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August 17, 2011
One oft-repeated bit of writing advice is to read your work aloud when editing. It’s a good idea–up to a point. Beyond that point, you can be hurting your manuscript.
An example of that happened yesterday in my critique group (where we read our manuscripts aloud). Two of us totally misinterpreted a story’s ending until the author read her chapter aloud. Her voice inflection and humorous tone gave the last line in the chapter an entirely different meaning than what we had assumed.
Therein lies the problem.
More Harm Than Good?
Reading your work aloud near the end of your revision process is helpful. It can ensure that your dialogue flows well and sounds like real people speaking. It helps you catch where you’ve used a word twice in the same paragraph or sentence. But for editing’s early stages, reading your manuscript aloud can do more harm than good. Why is this?
According to editor Pat Walsh (78 REASONS why your book may never be published & 14 REASONS why it just might): “Even books with a conversational tone suffer when recitation is used as editing, because the flow needed to sound ‘right’ differs from the flow needed to read ‘right.’”
This editor dealt with a writer who constantly revised using this “read aloud” method, and his work was over-written and full of excess verbiage. He would call and read it aloud over the phone to the editor. One time Pat reversed the process to make a point:
“I read it to him [instead]–in a monotone. I left all feeling, emphasis, and cadence out. He was silent for a moment and then stammered, ‘But it doesn’t sound good when you read it like that.’ I told him that is the way it reads on the page and unless he wanted to follow every person who bought his book home and read it to them himself, he had better get to work on improving his writing.”
On Its Own Two Feet
The written word and the spoken word are related, and reading your work aloud can be beneficial during final stages of editing. But beware of using it early on and throughout the revision process. It can mask weaknesses you need to correct.
Even when you do read it aloud, force yourself to read in a monotone. You will get a much clearer picture of the quality of your writing. The words on the page need to do the work, not your vocal interpretations. As the editor said, you won’t be following your readers home and reading your work aloud to them. It has to stand on its own.
[Hopefully no one will remind this repeat post. Life and health issues have interferred.]
June 10, 2011
The slush pile of old, where my first book was discovered, was an actual tall stack of unsolicited manuscripts. They were read by lower level publishing staff called “first readers.” We thought at the time that the slush pile was huge–hundreds of manuscripts piled up.
Today slush piles have gone electronic–and backed-up inboxes may hold many, many more manuscripts than that. Why the big change?
Several things led to the demise of the traditional slush pile, says children’s author Chris Eboch in “The Modern Slush Pile” (Writer’s Guide to 2011). [With permission, much of this post is adapted from her article.]
Before computers, printers and copy machines, you typed every copy individually. It took forever–and writers then were much more careful about targeting appropriate markets. But now, with the push of a button, technology allows massive multiple submissions, and authors often target publishers using a scatter gun approach. Result? Overload at publishing houses.
“First readers” are gone too. Staff cutbacks took care of them. There’s no one there anymore to open the slush, enter the title and author and date into a book, and later read the manuscript and return it (with the appropriate letter) or pass it along to an editor.
Where’s the Slush Now?
Slush–those manuscripts waiting hopefully for someone to read them–have shifted locations.
- Agents have much of the slush in their inboxes now. Many of the new agents are displaced editors who were victims of cutbacks, and new writers are sending much of the unsolicited material to these new agents.
- Editorial consulting companies receive some of the slush too, but they charge for their services (while reputable agents don’t.) Just be sure to check the credentials of those who are offering their “expert” advice. One company (Stephen Roxburgh’s namelos) is highly respected. Other companies, however, promise way more than they can deliver, and their “expert” advice may be from someone who has never published or has little editorial experience.
- HarperCollins has a “virtual slush pile” at Authonomy.com where authors upload manuscripts, readers read them (for free) and vote on them, and then editors read the top rated manuscripts. A few do get published.
Thirty years ago, you had to wait your turn for a first reader to get to your manuscript. It would happen eventually–in about three months. Now, because of the higher volume of submissions everywhere, it helps if you get noticed in order to get your manuscript read.
How do you do that? Chris Eboch had these suggestions:
- Submit queries with a personal note of some kind (like maybe you read an article by the agent or read some books they represented).
- Attend conferences and workshops to meet editors and agents, and get permission that way to submit to otherwise “closed” houses.
- Membership in professional organizations like the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators (SCBWI)
- Volunteer at conferences–you may drive the agent or editor around or get to eat lunch with them, giving you a chance to get to know them. Your query will mention that connection and get a closer look.
- Network with other writers (or, in other words, make friends with writers.) After you make some sales, such friends often recommend each other for projects. I’ve done it for books I didn’t have time to write, and I’ve received work several times because a writer friend recommended me for a series project.
- Social networking helps, as long as you have time to actually participate in groups, list servs, discussion boards, and forms.
- Some contests have a prize which includes a contract and publication.
- A master’s program in fine arts can open publishing doors. Editors and agents have come to realize that authors with an MFA graduate with books that are high quality and may even be ready to publish.
Some Things Never Change
The nature of the slush pile has changed. Ways to get noticed in the slush pile are now numerous. One thing, however, hasn’t changed at all.
And that’s how you get from the slush pile to an editor’s desk to a bookstore. Quality is the key. In the end, that’s the only thing that will sell your book. Quality of idea–and quality of writing. “Write a good book,” says Cheryl Klein, Senior Editor at a Scholastic imprint and author of Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising & Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults.
You don’t have control over electronic slush piles or the economy or the changes in the publishing industry. But you do have control over the most important aspect of your career–the quality of writing.
So focus on that. Write a good book.
(* “The Modern Slush Pile” by Chris Eboch is only one article of thirty-three articles in Writer’s Guide to 2011. The book covers these topics: Markets, Style, Business & Career, Research, Ideas, and Contests & Conferences.)
May 13, 2011
I took a break today from doing final revisions on a novel and picked up a little writing book called Some Writers Deserve to Starve! (31 Brutal Truths About the Publishing Industry) by Elaura Niles. I don’t find the chapters very brutal–just honest. And I agree with nearly all of them.
If you’ve been writing any length of time at all, chapters like “Putting Words on a Page Does Not Obligate Anyone to Read Them,” “All Publishers Are Not Created Equal,” and “Writing Conferences Cost Bucks” will resonate with you! Frankly, I expect there is a great deal of truth in all 31 of Ms. Niles’ chapters, but I have been spared a lot of it.
What About This One?
Two of the author’s brutal truth chapters are “Writers Rarely Help Other Writers” and “Not All Critique Groups Are Critique Groups.” Because I’ve seen what she described over the years in various groups [that didn't work for me], I believe she is right much of the time. But it also reminded me how wonderfully blessed I am to have a writer friend who DOES help me.
From time to time, I trade manuscripts with a writer friend in Australia. Her thoughtful responses in the detailed critiques have been very helpful in many areas: strengthening endings, picking up loose plot threads I had inadvertently dropped, telling me which chapters dragged, etc. I’m grateful for her honesty–which is NOT brutal.
How About You?
What has been YOUR experience with critiques and critique groups? Have they been helpful–or not so much? Is the advice good–or in such conflict that you don’t know what to believe? Give me your thoughts.
August 30, 2010
E-books have exploded lately. Now that about half the books sold on Amazon.com are e-books, it’s time to take them seriously.
Since it may highly impact your own writing future–especially if you hope to make a living at writing–I’d encourage you to check out these articles:
“The Future of Publishing” by Randy Ingermanson is a good overview of the rise of e-books and what the next few years are going to mean, especially for fiction writers.
“The High Cost of Self-Promotion” and how author Jon Konrath was able to go back to writing full-time because of e-books.
“It’s All Hard Work” by Sherryl Clark–with e-book cautions for the new writer breaking into print–and advice on how published authors can make e-books work for them.
The More Things Change…
What do you think about all the news about e-books? Do you personally read a lot of e-books? Do your children read e-books? Would you buy more e-books if the readers were less expensive?
Give me your opinions on this!
August 13, 2010
At a recent retreat, several writer friends were waxing nostalgic, longing for the “good old days” of publishing.
Back then it was easier to get published. Back then it was common to have editorial attention and hand-holding. If only we could go back, they lamented.
Well, recently I had a rare chance to time travel back to the “good old days” and see what a writer’s life was like 54 years ago . . .
Writing Circa 1950’s
While sorting donated books and magazines for a library book sale, I came across a real treasure: a 1956 Writer’s Digest. Priced at 35 cents, it was a far cry from the large glossy print magazine or colorful web site of today.
I wondered if any writers in 1956 had envisioned the e-zines and e-publishing of today, the huge publishing conglomerates, writing with computers, or the differences in pay scales. (I found references to one-tenth-cent, quarter-cent, and half-cent-per-word rates!) The rates might sound puny, but a quick glance through the market listings showed that most magazines still paid on acceptance.
Ahhh, I thought, another world. I was eager to read the articles next, to see what “wisdom of the ages” was dispensed for such a different writing world.
The more things change…
As I thumbed through the yellowed magazine pages, however, I was surprised by a number of things. First were the numerous ads for co-operative publishing and subsidy publishing (or vanity presses). For some reason, I had assumed they were a plague of the ‘90’s and early 21st Century writing world, an answer for the age we lived in where it was so difficult to sell a manuscript to a “big name” publisher or even a small press.
My second surprise was a full-page ad on the back of the magazine for a bookdoctor, something else I had believed to be the result of present market realities.The ad read: “Sure, you’re going to be an author. But right now you are having ahard time making folks believe it! Friends and neighbors regard your literary ambitions with a quiet smile, but members of the family are less subtle. Not only are you getting no help from them—you aren’t even being encouraged. One day you’ll show ‘em. But what can you show until you have a published book? And how can a book become publishable in today’s selective market without professional counsel?”
Sound familiar? Every word of this book doctor’s ad is just as true in 2010 as it was in 1956!
A Writer’s Life in the Good Old Days
My biggest surprises came in an article called “Roses and Thorns” by Jim Kjelgaard (a juvenile writer). He reflected on his 25 years of writing, which had begun in the early depression years. It would be hard to find a writer whose experiences were further removed from mine than someone who began writing after the crash on Wall Street. Or would it?
I was shocked to find out how much we had in common. For example, Jim’s thoughts on writing only when inspiration strikes sounded identical to the advice I gave a new writer last month. He wrote of “the grueling discipline, the long hours spent over their typewriters” that was required. He called writing “an exacting job that often requires many more hours of hard work than most jobs. . . All the successful writers I know are successful mainly because they work hard,” not because they only wrote when inspired. Not any different today.
Don’t waste your time looking back to the “good old days.” Each period has its challenges, its ups and its downs. The best time to be a writer is always today. So…go write!
July 30, 2010
Over the weekend, I hope you’ll have time to check out some very helpful and thought-provoking blogs I read this week.
Kick back, relax, and enjoy these gems!
Gems of Wisdom
**Agent Wendy Lawton wrote a series called “Career Killers.” Full of wise advice! One post is on speed writing. Other “career killers” included impatience, playing “around the edges,” sloppiness, and skipping the apprenticeship. If you avoid these mistakes in your career, you’ll be miles ahead of the average writer.
**Are you trying to combine babies with bylines? Try “Writing Between Diapers: Tips for Writer Moms” for some practical tips.
**Is your writing journey out of whack because you have unrealistic expections? See literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s post “Managing Expections.”
**Critique groups are great, but you–the writer–must be your own best–and toughest–editor. See Victoria Strauss on “The Importance of Self-Editing.”
**We’re told to set goals and be specific about what success means to us. Do you have trouble with that? You might find clarity with motivational speaker Craig Harper’s “Goals and Anti-Goals.”
**And finish with Joe Konrath’s pithy statements in “A Writer’s Serenity Prayer.” You may want to print them out and tape them to your computer!
Share a Gem!
What have you read lately–online or off–that you felt was particularly insightful or helpful or thought-provoking? I’d love to have you share a link of your own!
May 14, 2010
Don’t you wish you could be a spy at a publishing house? You could eavesdrop as the “powers that be” make publishing decisions, accepting this manuscript but rejecting another one.
Wouldn’t you love an inside track so you can understand the process behind acquisitions at traditional publishing houses?
Now’s Your Chance
You can do that today! Several publishing houses have given us a glimpse of what goes on during their publication board meetings. I hope you’ll take time to read these “behind the scenes” descriptions.
Here’s what happens at Peachtree Publishers.
And a Little, Brown editor shares her view.
Taking the Fear Out
Sometimes the best thing you can do as a new writer is to educate yourself about the publishing process. So get yourself a cup of coffee or bowl of popcorn, settle back, and devour these articles.
The process may sound complicated–even daunting–the first time you read about it. But knowledge is power–and knowing what goes on behind closed doors at publishing houses can only help you in your quest for a traditional publisher.