From the Editor’s Desk: The Night Girl by James Bow

Well, hey, look at that. I managed to do a second post before two years had passed this time. I did tell you I’d try to be back more often. Huzzah!

Much like the last one, this one features a cover reveal / mini-book review of a title I’ve had the privilege to help find its way down the long, winding halls of the publishing pipeline. As a reminder, this series contains my own, non-compensated and purely voluntary insights into what it is I loved about this project, both as an acquisitions editor and as a reader. We good? Good.

First, check out this fun cover designed, as ever, by the talented Ashley Ruggirello:

The official back cover copy is still being finalized, so for now, it’ll have to remain a mystery. But if you’re super intrigued (as well you should be), I’d suggest heading on over to the author’s website, where he’s posted a press release that will certainly give you a taste of what to expect from this quirky, yet surprisingly resonant and timely novel.

Bow makes a great point in his afterword (which you’ll all get to read, if you’re so inclined, in just a few short days, as this one’s springing onto shelves this coming Tuesday, September 10th), that his hometown of Toronto is every bit deserving as a setting as the more prolific Los Angeles, London, or New York. But to say this novel is Toronto-centric would be a disservice to what Bow has masterfully created. One of the hallmarks of great urban fantasy is, of course, it’s setting, but I’ve never read one where the city itself was so much a presence in the tale as to almost become the MC itself. Bow’s love for the town he grew up in is obvious, as Toronto breathes, hulking and massive and ever present, on the page. It’s honestly one of the things I loved best; you literally could not tell this story set someplace else.

Sure, some of the plot points could be universally applied to any urban backdrop, but there’s something magic in the way Bow has crafted the setting that makes it feel intrinsic to the tale of Perpetua Collins and the paranormal underbelly of a town humans take for granted. But while Perpetua’s story deals with a lot of heavy, timely themes, there’s something almost . . . innocent in the way in which it’s told. This is very much the modern equivalent of a fairy tale. I hesitate to say it has an almost Disney-esque sparkle, because many of you will consider it a detriment, but there’s something about it that keeps drawing me back to that comparison. I could easily see this among Disney’s roster, and not just because of the goblins, trolls, and faeries. No, it’s an essence to the prose itself, an ineffable, yet utterly familiar quality to the light of its cinematography.

Don’t let that comparison fool you, though. Bow has packed this novel with fair folk who make the Celtic traditions proud, a narrative of struggle and poverty that’s all too familiar to anyone born below the age of forty (yes, millennials, I might be looking at you), and a conflict rife with prejudice and injustice that makes this tale an extremely relevant, timely allegory to our countries’ shared political state. I might not be Canadian, or ever set foot inside the city limits of Toronto, but there was much in this tale that I could overlay on American cities and soil.

I walked away from this one satisfied, happy, but with a sobering, thoughtful view of today’s societal views. And that, my friends, is one difficult combination to pull off. So, if you’re in the market for a read that’s both quirky, thought-provoking, innocent, and dark, I would definitely consider checking this one out. Add it to your Goodreads TBR today!

From the Editor’s Desk: The Skylark’s Sacrifice by J.M. Frey

Why, hello there! Remember me? I know, it’s been an age since I last posted. Trust me, the cobwebs I had to break through to get in here were embarrassing in their thickness. But don’t worry. I brought a hefty broom and cleaning supplies and will soon be posting with regularity again. So, if you’ve happened to miss reading my random musings on all things publishing (with a smattering of martial arts, book reviews, and art-related stuff), you might want to keep an eye on your inboxes. I have some big things planned in the coming months.

And what better way to kick that off than to share an upcoming release I’m so, so excited for? As you recall—if you recall—From the Editor’s Desk was a feature where I could showcase titles I’ve been lucky enough to assist with. Unlike a regular book review, I have in-depth experience with these titles, and I wanted to be able to share some of that insight with all of you—not as a means of financial gain (I’m not being compensated for my reviews, and the opinions here are entirely my own), but as a means to support the authors who entrusted me with their book babies, and to introduce you to books I think are deserving of the precious space on your TBR.

So, now that everyone remembers what it is we’re doing, let’s dive in, shall we?

First, check out this amazing cover, designed by the lovely Ashley Ruggirello:

Cover Image for The Skylark's Sacrifice by J.M. Frey

Robin Arianhod is on the run. Trapped behind enemy lines, her only choice is to lose herself in the sprawling capital of Klonn. But hiding in the shadows is a disservice to the rocket pack she escaped with, and to the man she once considered foe. Instead, she’ll enact his plan, harness the incredible power of the pack, and stop the war from the inside.

Wanted posters stalk her every move as rumor fuels the Skylark’s rise, and her attempts at vigilantism attract the attention of more than just the city guards. Robin finds herself embroiled in the machinations of a mysterious underground rebellion—Klonnish citizens as tired of the war as she is. 

But are they really her allies, or are they using the Skylark as bait? And can she really trust that her former archnemesis turned his coat? Or will the secret of his true identity lead Robin, and her newfound friends, to their deaths?

Rife with high-flying action, subterfuge, and deception, The Skylarks Sacrifice is the explosive conclusion to the saga of war-torn Saskwya, and the one pilot who can change it all.

Isn’t it gorgeous? It’s also just freshly revealed, as of today. 😉

I’m also sure that many of you caught that this is the second title in the series, the first having been released while I was off on my prolonged hiatus. Why, then, did I choose to feature this one when I did not feature the first?

Well, once in a great while, a series comes along that is more than just enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always honored beyond words for the opportunity to work on anyone’s book baby. But I’m also human, and have my own preferences as a reader that have nothing at all to do with my task as an editor. And this series perfectly encapsulates nearly everything I have ever wanted in my reading experience.

Cinematic in a way that’s just begging for a graphic novel or film adaptation (and has inspired more than few fan-art ideas in a mind that has rarely ever given in to that temptation), it resonated with me on a level that was half satisfied joy, and half jealousy. It at once feels like something I would have written, and something that I would be ecstatic to even halfway manage to emulate, if I were to try.

Rich world-building, high-flying action sequences, subterfuge and deceit, enemies-to-lovers romance, a twisty and clever narrative arc, and emotional resonance that is off the chart, it comes amazingly close to earning the title of my perfect read. It’s definitely among my all-time favorite book series, for sure.

Releasing into the world on September 3rd, 2019, I really cannot recommend it enough. Filled with social commentary that is relevant and timely, characters who crackle to life on the page, and Frey’s signature ability to just absolutely gut a reader, it’s a stellar experience. I can’t say anything more without risking spoilers, so please, just go read it for yourself. I would dearly love someone to discuss it with, once the obligatory spoiler-free period is over. 😉

The Skylark’s Song (Book 1)

Amazon // Barnes & Noble // Smashwords // REUTS Store // Goodreads

The Skylark’s Sacrifice (Book 2)

Amazon Kindle Pre-Order // Goodreads

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.

Edit Letters: What They Contain and How I Draft Them

Last week, we covered the basics of what an edit letter is and when it generally happens in the editorial process (along with a few key ways they differ from beta reader and CP feedback). This week, I want to quickly talk about the process an editor goes through to create one. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just a matter of simply reading a manuscript and regurgitating thoughts into semi-coherent notes. A large part of our job is actually to help prepare your work (and you) for exposure to the often unfiltered reader response. And trust me, unless your editor is a walking cliche of the editors-are-evil myth, reader reviews will hurt a hell of a lot more than anything your editor will say. Your editor should have your best interest in mind, and they realize that hearing that your manuscript needs even more work isn’t exactly a pleasant experience.

But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. Believe it or not, the process of drafting an edit letter is actually quite nerve-racking for most editors. It’s often our first true interaction with an author, and so we’re never fully sure how they’re going to react to the things we have to say. No one likes being the bearer of bad news, after all. Just like no one likes receiving it. But such is the nature of the job. We’re not paid to sugar-coat and coddle. We root out and diagnose the cancers in your manuscript that you might not even realize are there, and then, most importantly, we tell you how to cure them. That’s a hefty responsibility, don’t you think? Which is why I never understand when authors assume this is a quick process.

Every editor does this phase of edits differently, but the intent is always the same, and the finished product will be very similar. So let’s talk about how I get to that final letter.

The first thing I do is download the file to my Kindle. That might sound obvious, but I have a very specific reason for doing this — it helps keep me from becoming mired in things which technically fall under line edits. For a dev edit, I have to mostly turn off “Editor Brain,” which is something you’ll hear editors joke about if you ever manage to find them chilling in their natural habitats. For those unfamiliar with the term, Editor Brain is the inability to look past or otherwise ignore grammar atrocities and other minutiae. When you spend most of your days mired in fixing those things, it can be really, really hard to turn that facet of your brain off. It becomes muscle memory, a reflex. But the point of a dev edit is to focus on the big picture, not the minutiae. That comes later. So I physically prevent myself from being able to comment on or address those line-edit type flaws by putting the manuscript in a venue where I’m more accustomed to simply being a reader.

If you noticed, though, I said I have to “mostly ” turn off Editor Brain, because really, editors never truly manage to turn that perspective off. Which is a curse they don’t tell you about when you’re a fledgling editor dreaming of all the awesomeness that being an editor kinda sorta (as in not at all) entails. I still notice the finer details as I read, the flaws that will need to be ironed out during the next round of edits, I just don’t do anything about them.

Instead, I carefully read the manuscript in its entirety, making notes about things that are murky, elements that aren’t explained or developed enough, sequence issues, or even just emotional responses, as needed. I use the notepad feature on my phone for this, because it’s conveniently mobile and doesn’t require me to infringe upon my “reading” space, thereby keeping my focus from slipping back to those aforementioned line edit problems.

Once I’m done reading, I set the project aside for at least twenty-four hours. And again, I have a very specific reason for this. See, ideally, your editor should be one of your biggest fans. Which means that there’s a period during the review process where the reader part of us takes over. And that means that, if you did your job well, we finish the book with a massive book hangover and a lot of “OH MY GOD I LOVED IT” clouding our judgment. There’s an emotional high that comes from reading a really satisfying work, even if that work might still be a tad rough around the edges. And emotions get in the way of logical analysis. So I give myself time to savor that book hangover and come down from the overwhelming number of reader feels I usually have after finishing a story.

Then, once I can don my editor hat again, I take my notes and compile them into the actual edit letter, carefully phrasing my feedback to toe the line between honest and supportive, compassionate and constructive. Or at least, I do my best to. I usually start by listing the good stuff: what I loved, what it reminded me of, what the author did really well. Then I segue into the standard categories I generally include: Concept, Voice & POV, Pace, World-Building, Character Development, Miscellaneous/Manuscript Specific Concerns, and  Overall Thoughts. I don’t always need all of these, but that’s the template I start with. I find it helps to take what can feel like a massive wall of text and break it into bite-sized portions, both because it’s a tad less daunting and because it’s easier to continue the discussion.

Once I identify the categories I need, I’ll draft my analysis of each, identifying both what’s working and what isn’t, and my suggestion for how to fix it. This takes anywhere from one to three days, factoring in both the time it takes to carefully draft a letter of that length and the mental gymnastics needed to not only identify the problems, but also the solutions that most feel like the author’s style and voice. It’s a lot like playing with puzzle pieces, rearranging and tuning and tweaking until everything snaps into place.

Then I proofread, take a deep breath, and hit send, crossing my fingers that it doesn’t unleash a storm of backlash. Not because I’m not confident in my analysis and suggestions, but because, until I hear back from the author, I’m as nervous and anxious as they were while waiting to hear from me.

And there you have it, my personal approach to creating the developmental edit letter. This concludes the portion of my presentation I did with C.M. Spivey. At the conferences, we then went on to showcase the edit letter I provided for From Under the Mountain, discussing the various aspects and how Spivey interpreted and implemented my suggestions. Since that material is copyrighted to the author, I’m not at liberty to post it online. But perhaps if you ask nicely enough, they will on their own website. 😉

Next week, I’ll have something new to talk about. I’m not sure what yet, but I’ll find something. If anyone has questions or comments regarding edit letters and the process of drafting or receiving/implementing one, feel free to post in the comments below. Otherwise, happy reading/writing!

Edit Letters: What are They and When do They Happen?

Apologies for the unintentional hiatus over the past few weeks. To say this summer was a whirlwind would be an understatement. I honestly can’t believe it’s already September! It feels like it was just March. But anyway, now that the conference circuit has more or less come to a close, I’ll be able to return to my regularly scheduled posting routine.

As some of you know, I did a presentation with C.M. (Cait) Spivey on edit letters at both PNWA and the Willamette Writers Conference, and many have asked that I post that presentation here. Since it was more of a tutorial on how to implement the suggestions contained within an edit letter than a generalized talk about the letters themselves, I can’t post the presentation in its entirety. But I can use the generalized bits. Perhaps those will still be helpful.

So let’s talk about edit letters, shall we?

When you look back across the archives of my site, you’ll see that I’ve already talked a lot about editing-related topics. Everything from how you become an editor, to the realities of the editing life, to the various pet-peeves and editorial myths that drive editors nuts. But I haven’t ever truly talked about what an editor does.

Technically, the idea that an editor’s only job is to find errors is an editorial myth. But it does have some basis in truth. I mean, a large portion of editing does revolve around the finding and fixing of “errors,” but that has less to do with the myth’s portrayal of editors being sadistic grammar Nazis and more to do with the fact that we’re an expert set of objective eyes. Our main job is to help protect authors from reader backlash, and there are two main ways we do that — line by line (or in-line comments, as some editors call them) and edit letters.

The line by line comments are known as line or copy edits, and are the hallmark of editing, the thing most people think of when they hear the dreaded E word. They include things like grammar, sentence structure and flow, clarity and economy of language, and voice consistency.

But before a project gets to the line edit phase, it goes through what is known as a developmental or structural edit. And that’s where edit letters come in.

Dev edits, as we editors affectionately call them (because, let’s face it, five syllables is just too long to say on a regular basis), are used to analyze, diagnose, and address underlying problems with storytelling mechanics. They provide a bird’s eye view of the manuscript and allow the editor to carefully evaluate things like plot, pacing, character development, market concerns, and emotional resonance — the foundation of your story, in other words.

Because of this, dev edits happen very early in the editorial process, and may even happen as part of acquisitions instead. I can’t speak for all agents or editors, but at REUTS, we believe in disclosing any potentially drastic revisions we’d like to see up front, that way the author can determine whether or not our vision for their story aligns with their own. A disagreement at this stage likely means the agent or press is a mismatch, as ideally, the edit letter will provide feedback that improves upon the author’s intent and story, rather than drastically altering it.

The purpose of the edit letter, therefore, is to open a dialogue between the author and editor. It’s the opening volley of a strategy meeting, more or less, meant to encourage brainstorming and discourse over the various aspects that might need addressing. Which is why it’s not quite the same as the feedback you receive from CPs or beta readers.

One of my favorite (and I’m totally being facetious here) things to run up against is an author who fails to understand the key difference between beta readers, CPs, and editors. (I’ve talked about the differences before, if you need a refresher.) Each is valuable, yes, and every author should be utilizing all three, but each has its place in the process. In the hierarchy of outside feedback, editors are alpha. Once you start working with one, you really shouldn’t be utilizing other sources of feedback. Those all happen before you bring in the expert, not after. And yet, I’ve seen people do this, a lot, both in an effort to implement developmental revisions and in between rounds of line edits.

Don’t do this. It’s one of the main editorial no-nos. But the reason probably isn’t what you think. Editing myths often portray editors as power-hungry, judgmental individuals. But we’re not really (or at least, we shouldn’t be). We’re your ally. We’re also highly experienced, paid professionals. Chances are, if your editor is telling you something needs to be fixed, it’s for a very good reason.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “but what if I don’t agree with the suggestions? What if I want a second opinion?” Still don’t do it. Talk to your editor instead. The editing process is supposed to be a partnership, and much like marriages, that partnership can’t work without communication. By turning to people outside of the editor-author relationship, you’re essentially vetting your editor’s comments. You’re telling the editor that you don’t trust them, and that these other people matter more. And worse, you’re breaking the confidentiality of what should be a private part of the production process (especially if you’re working with a press). It’s insulting, frankly, and much like a cheating spouse, it engenders mistrust on both sides, creating a fractured, difficult path for both parties.

So yeah, talk to your editor. Tell them your thoughts and concerns, and if you must bring in outside opinions, clear it with them first. But never, never do it after the majority of the editing is done, and then expect the editor to make changes according to your CPs’ or beta readers’ thoughts. That’s the wrong head-space to be in when you approach this process.

Next week, I’ll talk about my particular approach to drafting an edit letter. But in the meantime, do any of you have questions about edit letters or developmental editing in general? Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll make sure to answer them in the conclusion article! 🙂