Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Editor Recommendations? I'll name names

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. Here's one that's typical of a type I get frequently:

We just got a new member in our Writers Group. He has a draft of a novel completed, doesn’t know how good it is, but is pretty sure it needs some work. Bringing it in to us for comments a chapter or two at a time will not only take forever, it won’t answer his main question: does it hold together structurally? He’d like an editor to look at it for him, let him know where the problems might lie. Can you recommend someone for him?

At least this fellow understands that you don’t hire a good editor to check your spelling and grammar or hunt for typos. We all need a real pro to look at structure, pacing, continuity and all those basics of the forest that we writers can’t see because we’re busy looking at the trees.

I’m pretty picky about editors – they have to have a sharp eye AND a good attitude. There’s an art to encouraging a writer while at the same time being honest about his or her work. Over the years I’ve only met three that I think enough of to recommend. Which might be better for you would depend on your personality and writing genre, and because they are all my friends I present them in alphabetical order:

Ally Peltier - - has a decade of experience, including several years acquiring and editing books for Simon & Schuster. Ally edited “New Lines From the Old Line State,” an anthology published by the Maryland Writers Association. She worked with the short story I and several others submitted to that volume and found the true potential in each.

Melanie Rigney - has more than 25 years in the business including nearly five years as editor of Writer's Digest, the leading magazine for writers. She was my choice to edit my last couple of novels and I soon came to rely on her storytelling instincts. She knows how to direct important improvements without losing my vision.

Beth Rubin - - has been at it… well… longer than her photo would suggest. Beth has been there and done that, with an award-winning novel in print, as well as travel books and essays. Beth worked on one of my manuscripts at a writers conference, and I’ve watched her share wisdom with dozens of others in intensive 15 minute sessions.

Aside from depth and breadth of experience and a death grip on the basics of craft, these ladies all come to their work with insight, empathy and a gentle sense of humor. They know agents and editors who work for major publishers and they know what those people are looking for. They’ve all presented at writers' conferences and they all love writers.

If you’re looking for an editor for your writing, check their web sites before making contact. Try to see who might be a good fit for you. And be prepared for possible rejection. These ladies are also looking for a good fit and you might not be the author they want to work with. Also, they are all very busy and won’t take on more clients than they can take good care of.

And if you decide to contact one of them, be sure to point out that you got their name from me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I wrote a book. Now what?

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. Here's one that's typical of a type I get frequently:

Attached is a pretty good start of a book by a colonel, doctor. My question is how does he go from here to getting someone interested in perhaps publishing the thing? I'd like to be able to tell what the next steps are and how to work toward them. Any suggestions?

Friends of authors often ask this questions because the writer is reluctant to. I always read samples sent to me. I see a lot of work that looks well written, heartfelt work by a writer who has somethng important to say, but often I don't think the piece is particularly commercial. Of course, that's just one opinion. If I was an expert I’d already have that million-dollar advance.

But manuscripts like military memoirs won't apeal to every publisher, so I strongly recommend they reach the right publisher as agented submissions. These are also books that not every agent will know how to promote. It’s not the kind of thing that would get my agent excited but I’m sure there are people out there who would love to represent this work. That leads me to two major recommendations for this writer and those like him.

First, he should invest in a copy of the Writer’s Market. That book lists all the best agents, their contact information and what they’re looking for. He should go thru those listings and submit to those that are looking for the kind of thing he writes. The book will tell him what they want to see (sample chapters, outline, sometimes just a letter with a synopsis.)

Second, he should Google “Writers convention” and “Writers Conference” to find these events in his area. He should attend any public event that offers a chance to speak with and network with authors, agents and editors. These connections make your manuscript more welcome when it turns up on someone’s desk. Sending a book to an agent or editor you’ve met in person is a million times better than sending to a stranger.

Aside from meeting the right agent, I believe that writers conferences are the place to talk to anyone who will lsiten about your manuscript. Just answering the obvious questions like "what's it about?" and "what makes your book different from all the others?" can help you make your manuscript better.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What’s the Point… of View?

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. A new writer hit me with a very good craft question:

Every class I’ve taken and every book I’ve read about fiction writing cautioned authors to choose the point of view of their book carefully because it should stay the same throughout the story. Switching point of view is often pointed out as one of those errors that marks a writer as an amateur. But more and more often I see very successful writers changing points of view in their books. Is the traditional wisdom wrong, or have the rules changed?

I’m pretty sure that most editors and agents you would send your manuscripts to would still consider POV hopping a pet peeve and a sign that they’re dealing with an untrained newbie. They would say, and I agree, that it's best to pick a POV and stick to it. But I can’t deny that many bestselling authors ignore this rule on a regular basis and still sell lots of books. Should we learn from this and follow their lead into a new set of fiction-writing rules?

I say no. First, pick any big name who changes POV and check out his earlier works. I think you’ll find that at the beginning of their writing careers, people don't violate POV rules. I think you have to obey the rules to GET published. But once you’ve got a couple best-sellers under your belt, the universe grants you a bit more latitude. For example, James Patterson seems to give almost every character in a novel some POV time, and worse, they’re all in third person except his protagonist who gets to be in first person! I can’t explain how he gets away with it, I just know he does.

On the other hand, Michael Connelly’s just that good. After several Harry Bosch books he began switching to the criminal’s POV, maybe just to keep things interesting. He’s just so good at what he does that he can make it work. Another writer might look like he was just making it up as he went along. But when Connelly does it, we trust that he knows what he's doing and we’re willing to go along for the ride. I know I’m revealing my blatant hero worship here, but I’d say if you think you’re as good as Connelly, go for it. Me, I’ll stick to one POV… most of the time.There are times that even we mere mortals can get away with going from first person to third person POV or having multiple POVs. For instance, what someone is telling a long story to your protagonist? That’s a reasonable time to switch POV to that of the storyteller.

Or, what if your detective is reading someone else’s letters? You could write a chapter that was the content of the letters, and put that chapter in the voice of the letter writer.

I’m sure there are other possibilities I can’t think of right now. The important thing is that it is very clear to a reader (an agent or an editor) that you did it on purpose with a clear plan, not just because you didn’t know any better. I think it’s always safer to play by the accepted rules – at least until you’re as big as James Patterson.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

How to Work the Web

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. Here’s a question that addresses the busy writer’s need to have a strong internet presence:

I noticed that you had many blog mentions. What is the secret? What makes a good blog that gets attention? I remember MJ Rose saying she hated her blog, and that's how I feel. It's a mix of author interviews/tours, publishing/promoting tips, inspirational quotes, and tidbits on what I am doing, but I don't feel I've ever found my voice. I try to blog 5-6 times a week, but it's become a drain. I'm linked to many other blogs, but unfortunately do not have time to visit many of them. Is that what I lack - commenting often enough on other's blogs? Between blogs, websites & communities, I've got over a dozen sites, so it's already a lot to keep up with!

There are a number of related questions here and I’ll try to address them all. First, I do get mentioned on other people’s blogs. That’s mostly because I mention people on mine. I’ve made a lot of friends in the writing community. I talk up their activities on my blog and people often reciprocate. I also get mentions because I attend a lot of conferences and appear on panels. People comment on those events and my name comes up.

My blog gets mentioned or picked up on other blogs because I give advice or make comments others want to pass on. I think you have to have a theme and stick to it, so people know what to expect. If I read your blog and you’re talking about something that interests me, I’ll return. But if it’s hit or miss on the subject I want to read about I probably won’t. I started my blog thinking the average reader would be interested in the life of a writer. My content hasn’t really changed, but the blog has evolved to target other writers. I don’t know if it’s selling books, but it has helped to solidify my friendships in the business.

I’d love to blog five or six times a week, but honestly, I just don’t have that much to say. I write a newsletter most weeks, and post to my main blog (this one) ONCE a week. That appears to be enough to hold an audience.

I’m also linked to a lot of other sites – the ones I like – but rarely visit them. I don’t think those folks visit my blog very often either, but I think people who read mine click to theirs and vice versa. And I don’t spend much time posting on other blogs… with one exception. I have a Google Alert set for my name, as every author should. This means Google sends me an e-mail every time my name appears on the internet. I ALWAYS comment on a blog that mentions me. Comments are a small reward for making their audience aware of me, but it’s also my way of saying thank you. I’m always a little bummed when I talk somebody up on my blog and I hear nothing from them. I assume they didn’t even know I gave them some props. I don’t want anyone else to feel that way.

This question inspired me to do an internet inventory of sorts. I counted 20 web sites I’m on, counting this blog I post to once a week, but the others aren’t as much to keep up with as you might think.

For one thing, my lovely wife Denise updates my main web site. There’s a Hannibal Jones Yahoo Group but that’s run entirely by fans so no work for me.

I am a member of three different teams of writers who take turns posting to web sites, so there’s something new every day on Acme Authors, Criminal Minds at Work and Make Mine Mystery, but I only supply the content two or three times a month on each.

There are half a dozen sites I almost never visit. Red room, Black Author Showcase , Maverick Marketers , Linkedin, Shelfari and Goodreads are more like standing billboards for me. They are filled with content that promotes my writing, but are pretty much static displays.

That leaves the sites I actively communicate through: MySpace, Gather, Friendster, Crimespace, Book Place, Bebo, and the current hot tickets, Facebook and Twitter. Those I feed four or five times every week. But again they don’t take much time because I generally reuse content already written for my newsletter. Or, if I get an unexpected mention on line I whip up a one sentence note pointing to that site and post it in all 8 places. 10 well spent minutes to get my stuff all over the web.

So there’s a long, drawn out view of my approach to on line promotion. It’s all based on my own experience and someone else may have a better plan. In fact, I’d be happy to hear some other approaches.