Challenges and Anecdotes From Acquiring Editors

Whether you’re looking to break into the editing field, or just learn more about the so-called gatekeepers of the traditional publishing world, it’s always good to know more about what happens behind the scenes.

As a reminder, acquiring editors work for the publishing houses and are the ones who actually make those large-figured book deals — in addition to revising and editing manuscripts.

At WorldCon 2019’s “Editors’ panel: Challenges and Anecdotes”, I got to hear industry veterans Michael Rowley, Eleanor Teasdale, Ginjer Buchanan, John R. Douglas, and David Thomas Moor talk about their experiences.

The Strangest Part of the Job

  • When you’re doing it right, they pay you. – John R. Douglas
  • The need to cheerleader in-house to sell the book you’re working. – Ginjer Buchanan
  • The job is to find joy and passion and beauty and personality. And edit it out. Then, digest the book down to a single line. – David Thomas Moor.

The Biggest Challenges

  • Authors who don’t want to take edits
    • Usually – they don’t want to
    • Occasionally – they try to counter-argue the grammar or the rhythm, etc.
  • When you give your heart and soul and rah-rah to a book and it just didn’t work out. (Thanks to timing, a bad cover, or just fate).
  • The book(s) you didn’t get — that end up best sellers.
    • Other divisions of the same company over-bidding you
    • Get told ‘no’ at the publisher’s meeting (by Marketing/Sales/etc)
    • Ones you passed on
  • Getting the right cover
  • John Douglas tried to win the Game of Thrones proposed series at auction, but George RR Martin accepted the deal that offered $75k in marketing, over the book deal with more upfront money.

Favorite Book They’ve Worked On

Several of the editors refused to “pick between their children”. But, we got a few answers.

  • Maybe Mike Brooks’s Dead Sky – Michael Rowley
  • John M. Ford’s The Dragon Waiting – John R. Douglas
  • Charlie Stross’s Halting State duology. Also, media tie in novels for Quantum Leap. She read fanzines and hired the best writers. Asked them to pitch her — the writers loved the source material and it showed. Working on that was ‘nothing but fun.’ – Ginjer Buchanan

Practical Advice On Breaking In As An Editor

  • Move to London or New York
  • Get any job at a publishing house and work your way up
    • Private assistant
    • Intern
    • Marketing/Sales/etc
  • Take a job at a small press to build your resume
  • Get a degree in English/editing
  • Earn the “Society of Editors and Proofreaders” certificate [UK]
  • Network (conventions/etc)
  • Look on bookseller websites for jobs or [UK] the IPG
  • Luck

As with everything book or writing related, hard work and luck seems to be a large part of it.

Thanks for tuning in. I’ll be back again soon with more writing tips and writerly musings.

How To Beta-Read: One Writer’s Version

I almost entitled this “Beta-Reading: For Fun and Profit” but… I don’t usually profit. At least not monetarily.

I do a fair amount of beta-reading and/or critiquing. One can argue that beta-reading is commenting as a reader, where a critique is focused on craft-level commentary, but honestly, I do both. So, I’m not really going to break them out for the purposes of this post.

I read queries (obviously), synopses, short stories, essays, blog-posts, and, of course, novels. I’ve even been known to critique a non-fiction article, and the recipient claimed my excessive feedback useful, although frustrating because they believed they were closer to done than that…but I digress.

I beta-read for people in the writing groups I participate in, people who have beta-read for me, and for family members. (Or people who submit a query for critique to my QueryCorner at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com)

You’d probably think that my beta-reading follows the survey that I send my own beta-readers. And… you’d be wrong. I follow it about as much as my own beta-readers do.

I use it as a guideline, and I generally keep the concepts in my head, but unless specifically asked, my commentary goes a bit sideways.

That said, what does Morgan’s beta-reading feedback look like?

1 – I can’t skip line edits

Okay, that’s probably a lie. IF, (and only if) I’m sending a single paragraph of general impressions after reading a partial or a short story, I can usually restrain myself.

But? If I’m going line-by-line and putting commentary in there? You’re gonna get at least some grammar edits, word-choice suggestions, and (for right-or-wrong) some comma movement.

2 – I’ll tell you when my eyes glaze over

I am predominantly plot driven. Or emotional journey driven? I want to know what is happening to the main character, what they’re feeling about it, and what they’re going to do next.

If you dwell on backstory, elaborate descriptions, or even fling too much action at me– scene after scene–I’m gonna toss in a note saying something.

I try to be kind, especially if it’s well-written. But you’re gonna see something like, “Can you filter in what she’s doing/feeling during this?” Action filtered into description or backstory helps move the story, emotional processing helps slow the story during too much action. Finding a balance? Is hard.

Pacing is tricky, so I want to help as much as possible.

3 – I’ll point out inconsistencies

I know I’m not getting your rough draft (I hope), and when you edit, sometimes you change things in most places… I’ll point out the spots you missed. Or things you didn’t mention earlier.

4 – I’ll say when you break my suspension of disbelief

If a character starts acting inconsistently? Or wolves show up where lions should be? I’ll say something.

If something or someone doesn’t fit my view of your world, I’ll let you know. It’s up to you to delete it, change it, or set it up better so it fits.

5 – I’ll applaud well-phrased sentences

Be it description, dialogue, or narration, a clever turn of phrase or beautiful imagery will get a shout out from me.

6 – I’ll start talking to your characters

Writing fiction? I have a low bar for getting sucked into stories and swept away by characters.

I’ll start cheering for your characters, putting in guesses about untold backstory and future plot points — both for me to find out if I’m right and so you can see what sort of thoughts your set up has inspired.

And? If I stop putting in edits and start just commenting on your characters and the plot? You’ve got 100% buy-in from me. Your story, my friend, is working.


***

Now, my questionnaire has more points than that, and sometimes I even remember to summarize my feelings on plot/pacing/and characterization at the end of each chapter. But, in general, this is how I edit.

Plus? I’m plot driven. Once I start, it’s unusual for it to take me more than 3 days to get through a piece, unless I don’t get time in the evening to sit down in front of my computer.


***

Have you beta-read? What sort of feedback do you give?
Is there something I should be doing that I’m not? Let me know!

One Method For Incorporating Feedback In Your Writing

If you’re a writer, at some point between you putting the words down and it going out to its intended audience, you’re probably going to solicit some feedback (and if you don’t, you probably should).

Be it from one or all of these:

  • an alpha reader
  • a flock of beta readers
  • a writing group
  • a critique partner
  • a paid editor
  • an agent
  • an acquiring Editor for a publishing house
  • or your mom

you’re likely going to receive some feedback other than, “I loved it! Don’t change a thing!”

But, when that feedback is more nebulous or overarching than typos and wording, it can be tricky to know where to start.

Here are the 6 steps I follow when receiving reader feedback

Step 1 – Read the feedback

You’d think it would go without saying, but it’s easy to get ticked off three comments in, decide that the person who sent the feedback totally doesn’t get your book, your genre, and might not read your language, and storm off.

Luckily, I can calm my knee-jerk reactions by subscribing to what I call:

Morgan’s Rule Of Thirds

  • 1/3rd is line and copy edits – easy to fix or skip if it’s a stylistic thing or they don’t know what they’re talking about.
  • 1/3rd is where the reader didn’t get your story and/or your writing style. You can probably ignore these. (But, don’t delete them just yet….)
  • 1/3rd is the stuff that you thought you’d fixed, but really? You’d just painted over it and called it ‘good enough’.
    • These issues are typically related to the tricky things like:
      • motivation
      • set-up
      • emotional impact

Step 2 – Give yourself time to cool off

Sit on the feedback for a couple hours, or days, or weeks. However much time you need before you open it back up, and can face it without your ego screaming.

Step 3 – Analyse the feedback and fix the little things

Maybe this should be two steps, but as I go through, line-by-line, I usually fix the little things- even if they might get deleted later. The typos and line-edits, so that the feedback is reduced to something I can actually process, without the noise of all the little stuff.

Look not only at WHAT the feedback is saying but WHERE it’s saying it. The reader might have given you edits telling you how to fix it. They are only SUGGESTIONS, not fixes. But look at the scene, the paragraph. Maybe there is something confusing, maybe it wasn’t set up properly and that’s why the reader got confused, maybe you need to move the scene.

Is there some way that you can make it so the way you had it was inevitable — given the world, characters, and issues? Is there a better way to change it, so that the pieces come together more smoothly?

The reader might be wrong about how to fix it, but they often know WHERE something needs to be fixed.

Step 4 – Make the edits

This is where you make the complicated changes — cutting or moving scenes or characters, fixing pacing, adding tension, condensing backstory.

Whatever you’ve decided needs to be done — taking suggestions and doing with them as you will.

Step 5 – Reread and blend the new stuff with the old

Whether you’ve used the suggested wording from your reader or your own phrasing, edits don’t always fit in smoothly with the rest of the manuscript.

After you’ve agonized over the feedback, debated how to integrate it, and finessed it with all of your skills, it’s still gonna need a bit more polish.

You’re gonna need to re-read the lead up THROUGH the outro of the sections you’ve revised. Along the way, you’re looking for:

  • continuity errors
  • awkward phrasing
  • scene pacing
  • repetitious paragraphs or phrases (my favorite)
    • The number of times I’ve added a paragraph to emphasize something, then found I’d already had it in there, nearly word for word a page later — where it fit better in the pacing… Well, let’s just say it’s more than a handful of times.

Step 6 – Send it out again

I like to send it to 2 types of people

  1. People who have read it before, to make sure I didn’t break anything
  2. A new reader, to make sure the confusion points were actually fixed

I write fantasy, so there’s a lot of world building involved, but even if you don’t, you may want to do this. An old reader can spot a lot, but they can’t tell if you’re introducing everything in the right order — soon enough as to minimize confusion, but slow enough as to not overwhelm the reader.

You can only have someone read your story for the first time, once. After that, your world starts to become familiar territory.

***

And that’s it. That’s my editing process. For each and every round.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this post – ’cause I’m ready for step 5 with my current revisions!


Do you have any editing tricks that I missed?

Anything you prefer to do differently?

Guest Post: Choose the Right Words (And Live to Tell About It)

Here’s Post #2 in my local writer’s blog hop!

Today’s post is from Katherine Gotthardt, talking about how editing your word choices can make your writing SHINE!

Guest Blog: Choose the Right Words (And Live to Tell About It)

By Katherine Gotthardt, M.Ed.

You’re a writer. I don’t have to convince you that words hold power. If you didn’t believe that already, you wouldn’t have bothered to pick up the pen or put fingers to keyboard. But what you probably ask yourself all the time as you’re writing is, “Is that the right word?” How do you decide?

In my decades of battling with words, many times losing, I’ve learned that the right words are too often elusive. But in spite of this, I’ve also learned following a few guidelines helps me maintain a steady stream of at least half-decent writing, whether it’s poetry, articles, social media posts or something else. Here are some methods I use when I’m fighting to find the right words.


***

Banish Wimpy Wording

In your heart of hearts, you know wimpy wording when you see it. “Very,” and “nice” don’t say a whole lot, for example. They kind of take up space with their banality, clogging up the works while stronger words shift back and forth on the soles of their feet, impatiently waiting their turn. Be specific. Be courageous. Tell that “very nice” lady she’s “uncommonly agreeable,” and then decide what that means in the larger context of your work. You might realize “very nice” is not very nice at all, and now you’ve got the start of a more complex character in your novel. Or you’ve created a conundrum in that article you’re writing about the jewelry store owner the next town over, and you’d better watch your tone or you’ll get your publisher in a pickle. But by evicting the weakling words, you’re moving past trite and forgettable writing. 


***

Write in 3D

Human beings live sensory lives. Even when we’re alone in our own heads, we use taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound to make sense of our surroundings. Our memories are made up of perceptions brought to us through nerve endings and cortex, creating meaning from stimuli. We’re wonderful processors of the sensual. Take advantage of that. Use the senses to write in 3D. Don’t tell me there’s a gray dog on the corner. Show me what’s ahead: a bristled beast with iron-colored fur, lifting its leg, leaking on the fire hydrant, the sun beating a rhythm of mirage on the street’s pavement. Oh. Maybe I should cross the street because I’m not especially sure that’s a friendly Fido out for an afternoon romp. Now you’ve created something besides the image. You’ve created conflict – the archetypal “man versus nature.” Superb. Have your characters react accordingly. Move the action along, no matter what you’re writing.


***

Stop Repeating Yourself, Stop Repeating Yourself, Stop Repeating Yourself

We writers do it all the time. We end up using the same words over and over and over and over and… It bores readers, and when we notice we’ve done it again, it usually horrifies us. How could we have overlooked our repetition of “let’s” five times within four sentences? Ugh! Okay, forgive yourself. It’s easy to make this error, especially when deadlines are screaming from the Google calendar, the cell phone and the land line are ringing at the same time and your pug is barking at the Amazon delivery guy. It’s not cheating to use the tools given to us by the tech demigods. A thorough grammar check should slow you down long enough to help you see the error of your ways, even if your grammar tool doesn’t specifically point out repeated words. And when your brain feels like bubble wrap? Use the thesaurus. I promise you, the Amazon guy won’t tell.

If after using these three techniques you still find yourself losing the war to find the right words, it really is okay. Get up. Stretch. Take your dogs for a walk. While they’re watering the grass, you’ll have time to rest your brain. By the time you return, you’ll be ready to jump back into the trenches. And if you’re still losing the battle?

Thankfully, there’s always the option to edit. Again.

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katherineWBooks

Vice President of Write by the Rails (WbtR), Katherine Gotthardt has been writing and teaching for more than twenty years. She is the author of five books and CEO of All Things Writing, LLC. Learn more about her and her work at www.KatherineGotthardt.com.


Check out the Write By The Rail blog hoppers:

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Top 4 Questions From An Editors & Publishers AMA (Ask Me Anything)

Sunflowers in full bloom against a bright, clear blue sky.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 (Happy Summer Solstice!)

At Balticon52, I had the opportunity to attend an Ask Me Anything panel of Editors and Publishers. Usually in my panel notes, I skim over the panelists to get to the meat, but in this case, I feel their expertise was part of the draw.

The publishers and editors in question were:

  • Walt Boyes – an award-winning journalist, writer, and editor of the Industrial Automation INSIDER, the Grantville Gazette, (the magazine of the 1632 Universe), co-editor of Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press, and a member of the 1632 Editorial Board.
  • Scott H. Andrews – a writer, musician, and the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the online fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. He’s a six-time Hugo Award finalist and with his podcast, a five-time Parsec Award finalist. [Fun fact: he always gives personalized rejections!]
    • For non-querying writers, I know that sounds kinda… pathetic. But if you’re in the querying trenches, you know what that’s worth.
  • Neil Clarke – the editor and publisher of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning magazine, Clarkesworld.
  • Ian Randal Strock– a writer, plus the owner and editor-in-chief of Gray Rabbit Publications/Fantastic Books (www.FantasticBooks.biz). Previously, he edited and published Artemis Magazine and SFScope. He also worked on the editorial staffs of Analog, Asimov’s, Science Fiction Chronicle, and many others.
  • (moderated by) Jeff Young – an award-winning author, bookseller, and editor of several anthologies.

So let’s get this rolling. Here are the questions.

1. What is Your Biggest Pet Peeve?

The top three answers were:

  1. Zombie Stories — they’ve been done to past death
  2. Writers who don’t READ THE GUIDELINES
  3. Writers who argue with critiques
    Even if you disagree with the critique or the suggestion, don’t argue with someone who spent their time and energy to give you feedback.
         Give that section of your prose a closer look

    • Is it moving the story along?
    • What is it adding?
    • Could you do it better–not necessarily the way they suggested.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

2. Should A Writer Use Different Names For Different Genres?

As with all writing advice, it depends on the situation:

  • If you’re doing your own marketing, starting over with a new name doubles the amount of work you have to do to get traction.
  • If you’re with a large publisher, it can be helpful for the marketing.

That said, there are of course caveats:

  • You can end up getting shelved in the library/bookstores alongside whatever genre you first published in.
  • If you’re doing both Children’s books and explicit erotica — it can be helpful to make sure kids don’t end up with a book they probably didn’t mean to get.

Regarding publishing names in general:

When choosing which name to be published under (birth name or pen name), searchability reigns supreme.

You want to be high in the search result, but also easy to spell.

Simplified spelling, middle initials, mining family names, or deciding who you want to be shelved next to are good places to start.


Shelves full of books, in a decently lit library.

3. How Has The Market Changed In The Last Ten Years?

The top 3 ways the market’s changed:

  1. More exploring of the human condition in fantasy, a lot of the exploration is reactionary — which has a shorter shelf life.  Morgan’s side note: It might be more overt, but I’d argue that fantasy has ALWAYS explored the human condition.
  2. The rise in the respectability of online magazines.
  3. Massive growth in international markets.

Wood signpost, with worn red arrow pointing right. Greyed out mountains faintly behind it.

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Pexels.com

4. Where Do Querying Writers Lose You?

There was a lot of discussion on this question, so I’ll break it into high-level and specifics.

The top three high-level answers were:

  1. When I quit caring.
  2. If you make it work to follow the narrative.
  3. If they don’t remember it the next day.
    • Note: This editor also said that the bad stories blur together, they don’t typically remember them.

Top 4 things that break their buy-in:

  1. ‘Red line of death’ – Boredom, implausibility, names that don’t fit the setting
  2. Implausibility – where all emotions are explicit rather than undercurrents. Most people don’t spell everything out for each other in real life.
  3. External commentary (even by the narrator) – “If I’d only known then…”
  4. A character doing something stupid or out-of-character (OOC)

A thought bubble drawn in chalk, with a lightbulb resting in the bubble

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I always find getting an insider perspective on the industry enlightening. Hopefully, these answers help you as much as they helped me.