Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ask the Editor Free-For-All Can Grow Your Manuscript

Once again, it's the first Tuesday of the month, meaning it's Ask the Editor Free-For-All Time!

Winter is over. Spring has sprung, and it's almost summer. Wise gardeners have cultivated their soil. Their reward is previously dormant grass and flowers have sprung to life.

What about your manuscript? Has it grown or does it remain dormant, tucked away until you can get to it, or maybe until you can figure out how to pull a few weeds or add fertilizer to get your story moving?

Our gardeners a/k/a editors will assist you by offering manuscript growing tips. Ask us and you may receive just the right formula to produce a prize winning masterpiece. 

We're here to answer your questions, be they from novices or seasoned writers. No question is too dumb to ask. If we can't provide an answer, we'll offer a suggestion about where to find it. It's our goal to help you grow your manuscript to its potential.

How Ask the Editor Free-For-All Works:

Today, and every first Tuesday of the month, The Blood-Red Pencil sponsors our Ask the Editor Free-For-All. I send e-mail blasts to e-groups, Facebook, other social networks, blogs, everywhere I can think of, inviting writers to ask questions.Our editors will answer, providing valuable tips on writing basics, manuscript submission to publishers or agents, self-publishing, and more.

To Submit A Question, Follow These Easy Steps:

Leave a comment below in the comment section. Include your name and blog URL or website, not only for promo, but also so we know you're a person and not a robot. (One link only, please!)  Double check to make sure your comment actually got added before you leave, since sometimes Blogger tests people to make sure they're real. You may be required to repeat a step to make your comment stick.

Our editors will stop by off and on today to answer questions in the comment section. If the answer to a question could be expanded, one of our Editors might choose to do a blog post on that topic. In that case,  you could get extra promotion, along with the possibility of forwarding jpegs of your profile photo and cover, as well as a buy link.

It's not required, but it's helpful if you leave an e-mail address with your comment. Also, it would be a nice gesture, but it's not mandatory, if you'd let us know where you've heard about our Ask the Editor Free-For-All.

Others will be asking questions, so it's a good idea to check back later to see what might show up. Some of our participants use e-group Digests, which delays their email notifications, so their questions and the answers might carry over through Wednesday or Thursday.

The comment section is open for questions. Come on over and get your manuscript growing!
Morgan Mandel writes mysteries,
romances, and thrillers. She's a
past president of Chicago-North
RWA, was the Library Liaison
for Midwest MWA, and is an
active blogger and networker.
Her personal blog is at:

Her romantic suspense, Killer Career, on Kindle and Smashwords, is 99 cents.

Her paranormal thriller, Forever Young - Blessing or Curse is targeted for release this summer in Kindle and at Smashwords.

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  1. Hi Morgan, I heard about this on PUYB and I hurried right over.

    My question for your editors is this: what's a good editing trick to weed out the unfortunate habit of overusing a word without realizing it (indeed, virtually, lovely, etc.) If I notice it, I can search and destroy. If I don't...

  2. Kathleen McLaughlin asks, "What should be the length of a mystery novel? I've had differing answers to this question and outdated books quoting 100,000 words. Now I hear 80,000 words. If the later is true, I've got some major chopping to do. Thank you. -- Kat

  3. Hi Morgan,

    Love this site, actually have been following for quite a while and have no recollection how it started.

    I have a question about series - if you have written a first installment in a series, do you write up summaries of the following books and include them in your query or proposal? What if you have an awesome marketing idea for that series? Would that be a good informational morsel to include? Thank you for this and I apologize for the multiple questions : ).

    Have a great day.


  4. Kelly:
    Two words--"fresh eyes." Find someone who has a mind for patterns--not even a writer, necessarily, but a reader who is also a math wiz or an engineer. Editors have a natural disposition for this, but in lieu of hiring one, that's my best advice. Good luck!

  5. Kathleen:
    All mysteries are not created equal, so this is where identifying your target genre comes into play. Mysteries range in length from the beefy 100K+ Elizabeth George and Dennis Lehane mysteries, which border on the literary, through 90-100K mainstream mysteries as written by Mary Higgins Clark or Janet Evanovich, to short books like those of Agatha Christie or M.C. Beaton (Hamish MacBeth series). Rules are really guidelines; all will be willingly chucked for a brilliant concept. The bottom line: write well!

  6. Thanks for this opportunity. My question follows, but first a brief set-up / explanation. One major agent read a partial of my novel, said my voice, pacing, storytelling are all “quite good,” but that my heroine is too “sexy bad girl” to resonate with romance readers. Having just seen the hilarious “Bridesmaids” with a not-so-perfect lead, I know I can fix the heroine and make her sympathetic. After this agent turned me down, I did some more tweaking and asked a RWA fixture, (someone who speaks at RWA chapters, is an author herself, instructs, evaluates manuscripts), to evaluate the MS. She said my voice is contemporary and that my ability to write sexual tension is very strong, and that I can write it fresh. The plot is more a dark psychological journey, with a twist whodunit. I’m starting to send around queries again. My question is… do editors all want ‘high concepts’ that could be made into films, e.g., “Hunger Games,” comic book concepts, paranormals. I always hear plot lines like, “Dareth must save the Vampire Kingdom and his one great love and conquer the evil dark Lord Taryn before Earth is destroyed.” I tend to gravitate toward more intimate, psychological struggles than on these epic, comic book, worlds-battling-each-other scale. Would editors be interested in a small-town-setting if the suspense is great and the heat between the leads is hot?

  7. Hi Cheryl. Agents are a lot like readers (since they are also readers). If they read the manuscript and can envision it as a movie, they're happy since that can mean another avenue to sell/promote the book. But agents do not expect every book to be movie material.

    Both suspense and heat are good. But veer away from graphic sex unless you're going for a very tight market. A small town setting is fine, but it must be interesting and unique, not a this-could-be-any-small-town.

    When the agent said the "heroine is too “sexy bad girl” to resonate with romance readers," my guess is that she was saying that romance readers may not be able to identify with her. When we read, we want to see ourselves as the heroine.

  8. Great blog. I hear about these events through my writer's club Yahoo group.

    Q: I've a women's fiction series that opens with a triangle. Secondary hero proposes; heroine has commitment issue and flees; prime hero wins her heart by being a steady influence in her life as she journeys through why she has a commitment issue. "Someone in the know" looked at the synopsis only and told me from a craft standpoint the guy who proposed must make her unravel her commitment issue not the hero I chose to win her heart. This is confusing to me. Why, I ask and does the triangle kill chances of selling this series when its resolved in Book One? Secondary hero pops up in Book 3. Sorry, that's a big question.


  9. KELLY - if you suspect a word is coming up too often, and this is a common problem...let us say you favor Tarmac over roadway and you are using Tarmac all over the place, and as Tarmac is getting sticky in the mind...I suggest use the technology at your fingertips. Do a replace Tarmack with pavement and the computer will tell you how many times you used Tarmac in #of replacements. After this, you can do a search for pavement and mix it up. Just a thought.


  10. It's my first time writing 1st person, and I'm not sure how to format paragraphs where the narrator is observing another character, and that other character is speaking.


    “I...I...” Seth is turning red, but his lips are bloodless as he bends them around each syllable. “I want to...to know w...who and... and why...”

    Is this formatted correctly, or should the dialogue be separated from the observation?


  11. Hi Morgan,

    I heard about it because I'm a subscriber. My question is when an editor requests revisions, should there be specific points brought up or a general comment. For instance, I received the following: more conflict, less dialogue, more action, and more description. In other words, start over?

    Mary Jo

  12. Bonnie, to answer your question about the series, I would not recommend putting a summary of the story ideas in your query. In the query letter it is best to just establish that this book is the first in a series. For a full proposal, you can include a brief summary of several story ideas. For my mystery series, I also included a list of potential titles since each title had an identifying word - Season.

    Good luck.

  13. Cheryl asked: Would editors be interested in a small-town-setting if the suspense is great and the heat between the leads is hot?

    I think story and characters are more important than setting, and I think other editors might feel the same. From the feedback you have received, it appears you have mastered the craft, so I would not worry about the setting. Your high concept is the story line and the people.

  14. Mary Jo asks: when an editor requests revisions, should there be specific points brought up or a general comment. For instance, I received the following: more conflict, less dialogue, more action, and more description. In other words, start over?

    Mary Jo, did this come from an acquisitions editor who is interested in the ms if you do a revision? I would never give such vague responses to a potential client unless the manuscript was a very rough first draft. But even then I will give some guidance. For instance, I just finished an edit job for a writer who needs to do a complete rewrite of the book. It is not even ready for a comprehensive edit. I worked on the first 75 pages to show her how some things could be changed, then went through the rest of the ms and added comments in specific places where she needed more action or dialogue. Freelance editors can do that for a fee, but acquisitions editors at the publishing houses cannot. It takes a great deal of time to go through a book and make those specific comments.

  15. I have a question regarding head-hopping. If there is one thing I've had a problem with in my writing, it's that. Problem is, when I read other books, even best-selling authors seem to do it themselves. I'm reading a Catherine Coulter mystery-suspense and she's done it twice so far and I'm half-way through the book. Maybe my perception of head-hopping is wrong. Can you explain what it is?

  16. Wow, Maryann,
    That would be disheartening to know the whole book needs to be rewritten, but she's lucky to have you tell her that before she submits it or publishes it herself.

    Morgan Mandel

  17. I have a mental block about awhile vs a while, despite reading the 'rules' in places like CMS. Is there an easy way to remember with examples instead of rules (you know, like, show me, don't tell me!)

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  18. Hello, Mary Jo. Maryann gave you great feedback. General comments such as the ones you received are of little value if you don't know how to fix the problem(s).

    I, too, work with writers to help them address issues that affect the quality and marketability of a manuscript. My goal upon completion of any book is two-fold: the book is the best it can be, and the author comes away with lessons learned that will be of value throughout his/her writing career.

    How do I teach writers to write well? Often, I rewrite short passages to show a writer how it can be done, always with the assurance that my words are meant as an example only. We then discuss the reasons for each suggested change and various ways that change might be accomplished. After that, I turn the writer loose with the passage and wait for the results. Every page in the book gets the same careful analysis and attention, and writers often grow significantly as we travel the path of words that flow from the opening line to the last. One final thought: this doesn't always mean starting over.

  19. Head-hopping is an issue for many writers, as you've noted in the novels you read. Have you ever taken a few moments to analysis how head-hopping affects your connection with the characters and your love of the story?

    When the writer bounces from one POV to another, he/she, in effect, pushes the reader away. How so? When we identify with the feelings, the situation, the heart of a particular character, we are drawn into that "person's" life to the extent that we laugh or grow angry with him, empathize and cry with her. In other words, we develop a relationship with that character. Head-hopping denies us the ability to feel what the character feels, to become on some level that character — or that character's strongest advocate. We don't get "involved." And our enjoyment of the book suffers.

    If you would like to contact me through my website, go to www.denvereditor.com and then to the contact page. I would be happy to email you some information on POV/head-hopping from my writing workshop manual.

  20. Barbara:
    If you're determined to sell a series based on a love triangle, then yes, keeping them guessing until the final book is of course the way to go.

    I'm not sure why the editor would have supported her decision from a "craft" standpoint. Anything can be done as long as you've mastered the "craft" of psychological suspense, deftly handled emotional turning points, and and occasional plot twist to shake it all up.

    Could she have been referring to the fact that your inciting incident did not properly raise the question of whom she would end up with? Or that the plot complications as represented in your synopsis pertain more to the secondary hero than the primary hero? Or that your synopsis suggested you were moving in one direction, while your manuscript pages or query letter went in another? All of these could signal structural problems.

  21. 1000th.Monkey:
    You can certainly mix up the dialogue with observations as you did in this example.

    I do speak on behalf of several of the editors here when I tell you, however, that you'd better have a darn good reason for all those ellipses. ;)

  22. Betty Ann:
    Linda gave you some sound reasons why not to head hop. The restrictions we place on ourselves through POV choices force our creative hand and make us function with some real-world delimiters--we can't always know what's going on in everyone's heads. That's often the fun of it!

  23. On almost every occasion, head hopping seems the easy way out.

    Once in a while, though, I've read books I really enjoyed where differing POVs were used when least expected, yet I still enjoyed them. I just finished Millie's Fling by Jill Mansell, a free kindle read I thoroughly enjoyed, in which the author performed skilled head hopping.

    Almost every rule can be broken if done right, but that's the catch. It's not easy to do it right.

    Morgan Mandel

  24. Thank you, Kathryn... kill them... all of them... the more the better. Editors almost always conclude that you didn't know what words to use when... um... you write like this. Weak.

    Bonnie, if you have an awesome marketing idea, by all means explain it in detail with your query. An unusual scheme will help you stand out from the crowd. Emphasis your social networking platform, too. Every author must submit a marketing plan these days, so don't even think about skipping over this when you pitch a book. In the acquisition process, with manuscript quality being equal, the stronger marketing personality will have a book accepted first. It's a tough world out there.

  25. @ Kathryn Craft

    Thank for clearing that up!

    Ah, and yes, that character has very few lines because he has a speech impediment.

  26. Wonderful blog! I don't have a question at the moment, but I loved reading other questions and the very insightful answers.


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