October 8, 2011
August 12, 2011
What is Proofreading, Anyway?
Proofreading is a final pass on a document, manuscript, or piece of content. It’s different from line editing because a proofread shouldn’t entail substantive changes. A proofreader will note strange or wrong word choices. They will note redundancies (i.e., “This deep-felt experience resonated deeply.”) Now, it’s true that a copyeditor should have/might have caught something like this in the copyediting phase, but a proofreader is wearing a wholly different lens when they’re looking at your work. They are not reading for structure or logic like a copyeditor is. They’re looking for dropped words, and if a book is already formatted and/or designed, for mistakes a manuscript might contain as a result of being designed—things like bad breaks, inconsistent fonts, or wrongly formatted headings.
Why Do I Need a Proofreader?
I said in last month’s newsletter that if you only hire one editor, hire a copyeditor. It’s absolutely possible to take your manuscript to an agent or to shop your book without being proofread. I often see proposals and manuscripts that contain errors and it doesn’t make me want to write those authors off. However, if I’m looking at something that’s unsolicited, and the query letter and proposal are riddled with small errors, that’s a whole other story. Obviously good punctuation, spelling, and grammar make a good impression. If you’re unagented and trying to sell your manuscript directly to a publisher, it’s worth having a proofreader go over your work. If you’re self-publishing, do not skip the proofreading step. Most books, even after their proofread, STILL contain a handful of mistakes. You will be surprised and horrified by how many small things your proofreader catches, so be thorough and consider the value of that final few hundred dollars. After all, some agents and acquisitions editors are much more unforgiving than I am.
How Do I Work with a Proofreader?
Most proofreaders still mark up hardcopy pages. There are ways to proof online, and I still don’t like them as much as a good old-fashioned red pen on paper. So you can send your proofreader your content in the mail and they can mark it up and send it back to you, or you can consider an online method if it appeals to you. What’s important is what you do after you get your corrections back. If you do not know proofreading marks and you’re not editorially inclined, then you might want to consider working with your proofreader, copyeditor, or designer to implement the changes the proofreader made. All too often I see writers implementing perfectly good changes and introducing new errors because they don’t know any better. So be careful. Establish a process or this entire step might be for naught.
A Friendly Word of Advice
Be careful about hiring your best friend who’s a “pretty good proofreader” or your daughter who “passed the AP English test.” Unless they are trained proofreaders, they’re not proofreaders. They might be very skilled and have good instincts. They’ll probably even catch some errors. And, yes, if you’re not going to hire anyone then certainly have someone you know look over your pages for you. But understand that a good proofreader is someone who's going to go over your pages with a fine-tooth comb. And they will, I promise you, blow your mind.
Until next month,
GO BACK TO THE WARNER COACHING HOMEPAGE
July 21, 2011
What is Copyediting, Anyway?
Copyediting, also called line editing, is mostly about consistency, word choice, good grammar, and accurate punctuation. A good copyeditor will notice repetition in your work. They may also help you with any timeline issues or chronology lapses, and inconsistencies caused by things like changing people's names late in the game. They will generally do a base-level fact-check as well. They’ll make your word and punctuation choices consistent. In a well-copyedited manuscript, for instance, you’ll never see make-up and makeup. You’ll never see some sentences with series commas (I write, I edit, and I rewrite) and others without (I write, I edit and I rewrite). Copyeditors usually won’t point out issues in the story or plot unless you ask them to, or unless the issues are so glaring that they must. More generally, they’ll clean up your grammar and catch things you wouldn’t be able to catch even if you took a month away from your work and came back with fresh eyes. Why is this so? It seems to be physiological! People stop seeing the errors in their own writing after having spent so much time with it. (I've experienced this enough times myself to know it’s true!)
Why Do I Need a Copyeditor?
You must be copyedited. If you have to choose between a developmental editor, copyeditor, or proofreader, choose the copyeditor. You will be stunned by what comes back. The things copyeditors catch delight me to no end. It’s amazing to see that EVERYTHING contains errors, and it gives you a whole new appreciation for accuracy. If you’re already a perfectionist, knowing that you will have your work copyedited at the end of your process can be a weight off your shoulders. It can allow you to focus on the creative process of writing rather than worrying so much about sentence construction. If you’re not a perfectionist and don’t even know what a conjunction or series comma is, then by god, get your work copyedited!
How Do I Work with a Copyeditor?
Recently I was struck by something one of my clients said about her manuscript being out with a copyeditor: “I just figured I had to sit back and wait,” she told me. Well, not exactly. The most important thing to know about working with a copyeditor is that you can and should give them notes and establish boundaries around your own expectations. There are a couple reasons to do so:
(1) Many copyeditors can slip into becoming developmental editors in a snap. If you do not want to be developmentally edited, then you need to be clear that all you’re looking for is a line edit. There are plenty of copyeditors out there who will over-edit and take liberties if you don’t tell them that you want some parameters. I’ve worked with a fair number of authors who have been shocked (and upset) when they got their copyedits back. This happens most often with people who are writing humor, or writers who specifically are not striving for perfect grammar because their work is intentionally conversational. If this is the case with your manuscript, you MUST tell your copyeditor so that he or she doesn't edit out the funny, or edit out your conversational tone. Ask your copyeditor to edit a sample chapter, or at least a few pages. (Pay for this if you have to---it won't cost too much.) Make sure the editor’s marks make sense to you and that you agree with the changes they’re making.
(2) It can get expensive. A line edit is less time-consuming than a developmental edit, and you can further clarify the level of edit you want by asking for a bid (see calculator below). Ask the editor if they’ll read some chapters and offer an assessment before you get started. Yes, you will most likely have to pay for this, too, but it’s better to throw away $60-$80 than to spend hundreds, even thousands, on something you’re not happy with.
Heavy edit: Word count divided by 310 divided by 5
Medium edit: Word count divided by 310 divided by 6
Light edit: Word count divided by 310 divided by 7
This calculator can give you a rough estimate of how much time each level (heavy, medium, light) should take so at least you will know whether your copyeditor’s bid is in the right ballpark.
Finally, make sure you have good rapport with your editor. Talk to them. Again, pay them to read some or all of your manuscript and give you notes. In today’s publishing climate you can’t afford to submit unedited material to an agent or a publishing house. It can mean the difference between getting picked up or not---and as I said last month, if you’re self-publishing, being thoroughly and professionally edited matters even more.
Until next month,
GO BACK TO THE WARNER COACHING HOMEPAGE
June 18, 2011
What Is Developmental Editing, Anyway?
Developmental editing is about the big picture. It’s about structure and theme and content. It’s about understanding what your eventual Table of Contents is going to look like (or your plot, if you're writing fiction) and making sure that everything is consistent and actually makes sense. A lot of the coaching I do is developmental editing in that I walk authors through what’s working and not working with their manuscript. If I start working with someone early on in their process, I work with them to develop their Shitty First Drafts (SFDs) and to get their content on the page. It’s a process and it involves a lot of refining. For those writers who decide that they need a developmental editor later in the game, like after they've written their entire manuscript, the process is a little different in that it can involve an overhaul. A developmental edit can get a little messy at this stage, and a good editor is more important than ever because there are so many moving parts to hold. If you find yourself in this situation, knowing that your manuscript is a bit of a mess and needs more help than you ever anticipated, don't fret. There are good people out there who can fix almost anything!
Why Do I Need a Developmental Editor?
A developmental editor should be your collaborative partner. You can bring them on board at any stage of your writing process, but in my opinion, the earlier you have them reading along with you, the better off you’re going to be in the long-run. A developmental editor is looking for the big picture. Because they're removed, they can see things you can’t because you’re too close to the story. They can also help guide you in a direction you might not have considered. Your developmental editor should be someone who defers to your choices, but also someone you can trust, and who hopefully occasionally pushes back and has an opinion about your work.
How Do I Work with a Developmental Editor?
There are any number of ways to work, and many editors will have strong feelings about how they want to work, but I will throw out some food for thought here since you do have a say in your process---no matter what. If you are just getting started on a new book project and you know you do well with feedback and partnership, consider hiring someone upfront who can read pages as you write them and talk you through decisions about the arc of the work or your plot. Ideally, your editor will ask you to create a chapter summary document that the two of you can use as your roadmap in the process of completing your book. This is my preferred way to work with clients, and it ultimately saves both time and money as pitfalls and inconsistencies are averted along the way. If you already have a complete manuscript and realize that you need or want a developmental editor, you will probably need to pay someone to read your entire manuscript and give you notes. This is kind of like paying for a home inspection before you buy a house. You might not end up buying the house, but you aren't going to regret having paid a little bit upfront to know what you were getting yourself into. If you’re going to pay someone to read, make sure you get good notes. Make sure you agree with the editor's direction and ideas. Make sure you have good rapport with the editor and that you like the way they talk and/or advise you. This is going to be an important relationship, and you want to feel like you’re being heard, that the editor understands your story, and that everything they’re saying actually makes sense to you.
Is This Going to Cost an Arm and a Leg?
A developmental edit can get expensive. When we outsource developmental edits at Seal Press, we generally expect that it will take between 60-100 hours. Editors are charging anywhere from $25-50 an hour for this kind of work. This is why I advise getting started working with an editor early on in your process. Spreading out that kind of expense over the year or more that you’re writing the book is much easier to swallow than spending it all at once because you’re desperate and you need someone to save or fix your book. That said, you never want to shop your book to an agent or editor without having some sort of professional assessment. So if the price tag here freaks you out, consider at least getting your manuscript copyedited. I’ve met many smart people who felt that the fact that their best friend and mother read and loved their book was evidence enough that it was going to be a bestseller. The best piece of advice I can give you is: Don’t be naive. If you want to get published by a traditional publisher, you need to have your work edited. If you want to self-publish, it matters even more.
Until next month,
GO BACK TO THE WARNER COACHING HOMEPAGE
May 27, 2011
When Should I Shop My Manuscript?
Novelists: If you’re writing a novel (adult or YA), do not shop until you are completely finished with your manuscript. Many agents only require a query letter in addition to your manuscript, but I highly recommend creating a chapter-by-chapter summary of your entire book to send along with your first fifty pages when an agent expresses interest in your work. This helps the agent get a sense of the arc of your narrative without having to read the entire manuscript. If the summary holds together well, they will be more likely to request your full manuscript.
Nonfiction writers: If you’re writing creative nonfiction, a memoir, or self-help, you can shop with a proposal and sample chapters, though some agents prefer a complete manuscript. Critical to shopping your nonfiction manuscript is a proposal. You must have a complete book proposal that includes some variation of the following elements: Overview, About the Author, Competitive Titles, Target Audience, Marketing/Publicity, Chapter-by-Chapter Summaries, Sample Chapters.
Tip: Don’t feel pressured to go out with your work before it’s ready. I have worked with writers who are so anxious to land an agent that they have gone out too soon---before their concept was completely secure, or before the proposal had been thoroughly edited or proofread. Agents are flooded with mediocre proposals. Don’t be one of them!
How do I decide whether to shop for an agent or go directly to a publishing house?
The answer to this question has everything to do with your expectations. If you think your work is commercial and you expect a good advance, you must get an agent. If you think you have a fairly niche project and money doesn’t matter that much to you, then you might consider shopping directly to a publisher. Some publishing houses simply do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, making the decision of whether you need to be agented an easy one. If you want to publish on Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, or any number of bigger houses, you have to be agented. If you know that you would like to publish with a small house, and you absolutely feel an alignment to a particular house or editor, consider pitching to them directly.
Tip: Never pitch agents and publishing houses simultaneously. If you pitch to a publishing house and get a rejection, your agent will not be able to circle back around to that house to pitch on your behalf. You never want to be in the position of telling an agent who’s just agreed to represent you that you’ve stacked up a list of rejections from various publishing houses you approached before you approached them.
What do I need to have complete before I approach an agent or a publisher?
Novelists: First, you must have a finished manuscript. As I mentioned above, I also recommend completing a chapter-by-chapter summary of your book. Ideally, this is a three- to four-sentence summary of each of your chapters, which you save in a single document called ChxChSummary.doc. Additionally, you must create a query letter. The query letter is sometimes called a pitch letter, and it’s what you send to an agent or publisher when you want to ask them to take a look at your work. A good resource for query letters is Query Shark.
Nonfiction writers: First, you must have a complete proposal. In addition to this, you may opt to complete your manuscript. There are pros and cons to shopping a whole manuscript versus shopping on sample chapters, and some agents and editors have strong feels about which they prefer---and it varies from person to person. Like novelists, you also need to create a query letter, which you send to an agent or publishing house for the purpose of getting them interested in your work.
Tip: Do your research and find out the names of the agents and editors you want to approach. If you are a more casual person, feel free to address them by their first name; if you’re more old-school, address them as Mr. or Ms. Never address a query letter to “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir.” (I have been known to immediately trash letters addressed to “Dear Sir.”) Note that Publishers Marketplace gives you access to agents’ and editors’ full names, titles, and email addresses on their homepage. (Scroll down to the "Quick contact search," which gives you the option of entering name and/or company to find who you're looking for.)
What’s the best way to pitch my work to an agent or editor?
When you’re ready to pitch your work, choose ten agents you want to approach. Researching an agent is an important part of this process, so take your time. I recommend spending the $20/month it takes to be a member on Publishers Marketplace. Look at the deals and see who’s buying and selling what. Spend time on The Guide to Literary Agents and zero in on agents whose websites, mission statements, personal statements, and interviews you like. There’s a wealth of information about agents and editors online.
Start your pitching process by pasting your query letter into the body of your email. At the end of your query, you will ask the question: “May I send you the first fifty pages of my novel?” (if you are a novelist), or, “May I send you my complete proposal?” (if you are a nonfiction writer). Then you wait to get an affirmative response.
Once you get a “Yes, you may send me your first fifty pages,” or, “Yes, you may send me your proposal,” you follow up by saying, “Thank you for agreeing to take a look at my chapters,” or “Thank you for agreeing to take a look at my proposal,” and you attach the work as an email attachment. If you are a novelist, this is when you attach your chapter summaries document as well, and make sure to note that you are taking the liberty of attaching a chapter summary document in addition to the first fifty pages of your novel.
Tip: Name your document appropriately. If I wrote a novel called Book Blazer, I would call my document BookBlazer_1st50.doc or BookBlazer_Warner.doc. Or if my memoir were titled, Confessions of a Booklover, I would title my document Confessions Booklover_Proposal.doc or Warner_finalproposal.doc. Avoid sending your proposal to Agent Frank Gage and titling it FrankGage.doc.
What’s the best way to keep track of the agents and editors I’m pitching to?
I mentioned above starting with just ten agents or ten publishing houses. The reason for this is because this process gets very messy very fast. It may seem like it’s not a big deal to pitch to twenty agents, but what if they all get back to you right away?
You’ll want to create a spreadsheet that keeps track of each agent’s name, email address, and the date you sent the query. Then keep track of whether they respond yes or no to receiving your work. If they respond yes, note what date you sent them your material (attachments). The normal amount of time to wait before hearing back is four to six weeks. Once you hit the six-week mark, it’s completely acceptable to send a follow-up email.
Once you receive five or more rejections, send out to five more agents at a time, never having more than ten open queries at a given time. Once you receive notice that an agent is interested in representing you, consider the Five Questions You Should Ask Your Would-Be Agent.
Tip: Use your spreadsheet to keep track of what you like about the agents you’re pitching. If they represent an author you admire, write that down. If something they said on their website resonates with you, take note. It’s very easy to lose track of who’s who when you’re juggling multiple agents, so get organized early!
Good luck in this process. It’s exciting and terrifying, and hopefully somewhat comforting to know that everyone who’s ever gotten published before you has been subjected to this process.
Until next month.
GO BACK TO THE WARNER COACHING HOMEPAGE