Summer Solace: Celebrating the Solstice

Every year around June 21, I find myself sorting through mixed feelings about the changing seasons. The solstice marks the beginning of summer, my favorite time of year. However, it also marks the longest day of the year, which by default means that progressively shorter days will follow–and that’s not cool.

I’m not what you would call an avid outdoorswoman. I sweat too much and attract way too many mosquitoes for that. I don’t care for sleeping on the ground, although I will if everyone else is doing it, and I’m afraid of heights, which makes any ambitious hiking problematic. But I love to swim, and I love to bike, and I love the way I feel when I’ve shaken off the winter cold and the spring rain to stretch my muscles and embrace the sunshine.

In this season, there is a bounty of adventures to fill the days. To prepare myself, I have tuned up my bike, purchased a new swimsuit, and added highlights to my hair. Now I’m ready to spend some serious hours enjoying life outside.

I have often said that my perfect day entails an early morning bike ride (to avoid the real heat of the day), lunch consisting of a CPK Barbecue Chicken Chopped Salad (so I can feel like I’m being healthy), an afternoon swimming and sitting by the pool (to read, relax, and soak up the sun), an evening movie (to cool off in the air conditioning), and a night full of Mexican food and margaritas (yum!). The elusiveness of such a day makes it all the more magical.

Now, you might be thinking I could accomplish this perfect day, or some variation of it, any time of year. I could find an indoor pool to swim in, and movies and margaritas abound whether it is winter, spring, or fall. But to really make this day work, it has to be summer.

It’s hard to deny that life is a little easier to take when the sun is out, the flip-flops are on, and the restaurants have opened their beer gardens. Work isn’t so bad when there’s still enough daylight to get a run in afterward. And who doesn’t like to see people wearing skimpy clothes and showing off their freshly tanned skin, their freshly buffed biceps?

The summer solstice isn’t all glad tidings, however. Although I’ve done the prep work to take part in everything summer has to offer, not long after the solstice my thoughts turn dark. With less and less daylight accompanying each rotation of the earth, I get anxious thinking about how soon it will be fall, and after fall comes winter, and winter is my least favorite season! What’s going on here? The whole world is on the decline and I have experienced only a fraction of what I had planned! Damn it, why does this keep happening to me?!

As I go about my summertime activities, I am haunted by this feeling of sorrow and remorse. I try to be happy for the new season of romance, vacations, and sunburns, attending a swim party or two, maybe a couple of barbecues. But every event is tainted by the knowledge that the gloom of winter is right around the corner. Winter means staying inside, shoveling snow, and not seeing sunlight for days on end. Ugh. I can’t go through that again. It seems to me this is just one more injustice dealt out by Mother Nature—how can I accept that what should be the best day of the year signals impending doom? And there’s not a thing I can do about it!

And that’s when I find my solace.

It takes me nearly a month to mourn this loss of sunlight, but when I have grown tired of my despair, I decide to take action. (Yes, this happens every year.) I make a plan to take advantage of all of the good things about summer, all of the adventures I have been looking forward to for six months yet haven’t gotten around to doing. Usually this means outlining a schedule of bike riding in the middle of the day, swimming as many weekends and evenings as possible, finding someone who likes to hike the less ambitious trails, and cramming as many movies into a Saturday night as any human can. This results in about four weeks of intense summer fun.

While I have to admit that I do always enjoy this month of frantic merrymaking, I think the time has come for me to take advantage of the long days before they are on the wane. This year I am implementing a plan to begin this take-the-bull-by-the-horns, immerse-myself-in-all-things-summer approach without waiting for my despair to subside. In fact, I will avoid the despair altogether and surge through the summer with all the energy of the sun! For ninety days I will eat, bike, swim, and drink margaritas to my heart’s content! Each day will be better than the last, and no boundary will go untested! I will enjoy every minute of the sunshine and never let a single drop slip through my fingers! I’m going to do it and nothing can stop me!

            ***

            Okay, maybe I have made this plan before. And maybe it never quite works out because the weather doesn’t cooperate or work doesn’t cooperate or some other obligation comes up that prevents me from gorging on summertime excitement. And perhaps I have already figured out that it’s not really possible to spend three months overeating, overdrinking, and overexercising without burning out, especially at my advanced age. But maybe this year will be different. Maybe I can squeeze one more ounce of fun out of this season before I am hurtled into the next. I might fail, but it’s worth a try!

Originally published by the late, great Keepgoing.org.

Advertisement

New Essay Published: “Cornered”

In September I received news that an essay I have been writing for more than ten years was finally accepted for publication. Grande Dame Literary published “Cornered” on September 17, 2022.

I was so astounded by this news, my husband, who overheard my gasp, thought someone must have died. No, I assured him, this was a happy occasion. But my nine-year-old daughter, Nancy, who is oh-so-sweet and intuitive and also a fellow writer, understood it was more complicated than that. It was also bittersweet.

The day after I got the acceptance email, Nancy saw me in the kitchen. She congratulated me for the tenth time. Then she asked, “Are you a little sad you don’t get to work on it anymore?”

I had to admit I was. The words of Indigo Montoya came to mind. After so many years of working on it, what was I going to do now?

It’s not like I had been working on just this one thing all this time. Of course not. Reflecting on what had transpired over the past ten years, I realized I have had several pieces published since I first submitted “Cornered” back in 2011, here, here, and here. I wrote Perfect Bound and Freelancing as a Business, as well as other smaller ebooks. But all the while, “Cornered” was lurking.

In fact, what ended up being “Cornered” is the combination of two essays that I wrote separately, both on the theme of being followed by strange men. In 2016, when I was harassed yet again, I had a new frame for the stories. In 2021, I wove together the original “Cornered” and “Blaze Orange,” added the new story from 2016, and voila, I had my masterpiece.

Well, sort of.

The new essay was rejected more than a dozen times over the next year. I revised it modestly each time. I knew I was getting close because the journals kept saying I had made it to the final round before they decided against it. I felt I was so close, I decided to pay for feedback from one journal just so I could finally get it over the finish line. That, it turned out, was a waste of money. My luck was finding the right beta reader.

In July 2022, my friend and fellow writer Katherine Melvin offered to read the essay. She had already helped me out with other things, most notably Mystery at Creek Academy: Where Is Mrs. Quimby?, and I was reluctant to lean on her again. But, I told myself she wouldn’t have offered if she didn’t want to do it.

Katherine had three small, crucial changes to the essay. I made those changes, sent out the essay again, and finally, finally, it was accepted.

It is a relief to have it out in the world. There were some hiccups with the initial publication (HTML does not always do what you want it to do), but I worked with the journal and together we were able to fix problems.

I am very proud of how it turned out. Not only that, but a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. With this other work published, I have more ideas for new essays to write. Some already in revisions. Best of all, my persistence and hard work paid off, and that feels really, really good!

You can read “Cornered” here.

Publishing a Book with an 8-Year-Old

When my then 6-year-old daughter, Nancy, said she had an idea for a second-grade chapter book, I wanted to support her ambition. Thanksgiving 2019 was around the corner, and we thought it would give us a fun project for the holidays. Little did we know 20 months would pass before we achieved this dream.

With my professional background in book publishing, I knew writing a book as a team would be a challenge. We would have to agree on the approach, divide the work, and execute. Plus, one of us was a first grader.

So how did we do it?

First, we talked through some of Nancy’s ideas. We discussed character names and some of the big ideas she had for the plot. After a few conversations, we sat down to put words on a page. I opened my laptop and began to type.

Screech! It was immediately clear we had no idea what we were doing. Ideas are good, but we needed a plan. We gathered some loose-leaf and a pen and began to outline the book. Mostly that meant me asking prompting questions, and Nancy answering.

“Where does this story take place?”

“School.”

“Who are the characters?”

Nancy named six of her best friends.

“So far all the characters are girls. Will this be a school for girls and boys, or just girls? A regular school or a boarding school?”

“All girls. Boarding school.”

“OK, now is there magic in this story?”

“No.”

We planned 10 chapters, and Nancy and I took turns with the typing. (That was likely the most harrowing part, but we were a team!) We often wrote just a few sentences at a time, but after several months, we had completed a first draft. Working title: Carla and Lola Go to School, But Where Is Ms. Quimby? Celebrations ensued!

Nancy asked what more we would need to do before we could publish our book. I explained all the steps, and she vowed to follow them. Next up: Revisions.

Not surprising given the age and experience of the authors, several plot points were illogical. Why would there be a tree that looks like a shed? If Ms. Quimby is married, why would she run off and marry a prince? Now age 7, Nancy recognized these problems and we fixed them. Eventually we made it through the revisions. Again, celebrations ensued.

“Nancy, it is time for us to read the story straight through on our own. We will each take a copy and make our changes, then we will compare notes.”

“Okay!”

I read my copy—all 80 pages—in a matter of days. Nancy took months. She said the first chapter was boring (better fix that!). It felt like homework. Whenever I suggested she read the manuscript, she shrugged.

So, what finally got her to complete her reading?

One day, she was left alone in the family room with her father, who had a business call. The sketch pad and books were upstairs, and the only thing around to read was Carla and Lola. She read the manuscript in one sitting and declared she loved it.

One problem: The title no longer made sense. Carla and Lola, Nancy said, were not the main characters anymore. The whole gang of friends were equally important. So we revised the title.

That brought us to February 2021.

The next several steps went much faster. I called in a few favors from friends and applied some elbow grease to move the project along:

  • Children’s book author and friend Katherine Melvin and my husband, Chris, were our first readers. They identified several areas for improvement. More revisions!
  • We purchased an interior design from http://www.bookdesigntemplates.com, and I did the layout. Thank goodness for how-to videos.
  • We created the cover design using a free graphic design website called Canva.
  • Friend and editor Kathy Clayton proofread the book. More revisions!

Meanwhile, Nancy worked on the illustrations. She had completed five or so back in 2019, when we started the project. She hadn’t intended them for the book, but I loved them. They made the cut. We identified eight or 10 other places that needed a picture. She drew four over the next three months. What gives? Again, it felt like homework.

By August 2021, the art still wasn’t finished. So, we flexed: We cut some of the illustrations we had planned, teamed up on a few others, and called it good.

To complete the project, we uploaded our files to two websites. KDP, which is part of Amazon, is producing the print book, and Draft2Digital is distributing the ebook.

Those processes were not seamless. The cover design had to be redone multiple times over four weeks; a professional designer would have completed it in one week. We also had to add some pages so that our names could appear on the spine. There are now two special features at the back of the book.

At long last, on September 20, 2021, Mystery at Creek Academy: Where Is Mrs. Quimby? was published!

Climbing into her top bunk one night after rereading the book, Nancy said, “Our book would be a lot different if we hadn’t had other people help us with it.” Very true. It is a much better book because of their input.

We are proud of the final result. Nancy has given several copies to teachers and friends, and my friends have given copies to their children. The kids have enjoyed it, the Montgomery County library agreed to carry the ebook, and it may even be included in the Forest Knolls Elementary School library. Nancy and I are so pleased to have completed such a long and rewarding project.

Now Nancy’s 5-year-old sister, Hazel, has caught the publishing bug. She is planning to write her own book with me as coauthor. Working title: How I Learned to Cross-Stitch. Check back in 2023 to find out how it went!

Katherine Pickett is a professional writer and editor living in Silver Spring, Maryland. Mystery at Creek Academy: Where Is Mrs. Quimby?, coauthored with her daughter Nancy, is her first children’s book.

This article first appeared in the Northwood News, the quarterly newsletter of the Northwood-Four Corners Civic Association.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

Go Ahead, Authors, Disagree with Your Editor

An attendee at a webinar I presented had a question that surprised me. It was the April meeting of the St. Mary’s Chapter of the Maryland Writers’ Association, and we were discussing the importance of finding an editor with experience in your topic and genre. If you want the best edit, I explained, you need a professional who understands your area of expertise. That way the editor is much less likely to introduce errors.

And this is where I always tell the story about Babe Ruth’s “so-called” shot.

Great Catch?

When I worked in-house in the early 2000s, part of my assignment included making corrections to reprints. When a book sold out its first printing, I would get a copy of the book and mark any corrections that had been submitted in the interim. The corrections would appear in the next printing. These were usually fairly minor points, but one was memorable.

The book was a collection of baseball history, and one of the anecdotes referred to Babe Ruth’s so-called shot. “So-called shot”? What in the world could they mean by that? I was a big baseball fan at the time and I was left scratching my head.

Ah, yes. It took a moment but then I got it. It was not Ruth’s “so-called shot.” It was his “called shot.”

Babe Ruth famously pointed to the center-field stands in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series and proceeded to hit a home run to that location, thereby calling his shot. It was legendary. The world was watching. It was Cubs vs. Yanks, and the Yankees won, 7–5.

Ruth never would confirm whether he actually intended to call his shot, and so the legend grew even more. Baseball fans everywhere have debated the moment for decades.

But not everyone got the message. Apparently one of the book’s editors — copyeditor, proofreader, production editor. Who knows where the error originated? — was not familiar with the story. My guess is a proofreader made a last-minute “catch” and the damage was done. Thank goodness for reprints.

The Author Is the Expert . . . on Content

As I wrapped up this story, I noticed a hand go up. The attendee asked, “What should I do if I disagree with my editor’s changes?”

It took me a moment to answer, as many thoughts went through my head. I had just gone on a three-minute tangent about how editors make mistakes, so clearly there are times when you must overrule your editor.  But let’s not go crazy. What kinds of changes are we talking about? Who is the publisher? Who hired the editor?

Assuming (1) we are not talking about rejecting all of the editor’s changes, (2) the publisher has given the author allowance to overrule the editor, and (3) the author is not an egomaniac, my answer is, “Do not make those changes.”

Three Reasons to Overrule Your Editor

I have included a lot of factors in my calculus of whether this author should make or not make an editor’s changes. Context can definitely change things. For example, if the author is simply an egomaniac and does not like the idea of anyone changing her words, then there have to be some restriction of the author’s ability to overrule the editor. However, giving author and editor the benefit of the doubt, I see a few instances when it makes perfect sense to NOT make your editor’s suggested changes:

  • The edit changes your meaning.
  • The edit introduces an error.
  • The edit changes your voice, for example, using words you would not ever choose.

You are the expert when it comes to the content of your writing. That is true whether you write nonfiction, fiction, or memoir. You are the authority!

So, if you feel a change hurts your book, “stet” it. That means don’t make it. Leave the original or, if possible, suggest an alternative that satisfies you and the editor.

The Editor Is the Expert . . . on Grammar and Bookmaking

Now, you as the writer should also acknowledge that you probably don’t know everything. Although you are rightfully the expert in areas of content or voice, you may not be up-to-date on all of the latest grammar, spelling, and punctuation trends.

You also likely are not as familiar with the many customs and conventions in bookmaking. And why should you be? This is why editors exist: to help authors navigate the rough seas of book publishing.

That doesn’t mean editors don’t make mistakes. We do. Some editors are not good at their jobs, unfortunately, and even the good ones miss things or may misunderstand your meaning. Therefore, even in the arena of grammar and bookmaking, there may be times when you have to overrule your editor.

In this realm, I recommend taking a pragmatic course of action:

  • Check with your editor if a change looks suspicious. Ask why she made the change so you can understand her point of view.
  • Ask other editors or writers for their opinions so you can fully understand the issue.
  • If you still feel your editor has made a mistake, look for a third solution to the problem, rather than simply reverting to your original wording.

It can be tricky going against your editor. You might be concerned about insulting them, or you might be angry that they introduced an error. That is the cardinal sin of editing. But open communication and mutual respect will get you through.

Good editors are most concerned with creating a good book. They acknowledge their mistakes, and if you are the one who is mistaken, they will take a few minutes to straighten everything out.

So go ahead, be bold. Disagree with your editor. Chances are you will get a better book when you stand up for your vision and participate fully in the editing process.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

Award Winner: Our Shining Legacy

Last summer I had the honor of working on a beautiful family history titled Our Shining Legacy. Written by sisters Jewel Waller Davis and Joyce Waller Baden, the book tells the inspiring story of the Waller-Dungee family and their family-owned jewelry store, Waller & Company Jewelers.

The store, located in Richmond, Virginia, was started by their grandfather, M.C. Waller, and continues to operate. It is one of the few Black-owned family-owned stores in the area, and it has been in business since 1900.

A couple of weeks ago I received this exciting news:

At the recent 2021 conference of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS), a book about our family history, Our Shining Legacy, was named winner of an International AAHGS Book Award in the Non-Fiction: Historical category.  

AAHGS has been working to preserve African American history for the past 40 years. According to its website (www.AAHGS.org):

The International AAHGS Book Award® celebrates published works that promote the knowledge of African American history, genealogy and research, and to introduce the substantial contributions made by African Americans in American and International history.

The legacy in Our Shining Legacy is real. Jewel and Joyce are both very accomplished women, as is seemingly their entire lineage. Several generations of Wallers and Dungees are profiled, each with a resume to envy. To be sure, these sisters had a lot of history to share. And the accolades continue to pile up.

Congratulations, Joyce and Jewel! Your hard work paid off. Thank you for letting me be part of your publishing journey!

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

On to Design for Mystery at Creek Academy

Previously I wrote that my daughter/coauthor and I had reached a milestone with our book. We had finished the revisions and were sending it out to beta readers. Of course, revisions are never truly over, and I was afraid it would take another 18 months to get to a final manuscript. That’s how long it took us to get to a nearly complete manuscript.

Good news! It didn’t take 18 months!

We received excellent feedback from our beta readers, Chris Pickett and Katherine Melvin. We are so grateful to them for taking the time to read out work and offer their help. The book wouldn’t be the same without them.

Over about four weeks, Nancy and I worked through all of their suggestions and did our best to fix the problems they had pointed out. And believe me, there were plenty!

I still had to nudge my daughter often to get her to work on the book. But she came to an important conclusion: “It’s fun to work on the revisions when you do it a lot. When there is a lot of time in between, it’s like, Ugh, can’t I do something else?”

Smart cookie.

We are now endeavoring to put the book into a design template. This is new territory for me, but I’m excited. We chose one of Joel Friedlander’s inexpensive templates, opting to pay with our time and sweat instead of our money for this project.

Wish us luck!

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

Sample Edit or Editing Test, Which One Is Best?

Authors and publishers looking to hire an editor need to confirm the editor’s practical skills before making an offer. Editing tests and sample edits are the most common ways to do this. Both are effective, but they have distinct uses and can have very different results. If you want to be certain you are getting the right editor for your book at a fair price, you will do well to know the difference.

An Editing Test Helps the Client

When I was first starting out as an editor, I applied for a job at several publishing houses. I have done freelance work for many others. Nearly all of them asked me to take an editing test to prove I was qualified.

These tests would often include various sections that required different skills, such as spelling tricky or industry-specific words and formatting references, as well as a selection of writing to edit. The excerpt would be riddled with errors the publisher expected me to catch.

This was and is common practice. A well-crafted editing test is a very good way for publishers to get a feel for an editor’s skills before they hire them. And I never minded. In fact, I would include an offer to take a test in my cover letters. How else could I demonstrate not only that I had taken the courses but that I possessed the skills of a professional editor?

(I have even guided other publishers on how to do this; see this article in the IBPA Independent.)

Other Ways to Assess an Editor’s Skills

Early in my career, editing tests were my friend. They gave me a practical way to show my stuff to a publisher that would have many kinds of books and other projects for me to edit. Once I began working for individuals outside of traditional presses, however, I discovered I needed a different way to prove I was qualified.

I discovered I needed a different way to prove I was qualified.

Unfortunately, I found the most obvious options were flawed:

  • Individuals wanting to hire me weren’t likely to have prepared a test, and I couldn’t exactly provide one for them. I would know all the answers.
  • Preparing a portfolio of previous editing work would be difficult. I would need permission from the authors to share their work, and as a newer editor, my portfolio was slim.
  • A list of recent titles, though helpful, can give a skewed impression of an editor’s work. Many people work together to publish a book. How much credit (or blame) can one editor take?
  • Providing references or testimonials would give me some street cred, but a test is much more objective than endorsements from strangers.

All of these options have their uses (well, maybe not the first one; I don’t know anyone who creates their own test). Many editors’ websites, including my own, provide a list of recent titles as well as testimonials from satisfied clients. I believe both add to the picture of who the editor is and what their experience has entailed. If you need an editor, try to find either or both of these features on their website.

But these suggestions also leave something to be desired.

Thankfully, there is one more method for demonstrating the high quality of one’s work without all of the drawbacks. For authors, this is also likely the best way to learn what a particular editor can do for you.

A Sample Edit Helps Both the Client and the Editor

Somewhere along the line I must have heard about a sample edit, because after debating the other ways to woo clients, that’s what I decided to do.

Here’s how the sample edit works:

  1. A potential client sends me their manuscript, or at least 50 pages of it.
  2. I select 2–5 pages from the sample and edit it as I would the full manuscript. At the same time, I assess how much time it will take me to complete the project and what level of editing this project really needs.
  3. I return the edited sample to the author along with a cost estimate and scheduling information.

Sample edits have many benefits, for both editor and author:

  • As the editor, I get to see what shape the manuscript really is in—not just what the author told me—and I can prove my worth to the author.
  • The author gets to see what kinds of changes I am likely to make to their work and determine if we are a good fit.

Whereas a test will tell you if the editor is qualified, a sample edit will tell you if this is someone you can trust with your writing project.

This is the key difference: Whereas a test will tell you if the editor is qualified, a sample edit will tell you if this is someone you can trust with your writing project.

(Longtime readers will know I am a huge fan of sample edits. You can read more about them here and here.)

What This Means for You

If you simply want to assess your editor’s knowledge, the editing test may be right for you. Those who go this route should be sure they are crafting a test that is reflective of the challenges in the work.

Also—and this is very important—they should be up front with their editor that what they are sending is indeed a test and not a sample. Here’s why.

Remember what I said about using the sample edit to assess what level of editing your book needs? That has real-world implications. If I believe what you have sent is a representative sample but it is actually much worse than the real thing, then I will misjudge the quality of the writing and the cost estimate will reflect the additional work.

To ensure you aren’t overcharged, be transparent with your editor.

There’s nothing to say you can’t insert a few errors into your sample to make sure the editor can catch basic typos or address your pet peeves. However, it is counterproductive to submit something that does not reflect the type or amount of work the editor will be doing.

Now, if you want to know what the editor will do on live copy (i.e., your writing project), and you want to get a fair estimate of the cost involved, the sample edit is your better bet. That’s because the sample edit does double duty, helping you and the editor to know if this is a good match.

Editing is an emotional time. You want to hire the editor who best fits you and your book.

In the end, the most important thing to remember is this: Editing is an emotional time. You want to hire the editor who best fits you and your book. Sample edits and editing tests can help you do that.

For more about how to hire and work with a freelance editor, check out this series of posts.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

The Time is NOW to Register for Summer Classes

I am pleased to announce the return of two exciting classes I will be teaching this summer: Launch Your Writing or Editing Business Now and Choose Your Best Book-Publishing Path. Both are hosted by The Writer’s Center in Bethesda and will be held via Zoom.

With online classes, your location no longer holds you back! These classes are fun and interactive and will set you on the path to achieving your next big goal. (You can even attend from your favorite vacation spot.)

Details for each class follow. Feel free to email me with any questions. Just reply to this email. More information is also available through the Writer’s Center website

Launch Your Writing or Editing Business Now, The Writer’s Center, May 15 – June 12

Prepare for business success with this four-week class. Together we will explore the seven steps you need to take to launch a writing or editing business that thrives. Topics include getting the right training, growing your network, choosing your business model, managing business finances, and maintaining your business once launched. Plenty of in-class and at-home exercises will spur the momentum and excitement of building a business from scratch. By the end of this class, you will be well on your way to realizing your dream of working for yourself. Note: No meeting on May 29. Presented online. Register via the Writer’s Center website.

Choose Your Best Book-Publishing Path, The Writer’s Center, June 22 and June 29

In this two-week online class, we will explore what you get with each publishing route, what it takes to succeed, and the financial side of publishing. Be prepared for lots of personal exploration and hands-on investigation. After this class, you will know what your options are and be on your way to determining which book-publishing path will lead to your success. Presented online. Register via the Writer’s Center website.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

Publishing Stories: Facing the World of Traditional Publishing

In this guest post, first-time author F.M. Deemyad shares her experience with traditional publishing. Her book, The Sky Worshipers: A Novel of Mongol Conquests, tells the story of the brave women taken captive by the Mongols and how they influenced them from within. The book is available now on NetGalley for viewers and bloggers to download. The print book will be in bookstores on March 2, 2021.

Facing the World of Traditional Publishing

The publishing process is quite intimidating for the first-time novelist who has spent months, and in my case, years trying to complete a work worth reading. Suddenly one feels outside one’s reclusive shell, forced to attend conferences, reach out to agents, and give short speeches to impress them. There is a need to learn the skills necessary to market one’s work, not just remain focused on accomplishing a voluminous manuscript. Marketing is an entirely different world from the world of writing and editing, and most writers find the process intimidating if not downright frightening.

The Agent Search

Finding the right agent/representative is similar to traditional marriage. The parents (here the publishing company, market forces, etc.) have to give their consent for what can turn into a lifelong commitment. Also, the agent and the writer have to be the right match, or the relationship will never take shape or be short-lived.

During the face-to-face conversations, the agents I encountered were mostly young and focused on specific genres. One has a few minutes to convince the agent about the positive outcome of a longtime struggle to accomplish one’s goal. They call it an elevator pitch. That is if one shares the ride when ascending or descending two floors.

Before meeting one agent at a conference last year, I wondered if Shakespeare was alive and had to meet the agent about publishing Romeo and Juliet, what would his pitch sound like?

“My novel is about two young lovers from two feuding families who are left with no choice but to commit suicide at the end.”

The agent would probably politely refuse the work and say, “We don’t do tragedies.”

Considering the magnitude of the novel I had written, which encompassed the entire Mongol era of the thirteenth century and the women taken captive during that time, only two or three agents out of a dozen who interviewed me during numerous conferences requested the first few pages of my work.

Most agents wanted to see the full manuscript, not just a few pages, and they showed interest in my work except for what they called “too much historical fact.” I was reluctant to turn the narrative into a mere novel, void of the details that made it historically authentic.

The other issue was that the process was excruciatingly slow. One publisher reached out to me and accepted my work almost one year after submission. By then, I was already under contract with another publisher.

I found recordkeeping to be of utmost importance. Having the name of the agent, pertinent publishing company, date of submission, and other details handy prevented me from reaching out to them more than once. There are online resources available that are also good for recordkeeping but I generally handle matters the old-fashioned way.

Two resource books that I bought at a conference namely,—“Novel and Short Story Writers Market” and “Guide to Literary Agents”—were useful in finally allowing me to find the right match for my novel.

What Developmental Editors Can Do

I must mention here that utilizing the services of great developmental editors, who understand your work and appreciate what you are trying to accomplish, is helpful not only because they elevate your work but also because they give you the confidence you need before embarking on this journey.

My editor was well versed in classic literature and had studied at the University of Oxford. She also did the line editing of my work and was extremely helpful in identifying modern terminology that did not belong in a book written by a narrator who lived in the thirteenth century. For example, I had used the term “global” when in fact this was an era long before Galileo, and people considered the earth to be flat.

I am glad that I chose the same person for developmental editing as well as the line editing of my work. This allowed my editor to read the work more than once, and even during line-editing after the corrections she had asked for were implemented; she did point out, on more than one occasion, areas that needed further development.

Writers Helping Writers

I must add that attendance at writers’ conferences had its merits, for it allowed me to learn about the publishing process and the choices available to writers. These conferences also are great venues for getting the word out about one’s upcoming novel, poetry book, or other work in progress. Also, reaching out to other writers and book enthusiasts via social media allowed me to learn from their experiences and set the stage for presenting my work when published.

Another benefit of attending conferences for most of us who are introverts is finding and developing relationships with other writers and even established authors. When the time came to find individuals to write blurbs for me, I had a list of outstanding authors to reach out to and ask if they were willing to read nearly 400 pages and evaluate my work. Several authors agreed, and their evaluation certainly helped to make the work more appealing to potential readers.

Finding the right group to workshop with is another important factor in succeeding in this path. At least three individuals in a workshop group that I had joined had their work published, and they provided me with valuable lessons on how to navigate this process. In addition, the workshop placed the right amount of pressure on me to accomplish the work within a limited time frame.

Comps

Last but not least are comps. Comps are works that are comparable to your novel or nonfiction book that have sold well and have been written in recent years. Finding the right comps, usually two or three books, will help the agent identify the status of your work. However, you must avoid comparing your work with the most outstanding authors who have sold thousands of books, especially if you are a first-time author. The comps have to be reasonably close to the work you have accomplished if you want to increase your chances of success.

In conclusion, I must mention that as in any serious endeavor in life, obtaining valuable information is the key to success. Whether you are in the habit of doing online research, or you prefer to obtain your information through books and in conferences, diligence, tireless effort, and remaining committed to your goal of becoming a published author pays off. Like gardening, writing is a profession that requires long-term commitment. One cannot expect a tree to grow overnight and bear fruit.

About the Author

The Sky Worshipers: A Novel of Mongol Conquests

F.M. Deemyad is the author of The Sky Worshipers: A Novel of Mongol Conquests. Born in Kermanshah, Iran, she grew up in the capital, Tehran, attending bilingual schools run by Christian and Jewish minorities. Her father, born and raised in India, had come to Iran when he was in his late twenties. Being the son of a linguist who had taught English Literature in India for a number of years, he exposed the author in her preschool years to the English language, and she learned to love classic literature under her father’s instructions. She received a B.A. in Biophysics from the University of Houston and a Master’s degree in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She currently resides with her husband in Maryland.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

I’m Coming Out… 2021 Events

Nearly every event I had planned for 2020 was either cancelled or moved online. For 2021, we have all hopped on to the virtual bandwagon, and that’s a good thing. 

I have a number of speaking engagements and workshops planned for January to April on a range of topics. I hope you will be able to attend at least one. Most are free and open to the public, and all are virtual.

  • January 21, 2021: Nonfiction Authors Panel with Valarie Austin (moderator), Phil Padget, and myself. Howard County Chapter of the Maryland Writers Association. 7-9 p.m. Find out what it’s like to be a published nonfiction author. You must register on the MWA-HoCo website to receive the link.
  • February 9, 2021: Self-Publishing, Traditional Publishing, or Hybrid?: A discussion of pros and cons. Midwest Publishers Association. 7:30-9:30 p.m. Learn more about MiPA here.
  • February 20, 2021: Is Your Writing Mojo MIA? Panel discussion with Valarie Austin, B. Morrison, and myself (moderator). Montgomery and Frederick County chapters of the MWA. 1-3 p.m. Get innovative strategies for restarting your writing. You must register on the MWA-Montgomery website to receive the link.
  • March 20, 2021: Crafting a Marketable Manuscript. Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. 10:30-11:30 a.m. Learn more about CAPA here.
  • April 15, 2021: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process (a perennial favorite). Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. 7-8:30 p.m. Learn more about UPPAA here.

Want to know more? You will find descriptions and all the details on the Events page on my website.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!