About Suzan Lauder

Novelist. Traveler. Wannabe chef. Sustainability champion. Jane Austen fanatic. Cyclist. PEng MBA. Glass ceiling head injury survivor. http://amzn.to/1HT03Sf

Writers, Betas, and Editors: all top Writing Resources for Learning from my Mistakes

Who taught me the best writing lessons, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous?

First, I have to ask: where do you as an author learn to become a better writer? Like most others, I try to read to find ways to improve. I find it easier to read short articles or blog posts than a book. The books recommended to me are written by well-known authors, and the writing advice I’ve heard quoted from them seems a bit fishy, so I don’t trust that their book is going to be helpful. In fact, many sound like marketing and vanity tools.

The best lessons for me personally came from other individuals, including other writers, beta editors, and my Meryton Press editing team. I think the best talent to help a writer grow and excel is a willingness to listen and change, even if it’s hard at first.

Learning from other writers by extensive reading goes back to Lesson #1: As an author, your goal is to provide a reading experience with the greatest level of satisfaction that is within your control. I evaluate the pluses and minuses of other books and try to improve my own work based on that reading experience. I also act as a beta editor for other authors, which is a great way to learn, as I have to look up items such as in Lesson #5: If in doubt, look it up.

A not-so-secret technique is to have several friends review my chapters as I write.
Beta readers help keep me on track by critiquing all aspects of the story. I’ve learned a lot of techniques to help me grow as a writer from listening to these cherished advisors, who are generally writers and readers in the author’s genre.

Usually by the time I’ve finished incorporating their suggestions, the plot flows well, the style is consistent, no glaring continuity problems remain, anachronisms (errors in history and language in a non-modern novel) are corrected, the characterization is consistent and will please readers, good habits are employed with the storyteller’s point of view, the spelling is error-free, most of the punctuation follows rules we as well educated persons can agree upon, and so on. Different authors have different weak spots, and a trusted beta can help from brainstorming prior to writing to final cold reading for typos and everything in between.

Suzan Lauder’s Learn from My Mistakes Lesson #6: Beta readers can help an author at all points in the writing process.

They’re also free help, and with love and respect for the huge leaps and bounds my betas have taken my stories through, I must stress that, unless the story is not all that complex, problems will remain within the novel that none of us have experienced before.

That’s why I need professional editors for my work, and I strongly encourage all authors to consider this valuable resource. That impoverished journalism student, the English major who offered to help, a teacher you know, or your sweet Aunt Sally may be free or almost free help, but they’re not necessarily aware of all the details of proper copy editing and proofreading for a novel, which has rules and conventions of its own, never mind how to fit them into the layout for an e-book or print book.

My viewpoint on this is strengthened by experience reading novels written or edited by teachers and English majors that contained numerous simple errors like we discussed in our “Lesson 5” last post, never mind editing conventions they had no clue about! I read a novel by a professional editor who should have hired a professional editor. We just don’t see our own mistakes, and amateur editors don’t recognize them.

Another important issue is that writers must listen to their editors and not disregard their good advice. There’s no use in getting good advice if you sell a book full of problems that you could have avoided, but your vanity wouldn’t let you modify. Amazon readers like to attack those problem areas, and a disclaimer is insulting to both you and your editor.

Suzan Lauder’s Learn from My Mistakes Lesson #7: Every author listens to and incorporates the advice of one or more professional editors who know the conventions specific to their style, content, sub-genre, etc. There are no exceptions.

My sympathy goes out to those who have hired poor quality editors. As in any job situation, impartial references and entrance exams are important. Most editors will give you a few free pages to see if they are a “fit.” Also, read a published book they’ve edited.

Next post: some examples of when I had to suck it up and listen to my editor.

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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Smart Authors Self-Edit Spelling

chalkboard-459256_1280You wondered about the title, right? “But the spell checker does that! Not always? What makes for a smart author, and how does this apply to me?” We know from previous posts that smart authors self-edit their weakest areas to the best of their abilities and, after they’re comfortable they’ve done their best, hand it over to others for additional help.

Welcome to Learning from My Mistakes, a blog series on what I learned when writing and editing my latest novel, Letter from Ramsgate. This is the fourth installment of the series, and the others were in September/October 2016 on self-editing and writer’s block. There was a gap in this series because I was busy marketing Letter from Ramsgate’s October 2016 release as well as an anniversary giveaway for Then Comes Winter, the perfect read or gift at this time of year.

lfr-top-ranking-october-23-2016Hold on. I have to toot my own horn. Not only did Letter from Ramsgate break the top 1000 for all books in the Kindle store, topping out at #809, but it was #8 in the difficult category of Regency Romance (I was amazed at some long-time popular authors with hundreds of reviews with me in the top ten!), and TA-DAAA: a #1 bestseller in Literature and Fiction categories of Romance Classics and Historical Classics! Meryton Press doesn’t move books around to capitalize on categories that have few new books to ensure they get top billing, so those bestseller rankings are a bona fide point of pride for me! Thanks, readers!

Now, back to the program:

Any author can learn many of the rules of spelling and punctuation themselves. I’m not saying you have to become perfect—look at my commas and you’ll see that although I aim for normal standards, I have some glitches to overcome. Sometimes I know the rule yet didn’t notice that the situation met the rule. Commas are one of the hardest areas, and at some point in this series, I may even try to share the conventions I’m confident about to help those to become closer to norm—learning from my mistakes! This post will be about common spelling mistakes I see as a reader, and later posts will cover punctuation and other areas.

Most spelling mistakes are homophones (two words that sound exactly the same but have very different spellings and meanings), homonyms (two words that sound similar but have very different spellings and meanings), or anachronisms (words spelled differently in the time period of the book, a separate post topic).

When aware of a homophone or homonym that you have difficulty with, try to think of a trick to remember the difference. Here are two examples:

  1. A bear might eat a pear. To bear something, whether in a literal or figurative sense, is pretty weighty stuff. That big old bear eating a pear is a heavyweight! So they are spelled in a similar way. “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother,” says the bear. The load can be emotional, like the bear will tell Elizabeth Bennet to “Grin and bear it,” when she can’t bear to know Mr. Darcy is somewhere in the world thinking ill of her. Bare means exposed, like bare your soul, bare your teeth. In the expression “bare naked,” both words have “a” and “e” as vowels. Naked is pretty exposed! Voila: you won’t mix up bear and bare again!
  2. Insure is kind of like insurance, which is money you pay to become covered for something. Ensure is to take action to make sure a thing happens, like solving a problem, to enable. The word was not used a lot until the 1950’s, and assure was sometimes used in its place, but today is treated differently. Assure is to make a person confident. I like to think it’s to comfort them in knowing something will go well—think reassure.

The author must look up the definitions to create word reminder tricks. If you just assume you know—well, you’ve heard the quip about what happens when you assume. (ASS U ME= You make an ASS of U and ME!)

parasol resized for bullet pointsSuzan Lauder’s “Learning from My Mistakes” Lesson #5: If in doubt on spelling, grammar, word usage, etymology, etc., look it up!

Homophone.com has definitions when you hover over the words. Capital Community College has some helpful sentences for word pairs that are often confused.

In a novel I read earlier this year, I was baffled at the author’s approach: made-up spelling isn’t a reasonable alternative to looking up the word! As a reader, figuring out what the word was meant to be was a strange experience. The same problem happens if a word is used but the meaning doesn’t suit.

google-spelling-definitionThe trouble is, every time a reader has to stop and figure out what the author means, they become disengaged from the story. As an author, that’s the last thing you want, because too many disengagements equal either frustration or boredom. Remember, that frustration and boredom carries into your Amazon reviews!google-spelling-use-over-time

Google has an automatic dictionary. Use it. If it shows a big arrow for more information, click it to find out what years the word was in common use. To better ensure your language isn’t anachronistic, there are The Online Etymology Dictionary  and Write like Austen (formerly the Austen Thesaurus).online-etymology-dictionarywrite-like-austen-the-austen-thesaurusPlural possessives can be tricky, and I’ve seen reviewers “correct” authors with the wrong punctuation! You should look it up, especially for words ending in “s.” But learn the difference in where the apostrophe goes for singular and basic plural possessive as a basis, and please, no apostrophe for a regular plural! One example of a place to learn is the previously mentioned Capital Community College. The site has many good tutorials, including Possessive Forms.

Future posts will have more self-editing help, such as my problem areas with punctuation, lazy words, my personal common errors list, continuity, the HUGE topic of Point of View, and more.

Subscribe to my blog to make sure you don’t miss updates on any of these topics, and be sure to comment with your own tricks for difficult word pairs. Someday I’m going to I come up with a prize for past commenters on this series, and you want in, I’m sure of it!

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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The engagement scene in Suzan Lauder’s bestselling Letter from Ramsgate

dsc_0134-2The inspiration for using the Royal Menagerie at Exeter Exchange for the final chapter in Letter from Ramsgate came from my dear friend Maria (defiantfalcon at the Meryton Literary Society’s A Happy Assembly), the plot beta for the story and a zoo fanatic. In fact, Maria’s best meditative, self-indulgent, de-stressing moments come from hauling out a humongous zoom lens at her local zoo. She’s an avid supporter of the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA), and her photos of the extremely rare Amur leopards at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, LA have been used in their promotional material. Though there were no Amur Leopards in the Menagerie at the Exeter Exchange, they had a pair of adult leopards. Based on the artwork by Jacques-Laurent Agasse, they were most likely from Africa or Indonesia. I love this painting, and a scene is based on it!

Click on thumbnail for larger view.

Click on thumbnail for larger view.

The inspiration for other details within the chapter came from reading about the animals of the menagerie, finding the handbills that advertised them, and particularly, from two blog posts.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge photo.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge photo.

Also known as Polito’s Menagerie after its original owner, the Menagerie at Exeter ‘Change was situated in the upper levels of the Exeter Exchange building on the Strand from 1773 to 1829, and housed a “grand assembly of living curiosities” literally from every corner of the globe. Handbills and artwork from the Regency era indicate “majestic” and “noble” lions, “elegant” leopards, a rhinoceros, and “hundreds of other rare and interesting quadrupeds, and birds of the most exquisite plumage, all in fine health and condition, and so perfectly clean and secured, that the most timorous and delicate may approach them without fear or being annoyed.”

rachel-knowles-a-perfect-match-coverRachel Knowles’ article in Regency History: Researching Regency and Late­ Georgian History helped me to imagine the scene better. The author, costumer, and blogger’s Georgian novel, A Perfect Match, was a lovely read. If you like sweet historical romance novels with a subtle Christian back story, you should try this one. She has an upcoming non-fiction release called What Regency Women Did For Us due to be published by Pen & Sword in April 2017 that should prove a valuable resource for historical fiction authors like me.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

The second article was about a particularly important resident of the menagerie at the time Elizabeth and Darcy would have visited. Chunee, a “Fine, Large Male Elephant” from India, was the star attraction of the menagerie, as well as a performer at the Covent Garden, and was often paraded in the street outside the menagerie. The coin trick in the engagement scene was described by Lord Byron in 1813: “The elephant took and gave me my money again – took off my hat – opened a door – trunked a whip – and behaved so well, that I wish he was my butler.”

Chunee had a history of violent “paroxysms” likely brought on by inhumane treatment. While in pain with an infected tusk, Chunee became extremely violent, and the methods used in an attempt to calm him were bizarre. A decision was made to put him down, and the difficulties encountered in the attempt to end his life have become one of the most horrifying stories in the history of zoos.

marie-antoinettes-confidante-by-geri-walton-coverThe above and the ability to feel so much for this elephant that I wanted him in my story is thanks to author, blogger, and historian Geri Walton, who blogs about fascinating tidbits of the 18th and 19th century. She’s released a non-fiction book in the UK about the Princesse de Lamballe, the confidante of Marie Antoinette. It will be available in the US in January 2018. Watch for it, because if it’s anything like Geri’s blog, it will be a fun and fascinating approach to history!

The non-historical part of the story is that of the three-toed sloth, Noëlle. Her scene was based on a real life incident witnessed by my beta friend. Because of her helpful photo logs of the animals, defiantfalcon gets behind-the-scenes visits at the Audubon Zoo once in a while, and she got to hold and pet a three toed sloth. She said the fur is the softest she’s ever felt. I’m so jealous!

Thanks to these three women for their generosity in sharing their passion in their own unique ways. Their stories became the basis for one of my favourite scenes in all of my writing.

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vertical-blog-tour-bannerThanks to everyone who followed me around on the blog tour. Thanks so much to each blogger who hosted and each reader who commented. I had a great deal of fun thanks to their willingness to try something a little different, and readers say this has been one of the most fun blog tours they’ve ever seen. Thanks to Rita, Loren, Tina, and Anna for your generous reviews, and thanks to the Meryton Press team for helping me share links. The most special thanks go out to Janet B. Taylor for organizing everything as the blog tour host.

While we were gallivanting around the blogging world with our parasols, readers were voting with their “buy now with one click” fingers, and Letter from Ramsgate enjoyed a short period as a #1 Bestselling Novel in two Amazon categories: Historical Classics and Romance Classics. It also climbed to #8 in Regency Romance. The latter is the big coup, as the competition is fierce from famous authors with dozens of great reviews!

The blog tour may be over, but the giveaway is not. Because we had a problem with Rafflecopter at first, the Letter from Ramsgate blog tour giveaway has been extended to November 3, 2016. If you commented on a post but didn’t get to include it to get your extra entries, now you can enter the name of the blog you commented on. One comment counts per blog site, and only one comment entry per day!

Rafflecopter Link

I’d love comments from readers here on my blog. They won’t count as a blog tour stop, though. Use the other sites for that purpose, and to show those bloggers how helpful they were to my Letter from Ramsgate blog tour.

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Another road trip! A Letter from Ramsgate Blog Tour, to be exact!

mary_poppins13-free-to-use-or-share-even-commercially-from-wikiThat’s me, on my way around the world with my parasol, now that Letter from Ramsgate is live on Amazon! Yes! It’s on its way up the rankings, and you can buy it now!

Don’t let the serviceable bag fool you. The boots are thigh-high, and the ribbons and feathers for the hat are inside that bag, ready for any occasion!

Come on! Grab your parasols and let’s get this show on the road! Elizabeth and Georgiana are waiting for us!
lfrhorizontalbannerLetter from Ramsgate Blog Tour Schedule:

2016 October 17   The Spotlight is on new character Lady Edwina: a guest post, excerpt, and the first chance at the giveaway with Maria Grazia at My Jane Austen Book Club.
2016 October 18   Guess who’s coming to tea? George Wickham never misses an opportunity when he sees one, and I share the excerpt with Margie at Margie’s Must Reads!  A giveaway opportunity is included in this stop too! Does Wickham enter?
2016 October 19   Parasol on a honeymoon–an LfR cutting room floor vignette and giveaway stop with huge JAFF author supporter Claudine at Just Jane 1813.
2016 October 20   Rita reviews Letter from Ramsgate! Yes, my first blog tour review is from the lady who’s been asking for this book ever since the first excerpt from the AHA version showed on my blog. From Pemberley to Milton is the place to hear how she liked my second published novel.
2016 October 21   Another road trip vignette featuring Elizabeth Bennet is featured at Babblings of a Bookworm with host, Ceri, and another chance at that fantastic giveaway!
2016 October 22   Liz hosts an excerpt and giveaway: three ladies Hunsfordize an un-gentleman-like gentleman, and none is Elizabeth Bennet! Liz’s Reading Life.
2016 October 23   Rita gets her just desserts, or, “what did she like best about Letter from Ramsgate, and how did Suzan translate than into a perfect guest post/vignette?” She interviews new character, Mrs. Younge! Stay for the giveaway at From Pemberley to Milton.
2016 October 24   Another book review of Letter from Ramsgate by Loren at Tomorrow is Another Day. I hope she likes it like Baci.
2016 October 25   There’s a new lady in the LfR mix, and she’s not Candy. Blogger interview, excerpt, and chance at the giveaway at So little time…so much to read!
2016 October 26   Nasty Lady Cecilia got cut from LfR, but Meredith at Austenesque Reviews is hosting her, Lady Saye, and a few others, along with our Meryton Press giveaway.
2016 October 27   Not only does Tina review Letter from Ramsgate, she hosts a setdown (excerpt) at Half Agony, Half Hope.
2016 October 28   Anna loved my breakout novel, Alias Thomas Bennet. What will she say about Letter from Ramsgate? She shares her review on Diary of an Eccentric.
2016 October 29   Bum Scratching in the Regency was the topic of my last guest post at A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. What hijinks could she have in mind for this visit?
2016 October 30   As a former flight attendant, blog tour hostess Janet once made a career of caring for travelers, and she’s certain to comfort this tired author/blogger on her way home with a final stop at More Agreeably Engaged for a surprise and another chance at that great giveaway of Letter from Ramsgate.

2016 October 31   A lagniappe right here!

The Letter from Ramsgate Blog Tour proves to be one of the most exciting of the road trips with the redhead yet!

Don’t forget to comment on the blog tour posts and enter the giveaway for a copy of Letter from Ramsgate. There are 4 paperbacks available for US entrants and 4 e-copies for international entrants. Be sure to click on the little arrows to get to your choice.

Rafflecopter Link

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Bonus: During the blog tour, I’m a Featured Beau Monde Author!

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Sofa Sophia and the Farmer’s Market: A chat with Suzan Lauder!

13418187I “met” author/blogger/reviewer/Goodreads host Sophia Rose in the virtual world of Jane Austen Fan Fiction before we were both honoured with short stories in the Meryton Press holiday anthology Then Comes Winter, but that’s where I came to know her better and discover her light-hearted wit and joy of reading, which shows in her volunteer capacity on Goodreads.

(A side bit of promo: You should check out Then Comes Winter–it’s a pleasing compilation of romance short stories for the Austen lover, edited by Christina Boyd. Eleven authors have adapted five of Austen’s novels into both Regency and modern situations, with a winter holiday theme. Now that the cooler days of autumn have arrived, it’s a perfect read!)

Since then, I’ve been part of some excellent Goodreads activities Sophia hosts: the 2015 and 2016 Austenesque Lovers TBR Pile Reading Challenges and “Someone Else Pick it for Me” fun reads.

I enjoyed more of Sophia’s engaging personality during our virtual visit to a Michigan farmer’s market as a guest on of her Sophia’s Sofa Chat series on her Goodreads blog.

sophias-sofa-chats_zpsbolbpuhjShe’s truly a fun person!

I hope you hop over to read A Visit with Suzan and leave a comment for either of us!

 

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Learning from my Mistakes: What’s Chunking?

Writer’s block.

Editing block.

What do do?

block-ok-comm-smallerSome recommend handwriting out your scene to get it out of your head. Blocking out the future sections with ideas on post-it notes can help if your problem is flow or outline. Printing out what you have, cutting it up, and moving it around can help as well. Bullet point notes on the scene help if you can’t even get to writing whole sentences or you’re dealing with broader issues than basic prose.

I’ve written shorter works by the seat of my pants (with no outline) but for a novel, I’m a big fan of the flexible outline: one or two paragraphs a chapter through the conflict and climax at the very least. It’s okay to change an outline as you get closer to the next set of outline chapters. The author can still move scenes or sets of chapters around in a novel to make it flow better or repair continuity problems along the way.

Most authors write in a linear fashion, and others write major scenes (conflict or turning points) and fill in (write bridging scenes). I’ve had success with both. If you’re blocked, sometimes you can go ahead a few scenes and then return to the problem area. Sometimes you have to “Kill your darlings” as Stephen King says. Keep cut scenes in a word processing file for later use.

Many authors know their ending at the beginning of writing, or at least part way through, but I tend to write the end after the story arc is complete. None of this is wrong, and there are other methods that work, too.

Chunking the big fears

Sometimes all the best plans, outlines, and techniques don’t save an author from being blocked.

I procrastinated several times while writing my novels, particularly when continuity issues muddled me. Procrastination continued during editing, as things wouldn’t work out in the linear fashion I wanted, and I had to think them out. At times, I had too much on my plate in real life or wasn’t well enough to write. These are reasonable times to procrastinate.

But there are blocked times that aren’t typical procrastination. I know I’m not the only author who has the story in their head but can’t get started because it’s almost like a fear of opening a file and typing. Artists have the same problem, and it’s known as “Blank Canvas Syndrome.” I learned a technique for this problem that works in some situations (but not all).

parasol resized for bullet pointsSuzan Lauder’s “Learning from My Mistakes” Lesson #4: When you’re stuck, break the task down into chunks. Write each chunk down on paper and schedule them.

oreo-pop3-okay-comm-smaller

 

First chunk: read the current text. That way, you haven’t said you’re going to get “Wow” written today, just a manageable chunk.

Next chunk: Write down what chunks you’d like to use. Don’t make them too big. Refer to the techniques at the beginning of this post.

Continue in small, achievable chunks, one day at a time, or one sitting at a time.

When the writing chunk comes, aim for a fixed number of words per day—no more than 500 to start. It may be hard to start, but push for that 500, even if you have to start writing in outline form. It may become more!

That’s today’s chunk.

 

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

 

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