Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Professional Writing Tips from a Ghostwriter

Saturday, 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)!

 

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

Thursday, 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.

(more…)

How to Stop Procrastinating with Your Writing

Wednesday, 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?

Thursday, 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.

 

Five Key Tips for Getting a Literary Agent

Tuesday, 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?

Wednesday, 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

Friday, 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.