Editor or surgeon?

There are as many kinds of editors as there are writers. From the editor who gives you feedback and lets you decide how to address it all the way to the editor who rewrites your work like a plastic surgeon.

On the extreme end is the legendary short story writer Raymond Carver and his editor Gordon Lish. Lish made such deep changes to the stories, that they are almost like a joint work.

In one story, Raymond’s original ending:

For myself, I knew I wouldn’t forget the sight of that arm emerging out of the water. Like some kind of mysterious and terrible signal, it seemed to herald the misfortune that dogged our family in the coming years.

—is transformed into the dry, ironic and Hemingway-esque:

That arm coming up and going back down in the water, it was like so long to good times and hello to bad. Because it was nothing but that all the years after Dummy drowned himself in that dark water.

I had a very fine editor who pointed out numerous plot holes and areas for improvement. Our collaboration forced me to think through various pieces and sometimes make sweeping changes. I definitely appreciated and would work with her again, although a part of me wanted the plastic surgeon approach.

Which do you prefer?

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Finding the right editor

After working on my book for a few years and pitching several agents, I heard my book was good but not compelling enough. I decided to hire an editor.

The challenges:

  1. Find a genre editor with a lot of experience
  2. Find an editor whose work you appreciate

I started with recommendations, my friend had an amazing experience at Girl Friday. They have a lot of editors and they’re friendly and professional. The main reason I didn’t go that route was after searching through their team, I didn’t see anyone with mystery experience. (I didn’t think to ask them who their freelancers were.)

Each genre has its own special tropes. In mystery, why does the policeman accept help from an amateur? Etc. I wanted someone who was deeply familiar with the tropes. Ideally, they would have worked on mysteries set in the 1920s or in England.

Next, I read the acknowledgements sections for historical mysteries set in England to see who the author thanked. Most of these editors were nestled in publishers and not available, except for one editor who had a Reedsy profile.

While he wasn’t doing freelance any longer, I was delighted with Reedsy – they vet all the book professionals (editors, publicists, etc.) on their site. They show you reviews. And – amazing! – they link to the books that these professionals worked on.

After reading samples of the books each professional worked on, I sent a request for quotes to 5 editors. Everyone replied, some asked to see more of the book and others sent samples of their work. The prices ranged from low to high, and I chose the expensive end of the spectrum because of the editor’s historical mystery experience. But there were a ton of great editors at lower price points too.

I would highly recommend Reedsy. Next up, how the editing process went…

Flash fiction coming soon

This has been a long week. I’ve had grueling work deadlines and fires. I got my manuscript back from the editor, which means I’m removing characters, fixing backstory and trying to finish all the edits before it is due back.

So I’m really, really happy to hear my flash fiction (~700 word) mystery was accepted for the April edition of Flash Bang Mysteries! They are a quarterly magazine with excellent work. If you check out their contributor bios, you’ll see they have a wonderful mix of well established and emerging authors.

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The true cost of self-publishing

Reedsy is a London-based marketplace for book services – everything from editing to cover design to marketing. What makes Reedsy stand out is that they diligently screen everyone who wants to offer services. They take only around 10-15% of the professionals who apply.

Based on their 15 months of usage, they’ve put together a truly comprehensive infographic of self-publishing costs. It’s nice to see a real budget and explanation of what you’re paying for.

Even though I’m going through the agent route and will be pitching again at a conference, I’m using Reedsy for editing. The consistent feedback is that my book has a strong premise and writing, but there are a few major threads that need to be fixed.

I just started the process with an editor who has years of mystery editing experience – fingers crossed!

Why traditionally published writers go self-published

Elizabeth S. Craig is my kind of hero in the writing world, she was successful through one of the Big 5 publishers but she eventually went her own way. Her blog is a gold mine of resources from other writers and her own articles.

In this post, she explains her reasons for going with self-publishing. Things like releasing when you want, price control and making more money are excellent reasons.

But my favourite reason is how her idea of validation changed:

“Originally, it did feel good to be validated by a gatekeeper…I was a newer writer and I needed that. Now, I prefer reader validation. It’s ultimately more valuable.”

Short story in Mystery Weekly magazine

I’m very excited to share that my first short mystery has been published in Mystery Weekly magazine!

Knightshayes Court, located in Tiverton, Devon is the perfect place for rare books and a spot of murder…

Faith Allington’s “The Death at Knightshayes Court” is a more traditional offering in the style of Agatha Christie. Set on an English estate in the twenties, a rare book dealer must clear his own name in the poisoning death of a young heiress. All of the ingredients for an old fashioned parlour mystery are here: an inheritance, servants, suspicious guests, and a classical denouement where the killer and their motives are revealed.

You can read story previews and subscribe at mysteryweekly.com.

This issue is also available in print and digitally at Amazon.


Happy New Year!

Rejection #3: Suffer in Happiness

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Today’s rejection feels a bit like this quote from Harry Potter. I was really excited about how responsive this agent has been. But she was awesome in rejection, at least. She gave me detailed feedback on major issues she saw with the manuscript.

One issue could be solved with some thorough editing of voice, but the other requires a potentially massive rewrite of the plot. I’ll certainly let the manuscript rest for a few weeks before starting.

In the meantime, I’ve been writing short stories. After the pacing of 75K word novels, a 4-7K short story seems to fly by! Hopefully it is good practice with plotting and characterization, a chance of publication and a quick-but-positive outcome.

What’s the tipping point for rewriting a novel?

Rejection #2: Moments of Concentration

Another kind set of words that the book is engaging but not right for them. Because I did a lot of research into the agents and editors, I know that they have chosen a lot of books like mine.

This is telling me I need to make the story more unique, my protagonist’s voice stronger. While I wait to hear back from all the agents and editors, I’m focusing on creating moments of concentration.

Haruki Murakami said: 

“The great mystery writer Raymond Chandler once confessed that even if he didn’t write anything, he made sure he sat down at his desk every single day and concentrated.

I understand the purpose behind his doing this. This is the way Chandler gave himself the physical stamina a professional writer needs, quietly strengthening his willpower.”

 

Rejection #1: Feedback is Gold

After just under 3 months, I’ve heard back from the first person out of 6 editors and agents I pitched. I’m deeply appreciative that they read the whole book and provided insight into why they’re passing on it.

They liked it, but didn’t think it was unique enough in a crowded market. I know my pitch worked enough to gain attention, but the manuscript didn’t follow through.

Getting feedback from an industry professional is like gold.

I hope that all my rejections come with something to help me learn.

Going from draft to published book

Writing the book is not the end state. Going from concept to draft is really only the halfway point. It takes a daunting amount of hard work and skills to get published.

Genre/Audience. I touched briefly on the need to have genre-specific readers give you feedback. But how do you know what genre you’re in? Genre is your best friend and a little bit frenemy. A genre like cozy crime books helps you target a specific audience of readers. You can look at what people are reading and why, you can emulate their pitches and reach out to their fans. Imagine trying to sell a sports car to a family of 5. Knowing you have a sports car and what sports car fans love gives you a lot to focus on. And even if you have what seems like a broad genre, the book The Fine Print of Self-Publishing is an excellent resource on pitfalls to avoid.

Self-Publish, Crowdfund or Agent. So many options. Self-publishing is great if you like control, want to publish quickly and don’t mind if the book doesn’t make it to many physical stores. It has a stigma because there’s zero quality control. Crowdfunding is now an option thanks to Inkshares and Unbound – you still have to hustle for readers but they help with things like editing and distribution and you have proof people wanted your book. And finally the agent. The gatekeeper to the big publishing houses, agents can make sure your book gets past the slush pile (mileage may vary.) If you want a smash hit, the agent is far more likely to get you there than the other options.

Pitch. No matter how you go, you’ll need to craft a compelling tagline (1 sentence) that describes your book, like Twilight meets Star Trek or heartbroken animal trainer is Earth’s last hope for survival. Then you need a pitch, 2-4 paragraphs succinctly describing your book, who would like it and why. You don’t describe every character like someone’s third cousin Lizzie or that gas station attendant.

Proposal. As if writing your book once was not enough work, many agents and publishers require a proposal with an outline of your book and the market possibilities. The outline is 1 page of the essential events, so they can see that your book is structured well and doesn’t have major plot holes. The proposal includes a lot. It’s a good idea to do this even if self-publishing, so you can get an idea of where to market your book (more on that later).

Cover Letter. Even on a crowdfunding site, you need to convince people why they should buy a book from you. A short, professional letter with your basic details and any special qualifications you have. Being a hard worker does not qualify you, sadly. Reading a ton of books also does not qualify you. Having a degree in mathematics when writing a kids book on learning math is worth calling out.

Publisher. Still with me? Great. Now you need to identify which agent or publisher or self-publishing or crowdfunding option is right for you. The vast majority of publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts – they are often barely making ends meet and cannot meet the demand of writers seeking a publisher. The few that do must be hunted out and located through lots of research. Agents can get your work through the front door and help make sure you get a good contract, but you have to research to find a great agent. Crowdfunding gets your book idea out there quickly, but you have to do almost all the work  of hustling readers, convincing people to buy the book and generally being shameless (see the marketing post). Self-publishing lets you do a whole bunch of other fun stuff before you get to the point of having to hustle, but that hustle is still waiting for you.

Developmental Editing. Developmental editing is when someone looks at your work to figure out plot holes, places you could strengthen the story, gaps, character behaviours that don’t match their psychology, all sorts of big picture things. A publisher pays for this, but for self-publishing you have to pay.

(You did a bunch of revisions in the earlier stage, why edit again? You really need to get your book edited by a professional editor who went to school for this and does it for a living. Having your friend who was an English school teacher is not enough if your goal is to get your book on physical shelves and in a best seller’s list. Why is editing expensive? It is really time consuming.)

Copyediting. There are types of editing?! Yikes – just like there are so many vaccines, you can’t just get one kind and be done with it. The copy editor helps improve your writing so that it follows good conventions, called style guides. They make your writing more readable and help improve flow.

Cover. This is the fun part, right? It is, but it is also the difference between getting into a best seller’s list and selling a few copies to friends. In general, homemade covers tend to be easily spotted and people believe they reflect the quality of the writing. Homemade covers don’t look polished and compelling like a professional cover, because unless you are also a graphic designer, you don’t have the experience and training to make something that resonates aesthetically. If you need to do it yourself for budget reasons, start with these tips. If you’re looking to hire someone, start here.

Fonts. Have you ever looked at a book cover and just felt that something was off? Something didn’t seem quite done somehow? Fonts make a huge difference. Each font can convey a very different atmosphere for your book, just like the creepy, sad or uplifting music can make a movie scene powerful. Scarlett Rugers has a great guide to fonts for the self-published.

Layout. I was reading the other day that a single line in a book should be 8-10 words long. A paragraph that looks okay in your word processor might be way too long once the book is printed. The margins for the pages need to be much bigger on the inside of the book because of the room needed to open the book. Even if a publisher handles this for you, you should be aware of how long this process takes. For a self-publishing author, there are some templates but it’s not a foolproof process.

Proofreading. Wait, wait… how many kinds of editing are there?! I think this might be the last one. Proofreading is typically done on a physical proof copy. Someone who is not the first two editors will go through your book with a fine tooth comb and look for any typos, spelling errors, incorrect formatting, etc. They aren’t reading for quality or enjoyment, but solely to help make you look as good as you can.

Okay, now you’re done, right? No, no … sadly, we’re not done. Your book may be published, but if you want to actually sell copies you have some marketing to do.