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Ask Editor Alison Weiss #16 (right in here!)

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Ask Editor Alison Weiss #16 (right in here!)

Post  Editor Alison on Wed May 02, 2012 10:10 am

Hi all,

I was supposed to be here yesterday. I went MIA. I'm sorry.

But I'm here now, and I can keep the forums open as long as we want for questions. So, shoot 'em at me.

I'll start things off with a little musing of my own. I was recently at a conference that focused on honing your pitch, and it got me thinking. It's pretty unusual for authors to pitch directly to editors. That's usually the job of an agent. And even if an author is pitching, it's usually in a query letter, which is a little different from a verbal pitch.

But my thoughts wander further with the observation of friends and colleagues who were at the same conference: "It's so hard to tell without seeing any writing." When agents pitch to me, I glance at the pitch letter, but unless it's blatantly not for me, I usually just say that I'd be happy to take a look. Because it's the writing, not the pitch. When I pick up a book at the store that I'm considering buying, I take a look at the flap copy, but usually read the first few pages before I make my decision, because it's the writing, not the pitch (which is sort of what copy is).

Where do you all sit on this topic? Is it the "pitch" that pulls you in to look at the writing? Or is the pitch there, and it's really about the writing, itself? I'd love to hear your thoughts (for my own copy writing purposes) and I'd love to answer any other questions you guys might have been mulling over the past month.

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Re: Ask Editor Alison Weiss #16 (right in here!)

Post  Taryn on Wed May 02, 2012 11:53 am

I'm a plot girl. Since I'm an intern for an agent, I've learned to identify what makes me stop. Obviously if the writing is noticeable, it's usually a bad thing, and I point that out and stop. But if I don't notice the writing, yay. Boss-Agent makes sure there's a query letter pasted at the top of a MS, and if the premise is amazing, I will read at least to ten pages before giving up.

Recently I had a MS like this...the plot looked amazing, but I could tell from page one the execution wasn't there...I gave it to 15 pages, but I just couldn't do it anymore.

There are enough good writers out there that good plot and good writing can come together...why bother if one is lackluster? Still, I personally am more likely to let poor writing slide (as long as it's not noticeable) than a slow/derivative plot.

As for a question................

How do imprints interact? If, say, someone at Delacorte gets something that you at Egmont would be perfect for, would the Delacorte editor send it over? Only in rare cases? Does that work like agencies "my colleague so and so would be a better fit"?

Alsooooo...at what point do you check out an author's website? When you hear the pitch? When you receive the sub? When you love the sub?

*may possibly be on sub right now and suitably crazified*

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Re: Ask Editor Alison Weiss #16 (right in here!)

Post  Editor Alison on Wed May 02, 2012 12:17 pm

Hi Taryn,

Super great questions!

The way imprints interact varies from house to house. Sometimes they're competing against each other because agents are allowed to submit to multiple imprints. I remember when I was an intern at Random House we were told at the offset, "Never talk about a manuscript under consideration. You never know who is in the elevator with you."

Other houses are adamant that they'll only accept a submission for one imprint. And sometimes it's the first to get it. Sometimes they won't consider it at all becasuse of a violation of this rule. (And that's very sad, I think.)

This issue doesn't really come up at Egmont because we don't have multiple imprints. I like your analogy with Delacorte, because I used to intern there. But if Delacorte had something and we had it too, we'd be competing as seperate houses. Random House distributes for us, but we're a seperate company.

Question 2: When do I check a writer's website? When I've read the project (or am reading the project) and am excited. When I go to bring up a book with my publisher, or at acquisitons, I need to already know some of the skinny on the author to make my pitch. So actual time may vary, but certainy prior to the announcment that I have a project I want to discuss.

Keep the questions coming, guys.

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Re: Ask Editor Alison Weiss #16 (right in here!)

Post  Maggie on Wed May 02, 2012 3:46 pm

I have to say, it's usually the jacket-flap/pitch that hooks me. I will often skim the first page just to see, but unless the writing is HORRIBLE on that first page, I'm not going to have my critique eyes on. It's kind of like I have a faith in every book I pick up with interest-- that it's been through "the process" (querying, revisions, editing, etc.) and that it can't be TOO bad. I only buy a book if I hear wonderful things about it, since my book budget is so small it almost doesn't exist. Razz Sometimes I'm disappointed, of course, but it isn't often by the writing.

Love Taryn's question about pitching. Smile

Questions from me!

1. I struggle so much with making the 'meat' of a story (character relationships, background, set-ups) either too fast or too slow. How do you find a way to thread in the important details without boring the reader to sleep?? Or skimming over them entirely? Any and all advice here is SO appreciated.

2. What, to you, makes/defines good dialogue?

I'll letcha know if I remember more later. I know I have so many, I just never think of them when the time comes to ask them. O_o

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Re: Ask Editor Alison Weiss #16 (right in here!)

Post  Editor Alison on Wed May 02, 2012 4:14 pm

I think pacing is always a tricky balance. The key is to figure out the informaiton you need to convey, and then figure out when in the story you want that information related to your reader. So much of pacing is about creating tension and relieving that tension. So if you think of it in those terms, you're piecing together how to string your reader along by giving them a little to pull them through, before giving them a little more. This is why I like outlines. They give you the opportunity to determine when you're relating those key details, and then you build everything else around those. But some people like pantsing. For them, I say you just write, and then step back and look holistically to determine if your moments of rise and fall are really at the right places.

Lots of techno-babble in there, but I hope it helps just a little.

Question 2: Good dialogue, for me, should be natural. If it would sound strange if someone said it in real life, it shouldn't be written that way on the page. I think a pitfall that writers often fall into is forgetting that they should be relying on dialogue as much as exposition to tell the story. It makes for a more interesting read when information is conveyed naturally through discussion, through action. That's why you always hear "Show, don't tell." Because being told Tom is jealous is so much less interesting than if you can glean it from the snide remark he makes.



Last edited by Editor Alison on Wed May 02, 2012 8:26 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Ask Editor Alison Weiss #16 (right in here!)

Post  Maggie on Wed May 02, 2012 8:18 pm

AWESOME answers. Thank you so much! *takes and ponders*

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Re: Ask Editor Alison Weiss #16 (right in here!)

Post  Taryn on Thu May 03, 2012 1:38 am

Oooooo, fascinating!!! Thanks so much for those awesome answers.

If you're still answering, can you tell me a little about the path to becoming a copyeditor versus an editor-editor? What are the differences?

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Re: Ask Editor Alison Weiss #16 (right in here!)

Post  Editor Alison on Thu May 03, 2012 10:20 am

Hi Taryn,

Here until I'm kicked out.

The jobs of editors and copyeditors meet and touch and they're wholly reliant and one another, but they're entirely different in their reach.

An editor (we'll say acquiring editor for clarificaiton sake) finds projects or writers to carry out ideas that have been developed inhouse, works closely with authors to refine the project, and shepherds it through absolutely every step of the publishing process. Including all the liasing with copyeditors.

Copyeditors focus on the nitpicky mechanics - grammar, spelling, consistency, clarity, maybe some fact-checking. And they also check for design consistency things: folios, running heads, spreads are even, fonts are right, bad breaks are avoided when at all possible, no widows, no orphans. They are the ones who make sure we don't look like total fools when the book is printed.

I think you have to decide what you want early and go for it. As an editor, I need to know some copyediting basics, but I sleep easier knowing other people will make sure that my lapses in grammar will be remedied.

Happy to discuss further if you like, but that's the basics.

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Re: Ask Editor Alison Weiss #16 (right in here!)

Post  Taryn on Thu May 03, 2012 11:23 am

Thanks for the details, but let me clarify. I understand the differences in their jobs--I'm just wondering how the path to becoming them differ. Like, with an acquisitions editor, it's all about internships and experience in publishing/with books. For copy editors, it's more wordy, so would journalism be helpful? That kind of thing.

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Re: Ask Editor Alison Weiss #16 (right in here!)

Post  Editor Alison on Thu May 03, 2012 11:27 am

Yeah, um, not really. Maybe take a copyediting course, but then you just apply to be a copyeditor. I think you can sometimes get internships in the departments, maybe.

But basically you apply. They make you do a copyediting test. They hire you or they don't. And freelancing. Lots of freelancing. For not so much money. Wait, that's so much of publishing (not the freelancing part. Necessarily).

And it's not always in publishing. Lots of industries need copyeditors. Think of all those Annual Reports. Uggh! (I mean that in the most affectionate way, of course.)

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Re: Ask Editor Alison Weiss #16 (right in here!)

Post  Taryn on Thu May 03, 2012 11:34 am

Perfect! Thanks, Alison!

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Re: Ask Editor Alison Weiss #16 (right in here!)

Post  Matthew on Sat May 05, 2012 7:10 pm

Hope I'm not too late!

My questions are: do you think wizards-as-mentors are overdone in YA fantasy? When might it be okay to use one?

Thanks!

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Re: Ask Editor Alison Weiss #16 (right in here!)

Post  Editor Alison on Sun May 06, 2012 11:04 am

Hi. Thanks for popping in!

I think wizards as mentor are an oft used trope, so it's all in the execution. You need to make your scenario different and stands out from those already out there.

It's a bit hard to say more without a wider context, but that is my best advice.

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