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!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Power to the Author!

While publishing continues to evolve away from the paper and print medium it has been for centuries, power seems to be shifting gradually away from large-scale publishers and toward individual authors. Writers, who in the past might have resorted to self-publishing hardbound books and storing them in their garage, now have a range of e-book options. Now anyone with an electronic manuscript can be his or her own publisher, no longer dependent on one of the big houses for distribution , publicity, and promotion.

With publishers increasingly focused on the big books, first-time authors and others have been pushed to search for new options. One has been smaller houses, which can make books with sales in the four-figures work financially for them, but another is self-publishing and the rise of the e-book. New ways of approaching e-book publishing continue to be devised by companies and individuals. A recent article in PW online details some of these new options.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


This blog is about Search Engine Optimization (SEO)'s and my opinion on where editors, writers, books might end up if we depend too much on using key words to get our message across.

First we had access to 15 minutes of fame; then the populist attention switched to pulling stunts like those of the Salahis or parents of the hot air balloon child to get on reality TV; now we have another tool for individuals to attract attention--plant the right words and your rank goes up a notch on Google.

This takes those of us involved with the written word to the obvious place. Creative artists will be forced to spend time embedding the word that gets them ranking rather then the one that is graceful or connotes exactly what they mean. Soon articles will be collections of SEO's strung together and the gift of writing will be given over to those people who now respond to jobs listed for "applicants familiar with SEO."

As I am writing this out there someone is putting together a collection of key words in a book similar to collections of names for babies.

The editorial function is bound to be shifted from helping authors with writing craft to how successful the editor has been in lifting past clients' place on various search engines. Much like editors' reputations were improved by helping authors make best seller lists, we will be graded on success with raising ranking.

If I had the mental energy I might have taken the time to write this piece with more Google, archival material, but it seems like such a waste of time. Will this put me out of business?

What do you think out there?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Writing the First Draft of a Novel

Last week, I conducted a roundtable discussion with best-selling mystery author Margaret Coel in a session of the Introduction to Publishing course at the University of Denver, billed as "How a Book is Born." Our focus was on Margaret's 15th--and latest--novel, The Silent Spirit. One of the students asked Margaret about how she works. Her answer was that she usually goes into her office at about 9 in the morning, starts writing, and keeps going until about 12, when she takes a break, then resumes for another couple of hours. Her average, she said, is about 10 pages a day. She works from a rough outline of the novel--which she calls her road map--but said that occasionally the characters start heading for a different ending from the one she had originally projected. Interestingly, she said that she does not stop if she's stumped for the right word, but just puts a question mark there and keeps going. And she doesn't even think about revisions until she has completed the first (very) rough draft of the novel. Only then does she begin the revision process, which she said could take her through several reworkings of the novel. I was struck by this headlong pace she described for the writing of her novel because I felt this same kind of headlong energy as I read the completed work.
Obviously each writer will have his or her own unique way of working, but there may be something to be learned from this one writer's working style.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Read, Read, Read

Not long after Sandi wrote her REALIA post, I heard a terrific interview with Marion Roach Smith, the author of the book to which Sandi referred. (Full title: WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW: REALIA.) When asked the most important piece of advice she could offer to writers, she said Read, Read, Read. Now Arnold's posted a piece on that very topic -- with a thoughtful comment by Irene McGarrity that I am echoing here -- and both of those posts dovetail very nicely with something I've been thinking about a lot recently.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking about point of view in my writing workshop, and I recommended to a woman working on a memoir that she read and analyze a few successful memoirs in order to see how others had solved a particular problem she was having. Another participant, a very gifted writer, then shared that she had gone through Tobias Wolff's THIS BOY'S LIFE line by line, marking the text with a yellow highlighter, in order to understand how he was able to seamlessly insert the adult voice into his story. Then later, as she was struggling to get the action to move forward in time, she went though again with a green highlighter marking passages where he accomplished that.

This talented writer is not relying solely on her talent to help her write her book. She is studying her craft by reading purposefully and thinking deeply about what she's reading. And let me tell you, it shows. So I'm with Marion Roach Smith. Read, read, read. And then write, write, write.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Advice for Writers

Last Sunday's New York Times (May 2) had several items of interest to writers. Deborah Solomon, in her weekly Magazine column, interviewed best-selling author Charlaine Harris about her vampire series (basis for the HBO series "True Blood") and concluded by asking Ms. Harris whether she had any advice for writers. Her answer: For any writers at all, read everything you can and then put your butt in the chair and write. That's all there is to it." Of course there's a lot more to it than that, but there's still great truth in what she said. Everything you read can be a learning process for you--not so you can duplicate what another author has done, but so you can understand how that author has made the novel work.

And continuing in this vein, I was struck by the opening sentence in the front-page review in the Book Review by Christopher Buckley of a new (and first) novel by Tom Rachman called The Imperfectionists, which is garnering raves everywhere. Buckley wrote: "This first novel by Tom Rachman, a London-born journalist who has lived and worked all over the world, is so good I had to read it twice simply to figure out how he pulled it off." A highly successful writer himself (Thank You for Smoking and Losing Mum and Pup, among others), Buckley is still open to learning. He's so impressed with this novel that he wants to figure out how the author did it.

One more reference: Again in the Magazine, Virginia Heffernan writes about "how the digital age is making self-publishing respectable." As she writes, back in analog times, self-publishing reeked of "vanity presses" and had the unmistakable look of something that could only get published if the author paid for it. But times have changed, and she cites that last year 764,448 titles were produced by self-publishers and so-called microniche publishers--up an astonishing 184% from the previous year. She points out that "cheap, digital-publishing technology ... has been a godsend to writers without agents or footholds at traditional publishing houses." And she reminds us that "luminaries like Gertrude Stein, Anais Nin, and Edgar Allan Poe self-published books." So there's a whole new way for authors to get their manuscripts published. And Heffernan cites the names of some companies that writers can go to for printing and, in some cases, distribution and promotion.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Publishing Life, Hollywood-Style

For last weekend's Netflix movie, Mary-Jo and I decided to watch The Proposal with Sandra Bullock. As soon as I realized it was set in the book publishing industry, I began to cringe inside.

Sure enough, the movie features all the usual bizarre Hollywood fantasies about what book publishing is like, including glamorous editors in designer outfits who spend their days swapping witticisms in posh, spacious offices decorated with modern art and expansive views of the New York skyline (and without a manuscript in sight). Bullock plays an arrogant, high-powered executive, one of whose subordinates--a mere editor--proudly shows off the antique desk he has just bought for his office, evidently on the company budget. (Which publishing houses have such overstuffed budgets that no one notices a mere $75,000 being channeled to an auction at Sotheby's?)

But the capper--and a Hollywood fantasy about publishing I'd never seen before--involves the big publicity coup that the intrepid Bullock arranges: In the face of enormous resistance, she convinces one of the novelists her firm publishes to consent to an interview on Oprah.

Read that sentence again. Yes, according to the makers of The Proposal, Oprah is desperately eager to interview novelists on her show; the hard part is for publishers to talk their authors into appearing.

I suppose there's a lesson for me here--not to take too seriously Hollywood's depictions of the lives of cops, spies, cowboys, U.S. Marines, and Mafia dons. They're probably just as realistic.