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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Stormy Times Ahead

Please welcome guest blogger Lynn Kerstan

Are you ready to sail into the Brave New World of publishing? At this point, can any of us be ready? After a long, slow buildup while practical and affordable e-readers were being developed, things are changing at a dizzying rate. No one can be sure what the new publishing models will be, except that--with a few exceptions--they will be different. And there will be more of them.

More opportunities as well, especially for writers and small presses. Backlist books and unpublished books, so long as they are formatted to e-reader specifications and company rules, can be put up for sale or even given away to help build an author's reputation. Meantime, brick-and-mortar bookstores are closing at a frightful rate or reducing the number of actual books for sale in favor of other merchandise. But with gazillions of books and novellas available online, how are readers to find what they want? And how are authors to separate themselves from the pack and draw attention to their work? It's a jungle out there, and no one has a map.

For sure, marketing and promotion will become the name of the game. Authors bought by major publishers will have support, if those publishers adapt to the new paradigm. Those writing for small presses or going it alone will have to be proactive about creating an eager market for their work, thereby stealing time from the actual writing.

But before we worry too much about the new demands on our time and talent, authors should focus intently on quality control. Here's a dirty little secret about a lot of small or startup popular fiction publishers, along with a too-large number of major publishers. With decreasing profit margins, they are devoting precious little effort to editing, especially line and copy editing. Ask any judge of contests for published books, including the RITAs. You'll be amazed at what makes it into print these days.

No one will mention specific publishers or authors, nor should they. But we've seen enough examples to make us wary about entrusting our books to publishers without the resources or competence to provide needed editorial services. Some, I know for a fact, simply run the material through spell-check and a grammar program like that provided by MS Word. Bottom line: minimal copy editing and no line editing at all. Books and novellas are being loosed on the world with all their warts on display. Is this how you want your own book to show up in the marketplace?

It should be said that a fair number of small publishers (I am writing for one and free-lance editing for another) take as much pride in the quality of their releases as do their authors. You may be fortunate enough to land contracts with dedicated professionals.

On the other hand, with the competition fierce, which authors are most likely to secure agents or be purchased by good publishers? Those who submit clean copy in need of little editing (meaning less work and cost to publishers) or the authors who have not developed editing skills of their own? And to which category do you belong?

It seems clear to me that the days of leaving the job to the publishers are pretty much over. To give ourselves the best chance of success, we dare not submit our work until it is ready for prime time. If we do otherwise, the errors and infelicities and bad habits we don't recognize in our own work will hang out in public like dirty laundry. This is no way to win fans in a crowded marketplace, nor does it do credit to our characters and their stories. I foresee (happily, because it's part of my business) a lot of work for free-lance editors in this brave new world. Even so, I strongly urge every author to maximize his/her own editing expertise.

And now for the really good news. Most common errors are easy or relatively easy to fix . . . once you've learned to recognize them. I'm not speaking of typos, grammar, and that sort of thing. Computer programs can help you there, but bribing a non-grammar-impaired friend to give your story a read-through and red-pencil job is also a fine idea. If you're broke, bake cookies or detail her car. If not, hire a pro.

But most writerly problems fall into the realm of line-editing, and this you can (and must) learn to do. Few friends have the ability, writer friends have their own work to do, and professionals--decent ones--don't come cheap. What you need to know is easy to explain. How to line-edit to good effect is less easy, but you'll be amazed at the amount of bad stuff you can quickly fix to great advantage on your own.

This is why I teach, and why my favorite of all classes is the one that will begin here at FF&P in March. Technically, it's a “Revision and Polishing” class, but I think of it as “Clean Up Your Act” for Smart Authors. The information, tips, guidelines, and examples provided in the class have always been useful. Now, as we enter the scary (but brave) new world, they have become essential.

No more business as usual. However you make it happen, take charge of your career and learn to steer your own course.

Lynn Kerstan, former college professor, folksinger, professional bridge player, and nun, is the author of nine Regency romances, eleven historical romances, and several novellas. She is presently developing a paranormal series.

A five-time RITA Finalist (one win), she is regularly featured on awards lists. Since Romantic Times launched its “Top Picks” feature, every Kerstan novel has been a Top Pick. The Golden Leopard and Heart of the Tiger were selected by Library Journal for its “Five Best Romance Novels of the Year” lists in 2002 and 2003, and Dangerous Passions was named to Booklist's Top Ten Romances of 2005 list.

Formerly a teacher of English literature and writing at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and the University of San Diego, Kerstan now conducts popular fiction workshops for writers groups, RWA chapters, conferences, and on-line classes. She also line-edits and copy-edits for authors and small-press publishers.

An Internet junkie before Google became a verb, she blogs with Anne Stuart, Maggie Shayne, Patricia Potter, Tara Taylor Quinn, and Suzanne Forster at www.StoryBroads.com.

Revision and Polishing, presented by Lynn Kerstan, runs from March 7, 2011 through April 3, 2011


Terry Spear/Terry Lee Wilde said...

I judged a book once that was published by a "good" NY publisher that was filled with so many mistakes that should have been caught during the editing process, that I was appalled. We all have to be vigilant. But I truly couldn't believe how badly edited, although I suspect it wasn't edited at all, this book was.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Timely post. Yes, it's true. 100% true.

Christine Ashworth said...

Hey Lynn! (Waving madly.) It's good to see you here. Yes, I have to agree on the editing - if we as writers don't know how to do it, we should. I'm taking one course now on editing but trust me, I'll be taking yours - and maybe a few more - until the basics sink in! Thanks for the reminder!

Lisa Kessler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa Kessler said...

Ha! I saw a typo in my comment about editing so I had to fix it! LOL Yeesh! *blush*

Great blog!

I've noticed the lack of editing on some books lately... Self-editing is definitely important!

Lisa :)