Jennifer Johnson-Blalock, Associate Agent, Liza-Dawson Associates

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Jennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent’s assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock, and visit her website: www.jjohnsonblalock.com.
Q: Have you always read your own queries?
JJB: Yes! I’m a newer agent–it’s been a little over a year now–and while I have an amazing roster of clients, I’m still looking to grow my list. It’s important to me to read my own queries so that I know I’m not missing anything. Occasionally, I’ll request something I didn’t know I was looking for or even something I thought I didn’t want because something about the letter just seemed too appealing not to take a look.
Our first priorities as agents have to be to our existing clients, so I think most agents reach a point where they have to let someone else do at least the first sift through the query inbox. But I hope to read my queries for as long as possible.
Q: Why did you want to be an agent?
JJB: I love books–that’s why we’re all here, right? More specifically, though, I love how varied agenting is. Since my relationship is with the client rather than a specific aspect of the publishing process, I get to follow a book through from start to finish, helping my client with tasks from contracts to editing to publicity. Every day is different, and every situation is a unique challenge. (I love being challenged.) And there’s nothing more exciting than being one of the very first people to read a truly great book.
Q: Have you fallen in love with any stories but passed because you know they are difficult sells?
JJB: No…ish. If I really fall in love with something, I take it on. That doesn’t always mean the book will sell (I’ve had one so far that didn’t; I’m sure I’ll have more–that’s part of the business), but if I’m head over heels for the book, I have to try. However, I’ve definitely LIKED books that I haven’t taken on because I thought they might be tough to sell. Publishing is competitive, and the reality is that I work for free until a book sells. I like to have a reasonable belief that a book will have a good chance in the market. You never really know for sure, though, so all I can do is go with my gut and hope that if I love something, I’ll find a publisher that does, too.
Q: How do diverse books impact your selection?
JJB: I definitely seek out diverse books, and I’m always happy to receive queries for them, especially if they’re #ownvoices. I recently signed a client through #DVpit, and my first sale was for a YA book with a biracial protagonist. I really love how the conversation about diversity in publishing has expanded recently, and I think it’s so important that we keep talking about how we can better represent more readers. Everyone should be able to see her or himself in a book. That being said, the quality of the book and my love for it is still paramount, and I do consider and acquire books that don’t feature diversity as well. But it is a bonus factor for me.
Q: What’s the most exciting thing about discovering a new writer?
JJB: Oh my goodness, everything. I love when I’m reading a submission, and I start to get that “don’t want to put it down” feeling, and realize it may be something I want to represent. And it’s such an amazing feeling when I’m on the first call with a writer, and they can barely speak because they’re so excited to get an offer of representation. And then getting to call an author and tell them you got an offer on their debut book? THE BEST. I love everything about being on the front lines with an author, helping to achieve their dreams and to bring a new book into the world.
Q: Is the #MSWL helpful for you or are you flooded with one genre because of it?
JJB: #MSWL is incredibly helpful! I think agents get more flooded with genres because of sales; we definitely build reputations for success in certain areas, so it makes sense that writers would query us with those projects. MSWL allows us to say, I know I’m a great fit for this, but I’m ALSO really looking for that. I’ve found that writers are really responsive to that. I think it’s helpful on both sides.
Q: If you could change anything about agenting-what would it be?
JJB: I don’t know that this is something that ever COULD be changed, but one of the toughest things about agenting for me personally is a lack of objective benchmarks. I could always be doing reading more, there could always be more offers, the advances could always be higher. It’s difficult to feel like you’re doing and have achieved enough, and it’s tough to set boundaries. I’m really having to learn to figure out what my limits are and to celebrate achievement milestones along the way.
Q: How intimidating are conferences for you? Many writers attend conferences hoping to make an impression, is that overwhelming?
JJB: Most of the time, conferences are exciting. So much of my work gets done in front of the computer. Even phone calls are becoming less frequent than they used to be, thanks to email. (I’m okay with that, for the record!) But it’s really nice to be able to talk to writers in person, have a conversation about their work, and connect a face and a personality with the manuscript.
They can be tiring, however–many agents, including myself, are introverts, and conferences involve between one and three days of nonstop peopling. But I know how excited and nervous writers get about meeting me at a conference, and frequently I leave conferences invigorated by their energy.
Q: Do you consider yourself an editing agent?
JJB: Absolutely. Publishing is competitive, and I want to help writers get their work in the best shape possible before we go to market. I usually send my clients an editorial letter and potentially a round of line edits soon after signing them. We do at least one round of edits and potentially one or two more. I don’t send a manuscript out until it’s as good as we can make it. And when I offer representation to a writer, I always discuss my broad thoughts for revisions so they can decide if our visions for the manuscript are a good fit.
Q: What’s the process for a writer after they sign with you? Do you typically ask for revisions before submitting to publishers? Is there an estimated timeline you could share about the process after you say yes! I want to be your agent.
JJB: Yes–as discussed above, I almost always do at least one round of revisions with my clients. That process depends on how quickly I can get them edits and how quickly they revise–I’d say generally it’s a few months before we go on submission. (Obviously if something is time sensitive, we’d move much faster.) Once the manuscript is ready, I typically send it out within a week. Then it takes editors a while to evaluate, to get colleagues to read, to decide to pass or present to the acquisitions board. I’ve heard of offers being received in anywhere from a day to a year–I’d say a few months is typical for fiction. Nonfiction can go a bit faster, since they only have to read a proposal. While we wait for a response, I encourage my clients to keep writing and working on the next project because we’ll need that no matter what happens with the current one.
If you enjoyed this interview, you may also enjoy: Sarah Davies, Tricia Skinner, Alan Gratz, Lisa Mantchev, Monica Hoffman, Betsy Thorpe,  and Karen McManus
Michelle4Laughs posts great interviews too.
To Query Jennifer:

Jennifer is acquiring both narrative and prescriptive nonfiction. She is looking for seasoned writers with strong platforms and is excited by works that use a unique story to explore a larger issue. Particular areas of interest include current events, social sciences, women’s issues, law, business, history, the arts and pop culture, lifestyle, sports, and food, including cookbooks and health/wellness.

Jennifer is also seeking commercial and upmarket fiction, especially thrillers/mysteries, women’s fiction, contemporary romance, young adult, and middle grade.

While she’d be happy to receive queries for works in any of those broad areas, Jennifer is especially interested in the following:

  • highly readable books rooted in psychology or sociology that use memorable research (the kinds of details you’d whip out at cocktail parties) to explain why we act and think the way we do
  • politically minded issue books that put hot-button items like education into a realistic, holistic context or Washington insider narratives
  • history that’s quirky (THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN) or has particular relevance to today’s issues (ON IMMUNITY)
  • works situated in the classical dance world, indie/alternative music world, contemporary art world, or Hollywood at any point in history–working in the entertainment industry didn’t manage to squelch Jennifer’s enthusiasm for it
  • books that help you figure out how to do life better (THE HAPPINESS PROJECT; THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP)
  • all things football and basketball–Jennifer graduated from UT the year Vince Young brought home the National Championship, and her family in Oklahoma City never misses a Thunder game
  • chronicles of unique communities like competitive Scrabble players
  • cookbooks that tell a story about the person writing the book or the food itself, research-based health/diet books with programs that sane people would actually follow, or accessible books about wine or cocktails that strive to make reading about it as fun as drinking it
  • food memoirs or novels that take the reader behind the scenes in a fresh way like SOUS CHEF–being VIPed at French Laundry is a recurring fantasy of Jennifer’s
  • thrillers with a literary bent à la Tana French, with an outsider protagonist who stumbles into a conspiracy like THE PELICAN BRIEF, or with a psychological focus and an unreliable protagonist (SISTER)
  • smart, upmarket women’s fiction in the vein of J. Courtney Sullivan or commercial women’s fiction like Emily Giffin’s that subverts common tropes
  • contemporary, realistic young adult with a strong voice and compelling characters (Nina LaCour; Stephanie Perkins; Leila Sales)
  • middle grade or young adult nonfiction, particularly narrative history books about lesser known women or people of color
  • absolutely any sort of book with a strong feminist slant

To submit to Jennifer, please send a query letter only in the body of the email to queryjennifer[at]lizadawson[dot]com.

If you enjoyed Jennifer’s interview, you may also like to read my interviews with Tricia SkinnerSarah Davies, Nancy Handy, Alan GratzLisa Mantchev, Monica HoffmanBetsy ThorpeKaren McManus and  Nicole Ayers.

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Nancy Handy, Assistant Director of Mooresville Public Library

Nancy Handy, Assistant Director of Mooresville Public Library, North Carolina worked in public libraries for past 17 years. She received her MLIS from Queens College in Flushing, NY and was a Children’s Librarian in NY for 12 years before moving to NC to be the Head of Children’s Dept. for 5 years.before transitioning to the Assistant Director of the Mooresville Public Library.

Q: Why did you decide to enter the field of library and information science? OR What motivated you to seek a library degree?

NH: My undergraduate is in Elementary Education.  I always knew I wanted to work in libraries. I’ve loved books and libraries ever since I was a little girl. My decision was whether to go into school libraries or public. I chose public libraries.

Q: What surprises you most about your work?

NH: The thing that surprises me most about my work is the constant change. People thought that libraries would no longer be relevant in the digital age. That is so far from the truth. Libraries are needed more than ever. They are the portals to information beyond actual walls. The internet is filled with tons of information. It is the forte of the librarian to decipher and find the valid and authentic information. The library I work in sees 1000 citizens a day walk through our doors. These faces change daily, the information they are looking for changes, their needs and wishes change daily. The library is much more than an archive of books. It’s a place for children to attend storytimes, a student to study for their GED, a homeschooler to check out learning material, a meeting place for seniors, a Pokemon stop for teens, a bridge between the digital divide. My job changes daily, but it’s relevance is never questioned!

Q: What are you responsible for at the library?

NH: My responsibilities: Assists Library Director in the management, supervision, and administration of the library to provide maximum services to the library patron in accordance with library policy.  Performs managerial duties and oversees all aspects of the Adult and Youth Services Departments. Directs the library in the absence of the Director.

Q: When is the library busiest?

NH: The library seems to be busiest in the summer; however, it is a busy place year round.  Summer brings lots of patrons in for the summer reading program, beach reads, and as a pleasant escape sometime from the heat. In any given day, we have 1000 people walk through our doors and have seen upwards of 1500 in one day!

Q: What were the last 3 books you read?

NH: The last three books I’ve read:  Every 15 Minutes by Lisa Scottoline; I re-read the classic A Separate Peace by John Knowles (one of my favorites) and I’m currently reading Different Seasons by Stephen King (a collection of four novellas).

Q: How many events do you have at the library? 

NH:Before I was Assistant Director I was the Head of Youth Services. My experience is strong in library programming. We currently have 30-40 children’s programs offered each month. We’re currently increasing our programming for Adults and have recently added a new book club, an adult coloring club (new trend) and a program for adults with special needs. We have a full calendar of events offered each month and it’s only growing.

Q: If you have author readings, what is your best advice to them for a successful event?

NH: Yes, we have had local author showcases and have had local authors come to share their new book. The biggest advice I can give is to make sure you market for the event. The library will advertise in-house and electronically on our website and social media, but if the author also advertises the event is sure to have a greater turnout. I like events to draw the most interest they possibly can, especially for an author who is just starting out.

Q: How many new books does the library get per year?

NH: That’s a number I would need to look up, however I can tell you it’s thousands! We order consistently and year round all books are processed through technical services. We review professional journals, bestseller lists, and will honor most patron requests.

Q: Does the library carry self-published books?

NH: Yes, I have personally ordered self published books that were written by local authors.

Q: What’s the biggest misconception about being a librarian?

NH: Haha, seriously that we wear our hair in a bun and our glasses on a chain and that we read all day. I cannot tell you how many people still have a stereotyped notion of who librarians are. Sometimes, it is hard to find the time to even review a good book let alone read it at work. Our day is filled with various duties and we wear many hats (librarian, teacher, psychologist, event organizer/planner, boss, author, facility maintenance employee etc.) Librarians are modern-day information specialists who must know their community and the needs and interests of the citizens.

Q: How influential are librarians over book choice for young readers?

NH: If the librarian is engaging and is well versed in reader’s advisory they can be very influential. It’s best to know great books from all of the genres and a few gripping must reads for the reluctant reader. Know your books for the sports fan, the fantasy guru, the graphic novel reader, dystopian reads, classics and sci-fi to name a few. Never let a child who asks for good book suggestions walk out empty-handed!

If you enjoyed Nancy’s interview, you may also like to read my interviews with Tricia SkinnerSarah DaviesAlan GratzLisa Mantchev, Monica HoffmanBetsy Thorpe, Karen McManus and  Nicole Ayers.

Karen McManus, Author

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As a kid I used to write books when I was supposed to be playing outside, and not much has changed. I’m a marketing and communications professional who also writes Young Adult contemporary and fantasy fiction in Cambridge, MA. 

When not writing or working I love to travel, and along with my nine-year old son I’ve ridden horses in Colombia and bicycles through Paris. A member of SCBWI, I hold a bachelor’s degree in English from the College of the Holy Cross and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northeastern University. Which I have never, ever used professionally.

Q: How long did it take you to write ONE OF US IS LYING? Is it the first book you wrote?

KM: ONE OF US IS LYING took me two months to write and another two months to revise. It’s my third book. My first was filled with classic rookie mistakes and should have been filed away under “Learning Experience: Do Not Query,” but of course I didn’t know that. I racked up lots of form rejections in early 2015. Then I joined Twitter, found CPs, and started studying writing as a craft. I wrote a second book over the summer that got a decent number of requests, but they all moved slowly. I started ONE OF US IS LYING in September 2015 and sent my first query in January 2016.

Q: How many drafts and revisions did you complete before querying?

KM: I queried with my fifth draft. The first couple I revised on my own. Then I shared with CPs, subject matter experts, and beta readers. That was the most extensive revision process I’d ever done, and it made a big difference.

Q: What made you know Rosemary Stimola was the agent for you?

KM: There were a lot of reasons. Rosemary represents several authors I admire, including Suzanne Collins, who’s one of my biggest YA inspirations. I wanted an agent who specialized in kidlit, and who regularly worked with imprints at the top of my publisher wish list. And when it came time to query, Rosemary’s website specifically mentioned an interest in YA mysteries. So it all just sort of came together.

Q: What was the call like? Did you prepare a list of questions?

Yes! I don’t think you can get through The Call without a list. Your mind would go blank. I’d already done a lot of research so my questions were mainly about Rosemary’s reactions to my book and how she likes to work with authors. She put me at ease and I could tell she had a real connection to the story.

Q: What did it feel like the day after you signed? Did Rosemary give you notes and ask for revisions before going out on submission? If so, how much time did she give you?

KM: The next day my CPs kept messaging “YOU HAVE AN AGENT!” which was good because I’m not sure I would have believed it otherwise. As a querying writer, you knock on so many doors and get used to them not opening. Once one does, you almost don’t know what to do with yourself. But it’s the best possible confusion.

Rosemary and her assistant, Allison, suggested a few editorial changes. I didn’t have a hard deadline, but I turned the revision around in a couple of weeks.

Q: What was the publisher submission process like?

KM: Going on submission is both thrilling and nerve-wracking. In my case, it happened very soon after signing with my agent, so there wasn’t any lull of “Whew, mission accomplished!” before moving on to even higher stakes. But the process itself was smooth, and I knew I was in good hands.

Q: How long did it take to sell your book? 

KM: Two weeks. This is not typical, so I was very fortunate.

Q: What were your first set of editorial notes like and did you faint when you saw them? How quick was the turnaround?

KM: My editorial notes were fantastic. I got a little emotional as I read through them because I knew my editor truly understood the book. She didn’t want to change elements that I considered the heart of the story, but she identified exactly which areas needed strengthening. There was a lot to consider, but she gave me great guidance along the way. I returned the first revision in around six weeks.

Q: If you could give yourself from two years ago advice what would it be? Would you be able to take it to heart then?

KM: I would tell myself to treat writing like a business, not a hobby. Learn everything you can about the industry. Study the market, the agents, and the imprints for your age category and genre. Define what success looks like to you, and find authors who’ve achieved it.

And no, two years ago I would have paid zero attention to 2016 Karen and all her spreadsheets. I just wanted to write stuff I liked.

Q: What inspired you to become a Pitch Wars mentor this year?  

KM: Discovering the Twitter writing community was a turning point for me. When I started querying my first book, no one outside my family had ever read it. I didn’t realize how many bad writing habits I had, and how much I didn’t know about plot, pacing, character arcs, etc. When I started connecting with other authors and sharing work, I was able to identify what was holding me back and improve. Lots of people helped me along the way and I wanted to pay it forward.

Q: I see you are open to a mentee that writes magical realism- how do you define magical realism? 

KM:To me it’s an undercurrent of magic in a real-world setting—everyday events fused with extraordinary happenings that aren’t necessarily explained. One of my favorite YA books this year, PLACES NO ONE KNOWS, features a popular girl who appears in a troubled boy’s house whenever she burns a candle. We don’t know why it happens, it just does, and it sets up an amazing love story.

Q: What book(s) do you keep on the shelf near you while you write?

KM: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, to remind me to keep things simple. The Emotion Thesaurus as a go-to guide when I’m getting too adverb-y. And whatever I happen to be reading at the moment, because sometimes you just need to take a break and lose yourself in someone else’s words.

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Karen is a 2016 Pitch Wars mentor.

If you enjoyed Karen’s interview, you may also like to read my interviews with Tricia SkinnerSarah DaviesAlan GratzLisa Mantchev, Monica Hoffman, Betsy Thorpe and  Nicole Ayers.

 

Tricia Skinner, Associate Agent, Fuse Literary

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Associate Agent Tri­cia Skin­ner was raised in Detroit, Michigan. She obtained her undergraduate degree from the nationally acclaimed Journalism Institute for Media Diversity at Wayne State University and earned her graduate degree from Southern Methodist University.

Professionally, she began her writing career as a newspaper reporter and wrote for The Detroit NewsInvestor’s Business DailyMSN, and The Houston Chronicle. She’s covered small & minority business, personal finance, and technology.

Tricia has 20 years of experience working with the video game industry in various roles, including public relations, industry relations, and writing/editing. She is also a hybrid author of passionate urban fantasy (represented by Fuse co-founder Laurie McLean).

Diversity in genre fiction is dear to Tricia’s heart.  As an agent, Tricia wants to represent authors who reflect diversity and cultures in their work. The real world is not one nationality, ethnic group, or sexual orientation. She’s looking for talented writers who deeply understand that as well.

On the personal side, Tricia has a Tom Hiddleston obsession and she is definitely Team Vader. Her fam­ily includes three Great Danes (so far).

Q: Who reads queries in your agency?

Each agent receives and reads their own queries, especially if they’re still open to submissions. Most of us have assistants or interns who are invaluable for keeping our query boxes from exploding. My intern, Karly, has an uncanny ability to organize my vortex of an inbox into something manageable. That makes a huge difference as I try to find potential clients.

Q: Are you hungry to read any particular kind of story now?

While the market for paranormal romance and urban fantasy romance remains in a coma, I’m still hoping to discover a story with truly creative creatures and worlds. I adore PNR/UFR. I love the antiheroes, tortured heroes, broken but not beaten heroes. I still enjoy the darker stories, ones double-dipped in horror or other speculative elements.

Q: Have you fallen in love with any stories but passed because you know they are difficult sells? Have you ever represented a writer because the concept of the book was good even when the writing wasn’t? 

No to both questions. If I read something that’s phenomenal but it’s not “popular” right now, I don’t care. If the writer blows me away, I want to work with that writer. That may mean delaying a project until we can sell it, but I’d want to work with someone who is phenomenal. Plus, there are non-book markets to explore.

Q: How do diverse books impact your selection? How do you define diversity?

I look at diversity like this: the world is not one race, one color, one gender, one religion. People have choices – who they love, how they love, how they live, what they fight for, etc. If an author wants to catch my attention by pitching a diverse manuscript then that diversity had better be organic. The diverse elements should matter and reflect something of the real world. Done right means a blind lawyer is also a vigilante at night (Daredevil), or black men can help save the world as in Captain America: Civil War.

Q: What’s the most exciting thing about discovering a new writer?

There’s a pure energy that strikes when I’ve read a manuscript that’s unforgettable. I want everyone to read the book. I want the author to write the sequel. I turn into a fan girl and want to run in circles because I’ve found something special.

Q: What’s rewarding about a long-term relationship with an author?

I see it as a partnership that can develop two careers and help two people follow their dreams.

Q: If you could change anything about agenting-what would it be?

I’d want this industry to be more inclusive. For example, I look forward to a day when I’m not one of maybe two agents of color at a conference or sitting on a workshop panel.

Q: What is a rookie mistake you see too often in queries and first pages?

How much room do you have? How about:

* Querying me with the name of the previous agent you queried on the letter.

* Pitching genres I’ve clearly stated I don’t want.

* Writing a query about your life-long dream or background, and not about your book.

* Attaching anything.

* Sending a query that goes on and on about how rich your book will make us.

You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about the first pages because the examples above guarantee I’ll never get to the sample.

Q: Does the #MSWL work or are you now flooded with too much of what you asked for and nothing else?

Sadly, it’s difficult to answer this one. I am already flooded with manuscripts in genres I have never represented, have never requested, and would never read. So, if I post my wish list and I get queries that actually fit, I’m overjoyed. It’s all the other queries that make this process challenging.

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Regarding Submissions: (updated June 20, 2016) 

Tricia is interested in Romance (Adult/YA/NA) in the following subgenres and specialties:

  • speculative
  • science fiction (prefer space opera, Independence Day-type earth stories, and off world)
  • futuristic (modern setting with lots of advanced tech/changes to society)
  • modern fantasy
  • strong anti-heroes I can’t get out of my mind
  • villains so deliciously dreamy I want to redeem them at all costs
  • video games (think Ready Player One but with romance)
  • mythology-based (Native American/South American/Eastern Europe/Asian/African/Pacific Region)
  • military/special ops (especially blended forces and foreign agencies)
  • paranormal (extraordinary creatures/world building)
  • urban fantasy (extraordinary creatures/world building)
  • dark/edgy (noir-ish/touch of horror/spine tingling)
  • YA historical (not Regency era)

She is not looking for:

  • non-romance novels
  • romantic suspense/thriller/psychological thriller
  • science fiction/paranormal/fantasy erotica
  • contemporary/historical erotica
  • inspirational/religious/faith-based
  • recent historical (50s, 60s, 70s)
  • non-fiction anything
  • Women’s fiction
  • literary
  • short stories
  • screenplays or poems
  • accidental/hidden pregnancy as primary theme
  • amnesia as primary theme
  • fake engagements as primary theme
  • sports/athletes as primary story focus
  • rock stars/musicians as primary story focus

Diverse authors are strongly encouraged to query their work. Multicultural settings/topics and diverse characters are also strongly encouraged. Until further notice, Tricia is only soliciting new/unpublished/completed romance manuscripts. For all other genres, she is closed to new submissions unless requested after meeting the author at conferences or online events.

Please email your 300-word-or-less romance query letter followed by the first 10 pages of chapter one (no prologues) in the body of your email (no attachments) to querytricia@fuseliterary.com. Her response time is 2-4 months on average, but could be longer if she’s deluged.

If you enjoyed Tricia’s interview, you may also like to read my interviews with Sarah Davies, Alan Gratz, Lisa Mantchev, Nicole Ayers and Monica Hoffman.

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.

Interview Series with Agents, Authors and Editors

The amazing Brenda Drake inspired me. She does so much to help writers I wanted to help, too.

So I sent out queries asking agents, authors and editors if they’d be interested in answering my questions. And you know what- they are!

Beginning July 25 I will post a new interview every day.

Are you curious? Here are just a few of the amazing and talented people who will appear:

Lisa Mantchev, Author

Anne Eisenstein, Author

Sarah Davies, Agent, The Greenhouse Literary Agency

Alan Gratz, Author

Tricia Skinner, Associate Agent, Fuse Literary

Monica Hoffman, Author

Nicole Ayers, Editor

Come back to find out who else will be here in a week!

 

 

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