Tag Archives: publishing

The Marks of an Editor

By Kay Springsteen

With the rise in the rates of e-published books by independent companies and self-published authors, calls are going out for editors. As a senior editor at Astraea Press, I’ve been looking at editors’ tests with the goal of assisting in decisions about whether or not to hire applicants. And it’s because I’m seeing the same mistakes over and over that I decided to share what good editors must know to be successful at helping an author produce the best polished manuscript.

Thorough and demonstrable understanding of the mechanics of writing. This includes grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Knowledge of the elements of story construction. This includes such things as point of view and how to recognize inappropriate shifts from one head to another in the scene (point of view breaks), recognition of telling where the author should be showing, the proper use of dialogue tags, and the ability to identify plots and subplots with an eye to ensuring these all move the story forward to some degree, that they are all wrapped up, and that no holes exist.

Communication skills. This would include the ability to communicate ideas and needs with senior editing staff and publisher as well as to accept direction or request clarification in the event such direction is not well understood. In addition, of utmost importance is the ability to clearly correspond with each individual author. The editor must explain why a specific change is needed, and should, in most cases, never make the change him/herself but instead explain to the author what is needed and ask the author to use his/her own words and author voice to make the correction. It’s okay, encouraged even, for an editor to make suggestions in order to show the author more clearly what is being sought. However, the editor must resist the urge to rewrite the story out from under the author. Just because you feel your own personal word choice or a plot/subplot direction is better does not make the author’s choices incorrect. Above all else, the story must remain the author’s story.

People skills. These days, little direct contact is made between editor and author. Most of the communication is done through email and through the notes in the margins. It is important that an editor explain why changes are requested in a manuscript, and in many cases illustrative suggestions should be offered—but not in such a way as the editor rewrites the book. Edits should be accomplished with the utmost respect regardless of what an editor thinks of the story or the author. And they should be made showing kindness and courtesy, not autocratically. Basically, it goes back to attracting more flies with honey than with vinegar. Unless you run across a colony of masochistic flies, honey is definitely the bait of choice. A little sugar goes a long way toward the working dynamic between two creative personalities. Thus, it is not enough to request editorial changes, even with an explanation. The editor needs to recognize an author’s bits of brilliance, and it’s important to show the author what he or she has done well along the way. That’s where compliments from the editor help. By providing positive feedback, the author is encouraged to continue doing what he/she has done right. Make all those red marks count!

With these tips in mind, I wish anyone who is of a mind to apply for an editing position the best of luck, and maybe one day soon I’ll be working with you. Anyone interested in applying to Astraea Press for an editing position, please submit your resume and qualifications with a letter of interest to Stephanie Taylor at stephanietaylor@astraeapress.com – good luck!


Notes From the Editor

By Kay Springsteen

The publishing industry has been through so many changes – with many more still to come – it would be impossible for the old masters, the authors of the typeset era, to recognize some of the requirements for manuscript submission today. When you add in that each publisher has its own specific preferences regarding file format, font type and size, line spacing, and margins, you might see your manuscript go through many variations depending on the number of publishers you submit to.

For submitting, it is best to locate the guidelines for the publisher to whom you are sending your work and follow these to the letter. This is often the author’s first test. If you can’t be bothered to format your document the way their guidelines call for, why should they want to look at your work? Even if you are completely word processor ignorant – that is, you know how to turn on the computer, open the program and begin typing, and you do all that with a sequence of sticky-note instructions – you will still have to learn how to format your document for your chosen publishing target. And, should your story be accepted, you will have to learn to work in the editing phase using track changes and comments. So take a class in Word Processing, my recommendation would be for this class to be in MS Word, since it is the program most called for by publishers.

But there are other things you should be aware of…things that will make your editor particularly pleased (and a happy editor means a happy edit, which makes for a happy author). For instance, be aware of the tools on your word processor. And turn most of them off. I’m editing a manuscript right now which the author wrote with something called smart tags turned on. These are tags that label street names and what Word perceives might be street names and give the writer the option of looking up the street on a map and acquiring directions. There is absolutely no need for this in fiction and it is best left off since it has the potential for creating problems when the manuscript goes for final formatting. Likewise, unless the publisher states otherwise, turn off curly or smart quotes. And since most publishers use first line indent, turn this on, and set it for 0.5 inch from the left. Then ignore your tab key for the rest of the manuscript.

You also want to be careful about using features and fonts that can potentially slow down the reading flow. Emphasize too may words with italics or apologetic (aka “scare”) quotes, and the read will feel choppy and jarring. Put in too many parenthetical statements (with parentheses or with the em/en dash) and your story will appear to have attention deficit disorder. Too many ellipses and you have a slow thoughtful story that hints at long (insert yawn here) pauses. If you want to determine the smoothness of your manuscript, read sections with these formats aloud – even record yourself reading it – and you will get a sense of the pauses and emphases you’ve perhaps unknowingly written in.

These are just a few of the formatting and mechanical issues editors find themselves presented with on a daily basis. But if you work on even one of these things, your editor will require less chocolate to work on your book.

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I think back to the beginning of my latest manuscript that I start over three months ago when there was only a title and one blank page. Though I knew where to go with the story there was no predicting quite how it would turn out or what it would take to get there. Now twenty six thousand words and a hundred and ten pages later I have my newest manuscript almost ready to go. If you are new to writing I would like to share a few things with you about this stage of the process.

Though the story is done and the editing complete there is still a remarkable amount to do. My first bit of advice is to go over again. Trust me, there will be more corrections to make than might think. After that the details of the next few steps depend on the publisher you are submitting to. If you don’t know whom you are going to submit to then this is the time you want to do an Internet search for an appropriate publisher and look up their guidelines.

There are several things a publisher is likely to want in addition to the manuscript.

The first is a summary and my least favorite thing to do. A summary is a present tense outline of the manuscript. It should name all the main characters, cover all the major plot points and include the end. If you find that you are submitting a story to several publishers then you are likely to need a different summary for each because they all have different length requirements. I have written summaries anywhere from one page to ten pages for the same story.

Another common requirement is the blurb. This is like the teaser on the back cover to induce the reader to purchase the book. It is two or three paragraphs in length that should grab the readers attention and leave them wondering what happens next. Blurbs are also written present tense and are fun to do. Read the backs of a couple dozen of books and find which ones get your attention. What did those authors say and how did they say it? Blurb writing isn’t the same as novel writing, but once you get a knack for it, it’s a blast.

The excerpt, in theory, should be the simplest requirement. A publisher wants the writer to provide a bit of the manuscript for the reader to sample. Obviously this should involve an intriguing section, but I find choosing an excerpt difficult. What I keep in mind is that it should always include the main character, be mostly dialogue, and like a blurb end with the reader wondering what will happen next. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Not so much.

The real pain in the arse about submitting comes from various publishers’ quirky requirements. Most of the requirements make sense such as length, font size and file types. However a few publishers want specific margins, no use of italics, no spacing other than chapter breaks (such as no * * * between sections), no use of the tab for indentations, and some want headers and footers with certain information. At this point it is more about jumping through hoops than the writing and the author spends significant time creating a specific versions of the manuscript for various publishers. It would make more sense to have the publisher decide if they liked the material and then make the changes for the accepted manuscripts, but I imagine the requirements are used to deter submissions.

In many cases a query letter, or cover letter, is sent as well. A basic three-paragraph format is used and it should be addressed to someone specific whenever possible. The first paragraph contains the basic facts about the manuscript including length, genre, title, and intended audience. The second paragraph is a very brief blurb about the story. The final paragraph is about the author. It should list relevant background, previous published material and experience. It is important to keep a query letter one page in length.

It is vital that an author is always polite when dealing with publishers. There is no call for being rude and it won’t change their minds in the case of rejection. Also, don’t bother being cutesy either. They are busy people and don’t have time for that sort thing. With all your communications be sure to get to the point, relay all the information required and thank them for their time.

My experience has been that E publishers tend to be more about the work. They will require the manuscript, blurb and excerpt with few complications. Paper publishers on the other hand often have more stringent needs. It is almost ceremonial the process of submitting to a conventional publisher and they expect all the bells and whistles. Whatever the requirements, be sure to meet them no matter what type of publisher you submit to. The submission stage is highly competitive and you don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons. Conform to the requirements and let the work do the talking.

So, good luck to all of us who send our books off to publishers as if they were our children attending their first day of school.

Until next time— happy writing.

Almost forgot, happy father’s day to all of us dads!

Michael Matthews Bingamon

ONE MAN’S THOUGHTS: Roll of the Dice

I don’t know if anyone has heard of a series called Twilight, but my wife sure has. The hardback copies are stacked on the bookshelf in the other room, the movies are constantly in the DVD player and on an occasion when I’m in my lovely wife’s car there is even a Twilight soundtrack to listen to. I am grateful that we have no posters— yet.

When it comes to that series I’m not a fan. The characters are all indecisive and full of self-pity. I cannot relate to male characters because they don’t behave like men and don’t even get me started on Bella. However the point of this week’s blog isn’t what I think is wrong with a series of books that is selling like surgical masks during a SARS outbreak, the purpose is to say that I am inspired by Stephanie Meyer’s work.

As a writer it is important to know that your work is comparable to anything else out there. That belief will keep an author writing and encourage them to present their manuscripts with pride. A writer must tell the story that is important to them— not write about whatever the current fad may be. A story written from the heart, no matter what the shortcomings are, will be more satisfying. Meyers did this and struck a chord with millions. It is the intensity of her characters that give them popularity, not their motivations or reasoning. In short, the specifics don’t matter; it’s all about the emotions that they elicit.

Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain motivated me to finish my novel. Cold Mountain sold well, they made a major motion picture and it was the man’s first book. I was flabbergasted upon learning that. His first book! Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t anticipate that level of success for myself but you can’t help but think that if he can do it the so can I. Then I discovered that Charles had a doctorate in English and that, my friends, is a bonus. Still, it was quite the accomplishment and it compels me to remain at the laptop tapping away at the keys to tell my own stories.

Something all struggling artist should be aware of if they’re not already; there is an enormous amount of undiscovered talent out there. While there are certainly best sellers that perhaps are overrated, there are many who never touch the charts that are better than I could ever hope to be. The best advice is to keep at it and roll the dice with each new manuscript.

Until next time— happy writing.

Michael Matthews Bingamon

ONE MAN’S THOUGHTS: Self-Publishing

Everyone wants to be published! Despite what we may say the fantasy of every novelist is to receive a fat advance for a book we’ve labored over, which is then placed by the dozens on shelves throughout bookstores across America. The cherry on top of this double scoop ice-dream come true is the chance to host book signings that line fans out the door and the blockbuster movie deal that makes your work a household name.

Only a few of the talented writers in this world obtain such fortune and fame while the rest of have to settle for more realistic fates. Perhaps your experience is less fantastic, but a publisher opts to put your manuscript into print and you sell a few copies. Or maybe a magazine publishes some of your work, which is no minor accomplishment either. The pay is modest, but the exposure is great. E-books are the newest media format for novels and with their accessibility is a legitimate form of publication. It lacks the prestige of printed books, however sell enough of them and that can change!

The bastard child of the publishing game is self-publishing. The author pays to have a publisher print their book, which is typically made available on Amazon.com and other Internet sites. Self-publishing companies use a print on demand model and only create copies as they’re sold. There are advantages to this approach and it offers a lot, but also there is a significant cost that accompanies it. Besides, when you do it yourself it creates mixed emotions. On the one hand the author took a short cut but on the other they have an honest to goodness solid book filled with their words to place on the mantle. The phrase, it’s like kissing your sister, describes it well.

My novel, Savage Worlds, is self-published and at the time I felt that was the only option available to me. The publishing business is not an easy one to navigate, especially when you’re a part-time writer with a regular job. After multitudes rejections from publishers and agents it appeared to be the only guaranteed path to see my brilliant story transformed into a book. While I don’t regret the decision, I do wish I had known a few details before I started. Allow me to elucidate the key points of self-publishing.

First and foremost is edit. If you can, have someone else go over your manuscript as well, but edit. Then edit, edit, edit, and edit some more. Self-publishers do not touch it. It doesn’t matter how obvious the oversight they will not correct a manuscript and that is how it will go to print.

Several self-publishers offer ala cart services and I highly recommend such a publisher. It saves money and you get only what services you need. The type of book and the author’s circumstance will determine what services will be of benefit. On the assumption that an author reading this blog has written a novel the only services required are printing, Internet availability, and copies for the author.

The cost of the marketing packages offered by self-publishers is disproportional to their effectiveness. The expense would be worth it if it yielded any results. The avenues in which they promote books are so saturated with other self-published works there is no impact. I was willing to take a loss on my promotional budget, but after seven hundred dollars of their promotions I sold no books. Zero. Nada. None.

What is effective is for the author to advertise the book on his or her own. In many American fiction magazines the cost is in the neighborhood five hundred dollars for a quarter or third of a page advertisement. Canadian, British, and Australian periodicals are much more reasonably priced— for thirty-five dollars (or less) you can purchase a half page advertisement. The results vary, but it will move a few books. While the money spent isn’t likely to be completely recovered; take great solace in the knowledge that there are people out there reading your work.

Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking options have reduced the role the publisher plays to a less vital one. An individual has fantastic access to self-promotion and it is a wondrous point in history to be a writer. As entertainers we can expose our works to a greater a number of people than ever before and allow skill, talent and lady fortune to determine our success rather than a handful of large publishers.

If you’re enjoying success with an e-publisher then the self-publishing industry has little to offer. However, if you’re dead set on having your book in print and cannot obtain the attention of a traditional publisher then it is an option you may want to seriously consider.

Until next time— happy writing.

Michael Matthews Bingamon