Tuesday, August 31, 2010

5 Ways to Maximize Your Time with an Editor or Agent

Supamom’s question left in the comment section of yesterday’s blog made me realize that for an unpublished author, an appointment with an editor or agent is a new experience.

Here’s what she wrote:

Hi! I am a newbie writer and really appreciate this straightforward outline for writing proposals. I am attending the ACFW conference and I planned on bringing a one sheet with me if/when I pitch my manuscript. What are your thoughts on the one sheet versus a proposal at events like this?
Appointments also can be nerve-wracking experiences. Below are five ways to take the mystery out of the process and maximize your time with an editor or agent.
  1. BE ON TIME FOR YOUR APPOINTMENT. This is common courtesy. And if you decide not to keep the appointment, please let someone at the appointment desk know. There is probably another potential author waiting for an opening.
  2. OFFER A ONE-SHEET. A one-page description that includes your short pitch, a longer two-paragraph description, a short bio, your contact information, the category, and word count is an excellent conversation starter with editors and agents at the ACFW conference.
  3. RELAX AND LISTEN TO SUGGESTIONS. Greet editors and agents with a smile and tell them your name and where you’re from. Without my reading glasses, I can’t see what’s printed on your name tag—even across the table. Hand everyone your one-sheet. They will either take time to read it, or they will ask you to pitch your story. We know you’re nervous, especially if you’ve never done this before. Answer questions and listen to suggestions. Think of their advice as a personal letter sent back to you with a rejection. Editors and agents want you succeed.
  4. KEEP YOUR PROPOSAL IN YOUR FOLDER. Editors and agents do not have time to read your proposal at the conference, and their suitcases are as stuffed as yours. Have your proposal handy but realize that most editors and agents will not want to lug it home. Instead, if they show interest, ask if you can send a query letter or proposal to them at their e-mail or mailing address. In the sales world, this is called “the close.” All they can say is no.
  5. LEARN TO ACCEPT REJECTION. This is an excellent time to grow a thick skin. Most pitches are declined, and your 15-minute relationship with an editor or agent will end there. Rejection is not the end of your career; it is only the beginning. One of my authors, Richard Mabry (http://rmabry.blogspot.com/) who writes medical romantic suspense, conducted a survey and found that most editors and agents only ask to see four or five proposals out of the dozens of pitches they hear at ACFW, and of those, they might sign one project. Don’t despair. ACFW is the perfect place to hone your craft and learn about the realities of the Christian publishing industry. The Lord will make an opening when the timing is right.
Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you. This becomes a two-way conversation when you post a comment. Often I jump back on the blog during the day and will answer your questions or respond to your comments. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor, and we’d love to hear from you so that we can learn from your experience. Let’s talk!
 

Monday, August 30, 2010

How to Write a Proposal That an Editor Will Love: Part 2

The ACFW Annual Conference draws near, and I promised you a Part 2 on writing a proposal. Editors love proposals that are easy to read and scan, therefore use no more than two different fonts that are easy to read and include the basic elements below:



COVER SHEET: The title of your book, your name, and all of your contact information. Seems simple, but you'd be surprised by how many aspiring authors fail to include contact information.



PAGE TWO: Include the date, your book title and name, and the hook (elevator pitch) that will keep a busy editor reading. Reveal the antagonist and the antagonist’s goal, the protagonist, the main conflict, and the resolution. The ideal elevator pitch should be about 25 words, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule. The shorter, the better. Also include your manuscript’s word count, the sales category (romantic suspense, contemporary women, historical romance, fantasy, etc.), and the audience (YA, adult women). If you have room on page two, write a short two- or three-paragraph summary that expands on your elevator pitch, or place it on page three.



MARKETING: Today, an author is responsible for much of the marketing of his or her book. List how you plan to market your novel after publication. Are you a seasoned speaker? Do you blog or regularly post on social networking sites? Are you willing to set up and participate in blog tours or approach book stores or other venues for book signings? Notice how other authors market their books. A clever marketing strategy will catch an editor's attention.



BIO: An editor will want to know if you're a debut author and that you have finished and polished your manuscript. Include writing credits from magazines, newspapers, or blogs. List any organizations to which you belong such as ACFW.



COMPETITION: List authors and novels that would be comparable to your book.



SYNOPSIS: A one-page synopsis (no more than a page and a half) is an essential part of the proposal. Start with a paragraph about your antagonist, followed by a paragraph about her goal, and then give the editor a paragraph each for the antagonist, the conflict, and the resolution.



SAMPLE CHAPTERS: Most editors require that you attach the first three chapters. Many new authors will write and rewrite those sample chapters without subjecting the rest of the manuscript to the same vigorous self-editing. After you find an agent to represent you, he or she will require that your proposal be written to a specific set of guidelines.

For those of you who plan to attend the ACFW conference in Indianapolis, I hope this post has been helpful and wish you all the best in marketing your manuscript to an agent or editor.



Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you. This becomes a two-way conversation when you post a comment. Often I jump back on the blog during the day and will answer your questions or respond to your comments. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor, and we’d love to hear from you so that we can learn from your experience. Let’s talk!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How to Write a Proposal That an Editor Will Love: Part I

A great proposal is your calling card because before you can present a proposal to me, you first need to impress an agent. Like most editors, I rarely read unsolicited queries, proposals, or manuscripts unless they are sent to me by an agent, or I meet you at a writers workshop and think your pitch is special.

So if I don't take unsolicited queries or proposals, you must think it's impossible to get published. I won't sugarcoat my answer. It is hard. You need to work at your craft. How many hours a week do you spend writing? I'm not trying to make you feel guilty, but I do want you to examine your priorities.

Would a baseball player expect to play in the majors if he never practiced? Of course not. Do you think Stephen King or other famous writers were born with their fingers tapping on a typewriter or keyboard, spitting out words?

No, they're just like you. They were born with the same burning desire to write. What makes them stand out are the reams of paper covered with words that they tossed into the trashcan. They practiced, and they never gave up.

Before you can interest an agent or an editor in you as a author, you first need to write and rewrite your manuscript.Then learn the art of pitching your story. A professional proposal with polished sample chapters will impress an agent that you have what it takes to succeed.

If you don't know how to write a proposal, check out Agent Chip MacGregor's website at macgregorliterary.com. Under his resources tab, he's posted at least two proposals as examples. Check out other agent websites as well to find out what they look for in a query or proposal.

Every editor looks for similar elements in a proposal because when we take a project to Pub Board, we have to sell it to colleagues from almost every part of the publishing house. In Part 2, I'll discuss those elements.

In the meantime, your homework is to read as many agent blogs and websites as you can. Read and analyze proposals. You may find you're ready for your breakthrough!

                    Let's talk about your dreams in the comments section. What is your
                    dream worth to you? If your dream to write is God-given, ask Him
                    to help you make time to spend practicing your craft. Remember
                    the Scripture, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Roving and Blogging: Not As Easy As It Seems

Good evening everyone! It's not 6 a.m., but it is before midnight, so I'm ready to count this as my Tuesday blog.

I found out over the last two days that roving and blogging at the same time are a challenge. On Sunday night I wrote Monday's "pitch" blog, scheduling the post for 6 a.m. the next morning, and then on Monday we headed out in our car for Pennsylvania.

We spent our first night in Salem, VA, near Roanoke at a Day's Inn that could not find our reservation that I had made with Hotels.com. Turns out, the reservation date had been made for September 9. Sigh.

The motel also didn't have wi-fi in the room--only the lobby--but when six bikers on Harleys roared in and asked where the nearest bar was, I decided it might not be wise to hang around the lobby by myself. By that time it was after 8 p.m., so we ordered Domino's and crashed. Heartburn city!

This morning, we found a Starbucks. Yea! Free wi-fi. Yea! Answered work e-mails. Double yea! Switched over to write my blog. Computer went into hibernation. Boo, hiss! It was 10:30 a.m. by that time, and my husband reminded me we had a long drive to Pennsylvania.
 
So here I am at 9:30 p.m. in a hotel under renovation somewhere near Philly. Don't ask me where. I could give you directions for anywhere west of the Mississippi, but the East Coast? I'm lost. All my ancestors came from this neck of the woods (New England, but that's close, isn't it?) but my kin were all frontiersmen and women. They all left in covered wagons or with pack mules generations ago.
 
This morning I was able to answer a few e-mails from readers who told me how encouraged they were by yesterday's blog, and tonight I read your comments for the first time. As the professor said to Eliza (It was Eliza, wasn't it?) in My Fair Lady, "By George, I think you've got it!" I'll try to dash back to yesterday and comment.
 
I apologize for not blogging on proposals tonight, but I have to admit, after crawling out of a car with my husband, our Chihuahua, and way too much baggage, my brain is fried. Hopefully, I'll get an early start tomorrow. Thanks for your understanding and patience!
 
Oh, and remember this blog and my body are on Central time, so that "posted at 8:30" something below is bogus!
 
I hope you'll make this a two-way conversation. Have you ever experienced a couple of days like this? I can't be the only one who has ever suffered on a trip. If you have a funny story to share, please give us all a laugh. Remember, the joy of the Lord is our strength. ;-)

Monday, August 9, 2010

How to Pitch Your Novel in 25 Words or Less

Pshaw! It’s impossible, you say. Tell that to a scriptwriter. The first rule of screenwriting is to reduce the story line to 25 words or less. Think about the blurbs written for your favorite TV shows. Notice how short they are?

I didn’t say it was easy to reduce your story to its simplest form, but you need to learn to pitch your book in one sentence—two at most.

Marketing guru Michael Reynolds caught me off guard a few days ago when he asked me to pitch Sedona Storm. I stuttered. My brain shut down. My hands shook. It had been so long since I had shared the story line that I froze. I’m glad he wasn’t Steven Spielberg. Pitching takes practice.

Screenwriters call these pitches “loglines.” I don’t know why, but I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind that word. Novelists call them elevator pitches. I suppose in the old days authors would corner New York editors in the elevator, blurt out their pitches, and shove manuscripts into the editors’ hands.

Notice they are not called “bathroom pitches.” Never pitch to an editor in the bathroom. It’s the cardinal rule that should never be broken.

What is a pitch? First, it’s a sales tool that you need to master. When I read a query letter, I want to know what the story is about in the first sentence or two. It should excite me. The pitch should create a desire in the editor to request the full proposal, and the proposal should create a desire to read the entire manuscript.

But let’s stick with the pitch for now. When you pitch your manuscript, you need to communicate the drama of the story in its simplest form. You don’t include subplots or secondary characters, and you don’t give away the ending. A pitch should include who the story is about (the protagonist), the goal of the protagonist, and what force or antagonist stands in the protagonist’s way.

You don’t need to use the protagonist’s name, but you might describe her as a lonesome widow or a conservative politician. Then you must let your audience know the primary goal of your protagonist. Is it to win an election, or to find love, or to seek revenge? What stands in the way of your protagonist reaching her goal?

In The Wizard of Oz Dorothy’s main goal was to go back home to Kansas. Lots of people and events stood in her way, but her main antagonist was the Wicked Witch. As an experiment write the pitch for The Wizard of Oz in 25 words or less. It can be done.

Here’s the pitch for my novel Sedona Storm written with my coauthor Carrie Younce:

When an investigative reporter seeks to uncover who is responsible for a series of bizarre cult murders, her life is threatened by the secretive leader.
Now write a short pitch for your work in progress. Keep it handy and as you write, it will remind you of where your story is headed.

Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you. This is a two-way conversation. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor every day, and we need to hear from everyone so that we can learn from experience. Share your pitch with us, either for a book you’ve already written or for a work in progress. If you have trouble identifying the components of a pitch, we’re here to help. Let’s talk.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Why Do I Write?

The better question is, “For whom do I write?”

One day in the early 1990s I walked into a Christian bookstore in Springfield, MO, and felt overwhelmed. So many books! How could I possibly write something new that had never been written before?

It was as though the Lord said that every one of those books had been written for at least one particular person. The book might not be a success by publishing standards, but it was a success in God’s eyes. Words on the written page change people’s lives.

In 1993 an idea formed in my mind, and it wouldn’t let me rest. Finally, I lay on my face and cried out to God to let me write a book that would fulfill His purpose. The rest is a remarkable story of how the Lord truly moves in ways we can’t even imagine.

Someone at church knew a Christian agent. I sent a proposal to him, and that weekend he took it to Palm Springs, CA, where he and his wife drove for a quick vacation. Unexpectedly, he ran into the fiction acquisitions editor for Thomas Nelson, who also was in Palm Springs for a short vacation.

The agent mentioned my proposal, and the Nelson editor told him it was just the kind of spiritual warfare manuscript they were looking for as a “competitor” to Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness.

In the meantime I had asked a friend, Carrie Younce, to write the book with me since she seemed invested in the story. The Nelson editor presented the proposal to Pub Board, and I was asked to write a detailed chapter-by-chapter synopsis since the book wasn’t finished yet. After they were satisfied with its viability, they offered us a contract. It happened incredibly fast.

After Carrie and I joined together as an author team, the book was finished in two weeks. It was as though the Holy Spirit sat in the room with us, day after day, and on some days, we wrote as many as forty-plus pages together. It was an amazing experience and one I’m not sure could be repeated.

Here’s a brief description of the novel Sedona Storm that became a bestseller in 1994:

“When a reporter exposes a bizarre series of cult murders,
she soon finds herself running for her own life.”
At the core of the story is the issue of abortion and its consequences. Abortion is never mentioned on the cover or in any advertising copy. It was a topic not many would have touched.

But soon after the book was released, the sister of a woman at church was kicked out of a troubled relationship by her boyfriend because she was pregnant. She ran to her sister’s home and scheduled an abortion. She saw Sedona Storm on the coffee table (our friend had not even read the book) and asked if she could take it to her room. She was bored.

At the end of the day she walked downstairs and told her sister, “If this is the Jesus you know, then this is the Jesus I want.” She gave her life to Christ and canceled the abortion.

The second book in the series, Secrets of the Gathering Darkness, which was not as successful as Sedona Storm, was dedicated to Zachary, the little boy who was born six months later to the woman who had planned to abort him.

As a Christian and a writer, your calling is not to become a bestselling author, although publishing houses might disagree with me. Your calling is to write the truth . . . to write the story that burns in your heart like fire shut up in your bones. Learn your craft and write the story that pleases your God.


Please let me know if this blog has inspired or helped you in any way. This is a two-way conversation. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor every day, and we need to hear from everyone so that we can learn from experience. Also, leave me a note about a topic that you would like to see me cover: business plans/financials; the printing process; how sales work; in-house marketing or publicity. Nothing is off limits. Let’s talk.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Don't Quit Your Day Job

Aspiring or first-time authors sometimes hold the misconception that they will hit it big with their first books. Visions of bestsellers dance in their heads. It’s time for a reality check.

The statistics have not changed much in the years that I’ve been involved with publishing. In the entire Kingdom of Bookdom, which includes every book sold in every category—not just Christian books—maybe ten percent of authors make a living solely by writing books.

In the Christian book industry I doubt if that many authors make a living with their writing. The authors you meet at conferences may still have day jobs, or if they freelance, they edit manuscripts, ghostwrite books, or put on their own workshops. Or they still have day jobs. They work all day, and then come home and write their novels at night. Or if they’re early birds like me, they hop out of bed at 4 a.m. and sit down at the keyboard before rushing out the door to make it to work on time.

Another group of writers may be blessed with a spouse who is the sole breadwinner of the family. Mothers who are writers take care of the kids and write during naptime. I’ve known stay-at-home writer dads as well. The whole family tightens the purse strings and lives on a budget.

Of course, a handful of authors inherited their fortunes and live on Fantasy Island.

Here’s the reality. The average Christian novel sells about 4,000 to 5,000 copies . . . maybe. Some sell less; some sell more. You notice I didn’t say that the first-time author only sells about 4,000 copies. No, that includes experienced and newbie authors as well. Do the math.

A smaller percentage may sell 10,000 to 15,000 books each time. Now we enter more rarefied air. A much smaller group sells 20,000 or 25,000 books, but those are usually long-time authors or a new author who happens to write a book that hits a nerve with readers who purchase books.

Only a tiny few sell in the 50,000 to 100,000 or more range consistently. You know their names. They live on the bestseller lists. You see their names month after month after month after year after year after year on the CBA or ECPA bestseller lists.

And once in awhile, the industry catches lightning in a bottle, and you have series like Left Behind or a single book like The Shack.

So please, if you are a newcomer to publishing, adjust your expectations, and if you knock it out of the ballpark, you’ll be as surprised as your agent and your publisher. We pray for bestsellers!

Please let me know if this blog helped you in any way. This is a two-way conversation. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor every day, and we need to hear from everyone so that we can learn from experience. Also, leave me a note about a topic that you would like to see me cover: business plans/financials; the printing process; how sales work; in-house marketing or publicity. Nothing is off limits. Let’s talk.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Are You Sick and Tired of Editing Yet?

By the copyediting stage of a manuscript, I'm thoroughly sick and tired of editing. No offense to authors, but as the acquisitions/development editor, after a manuscript has received a thorough macro edit and a substantive/content edit, I'm ready to move on--waaaayyyy on. At this stage looking for errors reminds me of a scientist in a lab searching for a virus under the microscope.

The next step of the editorial process is copyediting. Copyeditors are a different breed. They are detail people. They love searching for misplaced commas, punctuation errors, and misspelled words. They scour through each word of a manuscript as though looking for a flaw in a near flawless diamond.

Just as our macro and substantive editors use the Chicago Manual of Style and Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, so do our copyeditors and proofreaders. [More on proofreaders in another blog post.] As an author you'll never out-edit a copyeditor. I can't, and I've been at this for **muffle, muffle** years. Of course, when I was a newspaper editor, I used AP style (Associated Press) and in my master's program, MLA was the style guide of choice.

Learn to love copyeditors because if a reader finds an ambiguous or wrong word choice, you'll hear about it. Some readers love finding errors in books so they can write and tell you how much smarter they are than you. In the South we seethe on the inside, smile, and say, "Bless their darlin' hearts." In the North an editor or author might yell, "Get a life!" Either works for me.

Remember, folks, this is a two-way conversation, so if anything strikes a chord, let me know about it in the comments section. In the meantime, think about the title of Richard Carlson's book that made its debut in 1996: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff . . . and it's all small stuff.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Winner of The Roving Editor Philly Fiction Workshop Registration Announced

CONGRATULATIONS!

Beth Glash, writing as Jenna Victoria, is the winner of a free registration for The Roving Editor Daylong Intensive Writing Workshop from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, August 21, at the Springton Lake Presbyterian Church in Newton Square, PA, near Philadelphia.

We received several entries, but Beth's short essay stood out from the rest. Here's what she wrote:

"I am astounded at the manic popularity of demons, vampires and explicit erotica. I know paranormal romance is 'in' but I am heartsick at its breadth. Who will stand in the gap? I feel a new calling that God wants me to write for His Kingdom, not for Satan’s. I am writing an inspirational romance series but frustrated by doubts and frozen by technical questions on converting my WIPs for the Christian market. A free registration to your workshop will mean I receive critical input for this new focus since I cannot afford to attend ACFW this year."
In the comments section, please join me in congratulating Beth on her winning entry. There are still a few spaces left for attendees. Cost of the daylong intensive fiction writing workshop is $159, which will include a light lunch. If you are interested in attending, please contact Joyce Magnin Moccero at jmagnin56@gmail.com.

The Substantive or Content Edit

Life is full of surprises, and there is nothing more filled with surprise than an author's first substantive edit. It bings in electronically to the author's in-box in an unassuming e-mail. Some editors still work on hard copy, but not many. Most of my work lives in a virtual world.

In a blog last week, I described in depth the purpose of a macro edit. After the author responds to the comments in a macro edit, the substantive or content edit is the next step in the editorial process. It can be a light edit if an author is experienced in self-editing, or it can be a heavy edit if the author has not had time or the experience to turn in a clean manuscript.

When an author opens the manuscript file, it can be a shock to the system. You see, editors use the "track changes" feature on the Word doc, and even the slightest of change will show up in a sea of red.

Experienced authors take a deep breath and read through the manuscript either accepting or deleting changes. If you find yourself deleting more changes than accepting them, you and the editor need to talk. You have a failure to communicate.

I've heard authors say, "I'm shocked. The last editor didn't touch a thing." That may be because the editor didn't have time to edit the manuscript because of his or her workload or the publisher has a policy of sending manuscripts out for copyedits only. That's sad, but it's an economic reality in publishing. Edits cost money: big money. If you've never had a true edit, you've missed out on a learning opportunity.

My hope is that you will tackle a substantive edit on your own manuscript. The following guidelines are what we send out to freelance editors when the in-house editor is buried with other projects:

Guidelines for Freelance Editors
SUBSTANTIVE/CONTENT EDIT
Abingdon Press Fiction

REFERENCE WORKS

Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition--specifically sections 2.47 through 2.68 to understand the various edits

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged

 Both of these resources are available online

DEFINITIONS

CMS [Chicago Manual of Style] Definition-2.55: Substantive editing [Note: also called content editing]

"Substantive editing deals with the organization and presentation of existing content. It involves rephrasing for smoothness or to eliminate ambiguity, reorganizing or tightening, reducing or simplifying documentation, recasting tables, and other remedial activities. (It should not be confused with developmental editing, a more drastic process; see 2.48.)"

GENERAL TIPS

 This list contains general instruction but is not an exhaustive list of things to check. Use CMS as your guide.

 It is your job to correct errors by making changes 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.

 Look for places to tighten the description or dialogue. Remember, less is more.

 Look for pet words or phrases employed throughout the text. Look for clich├ęs or trite phrasing. Either make a simple substitution for overused vocabulary or make a note to the author in a comment box.

 Be aware of repetitive sentence constructions that can lead to boredom. Make changes that will add variety to sentence structure or make a note to the author in a comment box.

 Remove unnecessary modifiers and redundant words or phrases.

 Hunt for passive sentences and replace with active verbs. The use of helping verbs with present participles that end in “-ing” or past participles that need “was” creates a passive voice. Recast those sentences to eliminate as many of them as possible without affecting the tone, the point of view, or the voice of the story.

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

 Avoid over editing.

Some authors are content with work that is "just good enough." You need to decide whether you want to settle for being an adequate writer or a writer who continues to grow. I do remember, however, a Scripture that says we should do our work as unto the Lord. Doesn't that mean that we should always do our best?