Four editors discussed the publishing biz at Sleuthfest. These included Chris Knopf from The Permanent Press, Erin George from Henery Press, Anne Speyer from Ballantine Books, and Neil Nyren from G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
The first question addressed was if any of the editors would accept a mid-series submission or backlist titles. This would depend upon the rights available. An author has a better chance with a new series or with the relaunch of an ongoing series.
The editors all emphasized the importance of social media for authors. Writers should also have a newsletter, schedule in-person events, speak at libraries and conferences, nurture a relationship with bloggers and reviewers. An author’s website and Facebook page should be “really, really good; new and fresh; welcoming.” With your social media, you should do ten percent book promo and ninety percent interesting content.
What does a publisher have to offer? You get an editorial team, a guiding hand, resources that might not be available otherwise, support, reviews, sales of subsidiary rights. Plus you’ll qualify to speak on conference panels and to enter contests. Print is still a larger proportion of sales compared to ebooks.
· Exclamation Points
· Too much description
· Unrealistic dialogue
Disclaimer: These notes are my interpretation and are subject to errors which are mine alone.
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We continue with my recap of panels and workshops at SleuthFest. These are my interpretations and notes, and any misstatement is my error. Photos are viewable from my Facebook Page. Like my page, then click on Photos, Albums, and SleuthFest 2014.
Editors Roundtable with Neil S. Nyren, Shannon Jamieson Vazquez, Deni Dietz, Matt Martz and moderated by P.J. Parrish
How have the changes in publishing affected you?
Matt said social media tools can take up a lot of time and become distracting. However, electronic submissions are great. “Queries written like tweets don’t fly.” Be professional in your queries.
Shannon mentioned that e-mail has revolutionized multiple submissions like the Xerox machine did earlier. E-books are growing.
Neil said e-books are a big change in our business. If you plan to save self-publish, please make sure the book is ready. Respect the reader. Hire a professional copy editor to edit your work and a professional artist to design your jackets.
Kristy (aka P.J. Parrish) warned listeners to be careful of typos especially if you get your backlist scanned.
Is the editing process gone, or how has it changed?
Matt said, if an editor has to dig in deep to line edit, then he probably shouldn’t be working with you. An editor works on tone, pacing, developmental issues, and broader strokes.
Shannon said there’s no one way to do it. “I red-line the hell out of a manuscript. We’re working to make the book the best it can be.” She’ll spend at least two weeks on a manuscript. Altogether, a book might take her five to six months for the different stages.
Neil gives the manuscript a complete first read and then sends the author notes on what works and what doesn’t.
Deni said historical mysteries take longer to work on due to the research involved. She works with three associate editors. She advises writers to learn your toolbar and track changes. The days of sticky notes on manuscripts are over. Formatting is very important.
Also, there is a misperception that if it’s wrong, an editor will fix it. That is untrue. Deni will do brief edits as she reads through the work and then sends it back to the writer for corrections. She believes that if someone doesn’t show you what’s wrong, how are you going to learn?
If the writing is dazzling, but the story is not compelling, Neil said that’s called an “MFA” [Master of Fine Arts] manuscript.
Where do most books fall apart?
Shannon says this happens for her between pages 1 and 150. The book gets off to a good start but gets tangled in subplots, or else the story peters out. Or the solution isn’t what she’d expected.
Deni said sometimes this happens in the middle or at the end because the writer is anxious to finish. Or else there’s a Too Stupid To Live moment. But that’s fixable, so don’t despair.
Neil looks to see if the author has control of the book from the very beginning. He says a good agent should know an editor’s particular taste.
You will learn more by writing a book, putting it in a drawer, and starting a new one than by working on that same manuscript for years.
How often do books come out?
Shannon said romances are at the forefront of three month back-to-back book releases but not mysteries. Deni said her house puts out one book a year due to reviewers’ lead time.
Short stories and novellas are making a comeback with e-books, according to Shannon. Nobody is buying short story collections, but they can be used as teasers for book-length novels. Neil pointed out pricing on a short story could be $.99 or free, while a novella can be sold for $2.99.
What about print-only deals?
Matt said it’s not much of a partnership if the author retains e-book rights.
Neil adds, “We’re giving up the potential, so for most people print-only deals won’t be a possibility.”
Deni said Five Star will not take a self-published book.
Shannon said they would consider buying e-book rights from self-published authors, but you would have to take your book down at the online sites where you have it on sale.
What’s the difference between line editing and copy editing? After your work gets accepted by a publishing house, your story editor will comb through it line by line looking for problems in structure, pacing, continuity, and logic. She’ll ask questions in the margins, make deletions, add lines where appropriate, and suggest improvements to some scenes.
So what does a copyeditor do that is different? This skilled editor focuses on grammar, punctuation, and spelling, as well as providing another set of eyes to detect omissions and errors. A word of advice—don’t use colons or semicolons as they may translate into peculiar characters during digital conversion. Consider an emdash instead. The same warning applies for the ampersand sign. Type out the word “and”.
After you polish your work umpteen times, you’ll have to suffer through three more reads for your story editor, copyeditor, and page proofs. And believe me, you will need each pass-through. I always find things to correct, no matter how many times I polish my stories.
Having just finished the latest set of copyedits for Hanging by a Hair, #11 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, I’d like to share what I learned. This time, I wrote the changes in a file I’m calling Style Sheet for this particular publisher. Keep in mind that each publishing house will differ in how they like things done. I’m not talking about fonts and line spacing. You can find that info in their submission guidelines. So what do I mean? Let’s take a look at my notes.
Remember when you used to please your teacher back in your school days? Each editor has his or her pet peeves. Learn them.
Here are some preferences for my story editor:
Use he said/she said instead of too many action character tags. [Note: my other publisher prefers just the reverse.]
Don’t use “her eyes rounded/bulged/widened” unless your character is looking at someone else. Or say, she felt her eyes widen. [I don’t particularly agree with this, but hey, I aim to please.]
Be wary of making the amateur sleuth appear too nosy.
Avoid phrases like sounds “infiltrated her ears.” Use “she heard.”
Watch “his eyes glittered, blazed, darkened,” and let the dialogue speak for itself instead.
Don’t use Publix or Home Depot. Use supermarket or hardware store.
Now along comes the copyeditor. What sorts of things does she point out?
Capitalize wine types, i.e. Chardonnay [Again, another publisher might not do this.]
It’s a to-do list, not a To-Do list.
Sink into her bed, not onto her bed.
Seasons are not capitalized, i.e. fresh scent of spring, not Spring.
It’s caller I.D., not Caller I.D.
Uh-oh, not Uh, oh. [Again, my other publisher would do it the second way.]
These should be one word rather than two words or hyphenated: Babysit, Checkout time, Coffeemaker, Doorbell, Doorknob, Fairyland, Hairbrush, Kindhearted, Lampposts, Midair, Peephole, Semisweet, Signposts, Timepiece, Townhouse, Windowsill, Workhorse, Wristwatch.
This should be hyphenated: Bang-up job, Blow-dried her customer’s hair, Blow-out (as in, cut and blow-out), Boarded-up opening, Bottled-up rage, Cobalt-blue, Community-minded, Cross-referencing, Crime-solving skills, Class-action lawsuit, Crowd-buster, Deep-set eyes, First-timer, Freeze-dried foods, Going-away party, Good-quality wood, Hang-ups, Hard-boiled eggs, Heavy-duty belt, Heavy-set guy, High-rise, Higher-paying, Hurricane-force life, Hurricane-impact windows, Kettle-shaped clock, King-size bed, Last-minute problems, Late-afternoon air, Less-traveled, Lesser-known, Loose-fitting, Miles-long trail, Much-needed break, Next-door neighbor, Non-profit, Older-era movie star, Open-air entertainment, Orange-colored sport coat, Pet-grooming service, Plus-size lady, Put-down (as in, giving a put-down), Ranch-style house, Red-painted fingernails, Second-degree misdemeanor, Second-floor balcony, Short-staffed, Shoulder-length, Somber-faced, Stick-straight hair, Strike-out (as in, another strike-out), Thank-you notes, Three-tiered confection, Wheat-colored hair, Work-related, Wood-planked dance floor.
I’ve printed these out so I can keep them by my side during subsequent drafts or revisions. It helps to know how your publishing house likes things done. You can disagree with suggested changes if they would alter your voice. Plus sometimes copy editors make mistakes. When this happens, point out that the original way stands and perhaps include evidence. For example, one copy editor once changed I-95 to Interstate Ninety-Five. I pointed out that no one here refers to it that way. I-95 stood its ground. In another case, the editor misspelled the name of a car model. I sent back a copy of an ad with the correct spelling. For the most part, though, by making many of these desired word or phrase choices early on, you’ll both be happier.
At a recent Florida Romance Writers meeting, we heard Senior Editor Callie Lynn Wolfe from The Wild Rose Press and Acquisitions Editor Lisa Manuel from Silver Publishing speak about their pet peeves regarding submissions. Here’s a summary of what they said, subject to my interpretation.
Submissions can be really good or really bad. Most fall in the middle, and that’s where your competition lies. If it’s a choice between two manuscripts, an editor is more likely to favor the one with good grammar. Lisa advises writers to “format your work according to our guidelines.” Don’t use fancy fonts, borders, etc. Less is better in terms of formatting.
Callie says when she receives a proposal, she’ll look to see if the author followed their guidelines. By paying attention to formatting, you’re showing the editor you can be cooperative and work within the company’s parameters. She’ll check the mechanics and will evaluate the submission to see if it’s appropriate for the genre. She advises authors to “be unique and be active” to avoid clichés and passive voice.
Do these editors care about prior sales figures for returning authors? TWRP will think about this aspect but Silver Publishing judges each book by itself.
Both publishers expect authors to market themselves. TWRP has a marketing department to help with these efforts. Silver Publishing’s bulk of sales are online. Their genres include YA, mainstream, and M/M and books may be digital and print formats. Age of the author doesn’t matter regarding acquisitions.
You need an engaging hook for your opening scene. Avoid backstory up front. Word and phrase repetition is lazy writing. So is overuse of speech tags other than “said” or “asked”, and even in those cases, action beats and body language are preferable tags.
Callie said avoid animal sounds, i.e. he growled, hissed, barked.
Don’t use passive verbs. Steer clear of “was”, “get” and “got”, as well as “he heard/ saw/felt”. Avoid qualifiers like “really”, “very”, and “just.”
Be wary of head hopping, or changing viewpoints within a scene. Also make sure the viewpoint character is clearly defined. Otherwise, the characterizations will be shallow and the emotional impact lessened. In a romance, stay in deep character most of the time.
Writers will often have characters looking at each other too much before speaking or acting. Watch for this in your own work.
Use active storytelling. Show, don’t tell.
Lack of passion can be a problem. Build your characters so readers can relate emotionally to them. Give them chemistry together.
Give a description of your characters but don’t have them look in a mirror.
Lack of motivation is often evident. What drives the characters? What do they have to gain or lose? What’s at stake for them? Characters should be proactive and not reactive.
Re punctuation, know where to put your commas. Watch out for verb tense agreement, dangling participles, and misplaced modifiers. What’s wrong with this sentence: Walking into the room, the door swung open. [If you don’t know this one, get out your grammar book.]
Clichés to avoid: “He let out the breath he didn’t realize he was holding.”
“His smile didn’t reach his eyes.”
“She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.”
Realizing she’s in love, she thinks to herself, “Where did that come from?”
Writers shouldn’t work in a void. Participate in conferences, critique groups, workshops, and social networking. This shows you are a dedicated professional.
When you send a submission, make sure the synopsis is complete and not open-ended. Include conflict, character, and resolution.
Lisa says shorter works (20,000-40,000 words) and more frequent releases work well for her publishing house.
TWRP has house standards for turnaround time regarding queries, partials, and fulls.