Archive for the ‘editor’ Category

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Guest blogger: Sherri Woosley with 3 rookie writer mistakes

November 5, 2010

Huge apologies for not being around. I’m still busy moving house, and my brain is fried with a bunch of things. But I keep thinking about all the things I want to write on here… then don’t get around to doing it. Lame, I know.

Sherri Woosley headshot

Sherri Woosley

I’ll be back really soon. But today, Sherri Cook Woosley is visiting DayByDayWriter with a great guest post about the top three rookie mistakes writers make most often.

Sherri is the editor of The Coffee House Fiction 2009 Anthology and The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010. She has an M.A. in English literature from University of Maryland.  She wrote academic articles in the field of comparative mythology before switching to fiction writing.  Her stories have been published in ZoneMom, Mount Zion Fiction Review, and New Lines from the Old Line State. She accepts editing work through http://www.coffeehousefiction.com. Check out this video of Sherri reading the winning story.

Thank you to Sherri for being here today. Let’s all give Sherri a big round of applause: clap clap clap!!!

Plus, Sherri’s giving away  a copy of The Coffee House Fiction 2009 Anthology to a lucky commenter from this page. So make sure you leave a comment!

Here’s her post about the writers three rookie mistakes:

Three Rookie Contest Mistakes

I’ve been chief editor at Coffee House Fiction for over six years now, which means that I’ve read a lot of contest entries.  Read the following list and make sure these rookie mistakes don’t tank your chances to win a writing contest or see your short story in print.

1.        The Mistake: Wrong Point of View

The Reason: Author thinks his or her entry will stand out if told from an unexpected source.

Worst Offenders:  A story told from a parrot’s POV.  I wanted to stop halfway through when the narrator (bird) called 911.  Really?  With its beak?  Did it know to press the ‘talk’ button first or was the phone on the wall?   Another story was written as if a horseback riding saddle was telling the story. Hard for a master storyteller to pull off, impossible for a novice.

The Fix:  POV should be a conscious decision.  Who is the best person to tell the story?  Who was the most affected by the events?  Finally, who has a decision to make?  It is much more vital when the audience experiences with a character rather than hearing about it from someone else.  A short story is also not the place to use multiple points of view.  There just isn’t time for the reader to connect with different narrators.  Instead, pick from classic choices like first-person, third-person limited, omniscient third, and stick with it.

2.       The Mistake: Neglecting the story for purple prose or over-description

The Reason:  The writer is infatuated with the writing and his or her own arabesque creation.

Worst Offenders:  “In a teary-eyed nostalgia, he wistfully recalled the halcyon days of his youth when, with an innocent eye rapturously fixed upon an idealistic mark, the ardent romantic had defiantly stood upon desks and dismissively ripped up texts, had passionately promoted Dead Sappo Societies and dramatically….” (the sentence goes on for a total of 61 words).

The Fix: The story is the first priority.  It may take several drafts before the writer knows what is trying to come out.  That’s fine.  But, once a writer knows, he or she must work to make the story as clear and clean as possible.  It doesn’t make you look smarter to use big words.  Nor should descriptive passages be in the story for their own sake; they must add to the story.

3.       The Mistake: Starting at the wrong place

The Reason: Author is telling the story in chronological order, the way it happened

Worst Offender: We met in first grade when we exchanged friendship bracelets, etc…

The Fix: If this is what you need in the first drafts, that’s fine.  But, then you need to find the actual start of the conflict/resulting choice, the meat of the story.  Love this description:  an egg is rolling across a table.  The story starts at the exact moment the egg reaches the edge and hovers before falling.  The friendship bracelet image from the example can go into the story, but as background once the *real* story is underway so that instead of ending with a short story trying to span fifteen years, you have action over a twenty-four time period with a clear conflict and resolution.

I remember my pastor once telling a story about a bank president who was unmatched at catching counterfeit bills.  When asked, the president said he didn’t try to learn all the different feels of counterfeit bills; instead, he always handled real money so that anything else felt wrong.

Reading about rookie errors is helpful, but don’t write trying to avoid mistakes.  Go for the real deal and get the entire first draft out before editing yourself. Read the winning stories of contests, like the anthology, The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010, read stories published online, or go to your library and read literary magazines or journals (except Playboy;  I’m not authorizing you to read it for the fiction!).

Do you have any examples of rookie mistakes from your first stories?

Seize the Dame!

Sherri Cook Woosley

www.coffeehousefiction.com

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Interview with editor Frances Foster, The Best Last Days of Summer

May 7, 2010

Valerie Hobbs blog tour banner

Today, I’m welcoming Frances Foster to DayByDayWriter. Frances is publisher of Frances Foster Books, with Farrar Strauss Giroux Books for Young Readers and editor of The Best Last Days of Summer, by Valerie Hobbs. This is the 10th book of Valerie’s that Frances has edited.

Valerie Hobbs headshot and The Best Last Days of Summer book  coverA little about The Best Last Days of Summer, and then we’ll get to the questions. The middle grade novel is about 12-year-old Lucy Crandall, who’s spending her usual summer week with her grandmother in a cabin on a lake. While Lucy worries about being popular in her next school year and her neighborhood kid with Downs syndrome, she discovers that she has bigger things to worry about. Her grandmother isn’t well, and this will be their last summer at the lake.

By the way, this is just one stop on Valeries Hobbs’ book tour. Click over to her blog to see the others and make sure you leave comments. Everyone who leaves a comment has a chance of winning a T-shirt or signed copy of the book.

Now onto the interview with Frances Foster.

What attracted you to The Last Best Days of Summer?

First it was Lucy, then her wonderful grandmother.

The voice of Lucy in the book is so strong right from the first sentence. How much of that voice was in the book before you acquired it?

Lucy’s voice was strong from the beginning and kept getting stronger and truer as the story developed. More and more of her kept being revealed as she got to know herself better, and when Eddie’s role grew larger, Lucy became an even more complex and interesting character.

Valerie has great descriptions and uses beautiful language. How much of that was brought out through your partnership with Valerie?

Storytelling comes so naturally to Valerie that, much as I’d like to, I can’t claim any credit for her graceful descriptions or beautiful language — unless it’s that editing helps eliminate distracting and/or extraneous detail, allowing Valerie’s storytelling gifts to shine clearly and unimpeded. But Valerie Hobbs almost never overwrites, so gives me no opportunity to cut and slash.

What do you look for in a manuscript you’re going to buy?

Voice, story, and writing (content, substance, and meaning), and whatever I buy has to resonnate with me in some way. I have to believe in it.

Generally, how much editing do you do on your books?

Only what I think is absolutely needed, meaning it can be minimal on some books and extensive on others. In general, I think of myself as a light editor, but I question anything that doesn’t sound right to me. I ask lots of questions.

What is the worst thing you see writers doing that you’d love them to do differently?

I can’t answer this question but instead let me say something more about Valerie. I can think of no writer who equals her ability to bring together really unlikely characters and make us want to spend time with them. In THE LAST BEST DAYS OF SUMMER there is Lucy, who is losing her childhood; her grandmother, losing her memory; and Eddie, a special needs boy who most of the time is innocently clueless. In DEFIANCE, her main characters are a boy who is fighting cancer, and a poet and a cow who are fighting old age. These are people with serious problems that Valerie treats with respect and humor and without the slightest trace of sentimentality, though the emotions she evokes are deep and heartfelt. She makes us cry.

What other books have you edited recently?

THIS GORGEOUS GAME by Donna Freitas; STUCK ON EARTH by David Klass; THE SMALL ADVENTURES OF POPEYE & ELVIS by Barbara O’Connor and her new book THE FANTASTIC SECRET OF OWEN JESTER; UNDER A RED SKY, a memoir by Haya Molnar; CROSSING STONES, a novel in poems by Helen Frost; a new book about Madlenka, MADLENKA SOCCER STAR by Peter Sis; Monika Schroder’s second novel, SARASWATI’S WAY; and in non-fiction DINOSAUR MOUNTAIN by Deborah Kogan Ray.

Are there any books you wish you could have edited? And if so, what are they?

I often wish I had edited a book I love, not because I would have done it differently, but because I would have liked to have that connection to the book and author. It’s probably a pleasure-seeking thing. I felt that way after reading MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD by Francisco X. Stork.

Thanks for the great answers, Frances.

Write On!

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Editor Nancy Feresten on the future of publishing

February 27, 2010

Revision update: Still on chapter 22 of 30, thanks to a car that needed an alignment and wheel balancing (why do these things take so long), laundry and some others. Don’t you hate the way the nitty gritty of life gets in the way of your writing? 🙂 I’ve got eight chapters to do this weekend to keep my goal, and I’m thinking I won’t make it. But I’m going to try.

In my fourth report from the Houston SCBWI conference, National Geographic Children’s Books editor-in-chief Nancy Feresten talks about the future of publishing.

If you missed my earlier reports, Simon & Schuster editor Alexandra Cooper talks about submitting to an editor, including herself; Scholastic editor and author Lisa Ann Sandell talked about making your query letter package stand out; and Balzer & Bray editor Ruta Rimas talked about what makes a great book.

First off, Nancy said that National Geographic has become one of the few major publishing houses to reverse its policy of not accepting unsolicited queries from writers. She said she wants to hear from writers, which is why they’ve opened their doors again. But, she said their team is too small to respond to every query, so they have instituted a policy that they will only respond if they’re interested in your work.

Nancy tackled the subject of the publishing itself, and she had some interesting things to say. Quoting a Kaiser Family Foundation study, Nancy gave these stats:

  • Kids spend 7.5 hours a day with some kind of media, up from 6.5 hours a year ago.
  • They spend 38 minutes a day out of school time with some sort of print media (books, magazines, comics).
  • Most of their time is spent with TV, over videogames, music and movies.
  • Over the past five years, time spent reading books is up, whereas magazines is down.
  • Girls read more than books, which has been a constant in the study for years.
  • If a child watches a lot of TV, that does not correlate with a drop in reading unless the child has a TV in his or her bedroom.

This shows that kids are busy, but as Nancy said, “Our big challenge is to figure out what they want to read.”

She said that studies show that being smart is now more important to children than being popular, a switch from past years.

In non-fiction, children want facts, photos, true unexpected stories and to laugh and have fun.

To that end, National Geographic is looking to publish:

  • Serious reference books that are fun and educational. They’re looking for writers and illustrators for this on a work for hire basis;
  • Innovative narrative non-fiction that are smaller stories, potential award winners. They’re accepting proposals for this, but again, will only respond if they’re interested;
  • Fun reference books, which offer photos, facts and fun at a low price. These will be written on a work for hire basis.

With all the new technology available now, with ebooks, etc., Nancy said the market is changing, but challenges bring opportunities.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both print and digital, but she sees a future when the best of both will be combined for a different kind of market than one we know now. Children will have their own ereader, which will be big enough to accommodate the beautiful pictures in children’s books. Families will go to libraries and see print-on-demand version of books, choose the ones they like best and download them to the child’s ereader. These type of ereaders also will be useful in classrooms, with children having less to carry, and teachers being able to make changes to textbooks as they go along.

No matter how technology changes, however, Nancy emphasized that it will be up to writers to create the future. Children will always want good stories, information and fun. Writers will be the ones experimenting with the best ways to use the new technology to tell these stories in the best ways possible.

Sounds like a great future. What do you think about the future with ebooks?

Check in tomorrow for my final report from the Houston SCBWI conference, with literary agent Sara Crowe.

Write On!

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Editor Alexandra Cooper on submitting to an editor

February 25, 2010

Revision update: On chapter 18 of 30. Getting a little behind my goal, so tomorrow, I’ve got to step up my game.

Alexander Cooper headshot

Alexandra Cooper

In my third report from the Houston SCBWI conference, Simon & Schuster editor Alexandra Cooper talks about submitting to an editor, including herself.

If you missed my earlier reports, Scholastic editor and author Lisa Ann Sandell talked about making your query letter package stand out, and Balzer & Bray editor Ruta Rimas talked about what makes a great book.

Alexandra said she works with picture books, middle-grade and young adult fiction, but not easy readers or non-fiction. The exceptions are a few non-fiction picture books that came out of an idea she had and she assigned to a writer and illustrator.

When considering manuscripts, she takes into account the balance of her list as well as the list of her imprint. She said editors are responsible for bringing in books to add to the company’s bottom line, so they can’t always publish everything they’re passionate about. They will turn down good books if the imprint already has similar books, for example. However, she said, outstanding books won’t be turned down.

Editors want a balance between backlist authors and new authors (looking for writers she can work with again), as well as a balance between commercial and literary books.

Right now, she’s signing more novels than picture books, but it’s cyclical, she said. One of the reasons publishing companies are more cautious on picture books right now is the cost and economy. Color picture books are printed in China, and the weak dollar is making printing costs rise.

Finding an editor is like dating, she said, and as such, writers should want someone as committed to the book as the writer is.

The Internet and conferences such as the SCBWI ones are good places to find out about editors, she said. (And I fully agree. These conferences are great!)

As for the issue of most publishing houses not accepting unsolicited manuscripts except through conferences, Alexandra said a lot of the time it’s because of legal reasons. The company doesn’t want to open itself to a lawsuit if they turn down a book that’s similar to one they’re already working on.

However, she said the first book she acquired was from a query, so they do work.

Check back tomorrow for notes from National Geographic‘s Nancy Feresten.

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Editor Lisa Ann Sandell on query letters

February 24, 2010

Revision update: On chapter 16 of 30. Still on track for end of February finish.

Lisa Ann Sandell's headshot

Lisa Ann Sandell

In my second report from the Houston SCBWI conference, Scholastic editor Lisa Ann Sandell talks about making your query letter package stand out. Lisa is also a writer, with four books published.

If you missed my first report from the conference, Balzer & Bray editor Ruta Rimas talked about what makes a great book.

10-year Scholastic editor Lisa said she mainly works on middle-grade and young adult fiction, rarely non-fiction and even more rarely picture books. Among the books she has edited are the Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo, The Fire Eternal by Chris d’Lacey, Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah and the upcoming Shadow from Houston-area author Jenny Moss.

Lisa said that YA paranormal and fantasy have a bit of a glut, and she’s hearing that mysteries might be about to make a comeback.

She prefers character-driven books to plot-driven, and looks for strong character and voice.

“It’s about the words and how they come together on the page,” she said.

She said that when a writer is looking to submit to editors, they should find an individual editor who has the right sensibilities for the manuscript, rather than submitting to a general imprint. But, she also urged writers to get an agent, as the agent will be on the writer’s side.

She also admitted that manuscripts that she receives from an agent go to the top of the pile.

A query letter, she said, is like meeting someone at a cocktail party and having 30 seconds to make them excited about your book.

She suggested writers construct a description of their book that can fit on one side of an index card. Then, condense it further so it will fit on a Post It.

It should be a concise summary of the plot, with characters, conflict and theme.

The writing style also should come through.

Include a brief intro that says who you are as is relevant to the book, keep it short and hit the right tone — respectful and professional, but not too casual.

What not to do:

  • no marketing info. The book is the priority.
  • no adjectives.
  • no comparisons.

Check back tomorrow for notes from Simon & Schuster‘s Alexander Cooper on submitting to editors.

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Editor Ruta Rimas on what makes a great book

February 23, 2010

Revision update: On chapter 14 out of 30. I still think I can make my end of February goal.

In my first post about the Houston SCBWI conference, I’m featuring some tips from Balzer & Bray editor Ruta Rimas. Energetic, knowledgeable and obviously passionate about books, Ruta advised authors to read books by the authors they love both for pleasure and craft.

She gave a some examples of books she thought were worth reading:

Ruta also recommended Francine Prose‘s Reading Like a Writer and quoted the book as telling writers to put “every word on trial for its life.” I love that!

To do that, Ruta told writers to look at their work in progress and:

  • choose a section and look at the words. What words stick out? How do the words support the theme of the story? Do any words stick out as inappropriate? Why?
  • choose a favorite sentence or series of sentences and ask yourself why you love it (them). How does it (they) inform the reader of who the narrator or character is? What does the sentence structure do?
  • choose a sentence you don’t like and ask yourself why you don’t like it.
  • choose 3-6 paragraphs and look at how they break. What if you break them differently, how will that affect the tension or flow?
  • choose a scene and try rewriting it in a different voice, different perspective, different tense or another character’s point of view. What would the scene be like if the character was different emotionally, i.e. angry, upset, cynical?

Ruta ended with a great quote from novelist John Gardner:

It’s the sheer act of writing, more than anything else, that makes a writer.

So, Write On!

Check back tomorrow for notes from author and Scholastic editor Lisa Ann Sandell.

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Lisa Graff on writing and revising

February 5, 2010

Day five in my reports from the Austin SCBWI conference, and there’s still more to come after this one! Also, although I’m giving lots of great information from these speakers in these posts, I’m only giving a condensed version of their presentations. Reading about conferences is great, but going to them, even single-day conferences like this one, is so valuable for inspiration, networking and learning. I highly recommend going to as many as you can afford in time and money if the lineup of speakers are half as good as this one.

Quick recap of my other reports from the conference: agent Mark McVeigh on publishing, agent Andrea Cascardi on getting and working with an agent, editor Cheryl Klein on writing a great book and agent Nathan Bransford on finding the right agent for you.

Lisa Graff, author

Lisa Graff

And now onto Lisa Graff. Lisa has an interesting background. She sold her first two books around the same time as she got her job as an editor, so, as she said, she has spent the last five years learning how to be a professional writer and editor at the same time. As of the Thursday before the conference, Lisa stopped working as an editor for Farrar, Strauss and Giroux Books for Young Readers to focus on her writing full time. Her last book, Umbrella Summer, came out last June.

As someone who has been on both sides of a book, Lisa said both are equally important. She said an editor is in charge of finding the true story a writer is trying to tell, because writers are so in their head, it’s often hard for them to see the story for the words. But, she pointed out, editors can’t do their best work until writers have done theirs.

And, writers don’t do their best work until they’ve revised and revised until their best work is out. For Umbrella Summer, Lisa said she wrote 14 complete drafts, including eight different endings. It took four years from the first draft to publication. WOW!

She said she starts out with a brief outline of her story, but the book almost never ends up the same.

Here’s her writing strategy:

  1. Write the first full draft.
  2. Read draft on paper and write notes.
  3. Open a new document and write a completely new draft from scratch or pasting in what she wants to save from the original draft.
  4. Repeat 2 and 3 as many times as it takes to get her best work.

A writer, she said, is

  • creative,
  • inspired,
  • uninhibited,
  • free to experiment.

An editor is

  • aware of rules of storytelling,
  • aware that the first draft is never the best,
  • mean when necessary.

To be an author, a writer must be all of these but at different times.

For the first draft, Lisa said it’s ok to write garbage. Writers can’t get to their genius until they’ve written the garbage, she said. The editor part of the writer takes out the garbage after the  genius has come through.

Here’s her other advice:

  • Read what your audience is reading, especially for picture books because markets change. And read like an editor, questioning everything, every decision that went into that book.
  • Know the rules (such as POV) as an editor, but be willing to experiment with them as a writer. It’s ok to break the rules when it’s essential for storytelling.
  • Write for yourself not for trends, because you won’t be happy.
  • Enjoy your own writing as a writer, but be prepared to kill your darlings as an editor. Do what’s right for the book.
  • Make sure that everything in your book is there for a reason.
  • As a writer, believe in yourself, but as an editor, push yourself to do better.
  • Don’t be a writer and editor at the same time, because it will make you overly critical, stop your creativity and lead you to writer’s block.
  • And, never try to appease an agent or editor. Be willing to stand up for yourself.

Finally, Lisa gave an idea of page counts for varies types of books. Although publishing houses vary, she said these are the general guidelines based on what the reader age groups will read and cost.

  • Picture book: 32 pages, including title pages, copyright, etc.
  • Chapter books: 90 manuscript pages, double-spaced
  • Middle-grade: 150-200 pages, double-spaced
  • Young adult: 200-240 pages, double spaced

Awesome!

Check back tomorrow for advice from the many other great writers at the conference.

Write On!