Thursday, July 23, 2009

Editing Questions

I have just spent the past five years perfecting a manuscript that is a love story which takes place in New Orleans. I have sent it to 8-10 agents for a "Sample test" to see what the responses were. I received some very kind praise from many agents, including good atmospheric description, but still received rejection letters. A lightly famous film producer looked at it and thought that it had enormous potential as a film project, but that it needed some more editorial consultation to "harness all of the creative energy". Do you think that these rejections are matters of taste, or is it worth a second look to iron it out?

So there are two separate issues here, the film producer's comments and the agents' comments. The two are not as related as you think. I don't know much about the film industry, but I do know it involves a lot of lying and false praise and then crushing disappointment, or so all my screenwriter friends tell me. If you didn't write a screenplay, I don't know why you're talking to a film producer (are you friends?) but getting it into a screenplay you would want to sell is a whole different genre and industry in writing and something that's beyond my abilities to really judge.

Except in rare cases, movie rights to a published book are sold by the agent to the film company. When a book is bought by a publishing house, they do not buy the film rights unless that's specified in the contract, and it would be weird for a publishing house to ask for film rights and then something the agent would immediately demand to be deleted from the contract. A lot of money is to be made from film rights to a book, provided your book goes to film, but that rarely happens.

EDIT: Look in the comments, where someone in the film industry has written a long and instructive post that is better informed than mine.

As for the agents, if they wrote personal, descriptive comments and didn't send a form letter, that's pretty awesome. It's still a rejection, but you're close. Revise the manuscript based on their comments if you feel their comments are worthwhile and keep querying.

My other question is, how do you know when a manuscript is ready to sell?

It's done to the best of your abilities as a writer and editor.

And would your recommend me spending an extra thousand dollars to have it professionally edited before sending it out?

No, absolutely not, unless you are completely inept at grammar and spelling. In which case, buying a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style is much cheaper.

I feel that the manuscript is completed to the best of my ability, and thought that the kinks could be ironed out by a publishing house editor. I have heard mixed reviews about this-- some people say that they don't spend as much time as they used to on editing manuscripts, and that the industry is more about business. I was wondering if you could comment on this aspect in your blog.

How much editing gets done at the agent stage and/or the editor stage often depends on several factors, but the two biggest ones are (a) the time people have to put into it, (b) how much editing it actually needs. Speaking as someone who helps edit client's manuscripts, I say that you really shouldn't be submitting something you feel needs tremendous editing. You should be doing the editing yourself, then submitting the manuscript that you feel is as good as it can possibly be within your abilities as a writer and then if people along the way have comments, you work with them. Speaking as a writer, I can say that I feel your pain, in that I am always terrified that my work isn't good enough and that the editor didn't catch mistakes they should have caught that I never should have written, and that I'm going to get slammed for it in reviews. I live in constant fear, but publishing is terrifying. However, most things worth doing are a little terrifying, so get a prescription for a tranquilizer/SSRI combo and throw your stuff out there.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Conservative Follow-up

I attempted to reassure our conservative writer friend that the publishing industry loves those books, despite his initial bias.

Yes - but unfortunately - since the process requires an agent - the bar is still very high for a first time author to get a fair assessment. I have sent out quite a few query letters to agents who specialize in non fiction and virtually all of them respond with a form letter and of course they do not bother to ask to read a chapter or two to evaluate it. So until agents wise up and make the connection that a lot of conservatives buy books and publishers like to make money - I guess they will continue to represent authors who sell those wonderful and very important works on specialized topics that no one wants to buy!

I would like to assure you that agents buy books they believe will sell, at least to some degree to make their effort worthwhile. It's true that agents will often not take on a book they don't care for - which can mean a lot of things, but also they feel goes against their own personal beliefs. This isn't wrong; it means they're not the agent for that work. Someone else is.

If the work is great and has something important to say, someone will pick it up. If you've gotten no hits on your query letter, it's time to vastly improve your query letter. That or you've written a bad book and blaming the "liberal bubble of New York" is just the beginning of your problems. Either one. Glenn Beck would probably get going if I had a chance to prod him on the liberal media bias and NY liberals, but Simon and Schuster publishes him without batting an eye and damn, does he sell a lot of books.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Conservative Political Books and Their Non-Existence

I just finished a conservative political non fiction book and after a great deal of effort put together a pretty good query letter if I do say myself. Of course, the real problem was the fact that it was a "conservative" book in the world of a very liberal publishing world. Do you honestly think that a first time conservative writer will get a fair shot in the very liberal world of publishing unless of course, he's got a major talk show?

With a straight face - tell me how the publishing world can ignore the fact that the mega hits of non fiction have come from conservatives - without a NY Times book review. Don't tell me that you have to be a major talk show host or big time blogger to write and sell a conservative political book because I think that's just a convenient excuse.

Regnery is no longer the only game in town anymore for conservative publishing - so I know liberals enjoy making money too. Here's a fact that the liberal publishing world cannot seem to deal with: Conservative books, like talk radio, resonate with the rest of America that doesn't live in the bubble of New York or a few other cities - and hold your breath - there are more of us than you!

I couldn't find "Regnery" in the dictionary, but apparently it's a conservative press. Why I didn't think of that first, I don't know.

I won't address the poster directly here, as I don't want to start I fight. I will say that a simple look on Amazon will assure him that there is a huge audience for books by conservatives and the publishing industry knows it and regularly publishes and promotes these books. Glenn Beck's book on common sense (insert your own 'does he have any?' joke here) is currently number 1 on Amazon, which means it sells about 300 copies an hour, and it's been there for 45 days. Mark Levin's Tyranny or Liberty: A Conservative Manifesto is number 9, and number 2 on the New York Times bestseller list for non-fiction (Bill O'Reilly is number 13). This is not unusual; the bestseller list on Amazon is generally made up of fiction that's doing insanely well, books by angry conservatives, and a slot for "flavor of the week" (the Jackson unauthorized biography thing). And this is Amazon, which ranks solely by copies it sells, as opposed to the New York Times, which is ranked in some mystery way no one knows, but does somehow reflect national interest in books. There's very few political books that are bestsellers that I would consider "liberal," though occasionally a book by a Bush staffer makes it up there. My boss handles a lot of "liberal" books that are quite good, and I say that not because of my political affiliations but because I've read them, and they're not rants but summaries and interpretations of things that have happened or are happening in the world, and only one them cracked the NYT and only for a week.

I will add an interesting side note here, which is that a lot of these conservative-rant books (as opposed to books written from a conservative viewpoint discussing history or a particular issue by examining it and drawing conclusions over the course of the book) get some nasty tags on Amazon. Ann Coulter is pretty much the queen of getting bad tags, as every one of every edition of her books was tagged by a ton of people as "stupid" and "evil" and "waste of a good tree." If you are an Amazon junkie, I encourage you to explore the tag system, an entirely impartial (as much as it can be) and spontaneous way that viewers can express praise or criticism of book.

For "waste of a good tree" here are the top 10: (meaning, they got the most of those tags)

Anne Coulter, Guilty: Liberal "Victims" and Their Assault on America
Katharine DeBrecht, Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed!
Bill O'Reilly, A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity
Paris Hilton, Confessions of an Heiress
L Ron Hubbard, Dianetics
Alan Sears, The Homosexual Agenda
Ann Coulter, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism
Ann Coulter, If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans (paperback)
Bill O'Reilly, Who's Looking Out for You?
Ann Coulter, If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans (hardcover)

So, conservative books and Scientology. That's what internet shoppers don't like. For fun you can also try the tags "evil" and "Keeping America stupid" and get mostly the same results.