Writing & Editing


Brenda Novak’s auction to support Juvenile Diabetes is winding down.  If you haven’t skipped town yet for beaches and barbecue, check out the bidding on editorial critiques, digital readers, signed author copies, rare promo opportunities, amazing jewelry, and just about anything under the sun.  You can find it all on Brenda’ auction site.

I’m offering a critique of query letter, 3 chapters and synopsis here.  This goes for romance and YA projects.

Happy bidding!

Feel like you’re always getting distracted?  Pushing things to the last minute (like starting a blog post due at midnight at 10 p.m.)?  The theme at the Casa Author blog this month is procrastination, and my post today is on how some things we might often consider procrastination can actually help increase productivity.  Truly, sometimes YouTube is ok.  See more here.

Another not-really-procrastinating time-eater is reading.  And now you can do it cheap with a Daring Debutantes and Dashing Dukes promotion offering $2.99 ebooks.  Authors include Laura Kinsale, Amelia Gray, Laurie McBain, Rosemary Rogers, Mary Wine and Abigail Reynolds.

Commenters over on the Casablanca author blog have a chance to win some May releases today–WICKEDLY CHARMING by Kristine Grayson and SEALED FOREVER by Mary Margret Daughtridge.  All you have to do is let us know what says romance to you.

When editing I often find it’s the little things, the tender moments that would have little meaning to anyone outside these characters, that really make my heart melt and the story resonate long after I’m done reading.  Check out more here.

And we have an amazing deal on our upcoming SINS OF THE HOUSE OF BORGIA by Sarah Bower–just $2.99 when you preorder the ebook, then going up to $9.99 after March 1. List price of the print edition is $14.99.  Available at B&N, Amazon, and wherever ebooks are sold.

If you haven’t yet seen the trailer for the new Borgia series on Showtime, check it out below.

I got my Sourcebooks email access today–and 135 messages waiting in my inbox.  I’ll be working through everything as quickly as possible, but please don’t fret if you’ve written and haven’t heard back.  Thank goodness for long weekends, right?

I’m just loving going through all the titles on the list–I want to read everything!  For any Regency writers/fans, you might want to check this one this out.  Looks like an invaluable resource and it’s just hitting shelves now:

A few years back Jennifer Ashley and I did a workshop on Title & Premise and how writers could get the interest of editors, agents or readers before they even started the book.  Today, I want to concentrate on the title part. 

A lot of writers skip skip working on a title or figure that it’s not that important because it’s only likely to change anyway.  And while it’s true that the writing is what will sell your book, the title can lay a lot of groundwork for you. 

I’ll never forget the day colleague Chris Keeslar swung by my office all excited: “I just got this proposal called THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER. I haven’t even started it yet, but don’t you just love that title?”  Fortunately, Leanna Renee Hieber‘s writing lived up to it. 

A good title will:

  • Indicate the genre
  • Give a sense of the tone
  • Provide continuity for similar/series titles
  • Intrigue the reader

Julie Kenner (The Givenchy Code, Carpe Demon) and Katie MacAlister (Love in the Time of Dragons; Sex, Lies and Vampires) are some of my ultimate heroes when it comes to clever titles.  But a title doesn’t have to be particularly clever or humorous.  Because, remember, it has to fit the tone of the book.

How to come up with a good title:

  • Figure out what best conveys your style. Is it sexy? Funny? Dark? (all three?) Are you trying to convey a certain time period? 

Let’s use Jennifer Ashley’s paranormal-historical Nvengarian series as an example.  Our theme: Fairy Tales

  • Brainstorm lists of words that convey the style you’ve chosen.

-         Prince Charming, Once Upon a Time, Happily Ever After

  • Start playing around with those words and combining them with other aspects that make your work unique. Look for rhymes, alliteration, wordplay. Keep in mind that it needs to be able to fit on a mass-market cover and still have room for the art.

-         Penelope & Prince Charming has great alliteration and works in the fairy-tale theme.

-         The second book in the series was tougher. Nothing in the list above sounded original enough.  So Jennifer concentrated on the time period with a rhyme and came up with The Mad, Bad Duke.  It’s clearly Regency set–a play on Lady Caro Lamb’s words about Byron “He was mad, bad, and dangerous to know”—which Regency readers recognize.  It also sounds playful and sexy.

-         With the third book featuring a fun-loving Scot, we came up with Highlander Ever After, again pulling in that fairy-tale theme.

     

Where to find inspiration for your titles:

  • imdb.com – The Internet Movie Database
  • your CD collection
  • rhyming dictionaries
  • regular dictionary
  • advertising slogans

Most of all, brainstorming should be a fun process, not a hair-pulling one–even if it feels like it sometimes.  Just stick with it,  don’t be afraid to ask everyone you know for suggestions, and go with what feels good.

And a totally shameless plug that has more to do with art than titles: Check out Jennifer’s PRIDE MATES on Clash of the Covers this week.

Editors and agents are forever telling writers to give us something fresh, something new, something we haven’t seen before.  But then again, you don’t want to be too different.  Because there still has to be a kernel of familiarity in there to remain accessible to the readers. 

I was so excited about the new version of Robin Hood with Russell Crowe because I thought it would be the perfect balance of a familiar story with a new twist—billed as a prequel to the Robin Hood legend we all know.  Unfortunately, after reading a number of tepid reviews, it’s unlikely I’ll go see the movie.  The key elements of what makes Robin Hood so enjoyable—namely the slightly cocky attitude and the genuine sense of fun—seem to be missing from the movie.  I have no problem with gritty, but it also needs to be balanced with light. 

So the lesson here: If you’re going to take a familiar theme and twist it, first figure out the main elements of what makes that theme so popular and enjoyable.  Keep those!  Then twist the character or the setting or add an unexpected piece from another recognizable theme or story.

Figuring out these elements will then making pitching your project a breeze.  “It’s this but with a dash of that and set in there.”  Of course, once you come up with the right juxtaposition you have to deliver.

One project I recently acquired is a perfect example.  At the moment, we’re tentatively calling it NO PROPER LADY (April 2011) and it’s by debut author Isabel Cooper.  The juxtaposition: “Terminator” meets “My Fair Lady.”  Every time I say it in the office, people raise their eyebrows, but they always want to hear more.

Last year, New York Times best-selling author Brenda Novak raised more than $280,000 in her online auction to benefit diabetes research.  And this year she’s set the bar even higher.  Because Brenda is the consummate achiever (seriously, there’s nothing this woman can’t do!) and she has loads of amazing offerings at this year’s auction, I have no doubt she’ll hit her goal. 

The 2010 auction is now live.  For writers, there are 60 agent evaluations up for grabs and nearly 50 editor evaluations.  

If you’re the winning bidder on mine, you’ll receive a line edit of your cover letter, first three chapers and synopsis; a written overall critique of strengths and weaknesses and suggestions for improvement; and a follow-up phone call, should you wish you ask further questions.  Bidding goes through May 31.

There are also loads of ARCs, signed books, handbags, jewelry, art, an iPad, a Nook, and a load of other amazing items, including special promo opportunities for published writers.

Since we’re still not too far out of  the season for resolutions, why not try a few of these on for size.  You’ll be every editor’s fantasy come true.

  • Turn in your best work possible. Some authors under contract submit a draft at deadline–they figure there are going  to be revisions anyway, so they’ll just do all the revising at the same time.  Not really cool.  The more finalized your work, the more I can hone in on what needs to be changed, and–better yet–what doesn’t.  If you have questions or hit a stumbling block as you go, I always find it’s easier to call and we can brainstorm through any plot points together.
  • Speaking of deadlines…meet them.  Obviously, life happens sometimes and deadlines need to be changed; that’s ok.  Just keep us in the loop and everyone can adjust accordingly.  It’s when projects are consistently late that things get to be a problem.  If you show yourself to be a reliable author, you’re more likely to be considered for special projects like anthologies and continuity series.
  • Ask questions.  I often don’t know what you don’t know. Please don’t be afraid to drop me an email if there’s something on your mind. 
  • Be realistic in your expectations.  If you don’t know what this means, Ms. I Want To Be On Oprah, see above. 
  • Strive to get better with every book.

I’ve been meaning to do a post on grammar for a while.  But, man, grammar is just so boring.  Copyblogger found a way to jazz it up a little with the Inigo Montoya Guide to 27 Commonly Misused Words.  I highly recommend checking it out.  And a few of my own to add:

*lightening vs. lightning - Lightening makes something lighter. Lightning is the flash in the sky; there is no e.  Ever. 

*vise vs. vice – A vise squeezes something (i.e. a viselike grip). A vice is an unhealthy habit.  I saw a heroine “in the vice of fear” in a book I was reading on the subway this morning and it completely pulled me out of the story.

*Then is not a conjunction like and and but. If you have two complete sentences on each side, you need to make them two separate sentences or put in a semicolon.  
      *Wrong: I will go to the store, then I will make dinner.
      *Right: I will go to the store. Then I will make dinner.
             or: I will go to the store, then make dinner

In small doses, grammar isn’t so bad, right?

 

Executive Editor Don D’Auria acquires horror, thrillers and Westerns, but his take here on the rejection/acquisition process holds  true for many editors, no matter what the genre.   This column originally appeared in issue #61 of Cemetery Dance magazine.

Welcome to the first installment in what I hope will be an interesting column for anyone who’s curious about publishing seen from an editor’s perspective.  I wouldn’t presume to say that I can speak for all editors.  I’ll write about things as I see them.  I edit a mass market paperback line of horror novels.  Magazine editors or editors who work in the small presses will possibly have very different opinions.  But I think we all see the same sorts of things.

One thing I hope to do in this column from time to time is answer questions that writers or readers have about the whole editorial process.  So often what editors do is unseen or misunderstood.  People tend to see the results of what editors do, but not the way it’s done or the reasoning involved.  So if I can, I’d like to open the door a little, to let folks see what’s going on inside the office, and also inside my head.

For a lot of people, an editor’s job consists mostly of deciding whether a book is bought or not, so I thought I’d start with that perennial question, “How does a good book not get chosen?”  Or to put it another way, as many writers no doubt ask when another book is bought instead of theirs, “What was the editor thinking?”

Is it just a question of whether a book is good?  If it’s good, I buy it; if it’s not, I don’t?  I wish.  That would make things so much easier for me and for the author.  No, there are a lot of other considerations that go into the decision.  When I reject a manuscript, I’ll sometimes say in my letter that the manuscript was well-written but I still couldn’t buy it.  And I wonder if the author believes me.  But it’s true.  I’ve had to pass on a lot of really well-written novels over the years.  I wish I could have bought them all, but I couldn’t, for a variety of painful reasons.

The simplest reason is often that, even if a particular manuscript is great, there might be another one that’s still better.  My job is to find not only good manuscripts, but the best ones.  Leisure Books publishes two horror titles every month.  Twenty-four per year.  That’s what I have to work with, no more and no less.  Every year I have to find what I consider to be the twenty-four best books to put into those slots.  The really tricky part is that I did publish twenty-four titles last year, and pretty much all of those authors have a new book now that they’d really like to see me publish this year.

Editing a line of books is kind of like being a manager of a baseball team, with the writers as the players.  The success of the line depends on the success of the individual writers, who are, after all, the ones who do the work that their fans pay to see.  But I have to choose the best players and make sure they play at their highest level and make for a well-rounded team.  No baseball team, even the Yankees, can afford to buy every great player out there.  And they can’t buy too many of the same kind of player.  Just like no team wants only good pitchers or good outfielders, I can’t buy only good ghost stories or good extreme horror or good…whatever.  I need a nice mix.  So if I find myself overstocked with, say, subtle psychological horror at some point, and a writer or agent sends me another one, unless it’s absolutely fantastic I’ll pass. 

Also, just like a manager in baseball doesn’t ideally want a player who’ll be with them for just one game (or one season), I prefer writers who will continue to write and whose career I can build over the course of many books.  This means that many of those twenty-four slots this year will be filled by authors who wrote books last year.  The downside of this is I won’t have many open slots for newcomers.  Given the hundreds of submissions I see every year, that’s a lot of competition for just a few positions on the team.  So a lot of great potential players are sent home to try out for another team.

When I explain that I can only publish so many books each year, I’ve had authors say, “That’s OK, buy my book now and I can wait as long as it takes for you to publish it.”  That would be nice, but from a business standpoint it simply won’t work.  When I buy a manuscript, Leisure pays an advance.  If we don’t publish the book for two or three years, we don’t see any sales from it, and thus no money coming in for years after we’ve laid out the advance.  Not a good move financially.  Plus, if I get too many books sitting in my inventory, waiting to be published down the road, it prevents me from buying anything I may see for a while until I can work off that inventory.  And no publisher likes to close themselves off to submissions.

So let’s say for argument’s sake that a manuscript is really, really good, better than most of the manuscripts I’ve seen.  In fact it’s one of the top contenders for the few available slots in my list.  And it isn’t in a subgenre that I’ve published a lot of recently.  Clear sailing, right?  Close but no cigar.  There are still some things that can trip up a manuscript just before the finish line.  One of the most painful for me is simply bad timing, where I really love a book but I just bought a book with a very similar plot.  It happens and it kills me.  And I know it isn’t easy for the author either, because it isn’t his or her fault.  If I had seen the same manuscript two months earlier, I would have bought it and the other guy’s manuscript would have been rejected instead.  But I can’t publish two books with very similar plots, so the second one has to go.

I know.  Ouch.  It wasn’t the author’s fault, right?  But none of these things is the author’s fault.  (Assuming the manuscript is good.)  Is it the author’s fault that I have too many books in my inventory or that I simply don’t have an open slot in the immediate future?  Or that she’s written a vampire novel and I already published four vampire novels this year?  Or that his timing is just off?  No, the author did what he or she was supposed to do; write a really good manuscript.  I wish I could publish them all.  But I can’t.  I can only look through them all and pick what I think are not only the best ones but also the right ones.  Am I always right?  Not a chance.  And I know I’ve turned down a lot of great manuscripts that another house might snap up in a second, and it’s not because of anything the author did wrong.  That’s why it’s so painful to write those rejection letters.  (OK, maybe not as painful as it is to get them.)  And that’s why it’s so important for an author not to get discouraged, to keep trying, and keep submitting their work.  All of these factors outside of the author’s control can change.  If your timing was bad this time, maybe it’ll be better next time.  If my inventory is high today, maybe it’ll be lower in six months.  If your manuscript isn’t right for one house, it can easily be perfect for another.  But if you believe your work is good and you stop submitting it after a few rejections, you’ll never know how some of those factors might have changed.  And if you don’t give your work the best shot you can, that’s really painful.

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