Thursday, December 10, 2009

Where Oh Where Has Your Editor Been? Google Waving, and waving, and waving, and waving...

As some of you know, I've been working on a modified schedule of late. I am not currently accepting new clients until March, or, more likely, April.

So what am I up to?

I am continuing to work with several of my talented clients on their revisions, as well as one new voice whose premise was too good to turn away.

Most of my time, however, is currently going toward creating/developing two online courses that will be held in the magical world of Google Wave. The first course, Self-Editing for First-Time Novelists, will most likely begin in April or May. The second course, Writing Your First Draft Now, will be held this summer (assuming all goes well in the first class, of course!).

So, if you happen to pop by here and notice not much is going on, or have trouble accessing my main site (, which will hopefully be undergoing an overhaul over the next several weeks), never fear, I'm still here! Just buried in a new project. Please continue to feel free to e-mail me with editing- and publishing-related questions, and if you found your way here looking for a manuscript evaluation, I'm happy to provide referrals to other editors who are currently taking on new clients.

And finally, for the most exciting part of the post: Want to be part of my test class? If all goes as planned, the course will be held in March. It will be free, with only 5 students, and a Google Wave invite if you need it. You'll learn the basics of self-editing, and I'll get to hone my online teaching skills - it's win-win! If you'd like one of the 5 spots, please e-mail me the query letter for the novel you'll be bringing to the class, plus the first ten pages (sorry, only writers who have a completed manuscript will be considered).

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Weekend Work

Sorry things have been a little slow here at the Murdock Editing Blog. I'm already booked for manuscript evaluations for the summer, and just starting to take queries and complete sample evals for slots in September and October.

Today (and yes it's the weekend, and yes, I "should" be taking some time off) I'm sitting out on my back porch in the middle of a spectacular summer thunderstorm working on a manuscript evaluation. Why? Because it's that good. Because I don't WANT to stop reading. Because I'm willing to bet price of this eval that if the author sticks with it, I'll be seeing some iteration of this manuscript in bookstores within the next two years. In fact, I'll lay down that bet now. May 24, 2011 - if this book hasn't sold, I'll donate my full editing fee to First Book. Check back with me and hold me to it.

Just one of those days when I truly love my job.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Why Those Aren't Your First Ten Pages - Memory Lane

Earlier this week I offered some twitvice to an aspiring author. She said she'd just finished proofreading her manuscript and felt it was ready to submit. She wanted to know what her next steps should be.

My response:

Next step is to write the best darn query letter and synopsis you can and make sure your first 10 pages ROCK. Then agent.

Her response (slightly edited):

It's the first 10 pages I dislike the most! The first 10 pages are taken up with detailed descriptions of the characters. I feel like they're too long, but backstory is needed.

Then those aren't your first ten pages. In about 85% of the manuscripts I evaluate, I end up suggesting that the author cut the first ten page they're currently using entirely. Sometimes it's the first 50. Sometimes the first 100. Why? Because those pages are filled with backstory and character description.

But isn't that stuff important? Yes, of course it is. It's vital that YOU know everything about the characters and their histories. But when a reader first picks up your book, that backstory is the last thing they want to know. They don't know your characters yet. They haven't become involved with them - haven't had the chance to connect with them. So why the heck do they care when they went to high school or what their parents did to screw them up? There are ways to work those details into later parts of the book if it's important (sometimes it is; sometimes it's not).

Start with story. Start with plot. Start with things happening. Make your reader WANT to know more about the characters BEFORE you tell them. It's okay to be a tease.

There's another reason those first ten pages MUST be more than description or backstory. Let's ignore the reader altogether for a moment (but just a moment!).

The first people you want to impress? Literary Agents.

To emphasize just how important those first ten pages are, let's take a little trip down my memory lane, to a time when I was the only intern/assistant at a large literary agency.

Every week, hundreds of queries land on my desk. Hundreds and hundreds. Mounds of them. We didn't accept e-mail queries back then.

We did accept the first fifteen pages in query packages, which is still fairly common.

Every-other morning I sat at my little desk in the back hallway (really) reading those queries and pages and pulling out submissions my agents might be interested in reading. Within two months I could correctly gage which ones they wanted to see and which ones they didn't about 95% of the time.

If you wanted to get to them, you had to go through me. And all you had to impress me - and stand out from, again, HUNDREDS - was a query letter (1 page) and the first ten pages of your manuscript. That's it. If you haven't made me sit up straight by the end of those pages - if I'm not thinking "I must read more! This is great! What happens next? Tell me!" then you haven't stood out from the pack, and you become one of the hundreds of authors to receive our form rejection letter every week (I HATED that part of my job - which is part of the reason why I do this).

Okay, so, let's say I loved the pages or the query and thought my agents would too. Generally, that means you're one of about a dozen per week. Now you have my recommendation scrawled across the bottom of your query, and you're on their desk. They have a million things to do every day, and will, most likely, get to your pages sometime that week. What are they going to be judging you on?

The same thing I did. The query. Your first ten pages. And that's it.

If you grabbed the agent with those first ten pages, a request came back to me, and I called you up and requested the rest of the manuscript. And yes, if that wasn't darn-near perfect and publish-ready, you'd end up getting a rejection letter anyway (with a comment or two if we'd requested a full - so at least there was that). But if those first ten pages don't do their job, you never even get to that stage.

So kill your backstory. Kill your character descriptions. Kill anything that's "tell" instead of "show." Or at least work all those things into later portions of the book.

You have ten pages to make me want more. Give me story. Give me action. Give me reaction. Give me flavor. Give me the best writing you've got.

Anything else is NOT your first ten.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Go Read This! Website Edition

This week our Go Read This! feature is a blog I just found through Twitter (yes, yes - you were right, it's highly addictive).
Nixy Valentine's blog includes fun writer's groups, writing challenges, publishing news, and book reviews. If you're looking for a little distraction or inspiration today, head over to, and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

You Win, Twitter.

Okay, fine, my Web 678.0 adept friends. Fine. I will follow the great Oprah and join Twitter.
I can now be found at
What will I do with it? I have no idea. For right now, I'm thinking once-a-day inspirational/advice posts for my writers/readers.
So here's the deal for now - you follow me, I'll follow you. So please go to Be my friend. Or Twit. Or whatever we're all called in Twitterland.
And if you have any advice on getting started with Twitter, please leave them in the comments!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stuck in My Craw: Rejection Letter Edition

Last week, a client sent me the following rejection letter he'd received from an agency I've always considered top-notch. He wanted to "let me know the state of the industry." So I had to do a little research - and what I found has been bugging me ever since.

First, the rejection letter:

Dear [AUTHOR],

Thanks so such for querying us, but we are unsure that this premise would work in this tight market. All said we would encourage you to do what many of our clients have done prior and self- publish with a reputable, and recommended, publisher. This is a new age in publishing, and as evidenced time and time again, neither The New York Times bestsellers list nor major booksellers discriminate against the self published. Oftentimes, authors choose to get proactive in order to build a sales record and boost their chances of being picked up.

I would like your permission to pass along your information to someone who can help you get started on your path towards getting published. If you are ready to become proactive about your career we will let them know more details about your manuscript and how to get into contact with you. There are a lot of publishers that seem to have gotten the better of new authors, the two that we refer you to are not of that ilk, they have had a number of successes.



It's a form rejection. Sent to everyone this firm is rejecting. And they're shilling for iUniverse and AuthorHouse. Who have referral programs.

Without even getting into the EXTREME stretching of the facts that is present in this letter (I'll let Anne and Victoria handle that - go here and here for damn good posts on the subject), here is the problem with this rejection letter.

Agents have different tastes. What's right for one agent is completely wrong for another, and agents themselves will tell you that time and time again in their blogs, at conferences, and in the articles you read in publishing mags. But by sending out this rejection letter, this agency is not just saying "it's not right for us." They're saying "it's not right for traditional publishing. Go self publish."

Self publishing works great for some people (including some of my very successful clients). It's not for everyone. There are some serious problems with the way this letter is presenting the self-pub process. To quote Victoria and Anne (because I'm just that steamed):

"Also deceptive: the book claimed to be on the New York Times bestseller list is Lisa Genova's Still Alice, which is currently number 7, but debuted last week at number 5. However, although Genova originally self-pubbed through iUniverse (which is owned by AuthorHouse), her book was picked up last summer by Simon & Schuster. That's the book on the bestseller list, not the iUniverse version."

I suppose the message I'm trying to get across (other than the fact that I'm ticked - was that made clear yet?) is that if YOU get one of these letters, you should know that the self-pub suggestion has NOTHING to do with you or your manuscript. It's a form rejection, just like any other. Treat it like any other.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Details Make the Character

I love Yogi Tea Simply Green Tea. Not because it tastes any different than regular green tea - it doesn't. And not because I wouldn't rather have a cup of coffee (I would  - the doctor says no).
I love it because the tag on each teabag has a little message. I open the pale green pouch, take out the teabag, wince a little at the smell, and pull the tag and string away. I put the bag in the cup, draping the string over the side, and pour the boiling water in on top. I walk back to my desk, and arrange my stacks of papers and red pens in front in of me.
Only then do I allow myself to read the message. That's my little moment.
Today's message is "Live with reverence for yourself and others."
I'm not telling you this because I honestly believe you care about my tea-drinking routines. I'm telling you because these little detailed habits are what bring characters to life - what makes them real - what inspires them.
What does your main character do when she needs a moment?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Reader Question #2 - Mag Tricks of the Trade

Stay tuned later this week (looking at my schedule, probably Friday) for fun posts on the economy's silver lining (really) and five things to do before you hire an editor to make sure you're getting the most bang for your buck.
Now on to the question of the day!
There are so many writers magazines out there. Which ones do you subscribe to? (Publishing and otherwise?)
There's that softball I was looking for!
Great question though - there are at least a dozen magazines for writers to choose from. My advice is to go to a Barnes and Noble, buy yourself one of those amazing frozen latte drinks, and page through each of them. I think it's entirely a matter of personal preference - some people adore Writer's Digest because they keep it simple and provide monthly inspiration - others swear by the more serious Poets & Writers.
Personally, I'm a fan of Poets & Writers. Sure, it can be a bit pretentious, but I honestly learn something new in each issue. It keeps me thinking in new ways about the material I'm working on, the authors I'm working with, and this crazy industry of publishing. 
Truth be told, that's the only publishing rag I get by mail anymore. I have subscriptions to MediaBistro and Publishers Marketplace, but they're online only.
Other magazines?
Cooking Light, Gourmet, and Eating Well. I'm a total foodie, and I LOVE to cook - it keeps me sane (for the most part). For the record, I never actually have enough time to cook anything from Gourmet - but I like to look at the pictures and dream of hosting big, complicated dinner parties.
Psychology Today. For when the cooking isn't enough to keep me from going off the deep end. Actually, I think this is an often overlooked resource for writers - bringing characters to life is the writer's job - and this magazine can actually give you insight into aspects of your characters you never knew they had.
Real Simple. I am a WASP. I can't help it. Also, my home will never look as clean as the ones in this rag. But a woman can dream...
People. Yeah, again? This is hereditary. Every woman in my family - Grandmother on down - has a subscription to this magazine. It gives us something to talk about at family gatherings. (Who am I kidding - People, a cup of coffee, and a muffin on the porch on a nice summer Saturday morning? Perfect.)
NYT Book Review. This doesn't really count as a magazine, I suppose - it's actually the book review from the Sunday Times, delivered by its lonesome every Tuesday. When I was in college, one of my most impressive (and imposing) professors told me that if I ever wanted to be a serious writer or editor, I had to read this each and every week. And I have ever since.
There's one more...but I'm going to keep that one between the mailman and me. An editor has to have a little mystery about her.
So that's my mailbox. And yours? Anyone have any magazines they live for?
Thanks again for the question, Mindy!
If you have a question you'd like answered, please e-mail me at editor at murdockediting dot com.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Your Questions: When should you seek an editor's help?

As promised, I'm going to use today's blog post to answer reader questions.
When is the right time to stop editing for the new writer and seek professional help? For the beginning writer, when should they seek an editor's help?
 - Writer Cynthia Hernandez (
First of all, thanks for the question, Cynthia! So much for starting with softballs, huh?
Second of all, for all of my readers, I know this question seems a little too perfect - the kind you'd have a friend ask just so you can launch into your sales pitch. Full disclosure: Cynthia and I belong to the same writing and editing Yahoo! group, but there was NO question coaching.
Now, there's the long-winded easy (and sales-pitchy) answer - everybody can use an editor, you need one if you think you do, etc. You can get all of that on my company website.
I decided the best way to answer this question was to chat with some of my former and current clients to find out how they knew it was time. They had some great answers, and I'm happy to share them with you.
It might be time to seek an editor's help if:
You've edited and edited and edited. Then rewrote. Then edited some more. Then queried. Then read a book on making your first pages snazzier. Then queried. Sent in a few partials. And nothing is happening.
Turns out this is one of the most common reasons my writers get in touch, and I think it's my favorite. When an author has this much dedication to their work, but starts to feel like they are spinning their wheels, handing that manuscript over to a publishing professional WHO WILL ACTUALLY READ AND ANALYZE THE WHOLE THING can be an enormous relief - and unbelievably useful. These tend to be the authors who get their manuscript evaluation reports and send me an e-mail within 24-hours to say something along the lines of "I can't believe I didn't notice that before!" or "Did I really use the word 'bodacious' 678 times???" If and when I get to read the next draft, I almost always get to do my Happy-Editor-Jig, because they've nailed it.
You're getting back suggestions and comments on your partials (or fulls) in your agent-rejection letters, which is great. Except none of them seem to agree on what is actually wrong with the manuscript, you disagree with half of them, and some of them don't even sound like they're about your book. And you have no idea what to do about any of them.
This was actually more common than I expected, and yes, I think this is a great sign that you may want to bring on an editor. One paragraph of vague suggestions can be hard to implement - a fully-marked manuscript is a little easier to attack.
You ARE a writer. You know it in your soul. And you've finally finished your first manuscript. But you're also a mom, a wife, a lawyer, a friend, a student, a family-chauffeur, a cook, a dog-walker, and about a million other things. You know your manuscript isn't perfect or ready, but you also don't know where to begin when it comes to editing or rewriting (or, if it's a second or third draft, what to next). You need someone to take that stack of paper (and you) and act as editor, writing coach, motivator, teacher, friend, and, to some extent, task-master.
We ALL know editing our own work can be absolutely overwhelming, especially if you don't have a ton of confidence in your writing chops just yet. Writing groups work for some people. Reading books on writing works for others. And for some, working with an editor who wears just as many hats as you do can be just the guided kick-in-the-pants you need to achieve your goals and Make it Happen.
You ARE NOT a writer. You know THAT in your soul. But you've got something very important to say, and you want to say it in book form.
Yes, you need an editor. This answer came mostly from my non-fiction self-help writers and one of my memoirists. Unless you're Britney Spears' mom or the inventor of Twitter (yeah, I still don't get it), you need a clean and well-written manuscript, no matter much the world needs to hear your story or big idea. Some published authors aren't "writers"- they're experts. And experts often need developmental editors who know how to take the Big Idea and translate it into something that works for readers.
There were plenty of other answers, but those were the big four. Feel free to add your own reasons in the comments section. If you have any questions for me that you'd like to see featured in next week's blog post, please e-mail me at editor at murdockediting dot com. (Maybe something softer? Like about how many cats I have?)
Thanks again to writer Cynthia Hernandez. Go read her blog at!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Fun Toy for Today - The Typealyzer!

I could waste so much of my afternoon on this new site - but I won't. Run your own blog (and your friends' blogs) through the Typealyzer and find out your (or their) personality archetype.

No Such Thing As a Silly Question

Yes, I know I'm opening myself up to some ridiculous queries with that headline. So far we only have a couple questions - I'm going to hold off on the Q&A post until we have 5. I know you're there and reading the blog (adsense says so) - so ask!
Send questions to editor at murdockediting dot com.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Go Read This

Feel like puttering around online instead of writing/working today? Me too. Some recommended reading for your lunch breaks:
Nathan Bransford's latest post on conflict in your novel.
"A man serenely walking down the street is not a story. It only becomes a story when he is captured by space monkeys who try to force him to root for Duke. Now that's conflict."
Now, I don't "get" Twitter (yet?), but some agents do. Head over to the How Publishing Really Works blog to read about Queryfail.
Then head over to Jessica Faust's blog to read her take on the paper verses electronic debate (I'm with her on this one, although I don't have assistants to worry about...)
"For me, I put all electronic queries and submissions in a special folder in my email program. A folder that's very easy to ignore. Submissions are in tall piles directly in my line of sight on the other side of the office. As easy to ignore as I want them to be."
And then, as one should always do, round out your blogosphere jaunt with a trip over to Janet Reid's blog. I'm recommending three posts today: Some Query Letter Fundamentals, Justin's Case, and "my first book was published by AuthorHouse/iUniverse." Read them.
"Today's advice: be ready for someone to ask for your manuscript as soon as you hit 'send'."

Vetting Small and Independent Publishers - The Quick-and-Dirty Method (Plus Two Essentials)

Update: This is the second post in a series on Quick-and-Dirty Methods. This is NOT meant to be a comprehensive review of the entire finding-a-publisher process - it's meant to be a guide for researching a publisher and knowing, in ten minutes or less, if they MIGHT be right for you.

There are thousands of small and independent publishers out there, and new ones pop up every day. If your book isn't selling to one of the big boys - or if you don't have an agent submitting your manuscript for you - an Indie publisher may provide the perfect home for your book.

First, a clarification. The definitions of Small Press, Small Publisher, and Indie Publisher vary from person to person, and the lines between them can be blurry (we can discuss this in a later post if you'd like, but I'm not going to get into it here). For the purposes of this post, I'm lumping them all together - we're talking about any publisher that (a) allows writers to submit their own work for consideration, (b) offers royalties, and (c) does NOT charge fees.

There are a number of things you need to consider before you start looking for a small publisher, but here are the two most important:

- Do you want your book to be available in bookstores, or is having a presence on Amazon and enough for you?

- How much marketing do you expect your publisher to do for you?

Your answers to these questions will determine the type of small publisher you choose. If you are determined to get your book into bookstores across the country and have a marketing budget to work with, you need to go with an Indie that has a solid reputation and history of exceptional sales. If neither of those things are important - you just want it available online and you're willing to do all the promotion yourself - a mom-and-pop shop might just be the way to go.

Once you've started searching for an Indie publisher, you'll want to vet your choices very carefully. The quick-and-dirty method below is a great way to thin out the herd.

1. You're going to start the same way we started our agent research, by running the name of the publisher through Preditors and Editors. Any warning signs? Consider that a big giant red flag - and consider running in the opposite direction.

2. Google. The first thing you're looking for is anything with the publisher's name appearing on or the Writer Beware Blog ( You're also looking for Amazon links or links to authors' blogs or websites that mention the publisher - this is a great way to get a feel for the level of work they do and how well they support their authors.

3. Visit the publisher's website. We're looking for a number of things here.

First, does the site look professional? Have they invested the time and energy required to present a storefront that doesn't look shoddy or slapped together? Is the spelling and grammar correct? Poorly written copy on a PUBLISHER'S website is inexcusable. A misplaced period? Sure. It happens (even here!). More than that? Not okay.

The next thing we're looking for is a submissions policy. Some Indies are more selective than others. As a general rule, the more selective they are with manuscripts, the more likely it is that they can get your book into bookstores. Some Indies will take anyone and everyone. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but lax policies mean they're likely putting out a great deal of slush along with a few gems, so it's unlikely their reputation with reviewers or store owners is particularly good (or existent).

While looking over the submission policy, we want to WATCH FOR FEES. If your publisher is charging you a fee for anything up front - editing, pagination, cover design, marketing, etc. - this is not a small publisher - it's a vanity press. Again - not that there's anything wrong with that (note to self: stop quoting Seinfeld; it dates you) - but a Vanity Press is a completely different creature. Look for fees on the back end too. If the publisher requires you to buy or "guarantee that you can sell" a certain number of copies, you're still essentially paying to have your own book published.

If they have contract terms listed online, read them carefully. Less than scrupulous publishers throw all kinds of weird terms into a contract. If you see anything that doesn't feel right, check with an agent or other publishing pro (feel free to e-mail me). A favorite example I came across early this year (it's been taken down since then): "The publisher may publish parts of your work online prior to our offering you a publishing contract without prior notice." Not okay.

The Two Essentials

These two steps don't quite fit the Quick-and-Dirty description, but they are absolutely essential when working with an Indie press.

(1) If it is a very small publisher with limited info available on the web, call them. Talk to someone there. Make sure the actual people on the other end are available, knowledgeable, and willing to answer all of your questions. If they don't have a copy of the contract online, ask about the general terms. Ask about marketing efforts and budgets.

(2) Order a book. Don't sign with an Indie publisher (unless they have a STELLAR reputation in the industry) without ordering one of their books first. I recommend ordering the book either through Amazon or your local bookstore - not their website - so you can get a feel for what your buyers' experience will be like. Choose something you'd like to read, obviously (no need to waste that $12!), but then take a close look at the actual product. Is the cover design professional? Are there lots of typos and errors in the text? Does the layout look good? What's the quality of the paper? Make sure you know exactly what your book will look like if you choose this particular publisher for your book.

Have tips of your own to add to the Quick-and-Dirty Method? Leave them in the comments!

Next week: a new Query Contest (!) and a Q&A post. Have a question about writing, editing, or publishing you want answered? E-mail me at editor at murdockediting dot com.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

While the Editor is Away...

As some of you know, I've been on a semi-hiatus this past week for personal reasons. If you're awaiting an e-mail response from me, it's on the way! If you're stopping by looking for my promised post on Quick-And-Dirty Methods for Vetting a Small Publisher, that will be coming next week (promise!).

A quick Murdock Editing business note. A few of you have been in touch recently about scheduling a manuscript evaluation, and - with a heavy heart - I've had to offer referrals to other editors in place of my own services. Why have I been so busy? I have no idea. Maybe my wonderful past clients have reached critical mass and their successes and recommendations are boosting my new client requests. Maybe I'm seeing the same query increase that many of my agent-colleagues have been writing about on their blogs lately. Or maybe Murdock Editing has finally, after many years, come of age.

Regardless, the uptick in manuscript evaluation requests means I need to rework my scheduling policies. Here is what I've come up with during the many hours I've spent in the car this past week - feel free to let me know what you think.

(UPDATE: Yes, I still love all of you; yes, I'll still answer all your questions no matter how full my list gets; and yes, I know the language is super-formal - I'll liven it up for you later!)

1. Appointments can be made up to three months in advance.
2. Once those three months are booked (as they are now), everyone else goes onto a waiting list.
3. Placement on the waiting list will be in the order in which you've placed a request for a waiting list spot - as opposed to the order in which we first begin corresponding.
4. When you ask to be placed on the waiting list, I'll give you an estimated start date for your evaluation. This is only an estimate. (This is actually why I'm changing the policy - I try to keep some slack in the schedule for last-minute projects, delays, or current-client requests - but I want to avoid bumping back months of appointments if things start to stray from the plan!)
5. If you're looking for something sooner, you should always feel free to let me know that and ask for a referral to another editor. I won't be insulted, and I'm happy to help match you with another freelancer who I think will be good for you and your book!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Researching an Agent - the Quick-and-Dirty Method (Big Red Flags)

You've gotten the call (or e-mail). An agent read your query. He/She wants to READ YOUR SAMPLE CHAPTERS!! Or - better yet, he or she wants to talk about representing you!
It's the news every writer hopes and prays for, and it can be so easy when that call comes to get caught up in the "Thank G-d! Finally!" feeling and forget just how important it is to look out for yourself and your manuscript. Far too often I'll get a letter from an author I've worked with at some point letting me know that he's signing with Literary Agent Q, and I cringe, because now it's my job to tell that author that Literary Agent Q is a scam artist. It becomes my job to dash that author's spirits in order to protect him. I hate that part of my job.
I've been in this business long enough that I recognize the names of many of the agents - good and bad - who writers ask me about. But I certainly don't know everyone in publishing (not even close!). What I do know is how to find out the essentials in ten minutes or less.
1. Preditors and Editors. Start here. Look up the name of the agent and the name of the agency. Any warning signs? Consider that a big giant red flag - and consider running in the opposite direction. Only once in my entire career have I come across a report on Preditors and Editors that I felt was unfair - and it's since been removed.
2. Google. The first thing you're looking for is anything with the agent's name appearing on or the Writer Beware Blog ( If your agent is a relative unknown or has a questionable reputation, chances are you'll find information on him or her here. On the other hand, if your new agent is amazing and has a super-agent reputation, you'll likely read about that on the Absolute Write forums too.
3. Agent's site. Here's what you're looking for here: a professional-looking site, submission guidelines, AAR membership*, and SALES**. If your agent hasn't sold anything, you need to start wondering if this is really the agency for you. This isn't to say new agents can't or won't sell your book. Finding a newer agent who is backed by a reputable agency can be like winning the jackpot for an unknown writer. But an unknown agency with no sales history and no AAR members should be a big red flag - if they haven't sold other books, how do you  know if they can sell yours?
4. Publisher's Marketplace. Many, although not all, agents list their latest sales and offerings on Publisher's Marketplace. If you're serious about finding the perfect agent, I recommend ponying up the $20 for a month-long membership. You'll be able to see who is selling what to whom for how much. If your potential agent doesn't list new sales on his or her website, chances are they're listed here.
No information on any of these sites? Does is seem like the internet has never heard of your agent, ever? BIG RED FLAG. Proceed with extreme caution - ask the agent for a list of books he or she has recently sold. A legitimate agent will have no problem with giving you a list of authors and sales. Use to check the titles and authors. Are the publishers legit? Are they all small publishers that allow authors to submit unsolicited manuscripts? You may have to dive back in and research the smaller publishers to get the full picture (come back for next week's feature, "Researching the Small Press").
And finally, if you can't find anything anywhere - shoot me an e-mail (editor at murdockediting dot com). Best of luck!
*AAR memberships are VERY expensive and have strict qualifications. It's not unusual for the junior members of an agency to operate without membership, especially if more senior agents are AAR members. Just because an agent isn't an AAR member doesn't mean they're no good - but if they are members, it's a good indication that they know their stuff.
**Just because an agent has sales listed on his website doesn't mean they're GOOD sales. Keep researching - run the titles through, find the publisher's name, and Google them too. If the agent is selling to Random House, well, now you can start jumping for joy. If your agent is selling to a POD publisher like LuLu - keep querying.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Go Read This: Making sure your reader doesn't hate your main character

I promise to get back to the real blogging next week, but thanks to The Great Boston Flu of 2009, I'm still digging out from under a pile of manuscripts and e-mails that demand immediate attention - or at least demand attention before I go ice skating on Saturday and more than likely break both my legs.
So! In the meantime, Go Read This! over on Nathan Brandsford's blog.
An excerpt:
"Now, redeemability is a fickle beast. If a character's redeemability meter dips below a certain base line, that character will "lose" the reader. We've all read moments where this happened: a character did something so horrible and shocking and irredeemable that there was no going back. We're officially done with that person. This may or may not be accompanied by flinging a book against the wall.

The redeemability meter often dips below zero when a character does something that's wrong and there is not sufficient explanation for their actions."
As someone who has flung MANY books against the wall, I can tell you - Nathan's whole post is brilliant and essential information for any writer who has tried to create a less-than-perfect character - i.e., a human one. Go read it!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

And the Winner(s) Is(are)...

Alright, so ALL of the entries cracked me up, but there can only be one winner. Except when there are two.
Congrats to Brenna Lyons and Patricia Emmert!
Yes, Patricia's entry wasn't exactly a query - more of a synopsis-query hybrid - but I love the way she fleshed out the premise and made it work somehow. And Brenna, well, Brenna is a great writer - you can follow her blog here.
Ladies, shoot me an e-mail letting me know which prize you'd like! (editor at murdockediting dot com).
Excerpts from the winning entries:
"From the minute Erika Evans steps off the five-seater and into the twilight of three p.m. outside of Nome, she knows her current assignment is going to suck. In minutes, her fingers are icicles, and her gold-plated Jimmy Choo boot heels are covered in muck she doesn't even want to consider the origin of. Such is the life of a high-profile environmental lobbyist.

Yeah, life sucked, all right, but not as much as it was about to. When Mr. Right Now turns out to be a creature of the near-perpetual night above the Arctic Circle, Erika gets a crash course in wildlife preservation, namely saving her own sunlight-sensitive hide. "
-Brenna Lyons
"In my current work, "Suck It Up", Head Honcho of "We'll Save Ya'" an environmental cleanup corporation Janelle Deidrikson discovers she has become a blood thirsty vampire as a result of an indiscreet one night stand.

After months of soul searching (and sucking), she discovers that her supposed one-time indiscretion in actuality was set up by a cabal of other 'environmental' executives who have also become vampires. In order to secure her loyalty to their somewhat hypocritical stance on vegetarianism they dispatched their most romantic minion, Constantine Renwick, to seduce and contaminate her."
-Patricia Emmert
Click here to read the full entries.

Contest Closed!

The contest is closed, and the winner will be announced this evening! Stay tuned...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Contest Deadline! Chick Lit and Vampires and Polar Bears, Oh My!

Apologies for staying away for a few days - here I thought I would get through this winter without catching the flu that went around last month - no such luck!

So, while I'm recuperating, I just want to remind you to have a little fun with your writing this weekend by participating in my purely frivolous writing contest. I'll accept entries until Tuesday and announce the winner on Wednesday.

Click here for the full post on the contest. The short version:

I want to read a query for a book in which all those Manolo Blahnik-wearing socialites turn into lusty vampires and save the polar bears from extinction.

Put your entries in the comments section - assuming I get a few (really, how could this not be the most fun writing exercise you'll do all week?) - I'll pick a favorite, and the winner gets a free query/synopsis evaluation, OR a copy of one of my clients' just-released books, paid for by me (see the sidebar for options), OR I'll preorder you a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! due out on April 15.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Inspiration: Writing Contests

Change of plans.

I know I said I'd write about three publications agents and editors read - and how reading them can help you become a better writer today - but I'm not.

Instead, I want to point you to three articles in this month's edition of a publication I read as often as possible - Poets and Writers magazine. Of all the trade pubs geared toward writers, I consider Poets and Writers to be the best for the experienced writer (or editor) when it comes to unique, valuable perspectives and advice.

This issue was particularly hard to put down - I honestly recommend you go out and buy a hard copy and read it cover-to-cover. If you don't have time for that though (lord knows I didn't!), don't miss these three:

Agents and Editors: A Q&A With Four Young Literary Agents (online)

An excerpt:

"Aside from referrals, where are you finding writers?
I get most of my fiction through slush.
BARER: I found
The Heretic's Daughter in the slush pile. The author had never written a novel before. She had never been in a writing class or an MFA program. She came out of nowhere. She simply had this incredible story, which is that her grandmother, nine generations back, was hanged as a witch in Salem. Just because you have that great story doesn't mean that you can necessarily tell it well, but it was an incredible book."

The Case for Contests: Why Emerging Writers Should Submit (print only)

An excerpt:

"At a time when more and more structural barriers and layers of protection prevent obscure and emerging writers from having their work considered by major publishing houses, or published in glossy magazines, the literary competition is the unknown author's best friend."

Finding Beverly: One Writer's Unexpected Afterlife (print only)

"What motivates a writer to work on a single manuscript for sixteen years without seeking to publish it? Did it take nerves of steel or a lack of confidence to follow Beverly's course as a writer? Why do some writers treat their art as a public vocation and others reserve it for private pleasure? What is writing really for, anyway?"

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Go Read This! (A Cheater Post)

On the docket today: Writing a query and editing a synopsis for one writer, completing a revision plan for another, completing a first read of a nonfiction manuscript, evaluation/edit of at least 200 pages of a fiction manuscript, two sample evals for potential clients, plus sending out contracts and finalizing my March client schedule.
Moral of the story: Monday holidays are wonderful. The Tuesdays that follow are not.
So! In lieu of my usual advice, I'm going to send you over to another blog today. Just be sure to come back tomorrow - I'll be discussing three publications agents and editors read - and how reading them can help you become a better writer.
BREAKING NEWS: There has been a real, live, Miss Snark sighting over at Miss Snark's First Victim. It's true! If you are not familiar with Miss Snark, head over to her blog; although she stopped blogging in 2007, her archives are a wealth of information for any writer.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Gender Bender

Can you tell the difference between a male and a female author? Given a manuscript or a book with no author name (or an author name like "Pat"), do you think you could determine the author's gender most of the time? All of the time?
In 2003, a professor in Israel developed an algorithm to determine the "maleness" or "femaleness" of a lump of text, which was then used to create the Gender Genie application. Plug in your text (it works best if the sample is over 500 words and fiction, as opposed to a blog entry or a news article), and the Gender Genie can tell you if your writing is male or female.
One article published shortly after Gender Genie's release noted that "[f]emale writers use more pronouns (I, you, she, their, myself)....[m]ales prefer words that identify or determine nouns (a, the, that) and words that quantify them (one, two, more)."
The Gender Genie and its implications for writers were big news in the publishing and writing blogosphere back in 2003, and I honestly hadn't been back to the site in five years. I revisited it this morning after spending an evening plodding through a novel my aunt had given me for my birthday. The book was written by a man, and there were three different characters who are given first-person POV chapters. The men were written perfectly. The woman bugged me.
It wasn't that she acted like a man, or, even worse, that she acted like a man's fantasy of a woman. It was something more subtle than that. So this morning I plugged one of her chapters into the Gender Genie, and sure enough, she's off-the-charts male (despite the fact that she was supposed to be ultra-feminine in the most stereotypical sense of the word).
The implication for writers is this:
There is nothing wrong with writing a book in first-person POV where the main character is not of your gender. It can be done flawlessly and beautifully, and many authors are natural gender-benders when it comes to writing from a perspective that is not their own. But it takes more than making your male character talk about football or check out chicks. Or having your female character worry about her hair or long for the man of her dreams. Men and women think - and write - differently.
Again, this comes naturally for some writers. For others, not so much. The best advice I can give to an author writing in an opposite-gender first-person POV (OGFPPOV?) is to spend lots of time reading books written by and about the gender you're trying to embody in your book. Are you a guy writing from a woman's perspective? Get to a bookstore and read as many books as you can that are written from a woman's perspective. A woman writing a book that works best if your narrator is male? Read the men until you can think like one. The rest of your book can be perfect, but if your reader senses on any level that your voice is "wrong" somehow, it can ruin the whole experience.
And in the meantime, have a little fun with your manuscript today. Plug in a few pages and see where you land on the spectrum. For the record, this post is female, but most of the blog is male. Go figure.

Happy Valentine's Day! (A Nothing To Do With Publishing Post)

Valentine's Day is supposed to be all about love (despite what some Hallmark-conspiracy-theorists might tell you). If you've got a special someone - great - have a beautiful, romantic holiday.

If you're single, or if you just don't choose to celebrate Valentine's Day for one reason or another, consider getting that warm fuzzy feeling somewhere else. No, I'm not suggesting a Rom-Com marathon, several bottles of wine, and enough chocolate to keep you bouncing off the walls all weekend. Instead, consider giving what you would be spending on dinner, flowers, candy, etc. to someone who really needs it. Trust me - you'll feel the love.

My suggestion? Go here: Small Can Be Big.

A quote from the website:

"You're stuck in the rain. I hand you an umbrella. You stay dry, and I feel good about helping.

That sense of immediacy is part of what makes giving so rewarding. And it's what makes unique – whether it's $3 or $300, every last penny you give goes directly to address a specific need, rent or utility bill or medical expense, so the impact of your donation is immediate – for you and for the family you're helping."

It works like this. You pick from several categories (like Going it Alone, Giving Grandkids a Chance, Escaping Domestic Violence, or Bootstrapping a Better Life). Then you click through to view specific cases - real individuals with real problems who need help. You see EXACTLY where your money is going. EXACTLY who you're helping to get through what. These days we hear sad stories about people struggling almost every single day. Small Can Be Big lets you do something about it.

That's love

Happy Valentine's Day!!!

(Small Can Be Big is a Boston-based nonprofit.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What to Expect When You're Expecting to Hire an Editor: Part III

Once you've gotten past Part II - How to Find an Editor, it's time to narrow it do to the one, the only - YOUR FREELANCE EDITOR.
How to Choose an Editor
There are a lot of things you should consider when hiring an editor, including, but not limited to:
  • Experience/skill level/past successes (How did your editor become an editor? Who has he or she worked with?)
  • Pricing structure/total cost (Make sure you're getting what you're paying for!)
  • Personality (Do you click?)
  • Areas of expertise (Does the editor know your genre? If your book is too close in plot to another book on the market, would the editor notice?)
  • Business philosophy (Can you ask questions after the edit is complete? How accesable is the editor before/during/after the edit or eval is complete? Is this a person you can count on?)
The process can certainly be confusing, but following the steps below should keep you on the right track.
1. Go with your gut. For a full-length book, you'll likely be working with an editor for at least a few weeks; I've worked with some of my writers over several years and several books. The editing and evaluation process works best and will be the most valuable to you if you can develop a friendly, easy relationship with your editor. Early conversation - whether by e-mail or phone - should leave you feeling confident that you're working with someone who wants to help you succeed. If you don't feel comfortable with one editor, move on to another.
 2. Get a second opinion. I always recommend that writers ask for references, particularly when they're looking for an editor to perform a good deal of work (line edits, developmental editing, extensive copyediting, manuscript evaluations and critiques, etc.). Go ahead and ask an editor if you can talk to one of his or her previous clients - they'll be able to give you unique insight into the process and the value of the services you're considering. 
3. Do your research. Google the editor's name and/or business name. Look for any complaints or warnings other writers may have published online. At the very least, ask the editor about any troubling posts. Of course, Google has its limitations - don't worry too much if you find that your editor's name brings up a whole cast of strange characters - there are at least 5 other Lindsay Murdocks that pop up on my GoogleAlerts - one of them actually lives only a few towns over!
Also, although I've mentioned it before, I have to reiterate - check any editor you're considering hiring against the Preditors and Editors database. Not all freelance editors are listed there - but if an editor does have complaints against him or her, chances are those complaints are documented on this site.
4. Take a taste. When you order an expensive bottle of wine at a restaurant, the server will have you take a sip before serving the rest of the bottle, just to make sure you like it. An editor should do the the same - offering you a sample edit so you can see precisely what you're getting for your money. I offer a free ten page sample edit or evaluation to ALL potential clients. Most editors I know will do the same.  
5. Get it in Writing. Some editors use written contracts, some don't. At the very least, get a detailed description of what you're getting for your money, what your options are, what deliverables you can expect when, how much it's going to cost, and when payments are due. Ask questions and get answers. Remember, your editor is a professional who will be working for you.
BONUS: Be nice, and expect the same from your editor. We're all in this together!
Good luck!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Little Fun

If you're here for the David-debacle update, skip down a post.

Just a quick bit of fun:

Five years ago, in the genre's heyday, about 85% of the manuscripts I received for evaluations landed squarely in the Chick Lit category. In the past few months, I've received an inordinate number of manuscripts about one of the following subjects:

(1) Teenagers with some sort of paranormal powers


(2) Ex-CIA operatives saving the world from big bad oil companies (or other eco-terrorists)

Both are perennial favorites, and, like everything else, they go through cycles of popularity. But that's not what this post is about.

I want to read a query for a book in which all those Manolo Blahnik-wearing socialites turn into lusty vampires and save the polar bears from extinction.

Put your entries in the comments section - assuming I get a few (really, how could this not be the most fun writing exercise you'll do all week?) - I'll pick a favorite, and the winner gets a free query/synopsis evaluation or a copy of one of my clients' just-released books, paid for by me (see the sidebar for options).

UPDATE: Third prize option: I'll preorder you a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! due out on April 15.

Dedicated to David

Dear readers, I promise this will be my last irate post on David. Read to the end though, and you'll understand why it simply had to be posted.

Those of you who stopped by yesterday will recall our dear friend "David" (that's his actual name, I'm just putting it in quotes because I don't like him). Read the post below for more background on "David."

Why do people insist on offering misinformation on subjects they know nothing about? And why do I let it bother me so much?

Today there was another LinkedIn question that caught my eye - an author looking for information on submitting an idea for a For Dummies book. For Dummies is published by John Wiley & Sons. I worked in editorial for Wiley for years, although not on the For Dummies books, so I thought, "Hey! Question I'll know the answer to!"

And there, waiting for me, was our good friend "David."

David offered the following advice (this is all paraphrased).

(1) No one in publishing is buying anything anymore. Especially not self-help books. Don't even try.
(2) The economy stinks, so books are no longer being published. Don't even try.
(3) If you do try, HIRE an agent with an NDA in place so the publishing house DOESN'T STEAL YOUR IDEA.

I tried to post my response. But, horrors - when I hit send there was an error! I tried again! Another error! I kept trying for another half hour, because I'm apparently in need of a chill pill.

So, having finally given up, my response to the poor, misinformed author is posted below. I hope, by some miracle, he finds it on the great interwebs.

"Hi [Author]. Wiley, the For Dummies publisher (and my past employer) won't generally accept unsolicited submissions. For most of the titles, the editors come up with subjects they want to market, then go out and find experts.

If you are an expert in a certain field and already have a great platform that proves you're the go-to guy for your subject, pitch the idea to an agent with great nonfiction credentials. If an agent thinks Wiley might want it, he or she should be able to get the editors to take a look. The official author guidelines are discussed in the link below.

And now, to debunk another response posted earlier:

(1) The Dummies book market is not saturated. There are, in fact, over fifty new titles being printed in this series this year alone. I'd count the 2008 titles, but it's almost lunch time, and it would take too long.

(2) Almost all publishers are still buying new books from new authors. Larger publishers don't take unsolicited manuscripts, but that has nothing to do with the economy; it's been that way for a very long time. Some small publishers still accept unsolicited manuscripts and are making no changes that indicate they will do otherwise in the future.

(3) An agent is a good idea, but mention an NDA and they will, at best, have a good laugh. This is not how publishing works. And, despite conspiracy theories, respectable publishers don't steal ideas.

Good luck [Author], and please feel free to e-mail me off-board if you have any questions."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Stuck in my craw

While nibbling on lunch today I wandered over to LinkedIn to check in on people (procrastinating, networking...sometimes the same thing).
I clicked on a question from an author - she was looking for recommendations for literary agents for her contemporary mystery/romance novel.
There was only one answer already posted to her query. David, a legal professional who apparently has absolutely no publishing experience offered his expert advice - and it made me want to set my hair on fire (nod to the Great Miss Snark).
The essentials:
"There are still some agents in business agents anywhere in the world are accepting unpublished writers of fiction"... "Less than 0.1% even stand a chance of seeing their book in print...For now, the only way new authors will see their novel in print is through self-publishing."
Excuse my language, but bullhockey.
My response (written after a calming walk around my desk):
"Sorry David, but I have to completely disagree with you on all points.

Yes, publishers are picking up fewer new authors. Yes, publishers are spending more time on their backlists. Yes, publishing is in trouble.

However, most agents are still accepting and signing new manuscripts. Although it may be true that only 1% of writers land that coveted big-four publishing contract, [author's name redacted] could, for all we know, be in that 1% of authors who have written something that publishers and readers will love.

A few examples:
Jennifer Jackson (of the Donald Maass Agency) is looking for Romance Novels. Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency is still accepting queries, and she just promoted her assistant, Sarah Megibow, to Associate Agent, which means she's just starting to build her list of writers (a great opportunity for unpublished authors). A note from Sarah's post on the agency's blog: "I love super sexy, intelligent romances." And there are plenty of others out there.

You might not be that 1%. But you won't know unless you give it a shot."
Luckily, while I was responding, so were a number of other publishing professionals, ALL of whom echoed my sentiments. The best response?
The wonderful and absolutely brilliant agent Jessica Faust from BookEnds Literary Agency. If you're a writer and you don't already read her blog, start now. Really.
A brief excerpt from Jessica's response sums it all up:
"There are a lot of agents in the business and despite the economic climate there are a lot of agents who are still doing very good business and there are a lot of agents still taking on unpublished authors. I for one just finished a deal for a debut author that sold at auction (and it was a romance) to a major NY publishing house."
Yes, the economy makes everything tougher. Yes, it's true that not all authors are going to get big publishing contracts just because they want them. Yes, self-publishing really is the best option for some writers.
But a great book is a great book, and as long as writers keep writing them and readers keep reading them, publishers will publish them.
Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep working towards being the best damn writer out there.
And David - just stick to the law.

Friday, February 6, 2009

What to Expect When You're Expecting to Hire an Editor (Part II)

Thanks to an insane February schedule and a fantastic group of clients who have me booked until April, I've found myself offering a lot of advice and editor referrals this month. The advice falls into two main categories: how to find an editor and how to choose the editor who is right for you.

How to Find an Editor
I recommend three methods - you'll likely get the best results from using some combination of them.

1. Put up an ad. There are lots of websites where you can place an ad for an editor. Some will charge you fees; some won't. You can try,, or to name a few, but I honestly recommend you take the easy route: It's free for you and your editor, and TONS of quality freelancers regularly use craigslist listings to connect with potential clients. Beware of a few things if you do place an ad:
(a) You'll get some spam. Easy to delete.
(b) You will get LOTS of responses. Use some of the tips in Part III of this series of posts for sorting through the e-mails and picking the best of the batch.
(c) You'll likely be contacted by scam publishers and predatory fake agents. More on this later, but for now, just hit delete on any e-mail response to a craigslist ad from anyone who claims to be a publisher or agent. The end.

2. Ask your writer's group (and if you don't belong to one yet, join one!). Other writers will be some of your best sources for finding a quality freelance editor. Ask around. If you don't belong to a group yet, Yahoo! has some great groups you can join. (My personal favorites include the Writing and Publishing group and the Fiction that Sells group.)

3. Google. I hesitate to recommend this one to anyone but the most committed of researchers. Searching for a good manuscript editor online takes some perseverance - most of the top results for any given search will be the large services I warn about below. That said, I recently surveyed all of the clients I've worked with in the last five years, and, to my surprise, found that more than a few said they'd found me through a google search. Now, the highest I can find my site without actually typing in "Murdock Editing" is about the 13th page in, so...grain of salt.

1. Pick the first ad that pops up. Finding the right editor takes research - trust me, it's worth your time.

2. Use a big faceless service. I'm not going to name names, but you can find some of the offenders yourself by taking a scroll through the Preditors and Editors database. Many of these larger, corporate-looking editorial services - the ones that have no actual editor name and face behind them - farm out your work to people with very little to no experience in publishing who are working for next-to-nothing and have no real investment in your success. Some hire quality editors - but it's a crapshoot - you'll have no way of knowing whether your editor is a publishing pro or a college student trying to earn a little extra beer money (not that there's anything wrong with that!).

3. Choose a "literary agent" who also charges fees for editorial work. There are many out there with a mission to educate writers about this scam - start at Preditors and Editors or Writer Beware. Basically it comes down to this - no legitimate literary agent will ever charge you for anything upfront (except maybe incidentals like printing and mailing supplies - but that's at smaller agencies and fairly rare). If an "agent" is offering to edit your work for a fee, run.

Stay tuned for Part III of What to Expect When You're Expecting to Hire an Editor:
III: How to choose an editor.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

It's Spring!

Not really.
Snow storm yesterday, more on the way. Ah, the joys of living in New England.
Somehow Spring scheduling is already upon me though! I'm opening up April manuscript evaluation and manuscript critique slots to prospective clients starting today. Think you might want one of the slots? Send me an e-mail at editor at murdockediting dot com.
And, just to see if anyone out there in blogland is actually reading this, mention the blog in your e-mail and I'll donate 10% of your total editing fee to First Book.

Author: Educate Thyself!

Thinking of submitting a proposal before completing your manuscript?
Read The Rejecter's take on the subject here.
An excerpt:
"The traditional reason that a proposal is submitted is so that the author has the money to go do the research required to write the book, which may involve things like taking time off work or travel or acquiring rights to photos or just, you know, income to justify their time. That's the only reason an editor would put cash up front to a writer, and they would only do it with a VERY thorough proposal unless you're a celebrity, and even then you should have your ghostwriter already chosen."

What to Expect When You're Expecting to Hire an Editor (Part I)

I am not the right editor for everyone.

That's right, I said it. I love my authors, and, for the most part, they seem pretty fond of me. But there are always going to be writers and books I know I'm not the right editor for, and I do my best to refer those authors to other editors whose work I respect. I will always tell a writer if I don't think I'm right for the job.

What I'm looking for in an author:
  • Personality. The editorial evaluation and revision process is most effective when there is a lot of back-and-forth between the editor and the author. I always try to work with authors with whom I can build a rapport, and who I honestly believe I can help.
  • Commitment. I want to work with authors who really want it - publication, success, and a writing career - and who are willing to work for it. At the very least, I want to see a full first draft before I sign on for a project.
  • Subject. Murder mystery? Thriller? Historical? Memoir? Chick Lit? Commercial Fiction? Young Adult? I love it and I'll take it. But there are subjects I don't usually work with, including complex Science Fiction (I don't have the background to do these justice), overly gruesome slashers (no judgement, I just don't have the stomach for it, although I can recommend several editors who do!), or ghost stories (because they freak me out).
Stay tuned for Parts II and III of What to Expect When You're Expecting to Hire an Editor:
II: Where to find the right editor for your manuscript.
III: How to choose an editor.

Your Questions - Why Might You Need an Editor?

Today's question from a fellow New Englander:
(A) Do I need an editor? (B/C) Why/when do you need an editor? (D) Won't an agent edit my work?
Short answers: 
  • (A) Maybe.
  • (B) To improve your chances of getting past the slush pile.
  • (C) Before you submit to agents or if you're getting nothing but rejections.
  • (D) Yes, but only if you've already set yourself apart from the pack and an agent has decided she wants you as a client.
A longer answer:
Yes, once you have an agent he or she will likely do his or her own edit and ask for certain revisions. However, many agents will not sign a book that isn't "professionally" written - meaning that it is free of grammatical errors, that the prose is crisp and clean, and that the plot and character development is smooth and engages the reader right from the start.
It honestly comes down to a numbers game in many cases. When your query first arrives at an agency, it's most likely one of hundreds that the agent's assistant (a job I held many years ago!) needs to process in a single week (and, more than likely, she's dealing with a backlog of several weeks). If you get beyond that stage, your partial manuscript will be among dozens that the assistant will read in a week. Only a few manuscripts make it to the agent's desk - and of those few an agent can only take on maybe one.
(NOTE: not all agencies work this way - each one is unique - this is simply my experience in the industry. For more information, click on the agent blog links to the right.)
To land a great agent you MUST stand out from the pack and not give the agent, or the assistant, any reason to automatically toss your pages into the rejection pile.
Some writers need editorial help to get there; some don't. It never hurts to reach out to an editor if you have questions - I'm always more than happy to chat, and, like most freelance editors, I offer a free sample evaluation of your first ten pages to help you understand your options.
Have questions for the editor? Send them to editor at murdockediting dot com. Please include "Blog Question" in the subject line. Happy writing!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Your Questions: Pricing - Revealed!!

One question I see over and over again on author blogs and writer discussion boards is this: what am I supposed to pay?

Authors looking to hire editors, publicists, ghostwriters, web designers, and everything else in between are looking for guidance on reasonable rates. Information can be hard to find - you won't find preset rates on most independent editor sites, and the ones you do find on large corporate sites vary widely (for good reason - I'll discuss that in a later post).

The short answer, of course, is that you get what you pay for. If a site is charging you $1 per page - for anything - the quality of work will likely be as bargain basement as the price.

I can't speak for all editors; I can only speak for myself and the freelance editors in my network. My rates are based on a number of factors - length of the manuscript, how quickly you need your edit completed, the level of editing required, and complexity of the text. A manuscript written by a professional journalist is going to take me less time to copyedit than a manuscript written by someone who has no writing experience.

Lynn Wasnak has written an excellent guide geared toward freelancers for setting rates - but as an author, you can use it to estimate, compare, and understand the rates charged by freelancers you might want to hire on your way to publication.

A few examples from her guide (find the full article here):

Content editing (trade) $75 high/hour, $20 low/hour, $46 average/hour.

Copyediting $75 high/hour, $17 low/hour, $38 average/hour; $3,000 high/project, $1,000 low/project, $1,875 average/project.

Manuscript evaluation and critique $65 high/hour, $45 low/hour, $55 average/hour; $1,500 high/project, $350 low/project, $950 average/project.

Book query critique $55 high/hour, $45 low/hour, $51 average/hour; $30/page.

Book query writing $500 high/project, $120 low/project, $200 average/project.

Nails on a Chalkboard...

Dear AdSense Overlords,
I know I'm not allowed to mention the ads on my site, or ask anyone to click on them. So please forgive me for the following:
"Blogger's Make Big Bucks" should be "Bloggers Make Big Bucks." No apostrophe. Please take out the offending bit of punctuation before my head explodes.
Your humble editor blogger,
Ms. Murdock

Go Buy These Books!

Favorite Murdock Editing client Meghan Wier, author, blogger, SEO-trainer, networking expert and introvert-extraordinaire has her new book, Confessions of an Introvert: The Shy Girl's Guide to Career, Networking and Getting the Most Out of Life, out from Sphinx Publishing/Sourcebooks this month!

From Wier's site:

Author Meghan Wier gives her unique perspective on coping and succeeding in an extrovert's world with the innovative Confessions of an Introvert. This honest and often hilarious portrayal of life and business through an introvert's eyes provides inspiration, tips, and motivation for breaking through and finding success.

Jam-packed with valuable insights and personal anecdotes, Confessions of an Introvert shows:

Why business networking is key to professional growth and business success

How we can have it all…just not all at the same time!

That a little "self-promotion" can make others finally realize how good you are

That being an introvert is part of who you are, but not a roadblock to success

Confessions of an Introvert is a must-read for any introvert seeking to excel in business and get the most out of life.

"...was a great read. Very entertaining. Even for a male who is gregarious, I got a lot out of it. Chock full of interesting tidbits. For anyone who is interested in networking, this is a must read!" - Laurence R. Schacht

"Meghan has learned at age 30 what took me an extra 15 years to learn. If you read her book you will cut years off the advancement of your career by avoiding mistakes you may have made" - Joanne Greene-Blose

On Why I'm Not An Agent

Manuscript Evaluation has become the bedrock of my business, and I love working directly with authors. Recently, one of my clients sent me an e-mail. He has completed his revisions and is ready to start sending queries out to agents (and I think he's got a great shot - it really is phenomenal book). He wanted me to send some recommendations, but he also, in so many words, asked if I had ever thought about getting into the agenting game, because he'd really like for me to be his agent too.

There are a few reasons why I don't consider becoming an agent at this point in my career. I've worked at agencies in the past, and still have some contacts, but I've been out of the NYC scene long enough that I would need to join a large firm, at least at first, to get back into that game. I love working for myself and building my own business - and I have no desire to move back to NY.

And then there's the ethical no-no. I charge my clients for my editing services, of course. If I became an agent, I would have to close shop on the editing business - ethically, you simply can't run both. You can't charge the client on one end, become their agent, and charge them a percentage too. Yes, there are agents who do this, but they're not the kind of agents that you want to work with.

Finally, I don't want to be an agent at this point in my career for one VERY important reason.

I like my authors. I like working with them to shape their characters and stories. I like being able to take a manuscript that would clearly not make it out of the slush pile at a big agency, and help the author turn it into something that gets some attention. You can't always do that as an agent. Agents make money on commission, so if the book doesn't sell, they don't get paid. And in the publishing world today, that means they can only really afford to take on clients who have manuscripts that are at least 80% ready to go.

Once upon a time I worked as a literary agent's assistant. My job was to sort through all of the queries, picking out only the very best and most likely to be what my agent was looking for. I requested those few partials, then had to simply send rejection letters to the rest. It seems cruel, but that's all we could do - every day another batch of 50-100 queries arrived in the mail.

Of the partials, I was told to read the first ten to twenty pages. If the manuscript didn't grab me right from the start, another rejection letter went out.

Once we got to the full manuscript stage, I read through and completed an evaluation, then wrote an evaluation report for my agent, either recommending that he take a read through himself, or that we send out yet another rejection letter.

In the second two stages, I was already close enough to the manuscript that I could, more often than not, have told the author exactly what he was doing wrong - and exactly what he needed to do right to make his manuscript ready to sell. But by then we'd moved on to trying to find the next manuscript - the next book that might actually bring a few dollars into the firm.

And that is why I do what I do. That is why I'm not an agent. Because when a manuscript comes to my door, or an author contacts me about fixing up his or her manuscript, I don't have to turn anyone away. I don't have to send out rejection letters just so I can move on to the next big thing. I have the opportunity to sit down, read the entire manuscript, and provide the author with the tools he or she needs to realize their writing dreams. Would I make more money as an agent? Probably. But would I give up the relationships I have with my authors? Or the sense of accomplishment I get when I receive the signed early reviewer copy editions of a book that was languishing under the author's bed before I stepped in and helped guide her journey to publication?

Absolutely not.