Hey writing friends! I just have to share some good news.
I got a contract for another book and I’m so excited.
I’ll be working again with Bold Vision Books, who published my last book titled Word by Word: An Editor Guides Writers in the Self-editing Process (you can read more about that book here).
This will be a revised and expanded version of that book–probably incorporating much of what is in the current book but then bringing in everything that a writer should be doing in the process of preparing for publication. After all, the actual writing of the manuscript is only part of the process.
So I began an outline. See what you think. What am I missing?
Seeking an agent
Seeking a publisher
Building (or enhancing) your social media presence
Self-editing your manuscript (that part I have)
Going to writers’ conference and what to expect
Writing the book proposal
Writing the one sheet
Perfecting your pitch
Preparing for book promotion
Being confident in your work
Understanding contracts and rights
As I have attended and taught at many writers’ conferences, I have begun to realize how much knowledge of the industry I take for granted and how much most people simply don’t know. A one-stop basic book for writers just putting their toes into the publishing waters will offer them understanding and confidence as they move through the process of trying to get published.
There is a lot to unpack here. If you have thoughts about something newbie writers should know but don’t — in other words, topics I should address in the book — please comment below or write to me. I would love to hear from you.
The manuscript for Word by Word is nearing completion . . . but it hasn’t been easy sailing.
That first draft looked perfect! I felt an overabundance of self-confidence as I emailed those 49,000 hard-won words to the publisher.
After several weeks, I received a loooooooooong email with the editor’s comments — some positive, some negative, lots of suggestions. I cried a bit and fell into a funk for about five days. Then I thought about how I would want my author to react if I, as editor, had sent such a letter (and I have sent a few in my day). Finally, when I got into the right frame of mind, I printed off the editor’s letter and dove in. Among other things, she wrote:
There are a number of issues in this manuscript that need focus and clarity. As I read your table of contents, my first thought was that you had nailed the content that needs to be in the project. But then I discovered that the actual content doesn’t quite deliver in some cases.
I had my work cut out for me. The biggest issue my editor pointed out was that my audience wasn’t clear. As I reread the manuscript, I discovered that she was right. Sometimes I was writing the book as a textbook for my students; sometimes I was writing to the person who already has a manuscript at a publishing house and is working with an editor; sometimes I was writing to people who are critiquing others’ manuscripts; sometimes I was writing to people who want to become editors. Only sometimes was I writing to the true audience of this book. I realized I had done more of an information dump about everything I know than staying true to my audience.
Other issues included some random items that made me think, I know better! Why didn’t I see that?
But then this:
Thank you for your hard work on this project. You are obviously knowledgeable and have a broad background of experience to enable you to write this book. . . .
I trust you will take the critiques as constructive and that you will be challenged to take it up with renewed enthusiasm. . . . You are a wealth of knowledge, Linda, and your voice is needed in this arena. I really really want this book from you.
Yes, indeed. And I really really want it published! So yes, I can and will do this.
My editor listed a number of fixes.
1) Identify a clear picture of the audience.
2) Set definite goals about the type of material you want to write.
3) Prepare an outline (extensive) of each chapter and what will be covered in that chapter, as well as the primary target audience for that chapter.
4) Rewrite the manuscript using these tools and suggestions.
I pictured my audience and knew what I wanted to write. My target audience is that pajama-clad and coffee-fueled author who has just pressed the key for the period at the end of the stunning final sentence on the first draft of his manuscript. He’s finished! But in the back of his mind he knows he isn’t really finished. He knows that no first draft is perfect; he knows he needs to edit.
But he doesn’t know how to do that or where to begin.
My goal is to help that writer understand both the publishing process and the steps and keys to self-editing.
Probably most helpful was my editor’s suggestion to create a revised extensive outline. Internally, I balked a little. Why do I need an outline at this point? But forcing each section of my manuscript to prove why it was there, where it fit best, and how it helped my target audience caused me to be very focused and brutal. Doing the big-picture editing with a revised outline proved invaluable.
I set to work with scissors, tape, and a red pen. Cutting, moving sections, taping pieces together — following my new outline. After a complete restructure on hard copy, I made the necessary changes on the electronic document. I let it sit for about two weeks. Then, I printed it out again. . . .
. . . and read word by word.
That’s where I am now. Reading and marking with my red pen. Suffice it to say that my manuscript is very red.
It will be better for it.
I am doing what I said everyone should do — in my book. The lesson is, of course, that no matter how much you go over your own manuscript, no matter how many critique readers you have, editors will still make marks and offer suggestions. They come at the manuscript completely objective. While an author sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees, the editor comes in like a surveyor and see the trees and how to create a clearing.
I’m thankful to have been on this side of the desk with an excellent editor who saw exactly what my book needs.
What about you? If you’ve worked with a professional editor, what has been the best advice he or she gave you in feedback on your work?
We’re at it again. Last year, I taught a class in our Professional Writing program that exposed our students to the entire publishing process, “from manuscript to book.” We read and edited real manuscripts written by real people; the students took them through the content editing phase, the copyediting phase, and the typesetting and proofreading phase. We also worked with the layout and design class, which created cover designs for us.
This semester, we again have five manuscripts and four authors.
You can read about the actual process on last year’s manuscripts through the hyperlinks above. This time around, we have three fantasy manuscripts and two nonfiction.
I want to tell you about this experience from the viewpoint of an author. One group of this class gamely took on my MFA thesis and my new editing book for Bold Vision Books, titled Word by Word, coming out this summer.
I had this group work on both of my manuscripts because the word count added up to roughly the same as the manuscripts in the other groups (about 100K), spreading the work evenly.
Here’s what happened from my perspective as an author. I had sent in the first draft of my thesis for review in my program. My MFA mentor wrote back with some excellent advice and good questions. One thing had to do with the entire premise. My thesis is about my life as an editor — it is more memoir-ish with research and other nonfiction elements. At first, I had the title “Superhero Editor.” My mentor challenged that, sensing that the metaphor didn’t really work. The editor doesn’t swoop in and “save the day”; no, it’s much more collaborative and intimate than that. He challenged me to try another metaphor.
I thought and thought and thought, coming up dry. Then, when I decided to give the project to my students, I offered them the challenge. And they came through.
They thought that the friendship angle would work better. They gave me the title “Friends with Words.” Then I realized that for the last month I’ve been playing on my phone every night with my mom — the Scrabble game “Words with Friends” (and, by the way, she usually smokes me!). We moved their words around, and I titled the thesis “Words with Friends” and went back and recast the entire thing to reflect the new tone of that kind of relationship between editors and authors.
I couldn’t have done it without my student editors!
After they finished my thesis, they gamely moved on to my contracted book, which is more of a textbook style (a book I will use in my editing classes moving forward). The full manuscript for this was due to the publisher on March 1, so I asked what I needed to do to improve this first draft.
I told them to put me through my paces and do what I’ve trained them to do . . . and they did. They pointed out my overuse of the word “So.” (When I checked it, Microsoft Word said, “There are too many instances to check. You use this word a lot!” Yikes!) They mentioned that I needed to watch for passive voice. They told me when I got long-winded (read: “boring”) and need to cut or revise some lengthy sections.
AND, they let me know what they liked, what was engaging, and what was helpful.
All the editing groups put together their editorial letters with suggestions and advice to their authors, who will do what they can with their manuscripts by our March 28 due date.
I don’t know how you novel writers do it. First, I am always astounded by fiction writers–people who can weave a tale, build a plot and sustain it, create believable and likable characters, keep the suspense going, and then end with a conclusion that satisfies.
Seriously. I admire you more than you know.
So as the month of November approaches, and with it NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I can hear weeping and gnashing of teeth from my Professional Writing students who are trying to decide if they can take on the beast that is NaNoWriMo.
If you don’t know, NaNoWriMo is when novel writers everywhere commit to writing 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. To translate, there are about 250 words on a standard double-spaced typed page. So 50K words = 200 pages, divided by 30 days = roughly 6 or 7 pages a day. That’s a day. Anyone who is a writer will tell you how difficult it is to sustain that kind of momentum for very long. Not impossible, but tough. Especially when you have, you know, like, a life. Like classes to take and homework to do and food to eat and sleep to enjoy.
My student Chrysa discusses her past experience with NaNo in her blog post this week. And Jessie is trying to decide if the commitment is worth it:
If nothing else, the commitment of NaNo helps writers see what is possible. Whether they get to that magic 50K number or not, they have discovered that setting a goal and working steadily toward it have their own rewards. Basically you just do it and see if, well, if you can do it. There are no prizes, no awards dinners. Doing the task is reward unto itself.
Only writers understand that.
Which brings me to EdBoWriMo.
I don’t write novels. Never have. Never will. I am content to be astounded by my fellow writers who do. However, as I shared last week, I’m under contract to write a book about editing. So I decided to join my novel writing friends in making a commitment to myself to make this “Editing Book Writing Month.”
And since I know my abilities, I’m not shooting for 50K words; instead, I think I’m going for a more modest 22,500 words, which works out to 750 words (or about three pages) per day.
So what about you, my fellow writers? Do you have something you need to work on, but NaNoWriMo doesn’t quite fit? Then create your own! Let’s join with our fellow novel-writing friends and commit ourselves to a certain number of words per day (or per week if that’s better). Create your own acronym. Create your calendar.
And on November 1, let’s commit to seeing how far we can finally get on that project.
So tell me, what could you work on this November? What languishing project could you breathe new life into? What project could benefit from your sustained attention during the month of November? Tell me about it in the comments below.
This past summer at the Write-to-Publish Conference, I pitched a book to a publishing company called Bold Vision Books. For several years I’ve wanted to write a book about editing–a book that combines much of my work for the past three decades along with the research I’ve been doing about the great editors (some of which I’ve been sharing here on my blog) and turning it into a book I can use in my future editing classes at Taylor University.
And I hope it’s a book many writers and aspiring editors will want to read.
And the publisher accepted it! So now, in addition to writing my thesis (about editing), I’m also writing a book (about editing).
Needless to say, this is exciting and exhausting. There are several great books about editing already out there (as I discussed in this post), so I feel both humbled and honored as I take on this task.
The publisher has asked that my book help writers with self-editing, so my audience is writers who are trying to make their manuscripts the best they can be before sending them off to agents or acquisitions editors or before self-publishing on Kindle or CreateSpace.
If you’re interested, here’s what it looks like so far:
Introduction—Take This Quiz! A Bird’s Eye View of the Publishing World This is a publishing quiz that pulls from numbers in the publishing world (number of books published in a year, number of returns, general number of each title sold, etc.). Multiple choice.
Chapter 1—Let’s Start at the Very Beginning Takes you through all of the steps in the publishing process—from manuscript idea to bound book. Helps the reader understand how many people touch the book, how many decisions must be made along the way.
Chapter 2—A Passion for Words What editing is all about, what makes a good editor, why everyone needs to self-edit and have others edit their work. I explore the stories of two great editors—Tay Hohoff and Maxwell Perkins—and their work with Harper Lee and F. Scott Fitzgerald respectively.
Chapter 3—First Impressions The supreme importance of a manuscript’s first pages. Explanation of how agents and acquisitions editors only have a few moments at a conference or busy schedules at their offices and if the writer doesn’t grab them in the first few pages, they won’t read any further. How can you edit those first pages to make them intriguing?
Chapter 4—Content Editing (The 10,000-foot View) This chapter focuses on what content (or developmental) editing is and how it takes a different mind-set from both writing and copyediting. It explores ways to content edit yourself and others, and the questions to ask as you’re editing (separating fiction and nonfiction).
Chapter 5—Copyediting (The 1,000-foot View) This chapter has several functions just as a copy editor also has several jobs in addition to just reading the manuscript. I will help those who are putting together their manuscripts to understand how to build the front matter and back matter for their books (such as what they should go ahead and put on their copyright page and TOC), how to use templates and create style tags (which will make the editor at the publishing house want to kiss them)—in short, how to deliver a clean and consistent manuscript.
From there, we’ll cover some basic grammar and punctuation rules and guidelines—keying in on the errors I tend to see all the time (hello! No double spacing between sentences!) and how to fix them. I will advise on some of the Microsoft Word tools that will be most useful (not everything in all detail, but the key tools).
We’ll also learn about the bible—The Chicago Manual of Style—along with style guides and style sheets. They will have exercises to do to try to find various items in CMS and with a style sheet from a fake publisher. I will include some exercises for them to practice grammar and punctuation, along with some very funny dangling modifiers to fix (“We saw a dead deer driving down the road.”).
Chapter 6—Proofreading (The 10-foot View) We talk about proofreading in a couple of ways. First, we can proofread a manuscript on hard copy—and this is where we’ll learn about proofreader marks. I will show the readers what these are and provide some practice pages to work with proofreader marks.
Second, we’ll talk about proofreading on pdfs of typeset pages and how to use the markup tools in Adobe. In this phase, there’s more than just proofreading the text; proofreaders have to check the layout of pages, page numbers for the TOC, placement of elements on pages, etc. I will provide a checklist of items to look for in this proofreading phase along with a practice page.
Chapter 7—Working with Bible Text Even though this is not necessarily a Christian publishing book, that has been the major part of my experience so I will include advice on working with Bible text. This will also include practice exercises. As much as we Christians love and use the Bible, it’s amazing how authors so often are not careful when they quote from it or refer to its stories in their writing. In this chapter, I give some personal experiences with thirty years of Bible publishing and several tips on working with the Bible text.
Chapter 8—If You Want to Try to Self-Publish . . . We’ll talk about the world of vanity publishing—pros, cons, and things to look out for. For example, if they decide to build a book for Kindle or use CreateSpace, what do they need to know, and how they should format and price their books. However, I would always advice all of those editorial steps above.
Chapter 9—Child’s Play: The Special World of Children’s Editing Editing children’s books is a very different skill. In this chapter, I discuss the kind of mind-set needed to edit children’s books, with a discussion of Ursula Nordstrom, editor of such books as Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, Where the Wild Things Are, and Harriet the Spy. I also will interview some children’s editors for further insights into this special world.
Chapter 10—If You Want to Try an Editing Career . . . Here I talk about how to prepare for an editing career, how to build a portfolio of work and where to find that work, how to practice, what to charge if you freelance.
Thoughts? Am I missing anything? You writers out there, what would you want to read in a book about self-editing? Let me know in the comments below! And thanks in advance for your help.