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Tag: Rebecca Forster

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May 15, 2017 by in category The Write Life, Writing tagged as , ,

Sew up a Book | Rebecca Forster | A Slice of Orange

Years ago, I worked in corporate America and my client was married to Danielle Steel. When I found out who she was, I uttered seven ridiculous words: “I bet I could write a book.”

One of my colleagues called me on that boast and that’s how I became a writer – on a crazy dare. Having never written before, I tackled this challenge in the same way I tackled a marketing plan: by asking questions about how I would go about becoming a published author. In the old days, all I had to do was write a pitch and hope someone paid attention; these days all I have to know is how to upload to Amazon. But the business of publishing begged the question that was most important: how do I learn to actually write a book?

I decided I would learn the same way I learned to sew; I would follow a pattern.

With one of Danielle Steel’s books in hand, I spent three nights with that book, a glass of wine and a yellow marker. As I read, I highlighted the ‘seams’ of her work. My pattern consisted of noting:

  •  When the main characters were introduced
  •  Where the plot points happened
  •  Where the emotional reveals came in
  •  How many pages of expository were in her book
  •   How long were the dialogue passages
  •   How many total pages were in the book

I wrote for months and when I was done I had exactly the right number of pages, all the characters came in on cue, and the plot was revealed appropriately. What a yawn.

My book was the equivalent of making a shift dress out of burlap. It was technically correct but plain and unexciting. My book had nothing to make it memorable to a reader. I didn’t want to just go to the published-author party; I wanted readers’ heads to turn.   I needed to learn what sets an artist apart from a painter,  a fashion designer from a seamstress and a writer from an author. Bottom line: I needed some buttons and bows, some satin and lace. I needed some style.

I am writing my thirty-fifth book and I have learned a great deal, but I still follow the pattern I created years ago. I have grown as an author, found my voice, honed my observations and come to understand my personal style. I hope that someday a writer will take a yellow marker to one of my books and make a pattern of her own from my work. Then I hope she will be inspired to kick it all up a notch with her buttons and bows.


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Sensitivity Editors

April 30, 2017 by in category The Extra Squeeze tagged as , , , , ,
The Extra Squeeze | A Slice of Orange

Ever wonder what industry professionals think about the issues that can really impact our careers? Each month The Extra Squeeze features a fresh topic related to books and publishing.

Amazon mover and shaker Rebecca Forster and her handpicked team of book professionals offer frank responses from the POV of each of their specialties — Writing, Editing, PR/Biz Development, and Cover Design.

April’s topic for The Extra Squeeze Team came from this article in the Chicago Tribune.

What does the Extra Squeeze Team think about Sensitivity Editors?

Rebecca Forster | Extra Squeeze

Rebecca Forster 

USA Today Bestselling author of 35 books, including the Witness series and the new Finn O’Brien series.

When I was a new author, I received a letter from a reader accusing me of being racist for using a certain adjective to describe a character of color. I was disturbed because I had offended the reader but upon reflection, I came to believe I had done nothing wrong.

I take my craft very seriously, choosing every word carefully to create a deeply visual reading experience and to express various points of view. If sensitivity editors become the norm, I will begin to second guess those words and the result will level a playing field that should be filled with intellectual and emotional obstacles. I believe it is better for a reader to close a book and to reject a writer’s work than to hobble the creative exploration of the world around us.

Jenny Jensen | A Slice of Orange

Jenny Jensen

Developmental editor who has worked for twenty plus years with new and established authors of both fiction and non-fiction, traditional and indie.

Part of editing is sensitivity — to the tone of the book and to the needs of the market.  I’ve worked on manuscripts where the content is offensive. I ask myself, is that offensive to me, or to the market?

I’m not in the business of censorship; my personal sensibilities are not the point. However, as a story editor it is my business to point out when the narrative is boring, adds nothing, or employs language that is likely to offend the intended market.

‘Sensitivity’ is relative. To edit only for insensitive material blurs, to near invisibility, the line between editing for good writing and suppression of open expression. A good editor will point out insensitivity. It is up to the author to accept or reject the edit.

Robin Blakely | The Extra Squeeze Team | A Slice of Orange

Robin Blakely

PR/Business Development coach for writers and artists; CEO, Creative Center of America; member, Forbes Coaches Council.

I am in the business of promoting author brands, so my interest in the trend of hiring a sensitivity editor is focused on the impact such a thing can have on author PR and book publicity.  To cut to the chase, I’m not a fan—yet.

Here’s why… For many readers, a book can help reflect what is wrong in the world even if the author was not trying to paint the picture of the world that the book ultimately reveals. Straight up, I think most readers are smart and I know they deserve to be treated with honesty and extreme care. From a PR perspective, it is important to me that the reader always meets the real author—no masks. That means reader/writer relationships must be authentic to the writer and genuinely tied to the writer’s real work.  Readers trust real and I trust that most writers are sensitive enough to choose words that accurately reflect their point of view and their reality.

If the author is heavily censored, overhauled, and cloaked by a sensitivity editor, then the reader is shaking the hand of a gloved stranger. From a PR-perspective, I have encountered authors who need a wake-up call regarding the impact of their voices and their word choices.  Sensitivity editors can offer feedback that broadens the author’s awareness. Or, the sensitivity editor can enable the author to be masked in a way that is unfair to the buyer of the product.

Many years ago, as a young mom, I encountered a parenting handbook that had not been edited by a sensitivity editor. The medical expert was biased against me. The author’s words perpetuated the myth that infertility was a cosmic sign and that chronic childhood illness, particularly asthma, should be largely blamed on the parent, especially if the mom was a working mother.  Luckily, I was not hurt by that book’s lack of sensitivity editing; in fact, I believe I was protected by the lack of it.  The author’s own uncensored words made it easy for me to discern that he was not good enough to offer advice to me about my baby.  I threw that book away and found a better author.

Today, when I am asked: “sensitivity editor or not?”; I like to say: “That’s up to you.”   I remain on the fence. I don’t like censorship…but, I don’t like dumb stereotypes either—especially hurtful stereotypes about young moms, children with chronic illness, people of color, single parents, older adults, immigrants, communities of faith, families living in rural areas, or the inner cities, or the suburbs. When it comes to sensitivity, there are as many stereotypes as there are people.  The real world is not very sensitive.  As a reader and as a PR professional, I like to know exactly who wrote the words I am reading…and if you had to use a sensitivity editor, I would likely wonder why.

H. O. Charles

H.O. Charles

Cover designer and author of the fantasy series, The Fireblade Array


I think there are two types of offensive content in this context. One is where the author knowingly intends to shock or set a certain tone by using language that some/many will consider offensive. The second is unknowing offence, where the author – either through ignorance or accident – employs language/story lines that are unintentionally patronising to, or dismissive of, one group of people. The sensitivity readers in that article seem to be dealing exclusively with the second type, and my initial response is: Great! An editor like that will help the writer produce a contemporary novel that speaks from the social outlook we should be aiming for today (even if we write historical fiction). On the other hand, this sounds like research the author should have already done themselves. If the author is writing about a specific group of people who use language in a manner that is different from their own, then surely that writer should have researched such a group thoroughly already? Perhaps employing a sensitivity reader instead of doing one’s own research is easier now we have the interwebs, and it involves less travelling, so there’s that(!).


But the downside is that the writer will be relying upon the opinion and outlook of **one** reader. I do not believe I represent ALL northerners (in the UK, that is), and while I may be worried about stereotypes of people from Yorkshire having low educational attainment, the next Yorkshire person might think it is even worse to be conflated with a Lancastrian! And then there are the Scots, who are technically northerners in the UK too, and could feel the term’s applicability to Yorkshire/Lancashire reflects the Englishman’s arrogant tendency to forget they exist…


Another thing worth considering is that the nature of offence changes over time, and in spite of our best attempts, no single book will ever be truly inoffensive to everyone. What we write innocently today may be judged differently tomorrow (let’s imagine, for example, that meat-eating or using gendered pronouns becomes abhorrent to future generations – how would that alter the way you write your characters?!). That’s not to say we should abandon conveying our own sense of morality in our novels, or rejoice in our own ignorance, or that we should aim for anything other than the best book we can write, just that we should be aware that pleasing everyone for all the years to come is impossible.


What do you think of Sensitivity Editors? Scroll down to the comment section and tell us what you think.

If you would like to know more about Sensitivity Editors, here are a few links:

Writer Unboxed


Publishers Weekly

Do you have a question or topic for The Extra Squeeze Team? Use the form below to send in your ideas.

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Character Flaw(less)

February 16, 2017 by in category The Write Life tagged as ,


Recently we celebrate my oldest son and my husband’s birthdays. They are a day apart, much to the chagrin of my husband. Thirty-two years ago he brought home the biggest, spiciest burrito he could find in the hopes of jumpstarting labor so that our son would share his birthday. Needless to say, the burrito story was one of many we told at this year’s birthday dinner. We laughed, we clarified details, and we took tangents and remembered those who had been part of our lives but were no longer with us.
As I listened to all this in the company of my husband, my two sons and my ninety-two year old mother, I realized that my family is key to what readers tell me is my strength as a writer: characterization. After generations of evolving as an extended family, I know what makes each member of my family tick. I know why they are special – and why they aren’t.  I know how they speak, how they think, how they will act and react, what makes them happy and what doesn’t. I know who they love and admire. That means, if they act out of character, I know to dig deeper to find out why; if they act in character, I completely accept their actions and reactions because I know them so well.
If depth of characterization eludes you, try this exercise.
IMAGINE each of your main characters at a family dinner table.
IDENTIFY where that character fits in e.g. the bartender, the perpetual guest, and the lingerer-in-the-kitchen guy.
ESTABLISH where each character came from and whether or not they are permanent family fixtures or a family member who has distanced themselves.
TAKE their coats. Fur? Wool? Blazer? Sweatshirt? Notice what they’re wearing.
DETERMINE their purpose at the table: the joker, the commentator, the peacemaker, the witch, the politician, the philosophe, the put-upon wife or angry husband (or vice-versa).
LISTEN to the conversation around the table. Do not focus on just one character. Rather, close your eyes, hear all their voices, see all their gestures, listen to their words.
What you ‘hear’, what you ‘see’ at your dinner table will help you create fictional characters that are as familiar as family and as unforgettable.

Rebecca Forster





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10 Things NEVER TO DO When Writing

September 15, 2014 by in category Blogs tagged as ,
10. Stop Reading:  After a long day of reading your own work it the last thing you want to do is pick up someone else’s but do it! You will stay motivated. I learn something new with each book I read.
9. Rely on Inspiration: Don’t waste a day waiting for inspiration. Sit down, get to work, and inspiration will come calling.
8. Neglect Genre: It’s tempting to want to walk in between genres. What would be better than a science fiction, erotic, mystery right? But remember, if you want to find passionate and engaged readers, you have to find the genre that you most want to write and stick with it.
7. Get Bored: If you’re bored, chances are your readers will be to.  If you find yourself becoming bored, or your main character is skating through the plot with ease, throw some roadblocks in the way. Conflict moves stories.
6. Rely on Pretty People: Men don’t always have to be fearless and women don’t always have to be sexy. Your readers will spend a lot of time with your characters so make sure there is something going on in their heads and their hearts. Readers love characters for their imperfections and shortcomings just as much as their looks.
5. Lose the Through Line:Remember who’s story you’re writing and what the point is.  Veer off the path and you lose your readers.
4. Be Afraid to Cut, Cut, Cut: Cut close to the bone. Make the tough choices and take out the things you really love. They may be great but only if they move the story forward.
3. Throw in the Towel: Too many people have half finished books, or books without an ending floating around on their hard drives. The easiest thing in the world is starting a book. The hardest thing is finishing one.
2. Let your Characters Off Easy: Just because you love your characters doesn’t mean you have to go easy on them. Let them struggle and sometimes fail. Anything that you put in your characters’ gives the readers greater insight into their lives. Give them a goal to work towards, make it hard to get and you can’t go wrong.
1. Beat Yourself Up: The book isn’t shaping up the way you want it to? Someone read a chapter and didn’t care for it? Feel like jumping off a cliff? No worries. Those days happen, but remember that every day that you’re thinking, “woe is me,” is another day that you could be finishing a chapter or polishing a plot point. You can spend your time beating yourself up or beating your characters up. I do a lot of the former but am trying to stop.

Happy writing.
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