Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ask the Editor by Teresa Kennedy

1) What is the most common reason you reject a manuscript for Village Green Press?
Because I don't like it. There are, however a lot of different reasons for not liking a manuscript from a  publisher's point of view, so let's talk about those reasons for a minute.
First off, if I don't have a clear sense of who the audience for this book is, I won't be able to sell it, and if I have no sense of who the audience is, the author probably doesn't either. Anybody's social network is only so big and only so loyal. No offense, but we go for a bigger audience than your FB friends. Strike one.

Because it isn't done yet. Imagine biting into a big beautiful yummy frosted cupcake, only to discover the middle isn't baked and is instead filled with a lot of runny, icky gook. While I will work with authors when the story is promising and I think it can be fixed, it's not a good idea to send your stuff out in a great looking package when your story's half-baked. Strike Two.

Because your story, does not, in some significant way reach beyond the constraints of genre or your personal point of view to touch on a more universal experience. Writing is a very introverted sort of activity, but the stories we tell have to reach a broader audience. This is what makes it possible to relate to stuff like the struggle between good and evil, the star-crossed romance or the rite of passage. Because every single human being, alive or undead, has experienced those things at some point. If your book is all about you, it's a diary, not a novel. You may find the experience of writing therapeutic, but the rest of us probably won't. Strike Three.

2) Do you ever accept a less than perfect manuscript and work with the
author if the premise is strong?
Yes, see above.

3) What is a checklist for knowing when a manuscript is ready to submit? Everyone says "make it sparkle", but how does that operationalize to debut authors?

Okay, first I have to say "operationalize" is not a word, so knowing the words should be right up there on your checklist ;) Second, there is more to fiction craft than putting words on a page. As we all use a lot of the same words all the time, it's how you arrange them that counts. What makes "sparkle?" Very paradoxical thing, that. As a writer, you have to make sure those words are arranged in such a way that the story becomes far more important and engaging to the reader than the words themselves....Other than that, make sure you're satisfied with it before it goes anywhere. If you're not entirely pleased, chances are no one else will be.

“I hired a copy editor for my manuscript, and when I got it back, I was really surprised. He corrected all the grammar, spelling and punctuation, but when I read it over, he didn’t fix any of the problems with the story. What’s up with that?”
Okay, the first thing new writers need to understand is the perfecting of a manuscript is a process. First, you perfect your book to the best of your ability; then hopefully, you hire an editor. But there are different kinds of editors with entirely different areas of expertise. A developmental edit will point out the weak points in the storyline, the pacing, the characters, the dialogue and the overall structure, as well as offer some sense of just how the book stacks up against the competition. The editor involved should offer clear guidance and direction for any rewrites that need to be done. A line editor goes through your book word by word and line by line, deleting unnecessary sentences and paragraphs, redundancies, and phrases that may be cluttering up the flow of your prose and story. Most, but not all, line editors will also do a bit of rewriting here and there if they think something can be stated more efficiently without changing your style or voice. Last but not least, copy editors check for consistency and errors in grammar and punctuation, giving the manuscript a final polish before publication. A lot of independent authors, due to limited budgets or unfamiliarity with the process, look for a one-size/price fits all edit and usually find a copy editor to fill the bill. No harm there, just be aware that a proofreading does not a masterpiece make.

I’m an independent author looking to land an agent by publishing my titles as e-books. How many do I have to sell before I can get the attention of an agent to represent me?
There’s a lot to be said for the e-book revolution, but one of the things nobody is saying is that it’s a magic carpet ride to a hardcover deal with the Big Six. “Self-publishing” for better or worse, still does carry a certain stigma with the big boys, if only because it cuts into their market share. Bottom line? Last figure I heard from the NYC community was 20,000 copies (single title, no series) before an agent is going to take you seriously. Problem is, if you’re selling that many copies, why would you need an agent anyway?

My dialogue just isn’t working. What can I do?
Most novice novels suffer from one of two conditions: There’s either too much conversation or too little. The “talkies” tend to fall into two subcategories: a)Your characters either make long speeches to one another, filling each other on a lot of events that aren’t (or have already) taken place on the page, or b) they chat aimlessly back and forth for pages and pages without ever advancing the plot or telling the reader something they don’t already know.
In the second, more taciturn group, one or two word exchanges tend to be afflicted with tons of attributions—“No.” He tightened his jaw and hurriedly crossed the room to get a cup of coffee. He turned back to her. “Bitch,” he grunted accusingly. “John,” Miranda replied desperately, waving her hands in a helpless gesture, tears filling her wide blue eyes….
None of the above approaches work because the writer doesn’t really understand that the function of each and every scene, whether it contains dialogue or not is to move the story along, not to discuss what we already know or recap the action:”I heard that Randy went to Melissa’s late last night and her father threatened to shoot him. And Melissa’s mom got completely hysterical and I don’t know what it’s going to mean if we don’t have their help solving the mystery
Nor is it the writer's job to fill us in on actions and emotions when your characters can't say what they mean.
In dialogue, art does not imitate life. Your dialogue has to sound like real conversation, but it also has to serve a real purpose. How many Facebook chats or political discussions have you had lately that did that?

More questions? Just ask!