Category Archives: editing

oral history, biography series, proofreader Robin Martin

Remembering Hoboken

Though I’ve lived in California pretty much since graduating from Rutgers College in 1993, anyone who knows me recognizes that you can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take the Jersey out of the girl. 

I do make it a point to keep one foot there. For the family, for the food, for the hockey team (Go Devils!), for the “cultcha.” Although– give me California climate, grocery stores, and lifestyle any day.

It’s my Jersey roots that perhaps make me so gratified to be invited to be a part of the Hoboken Historical Society’s Oral History Project Vanishing Hoboken chapbook series. I’ve been working with series editor Holly Metz and designer Ann Marie Manca for a number of years now to keep stories of a working class industrial Hoboken from being forgotten as the city changes.

And Hoboken has changed. I’m not going to say for better or for worse. It will always be Jersey.

oral history, biography series,  proofreader Robin Martin
Historical Biographies
Proofreader: Robin Martin
EFA Conference, NYC, editing, Sacramento Editing

Highlights from the Editorial Freelancers Conference

I’d met Mary Norris and taken care of my obligatory awkward-stuttering-fan first words at the Under the Gum Tree booth at AWP in LA earlier this year. So starting the day chatting with Mary Norris, the Comma Queen herself, was nothing but a pleasure.

My takeaway: There is no need to be intimidated by your heroes.

Jane Friedman’s Keynote was called “The Competitive Creative.” Self-awareness led to Friedman’s departure from the daily grind of her Writers Digest job into something that she felt was more energizing and fulfilling, and now she loves her day job— freelancing!

My takeaway: If you are ignoring the call to be creative, stop! As Jane said, “Art and business don’t have to be at war.”

During two hour-long sessions, attendees could choose to attend one of four simultaneous programs in small breakout rooms. I enjoyed Jake Poinier, who provided pro tips on pricing our freelance editorial services, with the reminder that “the best deals make you and the client happy.”

The takeaway message: “Do what you want, it’s your business!”

Then, Laura Poole and Kristen Stieffel introduced us to some new (and reminded us about some old) ways to organize our clients, jobs, and general to-do lists, including this gem: “Make your to-do lists the night before!”

The takeaway for me: “Don’t let the tools get in the way of your work.”

The incredible, funny, Mary Norris had the ideal crowd for her Keynote address on Day 2. “A Life Squandered on Words,” revealed a love for language that every person in that auditorium seemed to share. She discussed her prescriptivism, and unabashedly held it higher than descriptivism—everyone in the auditorium did not necessarily share this view. One man in the audience felt the need to take her to task on what he perceived as the failings of The New Yorker’s editorial staff, to which she replied: “You’re fired!” Wonderful. This got some play on Twitter (#EFACON16).

Erin Brenner presented the last session I attended about editing for the web. She provided valuable reminders in this session sponsored by

My takeaway: What I am doing at Two Songbirds Press is consistent with best practices.

It was so nice to meet the new members of the Board of Governors, the EFA Chapter coordinators, and those members interested in starting a chapter in their part of the world (shout out Florida!), as well as fellow freelancers from the EFA Discussion List and Social Media. The next EFA conference may be as soon as 2018, and I hope to attend.



Look sharp! Editing adds professionalism.

Professional Tip: Hire an editor to refine your language.

Wait– maybe “refine” isn’t the best word for what I do, because most of my clients are average-Joes who don’t want to sound like they are drinking tea with their pinkies in the air. So because “refine” has this subtle unintended meaning associated with snobbery, let me find a better word to explain myself exactly. How about “clarify” or, even better perhaps, “sharpen”? Because who doesn’t want their language to be precise, to cut right to it, and to get the job done efficiently, like a sharp knife?

What I did here in my first paragraph is precisely what an editor can do for your writing. An editor will sharpen the language you use to communicate with your audience.

This might make some people fear that their personality will be cut right out of their writing. (And too many writers have had that experience with editors; it is true.) Doggone it—you want to sound like you! And if you’d never-ever use the word “doggone” in a blog post, no one should add it in an effort to “refine” your language.

A good copyeditor will listen to your voice and maintain your personality while cleaning up wordiness and redundancy in the language of your post or web copy.

Your casual voice, the way you talk, is completely fine for blogs and social media posts, which are intended to be friendly and build community based on who you really are. It is important not to come across as stiff or fake. But it is easy to miss silly things when we read our own writing. (Like using “also” and “too” at different ends of the same sentence.) So an outside professional is better equipped to notice the tics that make you who you are, and emphasize them; as well as notice the tics that make you look unprofessional (or idiotic) and eliminate them.

And for more formal writing, like whitepapers, cover letters, or printed marketing material, a copyeditor can also help identify jargon that hides meaning from the layperson you’re trying to attract. A copyeditor can trim down the number of words so you can have a more attractive layout. (Some editors also do design work.)

A proofreader can make sure your autocorrect hasn’t added an auto-error, that you haven’t misplaced an apostrophe, that you haven’t used the word “tick” when you meant “tic;” or, (heaven forbid!) “there” when you meant “their” or “they’re.” These are things that should have been eliminated from your writing by ninth grade, and these errors poorly reflect your professionalism.

If you’re interested in learning more about what an editor can do for you, you may want to visit the Editorial Freelancers Association, or, head over to my Contact Us page, follow the directions for completing TSP’s Editorial Services Survey and I’ll get in touch with you.





Vanishing Hoboken, a proofreading project

proofreading, sacramento editor, Robin Martin, Two Songbirds PressProofreading is not glamorous. The book comes in and I make sure it’s correct, consistent, and ready to publish. But sometimes a proofreading project is genuinely fun to work on. The Vanishing Hoboken series is one such project. One reason I enjoy it is that I spent my formative years just a few miles away from this city. This New Jersey city has been through many changes over the course of its colorful history, and the oral history project is an effort to document and remember the different phases of the city and the people who made it what it is. The Hoboken Oral History project is a project of the Hoboken Historical Museum and the Friends of the Hoboken Public Library, and supported by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

A talented editor, Holly Metz has the difficult job of transcribing and interpreting the audio recordings of the subjects and building simple chapbooks out of them while maintaining the narrator’s voice. The designer, Ann Marie Manca, creates chapbooks that bring out the personalities of the stories and their tellers through their beautiful design. Working with people who understand the importance of style in telling stories is another reason Vanishing Hoboken is so fun for me.

I am honored to be included in this important project.Holly Metz, Ann Marie Manca, Robin Martin, Sacramento editor, proofreading


Attention to writing craft

Telling rather than showing is a clichéd piece of criticism in writing workshops. But really the advice to “show don’t tell” has to do with many layers of writing, not just with providing more detail as most novice writers mistakenly believe. It is providing the right details at the right moment and about making everything do enough work. It is also about sentence structure and strong dialogue and creating scenes that contain not just words but personalities, and not relying on adverbs and adjectives but selecting just the right verbs and nouns. In other words, attention to the entirety of writing craft.

The imprecise selection of detail can detract the most from a manuscript. It contributes to issues regarding omniscience and character development: What the reader learns about each character, the details the writer chooses to share, must help develop the protagonist. The same is true of the settings: Where the writer may tell the reader that the slipcover is yellow, if that yellow slipcover is not important somehow to creating the scene, developing the fictional dream, then that is the wrong detail. Every detail must be carefully chosen to move a story forward or create tension. It must do double duty regarding painting a scene or creating a character (not just a minor character, but contributing to the roundness of a major one).

Take a look at these two lines, which contain many of the common pitfalls of early drafts:

“So what’s new?”  She asked him, wanting to tell him about her day.

“How about you go first.”  He said, sensing she wanted to talk.

The dialogue is not doing enough work; there are no gestures or visual clues, and the writer is telling the reader rather than showing; the sentence structure is repetitive and the point of view is inconsistent. Note that “wanting to tell him” is internal to her, “sensing” is internal to him. Consider this kind of revision:

Dragging him outside by the wrist, opening her mouth to speak and then quickly closing it, she moved her eyes from his, and tilting her head to the ground, said, “So. What’s new?”

“How about you go first,” he said, as he reached for her arm and bent his neck to look more closely into his friend’s eyes.

writing craft, revision, Sacramento editor, Robin Martin, Two Songbirds Press, Writer resources

This revision (while certainly imperfect) is more sensory and gesture driven, and an improvement on the original. The reader sees (through visual cues) that she wants to talk to him; the reader sees (through visual cues) that he recognizes that she needs to talk first. The reader does not have to be told. The point of view is more subtly his, more limited; the portrait of each character- she as uncertain or withdrawn or troubled, his as empathetic and compassionate, is created through the choice of details.  The rhythm of the lines is less staccato and so creates more feeling and emotion around them.

With each revision, with attention to these things on the level of language and writing craft, we come closer to telling a story that our readers will remember and recommend to their friends.

My go to books on craft are John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction and Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, because they provide some of the best explanations of common pitfalls and ways to eliminate them in revision.

Effective Critique: Avoiding dogma and snobbery

Professor Doug Rice, author of Dream Memoirs of a Fabulist and A Good Cuntboy is Hard to Find, (and more) was the second reader for my graduate thesis and a remarkable teacher of the craft of writing.

One assignment from my first master’s-level creative writing course with him required us to share our favorite short story by a published author. Each day, one of us would bring in one of these stories and we would critique it; we’d workshop it like we were concurrently doing with each others’ stories, but of course we had the knowledge that these stories were published stories that were loved by at least one of our colleagues in the class and likely a multitude of other readers in the world.

When it came time to share the story I had chosen, by a little known writer published only posthumously- Mary Ladd Gavell’s “The Rotifer”– a short story that had been influential in my deciding to enter graduate school for creative writing, I became acutely aware of all of the adverbs throughout, and I got scared for my writer and scared for myself. Rice rails against adverbs, can rant about their overuse for hours, replete with flying saliva. But instead of sharp criticism, I remember him asking me: “How do these adverbs work for this author, this voice, this piece?” And he said it kindly and invited us all to explore what was working so well. I left that class not with any shame about my taste or my lack of intellect or lack of sophistication but with a better understanding of critique and audience and purpose.

This exercise created new ways of reading and responding to literature. It enabled us to see “the rules” and how and when a writer successfully strays from them; to resist dogma and snobbery when evaluating a manuscript. This, of course, has been a foundation for me in my work with Narrative Magazine and Under the Gum Tree, and with my clients.

NaNoWriMo? No. No.

Did I write the first 50,000 words of my novel? Is that why I’ve been MIA from my blog for so long? Sadly, no. And, happily. Instead of writing a pile of you-know-what, I’ve been working on some excellent projects with some excellent clients.

Brad DeHaven, Sacramento Editor, Robin Martin

November 1st saw the release of The Addict Among Us, my second book as a developmental editor with prescription drug abuse activist Bradley V. DeHaven. In this picture to your left, the completed proof sits upon some of the hardcopy work I did, as we took the manuscript from 100,000 words of stream of consciousness writing and copied/pasted emails to an organized self-help book about how to prevent, detect, treat, and live with opioid (or any) drug addiction. This is another excellent book on the subject by Brad, who has been on the go spreading the word about how this epidemic sneaks up on the most unsuspecting of families, and of course, spreading the word about his book as well.

The Under the Gum Tree editorial staff selected the next group of pieces for Issue 6 from a nice batch of submissions. The mag is getting designed as we speak and will be on the newsstands in the first weeks of the new year.

During November, I also began a substantive edit on a 600-page mainstream fiction manuscript with an author I began working with in November of last year. At that time, I did an evaluation and critique on an earlier draft, which he took to heart and spent nearly the next year revising. I really enjoy seeing a writer develop his or her craft, being receptive to feedback about plot and character, point of view, and the finer points of language. And I enjoy seeing the result of hard work on the page. While this writer was planning on going directly to self-publishing, I am going to encourage him to seek a traditional publisher because I think the manuscript could attract interest in the current market and he doesn’t really seem that interested in becoming a publisher/marketing professional.

Speaking of this, I have two other clients heading on a traditional publishing path. Of course, I’ve advised them to stop querying agents now, because agents like to have a holiday too, you know. But these writers have had some promising attention and I have high hopes for them.

Meanwhile, three of my former clients have successfully self-published their novels in the last few months, and my friend and mentor Andrea Hurst has done so as well. There are many paths to publication, and everyone has to do what feels right to them. I don’t want to spend time here discussing the choice between traditional and self-pub, as there are so many excellent bloggers out there doing it for us. Let me just say I believe there are very good reasons to pursue either one, depending on one’s goals and resources. The debate is, frankly, getting pretty stale. Just do what you’ve got to do.

I guess I feel the same way about NaNoWriMo. For some people, attempting to meet a writing goal with 300,000 other people is the way to go. Just the motivation they need. For others, not so much.






Ready for this Book Release

 sacramento editor, editor Robin Martin, Rob Mahan

Just Released!

An Irish Miracle by Rob Mahan is available for purchase in both print and electronic versions.

 My copy, signed by the author, who just happens to be my client, arrived in the mail this week and it looks great.

  He first contacted me in January of 2011 looking for an evaluation and critique, and over the year he worked on a substantive edit. He launched his publishing company, Marietta Book Works, earlier this year, commissioned some pros, and now he’s in business.

Congratulations, Rob.

                Check out his beautiful book and learn more here.

Why a self-publisher needs an editor: Other uses for an editor

Developmental edits. Substantive edits. Line edits.  A self-publisher could use professional assistance in all of these areas.  There are other uses for an editor as well.

editorial assistant, electronic book formatting, e-book formatting, publication, Robin Martin, Two Songbirds Press




Why you need an editor: Developmental and Substantive Editing

We believe we know everything there is to know about our characters. We believe we have created a compelling read, a clear conflict, characters the reader can either love or fear for, a satisfying resolution.  But the problem is, we’re too close to it. No matter our credentials, we must have someone else read our work. Depending on what they discover, we may need further editing, and might seriously consider hiring a professional to help.

At the recent Self Publishing Boot Camp, I spoke about the need for an editor before self-publishing. I focused particularly on a novel or memoir, because the whole purpose of a book like this is that it engages the reader. If it doesn’t engage the reader, your book will not be successful, or worse, it will attract negative reviews and make you sad.

Someone who has a background as an acquisitions editor at a literary agency or publishing house or who selects and acquires fiction for literary magazines that you like to read might be a good fit for you. I talked about professional readers in my last post. I also talked a bit about Brad. I want to come back to him.

Brad DeHaven hired me to read what he had tentatively titled, “Beyond the Picket Fence.” It was a 65 page memoir of his life. He was 50.  The manuscript began before his conception, at the conception of his brother, took the reader through his dysfunctional family situation, his mother’s re-marriage to a Greek mobster who beat him, his drug use and violent teenage years, his brother’s incarceration, meeting the woman he would marry, the upbringing of his children, and culminated in the tale, essentially, of how he went undercover to bust his son’s drug dealer.  All this incredible story in 65 pages. Like a freight train headed from point a to point b, it barreled through telling the reader this happened then this happened then this happened. It was a great story, and he has a fantastic voice. The book, the way it was put together, was ineffective.

We had to find the real story in all of that. What did he want the story’s takeaway to be? Where was the hook? The real story was how despite the experiences from his own youth, he was unprepared to deal with his son’s addiction to a powerful prescription painkiller.  We worked together on a developmental edit.  It became Defining Moments: A Suburban Father’s Journey Into his Son’s Oxy Addiction.

A developmental edit is what you hope your book doesn’t need, frankly.  It takes the most time and costs the most money.  It doesn’t know what kind of story it wants to be yet. A professional can help a writer uncover this. If it has no focus, it probably needs a developmental edit. If the reader can’t tell who the story is about, it probably needs a developmental edit.

A substantive edit is more common.  Sometimes this is called a heavy line edit. The writer understands what the story is and has a decent story arc, cast of characters, resolution. The writer may not have well-rounded characters, there may be inconsistencies with narrative voice or point of view, there may be needless layers of filtering or instances of telling where it really needed to be revealed in a scene.  Most manuscripts have these problems, which interfere with the emotional connection the reader makes with the story.

The ability to eliminate these problems is what separates the writer whose self published book languishes on even the shelf of his best friend and the writer whose book is read and recommended and passed around and receives favorable review.

Common problems that necessitate a substantive edit (via pptx nee jpg):

editing, editor, Robin Martin, Two Songbirds Press, developmental editing, substantive editing, novel reviews