Welcome to the blog of the Consulting Editors Alliance. This is our forum for sharing views on the wonderful, bizarre, enormously frustrating and satisfying (depends on the day) world of book publishing and our roles in it as freelance editors, writing collaborators, and ghostwriters. Please join the conversation!

Saturday, February 27, 2010


I went to only one panel at the Festival, the one Nan mentions. And this is what I heard. Many of those authors asked questions about self publishing. Bob Wyatt, a renown publishing professional with a corporate track record of discovering best sellers and fine literature for Avon and having his own imprint after that, has self published his first two books. Some of the authors who self published had done so a few years ago and had been picked up by major publishers.

What does this say to me? I have an independent publishing bug in my bonnet so I focus on it whenever I am around people in the industry. But more than that I hope that the Festival organizers got the message and think about including some panels on self publishing next year. And perhaps where editors fit in that picture. I wish I had been quick enough to ask those authors if they used book doctors.

I'm off to read the latest Penny Vincenzi and a few pages of Suze Orman. This is how I spend Saturday nights. No question I am in that cave Nan writes about.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Writers Can Be Touchy!

I'm the kind of person who loves magazine articles based on lists ("Ten Secrets of This" or "Seven Little-Known Tips for That") and so I devoured this Laura Miller article on Salon about five rules for writing novels. It's based, of course, on the kind of fiction Laura Miller enjoys, and so it reflects her personality and tastes, as you might expect.

Personally I found Miller's tips unobjectionable ("Make your main character want something," for example, and "A sense of humor couldn't hurt"). So I was startled by the vitriol the article attracted from some of the 117 commenters. A few examples:

"How to Write Shitty Books that will Sell--That should be the title of this article."

"This is one of the most philistine articles I've ever seen in Salon."

"This is also the advice people continually gave Tolstoy, except, you know, it turned out to be a good thing that he ignored it and went ahead to write a 1000 page masterpiece."

"Who Miller's tips leave out: Sherman Alexie, Tim O'Brien, Jeffrey Eugenides and basically every other living writer who's worth a shit to anyone outside the academy."

Wow--you'd think Miller had gone up to these would-be writers (I assume that's what they are) and personally insulted them and their work!

My meta-advice to other would-be writers: Read how-to-write articles and follow the advice they offer if you find it helpful. If not, don't. (There are plenty of other how-to-write articles that may be more to your liking.) And if you are the next Tolstoy--or even the next Jeffrey Eugenides--you will figure that out soon enough, and then you can laugh with contempt at the "rules" mere mortals find useful.

Until then, why not chill out? Most important, get back to your desk and do some more writing.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Woodstock Writers Festival

When you're engaged in a solitary profession like writing or editing, it's good to get out of the cave every once in a while. The Woodstock Writers Festival, which took place last weekend, offered a terrific opportunity to do just that. There were workshops, panel discussions, dramatic readings, and book signings galore. All in all, it was a book lover's nirvana.

I edit a lot of memoirs, so I like to read a lot of them, too. There was a terrific panel of memoirists Sunday morning consisting of Dani Shapiro (Slow Motion and Devotion), Marion Winik (First Comes Love and The Glen Rock Book of the Dead), John Bowers (Love in Tennessee), and Shalom Auslander (Foreskin's Lament), who has been called the David Sedaris of Orthodox Judaism. (Don't try to figure that out. Just read his stuff.) The panel was moderated by the inimitable Laura Shaine Cunningham (Sleeping Arrangements and A Place in the Country). I now have a couple of months' worth of memoirs to read, and I can't wait. Also included in that stack of waiting books is Martha Frankel's Hats & Eyeglasses. Martha gave an incredibly entertaining and useful talk on Sunday afternoon, the ostensible subject of which was Marketing Through the New Social Media, but really she talked about everything from social networking etiquette and publishing practices to family and relationships. She was warm and generous and a hoot to boot. I'd heard great things about Hats & Eyeglasses, and listening to Martha talk and then thumbing through her book, I can see why.

Later on Sunday CEA colleague Sandi Gelles-Cole and I attended a panel called The Heart of the Business. Shaye Areheart (of her eponymous imprint at Random House), John Baker (former editor of Publishers Weekly), agent Barbara Braun, and Robert B. Wyatt (former Avon, Random House, and St. Martin's editor and now author of two novels) joined forces to discuss the current state of publishing and to answer questions. Barry Samuels -- co-owner ofThe Golden Notebook, Woodstock's beloved indy bookstore -- moderated. I left thinking that if you didn't want to be represented by Barbara Braun and published by Shaye Areheart, you'd be nuts. I bet most of the people in the audience felt the same way.

Almost forgot. Two of my authors -- Susan Richards (Chosen by a Horse and Chosen Forever) and Gail Straub (Returning to My Mother's House) -- were also featured at the festival, and that, of course, was one of the highlights of the weekend for me. Publishing is a strange and frustrating business, but when your authors get the recognition you feel they deserve, all the frustrations are somehow worthwhile.

So whether you're a writer working alone at your craft or an editor doing the same, I encourage you to occasionally leave the comfort of your warm, dark cave and blink your way into the company of others similarly engaged. There are all sorts of reasons to attend writers' festivals; being in the unbeatable company of fellow writers, editors, and book lovers heads my list.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I am glad that two of my colleagues describe themselves as Luddites but let's face it, we can't stop time. I was walking home with my Dunkin'Donuts iced coffee today thinking about the future of books. How will I remain in my profession when TWILIGHT is now a graphic novel and Crumb's GENESIS is a huge best seller on the graphic book best seller list. For that matter, when did the graphic novel best seller list make it's debut?

There will always be books, but I have started to think that they will not always be on paper. And when I am my father's age (92) won't it be better when books read themselves to me? Because that's where I see it going.

That leads me to my future as a book doctor. In my image of the future there is a new name for 'book' just as we started using ebooks and found it become part of the English language. I wonder what we will call those books that read themselves to us?

The future is limitless but there will need to be specialists to cut and splice or work with digital doodads--I have no idea--but there won't be editors like us luddites working with redline software.

That's one editor's opinion. Hopefully I'll win the lottery and be able to kick back and listen to all the books I've never gotten around to reading for pleasure.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Move Over, Lucy Van Pelt....

There are sixteen other “doctors” who have put out a collective shingle—sort of like the best HMO in the publishing business--and I’m proud to be one of them. We all have areas of expertise, and we all have a lot to say about publishing. When I read the first few blogs by my colleagues, I was, well, a bit intimidated. I can’t talk about e-book wars, e-book auctions, or iTablets, but I’m really glad that there are other editors who can because I can learn from them.

I’m a Luddite. But I love words, and I love them in all their perfect and imperfect combinations. I love being an editor, and to me, every manuscript is a new adventure. Characters walk around my house, they wake me up at night, and they sit on my couch—if only I could get them to walk my dog!

Two of my colleagues, Nan and Carla, have blogged about manuscript length. There are two genres where I feel books can be longer—historicals and thrillers. These often run 100,000 words or more. But they also have multiple points of view (POV). It’s very difficult to sustain that length with one POV. A protagonist, no matter how interesting, usually needs supporting characters. I would say the average is three or four characters—although thrillers can often support at least six-- and that includes the omniscient narrator, who looks down at the characters, kind of like God, and has a full knowledge of the story. I once got a call from an agent who had a terrific thriller but couldn’t sell it and couldn’t figure out why. The reason was that the author had twenty-seven POVs! If the main character walked into a restaurant, a waitress would think, “Wow, he’s cute. I wonder if he’s married.” And you never heard from that waitress again. When there was a car bomb explosion, an innocent passerby expressed his terror—right before he died and was never heard from again.

When you have so many POVs, you distill the importance of the main character; he or she gets lost in the crowd.

Currently I’m working on a supernatural thriller. It’s the right length, and it’s primarily from one POV. However, in the midst of a critical scene, another character starts thinking about how he can help. There are three other characters, each important to the plot, who also “intrude” in the middle of scenes. First-time writers need to abide by the rule: Each scene should be from one character’s POV. If you have a secondary character thinking about how he can help, that should be a separate scene. And these characters’ POVs should be “threads” throughout the novel; they shouldn’t appear one time. Using multiple POVs is a lot more work, but it’s a good way of conveying information that the protagonist wouldn’t know. Anyway, whoever said that writing a novel was easy?

So, that’s a bit of advice from one CEA member. The book doctors are in—and unlike Lucy, we don’t even charge a nickel.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Watching Julie and Julia, the movie, has me revisiting the changes the book business has made in terms of where the ideas originate. Magazines and newspapers used to be the best source for non fiction. I must have subscribed to ten magazines at one point just to troll for ideas, then write to the author, check their interest in writing a book , and so on. This courtship could literally take years.
Now we blog, we look at blogs, go from one blog which takes us to the next. Somewhere in there just about everyday I see bloggers I would chase down to write a book proposal if I were an agent or a publisher.

Then of course, the agent can fix the blogger/expert up with an editor or collaborator.

This is the new publishing landscape, blogs provide ideas.And bloggers bring their own fan base. So important to the publisher for providing a platform.

If any writer wants to sell a non fiction book idea the best advice is for them to start a blog, find ways to have the blog linked in to as many related sites as possible. Build from there. And keep blogging.