Archive for July, 2017

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Over the last couple of weeks I have been detailing my experiences working with a professional editor (Part 1 and Part 2).  Since I received her feedback I have been thinking about her various comments and suggestions for about a week, now.

I had expected that by the time I sat down to write this post I would have already had my 45 minute phone call with her. However we were not able to schedule it until early next month.  So instead of sharing that discussion with you, let me share my list of questions (so far) which I plan to ask her:

  • Do you think I should change the name of the book?  Is the name boring, off-putting, or less enticing than it could be?
  • Did you see anything in the premise or early pages that would turn an agent off?
  • What advice can you give me on fixing the main character’s mom?
  • Would you categorize this book as Contemporary Fantasy or Magical Realism?
  • Should I mention in the query that I co-wrote this book with my 16yo daughter?  I’ve been told definitely yes, and definitely no.
  • Is the hint of romance too creepy? (She’s 12, he’s 15)
  • Are my comps* okay? What books would you recommend as possible comps?
  • Do I need more people of color?
  • Should I use fake names for real things — Carrie Mae Cosmetics instead of Mary Kay, for example?  Am I in trouble if I use real names and misrepresent them?

I may come up with more questions, and if I do I will share them, along with my editor’s answers, next week.  In the mean time, I have already made notes and scribbled ideas for solutions to several of the issues she raised, so I’ll talk about those, too.


* “Comps” is short to comparisons, which means the books — or movies, games or other pop-culture — you would compare your book to.  Such as: “TV’s Grimm for kids,” or “Alice in Wonderland meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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Last week I discussed the pros and cons of hiring a professional editor for your novel manuscript, and my personal experience in choosing one for myself.  This week I’ll show you what you can expect from different kinds of editing services.

The muses aligned or the planets favored us (or insert your own supernatural reason) and the same day we hired a professional editor for my daughter’s and my middle grade manuscript, we won a free first ten pages critique through a contest.  In this case, the critique came from a past winner of #PitchWars, who had a manuscript good enough to be chosen by a mentor and who then went through the intense revision process that is the hallmark of that event.  So while he is not strictly an editing professional, he is certainly an experienced one.  And, because it was through a contest and not a manuscript swap between peers, he was not looking for reciprocation the way a fellow writer in a critique group might. Because this critique only covered 10 total pages, the comments drilled down to word level.  This is the kind of critique you may get with a Copy Edit.  Below is a screen grab from the middle of those ten pages, with comments from my editor:

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In this case my editor requested the pages in a Word document, in proper manuscript format.  This works well, because the comments and edits can be tracked, as you see above. Others prefer the online Google Docs, which have similar tools, however with Google Docs, you can see the edits live as they come in, and respond with comments and questions of your own.  A third option, Dropbox, is the best of both worlds, as you can share a link to a Word document in your Dropbox, and your editor can open that same document in his or her Dropbox.  This arrangement also allows for instant gratification and back-and-forth.  I prefer the Dropbox method, because ultimately the manuscript is going to need to be in Word, and I don’t want to have to copy and reformat the whole thing if I don’t have to.  But any of these methods will get the job done.

For the professional edit I chose a developmental editor, because our manuscript was well polished from a grammar and spelling standpoint, and it had already been read by scores of beta readers and critique partners, so I was confident the vast majority of the typos were cleaned up.  Likewise, I felt confident that line-by-line issues, such as awkward transitions, confusing sentences, and inconsistencies had been resolved.  What I paid for was a Developmental Edit, which covers  plot, structure, character, pacing, dialogue, world-building and writing style, presented in an overall critique letter, rather than line-by-line or even chapter-by-chapter breakdowns.

I chose Write On Editing, for their experience, their age-group focus, and their reasonable price.  I was ultimately won over by their fast and friendly replies and willingness to answer questions.  In fact, before asking for a dime, Michelle invited us to send her the whole manuscript so she could read it and tell us which level of editing would be the best fit for us.  She recommended the least expensive option, and even worked with us on the price. Here are some of the comments we received after about two weeks:

Plot:

You have a wonderful story line in THE LAST PRINCESS…. (a full paragraph detailing the things that Michelle liked and what worked).

There are a few points that I feel you might want to address however.

Cat seems to immediately accept that she will become the next princess without too much internal examination or obsessing about what that means for her, her future, or her family. A bit more internal dialogue would help readers to connect with that new-found responsibility. Also, what is Cat expecting to actually do as a Princess? She makes vague statements about wanting to unify the fae but what does that actually entail?

Cat’s time at Squirrel Scout camp is so much fun! The pranks were pretty funny and it was a great way for her to meet Hunter and learn new skills too. That said, pranking usually goes both ways at camp. Can her group plot or even prank other groups in what they think is retaliation? I would imagine these girls would be speculating nonstop about who was messing with them, but that line of thought seems pretty non-existent.

World Building:

Much as I like the plot, I feel like this is one of the weakest areas in THE LAST PRINCESS. I honestly have no idea what time of year the story is taking place. At the start, Cat is working on home school projects but shortly afterwards she is going away to camp for a week. Is school just getting out before summer? Giving more details about the timing will help the reader to place themselves more firmly in the contexts of your character’s lives.

Another facet I wasn’t too sure on was the family’s booth at the Rockford Fair. While reading, I was distracted trying to figure out if it was located in a travelling or permanent fairground. I think it’s the latter, but if so, how does that work? Fairs typically last for a short period only. Consider changing it to a small shop in a tourist type town that might have a carnival aspect (I kept imaging Coney Island, to be honest). Think about what makes it unique or special and why people come to visit.

Character Development:

Cat’s Mom: One of my main concerns is the unevenness of this character. I like where she ends up, but I was quite confused with her character for most of the novel. Cat emphasizes the fact that her mom expects her to be “little miss perfect” by getting good grades and avoiding things like fairy tales but I didn’t see much beyond those two points. In fact, she has her join Squirrel Scouts which seems the opposite of being success-minded since they go hiking and get dirty etc. (unless you incorporate something how she thinks it will give her leadership skills or something). And it doesn’t really match with her actions either. I couldn’t understand how a mom who runs a booth selling flowers and pottery at a fair would be so preoccupied with perfection, as she seemed quite hippy-ish. You might be able to keep the details as is, but make the mom a bit more OCD regarding Cat’s activities. She already is concerned about school work but you could add in scenes of her carefully scheduling out Cat’s every minute between scouts, soccer, school, and helping with the shop, for example.

Michelle rounded out her critique letter with a number of random thoughts:

– How did Thomas get over the mumps so fast? Wouldn’t he be quite weak after leaving the hospital, yet their mother takes the family out to dinner that night.

– On p.77 Cat tells us why she thinks her family is more poor than usual. Instead of telling your reader all at once, could this be broken up and inserted in little snippets throughout so it gradually builds?

Finally, the editing package included a 45 minute Skype or phone conversation, where I can ask questions and get feedback on possible solutions to some of these issues.  To get the most out of this, I’ve started a list of questions to ask, and will continue to add to it right up until the scheduled time for our call.

Next week I’ll discuss how I plan to make the most out of these critiques, and how several of the comments led to ideas on how to fix the issues.

 

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In the past I have had many readers critique my children’s book manuscript.  Most of these have been fellow writers — either chapter-by-chapter in a critique group or as a whole by beta readers or critique partners.  Sprinkled in there were a handful of professional critiques won in contests, on just my query or the first few pages of my manuscript.

The difference between professional critiques and those by fellow writers sharing the trenches with you are important.  Fellow writers in groups or with whom you swap chapters or manuscripts are often motivated by the promise of receiving a critique in return.  The natural state of most writers is to want to receive feedback on their own writing rather than give feedback on someone else’s.  For most writers, giving feedback is the cost you pay to get feedback. Which means that most of the feedback you get from fellow writers could be tainted by the expectation of something in return.

Not so with an editor you pay.  An editor already knows they’re going to get paid before they begin reading.  They don’t have to impress you with how much they like your book to get something.  Editors don’t have an agenda. They’re professionals doing a job.

Also, finding a fellow writer who is willing to read and give detailed feedback on your entire manuscript is hard. Which means you’re often forced to settle for whoever offers. Which means you get a lot of readers who don’t really know your genre or your audience. If they don’t read books similar to yours, they’re not going to recognize the common tropes or get the jokes.  They won’t know when you’ve broken the standard conventions of the genre, or strayed too close to something already written.

Professional editors, however, are different.  They make their living by understanding the market.  In some cases, they specialize, in which case they know even more about the genres they represent.  Also, depending on the editor, you can pay for specific types of editorial services.  Typically, these include Proofreading, Copy Editing, and Developmental Editing.

  • PROOFREADING looks for formatting, spelling, and grammar issues, as well as typos and missing words, but does not usually focus on the big picture.
  • COPY EDITING focuses on awkward sentences, rough transitions, repetition and clarity.  Sometimes this type of editing will include fact-checking and overall consistency.
  • DEVELOPMENTAL EDITING includes overall feedback on plot, structure, character, pacing, dialogue, world-building and writing style, in an overall critique letter.  This type of editing will not catch typos or grammar mistakes.

Some editors may offer all of these or individual packages.  Which means that prices will vary.  Read the fine print.  There are editors for pretty much every price range.  I’ve gotten quotes from under $200 to close to $2,000.  With more expensive editors you usually get more of a commitment — more back-and-forth, multiple passes, all levels of editing. A relationship.  With the least expensive editors, you get a single pass, one type of editing.

As with any service you pay for, do your research.  Ask questions.  Look for testimonials (or complaints). Stalk them on Twitter. If they freelance, find out what their day job is.  Their level of experience.  If they are worth their salt, they will take a cursory look at your manuscript and consult with you before charging you a dime; tell if they are a good fit.

I did all of these things when I hired my editor.  Next week I’ll discuss the reasons I chose the editor I chose and how the consultation went.

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A common superstition among modern humans is that if two good things happen in rapid succession, a third is sure to follow.  Equally popular is the belief that this works for bad things, as well.

I’m going to focus on the good for today’s post.

For the better part of two years I have been convinced that I could never afford to purchase the services of a professional editor to improve my daughter’s and my middle grade manuscript to the point where an agent will fall in love with it.  It is certainly true that our family budget has no room for $600-$1,000 or more to be spent on what is, at this stage, only a hobby with no discernible future.  I have not purchased myself a new laptop to write on for the exact same reason.  And this fact is what has motivated us to doggedly enter as many Twitter pitch contests as we can, in the hopes that 1) we will gain some insight into the querying process, 2) network with agents, editors, and fellow writers, and 3) just maybe win a free session with a professional editor.  Over the course of the last two years we’ve gotten our fair share of #1 and #2, but so far the Twitter gods or the fates or the muses or whomever have neglected to kick down that #3 and fulfill the sacred trifecta.

And then the other day, in the regular course of Twitter writerly business, I got a new follower — an editorial service run by two professional editors who’s day jobs are editing manuscripts for a children’s book publisher.  They have a deal where they will do a full-manuscript developmental critique for under $200.  I gleefully sent our manuscript and the down payment. Finally, we’re getting a professional editor to read and critique our manuscript, and offer industry-savvy advice for making it sellable.

Okay, that’s One.

Then this afternoon I discovered that I had four Twitter notifications.  I occasionally get one or two in a week, when I tweet a link to this blog or participate in a contest.  But four at once is practically a riot.  It turns out we had won a contest I’d forgot I had even entered.  This one is called Mentees Helping Mentees (#menteeshelpingmentees), and consists of a group of past PitchWars winners offering to critique the query and first 10 pages of PitchWars 2017 hopefuls. We somehow made it into the tiny handful of Middle Grade entries chosen.  Which means that in the next couple of weeks we will receive detailed feedback and advice on how to fine-tune our submission package.

That makes Two.

I guess all there is to do now is wait and see what Three is going to turn out to be….