Friday, September 19, 2008

From My Side of the Desk – Natasha Bacchus

Hello everyone! Today we're going to have Natasha Bacchus with us. She's a Senior Editor from The Wild Rose Press. It's an honor to have her here with us. There's a lot of wonderful advice here. If you have any questions, feel free to ask as she'll probably pop in off and on today! Enjoy!

Sarah sent me a list of questions, which I will try to answer in the body of this article. Though I work for The Wild Rose Press and I am an editor, let me go on the record saying two things: First, I am an editor, I am not God. Please do not take my article as a Holy Grail on how to be published. Writing and publishing are subjective arts and these are my thoughts and opinions, and frankly, opinions are like lungs. Everyone has at least one, and they’re usually full of hot air. Secondly, and in relation to the first, these are MY opinions, MY experiences, MY philosophies and in no way, shape, or form, reflect the opinions of TWRP or the Deadly Vixens. Having said all that, let’s begin:

I edit romance stories. Romance has been criticized for being nothing more than formula. You want formula? Look at your newspapers. Day in, day out, the same tired story: someone’s dead. A country’s fighting. A sports team won, a sports team lost. The names and locations may change, but the basic gist remains the same.

In romance, you have a premise: two people, struggling with life and their personal issues to emerge victorious over those conflicts and win the heart of their lover. But the way that they can manifest is endless and I’m constantly amazed and delighted by the innovative and imaginative ways authors handle this premise. I love romance, I love happy endings. Life is hard enough without having to read some depressing story where everyone dies or goes insane. To me, that’s not entertainment, that’s torture. Give me a story with wit and intelligence—don’t treat me like an idiot (I hate it when I read stories that are so far beyond the stretch of the imagination and the writer defends it as “it’s just a story.” Never use “just” when you’re describing your story—it deserves more respect than that, and so do your readers. Deal with them honestly and they’ll stay faithful to you).

And as an aside to the criticism of romance, doesn’t it strike anyone else as odd that an industry so female dominated is constantly put down? Yet, genres that are considered ‘male’ (mystery, science fiction, and the like) are not subject to these comments, but they use formula (because every piece of writing has a formula). In the mystery, the victim dies, the sleuth steps in and in bringing the villain to justice, rights the scales of justice and brings good and evil back into balance. In an action book, the protagonist steps into the fray (because a loved one is in danger, because it’s his job, because he (or she) is a moral person), must overcome a series of obstacles to rescue the victim (or find the treasure, or bring home the reward).

The ignorance when people think of romance irks the feminist in me. Back in the day, women were only allowed to do the light, brainless stuff—no reading of the newspaper, no holding a job. No, no. That was too hard for women, too mature. No, the historical female got to tend to home and hearth (y’know, because raising children and keeping a home is sssoooo easy) and let her man worry about all the tough stuff.

It’s no wonder then (to me, at least) that when women started breaking away, writing about what mattered to them, their hopes and dreams, the resident authority stepped in and rewarded these suffragettes with a benevolent, condescending pat on the head. And so, even though today’s romances can deal with everything from abuse to female war vets, ignorant, sexist and infantile stereotypes exist.

Rant complete. If you write romance, be proud, and ignore the ignorant. You’re contributing to a multi-billion dollar industry, and a genre that is one of the most popular in the bookstores and the world. Be proud, but be professional.

Get people to read your work before you submit and most importantly, get a cold reader (as in, someone who hasn’t heard you talk about the story/characters, etc. They’re coming in cold (hence their name) and are more likely to catch big errors). Print your story on colored paper, it helps catch typos. Put your story away for 4-6 weeks, then read it again.

When you are ready to submit, READ THE PUBLISHER’S GUIDELINES CAREFULLY. Many people get rejected not because the story is horrible, but because the house doesn’t publish that type of work. Next, if the publisher says “no simultaneous submissions,” listen and follow. To do otherwise is arrogant. I’m sorry if you are one of those people who believe rules don’t apply to you (but really, do you do the same thing with your company’s policies or your city/state/country’s laws?), but I find this behavior not just disrespectful to me as an editor (because you’re wasting my time. Why would I want to invest months into your story only to be told you decided to go elsewhere? It’s like two-timing a boy/girlfriend), but more than that, I find it incredibly disrespectful of the other writers who are willing to do the work and have the maturity to understand that for every editor there are something like thirty or fifty authors and being patient in submitting is the price paid if they want to be published.

I love authors who understand life on my side of the desk. I love authors who understand the nature of the industry and are willing to put in their time, effort, and energy in creating both a professional reputation and a stellar book—and I’ll let you in on a little secret. So do other editors, and here’s something else, we are far more willing to work with new authors who display a professional attitude than a multi-pubbed author who thinks he/she gets some kind of “cut in front of these authors” “let me act like a diva,” card for having writing credits.

So, now you’ve written your book and you’re sending it out into the wide, wild world, looking for a home…have you ever met an editor who thinks they’re opinion is akin to the stone tablets? Who passes judgment on your manuscript like Moses reading the commandments? Yeah, I can’t stand those types of editors, either. When I contract a story, it’s because the plot and characters resonate with me. I love smart stories with humor, where the characters act like real people and not cardboard cutouts. But remember, just because I don’t contract a story doesn’t mean the story lacks merit. Writers get despondent when they get a rejection.

Folks, please.

If you’re looking for a publishing house, agent, editor, or book sales to validate the worth of your story (or worse, your own self-worth), you’re in a lot of trouble (Trust me. I know. I have writing friends, and I too have been on the receiving end of a rejection). Finding a publishing house is like finding true love. Sometimes you just gotta keep putting yourself out there (and just like dating, don’t be needy or fake. Present a quality product (i.e. the book—I’m sure as a person, you’re already a quality product) and be patient.).

What defines a quality product? First of all, when you write your query, give the editor her/his name. Don’t do a “Dear Editor.” It’s sloppy and you come across as too lazy to do the most basic research. If an editor can’t trust you to do something that simple, do you think they’re going to trust that you know how to write a detailed, descriptive, tight book? Second, make sure there are no typos. No one expects you to be perfect (Seriously. I’m sure you can find 1000 typos in this article alone), but please, things like, “hse looked into his eyes., Why couldn’t’ their be piece in there lves?” is incredibly sloppy and does you no favors. I have no patience for stuff like this. I’ve heard authors say, “But it’s computers. I’m an artist and I don’t get technology.” Listen, no one’s asking you to build a desktop or become the next Bill Gates, but you do need to know the basic functions of your computer. You’re a writer, it’s your tool. Would you trust a dentist who says, “I’m a dentist but I just don’t get how to work this drill.”? Neither would I.

If you’re rejected, take it in the spirit in which it’s given. No one’s rejecting YOU. They’re rejecting the story—it’s a product.

It is.

I know authors hate hearing this, but it’s true. A book needs a market and it needs to sell. If you don’t ever want to get a rejection, self-publish—and I’m not saying that to be a smart aleck. I mean it honestly. If you feel your story would be corrupted by any type of edit or re-write, then hold to your vision and publish it yourself. On the bright side, you won’t have to share your royalties with anyone.

Some authors send hate mail, insult and abuse editors when their book gets rejected. This, I don’t get. I’ve seen stories with enough plot holes to hide Antarctica, and when authors send me these letters, I’m left rolling my eyes. Who are you writing for, yourself or the reader? Because editors are readers too, and if we don’t get your story, chances are, others won’t. Does this mean you have to take everything an editor says to heart? Never. But look at the comments. If they’re pointing out issues that are objective (for example: in an eighty-page story, you’ve used the word “was” 1200 times, and 90% of your sentences begin with, “I was,”), I’d say those are things you’ll want to change. But if an editor says they don’t get why Madison won’t help her brother with his company and you’ve explained on page three it’s because the company is a shell for the mob, then I’d say that editor read too fast and that’s a comment you can ignore (now, if the editor has a problem with its believability or exactly how it plays a role in the plot, then that might be worth a second look).

And most of all, beyond anything else I’ve said, please, please, PLEASE remember something: You have a sacred obligation, don’t screw with it.

Imagine a someone, anyone. They’ve been chewed out by the boss (or they had to chew out an employee), the car is in the shop and now the mechanic is saying the repair is going to cost three times the estimate. They forgot their anniversary, the kids have the chicken pox. In short, it’s been a really, really, bad, crappy, day.

They come home, eat dinner, kiss and make up with the spouse, tuck the kids into bed and now, in the quiet hush of evening, when the house is silent and dark, they reach for a book, your book. And in the small act of opening the cover, they are asking you for something: “Entertain me. Pull me into your world and make me believe this isn’t a story, but a true accounting of people I’d want to call friends. Let me forget all the stress and trials of my everyday life and for one moment, let me see the triumph of love, justice, and the happy ever after—let me see that despite conflict and obstacles, good people do win in the end.”

That’s who you are writing for, those people. The ones who have saved their change to buy your book, the ones who’ve turned off the t.v. to read your book. They have invested their time, their energy, their money, and their hope, in you.

Be worthy of that.

©2008 Reprinted with permission.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed by the guest blogger do not necessarily reflect those of The Deadly Vixens.

7 deadly screams:

Molly Daniels said...

Again, excellent advice. It still floors me that authors would reply to rejection notices so angrily and unprofessionally!

Molly Daniels said...

My other question is, if the editor names are nowhere to be found, how can you know who to address the query to? Or does it take a detailed search of the publisher's site? Or emailing an author for a name? I don't like addressing 'Dear Editor', but sometimes I'm not sure who I'm sending it to.

Anonymous said...

Hi Molly!

Most pusblishers will have the editor list on their submissions page.

If the name isn't available on the website, try calling head office and asking reception--they usually have lists. :D


Sarah Mäkelä said...

Hi Natasha! Thanks for the excellent advice and blogging with us at The Deadly Vixens. It's great having you here!

Sierra Wolfe said...

Excellent post Natasha. I enjoyed reading your comments. Everything you said was so true. It helps to be reminded of that.

I was also wondering about addressing the editor. How do you know who to address the query to if there is a list of editors. How do you know which particular editor to address it to? Do you just choose one name from the list?

Thanks so much for taking the time to blog with us. I've really enjoyed all the great advice this week!

Anonymous said...

When I worked for a certain train-based restaurant here in the Seattle area, one of the managers told us: "Remember that for a lot of these guests, this is their special night out, that they've saved up and waited months for, and it's your job to make that night as special as you can." Your remarks about remember the readers who have had crappy days and came to our books looking for escape and entertainment struck a similar chord in me, and I'm with you in seeing that all writers and editors remember that.

Very well-written words, Natasha, though I of course expected nothing less from the Hummingbird Goddess *s*


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the love, folks. :D

Sierra, if I was subbing, I would address it to the senior editor and then she would either handle it herself, of pass it down the line...the big point is to address it to SOMEONE because it shows you took the time to research the company.