Tuesday 31 December 2013

Cherish your editor

The relationship between a writer and her editor can be complex. The writer often fears the editor and some editors may fear higher profile writers – they have a track-record so they must be doing something right. Who is the mere editor to say that this time they are wrong? 
Yet the editor performs several services for the writer:

Thursday 5 December 2013

A Publisher’s Mailbox

How much our lives are ruled by our inbox! Email is at once a blessing and a curse. As a publisher, editor, academic, writer, creative practitioner and human being I receive about 200 emails a day. Who says we’re not communicating?

Email isn’t the only task
Though sometimes it can feel like it. So, should we cut it down? It would seem sensible to BUT I’m inclined not to. Everything I receive in my email box is welcome in fact – even the bad and irritating news. Sometimes I can’t action it straight away – so I put it into a “To Do” folder. Sometimes I’m never going to action it in time and it’s not important.  I’ve found this wonderful little button on my computer – marked “Delete”.  I don’t unsubscribe from lists, though. Odd times when there are a few more minutes to spare, I often find something useful on these lists.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Opinion soup

There is some subjectivity, certainly. Each publisher, anyway, has its own ethos, its own style, and targeted readership. And within the company there will be differing opinions. At that point, we must have some objectivity. All of these opinions must converge and everyone must be able to get behind the book. The book must attract a consensus of positive opinion.

Sunday 27 October 2013

A book comes to life

The call
We put out the call for submissions. We watch as they come in. We don’t look yet. We’re mildly curious as to how the writers have found us. Was it social media?  Did they visit our web site? Did someone in the know recommend us to them?
We recognise some old friends and we are flattered that some very established writers turn to us now. There are some new voices too: will they bring us that smart new gobsmacking, stunning, life-changing short story?
Still we don’t look.

Thursday 10 October 2013

What a publisher reads - and thinks about whilst they’re doing it

I read. I read a lot. Possibly it’s because of my love of reading and because of my love of books that I’ve become a publisher. I’m also a writer and a reviewer. So what do I read?
Keeping a balance
I publish young adult literature and short stories. It’s logical, then that I read a good deal of those. I also read some non-fiction that interests me. That is often about literature, writing or something to do with the publishing business. Or it might be to do with a period of history I’m interested in. I also read books for younger children occasionally and normal literature – often books I’ve picked up at writing friends’ book signings. Then, of course, there are the books I have to review – usually children’s or young adult. I also read in French, German and Spanish – partly because I can and partly because I want to keep up my fluency in those languages.  
How I choose
I sometimes think they’re choosing me. Since I’ve acquired a Kindle I select in a slightly different way. I keep it charged up with four of everything: four young adult / children / four adult in each of French, German and Spanish of normal adult books and four non-fiction. If something comes up and I have a gap, I’ll purchase the book. If I’m going somewhere than involves flying I’ll make sure all categories are full. Added to this are the review copies, the ones form readings and offers at conferences. At this point the physical book almost becomes a souvenir.
I also use the local library.  
What I think about
I’m afraid I can’t quite shut the editor head up. It’s also still there when I go to the theatre or the cinema. I notice a cliché here, an awkward expression there and find the odd character but thinly drawn. I also notice excellent writing and sometimes understand why a particular book has been published.
I review self-published books for one organisation and most of them a reasonable. Some are good and some are even very good and better than some conventionally published books I’ve read. Other self-published books I’ve reviewed have been dire and I’m always wary of self-published books: how can we know which ones are safe to read?  Maybe this is the biggest argument for seeking conventional publishing.
Reading now and soon
I’m reading a young adult thriller in German by Monika Feth. No one writes quite like her. I hope more of her work will be translated into English soon. She uses several different viewpoints but he characters are richly drawn and her stories gripping.
After that I’ll be reviewing a young adult book for Armadillo Magazine. I also have a pile of seven library books to read – three young adult, two adult and two children’s. I have twenty books form signings to read and about thirty non-fiction – some to do with some historical research I’m doing and some I’ve picked up at conferences about writing.       

Sunday 22 September 2013

The Debate Continues - self-publishing versus traditional

Yes, it goes on. As it is now very easy for writers to publish their one material why should they wait for a traditional publisher to accept their work and then take several months to get it out into the open?
Taking risks
The traditional publisher has to be confident enough about your work to risk time and money on various services you might want to buy in as a self-publisher:
·         Cover design
·         Editing (structural)
·         Editing (line)
·         Editing (copy)
·         Proof-reading
·         Book design
·         Marketing
The publisher will have to sell several hundred books to get their money back on those upfront / overhead costs. Whether the book sells twenty or twenty thousand copies those prices remain the same.  

Saturday 31 August 2013

Some thoughts on design and formatting

One book I’ve recently been editing and that is now in design had raised a few questions for me and might provide some food for thought for writers. The bottom line is that the now so familiar manuscript looks totally different. As a writer myself I’m used to this phenomenon. What I’ve seen for weeks and weeks as a double-spaced text on A4 sheets is now a single-spaced – or maybe 1.5 or .75 on a 8 x 5 or a 10 x 7 book page. It may even be in a different font. And it looks strange.
Book sizes
This particular book is being produced as an 8 x 5 book. It is 138 pages long as double-spaced A4. Double-spaced A4 often translates to almost exactly the same number of pages in single-spaced for an 8 x 5 book. A 10 x 7 is a few pages less. Which format to choose depends on getting a book that is neither too thin nor too fat. So, up to about 250 pages goes into 8 x 5 and over into the larger format.
Paragraph lengths
It is a little disturbing as we read the design copy of the book mentioned above that some paragraphs go over a page. They did not seem overlong as we read them at the editing stage and they probably read fine anyway. However, they could be off-putting for the reader – especially as this text is aimed at young adults. Sure, many of them can read at quite a sophisticated level but they still want quick pace and instant outcomes. The paragraph that runs over a page may imply that the text slows down. We might need to see if we can justify some paragraph breaks here.
Lessons for writers and publishers
Many writers swear by changing the font and other aspects of the formatting as they edit. That way they see their text in a new light. It’s probably a good idea for editors to do this as well.  

Friday 16 August 2013

What a story needs to do

It has to sell the book. It has to cover the cost of production, make a pro rata contribution to the overheads and make some money for the publisher and the writer so that they can live.
How does it do this? I’ve thought about this in the context of my own recent reading and I’ve concluded:
It must include a good balance of the following ingredients.

1.      The right pace – fast, yes, but not so fast that we lose track

2.      Human interest

3.      Tension

4.      Believable characters

5.      Characters you bite your nails for

6.      Rounded characters

7.      An author who understands the setting well

8.      The right length

9.      Something to make the reader think

10.  Something to intrigue the reader

11.  Beautifully crafted prose

12.  A sense of time

13.  A sense of place

14.  A huge problem to be solved

15.  A satisfactory resolution

16.  Some fun

17.  Some more serious moments

18.  A touch of intrigue – even if the work is not a thriller

19.  A touch of mystery - even if the work is not a fantasy

20.  And this one must always be there - something to make first the publisher and then the reader fall in love with the book.

Of course, all of these can be quite subjective and this is what makes the writer’s job quite difficult. But worth pursuing?       

Friday 2 August 2013

Who is the first scene for actually?

One of the greatest signs that we are dealing with an experienced, professional writer is that there is no unnecessary first scene. The real writer knows where the story actually starts.
The three examples below are from my own work. I’m wiser now but still see new writers doing this.
Story of a watercolour
One of my novels originally starts off with a young girl putting the final touches to a watercolour. She is anxious to get this off in the post as it’s part of a letter to her former classmates. Now, that letter does become important later and her classmates do admire her skill but more importantly she disappears shortly after posting that letter. It’s crucial to introduce the first step towards that disappearance on the first page.
A fabulous breakfast
As my protagonist sets out on her adventure, she and her family enjoy a sumptuous breakfast. She feels car sick later and because they have to stop the adventure begins. A one-line flashback to the breakfast is enough. The reader actually doesn’t need to know the details of the breakfast. So,  I got rid of the breakfast. The book has since been published.
A dramatic argument
A couple quarrel. Possibly partly because of this but more likely because of bad weather and bad driving by a third party, the protagonist is killed in a car crash. The rest of the story takes place in his after-world.  Again, it is better to start with the crash itself and then refer to the argument. The argument still has a point as it means that he needs to resolve things form beyond the grave. However, the reader doesn’t need the details. This book is now published.
Why we write these scenes
It was actually still important to write these scenes. It allowed me to get to know the characters really well. But just as with any other writerly research, you don’t need to overwhelm your reader with these details. Just write with the knowledge that th research has given you.
What to do with the killed darlings
Yes, these are certainly darlings that need killing. Often we’re rather pleased with them and have put everything that we know about our craft into these snippets. Keep them anyway, for the good writing they contain.
My watercolour example is turning into a piece of flash fiction – one that tells a very similar story to the whole book. The breakfast will become a piece of flash life-writing. The argument can also become a flash story.
The novel containing the watercolour scene will be supported by a web site once it is published. I’ve written a lot of the copy already and am including “deleted scenes” – there are a few others as well.
Another parallel with the film industry
You probably know how much work goes into a film script before it is made into a film – and much of that work happens after the script is accepted and before they start making the film. Even so, frequently the first couple of pages and even a couple of scenes are left out. We literally “cut to the chase”.
A note of warning
It is important to get this right. Put your manuscript away for a few days before you send it out into the world. Make sure you’re not filling the limited word count in the few chapters you’re invited to submit with those darlings that need killing.    

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Author bios

I have talked about this before though I mean something a little different this time. Last time I was talking about the bio that authors send with submissions. That type of bio gives us some insight into the authors. Are they already published? How experienced are they in the world?  What are they like as people? The bio I’m talking about here is for the reader.
Tight writing
The bio must be as well written as the rest of the piece. Certainly it should be written tightly and shouldn’t be too expansive.
In proportion
As a reader and as a publisher I get irritated when I read a 250 word piece of flash fiction accompanied by a 100 bio. A Tweet-sized bio might be more appropriate.
What the publisher asks for
As always provide exactly what has been asked for. If the word limit is 50, don’t write 100. 55 or 45 might be all right.
What to write
Try to give the essence of who you are as a writer and the specifics of why you have written this particular text.
These often make me cringe except, perhaps, when a humorous book is produced. It almost seems as if the writer doesn’t have enough to say about themselves.
New Writers
These writers may not have a glamorous list of publications and awards. However, they can still give some insight into their writing lives. This may be to do with how, why and where they write and how they came to write this particular piece.
Other places for biographical data
Longer bios are often included in books and that is fine. One reads them when one has the time and at that point they are always inserting.
Interviews and blogs can supply more detail. Jokes are fine here – as long as they don’t take up too much of the text.
Piers Anthony, in his Incarnations of Immortality series, always included the sort of text that most writers these days would put on a blog. He gives an account of what happened as he wrote the story and of his creative process.

I’m concerned about all of this, I suppose, because currently I’m ploughing through just under 800 author bios for an article I’m writing. Those bios are there to give readers a quick insight into an author they might read. Most of them are very well written. A few are extremely irritating.
I do enjoy reading the longer extracts of biographical information such as those mentioned above. I’m always curious about writing process and about what makes a writer. However, I prefer to read these when I have time.  At other times I just want a quick snapshot of the author and a confirmation of their credentials.