Category Archives: Anita’s Editing & Critiquing Work

Seriously, You Get to Read for a Living?

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shutterstock_322480529smallI love it when people ask me about my job as a freelance editor. It always leads to interesting conversations about books and the writing biz.

Recently, I got to continue that discussion through an interview in Southern Writers Magazine. I really liked the pool of questions they sent, so I asked if I could post some additional content here as a supplement. In true Southern style, they graciously acquiesced.
 

SWM: What are the biggest benefits of being an editor?

I think the very best part is that I constantly get to work on something new and exciting. One month I might be working on an epic fantasy and a middle grade mystery. The next, a contemporary YA novel and a paranormal thriller. It’s always fresh and interesting. Another big advantage is flexibility. I set my own schedule and as long as I have a good internet connection, I can work almost anywhere. It allows me to travel frequently to industry events or to visit my out-of-state friends and family, while keeping up with my work as usual.

The biggest challenges? Is it difficult working on your own?

Since every manuscript has a new and unique set of challenges to tackle, I never get to just sit back, relax, and go into autopilot. But honestly, that’s another of the perks—no chance of boredom! Time goes by so fast.

Working as an indie editor carries many of the same challenges writers face: you’re alone in front of a computer for long stretches of time with a manuscript, a stack of writing manuals, and your thoughts. There is definitely a potential for cabin fever! I mix things up by regularly presenting workshops at writers’ conferences and retreats. I also Skype with my clients, or if they’re local, we meet in person to check their progress and discuss issues in their works-in-progress.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as an editor?

I’ve gleaned this piece of advice from the mentors and colleagues I respect the most: seek the right balance of criticism and praise. If you only point out the faults in someone’s writing, they may not see a reason to persevere. If all you do is praise what they got right, they might assume their work is fine and never grow in their craft. Somewhere in the middle is that sweet spot, where you help the writer understand both the strengths and weaknesses, so real progress can happen.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard given to a writer?

Hmm…probably this: “Where you are today as a writer is not where you were yesterday, and it’s not where you’ll be tomorrow. Take feedback with a grain of salt and learn from it. Promise me you won’t stop writing.” That’s from agent Kristin Nelson, my former boss. I think that really says it all.

What do you think is the most important quality it takes to be a successful author?

Persistence. It takes years of honing craft and working through multiple manuscripts and drafts to become an excellent writer. Once you start submitting your work, rejection will happen. Shake it off and keep moving forward! We all know real-life examples of how this pays off (name your favorite author).

This wouldn’t be complete without a slush pile question…What are your query letter pet peeves?

Ha! Nowadays I don’t really get to have pet peeves because it’s my job to fix them. 🙂 But thinking back to all those submissions I read…I’d say queries that are too long and rambling. It’s so important to be able to boil it down to the heart of the story in just a paragraph or two; without that skill, you can have a really strong novel but still miss your chance with agents. A good rule of thumb: if agents have to scroll while reading your email query, it probably needs a slim down.
 

 
Want to find out more about freelance editing or how to pursue this career? Two good places to start are The Editorial Freelancers Association and Author-Editor Clinic.
 

An Editor’s Tips for Effective Worldbuilding—in Any Genre

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shutterstock_244945240Earlier this month, I presented a workshop on world building at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Retreat in beautiful Estes Park, Colorado. It was a fantastic event and an honor to spend time with a talented group of writers from many genres. One of the questions that we discussed was this: Which kinds of stories require world building? While the knee-jerk response is usually Sci Fi/Fantasy, everyone in the group quickly agreed on a better answer: “All of them.” Whether you want to set your story on another planet never before heard of, or a startlingly realistic representation of contemporary Detroit, you have to do the work to bring that place to life. Sparse world building can leave readers feeling ungrounded or unable to connect with your story, even if you have complex, engaging characters.

If you’re at the beginning stages of your novel, there are a lot of great resources out there for brainstorming and outlining your world. One of the most common is the world building checklist, an extensive list of questions designed to help you get to know your fictional world inside and out, so that you can begin to work those details into the story. Here are a couple of my favorites:

http://www.sfwa.org/2009/08/fantasy-worldbuilding-questions/

http://io9.com/5936277/12-questions-to-ask-yourself-about-the-system-of-magic-in-your-fantasy-novel

(Again, these are geared toward SF/F worlds, but many of the questions apply to world building in general.)

Once you have gone a little further with your story, it’s helpful to know what NOT to do. Here are some tips I shared at the workshop based on the most common world building problems I see as an editor:

FIVE COMMON WORLDBUILDING PITFALLS

Lack of rules or breaking the rules—letting things happen in the story “just because.” If you bend your own worldbuilding rules in the middle of the story, it will come across as lazy plotting or too convenient. “But, it’s magic” is no excuse! In non-fantasy stories, this means staying true to the atmosphere you have built from the beginning. If you’re writing a contemporary romance and the setting is a small town that feels cozy and intimate to the main characters, it can’t suddenly morph into a dismal dead-end town without a very compelling reason.

Planting symbolic figures without a foundation. This is a common problem that happens when world building is mostly surface-level. You can’t throw in symbolic figures just for fun. For example: If the characters in your Sci Fi novel (or even historical fiction) frequently invoke “the Goddess,” readers must be given some notion of the underlying religion or mythology.

Data dump. This is where entire sections or pages at the beginning of the novel are devoted to worldbuilding and/or backstory alone; it’s a recipe for losing readers fast. World building should be organic—woven into the fabric of the story itself  as you introduce the main character (show the world through his or her eyes), the inciting incident, etc. It’s not an explanatory section in the opening pages of the novel.

Imbalance of macro and micro. Good world building always includes two layers: the “big picture” and the everyday details. Sometimes there is a clear sense of the macro level (geography, political structure, etc.), but little sensory detail for readers to latch onto. Or, there is an abundance of micro level details (what people wear, the foods they eat for breakfast, how they pray, etc.), but the foundation and infrastructure for these elements remains unclear.

The fantasy world is too similar to the real world. This one is specific to the SF/F genres. If you have a magical or supernatural element in your story, readers will expect to see its effects on the world at large. In other words, the things that set this place apart from the real world cannot exist in a void. Even if your story draws from a real-world referent (e.g. ancient Egypt), readers will be watching for details of what makes the place unique throughout the story, and without enough of this, the story could feel underdeveloped or disappointing.

I hope these tips give you some good food for thought. Go forth and build a world!

A New Year, a New Chapter, and a Query Letter Critique Giveaway!

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shutterstock_88462129Happy New Year, everyone!

So much news and so many things to celebrate. 2013 was amazing and part of me hates to see it go! The first half of the year was marked with lots of milestones at Nelson Literary Agency. Among them: Kristin earned the title “Admiral Nelson” for her blockbuster contributions at Digital Book World, Sara Megibow celebrated her first NYT bestseller (go Jason M. Hough and The Darwin Elevator!), and NLA authors found big success with indie titles through NLA Digital. For my work in foreign rights, I coordinated translation deals for clients’ books in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. As in previous years, I got to present at conferences and events around the country. And I had the thrill of seeing authors I’d first met in the slush pile rise to bestseller status, release amazing sequels, and achieve success abroad.

In July, with the support of my friends at NLA, I made the very difficult decision to leave my work there in order to pursue a path that combines my passion for the writing and publishing industry with my other loves: teaching and travel. In September I left for Dharamsala, India to spend three months as a volunteer English teacher at an organization called ES Tibet, a nonprofit that provides education to Tibetan refugees who have fled persecution from the Chinese government in their homeland. The students I worked with, like many others in the refugee community, had literally climbed over the Himalayas to reach India for education and work opportunities and to join the community of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile. (To read about the school or to see how you can help, visit their website or send me an email. You can also check out my pictures on Facebook.)

And that brings me to three things I’m celebrating at the dawn of 2014:

1) Returning from India. I arrived home to Denver just in time for Christmas with my family (at least I think I did—merciless jet lag!). To be honest, I’m both celebrating and mourning this one. The experiences I had at Kunpan Cultural School, and my subsequent travel in India, were among the best of my life. I had the chance to do meaningful work, learn about Indian and Tibetan culture, and meet some of the kindest, most courageous and generous folk on the planet. I also gained firsthand insight on the fascinating Indian book market. I’m not going to lie—leaving was rough. But the experience filled me with even more excitement and energy for my next adventure, namely…

2) The official launch of Mumm’s the Word Editing & Critique ServicesWith a name like mine, how could I consider doing anything else? I’m going with karma on this one! Armed with the knowledge I gained from my work at NLA and the publishing biz, I’m offering developmental editing and critique packages for full manuscripts, partials, and query letters. In the near future I’ll also offer workshops and presentations on writing craft, publishing advice, and other topics covered here on Word Café. Spanking new website coming soon! In the meantime, to receive an information sheet or book a project, send me an email at anitaedits(at)gmail(dot)com. My project schedule is filling up, so if your New Year’s resolution is to land an agent or polish your final draft for self-publishing, say no to procrastination!

3) The anniversary of Word Café. Yes, indeed—Word Café turns one today! It’s been such a blast and I can’t wait to kick off another year. So to celebrate, instead of cake (because my resolution is a serious reduction of sweets: Indian bakeries…withdrawal symptoms…not pretty!), I’ve decided to do a query letter critique giveaway. To enter the drawing, post a comment here or on the Word Café Facebook page (be sure to mention “query critique drawing”) and with the help of Random.org I’ll select two lucky winners at the end of this month.

I’ll close with a toast to all of my readers: health, happiness, and big writing success for 2014. Here’s to a fantastic year ahead…

Cheers!