By guest blogger, Ericka McIntyre
I have been working as an editor for over 15 years now, much of that time spent working for various publishers, and more recently as a full-time freelancer, for an even broader array of clients.
I get requests all the time for advice—how do I get published? Can’t I just proofread my book myself? Why won’t my publisher just use the title I gave my book? Why is 300k words too long? And over the years I have seen the best and worst examples of what authors can do when working either with an independent editor before being published, or with a publishing house once they have a contract.
So herein are some dos and don’ts, based on the hard-won wisdom of someone who has been in the writing and editing trenches for a while, from manuscript to proposal to published work.
Before you have a book contract—DO:
Hire someone to read your manuscript before you submit to publishers or agents. I cannot stress this enough—if I, who edit and proofread for a living, cannot edit and proof my own writing (and I can’t), neither can you. It is well worth the expense (which you can even write off, hey!) to have a professional go through your manuscript. Nothing will make the typos and plot holes stand out quicker than a fresh set of eyes on your pages. And you do not want those typos and plot holes in there when you start sending out queries! (More on that below.)
Put together a professional query/proposal. Manuscript readers and agents are busy, busy, busy. Your book proposal is make or break. You can have the best novel ever, but if you put together a sloppy proposal? In the immortal words of Tony Soprano, Fuhgeddaboutit!
It may seem obvious, but you would not believe the messy proposals that have come across my desk over the years! What does a well-done proposal look like? This: A well-crafted cover letter, tailored to the recipient (if I feel like I have gotten a scattershot form letter? I don’t read any further.); A one-paragraph summary/elevator pitch—give your book to me in a very delicious nutshell; Your bio; A full synopsis of the book; The table of contents; the first chapter. (Oh and, I don’t have to tell you that you should have this proofread, too! )
Please do not send your whole manuscript unless you are asked to. I know it’s your baby. I know you have poured your blood and guts into it—but I do not have time to wade through 300+ manuscript pages so I can take your book to an editorial meeting and pitch it for publishing. I just don’t. If you send a proposal and I like what I see? Then I will ask you for the whole book. I promise.
Neglect the details. See above re: editing and proofing. I once got a proposal with Colombia misspelled throughout. Did the house I was working for at the time publish that book? Nope. It could have been a great book, but the minute I see a detail like that missed? It makes me wonder what you’ll be like to work with. And the wondering I am doing is not good. I am not saying that one typo will sink you—but the fact is, it might, so better safe than sorry!
Once you have a book contract, DO:
Accept changes to your manuscript. Whether they come from a developmental editor, copyeditor, or proofreader—your publisher has hired professionals to make your book the best it can be. If an editor requests a change, wants you to cut down your word count, or points out something you missed? Don’t let your ego overrule your sense. Take the feedback, mull it over. If you argue over every jot and tittle? Guess what ? You get the label “difficult to work with” and when you want to publish your next book? Hoo buddy! Your first one better have been a best-seller, or you will have given a publishing staff great pause. A good editor will always maintain your voice, and respect your work. You can certainly go to the mats for something if you know beyond doubt you’re right. But chances are, you won’t have to. Editors are not here to make your life worse—we are here to make it (and your work) better!
Let go of the packaging. Your publisher has assumed the financial risk of getting your book out to the world, and in publishing, margins can be quite thin. I tell every author I work with: They may not like your title. You may not love your cover. But again, chances are, these decisions have been made based on years of market research. A good publishing house has a staff of people who live and breathe this stuff. They usually know what they are doing when they package your book. And they have just as much interest in your book being a success as you do!
Be ready to market your book yourself. The above said, marketing budgets are always tight, even at the biggest houses. Be prepared to sell your book yourself. Set up signings, write blogs, attend book clubs, go to conferences, Tweet, Facebook…put yourself and your work out there. You want the most people to read (ahem, buy) your book as possible, right? Your marketing folks will help you, but you need to be pushing that boulder, too!
Get discouraged if your first book isn’t the next Harry Potter. Most authors dream of being a huge success, selling millions of books, getting invited over for Sunday brunch at Oprah’s—but it may not happen. In fact, it probably won’t. Aim more for good storytelling, and be ready to work hard. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say. If your sales aren’t blockbuster, don’t beat yourself up! If you get a bad review? Don’t take it personally. If you are fortunate enough to be published, it means your work has merit, and your voice is important. Don’t forget that when you get a weaker-than-expected sales report or a snarky review. Dust yourself off and keep going!
Ask me your questions—I am here to help!
Ruthy here! I've worked with Ericka on two books now, the widely celebrated "Refuge of the Heart" and the soon-to-be-released "More Than a Promise", and it's been a wonderful experience! She's open to questions, talking and her goal has been to put the best book forward, a goal we agree on 100%
I've got coffee brewing, and some of the biscotti that Mary Jane Hathaway had over at the Yankee Belle Cafe on the weekend, so come on and be brave enough and bold enough to ask questions. I've got a clean cat dish here... and one person is going to get a pre-sale copy of "More Than a Promise" (when they arrive in upstate!)
What have you been wanting to ask an editor and didn't quite have the courage to do it, face to face? Here's your chance!