This week, I was invited by the lovely Elsie Elmore to participate in the Writing Process Blog Hop. Normally, this hop is aimed at writers, giving each an opportunity to swap notes on how and why they work the way they do. But Elsie and I thought it might be nice to take advantage of my editorial insight and provide a look at the process from an editor’s perspective. So we’ve modified the questions slightly in the hopes that my opinions will help those of you currently revising and/or querying for publication.
But first, let’s say hello to the sponsor of this post, Elsie. Without her, I wouldn’t have even known this was happening. So be sure to give her a shout out and check out her hop post from last week: Sharing the Writing Process.
Outside the city limits on a small patch of North Carolina land, Elsie Elmore lives with her husband, two kids, and two dogs.
She’s a science nerd with creative tendencies. And the stories she writes come to her from life’s experiences after her mind has warped them almost beyond recognition. Her first YA PNR romance is due out this year from Curiosity Quills.
What are you working on?
Honestly? Too many things to list. If I were to talk about each one, we’d be here for eons!
The life of an editor is never calm, orderly, or filled with hours of blissful reading. (I just wrote a post about this, actually.) Neither are we typically allowed to reveal what we’re actually working on. But, I can tell you that I recently finished work on the newest release from REUTS Publications: Dracian Legacy. It’s coming out Feb. 25th and is currently available for preorder. 😉
I also have several more titles I’m working on for REUTS, as well as a few freelance projects. To give you an idea of just how busy I am, my calendar is filled with deadlines all the way to the end of December, and I’ve even got a few scheduled for the beginning of 2015! But that’s all I can say. For information on exactly which titles I’ve had my sticky little fingers in, you’ll have to check back. I’ll post an announcement about each under my From the Editor’s Desk series.
But that’s only what I’m doing as an editor. I’m also a writer. (And part superwoman, if you couldn’t tell. ;)) As with editing, I’m never one to commit to a single project. But, for the sake of keeping this relatively short, I’ll only talk about one — Unmoving. It’s an urban fantasy containing shades of Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Inception, and A Christmas Carol. Strange combination, right? Here’s the “official” blurb:
Derek Richards renounced his humanity after losing the woman he loved in a horrific car accident. Like flipping a switch, he turned off his non-cynical emotions –- including compassion and empathy –- and closed himself off from the world. But, three years later, his callous disregard has finally caught up to him.
After watching his current fling angrily storm out, he meanders through the streets of Portland to his favorite spot –- a park bench by the river. His peace and quiet is interrupted by a homeless woman, and he quickly finds himself entangled in a confrontation where money isn’t the only change at stake.
Now, literally turned to stone, he realizes karma’s giving him a second chance. Like Ebeneezer Scrooge minus the helpful ghosts, he has to relive all his bad decisions –- every selfish, incorrect choice he’s ever made –- and reevaluate his life. If he can’t find a way to redeem himself, he’ll spend eternity as a statue. But after what he’s done, maybe he deserves it.
Interested? I’ve done something a little crazy and made Unmoving available as a serial subscription, while it’s being written. What am I talking about? Click here for the full details.
What helps a writer’s work stand out from others in their genre?
Okay, back to editing mode. (Could I have stuck any more sales plugs into that previous section? Jeez!)
This is a hard one to quantify, since there are several ways a manuscript can catch my eye. But, I suppose, I would have to say that the fastest way to hook an editor is to bring something fresh to the table. Nothing is original, not in its entirety, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be unique. The thing about storytelling is that it revolves less around finding a plot no one has told before, and more around how you tell it. Even the most well-known, tired plots can be infused with something different and intriguing — the writer’s voice.
It can be as simple as a unique gift for unusual analogies, or it can be as grandiose as throwing a twist on a familiar concept that we didn’t see coming. But — and here’s the important part, writers — it has to be uniquely, authentically you.
A lot of times, people will hear this kind of advice and work too hard to craft what they think qualifies, resulting in a contrived, artificial style that editors see right through. We don’t want you to tell us the story you think we want to hear, we want you to tell us the story the way you think it should be told. It’s that subtle variance in perception that will make a work stand out, at least for me. None of us live exactly the same lives, so infuse your work with your own personal set of experiences, ideals, and outlooks, and it’ll ring true, rising above the others even in genres that are heavily saturated.
(As a small side note, it is true what they say about trying to follow the trends. While I would never discourage anyone from telling the story they want to tell, they should be aware that if they choose to write about a subject that’s over-saturated — e.g. vampires, zombies, demons — it will increase the difficulty of finding publication. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. 😉 )
What makes you fall in love with a concept or ms?
Hmmm . . . another hard one. This is a highly subjective question, so take what I’m about to say as the opinion of just little ole me. Other editors will have widely varying thoughts on this.
Contrary to what you may think, I don’t look for professional-grade polish. That’s my job, so why would I expect you to have already done it? (Note: most other editors do want this. So I’m definitely odd in this respect.) I look for potential. How do I define that? Well, part of it stems from my personal reading preferences, part of it comes from what I think the market would gravitate toward, and part of it is an assessment of the core message underneath the story.
So when I read a query, I’m not looking at how perfectly you wrote your hook, or how solid your synopsis is, or even if your first 5 pages are grammatically flawless. (That never happens, by the way.) I’m looking at what your story is really about. Things like whether or not the overall plot is intriguing, the character’s voice, and the underlying emotional context your tale is promising to deliver. As a structural (a.k.a. developmental or conceptual) editor, my gift is stripping away all the surface layers and understanding the core of a work. If that core message is engaging, chances are good I’ll overlook any other flaws, because, like I said, those are my job to fix anyway.
If you were looking for more of a bullet-type list, these are things I typically respond well to:
- Strong MC voice (especially snarky ones)
- Well-developed and unique world/culture/setting that I haven’t seen before (mostly pertains to speculative fiction genres)
- A clearly defined message (What are you trying to say through this story? Every story has a message, whether you intended it or not–what’s yours?)
- An engaging plot that speaks to my sense of entertainment
- That spark of authenticity I mentioned in the above question’s answer 😉
What is the biggest editing tip you could offer that could help writers?
Believability and authenticity are king. Regardless of genre. Nothing kills a manuscript faster, in my eyes, than underdeveloped worlds or characters, lack of authentic details, and unbelievable motivations or actions. Storytelling is about emotional resonance. We need to connect with the characters, to live vicariously through them in this world you’ve created. And to do that, it needs to feel authentic and real. Often times, writers forget this fact, going for what I call “cool factor points”. Meaning they throw in far-fetched things that could never possibly happen, and then don’t even try to explain them. Obviously, I’m a fan of fantasy, so I’m definitely not saying that you shouldn’t push the boundaries of reality, just make sure that it feels like it truly could exist that way.
I’ve written quite a couple posts about these subjects, so instead of rambling on for days, I’ll just give you the links. Peruse if you wish. 😉
The second piece of advice I’d give is to divorce your words. This is one that will make going through the process of publication so much easier — on everyone. Often, writers submit their work under the illusion it’s perfect. I mean, why wouldn’t they? They slaved and slaved and slaved, and then slaved some more. But the reality is, a manuscript is never perfect when it lands on an editor’s desk. That’s why we exist. To help you achieve that next level, to provide an objective, expert eye. Can you guess what that means? Yep. We tear your precious, “perfect” baby to pieces and then stitch it back up again.
Now, what do you think happens when an author who’s married to every single word of their manuscript comes face to face with the brutal editing process? Yeah. It’s not pretty. So save yourself some trouble, learn how to detach yourselves from your words, and go into the querying process knowing full well that that “perfect” draft you submit is really just one more revision waiting to happen. Oh, and trust that your editor knows what they’re doing. I swear, we’re really not trying to hurt you on purpose. 😉
I did a longer version of this here: Divorce Your Words; Save Your Story.
That brings my portion of the blog hop to a close. I hope some of what I’ve said is helpful. I am always willing to answer questions, so if you have one about editing, indie publishing, or writing in general, please feel free to contact me. I promise I don’t bite. Most of the time. 😉
My part may be done, but the blog hop is far from over. Head on over to the blogs below and see what others have to say about the writing process. Take it away, ladies!
Until December 2012, Sarah LaFleur was a working pianist and teacher. In the midst of a career change, she started writing a story. Less than 17 weeks later she completed her first full-length novel currently being shopped around for traditional publication.
Who Is Evelyn Dae? was born when Sarah decided to launch her writing persona (lafleurdeplume) on social media. By early September 2013, she connected with a wonderful community of writers and readers who convinced her to publish the website story as an eBook.
Sarah continues to write, and has several projects in the works including a sequel to her first novel, an adult science fiction book that stands alone, and multiple guest blog spots. She lives in the greater Chicago metropolitan area with her children, husband, cats, and piano.
T.A. Brock spends her days gleefully plucking words from the chaos of life and dressing them up so they look pretty. Then she calls them stories and tries to convince people to read them. She resides in the great land of tornadoes (Oklahoma) with her husband, two children, and her beloved Kuerig machine.
You can catch her on Twitter @TA_Brock or visit her blog ta-brock.blogspot.com
Jamie Ayres writes young adult paranormal love stories by night and teaches young adults as a Language Arts middle school teacher by day. When not at home on her laptop or at school, she can often be found at a local book store grabbing random children and reading to them. So far, she has not been arrested for this. Although she spent her youthful summers around Lake Michigan, she now lives in Florida with her prince charming, two children (sometimes three based on how Mr. Ayres is acting), and a basset hound. She really does have grandmothers named Olga and Gay but unlike her heroine, she’s thankfully not named after either one of them. She loves lazy pajama days, the first page of a good book, stupid funny movies, and sharing stories with fantastic people like you. Her books include the first two installments of her trilogy, 18 Things and 18 Truths. Visit her online via Twitter, Facebook, or at www.jamieayres.com.