Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ask the Editor Free-For-All Day by Morgan Mandel

If you have a job like I do, I hope you've adjusted to going back to work today after the Labor Day Holiday weekend!

Even if you don't, how about taking a break for a few moments and learn what other writers are asking and what our editors are answering. Or, perhaps you'd also like to contribute a question. If so, please do so below.That's what the Ask the Editor Free-For-All is all about.

Here's how it works:

Today, and Every First Tuesday of the Month, The Blood-Red Pencil  holds our Ask the Editor Free-For-All. We send out e-mail blasts to e-groups, post on Facebook and other likely spots hoping to find those who will admit they don't know everything. We welcome your questions and will provide answers from our able editors. This shortcut will come in handy if you're submitting a manuscript to an editor or agent, engaging in self-publishing, or perhaps just getting your feet wet.
The Blood-Red Pencil is at your service. Ask, and our editors will answer.

To Submit A Question, Follow These Easy Steps:
Leave a comment in the comment section below. Make sure you include your name and blog url or website not only for promo, but so we know you’re legit. (One link only for each person, please!)

One or more of our editors will stop by during the day and answer your question in the comment section. If an editor feels your question needs a more lengthy explanation, you'll get a comment to the effect that an entire post will be devoted to the subject at a later date. If that's the case, you'll be fortunate enough to get extra promotion, and perhaps a chance to send in your profile and book cover jpegs and buy link.

Although it's not a requirement, you're welcome to leave your e-mail address with your comment. Because your question may need a follow-up, it's a good idea if you mention someplace in your comment where you'd heard about our Ask the Editor Free-For-All.

Be sure to come back and check here not only for your answer, but also the answers to other people's questions. You never know what could prove helpful later. Since some of you are on e-group Digests, questions and answers might carry over through Wednesday or Thursday.

No question is too silly. We're all here to learn and share.

Okay, now's your chance. What's your question?

Morgan Mandel


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  1. Hi! I'm an aspiring author and my question is regarding query letters and how to get an agent's attention. I've been querying a lot of agents regarding my novel, and I've been using excerpts from a Publisher's Weekly review I received from the 2010 Amazon.com Breaththrough Novel Contest where I was a quarter-finalist. Does this help me or hurt me? I haven't been officially published anywhere but I've won a couple of awards for my writing and have written for a city newspaper. I guess I really want to know, how can I grip an agent's attention in my query letter, to let them know I'm worth a shot?

  2. Lauren, first, congratulations for winning some awards for your writing. It is certainly worth mentioning that you have won awards in your query letter, but that should be reserved for the last paragraph of the query.

    Janet Reid, an agent who blogs regularly, recently wrote that the best way to get her attention is with a great story. Basically she said "Tell me about your story and your characters. Make me care about them."

    Also, be confident in how you introduce yourself. An aspiring author is one who wishes to be an author. You are an author if you have written a book. And you are officially published if you have written for a city newspaper.

    Good luck.

  3. I'll start my answer the same way Maryann did, congratulating you on your awards! Placing at all at the amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Contest is rather impressive. I know a good number of excellent writers who participate in it and not necessarily place. So kudos to you for achieving that milestone.

    I think Maryann's answer regarding your query letter is right on target.

    My advice on "how you can grip an agent's attention" would actually be for you to attend writer conferences where acquiring agents will be present. If you can pitch your story to them during the conference, and they ask for it, then it's up to your writing after that...and your writing has already begun accumulating accolades. :-)

  4. My question is about submissions...would you say it's true that if the writing is very good, you might overlook story/plot issues in a work you're reviewing? And vice versa, if the story was amazing, but the writing needed a little tweaking would you be interested? I ask because I had a writer friend review my first chapter (after my critique group had already done so) and she found several ways to clean it up. She's very good, she saw things I couldn't see. Would an editor look at a work and say this is good and the flaws can be fixed?

  5. Hi: I've just finished my new YA and I've written it with two endings - the Hollywood version and the 'nitty-gritty' version...I'm trying to figure out in my synopsis how best to explain the book has two endings. Any help greatly appreciated.

  6. Valerie, the answer depends on the editor and/or agent and/or publisher. Speaking for my own small publishing company (because it's the only one I can speak for with any authority), I will overlook some of the grammar stuff if the storyline is strong and fits within my publishing guidelines.

    Based on what your writer friend said, I would urge you to invest in a professional editor to clean up your manuscript and make it shine. The publishing world has changed dramatically, and the big houses typically do not take on and nurture potentially good writers anymore. Do be careful when choosing an editor, however. You want to be sure you get a great job for the dollars you spend. Check out the editors on this blog. Then ask for references.

  7. Valerie, in my opinion you should never submit to an agent or publisher until your manuscript is every bit as good as you can possibly make it. Never assume that someone else is going to accept your work and then make it better.

  8. Kind of a fun question, but are you as sick of reading about vampires who have waited centuries to meet THE ONE they are MEANT to be with, as I am? Or is it worth trying to grind one of those out? Likewise shifters and menage that involves them both? Are these still hot? If not, what do you see as the next hot genre in romance?

  9. Also, what do you read submitted books on? Your laptop, computer, or a handheld e-reader?

  10. Valerie, I agree with Linda that minor writing problems can be cleaned up and a book is more appealing if there is a terrific story involved. I have edited for two clients who really needed help in the craft, but had very engaging stories. My belief is that the craft can always be learned but strong storytelling comes first.

    Renee, regarding your question about the two endings to your YA novel, I would tell prospective agents and editors about it in as simple terms as you posted it here. But I would also include clarification of why you did that. I know there are books published that offer alternative endings.

  11. Hi Fiona -- Most agents and editors at conferences advise us not to try and follow trends in our writing. The time between acceptance and final publication is just too long (18 - 24 months in many cases). A writer needs to choose a genre and topic she cares about, and then write the best book she can write.


  12. Good morning,
    I haven't got a question to ask but I just wanted to say what interesting questions have so far been raised and what informative answere have been provided.



  13. Valerie, I agree with Bob and Linda. The competition to get your book published is just too stiff these days to submit a manuscript that hasn't been revised and polished. I would submit the first chapter or so to several freelance editors and ask for a sample edit plus comments on your fiction writing techniques. Or ask about a manuscript evaluation, or even an initial critique of the first 50 pages or so. Editors who have experience in editing fiction (and make sure they do) will likely point out problem areas that you weren't aware of, such as point of view shifts or stilted dialogue.

  14. Also, Valerie, if someone's story(not yours, of course!) has a weak premise, a boring plot, cardboard characters, and stilted dialogue, no amount of perfect spelling and grammar will help to get it accepted by an agent! That author needs a developmental or substantive edit, by an editor who's used to working intensively with the author on a manuscript.

  15. Keep in mind that there are different editors - if you are paying an editor to help you make your ms. perfect, then helping you tweak is part of the job. If you are talking about an acquisitions editor at a publishing house, it isn't their job to help you improve you manuscript - make it as perfect as it can be before submitting. That doesn't mean you won't be asked to revise after you're accepted, but it isn't the role of that editor to advise you before you're accepted. If that makes sense.

    As to meeting agents, don't overlook blogs, Facebook, and Twitter for ways to engage in conversation with agents BEFORE you submit. In fact, it's a good way to get a sense of the person you might like to work with.


  16. An unpublished writer I know spent a year on her first novel. Then she hired the author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Next thing you know, she has an agent and a six-figure contract for the book Still Missing. For those of us labouring in the trenches of small Canadian presses, this is major. The lucky author is a bright lady, but this is unprecedented here. Wonder what she paid for that editing.

  17. It's a tough world out there for authors, just like other professions. Yes, we need to get our manuscripts are perfect as humanly possible before it gets into the hands of a =n agent or editor.

    Morgan Mandel


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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