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Tag: Sheila Gilbert

MisCon 28: Books – From Idea to Marketplace

(To see all my posts on MisCon, go here.)

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Panel title: Books – From Idea to Marketplace
Panel members: C.J. Cherryh, Sheila Gilbert, Todd Lockwood, Betsy Wollheim
Panel description: Writer, acquiring editor, copy editor, editor, art director, cover artist, publisher. C.J. Cherryh, Betsy Wollheim, Sheila Gilbert, and Todd Lockwood discuss taking a book from concept to the shelves.

BW: So you start with a manuscript, right?

CJC: I start with ideas and words on paper. It’s later when you get to the contract. I have a long relationship with DAW. I usually contract three books at a time. They have advances so the writer can keep eating while writing.

SG: The advance is against royalties.

CJC: It takes a while for it to earn out. You get a portion of the cover price which is set in the contract. First you get as good and clean a manuscript as possible before it goes to the next person. Writing is not straightforward. Life can intervene. When I forget where I left off, I do a rolling rewrite. I can do it in about a week. I also edit for spelling, etc. because if a copy editor has to pick up a pencil, then they’ll start “correcting” five other things. After that, I send the manuscript to my agent and Betsy at the same time since the book is already in the schedule.

BW: It’s different with Carolyn compared to a new writer because she has carte blanche. I don’t want the copy editors to change her style, but that’s very rare. Later, I contact the author by letter or phone call for edits. Each author is treated differently. Some like bullet points rather than letters or phone calls. It’s completely individual.

SG: I like direct communication because then I can brainstorm with the author.

BW: My preference is also like Sheila’s, but some authors only like things a certain way.

SG: We can come up with possible solutions and talk things through. It’s best if I can talk to the author in person. Sometimes for new authors, there are long silences while they’re trying to process it. After, we’re then ready to revise. We go through the revisions and do page proofs.

CJC: Sometimes we get mistakes from the typesetter with things like transposed text. For one book, there was a last minute problem. Every time there was an umlaut followed by a comma, it caused the printer to delete a letter and add a space. Since this was early in the digital era, it had to be fixed manually. For proofs, we look for things that shouldn’t be. Mistakes can creep in due to mechanical and electronic errors.

BW: Publishers now do a lot of the printing work.

SG: We also format ebooks.

CJC: In the old days, if we needed to change something, the change needed to be the same number of spaces because it would screw up the paragraphs. Today, it’s more flexible but there’s still not much room. You can’t just rewrite everything or there will be many headaches for everyone else.

SG: You might see lots of glaring errors, but you have to ask yourself, is it important?

CJC: Before you get to that stage, you should reformat your manuscript. It will change the position of the words and you’ll see the errors. Read it aloud to make yourself. Read it as a reader.

SG: Mistakes can also be created from previous changes. If it’s obviously glaring, then it’s probably a computer process.

Q: As the cover artist, once you get the manuscript, what happens?

TL: Once the manuscript gets to that stage, we already have the cover.

BW: We already have the books in their scheduled slots. Sometimes we get a cover even before the book is written.

TL: Usually I have a phone conversation with the author for what they want to see on the cover. Sometimes the author still doesn’t know.

BW: It sucks for all of us, except maybe the booksellers. We think twice about hiring an artist if the artist won’t read the manuscript. They need to understand the story.

TL: If the author gets an email saying that what was depicted on the cover didn’t happen in the book, I get blamed.

SG: Some authors change scenes to match the cover.

TL: Sometimes I do the cover from the book’s outline. But authors deviate from outlines.

BW: Lester del Rey liked a cover so much, he wrote in the extra scene in the Thomas Covenant series. Needless to say, Stephen R. Donaldson wasn’t pleased about that and they had to do damage control…

CJC: For my latest book, I have to come up with a title by Tuesday.

Q: You work with the writers personally, but most authors haven’t met their editors. For the process of submissions, do you need to be agented?

BW: Not at DAW but most other companies only look at agented authors.

SG: Check publishers’ websites for what they want. At one time, publishers had rotating slush piles.

CJC: It was a system of slush pile readers who mined for gems.

SG: Once, there was a fictitious person to whom you could submit manuscripts to. It was to protect the slush pile readers.

CJC: The competition in the slush pile is varied. I have read the slush pile at DAW before. Gems do stand out among the gravel.

Q: What happens with the galleys?

CJC: Now I can do post-its on pdf files so I can search for changes.

SG: It’s great for corresponding with authors from Canada because before, manuscripts would get stopped at the border. After production, authors and readers go through it. There are promotional tools like ARCs (advance reader copies) if we have time–usually minimum four months before the book comes out. Some companies have it six months before. Then there’s work on the cover and catalog, etc. It’s time sensitive.

Q: How did the workflow change with ebooks?

BW: Ebooks have been a learning experience. Before, scanning created many errors. So now we’re pulling them and proofing.

SG: They used to do it with an outside company with no quality control. Now they have at least two people keying and comparing manuscripts.

Q: Are there things you like to illustrate or not?

TL: I don’t like covers with the hero’s back to the viewer and facing the monster. Or the back of the monster. I want the face on the cover to convey personality. I want to convey the soul of the book with action. However, I don’t want to give away the second part of the book on the cover.

CJC: Readers get unhappy if you give away the ending.

TL: Usually three to five chapters in, I will find something that is cover worthy.

Q: Is there a situation where you picked a scene from the first page?

TL: No, but sometimes the cover is literally a scene from the book but usually it’s the essence of the story. Sometimes it requires phone calls and emails to the author. Sometimes it’s obvious. If I haven’t nailed it down, Sheila is a sounding board.

CJC: There might be a mention in a science fiction book that the clothes were similar to colonial times, but Todd makes it look like future fashion. He doesn’t make the cover suggest that the story is about George Washington.

BW: In one book, there was a line about a statue perfect in its arrogance. That made it into the cover. Most art directors don’t read the books.

SG: Usually the art directors base the covers on what the editor has told them. Then when they show the cover, everyone else hates it so they’re back to square one. Then they have to do it over again and then the art director is asked why they’ve gone over budget. So it’s better to read it and have confidence that the cover has something to do with the book.

TL: Sometimes something else could be the problem. One artist had a piece of artwork that everyone thought was fine, but the director for some reason was adamant that it had to be redone. It turned out that the director thought the character in the art had no pants because he was colorblind.

BW: I know one art director who took it to the entire department to present a cover.

SG: We shot one cover where we had to move mannequins around the office.

BW: People thought we had dead people in the windowsill.

Q: How can we break in as an editor?

BW: You can become an intern, but unfortunately we don’t pay interns. As an intern, you can gain experience. Then you can apply for the position.

SG: These days for any career, there are many unpaid internships.

Q: During post-publication, what do you expect from the author?

BW: A lot of authors do their own marketing online. People are interested in the author’s voice, not the publisher.

SG: Blogs are great marketing tools. It can reach everywhere. But it also has to be professional. Online, you can see how people look like. On the phone, you get an image, but it can be wrong. For instance, Jim Hines. People read and interact on his blog and already feel like they’re friends with him when they do meet him in person.

Q: What’s the difference between a query letter and a cover letter?

SG: A query letter asks if you want to see more of the manuscript. A cover letter comes with the manuscript.

MisCon 28: It Came from the Slushpile

(To see all my posts on MisCon, go here.)

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Panel title: It Came from the Slushpile
Panel members: Sheila Gilbert, Patrick Swenson, Betsy Wollheim
Panel description: Join our esteemed editors as they relive some of their more intriguing cover letters and writing samples received through their years on the other side of the publishing spectrum. We’ll learn what works and what doesn’t and how to make sure yours is the best it can be.

PS: When I was editor of Talebones, we never closed to submissions.

BW: However, DAW has terrible response times.

PS: Don’t do this: spiral bound and pink paper. I also had one with crayon. But I did have a great cover letter from a fifth grader. There’s no excuse these days not to follow standard formatting. Google “manuscript preparation” and find William Shunn.

Moderator: I’ve seen many types of formatting. What type of formatting do you prefer?

BW: Double space, printed, and include page numbers.

PS: If it’s double spaced with a good font, I will read it.

BW: It doesn’t matter what the font is as long as it’s readable.

SG: Don’t get hung up on font. I’ll look at it as long as it’s easy to read and clean with no mistakes.

PS: Back when everything was done with typewriter, the rule was that if you had more than two mistakes on the page, you had to retype it. Also in the old days, they used 12 point Courier because it was easier to establish column space.

SG: Now we can just change the font on the computer.

BW: My father once sent an ambiguous letter to C.J. Cherryh. Fortunately she assumed correctly that he was going to publish her books. Many DAW writers came from the slushpile.

SG: Find the right publisher for your work. I knew there was a brand new author who managed to sell their story to several countries before it got published.

PS: Here’s a cover letter I received that started with “Sounds of Christmas Music is a brutal horror story…” Sometimes I got submissions from the Department of Corrections…

BW: Never respond to anyone from prison because you don’t know what they’ll do. Sometimes we’ll get really crazy stuff. Once we got a submission written in ballpoint pen and fully illustrated. In it, the Hindenburg was burning…

SG: And it was drawn like a teenager with a banana sausage tree and a flying gurney.

PS: Another editor I know received a velvet lined box with the manuscript inside.

BW: Don’t tell us that your manuscript is going to be the next bestseller. We’ve also gotten submissions where they’re asking us to send them $100,000 before they would send the manuscript.

SG: Don’t tell us who you want starring in the movie of your book.

PS: I got a submission where they were writing as if I were dead. It began with “Dear Departed…”

Moderator: How many submissions do you get?

BW: About 100 novels per week. It has increased with electronic submissions. It also increases when economic times are hard.

SG: You can tell if it has been a hard winter because in the spring, there will be a flood of submissions from Canada.

BW: I don’t like “Sheena in the jungle” type stories where the main character is a scantily clad Amazon.

Q: Do you get a lot of NaNoWriMo novels?

BW: I don’t read a lot of them because they’re first vetted by other readers.

SG: We have interns. If they like one of the stories, they can do a pitch to us on it.

PS: I also get a lot of cast off stories from whatever anthology had recently closed. I would get a lot of flash horror stories when a flash horror anthology closed. Or a lot of zeppelin stories when that anthology closed.

Q: Do you get a lot of those cast off stories from Reader’s Digest contests?

PS: No, I don’t recall.

SG: Short stories are different from novels. 44,000 words is not a novel. Research your market first. Is it for a magazine? Or is it too long for it? Look at the guidelines and what they publish. We don’t like to encourage bad things.

Q: What positive thing influences you?

BW: At the minimum, write at a professional level.

SG: A cover letter can destroy your chances if it’s bad. You can include credits if they’re professional sales.

PS: Let the writing speak for itself.

Q: Have you ever gotten any form cover letters?

BW: I’ve been confused with another editor.

SG: Me, too.

Moderator: What do you personally want in a manuscript?

BW: I’m just looking for a good book.

SG: No trends.

BW: Don’t jump on the bandwagon. Write what’s inside you.

SG: We’re only concerned with a book that grabs us with its characters and ideas.

Moderator: If someone submits a novel, what’s the minimum word count?

BW: 80,000.

Moderator: What’s the maximum?

BW: Tad Williams’ manuscript was too large for a normal paperback so we had to use special paper. Patrick Rothfuss had over half a million words for one book.

SG: We were happy when we could do a trade paperback for that one.

Q: I’ve gotten the advice that we should just keep sending stuff because editors like to see writers improve.

BW: That’s wrong. Only send the best that you can make it. The exception to that is one author whose friend submitted it for her by bringing it to DAW.

Q: How do you know when your manuscript is ready for submission?

BW: Get critiques from friends, writing workshops, etc.

Q: Do you like to see short story writers grow with continuing submissions?

PS: I don’t have time to read all of it. I encourage when they do get better, but not when they continue to make the same mistakes. Write the best that you can. Have it seen first by writers groups and beta readers.

Moderator: Also, don’t write the same story over and over again.

SG: Some get an agent and then send something else.

Q: With 100 submissions per week, how many of those become new authors?

BW: About 0.001%. Most of them are not agented. Most are not written at a professional level.

SG: Anyone can say that they’re agented. It’s probably not a good idea to have your spouse, sister, etc. as your agent. Now some agents only take you on once you have a manuscript accepted. So don’t be afraid to submit unagented. Except for vanity presses.

PS: Agents act as extra gatekeepers.

Q: If you’re no longer agented, should you mention that in your cover letter?

BW: No. But we don’t care. Other editors might.

SG: Also include your writing credits.

BW: Some agents work with Tor but not DAW. Or vice versa. If you want to submit to DAW, find an agent who represents DAW authors.

SG: Some agents are shady.

PS: Look in Locus to find some reputable agents.

Q: Also make sure the agent actually reads your work and doesn’t just pick it up because you’ve got a contract.

Q: If I send in a submission and it gets rejected, can I edit it and send it back?

SG: Only if you specifically get a letter back that says that you can revise and resubmit. If it’s a form letter, then send your work elsewhere.

BW: If the revision is drastically different, you can resubmit. But not if it’s only slightly different.

PS: You also can’t submit it to different editors in the same company.

Q: What if you have no writing credits? What should you put on the cover letter? And what is “professional writing” anyway?

BW: It’s good writing. Unfortunately, it can’t be defined.

PS: Don’t summarize your story in the cover letter.

BW: Send your entire novel so we know that you can finish writing it. There are many different examples of professional writing which varies with style and voice. Dickens and Nabokov are different, but both are professional writing.

Q: Can you mention that you’ve been a finalist in a writing contest in your cover letter?

Panel: Yes.

PS: As for cover letters, don’t send propaganda or letters looking like ransom notes.

[This session ended with PS reading a truly bad cover letter containing crossed out information, handwritten corrections, misspelled words, all caps for italics, and rambling and inappropriate digressions.]

MisCon 28: First Page – Make or Break

(To see all my posts on MisCon, go here.)

Panel title: First Page – Make or Break
Panel members: Sheila Gilbert, Peter Kent, Patrick Swenson, Mark Teppo, Betsy Wollheim
Panel description: In this panel, you’ll get a first-hand look at how editors react when they read the opening page of your submission. Submit the first page of your story or book to be randomly read aloud by stuntman Peter Kent. Our panel will stop Peter when they would stop reading the submission and tell you why. Submissions will be handed in at the beginning of the panel. Submissions will not be returned and not all submissions will be read.

Instead of transcribing this panel, I thought I’d include a list of the elements that the editors do no want to see in their submissions. A fair number of people submitted first pages (including myself), but the editors were very tough. No one made it through.

Personally, I found the editors’ reactions very informative. For one, I need to set fire to my first line and write another one. And second, I need to be cognizant that whatever elements I introduce into the story, people are going to jump to conclusions even though I’m going to subvert the tropes later on. Hint: editors don’t like mail-order bride assassins even though it’s not about mail-order bride assassins. (For anyone wondering, this was a biopunk story. It’s pretty clearly implied to be so two-thirds of the way down the page, but they never got that far. And frankly, I don’t think it matters what you wrote later if no one can get past the first line. It’s a fail, no excuses.)

Anyways, enough about my own awful prose. Here are some general things the editors don’t want to see:

  • extremely long run-on sentences
  • bad phrasing
  • poor conversation
  • overwriting
  • putting your own feelings into the narrative
  • furry porn
  • starting the story with sound effects
  • starting with the character waking up
  • bodily functions
  • too many things in a list
  • unnecessary information
  • too much description of female characters
  • being too gratuitous
  • a removed narrator
  • too much stuff going on
  • extraneous detail
  • being sexist in the description (all women beautiful, no description for the men)
  • starting with dialog (hard to do well)
  • too much description in action with no focus
  • wasting time telling what the story is not
  • the narrator telling things after the fact (it biases the reader and removes immediacy)
  • making it obvious how the story ends

MisCon 28: DAW Books Presentation

Panel title: DAW Books Presentation
Panel members: DAW Books, Sheila Gilbert, Betsy Wollheim
Panel description: What’s new for DAW books? Join Sheila Gilbert and Betsy Wollheim for a presentation on up-and-coming titles from DAW.

In this presentation, the DAW editors basically talked about all the books that they are publishing for 2014 and early 2015. Many of those books can be seen on this page. I didn’t really take down any notes on what the editors said for each of the books. Some of the discussion, I thought, were a bit spoilerish especially if you haven’t read the earlier books in the series. So I thought I’d point out some books that caught my eye and why.

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch is the latest book in the Rivers of London series. The premise for the series sounds awesome, but I’ve been a little leery about starting his books due to his behavior online towards readers who have criticized his work. Nonetheless, his books are on my gigantic to-be-read pile. I’ll get to it eventually.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. Post-apocalyptic fiction is generally not my thing, but this takes place in Africa. I’m intrigued about how the consequences of the end times will be depicted in a different culture through a lens of magic realism.

A Turn of Light by Julie E. Czerneda. I heard “biology” and “magic” come out of Sheila Gilbert’s mouth. And I’m sold. (Apparently the second book in the series is coming out later in the year.)

Peacemaker by C. J. Cherryh. I won this book at a different panel. So of course I’m going to read it. I’m only agonizing on whether to read this first or start the series from the beginning. Anyone have any opinions on whether this series can be read out of order?

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire. Apparently this book’s concept is based on the world of ghosts. DAW is putting out a lot of her books this year, but this one in particular seemed interesting.

Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier. This is a fantasy written by a mathematics professor. The premise sounded intriguing. This is the first in a trilogy.

The Future Falls by Tanya Huff. This is the third book in the Enchantment Emporium series. I really enjoyed the first book but haven’t gotten around to the second book yet so I’ll have to read that one first…