Email is Down!

Guys, it's come to my attention that my email isn't working at the moment. This is a serious bummer, since I know I'm in talks with at least a few of you about upcoming projects.

I know about the issue and I'm currently working on it, so if you've reached out in the last few days and haven't received a response, or if your email has bounced back to you, please resend it to my temporary address, sarah.a.kolb -at- gmail -dot- com, and there's always good ol' Twitter or Facebook!

I'm sorry for the inconvenience! Rest assured that if we've been discussing a schedule time for an upcoming project, that time should still be available for you!

I hope to have the problem resolved soon. Thanks for your patience, everyone.

9 Coolest Made-Up Science Fiction Terms (According to Me)

Regular readers, friends, and anyone I’ve ever cornered at a bar will not be surprised that language is one of my favorite elements of science fiction. The freedom to invent and extrapolate words and terminology at will never fails to delight me.

I thought I’d collect and share some of the science fiction terms that particularly tickle my language bone. Did I miss any of your favorites?

1. Stargate

You know, like a gate—but with stars! So compound. Such German.

Seriously, though, it made for a great concept: that you could enter another world just by walking into it, no idea what might be facing you on the other side (although breathable air generally seems to be a safe gamble).

Yes, the show took a few odd turns (a parody sitcom episode—really, guys?), and the movie could have been less boring—but the movie did star a baby James Spader, and the show did show McGuyver on frequent fishing trips to my own Minnesota stomping grounds, not to mention Ben Browder getting all up on SG-1 like John Crichton on Aeryn Sun. (Nevermind.)

I’ll be honest, though: I’ll get a stargate when they come out with the fully programmable version. Next stop: Risa!

2. Centon

Let me take those shawls for you, boys. Image credit:

Let me take those shawls for you, boys. Image credit:

I wasn’t around when the classic Battlestar Galactica first aired, so I can’t possibly speculate about what watching audiences thought about the hair, the furry dog-thing, Team Apollo/Starbuck’s athletic gear, or the spangly capes—but I’m pretty sure audiences would have been mystified by the word centon.

The show was using it as a measure of time, that much was clear enough—but how much time? A minute, an hour? A hundred minutes? I mean, what the frack?

The joke continued well into the series until show creators finally let themselves in on it, allowing—spoiler alert—a bemused stranger to close a scene with an exasperated “But what’s a centon?”

(Virtual high-fives to the three people with me on this. I love you.)

3. Midi-chlorians

OK, look. I’m going to preface this by saying that to me, there is only IV–VI, Star Wars is a trilogy, and the “new” movies (wow, I guess I have to stop calling them that now) are dead to me. YES, I AM THAT PERSON.

That said, I am pretty tickled by the term midi-chlorians (or midichlorians, perhaps—I haven’t seen the official Star Wars style guide). Yes, I know it kind of ruined the entire concept of being a Jedi and all of that. But hey, the fact that someone decided to offer a scientific explanation for something previously considered mystical or magical? Gotta respect that.

And, OK, the Darth Vader bit at the end of Revenge of the Sith was pretty cool. But that’s all you’ll get from me on I–III, Lucas, so drop it already.

4. Medichines

It’s no secret that my favorite sci-fi author currently putting implement to recording apparatus is Alastair Reynolds. If you haven’t read his stunningly gorgeous Revelation Space and sequels, go now and read them. (Really. Go. I’ll wait.)

Welcome back! Now that we’re all on the same page, we know that medichines are a sort of biomedical nanotech that swim en masse through the blood (or similar fluid) stream, and they’re responsible for all sorts of cool things: regeneration, heightened sensory perception, advanced mental processing.

(They’re also responsible for me needing to edit the word “medicines” extra carefully any time I come across it, but he’s a nice guy, so I’ll let it slide.)

At any rate, I completely understand if you skip the rest of this list to get started on Chasm City, the second book in the series. Might do the same myself.

5. Infinite Improbability Drive

Douglas Adams’s adorably British explanation of the Infinite Improbability Drive is that it is “a wonderful new method of crossing interstellar distances in a mere nothingth of a second, without all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace.” In a bonkers mash-up of quantum physics, the law of truly large numbers, and tea, Adams gives us a ship capable of exactly anything: when infinite improbability is achieved, the ship passes through every known place in the universe at once, and if your hand slips at the controls while you’re distracted by a pot of petunias outside your window, who knows what improbable place you’ll end up?

Phew—makes my head hurt just thinking about it. Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, anyone?

6. Suspensors

Image credit: Dino de Laurentiis Corporation

Image credit: Dino de Laurentiis Corporation

While I could fill this list with epic terms from Dune, suspensors is among my all-time favorites. Frank Herbert didn’t invent the word itself—Merriam-Webster’s defines it as a group of cells or a part of a fungus—but he did invent the technology behind the flying contraption that allows the Baron Harkonnen and his massive girth to blob about the room cackling maniacally whenever the urge strikes.

That’s Lynch-lore, though. In Herbert-lore, suspensor platforms are based on something called the Holtzman Effect, which involves things like dimensional forces and suspensor-nullification and holographic waves. But what I really want to know is where I can get some of this tech. For when I’m feeling lazy/massive/maniacal. Don’t judge.

7. Holodeck

No list of made-up tech would be complete without Star Trek. And let’s face it, along with Cardassians, O’Brien, and Ten Forward, the holodeck is one of the cooler things to happen to the crew of The Next Generation. (Close runner up: Guinan’s headgear.)

Think about it: in the holodeck, all episodes are possible; the budget’s the limit! Westerns, ocean crossings, mud baths with Lwaxana, dates with Geordi, Klingon pain stuff—you name it, it can be done, and well within the standard spacefaring storyline. (And it’s always fun to see Picard wander out of a program and onto the bridge in full riding gear or something.)

8. Smeghead

Arnold Rimmer bandies it about as a matter of course; Dave Lister uses it when he’s feeling riled or defensive; even Kryton gets in on the action every now and then, despite his programming—but exactly what is a smeghead, and why does the insult sound so incredibly rude?

Arnold Rimmer, who really is a smeghead. Image credit: BBC

Arnold Rimmer, who really is a smeghead. Image credit: BBC

I’m pretty sure I read somewhere around the nerdosphere that Red Dwarf creators have sworn they had nothing specifically biological in mind when they invented the term (and I for one will happily believe them, so for Cloister’s sake, leave it alone). Suffice to say that calling someone a smeghead is an insult somewhere in the realm of “dumbdumb” or “pinhead” or maybe “poopface,” with a good amount of low-class-technician sass thrown in, making it a perfect insult for the Dwarf crew.

9. Grok

“I, like, totally grok you, man.”

When I think of grok—from Heinlein’s Stranger In a Strange Land—I think of hippies: passing around cosmic wisdom, deeper understanding, and rolled bits of paper, transcending verbal communication and heading right for the deepest essence of understanding.

I’m sorry to say I haven’t actually read this one since high school—but that’s pretty much what happens, right?

(Note to self: Reread Stranger In a Strange Land; stick to the Gargle Blasters.)


What are your favorite science fiction terms? Let me know in the comments (and join my mailing list to keep in touch)!

Proxima Rising, Vietnam, and Business Services

A few updates!

OK, so I haven’t updated my blog in a while—I’ve been deep in (awesome) client work, my own projects, and a whirlwind two weeks of driving across Wisconsin and back. And across Wisconsin. And back.

It was a lovely trip, full of weddings and birthdays, lake adventures, celebrations, friends, family, and more lake adventures (my shoulders are still sore from all the kayaking), and it was just the break I needed to return with clarity, focus, and motivation.

For my own benefit, I wanted to share a few thoughts on where I’ll be focusing my own writing and editing world. There are some exciting projects on the horizon!

Proxima Rising

I’ve sat on it, started it, put it away, started it, and sat on it again for long enough. Now that I really understand the shape of it, I’m bringing my science fiction novel back into my list of priorities. I always manage to find time to pick away at it and let the pieces of the story settle, but these days I can’t seem to keep away from it.

My fantastically talented clients are a huge inspiration for me—that inspiration is a huge factor in me venturing into science fiction on my own—but Iately I’ve found new energy with the project by sharing it with my friend (and illustrator) Emily Ruf. We’ll be collaborating in some very exciting ways, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to work with her.

(Watch the Ascraeus Press blog for project news and updates!)


Holy crap, guys. It’s happening. Someone pinch me.

I’m going on a research trip to Vietnam this winter (assuming I manage to send in that passport renewal application in time...), which is important for a new book I’ve been kicking around, but also happens to be the culmination of a years-long obsession with Vietnamese food.

Image credit: Jonathan Charles/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Image credit: Jonathan Charles/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I’m making it my personal mission to eat my way across the country, husband in tow, absorbing the history of the cities and towns I visit, learning about daily life at every opportunity, and hoping I don’t wipe out on my scooter.

What this means for you: I won’t be taking projects roughly between December 15 and January 15, and while I’ll have occasional Internet access, it will be spotty at best. (And even if it isn’t, I’ll probably use that as my excuse to stay a little disconnected for a while. I mean. Vietnam.)

New Services

Another reason I’ve been neglecting the blog is that I’m preparing to change site hosting, and I’m using the opportunity to make a few changes. While the design won’t be changing (much), I will be adding a brand-new section of my website to offer writing and editing services to a different set of clients: businesses.

I’ll have more details later, but never fear: the bulk of will not change and will remain focused on book editing and consulting for independent authors.

As I grow this area of my business, I’m excited to see how the scope of author services and business services intersect, and how I might work with creative entrepreneurs of all types to achieve attractive, engaging, concise communication.


I’m also looking forward to getting outside every now and then. I might be obsessed with kayaks now.

Hiring an Editor: The Importance of Editing

Independent authors are a scrappy bunch, as the blogs and podcasts I follow remind me again and again. The mantra of indie authors echoes that of the DIY community everywhere: why pay someone to do something you can do yourself?

Image credit: Nic McPhee

Image credit: Nic McPhee

If you view editing as just one more item in a lengthy to-do list, it’s natural to look at your budget and ask yourself if editing is really necessary. But up-front cost is just one factor to consider when plotting your course—and as a professional author, you owe it to yourself to look at more than just the immediate bottom line.

Readers Respect Authors Who Respect Them

Readers have, generally, been doing this for awhile, and they know what to expect when they make a purchase:

  • A smooth read, free of grammatical roadblocks
  • Logical transitions from section to section
  • Strong character development; characters whose actions and interactions make sense
  • Clear, concise, meaningful sentences that don’t bog readers down
  • Sound, well-presented arguments
  • Genre-consistent conventions
  • Consistent terminology, tone, and language throughout the book
  • Recognizable, readable formatting

In self-publishing, you’re free to do whatever you want with your book. Just be honest with yourself about your sales expectations if you intend to stray too far from the norm.

Editing is an expense. It may be (and, in most cases, should be) your biggest expense in the publishing process. However, buying your book is an expense for readers as well. When you know you’ve got a great story, it’s easy to assume your book will transcend any objections readers have to its presentation.

When readers spend good money on a book riddled with typos, with wandering content and a monotonous voice, or with no clear direction—all issues a skilled editor can help you iron out—they’ll notice. They may even take it as an insult. And insulting readers is a surefire way to lose them forever.

Readers Can See Before They Buy

As editor and writing coach Derek Murphy explains on the ALLi blog, your book really might be riveting enough to keep readers engrossed despite textual hiccups. But there’s one small hurdle to clear before you get that chance: convincing them to commit to your book in the first place.

Every major retailer provides some way for readers to view a sample before they commit. If you notice very few sample downloads converting to sales, ask yourself what potential readers might be finding—or not finding—in those first crucial pages.

This preview is your book’s audition; you must use it to sufficiently impress your audience. If your samples showcase your mistakes, readers won’t have a chance to become engrossed, and they’ll move on faster than you can say “At least I saved a few bucks.” A professional editor can help identify these issues before they have a chance to turn off potential readers.

The More You Publish, The Better Your Chances

The lines between an author’s tasks and an editor’s are fluid, and this fluidity can lead to misunderstandings about an editor’s role. Too often, the debate over the need for a dedicated edit is interpreted as a loose defense of one profession’s necessity to the other.

I’m no marketing pro, but there’s one particular point I want to mention here: every book you publish increases your options for packaging, marketing, and leveraging each book’s sales off of another’s. (Rundon’twalk over to the Self-Publishing Podcast and have a listen, if you’re not convinced of this yet.)

What does any of this have to do with editing? Only that in most cases, there are much better uses of your time than scouring style guides and memorizing rules. It isn’t that editors are exclusive members of a secret society of wordsmiths, privy to mystical linguistic information mere authors can never know. It’s just that as a professional author, there are only so many hours available per day to write new material to add to your catalog.

This post is modified from The Indie Author’s Guide to Book Editing, currently available on Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, and Google Play.

5 Ways to Make Your Book Editor Love You

Image credit: Ninha Morandini/Flickr (CC 2.0)

Image credit: Ninha Morandini/Flickr (CC 2.0)

Hiring a freelance book editor can be confusing if you’ve never done it before—and if you just don’t know what you need, taking the first step can be downright intimidating.

Editors are, as a rule, not as scary as you might think. Independent editors tend to be patient with first-time authors. They just want to help you produce a great book. Be friendly and ask questions, and any editor will be happy to walk you through the process.

But if you want a head start on what to expect, take a look at these 5 tips that are sure to make a busy book editor remember your name—for all the right reasons!

1. Check the editor’s website.

I would never be upset with an author for asking a question I’ve already answered somewhere on my website. There’s a lot to process, and I’m always happy to talk through an editing plan with an author. But you can save your editor (not to mention yourself) a lot of time by taking just a few minutes to look at an editor’s website before sending that initial email.

Editor websites generally contain services, genre preferences, and sometimes even listed prices—three major factors in coming to a mutual decision to proceed. Whatever an editor chooses to include or leave out, you should find enough to help you decide whether it looks like the right fit. And if the editor lists rates, you can come up with a ballpark figure that should also help your decision.

There’s usually some amount of wiggle room, but do the calculations anyway, if only to come up with a starting point for negotiations. If an editor lists a per-word rate of ten cents a word for developmental editing, it shouldn’t take three emails and an official proposal for you to realize you’ll be spending more than the $500 you’d budgeted for your epic novel.

2. Contact your editor early.

As an editor myself, one of the most heartbreaking parts of my job is getting a quote from a wonderful author with a fantastically exciting manuscript—and having to turn it down because the author needs the thing back in three weeks and I’m booked solid.

It looks a little like this, actually:

There are always cancellations and project delays, and in general, it’s not that big a deal when things get moved around. I’ll generally contact my wait list to see if anyone is interested in being bumped up. But you can save yourself (not to mention your editor) the disappointment by contacting your editor as far in advance as you can, even if you’re not 100% sure of the date you’ll be ready.

3. Tell the editor about your manuscript and publishing plans.

Some editors accept any type of manuscript as a matter of course; some give scheduling preference to certain genres; some accept only manuscripts that meet specific criteria. Whatever your editor’s policy, providing a few key details upfront will help him learn more about your book.


Give the page count, if you must, but the key number here is the word count (including the front and back matter, tables, footnotes—all of it). The page number alone is too subjective to be meaningful: the same manuscript in 11pt Times New Roman will have a drastically different page count in 12pt Courier New.

Genre/Age Group

This is a key piece of information. If your editor knows who your book will appeal to, he can help you lead it along that direction.

You certainly don’t have to try to cram your story into a narrowly defined box. If your story is part science fiction, part romance, and part action/adventure, with bits and pieces of other undefined genres sprinkled in, no problem. Just fill your editor in so he knows what you’re going for without having to, for example, figure out how to tactfully question you about certain explicitly erotic bits in your sci-fi action story.


While formatting happens well outside the editorial process, there are good reasons to clue your editor in to your eventual plans.

Traditionally, a document would be set in standard manuscript format and edited, then the interior created from that now standardized manuscript. Today, since more and more authors are formatting their own books, I’m always on the lookout for irregular formatting that my client may expect me to leave alone.

Some editors won’t work on a manuscript unless it’s in standard manuscript format. Personally, when I copyedit, I always change body fonts to Times New Roman and left justify the manuscript (so the right margin is ragged): I’m more confident with that font and spacing because my eye has been trained to them.

It’s best to save the layout formatting until you’re through with your editor, but if you’ve already done a significant amount, ask your editor if she’d mind leaving most of it alone. She may, but if she doesn’t, she’ll know your preferences before unknowingly overriding them.

4. Ask questions.

You should be able to answer the basics just by looking at the editor’s website—but if you have any questions or concerns that haven’t been addressed, don’t be afraid to speak up.

In my experience and from what I’ve heard from other editors, there’s nothing inherently combative about the editing process; if problems arise, it’s almost always because of a misunderstanding or miscommunication.

If you’re not sure whether something is included in the fee you’ve been quoted, ask. If you don’t know if the editor’s invoice will need to be paid immediately or within a certain period of time, check your contract, then ask. No question is a stupid question—especially if asking it now will save an exhausting and emotional episode later.

5. Let your editor know if you end up hiring someone else.

When I put together a project proposal and suggested dates for an author, I do my best to reserve that spot; if another author contacts me in the meantime, I try to give the first author ample time to confirm the project. I would never sneak someone else into my schedule if it meant cutting off an author I’ve been in good-faith negotiations with. But that second author may not always be interested in waiting a few extra days while I figure out my schedule, and there are times when I never hear from that initial author again.

I always give authors the benefit of the doubt: emergencies happen, emails go missing. But when you correspond with an editor (or anyone else) about their services, especially over multiple emails, it’s just good manners to let them know if you plan to move your plans in a new direction.

Now available at all major e-book retailers. Click to learn more!

Now available at all major e-book retailers. Click to learn more!

You don’t have to be specific. If you’re not comfortable telling an editor that you went with someone else, or that their fees don’t align with your budget, or that you aren’t in love with their terms, that’s OK. All they really need to know is that they’re free to book another client in the space they would have allotted for you.

If your plans change during negotiations, on behalf of editors everywhere, please don’t keep that to yourself!


If you’re an editor, what are some other little things you appreciate from authors? If you’re an author, what have you done to make an editor’s day? Let’s hear it in the comments!