Sunday, November 8, 2015

Dystopia: Why the definition is wrong

This is a guest post done for

Dystopia: an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one
This is the accepted definition of a Dystopia, one writers and readers alike have embraced. However, since Dystopia has become such a popular genre thanks to the YA explosions of the Hunger Games and Divergent, as well as older staples like 1984 and The Handmaiden’s Tale, it’s important to have a discussion on why the accepted definition is wrong, or at least why it should be.

In order for a dystopian society, or more specifically, the characters living within that dystopia, to be believable, there must be upsides. Why is the common citizen, and possibly your protagonist, delighted to live in this society, at least initially? Of course we can blame it on indoctrination. We saw that approach in The Giver. We can blame it on military might as in The Hunger Games or a secretive police faction that makes dissenters disappear, as in 1984 or the film Equilibrium.
The best dystopias, however,...  read the rest here

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How to START your freelance editing career

Pen-and-ink editing. Those were the days.
So you want to become a freelancer? There has never been a better time to become one. But like many other professions, it can be difficult to start. Even when you do your research online, you keep running into roadblocks. For instance, the most common advice for a new freelancer is to set up an account on sites like Upwork (formerly O-desk) or Guru. These are great sites... if you've been a freelancer for a while. Some of the roadblocks new freelancers will run into are:

  • Clients require a portfolio submission with your bid. If you're new, you probably don't have a portfolio.
  • Clients on sites like Guru and Upwork require a certain customer rating (usually 4.5 out of 5). Even if you have some portfolio items, you are still new to the freelancing world, thus do not have any ratings built up on these sites.
  • Listing on Craigslist can be difficult. Often your competitors will flag your offer of service to gut their competition.
So what's a newbie freelancer to do? In a word—agencies. Working as an independent contractor for agencies is the ideal way to build up your portfolio and hone your skills before you dive into the murky waters of seeking out your own clientele.

When you work for an agency, the jobs are delivered to you by email. You don't have to seek them out. You get paid well. Sites like Fiverr, though useful in their own way, do not really allow freelancers to make a living wage. Agencies like First Editing and Proof Reading Pal have a staff of editors with different strengths (some are good with dissertations, others with novels), so you are more likely to work on something that interests you.

So how do you work for one of these agencies? These jobs can be found on regular job boards like Indeed and Monster by typing in remote editing jobs or freelance editing jobs. They advertise for new talent pretty regularly. If you are serious about working from home, I recommend becoming a member of This site has legitimate work-at-home opportunities that have been vetted. No scams here. This is where I have found the majority of my freelance jobs. It's a great resource if you're looking for home-based full-time work as well.

There are three things you MUST have in order to be a freelance editor:
  • A PC with a good internet connection. Not a Mac. A PC. You need Windows, because that is what everyone uses.
  • A thorough understanding of Microsoft Word and the track changes function. Your clients will be asking you to do the formatting they don't know how to. Create an index, alter the margins to make an e-book, etc. Know how to use all the buttons Word offers.
  • Know and understand the different types of scholarly referencing styles. AP style is not the same as APA. Chicago is different from Chicago Turabian. And MLA is just ridiculous. Are you working with clients in the UK? You better know Harvard style as well.
If you were an English or Journalism major, you probably have at least some of this knowledge already, but don't think because you can recite Beowulf that means you know everything there is to know about copy editing.

Words of caution:

  • Some agencies require you to sign a non-compete clause. This does not mean you cannot seek editing work on your own. It only means you can't work for other editing agencies. Take this commitment seriously. Your reputation is very important.
  • If an agency asks you to perform work for free for a trial period, do not do it. You are a professional. If they want to see your abilities, they will send you a test or ask you to submit a sample with your application.
  • Keep in mind you are an independent contractor. If your agency tries to dictate which hours you must be available or gives out your contact information to a client without your permission, stop working for them. You are an independent contractor, not an employee. 
Once you have worked for an agency for a year or two, you will have built up an impressive portfolio and improved upon your skills. Then you can slowly start branching out to Guru and Upwork. Take some low-paying jobs first to get your ratings up. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Value of the Hypocrite

You're starving and beating women and children. You take our red cross parcels for yourselves. You don't give us any medicine, not even for the bloody malaria everyone's got.You make us work like slaves. You don't even let us write to our families, and you have the cheek to sit there and lecture us on good manners.
   --Cate Blanchett, Paradise Road

Writers of science fiction and fantasy create strange new worlds, sometimes horrible worlds, that reflect our own. Interspersed with the descriptions of foreign customs and ideals are characters that reflect those in the real world. In almost every book and film, regardless of genre, you will find the Hypocrite. The Hypocrite smiled at us through the warden in Shawshank Redemption, beat us through Sister Bridget in The Magdalene Sisters, and lectured us through Gul Dukat in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

The Hypocrite has very strong morals and ideas of what is right and wrong, and is happy to chastise anyone who fails to measure up. He or she is also very likely a control freak and seeks positions of leadership or authority in order to enforce the rules. But in fiction, as in real life, the rules are always for everyone else, not for the hypocrite himself.

These people infuriate us. Never is this more on display than in the news. No one cares if Daniel, the wealthy porn producer, gets caught cheating on his wife of 27 years. No one cares. No one thinks less of him. No one stops using his products. No one gets mad at Janice, the quiet book store owner, for being photographed kissing another woman. No one cares. Not even a little. But when it's a politician who has spent her career trying to pass laws that interfere with private family life and romantic decisions who has an affair, everyone cares. When it's a pastor of an internationally known mega church who has been degrading same-sex relationships as being a manifestation of the devil, everyone cares.

Creating a hypocritical characters in your book is a valuable tool, as it is something we all understand and, at some point in our lives, have all been guilty of. Hypocrisy can be used as the fatal flaw of your tragic hero, the blind spot of your unreliable narrator, and of course, the villian of the story.

But more than that, hypocrisy can be a powerful tool for world-building without engaging in an info-dump. Since the customs, morals, and expectations will in some ways be different in your made-up world, having one of the main characters be a hypocrite can make that world compellingly real for your reader.  1984  used this technique in the early scenes where Winston has to position himself in his room so as not to be seen by the cameras—to write in a journal. We don't need massive exposition to realize 1) there  are cameras in his house and 2) he's not allowed to write in a journal. Tell me more about this world, we all say. Tell me why this person in charge of re-writing history is breaking the rules he makes possible?

You don't have to reinvent the wheel here. In Sunder, it's clear in the first chapter that divorce is not allowed in this alternate timeline. And why not? Because the laws of America are based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Most people are at least passingly familiar with those rules, so it means less explaining is necessary. In Sunder's sequel, we get a better look at our own timeline 58 years in the future, one where there are no more churches, except in private homes with the shades drawn closed. Who will the hypocrite be in this world? And what will he or she reveal?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Learning to be a good boss--to myself

I've been working professionally as an editor since 2008 and I first started freelancing in 2011. Originally, freelancing was designed to pay down debt while my day job salary was designed for everyday expenses. But over the years, I started wondering more frequently: what if I freelanced full time? Could I make it? The answer always seemed to be no. But then I got an editing assignment that completely changed my outlook. It was a book by Trevor Blake, a name that I had never heard. But as I made my way through his book, I realized he might be the most important person in my career. Trevor is the author of New York Times bestseller Three Simple Steps, a guide to succeeding at business and life. The work I was editing was a followup that focused more on succeeding at home-based business. Reading that book made me realize that I could succeed working at home, but only if I worked a lot harder than I was used to.

So here I am, thirty days in to being my own boss. I wake up at 6 AM seven days a week. 6-7:30 AM is devoted to breakfast, walking the dog, and reading. Right now I'm working on The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott. From 7:30-9:30, I work on writing my next book. After a half hour break, I dive into the work I'm actually paid for. I write about 20 short product descriptions a day and spend however many hours I need to finish editing the novels, dissertations, and admissions essays I've been assigned.

I'm working a lot harder for considerably less money, but I love it. Getting up at 6 isn't taxing without the 45-minute drive to work waiting for me. I do get a little pissy when I have to work past 8 pm, but that isn't every day. I am able to work on my own books for two hours every single day, which is something I could never do while working for someone else. Afterall, those useless morning meetings had to happen, amiright?

I also have some benefits not all writers have. As a veteran, I have insurance through the VA, meaning illness and injury will not lead to financial ruin. I am also married to a man who makes enough to cover our expenses with only his salary. Finally, now that I'm back in Kansas, I have a community of other self-published writers who have great resources for me to tap into.

Maybe one day I'll do well enough at this to let the husband retire early and I'll be the bread winner. Only time will tell.