Surviving—and Thriving—In The Brave New World Of Publishing

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Publishing used to be a leisurely enterprise.  Authors could submit their work directly to the “slush” pile. Editorial assistants would carefully sift through the submissions looking for books that could be turned into solid commercial properties.  Submissions were sent in hard copy, and editors’ offices were piled high with manuscripts.  We had to lug three or four submissions home to read on our spare time. Editing was done in right on the manuscript, usually in red pencil. Time consuming but effective.

In years past, agents would take on projects because they loved them and would work with authors until they were ready for submission to publishers. Editors would often send an editorial letter to authors before they actually acquired their books, making suggestions how to make them acceptable. Publishers supported new writers with publicity, author tours, sometimes even advertising. The rule was that it was only on their third or fourth book that their fortunes would hit their stride.

. . . .

The current state of publishing.

The advent of mega corporate publishing conglomerates, computer sales tracking, and the consolidation of the bookstores and distributors changed everything.  There used to be dozens of publishers, large and small, where an author might find a home. Now there are basically four or five publishers that control the market.

. . . .

Bottom line concerns have all but decimated the publishers’ promotional efforts and have left it up to the authors for the most part. Computer sales tracking  allows publishers, agents and distributors daily performance reports. While it used to take six months to figure out if a book was successful, now it takes less than month.

. . . .

 Since there are fewer bookstores, large and small, to showcase the thousands of new and old titles that are still published each month, it’s tough get an traction with readers. The vast majority of books are bought from online like vendors like Amazon or in big box stores like Walmart or Costco.

As of result all these new market forces, the submission and acquisition process is more competitive than ever.  Physical slush piles are now the email inboxes of agents and editors. The pressure is on to find “big” books that will become bestsellers upon publication. Agents are more selective than ever.

One agent I know reads only the first line of a manuscript. If she doesn’t like it, she rejects it.

Another won’t accept authors who don’t have well established social media platforms.

Editors spend their days at corporate meetings and don’t have as much time to edit or work with an author to strengthen work. The consequence is that both agents and editors require manuscripts to be as close to final as possible before taking them on.

. . . .

Authors need to be prepared to meet these challenges, but they are often subject to the old problem of not being able to see “the forest for the trees.”  Immersed in their craft, they lose perspective, and find it hard to see the larger picture of how their work will be received by agents or editors. In most instances, a new project has one shot at being accepted when it is submitted to an editor. If it rejected by multiple editors, agents will deem it a losing proposition and cease to represent it.  So authors need to make sure their work is as strong as it can be before the submission process begins.  

Hence the need for experienced freelance editors, whose familiarity with the business can give authors an advantage. In this new world of publishing, they have taken the place of the traditional in-house editor or hands-on agent. Qualified freelance editors have become a vital part of the submission process and can make difference between rejection and acceptance.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

PG is a big fan of quality freelance editors. He thinks they can improve most manuscripts substantially.

However, if, as the OP implies, hiring an experienced freelance editor to help you get an agent who then gets you a publishing contract with a traditional publisher is adding one more person for a traditionally-published author to pay, further reducing the net income the author will receive for a book.

In ancient times, an author could submit a book to one or more publishers directly with some reasonable assurance that a qualified individual who was on the publisher’s payroll and had been for more than three weeks would give it a serious read, at least through several pages, then send the author some meaningful feedback if the publisher’s employee thought the manuscript showed promise.

Today, PG thinks quite a few authors could benefit from a quality freelance editor before self-publishing their book.

There are quality freelance editors in New York City. There are also quality freelance editors in places other than New York City, including places where the cost of living is much lower than it is in New York City. On a regular basis, the cost of living affects the fees a quality freelance editor (or anyone else providing services) charges for her/his services.

The Comprehensive Guide to Finding, Hiring, and Working with an Editor

From Jane Friedman:

As an independent developmental/substantive editor, I field a lot of the same questions every day. What is an editor? What do book editors do? How do I find one? How do I hire one?

The questions make sense—like book editing itself, an understanding of the editorial process happens almost exclusively in private author-editor interactions, and the specifics are rarely transferable between writers or projects. What’s an author to do? 

For anyone embarking on a search for your first, next, or best editor, may this article be your comprehensive guide.

What an Editor Is

Much confusion about editors and editing begins right here, at the meaning of the word editor. Consider the following sentences:

  • “I’m working with an editor to turn my keynote speech into a book.”
  • “The editor said I should delete my entire fourth chapter.”
  • “My editor caught all my typos.”
  • “The editor did a final proof yesterday.”

Editor means something (and someone) different in each of those examples. It used to confuse me, too, and that’s because we use a catch-all term when we shouldn’t. We employ the word editor to describe anyone who has anything to do with preparing words for publication, and we don’t realize that editors, in this umbrella sense of the word, don’t actually exist. Nobody out there is just an editor—there’s always a descriptive word that comes before (or instead) to describe where that individual sits on the continuum of the book-editing process. For both traditionally published and self-published authors, the continuum looks like this:

Developmental Editor → Substantive Editor → Copy Editor → Proofreader

Practically speaking, what this means for authors is that you need to know the lingo that editors use to describe the work we do. Looking for “an editor” to “edit your book” won’t get you very far because no one knows what that means—editors included. I’m sure the copy editors are working on that, and maybe that will be funny later.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Booker judges shouldn’t blame editors for overlong novels

From The Guardian:

Every year, there is a controversy at the Man Booker prize; this year, it is all about the work of editors. Or rather, the supposed lack of work that editors are doing.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, chair of the judges, implicitly blamed editors for the poor quality of some of this year’s submissions while announcing the 2018 shortlist: “We occasionally felt that inside the book we read was a better one, sometimes a thinner one, wildly signalling to be let out.” Fellow judge Val McDermid went further by suggesting modern editors don’t know what they’re doing. “I think,” she said, “young editors coming through are not necessarily getting the kind of training and experience-building apprenticeship that happened when I was starting out.”

As an editor, my immediate reaction was to bite back. Yes, I’ve read a few saggy titles over the past few months. (Two of them crime novels endorsed by none other than Val McDermid.) And when you read a book you think is overlong, it’s hard not to wonder why it wasn’t cut into shape. But I’d still caution against the reflexive tendency to blame editors. A title belongs to an author, first and last. We at the publishing end are there to make suggestions, not to implement changes with an iron rod. If an author is determined to save a few darlings that we want to slaughter, it’s their call. We can’t force a writer to do anything. Nor should we try.

I’m yet to meet an editor who doesn’t work hard on the books they take on, and who doesn’t take pride in that work. But I can see how problems arise. Editing takes effort and skill, and it’s carried out by humans – and we all make mistakes. Maybe those mistakes multiply if you have a large number of titles on your list; I’ve certainly heard enough complaints from editors at the Big Five about being forever distracted by spreadsheets and meetings, ending up as much a product manager as an artistic facilitator.

. . . .

We’ve spent months, sometimes years, editing novels, trying to check the flow and sense of each individual sentence, as well as working on all the wider questions of structural flow. We’ve laboured long over obstacles that lie between the reader and the author’s vision. Most importantly – and enjoyably – we’ve had endless back–and–forth with our writers as they carried out improvements.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Editorial Power Means Blowing Up the Machine from the Inside

From The Literary Hub:

Many of us aren’t surprised by the revelations of sexual misconduct and abuses of power that have recently come to light, and as editors, we have long expected similar reports of sexual discrimination and abuse in the literary world. Literary Hub decided to bring together nine women editors to have a discussion about these issues, focusing specifically on journals and magazines and the way women in positions of leadership have navigated these issues throughout their careers, and how they continue to navigate them.

. . . .

What does editorial “power” mean to you?

Elissa Schappell: Getting to blow up the machine from the inside. Being able to amplify the voices of the writers whose stories aren’t being told and need to be.

 Marisa Siegel: Editorial power means the following to me: 1) The power to shape an editorial mission, and in doing so, to shape a publication’s identity and to use its platform in the ways I believe are most important, and, 2) The power to share writing with readers, and hopefully, to open readers’ minds to new ideas, possibilities, and worlds.

Eliza Borné: It’s the freedom to create the kind of magazine I want to read, and it’s an enormous privilege. Many people have put their trust in me as I occupy the editor’s chair—the magazine’s readers and contributors, my colleagues, our board of directors. As editor, I have a responsibility to maintain their trust.

. . . .

Jennifer Acker:  Marisa’s definition is spot on, and I also want to highlight Eliza’s point about management. Keeping an organization running is a behind-the-scenes business—one that’s a prerequisite to publishing anything. As a founder, I am keenly aware that we need to keep the lights on in order to create literary conversations and launch the careers of writers.

Medaya Ocher: Editorial power is an odd thing to dissect because it is extensive and pervasive in some ways and negligible in others. There are a few people in this world who decide who speaks and when and where, and editors are part of that small minority. Not only that, but editors also have power over how someone speaks. That is a massive privilege to hand to some other person. I wouldn’t even let someone else order for me at a restaurant. It involves trust and a measure of faith that is kind of shocking if you think about it. Of course, part of being a good editor is maintaining and respecting that voice, but still, I’ve got someone’s language in my hands. What a thing to handle. The other way of looking at this kind of power, is the power of making a text or a voice stronger, clearer, helping another person articulate something that they may have trouble saying. Legibility, making one person’s thoughts legible to another, is a significant power in itself.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG suggests that real editorial power looks like this:

Driving Down the Price of Publishing

From Good Ereader:

Not too long ago, self-published authors were collectively admonished about the need to invest in their work. Hiring quality editors, proofreaders, cover designers, and formatters before attempting to sell a book was the constant mantra of industry experts. While some hapless writers continued to slap their Word docs up on Amazon and hope to snare a few readers, authors who took their careers seriously made the proper investments.

Around that time, a number of startups emerged, all billing themselves as eBay-like marketplaces for author services. Many of those startups have shuttered their virtual doors, while a few that produced meaningful connections between authors and publishing service providers have managed to thrive. But that hasn’t stopped newcomers to the game from trying to continually undercut the concept of paying for quality work.

“When I first began finding clients through online freelance postings, the self-publishing industry was a different place,” stated one editor who did not wished to be named. “Authors who had done their homework not only knew how much editing might cost, but they also knew enough to have sent their work to their writing group for critiques or even beta readers before declaring it ‘ready’ for editing. Now, I find new job postings almost daily requesting full edits of an 80,000-word book for $100.”

That’s one of the double-edged swords of self-publishing, of course. An indie author without a solid backlist and sales to go with it may not be able to invest thousands of dollars for a full suite of services, but that doesn’t change the income needs of those who are expected to do the work.

“I love spending time with other local authors, but conversations about finding editors and cover designers have become heartbreaking,” said Andrea Patten, award-winning author of The Inner Critic Advantage: Making Peace With the Noise in Your Head. “Poor quality isn’t good for any of us. If we don’t support talented, experienced editors and designers, all that will be left are those who are willing to be the lowest bidder.”

Link to the rest at Good Ereader

Book doulas: the new way to push your writing into the world

From The Guardian:

“Are book doulas a thing?” asks a writer I know. “I’d love to get one.”

Book doulas are a thing, because where there is a need, there is a service. Traditionally, they were non-medically trained professionals who cared for the emotional wellbeing of women in labour. These days, doulas are used in many other contexts where you may need someone to ease you through a process and provide emotional support, for instance abortion, divorce, death – and, now, for writing books.

Distinguishing themselves from agents and editors, book doulas offer a sort of coaching service, a kind eye to reassure nervous authors who are having trouble getting their book published. Ariane Conrad, who calls herself an “editorial coach and consultant, AKA book doula”, refers to her services as “bookbirthing”.

“I take my time getting to know you, your project and your voice. I listen and focus deeply. Committing your ideas, experiences or life’s work to writing can be intimidating. I will reassure you,” writes Ariane on her website, in the warm and fuzzy tone common to many birth doulas.

Editor, writing coach and book doula Ali Lawrence says the service involves: “Meeting my clients where they are most vulnerable – needing guidance, support, encouragement, empowerment, accountability – and helping them to achieve their book goals.”

Lawrence, who says the term “really resonates for me when thinking of the creative process of book writing”, stresses: “I’m not a publisher, I’m not an agent. I’m a partner in reaching your book goals.”

. . . .

But is it all marketing rubbish? When I describe book doulas to other writers, most take issue with the basic analogy. As a mother and writer myself, I agree that giving birth is most definitely more painful than producing a book.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The Book He Wasn’t Supposed to Write

From The Atlantic:

I had written five books for Scott Moyers, following him as he moved from editing jobs at Scribner’s to Random House and then to Penguin Press. We worked well together, and in part thanks to his strong editing hand, my last three books had been bestsellers.So what happened when I finished years of work and sent him the manuscript of my sixth book stunned me. In fact, I was in for a series of surprises.

They began about 18 months ago, after I emailed to him that manuscript, a dual appreciation of Winston Churchill and George Orwell. When I had begun work on it, in 2013, some old friends of mine thought the subject was a bit obscure. Why would anyone care how two long-dead Englishmen, a conservative politician and a socialist journalist who never met, had dealt with the polarized political turmoil of the 1930s and the world war that followed? By 2016, as people on both the American left and right increasingly seemed to favor opinion over fact, the book had become more timely.

But two weeks after I sent him the manuscript, I received a most unhappy e-mail back from him. “I fear that the disconnect over what this book should be might be fundamental,” Scott wrote to me, clearly pained to do so. What I had sent him was exactly the book he had told me not to write. He had warned me, he reminded me, against writing an extended book review that leaned on the weak reed of themes rather than stood on a strong foundation of narrative. I had put the works before the two men, he told me, and that would not do.. . . .

Partly, I was crushed. But even more, I was puzzled. How could I have been so off in my perception of my manuscript? This wasn’t a hurried work of a few months. For three years, I had steeped myself in Churchill, Orwell, and their times, reading hundreds of books, which were scattered in piles across the floor of my office in the attic of my home in Maine. The biggest of the piles was books by Churchill himself. The second biggest was diaries, memoirs, and collected letters by British politicians and writers of the 1930s and ’40s.

Scott followed up with a lengthy letter—I think it was about 10 pages—detailing his concerns.

. . . .

I spent the next five months, from mid-January to mid-June of 2016, redoing the whole book, rethinking it from top to bottom.

I began by taking his letter and his marked-up version of the manuscript with me to Austin, Texas, where my wife and I were taking a break in February from the long Maine winter. (Austin is a great town for live music, food, and hiking—and its winter feels to me like Maine in the summer.) I sat in the backyard and read and reread Scott’s comments. I didn’t argue with them. Rather, I pondered them. If he thinks that, I would ask myself, how can I address the problem? I underlined sections. At one point he pleaded in a note scrawled in the margin, “If you would only defer to the narrative, you could get away with murder.” I liked that comment so much I typed it across the top of the first page of the second draft, so I would see it every morning as I began my day’s work.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

8 Top Publishing Lessons Authors Need To Know

From Digital Book World:

Writing is not the same as publishing. That may seem obvious to most. But picture a young author with a lot to say – This person writes and writes, day after day. Amasses a seven-foot-tall stack of words on paper. This person then thinks everyone would love to read what they wrote.

Why not? They enjoyed writing it. They know it’s good. They send one of their stories off to a publishing house – maybe two. Okay, they send it off to five dozen.

And the answers come back: Not a chance in H. E. double hockey sticks!

Our author is crushed, heartbroken. Vows to never write again!

Quick show of hands – How many authors approach their writing careers in the same way?

. . . .

1. You’ve spent hours writing your manuscript – now what?

After writing your manuscript for more hours than you can count, you’re not finished. Now it’s time to invest in a Manuscript Overview. What’s that? It’s a process whereby you send your work off to a trusted, experienced editor. They read your work and give you professional, genre-specific feedback: tell you what’s good, what needs work, if your manuscript is ready to publish. It can be painful – but it’s a necessary step on the road to publishing. A roadmap to make your work more successful in the marketplace. It’s to your advantage.

2. You’re tooling around on social media – time to get real.

At the same time as the Manuscript Overview is going on, begin strengthening your on-line presence through interactive social media. These days, even Fiction authors need a platform. Facebook is still a good way to do this, so is Instagram. Whatever you do, invite your community into a relationship. The thing to remember is publishers are looking for authors who already have a following that can be motivated to purchase books.

. . . .

6. Say cheese! Get a professional author photo.

What’s needed is a high-res, professional photo to place on your book, stick on your business cards, add to your sell sheets… get the picture?

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Red Pens and Invisible Ink

From Slate:

In 2008 I published a short piece in Cabinet magazine on the fate of writer Thomas Browne’s skull, stolen from his coffin 158 years after his death. It caught the attention of an editor at a small press called Unbridled Books, Fred Ramey, who contacted me and asked if I would develop it into what became my first book. He particularly praised the final line of the Cabinet piece, saying that line showed him I was a strong writer. I didn’t have the courage to tell him that the line in question had not been written by me but added by my editor at Cabinet, Sina Najafi.

Who can properly claim credit for such a line, written by the editor but appearing under the name of the writer? Where is the editor’s hand evident—if at all—in the writer’s work? Ramey asks these questions in The Insect Dialogues, a book-length conversation with another writer, Marc Estrin, on the role and responsibility of the editor.

In early 2000, Estrin submitted a 900-page manuscript to Ramey, then an editor at Penguin Putnam; Ramey agreed to publish it only on the condition that they cut 300 pages and significantly revise it. The result, Insect Dreams: The Half-Life of Gregor Samsa, went on to garner critical acclaim (though moderate sales) and initiated a professional relationship and friendship between the two. Ramey eventually left Penguin Putnam and co-founded Unbridled Books; there he published five more of Estrin’s books through 2009. (Ramey also published my second book, though we haven’t worked together in over five years.)

Since then, though, Estrin has founded his own press, Fomite Press, and in 2016 decided to publish his original, unadulterated manuscript, now titled Kafka’s Roach: The Life and Times of Gregor Samsa. While Ramey gave Estrin his blessing, he feared such a move might be seen as a repudiation of his original editing, and so a third book was born: The Insect Dialogues, a transcription of a three-month email exchange in which the two discuss the history of this book in particular and, through it, much larger questions of publishing, editing, and authorial authority.

So within these pages there’s a hint of recrimination, at times even bitterness. What’s clear is that Estrin, despite his gratitude for a publishing break, never seems to have considered Insect Dreams entirely his. He refers to it as “my book in Fred’s edit,” or “Fred’s Gregor,” the novel that’s been “fredited,” all the while keeping hold of the manuscript he calls “the original Gregor.” Ramey in turn sees Estrin’s decision to publish his original manuscript as, at least in part, a repudiation both of Ramey’s editorial work and the larger question of editing altogether. “At the end of the day,” he worries, “Kafka’s Roach will become and always be the real novel; Insect Dreams will be the artificial, tainted construct.”

Link to the rest at Slate

Author Overhead, Pt. 1

From the Draft2Digital blog:

One of the burdens shouldered by indie authors is the overhead of the business. With a traditional publishing contract, some of that overhead is mitigated. The author isn’t asked to pay directly for cover design, layout, or distribution—though ultimately the cost of these services is factored into the royalty deal between the author and the publisher.

Having those expenses covered up front can be one advantage of going traditional. But as an independent author, all those expenses and more may fall on your shoulders alone. In this two-part series, we’ll look at some of the expenses and overhead you’ll take on for your indie author business, and those you should avoid.

First, The Unavoidable

Death. Taxes. Overhead for your author career. There are some things you just can’t avoid.

Author overhead can be a bit tricky, though, when it comes to the ‘unavoidable.’ Because for the most part, there really are no barriers to entry in this business. Anyone with access to a public library’s internet connection can write and publish for free. Whether that book becomes a success, however, comes down to pure luck unless there is an investment on the part of the author.

A good rule of thumb when it comes to a successful author business is to accept that there will always be a cost to pay. You may pay that in dollars, as we’re discussing here. Or you may pay it in time—whether that means taking the time to do all the work yourself, or enduring the time it takes for your book to reach an audience without any investment on your part. One way or another, Overhead takes her due.

In that sense, it’s easier to just think of any money you spend as a shortcut for time. If you can pay for services to be rendered, you’ll save both the time to do the work yourself and the time spent waiting for readers to look past the flaws of your book and give it a chance. Overhead may be unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to be a burden.

. . . .

It’s true, you can edit your work yourself. Particularly if you are skilled at copyediting—finding typos, grammar gaffs, and logical omissions in writing. If you are meticulous enough, you can certainly find and fix any errors that appear in your work.

That’s good news for many authors, who pride themselves on being savvy perfectionists. But the truth is even the keenest editing eyes among us have trouble objectively reviewing their own work.

Editing your own book can save you a few hundred dollars, but what it doesn’t save you is time. The fact is, when you edit your own work you spend more time reading and rereading and re-rereading. It can slow down the release of your book by weeks or even months. This is due to a bit of hardwiring in the human brain.

Humans are wired to look for shortcuts. Think of stereotypes: If I say ‘doctor’ or ‘nurse,’ there’s a very good chance you pictured a man first and a woman second. Never mind the fact that in our much more enlightened age women can be doctors and men can be nurses. There’s a pre-wired pattern (learned from years of cognitive bias) that makes you fall back on a stereotype in the absence of any other evidence. The stereotype is a shortcut for you brain, so that it doesn’t have to work as hard to create a mental image.

. . . .

The way this impacts our editing is simple: We wrote what we wrote, and we know what we meant.

When we’re reading our own work again (and again, and again) we’re often seeing our intention rather than the actual words on the page. This is how you can read the same sentence a dozen times and never realize you left out a “the” or even a noun or a verb. You have a built-in expectation of those words being there—your brain is biased to expect them so the sentence will make logical sense. As you read, your brain fires up its shortcut and inserts the missing words into the flow, even though they do not appear on the page.

Link to the rest at Draft2Digital and thanks to Alexis for the tip.

On the Use of Sensitivity Readers in Publishing

From The Literary Hub:

In the past few years, authors concerned about the accuracy of their cultural representations have started using a new tool. Sensitivity reading, or beta reading, involves manuscript review where the author is writing about a marginalized group to which they doesn’t belong. A sensitivity reader might have a particular medical condition, sexual orientation, ethnic background, or any experience or identity that may be poorly understood by the majority culture.

Some might consider the use of sensitivity readers an eye-rolling exercise in identity liberalism that has become bruised a bit by recent political events. To others, sensitivity reading is a welcome means, though by no means a sufficient one, of working towards a more inclusive and less cliché-ridden publishing industry.

. . . .

Becky Albertalli’s experience with sensitivity readers provides a useful snapshot of this trend. When she was writing Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, published in 2013, she hadn’t heard the term “sensitivity reader.” But the book, which centers on a closeted teenager, passed through the hands of many gay men as part of the process of consultation. This was basically a form of sensitivity reading, although not formalized.

When it came time to write her next book, The Upside of Unrequited, sensitivity reading had become more familiar. We Need Diverse Books was launched in 2014, and major lists of available sensitivity readers were created in 2016. For this book, Albertalli wanted to be much more deliberate about the process.

The protagonist of The Upside of Unrequited, which will be published in April 2017, is a fat, anxious, cis, straight, Jewish teenage girl; this adjective soup is autobiographical for Albertalli.

. . . .

One example came in the very first scene of the book—which Albertalli wryly notes was a high-stakes situation. Here the narrator mentioned outright that she was straight. A bisexual sensitivity reader critiqued the overtness of this, saying, “That comes off as super ‘no homo’ to me.” Albertalli agreed. It was obvious by page two that this character was straight, and she realized that in aiming for political correctness, she had struck a false note. She reshaped the scene.

. . . .

Sangu Mandanna is an author and editor who has been doing formal sensitivity reads for over six months. She’s listed on the best-known database of sensitivity readers, compiled by Writing in the Margins.

Mandanna’s experience inhabiting these multiple roles shows that sensitivity reading makes for a unique set of demands on a reader/editor. “You’re not looking for plot holes or world-building inconsistencies, for example; you’re looking for places in the text where [characterization] or a narrative arc or even just a turn of phrase could be a problematic or downright harmful representation.”

These can be seemingly minor issues, but the very fact that they’re often overlooked points to the ease with which a majority culture can reproduce stereotypes. Mandanna gives as an example the frequent exoticizing of brown characters. “Take phrases like ‘glowing brown skin’ or ‘eyes like jewels’, which are phrases I see very often. These phrases are meant to be positive, but the author would never use them to describe their white characters.”

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub