You might not know, but I’m moonlighting as an acquisitions editor for Omnium Gatherum, a dark fiction press out of Los Angeles who gave me my start with my debut BEATRYSEL and may have more treats in store for me (hint hint). As an editor, I take pitches at conventions and I weed through the slush pile of submissions making suggestions on which books we should publish, then I edit them with the author and we all retire to the Bahamas (some of this is true).
The work I do for OG has been invaluable in understanding the industry from the other side. Not only must I endure the unending flow of rejections I still get as a writer, I now get to give them out. Good times. But the process is no longer as mysterious as it once was.
I’ve made it a mission to share all hard won knowledge I’ve come across in my journey into literature and so have put together a hands-on editing class, delving into the slush pile mistakes that will jettison a manuscript before the second page is turned.
I often say, there are no rules to writing. Many editors would disagree with me, but they’re wrong. What matters is effective communication. Every rule, even grammar and spelling are up for grabs and debate. This is art.
Nevertheless… There are conventions and stylistic tropes that modern audiences prefer. Styles change, fashions and tastes are constantly in flux, often influenced by the newest best seller. Remember when first person present tense was a terrible idea? It was before The Hunger Games. Now you can’t swing a dead cliche without hitting a book in first person. We’ll see if this is an enduring trend or not, but certain conventions once thought new have endured and now define modern writing.
Like passive tense. “The deck was made last summer by my uncle.” Not an error in and of itself, but it is considered “weak” in comparison to active tenses. “My uncle made the deck last summer.” The first example is a perfectly good construction, gets all the information out and relieves the uncle of direct responsibility (which is why it’s weak and why presidents often say “mistakes were made” instead of “I screwed up.”) Passive voice, right as it is, will likely piss off an editor if over used. But luckily it's easy to fix.
Remember the two parts of a query: The synopsis showing the idea, and the writing example showing the execution: The best idea poorly executed is a failure. The best execution of a poor idea will often still get published. Execution trumps idea.
I’ve made a list “mistakes” I’ve encountered over my literary career some as obvious as passives, some as hidden as scaffolding that weaken prose to the point that I won’t dig through them find the underlying idea. These are often very simple to address. I have designed a class to share these finds show their remedies. I call it “MISTAKES WERE MADE.”
MISTAKES WERE MADE will debut this April in Long Beach aboard the Queen Mary at StokerCon 2017 as a two hour course within Horror University. If you’re going to StokerCon (and you should be), sign up for my class. I promise you’ll get hands on experience and useful “actionable intelligence” to better wage your war against the gatekeepers of publishing. There’s not better way to learn than by actually doing and we’ll be actually doing it. Not all editors are writers, but all writers better be editors.