Here’s a post about some of those mysterious tech skills that can confound non-tekkie verbal people like us writers. Check it out—whether you need to communicate with editors or with beta readers or if you just want to format your own book for Amazon or Smashwords. I can attest that you DO need Styles, and I’ve found GIMP, a free program recommended by this post, to work wonderfully as a graphics editor. You’ll need this information to format your hard-copy editions as well. Let me know what you think!
Category Archives: Working with editors
Good practical (and empathetic) advice on pitching from agent Carly Watters! I’ve had good luck recently from listing about eight plot points to keep me on track. No one seems to mind if I use a page of notes. What about you? What techniques do you use to make your pitch sessions work?
After attending conferences around North America for the past 6 years I’ve seen an array of pitching techniques. Some good. Some…not so good. I get it. It’s not easy to pitch your book (your creative project that’s been on your mind for months if not years) to someone sittingin front of you, especially when the stakes are so high for you personally.
Agents can sense thedetermination and fear in the room during pitch sessions. It’s honestly palpable and we can feel your energy.
I find pitch sessions draining and galvanizingat thesame time. Having a new project pitched to me every 7-10 minutes is a lot to wrap my head around and sometimes they bleed into one another. And depending on how conference organizers set things up I could be sitting there for up to 2 hours at a time.
When you sit down:
Relax. Then tell me why you’re sitting…
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Here’s a comprehensive “editor’s POV” discussion shared by Chris the Story Reading Ape. In my experience, careful reading of directions and the ability to follow them is a learned skill. On the one hand, as a teacher (and as many of my fellow teachers regularly lamented), getting students to follow written directions was one of the greatest of pedagogical challenges. Yet I’ve found myself misreading directions or missing an important caveat or guideline—especially when I’m trying to do something technical online :-(. So I can’t be too judgmental!
Have you ever been in an editor’s shoes? How has the experience affected your own relationship with editors?
The Workshop featured presentations by Brian Klems, online editor for WritersDigest.com. The basic fee covered four all-group presentations by Klems and a “first-page” critique by four agents of randomly selected submissions. Participants could pay extra for ten-minute pitch sessions with up to six agents and for a personal query-letter critique by Chuck Sambuchino, author of a number of books and blogs on writing as well as humor books.
Klems’s presentations covered a huge amount of nuts-and-bolts information most valuable to writers who had not attended many conferences or mined the web for information on the business of writing. The pitch sessions were well-coordinated; all three of the agents I queried were generous listeners. The published schedule did not build in meals or receptions for the social networking that many writers find rewarding.
So what made this conference so productive? Two things: Sambuchino’s critique of my query and the “first-page” session, at which some 20 or so of the first pages submitted were thrown down and stomped upon.
First: Query-Letter Critique
I didn’t receive Sambuchino’s comments until the Thursday night before the conference, and Friday was hectic, so it was evening before I could settle into my motel room to digest the veritable armada of comments he had supplied. Everyone reading this can probably empathize with my stomach-twisting lurch when I realized that the back-of-the-book blurb I had workshopped over and over with multiple audiences was No Good. Basic questions—what is Michael’s wound, his need? What is at stake? How does this event lead to this one?—still loomed. Sambuchino wanted A LOT more information than any back-of-the-book was going to accommodate.
The feeling of utter inadequacy that settled over me produced a complete rewrite. Was that the right strategy? All I know is that when I sat across from agents and talked from the notes they were glad to let me use, not one broke in with a confused frown to tell me I wasn’t making any sense. (Believe me, this has happened.) There’s no experiment that could tell me whether my response to Sambuchino’s comments made the difference. But I do know that when I revise my query letter, the pitch itself will look a lot more like the one I wrote Friday night than the one I have now.
Lesson learned? First let me talk about
First Page Armageddon
Here’s a post by Dennis Baron at The Web of Language about the readability scales used by various organizations to dictate the “grade-level” writers should aim for. He argues that these scales are useless, by virtue of the fact that they contradict each other, at the very least, and don’t provide help in creating “clear” language at any level. I’m not sure how these scales relate to the guidelines on language in children’s and YA books that writers in those genres follow. Check out the post, and let me know if you have used scales like these.
Following up on the rather alarming article by Dean Wesley Smith that one of my earlier posts linked to, I wrote to some agents and publishing experts requesting their thoughts. Despite dealing with a family emergency, Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware took the time to write back with a compelling clarification of Smith’s more extreme claims. With her permission, I reproduce her reply here. You’ll note a link to a very thorough article on the issue of reversion-of-rights clauses in contracts. If you’re on the verge of querying or have an offer, this article is well worth your time.
Here is Victoria’s reply to my questions:
Taking your questions in order:
1) Is it true that “life-of-copyright” is now the industry standard,
so that rights never revert, regardless of the original publisher’s
intentions for the book?
Life of copyright has _always_ been the industry standard among large and medium-size publishers. This is nothing new, and I’m bemused that Dean Wesley Smith would say that it is.
I do think that a limited-term contract is far more desirable, if you’re going with a small press (and small presses do often offer limited-term contracts–though life-of-copyright is not at all uncommon in the small press world). But life of copyright doesn’t have to be a problem–as long as there’s a detailed, specific reversion clause that ties rights reversion to minimum sales (for instance, making rights reversion automatic on author request once sales drop below 100 copies in any 12-month period). I’ve written about this in detail here: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2012/04/importance-of-reversion-clauses-in-book.html .
Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to encounter life of copyright contracts that _don’t_ have adequate reversion clauses–especially in the small press world, where people often don’t know what they’re doing. You may be able to negotiate to add a good reversion clause–my agent has negotiated sales-dependent reversion clauses into all my contracts since at least the early 2000’s–but, depending on the publisher, you may also choose to walk away from a life of copyright contract offer with inadequate reversion provisions. It’s definitely something to watch out for. But the reality is a lot more nuanced than what’s presented in Dean Wesley Smith’s post.
2) Is it true that authors who were once seen as “midlist” should
now assume they will most likely be offered $5000 or less as an
advance? (I received that amount for my first novel, but much more
for subsequent submissions that definitely did not quality as
“best-sellers,” though they sold respectably.)
Advances have generally fallen, especially since the 2008 economic downturn. But they are all over the map, so it’s impossible to make a blanket declaration. Advance amounts depend on all kinds of factors, including your agent (or if you have one; authors without agents tend to get lower advances), the publisher (smaller publishers generally offer smaller advances), what the publisher’s expectations of your books are–and, unfortunately, if you have a publishing track record, the sales of your previous books. In any case, if your sales are good, you’ll get the money owed to you regardless of the advance amount.
As for the whole “midlist” thing (that word doesn’t mean what it used to)–a lot has changed in the publishing world over the past 15 to 20 years, and one of the things that’s changed most is how hard it is to stay in the game. I don’t think it’s any more difficult to break into traditional publishing than it ever was (possibly easier, given the huge volume of books that are being published), but it is a lot more difficult to maintain a career, especially if your sales aren’t stellar.
3) the proliferation of “royalty only” publishers. How are such
entities regarded in the industry at present? Is this a coming wave?
This really is a phenomenon only in the small press world, which has expanded hugely over the past 15 or so years thanks to digital technology. These days, anyone can set up a publishing company just by registering with CreateSpace or LightningSpark. One of the ways many small presses try to limit their financial outlay is to eliminate advances. This is extremely common, and has been for some time. However, don’t believe anyone who tells you that advances are becoming less common among large and medium-sized publishers, or that debut authors no longer receive advances. This simply isn’t true.
There are some great small presses, but an awful lot of amateur and predatory ones whose staff know little about editing, production, design, and marketing. When Writer Beware was founded in 1998, we mostly got complaints about literary agents and scam vanity publishers; these days, small press problems make up by far the biggest volume of complaints we receive. In many cases, self-publishing is preferable.
Put Your Editing Nightmares to Bed!
Across the online landscape for writers, there’s a lot of anxiety about producing that error-free query, synopsis, or draft. With reason—the first letter in “professional” is “p” for “perfect.” There’s no wiggle room on this one, is there? It’s got to be capital-R Right.
As someone who taught college writing for 25 years and as a published novelist, I’ve been on the front lines of the effort to spread “good grammar.” The fact is, the whole question of what’s Right is more complicated than you think.
In the next few posts, I’m going to make an argument that we don’t need to obsess quite as much as we do. In fact, there are some “grammar rules” we can even trash!
Yes, You Have to be Able to Edit Your Work. . . .
I’m not for one minute telling you that your command of English syntax and usage is not important. It’s vital. But writers can all too easily get bogged down on trivia and even on myths (“OMG! I ended a sentence with a preposition! :-0”). One common cause of writer’s block is thinking that every comma is radioactive, ready to explode and destroy the known universe if mishandled. So for us writers, a little bit of a reality check is a good thing!
Today’s topic: What is good grammar? Answer: Depends on whom you ask.
(Yep, whom you ask. Why? Because it’s the object of the verb “ask.” Eeek! Relax. Nine times out of ten, “who” would be just fine in that line. Hang around; later I’ll explain why.)
Linguists, people who study how languages work, generally agree on three things: Continue reading