Thursday, May 6, 2010

What an Editor Wants . . .

Well, it's happened. After 8 weeks of Red Pencil Thursdays, I find myself in the position of having no volunteers.

Several writers have contacted me and I'm waiting for their material, so I feel confident this feature will continue. (If you'd like to take a ride in the RPT hotseat, please contact me through my website!) But this week we'll do a more general critique based on some of the things I heard directly from editors during RT.

Here's what an editor wants:

1. A clean manuscript. This means proper formatting (12 pt. Courier New font, one inch margins all around, author/title/subgenre/word count in the header, pages numbered). It means you've run the spellcheck. It means you've made several passes through the manuscript, looking for proper use of there, their and they're and other common errors. It means you've enlisted the help of a beta reader who's a solid grammarian if you're not. If you turn in a manuscript riddled with little errors it says you don't respect the work, the editor or yourself. (That last sentence dropped verbatim from an editor's lips.)

Make sure your punctuation is correct and appropriate. Heather Osborn, editor for Tor-Forge, has an intense dislike for overused exclamation points. According to Heather, "Everytime you use a ! you kill a kitten."

Lots of careless mistakes mean more work for an editor. Put yourself in the editor's shoes. If you have a choice between two roughly equivalent manuscripts and one is clean and the other is not, which would you choose? Why give them a reason to say no to you?

2. A tight manuscript. Angela James, editor of the Harlequin's Carina imprint, says, "Not every noun deserves an adjective." Don't pad your word count with extras. A tight manuscript does more with less.

Use the Find function to search out these space wasters: too, even, just, only, almost, nearly, that, still . . . You get the idea. They become a "writer's tick," flowing out our fingers without our conscious knowledge. Cut them wherever you can. Qualifiers suck the life out of your prose. Descriptive verbs and specific nouns get the job done without the niggling little hangers-on.

3. An on-time manuscript. There must be a rash of late authors out there because I heard this from several editors. If you sign a contract, you make a promise to deliver a product by a certain date. If you fail to deliver, you are in breach of contract. Worse, you've potentially hurt other people's careers.

A publishing house has a schedule to keep to bring a book to market. If you fail to deliver, you may lose your slot and cause someone else to be hustled in to fill it. And if you're given a new slot, you may be bumping someone else. I lost a spot in the Historical Book Club for one of my releases because a lead author failed to deliver her manuscript on time. She wasn't a historical, but the reprint they shoved into her slot was, so it bumped me out of the Book Club and several thousand guaranteed sales. No light matter when you live or die by the numbers.

And no. Nothing will induce me to give you that other author's name. I'm sure she has no idea her action (or inaction) affected anyone else. But now you know what happens when you miss a deadline and I know you don't want to muddle things up for others.

So even before you sell, set a deadline for yourself. You may as well get used to delivering on schedule since it will be part of your creative life later. Get a calendar. Figure out what's a reasonable daily page count for you. I have a project planner on my computer and have set a reminder for myself each Friday of where I need to be in order to stay on schedule. Factor in some fun time. If you don't have a life, you don't have anything to write about.

Project the whole thing out and set the date on which you will actually type "The End." This is not the date you should agree to as a deadline. Pad your estimate with at least a week and a half. Send it to your beta reader as soon as it's finished, but give yourself a week to set the manuscript aside so it leaves the forefront of your consciousness. Then after a week, read it in one sitting, marking places that need correcting as you go. Take a day to fix the boo-boos and send it off, basking in the glow of having made your editor proud.

Now sometimes life intervenes in the best laid plans and everyone understands emergencies. What editors don't understand is that you're late because you had to go to Italy for a month on vacation. Or because you were working to meet a deadline for another house and that's why you're late for them. (I kid you not. Someone actually told their editor this. And we wonder why we don't feel the love.)

4. A wonderful story. Several editors told me they want to forget to edit because the manuscript is so compelling, they become readers instead. They want the same things readers want--to be surprised and delighted at every turn.

So our goal should be to make our editor's job easy. We should give her a clean, tight, on-time story that sweeps her completely into our fictive dream.

Sounds a little daunting, doesn't it?

As Blanche Thebom, a celebrated operatic diva, once said to me: "Hey! If it was easy, anybody could do it."

39 comments:

Renee Wildes said...

Being a reliable and easy-to-work-with author is an important asset in a professional writer. Why make people's lives harder?

That "find" button is a Godsend. I learned the hard way - ask my editor how many times "eyes" cropped up in my last submission!

LJCohen said...

A great reminder, Emily. Thanks for posting these. I've been setting and meeting my own writing deadlines since I started writing my first novel. A missed deadline is a broken promise, even if only to ones self.

Janet Kay Gallagher said...

Emily
Thanks for this information. I will pass it on to our writing groups,The Quill And Ink Club. And
The Weekly Writers Guild. We are learning now and have not been published yet.

Jaimey Grant said...

Great information. Thanx for posting this. :o)

Gillian Layne said...

Good to know!

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

Emily, this is great info! Renee, I feel you! I have to get rid of 'just' and 'really'. And 'eyes' gets a work out, too. LOL

Kathryn Esplin said...

Hi Emily,

I really enjoyed this. Very helpful. Thanks.

Amber Skyze said...

Thanks for the great information.

Bruna Britti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bruna Britti said...

"Several editors told me they want to forget to edit because the manuscript is so compelling, they become readers instead.". Well, I really want that this happen to mine book, haha. Thank you for this post, really good informations here. Thank you. =)

Cathie Dunn said...

Fantastic post, Emily. You got it all there in a nutshell. So useful, I'll have to save it somewhere. :-)

Thanks a lot for posting.

EmilyBryan said...

Renee--Reliability is important. Editors stake their professional reps on the actions of their authors. Why give someone who believes in your talent reason to regret the confidence they invest in you?

EmilyBryan said...

LJ--Setting your own deadline is an excellent practice. I did it before I sold and I think the discipline helped me sell. It insured that I had more than one manuscript to offer once the first one went.

EmilyBryan said...

Janet Kay--Please feel free to cut and paste and share this with your writers groups. (Attribution and link back would be nice, thanks!)

lisanneharris said...

This is excellent advice and should be shouted from the rooftops. Thank you so much for sharing. I'm passing your link on to those who'd like to know. :)

EmilyBryan said...

Jamie & Gillian--Thanks for dropping by!

EmilyBryan said...

Stacey--You'd be surprised how often characters end up cocking their heads or lifting a brow over and over.

Body language is fine, but we don't want it to say our characters are having a twitching fit of some kind.

EmilyBryan said...

Kathryn and Amber--Thanks for your comments. Glad you found this helpful.

EmilyBryan said...

Bruna--Having an editor forget to edit is the best compliment she can pay an author.

EmilyBryan said...

Cathie--I feel like I'm preaching to the choir. These are things we all know. I need a reminder once in a while and I got it at RT.

EmilyBryan said...

Lisanne--Thanks for passing on a link to my blog. That's a huge compliment. I'm grateful.

Ruth Hunter said...

Sounds like common sense, or at least it should be. There isn't much of that going around lately.

EmilyBryan said...

Ruth--There's really nothing common about common sense.

Deb said...

I am not a writer, but I enjoy the Red Pencil Thursday posts. I'm sure many authors/writers have appreciated your input on suggestions and positive comments, Emily.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Thanks for all of the good tidbits of informaiton, Emily. I am going to save a copy of it to reference when the time comes. :)

EmilyBryan said...

Deb--The regular Red Pencil will return next Thursday. I have some new writers who've offered to send their work.

EmilyBryan said...

Paisley--Glad I could help!

Isabel Roman said...

"As Blanche Thebom, a celebrated operatic diva, once said to me: "Hey! If it was easy, anybody could do it."" Haha, yeah, my brother tried to tell me this last week when I told him about my latest project. He offered some ideas then said how this writing stuff was so easy. If we hadn't been on IM, I'd have Gibbs-smacked him. (NCIS)

Thanks for this, Emily! Good points here for a professional relationship.

Mary said...

Hi Emily,
I discovered your blog about a month ago and enjoy it immensely.

I love,love,love Red Pencil Thursdays. I learn so much about writing through your editing suggestions.

Great post today.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Emily, I missed what the red pencil blogs are about. Could you explain again please?

EmilyBryan said...

Isabel--Writing ideas are easy. Turning them into a premise that will propel you 400 pages is hard.

EmilyBryan said...

Mary--I'm so glad you found my blog. I really like RPT too. So are you ready to submit your 500 words?

EmilyBryan said...

Paisley--Red Pencil Thursdays started a couple months ago when I pulled out my very first sad unpublished manuscript and did a slice and dice on my work here on the blog. The point was to give people hope. Writing is an art and a craft--and the craft part is something that can be learned.

Then other writers volunteered 500 words from their WIP and I gave them the Red Pencil Treatment. The hope is that we can all recognize things we can improve in our own writing through observing the mistakes and successes of others.

If you want to volunteer, please contact me through www.emilybryan.com.

jean hart stewart said...

Nothing new, but stuff I tend to forget. But I seem to favor a new word every manuscript. Arrrgh....

Jordan Rose said...

Thanks for this great info, Emily. All great points about professionalism.

EmilyBryan said...

Jean--You're right. These are all common sense sorts of things. It's funny how a certain word gets stuck in our consciousness. I catch myself at that too.

EmilyBryan said...

Jordan--Thanks for dropping by. How's your WIP coming? Since you're an RPT alumni, I'm interested in your work.

Glynis said...

Firstly, if you are considering RPT with Emily, go for it. Believe me it is worth it. I was so nervous, but since sharing my 500 words here, I am far more confidence. I have also learned much more about my written work.

Emily, I would be far to scared of losing my 'spot' and delivering my MS after a set deadline. Your post was informative and valuable, thanks.

EmilyBryan said...

Well, Glynis, that's how I feel too. I don't want to lose my publishing slot by turning in my manuscript late. Plus a writer needs to maintain a professional reputation of being on time.

I'm glad you're feeling more confident in your writing. That's so important!