Sisterhood of the Publishing Pants

Hello lovely readers!

You are all inexpressibly wonderful; thank you so much for voting in last week’s poll!  (And if you haven’t yet, you still can—vote anytime!)  I am entirely fascinated by the results.  Especially the fact that the biggest winner was “behind-the-scenes info about my books”…wow, really?  I can definitely rustle up some of that; I had no idea people might be so interested.  🙂

The challenging part is the time lag, because by the time a book is published (so you can read it), I’ve been done with writing it for, like, a year, usually, which means I’ve often forgotten all the riveting things I was going to tell you about the process of writing it.  I shall take better notes for future blogs!  Like right now I have many stories I could tell you about writing about dragons, but I don’t want to give away the plot of book one, so I’ll write them down and save them for next summer.  And I have another Little House book coming soon, so I’ll tell you more about that shortly – hooray!

I’m also delighted that people don’t seem to mind the baby photos, and lots of you think Twitter will eat my soul.  (You’re totally right!  I know it would!)  For the other top vote-getters, I’ve been thinking about trying to post shorter, quick blogs here and there with book recommendations and writing tips…we’ll see if I can actually be good about that.  :-)  And big hugs to those of you who think the blog is fine as is!  🙂

In the meanwhile, I figured we’d start with one of the promised Conversations with an Honest to Goodness Professional Editor.  Namely, my splendiferous sister, Kari, who came up last weekend to attend the NESCBWI 2011 Conference with me.  I highly recommend the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators to any aspiring authors (or artists!) out there—this was the first conference of theirs I’d been to, but it was awesome, and their magazine always makes me want to write something new, and it seems like such a terrific community.

Anyway, Kari came in her Professional Editor hat while I attended as an anonymous lurking author, going to (fabulous) workshops and keynote speeches and stuff, and it was all very cool (even if I did have to get up at 7am!  and dress like a grown-up!  which I joke about but it was actually quite difficult! this is why I don’t do more school visits…and could never be a teacher).  So I asked Kari to chat with me about it, so I could post her advice and thoughts here for you all…hopefully it’s especially interesting for anyone who wants to be a writer!  And yes, I did edit it afterwards to make us sound even more clever and grammatically correct than we normally are.  😉

me: Hello!

Kari: Hello!

me: Honest to Goodness Professional Editor! How are you?
  Are you editing?
  Feel free to admit you were watching Modern Family instead.

Kari: Supercalifragalistic author, I am doing well. And you?
  Yes, I was, in fact, editing.

  (sounds of awe from the audience)

Kari: Reading over an inches-from-final manuscript before sending it back to the author for the last approval before it goes into copyediting.

me: Editor at work! Everyone look reverent and fascinated.

Kari:  They can also look pitying seeing as it’s Wednesday night at 10:30pm.

me:  That’s true. Poor Honest to Goodness Editor hard at work
  instead of watching television.

Kari: Don’t worry, there is also plenty of TV watching.
But shall we go on to our analysis of the conference?

me: Yes! Real Professional Editor, I understand you went to a conference this weekend!
  (Here’s where you go, “yes, nitwit, you drove me there”)  😉

Kari: Yes, as did you, Published Author Galore!  And thank you for driving me there! 😉

me: Oh, so close to a Bond girl name.  🙂
  And you did, what, 11 critiques for it?

Kari: Yes, I was sent ten pages for each of the eleven critiques ahead of time to read and review. Then I met with the writers for fifteen minutes to discuss their manuscript.

me: Behold, audience: an exciting way to get an editor to read your manuscript…well, at least ten pages of it!
  You do have to pay for it, in addition to the fee for the conference.
But you’ll get insightful personal comments from lovely editors like Kari
  or agents, sometimes, which is exciting, too.

Kari: Indeed, the room was full of very smart and charming editors and agents, all offering their time and advice. 🙂

me: My guess is it’s like any submission; you’re hoping most of all to find an editor who’s a good match for your work.
  What are YOU hoping for, as the editor?
  Nonviolent authors bearing chocolate?
  J. K. Rowling in disguise?

Kari: I’m hoping to find a writer who is willing to take feedback, has thought about her book and where it fits in the marketplace, has good questions about next steps, and is familiar with competitive titles.

me: Wow — that does sound like an author I would have loved to meet (and often did) when I was an editor. 🙂
  Good questions like what? Did you get any?  Questions, I mean.
  You don’t have to be specific about the authors; we’re not being nosy.  🙂

Kari: Yes, one author had a question about how dark the book could be for her audience–what level was appropriate.

me: Ooo, interesting.

Kari: Another asked whether the direction of the story was clear even in the first ten pages or whether more scene-setting should be included.
  Another good question was about the starting point–beginning in the middle of a scene, and was that okay. My answer: yes!

me: I like starting in the middle of a scene.
  Shakespeare started in the middle of scenes!
  Am I harassing you with all these questions, by the way? You can also ask me questions, such as, “Did you actually manage to stay awake for the keynote speeches even though you had to get up at 7am? SEEMS UNLIKELY, madam.” To which I would reply, “Why yes, I actually DID, because luckily the keynote speakers were fascinating people such as Jane Yolen and Tomie DePaola.”

Kari: Prompting! I love it. Thank you for thinking of my questions, too.

me:  I know, feel free to fall asleep or watch TV or keep editing if I start chatting with myself. 😉

Kari: What was the best piece of advice you heard from the keynote speakers?

me:  Hmm, from the keynote speakers, good question…
  let me get my notes

Kari: Oh. Busted. If you’re off to get notes, I might pop over to my manuscript…

me: I know, I came totes prepared for this chat. 😉
  Wait, I have them! let’s see…

Kari: I think starting in the middle of a scene is a good way to draw readers in and as long as enough context is given it doesn’t have to be confusing or overwhelming and it often means you can start with a more active point in the story.

me: Yes, totally — like in Hamlet, which starts with two guards running into a ghost on their regular rounds. “Who’s there?!” Very dramatic.
  If I remember that right. 🙂 I’m going to look so lame if I’m wrong!
  Jane Yolen talked about rejected manuscripts and not giving up
  and Lin Oliver talked about going to conferences like this, making connections, and entering contests whenever you can.
  Which sounded smart to me. Does Harper still do the Ursula Nordstrom contest?

Kari: No, I’m pretty sure they haven’t done it since I started.

me: Yeah, I think they just did it for a couple of years while I was there, but we got some great submissions that way.

Kari: But (shameless plug) we do have a website where writers can post their manuscripts and have them read by other YA readers/writers. The top five each month (as voted on by the online members) are reviewed by HarperCollins Children’s editors. It’s called Inkpop. There’s also the adult equivalent: Authonomy.

me:   Regarding contests, I hope the winners of the Illustrated Poster Showcase get some great work out of it.
  I loved the one that won the People’s Choice vote — a cover of Aesop’s Fables by Melinda Beavers. I want to hunt her down and have her design my website logo now, mwa ha ha…although I’m guessing she’s a bit busy after this!

Kari: Yes! The poster showcase was so much fun!

me: I love the idea of redesigning a classic cover.  I wonder if they always do something like that.
  Wait, let me go back. Inkpop is awesome; I’ve been there.

Kari: Inkpop is meant for YA novels/poems/short stories.

me: And there’s an adult equivalent?  Authonomy? That looks like a misspelling. But editors never make spelling mistakes! So it must be a clever pun.

Kari: Authonomy. Not a typo. And aren’t we editing this afterwards?

me: Ha ha! Don’t let the audience see behind the curtain, Kari!
  I mean, no, we’re naturally charming and flawless in our chats. As are all editors and authors. 😉

Kari: But then they’ll know that everyone is capable of making mistakes the first draft. They just have to READ it over before they post it or ahem turn it in to their editor.

me: Ahahaha…are you hiding advice in there somewhere?
Like, for goodness’ sakes, this is your chance to impress an editor — try not to have typos, mixed-up words, and misspellings, especially in your very first sentence!

Kari: Yes! Tip for aspiring writers submitting to agents/editors: Read over your work. You don’t have to catch all the commas/spelling errors, but anything egregious will stand out. Like, say, a sentence that is missing a word.
  Or yes, a first sentence that doesn’t make any sense. That’s always a danger sign.

me: I’ve heard that reading it out loud can help you catch stuff you might miss.

Kari:  Yes! That’s a great tip, too, Tui. Reading it aloud should help not only catch errors, but make any repetitious words or phrases stand out as well. Not to mention help you discern whether your dialogue is sounding natural. Or, you know, intelligible.

me: What if you get ten pages that are pretty good, but then the author doesn’t love your feedback and insists that you’d like it if you could just read the whole thing? How would you react to that?
  Did that make sense? I mean, something where you thought it just needed a little work, but they think it’s perfect as is.
  (If that actually happened this time you may artfully dodge the question.)

Kari: Ha! Well, I’d point out during the critique that sometimes you won’t get an editor or agent to read past the first ten pages so you have to make that opening really sing to get them to read the rest.

me: An excellent point. Then what if they say, "well, will YOU read the rest, anyhow?"

Kari: It depends on the manuscript. If it was something not right for my list, I’d politely decline. If it was something I was interested in and felt as though the author would tackle revisions willingly, then yes.
  I have heard of editors who sometimes only read a page or a sentence before deciding something isn’t right for them. How much would you read, Tui, when you were an editor?

me: It depended on the manuscript — I’d usually try to at least read the first chapter and see how the second began. But there are definitely manuscripts where the first page is terrible enough that you can’t imagine it getting better. And certainly if I liked the first chapter, I’d keep reading, ideally to the end.
  I think there’s often a high correlation between liking the first chapter and liking the rest of the book.
  From what I remember, manuscripts didn’t usually plunge off the deep end into terribleness all of a sudden.
  But neither did they often radically improve after a terrible first chapter.
  So I think you can tell fairly early on if you’re going to like the writing style, and then it’s just a question of whether the plot is developed well and the characters are engaging.

Kari: True. And then there are the times when you’re reading along happily and suddenly, 100 pages in, the book does take a turn and it almost seems as though the writer has fused together two different stories. But there aren’t many of those and that’s more on the plot level than writing, tone, or character. And plot is something that can be reworked.

me: Totally. I’m trying to think of any published books I’ve read where the first chapter or two misled me about the rest of the book.
  There’s the one I’ve complained to you about (not naming names) where it started off funny and then got SEVERELY UNFUNNY for the rest of the book.
  And also Crime and Punishment.
  Because everything in the world is wrong with Crime and Punishment.

Kari: Man, Tui, when are you going to let up on poor Crime and Punishment?

me: But it starts off all tense! and exciting! and gory and suspenseful and “there’s about to be a MURRRRRRRRRDER”-y!
  And then suddenly it gets all up in the murderer’s head and spends the rest of the book whining about his emotions instead.
  blah blah NEVER! I shall never forgive Crime and Punishment!

Kari: You’re too funny. I am trying to picture how Dostoyevsky would react if you were sitting down across from him, telling him how boring his book turned out to be. 🙂

me: And if I were his editor I’d be trying to find a polite, encouraging way to say, “OK, I think 200 pages of being deranged with guilt and awful to everyone is probably more than necessary. Could you think about condensing that section? To, say, 50 pages instead? Let’s have more crime! That part was cool! And perhaps some actual punishment instead of all this metaphorical emotional internal punishment. I mean, I get your point—trust me, your message is VERY CLEAR. But I was expecting a little more in the way of literal punishment as well. Oooo?”
  Dostoevsky would be like, “Hmph! This editor just doesn’t GET me.” But he’d be right! 🙂
  So far The Count of Monte Cristo is kind of awesome, though.  FYI.
  and APPARENTLY there’s a show on ABC this fall called "Revenge" which is a retelling of the book!  I assume set in the modern day. I have to investigate.
  This makes Adam briefly the one who’s psychic about TV in this house [since he’s the one who suggested reading the book], which I’m not comfortable with.

Kari: Revenge sounds cool. And I will put the Count of Monte Cristo on my to-read pile when you’re done with my copy.

me: Although when I told him about the show, he was like, "well, how many seasons will it be? I guess it is a pretty long book…" and I had to be like, no, honey, it’s not a literal retelling, I imagine. Or else they’d probably call it “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
  No Napoleon or the Chateau d’If in this one, I bet.

[Edited to note: I did go investigate and OMG it’s not only set in the present day, it’s set IN THE HAMPTONS! And the Count of Monte Cristo is the girl from Everwood! And she’s come back for revenge on the socialite society that destroyed her dad somehow who by the way is played by RILEY FROM BUFFY since WHEN is he old enough to play anyone’s dad but OOOOOEEEEE I’m SO THERE, although, on the other hand, now it’s going to be a lot harder to get Adam to watch it than I thought…hmmmm…]

Kari: And, by the way, I obtained a copy of the book for our sister book club!

me: YOU DID! Hooray! Should I start reading it?

Kari: I’d say I’m going to start it on the bus ride up tomorrow. But we both know I’ll be watching the Vampire Diaries on DVD instead. 😉

me: YAY Vampire Diaries YAAYYY!!!!

Kari: In my defense, bus rides are much less conducive for reading/editing than trains.

me: Oh my god, yes.
  I can’t focus on the bus at all.
  You can read when you get here! We can sit side by side on the couch and read the book at the SAME TIME and then be like "where are you up to?” and “OMG I KNOW isn’t that AWESOME?" and so forth. That wouldn’t be weird at all.

Kari: Okay, my dear. I think I should turn in for the night.
  Did we do enough publishing discussion?

me: WAIT! I had one more thing that was actually relevant to say!
  But I can’t find the exact quote I was looking for.

Kari: Go for it!

me: But it was something about how to behave as a writer.

Kari: From Jane Yolen’s speech?

me: No, from something I read a while ago…the advice was something like "be courteous, be punctual, be someone your editor wants to work with…" OK, I’ll see if I can find it and post it one day.
  But basically it was about not driving your editors insane
  and I think it’s good advice for critiques, too.

Kari: Yes, that is good advice.

me: because you’re making a personal impression, which is just as much about you as it is about the writing

Kari: Very true.

me: and I wonder if people who are good writers might sometimes hurt their chances by being confrontational in person
  or less than charming
  although I’m SURE you didn’t get any of those. 🙂

Kari: Not at all. Everyone I met with was lovely and delightful.

me: But I was always won over by authors who were clearly trying hard and also friendly and polite.
  To name-drop: Mike Spradlin, who is a DREAM to work with.
  He was such a sweet, wonderful guy when I was editing him that I wanted to be extra-nice to his manuscripts as a result. 🙂

Kari: Indeed! Bravo to Mike Spradlin!

me: I have to read his new books. They’re going on the list right now. 🙂
  OK, I will let you go off to bed
  and I will start my work day. 😉

Kari: byee!

So there you go—thanks for your input, Kari!  Hopefully we can do that again sometime.  :-)  And I’ll continue to mull over the poll results for future blogs.  I feel all inspired and guided now!  Have I mentioned how wonderful you are, lovely readers?

More soon…hope you’re staying dry!  My toddler is quite disappointed in me for not being able to produce any sunshine in the last four days.  I gave him giant crayons and fish stickers and a small art table and organic blueberries and a visiting dog who likes to smooch him, but apparently none of it compares to playgrounds and truck watching.  He has learned to say “walk”, and if I even go NEAR my shoes he runs to pull out the dog’s leash with a hopeful expression.  Poor thwarted bear!  (Not to mention how we’re toying with the dog’s emotions!)  So here’s hoping for a sunny day soon! 

Quote of the Day:  “I like money better than people.  People can so rarely be exchanged for goods and/or services.”  — Willow mocking Anya, Buffy the Vampire Slayer