Friday, July 30, 2010

Today Is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life

My title has become a cliche, but behind every cliche is a bit of truth. The other day my BFF and I were talking about how her marriage had improved since she and her husband had gone to a counselor for a tuneup.

That led to a conversation about my childhood, high school, college, and the tough years since then. I got hoarse thinking about all I'd have to say to bring a counselor up to speed. Yeah, everyone's got regrets, I said, but it would take years to slog through that muck, so why bother? I decided that the past is past, the future is tomorrow, and today is the first day of the rest of my life.

Yesterday was my last day in a cubicle in a publishing company. Feels great! I'm still the acquisitions editor for Abingdon Press, but my field of vision has widened beyond the windows of the 5th floor office building in downtown Nashville. I'm now working from home and planning workshops and trips across the country with my hubby and our Chihuahua. I feel a sense of excitement again.

For the last several months at work, we've experienced blasting and the noise of heavy machinery as a several block area was destroyed to build a new convention center. It's been quite fascinating, although noisy. Actually, I think it was an answer to prayer. On one corner, we had a strip club hemmed in by a large parking lot and the bus station across the street--a magnet for prostitutes, drug users and dealers, and that one murderer the police caught a few blocks away after he took a bus into town. All gone. That strip joint was knocked down in a day.

My point is: life can change that fast. One minute you're living in the broken-down neighborhood of the past, thinking, "I'll never make it as a writer. I don't know anyone. I don't have any contacts. My writing stinks." And the next minute, God knocks down all your preconceived notions about your future and builds a career on the rubble of your past.

God is our secret agent . . . our secret literary agent. When you're ready, He'll open doors you couldn't even dream of. So don't despair that you haven't published yet. Keep writing! That's the exact short sentence my high school English teacher wrote in my yearbook. Before I left college, I had gone to 27 different schools. Her encouragement rang in my head through all the hard years. Let it ring in your ears today: Keep writing! That wrecking ball is about to destroy your disappointing past and build a new future on its foundation.

Be encouraged, dear ones.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Part II: The Macro Edit

Today, I will share a trade secret with you. Shhhh. Pull down the blinds, turn off the phone, and promise you won't tell a soul. Just kidding. You can share it with any writer you want. There is a great deal of confusion in the publishing business about what constitutes a macro edit and exactly what an editor is looking for during the edit.

Because I use experienced freelance fiction editors who may have worked for other publishers and editors, I decided to research as many sources as possible, talk to other editors, and come up with a one-page set of instructions that is sent to any freelancer who works on one of our author's manuscripts.

The rest of this blog will contain those instructions. I'm sure some of you will disagree with many of my guidelines; others may celebrate that someone actually wrote these secrets down.

My next post after this one will cover the content/substantive/line edit. It's called many things by many different people, but after another exhaustive search into linguistics, I found out that we were all talking about the same set of rules/suggestions.

Take these guidelines for a macro edit and apply them to your writing, your editing, and share them freely. If you want to add anything, please leave a comment. Here you go . . .


Reference Works
 Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition

 Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged

 Both of these resources are available online

A macro edit should detail for the author any suggested changes in character, plot, pacing, structure, point of view, dialogue, or other major issues that would help make the manuscript stronger.

Did the author begin the novel too early or include too much back story? Did the story begin too late? Are the characters' actions and dialogue consistent and believable?

Is the main plot clearly resolved? Is there enough conflict to make the story compelling? Do the turning points/inciting incidents appear in the right places?

Is a subplot necessary or is it a “rabbit trail”? Would a subplot enrich the book? Does the plot sag in places? Is there a satisfying balance between narrative and dialogue?

Does the author “tell” instead of “show” in places? Is the point of view consistent or does it leap back and forth in the same scene, causing "bouncing-head syndrome"? Are there redundant descriptions and scenes? Does the author tie up all loose ends by the end of the book?

Please use comment boxes within the manuscript to point out those places where a manuscript can be strengthened. As you read through the manuscript, please feel free to correct obvious spelling or grammatical errors or highlight examples of pet words and repetitive sentence structure.

Also prepare a cover sheet for general comments. This allows the in-house editor and the author to see overall comments without having to scroll through the text.

The in-house editor will pass this letter on to the author along with the manuscript and the imbedded comments. That means you are asked to be diplomatic, sensitive, and tactful in all your communications. If you encounter a problem you feel you cannot broach gracefully, you should contact the in-house editor with your concern.


 This list contains general instruction but is not an exhaustive list of items to check. Use The Chicago Manual of Style as your guide.

 It is your job to suggest changes to the author by using comment boxes in the electronic version of the manuscript.

 Use Microsoft Word or save the file in MS-Word format.

 Work with Word's Track Changes feature turned on. Every edit you make must be tracked.

 Always keep the author’s voice in mind. It is the author’s work, not the editor’s.

 Always be tactful and gracious in your remarks.

Once the macro edit is complete, it is sent back to the author for a rewrite. Some authors have little to do and it may only take a day; other authors' manuscripts may take up to three or four weeks to fix.

When the manuscript with the author's changes is sent back to the in-house editor, it then enters the content/substantive/line edit stage. More about that in another blog.

If you found this information helpful, will you please leave a comment? As most of you know by now, I want this blog to be a two-way conversation. Thanks for your participation!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Part I: The Dreaded Macro Edit

After performing the macro edit [the first pass on an unsuspecting manuscript] I send it back to the author with an e-mail that reads something like this:

Hi Author (insert name), [notice the breezy tone]

Attached is the macro edit of your manuscript Bestselling Novel. Many writers have been known to throw themselves across the bed and cry for three days before they could move forward. Please don't. I know it can be painful, but my job is to take a 50,000-foot viewpoint of your book and offer comments that will make it sing like a Stradivarius violin.

I honor you as the author, and my suggestions are intended to strengthen your structure, plot, and character arc so that your voice soars off the page [and hopefully, about a bazillion people will want to buy your book.]

[This is the point in the e-mail when authors run for the Xanax or stand up and circle their desks as if they've just discovered a cobra sitting on the computer. Some pace. Some throw things. As the editor, I'm glad I do this long distance.]

You will notice there are a great many comments inserted into your manuscript, most of them in the earlier chapters. I trust that you will look for and find those same problem areas in the rest of your manuscript. If I spot a consistent pet word or phrase or a favorite sentence construction, I'll track changes and point that out as well. For instance, many authors are quite fond of using the word then to connect two phrases. You might want to use the global search function and capitalize the word. You might be surprised how often you've employed that sentence construction [like maybe 2,342 times!].

Continuity can be another issue. If your heroine has brilliant green eyes in the first chapter [Don't all heroines have green eyes?] you don't want her eyes to turn brown in chapter 18. Make sense? It's always a good idea to keep a notebook or note card handy with a full description of each character.

As well, watch for passive language. Active language propels your story forward as though you were shooting the rapids on the Colorado River. Passive language steers you into a log where your canoe sits for what seems like hours. At least 95% of the time, you can eliminate the word was and recast your sentences in a more active tense. Sometimes was is just the right word to use, but not often.

First, read the macro edit letter I've attached before moving on to the comments and suggested changes in the manuscript. It will explain my reasons and ask questions about holes in your plot.

Please let me know if you have any questions. I'm always available by e-mail or phone during the editing process. I'm quite flexible, and I'm sure we can make your manuscript shine like that highly polished Stradivarius.


In tomorrow's blog, we'll dig deeper into the macro letter and the actual macro edit. Please ask any questions you might have about this process. If you've never had your manuscript macro edited, it can seem daunting. But trust me, it's all part of the standard publishing cycle. Questions? Comments?

Monday, July 26, 2010

The First Line Should Kick a Novel Into High Gear

The first line of a novel should propel the reader into reading the second line. Why bother with 512 pages of a novel that bores you on the first page? In my younger days I had a rule that if I started a novel I needed to finish it. I've read a lot of dreadful novels.

Then my good sense kicked in and if I couldn't remember the first line of a novel by the end of the first page, I tossed the book into a box for Goodwill. How do you justify rejecting a Pulitzer Prize winning novel?

I tried to like Olive Kitteridge, the trade paperback by Elizabeth Strout published in 2008 by Random House. The first three pages are packed with endorsements from major newspapers. The review in O: The Oprah Magazine, started with the line, "Perceptive, deeply empathetic . . . Olive is the axis around which these thirteen complex, relentlessly human narratives spin themselves into Elizabeth Strout's unforgettable novel in stories."

In addition to a Pulitzer, the book also received a starred Kirkus review. That should have been my first clue. I rarely agree with Kirkus. Olive Kitteridge screamed literary novel. I like many literary novels. One of my recent favorites is Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I bought it for the title. Let's compare the first paragraphs and see which you like best.

Here's Olive's first paragraph in the story titled "Pharmacy":

"For many years Henry Kitteridge was a pharmacist in the next town over, driving every morning on snowy roads, or rainy roads, or summertime roads, when the wild raspberries show their new growth in brambles along the last section of town before he turned off to where the wider road led to the pharmacy. Retired now, he still wakes early and remembers how mornings used to be his favorites, as though the world were his secret, tires rumbling softly beneath him and the light emerging from the early fog, the brief sight of the bay off to his right, then the pines, tall and slender, and almost always he rode with the window partly open because he loved the smell of the pines and the heavy salt air, and in the winter he loved the smell of the cold."

I fell asleep that night after the first line, but I did persist in reading the entire story convinced that if this book won a Pulitzer, it should deliver the goods. Even though the reviews of "mesmerizing . . . exquisite" and "maserfully wrought collection" impressed me, the passive snooze of the first paragraph left me in the dust, or should I say, stranded on the side of the author's roads: the snowy roads, the rainy roads, the summertime roads, and the wider road, not to mention the fog, the pines, the salt air, and the cold. It was a guy driving to work. Sorry.

Should I keep trying to broaden my horizons? I dropped Olive on the floor (fourteen bucks down the drain) and picked up Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. I knew the book was comprised of a series of letters dated just after World War II in London and on the Island of Guernsey--not a rousing structure for me--but a device that has been used successfully in the past. Here's the beginning of Guernsey:

"Dear Sidney, Susan Scott is a wonder. We sold over forty copies of the book, which was very pleasant, but much more thrilling from my standpoint was the food. Susan managed to procure ration coupons for icing sugar and real eggs for the meringue. If all her literary luncheons are going to achieve these heights, I won't mind touring about the country. Do you suppose that a lavish bonus could spur her on to butter? Let's try it--you may deduct the money from my royalties. Now for my grim news. You asked me how work on my new book is progressing. Sidney, it isn't."

What a clever way to begin a novel by a character who is a novelist: with great humor and the grim news that her latest book is stalled. How could I not keep reading?

Weather and road conditions? Breezy letter. Which would you rather read? I know. Many of you are saying, neither. I don't read literary novels. Well, neither do I, but one of the hallmarks of a great writer or editor is that they read outside their comfort zone. If you're a romance writer, read a few good thrillers or a literary novel. Your writing will improve with cross-pollination.

I looked for a list of the top 100 bad first lines in novels, but I couldn't find one except for the annual contest called The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest in which entrants write their versions of bad first lines. However, no one seems to have compiled a list of real bad first lines. Seems like an easy task.

However, the editors of American Book Review have compiled a list of the 100 Best First Lines of Novels. Perhaps this is the better route. Read great first lines, and it should inspire you to write a great first line for your novel. Following are a few of my favorites:

"Call me Ishmael." Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, 1851.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair." Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, 1859.

"They shoot the white girl first." Tony Morrison's Paradise, 1998.

"You better not never tell nobody but God." Alice Walker's The Color Purple, 1982.

What are your favorite first lines? Any genre, any era. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Every Character Needs Motivation

One of my Abingdon authors and I had a great discussion about motivation for one of her book's characters . . . a dog. In the first chapter, the dog, who is in the arms of its owner, bites her friend on the face. The incident springs out of nowhere.

I asked, "But what was the dog's motivation?" Am I starting to sound like Marlon Brando? A little perhaps. Like method acting, characters must have a compelling motivation for action, and if not, readers are left with little question marks over their heads. Not an attractive look.

There is a misconception in writing land that characters can only be people. Not so. Ask any fantasy writer. Giant worms make compelling characters. Characters can be objects or animals or even weather. Anyone ever see the 1956 movie The Rainmaker, starring Burt Lancaster and Katherine Hepburn? Great flick! I highly recommend renting it. The hot, dry, dusty weather is a character that longs for rain.

Back to the dog. My point was that a normal, sane dog who has met the owner's friend numerous times doesn't just haul off and bite her on the face for no good reason. Of course, you need to be a dog lover to understand that. Dogs only bite if they feel threatened or if their brains are wired wrong. This was not an insane, mistreated dog.

So editor and author discussed the dog's motivation at length. Can you imagine someone listening to that conversation on the other side of the cubie wall? I have a great job! I also have a discreet suite mate, and we always pretend that we never listen to one another's calls.

The next time one of your characters steps up on the toilet and looks out the tiny high window at a neighbor's house, she should have a history and motivation for spying on the guy next door. Did he drag a dead body across her front lawn? Does he leave bloody axes lying around the garage? And why stand on the toilet? Isn't there a better vantage point? Yes, it's funny for someone to stand on the toilet, but construct a reasonable explanation for her behavior.

The next time you invent a character, ask what that character wants. No dog bites a woman on the face unless it's a sociopath. And that, my friends, could be the subject of several blogs. Watched any Criminal Minds episodes lately?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tales of Woe After the Contract Is Signed

Editors are much like bartenders, although as Christians, we wouldn't know about them. Editors are much like psychiatrists then, unless you don't believe in mental illness, natural disasters, man-made disasters, or stress that makes you want to jump off a building. Let's just go with the psychiatrist analogy.

If you're really fortunate, you'll have an editor who can be reached by e-mail or phone who will talk you off that high ledge when you threaten to throw yourself off. You know that first book that took you three years to write and polish? Well, now you have to do it in a year . . . okay less. We don't tell you that part up front.

Yep. That's the danger of signing a contract with a real live publisher. You're such a brilliant writer, we might want you to write a series now. Or a couple more 90,000-word standalone novels.

After the glow of signing that binding legal document wears off, you'll notice those due dates in your contract. Usually the first book might be deliverable a year after signing. Piece of cake, right? It's already written. Ah, yes, but you haven't seen the macro edit yet, which might cause you to rewrite extensive portions of your novel to strengthen character motivation or fix the structural bridge that has collapsed about halfway through the middle. We'll talk more about the macro edit in another blog post.

But the second and third books might be due only six months apart. Which means you need to fix your first book in six months so that you'll hit your due dates on the other two after spending a couple of weeks in the hospital after slipping on the ice at Christmastime, or someone rear-ends your car at a stop sign, or your husband's boss downsizes the company and you become the primary breadwinner.

You think I'm kidding, don't you? At Abingdon, thanks to my excellent author and friend Robert Elmer (Wildflowers of Terezin), we started a Yahoo author's group where we could share information with one another and stay in touch. It quickly became a prayer loop.

Without naming names, we've had authors in danger of losing their homes, a couple of husbands who have lost jobs, an author who had to take another job across country, authors hospitalized for major surgeries, and sisters, brothers, children, nieces, nephews, and friends who have been gravely injured or ill. We've held each other up when an author lost her mother. We've suffered through pneumonia together, and when we've reached that level of stress that makes us want to throw in the towel, someone feels led to write a word of encouragement. We've become a family who prays together.

You see, when you become a published author, life still happens, only you are obligated to continue writing because a whole team of marketing and sales people have told buyers that your book will be published on a certain day. Those buyers have spent valuable "buy dollars" to bring your book into their stores. The publisher's budget for the year has been planned out counting on the money that will be made from your book to cover the advance that has been paid out and to pay all the other employees and vendors, like printers, who help get your book into the hands of readers.

The Abingdon authors came up with their own motto: "Write Anyway." They even had cups designed and printed with that slogan, and when we drink coffee, or tea, or hot chocolate out of them, we remind ourselves that writing is a higher calling. People depend on authors to keep their promises.

Don't get me wrong, we celebrate our victories and successes as well. There have been many starred reviews, accolades, and awards.

And we laugh . . . a lot . . . because the joy of the Lord is our strength.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Top 5 Reasons to Attend a Day-Long Writing Intensive Workshop

A sign used to hang in my mother-in-law Betty's kitchen that read, "Life is short. Eat dessert first." The older I grow, the more I understand this axiom. Rather than worrying about things that might never happen and wasting our lives cleaning the refrigerator more than once a year, we should spend more of our time living our lives for God.

Has God called you to be a writer? What are you doing about it? Do you attend a conference once a year, get fired up, and then put writing at the bottom of your "to do" list when you arrive back home? If writing is God's calling, shouldn't it be near the top of your list of priorities? To help you in your quest, here are my top 5 reasons to attend a day-long writing intensive workshop with me:

1) You deserve to spend time working on your craft with people who share your passion and can help you grow as a writer.

2) As an editor, I can rend the veil between writing as a hobby and succeeding in the Christian publishing business. It's a chance to ask me every question that's ever plagued you about how to break in.

3) We'll spend time working on your individual project so that you have a solid writing plan when you leave.

4) I'll teach you what kills an editor's interest in the first paragraph of your sample chapters, and how to write a proposal that sparks my interest.

5) I'll help you discover your unique voice, refresh your knowledge of the basics of fiction writing, teach you how to self-edit your work, and hopefully, make writing fun again for you.

Sound like a plan? Then join me at my first day-long writing intensive workshop from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, August 21, at the Springton Lake Presbyterian Church in Newtown Square, PA (near Philadelphia). Award-winning Abingdon debut author Joyce Magnin will be in attendance to tell how she caught my attention, and how her book The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow was named as one of the top 5 Christian books of 2009 by Library Journal. Cost is $159 for the intensive workshop and includes a light lunch. Dress is casual. To register, please contact Joyce at

SPECIAL OFFER: Because I want every writer in the greater Philadelphia area to have a chance to attend, I'm giving away one free registration to the writing intensive workshop. Just tell me in 100 words or less why you want to attend this event and how the free registration would make that possible. Send your entries to by midnight CST Sunday, August 1. (Abingdon authors may attend my workshops free of charge at any time, so they are not eligible to win the free registration.)

If you are interested in setting up one of my day-long workshops in your area, please contact me at the email address above.

The Roving Editor Receives a Blog Makeover

Social Media Maven Laura Christianson of Blogging Bistro fame ( chose my new blog to review on Makeover Monday today. I can't wait to implement her suggestions. Here's the link:

If you need help in setting up a website or blog, Laura is a great resource. In fact, I bought her CDs from the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference and listened to them 3 times before I started to blog.

I've written another blog for today that is supposed to post at 10 a.m. However, I failed to find out what time zone Blogger is using, and it's still not up. So, folks, you'll just have to wait until noon or 1 or whenever to check it out. In the meantime, maybe you can clean out your refrigerator or hunt for dust bunnies under the bed.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Agents: An Editor's First Line of Defense

Now please don't take this the wrong way, dear authors, but without agents I would look like that cartoon of a body being pushed down a hallway by a mass of paper. When I worked for Honor Books, we did a study once on the cost of reading unsolicited proposals, writing a decline letter (I hate the word rejection), and dropping it in the mail. We included the salary and time for our editorial assistant to read the proposals and craft the letter. In 1999, the total cost to send back all the paper that had been sent to us was more than $30,000. In all the years I've been in publishing, I don't think I've ever published a proposal from the slush pile.

Agents are an editor's best friends. Because of their years of experience, they look at your work first and can tell you whether it stands up to the test of quality demanded by publishers. If they think you have potential, they will work with you to lift the bar on your writing. It might mean rewriting your sample chapters or your proposal, but their advice is solid. They know what editors are looking for (most of the time. Editors change their minds a lot.) and can keep you updated on publishing trends.

They earn their 15% when it comes to contract time. If for no other reason than they can get your proposal to an editor's desk and can help negotiate your contract, they are worth what you pay them. Contract language is confusing, and I read it all the time. Why is it confusing? It was written by attorneys. They are trained to make the language confusing. The advance and royalty are negotiable as are some of the sub-rights clauses. Some clauses and percentages are non-negotiable. A good agent looks after your interests and can explain the contract to you. If they can't, you need another agent or an attorney.

I need to pause here and apologize to my dear friend and author Rick Acker, whose book When the Devil Whistles releases this fall from Abingdon Press. Rick works as an attorney for the Department of Justice in California, prosecuting corporate fraud cases, and writes fast-paced thrillers. Check out Rick's website at or his blog at I meant no offense to you as an attorney, Rick.

How do you get an agent? Just like editors, they attend writers' conferences and are also looking for the next big author or that diamond in the rough that can be polished and sold. You can query them by e-mail or mail, and the agents I know have websites that list their submissions guidelines. Here's the deal. To sell a first-time author to a publisher, the agent requires that the author have written . . . a novel. Would you take a risk on someone who tells you they can write a novel when they've never done it before? Exactly.

I will never recommend an agent to you because the relationship between an agent and author is crucial to your success. If the two of you aren't in sync and can't communicate in the early stages, it will be a nightmare later. You need to trust your agent, and they need to be able to trust and depend on you.

Any questions?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What Do Authors and Editors Talk About?

Just as with any friendship, authors and editors talk about different things, depending on where they are in their relationship. So this blog starts at the beginning: our first meeting. Is it a God-appointment, or did an author not listen to instructions and sign up for a slot before they were ready? In another blog, I'll write about how an author/editor relationship deepens . . . or comes apart at the seams.

As a caveat, remember that each editor has his or her own personality that comes into play when speaking with authors. Some hold an author at arm's length not wanting to give false hope that the project has any chance on God's green earth of being published by their company.

If you have never heard of the Myers-Briggs personality test, now would be a good time to Google it. The test and the discovery of various personality types can be a useful tool when crafting characters. But it also can help you be more objective when one editor seems to wrap you in a warm embrace and the next editor is abrupt and tells you your work is trash and you need to go back home and work harder. It gives you a little perspective on rejection techniques.

In the Myers-Briggs world, I am an ENFJ: extrovert, intuitive, feeler, judger. On three of those fronts, I'm fairly balanced, but my intuitive side is pegged and resides in my gut. It niggles. What the Sam Hill does that mean? My husband thinks I'm making this up, but I can walk into a meeting and take its temperature. Are people really happy, or are they all afraid of losing their jobs tomorrow. There's an undercurrent of tension. I know whether that handsome guy across the room, laughing at everyone's jokes, is sincere or he's all smoke and mirrors--a charlatan.

Let me put this in author terms. I love meeting with authors at writers' conferences. It's tiring but exhilarating at the same time. I could be on the verge of discovering another Lisa Samson or a Brandilyn Collins or a Terri Blackstock. Editors who are STs (Sensor/Thinkers) and depend more on their five senses and their thought processes to make decisions might immediately ask certain questions such as, "Have you published before? What's your platform? How much time and effort are you willing to put into marketing your book?"

Important questions to be sure. But because of my NF (Intuitive/Feeler) status, I'm more concerned with you as a person. Are you nervous? Is that why you're having trouble telling me your story? Did you have to mortgage the house to get to the conference? Did you have a flat tire on the way in? Are your kids sick with colds and you feel guilty for leaving them with your husband? See what I mean? I have my own methods.

For seven years, I was a sales rep for the McGraw-Hill College Division and sold textbook adoptions to professors. Try walking into a biology professor's office when she doesn't want you there. If the smell of formaldehyde doesn't deter you, the frigid stare will. The first rule of any sales call is to establish rapport, so as an editor, I try first to put you at ease and then slide in the harder questions later. All the while, I'm taking your temperature, listening to my gut. I prefer to think I'm listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit.

I remember quite well the first time I met Cynthia Ruchti, the current president of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). She was a stranger to me when she first sat down, but she had a great smile, and within 30 seconds we felt comfortable with one another. She had a one sheet, so rather than ask her a bunch of questions, I asked her to tell me about her novel. Soon I was caught up in her enthusiasm for the story titled They Almost Always Come Home, canoeing with her through the Canadian wilderness, searching for a lost husband who could be injured or dead. Goosebumps rose on my arms. I knew that I knew that I knew this could be a terrific book. The rest is history. We signed this debut author and her book released to rave reviews in May of this year. If you haven't read it, you're in for a treat.

Do I always know that early? No, sometimes I let my feelings run ahead of my intuition, and when later I apply the test of what we're looking for to a list, projects fall by the wayside. It was only "coincidence" that shortly after signing Cynthia, she was asked to become the next ACFW president.

Editors are not cut from the same cloth. One might be enthusiastic about your project, and another might be lukewarm. It doesn't necessarily mean that you won't be published. It just means your novel might be more appropriate for one publishing house than another.

But if you hear the same objection from every agent and author with whom you meet, take a clue and don't be offended. Go back home and spend your time fixing an obvious problem. However, if you're convinced it's perfect just the way it is, hang on to your convictions. Your book may never be published, or it may be breaking new ground, will be rejected more than 200 times, and then become a hit. Just ask Frank Peretti and Bryan Davis.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Top 10 List of Things Editors Talk About

Yesterday, I promised you a look into the minds of acquisitions editors by sharing what we talk about when we see each other at conferences or trade shows. It should come as no surprise that we talk about:

1. Books. I've gotten some great recommendations for my next novel from another editor. Sue Brower of Zondervan fame once told me I just had to read Diane Setterfield's Thirteenth Tale. It's a phenomenal book of secrets, and I never could have guessed the ending. A real page turner.

2. Authors. Yes, we talk about writers and whose doing what in the industry. Here's the secret to a long and happy career. We avoid divas like the plague. Life is too short to put up with high maintenance authors who can't be bothered to meet deadlines (even close), demand the impossible, and rankle at every suggestion for change. I live on Prilosec as it is.

3. The Publishing Industry. It's popular with some trade journals to wail about the demise of publishing. Books are disappearing and being replaced with digital content. Oh, please. A book is a book is a book, no matter how it's delivered. Content is still king, and every editor will tell you that. Without authors, there is no publishing industry. But authors should beware the rush to self-publish. I haven't met a manuscript yet that an editor couldn't improve. Self-publishing can be a career killer, especially for fiction authors. Do you want to be known as a mediocre writer, or a brilliant author? Guess who helps you get there?

4. Food. Chocolate specifically. Or Diets. We're one of the few professions that spends our days never using our legs so some of us are pleasantly pudgy and have a little middle-age spread. Except there is a new crop of editors who seems to watch their diets and exercise. I'm sure they'll live longer. I don't know how they squeeze in the Iron Man or running a marathon.

5. Grammar. This topic isn't as popular as it once was since the English language is changing so rapidly. Too many can't spell, let alone identify a run-on sentence. I remember a long conversation with another editor while cooling off in her swimming pool, debating the need for a serial comma. Exciting, huh?

6. Ideas. We live to brainstorm! Most of us have brains that run like freight trains that never stop. You can hear the wheels clacking, "What if? What if? What if?" On one magical trip to Brandilyn Collins home in Idaho, another editor and I chatted in the boat while Brandilyn and her husband rescued a distressed dead-in-the-water craft. Our "what ifs" just wouldn't quit. The set-up was perfect for a thriller. What if these people were really kidnappers and only used the distressed boat signal as a ruse. The plot was quite complicated. By the time we dropped off the hapless mariners at the dock, they looked as though they'd escaped a Stephen King novel.

7. Money or the lack thereof and how much more work we've taken on in these lean Egyptian years. Editors used to have more editorial assistants and access to lots of development editors. Now we use a lot of freelancers or rely on "self service." Research on competition? Self service. Writing up pub board proposals? Self service. Chasing down sales numbers? Self service.

8. E-mail and its insidious draconian rule over our lives. I've known some editors to have more than 700 e-mails in their queue. Every morning, I have at least 80 to 100 waiting for me, and at least that many more come in through the day. Have you ever tried to edit a manuscript with an e-mail bell dinging in your ear? I've spent many an hour in Starbucks or Panera's editing a manuscript on a laptop just to escape e-mail. And if you take a week's vacation, it punishes you by either shutting down and bouncing back important messages, or it just fills up your in-box with 500 or more that have to be dealt with when you get back.

9. Reading tea leaves. We spend a lot of time trying to make sense of company restructures and why management makes the decisions they do. I'll stay on the creative side, thank you. I have no desire to build a fiefdom.

10. We catch up on each other's lives--kids, husbands, grandkids--and we laugh and pray for one another. It saves our sanity.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Congratulations to the 6 Winners of 15-minute Writer Mentoring Sessions!

On Saturday, I offered a 15-minute phone mentoring session to the first 5 writers who signed up to follow my blog. Within a few moments, 12 people were following The Roving Editor. Five were Abingdon Press authors and one an agent I know well. They can call me anytime for advice. So that left 6 candidates. Since I couldn't discern who signed up first, I've decided to offer the mentoring phone sessions to all 6 of them.

Drumroll please. The winners are Julie Jarnigan, Wanda Dyson, Carrie Padgett, Julie Pollitt, Rebecca Vincent, and Jessica Nelson. Congratulations! I hope this call will be a turning point in your career.

I'm still in the process of setting up my website and official e-mail address, so winners, please contact me at with your contact information, including an e-mail address and phone number. I can call you in the evening after 6 p.m. CST (Central Standard Time) or anytime on Saturday. Please let me know your date and time preference. I'm so excited to chat with you and answer any questions you might have about your writing careers!

Tomorrow's blog: Have you ever wondered what editors talk about among themselves? Stay tuned for the answer.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Five Best Ways to Meet an Editor

Acquisitions editors are the busiest people I know and the most elusive. If we admit what we do for a living, people want to send us their grandmother’s self-published poetry or a best friend’s novel that she wrote in high school. We may be your next door neighbor or the guy who picks up his dry cleaning every Saturday morning, but you’ll never know. We’re not flashy dressers. We don’t talk about publishing trends in the checkout line. And at parties, if someone asks us what we do for a living, we mumble and then wave at an imaginary friend. “Nice meeting you,” we say before darting to the other side of the room.

Then how can a writer catch a break? Ah, grasshopper, you must know the secret lives of editors…not bees. Following are the 5 best ways to meet an editor:

1. Make friends with other writers, especially those who have published at least one book. They’ve made the leap and most are willing to help you achieve your dreams. Attend their workshops at writers’ conferences and please don’t act like a stalker. Listen and ask intelligent questions. Learn the craft of writing, as well as marketing, your book. Then write an actual manuscript. You’d be surprised how many people have an idea for a novel, but have never applied their behinds to the seat of a chair. How can meeting other authors help you meet an editor? Published authors know editors, and if you have actually written an entire manuscript that other authors like, they’ll be more than willing to give you a recommendation.

2. With your polished manuscript nearby, query agents (make sure to read their guidelines for submission) or pitch your project to an agent at a writers’ conference. Attend the best conference you can afford. One of the perks of attending a conference is that you can request an appointment with an agent. Agents know editors. They know if your manuscript is ready to be published. Listen to their advice and rewrite your manuscript if necessary. An agent can be your ticket to meeting an acquisitions editor.

3. Acquisitions editors attend writers’ conferences as well. They set up appointments with agents. They take 15-minute appointments with conferees. Sometimes they will agree to critique your manuscript for a fee. Don’t waste your 15 minutes. I can’t tell you how many people have sat across the table from me and pitched a project that our company would never publish. Not every publisher has jumped on the vampire bandwagon . . . or Volvo.

4. Attend workshops taught by editors. For instance, I teach workshops that vary from character development to how to self-edit your novel. Some of us will even hold evening roundtables. Not me. I’m an early to bed, early to rise kind of person. But you might smile and say hi at the coffee bar early the next morning. I may not be coherent, but I’ve been known to sit down and have a nice little chat with a newbie writer. But remember, no stalking behavior. No passing manuscripts under the bathroom stall to an editor. Yes, Virginia, this has happened before and you, too, will gain a reputation as a crazy person. And no following an editor to their hotel room door. This is especially creepy.

5. Attend a daylong intensive workshop with an editor or a small group of writers and editors. Some editors and writers have even scheduled whole cruises around a writing theme. I’m looking into this because I think my creative juices would really flow in that atmosphere of free food, sun, and tropical breezes. However, the price could be prohibitive for most writers, especially unpublished writers, but it’s a nice excuse for a vacation.

As of August 1, I will no longer hide in my cubicle at Abingdon Press. Instead, I’m hitting the road as The Roving Editor and sharing my experience in a town near you. Here’s my plan:

I’ll still be the exclusive acquisitions editor for Abingdon fiction, but I’ll also be dropping by the homes of my existing authors (and agents) and brainstorming new projects. They can feel free to invite their writing buddies or critique group friends for a “meet and greet” in a local bookstore or wherever they like to hang out.

I’ll schedule a daylong writing intensive workshop in the area so that writers can spend time honing their craft with me and perhaps with one of my authors. There will be plenty of time to discuss ideas, work on story, characters, plotting, dialogue, setting, and narrative description in an encouraging atmosphere. Come ready to write and expect useful critiques.

Our first Roving Editor Intensive Writing Workshop is scheduled for Saturday, August 21, 2010 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Springton Lake Presbyterian Church in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Joyce Magnin, author of the award-winning book The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow and her next Bright’s Pond novel Charlotte Figg Takes Over Paradise will be on hand to offer her expertise as well. Fee: $159 per person. Includes a light lunch. Feel free to bring your favorite snacks. Dress is casual.

I’ll attend numerous writing workshops during the coming year, where I’ll teach the craft of writing, answer questions, and meet with conferees.

During August 12-14, 2010 I’ll meet with attendees during 15-minute slots at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference. Check out the details at if you would like to sign up. I’ll also teach a workshop and meet with conferees during the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Annual Conference set for September 17-20, 2010 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Indianapolis, IN. I’ll update you later on my full schedule.

I’ll also offer one-on-one mentoring sessions where we’ll laser focus on your writing and the next steps of your writing journey. This can be done over the phone or in person if I’m in your area. Fee: $100 for a half-hour session.

The first 5 people to subscribe to The Roving Editor blog
will receive a free 15-minute mentoring session by phone!