Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ask the Editor Free-For-All Is Open For Questions

In my corner of the world, this summer is one of extremes. We went from a drought to a flood, both undesirable.

Writers suffer from similar maladies, either struggling for ideas and/or word count, or the opposite, trying to decide which of too many ideas and/or words to include or discard.

Whatever your symptoms, our Ask the Editor Free-For-All  can help. Today, as on every first Tuesday of the month, our Editors will be on hand to answer your questions about writing basics, manuscript submissions to publishers or agents, aspects of traditional and/or self-publishing, and more. It doesn't happen often, but if we don't have an answer, we'll offer suggestions where you can find one.

To Submit A Question, Follow These Simple Steps:

Leave a comment below in the comment section, including your name and blog URL or website. That way, you'll get promo and we'll make sure 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 be sure they're real. You may need to repeat a step to make your comment stick.

Our Editors will stop by off and on during the day to answer questions in the comment section. If an answer can be expanded, an Editor might choose to do an entire blog post on your topic. In that case, you may get extra promotion, along with the possibility of forwarding jpegs of your profile photo and cover, along with a buy link.

It's not a requirement, but if you wish you may leave your email address. Also not necessary, but helpful, is including where you've heard about us.

Others will ask questions, so it's a good idea to check back later in the day to see what might turn up. Some of our participants are on e-group Digests, or don't get to their computers right away, so their questions and the corresponding answers might carry over through Wednesday or Thursday.

The comment section is now ready to accept questions, so come on over.

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 available on Kindle and Smashwords, for 99 cents. Her paranormal thriller, Forever Young - Blessing or Curse is targeted for release soon on Kindle and Smashwords, also.

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  1. My critique partner and I go round and round about this. I want some sliver of setting context within the first paragraph of a chapter (sometimes a scene too), or at the very least by the second paragraph.

    What's your take on how soon to ground the setting?

    Maggie Toussaint

    I heard about this list from The Bookspa Friends loop.

  2. I am doing a "how to" book and want to know if with kindle and epub if I write a link into the manuscript, can a reader activate it (for instance, go to a video on YouTube)simply by clicking on the link?

  3. Maggie, I think it is important to ground the scene fairly quickly with any genre. With mainstream fiction, you have more latitude to take time with setting the scene. It is recommended, however, that even that does not go on for more than a paragraph or two, and present it from the POV of your central character. How he or she is experiencing the setting.

    John, hopefully one of our more tech-savvy editors will chime in on your question. I do know there are hot links in content on my Kindle, but how to put it in there is beyond my scope of knowledge.

  4. Do you look for that great 'hook' in the first sentence/paragraph of books you edit? I like Maggie Toussaint's question...it is sometimes hard to establish a great opening, ground the setting and not be too "wordy" at the start of a book.

    Sometimes giving just a bit of information is enough to grab the readers' attention and make them want more! What openings do you like?

  5. John, you may be able to create external links--I am not 100 percent certain--but consider the limitations of the e-readers. My Kindle displays only text and limited grayscale graphics, and it does not display more than a couple of fonts. No way will it display a YouTube video. Of course, ereaders are changing, and some will do more than others. But I think that for the time being, linking to videos is a little ambitious.

  6. John, what you could do is create and publish a test document to try it out for yourself. Then once you have your answer you can unpublish it.

  7. Maggie, I agree that you need some grounding, even if it's just "Meanwhile, back at the ranch..."

  8. Karen, there has got to be something in the opening of a book that grabs the attention of the editor - thus the readers. That can be the introduction of a terrific character or a place that grabs your attention. Consider these classic openings:

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,

    Call me Ishmael.

    It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.

    What they all share in common is that they are short on detailed description and long on reader appeal. The reader immediately gets a sense of story and/or character.

  9. That hook is so important, yet so difficult. It's not easy to get everything in right away and made a reader want to keep reading.

    Morgan Mandel

  10. The opening few sentences of my WIP is pasted here. A sequel to my first novel. The protag is mentioned in the first short chapter but doesn't appear until the first sentence of the second. Enough of a grabber or do I need more?


    A violent pro-secessionist movement had begun to gain strength in the North under the sponsorship of a faction of the Democratic Party known as the “Peace Democrats”, commonly referred to as Copperheads. It threatened to siphon off troops from the battlefields of the war against the Confederate States. The Union government needed to take drastic measures to combat the looming peril. To that end Secretary of War Edwin Stanton summoned to his inner office the man who functioned as his head investigator and clandestine counter-spy.

  11. I thought hot links were bad, but checking merriam-webster.com, the definition is now "hyperlink". Good to know.

  12. Why not start the sentence with: Secretary of War Edwin Stanton summoned to his inner office the man who functioned as his head investigator and clandestine counter-spy. Then carry on as you've written the first paragraph. Sucks me in much more quickly with this slight rearrangement.

  13. Bob
    Good to know.
    Maybe I'll just give the e-addy.

  14. I like what Dani suggested, poppa10, but I wouldn't leave "had begun" in the second sentence. I'd suggest:

    Secretary of War Edwin Stanton summoned to his inner office the man who functioned as his head investigator and clandestine counter-spy. A violent pro-secessionist movement in the North threatened to siphon off troops from the battlefields of the war against the Confederate States. The Union government needed to take drastic measures to combat its sponsors, a faction of the Democratic Party commonly referred to as Copperheads.

    This sounds a lot more active to me. I think authors do the reader a disservice when they start double naming things in the opening, when the reader is already working hard to orient to your book. I'd work the name “Peace Democrats” in later (or vice versa).

    My two cents!

  15. First off, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to ask this question. My question is about formatting. As a published e-book author, I know what most e-publishers want. When submitting to a standard, mainstream publisher, there have been many arguments on whether to use italics or not. Some people say to underline, others say to italisize and still others say to put italisized words in brackets. Since the formatting can mean the difference between having your manuscript read or getting a form rejection, I want to know that I am formatting my manuscripts correctly before submitting them.

  16. What a cool invitation! Now to narrow down the questions...

    Would it be a fair deduction to say that, in regards to YA lit, by the end of the third chapter the entire plot should be set up? I've been scanning popular books that I've read completely and it seems that this idea holds true, that by the end of the third the main characters, their conflicts, and the main problem of the plot are all presented. Do you think that's a good rule to follow?


  17. As a reader, I like intelligent books written with flair and filled with style and substance. As an author, I shoot for the same hoop, although others will have to be the referees to judge whether I've made that three-pointer.

    I have three novels, nominally political techno-thrillers, published under my pen name, Lior Samson (Bashert, The Dome, and Web Games). All three have garnered great reviews and modest sales.

    I am wondering, how important is it to follow the formulae and conventions of a genre if a writer wants to succeed on a larger scale? Is there room for writing characters who are intelligent and "talky," like the people most of us here know and love? Must one introduce every character with a mandatory three-sentence physical description? Is it required to start with violent action on page one, or are there enough readers willing to be seduced by good writing into reading more?

    And what should an author do who writes genre fiction that doesn't quite fit--thrillers with a distinct thread of romantic entanglement or a subtext of social commentary, for instance?

    --Larry Constantine
    Lior Samson Author Page

  18. Thanks a ton to Dani and Kathryn for suggestions for my opening sentences. I'm going right now and put them in.

  19. What are your thoughts on how long the normal world should be in a suspense novel before an inciting incident? As long as the reader is engaged in the characters does it matter if it's 5 pages or 15?

    Stacy Green

  20. Tianna: A great manuscript will not be turned away because of italics formatting. I would simply italicize the words (understanding, of course, that italics are a spotlighting technique that should be used prudently). The underlining is a throwback to the typewriter days. I don't think there is a reason for bracketed material [which might indicate an editorial aside] in a fiction manuscript, and I haven't heard of their use to indicate italics.

  21. Hi JM, thanks for stopping by! I don't think anyone here would dare give such a formula because as soon as you publish such a thing, someone famous would prove your "rule" wrong (more on rule breaking in my Friday post). What IS true:

    1. YA readers tend to have short attention spans and want you to dig right into the conflict.

    2. All consumers want to know "what kind of story this will be" and you should orient them to this as soon as possible.

    3. Your opening should tip the protagonist into his story arc in a way that a) inspires him to adopt a plan of action to reach a goal and b) raises a story question in the reader's mind against which she can assess the protagonist's progress.

    4. Your readers want you to orient them to the world of story through sensory details and voice.

    And hey--if you can do all that in the first chapter, why not? ;)

  22. Larry: You may be happy to hear that genres are breaking down every day. There is definitely such a thing as a literary thriller; I know agent Adam Friedstein, who I met at a conference this spring, is looking for just such a thing. And there isn't a genre that a touch of romance can't improve! Write the book you love--the one you aren't seeing enough of on the shelves--and trust that.

  23. Hi Stacy! In suspense, atmosphere and tension are everything. Achieve that from the get-go, in a way that intrigues, and the reader who craves this material will lap up the suspenseful trail of crumbs right out of your hand, through bridging conflict, until you've set up your inciting incident.

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. Thanks, Kathryn! Yeah...I know there isn't a magic formula. But thanks for those tips--I will keep them in mind!


  26. Thanks so much for answering, Kathryn!

  27. My question is one about editing. I am debating the purchase of editing software to aid in my development as a writer and the quality of my work. Are there any programs you would recommend or advise to steer clear of? The one I'm specifically looking at is www.autocrit.com. Thanks for any advice you can give and for the opportunity to ask.

    Samantha Jean


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