Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Wordy Wednesday - Reflections from the Editor's Desk: How a Small Press became "The Best Place on the Web"
Or you could avoid the submission process altogether and self-publish. But there are so many doing that these days, and quality is often, though not always, an issue. You’d have to arrange for an editor, a cover artist, and formatting, and pay for all those services. Some want the absolute freedom self-publishing offers. But for the rest of us, we want the advice and guidance of known experts.
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Happy Wednesday, everyone! Celia, here. I read submissions from Champagne’s slush pile and nothing makes me happier than when I uncover a gem of a story. Maybe it will be yours.
Here are a few tips from the slushy trenches to help us discover your shiny jewel.
SLUSH PILE DOS...
* Do create a solid hook in your first chapter.
You may have heard agents and editors say this, and it holds true for slush pile submissions, too. If you start with a bang from sentence one/page one/chapter one, you’re more likely to keep your reader turning those pages.
* Do copy edit your manuscript (MS) before submitting.
If your MS is riddled with typos, missing words, grammatical errors, odd formatting, run-on sentences, etc., you risk pulling your reader out of the story. Polish, polish, then polish some more.
* Do review your GMC (goals, motivation, characterization).
Do your characters have solid goals? Clear internal and external motivation? Are they vividly drawn and unique? A strong hero and/or heroine will anchor the reader to your story.
SLUSH PILE DON’TS...
* Do not head hop.
Head hopping within a scene disorients and distracts. One head at a time, please.
* Do not info dump. A truckload of TMI -- be it in dialogue or narrative -- threatens to slow the pace of your story, risks muddying the plot if not germane to it, and just might bore the reader.
* Do not forget there are five senses (or more, if you write paranormal like I do J).
Adding scents, tastes, sounds, and more spices things up on the page and brings your world alive.
Happy writing and good luck with your submissions!
Author, Line Editor, Slush Pile Reader
Connect with Celia:
Web site: http://www.celiabreslin.com/
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
On the heels of Graeme Brown’s blog last week, and adding to what Christy Caughie blogged about the week before, I thought I’d offer a few tips about sentence structure. Don’t groan. You know it’s a necessary evil if you write. :) And don’t worry. This isn’t a grammar lesson. It’s just some pointers I offer to help your story read well.
Sentence length - Cadence is defined as a “rhythmic sequence or flow” according to Merriam-Webster. How your sentences are strung together is as important as what they say. Consider this example:
Chuck went to the grocery store. There, he looked for the perfect wine. He took forever to find one. Tonight’s date was important. At the check-stand, he stopped. He’d forgotten his wallet.
If you read it out loud, it sounds stilted and, well, boring. Now, if we vary the length:
Chuck searched the wines for the right one. Tonight’s date was important and he needed everything to be perfect. Somewhere around the thirtieth bottle, he found it. A Cabernet, her favorite. He grinned and sprinted for the grocery store check-stand, reaching for his wallet. His absent wallet. Chuck froze as it hit him. He’d left his money at home.
More readable, right? So varying the sentence length, along with some more dynamic word choices, makes this more interesting. Now take a look at your paragraph and make sure you’ve done a couple more things. Is there a purpose? Have you moved the story forward? And will it intrigue the reader? Here’s another draft of the above paragraph:
Chuck searched the wines for the right one, certain he could hear his watch ticking away. Beer, now that he could figure out. But wine? That was Sandy’s department. Tonight’s date was important and he needed everything to be perfect. He glanced down at the label name written in ink on his hand. Somewhere around the thirtieth bottle, he found it. A Cabernet, her favorite. He grinned and sprinted for the grocery store check-stand, reaching for his wallet. His absent wallet. All he pulled out was the small jeweler’s box. Chuck froze as it hit him. He’d left his money at home.
Hopefully, it reads quite a bit more interesting than that first draft. Keeping your reader entertained, whether your story is humorous or dark, is huge. As an editor, I love seeing the author’s excitement shine through like that in a story.
As I re-wrote the paragraph above, you’ll notice that it slowed things down. This moment is important to Chuck. It sets up a series of mishaps over the course of the evening that help Chuck realize some things about himself. But you can imagine quite a bit from this sample, can’t you?
Not every paragraph needs this amount of re-writing or slowing down. I always recommend writers read their work out loud. You’ll hear the cadence and recognize words that sound flat or need powering up. And hopefully you’ll smile. And as editors, we’ll get excited with you.
Laurie Temple is an editor at Champagne Books and writes under the pseudonym Laurie Ryan.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
If you can write a book, that is a great achievement. You should be proud; you've done what few can do.
All the hard work that goes into getting your prose to hold together cannot be overlooked. Perhaps you have gone through several drafts; there's only so much editing you can do before deciding it's ready to go on to a publisher. Just how much editing, though? Where do you draw the line?
Here's a quick checklist to get you started:
1) Can you boil your book down to a compelling two-three page story that is just as captivating as the book? If you can't, then take some time and try to do this. Not only will it give you what you need for a synopsis that will intrigue the acquisitions editor, but you will be able to appreciate your book's structure (or lack thereof). Some writers like to plot and outline ahead of time, in which case this step might be easy for you, whereas others like to go into the first draft blindfolded, then iron out the wrinkles in subsequent drafts. If this is you, then that doesn't mean you don't still need to, at some point, break your book down into an outline. After all, you can't iron out the wrinkles from a very big blanket if you don't know how to properly spread it out.
2) Do you know your characters' motives? Even though you might have chosen one POV character in a given scene, your story is (most likely) about more than that character alone. Just because you don't tell it through these other characters' eyes doesn't mean you don't have to know what they're thinking and what drives their actions. Many weak manuscripts contain this error - the world seems to revolve around the POV characters, turning the otherwise complex people they interact with into objects. If you take the time to jot down what some characters other than the main POV characters are thinking or doing outside of your main story, this will help you spot many places where they might be doing things that make no sense or have no impact on the story.
3) You can apply the same thing with settings. Do you know the background of each scene? Have you made sure you know this but have told the readers only what is relevant? Many stories are cluttered with too much detail, often a result of writers making sure they don't miss out on important facts about the backdrop to their tale. You can clear away these cobwebs by writing those extra facts down somewhere else, then removing them from the story in parts where they don't belong.
4) Have you dealt with all the things that make you cringe? You know, those parts that you know aren't strong, but you just can't seem to get them to work? That can be anything from weak sentences, to poor word choices, rushed action, rushed dialogue, confusing plot developments, lagging scenes (i.e. the dreaded filler chapter), etc. If they make you cringe, they will make your prospective editor cringe as well. Submitting a manuscript for publication is a professional venture - no different than submitting a business proposal or a job resume. Would you submit a weak cover letter? Would you present a proposal to clients with a hastily-put-together slideshow? No! This is your pride and joy, something you've worked hard on - take it that extra mile, work out all those bugs patiently, and deliver sunshine in an envelope (or inbox).
5) Do you have reader feedback? Usually, writers find a few beta readers to give them feedback on their story. A good time to do this is once you have your draft flowing properly (but not necessarily ready for submission). You might still have some of the bugs from 4) to iron out, but want to be sure you're not second guessing yourself. Beta readers are great for that. Be careful, though: beta readers are not there to tell you what you should put in your book. Instead, think of them like reconnaissance. As the writer, you're doing the groundwork; those readers will give you different aerial views you don't get when you're bogged down by the act of writing. Pick your beta readers well: diverse, willing to give timely, constructive feedback, and be sure you distinguish work-shopping from beta reading - the former is done between writers, and is often slower, more involved, the latter is done quickly, by a reader who will read your manuscript like a book and give you reader comments ("I really liked this," "you disappointed me here," "I couldn't understand this passage," "your character, James, seems so upset here, but I don't know why, I'm intrigued...").
6) After 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 are done, have you taken the time to go through the whole thing and search for any little typos or places where you can strengthen the prose? Would you be happy if the manuscript you send out went to print as it is?
If your answer is no, then it's not ready.
If your answer is yes, though, then this DOES NOT mean your manuscript is ready to go to print as is. What is DOES mean is that you are presenting your writing craft at its strongest, with the hopes of entering into a publishing contract where you will work with an editor to make it even stronger, a product that reflects the publisher's standards. When an editor has to spend time correcting you on things that are your job, as the writer, to have in place, that means the final product is less likely to be as good possible. An acquisition editor has this in mind when he or she is reviewing your manuscript, whether you are a first time author or a multi-published author; at Champagne Books, our goal is to present fiction at its finest, so as you can imagine we are not going to accept manuscripts we don't feel will reflect these standards by the end of the production process.
An editor is elated to receive a manuscript from a writer who has put all the right work into presenting his or her story with pride. So, for those of you who have written a book, who want to be published, be patient, do all that hard work. There's nothing more rewarding, for editor and author alike, than turning a manuscript that shines with potential into a book.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
During my days as a high school and middle school English teacher, I used to get a lot of narrative essay first drafts that included an overuse of “then” or “and then…” to link together the various parts of the story. First we did this, then we did that, then we did that other thing, and then it all got resolved. It was a bit like reading a series of police reports. Their essays were often just a list of actions to get their story from point A to point B, with very little narrative artistry in between. But we all lack a bit of literary polish when we first begin writing, and I enjoyed teaching them how to enliven those series of actions.
The manuscripts I edit now are much more polished, often beautifully written, and yet I find a lot of writers still struggle with the word “then.” They depend on it. They overuse it. And, more often than not, they use it incorrectly.
In fact, one of the most commonly misused or erroneously punctuated words I see when editing is the word “then.” I most often see it used as a coordinating conjunction, a joiner word, but that’s not its grammatical role.
Here’s an example: Steve spent the evening reading then went to bed.
That sentence sort of reads all right. It looks like it would work. But it’s grammatically incorrect.
Grammar’s coordinating conjunctions, words that can be used to join up clauses and different parts of a sentence, even have their own mnemonic to help you remember them. The FANBOYS are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.
So, how could we fix the sentence about Steve? We could add a coordinating conjunction.
Steve spent the evening reading and then went to bed.
We could also add a coordinating conjunction and separate the sentence into two independent clauses. To make the second half independent, we’ll need to add a subject pronoun too.
Steve spent the evening reading, and then he went to bed.
Or we could get rid of “then” entirely and draw out these actions, painting them in more vivid, tangible colors for our readers. Let’s face it, if you, as an author, need to tell your reader about your character’s actions in a blow-by-blow way, you need to make it worth their while.
Steve spent the evening reading the same book he’d been half-heartedly skimming all week. The black letters blurred to grey on the white page after about thirty minutes, and he found himself reading the same paragraph over and over, its meaning obscure by the time he reached the final line. Only the L stood out on the page, his eye drawn like a magnet to its sharp angle. He snapped the book shut, turned out the lights, and made his way to bed—an empty bed. He still slept on the left side. The right side would always belong to Lucy.
Do you find yourself using “then” a lot in your writing? If you’re using it, are you using it correctly? Are there other words you use too often and could remove to make your writing stronger?
Christy Caughie is an editor and book cover designer at Champagne Books.