Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Editors/Agents: What would you like writers to stop doing?

Over the July 4th holiday weekend, I attended Westercon 66 at the Hilton Arden West Hotel in Sacramento. I participated in three group panels, and one solo panel, which is the primary focus of this blog post.

First, just for the sake of posterity, I'd like to list the three group panels on which I participated, with a special nod to my fellow panelists who helped make the respective panels enjoyable as well as educational (for me as well as the audience).
July 5, 11:15:00, Sonoma conference room
The Pain & Joy of Self Publishing
Self-publishing allows the author to retain total creative control, but means they forgo the benefits of being with a major label. Our panel discusses the benefits and drawbacks of self-publishing and how to compensate for not having an editor and publishing house.
Panelists: M. Todd Gallowglas (M); Valerie Frankel; Marty Halpern; Emerian Rich; Karen Sandler; Jean Marie Stine.

July 6, 11:15:00, Sonoma conference room
Secrets of Publishing
Nearly every SF/fantasy author has been published by a smaller press at some point in their careers. It is also known for publishing new authors, midlist authors, short story collections, and other "odd" books typically rejected by the big New York publishers. Our panelists represent a spectrum of publications, and can "tell
Panelists: David Maxine (M); Marty Halpern; Jacob Weisman.

[Note: I was under the impression that the "tell all" part of this panel was for the panelists to share some of their "publishing secrets" with the audience. Unfortunately, though I had come prepared with plenty of secrets, this was not the case. Instead, the discussion concerned copyright, distribution, etc. -- and I left with all of my "secrets" intact. Maybe next time....]

July 6, 12:30:00, Folsom conference room
Publishing Options: Traditional vs On-Demand and Self-Publishing
The days of needing your own printing press are long gone. With modern publishing methods you can print one copy or 1 million. Our panelists will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the various publishing options.
Panelists: Ben Yalow (M); Kelley Eskridge; Marty Halpern; Phyllis Kalbach; Emerian Rich; Jean Marie Stine.
So these were the three group panels in which I participated. I've been on a number of similar panels over the course of the past few years, at Baycon, Fogcon, Convolution, and Westercon, but since the industry -- and technology -- change so rapidly, and the panelists differ from con to con, there is always an opportunity for the audience (and me as well) to learn something new or, at least, to learn how the industry has changed.

And here are the details for my solo panel:
July 6, 3:00:00 Merlot conference room
Ask The Editor
Join Marty Halpern for "Ask the Editor." Bring your general editing questions or specific editing questions. You may also bring a copy of your own work for demo editing.
Marty Halpern (M)
Fortunately, no one in the audience had brought manuscript pages to be demo-edited; I say "fortunately" because the projection system and flip chart that Westercon programming had promised to provide me were never delivered (which, in my overall experience at a number of Bay Area cons in recent years, is fairly typical; if you really need a projection system, flip chart, etc., bring your own).

Following my lengthy introduction and some general chatting with the audience, I asked for questions -- and Effie Seiberg posed the following: "What would you like writers to start doing?" and "What would like writers to stop doing?"

These were actually very good questions, and the first part -- What I would like writers to start doing -- was easily answered: spell check your work! I'm not talking about spelling errors like "their," "they're," and "there." I'm talking about blatant spelling errors that even Microsoft's lousy spell checker would catch. Not to spell check your work is, in my humble editorial opinion, nothing but pure laziness. Blatant spelling errors in a manuscript will easily turn off a potential agent, editor, or publisher, because it shows a lack of respect for your own work (and their time).

Of course, once I had given the "spell check" response, a second thought immediately came to mind: style sheet. I've previously written about style sheets in December 2010, in February 2011, and again in January 2012. As I've mentioned at least once in those three blog posts, in my near fifteen years as an editor, only two authors have ever provided me with a style sheet: Michael A. Stackpole and Mark Teppo. Style sheets should become a matter of habit for every author, for novels especially, but for short stories, too. I would argue that a detailed style sheet will eliminate a number of questions and mark-ups on the author's manuscript, thus making the editor's job easier and, in turn, the author's job when the manuscript is returned.

As to the second half of Effie's question: What would I like writers to stop doing? -- though I thought for a brief moment, nothing really came to mind then -- and nothing has come to mind since. I'm not a stickler for formatting guidelines, or grammar rules, as long as the author is consistent throughout the manuscript. So I guess I could add a third point to the "What I would like writers to start doing": be consistent.

Which brings me to the audience participation part of this blog post: If you are an agent, an editor, and/or a publisher, what would you like writers to stop doing?

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