by Lori Graham
Spring cleaning time is upon us and it is time to do some major cleaning. As you clean out those long forgotten places, you find some papers tucked away that you had forgotten about. It is that tale about Jack and Jill you wrote so long ago and just knew was destined to be a best seller. Now, it is covered with dust. Like the season brings to mind, dust it off and use it once again.
Hi, my name is Lori Graham. I have the privilege to be one of the reviewers with Once Upon A Romance but also to be an editor with The Wild Rose Press. The Wild Rose Press is celebrating its first birthday in May ('07) and I have been with them since October ('06) in the role of Editor for the White Rose and Crimson Rose lines (I also pinch hit on other lines as necessary). Our publishing company specializes in multiple lines within the romance genre from inspirational to suspense to contemporary to historicalÖwell, you get the picture.
From the standpoint of an editor this is my spring cleaning as I dust the cobwebs from my mind and think about the editing process, from the standpoint of sharing it with writers.
Probably the first question I am asked is what does an editor look for in a story (please bear in mind that what I share is from a romance genre standpoint but it would fit most fiction). For me, that answer is really rather simple Ė does the story capture my imagination from the very beginning. Time has become so precious in todayís world that spending time on an unimaginative manuscript is basically just looking at words on a piece of paper. The hero and heroine need to be people I can believe in. They donít have to be exactly like me, heaven forbid, but they do have be dimensional enough that I can create a picture of them in my head and the chemistry between them has to be such that I can imagine myself in the situation. I want to enjoy my time with them and be sorry to see it end. As far as secondary characters, they need to be truly thatĖsecondary. They need to enhance the path of the main characters and add a little something whether it is tension for a suspense or comedy for a contemporary.
For a writer to get the "attention" of an editor, they need to share the story. One of the biggest mistakes that will turn an editor away is if the story is just a long list of telling the reader what to think. The editor is looking for emotion and the effort to bring the reader into the story. For example, to read the sentence ĎJack walked down the hill.í, the reader knows there is a Jack, there is a hill, and Jack is now at the bottom. But it doesnít tell the reader anything about the journey. ĎJack viewed the world around him from the top of the highest hill he could find. The sun was just rising in the far-off eastern horizon and the birds were just beginning their morning song. The air was crisp and seems so fresh and clean that drawing a breath was a complete joy. To know the love of his life waited at the bottom was all of the incentive Jack needed to take off at a jog to reach the bottom and her arms.í Now granted, this is off the top of my head but I think you can see the difference.
On a personal note as far as a relationship with your editor, remember one key factorĖthe editor wants to help you in every way they can. First of all, it is in their nature to want to see the best end product possible. Second, and even more personal, if you donít sell well, they make no money either. Letís be realistic. You want to take the world by storm with your work on a lot of levelsĖthere is the personal satisfaction of seeing your name in print, there is the reality of getting those characters out of your head and on paper, there is the comfort in receiving those royalty checks and so much more. So, to that end, be patient with them. The editor is usually working on multiple books at one time. Stay in contact with them, talk with them, let them know what is on your mind but also be patient with them.
Another thing when presenting to an editor, especially for the first time, follow the guidelines of the publishing house to which you are submitting. Take the time to read their guidelines and make sure you understand them. Then follow them to the letter, present your manuscript in a professional manner. This will always get your manuscript in front of those who donít follow the guidelines (and believe me that is many) and it will make the editor very happy.
Most publishing houses ask for a synopsis of a manuscript before anything else is submitted (again follow those guidelines). But stop to think for a moment about that synopsis. Since it is short and to the point, it needs to be well done to get their attention. In other words think of the outline you want to follow and stick to it. Donít rambleĖever. If they canít follow the synopsis the editor wonít even try to read the manuscript. So, for an example, think hero, heroine, conflict, resolution. Tell the editor about the hero and his motivation, the heroine and her motivation, the conflict keeping them apart, and, finally, how that conflict is resolved. If an author can do that in a synopsis, then they can weave a tale.
I have talked about some of the good things editors look for but there certainly has to be the other side of the coin right? The pet peeves or turn offs. Every editor will have their own personal pet peeves but there are some general rules of thumb for what to absolutely stay away from. I mentioned one earlier in the telling rather than sharing. This is extremely important to the success of any manuscript. Watch your characters and keep them real. Watch the tense in which you tell the story. Donít start in one tense and then move back and forth. This is especially important if you are writing a story in the first person. Generally speaking books written in the first person are pretty tough to write and to sell (make sure you check because some publishing houses wonít take them). They have to be unique and it is really easy to switch the tense in this type of manuscript.
Watch your words which end in ly or ing so you donít overuse them. The word said is a great word but try to find some other words as well such as replied, suggested, and so forth. Really look at the word that. In speaking, we tend to use words such as like, just, ahh and ahm to fill space and in writing we use the word that. Read your sentence and if it reads well without the word that, take it out.
Now all of this being said my "favorite" pet peeve is head hopping. For those of you who might not know what this means, it is switching from one personís point of view to another personís in the same scene. For example, you are writing the scene from Jillís point of view.
Jill laughed as she saw Jack racing down the hill towards her, "Jack, please be careful. I may love you but I want to love you in one piece."
She continued to gaze up at the man who had brought so much love into her life. Jack gazed down at his love at the same time thinking to himself that her beauty outshone the sun.
Jill could no longer just stand at the bottom of the hill and wait for Jack, she had to run to meet him.
In that second paragraph, you notice I talk about Jack looking down at his love and thinking to himself about her beauty. Since we are in Jillís point of view, we should be able to hear those thoughts. Now if he said them out loud such as
Jack gazed down at his love and yelled for the entire world to hear, "Jill, your beauty outshines the sun."
that would work because he is telling Jill what he is thinking and bringing us along for the ride.
One recommendation I will make to all writers is to get a critique partner. Donít just look for someone who loves you. Look for someone who has an understanding of writing and a good handle on how words flow. Also, this someone needs to be able to say the hard suggestions and then, even more importantly, you need to listen. You can find critique partners through local writing chapters and some publishing houses. Do be careful though if you choose someone you donít know very well. Your manuscript is your baby so pass it off wisely.
Now that I have added a few more dust bunnies to your spring cleaning, I will leave you to it. Always keep in mind the editor will work with you on some of the polishing and the glitz to a manuscript as long as the basic bones are there. So dust off those pages and take a look at Jack and Jill again. They have been languishing long enough.
Editor - The Wild Rose Press