Category : Current Affairs

  • February 13, 2013

    How can I become a freelance editor?


    Someone wrote this: “My friend wants to be a freelance editor. What advice would you have for her?” 

    Right now it’s a tough time to be a freelancer in book publishing. The publishing economy has been down, it’s hit publishers hard, and there are a lot of out-of-work editors and writers who are trying to freelance. (I just spoke with a publisher at a conference who told me she’s got a long list of good freelance editors she can’t use.) So that’s the bad news. The good news is that if your friend is willing to move away from strictly book publishing, there are plenty of opportunities. Every company on the planet is putting together content for their website, and somebody has to write and edit all those pages. Consider talking with businesses (or with the marketing and ad agencies that assist businesses) about providing writing and editorial help. 

    One thing that has long been true in publishing is that good copyeditors are hard to find (and even harder to keep, since they generally get bored and want to move on to substantive editing). If you’re well-grounded in grammar, can spell well, and have a basic sense of what makes writing work, you might consider taking a class in copyediting, either online or through a local college. Emerson University, long a leader in programs for those interested in publishing and communication, now offers a certificate in copyediting, with classes in grammar, clarity, fact-checking, indexing, and using bias-free language. 

    I think the best introduction to the role is still the Dummy’s book — Copyediting and Proofreading for Dummies, which I liked so much I used as a textbook in the Intro to Editing class I taught. But there are other books you should be familiar with — The Chicago Manual of Style is the bible for book editingwhile The AP Stylebook is the choice for magazines. So if you’re

    Continue Reading "How can I become a freelance editor?"
  • February 5, 2013

    What does an agent need to know?


    So after reading over my previous posts on agent/author relationships, i created the list below, and suggested authors think about what they might want in an agent. For example, while working in my doctoral program back in the 80’s at the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), I had a Graduate Teaching Fellowship and spent a couple years as an assistant director in the Career Planning and Placement Office. My focus was on helping students graduating in the arts figure out their career plan. So I’ve got strengths in the area of career planning and management for writers and artists that a lot of folks don’t have. But there are plenty of things I’m NOT strong at, and I may or may not be a fit for a particular author. Each agent has experience (writing, editing, negotiations, production, contracts, etc) that he or she brings to bear as an agent. Knowing what you need or what you’re looking for

    Okay, with that as a starting point, here’s a checklist of things I think a literary agent needs to know…

    1. Recognize What Makes Great Writing
    2. Understands the Role of a Literary Agent
    3. Know how to Locate/Recognize New Clients
    4. Learn to Evaluate Submissions and Know How to Say “No” Politely
    5. Know How to Say “Yes” to Good Writers
    6. Understand  the Wording in Agency Agreements
    7. Be Able to Assist with Creating a Strong Proposal
    8. Recognize the Balance Between Writing, Idea, and Platform
    9. Understand the Core of What Makes Great Fiction
    10. Be Able to Explain the Nonfiction Template of “Problem & Solution” or “Question & Answer”
    11. Know How to Sell a Book
    12. Working with Writers: Know how to help them Create the Plan
    13. Working with Writers: Be able to Get Authors Focused
    14. Working with Writers: Help Authors Clarify Platforms, Purpose, and Perspective on their Careers
    15. Working with Writers: Develop Career Plans
    16. Working with Writers: Assist with the Writing Calendar
    17. Working with Writers: Help them Clarify
    Continue Reading "What does an agent need to know?"
  • February 4, 2013

    What's going on in the world of publishing?


    I normally just offer advice about publishing careers on this blog, but occasionally I feel a need to mention things happening that everyone in the industry is talking about. So let’s digress today on a couple quick items…

    1. The 2012 numbers are in, and they’re interesting… There were only three adult fiction titles last year that sold more than a million copies, and they were all written by E.L. James. (Soft core porn rules, apparently.) Those were also the only “romance” novels that hit the million mark. There were four children’s fiction titles that sold more than a million copies, and three of them were written by Suzanne Collins. (Hunger Games also rule — the fourth was the most recent Diary of a Wimpy Kid Who Would’ve Quickly Been Killed In The Hunger Games.) There were no nonfiction titles that hit the magic number (NO EASY DAY came very close), nor cookbooks, biographies, sci-fi novels, business titles… Not even a memoir. I’m still waiting for all the final numbers to show up, but it looks like this will be the smallest number of million-sellers we’ve had in years.

    2. And yet… book sales are doing fine. One study showed they were down 4% in 2012, another that they were up a bit more than 1%. Either way, overall book sales are holding fairly steady. There are more readers than ever before, and there are more books being produced than ever before — the numbers are just more spread out, with the vast quantities of ebooks now being offered at Amazon and B& So take heart — it’s still a great time to be a writer. We read all the time — on our Nooks & Kindles, on our laptops & Smartphones, on our email and web accounts. Don’t believe the gloomy people who keep preaching The End Of Publishing As We Know It.

    3. I have now had more

    Continue Reading "What's going on in the world of publishing?"
  • February 1, 2013

    Jerry Jenkins, self-publishing, and the end of civilization as we know it


    I’ve had more than a dozen people write to ask me about the new self-publishing service Jerry Jenkins has set up through his company, CWG. I’ve looked into it, read the stories, studied the comments, and four thoughts have come to my mind.

    First, Jerry Jenkins is not a con man. I don’t understand the vitriol being leveled at a guy who wants to help authors get their books published, and make a buck while doing so. Some people in CBA are acting as though there’s been some breach of faith — as though this is a sign of the end-times, and the world’s most famous apocalyptic writer is behind it. Look, Jerry and I aren’t friends, but we’re certainly friendly — I’ve gotten to know him a bit over the years, and was at the literary agency that represented his LEFT BEHIND series that sold 70 million copies. It’s not like we’re hanging out together, and I have to leap to the defense of the guy… but give me a break — he’s made a pile of money, doesn’t need to bilk anyone, and has basically run his Christian Writers Guild as a service, not as a money-maker. I can tell you from firsthand experience that he’s honest and fair, and a much nicer guy than, say, me (who would be calling these people nasty names if they said those things about me). He’s not out to con anyone.

    Second, Jerry Jenkins is a businessman. His name and celebrity certainly draws in potential writers, and the long list of people who have participated in CWG classes, conferences, and training creates a perfect list for potential self-published authors. How is that unethical? (For the record, PW asked me for a quote about all of this, and I told them I didn’t have much to say. It’s pretty much the same as what Thomas Nelson did with Westbow, or what Rick

    Continue Reading "Jerry Jenkins, self-publishing, and the end of civilization as we know it"
  • January 8, 2013

    Should I start with a small publisher to get the attention of a large one?


    Someone wrote to ask, “Do you think it’s a good idea to start with a smaller publisher and try to have some success, as a way of getting the attention of a larger publisher?”

    That’s not only a good idea, it’s pretty much the pattern writers follow in today’s market. (Occasionally we’ll see a great novelist get discovered and published by a large house, but that’s become the exception instead of the rule.) The majority of authors are starting small, working with the publisher to sell their book, building a reputation for themselves, and then later moving to a larger house  — or sometimes simply remaining with the smaller house. 

    Of course, to do that, the best thing an author can do is write a great book. Greatness gets discovered, in my view. If you write a great book, readers are going to find you eventually. I’ve seen that happen time after time. But whether you remain with a smaller line or move to a larger house is probably going to be part of the “career” conversation you have with your agent. Some writers have done very well at smaller publishing houses, and prefer feeling like the big fish in a smaller pond. You might be much more comfortable with the editing style of a niche publisher, or the familiarity of the staff, or smaller sales expectations that come with a small house. Don’t think that landing at a large publisher is going to be a dream come true — it might be great, but larger houses have unique issues (for example, you can become writer #37 on their list of top authors). A large publisher may offer you access to wider distribution, but that access may not amount to much — and we’ve all seen authors get swallowed up by a big house and just disappear. Bigger can be great, but it’s not always better. Nor will it always

    Continue Reading "Should I start with a small publisher to get the attention of a large one?"
  • January 7, 2013

    Does winning a contest help a prospective author?


    Someone wrote to ask, “Do you think it helps a beginning novelist to enter a contest or win an award?”

    It’s hard to say. Certainly it can’t hurt that an author wins a Faulkner Award, or a short story writer is handed an O. Henry Prize. Doubtless that causes the publisher to pay a bit more attention to the proposal, assuming the contest is widely respected. People in the industry appreciate the level of work it takes to win a prestigious award. 

    But does it actually help the publisher decide whether or not to publish your novel? No. That work will have to stand on its own. Winning an award will get you noticed, and maybe help get you read by an editor, but it doesn’t make your book deal a slam dunk. I’ve had award-winners send me proposals that were well-written but not salable, so while I appreciated their talent, it didn’t translate to a book deal. Still, it’s not a bad thing for a  debut novelist to read “Winner of the ____ Prize” on the cover.

    Perhaps one of the issues is the award itself — there are some great contests with prestige to them, but there are also contests that don’t mean much at all. (Several writing conferences have their own awards, and in my view that just means the winner is “the best of the relatively small group of people who attended.”) I’m not putting them down, only noting that winning “best book” at the North Dakota Writing Conference won’t translate as having much prestige to an editor in New York. Meanwhile, winning the Golden Heart at RWA doesn’t mean you’re sure to land a romance book contract, but at least it means you were read and liked by significant people in the industry. So evaluating the contest prestige is necessary. 

    I know a number of writers are thrilled with the Genesis Award handed out by

    Continue Reading "Does winning a contest help a prospective author?"
  • January 2, 2013

    How are literary agent's roles changing in the new world of publishing?


    I’ve had a number of people write to me in response to my recent post about 2013 publishing predictions, asking how I felt the role of literary agents is changing. It used to be that an agent basically offered four benefits: (1) an editing/sounding board for writing and ideas; (2) access to publishers; (3) contract and statement assistance; and (4) some type of career advice. There are a bunch of other ideas people bring up (such as “maximize the advance!” and “be the tough guy when things get ugly!”), and no doubt several other iterations of the ideas above, but I think those are the four big content areas in which agents have generally served.

    But now we’re in a new era. The way books are produced, marketed, delivered, and sold to readers has changed considerably over the past few years. The sales channels are completely altered. Publishers have overhauled their staffing and methods. New jobs exist that didn’t used to exist, and old ones have faded out of existence. The advent of digital publishing has not just created this new product called “e-books,” but have helped reshape the entire industry. So it only makes sense that a literary agent shouldn’t be doing his or her job the same way it was being done ten years ago. To that end, I thought I’d try to offer thoughts on how I see an agent’s role in contemporary publishing.

    First, a good agent is still doing editing, but perhaps even more book and project concepting. Idea development and packaging are an essential part of the role now. Your agent needs to be talking with you not just about “how to do an ebook,” but how various projects and packages fit into your overall business plan.

    Second, I think the notion of an agent giving an author access to publishers has evolved into an agent as interactor — networking with various publishing types,

    Continue Reading "How are literary agent's roles changing in the new world of publishing?"
  • December 31, 2012

    My Publishing Predictions for 2013


    Okay, time for my big publishing predictions for 2013…

    1. Some of the large publishers will buy up the smaller micro-publishers who have succeeded in niche markets. (This only makes sense. Penguin/Random House are merging, and want to expand their reach. Hachette is perhaps the most forward-thinking of the companies, and must see the opportunity. It’s possible HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster will combine forces, and they are two companies who have always sought to maximize niche markets. MacMillan does as well. So look for some of those guys who started in their garage a couple years ago to cash out.) 

    2. Literary agents will re-define themselves. (This has already begun to happen with some multi-person agencies. The growth of e-books and the opportunity authors have to self-publish means an agent, to demonstrate value, has to prove he or she can assist with self-publishing, with marketing and sales planning for a wide variety of projects, with career development for authors who are working with traditional publishers as well as publishing their own books, with contract evaluations in an age of significant intellectual property rights changes, and with business management. An author isn’t just a writer any more — he or she is a self-proprietary business person, and good agents will re-define themselves in order to assist with that change.) 

    3. E-book royalties will grow. (E-publishers are already paying in the 50% neighborhood, so traditional publishers are going to have to be competitive. I can see one of the Big Six boosting e-royalties to 30%.)

    4. Several of the major and mid-major publishers will move to strictly digital catalogs and royalty statements. (Think of it: At many of the larger houses, they’re still hiring people to print off stacks of paper and stuff them into envelopes. Welcome to the 80’s! This is a change that’s way overdue. And there’s limited value in expensive book catalogs any more — a digital
    Continue Reading "My Publishing Predictions for 2013"
  • December 21, 2012

    Is it legal to strangle my publisher?


    Someone just wrote to say, “I can’t believe it! I spent an entire week writing a piece for a digital magazine that insisted they needed it on a tight deadline, skipped my daughter’s play, ignored family meals, then stayed up all hours writing. I got it done, turned it in, and the publisher is saying they’ve decided to run it… next month! Will I go to jail if I shoot him?”

    Ah, the joys of the writing life.

    True story: A publisher once hired me to do a fast-fix on a book. “I need this by Thursday morning,” he told me. “If I don’t have it by Thursday, I could be out of business.” His exact words. 

    So I took it, banged away, and met my deadline. I stayed up all night two nights in a row, grabbing coffee and blearily going through the manuscript line by line, fixing the problems and getting the book ready for publication. I finished at 4 Thursday morning, grabbed a couple hours of shut-eye, then drove an hour-and-a-half to the publisher’s office in order to turn it in by hand as they opened their doors. Mission accomplished. The publisher gave me a hearty thanks as I set the disk on his desk, and I headed to a coffee shop to try and stay awake for my drive home.

    The following Wednesday, I’m at a breakfast meeting in the city, and who do I run into but Mr. Publisher. “Hey,” I say to him, “I haven’t heard from you — what did you think of the manuscript?”

    He looked at me for a second with a blank look, then said, “Oh…you know, I haven’t gotten to that one yet.”

    So I strangled him. Right there on the spot. Shoved several of those heavy restaurant pancakes they’re always serving down his evil throat. (Okay, not really. But I wanted to.)

    The publishing business. It simply works

    Continue Reading "Is it legal to strangle my publisher?"
  • November 27, 2012

    Does a second novel have to continue the storyline?


    Someone wrote to ask, “How do you handle the ending of individual books in a series that needs each book to stand alone, yet have threads of continuation? Is it possible to conclude the manuscript in the point of view of the antagonist?”

    Fiction series have a tendency to flow in and out like the tide. For a while, publishers wanted everything to be written in two-to-four book series. But then they noticed that the second and third books of a series always seemed to decline in sales from the first book, so they began moving away from series. If you’re creating a series of novels, the most important lesson is that each book must stand on its own. You can’t have a middle novel that feels as though it’s nothing more than a placekeeper — words on pages that spread out the story from its opening to its eventual conclusion. Each book must be able to be read and enjoyed without feeling as though the reader doesn’t have the whole story. So the threads of continuation are typically an unresolved story element or a continuing character, all within the same setting, presenting a similar theme, and offering the same style and voice as the other books in the series. So yes, it’s possible to conclude a manuscript with a short blurb from the antagonist’s POV, or perhaps an extended note or conversation with the character. Thomas Harris did this with Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, and Ed McBain used this device successfully with his antagonist The Blind Man in some of his 82nd Precinct books. The ending left the antagonist uncaught — and ready to go commit more mayhem.

    Another author asked, “Is it true the foreword of a book should be the author’s honest explanation of his or her novel? I ask because the author of the bestselling novel The Shack makes it sound as

    Continue Reading "Does a second novel have to continue the storyline?"