It is my pleasure to welcome back Lynn Clement. Her flash fiction collection, The City of Stories, is out with Chapeltown Books and I had the privilege and pleasure of editing this collection.
Prior to that, I had met Lynn when I was guest speaker at the Hampshire Writers’ Society where I talked about flash fiction, CafeLit, Chapeltown Books, and this, I’m glad to say, inspired Lynn to start submitting work to CafeLit and then a single author collection to Chapeltown Books.
This week, Lynn and I talk about the editing process and why it is never a good idea to use song lyrics in your work.
Now on to the editing side of things. Chapeltown Books has a thorough three stage editing process.
Stage one is to look at how the collection as a whole works, do the individual stories work within it, and to pick up things like whether any story is too similar to another and so on. Sometimes a story can just peter out and an editor will look for a good start, a good middle, and a good ending. An editor is looking for what needs strengthening here to make the book the best it can be.
Stage two is a copy-edit where you do pick up on typos and grammar, but you’re also looking for things like character names changing halfway through a story. That happens!
Stage three – the book is practically ready but this is where the nitty-gritty of the proof-reading comes in. This is the final chance to change things before the book goes to press.
1. Lynn, how did you find the editing process? It is much harder work than people realise and takes longer than you think but the end result should be a book that is stronger than when it first came in to the publishing house. What has editing shown you about your writing? What do you think you will “take with you” for future books? (Editing has shown me what my wasted words are, flash fiction writing encourages you to focus, so I know what words to look out for when I do an initial edit on my stories. I might not stop myself writing them down but I can make sure they don’t stay in the finished book!).
Yes, editing is hard work. This is the hardest aspect of writing for me. Allison was gentle with me! But she did pick up things that have stuck with me, such as the use of ‘very’ and ‘really.’ Flash fiction does require you to ‘cut your darlings,’ as much as you might love them. As I’ve said, commas are the bane of my life and probably Allison’s, having worked with me!
I didn’t have to change anything in terms of book order or story choice. Allison was concerned about one story but I wanted it in the book for personal reasons and Gill as publisher must have thought it was okay as it stayed in. The collection is eclectic, but I tried to group some stories together and then break them up with a poem. I think it works. It was Allison’s idea to call the book The City of Stories, which I am grateful for, as it works well.
2. How do you approach editing? (My approach is to read through the editor’s comments, give myself time to think about them, and then and only then work through the book putting things right. I also query with an editor anything I’m not sure about and occasionally to explain why I’d want something left in. Having a good professional and courteous relationship with your editor is vital. You both want the same thing – an excellent book with your name on it out there!).
As this was my first time working on a book, I didn’t really know what to do. My basic assumption was that the editor knows better than me. So, respect was there from the start. I accepted all things in terms of grammar and punctuation. It was my first time using the Track Changes on Word and that took a while to get used to. There were suggestions to strengthen pieces which were perfectly plausible and easy to do. There were times I disagreed with Allison but few and far between and that was sorted amicably.
Both Allison and Gill were always on hand to ask questions of and seek advice, which was freely given. I do think the book is stronger for having a working partnership with Allison as editor and thank her for her time and effort.
Allison: You are most welcome, Lynn, and many thanks for your kind words. It is perfectly normal to agree with most of what your editor comes out with and yet still have some things you feel strongly about and keep in. Editors expect that. And having been on the other side of the editing fence myself with Tripping the Flash Fantastic in 2020, I can say I didn’t implement all of my editor’s suggestions either but again for good reasons.
3. Now I love the initial drafting of a story but I also love the editing side of things. I like the thought of my story getting better. Do you have a preference for writing or editing? Also, how many drafts do you like to do? Do you write your story down then edit or do you edit as you write? I must admit I can’t do the latter. I’d box myself into a corner.
My favourite thing during writing is free flow. Letting my imagination run riot. I enjoy taking my stories to my writing groups who then have free reign to edit! (Sometimes painful but always helpful.) I don’t edit as I write as I find it hampers creativity. I don’t think there are a set number of drafts. When it feels right and sounds right when I read aloud – I stop.
4. If there was one grammar rule you could change to make editing far easier for everyone, what would it be and why?
5. One issue that came up was the use of song lyrics in a story and I advised you to take them out, which you did. I’ll share why this was the right course of action in a moment as this will highlight something other authors need to be very careful about, but how did you feel about that, Lynn? Be honest now! (Oh and I will add the story concerned works excellently without the lyrics in them).
Yes, the song lyrics were picked up later in the process and Allison and I were asked to do something about it. If I left it and the band’s lawyers saw them, I may have been sued for profiting from their creativity! Allison said the easiest thing to do would be to leave them out and change the story. The story itself is almost reliant on the lyrics so that wasn’t easy. But I managed to do it without (hopefully) spoiling the story. I’d think twice about song lyrics as part of stories!
ALLISON: SONG LYRICS IN FICTION – JUST DON’T GO THERE!
When a writer has the idea to quote from a song lyric as part of their story, they are looking to add “depth” and additional meaning to their work. Songs have resonance. Fair enough, you might think but there are major problems with this.
To quote from a song lyric, you need the copyright holder’s permission or you risk being sued for copyright infringement. To say that is embarrassing for an author is an understatement. So you decide to go this route so where is the problem?
There are several problems in fact.
1. Copyright permissions here are expensive (so if you are submitting to a small independent publisher or are self-publishing, a worthwhile question to ask yourself would be to query if it was really worth it?).
2. The copyright holder, even if happy, will want to see how you are proposing to use their work as they, understandably, won’t want their work used in a way that they consider might be damaging in any way to what they have written. So if they see what you are proposing and don’t like it, they will refuse permission. Back to square one – and no writer would want to rip off any other person’s work in any way. The joy of writing is in creating something uniquely yours.
3. Using a lyric in a story can look like what is known as “passing off” – again an infringement and can lead to action being taken against you.
4. Publishers often want authors to take out indemnity to protect them against being sued.
5. There is nothing to stop a lyric copyright holder taking action against the publisher and the author. (What are the chances of your being published again if that happens?).
BEST SOLUTION – DON’T GO THERE!
If you have to have lyrics in your story, write your own! There’s nothing to stop you writing your own “song” and having that included in your book in addition to your story being in there. Your publisher will see exactly where the lyrics come from, there is no risk of infringement action as you’ve written the “song” and therefore hold the rights to that. It is okay for a character in your story to “refer” to a song or to a band. Just don’t quote the lyrics!
Lynn, it has been a joy to welcome you to Chandler’s Ford Today. Every writer’s journey is unique but what it exciting for everyone is when you know you’re going to be published and will hold your own book in your hands. May I wish you the very best of luck with The City of Stories.
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