Day 2: Editor Nicole Ayers

Have you wondered what it’s like to work with an editor? Have a few questions about how an editor may help your work? Nicole Ayers of Ayers Edits answers questions about the editorial process and what writers should consider before working with an editor.

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Q: How do you know if you can work with a writer?

NA: I communicate a lot with prospective clients. I share information about my process, offer sample edits, ask questions about their wants and experiences, and invite questions. I make myself available via email, phone, and/or Skype. And while part of all this is to give the person the information they need to know about working with me, the back-and-forth gives me insight about them. If someone’s not responsive or kind, then I know we won’t be a good fit. The sample edit also helps me decide if we can work together. Sometimes a manuscript includes content I prefer not to edit, or I see that the scope of work needed is very different than what the prospective client has requested. And I’ve learned to trust my gut. If the project doesn’t feel like a good fit for me, I politely pass.

Q: What is your process as you read through a clients work and do you read once through before making any edits?

NA: My process depends on the type of edit I’m performing. If it’s a developmental edit or manuscript evaluation, I read the entire manuscript and jot down first-impression notes when I finish. I let some time pass (usually several days at least) while ideas marinate, then I begin a close read of the manuscript, jotting down notes and ideas as I go. When working at the word level, I also make two passes, but I’m editing from the first word read.

Q:  What should a writer ask an editor before working with her or him?

NA: I wrote a blog post once that compared finding the right editor to a blind date. It’s important to ask lots of questions. Obvious ones include pricing, availability, and timelines. But other questions to consider asking include the editor’s prior experience with your genre, whether or not they use an agreement or contract, and how often they’ll communicate with you during the process. Ask what support is offered/available once edits are returned. I’ve also been asked why I’m an editor, what I like most and least about my job, and other questions that all attempt to show the writer if I can be trusted with their work.

Q: If the story isn’t ready to submit- even after edits- do you tell the writer?

NA: Yes, if. And that can be a big if because I don’t see the entire manuscript after the author makes revisions unless they hire me to complete a second-pass edit or we negotiate a review in our original agreement.

Q: What are common mistakes writers make that they can learn to fix themselves.

NA: Oh, there are lots. As a former teacher, I think writers can learn many self-editing tricks with the right instruction. Dialogue is a biggie—from a grammatical standpoint as well as a stylistic issue. Writers can learn appropriate formatting of dialogue, and they can learn how to make it sound authentic to their characters.

Q: Typically, how long does a writer have to wait to receive notes from you?

NA: That depends on several factors, including length of manuscript, type of edit, complexity of the edit, and my schedule. It can be as few as two weeks and as many as eight. Do keep in mind that the clock doesn’t start ticking until I actually start the manuscript. My calendar books out months in advance. Writers don’t usually look for an editor before their manuscript is ready. Then they have to wait for the editor they want to work with to have an opening, or they have to work with someone else whose schedule has more availability.

Q. Any advice for writers struggling with being ready to submit when their manuscript is not?

NA: Yoga. Meditation. Deep breathing. Really what they’re struggling with is patience and humility, which is so hard to practice. But if you can master patience in small ways, like holding a yoga pose, then you can transfer it to the bigger things in life.

An idea more specific to writing is to work on shorter pieces that can be submitted to contests or for publication in journals and the like. It gives the writer good practice with the submission process and feeds that need without putting the manuscript out there when it’s not ready.

Q:. What’s your opinion on writers critique groups and conferences?

NA: Those are two different animals. I’ll start with conferences. If the conference is well organized, it can be a great experience. You can attend workshops and panels with valuable take-aways. You can network with all sorts of people. And you can gain exposure for yourself if you present or find some other way to participate. So I say yes to conferences. Just be sure to do your research before you choose one.

My feelings about writing critique groups are mixed. If you’re with the “right” group, then you can grow tremendously as a writer. The problem comes when you’re not in the right group. And finding the “right” group can be tough. Look for writers in your genre, the more specific the better. Also, try to find writers that are better than you. You’ll learn a lot from them. If you’re the strongest writer, it will be a lot harder for you to grow. And beware the nitpickers (unless, of course, you’ve asked for that sort of feedback).

Also, think about your purpose for joining the group. If it’s to spend time with other writers, learn new skills, practice craft, and/or learn how to handle constructive criticism, go for it. If you’re trying to ready a specific manuscript for publication, think twice. Rarely will you share your entire manuscript at once—usually you share a couple of chapters at a time—and the process can take months. There are other issues with continuity and pacing that come up when revising like this as well. If your goal is to get a particular manuscript ready without hiring an editor, think about finding one partner that you trust to trade manuscripts with or consider beta readers.

Q: What do editorial notes look like?

NA: Again it depends on the type of edit. For line and copyedits, I use Track Changes to mark all edits. I also use the Comments feature to make queries or explain my editing suggestions. I also provide a style sheet that tracks spellings, treatment of proper nouns and numbers, as well as “rules” followed. For developmental edits, I use the Comments feature in the manuscript, and I write a multi-page editorial summary broken into the following sections: characters, point of view, setting, timeline, story arc (including ideas for revisions, elaborations, and deletions), pacing, tone, and my favorite things.

Follow Nicole on Twitter @AyersEdits.

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Alan Gratz interview

Day 3 of my author, agent, editor and a librarian interview series continues.

Today’s guest is author Alan Gratz.                                          Alan_Gratz_2013-150x150

Alan was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, home of the 1982 World’s Fair. After a carefree but humid childhood, Alan attended the University of Tennessee, where he earned a College Scholars degree with a specialization in creative writing, and, later, a Master’s degree in English education. He now lives with his wife Wendi and his daughter Jo in the high country of Western North Carolina, where he enjoys playing games, eating pizza, and, perhaps not too surprisingly, reading books.

Q: When did you first start writing?

AG: I began writing when I was very young. I was already writing stories in 1st and 2nd grades, and I wrote my first “book,” a non-fiction guide called “Real Kids Don’t Eat Spinach” when I was in the fifth grade. I continued to write creatively in middles school, then focused on journalism in high school, and went back to creative writing in college, where I earned a specialized degree in creative writing from the University of Tennessee. I’ve been writing kids books professionally since my first sale in 2003.

Q: How long did it take to write your first book?

AG: Samurai Shortstop took about nine months for me to write before it was in shape to submit it. After that, I spent another year editing it before it was in shape to be published! So all told, a year and nine months.

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Q: How has success affected your writing?

Well, it has helped and hurt. I no longer have the luxury to take as much time as I want to finish a project. But the flip-side is that I have publishers eager to get new books from me and excited about promoting them! And with greater excitement comes greater expectations, which as a creative person can sometimes be debilitating.

Q: What do you enjoy most about Trivia night?

AG: Ha. Yes, my wife and I run our local trivia night at the Pizza Shop in Spruce Pine, NC. We used to do it once a week, but we both became too busy with our personal and business lives to keep that up! So now we have a trivia night once a month. We write up a total of 70 questions each week, spread across five rounds. My favorite thing by far is hosting–I love getting up in front of a crowd and laughing and playing games. If I weren’t a writer, I think I would most like to be a game show host. 🙂

Q: Do you get nervous at school visits?

AG: I used to. I used to be so nervous before the first presentation of the day that I would forget to breathe, and about five minutes in I would literally run out of breath, and have to stop and take deep breaths to resume. Which was awkward. But now I don’t get nervous like that. Part of it is confidence and repetition. I know what I’m doing, and I’m sure now that I’m going to be a hit if I just relax and do what I know. Another part of it–and this is kind of silly–is that I later purposefully built into my talk a place where I tell a story that has someone stop and take a deep breath. Which I do as a part of telling the story. So even if I’ve reverted to being nervous, I know I have a non-awkward place in my talk to stop, take a deep breath, and then continue. 🙂

Q: Where do your ideas come from?

AG: All over the place, really. I read a lot of books, watch a lot of TV and movies, and read comics and magazines. Every time I read or see a story, I tend to think, “What would I have done with that idea?” Usually that takes me to a very different place–often unrecognizable from the original–and those ideas are really useful. I find that idea generation comes naturally if you’re naturally curious about lots of things. I’m learning something new every day–Seriously. I know that’s a cliche, but it’s true in my case–and I can almost always see a way to spin what I’ve learned into a story. It’s figuring out which of those ideas is most worth pursuing that is the real challenge, not coming up with ideas. I have a few lifetimes’ worth of ideas, but only one lifetime to write.

Q: What a rookie mistake did you make that makes you cringe when you see other aspiring authors do the same thing?

AG: When I first got The Call–that is, when an editor first called me to say she wanted to buy my book–I said yes right there on the phone. Why wouldn’t I? It’s what I had been working so hard and so long for! But then when it came time to look for an agent (I sold my first book unagented, through the slush pile) all the agents said, “Did you say yes on the phone?” and I had to confess that I had. By saying yes, I had handcuffed any potential agent from negotiating on the advance and the royalty terms (the things my editor offered on the phone) because she knew I would settle for those. Lesson learned–but unfortunately it’s a lesson you only need to use once! Saying yes to a pretty low advance started me low on the totem pole, and it’s taken me a long time to climb higher. Think of it like any other job–whatever your salary is, that’s where your raises begin when it comes time to re-up your contract. If I had started higher, I would be earning more per contract by now. Most people get agents first these days, and I would recommend that. Thirteen years ago, there weren’t nearly so many kids book agents as there are now. Times have changed a lot. But it’s still a good lesson to just say to any offer, “I’m very excited about the offer. Let me take a few days to think about it and I’ll get back to you.” Then you go in the bathroom and throw up because you didn’t say yes to the thing you’ve always wanted. But seriously, to make you an offer, an editor has gone through other readers, her senior editors, her publisher, sales and marketing–this is not an offer made lightly. She will wait for you to get back to her. Nothing happens fast in publishing anyway.

Q: What is your writing routine? Do you feel guilty if you stray from the routine?

I don’t have a set routine for writing, like getting X number of words written every day. When I’m in the research phase, I spend my days reading books and taking notes. When I’m in the outling phase, I take as long as I need in a given day to get the story beats right. When I’m in first draft mode, I like to write at least a chapter every day, but some days in there I don’t write at all. It’s good to take a mental health day every once in a while. I do feel bad when I’m not working on a book period–no research, outlining, writing, editing, etc. Like, I get cranky and angry and I don’t sleep well and I start to feel physically bad. I *need* to be working on something all the time, I think, which certainly helps motivate me. When you’re your own boss, you have to be the carrot, the stick, AND the mule.

Q: Will you see Star Trek Beyond opening weekend? Will you carry a spork into the theater?

AG: Yes! My family are planning on seeing Star Trek Beyond on the Friday of opening weekend! I’m a fan of all the incarnations of Star Trek, and I like a lot of what they have done with the reboot films. I didn’t love Into Darkness, but it was better than some of the other misses in the franchise. No, I will not carry a spork into the theater, and no, I will not be in costume–I grew out of my TNG uniform tunic many years ago. That reminds me–I should make a new one! I’ve actually thought about cosplaying as the evil Spock from “Mirror, Mirror.” That or a Ghostbusters costume or an MST3K jumpsuit may be my next cosplay project…

Q: How many drafts do you typically write before submitting to your critique partner, agent or publisher?

Now that I have a few books under my belt with my editors and agent, I generally write a first draft, have my wife read it and give me notes, and then I reread it and address her notes and my own notes I wrote myself as I did the first draft. If I see something I should have done in a first draft, I don’t go back and fix it–I always want to be moving forward in a draft, not looking back. Each new day is new writing, not reworking old words. That comes later. My first job is to finish the first draft. After I’ve reworked the book, I’m usually ready to send it to my agent, if it’s unsold, or to my editor if it’s a project I sold on proposal, which I’m doing more of now. I write very clean first drafts though–I outline for a month before writing, so I have the story beats down cold. I don’t write to find the story, as some do, so my plotting is already pretty tight the first time around.

Q: What word did you delete the most from the last draft you revised?

AG: “Then” can often go, in favor of splitting up longer sentences into two. I always try to get rid of “suddenly” as much as I can too, and just make the event happen suddenly on the page without having to say it.

Q: How do you keep self-motivated?

AG: I like to eat pizza and buy books, which cost money, so that helps push me. 🙂 I’m only half-kidding–writing is now my job, my career, and I don’t get paid unless I write. So I write. But I chose this career because I love to tell stories. And I want to tell as many of them as I can. I have never been a one-idea/one-book guy. I knew if I ever got my foot in the door I could keep going as long as people kept buying things from me, and that’s what I’ve done. I also have a healthy fear of death (call it the ultimate FOMO), and I think part of my drive to write a book (or two!) a year is my desperation to get as much work out there as possible before I’m gone to preserve my legacy.

Q: Do you ever write long hand?

I *love* to write long hand, but it’s slow–and hurts when I write all day long. I have to type most everything now, from research notes to drafts. But I do like to outline by hand, on note cards that I post on my big wall in my office. That’s how I get my writing by hand fix. 🙂

Q: How do you cope with reviews?

Oof. Well, reviews can be really debilitating when they’re bad. And I fixate on the bad ones. Code of Honor has a bunch of four and five star reviews on Amazon right now, but I’ve read the single one-star review over and over again. Poor reviews on Amazon and Goodreads aren’t near as bad as bad professional reviews though. Those really burn, because someone was paid to set you on fire, AND those reviews get pride of place in professional journals and online retailers. And there’s nothing you can do about a bad review–nothing you SHOULD do, anyway. You should definitely NOT respond to any bad review with a defense of your book, or worse, an attack on the reviewer. You just have to let them go. But when I see them, I read them. I don’t know how I could not.

Q: What kind of relationship do you have with your agent?

I’m represented by Holly Root of Waxman Leavell, and I’m very happy with her. She not only works to sell and support my current projects, but helps me think about my future career path as well. Ultimately, all you can ask is that an agent be your second biggest advocate in the world (after yourself) and she’s definitely that. Well, perhaps my third biggest advocate, after my wife. 🙂

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  • total side note: I saw Star Trek opening day and it is FANTASTIC! -HRH

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