Thursday, January 31, 2013


If you stare at a blank screen, desperate for a story to emerge from your brain through your fingertips then you're just like me.

If your characters fight with you over what you hope they'd do on the page, and they win the fight, leaving you no choice but to write as they say, then I can relate. 

If you keep the dream alive despite the big fat zero under the sales column of your account then you and I have something in common.

If you juggle a family, a job, and somehow manage not to lose your mind as the bills pile up just so you can tweak another chapter then we're on the same rocking boat.

If you fantasize about what that next shiny cover will look like, and draw immeasurable joy out of seeing your name on the spine then I'm smiling right along with you.

If you respect and appreciate the triumphs of others without a sliver of envy, for you know how hard it is to write a novel then I'm with you a hundred percent.

If you write a passage that make sense only to you, and you rage at the world for not getting it then you and I have screamed together.

If you fret over a less than favorable review, resentment coursing through you at the thoughtlessness of a stranger then you're a lot like me.

If you swallow your pride and dignity to face up to an attacking review that mocks your efforts then you and I have wiped away the same tears, and gritted our teeth with new determination.

If you steel yourself against the naysayers who shake their heads and mockingly wish you well then we've just come across future characters that may meet an untimely demise, and if you just laughed because you know you've done this then I'm cracking up with you.

If you've spent countless hours on social networks, doing all you can to be noticed, but feel like a drop of water in an ocean then you and I will be checking our tweets and statuses as soon as we're done here.

If you lift your face to the sky when a glowing five star review validates the author you strive to be then I'm doing a happy dance with you.

If you have a story to tell, born from an idea, inspired by an event, a person, a picture, a fantasy, a sunset...then you're a writer, an author, a novelist, a poet, and I'm so proud to be in your company.

Javier A. Robayo 
Indie Author 
like many of you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Really, Editors Are People Too!

   One of the most painful lessons to learn throughout the publishing of The Gaze: there's no such thing as self-editing.  However, stubborn as always, I gave it an honest effort and had the audacity to feel satisfied with the end result.
  I came across a reader who proclaimed Gaze had "countless errors."  
  After spending an entire night looking at page after page, I ran into a couple of words that weren't spaced, one that was misspelled (form instead of from), and one or two comma issues.
  I replied to the reader to apologize for the errors, genuinely mortified.
  The reader surprised me by pointing out my potential as a writer and suggested I needed a good copy editor.  Of course I needed a copy editor, but at over 255,000 words, the fee was... well, exorbitant.  (I told one editing firm that I was looking to edit my novel, not put their children through college.)
   She then offered to help me edit the piece.  My pride and ego conspired against my common sense and challenged her with a "What do I need you for?  I'm getting some good reviews."
   Heather Jacquemin then simply showed me the error of my ways.  After correcting a few pages, I changed my tune and profusely apologized.  
   To use a cliché―I'm positive will make Heather cringe―it marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  
   Throughout her editing of The Gaze, I learned more than I could have anticipated.  She pointed out my tendencies, redundancies, word overuse, and plot inconsistencies.  At one point, I bit my lip and let my head drop on the desk.  Talk about a wake up call...  
   Her comments were direct and to the point; at times in the form of textual slaps I sorely needed to improve. 
   So what makes an editor?  Some of my author friends may agree with my own image of a malevolent, heartless grouch, wielding a red pen, eager to make our heart bleed with each slash, cutting our book along with our dreams to ribbons.  Just like she would slash that last sentence.
   A bit melodramatic perhaps, but I do have some experience with a certain English professor who loved to rip my essays right before my eyes if she wasn’t pleased with my work.  That’s how I viewed editors. 
   My Sheri is not an editor, but she is a reader cursed (or blessed depending on the situation) with linear thinking, but that’s exactly what makes her a better candidate to be an editor rather than a writer.  With tears in my eyes, I’ve handed her pieces of writing that she found lacking, which left me sullen for hours before going back to the page.  (Hell yeah, I sulked.)
   It’s not easy to swallow those, but I began asking myself: Do I want to see this type of critique from a dozen reviewers?  The answer was no.  I’d rather hear it from someone I know and trust. 
   An editor is an important ally every writer needs.  But, did you know there are different types of editing?  I didn't.  And if you think about all the work that goes into staring at a manuscript, looking for grammatical errors, typos, inconsistencies, and general flaws one paragraph at a time, then you'd ask yourself, why would anyone in their right mind want to be an editor?
   Why not ask mine?

What made you want to edit?

I’ve always loved the beauty of the perfect word, sought refuge in books, and excelled in writing.  I started my career as a high school English teacher. Two years in, an administrator asked me to teach journalism because she thought my “creativity” made me the perfect candidate. Following my inaugural year as newspaper adviser, I jumped into advising competitive yearbook at the national level. I recognized my skill for coaching writing, and I loved the idea of creating a book integrating writing, photography, and design. Years later, in the thick of indie-publishing, I read and reviewed some novels that prompted me to offer my professional help to writers. I began freelance copyediting because I wanted to use my skills to help authors. I enjoy copyediting, but I’m also good at it.

And I can attest to your skills.  The finalized version of The Gaze is smoother, much more concise, and several pages lighter.  What makes editing worthwhile? 

Editing is worthwhile because I get to play an integral role in a lengthy creative process. I enjoy visualizing a goal, planning its success, and following through until the end. Helping others materialize their visions also thrills me because I have the opportunity to watch their creative vision morph into a sellable product. Editing is worthwhile because it can elevate a decent manuscript into a great one; editing won’t turn a total failure into excellence, but it will certainly improve every manuscript significantly. 

It's clear you have a passion for editing.  You don't look at it like a chore as most of us, authors would.  What's the editing process?

I skim the manuscript before I begin working with a client to make sure it doesn’t require more or less editing than the author believes. After we agree on the level of editing, I begin. For a copyedit or substantive edit, I read through the manuscript once to get a feel for the general story. I begin the style sheet and make notes that I will later use to detail the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses. Then, I use Microsoft’s Track Changes feature to copyedit line-by-line. Authors can either accept or reject the changes I’ve made, but I encourage them to dialogue with me about any possible objections before making their final decisions. I offer professional, individualized service, and my thorough input accommodates each author’s style. 
It's an awful lot of work.  What is the toughest part of editing?

Criticizing another person’s work and communicating its problems is never an easy task, even when spurred by good intentions. The toughest part of editing is not the editing, but in approaching the piece of writing and its author with fragility yet conviction, assertiveness yet gentleness. It can also be tough to balance the big picture with the details, and know when to focus on which issue, especially when the piece of writing is, well, a mess. Unfortunately, fragile egos, uncertainty in changing times, and bad experiences with other editors often taint a client’s perspective, so I find myself fighting against negative stereotypes of editors and prejudiced ideas about editing in general, especially during this foundational shift of the publishing industry toward self-publishing. But like all good relationships, professional relationships take time, good communication, compromise, and strength, all of which I willingly invest.  
That about sums up our initial meeting, but I'm glad I didn't listen to my ego or what was left of my pride after your review... more on that later.   Do you have to care about the story? In other words, do you have to like the story before you decide to edit it?

A good story is a good story, regardless of genre. Stories should be well-paced and have active verbs, tension on every page, believable dialogue, and consistent and authentic narration. Of course, I prefer reading a story I love because I’m a reader at heart, but no, I don’t have to like the story to edit it. My editing laser beam does not have an OFF switch, so I don’t have to worry that potential disinterest will blind me.

I've always wondered about that.  So in other words, you take a very clinical approach to editing, which is an advantage for the author.  What's the extent of your responsibility as a contributor for the success of the piece?

My level of responsibility for the success of a piece depends on how much input I’ve given. If I helped develop the piece of writing, I feel more responsible for its success than if I only proofread it. Ultimately, the manuscript’s success depends on the general market and its readers, the author’s skill, the quality of the advertising, the competency of the editor, and the effectiveness of the cover design. Oh – and a little luck and hard work never hurt, either.

I used to think (and I wasn't the only one) that English majors and grammar zealots would eventually turn a novel into a text book.  How do you conserve your author's voice?

Diction creates tone, and tone creates voice. To conserve that voice, I remain conscientious of the author’s tone and I never haphazardly choose or remove words. I also zoom in on each character’s voice and personality, checking for consistency and authenticity. Cutting out unnecessary words does not alter the author’s voice; instead, it removes the muzzle that muffles the clarity of that voice.

That's what impressed me the most when you got done with The Gaze.  The tone was actually clearer.  Here's a question I'll probably regret.  What are your editing pet peeves?

Lazy writing irks me; I will kill every cliché, every arbitrary repetition, every instance of an unreliable narrator, every unnecessary word, and every weak use of there isthere arestuffthingverymany, and beautiful.  I also feel frustrated when authors don’t believe they need copyeditors, or when authors don’t invest 100% effort into their manuscript before requesting my advice and opinion. I prefer working with authors who strive for excellence because it is mutually beneficial when both partners work hard and work well.

I can't help feeling every one of those pet peeves applies to me.  Completely accurate of where I was when we crossed paths.  There are so many things I thought were so beautiful, and I thought I wrote a lot of very interesting stuff, good as gold, and right as rain... Okay, I'll stop.  I'm glad you showed me how wrong I was.  Or at least I was after I stopped kicking the doors and cowering in a corner like an abused puppy.  (couldn't help it) When the writing is terrible, how do you go about addressing the issues to your author?

If the writing is terrible, I inform the author honestly and directly. I am paid to provide my honest, professional opinion, even if that opinion scalds. Sometimes, I may have to renegotiate our agreement if excessive revisions will necessitate extensive time. But I will always communicate and assume the author wants to devote time to improving the manuscript. I am a problem-solver, so I value constructive criticism and use it as a gauge of my usefulness; the more constructive criticism I offer, the more value I have.

Just like you did when pointing out how much you honestly hated one of my characters because...  No need to go into that.  (ahem)  What does it take to impress you as a reader, as an editor?

As a reader, I’m impressed with stories that linger in my heart or mind long after I’ve finished reading them. I love stories that I have to digest before I can even consider gulping down another story. I like when I can still feel the marks on my arm from the punch a story has given me. As an editor, I’m impressed with purposeful, powerful narratives complete with appropriate pacing, which is a feat for most writers of fiction.

You've validated my goal as a writer, to produce a memorable piece of writing.  It's good to know what an editor wants out of an author.  Once you make a comment or recommendation, how do expect your authors to react?

Editing requires criticism and change, two large pills for authors to swallow. Side effects may include feelings of worthlessness, headaches, levels of anger ranging from frustration to rage, a physiological drive to fight or flee, a temporary reduction in self-pride, and an obsessive need to rewrite. Over time, side effects will subside, creating renewed hope, a motivating sense of productivity, and abundant gratification and appreciation.

Yup, I used some grapefruit juice and vodka to swallow those pills, and I went through every side effect, particularly attaining renewed hope and motivation.  What's rewarding to you as an editor?

Watching a manuscript undergo the editing process inspires me.  Editing rewards my competitive side, the one that thrives on successfully finishing challenges. Editing also rewards my inner philanthropist because I know my skills ease authors’ pain and maximize their productivity. Editing fulfills my need to create, my need to produce an item of value, and my need to reach out and help other people.

Have you considered writing your own material, and would you be the one to edit it?

Right now, I have no intention of publishing in the near future. If I ever did choose to publish, I would read my manuscript no fewer than forty times before sending it to a copyeditor. In my hunt for a copyeditor with excellent communication skills and a sharp eye, I would scour websites, peruse blogs, and ask for recommendations. I wouldn’t enter a courtroom without a lawyer or a classroom without a teacher, nor would I enter the publishing arena without an editor on my side.
You couldn't be more right.  Scammers are always on the prowl.  Editor aside, what makes Heather, the person?  

My sophomore year of college, I gave birth to my first daughter on a Sunday. On Wednesday, I returned to my English 102 class, cursing the wooden chairs for the entire three hours. During my senior year of college, my water broke in the school library during a research project in my Literary Genres class. I gave birth to my second daughter that day, a Friday, and returned to class on Monday. My Literary Genres professor has never forgotten me, that mommy-to-be who earned a 4.0 both semesters she brought her daughters into this world. I approach editing with a similar technique to parenting; I am firm, consistent, fair, strong, and effective. I have high expectations and I encourage and expect hard work, pride, and 100% effort. I am not the heartless, foaming-at-the-mouth editor who thrives on making authors cry with my criticisms. I am a mom, a teacher, a vegetarian, and an aunt to seventeen nieces and nephews. But mostly, I am a hard worker, an overachiever of sorts, and a teacher at heart.

Heather, I've told you several times how grateful I am to have crossed paths with you.  I resisted the idea of introducing you this way because frankly, I didn't want to share your skills with others.  
I appreciate your honesty, your strength as a person, and more than anything, your infinite patience. Having you in my corner has strengthened the level of my writing far more than I could have anticipated.  

* * *

   I used to think editors and authors lived a similar relation to a judge and a lawyer or even a cop and a criminal.  Heather may have wanted to keep up that old adage, but she has a big heart.  Which shocked me because I honestly believed heartlessness was a prerequisite for editors.  But really, editors are people too! 
   I wasn't naive enough to believe I'd reach my goals by myself, but I have a hard time trusting those who claim to be the best at anything.  To elicit a frown from Heather, she can talk the talk and walk the walk.  She's been an instrumental part in writing My Two Flags.  Because of its premise, I'm too emotionally close to the story, and I knew I'd run into a problem with objectivity, but Heather was able to give me the right perspective to make that novel a piece of writing worth reading, and I can't wait to see what we can accomplish as a team in the future.

To learn more about Heather and her Editing Services visit:

See what a brutally honest review look like from an avid reader.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


  I logged a few more hours writing, blogging, reading, worrying, and even longing to reach my goals.  When I finally shut down the laptop for the night, the faint lullaby coming from the girls' bedroom  prompted me to check on them one last time for the day.  Suddenly Jewel's entrancing voice faded in favor of Amber's quiet sobbing.
  I'm all too familiar with her stalling tactics, so my first instinct was to give her a "go to sleep or else", but the tears on her little face stole my voice.
  She always looks so tiny in her little nightgown.  Her pillow takes more room than her on the twin bed.  Ming-Ming, her stuffed panda bar who guards against bad dreams, was crushed to her little chest.  
  "Honey, why are you sad?" 
  Amber mumbled a question I couldn't hear.  I sat next to her and after giving her a reassuring hug, I kissed her forehead and asked again.
   "When we die, what's going to happen to Ming-Ming?"
   My breath caught as I cradled her, and we both stared at the unblinking, soft dark eyes of the panda.
   This is a moment no parent is really prepared for.  Least of all me, who has always struggled with accepting the inevitable end of life.  I knew what she was really asking, What's going to happen when I die...?
   If there's anything unfair about creation, perhaps it's our own self-awareness.  Even more so when it manifests in the mind of a child.
   I wasn't about to question her or diminish the importance of her concerns.  Given my recent spiritual and mental awakening, I wasn't about to lie to her either.  Truth is, I didn't know what to say.
   "Don't be afraid, honey," I muttered,wishing I could simply absorb every little fear, real and imagined, out of her mind.
   I held her tight, trying to comfort her.  In response, she turned her face and kissed my cheek.  The delicate curve of her cheek made me feel her vulnerability, and it nearly broke me.
   "Some people say it'll be like when you're asleep," I told her, once I regained my voice.  "Except that your dreams are always great and you'll get to hang out with anyone you want.  Maybe in heaven, Ming-Ming will actually move by himself and talk to you."
   I placed my hand just beneath Ming-Ming's head.  "Isn't that right, Ming?"
   I made the panda nod.
   Amber laughed, and the sound was so angelic it took everything in me not to cry.  "Amber, we have a super long road ahead of us.  We're only at the beginning of it."  I took her dainty hand and placed it on my thick, older palm.  "Just look how much you have to grow."
   Amber studied our hands for a moment.  "When I turn six next month, is my hand going to get bigger?  As big as yours?"
   "Nah, just a tiny bit.  It's taken almost forty years to make mine this big."
   "Forty years?"
   I chuckled at the way her voice rose with wonder.  "Yup, but I'll tell you something.  You don't have to worry about anything sad like dying. You know why?"
   I had to swallow hard and focus so my voice wouldn't break.  "Because you have the strongest little heart I know, Amber Gabrielle."
   Amber kissed my cheek again and wrapped her arm around me as tight as she could.  At that moment, I knew come hell or high water, I would give my little girl the best life I could.  She deserves nothing less.  
   My adult, practical mind began running commentary on my reality.  You're starting over from scratch... You lost your house... The insurance is due... It'll take $60 for gas, you only have $20 in your wallet... Houses in Connecticut are expensive... You need to finish that other book... The blows kept coming in waves, but little by little the images faded.  I smiled at my little girl, mentally thanking her for her patience, her resilience, her limitless strength.
   "We have a long, long life to live, sweetie, and I'm going to give you a good life.  Promise."
   "And Ming-Ming?"
   I petted the panda's head, willing a single tear to keep from spilling.  "And Ming-Ming too."
   With a smile that produces the most endearing dimples I've ever known, she let me tuck her in after I promised to check on her in a few minutes then I told Sheri about Amber's fears.  Sheri quickly went in to check on Amber, who was already asleep.  I wish I could quiet my mind the way she can, and find sleep with ease.
   "My little sweetheart..."
   "I know," I said.  
   "Sometimes I don't like how she understands everything."
   I nodded, but stared into space, still wishing I could protect her from it all.  I wished I could be like Ming-Ming, guardian of dreams.  The panda needed nothing to stay alert and do his job.  He had no worries in the fibers beneath his head, and Amber never saw doubt or fear in his black eyes.  When possible, he never left her side.  He patiently sat with her as she did her homework.  He tagged along while she put together her Lego sets, patiently awaiting her notice, and he was a great listener.  
   "You coming to bed?"
   "In a few."
   I took a few minutes to lament the fact that we only live to die in the end.  Unfair, to say the least.  But with that in mind, it really came down to making this one life, the best it could be.
   Staying positive is not always easy, but easier when you have someone to fight for, so I went back to the manuscript and rearranged more edits.  When my eyes burned I went in to fulfill my promise.  
   Amber was asleep on her side, the flawless skin of her tiny face as soft as a petal under my touch.  I pushed away a strand of hair and gently kissed her temple.
   "Goodnight, baby girl," I whispered.
   With her arm protectively wrapped around him, the panda stared at me in a way that made me feel a measure of approval, as crazy as that may be.  I envisioned the day Sheri and I set up Amber's room in a new house, some day in the near future, and place the panda on her bed to keep guarding our baby's dreams.
   "You too," I told the panda.  "Goodnight, Ming-Ming."  
   Javier A. Robayo