Eight Common First Draft Problems

December 6th, 2015

In my decade-plus in publishing, I’ve noticed some common first draft problems. It’s only natural—in the explosive ecstasy of first draft writing, when your commitment is just to getting your story all out on paper, you’re bound to make some mistakes. That’s what a first draft is for. No worries–you’ll rectify them in the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, etc. drafts.

  1. Too Many Characters

In the freedom of a first draft, authors may end up creating a new character every time new information or new action is needed in the story. Readers will get overwhelmed and confused by all the new names and traits to learn. As an editor, I try to think of ways characters can be merged or either cut entirely.

  1. Too Many Words

A first draft almost always goes long. Sometimes really long. You will eventually cut whole scenes and paragraphs that don’t advance the action, metaphors that read like brain puzzles, and adverbs that hit the reader like a hammer to the head.

  1. Incorrect Formatting

Sometimes with first drafts, especially those by debut authors, there are some formatting flubs such as no page breaks between chapters, no pagination, and the use of single-space instead of double-space. For a first draft, that’s okay, but you’ll definitely want to get your manuscript correctly formatted before it hits an agent’s desk.

  1. Main Character Crush

Sometimes authors can fall in love with their main characters. That’s when we see the characters get everything they ever wanted and do no wrong. The beloved main character has the hottest partner, the best clothing, and friends and co-workers who lavish a constant stream of praise upon him or her. You can love your main character, but he or she should be fallible, like the rest of humankind.

  1. Unfamiliar With Genre/Category

If you write in a genre or category you’re not familiar with, you might end up breaking its rules. I commonly see this with adult writers turning to YA, who, for example, may use language that is inappropriate for teen readers.

  1. Trend Chasing

Sometimes authors chase a trend and end up producing a novel that sounds like yesterday’s bestseller. Of course, pay homage to those who came before you, but as we all learned in kindergarten—don’t be a copycat.

  1. Forgettin’ Settin

In the rush of the first draft, authors don’t necessarily have the time to focus on setting. Their worlds might seem a little flat. Subsequent drafts are a chance to work in these details about houses, weather, and landscapes that add depth to your novel.

  1. Neglecting Interior Journey

Finally, sometimes in first drafts by debut authors, the interior, emotional journey of the character is forgotten while the focus is on the exterior, physical journey. Readers need interior journeys to identify with characters—don’t neglect them.

 

How to Write a Hook for a Book

July 16th, 2015

Switching from writing a lengthy manuscript to formulating the couple of punchy sentences that constitute a hook can be tricky. This blog post,“How to Write a Hook for a Book,” will help you write the perfect hook.Pasted Graphic

A hook...not for a book!

A hook…not for a book!

I use hooks all the time as part of my query letter and synopsis services, but they’re not required. If you don’t feel comfortable with a hook, don’t use one.

Guide to Writing a Hook for a Book

1. Throw Away Your Principles

2. State Who the Main Character Is and What She Wants.

3. State What the Main Character Is Going Up Against.

4. End with a Question or Statement of Doubt.

5. Adorn, Embellish, Finesse

1. Throw Away Your Principles

Though “throw away your principles” may be a tad hyperbolic, it’s true that to write an effective hook, you might have to betray your vision a bit. By boiling your book down to a handful of sentences, you’re  going to lose nuance, which may not feel so great. After all, it’s likely that you turned to writing fiction in the first place to explore nuance. But leave nuance for creating the content of your book, not for selling it.  And, remember: the hook is designed to grab someone’s attention, not to accurately reflect every aspect of your book.

2. State Who the Main Character Is and What She Wants.

The first sentence should state who the main character is with a hint or full-out statement of what it is he or she wants.

Scarlett O’Hara is a Southern belle, desperate to save her family plantation.

Immediately, the reader is sucked in, gripped by suspense over whether Scarlett will be able to accomplish this task.

3. The Second Sentence

In the second sentence, state what the forces opposing the main character are.

The Civil War is destroying everything she knows.

Hook now reads: Scarlett O’Hara is a Southern belle, desperate to save her family plantation. The Civil War is destroying everything she knows.

Scarlett O'Hara/Vivien Leigh

Scarlett O’Hara/Vivien Leigh

4. End with a Question

The third sentence, the last of the hook, ought to be either a question or a sentence that teases the reader.

Will she be able to rescue it using her beauty, charm, and wits?

Hook now reads: Scarlett O’Hara is a Southern belle, desperate to save her family plantation. The Civil War is destroying everything she knows. Will she be able to rescue it using her beauty, charm, and wits?

5. Adorn, Embellish, Finesse

Then it’s time to adorn, embellish, and finesse. Beef the sentences up with adjectives and mentions of settings and names.

Feisty Scarlett O’Hara is a Southern belle, desperate to save her family’s plantation, Tara, as the Civil War rages. Her father’s creditors are baying at the door. Armed with beauty, charm, and wits, Scarlett schemes her way out of dire straits. But is it enough to rescue Tara?

Voila!  You have a hook.

What Is Developmental Editing?

May 26th, 2015

(For the purposes of this post, I discuss developmental editing as it applies to trade fiction books.)

What Is Developmental Editing?

Developmental editing refers to editing that aims to improve the overall content and structure of a manuscript. Developmental editing is very different from its cousins, proofreading and

Copyeditor Bible

Copyeditor Bible

copyediting, types of editing that ensure that a manuscript’s grammar, punctuation, and spelling are in accordance with rules codified in reference books such as the Chicago Manual of Style and The AP Stylebook.  By contrast, developmental editing takes on topics such as pacing, plot, characterization, and setting. There are no set rules to abide by; instead, the developmental editors draw upon their instincts, experience, and a lifetime of heavy reading to help a manuscript reach its fullest potential.

Most published books go through at least one round of developmental editing. Developmental editing is not for the faint hearted. It can lead to major changes in a book. Characters can be merged, entire plots can be tossed out, settings can switch hemispheres, and so forth. But, in the end, it’s all worth it. Books that haven’t gone through developmental editing are often baggy, unwieldy, and unfocused. On their own, many authors just cannot bear to cut their darlings—and sometimes every word is a darling.

Who Does Developmental Editing?

The most esteemed developmental editors have garnered their share of fame. You might have heard of Doubleday’s Gerry Howard, who edited David Foster Wallace and Bret Easton Ellis (and memorably writes about their feud here) or of Dutton’s Julie Strauss-Gabel, John

Maxwell Perkins, developmental editing specialist of yesteryear.

Maxwell Perkins, developmental editing specialist of yesteryear.

Green’s editor, who was recently featured in the New York Times. Modern history’s most famous developmental editor is probably legendary Scribner editor Maxwell E. Perkins, who edited F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe, and now has an award named after him given by the Center for Fiction.

The description of who the recipients of the Maxwell E. Perkins Award should be serves as an elegant definition of the ideal developmental editor. It’s one who“has discovered, nurtured, and championed” writers. Developmental editors are close to authors. In terms of psychic distance, one could say that they are closer to the author than they are to copyeditors and proofreaders.

Developmental editors can be found in publishing houses where they are usually known simply as editors (or editors-in-chief, associate editors, or assistant editors)at publishing houses. Agents do developmental editing, though to varying degrees. Some of the larger agencies even have in-house editors who edit client manuscripts, either before submission and at times when the novel is already under contract with a publishing house.

With the surge in indie publishing and the desire to rise to the top of the slush pile quickly, there is also increasing demand for freelance developmental editors such as Rock Editorial Services. Developmental editing can also be done by beta readers and critique partners. These are people, usually fellow writers, who will do developmental editing for you in exchange for you doing developmental editing for them.

What Form Does Developmental Editing Take?

Developmental editing comes in two basic forms: editorial letters and developmental line-editing.

Editorial letters tend to be the first step in the editorial process. They deal with big-picture changes needed in the manuscript. Although they might reference occasional scenes, they rarely reference specific dialogue and often are more general, discussing in terms of plots and settings. They are usually three to five pages, but I’ve seen ten-page editorial letters before! Here’s a sample editorial letter from Rock Editorial Services, given with permission from the recipient.

Developmental line editing usually comes after one or two rounds of editing based on editorial letters. Line editing comes in the form of comments and markings in the margins and between the lines. These days, it’s all handled through the brightly colored manipulations of Microsoft Word’s Track Changes. Line edits are more targeted than editorial letters. They zeroing in on scenes and sentences in ways. Sometimes developmental line editing borders on copyediting. A line-edited manuscript can be overwhelming. The comment bubbles

Line editing--a form of developmental editing

Line editing–a form of developmental editing

sometimes feel like an extremely critical stranger expounding on your manuscript’s flaws every two to three minutes. But one should remember—it’s all for the good of the manuscript.

Line editing can sometimes verge on ghostwriting as editors might introduce new lines and word into the text.

Here’s a sample line edit from Rock Editorial Services, given with permission from the author. It’s on the lighter side–the author didn’t need too much help polishing her sentences.

Should I Get Developmental Editing for My Manuscript?

If you want your manuscript to successfully complete that arduous journey to becoming a professional, published book, you should have some form of developmental editing. A manuscript that goes straight from the author’s head into copyedits has missed its chance to be great, no matter how skilled the author is.

The question is really when should you get it. Should you wait until you have a book deal with a major publishing house?  Should you have it done before you submit your manuscript to agents? If you’re dealing with an editor at a major house who seems very busy, should you hire someone to clean it up before you submit it to him or her? Should you do it before you self-publish? The answer varies from person to person.

There was a time when editors at publishing houses did the bulk of developmental editing. Now, however, editors wear so many hats, that for many of them it is difficult to find the time to edit thoroughly. Agents took up a lot of the editing work that editors could not longer do, but now agents have become increasingly involved in other aspects of publishing, such as marketing, so that they too now do not have as much time to edit.

If you decide you want developmental editing apart from what you would receive from an agent or a publishing house editor,  you can hire a professional editor or rely upon critique partners or beta readers.  (I do not recommend relying on friends who will generally only give effusively positive feedback). You definitely should get developmental editing if you are pursuing self-publication.

What is Scrivener?

May 7th, 2015

I’ve recently become a Scrivener convert. What is Scrivener? Scrivener is writing software. If you’re like me, it might never even have crossed your mind that you needed anything else but that old stalwart Word for your words. That is until you heard rumblings from writers that you should give Scrivener a shot.

Scrivener Logo

Scrivener Logo

I first tried Scrivener a couple of years ago, and was underwhelmed. I kept toggling between what looked like a blank page and index cards tacked to a bulletin board, unsure how they related to one another. I found the templates for novel-writing bewildering. Luckily, Scrivener has a thirty-day trial, and I opted not to pay the $45 for the program at the end.

Recently, however, I returned, unable to ignore others’ enduring enthusiasm for the software. This time, I tried a new tactic: before jumping in, I watched a tutorial video. That cracked the door open just enough for me to squeeze in and uncover all the wonders of the software. Today, I’m in love.

I find that the things I love about Scrivener are rather simple and are not necessarily its most-advertised features. Unlike the first time around, for example, I don’t touch the specialized templates. I’m content with the blank page.

I decided to write a blog post summarizing my favorite features of Scrivener, hoping it will help those who are like I was once was, considering the program, but a tad intimidated by its complexity.

What is Scrivener?

Scrivener the Magical Organizer

Scrivener the Magical Organizer

Scrivener is a magical organizer that allows me to keep all my research, which includes character notes, timeline, feedback from my editor and agent, and outline, in one place, conveniently adjacent to the draft I’m working on. The close proximity of my research makes it easy to access, which cuts down on my tendency to get sidetracked by email or other Internet distractions while I search for draft-related attachments. To the left is an image of my Scrivener project file for all my blog posts!

Scrivener is an amazing stress reliever as it never crashes and saves everything as it is written.

Scrivener is a hip designer who makes my final manuscript document sleek by allowing me to seamlessly insert centered lines rather for scene breaks.

Scrivener is an expert cleaner. Gone are all the distracting icons crowding up Word, the buttons for pie charts and tables that I’ll never use. Scrivener has a simpler interface. The visual menu is boiled down to such basics as font type and size and bullet points. I find that this aspect, along with the infinite scrolling white page really get me focused on the writing itself.

Scrivener is a math genius that makes keeping track of word counts a cinch with a tool called Project Targets. Calculating word counts, especially for freelance projects, can be a hassle in Word, full of scrolling and highlighting, then grabbing a calculator. Project Targets gives you a bar graphic that lets you see instantly how close you are to making word counts for an entire project or for an individual writing session.

Scrivener is a trustworthy translator. Exports to Word are smooth and easy.

Scrivener is an ink saver. Before Scrivener, I would constantly hit print, then realize I’d forgotten to paginate and be forced to print everything again. Scrivener paginates everything automatically. This feature is my favorite so far, and I think best exemplifies Scrivener’s understanding of a long-form writer’s true needs.

I encourage anyone on the fence about getting Scrivener to go ahead and take the plunge!  I have really just skimmed the surface of this powerful software, and yet I still find it incredibly useful. I think it was worth every cent.

Five Basics of Nonfiction Book Proposals

April 28th, 2015

1. Many, if not most, nonfiction books are sold to publishers as book proposals.

Juliet, a development coordinator at a major nonprofit, has a nonfiction book idea. After years of being resigned to flats, she has trained herself to glide in heels across the roughest terrain: cracked sidewalks, dirty subway steps, and lawns formerly occupied by Canadian geese. She has insights that she wants to share to what she’s sure is a vast audience of flat-wearers desperate to prowl the world on heels. Ready, set, action!  Juliet sets her alarm for five a.m. and every morning wakes up and groggily makes her way to her desk to churn out her masterpiece, triumphantly Tweeting her achieved word targets before she heads out to her day job.

Julie's Great Book Idea

Julie’s Great Book Idea

Juliet’s dedication is admirable, but she’s lucky when a Twitter editor friend intervenes and informs her that, “many, if not most, nonfiction books are sold to publishers as book proposals.” Huh.  What’s a book proposal? Juliet goes on to Google to find out.

What she learns confirms what her friend told her. She realizes that even if a literary agent loved her nonfiction manuscript, he or she would probably make her do a book proposal.  If she wants to get a nonfiction book published by a major house, Juliet realizes, she should put together a book proposal.

2. Nonfiction book proposals are multifaceted.

A Great Guide to Writing Book Proposals.

A Great Guide to Writing Book Proposals.

Juliet is a little panicked when she sees just how many components there are to book proposals. Nonfiction book proposals are multifaceted. A nonfiction book proposal isn’t just a truncated manuscript. In addition to a sample chapter, a nonfiction book proposal typically includes an Overview as well as Competitive Books, Audience, Specifications, Chapter-by-Chapter Outline, and Bio sections.

Juliet’s overwhelmed and asks her editor friend for help. The editor friend recommends that she buy Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal, the classic guide to writing book proposals. Juliet orders the book and is happy with its clear directions. She’s beginning to warm up to the idea of a nonfiction book proposal. She’s especially excited that the book proposals range from between thirty to eighty pages–much shorter than book manuscripts.

3. Platform is a crucial part of nonfiction book proposals.

Here's Your Platform.

Here’s Your Platform.

As Juliet delves more into the world of nonfiction book proposal writing, she hears the term platform bandied around a lot. Platform is a crucial part of nonfiction book proposals. Platform refers to the author’s ability to gain attention for their book due to their fame, connections, and/or credentials. Juliet has good shoe taste, but it’s not like she’s Sarah Jessica Parker. After putting some thought into it, however, Juliet’s delighted to realize that she does have a small platform: she has a blog where she writes about her shoe choices, and moreover, that blog has a sizable, loyal audience, many of whom also follow her on Twitter. Plus, she minored in fashion history in college, so she has a recognized level of expertise in the field.

4. Writing quality counts in nonfiction book proposals.

You Might Need A Ghostwriter

You Might Need A Ghostwriter

Juliet loves her development job, but much of her time is spent on the phone or at events. She hasn’t really written a lot since college, and she’s worried about whether her writing is good enough for a full-length book. Her worry is legitimate. Writing quality counts in nonfiction book proposals. She realizes that some experts write their own books, but there are also many who employ ghostwriters. She’s doesn’t think she can really afford a ghostwriter, though she daydreams that if she got an advance large enough, then she could pay one. She resolves to ask for an honest opinion on the quality of her proposal from her editor friend. She also considers hiring a freelance editor to assist her in developing the proposal, which is more affordable than a ghostwriter.

5. The sample chapter ought to be the crown jewel of the nonfiction book proposal.

Juliet had already written Chapter One when she was told to do a proposal. The first chapter was about the night she chose to walk around barefoot on the streets in her twenties one night rather than teetering along (and toppling over) in Louboutin heels. When she reads that the nonfiction book proposal contain a sample chapter, she’s ecstatic since this one is nearly done, but then she realizes that, while the chapter is interesting, it might not be the best she has to offer. It’s kind of negative and doesn’t offer the reader any concrete takeaways. That’s no good since the sample chapter ought to be the crown jewel of the nonfiction book proposal.

Juliet looks at the chapter-by-chapter outline she created for the proposal and decides instead to write Chapter Four, The Met Gala. Chapter Four, in addition to offering several anecdotes of celebrity-mingling, gives tips on how to keep going in Prada stilettos from dusk until dawn. Julie slaves over the chapter, making sure it’s as good as she can get it.

Summing up: Five Basics of Nonfiction Book Proposals.

1. Many, if not most nonfiction books are sold to publishers as book proposals.
2. Nonfiction book proposals are multifaceted.
3. Platform is a crucial part of nonfiction book proposals.
4. Writing quality counts in nonfiction book proposals.
5. The sample chapter ought to be the crown jewel of the nonfiction book proposal

Hopefully Juliet’s journey will help you with yours. Good luck writing!

Professional Writing Tips from a Ghostwriter

June 21st, 2014

Embarking on a ghostwriting project? To help you out, here are some professional writing tips from ghostwriter extraordinaire, Marissa Matteo.

Marissa Matteo ghostwriter extraordinaire.

Marissa Matteo, Ghostwriter Extraordinaire.

I met Marissa when she interned at Writers House. With her dynamite personality, great writing skills, and genuine curiosity about people, I wasn’t totally surprised to find out some years after her internship that she had “made it” as a successful celebrity ghostwriter who has had seven books published by HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin.  She is currently working on her eighth and ninth.  

MARISSA’S GHOSTWRITING TIPS

1) No Tape Recorders.  It makes people tighten up, which is the last thing you want.  Explain to them that you will not be recording at the beginning and why.  Try to type as much as you can as they are talking, and develop a shorthand.  If you miss anything, follow up via text, phone calls, or emails.  Explain this to them as well.

2) Hang Out.  You need to find their voice and the best way to find their voice is to do things together.  In my experience, I have always become very close friends with whomever I have been writing for and we have traveled together. That’s when the best stories come out–and that is when you find their voice.

An Infamous Hangout.

A Hangout.


3) Do Not Hold Interviews, Have Conversations.  And don’t be afraid to go out of chronological order.  You cannot get the good stuff if you are adhering to a strict set of questions and demanding someone remember their life story in a linear way.  Memory doesn’t work like that.  It’s your job to put the story in order.


4) Be Open with the Material.  I have found that the best way to write a book for someone is to let them read chunks of the book to make sure they like the voice and so they can add stories as we go along.  I think it is a better system than handing over a full-manuscript and praying they don’t freak out.  (They are going to freak out.  I have written seven books and for five of them I was the second or third ghostwriter on; in each of those five cases, the previous writer turned over the manuscript at the end, and the freak-out ensued.)


5) Be Tight-Lipped.  You are going to find out things that are extremely personal, and, especially during moments when guards are let down, you are going to find out some skeletons in the closet.  Do not tell people’s secrets.  Whether you have signed a non-disclosure agreement or not.  You are their friend and their confidante.  Act accordingly. 5189627865_51b1bc3c94_z 6) Check Your Ego at the Door.  This is their book, not your book.  Do not try to inflect your opinion, voice, or agenda in the material.


7) Be a Blank Slate.  Don’t come to the project thinking you know anything about the person you are writing for or the industry they work in.  You don’t.


8) Do Not Trust Wikipedia.  Or anything on the internet.  Of course, you should research your subject like a crazy stalker, but everything you find on your Google search, you must discuss with the person you are writing for.  And here is where you will find out that ninety-seven percent of what is written about celebrities on the Internet is pure fabrication. Print out Marissa’s tips and bring them along with you to interviews (they’re applicable to journalism, too)!

 

Tips for Adult Writers Seeking to Switch to Young Adult Fiction

January 17th, 2014

Many adult writers have decided to give young adult fiction a shot.  They come to YA with formidable writing skills, but even so, the transition can be rough. If your background is in writing for adults and you’re seeking to make a switch to YA, my tips below are here to help make your journey smoother.

1.  READ-READ-READ

When I was in grade school, I’d proudly finish a story only to be engulfed by shame, realizing the extent to which I’d imitated whatever writer I was currently most into (L.M. Montgomery, Diana Wynne-Jones, and Robin McKinley come to mind).

Much later, when I was writing my own book,  it dawned on me that my imitations were a normal step on the path of becoming a good writer and that all that reading had really been necessary for me to understand on a deep level how young adult fiction works.

Reading.

READ-READ-READ.

Reading tons of YA will help you start to internalize its rules, traditions, and customs better than any blog post.  When it comes time to write the first pages of your YA novel, you’ll be starting from an informed place if you do your reading.

2. THE VOICE

A former Writers House colleague once told me that voice was the defining difference between YA and adult.   I wasn’t quite sure what “voice” meant at that time.

Voice can be everything in YA.

Voice can be everything in YA.

What I’ve learned since: Being unafraid to express feelings and emotions.  Making jokes and having distinctive slang are often aspects of a strong, unique voice.  An example of a book with a snappy, expressive voice is M.T. Anderson’s Feed.   There can be quiet voices, though–Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time comes to mind.

And strong voice, when spoken of in YA, almost always means a first-person narrator.

Young adult readers want to really root for and identify with a narrator. A strong voice answers a need in them for human connection and understanding.  The typical YA strong voice makes personality paramount (often the writer’s personality masquerading as the narrator’s).

3. AGE IS MORE THAN A NUMBER

Britney's age confusion lament might resonate with adult writers switching to YA.

Britney’s lament might resonate with adult writers switching to YA.

 

This may seem like a gimme, but to someone making the switch, it’s not so obvious:  YA characters should be in their teens—around fourteen to eighteen.  When people approach me with characters who are nineteen or twenty-one, I recall Britney Spears’ “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman.”  And that song’s relatively mediocre charting.  The rise of NA (New Adult) addresses the fact that there is an opening in the marketplace for novels targeting this age group (roughly nineteen to twenty-five), but it’s yet to be seen if this hip, new category will survive.

 

4. BEDROOM AND BATTLEFIELD

Yes, sex can happen and so can violence, but there are tighter boundaries for what’s acceptable in young adult fiction than in adult fiction.   Sex is not going to be explicit, if it happens at all.  A lot of characters in YA are virgins.  Similarly, violence occurs in YA–Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games has made that clear–but it’s not going to be very close up or gruesome, compared to adult fare.  Bethany Griffin’s Handcuffs handles teen sexuality very well, as do the books mentioned in my blog post on my favorite young adult romances.

You also might want to ask—if this were a movie, would it be PG-13 or R?  It should probably lean closer to PG-13.

Before writing a sexy or violent scene, take a moment to remind yourself of the vantage point of the character you’re writing–a huge part of writing from a teen’s point of view is incorporating the fact that she is not only experiencing something, she is experiencing it for the first time.

Potential guideline.

Guideline to keep in mind as you write.

 

5. ACTION!

Can your plot go as fast the Black Stallion?

Can your plot go as fast the Black Stallion? NO.  No one is faster than the Black.

YA fiction–whether it’s romance, sci-fi, realistic, etc.–tends to be faster paced than adult novels. You want to focus on hooking in the reader right away and getting the plot galloping along.  Writers coming from commercial adult backgrounds may feel they have an edge over their literary peers when it comes to making dynamic plots—and they may be right.  But both groups should mindful as they write that readers of young adult fiction many times would rather have characters stomping over the roses, plucking off their petals, or questing to deliver the flowers over the deadly dull activity of smelling them.

Have you transitioned from adult writing to young adult fiction?  Feel free to share lessons you’ve learned in the comments.

Behind Freelance Book Editing Rates

January 2nd, 2014

Mystery often surrounds money in our society.  I’ve resolved to clear up some of that mystery in my own life–hence, adding blogs like The Simple Dollar and Get Rich Slowly to my Feedly and integrating some strategies from the personal finance classic Your Life Or Your Money into my life.

My new interest sparked an idea for a blog post–exploring the ins and outs of freelance book editing rates.

"That's what I want"

Often thought about, less often discussed.

How are they formulated?  How much weight should writers give to rates when deciding between editors?  Are there any industry standards?

My Book Editing Rates

First, I thought I’d share some of my own history with book editing rates.

When I first began editing manuscripts, I was mostly concerned with putting food on the table, paying rent, buying health insurance, etc.  I also wanted to get the word out that I was available to do this work. I based my rates on the need to cover my fundamentals and to attract clients.  The rates were fairly low, and I knew it.

As time passed, I noticed I was working a lot.  At first, I worked whenever I had work and waited for a natural lull to rejuvenate.  But the lulls grew further and further apart.

My new best friend, helping me out all the time with my rates.

My new best friend, helping me out all the time with my rates.

I recognized that I needed to become better at estimating how long each book editing project would take.  Soon I had a more accurate view of the duration of each project.  Around the same time, my stream of clients grew steadier.  I then realized that I needed to calculate rates in a more logical manner and that now I had the tools to do so.

These days, when someone comes to me with a project, I estimate the number of days it will take me to do and base my rate on my monthly income goal.  I also try to keep my rates in line with industry averages.  One good resource to find out what these are is at http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php.  Every once in awhile I search online for editors like myself and check to make sure my rates are in the same neighborhood.  I do deviate from my normal rates for rushes (raising them).  And sometimes I lower them for former clients who came in at old rates, friends, and those who are willing to put up with long or not-completely-certain delivery times.

When Evaluating Book Editing Rates, You Might Want to Ask . . .

Here are some questions to ask (yourself or the editor) before deciding on an editor.  Not everything about book editing rates is black and white; hopefully these questions will bring out some of the nuances lying behind the dollar figure.

–Can you afford to have your book edited?  This might seem basic, but I have had clients who had major delays paying, making me wonder if they should have sought out the service.
–How much experience does the book editor have?  More experienced editors could have stronger skills and a more smoothly running business.  If they charge more, their services might be worth it.  But someone with less experience who is enthusiastic about books and hungry to grow as an editor could be a good bargain.  Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals and see what their clients say!
–Do they edit books full time or part time?  People who freelance edit as a part-time gig can charge lower–but it also might mean they can’t give your work the focus it deserves.
–Does the editor have a special expertise in the your genre? One of my areas of specialty is young adult.  (I write it and am a fan.  I freelance edit young adult for a major publishing house.) Many of my clients write young adult. My familiarity and experience might make it worth paying more than for an editor who specializes in another genre.
–Does the editor offer samples?  Finally, I always recommend that if people are unsure about what editor to go with, they ask for a sample.  I offer a sample editorial letter, and for a fee, do a sample line-edit.  Actually seeing the editor’s work might tip the scales and lead you to confidently make a final decision.

 

Editor Said, Author Said: Nadia Bennet and Eveline Chao on Niubi’s Editorial Process

November 7th, 2013

Today marks the inauguration of a new blog post series, “Editor Said, Author Said,” wherein I interview editors and authors about their experiences with the editorial process on particular books.  I am starting with editor Nadia Bennet and author Eveline Chao, who worked on NIUBI , a humor book about Chinese slang, together.  As the assistant to her agent, I worked with Eveline to get her book proposal  for NIUBI  in shape for submission to Plume, similar to the work I do now as a freelance editor of manuscripts and proposals.

Editor Said . . .

Nadia Bennet is an editor at the luxury art book publisher, Assouline. Nadia has worked as a freelance editor with clients like Booz & Company and Melcher Media. She started her New York publishing career at Penguin’s Plume imprint, acquiring and editing all manner of nonfiction titles: memoirs, humor, popular science, art, and more. Originally from Los Angeles, she has also lived in Santa Barbara, CA, and overseas in Paris and Lyon, France.

 

Editor extraordinaire

Editor extraordinaire

Q: Where did you work, and what was your position when you edited NIUBI?  How did you come to be assigned to NIUBI?

I was an assistant editor at Plume, an imprint of Penguin group. The editor who was originally working on the book left, so NIUBI was assigned to me.

Q: What was your vision for NIUBI?  

Plume has a series of slang language books that they have been publishing since the 1990s. Because of China’s economic strength in the world, we felt it would be a popular addition. I hoped that the book would give Americans a deeper insight into day-to-day Chinese culture–especially youth culture–and I think it succeeded in doing that, in an informative, but entertaining way.

Read the rest of this entry »

How to Stop Procrastinating with Your Writing

October 23rd, 2013

Sometimes plunging into a big writing project can be terrifying.  Why?  There’s probably a myriad of reasons, but underneath most lie that primordial, soul-crushing emotion fear.  Ultimately if people let go of all fear of judgment, I think this planet would be awash in paintings and music and dance and novels.  It’s a brave new world that’s a long way away.

Perhaps that world is inconceivable because many people feel as I do–when I try to deploy that age-old advice “letting go,” I find I stumble into its less friendly cousin “getting no [where].” So, instead of relying on a huge mindshift, I have come to depend on a lot of little tricks to jumpstart my writing.  I share them below.  Hopefully, they can help you stop procrastinating with your writing.

 

Freedom Icon, right next to prime procrastination ally, Google Chrome.

Freedom Icon, right next to prime procrastination ally, Google Chrome.

Freedom.  Freedom is a delightful program that blocks the internet from your computer while you write.  I like it because it’s pretty simple–you just put in the number of hours you’d like to be without the internet and then you’re good to go.

Getting Up Early.  When all else fails, getting up early usually works as as way for me to bypass my critical mind.   When you’re looking for one, even the sun can serve as a distraction.  At five in the morning, there no needy sunrays in your way.  There’s just not much at all but you and your work.

Writing Dates with Friends.  Writing dates with friends can often get your fingers flying across the keyboard, especially if one or both of you has an important deadline.  I still fondly recall the period I wrote alongside my friend studying for the bar exam.  She was very quiet and focused.  Not everyone is going to be like that, but still, a meet-up or two with a friend might at least get the ball rolling when you’re stuck.

Your writing date with a friend will be much more fun than this kind of date.Your writing date with a friend will be much more fun than this kind of date.

 One Sentence Is Better Than None.  Sometimes if I feel reluctant to write for whatever reason, I trick myself into getting more done by opening up a document and not committing to doing anything more than a sentence.  That makes me feel as if the pressure is off, and I usually end up writing more than I intended.

Deadlines.  Deadlines can help, especially if you have a friend you can work with this on.  Unfortunately, I find I tend to blow off my own deadlines.  Consider asking a friend to give you feedback or enforce your deadline.  You might even want to consider hiring someone to do this, to really ensure they get the job done.  (I have done this as part of my writing coaching work).

Quitting Social Media. I have found that taking long breaks from social media (as in deactivating accounts), which can really contribute to mental clutter, has helped me get my focus back on my writing.  This gets harder and harder to do as Facebook and Twitter have grown increasingly important for business reasons.  On the other hand, just the fact that I wrote that sentence shows how much I need to whisk myself away.

Retreat.  If you can get away for a week or a couple of days, the new surroundings can often prompt some writing.  Even a cafe or a library can do the trick.  I don’t like working in cafes too much, but I find if I’m stumped, the switch, even for just a morning, can help.

Soothing Music.  Recently I got clued into the world of white noise tracks on YouTube, ambient noise that effectively drowns out  the hollers of construction workers and chatter of new neighbors on fire escapes.

Relaxing music tracks will "take you there."

Relaxing music tracks will “take you there.”

Like a gateway drug, these tracks led me to tons of relaxing, soothing music on Youtube.  Corny, yes, but they work.  I always thought the magic of spas stemmed from having the permission to lie down, but now I recognize the integral role the sounds play.  I’m listening to waves lapping a shore as I write this.

Don’t Leave the Neighborhood. Think of it as the opposite of a retreat.  I find if I confine my activities to my neighborhood, eventually my mind will have nowhere to go but deeper and deeper into the world of my project.  It sounds brutal, but it’s actually very liberating.   And when you do finally venture  out, passing through a turnstile  will contain all the excitement of embarking on the Orient Express

“No One Else is Going to See This.”  Sometimes if I tell myself this, I’ll loosen up and get started.  Like a knife, cutting right to the heart of your fear!

 

To conclude, I find that it is more important that I invest the time and energy into making sure I have created a space in my life that I can fill with writing rather than stress about how the writing itself will turn out.  That’s something that editors and agents and overzealous Goodreads reviewers will handle for you.*

One last item–Close this Web Page.   

 

*Elizabeth Gilbert has a good quote along similar lines. “All I’m saying is: Let someone else decide that. Magazines, editors, agents – they all employ young people making $22,000 a year whose job it is to read through piles of manuscripts and send you back letters telling you that you aren’t good enough yet: LET THEM DO IT. Don’t pre-reject yourself. That’s their job, not yours. Your job is only to write your heart out, and let destiny take care of the rest.”

 

When Should You Seek Professional Book Editing?

October 10th, 2013

Often writers approach me with  uncertainty.  I think I’m ready . . . This seems like the time.  They’re not sure exactly what their manuscript needs.  Should they just send it out to agents?   Do their manuscripts need more rounds of self-editing?  Is it time to start checking out self-publishing venues?  Or do they need professional book editing?

My post today tackles the last question.  Most everyone who writes soon realizes the importance of editing.  After all, for most writers, not a day goes by that they don’t do some sort of fiddling with their manuscripts—even if it’s only tweak to a title, a swift uprooting and resettling of chapter breaks, or, if nothing else, a change in fonts.  It’s not a big leap to move from self-editing to the idea of getting outside help.  At this point, some might try getting feedback from their well-read friends, which often leads to advice that may feel good, but not be the “real love” that’s needed.

But does that mean they need professional book editing?

Do you need professional book editing?

Here are signs you might be ready :

  • You have revised your manuscript on your own at least once.

Though you may feel a tremendous rush at having written so many words, there’s no way your manuscript is ready to be seen by anyone until you have revised it yourself, at least once.

  • You can’t keep your manuscript straight in your head.

 Sometimes you get to a point with your manuscript when you’ve done so much rewriting and so much story evolution, that the details are  foggy.  You might have characters walking into the party with red curls bouncing and then flirting at the party by flipping raven-colored locks.  Or you might have worked hard on the amazing reveal that your protagonist’s uncle didn’t die in the car crash but is alive and well has in fact been orchestrating the takeover from Martinique.  It took awhile for you to figure how it was all going to play out and you’re left with a manuscript that still has traces of past ideas—the uncle is in Morocco, the uncle is an aunt, the uncle has an amnesia.  You need an outside eye to clean it up for you.

  • An agent gave you a bit of advice on how to improve your book and offered to take a second look if you revise.

A nice situation to be in, but  also a delicate one.  The agent sees potential, enough to give you some suggestions, but they don’t have the time to go into detail.  And you might need that detail to make sure you make improvements correctly.  At this stage, you could probably benefit from a line edit, which would give you more targeted advice than the sort of general comments one finds in an editorial letter or polite note from an agent.

 

  • You have an agent, but it can take him or her months to get back to you about your work.

Agents have a lot on their plate and sometimes they are unable to give you the close reading you need.  Working with their schedules can be hard.  They’re superbusy, and you feel guilty every time you check in with them.  Hiring a professional book editor can give you more control over the timeframe and quality of the criticism you receive.  Please note that I have been in situations where the agent has known about this arrangement and some where they have not.

  •   You like deadlines.

 No matter how great a reader or editor the friends who offer to critique on your manuscript are, the only way to ensure that you’ll get a response when you want it is by hiring someone.  One might say, “You pay the cost to be the boss.”  If you hire a professional book editor, you’ll be able to keep a tighter grip on your schedule than if you rely on free labor.

 

  • You are ready, eager and willing to make the changes necessary to improve your manuscript.

If you’re sending your manuscript to a professional book editor, you will receive substantial commentary back that will necessitate major changes and a lot of work.  If you feel invigorated and excited about working to take your manuscript to the next level, you can really make the most of a professional book editing.

 

In today’s publishing world, more and more people are using freelance professional book editors, people unencumbered by the responsibilities of selling your book like agents and publishing house editors–whether to book chains, sales teams, or (in the case of agents) editors at publishing houses.  This new breed of editor is taking on the work that the harried house editors and agents cannot do.  See this incisive article by Marjorie Braman, which explains well how professional book editors currently fit into the publishing ecosystem and how their role may evolve.  If you think you may need the services of a professional book editor, check out my book editing services page.

 

My Favorite Young Adult Romances

September 25th, 2013

For better or worse, young adult romances shaped my notions of love . I don’t mean books that were exclusively of the romance genre, but books that contained romance.   The books spanned genres, from historical to contemporary to fantasy.  I got a lot of misleading ideas from all of them.

I often liked romance in YA because I felt it didn’t subsume the narrative, as it did in adult romance genre books;  but nor was romantic love sidelined in favor of the deeper, darker issues that I associated with contemporary adult fiction.  In this walk down memory lane, I will share my favorite young adult romances, along with my adult assessment of them.

The books are The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Howl’s Moving Castle, Mel, The Unsinkable Molly Malone, and The Road to Damietta.

Do not read on if you do not want them spoiled!

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

The Witch of Blackbird Pond cover

Better to be victim of the elements than hang out in the village and wait to be victim of the Puritans.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond was a Newberry Award winner, which usually signaled boring to me, but it turns out Witch was totally fun, with tons of romance.  Feisty, newly orphaned Kit from Barbados tries to fit in with the extended, Puritan family she now has to make a home with.   Over the course of the book, Kit has crushes on two men and then ends up with a third, who she’d mostly been friends with in the course of the book. His name was Nat, and he would turn up once in awhile and make jokes.  His humor was transmitted best by his eyes which were constantly described as some sort of iteration of “mocking” and “blue.” Also, he was a sailor, which was awesome.

Young Adult Me:  Was pleasantly surprised that the book’s social messages about acceptance and antiprejudice were  palatable. ( The “witch” is a fun, older, single woman who Kit befriends and the Puritans  despise because they are–wrongly–prejudiced.)  I also was intrigued by all of Kit’s love interest, even though Nat was clearly the best fit.  Great characterization!

Adult Me:  Is a little troubled/disheartened by the fact that Kit never actually was able to assimilate with the Puritans and instead had to become a world-wanderer.  In terms of romance, though, I liked how most of Kit’s “drama” was played out with the wrong men, so that part of the reason Nat seemed like a good fit was that there was no more drama.

 

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

I thought Howl’s Moving Castle was the world’s best book for a long time, and I still really enjoy it.  It is very well crafted and just feels well-balanced and clean.  I read this book in the library when I was nine or ten, and it was out of print, so I was unable to get a copy.  And then one day my grandmother took me to a used bookstore in San Francisco, and I found it!  This was like magic to me.  Since then, it’s come back into print(which a lot of Diana Wynne Jones’ books did with the advent of Harry Potter), and there was even a movie made out of it.

In the book, Sophie Hatter, a young girl, has a curse put on her so that she has the appearance of an old woman.  Unsure to adapt her new looks to her old life, she takes refuge in the castle of Howl, a goodlooking wizard with a bad reputation.

Howl's_Moving_Castle_(Book_Cover)

I only could ever imagine Howl with blond hair.

But, in truth, he’s not all that evil.  Sophie sets about reconstituting her life, finding a fair amount of freedom in having all expectations dropped (before the change, she was facing a future of selling hats).  There are other plots, and there’s not really much overtly going on between Sophie and Howl, but, by the time, the book is done, the curse is dropped, and they’re together.

Young Adult Me:  Thought Howl was a hilarious, sexy character, and it was kind of fun to just get to see him as a whole person instead of a love object through most of the book.  It was like an antiromance love story.  Sophie had zero love life, and her character was solid, steady, reliable–nothing that really makes her that notable (as she mildly laments), but they were qualities that began to seem more and more golden during the plot twists and when set alongside Howl’s more bombastic qualities, makes it clear they match internally…so it all works out when Sophie finally gets her externals straight!

Adult Me:  Sees commonality with Howl’s Moving Castle and The Witch of Blackbird Pond.   I feel like they both (more Howl) focused on developing the characters who go into these couples to the point where our realizations of them are so complete that we recognize that they belong together, even though I don’t even think they touch once before the last five pages.  Though I do recall some intense gazing, the nontouch touch.

Mel by Liz Berry

Well, and then there’s Mel.  I will say that the romances that seem to have lingered in my mind seem to be the “deeper” ones, but there were definitely a lot of books I was reading for more salacious reasons.  Mel was probably half and half.  The eponymous Mel

Not the cover of the book I read, but definitely indicative of Mel's personality.

Not the cover of the book I read, but definitely indicative of Mel’s personality.

attends one of these mysterious art schools that I was just beginning to recognize that all “cool” people in Britain seemed to be shunted off into.  Her mother goes crazy and is in the  mental hospital, and Mel decides to redecorate their apartment for her return.    In the mean time she has crush on one of her teacher’s, and she’s flirting with this handsome boy who works at an antiques store where she buys stuff for the apartment.  And then it turns out the handsome boy is a famous rock star.  There’s lots of sexual tension and then Mel seems to exchange her virginity for a desk?  Sort of . . .

Young Adult Me:  Was pretty into the idea of a cute, rich rock star rescuing me and taking me out to fabulous parties and like all the physical action.  I also was charmed by Mel’s interior decoration escapades.

Adult Me:  Is embarrassed by my transparent Cinderella fantasies and finds something creepy about the whole book.  The one thing that really still seems remarkable to me is how bluntly the book took on certain social issues like welfare, interracial relationships, mental health.  I also think Mitch (the rock star) holds up well.  He was a nice guy, and he did deliver the desk.

The Unsinkable Molly Malone

The Unsinkable Molly Malone and Mel are entwined in my mind.  Girls with first names that begin with M.  Girls with artistic aspirations.  Molly Malone lives in New York and sells her creations (collages made up of NYC ephemera) outside the Met.  The Met was a semiregular field trip for me, so I connected to that and in fact,  I can no longer go outside the Met without scrutinizing the artists selling their wares and thinking about Molly.  I think Molly’s mother was also a bit of a wild bohemian, and I remember being puzzled by that.   Like, she does what? (Gives music lessons and cleans.) And they live in a what? (Apartment?) Anyway Molly starts dating the son of a housekeeper she’s friends with, Ron, and he’s so impressed by her and her art.  Also, as with Mel Mel, there’s an older man in the background who has known and supported Molly as a friend for a long time, but who, it seems, has romantic feelings for toward Molly.  (In Mel the old man is Kevin or maybe Ken?)  In Molly Malone, it’s Leonard. Leonard does the gold or silver moving statue busking trick, which disqualified him immediately in my mind as a love interest.  In a shocking twist, Molly, who has several awesome romantic encounters with Ron at cool New York places (I still think of Molly when near the Central Park zoo, too), discovers that Ron is actually the son of the housekeeper’s employers.

Horrible revelation for the budding radical/artist, though I thought it was cool!

Tiny cover, a play on a painting in the Met that Molly loves. Later one of my clients depicted the same painting in her graphic novel!

Tiny cover, a play on a painting in the Met that Molly loves. Later one of my clients depicted the same painting in her graphic novel!

Young Adult Me:  Didn’t see a problem with being lied to if the person who did it was handsome and rich.  Never felt I could quite connect to the book because I was used to heroines being from places they wanted to escape and Molly seemed to revel in New York.  It was like that commercial on TV I saw for the Miltford Plaza where all the maids and bell hops at a hotel were singing, and dancing instead of walking.

Adult Me:  Still embarrassed by the transparent Cinderella fantasies, but heartened by the interest in visual arts.  In hindsight, Molly’s emotions and actions seemed more appropriate for a twentysomething artist than a teenager.

The Road To Damietta by Scott O’Dell

The Road to Damietta is the second book on this list that reminds me of Gone With the Wind–while writing about The Witch of Blackbird Pond, I realized there was some overlap there as well.  I think there is some archetypal thing where we’re all torn between Ashleys and Rhetts.

I guess in coming up with this list, I tried to keep it eclectic, and stretch the bounds of romance a little.  Well, this title definitely does.  The Road to Damietta contained none of my usual requirements for a satisfying romance.  Most awfully, there is no happy ending in Damietta (same with Wind.)

This cover is sort of like Ricca's fantasy of what was going on. Francis only ever noticed her if she'd pretend to be on the brink of being saved.

This cover is sort of like Ricca’s fantasy of what was going on. Francis only ever noticed her if she’d pretend to be on the brink of being saved.

Ricca is a rich girl in love with Francis.  They live in medieval Italy.  Then Francis turns around and becomes a saint (the future Saint Francis of Assisi). Well, he’s not a saint yet, but he’s doing all these saintly things.  Keep in mind Ricca first liked him when he was a total decadent. Ricca is still determined to make him love her and does a lot of embarrassing things.  I think one scene you can never quite get out of your mind if you read this book is the scene where Francis makes a big deal of not being associated with his father’s ill-gotten wealth and disrobes in public, and then Ricca takes off her clothes, too.  This is one of many steps Ricca takes in her attempt to “seal the deal.”  Meanwhile her friend Clare joins up with Francis and becomes a nun, following his spiritual path, and I remember Ricca is constantly implying that this is just Clare doing this to win Francis, #projection.  There’s also the Rhett Butler like figure, Ricca’s Arab tutor, who I think offers her some support in her shenanigans mostly so he can be around her.  I guess he’s another older, heavily implied better match for the heroine, but this older background man I actually liked and wanted her to end up with.  He kept showing her how to work a telescope I recall, and I think he was also heavily involved in Ricca’s awesome calligraphy hobby.  I think she tried to spin that into a way to capture Francis, too.  I don’t know if I’m remembering this correctly, but I think Ricca was one of a slew of historical fiction heroines who tried to use the Song of Solomon to get some action.

 

Young Adult Me:  Was impressed by Ricca’s boldness and admired, although did not understand, Francis’ intense religion devotion.  I was also really into how Ricca got to gallivant across the world in pursuit of Francis and was fascinated by her penchant for calligraphy.

Adult me:  I saved this book for last, because I thought we could end on a transcendental note.  Francis set the bar high for Ricca and for all of us, and we can’t necessarily follow in his or Clare’s footsteps, but at the very least we can pull a Ricca and have a few, fleeting moments of clarity as we ruthlessly follow our self-interests.

 

 

Five Key Tips for Getting a Literary Agent

September 17th, 2013

You typed in the magic words “The End,” and it’s true, your final page is one sort of end, but “to be continued” may be more appropriate in terms of your writing journey. Where will it continue?  Into the publishing blogosphere, into immense tomes that contain information on agents, into the pages of writing magazines, into the post office, into new files on your computer, with carefully personalized query letters addressed to dozens of strangers—strangers who hold your destiny and dreams in their hands.  Strangers known as literary agents.

Getting a literary agent is an intimidating process, and the world is rife with information on how to lure in one of these mystical creatures.  In this blog post, I’ve distilled my myriad observations from time spent as a literary agent and as a writer down to five key tips that should inform your actions throughout your search.

Tip 1: Write Something Amazing

Too obvious? If you’ve ever had to read the slush piles, you’d know that it actually can never be said enough.  Too many writers are so excited by their bestseller wishes and National Book Award dreams that they end up skipping over the many steps necessary to perfect their manuscripts.  Getting a literary agent in today’s hardscrabble publishing environment is difficult enough when you have something stellar in hand.  Don’t lower your chances by sending out anything less than your best, which might mean having a trusted friend or skilled editor assist you in revisions.


Tip 2:  Choose Your Targets Wisely

You have the next big thing in historical romance.  You read an interview with a Phd making a splash with the latest neuroscience-meets-your-life wherein the author praises his agent effusively.  This agent might be a perfect match for the good doctor, but will he really appreciate the hours you spent mastering the intricacies of 18th-century hairstyles?  More to the point—does he know the editors of your genre?  By making sure the agents you approach are the right fits for your work, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of time, rejection, or worse–acceptance by someone who doesn’t really know how to market your book.

Tip 3:  Follow Submission Guidelines

A synopsis and a letter.  A letter and a synopsis and two pages.  A letter and a synopses and ten pages.  Only a letter.  A  partial. A whole.  You can’t keep track of the everyone’s preferred submission format, and you would get your submissions out so much faster—in seconds, really—if all you had to do was replace the name after the salutation and hit send.  However, it’s worth it to take the time and tailor your submission to what the literary agent has requested, since deviation from the requirements might lead them to ignore your submission.  Do your research and also pay attention to whether the agent is even accepting submissions right now—you could save yourself a lot of time in your path to getting a literary agent.

Tip 4:  Create a Good Query Letter.

I’ve written before about the importance of query letters—and one of my most popular service is editing and refining query letters.  As the saying goes, you never have a second chance to make a first impression.   This is actually true for literary agents, who you cannot query twice. So labor over that query letter.   When a document is short, it’s even more vital that every word is carefully chosen, every paragraph polished to its highest potential.

Tip 5:  Be Patient.

The time between when you send your material to agents and the time in which it takes them to respond may feel like an eternity.  But agents are plowing through tons of material, so don’t take the delay personally or let your imagination run wild—Perhaps it got lost in the mail!  Occupy yourself with a new project, or catch up on all the television shows you missed out on while writing your book.

What Do Writing Coaches Do?

September 11th, 2013

When I first started Rock Editorial Services, I only offered line editing and editorial letters for manuscripts.  Over time, however, I received requests for writing coaching, and so I adopted it, primarily for fiction manuscripts, into my services.  There was a learning curve, but eventually, I settled into a groove and came to fully understand what separates writing coaching apart from the more traditional editorial services.  In today’s, I’ll share what I’ve gleaned.

Writing Coaches Have A Personal Touch

When I create an editorial letter or line-edit a novel, I feel as if I’m donning my professor hat.  Although I always leave room for writers to ask me specific questions, most of my interaction is with the novel itself.  The process does not vary much according to the writer.

With coaching, I put on more of a personal tutor hat.  Clients receive an approach that is more targeted to their specific needs.  That might mean discussions over the phone or a mix of line-editing and editorial letter that the writer determines, based on how he or she best receives information.

I also tend to communicate with clients I’m coaching on an on-going basis, which allows for a close relationship to develop—this allows a sense of trust to develop.

Writing Coaches Can Give More Specific Advice 

People who want coaching usually want more targeted, specific advice.  That usually means working on a single chapter or a couple of chapters at a time rather than a whole novel.

When critiquing an entire manuscript, my focus must be on the forest, but when coaching, I can concentrate more on the trees.  And without healthy trees, you can have a forest, but it’s rather ghastly.

Okay, so let’s translate the metaphor to what it actually means for your writing.  When coaching, I am able to zoom in on the writing itself—e.g., tendency to overuse certain words; reliance on adverbs; employing too many question marks to evoke suspense; stilted dialogue.

Could I Benefit From A Writing Coach?

 If the answer to any of the below questions is yes, you might benefit from a writing coach.

    • Have you already completed a revision or revisions incorporating an outsider’s edits?
    • Do you feel like you need a schedule that makes you accountable to get your work done?
    • Do you get overwhelmed when you receive a lot of feedback at once?
    • Do you communicate better over the phone?
    • Are you focused on improving your sentences and paragraphs as opposed to chapters and novel?

 

For more information on my coaching services, check out my services page.

Interview with Starglass Author, Phoebe North

August 2nd, 2013

I took Phoebe North‘s young adult scifi Starglass with me on a weekend beach trip, and I couldn’t put it down, missing out on group board games to stay in the well-crafted world of generation ship Asherah, eager to find out if it would reach its destination before revolution hit and whether Terra, North’s passionate-and-confused heroine, would ever get her love life together.

Starglass is not only suspenseful, it’s intelligent and insightful.  I found myself raving about it for days afterwards, and I am so happy there’s a sequel coming out so I don’t have to say goodbye to Terra’s world just yet.

I was lucky enough to interview Phoebe, who I connected with through my agent and hers, Michelle Andelman at Regal Literary.  (I actually remember Michelle telling me about Starglass right after she sold it, and it was just as good as her enthusiasm led me to believe!)

 Q:  What are the origins of Starglass?Starglass cover!

Phoebe: Well, it’s kind of a convoluted story.  Starglass started out as a short story I wrote in graduate school for a class on James Joyce.  I was an MFA, a creative writing student.  I did a YA rewrite of “Eveline” set on a generation ship—a vignette of a ship falling apart.  The ship was culturally Irish. I really liked it, but my professor hated it.  I asked him if I could rewrite it, and he said no, he didn’t want me wasting my time on it.  I heard right around that time that Beth Revis’ Across the Universe had sold and YA scifi was what I wanted to do.  So I got the idea to put a space rebellion in this James Joyce story and expand it into a book.

 Q: Can you tell me more about your relationship with scifi?

Phoebe: I’m just a huge science fiction nerd—it’s where I started in terms of both reading and writing.  I loved Star Trek, and everyone in my family is a Trekkie.  I loved Star Wars too, and I was obsessed with this show, Space Cases, I was really into Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders novels, too, and I started doing writing in middle school that was set in that universe.

When you are a big scifi reader, you approach world-building differently—the world-building tends to be more dense [than in other genres].  Jo Walton had an article at tor.com called “SF Reading Protocols” about how scifi authors use a process called “incluing” to construct the universe of their book. I found this helpful.   I think there’s less handholding in world-building in scifi.  You trust readers more to put it together.

 Q:  What was the process of writing Starglass?

Phoebe: It was not very organized process.  The very first version of Starglass didn’t have any of the Jewish cultural elements; it was just a very generic sort of YA space setting (vocational counselors were called voc counselors). I was just trying to tell this story about this girl, but eventually I thought, you’re capable of much better world-building than this.

At the time I had named Terra,“Terra Fineberg,” just because Fineberg was my mother’s last name.  Then I thought, maybe she actually needs to be Jewish.  Judaism in diaspora has a lot in common with generation ships, as the people are wandering from their homeland.

I had to answer questions such as, why would there be a ship of Jews in space?  It required a pretty big rewrite to get all those details in.  I really had to interrogate the book to create a universe that feels real and cohesive.

Q:  Starglass has some mature themes, specifically it goes pretty deep with sexuality and death.   Can you tell me more about your experience writing about these themes?

Phoebe: I really enjoyed a lot of YA dystopians, but sometimes they seemed not to answer all the questions they raised.  For instance, if you have compulsory heterosexual marriage, who is that really dystopian for?  Who would that impact the most?  That’s how I started exploring issues of sexuality in the book.

[About Terra’s very realistic grief at her mother’s death] I once read a blog post, by an agent who shall remain nameless, about books with dead parents, and the agent said they never want to see another book that starts with a funeral.  That it’s depressing and kids don’t understand it. I got really angry about that. I wanted to explore loss and grief.  I wanted to approach that really honestly.

Q: I loved Terra’s untraditional romances (untraditional for today’s YA, anyway).  Can you tell me more about your thoughts behind her not-always-logical love life? 

Phoebe: That was pretty intentional on my part.  I knew that I didn’t want her to end up with the first person she ever kisses because she lives in such a small society and her options are so, so limited.  Her romantic arc grows out of that—she’s in a very constrained society but on the verge of entering a much more diverse experience.  It’s like how you know people in high school and then you get to the people in college and your options open up in ways you never anticipated.  In Starglass, there’s no clear love interest. Terra has different romantic encounters and these boys have good things about them and bad things about them, she tries to make the best of whatever situation she’s in.

Q: That’s a great way to sum up Terra—she always seems to be trying to make the best of whatever situation she’s in.  She’s not exactly the most certain or confident heroine.  What was it like writing about someone who could be rather mercurial?

Phoebe:  She is a hard person to be with—it’s hard to be in her head. I come from a similar background and experienced some of the same things. My husband insists that she’s more me than I think. She wants to be loved, and she makes mistakes trying to achieve that love.

She faces these big life choices.  She messes up a lot.  When I think about who I was at that age, I know I did a lot of things that would easily qualify me as an “unlikeable character.”

 Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about the sequel?

Phoebe North, AuthorPhoebe: The sequel’s done—it’s called Starbreak and it comes out in July of 2014, and it definitely closes up Terra’s story. It’s a duology, which I planned from the beginning, for reasons that I hope become clear.  I love the sequel a lot, but writing it was difficult, even though I had it all plotted out before we ever sold Starglass.

I got about 50,000 words in, and was thinking in the back of my head, this is not the right book. I sent it to my agent, she looked over it and agreed.  So I started again from scratch.  At the end of the first book, Terra could go down one of two paths, and in the first draft she did the first thing and in the second she does the second. It’s much better this way. Yay for starting over!

Q:  Do you have any reading recommendations?

Phoebe: I just read In the After by Demetria Lunetta.  It was superintense.  I read it in two sittings.

Q:  What’s your writing routine?

Phoebe: By any means necessary.  I have a lot of tricks to trick me into feeling that it’s not work.  Writing with friends on Google Hangout.  Posting snippets of what I’m working on in forums.  It gives me a little more accountability, because otherwise I’m surfing the internet.  I’m a fairly fast writer, but the minute I think I know what my process is it changes.

 

Ten Tips for Your Query Letter

June 27th, 2013

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for the Writer magazine about query letters.   It’s now one of the most visited pages on my website.   Since then I’ve read more query letters and learned to see them from a different vantage point through my work editing them for my book editing services. So I decided to take my new knowledge and write an updated article for my business blog.

These tips are mostly geared toward fiction writers.  Note–there is overlap with my original letter.

TIP #1:  Watch the Length.

A good rule of thumb is that your query letter should be in twelve-point font, single-spaced, and one page.   Beginning writers commonly overwrite and lengthy query letters are the first hint that self-editing is tough for them.

TIP #2:  Use Comp Titles to Describe Your Book

Mentioning titles that your book resembles gives it a certain legitimacy.  Right away, the agent can imagine your book on shelves alongside the illustrious company you’ve brought up.

TIP #3:  Allude to the Agent’s Own List

Chances are that if you’re querying an agent, you’ve done some research about their client list.  Be sure to say if your book has anything in common with those the agent already represents.  Showing that you’ve put thought into the agent’s own work also helps create a sense of  personal connection.

TIP #4:  Triplecheck Your Agent’s Guidelines

Every agency has specific guidelines.  For example, some want to see no pages with a query, some want to see ten, some fifty.  Some allow email, some don’t.  Not following proper protocol is a easy way to ruffle feathers or even get tossed in the reject pile.  Send what they want, usually outlined on their websites or found in a reference book like Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents.

TIP #5:  Lay off the Detail

Often writers want to explain every twist and turn of the plot; drop  the names in of all the characters they love; articulate  the themes that are so close to their hearts.  However, the query letter isn’t the place to get every detail down.  Stick to the main characters and most important plot points.  The agent should finish reading your letter wanting to know more.

TIP #6: Go Easy on the Unpublished Manuscript Credentials

Every writer has a manuscript or two (or three or four)  in the proverbial desk drawer, but just as you wouldn’t mention past dates on a first date, try not to bring your discarded efforts up.  What’s important is what’s happening now, not the past.

TIP #7: It’s Not a Resume

Agents are primarily interested in your book:  the writing, the plot, the characters.  They welcome learning of some credentials, but don’t overdo it, especially if those credentials aren’t writing related.  Bring up points about career only if they’re relevant to your writing–like if your horror novel is about zombie chimpanzees and you’re a primate biologist.

TIP #8:  Hook Them In With Your First Few Lines

A great opening can mean the difference between having the rest of your letter ignored, skimmed or read.  Make sure you start off your query with a bang.  Establish high stakes.  Present a fascinating situation.  Ask a tantalizing question.

TIP #9:  Choose the Agents Carefully

Do your homework and make sure that the agent you’re sending your query to is currently accepting new clients (best of all if they encourage new writers to contact them), confirm from multiple sources that they’re still at the agency you have them at, and try to make sure that they are interested in books like yours.

TIP #10:  Power of Proofreading

Last but not least, proofread carefully.  You want your final draft to look polished and professional.  Consider giving it to a friend or fellow writer to go over.  Fresh eyes can do wonders.

Like all tips, these aren’t written in stone.  Be flexible and don’t get too caught up in trying to write the “perfect letter.”  If you feel your book necessitates a 1.5 page letter or that there are no comp titles, don’t strain to push yourself in a box you don’t belong in.  Your query letter, like your book, should ultimately be an expression of yourself.