On Writing, Reading, and Publishing Well:April Eberhardt Interviewed by Chris Jane

Read the interview here on Jane Friedman’s site. I’ve mentioned Jane Friedman before. Her site is like the Fort Knox of information for writers.  Gold standard, gold mine, gold star–okay, enough. Some days I think my blog should simply be: check out Jane Friedman, repeated two or three times a week.

So much to read on editing and writing and publishing, so little time . . . so I often miss things the first time around. Or read them and file them somewhere on my computer. (I am most definitely not of the clean desk, focused mind school of thought.) This interview is a few months old. Apologies if you’ve already seen it.

April Eberhardt is an agent in the Bay Area, who’s embraced the changing landscape of the publishing world. This interview presents a good overview of that world in general, and good women’s fiction in particular. I urge you to check out her site as well.

What I particularly want to call out and re-emphasize is her recommendation to writers to read. My first creative writing teacher in college made form, function, and imitation assignments: write a poem in the style of ee cummings, a Shakespearean sonnet, like that. That’s one way of learning to write by reading.  There are others.

For me reading and writing are like one compound activity. As I read I notice pacing, story arc, characterization techniques, choice of details–dozens of things I’m not even necessarily consciously aware of. It becomes something akin to muscle memory that I bring it to my own writing.

And when I teach or coach writers I almost always encourage them to read something that their work reminds me of in some way or for some specific purpose.

Read on and write on!

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Monday, a Good Day for First Sentences?

Of course when we’re writing, the first sentence we put down on paper (up on the screen) isn’t always (often) the final first sentence. We rethink and revise before publishing. But we need something to get us going. And I think it’s inspiring, sometimes a direct trigger to my own writing to read lists like this.

What is going to happen next?

That, of course, is a question I ask myself after almost every single sentence (and sometimes word) when I’m writing a poem or a story or working on a novel. I think it’s a good question for narrative non-fiction as well, even when we think we know full well what happened next in the scene we’re reporting.

Enough said. Here’s Stephen King’s take on 50 best opening sentences.

Write on.

A Blog Sidetracked, Hijacked, and Derailed All before the Ides of March

This post is a version of the dog ate my homework, or why I haven’t posted anything for two months. Around that time I posted my intention to do a one line writing practice every day, inspired by an article about a NY Times videographer. It was going to be a little side project, an exploration, while I did my real writing and work–this blog, two manuscripts I’m in the midst of, and some editing and consulting. Well, life intervened in the form of a medical crisis (I’m on the mend) and a hugely disruptive leak that forced me to move out of my condo for a period of time only days after surgery (I’m still not home).

And practically the only writing I’ve managed to do is those one-liners, recorded in the “notes” section of my phone. And, at the end of the year, I’ll have an archive of a kind I’ve never had before.

Being on the mend, I’m turning my thoughts to other projects. I’ve found a few interesting articles to post about. Watch for those in the coming days.

And I’m working on a workshop I’ll be teaching coming up next month (April 17th) for six weeks at Book Passages in Corte Madera, CA (for those of you who might be in Northern California). Here’s the link: Workshop information.

There’s very little I love more in the world that talking with writers about what they’re doing, sharing techniques, giving feedback, helping them shape their work. This  workshop will be a chance to do it in a small group. There will be assignments designed to help you dig deeper; feedback on your work in progress; and fun!

Write on, through thick and thin. Don’t think about it too much. Just sit down and do it. That’s my instruction to myself for this week.

If You Want to Self-Publish Your Book, You Should Know about The Book Designer

I’ve subscribed to the Book Designer’s newlsetter for years. It’s an amazing resource and you might want to check it out at bookdesigner.com. Not every post will speak to you equally of course. But these are some of the most detailed and best ideas available, written by a number of people who practice what they preach, with great guest blogs too. If I had a rating system I’d given this one five our of five, or ten out of ten, or, okay, maybe 95 out of 100–nobody’s perfect. If you subscribe, remember, take what you like (or can use or may not want to hear, but know to be true)and leave the rest, because there’s a lot to take in here.

And write on!

You Don’t Have to be a Comma Nerd to Appreciate One

A friend recently sent me the link to an article by Mary Norris, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Here’s the article. It’s a fine read, even if you have little interest in commas. (I’m guessing the article might pique your interest, though.)

I’ve had many different jobs in several, quite different book publishing houses. Copy editing was my least favorite, in part because I dithered. Did this rule apply–or that? Was it a restrictive clause–or not? Later in my career, I used to drive a managing editor who went through comparing author and proofreader changes to distraction by telling her that grammar was an art, not a science. I also told her that, in all but the most egregious instances, the author is always right. If you are the author it is, after all, your name on the front of the book.

I worked with one writer who took a leaf from Kurt Vonnegut about semicolons. To wit: “Don not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” The copy editor and managing editor on the project did not share this view. Many semicolons were added. The author took them all out. The managing editor put them back in. The book was typeset and sent back to the the author and the proofreader. The author blew a gasket at that point and called me. The author, as I said, is always right. The semicolons went. The staccato sentences stayed.

I am not a very good copy editor. I have great admiration for good copy editors. They save writers from grief. They make the illegible legible. Sadly, except at venerable institutions like the New Yorker, copy editing is becoming an archaic activity. Computer programs with spelling and grammar checks are not copy editors.

My takeaway is this: read the article if you wish. But, whatever you do, before you publish a book, pay attention to the copy editor. I always tell authors that he or she is the first disinterested person to read your work. Pay attention to queries that essentially say: I don’t understand what you’re getting at. If a person who’s being paid to read is getting kicked out, imagine how your readers might react. And, if you’re publishing independently, do yourself a big favor. Hire a copy editor.

Now I’m going to post this and wait for the friend who sent me the article to correct my post. He’s a much better copy editor than I am.

 

 

Why You Might Want a Writing Coach, Instead of an Editor

When I speak to groups about writing and editing, people sometimes ask about what an editor can do for them. If you are closing in on a finished manuscript (fiction or non-fiction) or proposal (for a non-fiction book) you may want to look for a line editor–someone who can sort our tangles of sentences; re-order your paragraphs; suggest cuts or alternative wordings; and generally polish your work. And/or, if you have a more polished version of a manuscript almost ready for typesetting, you may want to find a copy editor (and if you are being traditionally published, your publisher will find one) who corrects grammar and punctuation; makes sure that there are eight steps when you say there are or that all your characters have retained their final version names and biographical details in a novel–details like that.

But, if you’re not at that stage, if you’re stuck in the middle or at the beginning of a new project, or don’t know if you’re writing a memoir or a novel, or need some motivation and direction, you might benefit from a writing coach. Like life coaches, writing coaches do a lot of different things, but what they mostly do is encourage you, find ways to allow you to be  your better self and write a better book.

In my consulting with writers, one of the things I do is to ask a lot of questions. I read the first 25-50 pages of a novel, maybe an outline if the person has one, or a chapter or two of a non-fiction book. In my first meeting, I’m generally trying to help writers clarify the scope of their project. We talk about structure, how to tell the story, what to leave in and often what to exclude. We agree to next steps–goals if you will, or assignments.  When we meet again, and these meetings can be in person or by phone, we review progress, set more goals. I continue to read and comment on the manuscript in progress. I make suggestions about possible avenues for publishing. And I continue to ask the questions and suggest the goals and deadlines that will get the book done. I’m on the virtual sidelines cheering, cajoling, coaxing you to get that book done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Treasure from the Top 100 Websites for Writers

One of my favorites is The Book Designer, started by Joel Friedlander, a San Francisco Bay area publishing fixture. This site, with its newsletter and monthly magazine “Carnival of Indies” really does have something for everyone. Independent (self) publishing has come a long way in the last decade. The Book Designer has kept up with the times. You’ll find articles for newbies, writing tips, and in-depth how-tos for typesetting and cover making and e-book conversion. Check it out here.

If ever I was stumped or had a specific question, especially about book production or design, about new software resources, I’d start here.

Writing the Memoir: Disclaimers

I just stumbled across this valuable and interesting piece. If you’re writing creative non-fiction you’re going to want to read it more than once.

Cate Macabe

thinker2Though a disclaimer is no guarantee against a lawsuit, most authors and publishers of fiction and nonfiction use them in an attempt to cover all bases, to have some claim to a defense just in case they are sued.

Penguin Books uses its own particular disclaimer: “Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity. In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers; however, the story, the experiences, and the words are the author’s alone.”

Writers of fiction have it easy. We’ve all read the disclaimer on a novel with some form of, “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.” But a disclaimer for a memoir is a different beast. Readers of memoir don’t…

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One Journey to a Writer’s Life, and Teachers Along the Way

I’d never heard of George Saunders until he published Tenth of December a few years back. I daresay many people hadn’t, even though it was by no means his first book, nor even his first prizewinning book. Saunders has been a writer for a long time. He is not one of those “overnight sensations,” who are most often no such thing. What he is is a writer who’s stuck to it and who had some good teachers. In a recent piece in the New Yorker he wrote about those teachers. You can read the article here.

Hope you like it!

What’s a book? Who’s an author? What’s a publisher? A Rant-let!

Years ago, an old friend/colleague, a sales and marketing director in various well-respected, even high-toned literary, houses, once told me this is what publishing is about: what do you buy and what do you sell. In those days, as an editor, I was buying projects that interested me, that I thought fit in with our publishing program, and that had merit–were well-written, presented new ideas, etc. And none of that mattered to my colleague if he couldn’t sell the idea of the book, the author, the book. (And in those days there wasn’t as much direct selling to the reader as there is now. So we were selling to people who were going to sell the book. And of course that still goes on too.)

A few weeks ago I read this article posing the question: is Twitter a book publishing company? Now if I had a dollar for every publishing is dying/changing/being disrupted article I’ve read in the last forty years I could go on a very nice vacation.  (And yes, these articles have been going on for forty years. Those of you who are old enough may remember publishing jobs that no longer exist–typesetters, keyliners, typists.) So why do I keep reading these articles?

Because we are in a sea change. (Not the only one in history, maybe not even the biggest one–printing presses people!) A more recent sales colleague said, somewhat bitterly, he thought there may be more people writing books than reading them. I’m pretty sure that’s not literally true. But a lot of us have a story to tell, information to share. And everyday it seems there are more mystifying, sometimes scary, sometimes exciting, ways to get the word out.

I don’t think the name of the game is keeping up with technology. I don’t think anybody can. In the past week I’ve heard of at least seven new (to me) on-line marketing sites, at least three new independent/self-publishing companies. I’m happy to know about these things exist. I’m excited that there is a revolution in communicating, telling stories, writing the news, writing to celebrate nature, kids, animals. All of that and more. It’s a great time to be alive. But it is not a great time to think any one of us knows it all–the present or the future.

So I’m not going to tell you what a book is. Who an author is. What a publisher does. But if you want to write, and if you want to share your worldview, your story, your dream with readers, you will figure that out for yourself. You’ll spend time surfing (and yes going down rabbit holes) and trying things out.

Oh, yes, and you’ll probably spend hours tearing your hair out to get the structure just right. And more hours in the pure pleasure zone of seeing your ideas and stories come to life on paper or screen.

Write on!