Tag Archives: editors

One Year Since Michael R. Underwood’s GEEKOMANCY

Posted by April 8th, 2013

Meet author & Book Country member Michael R. Underwood


“Don’t always settle for the established trope.” –Mike Underwood

Michael R. Underwood is the author of Geekomancy, an urban fantasy novel in which geek knowledge is a superpower. A year ago Pocket/Gallery editor Adam Wilson came across a sample of the manuscript on Book Country, loved it, and offered Mike a book deal.

We got in touch with Mike to commemorate the acquisition, talk about his writing, and find out how becoming a published author changed his life.

Nevena: Thank you for joining us, Mike. Let’s start with Geekomancy. When did you start writing it? And how did you come up with the idea of Geekomancers, or “humans that derive their supernatural powers from pop culture”?

Geekomancy started as a distraction. I gave myself a break from writing another novel so I could noodle with this idea I had about geek magic. I set aside the novel I’d been working on and let myself explore this new idea over Thanksgiving weekend. The genesis of the magic of Geekomancycame from a confluence of many influences and inspirations, but largely from asking myself the question, “What would geek magic be?”—and then trying to figure out the answer.

Nevena: Geek magic is a unique concept. Do you see yourself reinventing genre conventions?

Mike: When I started Geekomancy, I set out to write the kind of urban fantasy that I’d want to read. I feel like there is a thread in urban fantasy that takes the same creature types (e.g., Vampires, Wereshifters, Demons, Witches, Fae, etc.) and just re-cycles them with minimal changes. I wanted to do something different. The world of Geekomancy has vampires, werewolves and demons, but I filtered each creature type through the whacky lens of the world. So I ended up with vampires nearly extinct because they’d been lashed to the popular consciousness dominated by Twilight, werewolves that are actually humans in rubber werewolf suits, and a demon called the Thrice-Retconned Duke of Pwn.

It may not count as breaking a convention, but Geekomancy was always intended to be a comedy as much as an urban fantasy. There are other great comedic urban fantasy series (e.g.,The Dresden Files, InCryptid, The Iron Druid Chronicles), but I don’t see it as the dominant thread in urban fantasy. Many have comedy in them, but far fewer are as much comedy as they are urban fantasy.

Nevena: Are there any clichés or genre conventions in fantasy you’d like to see disappear?

Mike: No, because I keep seeing writers take something familiar and make it fresh again. I would like to challenge fantasy writers (myself included!): don’t always settle for the established trope as is. It can be tricky to find that balance—in drawing enough on what’s come before to invite audiences in through the familiar, but then delivering something that’s distinct and new enough to be worth the reader’s time. I used familiar cultural properties inGeekomancy, but I tried to put them together in a different way.

Nevena: I can see that, especially with how you’ve woven your unique sense of humor throughout the book. What’s your secret to crafting a great voice?

Mike: Thanks! I access voice through the same way I step into a character when I’m playing RPGs or acting. I learn enough about the character that I can build a worldview filter that lets me see and analyze the world through that character’s perspective. When I’ve got a clear sense of a character’s voice, it’s much easier for me to tear through the word count. For me, a well-realized voice makes for a well-realized character, and then the character can drive the story.


Nevena: Now walk us through the book’s path to publication. What was the most challenging part about writing and publishing it?

Mike: I started writing Geekomancy in November 2010, and continued through the summer of 2011. I took a break in the summer to do a revise-and-resubmit for an agent on a previous project, then went back toGeekomancy and wrote until I finished the rough draft in late 2011. I submitted the barely-revised rough draft to a novel contest in an online writers’ group I’m in (Codex Writers), and decided to throw a sample up on Book Country as well, as a way to share my revision process online and get some extra feedback.

In January 2012, I got an email from Adam Wilson at Pocket/Gallery, who had read the partial on Book Country and asked for the full manuscript. After a good bout of Kermit flailing, I wrote back and sent the manuscript, and about a week later, I had an offer.

The most challenging part was the first draft itself. I was having a huge amount of fun writing the novel, but along the way, I had doubts—what if I was writing too obscure, too insular? Was I writing a novel only I and fifty of my friends would enjoy? I made some edits to make the book more accessible, but I think it remains a book that will best connect with particular types of readers.

I think all books have “ideal readers” who are positioned to best connect with a work. Books can connect with many other people, but the ideal readers are probably the people who will most love the work. I inadvertently gave myself the advantage of knowing quite specifically who the ideal readers for Geekomancy were—they were the people who had grown up loving many of the same things I did, who could see themselves in Ree Reyes and her friends. What started as a fear has turned out to be the work’s great strength for the ideal readers.

Nevena: I bet the concept of an ideal reader helps a lot during the writing process. What was the process of working with your editor?

MikeGeekomancy is largely the same novel it was as of the first draft. Adam helped me take the things I was trying to do and do them better, more evocatively. He also helped me foreground the magic so that it could connect with readers better and invoke the fannish joy that is intrinsic (for me) to geekdom.

I love having an editor. I’ve been a collaborative storyteller for most of my life, playing tabletop and live-action role-playing games. It’s great to have a partner who is both a skilled reader who helps me focus and clarify my work as well as a champion for the book in the industry. Adam coordinated the publishing machine that took Geekomancy from a word document on my hard drive to a completed commercial novel ready to connect with readers.

Nevena: Sounds like Adam is awesome! 🙂 How has your life changed since Geekomancy?

Mike: Life since selling the novel has been a whirlwind. Mostly, the difference has been one of intensity. Before, I was working hard on writing, but knowing that there are readers waiting for more did a great job of helping me put that extra bit of effort in every day.

Another huge change is that I now have novels out in the world, and with that come readers, reviews, and life in the public eye. Every time I see a tweet or a review, it reminds me that the writing career that I’ve wanted for so long is happening, right now. The dream has come true, but it’s a work in progress. The first deal isn’t happily ever after, not by a long shot. But I’m in the game.

Nevena: I’m really happy for you, Mike.

Geekomancy is now an audio book. Listen to a sample here. Follow Michael R. Underwood on Twitter at @MikeRUnderwood and visit his blog. He’s represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency.

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two of our interview with Mike, in which he talks about his new book, Celebromancy, coming out on July 15th, and being part of Book Country.

* Cover art by Trish Cramblet, Design by Min Choi



Share Button

Don’t Be Good; Be Brilliant!

Posted by March 1st, 2012

To stand out from the sea of submissions, you need to sparkle!


There’s a book on my shelf, taking up valuable space, that I just can’t wait to throw away. I’m a collector, serious style. Brodart jacket protectors on all my hardcovers, don’t touch anything without washing your hands, reading editions and archiving additions for special titles — that’s how serious. So what’s this about wanting to throw a book away?

Well, I’m also a very occasional writer, and like a lot of you, I’ve got that one title that once made me go, “If this can get published, anything can. Heck, I can write better than this crap.” So it’s there, on the shelf, waiting for me to actually finish a novel, at which point I get to reward myself by tossing it in the trashcan where it so clearly belongs (and no, I won’t tell you it’s title). But until then, an author with a finished novel, even a terrible one, is still one novel ahead of me, and so there it sits.

Now, obviously there are bad books out in the world. Lots of them. But taking off the wannabe author hat, and putting on the editor one, the truth is that the way to get published is not to aim for being slightly better than crap. As the editorial director of Pyr Books, I get pitched books anywhere from three times a week to three times a day. I read hundreds of manuscripts, partials, outlines, proposals. I probably sift through a hundred possibilities for every one good book. And while you might think that the vast bulk of what gets rejected is unreadable drivel that’s easy to dismiss, that really isn’t the case.

The truth is that most of what comes in is perfectly competent. Stories with an interesting protagonist with a clear motivation, on a journey with a definite beginning, middle and end. The problem isn’t that it’s full of problems. The problem is that it’s competent, okay, decent, moderately well-executed, perfectly servicable… You get the idea.

To stand out from this sea of submissions, you need to sparkle. You need to be un-put-downable. As jaded as editors are, you need the manuscript that makes you want to grab the phone immediately to call your spouse, boy/girlfriend, best friend because you can’t wait to talk about it, the manuscript that has you leaping out of your chair because you’ve got to do something to disperse the energy that’s rushing off the pages and into your heart. You need to be brilliant.

That might sound discouraging. It shouldn’t be. Yes, it’s a lot harder to be brilliant than to be merely competent. But you know what – when you are brilliant, it’s a lot harder to resist as well. I truly believe that everything brilliant finds its way eventually. Because as jaded as we editors can be, we like getting excited by a book as much (or more) than anyone else. So instead of keeping that book on the shelf until you’ve earned the right to throw it away, maybe we should all throw away our “I can do better than this” books. Maybe the shelf should only contain things to aspire to, not works to excel but works to equal. What a library that would be.

Sounds brilliant.

Share Button

What Makes a Mystery So “Cozy”?

Posted by November 23rd, 2011

Book Country Twitter Chat (November 17, 2011)

Delve into the cozy mystery subgenre–what it is, what’s expected, how to write it–with editor Faith Black and author Gayle Trent

 twitter_newbird_boxed_blueonwhiteFor some, cozy mysteries are quite the enigma. They’ve gotten more and more popular over the past several years, wrangling readers of all kinds, but many still think: but what is a cozy mystery exactly? How is it different from a general mystery? What makes it so “cozy”? Don’t most books inspire that curl-up-with-a-good-book feeling of warmth and wonder? Hmmm….curious…

The Book Country Genre Map defines cozies as “a subgenre of mystery set in a small town or village. Cozies are characterized by their lack of explicit sex and violence. The protagonist is usually a likable female sleuth who is often viewed as an annoyance by the local police. Well-known cozy writers include Donna Andrews and M.C. Beaton.”

But there’s much more to it, which is why we brought in the experts–Faith Black (@FaithBlackGirl) and Gayle Trent (@GayleTrent)–to tell us how it really is.

Editor Faith Black acquires mysteries for Berkley’s Prime Crime imprint (and much more, of course). Her vast experience in genre fiction and love of cozies is clear after even a brief chat with this awesome lady!

Gayle Trentis the bestselling author of Murder Takes the Cake, the first novel in her Daphne Martin Cake Decorating series, currently with Gallery Books. She also writes fun embroidery cozies for Berkley Books under the name Amanda Lee–The Quick and the Thread is the first in the series.

Take a look at these helpful excerpts from our chat:


@GayleTrent: I define cozy mystery as Desperate Housewives meets Mayberry RFD. Everyone knows everyone, but someone has a deep, dark secret!

@FaithBlackGirl: The protags [in cozies] tend to be mostly female but I would actually love to read more cozies with male protagonists.

@peachereader: We like the hobby cozy because it gives us one more thing we can relate to. Hence reading a cozy is always like coming home.

@GayleTrent: When you’ve absolutely GOT to tell someone what weird,  hilarious thing someone just did, you put it in a book with a secondary character.

@FaithBlackGirl: Some [police procedural] knowledge is definitely useful but you don’t need to go all CSI. More Miss Marple, less David Caruso.

@Chumplet: The feeling of familiary in the setting and characters make cozy mysteries easy to love.

If you missed the chat or want to remind yourself, we’ve posted the entire transcript as a PDF document here. The PDF will open in your browser and you’ll be able to save it to your computer if you like. You can also get to know your fellow genre fiction lovers by clicking directly on their Twitter handles.

Please note that the chat appears from newest to oldest tweets, so start at the bottom and work your way up.

Thanks to all who made this chat such a great success!

REMEMBER: Book Country Twitter chats occur every other Thursday night from 9-10 pm EST. Just use the hashtag #bookcountry to participate or follow along. Topics are announced in advance in the Book Country Discussion forums, so be sure to take a look!


Share Button

What Mystery Editors (and Readers) Want

Posted by November 8th, 2011

Mysteries can be a mystery! NAL and Berkley editorial give us an inside look at the mystery market: what works and what they’re looking for. 

 book and glasses - special credit reqIn this second installment of “Giving Readers (and Editors) What They Want,” we’re shifting the focus from romance novels to mystery novels, an intriguing and timeless genre with a number of popular subgenres. With so many different kinds of mysteries on the shelves, it can be confusing to figure out what exactly it is you’re writing and if it’s what a particular publishing house is looking to acquire.
We’ve once again turned to the experts, the mystery editors at New American Library (NAL) and Berkley Books, to give a quick lesson about the mystery genre as a whole, what’s hot right now, and what they’re looking for:

When it comes to writing a mystery that fits into the current market, first get back to the basics to make sure you’re book is categorized correctly. It’s easy to confuse a mystery component of a novel with a mystery novel itself. A “mystery” refers to novels whose plot revolves around a crime, typically a murder, and the search to figure out who committed it.  The protagonist is generally a sleuth, either professional or amateur, who engages in a hunt for the culprit by investigating and following various clues and reasoning processes.  After weeding out other potential suspects, the story usually ends with the apprehension of, or at least understanding of, who the killer is and what motivated them to commit the crime.

While mysteries often have other elements included in the story, the protagonist of a mystery is primarily concerned with the solving of the crime. For instance, the main character might have a love interest, so there could be a romantic subplot, but as long as it is secondary to the crime itself, you are still writing a mystery, and not a different type of book, like a romance.

Mysteries are related to, but different from thrillers, in that a thriller also tends to begin with some sort of crime.  However, in a thriller the reader usually learns quite quickly who has committed the crime and the driving force of the plot is not to figure out who-done-it, but to see if the hero can prevent the antagonist from getting away with the crime and striking again. Now, of course, there are all types of mysteries, so you’ll see that the genre has all sorts of subcategories.  This is because people shop for mysteries by the settings and time periods they find most interesting. The most popular subgenres change with time, and the best way to keep track of what the current ones are is to read the bestseller lists and see what kinds of mysteries are most popular.

Right now, some of the most successful genres are the following, and we editors are always looking for more fresh and exciting stories in the same vein:

Cozy mysteries
A descendent of  the novels written by Agatha Christie, this is a mystery where the sleuth, who is often female, is an amateur detective (meaning they aren’t a professional PI, police detective, cop, FBI agent, or any of the other various licensed professionals who might legitimately be solving a crime).  There is little to no violence on the page in the cozy mystery.  The setting tends to be small towns and the characters often know one another.  Usually there are subplots involving romances and friendships, with various relationship and career issues. In a cozy, the balance between character and storyline, the characters and the relationships between them, are often as important as the puzzle of the plot. We are especially eager to see more Cozy mysteries on submission.

There are also a number of variations within the cozy subcategory:

  • The culinary cozy, where the amateur sleuth is involved in the world of cooking and/or the setting is connected with food.  Think of New York Times bestselling author Diane Mott Davidson, whose Goldy Schulz series has been running for decades now;
  • The crafty cozy, where the amateur sleuth is part of some hobby within the crafting world (like knitting or quilting) and the members of the world help to solve the crime.  Authors like Maggie Sefton,Earlene Fowler, and Betty Hechtman are all people who are using a fiber hook in their mysteries and making the most of it;
  • The paranormal cozy, where the sleuth often has some sort of paranormal ability and/or investigates strange happenings connected with the paranormal world.  New York Timesbestselling author Victoria Laurie and national bestselling authorSofie Kelly are two authors among many who have made the light paranormal mystery their own;
  • The chic-lit cozy, where the sleuth is often involved in more glamorous pursuits like fashion, jewelry, accessories. Ellen Byerrum and Elaine Viets have been crafting fun chic-lit mysteries for decades.

Historical mysteries Here the setting is an intriguing historical time period, the sleuth may or may not be modeled after a specific, well-known historical personage, and historical events often serve as a springboard for the mystery explored.  Variations include:

  • Historical mysteries where the sleuth is based on a recognizable or famous historical personage, like Abigail Adams, Dorothy Parker, or is a minor character connected with a more famous historical character, like the maid to Sir Author Conan Doyle.  New York Times bestselling author Laurie King writes a “Mary Russell series” centering the fictional wife of Sherlock Holmes, and more recently J.J. Murphy has put Dorothy Parker at the center of mysteries and the Round Table;
  • Mysteries set in a particular time period, like the Regency era or early Colonial America, whose protagonist is in some way a stock character typical of the era.  Victoria Thompson’s gaslight mystery series, set in turn-of-the century New York with a midwife protagonist is just such a series.

Traditional mysteries
Unlike cozies, in the traditional mystery the puzzle of the plot and the setting become as important as, if not more important than, the relationships between the various characters in the story.  Often the characters in these mysteries are well developed with deep backstories and complex personalities—yet still they play second fiddle to the solving of the crime. But because the characters are so vivid, the crimes also tend to be complicated, complex, and fueled by surprising motivations.  Some of the mysteries in this category may use language that is quite literary in nature, so the style of the language becomes a distinguishing feature of the book.  Authors you may have read include Nancy Pickard, with her wonderful “Kansas” series, or Louise Penny, with her long running “Chief Inspector Gamach” series. Other mysteries in this area may high suspense and semi-realistic chase scenes, so they may at times feel like thrillers.

Scandinavian mysteries
These are mysteries that have come to the fore in recent years.  Set in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, or Finland, they often have a traditional PI investigating a crime that is indicative of things gone amiss in the society at large.  The detective in the Scandinavian mysteries can exhibit a modern, world-weary attitude and be overcome by feeling of ineffectualness and despair.  The setting becomes all important as the ice and cold of the physical world becomes metaphoric for the conditions the detective seeks to surmount.  These books have dominated the New York Timesbestseller lists lately and well known authors include Stieg Larsson,Henning Mankell, and Jo Nesbo.

Hard-boiled mysteries
Of course, not all mysteries can be doing well commercially all the time.  The hard-boiled, or “noir,” mystery is a type that has long existed but is not enjoying as much popularity at the moment.  These are mysteries in which the sleuth is usually a professional PI (and often a tough, quiet sort of guy) and the setting is gritty and realistic.  There are varying degrees of violence and the crimes are often explicitly described on the page.  Guys like Mickey Spillane were some of the commercial founders of this category.
However, even if a certain category is not popular now, it will no doubt, have its day eventually.  Twenty years ago American readers weren’t generally reading Scandinavian mysteries, and now they dominate the bestseller lists.  The only thing you can really count on is change.

So, study the market, pay attention to what’s on the bestseller lists, and read the books that people are talking about the most. Not so you can mimic them, but so you can meld your own interest with what the market supports.  Some worry that this is being “overly commercial,” but editors would argue it’s a way to be relevant to the current reading world.  If you don’t pay attention to what mystery fans want to read, you may have to accept that you’ve spent your time and energy working on a project for an audience of one (or maybe two or three!). If you want reach a bigger fan base, you need to stay in touch with what readers are responding to.  That is what we editors will also respond to.

Next up in our “Giving Readers (and Editors) What They Want” series:  Science fiction and fantasy!

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Share Button

What Romance Editors (and Readers) Want

Posted by November 1st, 2011

Writing a romance novel? The NAL editorial team gives us a tutorial on the romance market: today’s hottest subgenres and what they’re looking forHere’s what the romance editors want:

book and glasses - special credit req

When I was in romance editorial, it astounded me how many submissions I received that had nothing to do with what I was actually looking to acquire, or even that fell outside of the genres in which my imprint specialized. Sometimes the manuscripts hooked me despite this fact, and I fell in love with the writing or the story or the potential I saw for the story. But there was nothing I could do; if it didn’t fit for our list or the market, my hands were tied.
As an author, even after doing all your homework–researching the market, reviewing an imprint’s recent publications, checking Publishers Marketplace for an editor’s acquisition history–it can still be difficult to figure out if what you’re submitting will give the editor what he or she wants. Particularly when it comes to such a robust and diverse genre as the romance market.

With this challenge in mind, Book Country asked the romance team at New American Library (NAL) to share a little bit about their experience with submissions and what specifically they hope to find among the pile:

Most editors at NAL find that when we’re looking for new talent, the biggest problem with the submissions we receive is not that they’re badly written (because many of them are very well done) but rather that the books are not the kind of stories that readers are looking for.  The romance reader is very particular in her tastes and preferences, and trends tend to dominate the market.  If you want to attract a big readership among romance fans, it’s crucial you know what kind of story they are looking for in the current market.
To help you figure out how to do that, the editors at NAL want to offer you some friendly advice about writing romance and positioning your book:

First, make sure you’re writing a romance novel and not a women’s fiction novel! Romance novels have as their central focus the relationship between the hero and heroine of the story.  Their developing romantic relationship forms the backbone of the book’s plot. Most often this involves a man and a women meeting and having a powerful attraction; however, there’s an obstacle getting in the way of their relationship. Frequently, each character has an internal conflict that she or he must overcome. The end goal is for this couple to reach their HEA, or happily ever after, together (with realistic complications along the way). In other words, they meet, they have a conflict, and they must react and develop in response to it before the book can reach a satisfying conclusion.  These conventions are common to romance novels across the board and can act as a helpful rule of thumb to guide you according to what readers will expect to see in your romance novel.

You also need to remember that most romance readers buy according to subgenre, based on themes, settings, or time periods.  The most popular subgenres in romance change over time, and the best way to identify what’s most popular in the romance market at a given time is to watch the bestseller lists. Our job as editors is not only to follow the trends but anticipate them, while your job is to write a great book people want to love.

Right now, some of the most popular genres in romance (and the ones our editors are most excited about) are:

Vampire romances
This means a love story where at least one of the main characters is a vampire, with supernatural powers and an immortal lifespan. The setting can vary. J. R Ward‘s “Black Dagger Brotherhood” series was at the forefront of the vampire trend from the start and remains a beloved favorite among paranormal romance readers.

Regency-set historical romances
While settings for historicals can vary, England is the most popular setting. Regencies are romances that are set during the Regency period in England, which strictly speaking was from 1811 to 1820.  Historical romance readers will expect these novels to be historically appropriate, meaning that the characters should act according to what was expected in society at that time. Some of Penguin’s bestselling Regency romance authors include Jo Beverley and Jillian Hunter.

Scottish-set historicals
Ever since the release of Braveheart, we have seen a high demand for romances set in Scotland.  The most popular time period is definitely medieval, but the Jacobean era (1603-1625) works as well for this subgenre. Bertrice Small’s “Border Chronicle” series is a fabulous example of the historic Scotland setting.

Shapeshifter romances
These are paranormal romances in which at least one of the central characters to the romance can shift shape into another form.  Shapeshifting characters might be dragons, werewolves, falcons, coyotes, the list goes on… To name two examples from NAL’s popular shapeshifter romances, we publish Michele Bardsley’s “Broken Heart” novels and Deborah Cooke’s “Dragonfire” novels to great acclaim.

Paranormal romances
Paranormal romances are ones in which the love story features a character with otherworldly abilities (in addition to but not excluding being a vampire or shapeshifter).  There are witch romances, fallen angel romances, mermaid romances, demon romances, among many others.  Sylvia Day’s “Renegade Angels” series and Regan Hasting’s “Awakening” novels will give you a great idea of the fallen angel and witch trends, respectively.

What we call “gentle fiction”
Gentle fiction is a subcategory of contemporary romance, which means a romance set in the present day. These are love stories set in a small town setting with lots of quaint charm and heartwarming emotional elements. The heartwarming sense of town life and the gentle tone of the emotions really set this subgenre apart from other mainstream contemporary romance. They are the most popular kind of contemporary romance at this time, and have no paranormal elements. One visit to JoAnn Ross’s “Shelter Bay” series and you won’t want to leave this wonderful town!

Western romances
Heroes from the Wild West hold much appeal, whether it’s a contemporary cowboy romance or a historical western. There’s just something readers love about a charming cowboy!  One bestselling example from NAL’s list is Catherine Anderson, who writes both contemporary and historical Westerns.

Romantic suspense
Romantic suspense has a fast-paced storyline with lots of action because the romance between hero and heroine takes place in the face of some kind of danger that threatens one or both of their lives. The suspenseful nature of the plot is almost as important as the romance, and there is usually a mystery to solve. These novels are usually contemporary settings and are always real world stories.Shannon K. Butcher’s “Edge” novels and Christina Dodd‘s “Bella Terra Deception” series give a great example of the kind of high-octane action and edge-of-your seat suspense readers look for in this genre.

Urban fantasy
While not technically romance, Urban Fantasy novels often involve a strong love story that appeals to romance fans. Whereas the third person point of view is common in the other romance genres, urban fantasy often takes a first person point of view. And the mystery that’s driving the plot and the action is almost as important to the novel as the romance itself.  The characters in these novels are very tough, and the stories may contain violence.  Lee Roland’s Viper Moon thrills with a captivating voice and a complex urban fantasy series world.

As you can see, there are many subgenres currently driving the market from the editors’ perspective, so make sure your novel fits into one of them. Or if you are trying your hand at something different, remember to keep your story within the conventions of a romance novel in the first place and understand that your story really has to be something special if it colors outside the lines. Editors love to find fresh new authors with budding talent, so give them something they can work with!

Romance is not the only genre where editors have specific interests though…

Our next installment of “Giving Readers (and Editors) What They Want” will focus on the mystery genre. 

Stay tuned!

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Share Button

That Tricky Revision Process

Posted by September 22nd, 2011

Book Country Twitter Chat (Sept. 8, 2011)

New York Times bestselling author and editor team Rachel Caine and Anne Sowards talk about how to take a good book and make it great.

 twitter_newbird_boxed_blueonwhiteYou’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into your first draft, and it’s finally ready. Well, kinda sorta. Now, you just have to revise. Whether you’re a writer getting feedback from a community like Book Country or from a beta reader, a contracted author getting notes from his/her editor, or the editor in question, it’s a tricky process.

Not only is it a complex process, but everyone approaches revisions differently. That’s why we decided to chat with a New York Times bestselling duo–author Rachel Caine (@RachelCaine) and her Ace/Roc editor Anne Sowards (@AnneSowards) to get their take.

Rachel Caine is the New York Times bestselling author of 14 adult urban fantasy novels, including the “Weather Warden” and “Outcast Season” series, as well as 11 young adult novels in her beloved “Morganville Vampires” series (and more!).

Anne Sowards is the executive editor of Penguin’s Ace/Roc imprint and has helped grow some of the most well-known bestselling SF/F authors today like Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, and Ilona Andrews (in addition to Rachel!). With 15 years of experience at Ace/Roc, Anne certainly knows her stuff.

With the tips and experiences they have to share, you might figure out what kind of reviser you are! Check out these gems from the chat:

@AnneSowards: If you feel the first draft is perfect, sit on it for a while and then look at it again.

@rachelcaine: If I feel strongly about keeping something, I am suspicious of why I do. Often, that’s what needs cutting.

@mbrucebarton: A good self-editing technique: reread & write down what you learn about your own plot/characters on each page

@mer_barnes: Read aloud!! Esp works with dialogue.

@Chumplet: I get rather excited to see edits. It gives my book an anchor. I’m no longer alone, playing a guessing game.

@AnneSowards: An author doesn’t have to fix the book my way. They can say, Anne, your idea stinks. How about this?

@rachelcaine: As a writer, you fear seeing the editorial notes, but the trick is take things one comment at a time, fix, move on.

@mbrucebarton: Sometimes small issues are symptoms of the larger issues so I recommend starting with the BIG ones

If you missed the chat or want to remind yourself, we’ve posted the entire transcript as a PDF document here. The PDF will open in your browser and you’ll be able to save it to your computer if you like. You can also get to know your fellow genre fiction lovers by clicking directly on their Twitter handles.

Please note that the chat appears from newest to oldest tweets, so start at the bottom and work your way up.

Thanks to all who made this chat such a great success!

REMEMBER: Book Country Twitter chats occur every other Thursday night from 9-10 pm EST. Just use the hashtag #bookcountry to participate or follow along. Topics are announced in advance in the Book Country Discussion forums, so be sure to take a look!


Share Button

Great Writing Guides: Writers Helping Writers

Posted by April 25th, 2011

An Editor’s Look at Some of the Best Writing Books on the Shelves

A Penguin nonfiction editor shares some of her favorite resources for writers.

 Meg Leder - medIn my day job, I edit books at Perigee, an imprint of Penguin. Editing comes fairly naturally to me: when I read manuscripts, I’ve learned to trust my inner reader voice, the one that says, “Hmmm, the tone isn’t right here,” or “This part tripped me up,” or “I wonder what would happen if we cut this and moved this…” I confidently listen to these instincts as I work with my authors and their manuscripts, helping turn ideas into smart and compelling books.

After hours, however, all of those confident editorial instincts go right out the door as I sit in front of my laptop and transform from Assured Experienced Editor into Neurotic Aspiring Author. Like Bruce Banner turning Hulk-ish, this is not a fun transformation. Neurotic Aspiring Author spends hours on her commute or laying in bed at night desperately mulling over story ideas. She struggles to get words on the page, painstakingly keying in words one by one. She obsessively reads and re-reads her writing, one second falling in love with a seeming moment of genius, the next deciding all of her writing self-loathing is completely justified as the words she’s written are the worst affront to writing ever.

So, what’s Neurotic Aspiring Author to do? Turn to the pros.

I’ve learned to be kinder to my writing self after reading Betsy Lerner’s Forest for the Trees. I’ve managed to overcome the occasional case writer’s block by spending some time with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I’ve discovered how to rethink my motivation and rework my plot with the help of Elizabeth Lyon’s Manuscript Makeover.

There are a variety of wonderful resources available to both neurotic and well-adjusted writers–writing guides that offer knowledge and tips to make your writing as polished and compelling as possible. (Disclosure: Yes, I’ve confidently edited some of these titles, but my anxious writer side has thrived from the advice within.) So take a look at some of this Neurotic Aspiring Author’s personal favorites—I hope you’ll find they speak to you as well!

Books on Writing Basics
Any novice writer who needs help on the basics, or simply some brushing-up on the craft should check out these easy-to-absorb guides:

  • 100 Things Every Writer Needs to Know by Scott Edelstein: A wide-ranging introduction to the building blocks of the craft and business of writing, from finding your voice to getting an agent, written by a writer, editor, and literary agent.
  • Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
    A series of essays by the science fiction bestseller Bradbury that will leave you feeling empowered and ready to write.
  • 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Gary Provost: A classic, well-loved writing guide that presents quick and easy-to-implement tips on writing.
  • On Writing by Stephen King: Both an inspiring memoir and instructional guide to craft, this book will get you ready to take the leap into writing.

Books on Fiction Ins and Outs 
If you’re looking for instruction on writing fiction, from plot and character to pacing and voice, take a look at these simple and useful books:

  • The Art of Fiction by John Gardner: A classic guide to, well, fiction writing, with easy-to-understand and inspiring tips and advice for new writers.
  • A Writer’s Guide to Fiction by Elizabeth Lyon: A concise, practical guide covering the key elements of fiction, that includes sections on revision and marketing your work.
  • The Writing Book by Kate Grenville: A step-by-step guide on how to write fiction, complete with exercises and workbook.
  • Now Write! by Sherry Ellis: You can learn from National Book Awards, Pulitzers, and Guggenheim winners in this collection of personal writing exercises and commentary from some of today’s best novelists, short story writers, and writing teachers.

Books on Writing Motivation
Having a hard time getting started or finding momentum? Get some tips and advice in these inspiring guides:

  • The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood: Optimistic and encouraging, this book guides readers through a series of writing exercises sure to increase motivation and creativity.
  • Bang the Keys by Jill Dearman: Provides a four-part plan so writers can gain the momentum and discipline they need to follow through on a project.
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg: A powerful and enthusiastic guide to useful and motivating writing practices that combine creativity with meditation.
  • The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Beating Writer’s Block by Kathy Kleidermacher: A practical guide full of tips, exercises, and prompts to get your writing back on track.

Books on Insider Advice
Sometimes, the best advice comes from those in the trenches: editors, agents, and other published authors. Get an inside look at the industry from these unique perspectives:

  • Who’s Writing This? by Dan Halpern: An delightfully invaluable collection of essays about the publishing and creative processes from the people who do it every day—-writers.
  • Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us by Jessica Page Morrell: A helpful look at the specific errors beginning writers often make that keep them from breaking out into the industry.
  • The Secret Miracle by Daniel Alarcon, Ed.
    Learn the ins and outs of writing fiction from the best of the best in this roundtable disccusion in print.
  • On Teaching and Writing Fiction by Wallace Stegner: A collection of essays from Pulitzer-Prize winning author, covering aspects of fiction writing from the writer’s vision and audience, to symbolism and swear words, to the mystery of the creative process.

Books on Living the Writing Life 
Hoping to dig deeper with your writing, and to infuse joy into the actual process? Learn how to find balance and structure in these reads:

  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: A sharp, funny, and at times brutally honest guide that will help you find your voice in both your writing and your life.
  • Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Lusser Rico: A guide on how to turn the task and stress of writing into a meaningful and natural process.
  • A Broom of One’s Own by Nancy Peacock: A first-hand account from a once-struggling writer on balancing real life and writing life before and after you “make it.”
  • Right to Write by Julia Cameron: Empowering guidance on how to make writing a joyful way of life (vs. a stress-filled “Big Deal”).

Books on Grammar Guidance
Worried your writing is rife with grammar and spelling errors? Read these great guides to  help you polish your work:

  • Woe Is I by Patricia T. O’Conner: Down-to-earth guidance that de-mystifies the confusing world of grammar, spelling, and pronunciation.
  • Words Into Type, Third Edition by Marjorie E. Skillin and Robert Malcolm Gay: Definitive and credible source for writers on manuscript etiquette, copyediting, style, grammar, and usage.
  • Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande: If you’re tired of the grammar police but still need to learn the basics, you’ll love this humorous and lively approach to learning grammar. Also check out the author’s other book, Mortal Syntax, for another fun guide—this time on frequently attacked language usage choices.
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White: This classic style manual is a must have for any writer.
  • Literally, the Best Language Book Ever by Paul Yeager: A wry and opinionated examination of trite, trendy, grammatically incorrect, inane, outdated, and lazy uses of words, phrases, and expressions.
  • The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn: A dynamic manual for both newbie authors who want to learn the ropes and writing veterans who want to hone their craft.

Books on Getting Published

Ready to take the next steps and find a good home for your work? Look no further than these useful resources:

  • 2011 Writer’s Market by Robert Lee Brewer, Ed.: An annual guide to getting published from a variety of industry sources, compiled by Brewer into one sacred text.
  • Publicize Your Book by Jacqueline Deval: “Easily the most incisive and expert guide to book publishing ever” according to Publisher’s Weekly, this guide teaches writers how to actively take part in publicizing, marketing, and promoting their work.
  • The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman: Tips on how to avoid bad writing and stay out of the rejection pile from a well-known literary agent.
  • Sell Your Novel Toolkit by Elizabeth Lyon: Step-by-step details on what editors want and how to develop a marketing strategy to get published.

[Photo by Danielle Poiesz]


Share Button

Bridging the Gap

Posted by April 24th, 2011

An Interview with Harlequin Books Associate Editor Adam Wilson

Adam Wilson - photo_thumb_thumb_thumb

“What makes romance readers valuable to publishing is that they really are extraordinarily invested in reading as a practice.”

While much of the world still views publishing as an industry run by men, it is actually a female-driven business that caters to a female-driven market more often than not. Ask anyone who works in the industry, particular in the creative departments of editorial, art, and interior design, if they work with many men and you’ll likely get a chuckle as a response.

This doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t have a voice in the business. Often their deep voices are heard over the din of higher-pitched discussion; they stand out within the walls of many a publishing house.

One man in particular stands out in Harlequin’s offices in New York City:Adam Wilson.

Wilson is an associate editor at Harlequin Books, one of the most recognizable romance publishers in the business. Over the past six years, he’s moved up the ladder from editorial assistant, working for the MIRA, Harlequin Teen, and LUNA imprints. He dabbled in a variety of romance-based titles before narrowing his focus to young adult, dystopian, thriller/suspense, dark fantasy, and upmarket women’s fiction.

Given his unique perspective on the industry, Book Country reached out to him to share his story and impart a little honest wisdom about the romance world to the community:

DP: Thanks for joining us here at Book Country, Adam. Now tell us, why publishing? What made you want to be a part of the book industry? What was it about editorial that you were particularly interested in?

AW: To be honest, before starting grad school at NYU, I’d never been a career-minded person other than thinking something vague like, “Maybe I’ll become a professor. Yeah.” But when a friend of mine got a job at Penguin and essentially left the grad program for it, I was stuck with a lot of ‘professional students’ and realized how annoying they could quickly become. Thus, I thought I’d give what my friend did a shot. (Note: I love academia, but am in no way obsessive enough to thrive there, that’s all.) I was quite ignorant about what the industry entailed, and to me editorial is where you read books, so that’s where I wanted to be. Now that I’m in it, there are so many other fascinating aspects that are intriguing, but I really like working directly with authors and directly with text, so editing I remain. I do think cover design would be a lot of fun, with my background in art, but it might be even more stressful.

DP: Tell us a bit about your specific role at Harlequin. 

AW: I’m currently an associate editor for the Harlequin imprints of MIRA and Harlequin Teen, helping out on LUNA, as well. At my level, I’ve inherited a number of really great authors from other editors who have either left or had their duties shifted through promotion or restructuring, so my list is pretty eclectic at this point.

Like other editors, I liaise with agents, authors, Marketing, Sales, Art, bloggers, the custodial crew—anyone who can help with our books. I also revise or write copy, give feedback on art, work on the Harlequin Teen Facebook page, put forth ideas for marketing, and do a lot of little projects that just seem to pop up. And a few times a year I go to conferences, where I hear about what people have been writing, and where invariably someone tries to make me sing karaoke or something equally as embarrassing.

DP: What are the trends in romance for HQN right now? What specifically have you been looking for in an acquisition so far in 2011?

AW: I kind of hate discussing “trends” because potential authors pick them up and run with them a little too literally. As you know, forecasting is always difficult when the typical lead-time to market is one year. However, MIRA has been expanding its trade program, especially by bringing in more commercial literary projects, so we definitely see that as a trend. In the YA world, dystopian is still going strong, and we’re pretty excited about what we see as a contemporary romance strain coming in there, too. Personally, I love seeing the trials of ‘normal’ kids, instead of 100% vampire-populated schools.

DP: You already told us about the genres you work in; however, I noticed that there’s no mention of romance in those genres. All of Harlequin’s books have at least somewhat of a strong romance thread throughout, correct? Why did you choose to describe the genres sans “romance”?

AW: Romance is, and always will be, a strong force at Harlequin, forever and ever amen. We’ve had great success in recent months with Susan Wiggs, Robyn Carr, Linda Lael Miller and others on the Times list—all contemporary romance authors.

However, when you work with the diverse editorial that’s often lumped together as romance, you pick up on the many different strains of the genre, and some don’t really feel like romance in the stereotypical sense. None of the three above write what you would call ‘bodice rippers,’ and in my view few of our books actually fall into that category.

I’ve personally come to think of projects less in terms of “romance” than in terms of “women readers.” So, when I mention what I’m looking for, I’m thinking along those lines. Will there be a love story involved? 99% of the time, yes. But for me, romance can be such a loaded term that it really doesn’t say much about the rich texture of the various storytellers we publish.

DP: I have to say, you are a bit of an anomaly in the publishing world as a male editor of novels with such strong romantic elements. What has been your experience working in this female-focused area of expertise? 

AW: Being surrounded by intelligent, dynamic women? Pretty sweet, I’d say.

I’ve had only one or two even slightly negative reactions to my XY chromosomes in my time here, and none of those were from within the company. The only other thing it probably gives me is a recognizable voice pattern on telephone conferences. But even that could just be my Bob Newhart delivery style.

DP: As you know, romance novels over time have had quite the stigma attached to them. They are viewed by many, particularly men, as “trash,” “smut,” and other such derogatory comments written by “bored housewives.” What is your reaction to that kind of prejudice? How would you defend the genre to its haters?

AW: How? With a calm, even tone that points out that we are working with largely female writers addressing a largely female readership, and to think of women’s fiction as “trash” or “smut” is pretty dismissive of half the population. Now, I don’t personally love all the romance tropes (partly because I will never have six-pack abs), but this is a largely optimistic, psychological genre that people really respond to, so I don’t really think it needs much of a ‘defense.’ No more than, say, military fiction, would.

DP: Romance readers—particularly Harlequin readers—are avid about the genre. How would you describe the market to which your books are aimed? What do you think makes them such a valuable part of the publishing community?

AW: You’re really right there, and, I won’t lie, I’m always a little shocked when I see the eBook numbers and romance is consistently up there. For some reason, I always thought it would be largely Tom Clancy fans buying techno-thrillers-things for their techno-reader-things, but nope. (Though that could be because I don’t love techno-thrillers AND I lean toward paper books so I’ve just paired those two together—who knows.)

What makes romance readers valuable to publishing is that they really are extraordinarily invested in reading as a practice, talking about what they’ve read, and being able to simultaneously cherish the traditional aspects of storytelling while being willing to experiment with genre offshoots.

DP: Given your gender and job title, I would guess that you’ve been the target a number of assumptions. Have you encountered this? If so, what have you found to be the most common judgment people make, and how would you argue against it?

AW: Wait—what do you mean?

Just kidding, yeah, I do get this a decent amount. To be completely honest, most men sort of look at me like I think my job’s a joke, or they wonder if I’m gay. It’s really a little absurd. What I usually do is point out that I get to read crazy, fun, diverse stories and work in a creative industry, and they often (I like to think) get jealous from that alone. I also note taking a lot of pride in being able to bring books to market and get a lot of female voices heard. Are these voices for all females? No, but who could claim to be. But they are voices for a lot of females. Plus, our heroines are strong, kick-butt role models, so there, Mr. Assume-y.

DP: Please share with us an unexpected, impacting, or simply unique experience you’ve had in relation to your role at Harlequin. 

AW: Okay, well, this may go against some of what I was previously saying, but I think it’s pretty entertaining. For a time I was in charge of the daily editorial operations for our short story erotica program, Spice Briefs. Now, in my acquisitions, I fully believe my gender doesn’t matter—it’s all about storytelling, voice, character, and that illusive ‘it factor.’ But Spice Briefs are short pieces that are expected to have an immediate sensual payoff in a way that’s kind of…biologically alien to me. So, it felt a little weird at times. I first realized this when I was in meetings to describe what the cover art should look like for a story and found myself saying things like, “Our heroine is going to a ‘happy ending’ spa for relaxation, so this cover should really focus on her pleasure.” It was then that I knew I’d hit a slightly peculiar place. But since I see everything as a challenge to expand my abilities, I like to think I did a pretty good job on my short time with that line.

DP: What surprised you the most when you got into the industry? Did you have expectations that weren’t met or expectations that were exceeded? 

AW: I think the amount of work beyond reading the books, polishing them, caring for them—that’s what really surprised me. A nice secondary surprise came when I really started to appreciate those other duties as well and didn’t mind when they took me away from reading.

DP: What is your favorite thing about working in publishing? Why?

AW: This might make me sound like some weirdo shaman, but I really, really enjoy reading an author’s work and getting into the mindset of the piece at hand, trying to see how to help it better reveal itself to a reader on its own terms. It’s a bit of a chameleonic game, and it’s something that I find fascinating—to not edit my personality into a book, but to try and draw forth what’s already there.

DP: Now, the inevitable questions…What’s your favorite genre to read?

AW: Modernist—does that count? I like the texture of books, the words, more than any one particular genre. Did not read romance before starting at Harlequin, though.

DP: And your favorite author?

AW: Tough one. It changes. Right now I’m on the Daniel Woodrell bandwagon. I feel like I’m gonna take flak for this, but I really love David Foster Wallace and his project; his writing is just intellectual AND emotional, which I think is amazing.

DP: This one might be even tougher—what’s your all-time favorite book?

AW: BLOOD MERIDIAN. That book has everything, and rewards close and repeated reading.

DP: Not so hard after all, I guess! Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Book Country community?

AW: If you could refrain from putting Fabio’s hair on any image of me you might use, that would be great. It’s not that I mind his hair….it’s just that it would remind me of unfortunate grooming decisions I made in college.

[Photo copyright Adam Wilson]

Share Button

What a Short Story Editor Does

Posted by April 4th, 2011

“There’s a big difference between editors and copy editors.”


 I have nothing but respect for copy editors, but I become rabid when I read articles and off-hand remarks mixing up the functions of editor and copy editor. I’m primarily a short story editor, so that’s the kind of editing I’ll concentrate, although there’s certainly some overlap with novel editing. I’m going to use the word magazine to include both print magazines and webzines.

First of all, a short story editor solicits fiction. This may sound easy but it isn’t always so. Some writers write short stories because they love the form. Others do it because they believe (correctly) that writing and publishing even a handful of excellent stories can bring quicker recognition than novels. One of the biggest problems a short story editor has is keeping her best writers from moving exclusively into novel writing. Many writers, once they begin producing novels, no longer feel they have the time or energy to write short stories because of the (usually) lousy pay. Very few venues considered professional by SFWA pay more than ten cents a word for a story. Some pay up to twenty cents a word but most pay between five cents and eight cents a word. So short story editors have to regularly cajole and nag writers to write short stories rather novels. A good editor is pro-active, searching out new talent and encouraging established writers to produce short fiction.

A magazine’s fiction editor begins by reading the manuscripts that come in. When I’ve edited magazines I’d  first look through all incoming submissions and skim the cover letters, separating the unsolicited manuscripts or “slush” from non-slush.  “Slush” is the term used for submissions by people who have never published anything anywhere nor have attended a recognized writing workshop (such as one of the Clarion workshops or the Odyssey workshop). All the slush  goes to the “slush” reader–someone hired (or otherwise compensated) to read those submissions — if my reader likes a story in the slushpile, she will pass it on to me.

Editing an original anthology is different. Before I can sell an anthology proposal, I have to round up some “names”–writers whose confirmed participation will help sell the book–to a publisher and to the reading public. I draw up a wish list of writers I’d like in the book—this will include writers with whom I’ve previously worked, other established writers whose work I admire, and also talented newcomers whose work I’d like to encourage.  Only the most recognizable names will actually be in the proposal.

If the anthology sells, I send out invitations, explaining in more detail the anthology’s theme, outlining the submission parameters, the due date, and the payment. I encourage potential contributors to work as broadly as possible within the theme. I (and most other anthologists) ask for more story submissions than I can publish because I know that some writers won’t be able to make the deadline, or won’t be able to come up with an appropriate idea. Also, of course, I  inevitably have to turn down some of the stories – not necessarily because they aren’t good, but sometimes because a story is too similar to one I’ve already bought. An anthologist’s task is to choose stories that work well together, making the volume work as a whole.

As I edit a specific anthology, what I’m looking for evolves. Initially, I’m wide open to a variety of types of stories. As the anthology fills up, I start to weigh what I’ve got in terms of word length, theme, point of view, type of story, type of characters, and structure, and the needs of the anthology become narrower as I try to fill in the remaining spots with something different from what I’ve already bought.

Because there is always an anthology deadline, the editor stays in touch with the writers to remind them of that deadline and prod. Then the submissions come in. The editor will read and rejects the story straight out, or may accept it immediately (sending out a contract and when that’s signed and returned, paying the writer. There are varying schedules for payment but that’s a whole different topic). The third possibility is that the editor tells the writer that she likes or loves the story but feels it needs work before she can commit to buying it. This is possibly the most important part of the whole process, and certainly one of the most satisfying to me–working with the writer to make a good story great, or as close to great as possible.

An editor often works with the writer both before committing to buying a story and after actually buying it. Throughout my career I think I’ve read possibly only three or four submissions that needed absolutely no editing whatsoever. Very few stories are so perfect that they cannot use the critical eye of an editor.

So the bulk of the stories that I like or even love will need work– from a light line edit (more on this later) to a major rewrite.  I may suggest, push, and cajole but I’ll never do the actual rewrite –that’s not my job. I will try to help the author communicate what she intends to in her work by asking questions: What do you mean by this? What happened here? Why did this happen? I tell writers that they need to know what’s going on in their story—even if this information never appears in the final text. A writer may know her world so well that she believes the reader will get it but that’s not always so–as the “ideal” reader it’s the editor’s job to ask for clarification of certain points, when necessary. I often go through several revisions with writers if I like the story enough to begin with–this includes suggestions for consistency in character behavior, asking for clarification of  paragraphs/sentences/phrases so that the reader can comprehend what’s going on –especially if the narrative is complicated and/or the language dense. I might suggest different wordings. If the ending doesn’t work the writer and I will discuss why this is so and try to work out a way to fix it.

I edit in stages:  the first go-through questions and attempts to address any major problems in the story (that is, of course, if I like the story enough to invest my time and energy in the first place). Then, I’ll see if the author’s rewrite fixes those problems. There will usually be a few follow-up questions or suggestions. Next I’ll concentrate on the more detailed issues during which there’s a flurry of correspondence until the writer and I are both happy with the result.

Then the story will sit in my inventory or in my anthology file folder until I’m ready to schedule it for an issue (for a magazine) or when all the stories for the anthology are accepted. This could be up to a year, which is actually a good thing because by this time both the writers and editor can look at the story one more time with almost-fresh eyes. Before a story manuscript goes into production, I give it one more very careful line edit–that is, I go over the manuscript line by line and check for redundancy, inconsistencies, overuse of words, misuse of words, final questions on logic, and yes…if I happen to catch them–correct typos or errors in punctuation that I missed earlier.

An anthology editor creates the front matter that is to be provided for the  anthology’s publisher. This includes the Table of Contents, with the stories and their authors listed in final order, a copyright page, individual author bios, possibly individual afterwords, and an overall Introduction.

Then the anthology goes into production. This is where the copy editor comes in. Fiction copy editors check the manuscript’s punctuation, go over it for consistency, spelling errors, and otherwise “clean up the text,” hopefully catching anything the author and the editor miss. She will also query factual or other errors. The anthologist then goes over the copy edit to ensure that nothing important has been changed without the permission of the author (some writers are easy-going about punctuation. Others don’t want a semi-colon touched). The manuscript– with my changes, made after consulting with each author–either a “stet” which means “leave as is” or “ok” or complete rewordings by the author– is then returned to the publisher and a proofreader goes over the manuscript.

Other jobs of the editor:  contracts–making sure one goes to the author for signature and three are returned to me, signed (one copy for the author, one for me, one for the publisher); payments–ensuring that the author is paid in a timely manner (by me if I’m editing an anthology or by the accounting department of whatever magazine for whom I’m working.

That’s basically it, at least until the anthology comes out. But that’s another article.

(This article previously appeared in the SFWA Handbook and has been reprinted here by kind permission of the author. Photo courtesy Ellen Datlow.)

Share Button

The Author/Editor Relationship

Posted by March 1st, 2011

“Your editor is the book’s primary champion in-house.”

 louanders“Where’s my check?” was probably not the most tactful response to my effusive welcoming email, an email praising a new author’s magnificent manuscript and their powerful storytelling skills, and enumerating all the many reasons I was thrilled to add them to the Pyrroster. Checks are notoriously late in this business, but in this case, the signed contracts back from the author hadn’t even reached me in the post; I’m not even sure they were signed as we’d just made a verbal agreement with the agent that morning.

Uh oh, I thought, this doesn’t bode well for the author/editor relationship.

And it is a relationship.

My wife is always ribbing me that I just work with my friends, and that’s true to a large extent, but – BUT – as I remind her, they were all business colleagues first and friends second. I’d asked illustrator John Picacio to do the cover of my first anthology within about five minutes of meeting him, and it was only later that he revolved into one of my best friends. Chris Roberson says we hit it off at the 2001 World Fantasy Convention in Montreal, but he doesn’t track bright on my radar until he delivered the astoundingly-brilliant “O One” for my anthology, Live Without a Net. (The story is online at that link in its title – check it out.)

Publishing, like the film industry I worked in previously, is a business of friends. Sure, there’s jealousies, back-biting, rivalries, hurt feelings, egos, crazy folk, etc… but for the most part, you work with people you really enjoy working with, because if you are going to spend a year or more enmeshed in someone else’s imagination, it’s a whole lot nicer for both of you if you can get along with them as people too.

It’s nice for the authors as well. While some of them grouse about their editors (sometimes you get the impression that’s almost a stock response with some writers – though none of mine of course), editors are the middlemen (or middlewomen) between authors and publishers. They aren’t just there to hack and slash the heart out of your manuscript. An editor is also said manuscript’s chief advocate inside the publishing house.

My parent company, Prometheus Books, produces about 100 books a year, roughly 29 of which are Pyr titles. There is no way that publicity, sales & marketing, the art department, and all the scores of individuals from the various departments that will work on creating, editing, shaping, packaging, producing, and promoting the novel can read every book. So it’s the editor who advises publicity on how best to pitch a work, or what campaigns to include it in. It’s the editor who coaches sales on how best to pitch the novel to buyers. It’s the editor who briefs the art department on what the novel is about.

It’s easy for an individual book to get lost amid the whole list – your editor is the book’s primary champion in-house, keeping the rest of the (often quite large) team excited about it, and making sure it doesn’t drop of the radar.

There’s a reason why authors follow editors when the latter change jobs, and why conversations with your editor about sporting events, comic books, TV shows, and the price of tea in China are all classified as “working conversations”. The editor is your editor because he/she loves your book and picked it out of the hundreds (thousands!) of other manuscript, pitches and proposals that crossed his or her desk(top) in any given year.


Building a relationship with an editor starts with realizing this.

Publishing houses can be large, intimidating entities; they switch your book in the schedule for nebulous reasons, market – or fail to market it – in weird ways, stick a cover on your masterpiece that utterly betrays its content. But your editor is your friend in this, the insider with one foot out the door, who’s there because he/she thinks you are a genius. How can you not get along with someone that thinks that of you?

Now, don’t worry, I totally get what you are going for here, but can you trim this by 20 percent, add a sex scene, and make the hero a heroine? Thanks, friend. Do that and we’re gold.

[The above originally appeared at The Swivet and is reprinted here with kind permission of the author. Image courtesy Lou Anders.]

Share Button