Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rush to Publish

I'm reading a mystery that is exquisite in its writing, plotting, characterization, and I'm willing to bet that most people have never heard of it. Okay, he was a 2006 Pulitzer Prize finalist for the book, so that's not a great bet.
I read a lot of unpublished manuscripts as a representative for a small publishing house, the organizer of a book festival, and the presenter of workshops on writing and publishing. I talk to publishers and agents and writers and readers. We agree that the technology boom that introduced the ease of self-publishing has created a segment of books that aren't crafted.
Crafted means the writer learned the mechanics of writing, spent time going through multiple revisions honing the elements of a well-told story, worked with an editor to get a fresh set of eyes on everything from the plot's structure to the placement of each comma.
As I read Lee Martin's The Bright Forever, I'm amazed by his skill and his art of storytelling.
When I read query letters from agents and aspiring writers, I'm less amazed by some of the samples pages submitted. I admit there are gems among the rocks, but just a few.
I guess it has always been that way. I cringe when I think of the things I submitted ten years ago. Then, self publishing was around, but it was very expensive – like $10,000 expensive. Today, a manuscript can be made into a book $300 - $4,999 depending on services the author buys.
These lower costs mean more people jump into self-publishing.

Why self-publish a novel?
You have a story you want to share that may not have a wide appeal, but is worth telling. Yes.
You wrote a manuscript, tried to query agents and publishers without success, and now want – really want – to have a finished product in your hand. Frustration in the process of traditional publishing is not the best reason to self-publish.

Writing is not about the physical book and informing your dry cleaner that you're a published author.
Writing is a verb. It's the process that is important. Results may vary, but an author must love writing.

The rush to publish is a waste of time, energy, and money.

Self-publishing companies decorate their websites with accounts of authors making millions and landing on the New York Times Best-Sellers list. Why? To entice an aspiring writer into the dream of fame and fortune, and to collect as many upfront fees as possible. IT'S A BUSINESS.

Readers become disillusioned by poorly-crafted novels. So, they tend to stick to the name-brands in novels because new authors have burned them in the past. That's a disservice to all serious writers.
Big names and personalities gather crowds. I see this at book festivals and conferences. The authors with cleavage, the 1970s sitcom actors, and the writers with the game show host personality draw crowds. The writer/craftsman sits alone. After the books are written, edited, and published, it's marketing – a completely different skill set than writing – that's important. So, yes, those highlighted CreateSpace authors may sell well.
I realize that not every writer produces a Pulitzer Prize finalist-worthy book – I know I don't. But I'm working on the craft by writing constantly.
For those of us who are not celebrities, not pretty or sexy, or not followed by 80,000 Twitter citizens, we stay in front of our computers, writing and searching out opportunities to improve our skills.
Today, I'm looking at ways to bring serious learning opportunities on the craft and art of writing. I'd love to hear where other authors struggle. Set aside the topics of publishing, marketing, selling books for a while – that's the business side. I want to learn more about the art of writing, because that's why I do this.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Top Five Ways an Editor is Worth the $$

As the publisher for a small independent publishing house and as an editor for a magazine, I see drafts of manuscripts submitted by writers that illustrate the need for an editor.

Writing is a solitary pursuit, but editing is a collaboration – and an essential stage in the publishing process.
Nothing screams "amateur" more than a meandering, error-ridden manuscript.
An editor is important for authors trying to land a literary agent or a publishing contract, but for a self-publishing author, hiring an editor is vital. Agents and publishing houses will edit the incoming manuscript several times including using the in-house editors to make sure the work is the best it can be. A self-published author shouldn't go through the process alone.  A professional editor is a partner in crafting the story for a novel you will be proud to have your name on.

Here are the top five reasons to engage a professional editor:

1 – Developmental editing

No matter how many times you read and edit your book, there will be omissions in the plot structure. You know the characters and their motivations and where they need to be in the next chapter, so if you failed to write it, your mind supplies it for you. All the thinking and dreaming about the story, the advanced planning and the backstory plotting work against you in editing.

While developing the initial drafts, critique groups are great. Once you feel the manuscript is perfect, that's when you need the experience of an editor to bring a fresh look to the development of the storyline and the character arcs.

This is not a job for spouses or friends. You need someone who understands the mechanics of creating strong plots and the characters who move it forward.

2 – Kill your darlings

The phrase "kill your darlings" is usually credited to William Faulkner, but I have heard it from fine art painters, fiction writers, poets and even architects.

As a creator of a work, you will find some parts that are your favorites: a cleaver turn of a phrase, a saucy metaphor, an ingenious character name, or a whiplash plot twist. Writers fall in love with their own creations.
When that happens, you are reluctant to change it (or worse, delete it) when it doesn't contribute to the whole work. An editor will see these elements that may be fabulous on their own, but not pulling their weight in the manuscript.

3 – Revision reassurance

You decide to add a subplot or delete a darling character. Did it work? Did your revisions mess up other parts of the book? It could be one last minute change that cascaded throughout the work.

I saw this many years ago by a New York Times best-selling author who claimed she didn't want editors changing her books.  In the jungles of Brazil, a character was called Jack.  Jack? What happened to Christopher? One hundred pages into the story and suddenly Jack is walking in another character's footsteps. Three pages later, Jack was gone and the character was once again referred to as Christopher.
Revisions need to be checked for their effect on the unchanged sections.

4 – Line editing: grammar/punctuation

You know that you make fun of people on Facebook who post things like: "Between you and I,…" or "Leah and me offer good advice."

Do you know the difference between: there, their, they're or two, to, too? Not every great storyteller is a grammar king/queen.  If you're not, engage an editor who is. Nothing will put off a reader like finding a word usage mistake. After all, you represented yourself as a professional. The reader paid hard-earned money for the book.  You wouldn't tolerate a plumber who left a few leaks behind, just because they're so hard to find.

5 – Education

Doing is learning. Every time I have had one of my own books edited or worked with an editor to edit another writer's manuscript for Cherokee McGhee, I learn. I learned to use a semicolon successfully. I learned that a character cannot laugh a sentence ("You're not serious," Jean laughed). I learned that a mystery novel's sleuth cannot pull clues from thin air – the clue must be mentioned (or planted) before she discovers it. 

The process of revising a manuscript under the guidance of an editor is one of the best writing classes you will ever take.

An editor is an objective person who wants the manuscript to be the best it can be. She will tell you if it is ready for the public or if it still needs some polishing. Authors accepted for publication with a publishing house will have an editor assigned to them. Self-published authors can choose an editor.  Either way, the editor has the same goal as you: developing, revising, and perfecting your work for the enjoyment of the reading public.