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Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category

At the end of last month I posted about a class that I created here in our Professional Writing department called “From Manuscript to Book: How It Happens.” I explained that my hardy group of thirteen students would be working their way through five manuscripts — first as editors, then as copyeditors, finally as proofreaders.

So we’re about a month into the class and they are nearing their deadline for the content editing portion of the project. At the beginning of class, each group took their manuscripts, divided them up across the class periods, and figured out how much they needed to read before each class to be ready to discuss. They have a lot of steps to perform, but getting on schedule for reading and editing (and staying on schedule) is one of the first and most important parts of the process. Here’s how the entire flow looks for us for this semester:

We have deadlines throughout the semester to ensure that all five books make it through the entire process.

We have deadlines throughout the semester to ensure that all five books make it through the entire process.

The second week of classes, the authors came to class and talked with their editors. It was very helpful for the editors to understand the background of the projects, what the author is trying to accomplish, and just to even put a face behind the writing.

The students come to class and, for the first half hour, talk about the next section of material they read. They’re looking at plot pacing and characterization and dialog and flow and asking questions of one another. I hear snippets such as, “Does anyone understand why the character did that?” “Yeah, I’m not sure that this makes sense.” “This character is supposed to act one way but seems to act another way in some spots. Is she supposed to be bipolar?” “This was so good I couldn’t stop reading! I had to force myself to put it down and do my other homework!”

And sometimes, they end up in laughing fits because, well, it’s difficult and tiring work and they need to relax. (I totally get that.)

Last week, a wonderful fiction editor from Tyndale House, Sarah Mason Rische, skyped with us about her process in fiction editing. The students were able to ask her questions about how to handle certain issues that they came across in their manuscripts. She was a great encouragement to them. So wonderful to hear from a true professional who lives this process every day.

Here are my students wrapping up the editing phase (and feeling darn proud of themselves, as I am of them!):

These guys had two separate manuscripts from separate authors, so they've had to change gears halfway through.

These guys had two separate manuscripts from separate authors, so they’ve had to change gears halfway through.

 

The group in front had a 500-page beast that they've been taming. The ladies in the back had two books by the same author.

The group in front had a 500-page beast that they’ve been taming. The ladies in the back had two books by the same author.

 

So here we are now preparing to write our letters to our authors with our editorial feedback. It’s a lot of work to condense the advice into a readable and encouraging letter while still helping the author clearly see areas that can make the manuscript stronger. The letters and manuscripts with comments will go back to our intrepid authors and we’ll give them a few weeks to make revisions.

In the meantime, the next phase is understanding book budgeting, how the numbers work, and what the publishing board needs to consider in order to make sure that the book can make money. We’ve got an Excel doc to run our numbers, and we’ve got a template of information to fill out. Each group is creating a presentation for their book (in the cases of where they have two books they’ve been editing, they’re choosing one) and will put together a proposal for the pub board with information about the project, the author, the budget, the competition, and the start of a marketing plan.

In preparing a document for the designers (the layout and design class is going to work with us on creating some book covers), they will need to give information such as the title, subtitle, tagline, author’s name, back cover copy, and author bio. Those are the words that need to go on the cover. Then the designer needs specs such as trim size and page count (so the spine can be the right size). Then, of course, beyond that, they need a synopsis of the story, the genre (a romance will have a different look than a fantasy than a thriller), the audience (a kids’ book will have a different look than an adult book), and they need to know the time period, the setting, and some idea of what the main character looks like in case they decide to put a person on the cover — needs to look like how the character is described.

The templates my students will use to create a pub board presentation and a book cover designer presentation.

The templates my students will use to create a pub board presentation and a book cover designer presentation.

So a big portion is nearing completion, but there’s still so much more to do! So many more steps. So much to learn! Of course, that’s why we have this class! I think these guys are getting a great understanding of what it really takes to make a book. It’s tough, it’s tiring. But it’s also rewarding.

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I’ve been intensely creating syllabi for the last month. Spring semester begins February 1 and I have three classes to prep. (I never appreciated my class syllabi for my classes in college. But now that I’ve had to be creating them, wow. What a lot of work and planning!)

One class I’m particularly excited about is a new one I’m creating called “From Manuscript to Book: How It Happens.” I did a version of it during a May term at Houghton College back in 2009, but I’m refashioning it to fill a full semester. Five local authors have entrusted us with their complete manuscripts (all fiction), and my class will become a publishing company (name to be determined) that will walk these manuscripts through the entire publishing process.

My students will work in groups. Each group will receive a manuscript and they’ll first work as content editors. They’ll keyboardconsider all the things fiction editors have to — pacing and characterization and plot and dialog. We’ll Skype with a fiction editor who will talk us through her process. At the end of the first few weeks, they’ll prepare a detailed letter back to their author with advice for the manuscript. In the meantime, class periods will include a behind-the-scenes look at how a publishing company works. We’ll create schedules and budgets and P&Ls and sales projections. From this information, they’ll also begin a title information sheet.

From the title sheet and their P&Ls, they’ll prepare a sales presentation for their book to bring to the publishing board (us) that will determine if we’ll publish these books (which, of course, we will). We’ll Skype with a fiction agent who will clue us in on the types of proposals that sell. This will give my students practice in understanding the how and why of decisions in a publishing house. We’ll hear from publishing professionals currently working in the field.

When the manuscripts come back from the authors, each will go to a new group who will become the copyeditors. They’ll put the manuscript on a template, create style tags, and add front matter. Then I’ll probably have them transfer the work to a Google doc to make the copyediting process easier for group work. They’ll copyedit the manuscript and create a style sheet before preparing the manuscript for typesetting.

We’ve got a plan to meet with a layout and design class. I’ve worked it out with the instructor to include an assignment for his class that involves creating book covers for our books. My students will fill out design acquisition forms and then present the stories of their manuscripts, audience, and other information to these designers so they have the information they need to create the covers.

design

They will then work as teams to typeset the books and prepare final pdfs. The pdfs will then come back to our class and move to the next group that will then proofread.

Final exam? We’ll learn how to take the manuscript and create an e-book.

Will it work? I don’t know — my class will need to offer me some grace as we move through the process. The bottom line is that I hope they learn about the book publishing process, start to finish.

I will keep you posted.

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to killYou’ve probably never heard her name–I hadn’t until last night when watching a TV special about Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, and her unknown and previously unpublished second book titled Go Set a Watchman.

The editor’s name was mentioned in passing, and I asked my husband to pause, replay, and help me catch it. Tay Hohoff is described in a blog post by Clarissa Atkinson, a fellow employee at J. B. Lippincott, as a “respected editor” and a “challenging presence.”

Ms. Atkinson goes on in another post to describe the To Kill a Mockingbird years at the publishing house:

J.B. Lippincott . . . was a family-owned Philadelphia firm, old-fashioned even in the 1950s.  I worked in the branch office at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street – an editorial office, in which the New York tail wagged the Philadelphia dog. My tenure at Lippincott coincided with a few of the many years during which Harper Lee was working on To Kill a Mockingbird. According to office legend (more or less substantiated by Wikipedia), Lee had arrived from Alabama with a trunk full of mixed-up parts and pages of an enormous manuscript, she lived in a garret on macaroni while she transformed the pages into a stunningly successful book, and this was accomplished through the faithful support and encouragement of her Lippincott editor.

Is anyone surprised by this “faithful support and encouragement” from an editor? Not me.

We’ve all heard the story by now. How friends of Harper Lee’s gave her a year’s worth of pay and told her to just go write for that year. The result was this astounding book published in 1960 that was an instant classic and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1961. 

And those of us who write wonder how in the world this writer crafted one book (well, now we know of two) that had this kind of success. We can only dream of that.

I think it has much to do with her upbringing–her father was a well-respected lawyer in her small hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, in the deep South in the days before the Civil Rights movement. She touched a nerve by taking on the topic of racism and showing what it takes to stand up for what’s right.

Still, she also had a good editor who helped to shape the book into something readable. In 2010, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the book’s publication, Newsweek ran an article titled, “Who Helped Harper Lee with Mockingbird?” that discusses Tay Hohoff’s role in the book:

Lee had dropped out of college during her senior year to move to New York to become a writerto the dismay of her father, who wanted her to be a lawyer. She spent nearly a decade doing odd jobs and scraping by before she submitted five stories to a Maurice Crain, an agent who, frankly, wasn’t overly impressed. But he and his wife liked Lee, and he encouraged her to try a novel. The result, then called Atticus, was a mess. “There were dangling threads of plot, there was a lack of unity—a beginning, a middle, an end that was inherent in the beginning,” said Tay Hohoff, an editor at J. B. Lippencott, who described the submission to Lee’s biographer, Charles Shields. Still, Hohoff and the others at Lippencott saw something promising in it and took a chance. Lee clearly needed guidance—but she would get it. Lee rewrote the novel three times over the next two and a half years. At one point, she threw the manuscript out the window and called Hohoff. Her editor persuaded her to go outside and gather the floating pages.

It’s a good thing, wouldn’t you say?

That’s the role of a great editor. Sending a writer back to keep rewriting. Being there when the writer is facing a brick wall and muddled pages. Making sure the pages tossed out the window get gathered up and worked on because the editor sees something that maybe even the author can’t yet see.

ADDENDUM 7/14/15: Reviews of Go Set a Watchman are popping up online, and most of them are not kind. This one, in particular, gives credit to Tay Hohoff for the work she did in shaping To Kill a Mockingbird, a touch clearly missing from this most recent publication. But I disagree with the sentiment that there aren’t editors like that around anymore–there are, and they work very hard to bring diamonds out of the rough.

7/25/15: Excellent commentary from The New York Times. Unfortunately, I do feel that this may have been far more about money than about the writing or the writer.

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As a writer myself, I totally understand the frustration of trying to read an editor’s mind and understand the why behind lengthy edits or outright rejections. What’s going on?

I’ve been encouraging my professional writing students to be aware of and submit to literary magazines as an outlet for their creative writing. Some of them were only aware of a few such locations to send their writing, others didn’t know about lit mags at all, others knew only about contests and didn’t enter often because of the submission fee. But with the thousands of literary magazines out there (I just discovered Duotrope and used it to help me locate lit mags that publish in my genre), anyone can build a list of locations for future submissions. Literary magazines don’t generally pay (although a few do), but the by-line and exposure are invaluable. So this semester, each of my students will be researching lit mags and building lists.

As with any publishing house, however, the writing needs to pass muster for any number of reasons in order to get published.

That’s why I love this article by Savannah Thorne over at one of my favorite websites for following the world of literary magazines, “The Review Review” (and thanks to Becky Tuch for creating it!). Savannah was accepted for publication in a literary magazine called Conclave: A Journal of Character, only to find that the magazine was possibly going to close down. So she took the amazing step of taking it on as managing editor and turning it around.

Her article, “What the Editor Sees (That the Writer Does Not)offers wonderful insight from a writer turned editor into the world of editing a literary magazine. She describes for writers what happens after you’ve hit “submit.” And why it takes so long to hear back. And what you should do when you get a rejection. And why you should keep trying. And, yes, why it takes so long to hear back.

take so long

I’ll wait while you click on the link above and read her article . . . [pause for a refill on whatever I’m currently drinking]

What’s the takeaway? Do your research, write well, keep on writing, keep on submitting. Editors have any number of reasons for accepting some pieces and rejecting others–and often it’s just a gut feeling about a particular piece.

As I said in this post about how editors really aren’t “failed writers” with, as Martin Eden would say, nothing but failure in their past causing their desire to make life miserable for writers who are still trying. Instead, editors are slogging through piles of submissions, many of which are probably great, looking for the excellent, something that sings to them, something that they want to publish in the magazine about which they care so much.

No, you can’t know what that is necessarily. But write your best. Get critiqued. Keep writing. Keep submitting. If someone rejects it, try somewhere else.

Don’t give up, my friend. Keep writing what is truly you. As Herman Melville once wrote, “It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great.”

 

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I just finished reading Sol Stein’s excellent book, Stein on Writing–A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and StrategiesI found myself marking passage after passage, “This will be great to teach my students in my feature article writing class,” or “Wow, that’s a real encouragement to me,” or “I never thought of it that way before.”

Born in 1926 and now 88 years old, Sol Stein founded the book publishing firm of Stein and Day in 1962 which operated until 1989. During his tenure there, according to his website, Stein “edited and published some of the outstanding writers of the 20th century, including James Baldwin, David Frost, Jack Higgins, Elia Kazan, Dylan Thomas, Lionel Trilling, W. H. Auden, Jacques Barzun, and three heads of state.”

Describing his editing of Elia Kazan, Stein says,

The author I have spent more time editing than any other is Elia Kazan, winner of two Academy Awards and director of five Pulitzer Prize Stein on Writingplays who turned to fiction and became a number-one bestselling novelist. In his autobiography Kazan said, “I was now in a new profession. My publisher Sol Stein was my producer, and my editor Sol Stein was my director. . . . He saw quickly . . . that I delighted in saying the same thing over and over, thereby minimizing its impact (‘One plus one equals a half,” Sol would say’).” (205)

Throughout this book, Stein offers advice to writers of both fiction and nonfiction on the basics of plot, pacing, dialog, characterization, and just plain how to be a better writer and get noticed by editors. To flesh out the concepts he teaches, Stein uses anecdotes from his editing of great writers and from working with students in his classrooms. Speaking of his advice to Kazan:

Eliminating redundance was an important factor in [Kazan’s] novel The Arrangement remaining number one on the bestseller charts for thirty-seven consecutive weeks. . . . Catching “one-plus-ones” is a function of what is called “line editing.” Shouldn’t writers rely on editors to catch things like that? The hard fact is that editors do a lot less line editing than they used to. If a novel requires a lot of line editing, it is less likely to be taken on by a publisher, who has to consider the cost of editing. Which is why it is incumbent upon writers to become, in effect, their own editors. (205-206)

I know, I know. You want to be a writer. And I do know how difficult it is to see the forest for the trees. And, yes, you do indeed need readers in a critique group, you need editors and copyeditors who will see things that completely escape you. But here’s the deal. Write that article or essay or book and then let it simmer for awhile. Go away from it. Let others read it. Reread it yourself–slowly, carefully, out loud. If you’re fortunate enough to get published, editors and copyeditors will still bleed red ink all over it (or at least Microsoft Word comments), but it won’t be because you didn’t do your job.

Stein continues:

The biggest difference between a writer and a would-be writer is their attitude toward rewriting. The writer, professional or not, looks forward to the opportunity of excising words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters that do not work and to improving those that do. Many a would-be writer thinks whatever he puts down on paper is by that act somehow indelible. . . .

Judith Applebaum quotes Hemingway as saying to an interviewer, “I rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.” Asked what stumped him, Hemingway said, “Getting the words right.”

Of the most successful authors I have worked with, I can think of only one who fiercely resisted revising. . . .Unwillingness to revise usually signals an amateur. (277)

Sure, we all want to be published. Sure, we’re in a hurry to get our words out into the world. But let’s make that writing, when published, something of which we can be proud.

Like Hemingway, let’s take our time getting the words right.

 

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As I continue to write about editors and editing, I came across some very interesting insights in Jack London‘s masterful work, Martin Eden. Written as a thinly veiled autobiography, the story follows a low-class man and his desire for self-improvement in order to impress a high-class woman with whom he has fallen in love. He reads voraciously; learns language, grammar, and syntax; and teaches himself manners, politics, and philosophy. Eventually, he decides to become a writer–after all, he has many stories to tell from his travels around the world as a sailor.

Alas, every story he sends in is rejected and returned in what we would call the SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). For years, he toils. He goes back and rereads the magazines to which he’s submitting to discover the “secret formula” for getting accepted. He spends hours and hours working at his craft, steadfastly refusing to bow to pressure from the woman he loves (and everyone else in his world) to just “get a job.”

He knows he’s a writer. He can feel it in his bones. He knows he has stories to tell, and he knows his stories are better than anything he’s reading in the magazines.

His money runs out. He barely survives. And the rejections keep coming. Martin begins to wonder:

He began to doubt that editors were real men. They seemed cogs in a machine. That was what it was, a machine. He poured his soul into stories, articles, and poems, and entrusted them to the machine. . . . There was no human editor at the other end, but a mere cunning arrangement of cogs that change the manuscript from one envelope to another and stuck on the stamps. (160-61)martin eden

The chief qualification of ninety-nine percent of all editors is failure. They have failed as writers. Don’t think they prefer the drudgery of the desk and the slavery to their circulation and to the business manager to the joy of writing. They have tried to write, and they have failed. And right there is the cursed paradox of it. Every portal to success in literature is guarded by those watch-dogs, the failures in literature. The editors, sub-editors, associate editors, most of them, and the manuscript-readers for the magazines and book-publishers, most of them, nearly all of them, are men who wanted to write and who have failed. And yet they, of all creatures under the sun the most unfit, are the very creatures who decide what shall and what shall not find its way into print–they, who have proved themselves not original, who have demonstrated that they lack the divine fire, sit in judgment upon originality and genius. (322-23)

Ever felt that way as a writer? Ever felt like the editors either don’t exist or are simply cogs in machines that send out nothing but rejections?

As an editor, I do have to take a bit of offense that Martin sees me as “unfit.” But as a writer, yes, I have at times wondered if anyone with any taste receives–and rejects–my queries, my articles, my blood-and-guts pieces of creative nonfiction.

I’m sure many writers feel the same.

But let me put in a little bit of a plug on behalf of myself and my editor friends.

  • We truly do want the very best writing. But, you need to understand how subjective that is. It’s a gut reaction to a piece of writing. And if you get rejected one place and you really believe in your piece, keep trying.
  • Everything needs to be edited–everything. Trust us. We will work with you to make your writing the best it can be.
  • Editors are human, and each one of us is different. No two editors will edit a piece the same way. Take the advice, but also understand that we are in a conversation with you when we edit.
  • We are busy. Sure, no one wants to wait months for a response, but we’re reading hundreds (sometimes thousands) of pieces. Hence, the form letters that get returned in your SASE. We simply don’t have time to give personal responses to everything. (That said, if you get any kind of response–such as a quick hand-written note on that rejection letter–take that as a huge compliment and keep on trying with that editor.)
  • And generally we aren’t failed writers who defaulted to editing. Many of us write on the side (and get the same treatment from fellow editors). There’s no club. Our work has to stand on its own, just as with everyone else. Many of us have no desire to write at all–editing is our calling and we’re committed to that.
  • Rejection doesn’t mean failure. A piece can be rejected for any number of reasons. It may be that your writing isn’t good–but if you’re in a critique group and you’re taking advice, that probably isn’t the case. It could be things you have no way of knowing–maybe a story like yours has already been accepted and now yours isn’t needed. It could be that gut thing I wrote of above.
  • We really do care about the submission guidelines, the formatting advice we give you, etc. Read these guidelines and follow them. Because we receive hundreds of manuscripts, if it’s apparent you can’t follow the simplest guidelines, then we won’t take the time to read what you sent.

Eventually, Martin Eden does find the success he so long sought, but it comes at a price. He discovers the down side of fame and some of the hypocrisy in publishing, which begins his undoing.

Bottom line, Martin Eden teaches us that it takes persistence, faith in yourself, and hard hard hard work to be a writer.

Don’t give up. Don’t let the editors get you down. Realize that they aren’t “rejection machines.”

Nothing’s perfect, but work with us. Your great writing will find its home.

Quotations taken from Jack London’s Martin Eden: The Annotated Edition by Dennis E. Hensley, Ph.D. Upland, IN: Taylor University Press, 2006. This edition is pictured above.

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Continuing to sing the praises of some of the unsung heros of publishing, I bring to you today an interview with my friend Stephanie Rische, who is a senior editor at Tyndale House Publishers. Stephanie works mainly with nonfiction–so that includes memoirs, inspirational books, devotionals, Bible studies, etc. I love that fact that she loves her work so much. Below, Stephanie answers some questions I asked her about her own process of editing and how it works at Tyndale.

stephanieHow long have you been working as an editor?
I’ve been at Tyndale House for almost a dozen years now. Before I started here full time, I edited curriculum on a freelance basis. I started out as a copy editor at Tyndale, and now I’m a senior editor, working with authors at a developmental level and managing one of our nonfiction teams. I wake up every morning marveling that God would allow me to read books for a living!

You generally edit nonfiction, but do you ever cross over into fiction? In your opinion, how familiar does an editor need to be in a genre in order to edit it well?
I love to read just about anything, but I edit nonfiction (memoir, devotional books, Christian living, children’s Bible storybooks, etc.). I think the best training to be a good editor is to read good writing. Part of your job as an editor isn’t solely to work on the manuscript in front of you; it’s also to do background reading in the genre you edit in so you know what readers are expecting, what the competition is doing, and what makes your manuscript stand out.

Give us a sense of your career path. Did you always know you wanted to do this job? Did you prepare for it in college, or did other circumstances lead you where you are today?
I have always loved to read. I remember missing my bus stop in second grade because my nose was in a book. I didn’t know much about editing until later in life, but in a sense I was being prepared for it through my love of books and writing and words in general. I’m not sure if this was a direct part of my career path, but I’ve always been a noticer. I enjoy observing and exploring, whether it’s little grammar details or big ideas.

In terms of my education, I received a strong foundation in English and writing from Taylor University, and then I taught English for several years. There’s nothing that solidifies your understanding of grammar and writing techniques like having to explain it to a roomful of teenagers who would rather be dong something else!

At Tyndale House, what is the process for acquiring manuscripts, and at what point do you receive the manuscript to begin your work?
At Tyndale the manuscript comes to me after the contract has been signed. In some companies, editors acquire and do developmental editing, but here those two roles are separated. There are advantages to each approach–the consistency is helpful when those roles are combined, but I appreciate that the division here allows me to be more of a purist about the editing process–to be devoted to the content and what’s best for the manuscript without having to weigh the financial and contractual side of things.

What is your process for editing? When a new manuscript lands on your desk, what tools do you gather and then what steps do you take to go from A to Z?
First, I do a manuscript review and make a plan for editing. At that point I talk to the team that acquired the manuscript and make sure we’re all in agreement about the vision for the book as we move forward. The next step is to meet the author (usually over the phone) and let him or her know what the editing process will look like. Depending on how much work the manuscript needs, I’ll go through it two more times–once to make the big-picture, structural edits, and once more to fine-tune and make line edits. It’s a funny thing about the way the brain is wired–it’s almost impossible to do the more creative, right-brained edits at the same time as the analytical, left-brained work. When I’m finished, I’ll send it on to a copy editor, who will do the fact checking and take a close look at the grammar and spelling.

Do you generally work back and forth with the author? What are the guidelines or expectations for that process—that is, do you always have to defer to the author or how much can you, as editor, press your point?
The back-and-forth process with authors is one of my favorite parts of editing. When people find out I’m an editor, they sometimes ask, “How do you decide who wins: you or the author?” But I don’t see the author/editor relationship as an adversarial one; it’s more of a collaboration. Both parties have the same goal: to make the book the best it can be. I marvel at how often the collaborative process of editing produces a third way–a solution that’s better than what the author or the editor would have come with individually. As an editor, I have the privilege of shaping and sharpening someone’s story, and it’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.

For my students who are learning editing and want to eventually work in a publishing house, what would you tell them is the most important skill to acquire in their preparation so they can hit the ground running when the arrive in an editorial department for an internship or a job?

  1. Read a lot, and read widely.
  2. Read critically. As you read, be aware of what’s happening under the surface. Are there parts you’re tempted to skim? If so, why? If you’re hooked, what has the author done to make that happen?
  3. Learn the basics. Even if you want to do higher-level editing, those grammatical building blocks will help you understand language in a deeper way.bird by bird

Any favorite books about editing? What has been most helpful?

Anything else you want to add?
In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King offers these words of thanks to his editor: “One rule of the road not directly stated elsewhere in this book: ‘The editor is always right.’ The corollary is that no writer will take all of his or her editor’s advice; for all have sinned and fallen short of editorial perfection. Put another way, to write is human, to edit is divine.” His words are a bit tongue in cheek, but there is some truth in the idea that editing is a divine practice. As editors, we have a high calling to take someone else’s words and be part of that mysterious process of iron sharpening iron.

 

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