When You Know, You Know: Signing with an Agent

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of posts about the writing and editing process, as well as posts about publishing in general. But there’s one aspect of the writer’s journey I’ve yet to explore/talk about: the process of landing an agent. Since that’s outside my own experience as either an author or editor, I’ve invited A.M. Ruggirello to come share the story of how she successfully signed with her agent. So, without further ado — and buckets of congratulations — I give you Ms. Ruggirello.

When You Know, You Know

by A.M. Ruggirello

This post’s title can (surprisingly) apply to many facets of my life. For instance, I knew I wanted to marry my husband the moment I walked away from the table we both sat at, at a mutual friend’s wedding. I also knew my husband and I (yes, the same one from the wedding, now ten years later) were supposed to move into the house we stumbled upon one morning, and proceeded to purchase with an accepted offer that evening — and we weren’t even planning on moving anytime soon.

When you know, you know.

Nothing solidifies this phrase more than the experience I’ve had writing, querying, and eventually signing with my wonderful agent, Mandy Hubbard of Emerald City Literary Agency. If you’re reading this blog, you likely have a loose understanding of this publishing process, from drafting, to editing, to agents, and finally, publication — seeing your book on bookshelves. But because I have a lot of IRL family and friends who aren’t as familiar, here’s a little background:

After you draft a story, you go through multiple rounds of revisions based on critique partner (the people who see your story likely as you’re drafting) and beta reader (the people who see your story closer to completion) feedback. This is done before any agents or editors see your story.

Once you feel your manuscript is in submitting-shape, you create a query letter (one page explanation of you and your story) as well as a synopsis (one to three page summary of your story as a whole). These pieces are necessary when submitting to agents and/or publishers. (Also, for the sake of reminding, if you’re querying, you should focus on agents or publishers independently, not both at the same time. They are two very different routes to take your writing career, and you should determine which is the best fit/one you’d like to pursue before sending out a query.)

The process of querying agents (the route I took) takes time. Heck, most phases of publishing take time. I began my querying journey in November, after having been selected as a finalist in a writing competition called Pitch 2 Publication, where an editor (the blog host and great Kisa Whipkey!) worked with me and my manuscript to prepare it for an agent round at the end of the month. The agent round came and went, and no requests were made. But I continued querying, understanding that the end of the year + the beginning of the year are busy months for agents, and to keep my hopes and expectations in check. Months passed with rejection after rejection, the occasional full or partial manuscript request, and even more rejection.

But, when you know, you know . . . right?

Right.

That’s what all the blog posts and articles I read said, anyway. You want an agent and/or editor who’s as passionate and enthusiastic about your story as you are. Anything less isn’t worth your time. What’s the point of an agent or editor who isn’t? Sure, there may be the monetary motivation to sell your book, but a book can be a hard sell if those invested in it aren’t . . . well . . . fully invested.

As a querying author, that’s the last thing you think about though. All your mind can process is the line from point A to point B, from hitting “Send” on your email to receiving the response (positive or negative) from the agent/editor. All you want is someone to say “YES, I’ll take the chance on you.” But what you don’t realize until you’re in the thick of it is that you really should be searching for the agent/editor who gives your enthusiasm a run for its money. I’ll admit, never having been through the agent querying process before, I saw this as the elusive unicorn, only existing in fairy tale and folklore, not reality.

But then something even more magical than a unicorn came into my life. Or, rather, appeared as a notification in my inbox. After having received a few more rejections (a la Dan in Real Live: “Put it on my tab”), I decided to send out one more query. It was to the owner of a literary agency who also happened to be the author of eleven books (Holy catz! I later exclaimed during our initial phone call. I can’t believe I finished one book, let alone ELEVEN!!!! She laughed.). I felt it was a long shot. At this point in querying, when you’ve received more rejections than interest, everything seems like a long shot.

But I hit send, and it was off into the interwebs. Nothing more to do but wait . . .

Six minutes.

That’s right. It took six minutes for me to receive a full request off the query I had just sent. But that’s just a fluke, I thought. It’ll probably take a while to hear back from them.

It didn’t.

I sent my query on a Saturday morning — March 18th, 2017, to be exact. After a slew of exciting, but don’t-read-too-much-into-it tweets from Mandy, the agent in question, I received an email requesting a call. THE CALL. But . . . it had been less than twenty-four hours. That can’t be.

Except, when you know, you know.

Seriously.

Never having been in THE CALL situation before, I took the appropriate amount of time to freak out, try to research the questions to ask, and — most importantly — keep the bile rising in my throat in check. Don’t puke. Don’t puke. PLEASE don’t puke.

Thankfully, I didn’t puke. And the call with Mandy went above and beyond expectation. But there’s a process to follow once you’ve been offered representation. Even if you know they’re the agent you want to sign with. And, as we’ve already established, when you know, you totally, abso-freaking-lutely know. Except you can’t say it just yet. Because: professional courtesy. So you do the dance. You inform all the agents you’ve queried that you’ve received an offer of representation to see if they’d be interested in countering. You have to. It’s the nature of the business. Believe me, I wanted to scream yes, yes, YES! from the mountaintops after talking with Mandy.

Because when I knew, I knew.

But I did the dance. I waited a week, receiving interest from other agents along the way. Here’s the thing, though. Yes, it’s exciting to get THE CALL and then THE OFFER. It’s a feeling I’ve never experienced before in my life. But there’s something that made it even more special, and that’s that it came from Mandy. Over the weekend, as I was traveling to visit family, I continued to stalk her Twitter feed (sorry, Mandy!). And she continued to tweet about my story. A lot. With the same enthusiasm and anticipation I’d had while drafting and querying my story. It felt like kismet, like it was meant to be. I’ve said it already, so you know what’s coming: when you know, you know.

And then it was Monday. The letter accepting representation was drafted. I’d received a few preliminary edit suggestions from Mandy, which further solidified my decision, and then I hit send. Better yet, I hit send with at least one GIF included in the email. (I say at least because there may have been two, and at this point everything’s a blur to me.) She responded, and in her email . . . there were GIFs. Yes, multiple, this I remember for sure.

I know I’ve been saying it a lot, but—c’mon. WHEN YOU KNOW, YOU KNOW.

As a querying author, there’s a fine line we walk in searching for representation and finding someone who will do our stories justice. You don’t want to say YES just because they’ve said YES. There were others who were interested in my story, but I can assure you that no one shared the same love and enthusiasm for it quite like Mandy. I couldn’t imagine myself with another agent. And that should be the primary goal in finding an agent. Yes, you look at their history, credentials, sales, etc . . . but does any of it really matter if they aren’t the biggest champion of your story?

That’s why, looking back on the experience, I wish I could tell myself the one thing I knew all along: when you know . . . well, you just know.

Featured From the Archives: How to Write Martial Art Fight Scenes — Boise Bookfest Edition

In just a few short weeks (three to be exact), I’ll be attending the Boise Book Fest in Boise, Idaho. It’s going to be a lot of fun, featuring panels and workshops from several big-name authors in the industry and filled with tons of new books to check out and have signed by their gifted creators. If you’re in the Boise region, or willing to travel for a fun day of bookish geekery, I highly recommend attending.

But that’s only partially what today’s post is about. See, I’ll be doing a presentation there as well — on how to write fight scenes. Some of you may recall the post below, which I wrote a couple years ago. It’s still continually among my top searched articles, so I know it’s still a topic of interest to many out there. Which is why I pitched doing the live version when author Clara Stone approached me about presenting in Boise. But in order to do so, I’m going to need some volunteers. The best way I can think to showcase how to write/improve a fight scene is by providing actual examples.

So here’s my proposition: I’m going to open up a new feature of this blog, similar to the critique based entries I’ve seen others do. Willing writers can submit their fight scene, and then I’ll provide a published critique with suggestions for how to improve it. For now, I’m thinking I’ll do this once a month, unless it garners enough interest to make it a regular, weekly posting. My hope is that there are those among you who are brave enough to take me up on this offer. I’ve seen other blogs do this with the first 250 words, queries, or even the first 5 pages of a manuscript, so why not do it with a fight scene? Yes?

If you’d like to throw your name in the hat for the first feature, which I’ll post on Oct. 7th, please contact me. Please note that by submitting your fight scene, you’ll be agreeing to allow me to post both the original excerpt and my suggestions on this blog, and subsequently, any presentations that are derived from the material here. I hope you’ll take advantage of this free opportunity to gain some valuable editorial feedback, but in the meantime, here’s a reprise of my original article on . . .

How to Write a Martial Arts Fight Scenes

by Kisa Whipkey

(Originally Posted 8/9/13)

Fight scenes. Whether live action or written, they can be such a pain to pull off, falling all too easily into the realm of cheesy. You know the ones I mean; we’ve all seen and read them — fight scenes where the creator was more focused on what looks cool and/or badass, and less so on believability.

Recently, I sent a frustrated plea to the Twitterverse, begging authors to do their research before including the martial arts in their fights. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until after I sent that plea that the light bulb appeared and I realized that I’m in a unique position to help my fellow authors. As a martial artist, a writer, and an editor, I have insight that could help authors overcome the hurdle of fight scenes. So today, I’m going to use that background to dissect a written fight scene and hopefully illustrate how to effectively incorporate martial arts techniques. About time, right?

First, let’s take a look at what you don’t want to do.

_________

Charlie grunted as his back slammed into the wall, his opponent’s hands wrapped thoroughly around his throat. He struggled, trying to kick his opponent in the groin but only managing to connect with the man’s shin. The attacker snarled, loosening his hold on Charlie’s neck. Without pausing, Charlie threw his left arm between them, turning to the side and trapping the attacker’s arm against his own chest before elbowing the man in the face.

The attacker stumbled backwards, grasping at his bleeding nose. Charlie didn’t wait. He had the upper-hand. He advanced toward his opponent, his hands raised to guard his face, his body relaxed into a sparring stance. The attacker glared up at him, straightening into a matching stance.

With a yell, Charlie threw a round-kick at the attacker’s head. His opponent ducked, sliding between Charlie’s legs on his knees and jumping to his feet with a swift kick to Charlie’s back. Charlie stumbled forward, turning to face his attacker before he was struck again and instantly ducked the knife hand strike aimed at his head. Charlie responded with a flurry of punches, varying his target from the man’s head to his torso and back again. The man blocked most, but a few landed, knocking the attacker from his feet.

Charlie stood over him for a split second before finishing him off with a well-placed axe kick to the sternum. As the attacker rolled on the ground, sputtering, Charlie ran for the safety of a nearby cafe.

_________

Now, that’s shockingly not as bad as some I’ve seen, although it’s sure not going to win me a Pulitzer either. Some of you may even think this is an all right fight scene, aside from the obvious grammatical flaws that could be fixed with a few more drafts. But this is the example of what not to do, remember? So let’s figure out why.

Did you notice that I gave you very little about why this fight is happening, or where? I didn’t even give you the attacker’s name! But I did tell you in agonizing detail the techniques they’re using and where the blows land, placing all the emphasis on the choreography, and none at all on the characters or motivation behind this moment. The result? A laundry list of steps you could re-enact, but that you feel not at all.

That’s because this approach is all telling. That’s right, the infamous telling vs. showing debate. I tell you exactly what’s happening, but I don’t show it at all. You don’t feel invested in Charlie’s situation. You don’t feel the emotions. You feel excited, sure, because it’s action, and even poorly written action is exciting. But it has no lasting impact on you, does it? This scene is about as forgettable as they come.

It’s also unrealistic. Who out there noticed the completely implausible choreography I threw in? I know the martial artists in the audience did, because it screams “cool factor,” its entire existence a nod to something awesome and badass, but that, in reality, is actually physically impossible.

If you guessed the knee slide under Charlie’s legs, you’d be correct. Bravo! You get a cookie.

This is why it’s important to understand the dynamics of a fight, the kinesiology behind the techniques, not just the choreography. Those who have done a round kick know that while performing it, you balance on one leg, your body positioned so that your center of gravity is entirely over that back leg. If someone were to try and go through your legs the way I described, they would take out your supporting leg and you’d both end up in a flailing pile of limbs.

And then there’s the knee slide itself. If you read it closely, you realized the attacker is standing still. Where’d he get the momentum for a knee slide? Unless they’re fighting on a slick, hardwood floor that’s just been mopped, he would need a running start. I don’t know about you, but if I tried to drop to my knees to slide anywhere, I’d be sitting on the floor looking like an idiot just asking to get kicked in the face. It’s just not believable.

So let’s try that scene again, this time, fixing all those things I called out.

_________

Charlie grunted as his back slammed into the wall, Eric’s hands wrapped around his throat. Hate emanated from his friend’s narrowed eyes, mixed with judgment and accusation. Charlie gasped, choking as Eric’s fingers cut off his air.

His mind screamed at him, desperate to know why it was being punished. His lungs burned, gasping, sucking in nothing but fear. The edges of his vision started to grow fuzzy as black dots appeared over Eric’s shoulder, distorting the red glow of the club’s EXIT sign like reverse chickenpox. Panic flooded his veins with adrenaline. He struggled, clawing at the fingers sealed around his throat. He tried to kick Eric in the groin, but only managed to connect with his shin, the impact ricocheting painfully through his foot.

Eric snarled, loosening his hold and giving Charlie the opening he needed. Charlie threw his left arm between them, turning to the side and trapping Eric’s arm against his chest before elbowing his best friend in the face.

Eric stumbled backward, grasping at his bleeding nose. Charlie didn’t wait. He advanced toward his opponent, his hands raised to guard his face, his body relaxing into the sparring stance he’d practiced for years — knees bent, weight forward on the balls of his feet, head lowered. Eric glared up at him, straightening into a matching stance. Their eyes locked. It was just like old times, only now, there was no one to referee the match, to stop it before it went too far.

All of this for a girl. Charlie knew it was ridiculous, that he should walk away, but fury mixed with adrenaline, coursing through him in a pulsing heat. If Eric wanted a fight, that’s what he’d get.

With a yell, Charlie threw a kick at Eric’s head. Eric ducked, sliding easily into a leg-sweep, knocking Charlie’s support from under him. The ground smashed into Charlie’s back, forcing the air from his lungs in a rushing wheeze. He rolled backward to his feet, still fighting against the tightness in his chest. Eric closed in on him, pushing his advantage, arms and legs flying. Charlie blocked as many of the blows as he could, his arms jarring in their sockets every time he did, his ribs and face blossoming with pain every time he didn’t. He stumbled back through the shadows of the alley until he was once again cornered.  Cringing, he held his hands up in surrender. Eric backed off, eyeing him warily as he spit blood onto the darkened pavement.

Charlie’s knuckles were bleeding, his ribs bruised, his lip split into an oozing gash. It was time to end this.

“All right, I give,” he said,  the words raspy and pained as he forced his battered throat to work. “I’ll never go near your sister again.”

_________

Still not the most epic writing sample, but you see the difference, I hope? Now, we not only know who Charlie’s fighting, but why. I’ve also fixed the choreography so that it’s believable, and added emotional content and description, putting the focus on the characters instead of the martial arts. No one cares about the techniques, but they care a lot about how those techniques feel, the emotion behind the action. Understanding that is the difference between creating a scene from a clinical distance and creating a deeper POV that will resonate with readers.

So, how can you take your fight scenes from flat to amazing? Easy, just remember these three things:

  1. Show, don’t tell. The techniques themselves are not important, the emotion is. Only use a technique name if there’s a reason we need to know the exact kick, etc.
  2. Believability is king. Never throw something in just because it sounds awesome. Make sure it’s actually physically possible and makes sense with the choreography and your world.
  3. When stumped, ask an expert. If you’re at a loss, find someone familiar with the martial arts and ask. Don’t just rely on Google and Youtube. They won’t give you the insight personal experience can.

That’s really all there is to it. But if you’d like to see if your fight scene hits these markers, feel free to take advantage of the offer I mentioned above. 😉

Featured From the Archives: The Difference Between Editing & Ghostwriting

Apologies for the abrupt and unexpected hiatus of the past couple weeks. Between illness and back-to-back deadlines, I sort of lost all concept of time for a bit there. But, as you can see, I’m back. Which means I also have new things to say. (Well, in theory, anyway.)

Coming off the heels of the guest post I wrote about the differences between editors, critique partners, and beta readers seems like the perfect time to pull this out of the archives, blow off the dust, give it a few tweaks, and expand on your vocabulary of book-doctor specialties. So, without further ado, I give you the encore presentation of . . .

The Difference Between Editing & Ghostwriting

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 3/22/13

I’m sure the more astute of you already know that I moonlight as a freelance editor (there’s a handy little tab at the top of the page that will tell you all about it if you somehow managed to miss it), as well as working on the editorial staff at REUTS Publications. But I’ve also been known to work as a ghostwriter (very infrequently; it’s not really my cup of tea). This week had me doing both. And it got me thinking about the differences between the two; how they can often be confused by those outside the literary world. So, in the interest of clarity, I’m going to take a moment to break each of them down, starting with editing.

There are three types of editing a freelance editor (or an editorial staff) will perform:

  • Developmental Editing: This deals with the underlying structure of a piece, focusing on things like flow, POV, character consistency, and plot. Sometimes called Substantive or Structural Editing, it’s usually the first part of the process, as there’s no point in fine-tuning a scene that will just get cut later on. Developmental Editors have a firm understanding of storytelling basics and can rearrange a work like pieces in a puzzle, requiring dramatic changes that will ultimately make the story stronger. It’s the part that most feels like honing a diamond from a rough piece of rock and is my favorite style of editing. (2015 addition: The key thing that makes this different from ghostwriting is that it requires at least a base of story to work with — a first draft, an outline, something the author has already put on the page.)
  • Line Editing: The second stage of the process, line editing dissects individual sentences, working on tightening the prose and overall smoothing, as well as things like spelling and grammar. Similar to the layered approach of painting and sculpture, line editing builds on the foundation developmental editing provides, focusing on the details rather than the work at large. This can be extremely painful for people that dislike dealing with minutiae, but it’s an important step in creating the final outcome.
  • Proofreading: Generally the last stage of the process, proofreading gives a manuscript a final pass, looking for any typos, misspelled words, or wonky punctuation that might have slipped through the cracks. There should be relatively few revisions made in this stage, and often, the proofreader will simply make the necessary changes without requiring the author to step in. Proofreaders are the last defense before a manuscript heads to the printer, so it’s a good idea to have them be a fresh set of eyes from the prior stages.

You’ll notice that none of those definitions included rewriting. That’s because it’s not the editor’s job to actually fix the problems. This is where the confusion kicks in. It’s a common misconception that editors help with the actual writing. But editing isn’t that kind of hands-on, instant fix. In fact, most editors won’t even look at a piece that hasn’t already been completed and polished to a high standard. (2015 addition: Except for developmental editors, that is, whose job is often comprised of brainstorming advice and other coaching.)

An editor is like a personal trainer for words. And just like a personal trainer can’t lose weight for their client, an editor can’t rewrite a manuscript for their author. The author does all the heavy-lifting in the relationship, working out the kinks and fixing the rough spots under the editor’s guidance and moral support (even though it can feel like the complete opposite when you get your manuscript back covered in red “delete” suggestions). When they do their job well, the end result is like the movie-star version of the original work, but it’s the author that actually gets it there.

So who, then, helps the people that can’t quite articulate their brilliant idea into words on a page?

Ghostwriters.

Ghostwriting and editing are two completely different things. Editors are passive observers, guiding the author from the sidelines, while ghostwriters are active, aggressively transforming the author’s loose, un-articulated thoughts into a commercial literary product. Unlike editors, a ghostwriter’s job is to actually write the manuscript. To take the vision, voice, and generalized, messy thoughts of the author and actually write in their stead. In short, ghostwriting is hard. Which is why I only do it on very rare occasions, and why you won’t see it listed in the services I offer.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some small similarities between the two, though. For instance, both require the ability to see past a rough exterior to the heart of the story, to be able to understand the final vision for the piece and the best way to present that to the world. They both require a firm grasp of language and storytelling (although ghostwriting mostly happens in the non-fiction world), as well as a keen understanding of voice, so that the final product sounds like the original author, not the ghostwriter/editor.

They both have their place, but editing is more akin to reading with annotations, while ghostwriting involves the more rigorous creative process of actually putting words on paper, complete with stipulations and expectations attached. They both require someone well-versed in the craft of writing, but rarely will you find someone who likes to do both. Just like writers have preferences when it comes to style and genre, those on the book-doctoring side of the fence have preferences on the types of surgery they like to perform. So before you ask for help, make sure you’re asking the right person. If your manuscript is finished and you just need polishing, you’re looking for an editor. If you have a brilliant idea but something just isn’t quite clicking, you’re looking for an editor. But if you need help actually constructing your manuscript, as in literally writing the words, you might actually be better off looking for a ghostwriter to collaborate with. Knowing the difference will save you a lot of headaches.

The Writing Process Blog Hop

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.

Image of Author Elsie Elmore

Elsie Elmore

Elsie’s Bio:

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.

 

The Questions:

 
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!
 

Author Photo of Sarah La Fleur

Sarah LaFleur

Sarah LaFleur:
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.
 
Website: http://lafleurdeplume.com
 
Twitter: @lafleurdeplume
 
Facebook: http://facebook.com/lafleurdeplume
 

Author Photo of T.A. Brock

T.A. Brock

T.A. Brock:

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
 

Author Photo of Jamie Ayers

Jamie Ayers

Jamie Ayers:

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.

Freelance Editing: What You’re Actually Paying For

The following is a guest post by fellow freelance editor Cait Spivey. Cait contacted me after my post on what it takes to be an editor, asking for my input on the topic below. Realizing how important her subject really is, I asked her to come and share it with all of you. So, without further ado, I’ll turn you over to Cait and her fantastic post on what you’re actually paying for when you hire a freelance editor.

Take it away, Cait!

 

Freelance Editing: What You’re Actually Paying For

 

By Cait Spivey

 
With self-publishing on the rise, more and more freelance editors are offering their services. Along with this increase, the internet has provided plenty of articles on how to find a good freelance editor, why you need one, why you don’t need one, what to do if things go badly, etc.

In the comments on those articles, there’s almost always someone who asks why freelance editors charge so much. Many editors charge a flat rate per word or page–for example, Bear and Black Dog, my company, charges $6/pg for a single editor working on a full manuscript edit. It can add up quickly, and writers often balk at the $1500+ price tag. (The Editorial Freelancer’s Association has a page detailing average rates for various levels of service, emphasizing that these are a rough guideline.)

That’s fair — it’s quite a bit of money. In having this discussion, though, I’m reminded of graphics that make the round of the internet from time to time with headers like:
 

PHOTOGRAPHERS
What you think you’re paying for v. What you’re actually paying for

 
You’ve seen them. They typically have two columns. The one on the left has one line with the bare minimum of the job (whether photographer, event musician, etc) and the one on the right goes into more detail.

I figured it was about time we went into a little more detail about why freelance editors charge what they charge, so I put my head together with some of my editor friends and came up with this list.
 

What you think you’re paying for:

 
Someone to read your manuscript and provide feedback
 

What you’re actually paying for:

 

Time spent on the manuscript itself

 
Yes, we do read your manuscript and provide feedback, but it’s not as simple as all that. As Kisa Whipkey, freelancer and Editorial Director at REUTS Publications, said in her post What it Takes to be an Editor: it’s not just about fixing grammar. Nor is it just providing reactions to the story, the way a beta reader does.

An editor’s job is to see the story both as a series of components and as a whole organism. We’re basically mad scientists, optimizing the whole by tinkering with the parts. This requires hours of reading, and re-reading, and absorbing, and experimenting. And it is all on a case-by-case basis. Yes, there are problems we see a lot and we do have skeleton solutions ready — but we fill those in with your characters, your story, your world, your goals.

As my business partner Ash says: “How long did you spend writing your book? How easy do you think it is to take that work apart and improve it?”

Every editing project has its own challenges, and the kind of dedicated, personal attention good editors provide takes time, often quite a lot. It can also be as draining as writing a book. Editing is neither robotic nor formulaic.
 

Time spent on you

 
We know some comments can be hard to hear. Believe me, we are incredibly aware. Most editors are interested in helping writers improve, which means that we spend a lot of time crafting comments that explain why we changed what we did or why we think such and such needs to go. We also strive to give those critiques in a friendly and helpful tone, and balance criticism with praise.

Some editors take a more tough-love approach than others. It’s important to find an editor whose critique style you’re comfortable with, whether you don’t mind harsher comments or whether sarcasm in an edit letter is not your thing at all. Many editors can adapt their tone to your preference if you let them know which end of the spectrum you’re on — doing so is all part of the time spent on you as a valued client.

Editors want to form relationships with their clients, because trust makes it a lot easier to work together on a manuscript. For those clients who are self-publishing, we hope to form the kind of bond that traditionally published authors often experience with their in-house editors, and facilitate a long-term working arrangement.
 

Time and money for undergrad or graduate training

 
Like most professionals these days, we went to college, and like most former college students, we spent — and are still paying back — a lot of money to do it. A lot of people assume college is a given expense these days, but let us not forget that it’s meant to be an investment, and one that will eventually be returned in wages, and then fed back into the economy as spending dollars. That cycle gets broken without a living wage, in any line of work.
 

Time and money spent on books, conferences, and further education

 
But education doesn’t end with academia. Our job is dependent on our knowledge of literary trends and we can’t do our job well if we stick our heads in the same old sand. We buy new books on writing techniques (we write new books on writing techniques), we attend conferences and connect with our colleagues, with agents, with booksellers and with writers. We take classes to expand and hone our skill set.

All that costs money.
 

Time watching the market and identifying trends

 

Market trends (i.e. what books are selling) are as important as style trends for an editor. If your goal is to self-publish, we need to be aware of where your book sits on the proverbial shelf and what company it’s in. If your goal is traditional publishing, where agents and acquisitions editors look for originality with extreme prejudice, we need to be able to help your book stand out from recent sales and best sellers.

This means subscriptions to Publisher’s Weekly and Publisher’s Marketplace. It also means tons of time devoted to reading new releases. There’s a reason editors tend to specialize in genres or categories. There’s not enough time in the world for us to be well-versed in the market of every genre or category.
 

Business Costs

 
This includes maintaining a website and paid advertising, as well as time spent marketing and networking. It also includes promotional materials, such as the free first five pages critiques my company gives away on Twitter every month. Then there’s the cost of professional memberships with organizations like the Editorial Freelancer’s Association.

On top of all of that: taxes. A substantial amount of freelance revenue goes back in taxes, since we’re responsible for tracking and paying them ourselves as opposed to having an employer handle it.
 

Equipment

 
We often don’t think of computers or software as professional equipment, but for many people, they are. The laptop I’m working on right now is nearly five years old, ancient as far as computers are concerned. If it craps out, I need to be able to go and purchase a replacement immediately, because my job depends on it.

Microsoft Word, used by most writers, is also not free despite its ubiquity.
 

The cost of living

 
My company is still less than a year old, which means that the majority of our fees go straight back into the business account to build our presence and cover those business costs I mentioned. But, eventually it will contribute meaningfully to my household income.

– – – – –

Here’s a break-down for an example job to illustrate how the high payment might be spread across all the factors I’ve just outlined.

Time spent on a manuscript can vary quite a lot depending on many factors, but for simplicity’s sake we’ll use averages. I average about six pages per hour on a manuscript. So if you have a 300 page book, that takes me about fifty hours. If you pay me $1800, that’s about $36 dollars an hour (gross, meaning before taxes).

But: I only spend two, maybe three hours a day sitting down working on a manuscript. The rest of my day is devoted to blog posts, marketing, communication and networking, market research, etc. My wage for those things comes out of the payment I receive for editing. My $70 bucks for two hours of editing is my wage for an eight hour work day (often longer), so it ends up being a lot closer to $9/hr. 

Don’t let the lump sum fool you — for the most part, freelance editors are hardly swimming in profits.

If you’re interested in a freelance editor’s services but can’t afford a full edit, don’t think that’s the end of it! I can only speak for myself and my company on this matter, but Bear and Black Dog is always very happy to work with writers on staggered payment schedules. As freelancers, we are incredibly flexible in this way.

**Note from Kisa: I, too, am willing to work with writers on staggered payment schedules. So never be afraid to ask if the lump sum is more than you can manage. 😉 **

– – – – –

Photo of Freelance Editor Cait Spivey Cait Spivey is an editor with Curiosity Quills Press and managing member of Bear and Black Dog Editing, LLC. As an editor, Cait pulls from her lifelong experience loving books to bring forth the best elements of every story in a way that grabs the reader and doesn’t let go. She wants to help books tug heartstrings. She wants to help books become heirlooms. She wants to help books get quoted on Tumblr. Contact her through her website or her Twitter @CaitSpivey.