Historical Fiction From the Observer

I read a lot of historical fiction and something I’ve noticed lately is a lot of stories of famous people being written about from the perspective of someone close to them, an observer of their story. This keeps us out of the famous person’s head and shows us how they appear through the eyes of someone else. I’ve seen this device done very well, but I’ve also seen it done in ways that made the observer come off as too lackluster and boring. In the worst case, I went into a book expecting a prominent figure to play a central role only for them to be in less than half the book, for example as in The Wardrobe Mistress. The book was called a novel about Marie Antoinette, but she was more of a side character as the book followed the story of one of her undertirewomen. While reading my latest historical pick, I finally figured out what makes writing from an observer’s point of view work for my personal tastes and what doesn’t.

Let’s start with an example of a story of a famous person’s life playing out through an observer’s eyes that worked. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller did a wonderful job of showing us Achilles’s story through the eyes of his lover Patroclus. One of the reasons I enjoyed seeing the story from Patroclus’s point of view was because it shrouded bits of Achilles in mystery and gave us a view outside of Achilles’s own thoughts on himself, which is my experience seems to often be the reason why an observer’s point of view is used in the first place. However Patroclus played a large role in the story. Yes he observed Achilles’s rise to fame and his demise, but he didn’t just observe, he took part in that story and helped shape it. Ultimately that’s what sold me on Patroclus’s POV. I didn’t just get an outside perspective of Achilles, Patroclus’s character was fascinating enough in his own right for me to enjoy getting his story as well. Continue reading “Historical Fiction From the Observer”

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The Benefits of Multiple Editors

Let me lay down some knowledge for you from my time spent in the editing trenches. I’ve worked with five plus houses, three literary agencies, and indie clients. That comes with a whole lot of editing experience. Let me tell you a secret: one editor on a book often isn’t enough and especially not if that book needs a lot of work. As an indie author it can be daunting to hire and afford more than one editor, but the end result will be so worth it. Having more than one editor means more fresh eyes to iron out issues. If you’re a a traditional author, this means you will likely work with more than one editor at your house.

Want to know how the Big 5 get their books so polished and shiny? It’s because those books often have a developmental editor and then a copy editor who also proofreads if they don’t also have a separate proofreader. This means they get an editor to focus on all the developmental issues without being sidetracked by copyedits. Then the copy editor gets to focus on copyedits without being sidetracked by developmental edits. Then finally the proofreader gets to ax any remaining issues still hiding. With all those fresh eyes focusing on one type of editing, the manuscript goes through a lot of rounds and gets put through the wringer. And to add to that many of those books were also edited by agents before going to the house. Continue reading “The Benefits of Multiple Editors”

When Opening Chapters Have No Teeth

Between the slush and my own editing I’ve seen a lot of first chapters. Dozens upon dozens upon dozens of first chapters. I often notice similar issues over and over again and find myself giving out the same advice in first chapter critiques and edits. Two of these issues specifically, a lack of stakes and a hook, I came across in a book I borrowed from the library. If you are a writer who struggles to understand issues like stakes without examples then read on because you are about to get some specific examples. I’m going to to discuss two common issues I spot in opening chapters with a few bonus problems and I’m going to be very candid with you. The book I’m using as an example is a young adult magical realism contemporary, The Inconceivable Life of Quinn.

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As a warning I quit reading after the first two chapters to get some other reading done and haven’t picked the book back up yet, so I have no idea of what happens after the first two chapters (yet). On Goodreads the book only has a rating of 3.2 and a lot of reviews complaining about it being “meh” or “boring.” Many called it “strange” and “odd” despite the great concept that has a magical realism touch to it. I’m always curious to read reviews of books after I finish to see what other people thought. Let me tell you exactly why the book got reviewed as meh and boring at the start so you can avoid making the same mistake. First let me be clear this book wasn’t rated low because the writing or story is bad, the book just needs some more reworking and polishing to have a wider appeal and the issues I’ve brought up are ones I see all the time, which is why I wanted to make this post. I find it hard to discuss common issues without examples, and this book provides some perfect examples for me to discuss. Continue reading “When Opening Chapters Have No Teeth”

Lessons from the Slush

Those who follow my blog by now should be super aware that I’m an editor. I’ve edited for 5+ houses, but I’ve also been a literary agency intern and assistant. I wanted to take a break from all my book reviews to discuss some of my experiences on the agency side in regards to the slush. One of my first thoughts after getting a peek at the slush during my internship was that I wish I’d gotten that experience earlier in my editing career. I think it’s useful experience not just for aspiring agents, but also editors and writers. It gave me a whole new respect for acquiring editors and a better understanding of the acquisitions process. I found there was a lot to be learned from the slush.

As an editor I don’t deal with acquisitions, just the edits that come after. That means I often heard tales about the slush, but until I interned with a literary agency I never saw it for myself. The most surprising aspect of seeing it? How many of the subs had decent writing. Sure you get authors who don’t follow guidelines and aren’t in querying shape yet, but I was surprised by how many subs I read that had passable writing. I was expecting a lot more of it to be nowhere near ready. My first dive into the slush to find something to pass to my agent caused me to struggle to decide what to pass on since as an editor I was so used to taking something no matter the quality and polishing it. As I got more experience with the slush, it became much easier as I learned to pick out the best writing and most eye-catching stories. The editor in me could see possible edits for many submissions, but as I learned through experience some of them just needed too much work. I was used to making editing decisions after acquisitions, not deciding what to acquire, and that was the big learning experience for me.  I learned how to spot quality in the slush and pick out the gems. Continue reading “Lessons from the Slush”

Subjectivity in Publishing

Subjectivity can be so frustrating for querying authors and those on submission to houses. When you are trying to get an agent you will get tired of hearing about how subjective the industry is but it is so true. Subjectivity is real and not some myth created to frustrate or console rejected writers. As frustrating as it can be for those trying to get published, subjectivity is what lands all the varying books out there on shelves for readers.

What is subjectivity? You know how some people prefer chocolate ice cream but those who are wrong prefer vanilla or strawberry? That is subjectivity. What one person might prefer another disagrees with. In publishing subjectivity is why some of us prefer specific genres or third person point of view over first person or vice versa. You know how a friend or family member recommended that one book to you that everyone was raving about? Yet when you read it you didn’t much care for it? That’s subjectivity in the industry. For me the most recent book that happened with was A Darker Shade of Magic. But subjectivity is why we get so many different types of books and writing on shelves. If not for subjectivity our reading options would be narrower. I’ve seen several books written in verse lately, but that sort of writing doesn’t appeal to me but it does appeal to others, so we can thank subjectivity for the variety of books it gives us. As they say variety is the spice of life. Continue reading “Subjectivity in Publishing”

Working With Critique Partners

Working with critique partners offers huge benefits to writers. There are the obvious benefits, like getting fresh eyes to look at your writing and help you polish. Then there are benefits you might not have considered, like the fact that critique partners can help you learn and get used to taking feedback, which prepares you to work with a professional editor. If you are a writer and don’t have any critique partners, I suggest you find some. And by critique partner I don’t mean family and friends who don’t write or read much. Get other writers who will edit you and give you constructive feedback instead of giving you a simple “I liked it.” Continue reading “Working With Critique Partners”

Filtering in Writing

Filter words. It can be so tempting to use them, but they weaken your writing, especially when overused. One of the most common issues I spot when editing is the use of filtering.  From my experience it’s a common habit for new authors and one that can be hard to break. Even yours truly had to learn to break the habit. Let’s get started on how to spot and revise filtering.

What is filtering? Filtering words are words that place your character between an important detail and your reader because the detail gets filtered through your character’s point of view. These filter words can tell us sensory details, what a character sees or feels, and what they think. Filtering can make it hard for readers to connect to your world because it creates distance between the reader and your narrator. Filtering can also lead to telling instead of showing. You can show us how your character feels about their world through dialogue and character development, but we don’t need details and actions filtered through their point of view. Let us connect directly to the world. Continue reading “Filtering in Writing”