BAHAHAHA! Um….sorry. I’m pathetic, I know this.
Writing is such a solitary endeavor that I think writers tend to forget there’s a big wide literary world out there where competition is the game we all play and excellence is the great equalizer. Some are more excellent than others – but I can assure you there’s one way to be considered part of the “less excellent” group…your grammar.
If you’re going to call yourself a professional at anything, one assumes that you’ve taken great strides to be very good at what you do, right? The art of writing is no different. Oh, I know, with the advent of self-publishing, we’ve witnessed all sorts of crimes against humanity and the English language, because now anyone can be a published author.
But in the world of stuffy editing teams, puffy sales people, grouchy accountants, and submissions committees, authors can’t get away with sounding like they’re missing a crucial element of their craft. I can hear the submissions committees now: “Pricey, how DARE you bring this before us! This author doesn’t know how to use pronouns!”
Case in point; an author has been playing coy with me for a few weeks, telling me their manuscript is the “story of a lifetime.” Yah, yah, heard this song and dance a million times. After telling the author twice that they could pound sand unless they actually provided a book proposal that gives me an idea of what the story entails, I finally received an email promising said book proposal. Hurray, thinks I.
Until they wrote this:
“I’m really excited about all the attention me and my cousin are getting in our town about…”
Oh. The agony. The cruelty. Okay, okay, this may seem like a case of, “Really, Pricey? Aren’t you getting just a bit picky?” I ‘spose. But if the author is this comfortable using improper pronouns in an email – and let’s assume they’re trying to impress me – then how great is their writing? Am I potentially facing huge amounts of time correcting every pronoun debacle, every misspelled word, and God knows whatever else? Editing is onerous enough without having to teach someone the basics of English…and I’m not sure this old-timer has it in me to try.
With schools placing less importance on grammar and composition, I fear our future writers may be doomed…and I’m facing more bottles of “Gray No More” on my locks and more dates with Jim Beam.
I’ve said it for many years, and I’ll keep on bleating it until my teeth fall out; if you’re going to take writing seriously, please learn how to write. Save an editor from mainlining good gin.
…at the expense of my adorable granddaughter. I’m sure my daughter will send out a hit team to hunt me down. In the meantime, yes, dear author…you need to be edited.
I rest my case…
Lest any of our authors be confused over my editing marks, I have a cheat sheet…
There is a palpable high I get when completing the final hard edit. This is the point where all the commas are nestled properly in their beds, misspellings are given the hatchet job, and rewording is is given a shampoo and set. It’s the point where Ms. Manuscript goes from being a double-spaced bit of a slop to a formatted thing of beauty. All the chapter headings are prettified, the copyright page gets a facelift, and the cover is completed – all in preparation to going in for the final hard read before going to the printer’s for ARCs (Advanced Reader Copy).
I love this part because Ms. Manuscript is transformed. She’s lost about ten pesky pounds and is now sporting a new hairdo with blond highlights. It’s one of my little rituals with every book to look back to the time when Ms. Manuscript first arrived on my desk, and compare her to her current makeover. Where she was a bit tentative and shy, she now shines and struts her stuff with amazing confidence, and yodels, “Heck yah, I’m ready for the marketplace!” Never fails, I squee every time.
And boyo, A CHICK IN THE COCKPIT, written by the achingly talented and hideously indomitable Erika Armstrong, is definitely squee worthy. Every time I finished reading an edited round, I fell in love that much more.
I’ve always been one of those passengers who was afraid to get out of her seat because of the recurring nightmare of spilling my huge glass of water on a passenger’s head. Turbulence. Never been more mortified. Thought the flight attendant was going to laugh up a lung. <shudder>
One of things I love most about our authors is that I always learn something vital that I can apply to my own life.
And Erika’s book really made me think about the choices we make in our professions and the sacrifices we (and our families) make in pursuing our dreams. How many of us become lopsided and only give focus to our job, while ignoring other aspects of our lives that keep us whole and balanced? Guiltily raising my hand here.
It took me a year to write my first novel, and while the book earned awards and such, I’d become little more than part of the dining room furniture (where I’d holed up to write). Upon finishing, I blinked around and wondered when my son sprouted up to six feet and my daughter decided to change her hair color. What else had I missed? Did not get the Mom Award that year.
Living out of balance can ignite subtle changes into great big “Holy Hell!” moments. Taking your eyes off your flight plan can send you crashing to earth. And I needed to hear that. I’m willing to bet a lot of other people need to hear it, too…which is why I’m in squee mode about this book.
So much of Erika’s story is hilarious – I mean, how could it not be when a sweet Midwestern woman is stuck in a cockpit with a bunch of raunchy men for thousands of hours? The idea of taking control of a huge commercial jet and taking hundreds of people from Point A to Point B gives me the willies, but Erika does it with ease and finesse. And a lot of guts. And she takes complete control in her fabulous book, as well.
I hope that come November 10, you’ll, pull away from whatever you’ve been giving an unbalanced amount of focus, fasten your seatbelt, and let Erika take you for one helluva ride.
Yep, I’m still squeeing.
Over the past few months, I’ve had cause to scratch my head at some of these “editing services” crowding cyberspace. For one thing, anyone can hang out a shingle and claim they’re a full-on editing service – ghostwriter, content and copy editor, and this elusive thing called “publishing services”…which I’ve come to learn is fancy schmancy term for “I’ll write and submit your query letter for you.” For a fee, of course. Problem is, these query letters are terrible. Beyond terrible, in fact.
They offer none of the mouth-watery stuff I need to determine whether it’s something I’d be interested in. Here’s an email I just sent to an “editing service” on behalf of their client. You be the judge.
If you’re acting on behalf of XXX, then it would have been helpful to have a stronger query letter that details the need for this particular book – the “gotta have it” aspects. There are numerous books on this particular topic, and the title comps you included in your query show that neither you nor XXX have a working knowledge on the true competition. This Won’t Hurt a Bit by Michelle Au is a wonderful book that already covers these topics. Any of Atul Gawande’s books are also a major go-to for those interested in this topic.
You also don’t provide an author platform, which is vital in nonfiction – especially in this sub-genre. Considering the popularity of Gawande’s books and Michelle’s book, XXX has some stiff competition, so it’s vital that I have this information. So sadly, since your query letter is so underwhelming, I have no choice but to decline to review this further.
So much went so wrong for the author because she trusted her book, query, and checkbook to this “editing service.” A paragraph or two of description does not a mouth-watery query make (channeling Yoda). Insisting the competition in this genre is very limited is query suicide because there is always someone who reads a lot more than you do…and they do this sort of thing for a living.
Platform. If you’re going to write nonfiction, you really need to have some sort of a platform by which we can promote you. This isn’t just me saying this, but every other publisher of nonfiction out there in Book Land. To omit this is also query suicide.
Here’s the thing; “editing services” have no stake in your success. You pay them, and they can be as right or wrong as they want…and they still get paid. That is a fact. In my experience, I’ve found that these “editing services” write some of the worst query letters because they don’t think like a publisher. They don’t understand the hook, or how to reel us in. They simply punch in a formula they think works, and blast it out. Easy money.
This is unforgivable in my opinion. If you’re going to call yourself “professional,” then you damn well better understand how to write a query letter and have a working knowledge of the competition. And these guys don’t. They can’t, because it’s impossible to be an expert in all fields. They can’t expect to know the comp titles for medical nonfiction AND pet grooming…which is why I’m not a fan of these guys.
I also question their editing abilities. For example, I read a manuscript about a woman who used rescued horses to help special needs kids. Fabulous premise. However, the thrust of the manuscript focused on her failing marriage. WHO CARES?? I want to read about the horses she rescues and the kids she works with. The author told me her original manuscript was all about the horses and kids, but her “editing service” suggested her failing marriage was a stronger storyline.
A failing marriage? The marketplace is busting at the seams with those stories, and these books simply don’t sell. However, rescue horses and special-needs kids is big and marketable. This was an “editing dis-service.”
There is no “one size fits all” in indie editing, yet authors pay out tons of money because these “services” are very good at one thing: promoting their services.
Any editorial service should be chosen with great care. Before you fork over money to hear someone make suggestions to change key elements of your book, you need to believe it’s a good idea. Ask yourself whether those changes make your book more marketable. Then again, in order for you to be able to answer that, you need to research your competition.
Remember: Anyone you’re paying has no stake in your success, so choose with great care.