"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nuggets from a Day with an Editor

Couple side notes first:

Thank you, Beth for the fabulous review of The Emerald Tablet! I totally appreciate it! I especially like her comments on Jack the Nogical - "His appearances were rare, but gold every time."

I'll be featured this Friday on Blog Talk Radio - Book Bites for Kids! The interview is noon central time, but will be available thereafter on the site.

If you live in the Austin area and have no other plans for Saturday, head up to Burnet, TX for the Christmas on the Square Festival. I'll be signing copies of The Emerald Tablet outside the library from 11-3. Bring the kids, and see you there!


So I mentioned this past weekend I went to a fab workshop featuring Jill Santopolo, editor at the Balzer and Bray imprint of Harper/Collins, and Cynthia Leitich Smith, super great Austin-based author and faculty member at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

The format was this: Each participant had submitted the first three pages of a WIP for public critique. All participants had read the submissions ahead of time. And for ten minutes Jill and Cynthia discussed each piece. What worked. What didn't.

They were encouraging. They were helpful. They were very honest. It was amazing, and I'd be totally lying if I said I wasn't the least bit nervous waiting for my piece to come up. Let's face it. I was very nervous. There's always that fear your precious baby will be slandered in front of thirty other people and everyone will turn to you with looks of pity in their eyes.
Thankfully, that didn't happen at all. I was totally pleased with my critique and actually kept enough focus to gleam some nuggets of gold from the day.

In the first three pages, here are some key things to keep in mind:

  • Emotional Plot and Action Plot - stories with both are nice.
  • The plot hinted at in the first three pages should be a good showing of the plot for the overall book.
  • Will the plot be enough to sustain the whole novel? Maybe it will, but the editor needs to feel confident by reading the first three pages that the plot suggested at will be enough. So the point here is if your book is about three guys hunting grizzly bears in on the Appalachian Trail, don't have the first three pages be about there indecision to get a haircut.
  • Voice of the main character should match the MC's age.
  • Read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King
  • Minimize backstory
My advice - anytime you can get this type of critiquing, take it.
Jill critiqued as a Harper editor: what they are looking for, why they'd immediately say no to some pieces. She mentioned being aware what is already out there, especially at a house you are considering. She mentioned how the drive is to really find pieces that will stand out among the crowd. They receive a lot of great writing, and when she reads submissions, she is looking for a reason to say no.


christine M said...

Sounds like such a great workshop. I think the thing that makes me nervous is that they are "looking for a reason to say no"

PJ Hoover said...

Yeah, it certainly makes it pretty clear what authors are up against :)

Anonymous said...

You are a brave, brave woman. Yay, you! So glad you got good stuff out of it. If there was a workshop like this in my area, I'd be there in a heartbeat.

Unknown said...

Sounds like a great workshop! I am jealous!!!

Andrea Coulter said...

Hey, thanks for sharing what you learned!

Angela Ackerman said...

Thanks for sharing, PJ. Becca and I are avid cheerleaders for Self Editing for Fiction Writers. It's a book most writers will find themselves reading over and over again.

Miriam Forster said...

Mmmm... Sounds like a book I need to read. I'm glad you had a good time at the workshop. Those things are always nerve-racking for me too.

Anonymous said...

ER just posted both your review and interview. The link to the interview is:


Kim Baccellia

Tabitha said...

Wonderful nuggets! Thanks for sharing. :) And I've got Self-Editing for Fiction Writers right next to my computer. :)

Patty Palmer said...

I've heard many of these nuggets before. They're obviously tried and true. So why is it so dang hard to get it right? Thanks for the summation. Sounds like a great event!

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, Amy! I force myself to be a brave woman!

Maybe next workshop we have you should fly here, Beth!

You're welcome, Lynn!

I love SEFFW also, Angela! And I'm way overdue for re-reading it! It's on my desk and ready!

It's a great book, Miriam! Totally recommend it!

Thank you so much, Kim, for such a great review and interview! I'll link to it on Friday!

Ditto, Tabitha! It's like we'll all be reading it at the same time!

I know, Patty! I need to drill them in my mind over and over again!

Thanks so much for visiting, everyone!

lotusgirl said...

I would love to find a workshop like that near where I live. Where do you find those? At local colleges? Online through certain writers' groups?

Thanks for sharing. I'd love to find a crit group I could trust.

PJ Hoover said...

Hey Lois! SCBWI all the way! I live in Austin which has a great SCBWI chapter. We normally have two workshops a year. Where do you live? Anywhere near an SCBWI chapter?
My critique group is online. I love it, and never even have to leave the comfort of my own home to participate! I think on the Verla Kay boards they sometimes advertise groups looking for members. You could start by checking there. Having other people read my stuff is SO valuable!
Thanks for visiting!

Keri Mikulski said...

Interesting. :) Sounds like a good one.

Vivian Mahoney said...

Sounds like a great day, P.J.!

And I loved Beth's review and Kim's interview! Wahoo for The Emerald Tablet!

Adrienne said...

Great advice!
I just ordered your book for my son...I guess it wouldn't be fair to read it first, right? :)

Gottawrite Girl said...

Thanks for the editing book recommendation, and that sounds like a great event. Great people, no matter the content, even!!

C.R. Evers said...

I've heard so much about the self editing book! I have to get it!!!!


PJ Hoover said...

It was a great one, Keri! It's nice to hear the start of a bunch of WIPs.

Thanks, Vivian! I loved both reviews, too!

Aw, thanks, Adrienne! I think it would be totally fair. That way you could discuss it also, right?

I know what you mean, Susan! It's just nice to immerse myself in the writing community for a day!

Yes, Christy! You have to get it!

Anonymous said...

YIPPEE on a great critique! That feels so good! Thanks for all the great information too ... wonderful post!

Carrie Harris said...

Once again, I'm jealous of your events. I've got to move to Texas.

Sheri Perl-Oshins said...

Looking for a reason to say no... UGH. that was a stab right to the heart. Even my computer seems wounded! WOW! That's a tough sell. How is it possible then???

Oh and your review at Beth's was awesome. It was thorough and exciting.

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, Kelly! I was pleased!

Yes, Carrie, move to Texas!

It is a painful statement, Sheri, but eye opening.
And thanks on the review! I loved it!

Marcia said...

I loved SEFFW. And I've heard that quote too -- they're looking for reasons to say no. They're not neutral when they look at our ms.; we have to overcome their reluctance!

"The plot hinted at in the first three pages should be a good showing of the plot for the overall book." This is maybe my favorite point.

PJ Hoover said...

Yeah, it's a really good thing to think about, isn't it, Marcia!

Beth Kephart said...

YAY! Love seeing this post here today about glorious Jill Santopolo. Who is the best (sorry it took me a while to see it; I was out computer range for a spell).

PJ Hoover said...

I wish I'd snapped a picture or two, Beth! Hope you had a nice time away.

Don Tate II said...

I didn't sense you were nervous at all. And the curry salad was to die for.

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, Don! And I loved the salad at the other end of the table! Great food!