Editing…A Dying Art?

June 11, 2014

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I’m not sure what’s up with the growing lack of knowing the rudimentary basics of English. It’s a rarity to read a news article that’s error free. Are we,  as a nation, being dumbed down? Years ago, a blunder like the pic above would have never happened because the person writing it would have done it right in the first place. Or the person editing would have caught it. Or the printer would have caught it. But now? No one is minding the literary chicken coop.

So while it’s funny and proffers up the expected how-horrible! groans, it’s a symptom of something far worse and pathetic. Really, we should aspire to excellence, right?


Hanging On – The Surefire Way to Get Your Editor to Kill You

May 16, 2014

frustrated

So I’m out here in SoCal at the mo visiting friends/family/going to my future d-i-l’s bridal shower – squee! – and cleaning out our house so we can get it ready to rent out. It’s amazing the amount of detritus you hoard over the years. I think the attic alone could appoint several abodes.

There are the trophies the kids won, the drawings and scratching from early years in school…old baby clothes – including one very stained baby USC sweater…it’s hard to let go. There’s so much I want to keep, but I don’t have room for it all. And where would it all go? It’s not like I’d put them out on display – so is my desire to keep them a matter of really needing them or because they’ve wrapped themselves around my heart, even though they serve no purpose? I mean, the stained glass paper art is ripped to shreds, but I remember my son bringing it home, and I hung it on the fridge until it was replaced by another kid’s attempts at Picasso.

Same goes for the old pictures of my daughter’s softball days…a conglomeration of toothy 8-yr-old girls, wearing their uniforms and freckles – ready for battle. It’s a reminder of younger days, where she taught herself to pitch – and proceeded to either strike girls out with the arm of a heat-seeking missile or bean them hard enough so they had to limp to first base. Our motto: If you’re gonna walk ‘em, make ‘em limp.

How do I throw this stuff out? It’s fecking hard, I tell you. It’s the same for writing. You write brilliant tomes and fall in love with every single word. You send those loving words off to your editor…where those soulless, heartless harbingers of evil rip the snot out of them by saying, “Um, this doesn’t have anything to do with this scene, or the plot, for that matter.”

WHAT?? Kill. Your. Darlings? Unholy mother of banshees…why don’t we editors just run you through with a javelin while we’re at it? Could it be any more painful? Alas, we know it hurts. It hurts ‘cos you wrote it, so we expect the reply: No No No No…not gonna do it! Can’t do it.

Oh. Yes. You. Will. You will because you want your finished product to be strong and beautiful – and your editor has something you don’t: an unbiased eye. Hanging on won’t serve you or your book. Be willing to let go.

There’s also the pain of letting go of your finished manuscript. It’s a test of wills. Your editor wants to get it off to the printer. You want to tweak, rewrite, ponder, and hang on ’til it’s right. By this time, the moon has threatened to fall from the sky. You can’t agonize anymore about whether it’s perfect because, know what? – you’ll never be convinced it’s perfect. If allowed, you’ll continue to rewrite, re-think, rehash every steenkin’ word until your editor sends out a hit team to prep you for cement shoes.

You can’t hang on forever – you gotta let go. And that’s hard – I get it. Your book will be out there for-ev-er, and you don’t want to cringe four years later because that ONE word should have been “belly jelly” instead of “muck.” But like the dust on all the stuff in the attic, you’re gonna sneeze so much that you need to give it up because there simply isn’t enough Kleenex to continue blowing your nose.

I can’t repair the torn up stained glass picture or go back in time to when my kids were 8 and wore braces and skinned knees. I gotta move on, because I need to live in the now. And if you ever want to see your book on the shelves, you gotta move on, too. Listen to the advice of your editor and throw out stuff that no longer serves your manuscript. Let go of the desire to read, re-read, re-re-read, so your editor doesn’t have to pry it from your cold, dead fingers.

Take comfort that it’s not meant to be easy. If it were, then everyone would be a bestselling author.

Okay, I’ll admit that I found the hub’s old letters he sent me before we got married, and he was working in Saudi. I don’t care what anyone says, those puppies are coming home with me.


Writing Blooms With Fresh Air

July 23, 2013
"We go out now?"

“We go out now?”

After a rough morning of sleeping, mixing margaritas, and chasing each other around, the rescue beagles realize they need to put distance between their busy lives in order to gain some perspective. So they drop what they’re doing and insist we go outside.

Yah, I’m good with that because I normally need a break as well. Editing all day long makes for a stale Pricey. But a nice walk and a breath of fresh air puts new wind in my literary sails.

It’s the same thing when we write. We increase our BIC (Butt In Chair) index to the point where answering the call of nature is an irritant because we “in the zone.” What I see all too often is that writers type The End, and shove their babies out the door…and it isn’t ready. Before you do anything, you need to back away from your computer and get some fresh air.

Right now, you’re stale, so you can’t see the warts hiding inside your writing. If you send it out, I’ll see those warts and reject it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard back from writers saying how embarrassed they were to have sent me their first three chapters. In the time they sent it to me and received my rejection, they’ve had a chance to get some fresh air. When they read my reasons for rejection, they hurriedly go back and review those chapters.

“GAH!!! How could I have not seen those POV switches, or the fact that my main character was in her office, and the next scene has her in Mexico?” Oh, the horror of seeing your work with fresh eyes.

Do yourself a huge favor and get some literary fresh air. Put your writing away for a couple weeks and go outside. Go to lunch with friends, take that hike you’ve been wanting to take, go visit Mom and Dad, learn a new hobby. Do something besides writing. This is the only way you can see the dust bunnies and tumbleweeds hiding among your nouns and verbs.

If I’ve been working on a tough scene, I go ahead and bang it out – and then I put it away and walk away, even though I’m convinced that I’ve just written the best writing in the world. Upon returning with a breath of fresh air, I usually discover that my writing is pure Bantha fodder. The best writing comes from being fresh and clear. Putting you focus elsewhere allows your brain to expand – and suddenly you can see your writing with new eyes. No, those rough paragraph transitions didn’t sneak in while you were sleeping. You wrote them, and didn’t see it before.

If you don’t have pesky rescue beagles reminding you to keep your literary air fresh, then write yourself a note and tape it to your forehead. Nothing good happens in a stale room. Don’t send your work out too early. You’ve worked this hard, so doesn’t it make sense to honor that hard work by sucking in some fresh air?

Do you take long breaks after writing? What do you do to get your breath of fresh air?


The Book Deal – Channeling Goldilocks

January 29, 2013

goldilocks

We all remember the story of Goldilocks and the whole “this bed is too hard, this one’s too soft, ahhh…this one is just right.” Well, a book deal is a lot like that. One may be feel too right, the other, all wrong, and the other is absolutely perfect. In order to figure out which book deal is juuuust right for you, it’s important to consider some factors that you may not be aware of.

For this post, I’m going to use Big Gun publishing, commercial trade press publishing, and e-book publishing. The golden thread that weaves its way through all types of publishing is MONEY. If you gots it, the more you can spends it on cool things like advances, editing, production costs, marketing/promotion.

Advances

Traditionally, paying an advance allowed the author to survive while writing his book. So the higher the advance, the more the publisher believed in the book’s potential. Along the way, the whole advance idea exploded into Mr. Stay-Puft marshmallow man in Ghost Busters. The reasons are many, but the end result is advances have often exceeded the publisher’s ability to earn back what they’d paid out, which resulted in many editors and sales people being handed their walking papers.

Big Guns:  They still pay out far larger advances than their smaller counterparts, but they pay them out to fewer authors because their cash flow isn’t what it used to be. They are beholden to their corporate leaders, and those books have to make a ton of scratch to continue feeding the corporate monster.

A giant payday is a lovely thing for the first-time author, but it’s also wrought with the demand to perform – a daunting task. If you don’t earn out, your Big Gun publisher may not be so happy, and you could be the one out on the sidewalk. As all publishers do (or should), they do a P&L statement and weigh the risks. Most of the time, it’s a matter of Pay It and Forget It…meaning that the advance is the only bit of money some authors may ever see because their books don’t earn out. In short, Big Guns, on average, are learning to be smarter because they’ve seen fellow Big Guns go bankrupt.

Trade Press:  Used to be called Indie publishing, but the self publishers sorta stole the verbiage, so Trade Press is used to define publishers who aren’t owned by corporations. They’re independent. And since they’re independent, they have to work smart. They can’t spend more than they have, and they have to feel confident the authors they sign will sell well. To that extent, advances are lower because they are more risk averse than their corporate brethren. If the book sells well, the author will make big bucks via royalties.

E-publishers:  Since the digital technology has exploded, we’ve seen an explosion of e-publishers because it’s cheap and there is little risk…which means they don’t need a lot of money or experience to hang out their shingle. It’s not unusual for e-publishers to pay zero advances. Many authors who sign with e-publishers are new writers, and are willing to accept these terms.

Production Costs

For the print trade, there are a lot of production costs associated with publishing a book, so the more you gots, the better the product – or so the saying goes. The standard costs are wrapped up in editing, cover design, layout, interior design, sales and promotion planning, print runs and other stuff I’m sure I’m forgetting at the moment.

Big Guns:  They gots money, so they can afford just about anything they want, depending on where the book fits on their list. If it’s a top list book, they’ll pull out the corks. If it’s midlist or lower, they will put less resources into the project, which translates to lesser effort to promote and market your book. That isn’t to say it won’t get out there because it certainly will. But it also depends on the genre and how it syncs up with their current lineup.

Many of my midlist author friends are very happy with their publishers, and a few have been sorely disappointed…and it all went back to genre. Some sell better than others, and the Big Gun is going to put more money into what’s selling better.

An unhappy byproduct to print runs is returns, and it’s the bane of every publisher. The odd thing about the Big Gun is that they’re all about shipping books out to market, and they don’t care as much about returns. Yah, sounds insane, and there is a huge explanation for this, but it doesn’t play into this discussion. Suffice it to say that if your editor says they’re printing up X number of books, you should ask how many they plan on shipping.

Trade Press:  Their budgets are smaller, but that doesn’t mean they can’t put out amazing books, and sell a ton of them. They have great cover designers, interior designers, and do a great job at layout. They meet with their sales teams to discuss marketing and promotion. For example, we are distributed by Consortium/Perseus, and I just had my sales meeting with them yesterday, where we discussed everything; titles, cover design, marketing and promotion strategy, and print run forecasts.

Depending on the book and genre, print runs aren’t as large as the Big Guns. Where they might do a print of 15k-20k units, the trade press might do 5k-8k units because they want to avoid returns. Books that are returned can’t be sent out again because they often look like they were repackaged by bipolar baboons…so that’s a loss.

Conversely, if the book explodes, it takes a week to get another run done (provided you have a very good relationship with your printer). It’s all about working smart and conserving costs, so those resources can be utilized with promotion.

E-publishing:  Production costs are, on average, lower because the e-publisher doesn’t have as large of an operating budget. They can’t afford to shoulder too much risk, so they need to conserve costs as much as they can. They don’t have print run costs, and their promotion costs are lower because everything is done digitally. For instance, we send out around 100 books to reviewers and media, so we not only have the printing costs, but the mailing costs, which have gone through the roof.

Since there is no physical copy, traditional media is less likely to pay much attention to the book, so this is an important consideration to factor in.

Editing

Editing is part of the production costs, but I wanted to talk about this specific issue because it’s the blood and guts to any publishing company. You can slap on a gorgeous cover and market a book ’til the cows come home, but if a book is poorly edited, you ain’t got nuthin’. Do this on a consistent basis, and your publisher will be known as a dud…and so will you, by association.

Big Guns:  It’s hard to find fault because they are the Great Yoda of the publishing industry. Since they were here first, it’s natural that they would have the greatest stable of fabulous editors.

But the Big Guns have a problem that others don’t, and that’s turnaround time. They still publish more books than everyone else, which means they have a lot of authors in the queue waiting their turn to be edited. The general waiting time for a book to be published is two years. And because they have so many books to publish, editors need to work very quickly.

I have some editor buds who work at the big houses and are exhausted at the lack of time. More than one bud has told me that books simply went out that weren’t editorially ready, but they had to meet the schedule. Ouch.

Trade Press:  Trade presses are smaller, they specialize in one genre, and their publishing schedule isn’t nearly as frenetic (on average). But they still need great editors. With the Great Publishing Implosion a number of years, we saw many editors walking the streets looking for an editing gig. Many have hired out to the trade presses on an independent contractor basis, provided they will pay them what they’re worth.

Without great editing, a book is nothing more than an empty suit, so trade presses make sure to have nothing but the best. Their business depends on having strong books, and experienced editors are worth every dime.

E-publishing: Here’s where things get really odd. Since e-publishers, on average, have a much smaller operating budget, they can’t hire the most experienced editors. Nor can they pay them a standard editing fee. Many editors at many e-publishing houses are paid a percentage of sales on the books they edited.

Not only is this incredible, but it forces the editor to shoulder the same kind of risks the publisher is…yet they’re not an owner. If a book they edited doesn’t sell well, that editor is going to make peanuts, and it’s not their fault.

Who would agree to such an arrangement? And this is the rub. Many e-publishing editors have little to no experience in the industry. Invariably, they are writers, which is fine, but just because you write doesn’t mean you understand editing. It’s an art.

So what is the quality of these editors? I’m sure they’re trying their very best, but that shouldn’t be a standard by which someone should be hired. And what about the attrition factor? You can’t ask someone to work for peanuts and expect them to remain loyal. What if they simply decide to just stop editing a book, midstream? Since many e-published authors are new, they don’t know this is out of the ordinary.

Sales

Sales are the lifeblood of publishers. We needs ‘em to keep errant beagles in designer chewie bones. So how do the various kinds of publishers get sales?

Big Guns:  They have a well-oiled machine, so their books (for the most part) are going to be shelved in bookstores. They have teams of sales people who put together a catalog of their upcoming releases and pitch to store buyers at the corporate and local levels. They have teams who  deal with national accounts like Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, etc. They send out advance copies to the media for review and publicity purposes. This is all done to make people aware your book exists.

This works well for many of their authors, but it depends on genre and what’s hot. The Self-Help book, or midlist mainstream fiction may not get the attention that a Young Adult. The big guns have a lot of mouths to feed, and they can’t feed them all.

Trade Press:  Since trade presses have a smaller lineup each season, they have more time to dedicate to each title. Since they specialize in a genre, chances are strong they have established relationships with media, which helps a great deal during promotion. For example, I had a radio host call me a couple weeks ago asking to interview a couple of our authors because he so enjoyed interviewing one of authors last year. If you have these guys in your Rolodex, it’ll go a long way to getting the word out to your author’s intended readership.

Since most trade presses are too small to have their own sales team that have enough clout to get the attention of the book buyers, they have agreements with distributors, who have sales and promo teams – and they do the same things the Big Guns do. Their experience and long reach go a long way to getting books shelved in stores.

If you’re considering a trade press, make sure you know who distributes them. If they say Ingram and Baker & Taylor, they’re telling you a hot one because those companies are wholesale distributors, meaning they fulfill orders placed by bookstores or libraries. They don’t have sales teams who pitch their catalog to store buyers.

E-book Publishers: Sales are online. Period. There is no other venue where your book will appear. I’ve noticed that the successful e-publishers do a great job at branding their company, so a book will sell well because of the publisher’s name recognition – not necessarily the book. This means that if you’re with a brand new e-publisher, you may not be happy with your sales. Simply put, no one knows who they are.

To date, I haven’t been able to nail an e-publisher down as to the specifics of their promotional practices, so I’m still, sadly, in the dark about how they promote individual titles. One thing I do know is that the successful ones publish a specific genre. Romance still seems to be the leader among successful e-publishers, so I’d be leery about an e-publisher who publishes all genres. They would have to have the editing expertise for all those genres, and I just don’t believe they have it…just as I don’t believe the small trade press can do justice to all genres, and they need to specialize.

How Long You Been ‘Round?

This is the most important thing to consider. How long has the publisher you’re considering querying been in business? My suggestion is to wait until a company is at least two years old because that’s about how long it takes for the warts to show, and for them to run out of their seed money.

No matter what publishing option you choose, you gotta channel Goldilocks. Their porridge can’t be too hot or too cold. It’s gotta be just right, which means that they have sufficient working capital, experienced editors, good distribution, healthy sales, and are adept at selling your genre.


When Ms. Inner Editor Goes to Sleep, So Must You

January 16, 2013

InnerEditor1

When writing, it’s sometimes hard to keep your inner editor awake. After all, a girl needs to rest.I’ve always imagined my inner editor is a haughty little thing who loves to wear blood-red stiletto heels, a matching wide-brimmed hat, and long fingernails she uses to gouge out my heart when I work without her.

And that’s the rub…working without our inner editors.While they’re off getting some beauty sleep, we writers are left on our own, without proper supervision, and we end up committing some blunders that make our inner editors’ teeth itch.

Mentioning names instead of using a pronoun

It’s ok to use a pronoun. Really. You don’t need to use the character’s name at every turn. I’ve seen any number of manuscripts read something like this:

Joe couldn’t see through the fog because Joe forgot his Darth Vader See-All glasses that Joe found in a Cracker Jack box. Joe wished he hadn’t been in such a hurry in leaving because Joe also realized he’d forgotten his magic gloves and bag of marshmallows.

Ok, there’s a bit of overkill in here, but not much. Going between a pronoun and the character’s name is a balancing act. Once the reader knows who you’re talking about, don’t be afraid to use “he” or “she.” Using the character’s name is tedious and clumsy.

Affections: Sighing, rolling eyes, running hands through hair

Another thing that happens when your inner editor catches some zzz’s is overdoing affectations. I’m currently reading a book that, I swear, if the author writes “rolled her eyes” one more time, I may begin rolling mine as a counter-attack. If your character runs his hands through his hair or shrugs his shoulders at every turn, then he becomes one-dimensional. Even I am given to committing drive-by eye rolls only once a day. If your characters are doing this every five minutes, then I’d wonder if they have Tourette’s.

Affections are great, but only if your inner editor is wakey wakey because they give depth to your characters. The trick is to avoid the cliche ones. Running hands through the hair (lordy, I love that one for some reason), eye rolling, shrugging shoulders, sighing…those are easy to rely on too heavily because we all do them. But it can look overdone in literature, so think of something unique.

If you have a tough time with affectations, do a bit of reflection and observation. What are your affectations? For instance, I noticed that I pinch my chin when I’m frustrated, and I tend to rub a knuckle across my lips when I’m searching for just the right word to use.

Observe your friends and family. I have a friend who twirls a glob of her hair when she’s engrossed in telling a story. One time she got so engrossed that she created a huge knot next to ear. I nearly laughed up a lung watching her try to tuck the knot behind her ear in an effort to pretend it wasn’t there.

Actions:  Walking across the room, slamming doors

Action can also get away from the writer whose inner editor is sawing logs. Action, when treated properly, is great because it gets a character from here to there. However, I see lots of walking across the room, slamming doors, drinking coffee…whatever…which doesn’t further a scene, but merely enhances it…you hope. It works for the most part, unless you allow the action to overtake a scene:

Jilly poured the gin into Jane’s and her glass. “So, have you decided whether to take the train or the bus?”

“I’m leaning toward the train,” Jane said, taking the proffered glass and taking a small sip. 

“I love the train,” Jilly said, setting her drink down on the table and reaching for a cookie. “I love peering out at the countryside.” She took a bite out of the macaroon.

“I know what you mean,” Jane said, picking up the other cookie and dunking it in her gin.

This isn’t so bad here, but if you have an entire scene of dialog where both characters are either drinking, eating, wiping crumbs, taking another cookie, the scene takes on  a ka-thunk cadence because the action slows down the pace by overtaking the dialog. You wouldn’t think action would slow down the pace, but your dialog has a pace of its own, and adding too much action can slow down the dialog.

Again, this is a balancing act because you want to avoid Talking Heads – where all they do is talk, and there is zero action. Action tends to be overused because authors are trying to avoid dialog tags like, “he said.”If John is busy picking up a beer while speaking, then you don’t need to add a “he said.” You’ve already identified who’s speaking by adding action.

It’s a great writing tool, but be mindful about supplanting one for the other without intention. You and your inner editor will decide how well balanced your scene is. It’s harder to do when she’s not on your shoulder, screaming at you.

Punctuation:  exclamation points, em dashes, ellipses

This is a terrible abuse because it’s so easy to do. When inner editors awaken to see the carnage, it’s all they can do to keep from mainlining cheap tequila. We writers have our little foibles. My weakness is ellipses. I love them because I feel they have a bigger impact than using a simple comma. It’s more dramatic. But a manuscript with a million of these little suckers should land me in jail without possibility of parole. And I’m not the only one. I once read a manuscript that had over 300 of them. I know because I did a Track Changes search in order destroy every one of them. That author needed therapy.

I learned my aversion to exclamation points when I read a manuscript with some-400-odd exclamation points. I began to see them in my sleep, and when I drove to Starbucks. The result of all those exclamation points was that the ceased to have any importance. Rather than actually writing tension or fear, the author stuck in an exclamation point, thinking that would convey the same message. It didn’t.

“Hold on! I’ll be right back!” Jack yelled.

“I don’t know how long I can wait!” Ann yelled back.

“If you don’t, there will be a huge mess!”

“I don’t care! If that gas station forces you to buy something before they’ll hand over the bathroom key, they deserve to clean up the mess!” Jane screamed.

Ok, been there, so I can understand Jane and Jack’s dilemma. But what those exclamation points are doing is taking the place of character development.

Jack wished he’d pulled off the road an hour ago, when Jane told him she needed to go. Now she was wild-eyed and had a haunted look about her as they stood before a locked bathroom door. “Hold on! I’ll be right back.” 

“I don’t know how long I can wait,” Jane said through gritted teeth.

Jack let the probable scenario play out in his head if he couldn’t convince Jane and her bursting bladder to hang on for a few more minutes. “If you don’t, there will be a huge mess.”

“I don’t care!” Jane screamed, while crossing her legs. “If that gas station forces you to buy something before they’ll hand over the bathroom key, they deserve to clean up the mess.” 

If you need to convey an emotion, then write it. Don’t let punctuation do the job of writing. Only place exclamation points where you really need them. Too many of these suckers is like when I eat too much fudge and I get a big ol’ canker sore on my tongue. You don’t want a literary canker sore, right?

Adverbs

I’ve had many discussions about adverbs, some that got quite heated. Only writers could draw blood over the proper amount of adjective usage, right?

My boggle with these suckers is that they are so seductive, that I consider them the Antonio Banderas of writing. They’re sexy, handsome, and soooo easy on the eye and, before you know it, your writing is filled with adverbs that crowd, clutter, and irritate your readers. Not that Antonio ever could…

“This beer is so astoundingly horrible. It tastes amazingly like dirty sock water. How can you drink this achingly awful swill?”

A manuscript filled with adverbs is overkill and there are plenty of readers who get to the point where they shout, “Yes! I get it, the beer is horrible and the character hates it. No need to stick fifteen adverbs in there to say so.” As with my love for Twinkies *sob*, moderation is key here.

Verbiage 

This is the fingernail on the chalkboard to any reader of period pieces. If your story’s time frame is in 1860, “cool” better be describing the temperature and not the wheels on a horse buggy.

We’re all looking for realistic dialog, but it can be taken to extremes if you inject to many “Well’s” “Look’s” “Um’s” Sure, we all say these words in general speaking, but that doesn’t mean it translates well to paper. I read a scene the other day that took up two pages and had fifteen uses of “well,” “look,” or “um.” Overkill.

So if you find your inner editing yawning, go join her. Writing is a team effort, and you shouldn’t work unsupervised. Ever.


When You Have Editorial Differences

January 8, 2013

Frustration-Eats-Pencil2

So you’ve signed the contract, the ink is dry, and now your book is in editing. Yay! Welllll…maybe. There are times when authors will have  differences of opinion with their editor, and this can either go well or make you want to mainline Drano. Let’s face it, there are few authors who agree with every suggestion their editors bring up. Ten years in the biz has afforded me all kinds of experiences in the editor chair, so I thought I’d offer some perspective that may help you when your manuscript is under the bright lights.

Is It OK to Disagree?

YES. There have been many times where I felt something wasn’t working, and recommended it be edited out, and the author didn’t agree with the suggestion…and there’s nothing wrong with that. On more than one occasion, I’ve had authors write back to say they were very married to a section I wanted to cut. We talk about it and reach some resolution. Sometime it turns out that the scene is a key piece, but simply needs further development.

I’m good with this because I can’t appreciate the importance of a scene if it isn’t fully developed. But if you disagree with me, we can talk further to where I may see that cutting a scene would be the wrong thing to do. If you’re too nervous to say anything, then your book may suffer for it. You know your book and its intent better than anyone, so you are its best advocate during the editing phase.

How to disagree

But this isn’t to say that disagreement should take on all sorts of ugly. The editing process is a very personal, emotional experience, and authors don’t always appreciate their words being futzed with. I’ve had times when it would have been easier to invert my belly button than continue editing a manuscript.

You don’t need to shout and stamp your feet to be heard. Every editor has her process, so learn what it is and how to use it to ensure the lines of communication remain open and professional. I’m a big fan of using the Comments/Balloons in the Track Changes feature in Word. I highlight a section that I want to edit out, delete it (the Track Changes feature will show up with that section crossed out and underlined). Then I’ll highlight part of that section and add a Comment in the margin, where I say something like, “Suggest editing this section out. The scene is way too long and doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t enhance the chapter.”

If the author wants to comment on that, she can highlight part of that section and add her comment below mine – where I’ll see it when the edits come back to me. “I really love this scene because it’s pivotal to the plot.” We can further discuss our options.

What I love about adding comments in the margin is that it keeps things clean and clear. You’re not likely to cuss out your editor in a comment balloon. Instead, you’ll stick to the facts. What I don’t appreciate is a hysterical phone call or email about editing a scene.

How vociferously to disagree

Many years ago, I wanted to make some editorial changes to an author’s manuscript (who is no longer with us), and he fired back a very heated email, insisting that I didn’t like him. Another author refused to perform any edits because she didn’t own Word, and insisted that we edit via hard copy. Oh hell no. She’s no longer with us, either. Such toolbaggery isn’t helpful to your relationship with your editor, or the entire publishing process.

Some of my editor buds tell me horror stories of screaming matches and threats…nightmare makin’ stuff. And people wonder why we have margarita-mixing beagles…

We realize this is a nervous time for you. You’ve worked hard on your stories and don’t want them futzed with. But that shouldn’t equate to tearing out your editor’s blackened heart and nailing it to a dartboard. Whether you’re a brand new writer or one who has many books out, you need editing. Everyone does. I’m sure that Mrs. Cosmic Muffin edits the Cosmic Muffin all the time, and you just can’t go to any higher authority than that.

Keep it simple, keep it professional. Editing isn’t a personal attack on you, but merely editorial suggestions by an experienced editor who sells books for a living. It’s about trust. The more you trust your editor, the easier it is to keep it professional. If you find yourself blowing a hole in the ozone layer, ask yourself if you’re frightened to be edited and whether you trust your editor.

Trust Your Editor

A loaded bullet, to be sure. Most of the time you don’t even know your editor, so how do you know if she’s any good? Simple. You have faith in your publisher. You’ve read their books (or you darn well should have), so you have a solid idea of their quality. It’s vital that you trust your editor because theirs is the final word. The better you work together, the better the product.

I had an odd experience a few years back. I wanted to sign an author, and she wanted me to sign her, so we met for lunch. Her book was very good, but it definitely needed a strong editorial hand. When I discussed this with her, she became very protective because she was terrified that editing meant completely changing her work into something unrecognizable. I assured her that this would not only be a huge waste of our time, but there would be no point to sign her. Her agent reinforced my claims.

She was still nervous, and I decided not to sign her. If she’s this nervous now, before we even begin editing, what is she going to be like once we begin the process? It boiled down to the fact that she didn’t trust me. Then again, she wouldn’t trust anyone – and that’s a dangerous position to be in. If you have designs on being well-published, you’re going to need to place your trust in your editor. Talk to her, discuss the kind of edits she has in mind for your book. There is nothing worse than working with an author who doesn’t trust you.

Another author refused to discuss working on the ending of the book. The story was wonderful, but the ending needed tweaking. He refused. He believed his way was better than ours. We let him go. Trust. Have it, or go home.

If you find yourself in the throes of editing, and things aren’t going smoothly, then here is some additional advice.

Effective Communication/Effective Listening

Effective Communication and Listening are key during every step of production, but none more so than during editing. When I was but a wee bairn, my dad used to quote this saying around the dinner table: “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Took me years to figure out what he was saying, but once the light bulb turned on, it has never failed to crack me up because it’s so true.

Email can screw that up faster than just about any other medium. If there is a sticking point during editing, for the love of Helvetica, schedule a Skype meeting or phone call. I adore Skype because we can go page by page and discuss questions or points. And it’s free!

Conversely, listening is an art. We get so caught up in getting our point across that we forget to listen to the other guy – and they may have very good ideas.  Say your piece, then actively listen to the other guy.

Choose Your Battles Wisely

There may come a time when you see your edits and consider throwing yourself under a Waste Management truck rather than face a very big task. It’s hard to look at a sea of red and not feel that your book has landed into an editorial mosh pit. “Do I really suck that much?” No…not at all! But you don’t see it that way. You think you’ve been ripped from stem to stern, so you dig your heels in and decide to  fight every single edit as a way of proving that you don’t suck. The fight really ain’t worth it because if you sucked, you wouldn’t have gotten the publishing deal in the first place.

Editing isn’t about give and take, or winning and losing; it’s about making your book fabulous. There are some edits that can be negotiated and others where there is zero wiggle room. I had an author plead with me to leave a very long scene in because it was meaningful to him. Problem is, it wasn’t meaningful to anyone else, and I insisted that it had to go. I know it hurt, but the author later told me that he never even missed the scene after reading the final edit. Yay…score one for Pricey.

The takeaway from this is to recognize the really big battles, the scenes that are hugely important. Deleting the overwritten bio of a throwaway character isn’t worth blowing a ventricle over.

Justify Yourself

Whenever I edit a scene out, I justify it in the margin comment, so the author understands my reasoning. If you want to fight for a scene or character, or backstory, then you need to justify it to your editor. “Because I really love it,” won’t fly. Won’t even float. You need to provide a solid foundation as to why you’re fighting for something to stay in. If your editor tells you it slows down the pace and doesn’t move the chapter along, then you have to justify why that isn’t the case.

That doesn’t mean she’ll buy it. Her word is final, so if you have a compelling reason for keeping something in, you gotta make sense. If you can’t, then your editor will probably rule against you and toss it. If so, let it go.

The Point of No Return

The one thing you want to avoid at all costs is arguing to the point where there’s no returning to the happy happy joy joy relationship. I guarantee that if you verbally abuse your editor (been there, done that), then you’re dead to her. Sure, she’ll edit your book to the very best of her abilities, but she will groan every time she sees your email address pop into her inbox. She won’t lift a finger to go above and beyond her regular duties…and you DON’T want that.

If you and your editor are at an impasse, then you both need to back away and cool off. Allowing things to escalate isn’t good for anyone, most of all your book. Don’t be afraid to apologize if you’ve stepped over the line. An apology is the great equalizer, and if you let your emotions run away with you, then you need to grow up, accept responsibility, and make things right. If your editor is the toolbag, then you’re going to have to grit your teeth and make the best of things. It’s very rare that the editing process is ever that contentious, but it does happen. Keep your head and emotions in check.

I’m unusually lucky. I have the most wonderful authors in the world. They are bright and talented, ask terrific questions, and make me think. But through the years, I’ve had some challenges – as any editor does – and I’ve had to swallow my tongue a few times just to keep from biting it (and the author’s head) off.

Rest assured, there will be editing differences, but it’s the author who knows how to play well with others in the sandbox who has a great time.


Closing Out 2012: A Bit o’ This, and a Drab o’ That

December 31, 2012

lynn-beagle

So it’s snowing great big donkey balls here in the Pitts, and I’m loving every second of it. The kids are all here for a New Year’s visit, and they’re having fun jumping and playing in the snow. In between the Prices conquering every bar in downtown Pitts, I’m taking some time to catch up on long-ignored queries, which brings me to a generalized list of things that make me go, “Hmmm…”

A.  “Yep, I’m all that and a bag of potato chips!”

This is where the author tells me he/she does extensive public appearances on their previously pubbed books. Here’s a sekrit…I can see that. It’s called Google. If I google you and don’t see hide nor hair of anyplace where you’ve spoken, or can’t even find your website, then I’m going to think you’re overselling yourself.

It’s true that many private affairs don’t have a Google footprint, but authors’ websites usually have a calendar where they will be appearing. So here’s a tip; if you do a lot of public appearances, it’s really helpful if I can find them somewhere. That way, I’ll really know if you’re are all that and a bag o’ chips.

B. “My previous books sold like hotcakes!”

I can look that stuff up, too. Admittedly, the numbers are representative at best, so I have to take them with a grain of salt. I mean, it’s possible you sold 2500 books, an Bookscan only reports 2 sales (because there are a lot of sales outlets that don’t report to Bookscan), but it’s unlikely. For instance, if your book sold through Costco, it means that your book is also selling well on the national market, and that’s what I’m looking for; your national readership. My problem is that I have no way of verifying those unreported sales, so it’s a good idea to keep that in mind.

Instead, it might be helpful to tell me how your books sold. For instance, “I do a lot of seminars and that’s where the bulk of my sales took place.” Ah. This tells me that you have a platform….which I will also check out. Word to the wise; just don’t fudge yourself because it’s embarrassing when you’re busted.

C. “I don’t have a book proposal.”

Sigh. If you’re going to write nonfiction, then you really need a book proposal because it helps editors appreciate your fabulosity. In fact, I’m a huge proponent of everyone writing a proposal because it pulls you out of the author chair and into the business chair. It gets you thinking about your book as a product, not just the darling of your imagination. I’ve written posts on book proposals numerous times because they are such a wonderful aid to an author.

Look at it this way; do you want to give anyone a reason to reject you? Of course not. So if you’re writing nonfiction, then know up front that you’ll probably be asked to provide a book proposal at some point, and how dumb will you feel if you have to say, “Um, can you wait while I write one?” You always want to be prepared.

D. My address

It’s a silly thing, really, but I can’t help it – it strikes me as inane to include my mailing address at the top of the e-query. Maybe I am being a picky pants, but an email isn’t a formal business letter, where you put your address, the date, then my mailing address, blah, blah, blah. I can see the date stamp. I know where I live…though there have been times when I wasn’t too sure, but that’s a whole other story…

Just begin your query with Dear Lynn/Holy Mistress of Literacy/Goddess of the Written Word…all forms of fawning salutation are welcome.

E. Your Bio

I’ve been getting a rash of queries that don’t seem to know where to start, so they begin with the author’s fabulosity. I’m certain every one of you are marvelous people (as most writers are), but you really aren’t the whole enchilada. Your story is. You could be the most famous person on Earth, but if your story is about your toenail collection, then your bio means squat all.

Yes, it’s true that nonfiction looks for the writer with a platform, but everything still hinges on your story. Lead with that, and mention you at the end. I won’t fall to the floor and beg to sign you just because you have an amazing life. I’ll do that if you have an amazing story. Thar be a difference.

F. To Whom It May Concern

I don’t know why this bugs me so much, but whenever I see a query letter with this salutation, it takes all my willpower not to hit the Delete button. More often than not, I give in to the urge and dump it. In short, it’s incredibly rude. Would you address a cover letter to your potential boss as To Whom It May Concern? Hell no. You need that job, so you’re motivated to find out their name and as much as you can about them and their company so you look intelligent.

The same tenets apply here as well. Your query letter is a job interview, and gaining an agent’s or editor’s attention depends on how well you present yourself. Not bothering to look up an editor’s name screams “I don’t give a ripsnort about who you are.” And you should. After all, you want to be sure that the hands you place your story into are one that will take care of you and your book. I see this salutation and think, “What a toolbag” because my name is easily seen on our website.

G. “You’re Wrong.”

This just happened to me last week. I received a less than complete query letter, so I had little choice but to judge it based on what I had, which was very little – so I politely rejected it. I included some comment with the hopes the author could see where he might improve the quality for future queries. He immediately wrote back telling me I was wrong, and his story really was fabulous. The problem is that the gent didn’t show me his story was fabulous. He assumed that because he is the Great New Author, that I would jump tall buildings to sign him.

Let’s face it, query letters are life-sucking bags of buffalo chips that make us consider sniffing glue – but it’s a cover letter for a new job, and should be treated with respect. If I don’t know…

  1. Your main character
  2. What event is dumped in his lap (terrorist takeover by poisonous grasshoppers/opening up a publishing company/seeking comfort and sanity at the top of a snowy mountain/
  3. How he goes about fixing, solving, resolving the event

…then I don’t have the full picture of your story and have little choice but to offer a polite “no thanks.” It really bugs me to have an author write back and tell me I’m wrong, as if it’s my fault for not “getting it.” I mean, sure, there are plenty times when I am wrong, and I can be thick sometimes, but I won’t accept any responsibility for your incomplete query letter…and I might write you a snotgram informing you of that very thing. Maybe.

So as we head into the 2013, see if you can’t stick a few more resolutions into your already-bursting bag of tricks:

  1. Thout shalt not commit toolbaggery.
  2. Query letters be thy job interview, and thou shalt be clear and concise.
  3. Thou shalt be gracious with rejection and view them as learning lessons, not personal attacks.

Happy New You, everyone!


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