Posts Tagged ‘editing’

Eight Common First Draft Problems

Sunday, 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

Thursday, 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?

Tuesday, 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.

Five Basics of Nonfiction Book Proposals

Tuesday, 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!

Tips for Adult Writers Seeking to Switch to Young Adult Fiction

Friday, 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

Thursday, 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

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…)

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.

 

Ten Tips for Your Query Letter

Thursday, 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.