Making the Most of an Editor’s Time

Leave a comment

Max PerkinsThe Writer’s League of Texas has a superior Agents & Editors Conference each year here in Austin. I’ve attended, volunteered, been on faculty, pitched, and exhibited there over the last 10 years. Some writers attend to meet with agents in consulting appointments of 10 minutes. Others submit manuscript samples and synopses in an annual contest. Others just come to learn how the publishing business works and understand their genres better.

But there are probably fewer than 100 writers each year who come to meet with publishers’ editors. This year only three editors are taking consulting meetings, but does a limited number of writers make sense? Wouldn’t you rather talk to an editor, instead of an agent, about your book? You’d think a 10-minute meeting with someone who buys books, instead of an agent who represents and sells them to publishers, would be the smart way to go. There are good reasons why it’s not so simple. The WLT explains them well.

Why would I want to meet with an editor? Aren’t agents the ones who make the deals?”

Our answer: Editors can and do acquire books — but it’s very rarely that they acquire a book (or request materials) from a writer directly; an agent is almost certainly involved in this process.  Regardless, editors can offer valuable insight into agents who represent your type of work, should you need suggestions. What’s more, editors can offer valuable information on how to shape your story for not only agents and publishers, but for readers. They are also often experts on specific genres or categories and can share great advice that’s specific to what you’re writing.  For all of these reasons, and more, we invite editors to the conference and we make one-on-one consultations with them available.

BUT (very important) you should not select a meeting with an editor if your sole goal is having someone request materials or tell you they’d like to consider your work for publication. This is not a realistic goal for a meeting with an editor and you will likely be disappointed. We’re cautioning you here so that you don’t regret it later.

The League’s staff invites the curious author to call and learn more. Good show. Indeed, these editors don’t arrive to buy books. Everyone needs to see a book proposal these days, it seems. Even fiction authors get deals more easily with one. But an editor does a service to a conference attendee who meets with them. They tell them what they think of the book and the idea. It’s pretty much what an agent does at the conference. You pitch. They listen. They tell you what they think. In some cases the agent asks for a sample of the book.

Editor’s requests for a sample are not unheard of at the conference, though. One Workshop writer from my memoirs/nonfiction group said he got a request from a Big Five imprint for his full book after a meeting. Dave’s a worker and following through, but the important thing is that editors want unique, good books as badly as the agents who represent the authors writing those books. Time with an editor is almost always time well spent if you learn something and the book evolves.

Loving A Book From An Editor’s Catbird Seat

Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, PBS ran a encore broadcast of “Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird.” The book needs no introduction, of course, being one of the essential novels taught from high school right through to university-level English and writing courses. 30 million copies have been sold in the book’s lifetime, and each year of its current life brings another quarter-million new volumes into reader hands.

tay_and_catWere it not for a gifted editor at a 1950s publisher, the book may never have changed so many lives. Few of those millions of readers probably know the name Tay Hohoff, but without her work, Harper Lee might only be a retired airline reservations clerk or a schoolteacher of English in Alabama. Garrison Keillor wrote a 2006 review of a Charles’ Shields’ Harper Lee biography, and in the review titled Good Scout he noted how Shields tipped his cap to Hohoff.

A year later, Lee has the beginnings of a novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” which becomes “Atticus,” which, under the tutelage of a patient editor at Lippincott named Tay Hohoff (“dressed in a business suit with her steel gray hair pulled tightly behind her, . . . short and rail-thin with an aristocratic profile and a voice raspy from cigarettes”), after a cold winter night breakdown, she finishes in the summer of 1959.

An editor can make all the difference, but like the editors in cinema toiling over final cuts in dark rooms, these stewards of story don’t come out to take a bow very often. Hohoff wrote one book of her own, a 1971 salute to cats. Some of her best writing came in notes to authors like Lee.

Hohoff’s best work was in the service of someone else’s story. From a Newsweek article about who created To Kill a Mockingbird came this version of the genesis. It also explains that cold night’s breakdown.

“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.

There’s another editor in the wings of an even greater classic, Gone With the Wind. Lois Cole discovered the manuscript that Margaret Mitchell hurled at a “book scout” for the novel’s publisher. Revisions took three years on a novel that Mitchell drafted over the course of six years. The work of an editor was once the most essential part of lifting books into publication, but it’s a spotty experience by today. Novelists who have good editors rave over the collaboration rocket fuel that produces high fliers of books.

Self Publishing: Even with a network, you must invest in your process

Leave a comment

Third in a Series

Creative Coaching Series

Creative Coaching Series

A book is an effort of mighty collaboration. It probably doesn’t seem that way while you’re alone in your chair with the door closed on your writing space, revising what’s written or facing the blank page with your visions. But it takes a village of helpers to make a book. As a self-publisher, you will learn to rely on many people.

Viral-Times-gasmask-cover blogIn my acknowledgements for Viral Times, I listed 17 people who had a direct contribution to my debut novel. From early reading groups, where the content editing was free, down to the creative coaching, editing and proofreading, and finally to my most trusted reader Abby — my wife and the inspiration for the book — there were many people to rely upon.

Finally at the last, just before my proofreader Leslie Nail and my printer’s account manager Terry Sherrell helped make these words ready for press and ebook, my beloved bride Abby read through these people, the places and all the dreams that she has inspired and nurtured. Making a book can feel like making a movie once you write down all the names who have midwifed it. It’s been my joy to deliver this story at last—and also as the first book in my life as a novelist.

The first book in that life required an investment in paid editing, in due course. For me it was content editing and  proofreading, but for some writers you might get content editing for free — if you have experienced writers or language arts teachers in your network. But nearly everyone needs to pay for copyediting. Altogether the editing is probably going to look like $3,000 in budget. It did for me, and I applied my 30 years of copyediting to my final draft before Leslie Nail took after it with “light copyediting” alongside her proofing. The book contains about eight errors anyway, but that’s out of 98,000 words. No typos — but I can live with that percentage.

Guy Kawasaki, one of the founding Apple Computer gurus and now an expert on SelfPub, wrote a superior book with Shawn Welch on the creative magic of making your own book. In APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur; How to Publish a Book, there’s good advice on editing: It’s a stupid mistake to skip paying for the work, done by a pro.

The third challenge is figuring out how much to pay a content editor. The going rate for content editors is $50 per hour. Figure that content editing will take 20-30 hours, so you’ll be spending $ 1,000-$1,500 for these services. The going rate for copyediting is $35 per hour, and copyeditors can work their magic at the rate of roughly 10 pages per hour (although this can vary depending on the complexity of the material), so you’ll pay approximately $ 1,000-$1,500 for a 300-page manuscript. This is one of the dumbest places to try to save money, because poor copy editing destroys the quality of your book.

The 12 Steps to Creating a Self-Published Book

Leave a comment

First of a Series

Creative Coaching Series

Creative Coaching Series

Everyone dreams of being a published author. However, the definition of published has become broader. It’s within your grasp. Being published is a key goal in a writer’s life, a goal you can take control of — if you follow all of the steps in this series. Being published is a process that involves other artists, readers, professionals, and writers.Your greatest asset to complete that process is to take control of your desire. You’ve must harness desire to deliver the goods for your dream. In this series, I’ll break down each step, so you know how it works. Self-publishing your book follows a pattern classic to publishing.

  1. You create a story, and improve it through revising.
  2. You create one brief, one longer, and one comprehensive summary of the book. It’s your pitch, query, and calling card.
  3. You workshop with other writers to gather responses to your story, using those responses to create your final draft.
  4. You create your platform, before the book is complete, to build an audience
  5. You hire an editor to assess your book, and to guide your revisions to the story.
  6. You revise one last time, before submitting your book to copy-editing and proofreading tasks.
  7. You design your printed book, both the inside pages as well as the covers.
  8. You design and build files for ebooks: Amazon, as well as other outlets such as indie bookstore ebook shelves.
  9. You schedule and specify for production and organize delivery of printed copies, as well as your ebooks.
  10. You register your book with an ISBN number and a UPC code.
  11. You distribute the books in stores of several kinds: book chains, independent stores, and online stores.
  12. You tell the world about your book, encouraging reviews of all varieties. This final and essential step launches you as storyteller into the world, using your platform to introduce your written story, as well as attract an audience.

Steps 1-4 are the same for publishing as for self-publishing. On Step 5, things start to change. The editor in that step is one which you hire — in the same way that a publisher has hired its editor to help an author revise a book.

Like a good Tarentino movie, this series going to look at these out of order, starting with Step 5. We’ll double back to do Steps 1-4. That’s because your first four steps will be the same if you’re going to SelfPub, or Traditional Publish (TradPub). Then we’ll go on to Step 6.

You hire for steps 5-11, but you can do of those some parts yourself, depending on your skills. Step 12 is the same for either kind of publishing. Publicizing is the writer’s work to do for almost the entire life of the book. A publisher helps arrange initial interest, and might be able to schedule reviews. But tools like Amazon, GoodReads, even LibraryThing — these are yours to manage. More