Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Enjoy Your Independence at Ask the Editor Free-For-All

Yesterday was Independence Day for the United States of America. In this exciting day and age, with so many choices of where and how to get published, everyday can be an independence day for authors no matter where you live.

Despite the vast opportunities now available, one criteria doesn't change. We still need to write the best book we can. That's not easy, especially if we get stuck on a point and don't know where to turn for advice.

That's where Ask the Editor Free-For-All comes in.

How Ask the Editor Free-For-All Works:

Today, as in every first Tuesday of the month, our editors are here to answer your questions and and help you achieve your potential of true independence.

I send e-mail blasts to e-groups, Facebook, other social networks, blogs, everywhere I know, inviting writers to ask questions. Our editors answer, dispensing 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. Include your name and blog URL or website, not only for promo, but also to let us know you're a person and not a robot. (One link only, please!) Double check to make sure your comment did get on before you leave, since sometimes Blogger tests people to make sure they're real. You might be required to repeat a step to make your comment stick.

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

It's not required, but helpful if you leave an e-mail address with your comment. If you want to, you can tell us where you've heard of the Ask The Editor Free-For-All so we know where are readers are coming from.

Others will ask questions, so you might want to check later to see what's happening. Some of our participants use e-group Digests, so their questions and answers might carry over through Wednesday or Thursday.

The comment section is now open for your questions. Let us help get your manuscript ready so you can enjoy your author independence!

Morgan Mandel
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 social networker. Her personal blog is at:

Her romantic suspense, Killer Career, is on Kindle and Smashwords, for 99 cents. Her paranormal thriller, Forever Young - Blessing or Curse is targeted for release this summer first on Kindle and Smashwords.

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  1. How do you keep the momentum going when writing a novel, especially when you get to the middle of the book? I'm working on a YA novel, and am bogged down in the middle and can't seem to keep it fresh.
    Donna Volkenannt
    dvolkenannt (at) charter (dot) net

  2. Hi Morgan,

    Thanks for taking my question. I am writing a couple of books, one a memoir and two, a book about the memoir genre. During the development of my two books, I am always on the lookout for incremental feedback. I love critique groups, but I also occasionally pay for feedback. My question is, how do you find an editor who can help you with voice and structure, while staying within your own writing intentions?" Actually I've been trying to find the answer to this question for about ten years, so if you can answer it, I'm pretty sure a bell will ring in heaven.

    Jerry Waxler
    Memory Writers Network

  3. Irishoma:
    I've attended many workshops called "The Muddle in the Middle," so your question is of concern to many writers. My favorite answer comes from YA author Nancy Springer (and here I paraphrase): "I just keep on starting things until I have to start wrapping them up and don't worry about the middle."

    Nancy's humorous yet thought-provoking take aside, this is such a great question that I've jotted down a few notes and plan to use it in a future post--stay tuned, and thanks for your question!

  4. I am a visual person. When I write a novel, how do I jkeep all the scenes straight? I was thinking of using a story board, where I can see the whole story at once. Any suggestions?
    Thank you.
    Linda Cacaci

  5. Linda: Me too! I've used spread sheets, but I like hands-on materials best. Romance author Susan Meier gave me the following great idea at a conference. Turn a large piece of poster board sideways (landscape view) and mark it into vertical columns, each a couple inches wide. Put the chapter number at the top of each column. I was able to get eight columns on each piece, meaning my 40-chapter novel needed five boards. Then I put each character's scene goal/question raised onto a Post-It note and stuck it on the board. The resolution to that I write on another Post-It in the same color--that might end up in the same chapter or another.

    I track different subplots by using different color Post-Its, which is great because you can see at a glance whether you are addressing the subplots frequently enough. The Post-It notes work well because you can move them all around--and the poster board can be re-used for the next book.

  6. Good question, Jerry. A number of editors, including some in this group, can help you with story/content development. My own network of editors works with writiers who request this service, and they stive to maintain the author's style, voice, and intent. Others here no doubt do the same.

    I suggest that you talk to any editor you are considering. Email contact may work initially, but I urge you to speak with an editor and pay careful attention to the responses to your questions. Listen for changes in tone of voice, hesitations, suggestions that don't quite match your criteria. As you have already learned, not just any editor will be a good fit; so why not use a little portion of your work that needs honing as a test? State your intent for it and see what the editor comes back with. Has your voice been maintained? Does the structure meet your requirements? Do you "click" with the editor so that the two of you become one voice, one purpose?

    Editing is a multi-faceted process. It involves so much more than right words, proper structure, and a "corrected" manuscript. Your book, in some ways, is an extension of you. That extension needs to be preserved for the end result to coincide with your intent. Persevere in your search, and I think you will find the right person to help you see your projects through to completion.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. This question is for MS editors---those of you who want to work with us to fine-tune our project before sending it for publication requests: When is the best time to submit my project for MS clean-up...soon after the first draft is complete, or after several rounds of my own editing efforts? I know, I know---just finish already! ;) I look forward to working with Kathryn Craft, from whom I heard about this blog, to request her editing help when "Gain Faith, Lose Weight" is 'complete enough' for her help! I remain on the long and windy road to completion. I blog at www.gainfaithloseweight.blogspot.com

  9. I have a general question. The RWA convention just ended. How do editors prepare to meet so many authors? Is there a list of questions you ask? Certain storylines get your attention?


    Mary Jo

  10. One of the things that drives me nuts is commas. Why don't editors and houses have standardized rules for commas in a series? I get dinked on that in my newspaper features too. That and whether to use commas when the person is a Jr or a III.

    Sheesh. Editing can be so frustrating!



  11. Maggie: You reveal a lot with your use of the word "dinked." While we can't control the style guide each house or publication uses, we can surrender to that fact. You obviously care about being "correct," and good for you for making it as easy as possible for your copy editor. But there are people in the world who love such picayune detail whose job it will be to standardize your piece to their specifications--that's what a copy editor is for. So instead of feeling "dinked," perhaps you can simply allow for the fact that your piece may need adaptation to fit in.

    Have you lost work because of these style differences?

  12. Thanks Lisa for your kind words! Will let someone else here address your question so you have a well-rounded answer.

  13. Mary Jo:
    Like any business, a publishing house has a business plan and so acquisition editors are typically at the mercy of guidelines set forth in that plan. This may include how many total books they can acquire in a year, how many within each genre, how many by debut authors, etc. Within that range of projects, their manuscript reading experience has taught them much about what kinds of projects and writing styles they have been successful with. All of this has honed their intuition to the point that when they hear your pitch, you either fall within those parameters or not.

    Too many authors feel that "they" are being rejected, when in effect, their project may simply fall outside of that editor's needs at present. If it's a business decision, why must they "love" it, you might ask. One reason is that they must now pitch your book to an editorial committee at the house. Another is that if the project is ultimately accepted, the editor will be working with you on it for some time to come.

  14. Sorry for the (almost) duplicate responses to Jerry. My original one didn't post no matter what I tried, so I rewrote. Now both are here. Needless to say, I am technologically challenged.

  15. Jerry,
    It's not always easy to find the right editor. Kathryn here is actually versed in memoir editing.
    I have a memoir to do myself after I finish my current projects.

    Morgan Mandel

  16. Lisa, Unless a writer needs developmental help with a manuscript, I suggest that they send me their "final" draft after they have self-edited it to the best of their ability. Then we work together to polish it into excellence.

  17. Appreciate the feedback, Linda. thanks!

  18. I'm in the process of getting ready to self-publish a YA timetravel, both on B&N and Amazon. However, I need an editor to take a look at this. How do I find an independent editor? I also don't have much money to spend.


  19. Hi Morgan, thanks for providing this forum. I have a question about series books. I wrote a traditional (sort of) Regency romance that has now turned into a series of three books. I am wondering whether I should consider writing a 4th book if a good idea arises or if I should just cut it off. Do you think readerss are too reluctant to buy books out of order so that it gets harder to interest people in book 4 if they didn't love books 1, 2 & 3?

  20. Is it too late to post a question?

    Mine: What's the best way to find a voice for your character. I write ensembles and each character has his or her own personality, but it's difficult to get them to sound like individual characters and not the same. Also good to know how to detach your own voice from the characters.



  21. Anon E: Voice often comes out of a character sketch. That's the value of detailed sketches. Once you have in front of you the lineage, place of birth, where the character grew up and went to school, personality traits, likes and dislikes, and idiocyncracies, he/she becomes a three-dimensional being. Voice, then, is a natural outgrowth of this being

  22. Anon E: I once took a fascinating workshop in character voice with Karen E. Quinones Miller. She said that even she and her twin sister sound completely different! She had two of us stand up and say a few things about where we live and the differences were remarkable. So in addition to the character sketch Linda suggests, which is wonderful advice, listening carefully and taking notes on the different ways people express themselves is great training.

  23. JK: Yes, you need an editor! Linda Lane already left really good advice today about finding an editor, so I'll concentrate on how you can find one on the cheap.

    1) Try looking in the midwest and mountain areas of the country, away from the big cities. Good editors live everywhere but their ability to get paid well for what they do is often regional. We were just talking about this lately in our BRP office: you'll pay a much higher rate near New York City than you would in a small Colorado town, for instance.

    2) Full manuscript swap. Are you talented in critiquing, even if not at the level of a professional edit? An editor who is also a writer might agree to give you a discount if you offered feedback on a manuscript of hers.

    3) Bartering. Do you have any service you could offer in place of money? One time a nurse came to me for a resume but she couldn't afford my rates. Turns out, though, she had been learning how to wield a chain saw, and had all the safety equipment. I was a new widow with a huge branch dangling over my driveway. She cut up the branch, I did the resume, and we both walked away believing we'd gotten the better end of the deal.

    Good luck!

  24. Sorry for coming to the forum so late, but I still had company all day today, so I was not "at work."

    Most of the questions have been answered and I agree with what my fellow editors here have said. I did note that nobody answered yours about the series, Kate. I think two things can determine if a series is over: Are you still excited about working with these characters? And what has the feedback been from readers? Has there been an indication that they are interested in more stories with some of these characters? The mystery writer, Dennis Lehane said he stopped his series because he just didn't have any enthusiasm for those characters any more.

  25. Right now I'm in the midst of my edits on Forever Young-Blessing or Curse, for which Helen Ginger is my editor. Along with my usual nitpicking when I write, I went through the manuscript twice for editing before sending it to Helen. After sending it to her, she found many instances of words not spelled right, which I'd completely overlooked, plus certain style errors, about which I will now be conscious of. Also, she raised plot questions which I'll make sure to answer in the manuscript. That's because if she doesn't understand what's going on, there's a good chance the reader won't either.

    Morgan Mandel
    If you're 50 or over, come on over to my new blog at

  26. I have my doubts about editors. I remember a PhD student who rewrote his thesis so many times he said it ended up exactly how it started! Then we all know how some books are a mess which makes one wonder about editors as well. As in that awful book DVC. Where was the editor? And lastly so many 'edited' books end up so boringly anodyne, parochial and predictable in both form, content and plot. Never mind the one dimensional characters and half dimensional plots. I reckon the author knows best. I mean if one has a picture in gallery the owner doesn't say: move this tree, blot out that bush etc. And lastlastly last: editors cost a fortune. I am taking my chances at Lulu.com et.al

  27. To almostvoid -
    You may regret your decision. Unless you are very gifted, you won't catch all your mistakes. I've gone through my manuscripts countless times, yet my editor always surprises me by what she finds. Also, she gives me insights I hadn't thought of, but the readers probably would.

    Once you get a bad reputation as an author, readers will steer clear of your books, so be careful.

    Also, remember you don't have to agree with everything an editor says. If you feel strongly about something, stick to your guns.

    Morgan Mandel

  28. This is a reposting because my original post has not shown up.

    Almostvoid, your skepticism about editors has an unfortunate basis in some cases. Anybody can hang out a "shingle" and say, "I am an editor." Credentials are not required; and the end result for the writer, who has likely paid a significant amount of money for the service, can range from fantastic to atrocious. Ironically, one who falsely claims to be a trained and licensed physician will probably go to prison; but one who falsely claims to be a competent editor will probably chuckle all the way to the bank.

    In all fairness, however, let's examine the other side of that coin. Great editing is intense work requiring multiple skills that many people lack. No doubt with that in mind, the Editorial Freelancers Association provides flexible pricing guidelines that reasonably compensate a good editor for the hard work required to polish a manuscript to professional quality.

    Have you priced a competent attorney lately? How much do you pay your doctor, calculated on an hourly basis? $600 or more per hour? A competent professional editor is equally well trained in his/her field (but far less expensive) and often does the work of a book doctor in transforming an unmarketable or mediocre manuscript into a potential bestseller. Even excellent writers require editors because they are too close to their work to see its flaws.

    Numerous freelance editors with great credentials in terms of manuscipts extremely well edited do exist. Maligning the profession as a whole because an author (or some authors) you've read has not taken the time and effort to find the right editor - or has chosen not to use an editor at all - gives an undeserved bad name to the significant number of excellent ones among our ranks and contributes significantly to the shoddy reputation of self-published and independently published books. Many of us work very hard to give non-traditionally (as well as traditionally) published writers quality editing that currently exceeds that of the big houses. Please help us to help all writers value themselves and their works, as well as the works of others, by engaging a competent editor. Your efforts in this regard, as well as those of fellow writers, will help to legitimatize this new branch of a proud old industry (publishing) that is fading into oblivion in the onslaught of technology that permits anyone to bypass the selection process that, in the past, offered some guarantee of a good read.

    For authors on limited budgets, Kathryn Craft offers some excellent suggestions above. Never does a good reason exist to circumvent the vital editing process in the creation of a book that deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best.

  29. To Almostvoid, I would add this to the comments already addressing the issues he or she raised. I think perhaps the books that ended up boorish with one-dimensional characters, etc, had more to do with he quality of the writing as opposed to the quality of the editing.

    As a freelance editor, I get material that spans the gap between beginner and professional when it comes to the writing. Some of the beginners are not willing to do the work involved to turn dull prose into good prose or dull characters into strong characters, or trite dialogue into sharp dialogue.

    I agree with Morgan and her caution about avoiding an editor for your book. I will hire an editor for the book I am working on now. I don't trust my ability to edit my own work and believe every book should have a fresh pair of eyes look at it, if for no other reason than to catch typos and other small errors.

  30. How do you present a manuscript to an agent, knowing full well that - if the package is opened at all - the covering letter will be speed-read by a college intern and then tossed into the slush pile at the first hard word?

    Do we hide dollar bills in the pages, to encourage folk to turn them? Should our covering letter promise a $50 cash reward if the agent sends us a rejection letter in a timely fashion - say, within twelve months?

  31. John:
    Very few adults can afford to work as advance readers for agents, yet this low-paying job is a great way for a college grad to break into the publishing field. Why? The sheer bulk of material is an education in itself. Imagine if you could:
    1) Read several dozen queries a day.
    2) Read several dozen or more partials a week.
    3) Receive guidance from a mentor agent who has specific interests and needs.
    It would only take you a few weeks to sort the weeds from the wildflowers, and gain the confidence to pass on those wildflowers to your boss knowing she could sell them and watch them grow.

    If you don't believe me, perhaps you haven't done enough critiquing of your fellow authors yet. By the time you have several dozen full novel critiques under your belt, you too should have a better feel for quality material in the genres you like. You'll get a better sense of what works and what doesn't as concerns queries and cover letters.

    Hold on to your cynicism if it works for you. But I'm not so sure it will change anything. Many of these editorial assistants go on to represent their own clients. They are sharp. It behooves you to make them your friends.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.