Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What Exactly Is Editing - Part V

Part One of this series was posted on August 3, 2010,

followed by Part II on Aug 10

and Part III on Aug 17,

Part IV on Aug. 24, 2010

I started this series on Editing actually in response to a question I got on Twitter, but I have forgotten who originally asked.

There was an exchange with a professional writer who had a rewrite order and a deadline and was just going nuts over it, and some others who chimed in. Finally someone asked what were the most rewrites other writers had to do.

I mentioned that my first award winner was published as 5th draft, a record for me that I never equaled again. And I said something (in 140 characters or less) about how quickly other rewrites had gone for me -- even extensive rewrites. And then came the question about how I did that.

I intended to write answer that question - then lost the questioner.

Recently, I decided I had to write up the answer I had so far (this is Part V, and there could be more), and asked on twitter for Questions I could answer in How To Rewrite To Editorial Specification On Deadline.

In response, I got the following from @DreamsGrafter

1)What is your process? What do you look at/tackle first?

2)Apparently the trick is to dig deeper. How do you do that when the scene structure already works? How do you enrich a scene?

3)What is the biggest lesson you've learnt over time re editing to a deadline and how do you deal with it now?

4)How do you know which notes to follow? What if your instincts are telling you something else?

And from another blogger on aliendjinnromances, professional SF/F Romance writer Rowena Cherry provides the following:

A) Is there a standard etiquette for attacking revisions? Is there a formula for how many hard-to-take edits you swallow for every one you argue against?

B) Is there a length of email that is optimum for making your case, but ensuring that the busy editor "gets" it without tuning out or getting annoyed?

Now if you've read Parts I-IV of this little blog series, you may see where these questions lead you astray.

Look again at the questions. Think about the focus, the implicit subtext.

Remember that in solving any problem, phrasing the question correctly is at least 90% of the solution.

Remember all the word-problems you did in grammar school math? You have cherries, and apples and boats on a stream, and you have to make an algebra equation out of it all.

If you get the initial algebra expression wrong, you'll never get the correct answer.

Phrasing the question is most of the solution.

Are these questions phrased in such a way as to get the answer you need in order to look at an editor's rewrite orders (or what screenwriters call "Notes") and know immediately what to do to make your manuscript publishable or producible?

Do you see that I've already answered all those questions in the first 4 parts to this series?


Do any of those questions take into account what an Editor's job is?

Do any of those questions focus on what the editor is trying to accomplish?

Do any of those questions address the real key issue to figuring out what to do with your story to make it "acceptable" to that editor?

No, they don't.

They look at the rewrite order, and at the story -- totally ignoring the Editor's PROBLEM.

Here's a glance at the problem the Editor knows this novel will face in the marketplace.

Again from twitter, a random selection of comments from a chat on publicity.

@BookMarketChat Another thing I think is true - get help. You may not see yourself, your work as clearly as a coach, publicist or honest friend. #bookmarket

@BookMarketChat Yea!RT @publishingcoach: Things change so quickly these days, and peoples memories are short. You'll lose some fans, gain others. #bookmarket

Two key take-aways: CHANGE and a perspective on yourSELF, what you're doing and how you're doing it. Keeping your eye on a changing market, and changing your behavior as that change happens is a major key to understanding the rewrite orders an editor is sending you -- even though you wrote exactly what the contract required!

Between the time you sign a contract or even seal the deal with a handshake via email -- things have changed in the editor's office!

When an editor (or producer) takes time to give you "Notes" or a rewrite order, direction, or marginal notations on a manuscript, the editor is asking you to finish doing your job, and to solve a problem the editor has, not a problem you have, and not the problem the editor had when you signed the contract.

The editor is not asking you to solve YOUR PROBLEM.

The editor (or producer) is asking you to solve THE EDITOR'S PROBLEM.

Worse, you have to solve the new problem IN TIME to get the product into the pipeline before things change again for the publicity department.

Consider that the way those questions that were sent to me are phrased focuses the attention on the writer's problem ignoring the entire issue of whether the editor has a problem and what that problem might actually be and how it's changed lately.

In those questions, the Editor and the Writer are talking past each other, not even at each other. Certainly there's no communicating going on.

These questions are by are professional writers who have done this work with professional editors. And look what they're asking.

Let's frame it all another way.

A) What exactly is this Editor asking me to do?

B) How do I figure out what the Editor really means by this note?

C) What should the finished product this Editor needs look like?

D) How do I figure out what part of my manuscript to change to get the effect this editor needs?

A) You can tell what the editor is asking you to do by looking at other books in the line the editor is editing for. The editor is asking you to make yours "the same but different" - to conform to the better selling novels in the line.

What does it mean "conform?" It means to use the same structure, the same trope, that has sold well before, but be fresh, original and different in theme, twists, character quirks, details, background.

In editor-speak "conform" means be different.

B) To figure out what an editor "really means" you have to know this editor a little bit at least. But it's usually safe to start with the assumption that the editor is an editor not a writer.

The editor will spot and flag a section, character, element, or detail that isn't "on beat" -- a pacing flaw, a bit that's foreshadowed (set-up) but never happens (pay-off).

The editor checks the emotional-tension of scenes to see that they are placed in the correct order - that climaxes (you should excuse the expression) come in the right places.

Some publishing lines have actual page-number formulas for internal climaxes, a set number of pages for sex scenes, action scenes, etc. But most don't have that strict a formula. Still, every genre (even Literature) does have a structure that determines the BEATS.

Blake Snyder showed you, in the SAVE THE CAT! series, exactly how to reverse engineer products aimed at different audiences to determine the best selling beat structures. Good editors know the beat of their line. The others don't stay in the job long.

What the editor "really means" is that "this "beat" right here where I've made this marginal note or on page-this of the MS is "wrong"."

It isn't the editor's job to tell the writer HOW TO FIX IT. The editor isn't a writer.  They often suggest what to change into what, but usually are just trying to express what's bothering them without actually, consciously analyzing what's bothering them. 

It's like a computer user calling tech support and yelling "It Doesn't Work" and tech support asking for the error code number, and the user just yelling IT DOESN'T WORK!!! How should I know why???? And tech support says "Well what did you do before it did that?" And the user says "I don't know, that's your job."

The editor is the USER, and you are her TECH SUPPORT. It's up to you to figure out why it doesn't work and fix it. It's only up to her to tell you THAT it doesn't work, not why or how to fix it. Don't call her and ask.

So if you're going to tech-support your own manuscript, you have to know its "computer language" (the symbolism in which it speaks; it's theme) and you have to know how it works, and where the drop-down menus are where other choices can be made.

You have to know the BEATS, the genre, the conflict, and all the moving parts of the composition.

Then when the editor points and says "this doesn't work" -- you don't call the editor up and defend your ART, you figure out why it doesn't work for that editor's line, and that publisher's purpose.

The reason it doesn't work on page 152 probably lies on page 1 -- maybe page 5 -- of a 400 page manuscript.

The editor can't tell you where the problem IS, only where it became noticeable. If you put the manuscript together, you should be able to take it apart, fix page 5 and see how that changes page 152, and it'll satisfy the editor. The editor doesn't care how you fix it, or how you figure out the problem is actually on page 5. The editor only cares that it be fixed and that it work, on deadline.

C) What should the finished product this editor needs look like? Do your homework. Read other books, novels, stories, in that line. If you're in film, read Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! series.  In fact, if you're in text, read that book anyway.  It's all there.  It's in the beat.  If you can see it in a film, you can see it in a novel! 

D) How do you figure out where to make changes to get the effect an editor needs?  Again.  The editor may not know WHY there's a problem on page 152, or what to do to fix it. But it is the editor's job to know what overall effect the novels in a line (or a film from a production company) should be.

If the effect isn't almost right already, the editor wouldn't take the trouble to ask for rewrite. So the necessary change probably isn't nearly as drastic as the editor thinks! If there's a problem with the "effect" (happy ending, crushing low-point for hero in the middle, a "lighter" or "darker" mood) it's either a pacing problem with the BEAT SHEET structure, or it's just choice of vocabulary. Line editing to adjust where beats fall and/or vocabulary changes can fix a lot with "light" or "dark" mood. Sometimes it can be fixed by deleting a scene or character and putting the information conveyed by that scene or character into another component of the story.

Writing is "magic" to editors. It isn't their job to know how you produce emotional effects, but only to know whether you've done it or not.

So to fulfill a rewrite order on deadline and on schedule, you START by structuring the story with precision beats before you write.

In fact, since most of a writer's work is done subconsciously way before "having an idea" for a story -- the smooth, quick, professional rewrite order response actually starts before you have the idea.

If you know what you did, what you chose, how you chose it, and why, and you know the editor didn't "get" the effect you worked for, you have to make a choice.

Either the effect you worked for has to be deleted entirely, in all its parts. Or something else has to be deleted to make room, and the effect worked up into the foreground.

Now, given this approach -- listen carefully to the editor, understand that this rewrite order is an attempt to conform your product to her Imprint's line, understand that it isn't criticism and has nothing at all to do with your Art, and everything to do with marketing, getting good reviews, and starting buzz.

Doing a fast, smooth job on rewrite is all about listening to the editor, and that's just like listening to any other person. Stop listening to yourself and start listening to the other person.

Now let's go through those questions submitted and answer them:

First @DreamsGrafter

1)What is your process? What do you look at/tackle first?

First- listen. Look at the overall pattern of rewrite notes and find the connecting mechanism built into the story while writing it.

Understanding that the actual problem with the manuscript is very likely NOT at the point where the editor noticed it, find the actual problem and fix that. Often 15-20 scattered complaints sprinkled through a 400 page manuscript can be fixed with one or two tweaks.

2)Apparently the trick is to dig deeper. How do you do that when the scene structure already works? How do you enrich a scene?

To "enrich" a scene that's locked into a nice paced sequence of scenes you don't want to mess up, go for SUBTEXT.

Plant a foreshadowing or "set-up" long before the scene you want enriched. Tiny tweaks to the scene you want to enrich will then make it a super-huge pay-off to the previous setup. And be sure to end the scene with a set-up for a pay-off that'll come several scenes later, maybe at the end.  When there's a difference between what the viewer knows and what the character knows, you get rich. 

Make sure the reader learns something they have wanted to know for an excruciatingly long time in that scene but still knows they don't know everything - and it will be enriched.

3) What is the biggest lesson you've learnt over time re editing to a deadline and how do you deal with it now?

Sounding spontaneous is a matter of careful preparation.

How quickly and efficiently you can rewrite depends on how carefully you prepared TO REWRITE before you wrote.

It depends on how you kept your own notes and what is connected to what and what foreshadows what, and where the tension builds and where it's released.

Rewrite orders that aren't simple story-logic tweaks (he put his hat on twice without taking it off) are almost always related to adjusting pacing to fit the genre.

Understand how you paced it to begin with, and you'll know what you can delete now to tighten the pacing, and what to add to slow it down.

Editors don't always just tell you the problem is pacing. They may say it's uninteresting or complicated or abstract, or I don't like this character or I don't believe that character would do this -- and it's up to you to understand, as their tech-support, that the real problem they are having is with pacing.

A character who would NEVER do this will do it if in a big HURRY.

4)How do you know which notes to follow? What if your instincts are telling you something else?

Then retrain your instincts if you want to work for this editor. Otherwise find another editor.

Actually, that's not all the choices available. The true professional who has an editor whose rewrite orders violate their "instincts" doesn't throw away their own instincts - but rather just acquires a new set of instincts to broaden versatility and increase chances to hit in other markets.

Your instincts may be perfect for one genre, and mean failure in another. Do you have to spend your own life writing one genre under one byline? Or can you take this opportunity to learn what this editor knows - so later you can choose to use it, or not?

And from another blogger on aliendjinnromances, professional SF/F Romance writer Rowena Cherry provides the following:

A) Is there a standard etiquette for attacking revisions? Is there a formula for how many hard-to-take edits you swallow for every one you argue against?

Yes. It's simple. NEVER ARGUE. If the editor is WRONG (and they can be, especially if the MS is badly messed up) then fix what's really bothering the editor, not what they're complaining about.

It's for sure, SOMETHING is bothering the editor. Fix it so nothing bothers the editor. It's their job at stake - and yours too for that matter.

This is a point where sometimes you have to impose again on your beta-readers, or consult a fellow professional writer. But don't take up the editor's time.

When you figure out what the problem really was and fix it -- then never make that mistake again.

It isn't your job to do what the editor wants. It's your job to do what the editor needs. It isn't their job to know what they need, except that this MS has to work, and it has to work by deadline.

B) Is there a length of email that is optimum for making your case, but ensuring that the busy editor "gets" it without tuning out or getting annoyed?

Yes, again simple. "Here attached is the completed MS. Thank you for catching all my mistakes."

How do I arrive at this insane conclusion?


The editor is your customer. The editor is always right even when they haven't a clue what they're talking about. Never argue with a customer. Figure out what they really need and give it to them without hassling them. Make them happy and they'll come back for more.


So what exactly is editing?

It's the process of packaging a piece of art to fit into a delivery system with standard sized tubes that whisk the art to the consumer in a frictionless medium.

Think of a Christmas Giftwrap station in a department store. They have an array of standard sized boxes to put your odd-shaped gift object into.

That's what editors and publishers do for a living: put odd shaped art objects into standard sized boxes, wrap them up pretty and mail them off.

The most onerous part of an editor's job is dealing with writers who somehow think their art has anything to do with publishing.

Publishing is the business of mailing off those standardized boxes. What's inside the box is irrelevant to the business model as long as it fits inside the box. Think about the USPS advertisement "If it fits; it ships for one, low flat rate."  That's the publishing business model to a T.

Learn to look at it that way, and you'll never have any problem deciding what to do in response to rewrite orders.

The rewrite orders are the editor's attempt to get you to make your product fit inside the box that their schedule says they must fill at a specific date. It mustn't stick out, and it mustn't rattle too much.

If there are a lot of rewrite orders on a single MS, it's because you did something very wrong. Fix it. Learn from the mistakes and never do them again.

It is a process and does take a few times through the system, often with a couple different editors and agents to get the hang of it.

But you'll learn faster if you can grasp this single fact.

What you're doing isn't what they're doing, and they don't care what you're doing as long as it doesn't get in their way.

It's not your job to convince the editor they don't know how to do their job (even if they don't).

It's your job to give the editor what they need to keep their job, and their job is to drop identical boxes into the tubes.

In Part VI on September 7, we'll look at this from another angle.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Advice On Giving Advice

I believe that this alien romances blog was one of the first blogs of its kind, where a diverse group of authors focus on sharing unique, original advice and opinions about writing and our genre.

Now, there are scores of blogs of writers offering advice to writers. Setting oneself up as an expert is a savvy promo and marketing technique.

However... it's not always easy to think of something fresh, insightful, on topic etc to say, week after week, year after year. Problems are emerging (not here on this blog). Here's what I think would-be experts ought to know.

1. If you don't have something new to say, recycle great advice you yourself gave in the past.

The gist of this tip was shared with me by Penny Sansevieri when I asked her how she managed to sustain her free and totally brilliant amarketingexpert.com newsletter, and also to Tweet pertinent advice in 120 characters three or more times a day. Her secret is to repackage tried and true good advice, over and over again. She does that so well, I never notice, and always appreciate a reminder of all the things I meant to do, and never got around to doing!

2. As long as you have the original authors permission, and as long as you quote accurately with full and proper attribution, share other experts' advice that you have found valuable.

3. If you wish to blog about a topic, and need help... ask. Usually, people are delighted to share what they know in exchange for the courtesy of kudos where kudos is due.

4. There's nothing wrong with the old adage, "If you've nothing good to say, stay silent."

The problem that is beginning to rear its head among bloggers is that of plagiarism and copyright infringement on advice blogs. In some cases --and as is their right-- some original authors are beginning to take action.

It is not okay to cut and paste someone else's expert post on a topic, replace every sixth word with a synonym, and pass it off as one's own.

What is more, there is software that can detect that sort of cheating. Also, in the absence of an agreement, the injured blogger is entitled to send an invoice for whatever he or she deems a reasonable fee for use of his or her work.

Advice blogs that I like include

Newsletters that I appreciate include


Article about a small blog

Please leave a comment with your own recommendations for me to add to this post!

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Animal Consciousness

Here's another article about animal intelligence, from TIME magazine of August 16:

Minds of Animals

And here are some pictures that go with it:

Smart Animals

I'm intrigued by Kanzi, the bonobo who communicates with laminated cards bearing symbols of all the words he knows, because examples of his speech make it fairly clear he actually combines words intelligently rather than simply in a rudimentary stimulus-response pattern, as skeptics about earlier experiments in teaching apes language tend to believe. This article says he can use abstract terms such as prepositions and grammatical endings.

In my opinion, though, these accomplishments don't quite overthrow the uniqueness of the human species' use of speech. Gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos may be capable of learning a certain amount of language, but so far nobody has discovered a nonhuman animal inventing symbolic language. Our position at the evolutionary peak, in this respect at least, still seems secure. If it's eventually revealed that dolphins (for example) speak a true language comparable to ours, then we can start to worry. We would have to acknowledge another sapient species sharing the planet with us, and far-reaching repercussions in philosophy and culture would ensue.

Here's a TIME article about dog intelligence:


It turns out that dogs are the only known species besides us who can (consistently, at least) understand the meaning of a pointing finger. This ability is linked to the concept of social intelligence. Creatures who live in social groups (such as dogs, dolphins, bonobos, chimps, gorillas, and us) tend to be smarter than solitary animals. It takes more mental effort to function in a group than to live alone. Crows, intriguingly, are very smart, supposedly for this reason.

About pointing to draw attention to objects, however: Chimps in the wild don't do it. But Kanzi, the fluently communicating bonobo, does. Being raised in a human-centered environment makes a difference.

On the subject of our obligations to animals, this article quotes from bioethicist and animal liberationist Peter Singer, who maintains that the ability to suffer pain confers a right to be spared unnecessary suffering. "Similar amounts of pain are equally bad," he says, "whether felt by a human or a mouse." But does the human ability to remember past pain and anticipate future suffering with fear make a difference? Another scientist quoted in the article thinks so. And even Singer doesn't extend his philosophy to all animals; those that almost certainly have no consciousness are exempt.

But suppose we met aliens whose intelligence was of such a different kind from ours that we didn't recognize them as conscious? Could we safely apply our criteria ("theory of mind" and the mirror test, for example) to beings from a distant solar system?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What Exactly Is Editing - Part IV

Part One of this series was posted on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com on August 3, 2010, followed by Part II on Aug 10

and Part III on Aug 17,
and now Part IV on Aug. 24, 2010

On the "vehicle" vs "payload" model of story structure, see:




We left off in Part III with several adages to ponder:

A) Writing Is A Performing Art (which I learned from Alma Hill)

B) Sounding Spontaneous is a Matter of Careful Preparation (an old stage adage which I learned from Robert A. Heinlein)

C) The Show Must Go On (which we all know).

D) Time Is Money (which we wish we didn't know)

Those who work in the film industry are all acutely aware of the cost per minute of leaving Union crews standing around doing nothing.

Bringing a project in on budget is all a matter of timing, management, thinking ahead, planning, and face it, just plain luck.

What writers don't always take into account is the cost to the publisher of producing their novel, and how that cost counts against their editor in terms of the editor keeping their job, and how each thing the writer does can increase (or decrease) the overhead of the publisher.

All those adages apply to publishing just as they do to film making, and they apply more and more precisely as time goes by.

Editing is more and more just like producing. It's a juggling act, and the most volatile and troublesome element is "the talent" -- actors, writers, director, people who see themselves as creating Art.

The rest of the people in the production process couldn't care a tiddly-wink about Art. They just want a paycheck on time.

Beginning writers often see themselves as selling their Art to publishers.

The Great Awakening into professionalism is the discovery that the publisher doesn't see it that way.

The publisher doesn't value their Art even as much as a film producer values chorus dancers.

For most beginning writers, just getting the contract signed is the goal-post or finish line. They learn quickly that signing the contract is the opening gun in the race not the victory lap.

Here's a tweet from the person running the twitter account for the huge line of Del Rey Spectra:
@DelReySpectra I just had back-to-back meetings, and my brain is now fried. And only 45 minutes to go, now

That's a glimpse of real life for your novel after you sign the contract and deliver. That's the state of the folks responsible for your success or failure as a writer.

That is why it's so hard to "break into" print. Good writers are a dime a dozen. Only a very few are able to run fast enough after the contract to make it to the finish line, to run with the big guys who have back-to-back meetings and can barely sit straight at their desks for that last 45 minutes.

For the publisher, the finish line is not contract signed, or even books in the stores, books in translation, or books made into films. The publisher's finish line is books in remainder and off the shelves, the film made from the book no longer sold in DVD/blu-ray/whatever.

The publisher's finish line is when the property is no longer bringing in revenue and rights revert to the author.

The publisher and the writer live in worlds that are that different. They have goals that are that different. That's why the personalities and character traits of editors, publishers, agents and writers are so different that rarely can one person do all those jobs successfully.

If you're half the writer you think you are, you've just invented a character who can do all those things!

What Exactly Is Editing?

Editing is the process of bringing those disparate goals in line, together, into harmony, or somehow getting them to co-exist.

The editor has a fractious, temperamental artiste on one side and a hard-nosed bean-counter on the other. One is yelling about their characters wouldn't do this or that, and the other is yelling about the stockholders demanding a higher dividend despite taxes.

And then there's the legal department. Those people think differently from anyone in the world (and few read any novels). The lucky writer has an Agent to deal with the legal department. The writer pays the Agent a hefty 15% to deal with lawyers. The Agent will put as much effort into legal work as the Agent thinks the writer's product will be worth. The Agent's business is a time=money business too. Lawyers bill by the hour. Their incentive is to make everything take longer. To the publisher, the legal department is just "overhead" and legal fees are part of every book's cover price.

Which brings us to another important point in the Editor's job description.

The publishing industry is governed more by custom than law.

What's written in the contract is not necessarily how things will work out. Writers who want the written contract to trump industry custom probably won't last long in the profession unless they are Amazon.com's #1 book for 6 weeks with every book they write.

Between the time the contract is signed and the time the final manuscript is put into "production" (sent for copyediting and given a publication date), the specifications for the vehicle that carries the payload - the writer's heart and soul - to the reader can change.

The changes can put an extra, emergency burden on the writer. It's a rewrite order that comes in as "drop everything, even the work under contract to a different publisher despite next week's deadline, and rewrite this and get it to us by Monday morning" work order.

Such an emergency rewrite order is an additional cost of production that the publishing company doesn't pay, doesn't account for, and doesn't care about. The writer must deliver.

The changes in the world that cause these expensive emergencies are not entirely under the control of the publishing company, or the editor.

Some have to do with economics - the price of cardboard in China, for example, determines the price Mass Market paperback printers must charge for paper. The price of ink changes with other non-publishing related events.

Some changes are controlled by upper level management decisions at a Publisher (upper level management of a publisher may be the management of a business that owns the publisher and really doesn't care much about publishing) - how many titles will be printed per month, how many reprints, how much promotion money will be spent and on what kind of promotion, how many colors of ink can be used in a cover.

A writer's publication date might be delayed (or moved up!) because another writer with a larger readership was late (or early) with a manuscript.

The editor who signed the contract might leave and be replaced by an editor who dislikes the writer's novel and bumps it down from Lead Title to 3rd, prints and distributes fewer copies, dooms it to low sales, cancels reprints of prior entries in a series, reaches out for a new writer from the slush pile.

Any of these events could mean the editor (or new editor) will issue new rewrite instructions such as make it longer, make it shorter, make the lead character female, make the lead character male, make the lead character human instead of Alien From Outer Space.

Longer or Shorter are always on the table, and should be no problem to a professional writer.

Major changes such as the gender of the lead or the setting (from alien planet to contemporary Earth, for example) are a totally different problem.

Sometimes, such rewrite instructions issued after the contract is signed are really negotiating techniques for getting the author to back out of the contract. That's what Agents are for.

The Professional Writer would look at drastic rewrite instructions from a different angle.

If massive changes are required, changes in the payload rather than just the vehicle, it isn't cost effective for the writer to invest the amount of time required to accomplish them on a work already crafted.

That's the professional attitude - cost vs. reward.

You don't put into a project more than you can get out of it.

You must get out of it more than you put into it. You must turn a profit.

That's the difference between amateur and professional. Profit. Calculate the effort/return ratio and act accordingly.

The professional writer does not withdraw a manuscript because she thinks she's so great nobody can touch her prose.

Words are strung together for sale at a profit.

Time is money.

The Editor needs 75,000 words that say this, not that.

It took six weeks to write 80,000 words which say that.

It would take another six maybe seven weeks to change that into this.

It would take maybe 5 weeks to write a THIS which is entirely new but exactly what the editor needs.

So instead of rewriting, the professional sends in a chapter and outline for a THIS to replace the THAT which is no longer marketable.

You can fulfill the contract with an acceptable THIS and still have the THAT to market elsewhere (at a profit).

You can do it, but only if you're a professional writer who knows what she's doing and can do it to deadline (and have a really good Agent to deal with the lawyers).

A writer is in business to sell word-strings. Time is money. Provide the editor what she needs when she needs it, and likely she'll buy from you again if she can. (it isn't up to her, remember that) But that can happen only if the sales on the current title pass scrutiny by the bean-counters.

So if the deal comes down to truly drastic changes that require more time than the creation of something new, HAVE that something new in the back files ready to produce at a moment's notice.

Professional merchants have stock on the shelf in the back room as well as out in the showroom.

"Sounding spontaneous is a matter of careful preparation."

It's also true that sounding "calm" is a matter of careful preparation. If you know you can supply whatever the higher management folks demand of the editor, your voice won't squeak when the editor tells you a whole line of novels, maybe a whole imprint, is being canceled and your novel was scheduled for that line, and the advance you received so far is the kill-fee.

Know what a kill-fee is? It's a fee you get when they decide to cancel a contract, especially a contract upon which you have delivered. Usually, if you get a kill-fee for a title, you can't sell that title elsewhere. It's dead. Killed. (there are exceptions to that of course - lawyers live in another world altogether)

So what does an Editor do for a living?

Pull the rug out from under hapless writers, that's what. That's part of the job description, Editor.

Really, tweaking and twiddling text and issuing rewrite orders is the least of what an Editor does. Even the time spent reading manuscripts doesn't eclipse the time and emotional energy spent dealing with the production chain, covers, marketing, blurbs, copy-editing, the accounting department that just doesn't get around to cutting the checks for the editor's starving writers, the power lunches placating the bosses, chatting up agents to get at the biggest name writers, and so on.

The writer never gets to deal with the folks on the committee which ultimately decides whether to contract a certain title, or not.

The editor is the face of the publisher turned to the writer, and the poor editor has to deal with all the changes in the world beyond the control of writer, editor, agent, or sales department, then deal with the emotional basket cases all those disruptions create.

The Editor's job is to orchestrate, manage, and connive, to flimflam all these disparate elements into seeming to cooperate so the higher ups never discover what chaos reigns in the editorial department from time to time (it's mostly pretty organized, but there are moments!)

Thus if the world suddenly changes, the publishing company gets bought, the editorial department head leaves, or the Fed manipulates the value of the dollar, it's the Editor that has to tell you about what that means regarding your manuscript in production, your title on the shelves, or your backlist title that was to be reprinted right before the sequel you're working on now.

It's part of the professional writer's job to understand what the Editor's job is (and is not), and have on tap a product that the editor can use instead of the product that has been contracted.

A cooperative, businesslike writer will ultimately get more work than a prima dona.

Because of that nature of the commercial fiction business, there are few prima donas around. There are, however, a lot of working professional writers in both publishing and film who probably know a lot about the editor or producer's job, but don't think about what they know when crafting a piece under rewrite orders.

Now, I'm being very severe here. Reality is never quite so black and white, and never at all static. What ever's true today will be untrue tomorrow, maybe tonight. There is no "Unified Field Theory" solution for human relationships, business or otherwise. When it comes to establishing and maintaining a relationship with editor or agent, we are all "pantsers" plotting our own success by the seat of our pants.

And we all climb a very steep learning curve. Editors and agents will "handhold" new writers for a while, but expect them to show increasing professionalism.

In Part V of "What Exactly Is Editing" (August 31, 2010) we'll look closely at 6 questions posed by professional writers when asked what they wanted to know about the secrets of rewriting to editorial deadline. And my answers will be extremely severe sounding to beginners.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I'm Back...

I have just returned, having driven from Detroit to California along Interstate 80 via Illinois, Nebraska, Wyoming, Nevada...

And back via Route 66 and also the 40/44 through Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Indiana.

Elephant seals moulting

Extraordinary golden hills

Lava-like fog off California Coast

Husband's car on the concept lawn at Pebble Beach
Manic Arizona Jack Rabbit On Motorcycle
I'll be baaack. Not!

Along the way, I contemplated a great many things, from the violent sex lives of elephant seals, to geology, to cloud and fog formations. I haven't processed it all, yet....

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why "They" Disapprove of Romance: Another Angle

Brian Attebery, in his Introduction to the latest issue (Volume 21, No. 1) of the JOURNAL OF THE FANTASTIC IN THE ARTS, discusses the value of examining fiction from the perspective of "cultural work," that is, "not in terms of what it *is* or even what it *says* but rather what it *does*." In a passage highly relevant to the problem of why "serious" critics often disdain romance, he writes:

"Like women's literature, like socially activist literature such as Stowe's, like literature written for children or by outsider groups, fantasy has been largely ignored or demeaned by the literary establishment on grounds that are presented as aesthetic but are covertly political. Genres such as fantasy and science fiction are dismissed not because the writing is weak or the imagination inferior but because they do the wrong things. Code words like 'juvenile,' 'time waster,' or 'cult' are all clues that the critic disapproves not of the text but of the work it performs."

What does romance "do" that offends its detractors? "Escapist" is another term often applied to all kinds of genre fiction by those who disapprove of it. (We also hear the "beach read" label, implying a frivolous, self-indulgent function for genre novels.) If you've read Tolkien's classic essay on fairy tales, you'll remember that two of the important functions he assigns to "fairy stories" and, by extension, some other kinds of fantasy are consolation and escape. In his argument about why escape can be a good thing, he inquires what sorts of people are most obsessed with keeping others from escaping. Answer: Jailers! When a prisoner breaks out of a concentration camp or a POW compound, we regard him as a hero. We might view romance as "escape" in a similar light.

It's not uncommon to see romance demeaned as "porn for women." Setting aside the nuanced distinctions among erotic romance, erotica, and pornography, if the accusation refers to the fact that some romances arouse sexual feelings—among other kinds of emotions—I have to ask: And what's wrong with that? Why is it legitimate to use candlelight, lingerie, decadent desserts, and soft music to incite passion but not to read explicit fiction for the same purpose? Sometimes detractors of horror or extremely violent stories (and I confess I don't care for ultra-violence myself) label them "porn" by analogy. All fiction, for that matter, has as one of its functions the excitement of emotions in the reader, whether suspense, fear, repugnance, sadness, joy, or others.

Would those who scorn romance and erotica claim that all fiction designed to stimulate the emotions is bad? If so, they'd eliminate all fiction, period, or transform reading it into a purely intellectual exercise. Not to mention throwing out Aristotle's theory of catharsis, enshrined in classical criticism for thousands of years. Or do they mean some kinds of emotion and sensation are legitimate for literature to arouse and others aren't?

So what "work" done by romance causes the "serious" critics to disdain it? (Or they have until recently, at least; now some academic studies of romantic literature are being done by respected scholars.) Romance appeals to emotions often scorned as "sentimental." It usually portrays sexual passion in positive terms. It also celebrates lifelong commitment to a partner in love. What's wrong with "escaping" from the cynicism and violence that pervade too much of our world ("facing reality," the critics might call that realm of experience) into a world where loving relationships (which are also part of "reality") have the highest priority?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What Exactly Is Editing - Part III

See Part I of this series,  

and part II

We left off in Part II with a Science Fiction Romance Editor, a character you yourself created, sweating over a stack of submissions trying to save her job.

The question is, "What Will She Do?" Which manuscript will she choose?

Now we up the ante.

On her desk are a stack of 1 page novel descriptions from her slush pile readers and a few pitches from Agents who have always done business crisply with her.

But the books from the Agents just haven't sold well enough to keep her job off the chopping block.

The clients of these top Agents are all seasoned professionals who rewrite to order, on deadline, never miss a deadline, and don't waste the Editor's time with gossipy phone calls or emotional hand-holding sessions. These are writers who won't "feel honored" to be chosen. They're craftsman proud of their work who will respect the editor who can see the quality in their product. They're ready to do business as equals, not toady to a power-figure.

She doesn't have to maintain a personal relationship with the clients of these top Agents. They are professional writers who know what they're doing and just do it - on time.

Experience has taught our editor (the hard way) that if she picks something out of the slush pile, the writer (who couldn't land an Agent) will then spend whole, long days of the editor's time on the phone basically asking for writing lessons.

Some editors are writers, too, but that's less and less common in the new publishing world. We'll discuss the difference between writer and editor later in this series.

Our editor can't afford to give writing lessons (though some editors do that even when they can't afford the time because they see $$$ if the produce can be perfected).

Our pressured editor, however, actually doesn't know how writers write or how to teach how to write, even if she is a good professional writer herself. She's trained and paid to recognize at the gut level the perfected result of good writing, not to examine the internal, subconscious mechanism by which this product is created.

She has no time, and her job is on the line.

And she's a corporate professional. She knows that she must not let either the Agents or their writers know that her job is on the line.

She needs a best-seller, and she needs it now. The authors of her former best-sellers haven't been selling so well lately. She doesn't know why. Where to turn?

What is she going to do?

Now, as a writer, you have walked a mile in your customer's high-heels. You can feel the starch in her shirt. You know how tight her pantyhose are and how expensive her haircut was.

Do some method-acting. Feel the roiling emotions, the sweating tension, the desperation that must not show.

You know now who you are dealing with.

Whether you connect with this editor via an Agent or through the slush pile, or at a convention tossing her an elevator pitch - you know what your customer needs from you because you can feel it.

Your customer needs to know that you understand the pickle she's in, won't ever - EVER - let anyone know that you know that things are tough - (never let them see you sweat) - and your customer needs to know that you have the solution to her problem.

Now get this straight.

Your customer needs to know that you have the solution to her problem, not that you JUST THINK you have but really do have it.

What is it that professional Editors do?

They keep their jobs so that they can license your next novel.

They keep their jobs by staying calm and producing concrete results that the bean-counters upstairs can use to keep their jobs!

So your job as "a professional writer" - is not just to produce solid prose the publisher can use to make a profit for the publisher, but your job is to keep your editor calm, collected, confident and successful.

How can you do that?

By assuring her that you are a professional writer with the following traits:

1) That you have totally divorced your emotional life from the string of words you have to offer her.

2) That these words are your personal self-expression, and that your Self is very close to the target audience that her salesman want to hit big with, and will hit that audience in the emotions because of it.

3) That even though these words started out very personal to you, you have attained a clinical distance from them (how you did that is none of her business)

4) That if anything in this work doesn't look to her as if it will fit through the marketing channel smoothly, you will change it to fit perfectly with only the vaguest wave from her to indicate where nips-n-tucks are needed and without further detailed direction from her. 

5) That you understand the exacting (and ever changing) shape of the marketing channel she's got to feed and your goal is to produce a product that will fit neatly into that marketing channel and boost her career.

6) That you know she is a professional editor and therefore is not out to express her personal artistic message via your words

7) That she is your customer, is always right, and not in need of your instruction in how to do her job.

8) That you know exactly what you're doing and will produce results on deadline no matter what may be going haywire in your personal life. You are a professional writer, and keep your homelife out of the office (but you have a rich homelife and are stable and dependable in that context.)

Read that list of assurances again and mind the repetitions; they are important. Note that the face you turn to your editor is totally antithetical to the inner heart and soul of "a writer." It is the professional writer's face.

Read the list a third time. Think about this. An awful lot of the really big best sellers, writers with books that become movies and movies that become best selling books, were journalists first, or for years. What do journalists have that most aspiring novelists don't? Years and years and YEARS of working to a totally inflexible, absolute, do-it-or-die deadline.

A working journalist presenting a novel to an editor has an edge because the journalist will be assumed to make the production deadlines or die trying.

This is an increasingly rare trait in the modern world, and has thus become a saleable commodity in the prose marketplace. Get a professional credential that bespeaks a habit of living within deadlines and never missing them - and you have an edge against all the competition for an editor's (or producer's) attention.

Read that list a fourth time. Note what's missing: art, artistic value, intrinsic merit of the work, discussion of theme or content. Nothing in that list addresses your art. Nothing in that list captures your interest. 

Everything important to you as a writer is in your art. You live for your writing, and all the rest is waiting. That's why you'll argue with editors about whether this character would or wouldn't do that thing - and whether this scene should be deleted or another scene added.  That content is important to you. 

No other functionary in the fiction delivery system cares about anything that's important to you. Knowing that in your bones makes you a professional writer.

You know that your readers (your fans and potential fans) want your heart, not the commercial formula packaging with which you have surrounded your heart. 

But the packaging is necessary insulation to shape your story to the delivery system's tubes leading from you to your reader.

Your readers and fans will never see your heart beating gloriously unless you can package it to survive the 900 pound gorilla that lives in the back of the UPS truck and loads suitcases onto planes. That packaging that protects your heart is the commercial fiction structure, the formula, the trope that academics talk about. It's Blake Snyder's beat sheet and genres.

Read that list of traits a fifth time. It's all about your ability to package a story, not about the story itself.

What makes your product different from the product of other writers (the only real reason you ever write anything) is never mentioned. Nobody in the fiction delivery system is interested in what makes you different from other writers. The only thing of interest here is what makes you the same as all the others. That's what this desperate editor you've invented in your mind is looking for. Someone trust-worthy.

The fiction delivery system workers are all convinced that it's the packaging that sells product and makes a profit.  The content is worthless, irrelevant, and perhaps even annoying or repellent.  Packaging makes a best seller - but the packaging must fit the content like a glove so the whole thing slides right down the tubes of the distribution system frictionlessly.  (friction costs money)

For more on the worthlessness of "content" or Intellectual Property see:
You and your editor discuss packaging - your heart stays out of the discussion.

It's up to you to create your story or novel such that your heart is deep, deep inside and no possible change an editor needs can touch it.

You, your Agent, and your Editor are dealing only in the packaging, not in the heart itself.

And that's how you can manage the clinical distance necessary to get through editing without wasting days pacing and crying your head off, or disputing the changes the editor has suggested.  

No change an Editor might require would touch the part of the story that matters to you - you know that because you are a professional and you constructed the work so that the payload (your heart) is carried in a very sound commercial "vehicle" - a mechanism known to sell to the audience that you secretly know wants your payload.

Now your job (especially if your work has been discovered in the slush pile or captivated the interest of an editor in an elevator) is to convince the editor that you understand the difference between payload and vehicle, and that you are a total master of vehicle repair and maintenance.

That's where most new writers trying to pitch to an editor at a convention will fail.   The new writer will tell the editor the story, focus on all the tangled character motivations and rich tapestry of backstory propelling these characters into adventure.  But what the editor is listening for is, "I am a proficient vehicle mechanic and I build vehicles your readership has proven it loves."  And all that editor is hearing is, "I'm different from all other writers because of my vastly detailed art and I wouldn't ever build a vehicle if my life depended on it."

Payload, heart, the actual story, is very important, but finding useful payload is easy.  Good vehicle mechanics are rare. 

The Editor will choose a payload that suits the target readership for the line being edited. That's a given. Picking out satisfying payload is the editor's talent and stock in trade, and the process is none of your business. That's why editors you interview always say "Just write a good story." or "I want interesting characters." or asked what makes a good story, they are reduced to something that says in effect "If I like it, it's good."

The payload (the emotional kick) of the story is not under discussion in the Writer-Editor transaction. That hurdle has already been crossed, and it's the reason you have an offer or a contract. This editor knows where to sell your payload and has the means to do so.

The vehicle, the mechanism that has to deliver that payload to the heart of the reader, is entirely mutable during the editing process.

What's the editor's job?

To produce 3 or 5 books every month that all travel in the same model vehicle.  

The editor is running an assembly line that produces green Corollas. She might take your red Corolla, but will require a new paint job, and maybe matching interior at your expense.

The editor is running a circus that needs a High Wire Walker, and you got the job auditioning in spangled tights -- but this year's show has a Western theme and she hands you a hoop-skirt costume. It's still wire-walking. You're trained to that. You can do it even though you've never done it in a hoop-skirt before.

Writing is a performing art.

You are a performing artist.

The Editor is mounting a show. She needs singers, dancers, acrobats, a lead actor and actress, some supporting players, and a chorus.

You audition as a singer with one song you know well (your novel), but she hires you and asks for a more upbeat arrangement. You represented yourself as a singer. So re-arrange your song, sing the song her show requires and prove your professionalism.

The show must go on.

Next time we'll look at some of the obstacles to getting the show on the road and the nitty-gritty of what an author under the editing hammer faces in order to accomplish this task.

Readers who aren't writers will begin to suspect they ought to pay more for books than they do, given what writers go through to put those books into the reader's hands.

Part IV of this series posted on Aug. 24, 2010

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, August 12, 2010

EPIC's E-book Contest

EPIC, the primary e-publishing organization for authors and associated industry folks, needs more entries for its annual contest (formerly known as the EPPIES). It's open until August 15, so there's still time, but don't wait until the final day. For details, go to:


The links are on the right-hand sidebar. We have prizes for books in every genre and subgenre. Self-published e-books are eligible, as well as those previously released in print as long as the electronic version was originally published within the eligibility period for this year. Please spread the word.

Winners will be announced at the annual EPIC conference in March, this year to be held in Williamsburg, Virginia (home of my alma mater).

Big things are happening in the e-publishing realm. Have you heard about the recent development with Dorchester? They're shifting to a strictly e-book plus POD trade paperback distribution model. The news makes me feel good about having gotten in on the ground floor of what's suddenly the latest and greatest in our field. (My vampire novel DARK CHANGELING won an award in the Horror category in 2000, the first year the EPPIES were awarded.)

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What Exactly Is Editing - Part II

If you are in the PNR/SFR genre, don't miss reading this interview at Tor focusing on the editors of the genre:

If you're more on the SF side, read this article in Wired Magazine and the comments:

Part I of this series on Editing appeared on Aug 3, 2010
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/08/what-exactly-is-editing-part-i.html .

It discusses what "writing" is and the effect a professional attitude has on our writing as an entry point into discovering what an editor is.

If you are just writing for yourself, you don't need an editor. You never need to "rewrite" at all, and you certainly would never change a word you had produced to please someone else. The very thought is anathema!

If, however, you've crossed that divide between writing for personal therapy, writing for your own bottom drawer (or floor safe), writing a personal journal or diary complete with key-lock -- all the way over to writing specifically FOR other people, you have to begin the process of learning how to write "by successive approximations."

That is - learning to rewrite. To revise. To re-target. To self-edit.

For most of us, that's the first encounter with writing word-strings that then get changed.

It's a very disorienting experience. Change just one word of any paragraph or scene in your story, and you then find all of a sudden that other words must also be changed to match.

And self-editing has begun.

If you just do that to make it "better" then you've only begun your journey into professional editing, but it is a beginning and a very big step.

When you make changes in something you've written that nobody else has yet read, and you make those changes just to "make it better" the only criteria to judge "better" by is your own internal standard.

Many writers hang up right there. Looking at what they've written, they see that it "isn't good enough" and just never submit it to anyone. Or if they do, they accept the rejection of a professional editor as a decree that they can't write so they give up.

One element in "professionalism" is knowing that any word-strings you produce, however many times you have polished them to your own satisfaction, are basically worthless to the outside world.

The difference between an amateur and a professional wordsmith is the purpose to which word-strings are put.

Why are you writing?

If you write because you need to express yourself, you aren't yet writing professionally.

However, if you don't write to express yourself, you'll probably never write enough word-strings to make a profit, or a living.

So there's another step in the writing process that professionals take that amateurs or failures do not take.

It's a step that has to be "learned" -- just as a baby learns to walk by letting go and taking that first step toward Mama or Daddy.

It's a hesitant, wobbly step, a step requiring the coordination of internal mental muscles that aren't strong (yet).

Once those muscles are strong, and the autonomic nervous system has developed the capacity to coordinate all those internal balance mechanisms, the child just walks across the floor, eye on the goal not on the stepping process.

And that is an exact analog to learning to "write" professionally.

There are muscles and balance processes that professional writers learn that amateurs don't have to.

A professional writer is more like say, a tightrope walker, while an amateur writer is more like someone who just walks to do the shopping or exercise.

The tightrope walker is walking to entertain others with a high-precision version of a common skill, while the ordinary person walks just to live their own life.

From first, hesitant, wobbly step to tightrope walker is a different journey than from first step to Accountant.

So the difference between a writer and a professional writer is nothing more than the reason why they string words together and what they intend to do with the words once they are strung.

There are many professional writers, however, who would risk their lives to get a professional editor to say, "Change this and I'll buy it."

It's a long journey from mastering wordsmithing to your first contract.

And an even longer journey from making the first sale to signing contracts on the basis of a few paragraphs of a proposal.

So again, what is it that editors do for a living?

From the writer's point of view, the toddler-writer, even the pre-teen-writer, it looks like professional editors are "gatekeepers."

And it feels like editors (or actually slush pile readers) are in charge of saying no - and not for any good reason!

Editors say "no" much more often than "yes" because there is far more product for sale than there is need for product.

From the professional writer's point of view Editors are not "gatekeepers" -- Editors are customers.

That's another attitude change that distinguishes the professional from the amateur writer.

In today's world, many businesses have lost the maxim "The Customer Is Always Right" in favor of a new maxim, "I'm Entitled To Your Money."

But Editors, as your customers, still operate on the premise that they are always right and you are not entitled to anything, least of all money, unless you satisfy them.

Why should editors (purchasing editors especially) be the last holdout in this general philosophical shift?

Editors are still always right because the sellers who are thrusting word-strings at the editors have never been trained to understand exactly what the editor's job really is.

Worse yet, the editor's job has changed so drastically since the US Supreme Court forced anti-artistic change on publishing
that many of the best editors have been driven from the field.

But that's a cyclical trend.  Read this blog post about SF writers making a living at SF writing:


At this time, though, the very changes that have changed the craft-skills that writers must master, that destroyed the "mid-list" and that drove novel publishing toward the film industry criteria have also changed the entire character of the editor's job description and skills.

The New Editor has become not so much an artistic gatekeeper, decreeing what is fit for others to read, but rather a bottom-line keeper, an expert in what will turn a profit.

The New Editor doesn't make decisions on personal taste (unless that taste has been honed to detect Blockbuster Sales potential).

The New Editor is entirely focused on keeping their job, or finding a better paying one.

And the only way the editor can keep a job as an editor is to please "the committee" that will accept or reject the handful of projects the editor presents for their scrutiny.

The key point here is that most of the committee members will not actually read the manuscripts being submitted for approval.

The committee will select one out of the handful to publish based on the "pitch" the editor makes to the committee, and that pitch is all about marketability.

To keep a job, the editor must be able to sift through the dross tossed up by the slushpile reader and detect which ones have a chance to get past that committee.

The committee is composed not of fans, or readers, but of art department, sales department, editorial management maybe in touch with accounting (noting which books are selling best right now).

As dismal as all this sounds, there is light at the end of the tunnel that may herald a change for the better.

I just ran into 3 folks on twitter running marketing tweets for a publisher who say THEY read the books they market. I had tweeted a reply to one of them saying essentially that alas marketers don't read books. They responded like so:

@HarperPerennial replied:
@JLichtenberg as a marketer, I'm a bit offended by the idea that marketers don't love reading books #dearpublisher

@HarperChildrens replied:
@JLichtenberg We can safely refute that! We're book marketers and we read like the wind. #dearpublisher

@markfergbk replied:
@JLichtenberg I'd respectfully disagree, but I can only speak for myself and all the marketers I know.

Well, these folks are dealing with books the committee has approved and they are looking at the finished package ready to be promoted to buyers.

They are working Web 2.0 and you all know how enthusiastic I have been for the changes in publishing due to interactivity among consumers and between consumers and product promoters.
I Love Web 2.0

I could wonder how many of marketers read the rejected manuscripts, just in case one of those might actually be a winner? But I am wondrously heartened to hear that the promoters to the public are now reading the product they promote.

Those of you in the film industry are beginning to recognize this description as an analog to the studio process.

Projects chosen to be presented to "the public" are sifted out of the clamoring mob solely by the commercialism of "the pitch."

The "Purchasing Editor" (before the Thor Hammer decision) used to be the editor who would see the project into print. That Editor had the sole power to accept or reject a project, and their job rested only in part on how many copies their choices sold. It also rested on critical acclaim, reviews, and "who" actually raved about given projects. That is, the Purchasing Editor had to gain "prestige" for the publisher as well as sales. The Purchasing Editor looked for artistic merit.

Now it's only sales volume.

The Purchasing Editor's job now depends solely on the ability to please a committee of non-readers and the accounting department.

This new discipline trains them to create a uniform product for a well defined market.

In Mass Market paperback, the editor's skills are becoming more and more identical to the skills that make a successful studio producer.

More precisely, Mass Market paperback production is more like studio TV Series production than it is like Feature Film production.

Hardcover and Trade Paperback are trending in the Mass Market direction, but haven't gotten there yet. There are still hardcover publications that do not become paperbacks.

Even the hardcover editor's job, though, is to find products that will sell big time in paperback.

Now, pretend you are writing a novel about an Editor. The main character is a Mass Market paperback editor threatened with being fired if they don't increase their bottom line in the next year.

Get into your character's skin. Feel the pressure.

Your character is a lifelong, voracious fiction reader. The greatest pleasure this character can imagine experiencing is putting a really good book into the hands of another reader.

To achieve that, your character must please a group of people who dislike reading, and especially dislike reading "that stuff" (whatever genre; let's choose Science Fiction Romance at random).

Lose that job, and your character will never again experience this sublime pleasure.

On her desk is a stack of "reports" from slush pile readers (these reports used by major publishing houses look very much like "Coverage" reports used by Production Companies.)

Her phone rings, and a major Agent she's done business with before pitches three novels in five minutes.

What is she going to do?

See Part III here next week.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Final Frontier

Here's an article by Charlie Stross about colonizing other planets, on the topic that comparing the exploration of space to the American frontier is a false analogy:

Space Cadets

I won't repeat the arguments; read it firsthand. I agree it's fairly obvious that the "rugged individualism" model of the frontier (which was an illusion even in the westward expansion era of the nineteenth century) wouldn't be practical in outer space, regardless of Golden Age SF stories of backyard inventors such as Robert Heinlein's ROCKETSHIP GALILEO. STAR TREK was promoted as "WAGON TRAIN to the stars," actually not a terribly accurate description (the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, with a group of families searching for a new home, was more like WAGON TRAIN). STAR TREK is much better described as "Horatio Hornblower in space." (I think Rodenberry himself compared Kirk to Hornblower, a swashbuckling captain operating somewhat autonomously far from home base.) The original wagon trains, however, were supported by a complex social and technological infrastructure. As Stross implies, even back then you couldn't "light out for the territory" with no help from the society you were fleeing.

But how about the final sentence of Stross's article, which asserts that colonizing space and extraterrestrial environments is incompatible not only with the frontier myth but with a libertarian ideology? If it's safe to equate the views of Heinlein with those of his characters in, for example, THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, he'd vehemently disagree.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

What Exactly Is Editing? Part I

We call ourselves professional writers.

How does that differ from amateur (fanfic?) writers? Or creative writers? Or just plain writers?

Professionalism in writing is an attitude more than it is a result, or so I've always held.

Professional writers organize words into a flow of meaning. It is the flow of meaning that has value since almost all the words we use are in the dictionary and thus pubic domain.

Our word-strings are our product, and those strings may be either "for sale" (work for hire) or "for license" which is what most book contracts are, a license to copy the work and sell copies but not sell the work itself.

Once you have attained the attitude that your very specific string of words is a product (like a lamp you carved or a potato you grew) that is for barter, trade, sale or license - a product which you have no interest in keeping in a dark drawer, a product you intend to gain a profit from, then you have become a "professional."

That attitude is often attained by fanfic writers fairly easily.

Creative Writers have a much harder time attaining the attitude necessary to accept the "beta-reader" input and use it constructively. "Creative" writing is really more about self-expression, with an emphasis on artistic creativity.

That means it's the "creative" writer, the academic, who forges into new territory with regard to the "trope" underlying storytelling. Creative writers have very small, very specialized audiences, and play to that audience with laser-beam precision. To become a part of their audience, a reader must have a wide and deep education, usually in "Literature" and related fields.

The "Creative" writer contributes experiments to the art of "writing" without personally focusing on attaining a huge, mainstream audience with diverse educations, talents and interests. The "Creative" writer is not aiming at the "common denominator" that makes a product marketable across national boundaries (think of the film AVATAR).

So the "Creative" writer is more self-involved than audience-involved and seeks an audience as close to that "self" as possible to allow latitude for creativity.

To get a handle on the difference, read the comments on Amazon to Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! and my review there. Here's a link to the pages of all my Amazon reviews. Scroll down to find SAVE THE CAT GOES TO THE MOVIES and SAVE THE CAT - click the links to go to the product pages and read other review:

My Amazon Reviews

Many film students very committed to the Independent Film community were uncomfortable with Blake's approach because it simply does not apply to their goals.  But they didn't seem to me to understand why they were uncomfortable. 

They are "creative" film makers, trying to break out of the box.  They really shouldn't be training to play inside and push the walls wider. 

Blake's books show you how to discover where the walls of the box are, and how to work inside that box to reach the broadest audiences and ultimately how to push the walls wider. 

His specific tips will soon have gone stale, but he lays out his process so you can repeat it to keep up with the ever changing field of the Blockbuster.

Screenwriting and novel writing are on a collision course. The Producer/Director and the novel Editor do very similar jobs and the similarity is growing.

I've said many times here that I learned from Alma Hill that "writing is a performing art." The addictive lure of "sawdust" or "grease paint" - the heady lure of applause from an audience, applies to writing as well. Get a taste of positive reader-response and you're hooked forever.

In fandom, the correct term for the feedback a fan writer gets from fellow fans is "ego-boo" or egoboo. A boost to the ego. It's the fuel we run on, the food for the higher soul, contact with other people on a very special level.

Fanfic writers often take film or TV characters, story lines or worlds and blend that with narrative fiction.  And so I think fanfic is a phenomenon that signifies and perhaps leads the blending of these two parts of the fiction delivery system.

Fanfic writers often reach a level of skill where they accept "editing" possibly from a band of "beta-readers" who will read raw copy and copyedit or pick logic holes, so the work can be rewritten to add entertainment value.

When a fanfic writer reaches the point where they care about the reputation of their byline among their readership, where they become meticulous about details, and where they can tell the difference between a beta-reader's response to matters of "taste" and the response to a sloppy bit of craftsmanship, that fanfic writer has reached "professionalism."

The fanfic writer cares deeply about communicating the exact effect intended to the reader because there's a transaction between them.  The fanfic "professional" is bartering strings of words for something of value to the fanfic writer. 

The reader comes to this writer with expectations, spends their time reading, and expects value for their time.

The writer expects the reader to "pay" in their time by giving feedback. In today's online posting world that may only be a return visit to the byline to read other things, driving the hits or downloads count upwards, bringing that writer to prominence. Or sometimes it's blogging or tweeting about the writer.

There's an attitude of professionalism in trading value for value. You get what you want; I get what I want.

To read more about fanfic read this writing lesson based on White Collar fanfic:

Yet many fanfic writers looking to sell to mass market publishers find themselves literally devastated by an encounter with a professional editor. 

A professional editor is not a beta-reader, and very often isn't even a "reader" (i.e. a fan of either the subject or of this writer's slant on the subject).  A professional editor won't give the writer the kind of feedback I did for that White Collar story. 

A professional editor has a job which performs a function that isn't needed in or relevant to fanfic (or Creative Writing), and isn't even relevant to a lot of "self-published" projects (depending on the kind of project of course).

What exactly does a professional editor do and why do writers need them?

I've made some readers of this blog happy by splitting my entries into shorter pieces, so this one ends here, and Part II will discuss the editor's job.

Trust me, you need to understand what an "editor" is doing that's different from what you are doing, and what your beta-readers do (even pros need beta-readers) in order to learn to rewrite to editorial specification within deadline, and without making yourself totally crazy. Misunderstand what the editor does for a living and you'll never (ever) make deadline for say a Mass Market novel rewrite order.

Meanwhile, contemplate this.

Robert Heinlein taught us in DOUBLE STAR, the old stage adage, "Sounding spontaneous is a matter of careful preparation."

Apply that to "Writing is a Performing Art" and see what you come up with.

Put those two together, and you may already know what I'm going to show you.  Knowing it and doing it aren't the same thing, of course.  

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, August 02, 2010

Should have been Sunday

I offered my Sunday slot to a guest author, but since that author hasn't yet posted, and since I'm assuming that Linnea Sinclair (whose day is Monday) is probably traveling back home from RWA, I'd like to just take a moment to thank John Klawitter for a lovely banner with which he surprised me.