Thursday, October 17, 2019

Common Errors #22: Mistakes When Submitting to a Publisher: Cover Letters and Synopses

Great interview with Sandra Kasturi, Co-Publisher, ChiZine Publications, on Jim Harrington's excellent Six Questions for..." blog. I particularly loved the discussion of cover letters and synopses (answer to question #3) which is the clearest statement of the typical errors people make and the clearest direction for how to do them properly I have yet read. http://sixquestionsfor.blogspot.com/2010/07/six-questions-for-sandra-kasturi-co.html

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Common Errors #21 - Thinking the Editor is Your Enemy: Copy Editing

Once the final draft of the manuscript is approved, it goes for copy-editing. There would be little point copy-editing the initial draft, as whole sections are likely to disappear and entirely new sections appear during developmental edits, so no one is going to pay $60 an hour to keep re-copy editing the same manuscript. Copy editors catch typos, spelling and grammar errors, inconsistencies, and so on.  It is a highly technical skill, takes a certain personality, and is often underrated. A typical example: I used 'global change' to change a character in one of my stories, but unknowingly had Word set to "changes from here down" rather than "all document" so that a minor character was one name in the first scene, and a different name four scenes later. Which, understandably, caused some confusion until caught by the copy editor.

The need for copy-editing is obvious; less obvious is that copyediting is not a substitute for development editing. Beginning authors who arrange to have their manuscripts 'edited' before submitting to a publisher, or self-publishing, need to be clear on whether they are hiring a copy editor or a development/structural editor.  Freelance development editors (often marketing themselves as "writing coaches") can often be very helpful in identifying problem areas; over-coming writer's block; pushing authors to go deeper, to up their game; and turning initial drafts into submission-ready drafts. Copy editors can help authors avoid embarrassing typos and inconsistencies, but it is not their job to tamper with the manuscript's content.

Knowing which service one is contracting for is therefore crucial. When I was an acquisition editor at a small press, I several times had authors telling me they had paid thousands to have their manuscript edited before submission, but when I looked at it, the manuscript made no sense. Of course, the "editor" they had hired was a copy editor, who therefore hadn't pointed out that giant ants, say, are a non-starter, but simply tidied up whatever they had been handed. Heartbreaking, but it happens a lot. To educate yourself on the different types of editors and what each does, read the Editor's Canada definitions of professional skills here: https://www.editors.ca/hire/definitions-editorial-skills

Trends

Finally, there are a couple of trends in publishing that should be noted here. First, publishers at all levels are doing a lot less editing than they used to. Most of the major players let go between 30-40% of their remaining editorial staff during the 2008 recession, and there is no reason to expect any of them to rehire to the same levels in the future. The heavy concentration of publishing into a very few houses has created a situation where there are so many authors submitting to the same six surviving SF imprints, for example, that the majors can simply take the top 1% that need almost no development and reject the rest. Indeed, very few publishers these days have the patience to develop new talent, and simply do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Instead, the slush pile has largely been outsourced to agents, who perforce have taken on the role of development editor. That even makes a kind of sense, given that most of the new agents on the market (and therefore the ones willing to accept new clients) are the very editors laid off from the major publishing houses. Same people doing the same job, the difference being that now their salaries are being paid by the writers, rather than by the publishers....

Second, copy-editing and proofreading have been partially eliminated as steps in the process by the change from hot lead typesetting to digital. Certainly, many small presses (and almost all self-publishers) simply take the author's digital submission and run it through a software package to turn it into the printed book. Given the expectation that authors will have already run spell and grammar checks on the document, the need to pay someone $60 an hour to go through checking for minor glitches is now sometimes seen as redundant. This is a wrong idea, of course, as is obvious whenever one runs across a book that hasn't benefitted from the attention of a good copy editor.

This column originally appeared in Writer-in-Residence: Common Sense Guidance for Writers by Writers, curated by Krista D. Ball http://writer-in-residence.blogspot.com/2011/03/editor-is-not-your-enemy-part-2.html

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

On Writing Collaborations with Family Members

EssentialEdits.ca editor Halli Lilburn has an article on collaborating with her daughter, Eartha, on a novel. Halli talks about how the project was a way to bond and to produce a unique manuscript which is greater than the sum of their singular contributions. The article was published in the Dec-Oct, 2019 issue of WestWord, the magazine of the Writers Guild of Alberta.

Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings

I like to update when EssentialEdits.ca editors get things published.

I was therefore pleased to receive my copy of The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Paintings, which includes my story "Iceberg" inspired by the Lawren S. Harris painting "Icebergs, Davis Strait", 1930 (shown above). Honoured to have a story included in this magnificent collection: my first piece of flash fiction and my first appearance in an art book! Thanks to editor Karen Schauber for conceiving and sheparding this audacious project to its successful culmination, and especially for her help in shaping my own entry. (Even editors need and greatly benefit from editors!)

The book is available from Heritage House press https://www.heritagehouse.ca/book/the-group-of-seven-reimagined/

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Common Errors #20 - Thinking the Editor is Your Enemy: Structural Editing (Part II)

In Part I, I discussed the first reason there are always structural edits, even on a perfect manuscript. We continue here with Part II.

Second, editors are going to ask for changes because—well, because they're editors. Playwrights understand that no matter how brilliant the words they put on paper, how detailed their stage directions, the play's director is going to have a major impact on the interpretation that audiences ultimately see. So it is with editors. This is not to suggest that editors will insist on making changes where none are needed, but simply that authors&msash;particularly beginning authors—should start from the understanding that this is a partnership, and so allow some space for input from their (senior) partner.

Three important observations: First, just as it is to be expected that one's editor will suggest or demand certain changes, it is natural that one's first reaction to these revisions is to have a minor meltdown. I have yet to receive something back from an editor that I didn't (initially) regard as ridiculous suggestions that would undermine the entire point of the piece. I always begin by complaining to my wife and colleagues about the morons with whom I have to contend; if, that is, I can get a word in edgewise, as they complain about their editors and referees in turn. That's all just a normal part of the process. Because, let's face it, we are all of us really lazy and absolutely hate having to do revisions. Just once I would like an editor to tell me, "Hey, that was perfect! I can't think of a single thing to change!" but it is never going to happen.

Usually, about the fifth time I read the comments through I start to grudgingly confess that there is maybe the remote possibility that this or that suggestion might, in fact, have identified something that could be worked on a bit. As the deadline approaches, I roll up my sleeves and actually try to rewrite the offending passage, a struggle that requires me to throw out my previously written words: an act in my mind akin to abandoning a child. In the end, however, as I rewrite this bit or that from the new perspective of the 'mistaken reading' by editor or referees, I come to realize that the new version is actually quite an improvement. Indeed, having completed the new draft, I generally wince when I look back at the previous version, and shake my head to think I ever felt it ready to go out.

The key here is: NEVER EVER respond to editorial suggestions the same day (probably not even the same week) as one receives them. One needs time to absorb what the editor is actually saying, to work through the emotionality of even this partial rejection, and to start seeing the possibilities arising out of the editor's feedback. That first day, one should simply acknowledge receipt of the comments and promise to attend to them in the immediate future. That's it. If some comments need to be resisted, resist them later when one is calmer; and one has already made the other x number of suggested changes—which demonstrates that one is open to change, is reasonable, flexible, and merely raising the possibility that perhaps -- in this one instance—there may be good reason to go another route than with the editor's recommendation. Such an approach is far more likely to be successful than the incoherent rant that is likely one's initial, instinctual response.

The second point here is that one needs to choose one's battles carefully. Sometimes one needs to say 'no' to development editors (or agents and publishers) if the changes they are insisting on are inappropriate -- the recent controversies over authors being asked to change characters from gay to straight or black to white come to mind. Most publishers would not hold these principled refusals against the author, though they may well choose (for purely commercial reasons) not to continue with publication of that particular manuscript. On the other hand, authors who endlessly debate every little change, who refuse to budge on any suggested revision, quickly acquire the reputation as "difficult to work with". And then one's career is over. With hundreds of equally competent manuscripts vying for the six or eight available slots in an imprint's monthly publishing schedule, there is no need for a publisher to invest time and effort in a difficult or unresponsive author. Eventually, even megastars like Charlie Sheen get fired if they are sufficiently unprofessional. One may even win the battles over a particular manuscript, but then lose the war if the publisher decides not to bother accepting future submissions.

If one feels the need to retain complete and utter control over every aspect of one's writing, the only viable solution is to self-publish; with the obvious perils that without development editing, one's ego may quickly outdistance one's competence.

Third, developmental editing is an iterative process. One submits the initial manuscript; the editor provides detailed feedback; one resubmits with the required revisions, and perhaps the occasional argument why this or that suggested change is better some other way; and the editor re-edits the revisions. My experience is that a polished first submission requires at least two, and usually three rounds of suggestions and rewrites. Other manuscripts have sometimes taken as many as six, though that does start to get tedious for both sides.

Again, it is important to view this as the editor working to make the manuscript as strong as it can be, rather than an obstruction. The goal here is to produce the best book possible, not just to get published. If getting published were the goal, one could self-publish and be done with it.

Note too, that it is important to make one's revisions on the same copy as the editor. These days, that usually means using "Track Changes" in Word, though some houses I'm told still prefer hard copy. The editor needs to see that the suggested comments have been addressed—either that the change as been made, or the author has provided reasons why the change is being resisted. It is not uncommon (and often quite interesting) to get a dialog going over this or that revision as comments go back and forth over two or three iterations. Sending a 'clean' copy back with all your changes, on the other hand, will likely drive your editor crazy as s/he has to reread the entire manuscript again, with a copy of the original next to it to compare line by tedious line, just to ensure that all the suggested edits have been attended to, and whether the revisions were successful.

This column originally appeared in Writer-in-Residence: Common Sense Guidance for Writers by Writers, curated by Krista D. Ball http://writer-in-residence.blogspot.com/2011/03/editor-is-not-your-enemy-part-2.html