A Peek Behind the Curtain

Have you always wondered what editors and publishers do once they’re interested in a manuscript? At the panel “Behind the Scenes” on Sunday night in Hyatt Embassy CD, Lucienne Diver, Claire M. Eddy, Bill Fawcett, Toni Weisskopf, and Trisha Wooldridge gave attendees a coveted glimpse.

Fawcett, who also acted as moderator for the panel, asked the group to explain what happens once a story has been accepted. Eddy pointed out that as an editor, she’s being paid for her opinion. Editing is part of a relationship she’ll have with an author. She has to be excited about your work because she’s the one who will be your salesman for the project. She’ll have to convince the other departments, like marketing and art, that your book is great and worth their efforts. It all boils down to profit and loss. She has to believe her company will make money from your book. But since she works for a publisher, she recommends every author to get an agent.

Diver agreed. A good agent, she said, will help you develop your work and your career. They want you to succeed because when your books earn money, so do they. An agent also acts as a mediator between you and the publisher. They’ll oversee your contract, and they’ll be able to get your work in front of editors in the first place.

Weisskopf reminded writers that hiring an editor before you submit your work can be a good thing, but you should learn how to edit for yourself. Part of acquiring a new manuscript is evaluating how much work the manuscript needs. The less work, the better. Wooldridge works with small presses. Their developmental editor is in-house, but they hire freelancers for all the rest of the editing work. Fawcett advised authors to build their own technical skills and learn to be a professional. Listen to editors. Getting a reputation for being hard to work with is not good. Weisskopf said that all their pros are great to work with because they want to be the best.

What shouldn’t you send to an agent or editor? Something that isn’t original, Diver said. And whatever you do, Eddy advised, don’t write to trends. It takes about two years to get a book out, and by the time it arrives on the shelves, the trend could be over. Instead, write something timeless. And never say you write like some other author. Be yourself and develop your own voice.

Another topic that arose was social media. “Don’t be a jerk,” Eddy said. “Be honorable online,” Weisskopf advised. Try to be funny and genial, but do get an online presence. In the long run, it’ll help you develop a good relationship with fans.

What about resubmitting? Don’t. An editor will tell you if they want you to revise and resubmit. And if you submit to one Tor editor, for example, don’t submit the same manuscript to another Tor editor. If they think another editor in their company will be interested in your work, they’ll pass it on to that person. The same goes for agents, Diver said. They talk to each other. Don’t try to outsmart them. They don’t like it. It’s okay, however, to ask in a quick, professional way if you can resubmit something that you have changed significantly.

How do you write a memorable query letter? Don’t! “The query letter’s job is to get out of the way,” Weisskopf said. She wants to see your work, which should speak for itself. The query letter shouldn’t be more than a page, Diver said. It’s fine to mention that you spoke to the agent or editor at a convention, or listened to them on a panel, or love an author they represent. It good to let them know that you really want them to represent you.

In closing, the panelists each gave a snippet of advice:

Weisskopf: Write your heart, what excites you.

Diver: Keep trying. You fail until you succeed. Whatever you do, do it well, and don’t shortcut.

Wooldridge: Always keep learning.

Eddy: You need passion, commitment, patience, and perseverance.

Fawcett: Agents will open the door. Get a good one.

Author of the article

Debbie Yutko lives near Atlanta with her husband and two cats. When she isn’t gardening, rescuing homeless kittens, or cramming math formulas into teenagers’ brains, she can be found stringing words together at her computer and dreaming of adventures in far-off lands. She is a lifelong reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy and a veteran of Dragon Con, where she enjoys attending panels and working with the talented staff of the Daily Dragon.

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