First four words about editors and mentors…They are not God…
Now a few more words…Working with editors and mentors (E/Ms)
can be confusing and on occasion filled with frustration. I’ve worked with good
and bad E/Ms, and – thankfully – one great E/M.
Good E/Ms are the most common of the genus éditeur. These,
generally kind examples of the species, understand what you are trying to
accomplish with your novel/story, but only work with you if your manuscript is
– short of a copy edit – publication ready. They are pleasant enough, but harried
and easily distracted by their own problems or workload. They are like parents
who raise free-range children, allowing them to run wild, hoping they will
eventually turn out okay.
Bad E/Ms are like weeds in the flower beds of your prose.
They are noxious, prevalent, and can choke the life out of your manuscript.
Sometimes, you can feel as if this species of E/M is reveling in picking your
manuscript apart, insisting on changes from left field, and they can leave you
having no idea what they are talking about (I did mention frustration above). In general, these sour individuals are simply
not a good match for your particular manuscript.
Bad E/Ms may actually be good editors when working in their
favorite genre or with important authors
– as opposed to working writers.
However, when faced with being assigned to edit a manuscript from a genre with
which they are not familiar – or simply don’t like – they can become as
difficult as a four-year-old having a meltdown in the middle of the cereal
They may even view your manuscript as beneath their own
literary aspirations. They believe they should be editing Thomas Wolfe or F.
Scott Fitzgerald – you know, authors
worthy of their attention – instead of wasting their time with you.
Yikes. If this happens to you escape while you still can.
The problem is, beginning writers often confuse the above
editorial species. You have to be objective when working with an E/M. Are they
helping you make the manuscript better, or are they undermining the power of
Some beginning writers have a hard time overcoming the
blinkers oftheir own writer’s
narcissism. They are like mothers who believe their fat, spotty, rude child –
otherwise known as their manuscript – is perfect, and woe be to anyone who
doesn’t lavish praise or who dares to change a word. Writer’s like this can’t
recognize when the suggestions and changes offered by a good E/M are pertinent
and needed. Unable to distinguish between the bright plumage of a good E/M and
the black belly feathers of a Bad E/M, they rant and rave and become their own
worst enemy. Unless they really are the equivalent of Thomas Wolfe or F. Scott
Fitzgerald, they will not find the welcome mat out next time they want to
submit a manuscript.
There is another breed of beginning writer at the other end
of the spectrum. They can’t imagine ever disagreeing with an editor. They often
end up butchering their fragile bonsai tree of a manuscript trying to please an
E/M who may (good E/Ms) or may not (bad E/Ms) have the best interest of their
manuscript at heart.
Great E/Ms are rare and magical beasts. They are actually
able to see what works and doesn’t work in your novel. They make considered and
constructive suggestions, help you find solutions to manuscript problems,
encourage you through the hard process of making changes, and become a true
partner in the publishing process. If you ever come across a great E/M, protect
them with your life. They will make you a better writer and a better person. They
might not turn your manuscript into a bestseller, but they will ensure it will
sell better than it would without their input.
But let’s get back to the point of this diatribe – E/Ms are
As a writer, I’ve long believed the myth that most E/Ms are
trolls living under their desks snatching at any winsome manuscript trying to
pass across their desk. I am loath to give up that unreasonable impression,
even though I now find myself turning into a troll as my role of E/M expands.
Remember, an E/M’s comments on your manuscript are opinions.
We may be wrong (but probably not). Comments on your manuscript are not judgements
of you as a person or even as a writer. I wrote a lot of bad crap before the
scent of my pros began to become more acceptably aromatic.
Speaking for myself I am completely capable of getting
things wrong. If you send me a historicalromance to edit, my tendency would be to strip down your flowing prose,
excise all of the yucky moony-eyed stuff, and editing you by the standards of
another genre with which I am more familiar.
Hopefully, I have evolved as an E/M to the point where I
don’t do this. I have grown to understand the tropes of many other genres beyond
my own. I could be a good editor for a historical romance or sweet romance or
even an erotic romance – but I will never be a great editor in those genres
because I have nothing to add to make a manuscript better other than the
generic literary conventions. I could make such a manuscript better, but I most
likely couldn’t help make it sing.
So, what does all of this mean when you submit a manuscript
or work with an E/M? First, when your chosen E/M makes comments and suggestions
don’t take them personally. Try to be objective about them. Do they make sense?
Do they make your manuscript stronger? Don’t be obnoxious, but neither be
afraid to disagree. I personally am open to a back and forth literary
relationship. I may not get what you are trying to do until you explain it to
me. Once I understand, I can tailor my advice and encouragement.
I am certainly not the final word on the worth of a
manuscript or even the changes I think should be made. No E/M is. This is about
your writing, not a troll’s editing. Still, as a writer, you need to be open
and prepared to learn from an E/M’s experience, while not allowing an E/M to
derail your vision.
ONE FINAL NOTE:
E/M shopping can be a dangerous path. After offering advice,
no E/M likes to be told be told, “But that’s the complete opposite of what E/M
so-and-so said.” E/M shopping will only lead you to a cornucopia of conflicting
advice, causing utter confusion and frustration for a beginning writer.
An E/M offers advice and opinions. Throwing up your arms and
telling an E/M another E/M gave the total opposite advice is the quickest way
to make the current E/M abandon you in midstream. If an E/M’s advice is
conflicting with what you’ve been told, keep your own counsel, consider the
advice, and make a decision about which E/M is right. Then – most importantly –
stop shopping around and stick with the E/M who serves you best.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Novelist, screenwriter, and television
personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department,
where he was twice honored as Detective of the Year.He continues to work privately as a deception
expert. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD Homicide Detective Fey
Croaker series. His latest novel, Lie Catchers, begins a new series featuring
top LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall.
My buddy, Mean Pete
Brandvold, is one of the most popular and prolific writers (well over 100
novels and still counting) currently working in the western genre. He’s also
almost completely turned to self-publishing as a profitable and liberating
alternative to dealing with the bureaucratic pomposity of legacy publishing.
When I asked, he willingly set aside his latest six-gun and sagebrush saga to
let us in on his self-publishing adventures…
RUNNIN’ OFF THE LEASH
My whole career is based on a lie.
I mean, beyond the lies of the fiction I
write. I would, however, argue fiction in general is a whole lot more honest
than the fibs I tell daily – outside of my novels – just to amuse myself.
When I’m writing my western tales, I
feel truer than I ever feel in the real world – meaning the world outside of the world in my
head. The world in my head is the one I bleed onto the computer screen eight to
nine hours every day. It is the world that has kept me from getting a really
good night’s sleep since I went through the somnambulism of adolescence.
My characters are more me than I am. Does that makes sense? No, I’m not drunk. Yet. Getting back to the lie...
Back in 1996, I sent my first western manuscript
to a New York editor. He not-so-promptly rejected it, telling me westerns need to be really gritty these days. Good
luck! So, being the good liar I am, I sent the book back to him saying, Okay, I grittied it up for ya! Or
In truth, I didn’t change a word. I
didn’t even run the thing through the printer again. I just sent the same
manuscript back to the same editor. I might have even reused the same envelope
he sent it back to me in. And it sold!
Once A Marshal came out a year later. Obviously, the manuscript hadn’t been
read the first time around.
Which brings me to the thesis of this
wandering discourse, which is about how much I hated having to answer to those
corporate orangutans for a good fifteen years and nearly one hundred novels,
and how much I love publishing my own westerns under my own pernicious imprint –
Mean Pete Press.
It’s true I owe New York something for
giving me my start. But just a little.
Unless you’re Stephen King, you really get treated like the mutt in the kennel
of the New York book publishing industry – when you get treated like anything
at all.Mostly, you get ignored, and
treated with condescension. Generally, you’re treated like one of the fellas
wearing the red shirts on Star Trek.
For instance, they’ll ask you for input
on the kind of book cover you want.Of
course, they’ll want it right away because the editor forgot to ask you two
weeks ago when she should have. And she’ll remind you in the tone of your
first-grade teacher that if you don’t write the description you can’t complain
about the cover which will end up slapped around your prose.
So, since you’re the small fish who needs
to please the big fish, you take a couple of hours off from the book you were
hammering away on so busily. You proceed to busily write up a good description
of the ideal cover that’s gonna make this book the biggest book of your whole
You really work at it, and you nip it
and tuck it, and you hit send. The you
sit back with a big grin of a job-well-done on your mug.
And when you get the proof back, the
cover looks nothing like your description. It couldn’t look more different than
a Van Gogh from a Kinkade!
Turns out the editor forgot to bring to
the meeting the description you so dutifully dropped everything to write,. As a
result, the art department just went with what they had on the shelf. When you
call your editor on it, she says something like, Gosh, I just got busy and it slipped my mind. Thanks so much for being
so understanding, Peter. You’re a great team player. Cheers!
In the New York publishing world, unless
you’re James Patterson, you have no mouth and yet you must scream...
So, yeah, I’m glad to be out of the
fringe of the New York publishing mainstream and hustling my own books myself
on Amazon – and getting 70% of the cut from each sale rather than 8-10%. When I
was writing for a long-running adult western series, I was getting a measly 6%
of the sale of each mass-market paperback. When I found out I was getting only
6% of each e-book sale, as well, I went Johnny Paycheck.
Like many other writers (at least the
ones as stupid as me), I thought all publishers were obliged to pay their writers
a minimum of 25% for each e-book sale. Wasn’t that the industry standard?
Somehow, this publisher was able to
scheme all the authors working on the series out of those earnings. The
publisher claimed that since we were writing under a house name we were merely work
for hire employees – even though I did nothing different in writing that
adult series than I did in writing any of my other novels.
Soon after, the publishers canceled the series
– not because I quit, but because they felt they weren’t making enough money on
the adult westerns anymore despite dropping their advances to pennies and
pisswater. However, every quarter I still receive royalties for nearly every
series novel I wrote across ten years – even at 6% earnings! Even at 6%
earnings on e-books!
So, imagine what the publisher is still
making on those books, since they’re getting 94%! Yet they didn’t think they
were making enough to keep the books coming, despite the writers and readers
who had come to love and depend on those yarns each month. In fact, they
canceled all of their westerns.
That’s New York for you. They have to
make truckloads of money on something or they won’t publish it. They simply don’t
care how many writers and readers are depending on the product. Nor do they
care who they screw.
Just one more (possibly two) knock(s)
against New York…
In all the years I wrote for them, I
might have had one editor – and he was a real anomaly – who’d ever even read a
western before he’d started editing them. Can you imagine putting an editor on
a genre they’d never read before? And I dare say most of my editors had nothing
but disdain for the western – the very genre they were editing! And I use the term editing loosely. Mostly, my editors changed what didn’t need to be
changed, and totally dropped the ball on obvious mistakes.
So, yeah, I’m very happy here in the
very un-corporate offices of Mean Pete Press, in this little adobe house, in
this quiet little town in western Minnesota. It’s just me and my dog, and no
suits telling us what to do.
Now, since I’m running off the leash, so
to speak, I can come up with new series ideas at the drop of the Stetson. Instead
of writing up a long, laborious proposal an editor may or may not skim, I just
pour a cup of hot mud, pick up the laptop, and let my fingers dance the western
That’s what I did recently with my new
western series – The Shotgun Rider. I
just finished the second book, Two
Smoking Barrels, which is up on Amazon, by the way. I’m very proud of that
series. I think it’s turning out well because it’s new and fresh and I could
spontaneously start writing it without having to jump through a bunch of
I write a book a month now and publish
them myself on Amazon. Not because I need to write that much but because I LOVE
to. I do my own editing and I make my own book covers. For the covers, I don’t
use any elaborate software – mostly just Pages
which came with my Macs. I might have spent $150, tops, on all the stock photos
I’ve purchased from online sights.
I like the challenge of doing things
independently and on the cheap. The covers might look a little cheap, but I figure the stuff between those virtual
pasteboards makes up for it. My name is well enough known in the western genre
that readers know what they’ll be getting from me, despite the cover. In the meantime, I’m working on it. One
of these days I might just spring for Photoshop.
That’s another thing I love about
self-publishing – all the opportunities to learn new stuff, to grow at my own
time and my own pace, answering to only myself.
Don’t fence me in!
That said, I still like ink and paper.
And since I know many readers still do, I publish one or two traditional paper
books a year with Five Star, which is still a small enough company that they’re
able to do terrific work, which they seem to love doing. They don’t suffer from
the bureaucratic-like dysfunction of larger publishing companies. They’re good
at publishing books, and, while their advances are low, they’re royalties are
competitive. Like me, they know how to carve out their own niche and grow a market. In that way, they compliment my own self-publishing beautifully.
I’m not making money hand over fist, but
then I never was. But we here at Mean Pete Press – i.e., Mean Pete and his dog
Syd – are devoted to writing the best damn westerns we can, and are having one
hell of a good time running off our leashes while we do it. Hell, we don’t even
We may not be drinking champagne every
night, but we are drinking the champagne of beers...
ABOUT PETER BRANDVOLD:Born
and raised in North Dakota, Peter Brandvold has been writing westerns full time
under his own name and his pen name, Frank Leslie, for 15 years. Before
becoming a full time writer, he taught English on the Rocky Boy's Indian
Reservation in northern Montana. He currently lives in northern Colorado where,
in addition to traditional westerns, he writes paranormal westerns and
Recently, my writer friend Tyler Dilts posted an attention
grabbing comment on Facebook. In essence, Tyler had been asked what outside
influences – other than literature – had been the most practical use to him as
a fiction writer. His response contained four specific points…
Acting taught me about
character development, subtext, beats, and dialogue.
me how to be present in the moment of a scene and how to use that awareness to
develop conflict and story.
Standup Comedy taught
me how to construct sentences, paragraphs, and scenes with setups and payoffs.
Film editing taught me
how to make meaning through juxtaposition and focus, and maybe most
importantly, what you leave out is at least as important as what you put in.
Tyler then put out a call asking what outside influences
other writers found useful in creating fiction. The comebacks were many and
varied. Below is an edited collection of the responses…
People watching. I saw a man the
other day at a fish market sitting at a table alone with a opened bottle of
white wine , a untouched plate of food, his head in his hands, reading some
novel off his phone. I just observed him and basically wrote him a backstory in
my head and character traits. We're always writing. By observing the world
around us and trying to make sense of it, we write.
Music, for pacing, crescendo, rests,
and several voices telling one story.
Bartending (this one was a personal favorite)
Pro Wrestling, which taught me the
best bad guys have some truth on their side, no matter how despicable their
actions might be.
Drama. Learn how to
visualize scenes and reveal character one pixel at a time using dialogue and
necessarily the three act structure, but understanding concepts like inciting
incident, key incident, and plot points helps to shape characters. Also
dramatic need – A character who doesn't want anything is just furniture.
Journalism teaches you
how to write a sentence economically.
Have a career / work a
job / do something other than write.
Painting. Learning to recreate a
visual scene teaches you to see the whole of an image and its constituent parts
Farming teaches patience and
diligence, along with how to accept the parts of creation outside of your
control and effort.
In psychoanalysis, everything is
multi-layered and everyone has competing desires within them.
Semiotics/Post-structuralism – individual words have cultural power.
Yoga for balance and discipline.
Yoga routines have a satisfying narrative flow
Parenthood. Because humans are so
With knitting, everything is a
composition, a medium arranged in a pattern. You can rip out stitches and start
over. Nothing is perfect. Perfection is boring and for machines.
Comic books teach imagery and
writing from the gut. Plus, everyone wants be some kind of hero.
Gardening. Because sometimes you
have to dig through piles and piles of manure to get a flower.
Studying martial arts and boxing
have been great for writing fight scenes and understanding fear, anger and
Listening. To everybody. Even the idiots.
Blindness, which taught me how to
engage the other senses more significantly in my work.
History, because it
teaches how seemingly insignificant events can contribute to life-altering
Wine and perfume
appreciation, which teach awareness of senses other than sight and hearing.
Like the above comments, my own responses come from the
influences in my life, all of which have influence my fiction…
Police work, which taught me truth is a variable – life is
full of gray areas. Also taking no action is the worst possible choice.
Playing soccer taught me about narrative flow and strategy.
It taught me how my characters had to be team players to succeed.
Book collecting, which taught me about obsession, anguish,
and pursuit – all parts of a good story.
I’m sure there are many other outside influences that teach
us things we can apply to the fictional worlds we create. What are yours?
a child, Tyler Dilts dreamed of following in the footsteps of his policeman
father. Though his career goals changed over time, he never lost interest in
the daily work of homicide detectives. Today he teaches creative writing at California
State University in Long Beach, and his writing has appeared in the Los Angeles
Times, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Best American Mystery Stories, and
numerous other publications. He is the author of A King of Infinite Space and
The Pain Scale, the first two novels in the Long Beach Homicide series. He
lives with his wife in Long Beach, California.
PAUL BISHOP: Novelist,
screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years with the
Los Angeles Police Department, where he was twice honored as Detective of the
Year.He continues to work privately as
a deception expert. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD Homicide
Detective Fey Croaker series. His latest novel, Lie Catchers, begins a new
series featuring top LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall.