Saturday, April 5, 2008

Revision Letters

I've been sending out mass quantities of revision letters this week, averaging about 3-4 a day. My average would be higher, but I had a day and a half spent on issues related to our writing contest and other stuff. On the days when I've been able to focus on revision letters, I've been writing revisions for an average of about 200,000 words. That's a pretty good clip.

I'm seeing some common threads in the revisions that might be worth sharing.

Tangled Timelines.

When we say "start in the middle of the action," that doesn't mean "start in the middle of the plot." In fact, by starting in the middle of the plot, you will have to go backwards in time to pick up the scenes from the beginning of the plot, and much of that will end up being cast as backstory. This only aggravates the problem which leads us to advise that you start in the middle of the action. Nobody wants to read a lot of backstory or exposition, especially not in the beginning of a book.

Bad formatting.

We have very few formatting requirements. Very few. And when an author can't conform to the very few, very simple formatting requirements posted in our submissions guidelines, that makes me worry that they'll disregard our other instructions. (For the record, we don't really care about things like font and line spacing in electronic submissions, but we care very much about the type of file submitted.)

Weak point of view.

At least six times this week, I had to write instructions to authors about fixing scenes where the point of view was almost abstract. These scenes tend to be heavy on dialogue and action, so heavy that we lose track of the point of view character. More than once this week, I've seen scenes where even the author lost track of the point of view character -- in one memorable scene, the point of view character walked offstage, and the rest of the characters continued the action without him.

Hanging meat.

This is a minor thing, and peculiar to our subgenre, but I'd like to know where this trend comes from: heroines being hung by the wrists so that they are completely suspended. This is not a good start to a sex scene. If you don't believe me, invite your significant other to hoist you into the air by a pair of handcuffs and then see if he gets past first base. Set a stopwatch and time how long your shoulders can handle it. (By the way, this falls generally under the category of "Block Your Scenes." Alicia talked about the importance of this a few posts ago.)

Worth noting: these problems are being encountered in manuscripts good enough to get some editorial attention on revisions. Even the good ones need help!

On Amazon and Booksurge

Ian asked in the comments about our opinions of the Amazon/Booksurge dust-up. It doesn't affect my company directly because we're not a pod printer. We do offset print runs just like the big girls. But, looking at it from another perspective, it affects us greatly because publishing models are breaking down right across the industry, and small presses are unequally effected by all these changes. In some cases, indeed, it seems that the changes are designed to harm small presses.

Richard Curtis does an excellent job of tying things together in his recent blog post. Put this together with Amazon's overseas moves about list prices and discounts, and you'll begin to see the bigger picture. But really, there's a lot more to it than all this. I can't tell you how many hours of my life I've spent trying to think through and around all the angles. In essence, it's a distribution conundrum: how do we get our books into the hands of readers?

And that's a question I think we all must ponder. The times, they are a-changin'.



Ian said...



*Scraps story that has no beginning or end (only a middle), right-justified in 6-point Edwardian Script that features unseen third, fourth, and fifth narrators talking about a woman they've strung up upside-down so they can throw stuff at her head*

You guys NEVER let me have any fun!


Dave Shaw said...

Re: hanging meat, etc.

Um, Theresa, your comment about how long your shoulders would last don't come from personal experience, do they? Do you do research on such things? (I'm trying to ask this innocently...)

Note to self:

Must stop submitting .wri files...

Re: "In some cases, indeed, it seems that the changes are designed to harm small presses."

It's sad that so many big businesses have been adopting the 'kill it before it grows' approach to competition from smaller companies. It's all too reminiscent of a certain large software company. Sigh.

Edittorrent said...

A lady never tells.