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.

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October Newsletter

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.

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.

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!

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). 

Eight Common First Draft Problems

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

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

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

3. Incorrect Formatting
Sometimes with first drafts, especially those by debut authors, there are some formatting flubs such as no page breaks between chapters, no pagination, and the use of single-space instead of double-space line breaks. For your eyes, that's okay, but you’ll definitely want to get your manuscript correctly formatted before it enters the world of book publishing.

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

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

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

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

8. Neglecting Interior Journey
Finally, sometimes in first drafts by debut authors, the interior, emotional journey of the character is forgotten while the focus is on the exterior, physical journey. Readers need interior journeys to identify with characters.