Editor Author Betsy Thorpe

 

Betsy Thorpe has run Betsy Thorpe Literary Services since 2000, an independent editorial services company that helps people meet their publishing goals. She started her career working for many of the large trade publishers in New York, as an acquisitions and developmental editor. She is the author of many ghost-written books, as well as The Thin Place, a novel represented by The Prospect Agencywww.betsythorpe.com

We are lucky enough to tap into both sides of Betsy’s experience.

First as an editor:

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

BT: Writers send me samples of their work, and I edit the first five pages. That way, they know what to expect in an edit from me, and I can see some of their strengths and weaknesses as a writer. If the book is in poor shape, I will send them to a writers’ group or a creative writing class – I don’t want them to waste their money on an extensive edit from me if they require basic lessons on how to write, but most people come to me with very polished work, so I’ve only had to turn away a few writers.

Q: What is your process?

BT: I approach the book as a reader, so I want to see the book unfold as a reader would. I edit as I read, and keep notes for my editorial letter. When I’m finished with a line edit, I write up my editorial letter, going through the book chapter by chapter, but also reflecting on the book as a whole: the plot, the characters, the pacing, the description, the dialogue. What does the writer need to work on, what can she do to make the book better besides the line edits I give. I also make many comments throughout the book – for instance, if I have specific questions, or if I think a piece of writing is gorgeous – I like to let people know.

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

BT: I think a writer should feel comfortable with the amount of editing that they are about to encounter and be prepared for their feedback. Some people think that they only need a quick polish from a professional and then there are ready to submit to an agent or can self-publish. There are editors out there who will not challenge you too much and give you a solid, but not meaningful edit. But if you want to really improve your writing, be prepared to approach a strong editor. My goal is to make your work the best it can be, so that if you self-publish you can be proud when you let your friends, family, and co-workers know about your book, and if you are going to approach traditional publishers, you can be assured that you gave your work the best chance of success with agents and editors.

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

BT: Absolutely! I don’t want a writer to waste their chance at success when they still have issues they need to work on. One of the biggest problems I find writers encounter is that they rush to submit without consulting a professional editor first. Then they approach me after they’ve been rejected or ignored by thirty or even sixty agents. Their writing may be beautiful enough to attract an agent into reading their full manuscript, but if it’s not air-tight and consistent throughout the book, an agent will pass, and the writer may not know why. I can pinpoint reasons very quickly about why a book may have been rejected. I call this “forensic editing.”

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

BT: Over-writing. Many authors write books that are far too long for their genres. I’ve had books come into me that are 125,000 words and need to be under 100,000 to get considered, and we have to do a lot of cutting. It takes a lot of discipline to keep to a word count and tell your story within those word count constraints. Keep this in mind as you’re writing. I have a lot of issues with writer’s dialogue, and the balance between narration, dialogue, and descriptions. Too much back-story at the beginning (I was guilty of this in my first novel). Keep out unnecessary information – sometimes people spend a long time researching their books, and want to include every fact they find interesting, but it may not serve the story. There should be very few exclamation points in your book. Save them for when they’re really needed. And keep dialogue tags simple.

Q: What book do you wish you edited?

BT: Wow! I’ve never been asked that before! Good question. I guess there are two different ways to approach this. One is a book that was a really good idea but I was so upset by the way the author approached her book that I was put-off and never got past the first twenty or so pages. It was Amy Poehler’s, Yes, Please. I’m a huge fan of Amy from her work on Saturday Night Live, and Parks and Rec, and I was really hoping for another Bossypants (Tina Fey), which I thought was brilliant and insightful. Instead, the first part of the book was a litany of excuses about how she had no time to write the book with all her commitments, and what huge pressure she was under to write a good book. I know numerous authors who would kill for the chance and exposure she’d been given, and if she didn’t have the time, she should have written it another year when she was really ready instead of rushing it, and let another author who really wants to have their book be published get in the spotlight (or hundreds of authors probably could have split her seven figure advance). The rest of the book may have been truly wonderful, but I couldn’t read anymore after that introduction. If I were her editor, I would have cut that whole piece and gone straight to her content.

For pure delight, I would have loved to have edited Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple. I just loved the author’s voice, and thought she was so fresh and inventive.

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

BT: I know you’re anxious to submit, and feel like you’re not moving forward unless you hit “Send” to all the agents you want to query. But unless your manuscript is gorgeous and as flawless as it can be, you do not want to be competing against other people whose manuscripts have everything an agent is looking for. This is a very competitive business, and it takes a lot of drafts to make a great manuscript. Agents can’t make money unless they sell books – and if they take a look at your book and it still needs work, they aren’t going to want to represent you. Please be patient with your progress in writing. The analogy I think is best is that you can’t decide one day to take up the piano and expect to play Carnegie Hall ten months later. Just as a writer can’t decide that they want to write a novel and expect that just because they’ve finished a solid draft it’s ready for the spotlight. There’s a lot of practice and coaching that needs to happen before your book is ready to meet its public.

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

BT: I highly recommend them. Writers’ groups can help propel you forward by having deliverables and set meetings. The hardest thing can be though, when you get multiple opinions and don’t know whose advice to follow. Writers’ conferences can be a great way to meet other writers, consult with editors, and meet agents. I’ve had people who work in real estate and in law and banking that they never get to talk to people who love writing and books unless they’re in situations like writers’ groups and conferences. It’s a wonderful feeling of camaraderie. And meeting agents at conferences is an invaluable way to make a face-to-face connection. An agent is far likelier to request a sample or full manuscript from you if they’ve met you at a conference.

Q: What do editorial notes look like?

BY: I edit the same way I did when I was an editor for many of the trade publishers in New York. My bosses taught me how to edit and how to be tough, and I learned from them. So if you get edited by me before you get a contract, you will know what to expect. However, having said that, some editors may not edit you as you need to be edited. I have seen many traditionally published books not edited as much as I’d like. Some editors are too overwhelmed that they don’t have time to edit, some write a few notes here and there and consider the editing process over – there are numerous reasons why this may happen. So again, it’s another good reason to make sure your book is properly edited before being submitted.

Q: Do you help writers understand what editorial notes look like from publishers?

BT: I’m always happy to interpret editorial notes from agents and editors, and also, fellow writers in critique groups. It can be overwhelming to know what to work on. Also, I hate to say that in traditional publishing we only give authors as little as two weeks from the time of them getting their editorial letter from their editor in order to meet the production schedule, so it can be a fraught and scary time.

Wow! Thank you Betsy. I can’t wait to read what you have to say about life on the other side of the page.

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Now as Betsy Thorpe, author:

Q: When did you first start writing?

BT: I’d been writing in diaries since the second grade, and had some very early validation in college when I wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times that got published. I’ve been ghost-writing for the last sixteen years, and I started my first novel as a therapy when I was going through divorce.

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

BT: For the novel, I stopped and started it many times as I was a single parent of two little girls and building a business, so from first words on typed to finish it took eight years.

Q: Are you a panster or plotter?

I have a very rough plot in mind chapter by chapter, but it’s very fun to go by the seat of your pants and have characters say things and plot happen that you have no idea how you’re going to dig yourself out of. I find that intellectually exciting and fun.

Q: Do you have critique partners?

BT: Yes, I was blessed to work with Charla Muller and Judy Goldman on my first novel, who were invaluable to getting the book to where it is today, both thematically and physically finished. I have a retreat group now, but it doesn’t meet as consistently, and Judy, Charla and I are hoping to get the “band” back together.

Q: What books inspire you?

BT: Anything with a smart and innovative voice. I had to read so many hundreds or thousands of books in my career as an acquisitions editor (and now as an independent editor), that a fresh voice and innovative plotting gets me every time. I recently loved A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and how he managed to get his reader to willingly follow the story of a grumpy and disagreeable old man, and then discover, slowly and precisely, the layers of his personality and how he got to be the character he was, and how and why he changes.

Q: Where do your ideas come from?

BT: My first novel was inspired by watching a PBS documentary on Windsor Castle – part of my book takes place there, but eventually the mystery that I was interested in there became a very minor part of the book. My current novel was inspired by an after-school class that my daughter took.

Q: Are you an introvert or extrovert?

BT: I’d say I’m an ambivert. I used to be very shy when I was growing up, but gregarious at times. When I became a professional, I had to make so many phone calls and meet people and network and socialize in order to survive that I quickly got over my hang-ups. I love getting together with friends and meeting new clients is fascinating, but walking into a party of people where I know only one person still fills me with dread. And I definitely need down-time to recharge my batteries.

Q: What is your writing routine?

BT: I have a full-time job and am a single parent, so I’m pretty exhausted by the end of the day. Many successful writers who have a full-time job will tell you they get up in some cruelly early hour of the morning, say three or four a.m., and write for three hours in order to meet their writing goals. I’m afraid I can’t do that – my body needs the sleep. I used to write on my every-other-weekend custody schedule with my ex, and he has since moved to another city, so I think I’ll just have to really block off times for my kids not to interrupt me. They’re teenagers now, so mornings on the weekends are usually very quiet here. We’ll have to see how I can work things out now.

Q: Do you have a favorite topic to write about?

BT: Dating after divorce. I’m afraid I’m horribly cynical about ever being in a serious relationship again, but that faint glimmer of foolish hope seems to never leave. I’m also very interested in manners and how they help soothe the rough-spots of our innate differences in personalities and viewpoints.

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

BT: For my critique partners they saw raw, new material, but before I submit to agents it felt like I wrote about three thousand drafts before I got my agent, but realistically it was probably four complete drafts.

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

BT: “That”

Q: How do you keep self-motivated?

BT: I’ve been published many times and helped many authors meet their publishing goals, but to publish my own novel has long been a bucket-list dream of mine. My goal was to entertain other people who are going through a rough patch. I didn’t want to bring anybody down – just to give them a fun adventure to travel through to know that life doesn’t end when one part of our lives is over.

Q: How do you cope with rejection?

BT: Rejection is a part of the publishing business, and I’ve been rejecting many wonderful and talented writers (who weren’t right for either my boss or his/her list, or my list) since my very first day on the job many years ago.

Q: How do you cope with reviews?

I’m so self-critical that I always know I could have done better. As a co-author, it’s the tug and pull of what we can do as a team. So I’m proud of my work, but deadlines are deadlines. Art is a function of what you can do during a set period of time, whether it be a painting or composing a song, writing a book, or playing a piano concerto.

Q: What’s the last book you read?

BT: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. I highly recommend it as a modern day rewrite of Pride and Prejudice, set in Cincinnati.

Twitter and Editing Website

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

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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!

 

 

Questioning my Sanity

Sanity as definied by dictionary.com:

sanity [san-i-tee]

noun

1. the state of beingsanesoundness of mind.
2. soundness of judgment.

I’ve never claimed to be sane. It doesn’t appeal to my sense of self. Since seventh grade I’ve identified with the wife in The Yellow Wallpaper creeping around her room and imagining herself in the garden and behind the walls.

And I believe every creative person is a bit nuts- we have to be to allow our imaginations to flourish.

And that freedom makes art.

My arts are writing and dancing. Can’t imagine living without them. My soul would die if I couldn’t. I love the days story flows, even the days it doesn’t, the line edits, the plot holes, and the doubt. I love searching for the right word, the right emotional cue, the raw core.

But I also have to cope with the negative parts of being artistic, too. The worst part is being told, “No.”

No sucks. No can make all my pages go blank and music stop. No makes me trip and stumble, creates doubt and erodes confidence. I hate that word.

I’m wading through a tide of, “You’re clearly talented, but no,” now while I query a book and essay. It makes me question the drive that keeps me writing every day. How do I want to do something so much that comes with so much rejection?

Should I write different kinds of stories? Are the ones I tell not a fit for the market?

No.

No I should never stop being me or telling the stories I want to tell. I can’t imagine a time when I’ll stop exploring family dynamics in my fiction or delving into what people do in order to be loved- how we twist ourselves into shapes that no longer resemble ourselves to please another person. How some people think by doing something they want for another person will magically inform the other person to do that exact thing for them. I love exploring the value of love.

Hu…that’s ironic. Here I am all twisted up and wondering what shape my work needs to take, when it needs to remain the same. My voice. My stories. They matter

There is no choice. I’ll keep writing the stories inside me and help that creeping woman earn her freedom. And perhaps our story will resonate with you and keep you company on your bookshelf, too.

Writing Prompt

I attended Free-Expressions Your Best Book last week. It was six ass-kicking, intense, and beautiful days of exploring the whys and hows to write a fantastic book. Lorin Oberweger, Brenda Windberg, and Emma Dryden were the core staff. I wish I could sprinkle some of the magic they carry in their hearts on you. But ultimately you should go and experience the workshop and honor your own writer’s journey…I digress…we were given prompts every morning. The last prompt was: I’ll do it because. I want to share my answer.

I’ll do it because I’m not a quitter.

I never give up. I my sulk, get depressed, wonder why I see fit to ALWAYS choose the more difficult path, the one that leaves me feeling alone, isolated, and destitute one minute and yet fills my mind with conversations, images, and stories the ne next that MUST be written or lost and I don’t want to lose them- these companions the things that sets me apart and links me.

A true paradox…crazy, I am crazy and I don’t know any other way to be. Fragile and strong. Determined and exhausted.

I will do it because I have no other choice- and ultimately I make the CHOICE every day to do it because life without writing is empty. Also I don’t like making mistakes and it would be a mistake to stop when I’ve learned so much, gotten so much better with every minute, hour,, day and year I’ve kept at it.

I’ll do it because I am Holly Raychelle Hughes and I said I would!

writing contest and all you’ve ever wanted to ask an editor but didn’t.

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.

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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: 

            Consultation

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.

   developmental edit

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.

   line edit

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.

        copy edit

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.

    proof read

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

Interview with Anne Hicks, Executive Editor & Publisher

Welcome Southern Writers blog tour and ICLW. This week is an exciting one for me. I’ll be posting interviews with people that I’ve met and who have influenced me. Best of all, we are all Southerners!

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Anne Hicks. She is the Executive Ediotr and Publisher of moonShine review. I met her about a year ago when I read at the 2011 moonShine review publishing party. Anne and the other editors liked my writing. They helped boost my confidence by publishing my short story, Wolf a Modern Tale in moonshine review 2011 spring/summer edition. It’s about the big bad wolf getting out of jail early for good behavior and his young neighbor who dreams of becoming his next victim. I originally wrote it ten years ago. Wolf reminded me that all I ever wanted to do was write. Anne’s keen eye and generosity has helped my dream come true. Anne also published my short story 888-555-WING Infomercial in the fall/winter 2011 issue of moonShine review. I hope to be lucky enough to keep contributing. I think it’s rare to find someone who gets you and hears a writer’s voice as well as Anne does.

BIO:  Anne M. Hicks, a resident of Charlotte, NC, for 20 years, is an editor by trade and the founder, publisher, and executive editor of the creative prose and photography journal, moonShine review, which is now in its eighth year of publication.

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She is also the author of Floating a Full Boat, a collection of her own poetry and photography.  Her writing has been published in several magazines and journals, including Pearl, Thrift Poetic Arts Journal, and Kakalak Anthology of Carolina Poets.


1. What made you decide to publish a literary journal?

I suppose you could call it fate that I began publishing moonShine review.  In 2000, I was looking for a creative outlet for my own writing and found that Charlotte actually had a very extensive writing community and support network.  I first became involved by attending open-mic readings and assisting a friend with her poetry journal.  As a writer of prose and poetry, I realized poets had more opportunities in the region among the independent publishers.  At the time, I couldn’t imagine being a publisher, but I knew there was a need for a creative prose journal.  The more I talked about it, the more my friends encouraged me.

The idea finally coalesced one night while I was explaining to another writer how I wanted to produce more than a creative prose and photography journal — I wanted writers to come together, through their stories, to speak in a kind of unity, and I wanted to highlight photography that would further unite the writing.  For me, it was never about specifying a theme for an issue but rather seeing how the submissions came together naturally.  In my first Editor’s Note, I put it this way:  “Away from the harshness of daylight, promises are made, bodies come together, words are spoken that can never be taken back — and the creative process thrives. This journal is about what speaks to you in the moonlight, and it is about the shadows cast in mind and memory.  For only in the darkness do we show all of ourselves.”

Eight years later, this still holds true for me and what moonShine review stands for.  And we still thrive as a publication because of all the wonderful artists who contribute.

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2. What’s the most rewarding part of publishing?

The most rewarding part of all is holding the latest, printed issue of moonShine review in my hands.  That’s when the culmination of all our work — my editors and I working as a team, the authors’ words, and the wonderful photography — speaks to me as a whole.  It feels very much like a birth each time.  A close second is the reward of developing relationships with our contributors.  I’ve gained many friendships over the years as a result of publishing moonShine.

3. What is the most frustrating part of publishing?

It’s most frustrating keeping the budget in check at all times since I love the creative process but hate the financials.  If I had unlimited funds, then more photography would be in color, and every issue would be bigger.  As it is, I hate having to decline some stories because we just don’t have the room.  On the bright side, that does make us work harder to make sure the stories fit together well.

4. How often do you write?

Not nearly often enough!  I must admit that I wrote every spare moment I had when I was in my twenties, then I slacked off greatly in my thirties, and now I’m getting back on track in my forties.  I think, as writers, we all go through periods when it’s hard to find the time and energy to sit down and create — especially if our full-time jobs aren’t as writers.  But when the inspiration and the timing come together all at once, it’s a miraculous experience for me that motivates me to work at it.  Thankfully, that has happened more often in recent years.  And I have to give great credit to the two writers’ groups I’ve joined.  They really keep me on track and encouraged through their feedback and sharing of their own writing.

5. What’s it like to connect with another writer and help them create a better work of fiction?

It’s extremely gratifying to work with other writers and offer feedback that helps better their writing.  I’ve worked with fiction authors as well as poets and non-fiction writers, and each time we become more than two individuals with opinions.  I think we become a real team — bouncing ideas for improvement back and forth, sometimes even taking a piece and finding a whole new direction for it.  It’s very important to me as an editor that the author’s work shine, and I know that happens best when a writer and I listen to each other carefully.  Of course, that means offering suggestions for enhancing the piece and making grammatical corrections, but the process also includes discovering, or recognizing, that particular writer’s talent and understanding how to highlight that.

6. I think you have great insight into my creative mind. I am always blown away how you can take my work and help me say what I meant to say. Have you always had this talent?

Thanks, I suppose I always have relied on my intuition, though it took me a little while to realize that and to trust my instincts fully.  When I first started editing full-time, I thought I needed to have all the answers and know all the grammatical rules.  I’ve always placed emphasis on being grammatically correct and reviewing carefully for consistency and plausibility — that stuff is very important and contributes to the polish that gets a writer noticed, for good or bad.

But it’s the voice an individual writer creates that captures my interest the most and allows me that “insight” as you call it.  I don’t read any individual’s work the same way or try to place writers within any category.  Rather, I put myself within that person’s writing perspective and then go from there.  I’m lucky in that the writers I work with have such individual writing styles and create unusual voices that are easy to get into.  I may find some similarities from one author to the next, but each one is still essentially unique.  From there, I’ve found it’s really important to ask questions and let the author and my instincts guide me.

7. How do you think literary journals will survive in the digital publishing world?

Actually, I see the digital publishing world as an exciting frontier for independent publishers.  Digital publishing has opened up avenues for those that found printed journals just too costly to consider starting.  We already have several quality literary e-journals out there, and I expect more will develop as digital publishing becomes the mainstream.

I do hope and believe that readers still want the word literally “in print” — we writers, at least, like the enjoyment of holding that book too much to let it go completely.  I see some literary journals, like moonShine review, offering both print and online versions in the future.  But there is the very real problem of publishers and writers being compensated monetarily for publishing online.  So much is offered free or at an extremely discounted cost currently.  Until that issue is truly addressed, I don’t think we’ll break the paradigm that online publishing is somehow not as “valid” as being published in a printed journal.  Still, for new and aspiring writers (and those not trying to make a living from writing), e-journals are even now a great resource for being published.

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