#writering: Forget Coal, It’s Publishing

Photo: A group of editorial assistants strike out for lunch at Chipotle, New York City, 2018.

#writing is an occasional blog about writing, editing and publishing by Beth Wareham, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Lisa Hagan Books.

Yup, we’ve gone down the rabbit hole. No longer is a complete sentence of value to much of anyone. Shouts, blurts, name-calling and a general idiot wind are the order of the day. And everywhere, glorious coal waves as they chip away at the cilia in our lungs. (Land in Beijing and their coal dust-saturated air triggers a chest infectionin in MINUTES. Wow! That’s coal!  Let’s also celebrate what coal does to our drinking water too. Yummy!)

As coal spreads out, the “John Q Editor has left the company” email rebounds across the electrified universe at an alarming rate. Agents, writers and editors stare into space and murmur, “does ANYONE still work in publishing?”   An actual publishing company seemed to disappear overnight and everyone was left holding every kind of bag. Heck, everyone I know left except the ones that weren’t any good at it.

I feel bad for coal miners. They were made obsolete through technology. So was the steel worker. You can make a ton of steel in an hour with just one person because of automation. I feel bad for the publishing worker too; but less bad because he or she is supposed to be smart — and I’m not talking about the ability to talk about Henry James.

Technology has overrode much of publishing too. Get rid of that ridiculous office and layers of nonsensical workers and take to the machines. That’s all you need to make a book. Focus on the language, strengthening it for future generations. Focus on subjects the world NEEDS, rather than your idiotic and vague suppositions about what you think will sell. Develop GOOD and it will sell. Take the time you spent in manufacturing and join the 21st century. Make the writing as good as it can get.

That’s the hard part; great writing. “Fire and Fury” is not going to do it. Something big, meaningful, profound. Just because so many great stories have gone visual doesn’t degrade the imagination; images enhance it. Watching Netflix is not the enemy; focusing on it as the enemy is the enemy.

No, you’re not a coal miner. You’re a writer or an editor or a publisher. Work harder on your words. Delight someone. I swear, words burn hotter and longer than coal and don’t give you a lung infection.

You’ll be writing and dreaming years after the last vein has been tapped out and the last miner rips off his Davey Lamp, enters the cage and rises up. Coal will truly be over – as it should be – and publishing will still be okay because our need to learn and connect through stories will never go away.

I am hopeful that coal will pass (it’s not healthy for human or planet!) and publishing will finally ride those machines and be of interest to many.  Then, the publishing overlords (not cool ones like in Game of Thrones, believe me) might let some of these workers live. Publishing could use the extra hands.

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10 Suggestions for the Care and Feeding of Editors

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/Beth Wareham

Editors like to find errors and inconsistencies. They like to be right; all incredibly annoying traits in human beings.

I should know, I am one. I’m also a writer and a publisher. When I am writing or publishing, I take on the annoying traits of those functions as well.

But odds are, you are a writer. And, if you are a beginning writer, you will have your first interaction with an editor. If you play your cards right, this editor will make your work at least 10% better AND prepare the manuscript for both publication and PROMOTION.

That’s right: Your editor should understand promotion and press breaks and help build them into your book along with good grammar, proper word choice and a narrative velocity that keeps your reader on the page, then the next page, then the page after that.

That’s a great deal for one human to hold in their head over 300 or more pages, so respect the editor. Good ones are as rare as honest politicians.

Enter into the editorial relationship with an open heart and really open eyes. It’s still your book and the ultimate choices are yours, but the right editor can really make a work sing.

Here are some thoughts on the care and feeding of editors:

1. If you say “I don’t need an editor,” you are going against the smart thinking of everyone from Tolstoy to Hemmingway to Stephen King. EVERYONE needs an editor. If you don’t think you do, I hear egotism and not a love of writing.

2. Get clarity. Remember, editors are just as rushed as everyone else and some talk in a kind of short hand. If any editorial comment does not make sense, press your editor so you can get it right.

3. Don’t get defensive. Never forget, this person’s job is to make you better. That means they must point out where your work is weaker. You need this. It makes your book a stronger read.

4. Get other reads. Ask anyone you respect to read your manuscript. Discuss their comments with the editor to see if they brought up valid points. It takes a village.

5. Do not fear cutting. Some editors do not cut, just suggest it. I take a red pencil and make long horizontal lines. Books are ALWAYS made better by cutting and tightening. Or almost always.

6. Give your editor time with your manuscript. Many authors want instant feedback. The only instant feedback you should get is that your editor has received your manuscript. Let them read it through and think about ways to make it better.

7. Don’t bug your editor: They are not here to manage your anxiety. If you are a big enough person to write a book, you are a big enough person to give your editor space to do his or her work. Discuss your fears with your shrink. Work with your editor.

8. Insist on communication. Talking to your editor daily is not something you should expect to do. But you should expect your calls returned – WITHIN REASON – and your queries – yes, you’ll query your editor’s queries sometimes – are explained.

9. Talk to your editor about how to build press breaks in the book. If it’s non-fiction, finding stories to pitch is easier. Exploit what you have that the press, reviewers or bloggers may be able to really hang on to and write a story.

10. Send short emails and expect short answers. Again, reading manuscripts and editing is akin to needle work; quiet and time consuming. Don’t burn any time with issues that don’t matter.

Okay, that’s my editorial advice for the day. I have to get back to writing. It’s more fun anyway.

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5 Bits of Simple Advice for Fiction Writers from Very Famous Editors

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After 20 years as an editor in New York City publishing houses, I heard a lot of things. I even read a book proposal from a woman whose life was transformed after she met Tom Cruise.

Over and over, I come back to the simple advice I heard the best fiction editors (I was your garden-variety non-fiction type) say to their writers:

1. Chronology is your friend.

Start at the beginning and tell the story through to the end, just as if you were telling a friend. Only the most skilled of writers play with time and pull it off: Don De Lillo wrote Falling Man going forward in time, didn’t like it, and rewrote the book in reverse, making 9/11 the last event. Don’t try it at home, kids.

2. Limit your characters and make them vivid.

Dickens was Dickens because he could invite whole cities into his books and keep all the names and attributes straight. Tolstoy excelled at that as well. This will probably be harder for you, so focus on your handful of characters and make them memorable. I’ve read books whose plot still fails me, but a character stands in my mind’s eye still. That is success in writing.

3. Stolen from Stephen King: Adverbs are not your friends.

While I cannot make a citizen’s arrest for overwriting, I want to. Leave adverbs behind. In fact, be stingy with your adjectives. These are words that carry emotional connotations that you should achieve through the story’s action or choice of detail. Which leads to #4.

4. Detail is the soul of fiction.

Pick up a Chekhov short story. On the first page, he’s so completely described the room and it’s occupants on one page, you are now present in rural Russia with peasants, feeling the steam from the pot of potatoes and seeing the poverty in their clothes. One page and you are in their world.

5. The details you choose is what makes you great. 

Part of the joy of reading a book is one intellect bouncing against another, even if the two are not in the same room. A writers choice of detail focuses the work and shows a reader new possibilities for thought and life. Look there, not there, and the entire story changes.

I’ve overheard many more things and have some thoughts of my own. I’ll throw up some more here soon.

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WE HAVE NEW OFFICES THANKS TO JEFF BEZOS, THE CHE GUEVARA OF PUBLISHING

imagesOnline self-publishing, or “digital pioneers” as I like to call them, were born of the huge wall built by commercial publishing. Now that the mighty Jeff Bezos, the Che Guevara of book publishing, has set us all free, new companies are springing up left and right. And guess what? There’s no sign over the door.

Book publishing has gone virtual. I set up www.shadowteams.com on just such a premise. You call me, I connect you with the right editors, line editors and designers, and we make your book. We need a laptop and a WiFi connection. We do not have any overhead. We get to play with our cats as we edit.

Companies are rising left and right.  Blurb is a new one, connected to #NaNoWriMo, the Survivor-like reality show that hits every November.  Reedsy, Bibliocrunch and Book Machine also have self-publishing templates with the added benefit of hiring experienced editors, etc.

I set up www.shadowteams.com with no templates. I want authors to call.  For it is my experience that one of the most important aspects of great publishing is CHEMISTRY. I had it when I edited Temple Grandin and understood her completely. I also had it when I edited the material in Woman Food and God. Humans need to play off each other when it comes to writing, and that’s a lot of the fun part.

Check us out. We like to talk. No templates. That’s boring.

Come visit.

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