Friday, November 27, 2015

#5 - Your Editor Is Not Your BFF

I'm hard at work editing HUNTER'S MOON for my first indie release in 2016.

In the meantime, I want to keep cataloging everything I learned on my traditional book deals. Things that surprised the hell out of me, things nobody will warn you about, and things that can really set your career back if you're not prepared for them. Number five on the list:

Your editor is not your BFF. 

If you haven't figured it out already, I'm kind of a naive person. I didn't really know how naive until I got published. I made so many stupid mistakes on my book deals that it's taken me years to recover.

I want to share this experience with you because you only get one chance at making your first book a success. If you're prepared for what really happens with a book deal, you'll have a better shot at it. Plus they say 'write what you know' right? ;)

I want to preface all this editor information by saying that I absolutely adored my first editor at Atria/Simon & Schuster - and I still do. And I'm also 'in serious like' with my second editor at MacMillan/St. Martin's Press, though I didn't get as emotionally attached that time around.

These women are both incredibly successful New York editors, responsible for everything from mega-hits like THE NANNY DIARIES to modern cult classics like THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. They're also warm, intelligent, creative chicks.

I feel so lucky to have worked with them. 

However, I'm pretty sure neither of them will ever ink a deal with me again.

Here's the main reason: I was an idiot. In case you have a smidgen of idiot in you, let me save you lots of heartache and give you an idea of what the publishing world is really like.

You know that dream you have about your relationship with your editor? Whether it's a fancy literary genius in some cramped office in the bowels of a pre-war building in downtown Manhattan or a popular hitmaker in some sleek corner office in a post-war building in Midtown, you know what I'm talking about.

Your editor gets you. Your editor respects you. Your editor loves you. And makes your work better.

It's literary happily ever after.

That's certainly what I dreamed of when it came to working with an editor. I thought if I ever had writer's block - or even just a bad day - I'd be able to call my editor up ... at home ... in the middle of the night ... drunk out of my mind ... on a long weekend ... and have them patiently talk me through the whole thing and make everything better.

One word about that dream: WRONG!

New York editors are among the busiest people in the world. Once that happy first phone call is over (and it will be happy) and they tell you they loved your manuscript (and they did love your manuscript - in fact, they loved it so much they've already had to pitch it to their publisher to make the offer in the first place), the honeymoon is over.

Until your book starts getting great 'buzz.' 

'Buzz' is when your galleys or ARCs (Advance Review Copies) start getting good blurbs and 'early praise,' and when the big buyers at Barnes & Noble love it enough that they want to stock thousands and thousands of copies on their shelves. When this happened to me, my relationship with my editor went from warm and professional to warm & fuzzy, complete with emails signed off with x's and o's.

Everyone thought the book would be a bestseller. Including me. 

Unfortunately, it wasn't. And when that happened, I went into a (probably clinical) depression. I couldn't decide on my second novel. I kept changing my mind about the idea. I even submitted one proposal, then pulled it back from my editor to submit a totally different one. I was a total basket case.

Months went by - and then a year. This is not a good thing because publishers are partial to writers who can get a book out every year. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but it's a nice guideline to keep in mind.

Having a nervous breakdown, depression, doldrums, tantrums, complaints, indecision, writer's block - nobody in the business has time to deal with that crap. When I finally did submit a proposal for my next book, my editor passed.

"It's just not my thing," she said about the idea. "I'm not into Floridian seriocomic novels." Yes, there is such a thing as a Floridian seriocomic novel (think Carl Hiassen), but I had no idea until she brought up the term about something I'd written.  It was her prerogative to pass - regardless of the reason.

This doesn't mean she's a bad editor.

In retrospect, I don't blame her. She had a job to do and part of her job is finding authors who don't have a nervous breakdown when they don't hit the NYT bestseller list the first time out.

But back then, it was heartbreaking. I already felt like a failure. Now I felt abandoned by my literary soulmate too.

But nobody in the business has time to be your shrink, your mother or your BFF. This is a professional relationship and you have to be professional yourself.

It's not always easy because once your agent has inked your deal, your world will mostly revolve around your editor. This automatically gives that person an incredible amount of influence in your life.

Especially if you've got all these preconceived writer fantasies. 

On the other hand, your editor has a huge professional circle. They deal with hundreds (if not thousands) of writers and agents every year. They simply don't have time to massage your hurt ego or talk you down from the ledge. So when you get into a relationship with your editor:

Be warm. Be friendly. Be yourself. But don't get too emotional.

In fact, this is one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give to any new writer about the whole process: don't get emotional about anything! It's a rollercoaster ride and nobody knows if you're getting off in one piece.

So keep your head down, stay cool, work hard - and save your writerly fantasies for where they belong: in your books.

As for my relationship with my second editor ... that's a whole other story!

Subscribe by email to follow my journey and get more insider tips. 

Because if you can be prepared for what a book deal is really like - you'll have a much better chance of actually making that nice writer fantasy in your head come true!

Friday, November 20, 2015

#4 - Assistants: The Devil Wears a Headset

Assistants have TONS of power. Be nice!
Here's something I didn't think about much before I got a book deal: assistants.

You probably don't either. But over the course of the eighteen months it takes to get your book on the shelves, assistants are going to become very important in your life. So just a few tips on dealing with them.

Many big editors have two different kinds of assistants: an administrative assistant and an editorial assistant.

The first type obviously focuses on administrative stuff, like  scheduling phone calls, handling paperwork and asking you for things that probably aren't ready yet.

Like jacket copy, author photos, the New Author Questionnaire and getting the revised drafts back and forth between you and your editor.

The editorial assistant, on the other hand, is responsible for helping with the creative nitty-gritty of editing. That person can be really hands-on or they might just give a few notes and stay out of your way during the editing process.

Be prepared for both types of personalities, because they're both out there.

At smaller houses, the two jobs might be fused into one, but either way, be warned: assistants in the literary world are very intelligent, creative and well educated people (my last editor's assistant had just graduated from Harvard).

Even if they do sound very young on the phone.

Also, because they have the word 'assistant' in their titles, you might want to throw your weight around. That's not a good idea because literary professionals search far and wide for assistants they can count on and trust.

They don't have time to vet every single proposal that comes into them so if someone passed on your book at a particular house or agency, it was probably the assistant.

Likewise, it was probably the assistant who brought your proposal to his or her boss's attention. So when you do get that book deal, don't play hoity-toity with whoever answers the phone. Assistants have massive amounts of responsibility in an editor's or agent's office, so treat them accordingly.

Because they have the power to make your life easy - or not. 

On the other hand, don't get too friendly with them either. I made that mistake on my first book deal.

My editor actually went on maternity leave shortly after I signed my contract, so I was left to work very closely with her assistant during the long revision process. We got along very well and she was a very intelligent, creative person.

But because I had all these preconceived notions (i.e. unrealistic fantasies) about the perfect editorial relationship, I made the mistake of getting too friendly with the assistant herself. It made dealing with the more mundane administrative problems awkward sometimes: like why a manuscript didn't show up on a particular day - or whatever.

So keep it friendly, but not cloying. 

Also keep in mind that assistants move around a lot - and then they move up. Some day, that editorial assistant that you're flipping off might actually be an editor at a big house. In fact, she probably will be. And because you were such a jerk to her, she probably won't want to work with you again. Meaning you'll hear that dreaded word ... pass.

And in publishing, 'pass' is NOT a good thing! 

More on professional relationships next time: in this case, how to handle your relationship with your editor a lot better than I handled mine.

Subscribe to the blog and follow along. There were about 50 things I wasn't prepared for in the publishing process and knowing what to expect will help you make your first book a success!

Friday, November 13, 2015

#3 - Panic Editing

Image result for panic

I was supposed to release HUNTER'S MOON this week! But I'm still editing. I was inspired by the feedback from my betas and it's leading to a whole new ending - and some tweaking in the first third.

Rather than getting down on myself too much for missing my deadline, I'm trying to focus on the most important thing: writing the best book I possibly can.

Whether you're an indie or a traditionally published author, the closer you get to your publishing date, the more emotional things get. You might find yourself questioning some of your decisions.

I'm not talking about big creative decisions. 

Though you might wonder about those things too. But for now, I'm talking about the small details that can hurt your book's chances of 'having legs.'

'Having legs' is when a book can sell and feel fresh for a very long time. We all want our books to have legs because we all want our books to sell forever.  But I made a few panic-induced changes to my books that actually hurt their potential to feel relevant indefinitely.

Take my first book DEVIL MAY CAREThe main character, Sally, is an actress and to help give her a happy ending, I wrote that she got a part on SEX AND THE CITY.

Unfortunately, around the same time it was announced that SEX AND THE CITY was going off the air! The hardcover was already out, so it was too late for that. But I wanted to make sure the paperback could be updated when it came out. So I asked my publisher - through the editorial assistant - if I could tweak the book and say that my character got a part on a SEX AND THE CITY spinoff.

It was just a small change, so there was no problem.

And it seemed to make sense, because back then, everyone was talking about Samantha spinoffs and Carrie spinoffs or whatever. So getting a part on a SEX AND THE CITY spinoff seemed likely.

Of course, there were never any SEX spinoffs.

A couple movies, maybe - but no more TV shows. Meaning that reference in my book was absolutely ridiculous. It was also near the end of the book, so I'm sure it pulled readers right out of the story!

I'm actually embarrassed to admit this now because unless you're writing sci-fi, it's a lame idea to refer to something that might happen in the future.  If I had just left it the way it originally was, it might have dated the book, but at least it wouldn't seem like a bad joke.

Another example from DEVIL MAY CARE is equally embarrassing. In the book, Sally meets Courteney Cox at a restaurant. She's so impressed, she starts telling friends she met 'Courteney- F*cking-Cox!' So every reference to Courteney was this: Courteney-F*cking-Cox. Which I thought was pretty cute.

This is the version in the hard cover.

But just before the paperback was coming out, Ms. Cox married David Arquette and officially changed her name to Courteney Cox-Arquette. I decided to lose my 'clever' little moniker and make it Courteney Cox-Arquette throughout the book.

Of course, Courteney started using her maiden name again very soon, for everything from cosmetic ads to COUGAR TOWN. So who really remembers Courteney Cox-Arquette? Again, it was a stupid thing to do: it dates the book and probably takes readers out of the story.

But these are just the sort of emotional decisions you're likely to make as a writer when you're doing your last pass of editing, so before you do, check yourself, calm down and don't do anything you'll regret.

The same thing happened in my second book BY INVITATION ONLY.  This time, it had to do with the financial crisis in 2008. The book was coming out in 2009 and since one of the main characters was an investor, my agent suggested that we make some kind of reference to the economic climate.

So in this lighthearted chick lit book - that was supposed to be all romance and comedy - I referred to the economic crash several times, locking it in time, rather than allowing it to be classic.

Honestly, these all seemed like relatively rational edits to make at the time, even if some of them seem ridiculous now. To help you avoid making the same mistakes while you're editing, I'd say this:

Don't be paranoid and don't panic.

Any change you make because of something happening recently in the news or the 'real world' will probably backfire on you.

Unless something is happening that you absolutely can't avoid - and (this is the most important thing) the change will actually make the book better - ignore it.

Instead of being reactionary, try to look at the big picture. 

Try to stay classic. Try to think long term for your book. Avoid referring to trends or things happening in the news - unless they help your book. Because even if something's at the top of everyone's mind at the moment, a few months down the road - let alone years - nobody's going to remember it and you might be hurting your book's chance of 'having legs.'

Courteney Cox being a case in point. Because not only did she drop the name - it didn't take her long to drop the husband too!

I'm going to keep going through the book deal process, step by step! Subscribe to the blog to follow along. I'm not going to badger you with ads for my new book! It's just about keeping up with the process. I honestly believe that if I had been better prepared for my book deals, I would be in a totally different place right now. Better than going indie?

That remains to be seen! 

Hit me up on Twitter: @SLMcInnis! I follow back!

Friday, November 6, 2015

#2 - Taking Notes From Your Editor

Image result for edit manuscript images
We talked about taking notes from your agent a couple of posts backWhen he or she is happy with your manuscript, your agent is going to start shopping it around to editors who might be interested.

My first novel, DEVIL MAY CARE, took three weeks to sell (the longest three weeks of my life, mind you) and my second, BY INVITATION ONLY, only took three days. But that's because of my co-writer, Jodi Della Femina, and her great platform in New York social circles. 

Whether it takes three hours or three years, if you stick with it, you're eventually going to get that call and hear the magic words: 

'We've got an offer.'

After you stop jumping around and screaming and punching the air, your agent will tell you who the editor is, who the publisher is - and how much the advance will be. We'll talk more about that later, but for now, let's focus on the next step. 

Talking to your editor for the first time

Chances are, you're going to talk to your editor the very day you hear you've got a deal. Because everybody's very excited about you and they want to get things going. 

Most New York editors are very busy and calls will often be set up for you through an assistant. On this particular day, however, your agent might arrange it.  

You'll sit by the phone, chewing your fingernails, praying or chanting or whatever other incantations you're into and when the phone rings, you'll pick it up - and then drop it - and then pick it up again. "H-Hullo?" 

Image result for happy phone callThen you'll hear the voice of someone who will become very important to you - for the rest of your life. Whether or not you work with that editor forever, it doesn't matter, you'll remember him or her forever. That's just how important they'll become to you. 

This will be one of the best phone calls of your life btw.

There will be a quick introduction and your new editor will tell you how much she LOVES your book. There will be no talk of money - in fact, you'll never talk money with your editor - because an editor just cares about getting your manuscript in shape.

I've met really casual editors - my second editor never put a single note in writing to me, but just gave general recommendations over the phone or through the editorial assistant. 

My first editor, however, was much more official. After this initial happy phone call, I got a very long editorial letter that itemized her requested changes to the manuscript, page by page, line by line. The editorial assistant had also marked up the manuscript with her own suggestions and those were in the edit note too. 

Notes hurt. 

Whether casual or official, unless you have much thicker skin than I do, notes are going to hurt. It just doesn't feel good when someone requests a change to a story you've slaved over for years (more than likely). 

But - it happens. That's an editor's job. To read the marketplace - and your manuscript - and find some common ground where the two will meet and create a bestseller, literary masterpiece or both. 

The first time around, I was pretty naive and I actually responded to each note in the editorial letter about whether or not I was going to take the change and if not, why not. It makes me laugh now because you really don't have a lot of clout when you're a first-timer. When it came to at least one big change - making my main character's boyfriend 'nicer' (something I didn't really want to do) - my editor heard me out, smiled and said, "Make the change."

So I did. 

You're going to feel obligated to make your editor's changes anyway, because you're not going to get paid or published if you don't submit an 'approved manuscript' on or before a specified date. 

That's stated in your contract. 

So be prepared to work very closely with your editor - and hope to hell that you're both on the same page when it comes to your book (no pun intended). Because it can be a stressful balancing act trying to satisfy your editor while remaining true to your vision. 

 Just be prepared to be flexible and open-minded. If you are, you'll have a much easier time.

I'm right in the middle of a whole new editing process, btw, going over my beta feedback. I already announced that I've postponed my publishing date for HUNTER'S MOON, so there's more to talk about there. 

I'll also continue discussing the process of getting a book deal. If you know what to expect in the  traditional publishing world, you'll have a much better chance of making your first book a success!

Next time ...

We'll talk about how to avoid editing mistakes that will date your book and limit its chances of 'having legs!' To follow along, hit the subscribe button top right!