouver talk by Robert Mackwood: A Literary Agent’s Take on Publishing Today, presented by the Canadian Authors Association. Robert Mackwood is the director and principal agent at Seventh Avenue Literary Agency. He works with non-fiction books.

Literary agents in Canada

There are only about twenty agents in Canada: five in Vancouver, one in Halifax, and the rest in Toronto. New York City probably has about 150.

Dealing with a literary agent

Robert gets about thirty to forty queries per week (about the same as ten years ago). He can see quite quickly whether he thinks the project is something he can sell. He charges 15%, and of course, only gets paid when he makes a deal. Most agents don’t have a lot of clients. He tries to keep his client list to under forty.

Write, don’t call.

What about the proposal? He didn’t get into too much detail about the format and nuts and bolts of the proposal. Just put together a short description of your project and yourself. Describe what you’ve done so far to promote your writing, and include the trail of yeses: writing contests, magazine articles, previous publications, and any other time someone said yes to your writing. What he doesn’t really like to hear: “I can finish the manuscript in three weeks.” “We’re going to make so much money on this!” “Oprah’s going to love this!” and, worst of all, “I’ve decided I’d like to be a writer!”

Should you self-publish?

Deciding on the best publishing route is too big a topic to go into here, but here are a few points:
Advantages to self-publishingAdvantages of conventional publishing
you keep all the profitsno up-front expenditures
you have total controlthe publisher does the marketing
it’s fastyou get the credibility of the publisher’s brand
 you benefit from the publisher’s professional expertise
If you self-publish, you have to be the publisher. Don’t rush, and make sure you get a good editor, designer, and printer. Robert estimated that you’ll have to spend at least a couple of thousand dollars to make a book that you’ll be proud of.

An important point is that a self-published book that gets decent sales and some good reviews may be picked up and re-published by a conventional publisher.

September 2, 2013

Hugo Award winners 2013

Hugo Award winner Redshirts by John Scalzi
The 2013 Hugo Award winners were announced at the World Science Fiction Convention yesterday.

The nominees for best novel included a couple of books I read and enjoyed last year: Redshirts by John Scalzi (the eventual winner) and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold.

I couldn’t not like Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, given how much I love the rest of the Vorkosigan Saga, but I think the best of the series remain Memory, Mirror Dance, Barrayar, and Shards of Honor. I suspect that my enjoyment of the books since Memory has a lot to do with the soap opera pleasure of knowing everyone’s backstory and wanting to watch what happens next. The fun in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is in seeing a supporting character, Ivan Vorpatril, outside the shadow (and critical gaze) of his overachieving cousin Miles. As a bonus, we get to know Byerly Vorrutyer (also viewed with suspicion by straight-arrow Miles) much better.

August 8, 2013

Who will be affected if Canada extends its copyright term?

Michael Geist wrote yesterday about pressure from the U.S. to extend the Canadian copyright term from fifty years past the author’s death to seventy years. Although the rationale given is that extending copyright provides an incentive to keep publishing older works, it seems that public domain works are published more widely than works still under copyright. Michael Geist’s article lists some of the Canadian authors whose works will be affected.

See also
Project Gutenberg: a massive repository of public domain books
The international agreement on copyright: Wikipedia entry for the Berne Convention; Berne Convention full text and signatories

August 1, 2013

How to make having your novel edited more affordable

I’ve gotten a number of requests for estimates from authors who have written their first novel and want to have it edited before either self-publishing the manuscript or starting to submit it to publishers and agents. But when they hear how much a substantive edit of their manuscript will cost, they’re taken aback.

That’s fine. Not everyone can afford to drop a bundle on paying a professional to whip his manuscript into shape—and for a writer who’s in it for the long term, that may not be the best idea anyway. If you’ve written a memoir that will be your only publishing project ever, then sure, pay someone to smooth over the rough spots. But if you intend to keep writing, you need to learn to craft as professional and polished a manuscript as you possibly can—if nothing else, it makes economic sense for you to do the work instead of paying someone else to do it.

Get your manuscript in the best possible shape before you hire professional help. That means editing it yourself. Then format it properly (that probably means one font for the body text and one for the titles, page breaks at chapter start only, one and only one space after a period), and run a spell-checker over it if you’re an unreliable speller. You’ll save money and goodwill if your editor isn’t fixing errors you could have found yourself.

The more you can learn about writing the better. Read books about writing. Take courses. Find a local writers’ group where you can critique each other’s work. See if your library has a writer in residence who will give you a free critique. Look for continuing education courses in the creative writing department on publication readiness, self-editing, and similar topics.

I still recommend getting another set of eyes to help you with your manuscript, but you’ll save money and end up with a better book if you do as much as you can on your own first.

Some resources for Vancouver writers