Hello everyone, Julie Lessman here. I am very excited to welcome to Seekerville today award-winning author AND editor for Bethany House, Julie Klassen. I was fortunate enough to meet Julie at the ACFW 2008 conference last September, and I will NEVER forget either the woman OR our truly anointed chance encounter in a Sheraton bathroom (you can read my blog about it here http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2008/11/oh-for-love-of-god-part-2.html).
Julie Klassen has worked in Christian publishing for more than twelve years and is the author of two novels: Lady of Milkweed Manor and The Apothecary’s Daughter. Without further ado, I give you Julie Klassen:
I have the privilege of working as a fiction editor for Bethany House Publishers. When I (secretly) wrote my first historical, Bethany House was my hoped-for publisher. Since I work with the people who would be reviewing it, I submitted it under a pseudonym so that if it was accepted, it would be done so objectively. Of course, this also allowed me to cower under the protection of anonymity in case it was rejected! Since then, I have learned a lot about being on the other side of the desk—and on the receiving end of the red pen. With that in mind, I offer a few tips from one editor/author. (Note: just my personal opinion; not necessarily policy!)
You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again: Don’t start with back story. I can’t tell you how many proposals I’ve read where the story doesn’t really begin until Chapter 3. Most readers (and editors) won’t last that long. Drizzle in only necessary back story after you’ve hooked the reader.
Hook reader on the first page with either action, suspense, a dramatic question, or the compelling stakes the protagonist will face. Readers, agents, and editors are becoming increasingly jaded and need to be engaged quickly.
Sell It! Editors are readers first. When writing the synopsis portion of your query letter, think promotional or back cover copy and not “this happens, then this, then this…” Unless specifically requested, I wouldn’t include a chapter-by-chapter summary. Every one I’ve ever read makes even a potentially interesting book sound tedious or contrived. (Note: Several great articles about hooking readers and writing queries have already been posted—refer to these for more details.)
Issue Smissue: Avoid trying to tackle too many issues in your novel. I recently reviewed a proposal which covered abortion, depression, mental illness, feminism, and anti-Christian sentiment. We rejected it. Yes, your novel should have a point, a theme, an uplifting faith message, something worthwhile—but the story needs to be king.
Buzzword: Sympathetic. Your main character needs to be likeable OR understandably unlikeable (due to _____ (you fill in back story)) but redeemable. Perhaps it sounds obvious, but often proposals are rejected due to unsympathetic or un-relatable characters. Ask yourself, am I creating a character readers will want to spend time with? Will they feel for him? Care about her and her problem? I am NOT saying she needs to be a perfect, sweet, godly Christian. Even characters we wouldn’t want our sons to date can be effective protagonists. Think of Julie Lessman’s Charity. Or read Home Another Way by Christa Parrish. Christa’s protagonist is bristly, bitter and unapologetically immoral. But she is also wounded, talented, interesting, and wickedly funny. And ultimately, poignantly, redeemable. (Note: I am not suggesting you all go out and create sexually immoral protagonists—this can be a stumbling block to becoming published, and is a challenge to do well.)
Don’t kill the messenger, er, editor. Don’t take it personally when you receive that detailed rejection letter or seven pages of rewrite suggestions. Yes, editors are fallible human beings and you don’t have to do everything they suggest. But neither should you dismiss such feedback lightly. Seasoned editors have reviewed and edited hundreds of books and know a few things about crafting novels that sell. They really are trying to help you. So consider, pray, and in the end take the suggestions that resonate with you before respectfully ignoring the rest. It is, after all, your book.
The Editor, Edited. I, too, received plenty of feedback (praise and criticism) on my manuscripts. Yes, it’s sometimes painful to hear where a story falls short or needs work, but in the end I agreed with 90% of the suggestions and set about the hard work of rewriting. (Ah well, who needs to go outside during the summer anyway?)
Which is harder, writing or editing? Writing, hands down. Tired? Stressed? No wonder! I’ve learned that writing a book is ten (fifty?) times harder than editing one. I have such admiration and respect for anyone who has completed a novel—published or not. If you haven’t finished—keep your derriere in the chair. And if you have, give yourself a pat on the back and then return your derriere to the chair. Hard, lonely work? Yes. Worth it? You betcha.
Visit Julie at her Web site at http://www.julieklassen.com/index.html where you can learn more about her fabulous debut novel, Lady of Milkweed Manor, and her second novel, The Apothecary's Daughter, release date January 2009.