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Showing posts from January, 2009

Ask the Editors – Self Editing, Part Four

Dear Editors- “I think one of the hardest things to do is self-editing. Invariably, no matter how hard you try, there is always something you overlook or miss. What is your advice on how to get the most out of self-editing? What are the most important things a writer should look for when they edit?” Christine Verstraete, author, Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery *** This is the last post in a four-part series. To read the previous posts, click on Third , Second , and First . Today I have three words for you. Cut the fat. Stephen King, my writing-style mentor, recommends that your self-editing reduce your manuscript’s total word count by at least 10 percent. Cut the fat and get to the meat of the story. Here’s an example: Mary decided that enough was enough and that John had abused her just one too many times. She decided then and there that she must stand up for herself. She quickly snatched the rolling pin that she had on the counter and slammed him very hard, righ

Ask the Editor - The Dreaded Semicolon

My question: The dreaded semicolon. When I work in MSWord, it is forever telling me to replace a comma with a semicolon. I usually obey the MSWord wizard because I don’t seem to know what I’m doing. Is there some way to tell (some rule of thumb?) if what I have is two sentences—that should be broken up rather than use a semicolon? Thanks for your time. Billie A. Williams The Capricorn Goat Billie, A lot of writers find the semicolon mysterious. I’d like to see you take charge of your writing and not let the MS Word wizard boss you around about it. In order to do that, you need to view punctuation as a set of communication tools that you can use to signal your reader how you want them to interpret what you’ve written. The three basic punctuation tools are a comma, a semicolon, and a period. I often think of them as traffic signs. When I see a comma, I slow down. A semicolon tells me to yield, and a period shouts, “Stop.” It’s that simple. Think of one of your sentences wh

Ask The Editor: Editors' Names

QUESTION: There's conflicting advice in the writing world about when sending out a manuscript whether to address it to a specific editor, when they change so quickly, or whether to simply write: "Dear Submissions Editor". What's your opinion? Thanks, Carol Gordon Ekster "Where Am I Sleeping Tonight?-A Story of Divorce" Boulding Publishing fall 2008 ANSWER: Every time I see this kind of question, I think about all the mail I get at my home addressed to “resident” or “occupant.” Talk about depersonalization. That kind of mail gets tossed immediately, and as authors, we don’t want to invite that kind of dismissal of our treasured work. So, no, don’t send a query to “Dear Submissions Editor.” A submission package is an indication of our professionalism, and if we don’t take the time to find out the current editor in a publishing house, that brands us as amateurs. It only takes a quick phone call to get the name of the editor to wh

Ask the Editor - Sex Scenes in a Romance Novel

Question: I would like to know in contemporary romance, what is the rule of thumb as to how many sex scenes there should be in a novel. Michele Cameron Moments of Clarity Michele, I’ve edited about fifty contemporary romances during the past four years and have never required a certain number of sex scenes, although I do recommend at least two. Some of the novels I’ve worked on have an abundance of sex scenes, and some have virtually none. However, a contemporary romance does need to have certain basic elements, which I abbreviate by thinking of the acronym CLICK : conflict, longing, intimacy, climax, and kiss. I have to scramble the final three letters of my acronym in order to discuss these elements in sequence, but it’s a good memory tool. Conflict lies at the core of any novel, and in a romance it’s crucial. A romantic couple without any sparks is like Ashley Wilkes and Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind —nice and sweet, but boring. Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett But

Ask the Editors – Self Editing, Part Three

Dear Editors- “I think one of the hardest things to do is self-editing. Invariably, no matter how hard you try, there is always something you overlook or miss. What is your advice on how to get the most out of self-editing? What are the most important things a writer should look for when they edit?” Christine Verstraete, author, Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery *** This is the third post in a four-part series. To read the previous posts, either scroll down (they are posted in succession below) or click on Second and First . Today’s Lesson: 1. Get rid of weak, qualifying words and phrases. You’ve already searched and destroyed those dreaded words ending in “ly,” but other words can weaken your prose. They don’t appear as adverbs or adjectives, but they function the same. Seek out and eliminate these words: Almost, less, seldom, even, always, maybe, soon, more, perhaps, then, very, far, never, today, well, sometimes, just, perhaps Next, search for and rewrite or eli

Ask the Editors – Self Editing, Part Two

Dear Editors- “I think one of the hardest things to do is self-editing. Invariably, no matter how hard you try, there is always something you overlook or miss. What is your advice on how to get the most out of self- editing? What are the most important things a writer should look for when they edit?” Christine Verstraete, author, Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery *** If you missed it and want to catch up with Lesson One, Click Here. And now Lesson Two-- Use the Word tools, “Track Changes,” and “Spelling and Grammar” to do the following: • Eliminate repetitious words. Look for words used more than twice or thrice in close proximity. Switch on Track Changes, and then click on “Edit.” Use the “Find” feature to locate those words everywhere in your manuscript. Have your thesaurus handy or up on your browser, and use it to replace repeated words with appropriate synonyms. An exception to this practice is if you have a character with a quirky trait of using a certain word

Ask the Editors – Self-Editing, Part One

Dear Editors- “I think one of the hardest things to do is self-editing. Invariably, no matter how hard you try, there is always something you overlook or miss. What is your advice on how to get the most out of self-editing? What are the most important things a writer should look for when they edit?” Christine Verstraete, author, Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery *** This is a comprehensive question and subject, so for the sake of blogging brevity I am writing a four-part series of short posts to address it properly. You can do the obvious things, like checking for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Everyone uses spell-check these days, but that is no guarantee you do not have “wrong” words in your manuscript. Spell-check will not correct things like “too” where it should be “to,” or “then” when it should be “than,” or “you” where “your” should be. So there is no substitute for good old-fashioned reading your manuscript with a critical eye. After completing a

Ask the Editor: Selling an E-book to a Print Publisher

Question: Would I have difficulty interesting a print publisher in my book if it has already been published as an e-book? What would be the drawback, if any? Submitted by Susan Culp, author of 50 Frogs, 5 Babes and a Bulldog Answer: Great – and very timely – question, Susan. Just recently, the blog Galley Cat announced that the previously self-published non-fiction work Notes Left Behind is scheduled for publication through William Morrow in the fall of 2009. It’s something for any author with an e-book to celebrate. As I’m sure you are very aware, self-publishing is a sizzling topic, especially on literary agents’ blogs. The general consensus: unless you've sold thousands of copies of your e-book, agents and print publishers aren’t going to be interested in your manuscript because it’s been previously published. The good news? If you have sold thousands of copies, you’ve got a publishing credit to show off to agents today. Notes Left Behind sold 8,000 copies. Of course

Ask the Editor - What Turns You Off?

What turns you off the most in a manuscript? Marilyn Meredith Book: Kindred Spirits Buy from http://www.mundania Website: ------------ --------- --------- --------- ------- A caveat to start: IMHO a “turn off” is a subjective judgment. It is fair to say that one person’s turn off just might be someone else’s “Oh boy, do I love that!” Having said that, here are some of my least favorite things: 1. A novel that starts with the character waking up, hung over or not, fumbling for the alarm clock (or telephone or staggering to the door or whatever) then showering, and observing self in mirror. Maybe it’s just me, but I always take this as a cheap, lazy-writing way to reveal the character’s looks and maybe a few other points. My attitude probably comes from the fact that this opening has been done to death. It’s a really good idea to figure out what those DTD things are and not do them! 2. Mysteries that resolve the plot through some “cheat the reader” devi

Hero On the Hudson

Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549, is an American hero. After his plane struck a flock of ducks, which flew into the left engine and shut it down, Sullenberger still managed to safely land and evacuate all 150 passengers on the Hudson River. How did he pull off such a feat? From all accounts, almost his entire life was spent in preparation. At age 15, he already flew a crop duster. Before he became a commercial pilot, in his Air Force days he flew F-4 Phantom II fighter planes and led war game exercises. Two years before the miracle landing, he started up a consulting firm, Safety Reliability Methods, to help insure the safety of commercial aviation. When disaster struck, Sully knew exactly what to do and he did it. Another pilot may not have been as prepared. We'll never know. Now let's pretend Sullenberger is a fictional hero in your book. As such, you can't just play out the bird strike and show how he handled it. Readers would find it hard to bel

Ask the Editor: What are the Rules of Possession?

Dear Editors: Why do I so often see the possessive for a proper noun ending in 's' formed incorrectly? This is correct: Mr. Ross's book. This is incorrect: Mr Ross' book This is correct: Paris's dog. This is incorrect: Paris' dog This is correct: the actress's Oscar, This is incorrect: the actress' Oscar. Thank you, Marjorie Levine Hello Marjorie. Seasons change, fashions change, times change, and so does grammar. While it’s true that the standard used to be Mr. Ross’s book and Paris’s dog and the actress’s Oscar, the writing world has moved on from that rule. Today, the acceptable way of showing possession is “th e actress’ Oscar.” “Actress” ends in not just one “s,” but two. No need to add a third “s” to the pot. It’s also acceptable to use just the apostrophe, with no extra “s,” when the noun doing the possessing has only one “s,” such as dogs’ house (meaning multiple dogs who share a house). Technically, you still have a choice when

Ask the Editor: More on Dialogue Tags

Question: What I really want to know is what is the general consensus of dialogue tags? Is the old he said/she said still the preferred tag? Submitted by Margay Leah Justice, author of Nora's Soul . Answer: Different editors have different preferences of nuance on this subject, but one underlying principle is consistently agreed upon. Dialog tags are a necessity for identifying who said what. Beyond that they have very little use. I’ll explain by example and analysis. *** “Why did you do that?” John asked inquisitively. His sister was on the floor, nearly passed out, with an empty bottle of pain killers next to her. Mary replied meekly, “Because I was just feeling so terrible. My head hurts so bad.” John asked angrily, “So you took a couple dozen pain killers? Mary, that’s suicidal!” “I’m so sorry, John. I don’t know what I was thinking,” Mary responded. John added hastily, “Well, we had better get you down to emergency in a hurry.” Mary agreed, “Yes

Ask the Editor -- Word Count

QUESTION: HI. My name is Elizabeth Schechter, and I have a question. My writing partner and I have recently finished a novel, entitled Midnight Moon . It's quite a bit longer than is acceptable for novel length (over 200,000 words before we started to revise). My question is would an editor rather read something that long and offer suggestions as to where it should be cut down, or should the author attempt to cut the book prior to submitting it to an editor? Our still-so-new-it's-shiny blog is located here: / Thanks! ANSWER: Hello Elizabeth. Congrats to you and your writing partner for finishing your book. That is such an important first step. As to your question, in today's tough marketplace I would suggest not sending an editor something that gives him or her a reason to reject it out of hand. Not to mention the fact that many editors at publishing houses no longer have the time to do that kind of editing. Just like with marketin

Headline Bloopers

Headlines can truly get on an editor's nerves. From the too-clever play-on-words, to the blatant mistakes, it seems as though journalists are often too pressured and rushed to get attention, and bad writing is the result. Take for instance: Vehicle Hits Police Car En Route to Jail Not very clear who's going to jail, is it? Not important, but it's just the tip of the iceberg in journalism today. Consider these; Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter What? Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says No, really? Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers Now that's a little harsh, don't you think? Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over Pervert! Miners Refuse to Work after Death Talk about lazy - whatever happened to good old fashioned work ethic? Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant Hmm - does he at least get a five second running head start? War Dims Hope for Peace Ya think? If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile No - no way. C

Ask the Editor - When to Submit a Book Proposal

QUESTION: I am a young adult author who self-published a debut autobiographical novel, Confessions of a Catholic Schoolgirl almost 2 years ago. In the spring of 2008, a well-known literary agent "discovered' me on my MySpace page with a possible book project. He told me what he was looking for and why he thought I was the best writer for the job, but unfortunately he did not like the book synopsis I sent him. However, he did give me the name of two editor friends who may be interested in my next book, The Gospel According to Gabby. I only have about 45 pages of this book written. My question is when should I contact these editors? Should I finish the novel first and then send the query/synopsis? Thanks! Michelle Kane Michelle, you are lucky to have this referral from a top agent and my advice to you is to follow up quickly with these editors while this is all fresh. Nothing is worse than contacting an editor six

Selling Your Rights -Part 2

To be a full time writer, you need to understand the rights that you are selling to publishers. Ignorance can be very costly. In the first part of this article, I discussed the situations that you should try to avoid. In this part, I will discuss the way to sell your writing that will allow you to make the most from each piece. First Rights The best case is to sell First Rights which is sometimes called First Serial Rights. What that means is that the publisher is buying the right to be the first one in that country to publish your piece. You can sell first rights in many places. You might sell first Australian rights, first North American rights, and First Japanese rights- all for the same piece of writing. That means three pay cheques. Doesn't that sound so much nicer than one pay cheque for all rights? In this case, the publication gets to publish your piece first in that area, but you retain all rights to the work. Most publications are buying first rights. If it is not written

Selling Your Rights- Part 1

In the next two posts I’d like to start the discussion on selling rights to your writing. If you are a full time writer, you've likely realized that to make a living from writing, your work must be published as many times as possible. You must sell it to a publication and then be able to sell it as a reprint to other publications as many times as you like. In this way a story, article, or poem can be earning you an income while you are busy with new work. For this to happen, you need to pay strict attention to who you submit to and what rights they are buying. Selling a piece of writing to a publisher who demands 'all rights' is like cutting your legs off. Your work is gone and unless the money the publisher is offering is enough to set you up for life, or as near to that as possible, you'd rather give it a miss. Let's take a quick look at the various options for the rights that publishers can buy from you. Let's start with the worst case scenarios: All rights W

Window Washers - Which Kind Are You?

Morgan Mandel On my way to work, I noticed a window washer in a bucket dangling outside an office building. I hadn't thought about it before, but window washers are like writers. There are many varieties. I've listed three of them, but you may be able to identify more. Their order is no reflection on which category is better. Here are the types: Category 1 - People who diligently wash their windows. They take pride in their windows' appearance and want them to look perfect. Even if others don't notice, if they see specks of dirt, they feel compelled to clean the windows again and again. They do this constantly, sometimes missing out on fun things in their quest for perfection. Category 2 - People who wash their windows for special occasions or when they have extra time. They like to see the windows look good, but don't dwell on them if they aren't perfect for the time being. They know the windows will eventually get done when the time is right. There are more fu

Blogs - to Edit or Not to Edit?

Should you edit your blog after publication? Sounds like a simple question - right? And yet there is much written on this topic and strong feelings abound. On the 'no' side (more accurately stated as the "ABSOLUTELY NOT!" side) people feel that editing should only take place before you publish your blog article, that to make changes afterwards is cheating. There are at least two trains of thought on the 'yes' side. 1. We are professionals and professionals work to perfect their products. If you spot a problem after publication, fix it - ASAP. 2. The blogging media offers editing options that weren't available in earlier eras. In the world of print media, we can't easily correct an editing error. That is not true with blogs. Mistakes are easily fixed. We should embrace the technology and fix the errors. There is even a third point of view - an attempt at compromise. The idea here is to fix the error, but in a 'red-line' mode, meanin

Ask the Editor - Selling Poetry

Dear Editors: My name is Patricia Neely-Dorsey , first time author of a book of poetry entitled Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia - A Life in Poems . It is a celebration of the South and things southern. In my book, I attempt to give a positive glimpse into the southern way of life. My question is actually three-fold: 1) I have repeatedly been told that a book of poetry is a hard sale in the literary market. Do you think that this is true? Why? 2) Why are reviewers so reluctant (at least initially) to review a book of poetry? I have often had to do some really hard persuasion to just get the reviewer to consider it. I have been told on several occasions that "I/we don't review poetry," only to later receive a glowing review after much arm twisting. 3) Do you think a book of "Southern Poetry" can have widespread, mass appeal? Thank -You Patricia Neely-Dorsey Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems ------ Hello Patricia. U nfortunately,

Ask the Editor - New Feature Here at The Blood-Red Pencil

We're excited to tell you about Ask the Editor , a new feature we've added to this blogspot. For the first round, I put a call out to writers at Book Place asking them to e-mail me questions. I've relayed those questions to our Editors, and they've chosen which ones they'd like to answer. From time to time, you'll notice Ask the Editor as part of the subject line of a post here. That'll be your clue the post will be about a question posed by a writer. It may be something you've thought of asking, but were too embarrassed, or never gotten around to asking. If you'd like the possibility of your question being featured in one of the blogs by an Editor here, here's what to do: e-mail me at with Ask the Editor in the subject line Give me your full name Pose the question Leave your website, blogspot or both Indicate the name of your current, upcoming novel, or work in progress provide one buy link for the novel, if it's a