Guest Blogs


I’m posting over at the Casablanca Authors blog today on this month’s theme of scary things.  Submission info, turnaround time, sex advice (for your writing, of course!), market trends and more.  Come visit!  I’ll hang around through the weekend to respond to comments posted there.

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Executive Editor Don D’Auria acquires horror, thrillers and Westerns, but his take here on the rejection/acquisition process holds  true for many editors, no matter what the genre.   This column originally appeared in issue #61 of Cemetery Dance magazine.

Welcome to the first installment in what I hope will be an interesting column for anyone who’s curious about publishing seen from an editor’s perspective.  I wouldn’t presume to say that I can speak for all editors.  I’ll write about things as I see them.  I edit a mass market paperback line of horror novels.  Magazine editors or editors who work in the small presses will possibly have very different opinions.  But I think we all see the same sorts of things.

One thing I hope to do in this column from time to time is answer questions that writers or readers have about the whole editorial process.  So often what editors do is unseen or misunderstood.  People tend to see the results of what editors do, but not the way it’s done or the reasoning involved.  So if I can, I’d like to open the door a little, to let folks see what’s going on inside the office, and also inside my head.

For a lot of people, an editor’s job consists mostly of deciding whether a book is bought or not, so I thought I’d start with that perennial question, “How does a good book not get chosen?”  Or to put it another way, as many writers no doubt ask when another book is bought instead of theirs, “What was the editor thinking?”

Is it just a question of whether a book is good?  If it’s good, I buy it; if it’s not, I don’t?  I wish.  That would make things so much easier for me and for the author.  No, there are a lot of other considerations that go into the decision.  When I reject a manuscript, I’ll sometimes say in my letter that the manuscript was well-written but I still couldn’t buy it.  And I wonder if the author believes me.  But it’s true.  I’ve had to pass on a lot of really well-written novels over the years.  I wish I could have bought them all, but I couldn’t, for a variety of painful reasons.

The simplest reason is often that, even if a particular manuscript is great, there might be another one that’s still better.  My job is to find not only good manuscripts, but the best ones.  Leisure Books publishes two horror titles every month.  Twenty-four per year.  That’s what I have to work with, no more and no less.  Every year I have to find what I consider to be the twenty-four best books to put into those slots.  The really tricky part is that I did publish twenty-four titles last year, and pretty much all of those authors have a new book now that they’d really like to see me publish this year.

Editing a line of books is kind of like being a manager of a baseball team, with the writers as the players.  The success of the line depends on the success of the individual writers, who are, after all, the ones who do the work that their fans pay to see.  But I have to choose the best players and make sure they play at their highest level and make for a well-rounded team.  No baseball team, even the Yankees, can afford to buy every great player out there.  And they can’t buy too many of the same kind of player.  Just like no team wants only good pitchers or good outfielders, I can’t buy only good ghost stories or good extreme horror or good…whatever.  I need a nice mix.  So if I find myself overstocked with, say, subtle psychological horror at some point, and a writer or agent sends me another one, unless it’s absolutely fantastic I’ll pass. 

Also, just like a manager in baseball doesn’t ideally want a player who’ll be with them for just one game (or one season), I prefer writers who will continue to write and whose career I can build over the course of many books.  This means that many of those twenty-four slots this year will be filled by authors who wrote books last year.  The downside of this is I won’t have many open slots for newcomers.  Given the hundreds of submissions I see every year, that’s a lot of competition for just a few positions on the team.  So a lot of great potential players are sent home to try out for another team.

When I explain that I can only publish so many books each year, I’ve had authors say, “That’s OK, buy my book now and I can wait as long as it takes for you to publish it.”  That would be nice, but from a business standpoint it simply won’t work.  When I buy a manuscript, Leisure pays an advance.  If we don’t publish the book for two or three years, we don’t see any sales from it, and thus no money coming in for years after we’ve laid out the advance.  Not a good move financially.  Plus, if I get too many books sitting in my inventory, waiting to be published down the road, it prevents me from buying anything I may see for a while until I can work off that inventory.  And no publisher likes to close themselves off to submissions.

So let’s say for argument’s sake that a manuscript is really, really good, better than most of the manuscripts I’ve seen.  In fact it’s one of the top contenders for the few available slots in my list.  And it isn’t in a subgenre that I’ve published a lot of recently.  Clear sailing, right?  Close but no cigar.  There are still some things that can trip up a manuscript just before the finish line.  One of the most painful for me is simply bad timing, where I really love a book but I just bought a book with a very similar plot.  It happens and it kills me.  And I know it isn’t easy for the author either, because it isn’t his or her fault.  If I had seen the same manuscript two months earlier, I would have bought it and the other guy’s manuscript would have been rejected instead.  But I can’t publish two books with very similar plots, so the second one has to go.

I know.  Ouch.  It wasn’t the author’s fault, right?  But none of these things is the author’s fault.  (Assuming the manuscript is good.)  Is it the author’s fault that I have too many books in my inventory or that I simply don’t have an open slot in the immediate future?  Or that she’s written a vampire novel and I already published four vampire novels this year?  Or that his timing is just off?  No, the author did what he or she was supposed to do; write a really good manuscript.  I wish I could publish them all.  But I can’t.  I can only look through them all and pick what I think are not only the best ones but also the right ones.  Am I always right?  Not a chance.  And I know I’ve turned down a lot of great manuscripts that another house might snap up in a second, and it’s not because of anything the author did wrong.  That’s why it’s so painful to write those rejection letters.  (OK, maybe not as painful as it is to get them.)  And that’s why it’s so important for an author not to get discouraged, to keep trying, and keep submitting their work.  All of these factors outside of the author’s control can change.  If your timing was bad this time, maybe it’ll be better next time.  If my inventory is high today, maybe it’ll be lower in six months.  If your manuscript isn’t right for one house, it can easily be perfect for another.  But if you believe your work is good and you stop submitting it after a few rejections, you’ll never know how some of those factors might have changed.  And if you don’t give your work the best shot you can, that’s really painful.

I’ve wanted to start a behind-the-scenes series about some of publishing’s less visible jobs for a while.  And Tanya Reynolds, our marketing assistant, bravely stepped forward to tell us more about what she does.  Tanya, a journalism grad from St. Bonaventure University, has been at Dorchester for just about a year now, and as you can see by her diverse workload, she’s pretty much ready to take over the company.

So here’s the scoop directly from Tanya:

As sales & marketing assistant, there really isn’t much I don’t have my hands in at any given moment. I help out our senior VP for sales–organizing and monitoring our sales activity at various accounts, tracking foreign rights contracts and creating sell sheets & marketing pieces for our monthly sales kits.

Our marketing department is wonderful enough to trust me with organizing a few P.R. campaigns, editing pitch letters, writing newsletter pieces, and – perhaps my new favorite task – keeping up-to-date on publishing news and posting fun tidbits on our Dorchester Twitter feed.

I’m learning more and more about e-books as I gather and pitch to e-book retailers, and I work with our production department on plans to start getting our e-books in as many stores as possible.

Of course, as assistant, I also help tie up any loose ends: sort print numbers, compose data feeds for online retailers, and generate sales & marketing notes for each month’s titles before they become the short blurbs on cover 3s.

With so many tasks at hand and publishing changing so rapidly, I’m still learning new things each day, but the people here are fantastic – and that free pizza each month isn’t too bad, either.

When I’m not hard at work at any variation of these things, you can find me at my desk creating a new Elvis/No Doubt/50 Cent station on Pandora, or starting pop culture debates in the mailroom.

 DearAuthor is one of my daily go-sites for news on fantastic books (I buy anything she gives an A), publishing news, and great commentary on the industry. I’m thrilled that Jane was able to give us this inside look at how she chooses titles for review.

In any given month, Dear Author receives close to fifty books for review.  This does not count the entire Harlequin frontlist nor any of the epublishers’ titles.  We publish approximately 30 reviews a month. This means that we are reviewing close to a third, or less, than the titles we receive.  You might be surprised to know that we also review less than we actually read.

I thought I would share a couple of ways that I go about picking a book to read and then ultimately review.  I try to read three to four times the number of books that I actually complete and of the books that I actually complete, I write a review of those books 75% of the time. 

Selecting Reading Books
Every month, I try to read at least 1 new to me authors. Right now, that is mostly likely going to be a contemporary, either straight contemporary or romantic suspense.  I’m getting burned out on paranormals.

I will read up to the first three chapters of most any book.  If it takes me more than two or three tries to get to that three chapter book, I’m not likely going to finish it.  I won’t review a book that I haven’t read at least 3/4s of the way.  If the book is an erotica or erotic romance, I always read the end to see if it ends with an HEA.  If there is no HEA or the HEA is suspect, I’m not likely to read the book (this is particularly true if I struggle with the first three chapters).

Selecting Reviewing Books
There are probably 5 books that I read a month that will go unreviewed because I don’t have anything to say about them.  These are books that I found to be adequate but uninteresting.  The average books are the hardest to review because there isn’t anything in there that made me upset or turned me off but there wasn’t anything that captured my attention.  I might have liked a few things in it, but I can’t drum up enough to say about it other than.

Another set of books that often go unreviewed are books I’ve read by authors I have written negative reviews for in the past.  Sometimes I read these books to see if anything has changed in my reading tastes and sometimes I read the books in fascinated horror.  I generally won’t put up a review for these books, though, as it might be viewed as “picking on” an author.

Writing the Reviews
Every month, I always write my A/B reviews first.  They are the easiest to write, in part because I probably have shared my love for those books with someone via email and I just need to expand on the books.  Plus, when I write the review, I generally revisit the book and I enjoy doing that for the books I want to share with others.

I then write my “negative” reviews, the D’s and F’s.  Those are also easy to write although generally spoiler laden.  I’ve found that in order to “prove” what I didn’t like about a book, I have to give examples. 

Finally, I write the C reviews.  These are the hardest to write because the books are competent but something never really sparked my attention.  I struggle over these books and I spend a lot of time reviewing my notes and the original books to find something that can exemplify where I failed to connect with the book.

That’s my process. It’s nothing fancy and it’s probably open to alot of criticism, but it’s kind of how my brain works right now.

I gave a lot of thought to what the most helpful thing I’ve learned about publishing so far is, and honestly, my list is kind of short. But that’s because it’s only been four months or so since since I learned I’d reached my dream of becoming a published author.

Which means most of the lessons I’m likely to learn, I haven’t yet, because I’m just not that far into the process. But there is one that stands out in my mind. One thing that unpublished writers talk about, worry about, obsess over, and think about every time they know an editor is going to be looking at their work. At least, I know I did. So, for me, learning this lesson was a biggie. Are you ready for it? Yes? Okay, here goes…

It doesn’t matter what font you use on your manuscript, as long as it’s readable.


I’m totally serious. The editors don’t care. At all. But yet, it’s something that unpublished writers really do obsess over. Questions like: What font do I use? What size? Should I use italics or underline the words I want italicized? are asked at writing conventions, chapter meetings, and from one writer to another constantly.

Okay, so I’m being a little silly here, but what I’ve said is true—and it leads into what the most helpful thing I’ve really learned so far is: don’t stress over the little stuff. Your story is what matters—not the font it’s typed in.

Oh—and editors? They really are people, and they’re approachable, and they really care about the books they take on. So yeah, that’s what I’ve learned so far. But I’m sure I’ll learn more, so ask me again in a year!

 

Tracy Madison’s debut, A TASTE OF MAGIC, will be available in March. For more, visit her website at www.tracymadison.com.

One of my favorite places to promote my books is on the social networking site: http://www.gather.com/  You might have heard of Gather already through their First Chapters contest.  The winner receives a cash reward and a publishing contract, and many talented writers have been discovered through it.  What you may not know is that people swap recipes, health articles and photos of their vacations, just to name a few.

To get a sense of how Gather works, click the People, Groups or Explore buttons on the top of the page. Then at the very bottom you can click on Books, Family, Food, Health, etc.

On Gather, you can share articles, photos and videos. First you need to create a profile, which is similar to Myspace, but a lot easier as you don’t need any html programming for your page. Every time you share an article or image you will receive Gather points, which apparently can be redeemed for cash (the site has changed since I signed up, so this may no longer be the case). I elected to give my earnings to charity, as I knew I’d already be benefiting from the site as a marketing tool, but you will have to decide which option to choose. You’ll need to post your profile photo as well.

Before you start sharing any articles, you need to find people to send them to. The quickest way to start getting the word out (without spending a lot of time finding people to connect to) is to join groups. There are many book groups on Gather, including Borders, and you’ll need to click on their icon and click the ‘join this group’ button. You can click the Groups button at the top of Gather’s home page and search groups for those that enjoy reading the kind of books you write (this info is usually provided in their profile, just like on Myspace). Or, you’re welcome to piggyback on my page: http://kathrynekennedy.gather.com/

Click the groups button just above my profile photo. Then click on the group icon and join that group. Most of my groups are book related, or welcome general postings of all kind.

Now that you have some groups to send your content to, click on the ‘share’ button just beneath your profile photo on your ‘my Gather’ page. This will then take you to a page where you can click on sharing a photo, article or video. Another window will open that will allow you to upload a photo or video, or write an article. After you’re done writing your article or uploading your image, you will be asked to add tags (one-letter descriptions of your content that makes your entry searchable).  The rating and comments option is automatic, so I suggest you click on the blue options button to disallow ratings, although I’d keep the comments open.  This is to discourage DB1’s (people who don’t read your content, just drive by and slam it with a 1).  Most people who leave a comment will really care about your content.  Then you will have to click on which groups you want to send your content to.  Your content will automatically go to all of your friends, and if you don’t have any yet, don’t worry.  People will often reach out to you. Now, you rate your content if necessary, then submit it.

You can get to your articles from the ‘my posts’ link on your Gather page.  Click the title and it will open to any comments you have received.  Whenever you receive a comment (or any other activity on Gather), an email notification will be sent to the email address you provided when you signed up.  You do have the option of removing these alerts from your ‘email preferences’.

Play with the other buttons on the site and you will soon get a grasp of how to navigate around.  I do want to point out that from your ‘my Gather’ space, there will be notes on how many messages you received (click to open your Gather email inbox), friend requests, and group invitations.

 

Many of the Books Groups love getting reviews, so I will often post reviews for my own books that others have written (with acknowledgement, of course).  Again, you might want to check out my Gather page to get an idea of the type of articles I’ve posted. If you have a blog, especially if your content is geared toward articles about the writing craft, sharing your posts on Gather would be beneficial to you and the community.  I’ve received helpful feedback on book videos, covers and articles.  And most importantly, I’ve met some really terrific, supportive people.  Just be prepared to give back what you receive, as far as providing advice and encouragement to your connections.  

If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

Until next time,
Kathryne


 

For more about Kathryne, her Relics of Merlin series, and her contests for some fabulous jewelry–visit her website at www.kathrynekennedy.com.

Leah has asked me what I’d like authors to know about libraries and librarians. As a librarian who’s also an author, these are the truths I hold to be self-evident:

1. A good librarian will move heaven and earth to get information for you. Lots of librarians view what they do as a vocation, not just a career.

2. The education for a librarian is a master’s degree in library and information science. There’s also on-going training on top of that so she or he can give you the best customer service possible.

3. The library has information on just about anything, and it comes in many formats–print, non-print, and electronic. Libraries are networked through WorldCat, so what your local library doesn’t have, they’ll interlibrary loan for you. Usually free of charge.

4. Besides books, most libraries have free DVD checkout (including current year), free computer access, free programs for children and adults. Many libraries offer books and/or music on CDs. Free entertainment in an ailing economy. What a deal!

5. If someone tries to censor your books, most librarians will fight tooth and nail to prevent it from happening.

So this is what your library will do for you. What can you do for your library?

1. Librarians love authors. Make yourself known at your local library. Offer to do a program. Some libraries will let you do booksignings, too. It’s free p.r.!

2. Don’t stereotype us in your books. I’ve been a librarian for more than thirty years, and I’ve yet to see one wearing a bun. Most librarians aren’t shushers, either. Another stereotype.

3. If a librarian has helped you do research for your book, mention him or her in your acknowledgments.

4. Donate your books to your local library.

5. Recommend that your local writing association chapter–RWA, Sisters in Crime, SCBWI, etc.–join the your library’s Friends of the Library.  It’s good p.r.  It’s cheap.

6. Recommend that your writing association produce a professional-looking list of local authors that can be distributed at the library.  Offer to do a display of some of their works at the library.

7. Find out who’s in charge of programming for the state library conference.  Volunteer to be a speaker. This is great, free p.r.

The partnership between an author and a library is one of the most natural possible.  Librarians can—and should–be your best allies.

Shelley Mosley
www.deborahshelley.com
http://mosleysmusings.blogspot.com
www.myspace.com/shelleymosley
http://smosley.livejournal.com

Co-Author:The Suffragists in Literature for Youth: The Fight for the Vote; Romance Today: An A-Z Guide to Contemporary American Romance Writers; The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Ultimate Reading List; Crash Course in Library Supervision; and Marriage 101

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