Editors, First Twenty Pages, revisions, self editing

Freelance Editor Comments-Part II

I hope no one got the idea that I didn’t appreciate Freelance Editor’s comments on my first manuscript (see post below). They were right on. After I digested the information, I made like Edward Scissorhands and did a number on the first MS, working title “A Butterfly Heart.”

Then I took off for a fantastic three day weekend in blazing Palm Springs where I danced my butt off and have the sore feet and cramped calves to prove it. A couple of days ago I came back to reality and my dusty laptop.

There was a second e-mail from FE. Did I give him the first 20 pages to my second MS, “Strong Women Grow Here” ? My memory fails sometimes so I didn’t doubt it. I read the email closer and then I did this:

Hallelujah, he was supremely kind enough to read the first 20 pages of the second MS I submitted. I got it righto this time.

He was “…really quite impressed…the setting/situation–a women’s prison–is breathtakingly strong…You set up the characters quickly and forcefully. You stick to a very cinematic style-the camera is close to Juana, we see and feel and hear what she sees and feels…

The story really sets up and sustains a subtle but powerful ‘what’s going to happen?’ tension. We learn that Juana has been convicted of killing her husband, but it’s way too soon(the story seems to be saying) for us to see exactly what happened…

She’s a deep mystery and the facts are coming out at such a deliberate pace…I’m totally enthralled with this story…”

This is wonderful music to my ears, of course, and I’d like to say more, but can’t sound egotistical. It’s just that writers, especially non-published new ones, rarely hear more than one positive comment from a professional in the business.

FE did mention that I need to watch my run-on sentences and think more carefully about selecting the exact word that nails what I’m trying to describe. But I’m stoked, I’m going to keep revising the first MS until I get it right and then continue on with Juana’s story.

Until then I must return to revising, after I get an ice bag out of the freezer for my wrists.

Editors, First Twenty Pages, Lili Rivera

Comments from Freelance Editor

Last month my writing group had an opportunity to meet a guest, a freelance editor (FE) with major street cred, at one of our bi-monthly meetings. It was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up and are indebted to our group leader for arranging this meeting. He (that’s one hint) agreed to attend our gathering and to review up to 20 pages of the MS of our choice. And wait, that’s not all, it was FREE, serio and this FE edited one of my favorite author’s books (second hint).

FE sent me his comments on my MS a couple of days ago. It was not fugly, but it weren’t pretty either. The first two paragraphs gave me a smile, a very satisfied one when I read “…enjoyed every page…had a lot of fun reading it. You’ve got a great character going here…tough and gutsy…as a reader I’m happy as a clam to spend many hours in her company…”

But wait, then came the next several paragraphs. It began with “But now I’ll switch to grumpy mode, “twenty pages are hardly enough to judge a novel by, but on the other hand agents and publishers tend to make harsh, snap judgments based on the opening of a novel…it’s a crucial 20 pages……Lili has undeniable qualities…but is she compelling enough?” And then if you were in the room with me, you would have seen my lower lip protrude further and further with each paragraph. I know, what a baby.
First, I was miffed at FE, and then I reread the comments for specifics: “…what makes this not-especially beautiful, fortyish, divorced, put upon mother, still libidinous, Latino housewife…unique, different?” Okay, he had a point there, there are thousands of us Latinas just like that, maybe millions. Valgame Dios, I don’t want to think about it.

And another point… “Is the story a series of things that happen, or is it launching us forward on a trajectory of something big? …if so, we need some foreshadowing.” Good point. “Two adjectives before a noun…the senses…” Hmmmh. I’ll spare you the other five comments, I don’t want to embarrass myself further.

Okay, FE, maybe you’re not so wrong.

I then e-mailed a partner in writing to look over the comments too. She agreed with some of the points. I reread her responses; yes, that was an interesting point. Same point FE made. I got to work and rewrote the first ten pages, tweaking and adding more information.

Tonight I took my comments and shared them with the writing group and two others shared their own with me. And guess what, they agreed with him and we all received the good, the bad, the fugly. Some more, some less. And that’s why we’re in a writing group, I reminded myself.

And I agreed with him too (okay, about 50% of what he said I needed to fix). A suggestion was made to sit with the comments for four days, then go back, and see if I want to rewrite some more. Like the cooling off period or “think about it period” when you buy a product. That made a lot of sense.

Said editor shall remain nameless, at this time. We can’t have a deluge of inquiries until our entire group receives their comments back. I know, selfish, but I claim it.

Luckily, I’m off to Palm Springs for the next three days and will not take the laptop or pages to scribble on. I’m celebrating another birthday that I’m totally blessed to have.

I know my reaction was because I let my ego be shaken up a bit, and that’s okay. Nothing is ever free, but it was a gift. Time to hitch up my big girl chonies and remember that it’s in the getting up, the dusting yourself off, that’s important, even if you take a four day ‘holiday’ to do so.
10 things Editors want, Editors

It’s Happy Hour Friday and I’m leaving for the weekend. In the interest of shortcuts and the desire to share a worthwhile article, I think you’ll like the tips below. If you have time be sure to click on Ms. Lizzi’s previous post, it’s also beneficial for novice writers. Happy Mardi Gras parties…I must remember to pack my boas.

Why We Say Yes: One Editor’s List

Posted by Marian Lizzi
My previous post seems to have struck a chord with some readers, including a few authors who found it a little…what’s the word…negative.
I will admit, upon further reflection, that I probably shouldn’t have revealed the little trade secret I’ll call SCLUF (“skillful, competent, literate, and ultimately forgettable”). A bit too harsh for author consumption? I apologize. But now you know.
Let’s move on to the much happier flipside. Here’s my personal list of reasons for wanting to buy—or at least bid on—a proposed book.
In some cases, just one of these reasons is sufficient. But of course, the more the better.
1. It has a great hook.  It’s the kind of book that gets people talking. Specifically, sales reps, buyers, bloggers, reviewers, what’s left of the mainstream media, and of course readers (each of whom is now a single-person PR machine capable of tweeting/linking/posting/blogging and otherwise driving interest and sales).
On a related note, it’s worth keeping in mind that we editors are constantly answering the question “So what are you working on?”  Help us be interesting (more about that in #10).
2. It teaches me something new.  After twenty years of editing general nonfiction, I’ve got a lot of little facts in my head (though the early 90s are a bit of a blur). And yet there’s always more to learn. Surprise me.
3. It’s the first. Or the best. Or both.  The editor I worked for back in the blurry early 90s had a knack for finding firsts. Every year she’d return from Frankfurt with an armful of books about trends that hadn’t hit the mainstream US market yet, but were heading our way from one direction or another. Newborn swimming? Vegan baking? Foot reflexology? These books were already successful in other countries—and thanks to this fearless and forward-thinking editor, they were first out of the gate here, filling an otherwise wide-open gap in the market. Many of these books are still in print, in the most profitable area of the publishing business: successful backlist.
Best works too. We call that the category-killer, and every nonfiction editor would like to have a few of those.
4. The author has the self-promoter gene (in a good way).  You know the type. They have friends, and they know how to use them. They have contacts, visibility, outreach, and a touch of the razzle-dazzle. Sure, this skill set can be taught. But if we have to teach you, we’re less interested. Get up to speed first, and then let’s talk.
5. The subject and/or author are particularly web-friendly. This is a variation on the previous point. Maybe the proposal grows out of a popular blog, or Twitter feed, or good old-fashioned meme. Maybe the author teaches online courses, or writes a popular e-newsletter.
Maybe the book would be a natural for digital editions, including enhanced e-books with embedded video, links, or other cool features that readers will want. Do your homework and figure it out for us. We will listen.
6. The subject lends itself to a great physical package. This might seem to contradict the previous point, but in fact they go hand in hand. As books become increasingly digital, print editions need to be more and more appealing. Maybe it’s a gift, an object, a curiosity, a thing of beauty. Or maybe it just looks really good.
7. It features a smart person writing on a fun subject.  This combination is a personal favorite of mine. Some projects—even at the proposal stage—make you feel like you’re having a pint with a favorite professor. (Not in a creepy way.) Or like you’re watching a great TED talk. I will fall for this type of project every time. And I’m not the only one.
8. It’s similar—but not too similar—to books we’ve done well with in recent memory.  Also known as our Strike Zone, our Wheel House, our Bread and Butter. You get the idea. Pointing to recent, meaningful comparison titles, preferably on one’s own list, is perhaps the most powerful tool an editor has. Ask a sales rep and see for yourself.
(Be sure to use this one selectively, though. Every era has its laughably overused comparisons. Here at 375 Hudson Street, we have a lot of love for Eat, Pray, Love…but we don’t want to hear that you’ve written its sequel. Does your comparison pass the say-it-out-loud-without-sounding-ridiculous test?)
9. It has crossover appeal.  Will the book appeal to kids as well as adults? Men as well as women? A core audience as well as a broader swath of curious onlookers? That’s a good thing.
10. It’s quirky/surprising/memorable.  In publishing, as in life, there’s no substitute for being interesting. 
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but being interesting alone can erase just about any other flaw. Lousy track record? Zero platform? Author who doesn’t own a computer? I’m telling you, we’ve seen—and published—it all…because the author and the book were so irresistible. I don’t recommend this Hail Mary, #10-only approach, but I’m here to tell you it can work. We sometimes call this a make book. On paper, it shouldn’t work, but with a lot of effort and focus it can. And it can be the most appealing type of project for those of us with a masochistic streak and a soft spot for life’s long shots. In other words, book editors.