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?
LAZAR:
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 SmallCanBeBig.org 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

or

(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.

http://www.dummies.com/Section/id-323934"

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 but...no 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 getafreelancer.com, guru.com, or elance.com to name a few, but I honestly recommend you take the easy route: craigslist.org. 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.

DON'T:
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.