Ask the Editor—Pitch to Publication Q&A

Pitch to Publication round two is coming! Last year I picked two writers and both got an agent. Whooooooo will be this year’s winner? I’m very excited to find out.

Here’s my interview, full of writing advice and insider information.


Bio

Lara is a freelance editor and story coach specializing in fiction and comics. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Northwestern–St. Paul in Interdisciplinary Studies (Literature, Writing, Editing, and Design). She love genre-benders, graphic novels, coffee table books, and smart, geeky fiction.

What is your writing and editing background?

I started tutoring writing and literacy in 2005. From 2008–2009, I was an acquisitions editor for my university’s literary journal. I’ve been freelance editing fiction since 2009, comics since 2013.

My passion is actually editing, to the point where I do that in my free time—hence participating in this contest!—but I do write, too. I’ve had half a dozen poems and some short fiction published in literary journals and magazines. My blog (writelarawrite.wordpress.com) gets more of my attention than the long-form fiction I’ve written.

What are your major editing accomplishments?

I’m not sure I can distinguish between “major” and “minor”—I care more about the writer’s growth in their technique than their frequency of book deals. Whenever a writer says that I’ve helped his or her craft, that’s huge! But I’ll admit I get proud when agents and other editors compliment me on my editorial insight. Both of my picks from last year’s P2P got agents, and I actually cried happy tears for them. They did so much work, I am beyond proud of them.

Okay, I will add the following:

1) Seeing my name in the acknowledgements of published books. Tears!

2) Reading my clients’ names and their manuscripts I worked on in PUBLISHER’S MARKETPLACE—a very exciting thing that results in many emoji and all caps. Especially when they’re tied with names like Knopf and Tor. (Can you tell another one of my clients is about to share some good news?)

My next editorial life goal is getting a Newbery sticker on a book that has my name in the acknowledgements.

Do you have a general philosophy for how you approach your editing work?

Writing for publication is a collaborative effort with a goal of creating experiences for the reader. Editorial choices acknowledge and affirm the reader’s participation in fulfilling the fictional world.

Editing is also collaboration between writer and editor. It’s a mutual partnership. It’s a conversation. I encourage my current and potential clients to ask questions and voice concerns. Some writers need more nurturing. Others want to improve at any cost. Either way, I give honest, encouraging feedback. I’m never harsh, but I do respectfully snark sometimes. Editors and agents are snarky creatures. It keeps us sane in the slush.

What types of books do you enjoy working with?

Immersive stories populated with distinct characters. I like my tropes subverted, and I like “happy for now” endings. I do like romance, but I want just as much (if not more) time spent on friends and family relationships. No human is an island.

What are the most common mistakes you see in new writers work?

Writing the unremarkable: if it’s not remarkable, why remark on it? Summarize or cut anything not crucial to the story (a character believably interacting and conflicting en route to a goal).

Over description and underestimation of the reader: Pick a “divine detail” to set the scene. Be specific. Paint a few meaningful, distinct strokes, and let the reader fill in the rest. Readers don’t want to be lectured; they want to participate in the story.

What’s the one thing most novelists don’t understand about the art of revision?

The first draft is about exploration and expression. It’s about the writer. Revision is about creating experiences for the reader.

What’s one easy thing every writer can do right now to make themselves a better writer?

Nothing about writing is easy! But reading omnivorously (poetry, fiction, popular hits, literary gems) will improve your writing. You write as well as you read.

Regardless of skill, writers who are easy to work with will find better success. Be a good listener, be professional, respect your readers, and remember that agents and editors are readers, too.

What is the most important consideration in selecting a book editor?

Qualifications and personality are equally important.

QUALIFICATIONS—Require either formal education in the field or experience being published at a national level. (An objective, literary authority should have acknowledged the editor’s writing or editing ability).

PERSONALITY—Decide whether you’d get along with the person. Read bios, interact online, and ask for a sample edit of your work before you agree to a quote.

Why would a writer need a book editor?

Every writer needs an editor, even editors themselves! Not everyone needs hire a freelance editor before getting an agent, however. Having beta readers can definitely help iron out the major kinks. I recommend writers invest in a freelance editor if they know they need professional insight.

What do you do for fun that does not deal with the literary scene?

Besides being a constant mom of two boys? Haha. When the halflings are in bed, I like to play board games with my husband while watching TV. I’m always thirsty for stories, whether I’m reading or not.

Seriously, we need to know your favorite meal and why?

Are we talking about a specific meal, or a favorite dish? I’ll take steak and potatoes in any form. But if we’re talking specific meals, here’s my top 3:

1) My BFF’s mom’s enchiladas
2) Original Beau Jo’s pizza (Idaho Springs, CO) with honey on the crust
3) Slice of bacon and a mug full of salted caramel ice cream with crushed pretzels (the only “meal” I ate the day Alan Rickman died)
Comfort and nostalgia, that’s why. And taste. …Is this a metaphor for what I like to read?

MOST IMPORTANTLY What kind of entries are you looking for in your Pitch to Publication query box?

  • Historical middle grade
  • Historical YA involving a natural disaster, mystery, or doo-wop group (historical fantasy is OK)
  • Illustrated novels (any age category, any genre except erotica)
  • An adventure story with a plucky, geriatric protagonist
  • Any “blue hearts” or “pears” from last year’s contests (I believe in second chances!)—I do still have my list of favorites, so no cheating. In other words, if you got a request from me last year, or were one of the winners of #pg70pit, you can submit a polished manuscript to me during #pit2pub16. Use the same email address you used last year.

7 thoughts on “Ask the Editor—Pitch to Publication Q&A

  1. Margaret McManis says:

    Lara,
    I have a 79 thousand MG historical fiction/light fantasy novel that has been through 2 edits and one beta read. I think I might still need some coaching advice. It is set in medieval Spain(Aragon) and the characters are all from 10-13 years old. The dialogue for this age and time period has stumped me although I have read everything that Avi has written in that time period. I have a MFA from Vermont college and have publishead three PB but novels are a whole different ball game. I have finished two of the books my ‘Relic Hunters’ series and am beginning on my third soon.
    Have any advice?

    • Lara says:

      Hi Margaret! You’re right—novels are completely different from picture books.
      For a historical novel, try making it sound timeless rather than from medieval times (what century?). In other words, try to write it to sound like today’s 10- to 13-year-olds, but remove any post-2000 slang and, every once in a while, sprinkle in some idioms or phrases they may have used back then. Also consider syntax: Did they structure sentences the same way? To a 10-year-old, any words used before 2000 are probably safe. It’s slang that feels contemporary to them that you’ll want to stay away from.

      I like to pretend that the book is a translator. If it can translate from medieval Spanish to medieval English, it might as well translate to contemporary English. But idioms aren’t translated well—the book ENGLISH AS SHE IS SPOKE is a hilarious testament to that—so you’ll want to borrow from some medieval idioms (or Spanish idioms which don’t have any identifiable anachronisms).

      I hope that helps!

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