May 16

Last-Minute Edits

Finally, from experience I've formulated a rule of thumb:

Last-minute edits on a work that has been in progress for a long time, or a published work about to be republished, are mistakes.

Last-minute edits on a work you have very recently completed are likely to be good edits.

If one is "in the zone" of creation on a particular piece, ideas for revision rise from the same pool of thought, or, as they say, "are organic." After that work has been completed and set aside and another work commenced, that same zone simply never comes again. The author has changed or grown and can't step into the same work twice. I have longed to add a new insight to an old work, and did, and now that extra sentence in there jars me, and I am concerned that it might jar readers just as much.

One's old stories and poems can be rewritten or refurbished and turn out very well, but not if rewriting or additions take place at the last minute; say, a few hours before a contest deadline. It's like sewing a new sleeve on an old shirt. It might fit but it will be a slightly darker shade or nap or texture, and even if no one else knows, the author does. Is it too small a thing to care about? Not if you care about craft.
Oct 08

'Tis the Season to Rip Off New Authors

Friend had her first novel accepted by a very small press (two owners, a couple, fighting) and excitedly signed a contract that said the press would edit her work for publication. But instead it referred her to an editor they knew who wanted $450. My friend, eager to see her book published, paid it. The edit/rewrite horrified her. She called me and added that she hated the book's new title, and had paid $250 for the cover image (what?!) and more for her own author photo (that's normal, paying for your own photo), and the press was pushing her to have the book out by November 1, "in time for the holidays," and expected her to do all her own marketing and sell 500 copies by Christmas. My friend asked the press how she could possibly do that, and they said, "Hire a hall and then invite everyone you know and and sell them the book."

The owners weren't speaking to one another and one was secretly trying to establish her own separate press, and secretly asked my friend to come and be HER author, although this entailed having the manuscript edited again by another editor, with my friend responsible for the cost.

What should she do, my friend asked.

I said, "Pull out, today. Call. Tell them you don't want to work with them. Send a registered letter. They broke contract when they made you pay for an edit. They sound too penny-ante to hire a lawyer and fight you, but if they did, they broke contract and they will lose."

But oh...they'd accepted her first novel! She so much wanted to see it in print. And she knew that if she pulled her book, ahead of her lay months of submitting her manuscript until someone else accepted it, and she didn't want to go through that again, and self-publishing, well, that was death; so what should she do?


Sep 10

The Bar Code Scandal

If you are publishing your own book, you need a barcode on the back cover. The barcode, based on your book's ISBN, goes into a database and will identify the item when merchants scan it. It does not encode a price. It's simply an identifier used for inventory. If you want merchants to stock and sell your book you need a barcode.

I had paid for a barcode to be placed on the back cover of my current project, The Woman Who Values Herself, and when I got the final cover PDF it occured to me to print it and test it with a barcode reader app. It wouldn't work, although the app read other barcode labels. I kept trying, freaking out incrementally. Because the book is so small, the barcode had been shrunk proportionally and it was too small for the app to read. Online I found that there is indeed a minimum size for barcodes: 80 percent of the original, or about .825" high.

Having advised the cover designer of these facts I was in turn advised that she'd never had any problems with shrunken barcodes, but she'd enlarge it just  for me, and so it was on the next proof. The barcode scanner could not read this barcode either. Feigning great patience (THIS BOOK HAS BEEN IN PRODUCTION SINCE JUNE for PETE'sSAKE!!) I advised her of this and asked her to test it on her end.

The project manager contacted me and swore it worked on their end, and it wasn't working for me because my proofs were electronic PDFs and low-resolution (high-resolution PDF proofs are so huge they'd crash a mailbox) although they didn't look it. So I chose to just drop the issue, now  that I had his email saying it worked--in case it didn't. So ended this tiny nightmare, and I learned:

1. You need an ISBN and a matching barcode.
2. Test the barcode.
3. There is a minimum size for barcodes, and even if it is plug-ugly and out of proportion to the book's size or design, you still need one if you want stores to carry the book, and of course you do.
4. Understand that your electronic proofs are low-resolution.
5. Get written assurance that the darned thing really works so that if it doesn't, this can all be done over again at somebody else's expense.
6. Everything in publishing works far more slowly than you'd think.
Jul 21

Among Friends: Books Published or to Be Published

16 January 2009

Just to show it does happen, a list of recent book publications/acceptances (2008 and early 2009) by local writers I personally know and like:
  • Claire Applewhite, The Wrong Side of Memphis (L&L Dreamspell), novel
  • Mary Ann deGrandpre Kelly, Marlene Miller, Niki Nymark, Marilyn Probe*: Nothing Smaller than Your Elbow (Bluestem), poetry
  • Mary Ruth Donnelly: Weaving the Light (Cherry Pie Press), poetry chapbook
  • Pamela Garvey, Fear (Finishing Line Press), poetry chapbook
  • Colleen McKee* and Amanda Stiebel, Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak About Health Care in America (Penultimate), anthology
  • J. Roger Nelson*, The God Whom Moses Knew (Thomas Nelson), novel
  • Niki Nymark, A Stranger Here Myself (Cherry Pie Press), poetry chapbook
  • Angie O’Gorman*, The Book of Sins (PlainView Press), novel.
  • Catherine Rankovic: Fame: Writers in St. Louis in the 1990s (Penultimate), nonfiction
  • Suzanne Rhodenbaugh, The Whole Shebang (Word Press), poetry
*=formerly my student!

I would LOVE to see in this list next year:

Denise Bogard (novel)
Janet Edwards* (nonfiction)
Rebecca Ellis (poetry)
Matt Freeman (poetry)
Julia Gordon-Bramer (poetry)
Susan Grigsby* (poetry)
Tim Leach (poetry)
Steven Schreiner (poetry)
-- and YOU.
Jun 13

Outsource THIS!

Saw an ad for an editor who can do three things, mostly what I do:
  • Copyedit a manuscript, meaning: correct the grammar, punctuation and spelling, and establish consistency throughout. "Line editing" means the same.
  • Copyedit a manuscript and provide feedback on its contents, readability, publishability, tone, and so on.
  • Do the above, plus reorganize and possibly rewrite portions of the text.
Corporations may have outsourced their customer support, but nobody can outsource expertise in the English language, the foundation that supports the creation of American literature. That, the creation of American literature, they can't outsource either. A most cheerful thought!
Apr 11

Here's a Rejection I Like!

From Prairie Schooner, received Monday:

Although we have decided against using this manuscript, we were interested in it and would be glad to see more of your work between Sept. 1 and May 1. - Stephen Behrendt, Interim Senior Editor

Taped it up on the September wall-calendar page!
Mar 03

Don't Let Your Prologue Give Your Novel Away

I'm having the most fascinating experience: reading and critiquing the first 30 pages of the manuscripts of almost 30 different novels. The first 30 pages is what agents and editors ask for, and it's said, "If the novel doesn't take off in the first 30 pages, it will never take off" and they won't read more. Some of the mss. are good, some are better than good, but close to three-quarters of them have introductions and/or prologues.

Leaving aside the dedications, acknowledgements or introductions that "explain" the book, or why or how it was written -- "front matter" which in novels will always be cut -- there's often a prologue describing the climax of the story. And then the actual story begins, in chapter 1, with a flashback. Apparently the whole novel will be told in flashback, leading up to the climactic moment that has already been described up front and has given the whole story away.

And then, reading the novel's Chapter One, I see that the novel would work perfectly fine without the give-away prologue. I believe that the give-away prologue is the child of noir or detective movies and fictions which start with a corpse and flash back to tell the story of how and why the person was murdered. Authors of other kinds of fictions who want to use prologues should be reminded: PROlogues are for telling the PRE-beginning of a story, not giving away the end of it!