The Dreaded Macro Letter – Part Two

Dog with glasses and booksHave you ever wondered how an editor contributes to the success of your novel? Or whether an editor is needed at all? You’re the author. Shouldn’t your words be left alone?

When you sign a contract to write a book for a traditional publisher, your work will go through an editing process, whether you’re comfortable or not.

The first edit you receive will be the macro edit, which details any suggested changes in character, plot, pacing, structure, point of view, dialogue, or other major issues that would help make the manuscript stronger. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but no part of your manuscript is sacrosanct.

When I’m asked by a publisher to edit a novel for the first time, I follow a set of guidelines and ask myself a series of questions as I read through the manuscript.

A set of reference works also are mandatory, and I keep updated copies on my desk, although both are available online as well:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition
  • Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged

Here are some of the questions I ask as I read through a manuscript:

  • Did the author begin the novel too early or include too much back story?
  • Did the story begin too late?
  • Are the characters’ actions and dialogue consistent and believable?
  • Is the main plot and all subsequent plotlines clearly resolved?
  • Is there enough conflict to make the story compelling?
  • Do the turning points/inciting incidents appear in the right places?
  • Is a subplot necessary or is it a “rabbit trail”?
  • Would a subplot enrich the book?
  • Does the plot sag in places?
  • Is there a satisfying balance between narrative and dialogue?
  • Does the author “tell” instead of “show” in places?
  • Is the point of view consistent or does it leap back and forth in the same scene, causing “bouncing-head syndrome”?
  • Are there redundant descriptions and scenes?
  • Does the author tie up all loose ends by the end of the book?

Within the body of the manuscript, I turn on the track changes feature and use comment boxes to point out those places where a manuscript can be strengthened. I might also correct obvious spelling or grammatical errors or highlight examples of pet words and repetitive sentence structure.

I also prepare a cover sheet for general comments. This allows the in-house editor and the author to see overall comments without having to scroll through the text.

The in-house editor then passes on this letter to the author along with the manuscript and the imbedded comments. When dealing with an author, I strive to be diplomatic, sensitive, and tactful in all of my communications.

Suggested changes may vary from light to a complete rewrite. When the manuscript with the author’s changes is sent back to the in-house editor, it then enters the content/substantive/line edit stage.

Publishing is a team sport. Even though you may lead a solitary life as an author, when a publisher buys your work, you will work with an editor at some point in your journey. This relationship can either be full of conflict or a match made in heaven. When the two parties involved respect the other’s talents, the working relationship runs smoothly. Know when to fight for what you believe in or when it’s only your ego that’s bruised.

Has someone ever edited your work? How well did you work together? Did your manuscript benefit from an editor’s viewpoint? Let us know about your experience!

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The Dreaded Macro Letter – Part One

After performing the macro edit [the first pass on an unsuspecting manuscript] I send it back to the author with an e-mail that reads something like this:

Hi Author (insert name), [notice the breezy tone]

Attached is the macro edit of your manuscript titled Best-selling Novel. Many writers have been known to throw themselves across the bed and cry for three days before they could move forward. Please don’t. I know it can be painful, but my job is to take a 50,000-foot viewpoint of your book and offer comments that will make it sing like a Stradivarius violin.

I honor you as the author, and my suggestions are intended to strengthen your structure, plot, and character arc so that your voice soars off the page [and hopefully, about a bazillion people will want to buy your book.]

[This is the point in the e-mail when authors run for the Xanax or stand up and circle their desks as if they’ve just discovered a cobra sitting on the computer. Some authors pace. Some throw things. As the editor, I’m glad I do this long distance.]

You will notice there are a great many comments inserted into your manuscript, most of them in the earlier chapters. I trust that you will look for and find those same problem areas in the rest of your manuscript. If I spot a consistent pet word or phrase or a favorite sentence construction, I’ll track changes and point that out as well. For instance, many authors are quite fond of using the word then to connect two phrases. You might want to use the global search function and capitalize the entire word. You might be surprised how often you’ve employed that sentence construction [like maybe 2,342 times!].

Continuity can be another issue. If your heroine has brilliant green eyes in the first chapter [Don’t all heroines have green eyes?] you don’t want her eyes to turn brown in chapter 18. Make sense? It’s always a good idea to keep a notebook or note card handy with a full description of each character.

As well, watch for passive language. Active language propels your story forward as though you were shooting the rapids on the Colorado River. Passive language steers you into a log where your canoe sits for what seems like hours. At least ninety-five percent of the time, you can eliminate the word was and recast your sentences in a more active tense. Sometimes was is just the right word to use, but not often.

First, read the macro edit letter I’ve attached before moving on to the comments and suggested changes in the manuscript. It will explain my reasons and ask questions about holes in your plot.

Please let me know if you have any questions. I’m always available by e-mail or phone during the editing process. I’m quite flexible, and I’m sure we can make your manuscript shine like that highly polished Stradivarius.

Warm regards,
Barbara

In another blog, we’ll dig deeper into the macro letter and the actual macro edit. Please ask any questions you might have about this process. If you’ve never had your manuscript macro edited, it can seem daunting. But trust me, it’s all part of the standard publishing cycle. Have you ever had another person edit your manuscript? If so, how did you feel about their comments?

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BEYOND THE VALLEY – Historical Romance Release

Beyond-the-Valley coverBack in 2010, when I was acting Executive Acquisitions Editor at Abingdon Press, I brainstormed with Rita Gerlach on her series The Daughters of the Potomac. Since leaving Abingdon, it’s been exciting to watch my “babies” launch into the world with me cheering them on. Now the third book in the series, Beyond the Valley, released on February 1 and is available at your local bookstore.

Readers from as far away as Australia and England have been in touch Rita about this next book, expressing their anticipation to find out what happens next and how she concludes the series. I’ve read the first two and can’t wait to read Beyond the Valley. Rita says this one is her favorite out of the three.

“Sarah seemed to resonate with me on so many levels,” says Rita. “She is a wife and expectant mother, a loyal friend, a grieving widow. Her faith is shown in a way relevant to the times she lived in, not just a Sunday Christian, but a virtuous woman whose daily walk with God required ultimate trust, though her trials cause her to question. I hope those who have read books 1 and 2 in the series will read Beyond the Valley to discover how Sarah came to River Run and the many trials she faced and the love she finds in a compassionate physician, Alex Hutton.”

I love a good historical romance, and Rita always delivers, beginning with her first book Surrender the Wind.

For your reading pleasure, here’s a synopsis of Beyond the Valley:

When Sarah Carr’s husband Jamie drowns, her young life is shattered and takes a turn that she never expected. Pregnant and widowed, she reaches out to Jamie’s family for help, but they are unwilling. Instead they devise a plan to have her kidnapped and taken to the Colonies to live a life of servitude.

In Virginia, Sarah is auctioned to a kindly gentleman to serve his eccentric wife. After she meets Dr. Alex Hutton and is loaned to him to help with his orphaned nieces, hope comes alive he will find a way to free her. But when The Woodhouses go bankrupt and sell off all they own, Sarah is sent away. She faces hardships in the wilderness and is soon surrounded by a family’s whirlwind of secrets, praying the young doctor she loves will find her again and bring her freedom.

* * *

Praise for Beyond the Valley

Beyond the Valley is a delightful escape of adventure and romance and a sweeping saga of tragedy and hope that you won’t want to miss!  (5 Stars)—MaryLu Tyndall, author of the Surrender to Destiny Series

Creating characters with intense realism and compassion is one of Gerlach’s gifts. Her books typically involve dramatic situations, giving her characters a chance to rise above their adversity. Beyond the Valley is a shining example of that, reminding us that we are never forsaken. This is the third in the Daughters of the Potomac series. Sarah’s character was introduced in the first novel, Before the Scarlet Dawn, and now she has her own heart-wrenching story that takes us from England to Virginia and Maryland. The historic setting is vividly descriptive, bringing the story to life, almost becoming a character unto itself. You may shed some tears, but you’ll come away with deep contentment and satisfaction of a story well told.—(Review in RT (Romantic Times) Book Reviews Magazine – 4 stars)

* * *

Book 3 in the Daughters of the Potomac series, Beyond the Valley, is available in e-book and paperback in all fine bookstores.

Amazon  http://tinyurl.com/8dta3o2

Series

Buy the entire series from Christianbooks.com

http://tinyurl.com/aclvcl8

Visit Rita’s Website

Rita Gerlach

http://ritagerlach.blogspot.com

Facebook

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Five Ways to Discover Your Unique Writing Voice

Because so many writers have asked me how to find their writing voice, I’m reprinting a previous blog post below:

Voice seems to be the most difficult concept for writers to grasp. Yet just as each of you has a distinct set of fingerprints, you also have a unique voice.

Then why do writers cry, “I don’t know what voice is?” Why does one book sound exactly like another in the same category? Why do editors pull out their hair reading proposal after proposal looking for a unique voice?

It’s simple, my dear Watson. You have a voice, but you’ve played nice for so long with your smiling face secured firmly in place that you don’t know who you are. To express your voice, you need to “know thyself.” Hmmm. Where have I heard that before?

Voice expresses your unique personality. To find it, you must dig deep into the corners of your soul and dredge up the pain and sorrow you’ve tried so hard to forget. You must remember the joys of your childhood and the quality of the air—the scents, the sounds, the sights. If someone were to ask you to describe who you really are, would you tell them, or would you make nice and not admit to your true self?

“But, what if no one likes the real me,” you ask. We all feel that way. Be true to the person you were designed to be or you’ll never achieve happiness or success—not in the financial sense, but rather in finding peace by embracing your real voice.

Okay, I promised you five ways to discover your unique voice. Here you go:

  1. Chose different words and cast about for a unique topic to write about than the author who’s written a best-seller. Populate your setting with characters we’ve never met. Take us to places we’ve never been. We don’t need another Karen Kingsbury. We need you. Karen is popular because—you guessed it—she has a unique voice. Let your personality shine through in what you write.
  2. Find your passion. Don’t write another mediocre romance just because you can. If you love romance novels, discover your niche. Sandra D. Bricker, who is brilliant and funny, found her voice in her distinctive style of humor. Read and laugh your way through Always the Baker, Finally the Bride (April 1, 2013 release) and you’ll understand. She chose to write romantic comedy.
  3. Express honest emotions. There’s nothing worse than reading a book that manipulates your emotions. However, if those emotions flow out of the wellspring of your author’s heart—your experiences—they will touch your readers’ souls.
  4. Communicate your stories with authenticity—the truth of who you are. Why do you think politicians are unpopular? Because politicians all sound alike and promise voters the same things. Voters have a difficult time discerning who is a liar and who is telling the truth. Inspire readers with the truth. Fiction can be more real than life.
  5. Spend time daydreaming and remembering your life experiences. Your personality was established by the age of five. Can you remember who you were then? Do you let your individuality shine through in your narrative, dialogue, and characters? Would anyone know who you are by reading what you write?

You have a voice. Use it. At first it may be painful and sound like rusty pipes to your ears, but you’ll get used to it.

Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you. This becomes a two-way conversation when you post a comment. Often I jump back on the blog during the day and will answer your questions or respond to your comments. I have both published and unpublished authors who read this blog, and we’d love to hear from you so that we can learn from your experience. Let’s talk!

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