Besides making mistakes I confess to, I do actually do some things well. I pay attention to what people who know more say. On that note today, I’m sharing my interview with the sassy and talented Betsy Thorpe. Betsy has been in the book business for 20 years and has an impressive bio as an editor, co-writer and ghost writer. She is a literary badass. Take a moment to sip on a beverage and absorb her generous insight.
Q: There comes a time when a writer thinks their book is ready for submission. How often do you think that writer is incorrect? As in – they should put it away for XX amount of time (days, weeks, dare I say a month) and then look at it again give it another pass and then send it out?
B: There is never a time when a book is truly “done” because you can always keep working on it and tweaking it. However, from my own experience writing a novel, I’d say produce at least three drafts of a novel before submitting, and make sure you’ve had multiple other readers, and a professional edit if you can afford one. You’re trying out for the Major Leagues here, so you need to make your work extremely polished. And as far as putting it away for a certain amount of time, I’d say, be highly involved in your next book already before you submit your first (I got that piece of advice from Stephen King’s book: On Writing, which I highly recommend).
Q: When a writer is ready, is it in their best interest to then give the manuscript to an editor? We can put in your editing services here- I know you have a blurb on your blog. Tell about your upcoming 2 editors and a comma event.
B: I think you owe it to your work, which you have slaved over and worried about and loved like a baby, to give it the best shot possible in the world. The competition is so fierce for representation with a reputable literary agent and publishing house, and to use the baseball try-outs analogy again, to submit without an editor would be like trying out for the Yankees without a coach. I consider my role as a coach for writers – to determine whether it’s time for submission, whether another draft is needed, what an author’s strengths and weaknesses are, whether the manuscript has commercial potential, which agents to approach, etc. There are numerous decisions that need to be made with a person’s work. I try and work with people at all budget levels to make sure they have at least some of that feedback.
Our upcoming Two Editors and a Blog workshop on April 20th is on dialogue. This is such a fun and important topic! I’ve been working with a lot of novelists lately, and they all seem to need help in this part of their writing. How do you make dialogue seem authentic, and not archaic. How can you differentiate characters by their voices. Dialogue tags and the descriptions that nestle between dialogue passages. Getting these facets right can enhance your book greatly. I can’t wait to teach this with my colleague Carin Siegfried.
Q: Do you write queries for clients? Do you require the client to at least write a rough draft? Is there a most common mistake you see in query letters?
B: Query letters are so crucial. I was briefly an agent, and I can’t tell you the amount of submissions that I got that completely ignored the protocol for what should go in a query letter, and thus were summarily rejected. So if you’ve got a great query letter that is formatted in the way that agents want to see them, you’re already ahead of 90% of your fellow would-be published writers.
Yes, I do help authors with their queries, as there is a format and a structure that will help them look polished and pull an agent in to ask to see sample work. I do ask that they draft the letter first, telling them the general parameters of what I need, and then I’ll polish it and we’ll go back and forth for a few rounds of edits. It doesn’t take me long to do this with an author, so it’s a very good investment on behalf of the author’s work.
Q: Please expand upon query basics: one page in length, …
B: Treat the letter as though you’re applying for the job. Make sure you have researched the agent to whom you are submitting, and can tell them why you are submitting to them. In the second paragraph, give a brief description of your work, and potentially two books that you could compare your work to (but don’t make it obvious – I can’t tell you how many people compare their books to Eat, Pray, Love, or The Da Vinci Code, or Twilight.) Be original! The third paragraph should be about who you are, your background in writing, if any, and why you’ve written the book, and any means to market your book (this is incredibly important for non-fiction). The fourth paragraph is basically a conclusion, hoping that the agent will want to read more and be in touch.
Q: Please share what common responses actually mean:
B: No response :
Most agents will say on their websites that due to the enormous amount of submissions they receive (some over 10,000), they can not reply to queries unless they are interested. So no response will mean a “no.”
Some agents will have a form letter that thanks the author for their submission, but will say it’s not right for their list. It’s important to know here that finding an agent who loves your work is akin to finding a soul mate, so be prepared to kiss a lot of frogs here before you find your match.
Form letter with a personal note:
This is an encouraging sign that the agent was engaged in your work, and wanted to let you know that “job well done.” You were better than most, but it still wasn’t right for her.
Personal letter but still rejected – This is almost like the above, but definitely an encouragement.
Personal letter saying I like but needs work, revise and resubmit
Some authors might get rankled over the feedback that an agent doesn’t love the book exactly as it is, but this is a huge sign that you are close. Listen to what the agent is looking for. Is the beginning weak, so that it takes a while to get into the book? Is there a point at where the plot becomes unbelievable? Do your best to fix this, and definitely re-submit. Don’t do this in two days – take your time to make sure you get this right.
Send material: This is a very good sign that your query letter was intriguing. Now you have to find out whether your material lives up to the query letter. If you get a bunch of requests, and no offers, there is something wrong with your manuscript, and it should be fixed. Ask for feedback from the agent who requests your novel/non-fiction/memoir, and then rejects it. There could be multiple reasons, or it could be just one (but don’t harass them – the are busy folks who are just trying to make a living – it’s not their job to give you feedback unless they feel compelled to). I had one client I worked with recently who had a ton of requests for her novel, but the agents all had the same feedback: the start of the novel just didn’t work, and the book didn’t take off until after page 50 (it was to her great credit that she engaged them enough that they actually read that far!). I helped her completely change the beginning of the book, because I could easily spot this flaw and saw what she needed to do. After we finished, she had three agents fighting to represent her, and now the book is out on submission with editors.
Q:Have bribes ever worked?
B: Bribes with agents? Well, I guess a box of cookies or chocolates or flowers is always nice, but in the end, agents get paid only when they sell a book, as they work on commission (15%). So if they don’t believe they can make money selling your work, bribery isn’t going to work for sure! Agents want to see your work first before they’ll start falling in love with what a nice and thoughtful person you are.
Q: How many times would you take rejection before giving up? Do you recommend revising book as it’s being queried or starting a new one?
B: This depends on the subject. For romance, you can easily find over 60 active agents who represent in this field. For some non-fiction topics, it’s hard to find 20 (do your research on Publisher’s Marketplace and look at agents’ deals). The number of agents representing in certain fields is usually in relation to how large the shelves are that their books are going onto. Have you seen the size of the parenting shelf lately? Tiny. Have you seen the rows of shelves for romance? Very large. So I usually say about 60 for fiction, and probably 45 for non-fiction.
Q: How helpful are conferences at making connections?
B: I couldn’t encourage authors more to meet with agents and editors at a writer’s conference. Face-to-face time is huge, and you will be remembered. Just make sure what you submit is polished. If you get encouraging feedback, take the time to polish the whole book one more time before submitting it to the agent. They’ll remember you and wait.
Q: How do you feel about self publishing. How do you feel about it if all a writer has received is form rejection letters?
B: I think you should be proud of your work and have a forum in which to publish it, and self-publishing, with its tiny up-front costs (I never recommend buying one of their “packages”) at least assures that your work is out there. The trick with any book, be it published with a large publisher or a self-publisher, is getting the reader to the book. Make sure the reader can read a sample online somewhere. Make sure you have a gorgeous jacket, interior design, and that’s it’s been line edited and copy-edited. Treat this like a small business project and learn about promoting your book. Certain genre subjects do very well being self-published (romance, fantasy, thrillers, non-fiction on a niche topic), so there is hope for success there. And at the very least, you can leave a copy of your work and your thoughts and your passion for those you love. I personally think everybody should write a book, and those who have done so already should be inordinately proud, as so many people tell me that they want to write a book, but precious few do.
Q: Can you recommend any self publishers?
B: This is a huge topic. I wish I had more time to personally research all self-publishers, as ten new ones seem to open every day. But I can tell you that some of my clients have published with lulu and createspace, but there are a huge amount of options there. Research this thoroughly, and look for professional and consumer guides by journalists and fellow authors. There’s a ton of information out there available on the web – it just requires time to go through.
For additional information on Betsy, her services and the upcoming workshop please visit: www.betsythorpe.com
So, most of you are aware that I wrote a Young Adult novel and am actively querying it to literary agents. I worked for years on my manuscript, worshopped it, paid for critiques, had trusted friends give me notes, started over, revised, killed darlings, filled out chapters and poured all that I am into this book.
I’d like to pass along one tidbit of information to you, my fellow writers, about querying. First off, let me confess, I was a nervous wreck about writing my own query. I tried one hundred and fifty-six times to condense my work into a few short paragraphs. A skill that takes a keen eye and precision. Neither of which I possess when it comes to my own work. I have helped at least fifteen friends do this with their novels and memoirs, but simply haven’t transferred the ability magically to my own work. It’s so aggravating. That being said, I did finally write a query, I thought it was good and when I thought I’d written the best book I could ever write, and after I had an editor go through my manuscript and correct my poor comma usage, typos and grammar I began the process of sending my work out into the world.
I created an excel spreadsheet. The header has: date submitted, agent, agency, agency website, email address, submission guidelines, response date, notes. Next I researched the agents. I saw who represented books I love, books my friends wrote, I went to the SCBWI website and checked into their list of agents, I get Publishers Marketplace, I clicked on agent reviews, querytracker, I read agency websites, paid attention to submission guidelines, found interviews and read them, I did everything I could think of and then some to build the list of agents to query. I want to find someone who will love my book and be my advocate.
What I didn’t understand, and what I hope to spare you from, is like everything else having to do with writing, it takes revision before your work is ready. There is a learning curve with query letters, even if you think you’re a smarty pants. And man-oh-man did I smash my face against it. I admit my Rookie Error in an earlier post, where I quote an agent who reviewed my book at an SCBWI event telling the other agent how much she liked the mother daughter relationship. But guess what, that agent didn’t ask for my book, and so all the agents I sent that what I thought pertinent information actually thought was, “Ms. G passed. I will too.” Don’t do that people. Don’t tell an agent another agent liked an aspect of your work. They don’t care unless that agent wants your book and then let the war start.
I studied my query, I read other queries, I got new perspective on my work and then I REVISED MY QUERY, over and over before submitting the query to other agents.
Now here is where my bit of advice come is. When you create your dream list of agents, my suggestion is…..
DON’T SEND YOUR QUERY TO THE TOP FIVE FIRST. Make your mistakes and learn but don’t push away a potential agent with silly mistakes. Get your sea legs. Figure out what works best for you and your story and then go for it!
Hope to see you all on a bookshelf soon!
I vaguely remember dating and the anxiety over waiting for a phone call after the first date. If the date was good, I’d fixate on how the first kiss was. I’d remember all the sensory sensations of being near him, how his clothes fit his body, his smell, the taste of his mouth, how swollen my lips were after kissing him, how my skin was electrified by a new touch, and then I would wonder, was it the same for him?
Would he call in 3 days or one week? I dated in LA so all bets were off regarding dating callback etiquette. Beautiful girls were everywhere models and actresses literally lined the streets, I was neither. I wasn’t so much into playing games. If I liked someone I liked them a bit too much at first. I was the nicest version of myself. I could take nearly three months for the real me, the moody, ever so slightly bitchy girl to emerge. The one who didn’t want to pamper the new guy. The one who was like, seriously you’re boring me- let’s do something fun. I feel the same anxiety now, as I impatiently wait to hear back from a literary agent.
I’m here now, at my desk thinking of all the busy work I can do to keep my mind off an agent calling, emailing, texting, twittering, anything asking me for more pages, and wanting to represent me. I’m not good at this part. I should keep writing and revising. I should dig in to book 2. Instead, I think about how:
- I need to sort out my taxes.
- I need to go food shopping.
- I need to get my hair colored.
- I’d love a mani.
- I need to clear the clutter off my desk.
- It’s nearly my birthday and I am freaked out about turning 44.
- Gray it is outside.
All these things are weak distractions. I’ve got to refocus. Insert sound of my nails strumming the wood on my desk and the image of me biting the inside of my right lower lip. I can do this. It will happen. Yes I can.
I am thinking about Hanukkah presents. I know it’s early - I know we haven’t indulged ourselves in all the wonderful food Thanksgiving has to offer. But Hanukkah is early this year people! It starts December 8th!
All I want for Hanukkah is an agent. Is that too much to ask for?
I am imagining my agent sending me a little blue Tiffany bag with a signature blue box and satin ribbon inside. I will carefully pull out the gift and slip the ribbon off the shiny box and lift the lid. Inside will be a note saying, “We want to represent you and Life-Like!”
I will jump up and down and do the most enthusiastic happy dance ever. My agent will go on to sell Life-Like, get a 2014 publishing date, and secure me a three book deal. What’s not to love?!
If my husband could get that magical Tiffany’s box for me he would. But it’s not up to him.
I know who it is exactly that I want to send me that box, I cross my fingers all day and say a little prayer every night about hearing good news from them. But they’re silent. So, in the meantime, I dream.
My friend, literary agent extraordinaire, Tracey Adams of Adams Literary, informed me today the Women’s National Book Association-Charlotte is the PW picture of the day. The photo was taken at our Bibliofeast event. I am on the far left, and am pictured with Lisa Kline, Judy Goldman and Betsy Thorpe. How cool is that?!
We made PW Picture of the Day! NICE, Women’s National Book Association–Charlotte!!!!
One week ago tomorrow, I sent my first query and submission to an agent. Want to know what I’ve been doing since then? Recuperating. Seriously, I have. Once I committed to releasing LIFE-LIKE into the inbox narcolepsy took control. I could barely keep my eyes open an hour after.
I have similar fits of sleepiness when I write scenes that challenge me. I almost always lay down in bed, the Sand Man busy dumping bushels of narcoleptic toxins over me. I always lay down with a pen and notebook by my side, knowing my subconscious will do wonders and help me. I nearly always have a breakthrough as sleep attempts to overtake me. I scribble notes across the blank sketchbook page and trust there will be something to work with when I wake up later.
But this is different. This is me with no control. It’s back to that taste and timing thing I mentioned a few weeks ago. Man, was that easier to say when years of work were still safe and sound, in my computer and under my control.
I know I should get cracking on the next book. I know what I’m going to write about. I even have a bit of an outline. But I can’t do it. I don’t know if I’m waiting for my first no to kick-start me. I hope not. I pray for a yes, but understand the statistical rarity. How many writers are repped by the first agent they query? Anyone want to chime in there?
I’ve built a spreadsheet. I pulled out my film producer hat and created order for my querying process. The header includes: date submitted, agent name, email, agent preferences, authors the agent reps, submission guidelines, and the name of a person I know who knows them (if they gave me approval to use their name). I see if they represent something a little too close to mine, and make sure I don’t query those who wouldn’t like my style or high concept.
I try to remember, during the SCBWI Carolina’s conference September 28-30 2012, Susan Chung, editor at Tor Books, would have kept reading my book after hearing the 200 words read aloud. And agent Anna Olswanger, Liza Dawson Associates said, “The writing flows and the dialogue is snappy. the high school setting is believable, as are the characters, and I ike Liv’s moment of vulnerability when Billy says, “I’m not with her”…” Ms. Olswanger went on to say,” I think this will be marketable. It has a believable teen setting with ghost story and romance, and it shows a girl and her mother who love each other, which is refreshing in YA literature.” That feedback is valuable.
I dont’ think it’s right to tell you who I submitted to. I will once the three week exclusive they requested is over. I respect them and honestly don’t want to risk upsetting them or muck up my chances with them. My hands and armpits start to sweat when I think about them reading or not reading my work. I will have to turn my focus toward Halloween. I love Halloween. Then I’ll start the first draft of my next book, title TBD.
Please, cross your fingers and say a little prayer for -LIFE-LIKE finding an agent and publisher soon. Thanks!
I think I’m finished, totally finished with my manuscript LIFE-LIKE. It’s in expert hands getting a grammatical once-over. Why can’t I take a deep breath and enjoy the small success? Neurotic Holly is taking full shape behind me. She’s typically spectral and whispers nonsense in my ears, encouraging me to doubt and second guess my choices.
But now that Halloween is fast approaching that bitch is getting stronger and is wearing a full on Elvira outfit. Sexy ain’t cute when it’s my own self doubt. You see, I made changes to the book, after I thought it was done, and now I’m not sure if I helped or hurt my story. I can’t see the words on the page, can’t feel the emotions behind the scenes I wrote. I’m too close. My tweakinghas gone on too long and now I’m officially done. If my friend doesn’t like the changes I made I’m going to revert to the older version and send it out. I know for sure it’s all a matter of taste.
I attended the SCBWI Carolina’s 20th Annual Fall conference. It was good. I got to meet new writers, talk to new acquaintances and have two critiques. The feedback in the critiques was fascinating, and also lead me to believe it’s time to set my book free and being querying.
You see, one note said it was offensive that my protagonist, Liv, looks at herself in the mirror and fixes her hair in a low ponytail so her Jewish nose wouldn’t look too big. The critique by, Anna Olswanger, agent at Liza Dawson Associates, said “I was risking making readers not like Liv, and the manuscript has too much potential to risk that.” Being a Jewish girl who has a Jewish nose, I didn’t agree and found it interesting how this agent latched onto that description. Ms. Olswanger also went on to say, “My book was marketable, and it was refreshing that my book shows a mother and daughter who love each other.” She was not a fan of the initial tone of my narrator but “the writing flows, and the dialogue is snappy. The high school setting is believable, as are the characters.”
Good stuff right? But it took my reading her critique five times to see the good points and not the stuff she didn’t like.
I also participated in First Pages. This is an event where Alan Gratz, reads the first 200 words of participants manuscripts aloud to two editors and one agent to get immediate feedback. I was scared and excited. I love how Alan reads. And when I heard him read mine, I was thrilled because he read the words as I imagined them while writing. He spoke Liv’s voice, and it was awesome! That being said, one editor and the agent didn’t dig it. The third editor, Susan Chang, Senior Editor Tor Books said, “I don’t like the use of the word ass, I think it’s meant to shock me, and I’m not sure about the starting on one direction and then shifting to another but, I would keep reading. And that my dears is all that matters!
At least that is what I keep telling myself. The other notes I received were all a matter of taste and timing. I have no control over those things. If an agent reads my query or work on a day they’re not in the mood for a story about death and limbo, or if they read enough characters named Liv, or they don’t get the spiritual element or they didn’t drink enough coffee, they’re tired and not in the mood to go through queries but are doing it anyway because maybe one thing will catch their attention, well i can’t do anything about that. I’ve done all I can to make LIFE-LIKE the best I can. So fingers crossed, it will strike a chord with an agent who will be able to sell it so in 2014 you can read it.
In the meantime, I’ve got to hog tie Elvira and get cracking on the next book. Because writers write, we can’t help ourselves. And I don’t’ quit.
I’ve hit that point in the process of writing my first YA book where I’ve fallen out of love. Like any long term relationships it has ups and downs. This is normal. I checked in with Samantha Dunn to make sure. I didn’t trust myself. I would have asked Kimberely Griffiths Little to hold my hand through my neurotic moment, but she is very busy with her own revisions to her books that I didn’t want to bog her down with my shit.
I’ve had a disappointing week. I didn’t win the Pen Parentis Fellowship. I haven’t heard back from two different magazines about essays I submitted, I sent a short story out to Cricket and I check my mailbox every day for my SASE, and I ventured into WriteOncon and my stuff didn’t get the attention of any ninja agents, or much feedback in general and my ego is screaming HEY YOU! PAY ATTENTION TO ME! WHY AREN’T YOU NOTICING ME? PLEASE LOVE ME, I NEED YOU TO FALL IN LOVE WITH LIFE-LIKE!
Instead of accolades I’ve had to deal with the reality that writing is brutally hard often isolating work. This stack of paper represents the last four months of work. The pile depicts two binders containing drafts of LIFE-LIKE.As you can see, it’s four inches thick. And that doesn’t include all the paper I’ve recycled. At first this amount of writing felt like an accomplishment, however after putting my manuscript down for two weeks and letting an editor correct my grammatical errors I picked it up and read it through, as a book on the printed page, and the feelings of achievement were replaced with doubts. I looked at all those pages and the years of work they represent and thought, this stinks.
All I saw was a flaw. I always felt a lull in the writing at a certain point, I felt myself run out of steam, and as a reader with fresh eyes the lull screams at me, “Hey Holly, this sentence isn’t as good as the rest. It has to be. Get back to it.” Or in the ever brilliant words of Tod Goldberg, “This part of your story doesn’t suck. You must write it all on that level.” (he said that to me way back when in 2004 when I was working on a short story) I think it’s good that I can recognize weakness in my work but now I had to figure out how to make it better.
I paced, watched sad movies, then I watched action movies, did errands and even folded the laundry but nothing came to me. I read and reread the offending chapters. And I pinpointed where the changes would have to come in the book. I understood I must up the ante, increase tension and drama and that is difficult to write. I do know enough about my process to accept that I layer one thing(character development, plot, setting) in at a time per draft. I was happy to see the changes I made previously are consistent throughout the book. But they are too consistent. Who wants to read that?
My self-pity and the realization of how much work I have to do led me to self loathing.
And then I figured out one idea that can be turned into a scene that will change everything. Now I have to write it. And I have to write at least three to five chapters that carry that momentum forward before the emotional end. And I’m begging my imagination and my guides and God to help me do it now. I want all the ideas to flood in and I want my fingers to have difficulty keeping up with the story, but that isn’t happening.
That’s when doubt came along and sat next to my computer screen and stared at me. See him? He’s a crabby little bugger. Doubt is trying to convince me I can’t do it. I can’t fix the story or sell it. I think I’m going to have to show that crafty bugger he’s wrong. I’ve got to go. LIFE-LIKE is calling to me. We have unfinished business.
Happy Friday everyone. Today I’d like to introduce you to Carin Siegfried editor extraordinaire. This woman knows her stuff. She is a complete editing and publishing resource.
According to Carin, the world of publishing is certainly in flux these days, and it’s always helpful to have a knowledgeable guide to lead the way. A former book editor at St. Martin’s Press, she is able to provide assistance to writers on a number of levels. No matter where you are in the publishing process, and no matter where you want to go, from consulting, editing, copyediting, and proofreading, Carin Siegfried Editorial is a full-service independent editorial boutique to help you make your book the very best.
I had very selfish reasons for interviewing Carin. I am at that stage of the novel writing game where I need editorial help. And I know my grammar isn’t the best, and I know my book could use a professional once over and I know I like writing lists of three and they may get annoying to read chapter after chapter hence the need for editorial assistance. But what kind? I wasn’t sure what questions to ask an editor when interviewing them to help me. So I went to a trusted source. I just so happen to be the new Secretary for the Charlotte Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. Carin is a past President. Talk about Kismet.
I tucked away any embarrassment I had about being ignorant about editing and asked her if she was interested in being interviewed. She said, “Yes!” Don’t we all wish we would hear yes more often?
So here you go. A little background information about Carin Siegfried. For more detailed information please visit her site at www.cseditorial.com.
1. Have you always loved books? What was your first favorite? Has it stood the test of time?
Yes, I’ve always loved books. I taught myself to read when I was about 3, and haven’t stopped since. I remember once as a child sitting outside in the yard reading (Mom could make me go outside but she couldn’t make me play!) and I was so enraptured by my book that I didn’t notice I got 3 bee stings (I apparently sat in the middle of a large clump of clover) until I went back inside when I was done reading.
Hm, my memory doesn’t quite go back far enough to say what was my first favorite, so I’d probably have to go with the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My parents were reading the books to me and my younger sister when our baby sister was born (name: Laura!) and I read them all over and over again. As an adult I usually reread only the last 4 but a couple of years ago, thanks to Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick, I was inspired to reread all of them, including Farmer Boy, which I am not sure that I ever reread. These books are all totally still amazing.
2. Tell us about the WNBA.
I first joined the Nashville chapter about 14 years ago when I worked at Ingram, and then I was a member of the New York chapter when I worked at St. Martin’s Press. When I moved to Charlotte, there was no chapter here, and aside from at work, I was having a lot of trouble meeting fellow bookish people, so I decided to form a chapter here, too, which was founded in 2009. The Women’s National Book Association has been around for 95 years now, and my favorite thing about it is that it’s a big umbrella group. Yes, there are groups for authors and publicists and even editors. In places like New York, there are even more specialized groups, such as for book production and copyeditors and the like. Librarians have their own groups, and children’s writers and illustrators. But the WNBA is here for all! In fact, you don’t even have to fit into any of these categories – it is not limited to people who work in the book world professionally. The only qualification is that you have to love books. (You don’t even need to be a woman.) Because of this, there’s a great diversity of backgrounds and interests which I think is great. I’ve always been very interested in learning new things and looking at things from new angles, and having everyone, from teachers to agents to readers, all together opens my eyes to new topics, new issues, and new ways of seeing the world of books. There are 10 chapters around the country so there’s probably one near you, but if there isn’t, you can start your own chapter too! Just contact me and I can help.
3. Do you enjoy being an editor more than writing?
Oh yes. I haven’t written anything since college and looking back, it was all dreck. In fact, I’m afraid to look at it. Once big reason I decided to be an editor instead is that my writing wasn’t up to my own standards. Also when I took a college creative writing class, my classmates were much, much more enthusiastic about my editing skills than my writing skills, and in fact that didn’t mention anyone else’s editing skills at all. I have always had a very critical and analytical mind, and luckily I was raised to believe that you’re not allowed to complain about something without being willing to do something to fix it. That means my criticism is very constructive. I try to suggest a solution, not just point out a problem.
4. What is your relationship like with publishing houses now?
Since leaving New York, I switched to the sales side of the business, so while I do know a lot of people at publishing houses, they’re mostly in the Sales Departments these days, not so many in Editorial anymore. But the work I do doesn’t require publishing contacts so it’s just as well. I do sometimes help authors with submitting their manuscripts, but that’s a matter of researching literary agents – the agents are the ones who know the editors who are acquiring. That said, if there’s a new book coming out I’m desperate to get and don’t want to pay for it, I usually still have someone I can call for a comp copy, but I don’t do that often. I usually buy them retail these days!
5. Do you believe your experiences with publishers helps you work with writers? Can you help a writer target their book to a specific publisher?
It does help incredibly as I know what an acquiring editor is looking for. I know that how you present your work counts, that your potential marketing and publicity plans are important, that a prestigious agent, while not a must, can be helpful. I can explain to a client the time frame of publishing and why everything takes so long. I can explain about a publishing contract and how agents and editors work together. I am a big proponent of agents, so I generally wouldn’t help craft a book to a publisher, but a query letter should always be tweaked to appeal to a particular agent, once you’re done your homework. Not to mention, while a query or a proposal can be targeted, I don’t think a book should be. I think an author should write the book that is in them, and the right agent/editor/publishing house will come along. Yes, it’s rarely right away – just like with dating it takes time and kissing a lot of frogs, but it’s worth it to find The One.
6. What’s your take on the state of books?
Books are doing great. If it’s more publishing you mean, well it’s in flux, but it always is. The end of “publishing as we know it” has been heralded scores of times, from the advent of mass markets to audios to paperbacks to CD-roms (yes, really), and yet they all (except CD-roms) co-exist happily. I think the same will be true for ebooks. (To read a funny history of “the end of publishing”, check out Shelf Awareness, “Deeper Understanding” from Jan 8, 2010: http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ar/theshelf/2010-01-08/robert_gray_publishing_trends_of_futures_past.html) It will take a while to shake down, 20 years or more (this is not an industry known to quickly embrace new technology), and yes I think traditional publishing might end up being smaller, but the audience will have realized in the meantime that many of the services traditional publishing provides (editing, copyediting, proofreading, design, marketing, promotion) are difficult to forgo, and good books will be harder to find, harder to read, and harder to hear about. Yes, they do currently serve as gatekeepers, but there are over 250,000 books published each year by traditional publishers, so the majority of those not published aren’t overlooked gems. Meanwhile, some self-publishing authors are being smart and are actually getting their own editors, copyeditor, proofreaders, designers, and so on. Thanks to them, I am keeping very busy, and I think the world of self-publishing will stay strong and find more success. I don’t know that it will go back to its heyday, when Dickens and so many other classic authors self-published, but it’s out of the doldrums of the 1980’s vanity publishing fraudsters.
7. Please help us new writers understand the various editorial services at our disposal.
What do these mean:
Primarily this is query letter or book proposal preparation. I provide assistance with submitting to appropriate agents and/or publishers, including answering questions such as: What do agents and publishing house editors look for in a manuscript? I will lay out the entire editorial process to prepare the writer for the many steps, including potential pitfalls to avoid. I bring a knowledge of what sells, how to find your niche, what genres are popular, and so on. I also assist with self-publishing, including finding designers and other professionals to create a finished book or eBook, getting an ISBN, and registering copyright.
Looking at the big picture, at problems with plot, character, pacing, point of view, and endings. So I would address issues such as character motivation, making sure all major characters are fully fleshed out, watching for plot holes, and being sure all threads are wrapped up in the end. For nonfiction, this involves fleshing out the idea, outlining, research, and competitive analysis.
Working on the nuts and bolts of the book including dialogue, word choice, flow, and language. This would include things like fixing passive verbs, cutting down on adverb usage, being sure verb tense is correct and consistent throughout, and improving clarity. Frequently I will do a combo of developmental and line editing together.
Create a style guide, which is a listing of all words that might be tricky, including all proper nouns and compound words, and I check proper nouns for accuracy, particularly when it comes to trademarks. Copyediting catches spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors; cleans-up complicated writing; ensures consistency and accuracy, all according to the Chicago Manual of Style.
Catch last minute typos and errors, so you put out a flawless product. For proofreading, a manuscript should have already been copyedited and formatted. New errors can appear in the formatting process so it’s important that the proof read come at the very end.
and how does one determine what they need?
Well the descriptions above should help – the last two are very different so those are easy to pin down. The first two overlap quite a bit, which is a reason I frequently do them simultaneously. If you’ve done a lot of editing, a lot of workshopping, have had a lot of critical reads – and I mean critical – and are very sure of the story, you can probably skip the developmental edit. Although it still can’t hurt to have a professional look at it, and if your manuscript is very clean, it won’t cost much as the charge is hourly. If you just finished writing and hardly anyone has looked at it, and those who did only gave praise, a developmental edit is where I would begin. Copyediting is for when you’re ready to publish, and so that’s only if you’re going the self-publishing route. Otherwise a traditional publisher has your book copyedited, and proofread themselves (at their expense.)
Submit your work to the 1st Annual WNBA Writing Contest!
Submissions open from May 1st to November 1st. Fiction entries judged by Valerie Martin award-winning author of 9 novels, 3 short story collections, and one biography. Poetry entries judged by Julie Kane, Poet Laureate of Louisiana.
Check out the guidelines and prizes at www.wnba-books.org/contest