Friday, May 23, 2008

How to impress an editor (or at the very least this editor)

Murder by 4 extends a warm welcome to Marci Baun, Editor-in-Chief of Wild Child Publishing.

©Marci Baun, 2008

When Aaron asked if I would like to write a guest blog post for Murder by 4, I thought this would be an easy assignment. Then I realized it wasn’t as easy as I had thought because I didn’t want this post to become another what-not-to-do list written by an editor on the rampage. So, I’ve been mulling this over for the past week or so with the one question in my mind of taking this subject and putting a positive spin on it. That doesn’t seem too hard, but after a week of a toddler with a cold/ear ache and very little sleep, the brain stops functioning properly. Then, in the eleventh hour, inspiration struck. Rather than tell you what not to do, I will tell you what you can do that will impress me, and most likely many other editors as well. While this may seem like common sense, these are good rules to remember.

1. Read the submission guidelines thoroughly and follow them. There may be times when you are tempted to skim them, or you think, “I don’t really need to know these.” If you are serious about being published by that house, read them. And while you may not need to memorize them, learn what genres they publish, what they expect of you as an author (grammar/punctuation), what they don’t want to see, and how to format your submission. Even if your manuscript isn’t accepted, they will be impressed with the fact that you followed their guidelines because, trust me, when I receive a submission that doesn’t follow them, my first tendency is to reject it. Why should I bother reading this if the author doesn’t have enough professionalism to read the guidelines? Oh, and if a publisher asks you not to include them if you are simultaneously submitting, don’t—especially with independent presses. You may be thinking about saving time, but should publisher ever find out, and they will, you’ve just closed an avenue to sell your manuscript.

2. Grammar/punctuation/spelling. Know all of them. Where do commas go? Should that verb be “was” or “were” or more active? What about quotation marks? Etc. I know this seems basic, but I can’t tell you the number of submissions we receive where basic grammar, punctuation, and spelling rules are ignored or not known. If you have challenges with any of these, buy a grammar/punctuation book and a dictionary and learn.

3. Credentials. Credentials impress some people. Me? Not so much. I’ve edited college English professors who still needed help—not necessarily in the punctuation and grammar department, although I have had disagreements with them as I am not as keen on some of the newer grammar rules (grin)—but in the telling of the story. So, what’s important to me is how well you write and whether your story is original and pulls me in. You can be a Nebula winner, but if the story sucks, I am not going to accept it. However, you can be an unpublished author and wow me. If you want to include your credentials, by all means do, but that’s not what I will base my decision upon.

4. Be respectful. Respect the editor regardless of whether you’ve been rejected or not or whether you agree with them or not. Even if the editor is a jerk, be professional. If you respond with a nasty email, you’ve nailed your own coffin should you ever decide you want to submit to them again. While none of my editors are jerks (grin), we have bad days just like you.

5. Read the contract before you sign it. What? You say, people don’t read their contracts? Yes. How do I know? Because, later, he/she will ask a question regarding his/her rights that can be found in the contract. If an author doesn’t understand a portion of the contract or has questions, it is better to do it before he/she signs the contract. I am always willing to answer any questions an author may have. This is for the author’s protection. While Wild Child Publishing’s contract is pretty standard and protects both us and the author, some contracts can take rights no author should give away without his/her knowledge or at all.

6. Be easy to work with. This is important because once an author is contracted, that’s when the real work begins. So if I point out what isn’t working and why (Eg. plot holes, hero/heroine acting out of character with no lead up/explanation for their behavior, inconsistencies, and so on), and the author is open to the suggestions and revising, we’ll move quickly through the manuscript. If an author fights me on every little thing even down to punctuation (yes, that has happened), the experience is not that great for either of us. If he/she disagrees, I am more inclined to respond positively to a respectful letter than a “this is my book, and you have no idea what you are talking about” response. (If you didn’t think I could edit your book, why submit to and contract with Wild Child in the first place?) My one aim for any manuscript is to make it the best possible incarnation it can be. That vision comes from the clues the author has given me within the manuscript, not my own personal preferences. I’m also taking into consideration what an audience is going to expect from those clues as well. For instance, if it’s a thriller and the ending fizzles, you can bet I’ll point it out. There is nothing worse than reading a thriller that races toward the end only to have the final scene fall flat. That being said, if you really have issues with the changes I suggest, we’ll discuss and, if all else fails, I’ll cancel the contract with no hard feelings if it’s necessary…just don’t wait too long to do it. (Not all publishers will do this, by the way.) Also, the easier an author is to work with, the more I will want to work with them again.

While I can’t vouch for every editor, I can tell you that many, myself included, are appreciative of an author who follows the list above. And while the publishing business may not become any easier, the list will ease your path in it and make it a more enjoyable experience.

The editor of Wild Child Publishing since its inception in 1999, Ms. Baun has been in love with the written word beginning with Clifford the Big Red Dog and Curious George. Her reading and interests have expanded since those first books to include history, music, opera, theater, swimming, cycling, nature, travel, and writing. She has written and performed one person shows about historical women in schools, universities and festivals across the state of California and sang with the Coasters and the Drifters, Freddie Hart, as well as on the operatic stage. A few years past, as a member of the Academy for New Musical Theatre, she composed music for a twelve minute musical. When time permits, she hopes to return to the theater. In her other life, she is a stay-at-home mom who chases around a very busy toddler.

When asked why she began publishing, she replied, “I love the written word. There is nothing as powerful or as beautiful. It can influence, teach, and move us. What an amazing medium!"


Posted by Aaron Paul Lazar, author of LeGarde Mysteries and his debut paranormal mystery series, Moore Mysteries.


Marta Stephens said...

Marci, thanks so much for posting all the "Do's" of submissions.

The big joke in our office (I work in HR in higher ed) is that no one reads instructions unless of course, you write a mass e-mail that has a typo in it! Amazingly enough, everyone on campus reads that one. LOL

At any rate, I understand what you're saying. When I read, "... learn what genres they publish," it seems like an obvious "do," but I wonder if online submissions have lowered the writer's concern about getting this right?

What I mean to say is, since there is no cost involve in e-mail submissions (paper, copies, trip to post office, stamps, wait, wait, wait, etc.) do you think technology has diminished the value (in some writers' minds) of getting it right? Has it turned into a numbers game? Send 30 submissions out regardless of whether the story fits the publisher's genre or not and hope one responds?

Kim Smith said...

Excellent list, Marci. Very nice to know what editors think is a must follow list.

Thanks for joining us at MB4 today :) please come again!

Marci Baun said...

Hi Marta,

Thanks for commenting. That's a very interesting observation. It's very possible that the advent of online submissions has created a laissez-faire attitude about reading guidelines. However, our guidelines also state not to mail us any, and we still receive four or five hard copies a year. (grin) And, yes, the printed submissions almost always include email addresses.


Thank you for having me. (grin)


Thank you for inviting me. :)


Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Marci - it's wonderful to have you here at MB4. We try to bring in a variety of guest bloggers, as you know, from author success stories to book reviews to writing tips. But one thing we know - all writers want to here the "scoop" from editors/publishers. Thanks so much for coming aboard today and hope to hear from you again soon!

Marci Baun said...

My pleasure, Aaron. :)


Ana Lee Kennedy said...

Well said, my friend, well said! This is an excellent blog.

Marci Baun said...

Thanks, Faith! :)


Renee Knowles said...

Hi Marci!

Excellent post. You are so right. Thanks for posting :)


Emmy Ellis said...

Great info!


Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Marci,
What a succinct, encouraging list for authors. I can tell you are raising kids too - so much more powerful to tell all the can-dos than the can'ts, LOL!
Seriously, these are great words for all authors, at every level of their career.
Thanks for sharing them with us.
Maggie Toussaint
SEEING RED, Freya's Bower, check it out!
hmm, this is still here in the comment box. I'm going to try to post again. sorry if there is a double post.

Marci Baun said...

Thanks, Maggie, Emmy, and Renee! I am glad you enjoyed the post. :)


jean said...

I enjoyed your post. Good, sound advice for us all. I hope your little one is feeling better soon. I don't think any words strike more fear in a mother's heart than:
Mommy, my ear hurts.
You just know you're in for an all-nighter :-)
Jean Pike

Warren Adler said...

I truly enjoyed this, Marci.

Warren Adler

Marta Stephens said...

Marci, thanks so much for joining us here at MB4. I hope you and your readers will stop by and visit us often!

Marci Baun said...

Thank you, Jean. She is. And she's sleeping, which I should be doing right now. LOL

Thank you, Warren. :)

My pleasure, Marta.