Publishy Questions – Inquiring Minds Wanna Know…

‘Cause I wanna know…

There are publishy questions that crop up all the time, so I thought I’d give my take on them.

What happens if you’ve done your rewrites and your editor doesn’t like them?

The quick answer is that the editor makes more suggestions and returns the manuscript back to the author for further revision. This will go on until both parties are satisfied that the manuscript is dry behind the ears, bathed, and dressed in its Sunday finest.

That’s the normal/common issue. There are times when the edits don’t go well, and the editor gets the feeling the book will never reach its potential. Then the editor has to make the tough decision to let the book go, or continue trying. That is rare, so no need to continue clutching your heart.

If you’re at the query stage (meaning there is no contract offer) and an editor suggests revisions, how many times will editors continue to consider that submission?

The quick answer for me, is two. There is the initial rejection (that includes crits as to why I’m rejecting it), and the second time if the author makes those revisions and it still doesn’t ring my chimes.

If I love the idea of the story, I’ll invite them to re-query if they decide to revise the manuscript. That invitation should not be interpreted as a precursor to a contract offer. I bold that because I’ve had times when I ended up rejecting a manuscript a second time in spite of the author’s revisions, and he invited me to make merry with garden slug.

If the author can’t get it right after the second attempt, I’m pretty sure it’ll never be right enough to catch my attention. Of course, all this depends on the editor.

How much do editors edit?

The short answer is, until there is no more blood in the editor’s brain and their will to live has been sucked dry. The longer answer (which is still pretty short) is that editors edit until they feel the work is ready for prime time. The longest part is the developmental edits, where we’re dealing with story structure, pacing, flow, exposition, character development, etc.

Of course, it also depends on the publisher and the editor. Our motto in the Batcave is “I want it right, not fast,” which means that I estimate how long the edits will take in order to not feel rushed. Most of the time I hit it pretty well. Other times, my hair is on fire, and the beagle is drinking heavily. Oh wait, she always drinks heavily…

The main lesson to take away from this question is that you, the author, feel like your story is as solid as it can be, and that you’re satisfied with the results. You do this by signing off on the project. If you don’t sign off, then it shouldn’t be going to production.

Are there times when editors love the book but feels it’s umarketable? If so, what are they?

Sadly, yes. There have been a number of manuscripts where I loved the writing, but the story wasn’t going to sell. Breaks my heart every time. Just because you’re a talented writer doesn’t mean you wrote a marketable book. It’s tempting to get carried away with a writer’s excellence and forget that it may not sell simply because the subject matter is either too obscure (like singing belly buttons) or too overdone (like cancer/addiction/vamp romance/dystopia). But if we did that, we’d be collecting nickels into a coffee can.

As to what genres fall into the unmarketable category, it’s hard to say. Sure, cancer/addiction/midlife crisis/mental disorders/vamp romance/anything werewolves/courtroom thrillers – the list goes on and on – are overwritten genres, but that doesn’t mean those books still aren’t being sold. It’s more about being unique. Does your cancer book say something that no other cancer book says? What about that vampire book? Does it follow the same cookie-cutter template, or do you have a kapow element that an editor can sell to a hungry audience?

The one thing I want to get across is that you write because you love the story that’s burning inside you. Just because it may not sell doesn’t mean the time was wasted. You learn all kinds of things when you write a book, and no writing experience is ever for naught.

Do I need an agent?

Yes. But make sure you get a good one; one that has a solid reputation for selling to good publishers and has sales in the genre you write.

What I mean by that is agents sometimes decide to branch out and start repping a genre they’ve never repped before. I’ve seen this a number of times where agents represent commercial fiction and decide to branch out in nonfiction because selling commercial fiction is pretty hard. If they haven’t sold any nonfiction yet, then how do you know they can sell your nonfiction? Best to find an established agent who has lots of good sales in nonfiction.

Good agents are godsends in contract negotiations because they have the experience to know how far to push an editor for certain points, and to know what those negotiable points are. Authors, on average, have no clue about this.

Agents are great sounding boards if difficulties arise. They are the peacekeepers, and in some extreme cases, the contact point between editor and author. They are editors’ and authors’ bestest buddies.

What genres are dead?

I have no idea. Does anyone? There are as many genres as people reading them. To be sure, there are more popular genres, like YA, that outsell, say Westerns. But that doesn’t mean people don’t read Westerns. I’m repeating myself here: WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE. If it’s Westerns, then write Westerns. Yee haw!

If you write to a popular genre, you’re not necessarily being true to your heart, which means you may write with less passion. Besides, the boundary lines are constantly changing as readers’ tastes change. Courtroom dramas were the hot thing years ago, then everyone went bonkers with DaVince Code knockoffs. Then came vampires, which led to vamp romance. Then YA Dystopia hit the marketplace. And with every new gazonga genre, comes the time when editors’ eyeballs are floating in their heads if they ever see another one of the “new hot thing.”

I remember talking to an editor friend of mine who, years ago, told me that romantic comedy was dead, dead, dead. Yet it’s making a very nice recovery, so I guess there really was a heartbeat in the genre after all. always remember that readers’ tastes change, so there is a danger of writing to genre rather than writing what moves you. By the time you get it researched and written, you may be looking at agents and editors who would rather eat a razor blade than see something in your genre.

Cover art; do I have any input?

You certainly should, however, I doubt that you will have final say. Author input is important because you’ve been living with you story far longer than the editor and art department have, and you have good ideas. Most of the time. Sometimes authors have no opinion or clue as to what their cover art should be, and their ideas are about as good as when the beagle threatens sobriety.

I will say that authors are always surprised when they see their cover art (or a mock up) for the first time because it’s the reality that their book is going from concept to “real.” I always recommend to our authors that they take their time before rendering an opinion in order to let it sink in.

Cover art is tough because it’s subjective. Just because someone loves/hates a cover doesn’t make them right. I never cease to be amused at the cover art conversations we have with our sales and publicity team. It’s like nailing Jello to the wall. I remember one particular sales meeting where we met with the regional sales teams, and one guy piped up about the cover art of a particular book of ours. I gave one long look to the prez of our distribution company, and she jumped in immediately and said, “This cover was dissected, talked about, tossed against the wall a few times, and redesigned more than a few times. Leave it be.”

That said, there are informed decisions and uniformed decisions. On the whole, trade publishers design covers that contain time-proven elements that will capture a buyer’s attention. So that intricate dragon artwork that you want on your book – even though it’s gorgeous – may not work for a book cover because when you close your eyes, all you see is a blob of color and no detail. When you close your eyes, you want the most important things burned into your retinas; the title, and a major graphic from the book…because readers will remember it.

I know there are bajillion-gajillion other questions, but I don’t want to hear any snoring while reading my posts. How ’bout it, any other questions you’re dying to know? Eh, before you ask; the beagle only drinks fine tequila…she had a bad episode with the cheap stuff and ended up in a Tijuana prison wearing pink high heels and a purple boa.

2 Responses to Publishy Questions – Inquiring Minds Wanna Know…

  1. Lynn, sounds to me as if these comments pertain to fiction. Are you taking fiction now?

  2. These pertain to all genres, and I’m sorry, but we still don’t publish fiction.

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