Category: On Publishing

Ask Midge: Should I pay a reading fee?

By Midge Raymond,

Q: I’ve noticed that some publications now charge reading fees, and I’ve heard a lot of writers say this isn’t ethical. When, if at all, is it okay to pay a reading fee? — M.K., Los Angeles

A: The short answer is: Almost never. The vast majority of reputable literary magazines do not (and should not) charge reading fees.

However, there are a few exceptions. One is if you enter a contest — most contests run by literary magazines charge reading fees, and this is perfectly reasonable because they offer cash awards to winners and often finalists as well (they may also offer a stipend to the contest judge). Many independent and university presses charge reading fees for their contests, for the same reasons.

A normal fee for a short story, poetry, or essay contest is $10-15. Some lit mags are charging $20 or more — for example, The Iowa Review charges $20, and $30 will get you a subscription as well. This is a great magazine (and it’s always worth supporting great mags by subscribing), but these fees are quite a lot for most writers, unfortunately, and they’ll add up very quickly if you hope to enter a lot of contests. Small presses will usually ask for a fee of $25 per manuscript for a contest — I’ve seen higher, but this still seems to be the norm. You shouldn’t pay a fee for a regular submission, whether you’re sending an essay to a magazine or a novel to a small press.

Another exception is the “administration fee” that many magazines (among them The Missouri Review and Ploughshares) charge for using their online submissions systems — it’s usually around $3, which is roughly what it would cost you in printing and postage to mail in a hard copy anyway, and it’ll save you some time and maybe even few trees. While the majority of magazines still accept online submissions without charging this fee, it’s not an unreasonable one — and these magazines do not charge for regular mail submissions.

So the general rule is — fees are expected for contests; fees should not be paid for regular submissions, even if the magazines pay their authors (legitimate magazines that pay authors do not charge regular reading fees). If you encounter a publication that charges fees for regular submissions, do a quick Google search on that publication, and what you find will probably help you decide that it’s just not worth it.

Book Promo 101: Book trailers

By Midge Raymond,

This is the first post that will eventually become a semi-regular series on book promotion — which, I have learned, makes writing look like the easy part.

Today: Let’s talk about book trailers. I debated whether or not to make a trailer for Forgetting English when the book came out in 2009. Even as a writer and reader, I must confess that I’ve always found the concept of a book trailer a little strange; while movie trailers for films are an obvious marketing strategy, I think it’s a challenge for most writers (particularly fiction writers) to do justice to their books in a media that isn’t an obvious match with the product, i.e., words and story and the imaginative collaboration they create with the reader. How to translate this into video was a mystery to me. Actually, it still is.

The main problem for fiction writers, I think, is how to portray our stories visually. We write because we love words, after all, and not all of us are also actors or have a great visual sense or have the budget to hire professionals. I’ve also found that attempts to dramatize a novel for the tiny screen can backfire in a huge way if not done just right. That said, I’m not sure what that “right way” is.  Many writers get around this challenge by focusing on something else other than the story itself, such as the author or book’s backstory — a great solution in that it gives readers a little something more than what they already know from the jacket copy or author bio.

Challenges aside, there are definitely a lot of great book trailers out there. One of my all-time favorites is Dennis Cass’s award-winning trailer, Book Launch 2.0 — which is not only hilarious, but it does everything a book trailer needs to do: engage, entertain, and pique interest in the author and the book. The trailer doesn’t actually mention his book, Head Case, which I might have done — but it’s still a great one.

I also like Judy Reeves’s book trailer for A Writer’s Book of Days — the trailer does a wonderful job of showing us what’s at the heart of the book: writing and inspiration, creativity and compassion. Even though the book is nonfiction, it tells a story — one that perfectly fits the book’s themes.

As Alan Rinzler points out in a blog post on book trailers, research indicates that you’ve got a viewer’s attention for about three minutes — but I’d go even shorter than that. I rarely watch anything for more than a minute or two — “Book Launch 2.0” was an exception because it was so funny, and you’ll note that Judy’s trailer is almost exactly two minutes long.

Yet even after watching a few good book trailers and more than a few bad ones, I came up with no great ideas for my own book. Promoting a short story collection from a university press has plenty of marketing challenges, and creating a book trailer seemed to be among the bigger ones. So Forgetting English went trailer-less for nearly two years, and in the meantime my husband, John Yunker, published a novel, The Tourist Trail, and he too began to wonder if he should do a trailer. Because he self-published his book and needed all the promotion he could get, we began thinking of ideas, all of them terrible. While we both agreed, naturally, with the reviewer who called John’s book “epic, sprawling, and strikingly cinematic,” we still couldn’t find a way to create a trailer that wasn’t melodramatic and lame.

Then he had a great idea — one that had nothing to do with the subject, content, characters, or themes of his book. But it didn’t need to. And best of all, his idea incorporated my book, too. So we put together a script, picked up John’s iPhone, and did the whole thing over Thanksgiving weekend. It cost us nothing but time.

And this is one of the important things to consider — how much time and/or money are you willing to invest in a book trailer? For us, the answer was a holiday weekend and zero money — so we had the perfect budget. But authors do have to be aware of the costs involved and to know that it might not be a great investment, especially since no one really knows how well book trailers sell books. Also, once you have a book trailer, the next challenge is to find ways to get people to view your book trailer. We were fortunate that many in the literary community showed it some love, including Poets & Writers, Shelf Awareness, GalleyCat, The Seattle Times, and many generous bloggers, Facebook friends, and tweeters (we thank you all). And we’ve noticed a slight uptick in book sales (we’re thankful for that, too), but nothing overwhelming, which makes us glad we didn’t spend a fortune. Still, it was worth doing in that it got our names and our books out there, and from the feedback we’ve gotten, it’s given people a few moments of fun.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes a good book trailer — send them along!

And, finally, here is our book trailer, Love in the Time of, for your viewing pleasure:

Stuff for writers: “old” authors, short (and shorter) stories, and more

By Midge Raymond,

Given the way our culture celebrates youth (including writers), I really enjoyed this post by Randy Susan Meyers in the Huffington Post: a list of 41 writers whose debut novels were published after they turned 40 (among them: Meyers’ own book, The Murderer’s Daughters, as well as National Book Award winner Julia Glass and Pulitzer winners Paul Harding, Edward P. Jones, and Elizabeth Strout).

Many authors, both emerging and established, are choosing to self-publish these days, and those of you who are emerging D.I.Y. authors will want to check out this post by Alan Rinzler on literary agents taking on self-published writers to see what agents are saying, both pro and con. Of course, many self-published authors (like John Yunker, author of the The Tourist Trail) already have agents; they just weren’t able to find publishers. For those of you in that category, also be sure to see Rinzler’s list of top genres for multi-book deals in 2010, along with his tips on how to “make publishers drool.” And then there are those self-published authors who are already successful and decide to go solo; this article highlights a couple of these writers.

For those of you who love short stories (and who doesn’t?!), check out Storyville, an iPhone/iPad app that brings stories directly to your device. It’s $4.99 for six months’ worth of stories — one each week. And even better news for short story (and literary novel) readers: Andrew’s Book Club is back! And there’s already a new pick for the new year.

Maybe it’s our diminishing attention spans, but stories seem to be getting shorter and shorter and shorter. Along with flash fiction, micro fiction, and prose poems, we now have “hint fiction” (check out this NPR story for samples).

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, The Paris Review has made its interviews available online — an amazing series of author interviews all the way back to the 1950s.

If you draw inspiration from seeing where writers work, in the U.S. there are 73 writers’ houses open to the public, including Norman Mailer’s and Edith Wharton’s.

And did you know that for 90 percent of what we communicate, we use only about 7,000 words? We’re losing words from the English language every day, and Oxford University Press hopes to save them with Save the Words, where you can visit with long-lost words and offer up your own words for safekeeping.

Awesome bookstores around the world

By Midge Raymond,

Now that 2011 is here, I’m thinking ahead to the events and readings I hope to do this summer — and also looking back on the fantastic and generous bookstores that hosted me in 2010 (among them, Pilot Books in Seattle and Warwick’s in San Diego). This has led me to think about other fantastic bookstores around the country and the world — which, as it turns out, is something a lot of readers and writers think about.

Here’s one of my all-time favorites, El Ateneo, housed in a converted theater in Buenos Aires:

This Huffington Post list of readers’ favorites includes many of my own, as does Flavorwire’s top 10. And El Ateneo is on this list of converted bookstores (if you think converting a theater into a bookstore is creative, how about ships, trailers, and manure tanks? not to mention castles and movie theaters) — as well as Lonely Planet’s top 1o greatest bookshops.

And one of the best things about an independent bookstore, of course, is the bookstore cat (or cats). I loved doing a workshop and reading at King’s Books in Tacoma, Washington, along with two feline attendees:

(I did not take it personally when both cats fell asleep on the tables during my workshop.)

For Bay Area readers and cat people, the San Francisco Chronicle compiled a list of bookstore cats that includes some very important stats: the cats’ favorite food, favorite places/genres for sleeping, and estimated amount of time spent sleeping. And in this article, Mental Floss features 12 bookstore cats with hilarious photos of them sprawled over the new fiction or snoozing in the stacks. So far, I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting one of these cats (Guthrie from Boston Book Annex), but wish I could meet them all.

I hope 2011 brings us all to many more fabulous independent bookstores — let’s not forget how much we writers and readers need them, and how much they need our support, too.

Author photos: A Q&A with Rosanne Olson

By Midge Raymond,

Perhaps some authors love having their photos taken, but I’m not one of them. In fact, I was planning to use my current author photo until the end of time … until I discovered the lovely photographs of Seattle photographer Rosanne Olson.

I first encountered Rosanne’s work in her beautiful book, This Is Who I Am, a collection of images and essays on women, body image, and compassion that Kate Winslet called “an absolutely wonderful book” and declared, “Every woman needs to see it!” As well as an author, Rosanne is an award-winning photographer and photojournalist who also has more than thirty years’ experience as a teacher and lecturer. She is particularly passionate about telling stories through portraits — of women, families, business professionals…and, yes, authors.

Rosanne generously agreed to chat with me about author photos, and already I’m looking forward to working with her on my new author photo (if I ever finish my next book, that is).

What do you think makes a good author photo?

The photograph needs to convey how the author wants to portray himself/herself. Usually that means approachable, intelligent, engaging. Some people are more dramatic in how they want to be seen. Some are more friendly or sophisticated.

What advice can you offer to writers who are nervous about having their photos taken?

People come to me with varying degrees of “nervousness” about how they look and how they “photograph” (“No one has ever taken a good photo of me” is a common complaint). This is very natural. My approach to get people to relax is to spend time talking to my clients before I pick up my camera. I also will likely read some of their work prior to the session. I make recommendations about clothing and makeup, and then, as the session proceeds, share some of the digital images with the client. I like to make them feel that they are in competent and compassionate hands with something that is very precious to them. After the session, I get them to sit with me to edit the photos to make sure they get the look they want.

What are the biggest mistakes authors make when it comes to their photos?

Sometimes people come here with too much makeup on. Or they bring their clothing stuffed into a bag so everything is wrinkled. Believe me, not just authors do this but lots of people. It is actually pretty amusing except for the fact that clothing then needs to be pressed or steamed here. Aside from that, people are usually willing to trust me to do the best possible job that I can with them. It is an exquisite collaboration.

What should an author expect to pay for a professional author photo?

Photographers’ fees vary across the country, but most charge somewhere between $150 and $2,500. If you pay the least amount possible for a photo you may get something okay. Or even just fine. But will it work for years to come? I try to work with people and their budgets. It is definitely an important investment.

Do you recommend color or black-and-white for author photos — and why?

Things are shot digitally these days so all images come out in color and it takes an extra step to convert them to black-and-white or sepia. That said, I think color conveys more because it is, well, color.

Do you have any recommendations for authors who are looking for a photographer? What questions should they ask?

An author photo is an important piece of one’s “brand.” If you have a photo you like, you can use it for years. When people see it they will think of you and of your work. I think of some of the famous, famous photos of people like Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver and how they convey so much at a glance. Pick your photographer by looking at the photographer’s web site and perhaps talking on the phone. Also, ask for references from other artists and authors who have been photographed by that person.

For another recent conversation with Rosanne, visit poet Susan Rich’s blog (Rosanne’s photo of Susan is directly above…and above that is author Wendy Call) — and simply post a comment at the end of the article to win a copy of This Is Who I Am.

We need to talk about your Amazon sales rankings…

By Midge Raymond,

Forgetting English finally has a book trailer! It’s actually more of a short story than a trailer, and it’s the result of a collaboration with my husband, whose book The Tourist Trail plays a major role. Needless to say, we had a lot of fun.

It’s called “Love in the Time of” Enjoy.

Ask Midge: Is there a bad time to query an agent?

By Midge Raymond,

Q: I am looking to pitch agents with my query and book proposal for my first book. However, with holidays approaching, should I wait till January 2011 to send them out? Does the industry, like all others, also go through a lull from November to January? — P.J., Seattle

A: It’s true that the publishing industry goes through a bit of a lull during the holidays. (At the publishing house where I used to work, it began on Halloween — the kegs rolled in around noon, and that was it for the rest of the day.) Every publisher is different, but from November to the end of December, things are definitely a little slower — and the summers are slower as well (on “summer Fridays” most of us were out the door by noon). That’s not to say that deals aren’t being made during these times — just not quite as many. If you subscribe to a trade publication like PublishersMarketplace or Publishers Weekly, you’ll start to get a feel for the busy and slow times of year in the industry.

Agents, however, are always looking for good material, and in my experience there’s no bad time of year to query an agent. In fact, because the end of the year is slower for editors and publishers, this may be a good time to get an agent’s attention; an agent may be focused on finding new clients rather than selling projects. Of course, it’s a busy time of year for most people in general — but keep in mind that for agents who read queries in the order received, you’ll still have yours read first if you send it in November versus in January.

Another thing to consider is that the agent who represents you will likely have revisions for you — and it’s great to have time to work on these during a slower time for publishers. And even if your manuscript/proposal needed no revisions at all, your agent would likely wait to submit the project in the new year anyway.

That said, there are no rules here, only preferences. Be sure to read an agency’s guidelines carefully; each agency is different. Some agencies or agents may stop reading over the holidays, or during big industry events, or for any number of reasons — so always check before you query (if the agent has a blog, this is a great way to find out his or her preferences).

Finally, and most important: Take the time you need to make sure your query is the best it can possibly be — this is what will get an agent’s attention, far more than what time of year you send it.

Best of luck!

Stuff for writers

By Midge Raymond,

On Character

Ever wondered about the subtle differences in accents between an Australian and a New Zealander? Or how to tell by accent whether someone is from Florence or from Sicily? Check out the Speech Accent Archive, which exhibits a large set of speech accents from a variety of language backgrounds. Native and non-native speakers of English all read the same English paragraph, and you can listen to a recording and/or view the phonetic spellings.

And speaking of subtle differences, characterization is all about getting the details right. Does your character say soda, Coke, or pop? Check out this map to see in which regions of the U.S. which terms are used.

On Procrastination

If you don’t already have enough ideas for how to procrastinate, check out this short animated film on procrastination by Johnny Kelly. It’s funny as well as spot-on.

This neat little program from Pilot will turn your own handwriting into a font, so you can type “handwritten” letters.

And finally, check out Underwood: Stories in Sound, founded by writer Nathan Dunne, who turned his love for short stories and vinyl records into a twice-yearly publication produced as a vinyl LP featuring two writers.

Ask Midge: To stet or not to stet? How to handle edits you don’t like

By Midge Raymond,

Q: I just received edits from the literary magazine that is publishing my story, and while some of them are improvements, I don’t agree with all of them. Do I have to make every single one? — CG, New York City

A: First, congratulations! Most literary journals publish only a small percentage of the submissions they receive, and having a piece accepted is a big accomplishment. So first — celebrate.

Then, you’ll need to deal with the edits. How heavily a story is edited depends entirely upon the magazine and the editors — sometimes you’ll find that editors make a lot of suggestions; other times they’ll accept a story with very few minor changes. It can be jarring, at first, to have your story returned with a lot of changes — so my first tip would be to read through all the edits, then put the story away for a bit (deadlines permitting). It often takes a little time to absorb the idea of edits as well as the edits themselves.

Next, go through the edits and see which ones you agree with; these are the easy ones to make. If there are still a few suggestions that you don’t agree with and would like to stet (stet=let it stand), then you’ll have to make choices. In my experience, I’ve found that most editors are fairly flexible and that their suggestions are usually just that: suggestions. So if you’ve reread your piece, given it a little time and space, and still disagree with an editor’s suggestions, go ahead and make a case for keeping these sections as is. Reply to the editor and thank him/her for the suggested changes and explain why you want to stet the edits. And have a good reason, not just “I like it better this way”; editors usually have a good reason behind every edit, even if it may not be immediately clear to you. And being polite and appreciative will go a long way — thoughtful editing takes a lot of time and energy, and before rejecting any changes, you’ll want to show that you’ve given the changes some thought and have good reasons for asking to stet them.

You may get to keep your darlings — but you may find that your editor is adamant about the changes. In this case, you’ll have a couple of things to consider. First, how much do you feel the edits change your story, and second, can you live with these changes? If you don’t agree with them but find that the heart and soul of your story remains intact, it may be worth it to let go. There’s quite a bit of give-and-take involved in the editing process, so think about which changes you can accept and which you absolutely cannot. Then, pick your battles.

If you find that there are certain changes you absolutely can’t accept, be prepared for an editor to stand firm — sometimes publication is contingent on your making certain changes. I once had a story accepted that was contingent upon my changing the ending. After careful consideration, I felt that changing the ending in the way the editor suggested didn’t fit the theme of the story as a whole, and I declined to make the change. As a result, the magazine withdrew its offer of publication, and the story wasn’t published for many years. Still, I don’t regret the decision I made — endings are a big deal, and I would rather have waited than to have had the story published in a way that didn’t feel right.

On the other hand, there have been many other times in which I’ve given in to changes I don’t love because I wanted to see the story out in the world. These changes have been easier to make because even if I don’t love or entirely agree with them, in the end, I realize that the changes don’t affect the story in a big way and are likely noticeable only to me.

At the risk of sounding snooty, another thing for you to consider is the caliber of the magazine in question. You should always be submitting only to journals that you like, respect, and would be proud to see your work appear in — but again, you don’t know until you’ve been accepted how heavily your work might be edited. If you’re an emerging writer and The New Yorker is asking you to make a couple of changes prior to publishing your story, I’d say be open to that (be very open to that). If it’s a smaller, lesser known journal and you feel the changes alter your story in a way you’re not comfortable with, you might consider declining to make the changes so that you have a chance to see your story published exactly the way you envision it.

So in the end, it’s a bit of a balancing act. You’ll want to 1) pick your battles in terms of which changes to make and which to fight for; and 2) be as flexible as possible and hope your editors will be the same; and 3) weigh the pros/cons of your story appearing in the magazine a little differently than you’d like versus it not appearing at all.

And, finally, keep in mind that it’s always going to be your story. Even if you make minor changes per one editor’s tastes, the rights will revert back to you after publication, and you can publish the story exactly the way you want it in your own collection.

Stuff for writers

By Midge Raymond,

This post on Alan Rinzler’s blog is a great reminder that even if you haven’t started shopping your book around, you may already be giving publishers good reasons to take a chance on you as a writer — or not. He offers a great anecdote along with a few tips for writers — among them: be accurate about sales numbers and reviews — the most important of which is to realize that you will probably be Googled, and to make sure what’s out there portrays you in a good light. (If not, you can always hire someone to delete your web indiscretions; see these articles from Wired and the NY Times.)

Having spent the past two years on a project that I’ve realized is going to take even longer, I enjoyed reading this piece in Slate about “the quiet hell of 10 years of novel writing.” It’s a reminder to us all that great writing takes great amounts of time — and it always, always helps to remember that Junot Díaz’s Pulitzer-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao took more than ten years to write.

If you’re a writer — especially one who’s been working for many years on a seemingly endless project, you may wonder, Why do I write, anyway? Check out this NPR story featuring writers talking about why they write.

And for all of you short fiction fans out there, here’s a great way to promote short stories in general as well as your favorites specifically: Post a link on Twitter every Sunday to someone else’s story you’ve enjoyed over the week. Then search for #StorySunday to read stories other readers have linked to. Check out The Short Review for its usual fantastic short story reviews, interviews, and news, as well as its handy widget to see Sunday Story picks at a glance.

On perseverance

By Midge Raymond,

In this New York Times blurb about the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library opening in November, I was glad to see that among the things to be displayed are “boxes of rejection letters,” which his oldest daughter, Edie Vonnegut, hopes will inspire writers. She told the A.P. that Vonnegut received rejections telling him, “You have no talent and we suggest you give up writing.”

It’s crazy when you think of it now — but this is how nearly every writer begins a career. Edie Vonnegut said of her father, “He did not have an easy time of it, and I think for anyone who wants to be a writer, it will be important for them to see how tough it was for him.”

Whenever you read something like this, how can you not be inspired? I can’t even imagine what life would be like had Vonnegut taken any of these rejections seriously.

In my experience, editors aren’t nearly as harsh these days — probably because by now enough brilliant writers have been told to stop writing that it gets embarrassing for the editors who were so very, very wrong. In this post, literary agent Nathan Bransford tells us why his rejection letters are vague, writing, “If I’m passing on a partial, chances are it’s because I’m just not feeling that zing that I feel whenever I’m reading something I’m going to want to take on.” As so many rejected writers know, while “that zing” may not be happening for one agent or editor, it might very well happen with the next.

On his blog, Seth Godin writes about “entrepreneurial hope” and connects this notion to writers, pointing out that instead of hoping to win that “magic lottery” of having someone like Oprah turn your novel into a bestseller, authors should look at the “hard work alternative” and make it happen for themselves. Rather than pin your hopes on a lottery-like luck, he advises, “delight the audience you already have … success is mostly about finding a path and walking it one step at a time.”

I love that — and I find that it’s absolutely true; we writers simply must enjoy the process because the rewards can be so few and far between. Yet even as we’re delighting in the process, we’ll still be getting rejected here and there — and that hurts. I enjoyed this post on Book of Kells, the poet Kelli Russell Agodon’s awesome blog. Co-editor of Crab Creek Review, Kelli wrote recently about writers resubmitting to journals, including a follow-up post called Submit Like a Man — great advice for writers who need to remember that rejection is part of the process — and that following up and persevering is part of success.

Ask Midge: Hiring an editor

By Midge Raymond,

Q: How do you know when you need an outside editor for your work, and what’s the best way to go about finding one? — K.S., San Diego

A: The first part of this question depends on several things: your goals as a writer, the shape your project’s in, and whether you have access to classes and/or writing colleagues. If you are able to participate in a writing class, fantastic — here, you will meet an instructor (who may also be an editor, or can probably help you find one), and you’ll also meet fellow writers with whom you can consider forming a writer’s group. Both instructors and fellow writers can help you determine where your work stands in terms of quality and readability; also, you may find that being part of a class and/or working with a group can be just as good as working with a professional editor, depending on your needs.

If, however, you know you want a professional editor — a good choice for writers who don’t have time for/access to classes or a writing group; for writers who are ready to submit manuscripts to agents, publishers, or contests and know they need help with polishing; or for writers who simply want to work with someone who has the experience and background of a pro — then below are a few things to consider.

  • Make sure you find a good match. Check out an editor’s experience and bio, which is a good start (if you looked at my bio, for example, you might consider hiring me if you write fiction or memoir, but you wouldn’t want me editing your poetry). It’s also important that you and your editor are compatible in ways that go beyond genre — ideally, you’ll want an editor who respects your voice and who works with you to make your project the best it can be, not to transform it into something you don’t recognize as your own.
  • Know what type of editing you want. A good editor will help you clarify this, but it helps if you have a good idea yourself. You may want copyediting (editing for grammar, punctuation, style — I like these definitions of light, medium, and heavy copyediting — but keep in mind that writers can’t always be objective about their work, and while you think your writing may only need a light copyedit, your editor may feel differently — so be open to suggestions). Or you may need developmental editing (more thorough editing for content and structure; rewriting as needed; suggestions for additions, deletions, and other changes). If you’re not sure what type of editing your work needs, have an editor look at 10-20 sample pages to determine what type of approach would be best. The difference between a light copyedit and a substantial developmental edit can add up to a lot of time (and dollars), so it’s important to be on the same page here.
  • Know exactly what you’re getting for your money. If you’re not sure what the going rates are, check out the Editorial Freelancers Association’s list of editing fees — these are in the ballpark of what you’ll pay for copyediting or developmental editing, though keep in mind that all prices will vary depending on the project itself.
  • Ask for a sample or discounted edit. The only way to know if you and your editor have similar sensibilities is to work together — yet you don’t want to find out, too late, that it’s not a great fit. Before I commit to a large project, I’ll offer a complimentary sample edit of a few pages to make sure the writer and I are on the same page in terms of what he/she expects and how I can best help. If I’m working with a new writer on smaller projects, such as short stories, I’ll offer a discount on the first story to ensure that the writer is getting exactly what he/she needs before we continue further.
  • Ask for references. A good editor should have plenty of happy clients out there.
  • Be clear about the terms. Even after you and your editor agree on a price, make sure you’re comfortable with all the terms: What you’ll pay up front, what you pay upon completion, whether follow-up questions are included, what the deadlines are, whether your work will be edited electronically or on hard copy, etc.
  • Make your own goals clear. If you’re seeking an editor to help you polish your first three chapters so you can send them to an agent, let him/her know this. While you may hire this editor to give your chapters a copyedit, if there’s a major logic flaw in Chapter One, wouldn’t you love to have this pointed out? Editors often go above and beyond this way (we’re trained to be picky; we can’t help it). And if you’re planning to self-publish, your editor will need to know that he/she may be the last set of eyes on the book before it goes into print.

So how to find an editor in the first place? Good places to start, as mentioned above, are classes, fellow writers, and writing organizations — always get a recommendation if you can. If you’re starting from scratch, try listings such as Poets & Writers classifieds for editors seeking clients. And if you don’t have a personal recommendation, here are a few things to be aware of:

  • Beware of quotes that seem too expensive. If an editor’s prices are, say, more than double the common rates, this should be a red flag. On the other hand, some editors charge a lot because they’re worth it. Find a balance between working with the editor you want and staying within your budget. Again, ask for a complimentary sample edit so you’ll know what you’re getting, and agree on a total price up front (even if an editor charges by the hour, which most do, you should be able to get an estimate on the total so there are no surprises at the end of the project).
  • Promises, promises. Avoid working with editors who promise you perfection, miracles, publication, etc. First, the only editor that can promise you publication is an editor at a publishing house, and second, an editor’s job is to make your work the best it can be, not to promise miraculous transformation (this is more along the lines of ghostwriting).
  • Take your time. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time, but you also don’t want to make a hasty decision about someone who could become a valuable resource and sounding board for you. Feel free to talk to a couple of different editors before making a decision, and never hesitate to find a new editor if the one you’re working with isn’t a good fit.

Questions? Comments? Send them along.

Stuff for writers

By Midge Raymond,

I recently discovered a new toy online: Wordle, which generates nifty “word clouds” from text that you provide on its web site. Input your text or a URL, and you’ll see where your passions lie: The largest words in your cloud are the ones that appear more frequently in your source text. Here’s the word cloud created from my blog:

And speaking of discovering your passions, Poets & Writers has listed its Top Ten Topics for Writers, a compilation of the most important issues for writers today. The list includes literary magazines, publishing a book, literary agents, vanity presses, writing contests, book publicity, and copyright, among others. Check it out — and even better, support P&W and subscribe.

You may have heard the sad news about the end of Andrew’s Book Club, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy all its fabulous content, from more than a year’s worth of short-story picks to author interviews to author dialogues, like this conversation between Tracy Winn and Robin Black, to name just one. Visit the ABC web site to enjoy the archival treasure.

I liked this NYT article about wandering minds, which finds “daydreaming to be remarkably common — and often quite useful.” As you already know if you’re a writer, sometimes the best ideas come to us when our minds are wandering, and it’s always reassuring to have an expert like Jonathan Schooler of the University of California, Santa Barbara, tell us that “for creativity you need your mind to wander.” Thank you, Dr. Schooler.

For pure enjoyment (as well as what not to do if you’re looking for an agent), check out Slush Pile Hell, a hilarious blog by a “grumpy literary agent” who answers writers’ questions as well as posts some of her weirder author queries. A sampling of the helpful tips: do not send agents shirtless photos, demands for seven-figure deals, or tell them how God helped you write your manuscript. A sampling of actual letters received: “Greetings agent. I have written the most important book on earth”; “Readers of Eat, Pray, Love; Twilight; Tuesdays with Morrie;  and The Da Vinci Code will love my book” [correct usage of semicolons added by me]; and “After reading my manuscript I think you’ll agree that I may be the next generation’s greatest author.”

Equally amusing is this post about writing “a lot” as “alot,” which has always been one of my pet peeves, along with “alright.” (Two words, people. Two words.) Anyway, this inventive grammarian created an imaginary creature “to help me deal with my compulsive need to correct other people’s grammar.” I love it and feel a lot less peevish already. (And thanks to my writing buddy Sean A. for sending the link!)

And finally, to leave you with a writing exercise, check out One Word, a beautifully simple web site that offers a one-word writing prompt with the instructions, “Don’t think. Just write.” Enjoy.

How to write a novel … and other tips for writers

By Midge Raymond,

I stole the first portion of this headline from Nathan Bransford’s recent blog post, mostly because I love that he not only dared but quite successfully managed to fit so many key points about this “rotund, ginormous, massive, weighty, of-gargantuan-proportions” topic into one post. (I’d have begun with character development, but that’s just me.) And keep in mind that Nathan is not only a writer but a literary agent, so his advice comes at least in part from what he looks for in a new client. So if you’re writing a novel, or want to, check it out.

And, for all you really efficient novelists out there, Bransford followed up a couple days later with another post on how to write a query letter, also excellent, with plenty of helpful links.

And, if you’re curious about the path toward publication, I’m following a couple of authors’ adventures that you might also enjoy. On her wonderful blog Practicing Writing, Erika Dreifus offers “Pre-Publication Posts” on Thursdays, in which she writes about an aspect of the publication process as she prepares her own forthcoming book, Quiet Americans, for publication. She covers everything from e-books to review angst to readings — and she recently posted an excerpt from her story collection. Her blog is terrific every day of the week, so be sure to subscribe.

And John Yunker is blogging about taking the self-published route with his novel The Tourist Trail, which is another adventure entirely, though it has good tips for anyone with a forthcoming book, whether or not you’re your own publisher. Visit his blog to learn more about D.I.Y. publishing, from creating cover art to getting reviews, as well as book promotion and e-books.