My Newsletter

Well, I haven’t been as diligent at updating this blog as I had hoped. I’ve been so busy doing work.

I have also incorporated a new tool/platform for interacting with clients—my monthly newsletter! So a lot of my “market-y” type energy is going into that. I’m including links here for anyone who’s interesting in getting writing/editing information and also a vibe for how I work.

January Newsletter

February Newsletter

March Newsletter

April Newsletter

May Newsletter

June Newsletter

July Newsletter

August Newsletter

September Newsletter

October Newsletter

Electric Lit Ball

I went with my friend Eveline to a party thrown by Electric Literature. The party was themed "Masque of the Red Death," after an Edgar Allen Poe story. Guests were required to wear red or black. There were masks at the party, free drinks and free books. 

I showed up promptly at eight. There were lots of books available and no one was really taking any--early party shyness. I got a tote bag and filled it with books after seeing one other person do the same, then checked my tote bag and coat, grabbed a mask and a drink and waited for Eveline.

I ran into this guy who I guess is the official photographer for New York literary scene stuff, because I saw him at two PEN events previously. Each time I address him as if he knows who I am and each time he responds as if he knows who I am, but I always have the distinct impression he does not remember me. And also that he knows I know he doesn't remember me?

Literary scene photographer who may or may not recognize me or both at once like Schroedinger's Cat.

Literary scene photographer who may or may not recognize me or both at once like Schroedinger's Cat.

Bemasked literary people.

Bemasked literary people.

While I waited, a young writer struck up a conversation with me. She worked for a tech company but wrote on the side. Her personal essays sounded really interesting, and I encouraged her to write more of them. 

Eveline arrived, checked her coat, and put on her mask. We stood around talking to the younger writers for awhile, who told us about a networking group for women that they're in called the Valkyries, but how they might have to change the name due to a right-wing nationalist type group also being named the Valkyries.

Then, we hit the dance floor. The music was an enjoyable, pop mix including "Faith" by George Michaels, "Thriller" by Michael Jackson, and "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order. I was impressed by how the DJ seemed cool and calm, and then realized later that he wasn't actually the DJ but the sound and lighting guy, so the reason he was so chill around the music was because he wasn't involved in playing it. I think there's a metaphor for my love life in there somewhere .  

Note to self, expressionless does not equal Zen transcendence.

Note to self, expressionless does not equal Zen transcendence.

Party at its height.

Party at its height.

Eveline and I stayed on the dance floor for a long time. The last song playing as we left was "Vogue" by Madonna. At this point, I was filled with trepidation about bringing all my books home on the subway, but it actually turned out to be pretty easy. When I woke up it was nice to have a stack of books to look forward to reading to. I'm probably most interested in Olivia Sudijic's Sympathy. It's about a young girl . . . who comes to NYC . . . 

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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.

 

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.

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.

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)!