Weekly Round-Up

So, this week I had to do a lot of work. I was in the middle of a substantive edit (also known as a line edit) when a publishing house asked me to edit a novel of theirs.

My substantive edit was for a client who writes really fun romances. Romance is one of my favorite genres to edit. Not just because of the love/sex aspects. There's a pleasing tone to them--perhaps it is the inevitably happy resolutions. The best of romances manage to be fundamentally optimistic while also psychologically insightful. The characters, while finding their ways to one another, often are working through sadness about the past. So the romance is not just about two people finding one another, but also about individuals healing within.

Actually, I find that that general arc is also a beautiful metaphor for the act of reading itself, as you make connections with characters and come to "heal within" partially through understanding the universality of emotional journeys.

I was already ahead of schedule with the fun romance and I ended up doing a around 20% more pages every day to meet the new deadline, necessary because of the new project. I cancelled some appointments, didn't go to zumba, and got it all done. Probably the worst life casualty is the messiness that arises when I feel like I can't pull away from a work.

Today, I started the next book. It's also a romance, and I like it quite a bit so far.

 

Writers Digest Conference 2017

Three weekends ago, I had the pleasure of manning a booth for the Editorial Freelancers Association at the Writers Digest Conference. The conference gathered writers from all across the country, in disparate genres, and gave them the chance to attend a number of talks with industry professionals. The topics ranged from those about technique to those about the business of being a writer, i.e. social media.

The conference was at the midtown Hilton, close to where I live and work. My booth time took place on Friday, between 11:30am and 2:30pm. There I am below with my co-volunteer Laura Newman, who does medical writing. You can see the candies. The Werther's in particular were very tempting.

Book editor Maya Rock at the Editorial Freelancers Association discussing manuscript editing, book editing, developmental editing, and agent submissions.

Authors milled about the hotel halls in between their workshop/class sessions. Occasionally, they would approach the booth and ask what the Editorial Freelancers Association does. I got to tell them about all the various services the members of the organization perform for book authors. It was a really good exercise in conveying useful information in a succinct and helpful manner.

I liked the opportunity to connect with authors one on one. Writing can be so solitary, and conferences help people feel less alone. Plus, it's always inspiring to be around people pursuing their passions.

When my shift was done, I lingered at the EFA booth before I set forth into the sponsor hall myself, a moment pictured below. There I am speaking with Christina Frey (to the right of me--I'm the one with the visible totebag) of Page One Editing and Sangeeta Mehta (left of me) of Mehta Book Editing, who do developmental editing, like me.

Book editor Maya Rock at Writers Digest conference discussing book editing.

Eventually, I left home base to check out the other sponsor organizations related to writing and editing, including some I knew, like Gotham Writer's Workshop and Lulu.com, and others I didn't, like the National Writers Union (Ursula LeGuin wrote a piece here about why to join them) .

There was also this interesting set-up, pictured below--I forgot to note the exhibitor. Writers were invited to share their vulnerable thoughts on a card, and then artists would rewrite them with a more artistic flair, on a three-part portable blackboard.

On Saturday, I still had my badge, so could get into the conference. After a brisk walk in Central Park, I headed over for one talk, it was Jane Friedman's on newsletters. The talk was aimed at authors, but I went in thinking about it more for Fresh Ink.

I've never met Jane before, though I wrote a blog post on her blog, so I introduced myself in the beginning, before the talk, then sat and listened. Her advice was extremely practical. Some tidbits I found particularly noteworthy: (1) Newsletter subscription rate shot up once she started including a pop-up to join her newsletter, (2) Newsletters should come frequently, at least monthly. (3) It takes Jane 30 minutes to write her weekly newsletter.

I do a newsletter for my book editing services twice a year. (And I fell off that last year.) I always thought of it as a huge deal to gather all the info and put it together. Just hearing from Jane that she spent less time on hers expanded my mind about possibilities.

Jane Friedman speaking at Writers Digest conference about writers' newsletters.

To sum up, the conference was enjoyable When it comes to writing, probably the thing I caution writers about the most is getting caught up in the marketing-publicity-sales realm. I'm always of the mindset that focusing on craft is the best thing to do, so that you attract people. However, sometimes going to conferences like these reminds me that not all non-writing time means you're distracting yourself or focusing on something that doesn't matter. Marketing/sales is all part of the greater mission of connecting with other writers and readers.

Query Critique Giveaway

I'm excited to announce a Query Critique Giveaway! Email me at email@freshinkbookediting.com by Monday, August 28 with the subject line "Query Critique Giveaway" if you would like to enter. I will randomly select a winner who will be notified by Wednesday, August 30. Provided you return the draft of the query in a timely fashion, the work on it should take around three weeks.

My query service involves two rounds of editing on your query draft. Your final product will be smooth, enticing, and credible. As a former literary agent, I've read hundreds--probably thousands--of queries and know which ones rise to the top. I'm excited to share my knowledge with you.

 

Books!

A Fresh Ink client, J. Thomas Kelly, recently published his novel Makato's Mother. I really enjoyed working on this book, which has heavy spiritual themes. I also enjoyed some of its insights into Native Americans. It's a deep book, and I often think back to it. There's a lot about suffering.

I'm reviving this blog. We'll see how it goes. Keeping up a blog meant to be SEO-optimized was training, but I think I could handle just writing my thoughts about books and manuscripts. I also really don't like seeing a blog that's not updated that much on websites so I want potential clients to know that I'm here and working.

I read a great book this week, In Love by Alfred Hayes. It was short, a novella. Whenever I read novellas, I am struck by how much I like them. Novels can take over your mind and become almost too immersive, replacing the real world. But a novella can kind of slither in and merge with your reality. I'll read short stories and enjoy them, but I almost never reach for them. They sometimes feel like puzzles to me.

In Love is about a New York love affair, so I was very engaged. The writing was amazing, clear as a bell. After the break-up of the couple, though, I got less interested. There is a great sequence where the man drives the woman to Atlantic City, and he thinks the love affair is going to get revived, but instead it just is well, if not the last, one of the last nails in the coffin. His and her reflections on the ocean are extraordinary. Unfortunately, I returned the book, but there's a whole passage about how the narrator feels looking at the ocean always like he understands everything and finally gets it, but then the understanding slips away when he comes back to the real world.

I had some great work I was doing today, helping out with a historical manuscript. These are always challenging My favorite contemporary historical writer is Emma Donoghue, who is now more famous for her novel, Room. Bringing history to life is no easy feat. When depicting the past, there is such a temptation to just name a lot of things. To make everything an accumulation of details. The life gets choked out of the book. Personal stories get submerged.

In Love was written in 1954, but not only were the themes timeless, the setting also did was not distractingly different. So much was just in the interior of the characters' heads. The world was boiled down to only those items they felt significant, like a fur, a necklace, the ocean, fly paper. Everything else was gauzy. I could relate, for sure.

What Do Writing Coaches Do?

When I first started Fresh Ink Book Editing (formerly 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?

Interview with Starglass Author, Phoebe North

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?

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 thoughtyou’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: 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.

Five Key Tips for Getting a Literary Agent

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.

My Favorite Young Adult Romances

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 PondHowl’s Moving CastleMelThe Unsinkable Molly Malone, andThe Road to Damietta.

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

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

 

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.

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 Castleand 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.  Melwas probably half and half.  The eponymous Mel

 

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!

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.

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.

 

Six Ways to Vet Freelance Editors

(This post originally appeared on Jane Friedman's website at www.janefriedman.com.)

Today’s guest post is from author and freelance editor Maya Rock of Fresh Ink Book Editing.

Hiring a freelance editor is a significant investment, so you’ll want to do your due diligence before making your pick. To help with your decision, here are six ways to vet freelance editors.

1. Work experience

Freelance editors often don’t have traditional résumés posted on their websites, but they usually include a professional bio that says where they’ve worked in the past. Check to see if your potential freelance editor has worked at a publisher or literary agency. These are places where they’ll have been in close contact with the book editing process and have garnered the professional expertise that can help take your manuscript to the next level.

Additionally, consider whether the places your potential editor worked exposed him or her to books like yours. For example, if you’re writing a children’s book, you probably don’t want an editor who worked for a military history press, and vice versa.

You should also determine what kind of editing your potential editor did. He or she could have worked at a publishing house, but as a copyeditor, whereas you may be seeking developmental editing.

2. Testimonials and references

Another great way to vet freelance editors is by seeing what others have to say about them. Many freelance editors have testimonial sections on their websites, where authors describe their experiences with the editors. You can get big clues about the editor’s personality through these testimonials. Do their clients describe the as warm and hands-on? Technical and thorough? Consider how your personality and writing would gel with their work style.

If you want to know more, don’t be afraid to ask for references. Just be aware that the relationship between freelance editors and their clients is very private—many clients request confidentiality. Still, others are happy to give feedback.

3. Books they’ve worked on

In the book publishing industry, everyone has a list of books they’ve worked on. Agents have a list, publishing houses have a list, and individual publishing house editors have a list. Your freelance editor has a list, too, and it can help you decide whether to work with her. If the editor doesn’t have the books she’s worked on visible on her website, ask for one. Then research those books on Amazon. Do you know any of them? Are the books getting read? Are they similar to your book?

4. Sample edit

Many freelance editors happily give sample edits, for free or a small fee. Even if they don’t say outright that they offer them, you might want to request one before committing. A sample edit will give you peace of mind, as well as a very precise idea of what you’re paying for. If you don’t want to pay for a sample edit on your own work, they may have one they keep on file for this purpose. My website, for instance, has a sample editorial letter.

5. Professional organizations

Is your freelance editor a member of or affiliated with any professional organizations? I am a member of Publishers Marketplace and Editorial Freelancers Association. Both organizations require dues, which helps screen out some of the less serious editorial freelancers out there. Does your freelance editor mention writers organizations like Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, Thriller Writers of America, or the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators? If your freelance editor attends conferences or is a member of any of these organizations, it shows that he or she is in touch with editors, agents, and writers, and knows what the current trends are.

6. Terms

When choosing a freelance editor, pay close attention to the terms of your agreement with them. Because so many freelance editors are self-employed individuals, you might not have a formal contract, but there should still be terms agreed to over email before you commit to work with them. These include due dates, kill fees in case you decide not to move forward with the edit, method of payment, payouts, and a clear definition of what is to be delivered.

When you’re in the first flush of identifying that perfect match for your book, you might not be thinking so much about practical matters, but they should be in place to keep the project running smoothly and prevent misunderstandings.

One last tip: don’t underestimate the importance of personal chemistry or gut instinct. Writing is highly personal, and having a good rapport with your editor will go a long way toward making the editorial process a fruitful, productive experience.

When Should You Seek Professional Book Editing?

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? 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.

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 drinks table 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 corporate takeover from his Mogadishu stronghold.  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 get matters straight.

  • 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 substantive 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.  

  •   You like people to meet 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.

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

 

Here's an interview tiwh 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.

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.

 

 

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.

Q: How many rounds of editing were there with NIUBI?  

I really don’t remember, but I can’t imagine it was very many–maybe one round on my end. Eveline had done very thorough research and had consulted with various native speakers. I mainly checked it for organization and if necessary, cut any repetitive and superfluous sections.

Q: Were there any lessons you learned from working on NIUBI that you applied to other books?

With each book, especially as a young assistant editor, you gain confidence in your editorial choices and decisions. I really mean with everything, each big or small decision, from overall structure–which is the best order for the chapters–to word choice, and so on. Each one of those is a style choice– and like choosing a cover, there’s no science. The decisions come from instinct, experience, and being able to put yourself in the readers’ shoes and knowing who the readers are in the first place.

Q:  What was working with Eveline like?

I’ve said this before and it’s not exaggeration–she was a dream author! I could really tell that this book meant a lot to her. Her research and fact-checking was thorough, the manuscript she delivered was clean and careful. It makes such a difference to work with an author who puts a lot of thought and care into their work–it makes the editor, and the reader, care more. I can’t remember if she ever missed a deadline, but I know that if she was late I had plenty of advance notice. Plus she’s smart and funny, which always helps the process move along smoothly.

Q: The cover of NIUBI is supercute and funny.  What was the process in choosing it?

 

We had used the illustrator on another Plume book and were very happy with his work so we approached him to do this book–as well as new covers for all the previous slang language books in the series. We sent him the manuscript, or at least parts of it, and he chose a few scenarios that Eveline described, to illustrate. From those, we chose one we liked best. (I can’t remember who exactly was involved in choosing, but it was probably me, maybe Eveline, the editor-in-chief, the art department, and then finally, the president and the marketing director weighed in.) There is very little science in choosing a cover, it’s mostly instinct–some we get right and some we don’t.

NIUBI was definitely one of the successes.

Q: I know you’re an editor at an art book publishing house now.  How has your role as editor changed?  What things have stayed the same, if any?

The main difference is that I don’t acquire books now. I work more as a project manager overseeing the production process from start to finish: I hire writers, copyeditors, proofreaders, and work with in-house photo editors, designers, and production managers, while being the main contact with the client (if there is one). The timeline is also much shorter, so many aspects involved in producing a book, that in standard trade publishing are separate, happen simultaneously here–i.e. the design/layout/photo selection and the text development. Plus the text is much shorter, so overall less homework–no submission manuscripts or 80,000 word drafts to read. I get to read for pleasure now!!

What has stayed the same is that I still have an important role in the development and editing of the text. While there is a general approach to the text that I need to adhere to (it comes from discussions between the editorial director, the company founders, and the client), I can work directly with the writer to make sure we reach those goals–through developmental discussions and line editing.

I have loved working with the team to make sure the visual elements and the text align.

Q:  How do you feel your role as an editor has evolved over your career?  

Well, it has changed dramatically just because of my move to illustrated books. This segment of publishing is far removed from the industry changes, because making these books electronic would defeat their purpose as objets d’art. That does of course mean that it is a much more specific niche, so the jobs are fewer. But I do think that because I am involved in many more aspects of the book publishing process I am gaining valuable skills that can be transferred to media production and project management in general.

Author Said . . .

Eveline Chao is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. She has written for Foreign Policythe Daily Beast, and the BBC, and is a 2013-2014 Open City Fellow with the Asian American Writers Workshop. She previously lived in Beijing for five years, where she edited a business magazine and wrote NIUBI!.   She grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

 Q: How long did it take you from making the deal to the publication of NIUBI?

My agent sold the book in January 2008, the manuscript was due January 2009, and it came out in November 2009, so it was about two

 

 

years from signing the contract to holding a finished book in my hands.

Q: What were your favorite parts about writing NIUBI?

I love having a filter for looking at the world, and working on a long-term writing project like a book gives you that. What that filter is changes with whatever I’m working on at the time. But for the year I was working on NIUBI, I looked at the world through the filter of language and slang, and I really enjoyed having a consistent thing I was always looking for and thinking about. It was really fun to go to parties, sit in cafes, hang out with friends, hang out with strangers – it didn’t matter who or where – and ask people, “Do you know any interesting slang?” The answers were always fascinating, though they didn’t always make it into the final book. And I enjoyed the experience of walking around on high alert, keeping my ears pricked for any interesting language I might overhear. It’s like being a detective.

Q: Did you feel your vision of NIUBI differed from the publisher’s and if so, how?

Not too much. I’m an unusual case because NIUBI was part of a series of slang books for different languages, so I had the benefit of having seen some of the previously published books (for Japanese and Russian, for example) and knowing the format and also how kooky (and dirty) it was okay to be.

One thing I did bring up with the publisher was that I didn’t love the illustrations in the older books. They agreed the art was outdated and let me be involved in the process of finding a new illustrator. I ended up liking the work of the guy they recommended, Chris Murphy, so there was no drama there.

Q:  How did writing NIUBI change/affect your future writing?

The most valuable thing the book gave me was a feeling of legitimacy. When you’re young and still struggling with writing, you always feel kind of sheepish telling people you’re a writer – or at least I did. Just a few weeks ago I had a pretty typical conversation where someone asked what I do, and I said I’m a writer, and they said, “You mean you’re actually a writer writer, or you just want to be a writer?” And in the past, even after I’d published a few journalism articles, I still had trouble saying I was a writer because it felt more aspirational than real. Once I’d written the book, though, I could feel like, yes, I am. Of course you should have the fortitude to believe in yourself with or without the publishing stamp of approval, and I really admire the writers I know who are able to be totally unwavering in that belief, but, you know. Self-doubt is a demon for everyone.

Also, having written a book demystifies the whole process and enables you to envision writing more books down the line. It makes everything tangible instead of this hard-to-tackle abstraction.

Q: What were your LEAST favorite parts about writing NIUBI?

The feeling of constant, low-level terror that I was going to somehow screw it up? I guess either by writing something terrible, or missing the deadline, or even not turning in a manuscript at all. I had a year to do the manuscript, but because I knew I was going to leave my job at some point (which at the time was editing a business magazine in China), I kept putting off starting on it until I left the job. That ended up being just four months before the manuscript was due, so for nearly four months straight, I parked in a cafe from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every single day, seven days a week, working on the book and trying to just hold myself together and not panic. I’ve never worked so hard in my life, and looking back don’t think I could do that again. It’s also clear to me now that I could have worked a lot less hard, and it still would have turned out okay, but at the time it felt like I had to be killing myself for it and that still wouldn’t be enough.

Q:   Were there any changes Nadia asked for that surprised you?

Not really. Nadia was a very chill editor. Her edits felt minimal to me, and they all made sense. I was only ever grateful to be getting an outside eye on everything so I always trusted her judgment. Nadia inherited me from her old boss, who had been the acquiring editor on the book but then left Penguin, so she suddenly had to deal with a bunch of new authors all at once and probably wasn’t sure what she was going to get with any of us.

Q: How did you feel about the book when it was in its final form?  

Now I feel great about the book! But when I first got the advances, it was like I still had PTSD from the writing process, so I could barely even look at it. Other people would read it and tell me it was great and I’d be like, “If you say so.” It took a few months after the book was out, and after I started receiving fan messages from readers on Facebook and praise from people in media, that I finally absorbed that I had really finished this monumental task and could actually relax and be happy about it now. I had coffee sometime that year with a former boss who’s an editor at Little, Brown, and when he asked me how it felt to be an author, I said it was a lot more awesome than I realized it was going to be.

How to Stop Procrastinating with Your Writing

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.  

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 well-known 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.  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.

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.  

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.

 

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.”

 

Professional Writing Tips from a Ghostwriter

Marissa Matteo, Ghostwriter Extraordinaire.

Marissa Matteo, Ghostwriter Extraordinaire.

Professional Writing Tips from a Ghostwriter

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

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.

Celebrity Hangout

Celebrity Hangout

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.

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.

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)!

Five Basics of Nonfiction Book Proposals

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.  

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, a practical nonfiction book on how to wear heels. She triumphantly Tweets her achieved word targets before she heads out to her day job.

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.

2. Nonfiction book proposals are multifaceted.

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 Proposalthe 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.

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.

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!

Ten Tips for Your Query Letter

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for the Writer magazine about query letters from an agent's point of view. Since then I’ve read  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.  

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 editing may be 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. 

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 onto 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 of all their beloved characters; and 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 earlier 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:  Reel 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.

What is Scrivener?

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.

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. 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’ 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 simple and are not necessarily its most-advertised features. 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 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.

What Is Developmental Editing?

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

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 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 guidelines for 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.

There is also increasing demand for freelance developmental editors such as Fresh Ink Book Editing. 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 substantive 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 more often give a more birds-eye view critique of the manuscript. They are usually around three to five pages, but I’ve seen ten-page editorial letters before! Here’s a sample editorial letter from Fresh Ink Book Editing, given with permission from the recipient.

Substantive editing (also known as line editing) usually comes after one or two rounds of editing based on editorial letters. Substantive 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. Substantive edits are more targeted than editorial letters. They zeroing in on scenes and sentences in ways. Sometimes extreme substantive editing borders on copyediting. A substantively edited manuscript can be overwhelming. 

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

Here’s a substantive edit from Fresh Ink Book Editing, 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. 

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 positive feedback). 

Tips for Adult Writers Seeking to Switch to Young Adult Fiction

Tips for Adult Writers Seeking to Switch to Young Adult Fiction

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 can 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. MontgomeryDiana 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 tons of YA will help you start to internalize its rules better than any blog post.  

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.

 

What I’ve learned since: Voice means 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, strong 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.

3. AGE IS MORE THAN A NUMBER

 

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.”   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.

 

5. ACTION!

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

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. 

Be 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.

How To Write A Hook For A Book

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.

I employ 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 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.  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.

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.

Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara is 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, can Scarlett rescue Tara?

Voila!  You have a hook.