Friday, March 10, 2006

A Shorty: The Truth About Gramer, er, Grammar

Shorties are just little tidbits we will post now and then. Here is an example:

A Publishing Fallacy: If my book is good enough, grammar errors shouldn't count against me. Agents and editors only look for grammar mistakes because they are picky or want to show people how smart they are.

The Truth in Short: The basic premise of this idea is muddled thinking. Grammar, punctutation, and mechanics are the tools that writers use to make up for the lack of mannerisms, vocal inflection, and body language in the written word. Mistakes in these areas don't signal that you don' t know some arbitrary or archaic English rules; they signal that you aren't thinking like your reader as you try to express yourself. You have to be able to use these "tools of the trade" to compensate for a lack of visual and auditory communication cues. It's not that they count for you or against you; no one is keeping score. A painter has different colors to express his ideas, and writers have words, sentences, commas, semi-colons, exclamation points, etc., to express theirs.

A Little Query Advice

I hesitate to write anything about query letters because writing about them usually comes across sounding harsh. However, I would like to throw out some information that I think will help writers out in this area.

Isn’t a query’s job to invite the agent to see some of your writing? Queries shouldn’t have word counts higher than most complete literary works and you CAN find word-count information on the internet. Writers should be able to describe their writing in something smaller than a chapter-by-chapter outline and should be able to detail their qualifications without giving the agent their complete life’s experience. We have found that people in some professions are more guilty of wordiness than others, but you won’t catch us listing those professions here.

A query, after all, is nothing more than a short business letter. Include important stuff like word count, type of book, title, genre, etc. Tell a LITTLE about your book as pages of dry narrative put agents (and editors and readers) to sleep. Additionally, poems and short stories are not long fiction—there is a vast difference—so don’t list them as qualifications unless you are querying us on a poetry book or short story collection, neither of which we handle. Any prior novel writing experience, published or unpublished, is important as it tells us that this isn’t your first attempt at long fiction.

I tried to make this as short as I would like the queries I receive to be by including only the information I want to get across. Hope it helps.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Answer to the professional editor question

By professional editor, do you mean an editor at a publishing house or an editor I pay to work on my book? If it's latter, what does this have to do with how you view it with regard to offering presentation? Not being catty, just not connecting.

Of course the best solution is to have an in-house editor work on a book during its publishing process. Beside the fact that these editors know exactly what they are editing toward, there is added pressure on the author to get it right or else. However, if no contract is offered and a writer’s work is rejected time and again, the only solution may be to find out why. There are a number of courses of action available to writers in this case and one might be to hire a so-called book doctor.

If this is deemed to be the solution, a writer should first consider an editor who is directly connected to the publishing industry. In my opinion, to make a book ready for today’s markets it must be edited for both content and commercial appeal, the later of which would be difficult for someone who is not directly connected to publishing.

To answer the last part of your question, yes, a writer will have to pay to have her book edited by any professional editor or book doctor.

With regard to offering representation, I put all the weight writing quality no matter if a book has been professionally edited or not. If the writing is great, I next consider if editors I work with are looking for that type of book for their lists. Only if the book meets both criteria, will I offer representation. The reason I don’t weigh the professional editor aspect that much is because no matter who offers editorial comment on a writer’s work, it’s still up to the writer to make the necessary changes. After all, an editor does not author the book; she only attempts to persuade the writer to fix problems within it. Also, a writer should be able, with the help of a good editor, to go beyond the offered suggestions and make the book even better after learning where its major problems lie.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Is E-publishing a Publishing Credit?

I have a question. Many people are of the mind that epublishing is not a valid publishing credit. Given the quality of a great majority of ebooks, I concur. But would you rather a query letter inform you of a first novel e-published, or is that first novel so irrelevant that you don't care?

E-publishing is a valid publishing credit; however, major publishers do not recognize it as such. The reason for this is that many editors agree with you and feel that many e-pubishers will publish anything, and, thus, most editors feel that what they publish is substandard. While this may or may not be true, I can tell you the majority of queries I have seen that list e-publishing credits are usually those whose writing samples show little skill. The key here is editorial review. If a writer wants a book that counts as a credit, there are no short-cuts. You have to take your rejections like everyone else. What I mean is that some writers have read that any publishing credit will suffice as long as you are a published author, but that is not true. If you have e-publishing credits listed in your query, and your writing sample is not very good, then that leaves the agent or editor with the idea that you are one of those folks who got published by an e-publisher that didn't have adequate editorial standards.

Personally, I like to know you have been e-published, and the reason is that I know that at least you have gone beyond your first attempt at writing a novel. However, the best way to accomplish this is to have a professional editor review your writing and respond in kind. Everyone who writes needs an editor. I think most writers nowadays think that they can self-edit and thereby get around the trauma of rejection or the expense of paying someone to edit their work. But as far as I’m concerned, an editor must look and comment, one way or the other. Why? Because creation is a right brain activity and editing is left brain, and few folks can do both adequately, or without driving themselves crazy.

Response to Hands-on/Hands-off Agent Comment

What about once you do sign a client? Are you a hands-on or hands-off agent? By that I mean, suggesting works you believe the writer would do well with...or leaving it entirely up the writer to come up with ideas? Some agents want their writers to stick with one genre, and one subgenre within that...others stand back and say "go to!" Please advise?

This depends on the client. With a new writer, job one is to get them published as quickly as possible with a publisher who can do the most for that client. After the writer is published, then we try to advise them on how to market their book. Many writers never think beyond getting published and, therefore, it’s our job to help them transition into this next vitally important phase of their career—that of a published writer. Their whole career depends on how well anything that bears their name does in the marketplace, so we try to help them to understand that it’s here they need to concentrate most of their efforts.

As for sticking with one genre, we advise our clients to do that at least until they have built a sufficient audience in that genre and then not go so far afield that they alienate the audience they have built. Most writers who start out in genre anything eventually venture into an area that allows them broader growth. So-called woman’s fiction or mainstream is where many authors transition to, and they usually are able to take their readers with them on this journey. I give you Danielle Steele as an example here. However, some writers who try this are jerked back by their critics and fans. John Grisham attempted a jump to coming-of-age with A Painted House, which many of his fans disliked because of its obvious departure from what he had written before. While it is still selling, Grisham fans who like his books based in the world of law are more than likely waiting for his next lawyer novel. The writer has to strike a balance between what he wants to write and what his readers want from him, and the agent is there to support that endeavor.