Friday, September 28, 2012

Words from a Book Editor (Part 2 of 2)

(This post comes from Vicki Crumpton.)

Traditional publishing is highly schedule driven. We live by catalog cycles and when a book is contracted, we slot it in a catalog season for release.

Manuscript deadlines are based on the release date, and everything we do for a book from then on, whether editorial, marketing, sales, or publicity, is driven by the need to hit that release date.

I'm writing this in the summer of 2012, and we're titling books that will release the following summer. Once titles are set, the cover design starts. I’m editing books that will release a year from now.

Each October, our sales conference prepares our reps to sell the upcoming Summer list, and our key account reps start selling right after the sales conference. Why? The large accounts make their buying decisions that far in advance.

Air traffic control is a good analogy for the publishing process. Planes get slotted by air traffic control long before they reach their destination, so that when planes get close to O’Hare, all of them can land in an orderly fashion.

I'd love to have the opportunity to listen to the cockpit radio conversation. I've never heard a pilot say, "I have to fly over Dallas on my way to Chicago, so I'm going to be about five hours late. That won't mess up anybody, will it?"

Life does happen. The important thing is for authors to communicate with their editors as soon as they know there will be a problem with a deadline.

Vicki Crumpton, Executive Editor for Revell (a division of Baker Publishing Group), acquired a number of award finalists and winners, as well as several New York Times' bestsellers, including 90 Minutes in Heaven. She holds an M. Div. and Ph.D. from Southwestern.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Words from a Book Editor (Part 1 of 2)

(This post comes from Vicki Crumpton.)

When I receive a proposal, I evaluate far more than the manuscript. I look at platform, professionalism, marketing angles, other books in our list, and a host of other things before I even get to the manuscript or sample chapters.

When I start working on a contracted manuscript, I look at the technical things, such as grammar, style, punctuation, and word count. Amazingly, authors occasionally miss that by as much as 20,000 words. That always concerns me.

This is where publishing gets fun: I love it when a manuscript comes in far better than I dreamed it would be when we contracted it. I love it when I get so involved in reading that I forget that I need to work on the manuscript. I love it when authors hit home runs.

A good author-editor relationship is like most other good relationships. There’s a common interest. There’s good communication. There’s respect. It often goes beyond just work, though, because we share things that are happening in our lives. Over the course of my career, most of my authors would say they also count me as a friend, as I do them.

Vicki Crumpton, Executive Editor for Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, acquired a number of award finalists and winners, as well as several New York Times' bestsellers, including 90 Minutes in Heaven. She holds an M. Div. and Ph.D. from Southwestern.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Note from Cec

For this series, I've received an immense number of responses--and I'm thankful to each of you for the effort you expended to write.

I've been heavily involved with my virtual assistant, Twila Belk, in finishing up a book for early 2013 release. It's taken us about three months longer than I had anticipated. We're almost finished.

One question sent was whether these blog entries would appear in book form. Yes (so I can get Twila to stop nagging) and it will probably go into print the first part of 2013. (We'll notify you.)

Today someone asked what blogs I read on writing. I skim a number of them, but haven't found one I particularly like. I own perhaps 200 books on writing. A couple of months ago I bought two books by Mignon Fogarty. She writes brief entries, so I carry her book with me on my trips to read in those odd moments.

But the truth is that I've been writing full time since 1984, and I've learned many, many lessons (and I'm still learning). I'm at the stage where I need reminders more than new information.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Writing Articles (Part 21 of 21)

One more thing I need to do.

Good writers are never satisfied with their writing. They know they can improve even though they're not sure how. So they continue learning and reading about writing.

Each morning I spend about ten minutes online reading blogs for writers, trying to glean insight. Many of them are helpful. The more I grow as a writer, the more aware I become of good writing and weak writing.

I also read widely—far, far outside the fields in which I write. I promised myself and God that I would never stop learning. In that commitment I promised that I would read at least one book a week. (I'm about 10 years ahead of my proposed number.)

I want to be known as a growing writer. 
I can be known that way if I remain a learner. 
I promise myself not to stop learning.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Writing Articles (Part 20 of 21)

Stop. Let go.

When I finished the eighteenth draft of my first article, I knew I couldn’t improve it. Today I could, but that was the best I could do then. An editor or someone else might make it better, or in another year I might have developed my skills enough to make it better. But not then.

To myself I said aloud, "This is the best I can do at this stage of my development." I still repeat those words before I send in a manuscript. It’s my way to let it go.

Someone told me, "I have to decide if I will release my imperfect manuscript or hold on to the perfect manuscript inside my head."

When I can say, 
"This is the best I can do at this stage of my development," 
I give myself permission to stop.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Writing Articles (Part 19 of 21)

Write a good query.

You can find a plethora of books and articles on how to write a query letter. I suggest you avoid them. I've read some of those supposedly can't-fail ideas and I wouldn't accept any of them. My basic query idea applies whether you write to agents or editors.

Here are two things you need to bear in mind:

* Keep the query brief.

* Make it a professional-looking business letter whether you use paper or email.

I suggest you write one paragraph that gives them your idea for a book or an article. Call it the elevator pitch, précis statement, or concept (the term I use). Don't give them a sales pitch such as, "This book will revolutionize the way people eat cereal." State your premise and let them make value judgments.

In the second paragraph tell them about yourself. Give them your background, education, experience, and your work or profession—anything that shows your credentials to write the article or book.

Your next paragraph reads: May I send you my article? If it's a book, you ask to send your book proposal. If you have completed your manuscript, you write: May I send you my proposal or my completed manuscript?

Query letters are simple sales pitches. Make no claims for what your article or book will do. Just tell them what it is.

My query letter is a business letter. 
It asks an editor to buy my product, 
and the editor probably knows the product better than I do.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Writing Articles (Part 18 of 21)

Polish the article again.

You've edited once and you're finished.

I doubt it.

Keep editing and revising it until you know you can’t make it better.

Look for redundancies. Most writers tend to overwrite and to say the same thing three or four times with different words. In print, you need to say something only once (unless you're using it as a literary device). Therefore, when you polish, aim for brief articles and short chapters.

Today, articles run 800 to 1800 words and if you stay below 1200 words, you're probably about right. Chapters have also gotten shorter. For an example, look at the novels of James Patterson. None of his chapters takes up more than five pages. Each is one scene, and a decade ago editors would have combined several of them into a single chapter. Patterson caters to the byte-size generation and his books consistently hit the best-seller lists.

My writing may not hit the best-seller lists, 
but I can make it the best writing I'm capable of producing. 
And if it's my best, that's good enough—for now.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Writing Articles (Part 17 of 21)

Polish your writing again.

I like to rewrite. Sound crazy? Not to me, because I enjoy finding ways to make my writing better. Below are some of the things I look for when I get into Serious Mode Editing.

I scrutinize for clichés, fuzzy thoughts, grammatical problems, poor word choice, and favorite words I've used too often. I ask myself: Have I written with a logical progression? Too many writers touch on a topic and four paragraphs later go back to the same point.

Another thing, I read the final sentence of a paragraph and the first of the next to see if I've made good transitions. If you read the two previous sentences, you'll see that by starting this paragraph with "another thing," I made a transition. You had no trouble following my thoughts.

I get rid of clutter, such as redundancies and laborious phrases. A good rule is that if I can think of a simpler word, I use it in place of a long word. We write to communicate, not to impress.

I check sentence length. When I get above 20 words in a sentence with no commas or semicolons, I've already strained the grasp of some.

I especially look for clichés. I'm weary of reading those overused phrases. At Christmas, for example, I must have read 50 ads that touted the perfect Christmas gift. Not only is nothing perfect, but the word has become meaningless.

I'll deal with clichés another time, but think of it this way: If it's an expression you've heard before, it's probably a cliché. Find a different-but-clear way to say it.

I will revise my manuscript. Then I'll do it again. 
There is no magic number of revisions, 
but it's always more than one.