Tuesday, July 27, 2010

SQUIDS 101: Punctuation: Emdashes

Before I go on to the Squid 101 here, a word of thanks to the kind people who submitted entries in the flap-copy contest; it was very interesting and useful to see what you writers judged attractive for other writers (apparently having someone say what NOT to do is as useful as what TO do, as half of you mentioned the "what not to do" thing).

And I have FINISHED THE BOOK TEXT, pending an approvals question. I've discovered that the great danger of self-publishing, at least for me, is that there's been nobody and no deadline to take the manuscript out of my endlessly questioning, pushing, correcting hands. So it feels good to finally declare, "Enough, I'm done" and move on. I'm really pleased with a lot of the new material, and I hope you will be too.

Anyway: emdashes.

The emdash has all the functions of the comma, semicolon, AND colon: It can be used to create pauses, introduce a list, or join two independent or dependent clauses. It is regarded as less formal than all of those marks, however, and they are all preferable in more formal writing. In narrative writing, I think of it as simultaneously more dramatic and more invisible than those marks; it is long enough to create a real pause, but because there generally aren’t any spaces around it, it also creates a continuous flow of text. It can thus be used for scenes where you want a flow of clauses unbroken by real stops, especially in stream-of-consciousness writing or action scenes:
The squid reached out—the oxygen tank dangling from the tip of its tentacle—I stretched the whole length of my body towards it—but then the shark jerked on my foot and pulled me away.
Compare that to:
The squid reached out, the oxygen tank dangling from the tip of its tentacle; I stretched the whole length of my body towards it, but then the shark jerked on my foot and pulled me away.
This second example is probably more correct, but because it allows the reader to slow down, it’s rather less dramatic. On the other hand, the first example is probably too dramatic, so it would be wise to strive for a nice balance between the two:
The squid reached out, the oxygen tank dangling from the tip of its tentacle. I stretched the whole length of my body towards it—but then the shark jerked on my foot and pulled me away.
What's nice about this one is that the emdash creates a brief little pause at the moment of highest suspense, like being at the top of a hill on a roller coaster: Will our narrator get the oxygen tank in time? And then the dash's length drags that moment out until the shark answers the question for us. A semicolon would have been incorrect there, and a comma or colon wouldn't have had the same sense of suspension, I don't think. I love dashes for just this drama and flexibility, though if you share my addiction to them, we need to remember that like all highly dramatic marks, they should be used sparingly.

The emdash is also used to set off interruptions, either within a sentence or at the end of it. (Parentheses could be used in this next example just as easily, but because they create a little commentary world unto themselves, closed off from the rest of the sentence, they seem like a bigger pause than emdashes to me.)
The dead squid—the only trustworthy kind, as far as Joan was concerned—lay limply on the dock.

I assure you, Officer, I have never eaten—HEY! Did you get a look at that squid?
My authors know that if Character X is speaking and Character Y interrupts him, I will almost always request that they end Character X’s speech with an emdash to signify X’s getting cut off abruptly.
Looking deeply into Selina’s larger left eye, Phil took her front tentacle in his and murmured, “My most beautiful Miss Bonnellii, will you do me the honor of becoming—”
“I WON!” screeched Ethel from across the restaurant.
Note: In typesetting, there are actually three kinds of dash marks:
  • hyphens, like so: - , which join two words into one closed compound
  • endashes, which were created in hand-typesetting using two hyphens (the length of an “n”), and which are used to join open compounds (like “the North Dakota–Minnesota border”; “North Dakota” is an open compound because it’s one word with a space in it) or to replace the word “to” (as in “1996–2000,” or “our California–Florida trip”)
  • and emdashes, which equal three hyphens (the length of an “m”), and are discussed above.
Writers are generally not expected to know about endashes. If you use hyphens and emdashes correctly, that’s good enough for most editors, and we’ll trust the endashes will be taken care of in copyediting.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Flap Copy Contest!

So I am in the very, very last stages of my book -- rewriting my Voice talk, because I wasn't satisfied with it; and then I need to decide which terms will be capped or uncapped (Action Plot vs. action plot, that sort of thing), because I currently have more capped nouns than a Dungeons & Dragons manual, and make that consistent across the board. But that is it for the interior!

And then, for the exterior, I need to write the flap copy. And while of course I write flap copy for other people's books all the time, writing it for my own is proving unexpectedly daunting. Generally in writing it for other people's books, I try to identify my ideal reader -- the person who is most likely to pick up the book, and who would get the most enjoyment out of it; then set forth an overall vision of the book that would appeal to that ideal reader, working in as many cool things about the characters and plot as possible. And while I think that you all are pretty much my ideal readers here, I also feel I'm either too close to the material or too damn Midwestern modest to objectively see and sell all the possibly cool things about this book.

Then I thought: Hey! Maybe my ideal readers would like a chance to play the editor here. I know writers often get a kick out of their chance to edit me in commenting on the flap copy I wrote for their books (or the trial flaps I've posted here); this seems like the next logical step, and also good practice for any aspiring editors out there. :-)

So: CONTEST! If you want to participate, all of the information you'd need to know about the book is below. Write back-jacket sales copy of 200 words or less, and e-mail your draft to me at chavela_que at yahoo dot com by noon next Thursday, July 22, with the subject line "Flap Copy Contest." (I will be away from all computers from Saturday till the deadline, more or less, so this gives you plenty of time.) An editorial friend and I will read through the entries and choose up to three winners, who will each receive a free copy of the book.

I will then probably go ahead and assemble my own flap copy, pulling from all of the various great ideas that come in; and indeed, I reserve the right to borrow, steal, or tweak anything in any of your entries. I suppose in legal parlance, this would be, "All entries become property of Cheryl Klein for purposes of writing her own copy," meaning you can't sue me if I use your words or ideas. But I will also acknowledge said useful writers within the book and here. And I wouldn't claim this copy exclusively; goodness knows if you want to do something else with your draft or publish or reuse it for yourself, have at it.

Some questions to ask yourself if you want to try this:

  • What are some cool things about this book -- its hooks?
  • Are there any key details or lines from the book that might grab a reader's attention?
  • Why would I buy this book?
  • Who else would want to buy this book?
  • Are there any successful similar books I'd want to liken this book to or remind the reader of? (And often its followup, What was the approach of their flap copy? -- at least for reference, or to see what elements were emphasized.)
  • What are three key unifying ideas about this book, or three different visions of the book? (This "Three Takes on Operation Yes" post shows three of my visions for that book, and how each one played out in the flap.)
  • Which one of those ideas/visions would be most attractive to the readers I just identified?
(All of these questions also very useful in writing query letters, of course . . .)

I hope this sounds like fun to y'all -- I'm very curious to see what you come up with! Thank you so much for participating.


The title: Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults

The original description.

The Table of Contents (much of this material is online, except the Quartet talks, which comprise 50-plus pages of never-before-published-anywhere thoughts. "Manifests" are worksheets/checklists.):
  • An Explanation of This Book
  • Manifesto: What Makes A Good Book?
  • Defining Good Writing (Possibly Sententious)
  • Finding a Publisher and Falling in Love: A Convivial Comparison
  • The Annotated Query Letter from Hell
  • An Annotated Query Letter That Does It Right
  • The Rules of Engagement
  • The Essentials of Plot
  • Manifest: The Plot Checklist
  • Morals, Muddles, and Making It Through; or, Plots and Popularity
  • Manifest: A Character Chart
  • A Definition of YA Literature
  • The Art of Detection: One Editor’s Techniques for Analyzing and Revising Your Novel
  • Four Techniques to Get at the Emotional Heart of Your Story
  • Words, Wisdom, Art, and Heart: Making a Picture-Book Cookie
  • Some Things I Like to See in an Illustrator’s Portfolio
  • A Few Things Writers Can Learn from Harry Potter
  • Gaaah!!—A Musing on Characters and Plot
  • Quartet: Introduction
  • Point
  • Character
  • Manifest: Another Character Chart
  • Plot
  • Voice
  • The Highly Idiosyncratic Cheryl Klein Guide to Punctuation
  • On the Editor-Author Relationship
  • Twenty-Five Revision Techniques
  • Index to Talks by Writers’ Conference
  • Index by Subject
  • Further Reading: Craft
  • Further Reading: Literature
  • Acknowledgements and Thanks
My biography, which will also appear on the back of the book (may be cut down for space): Cheryl B. Klein has worked as an editor of children’s and young adult books for over a decade. Among the books she has edited or co-edited are A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, winner of the inaugural William C. Morris Award for a YA Debut Novel; Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, winner of the Schneider Family Book Award for Teens; Millicent Min, Girl Genius, by Lisa Yee, winner of the SCBWI’s Sid Fleischman Award for Humor; and The Snow Day by Komako Sakai, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. She also served as the continuity editor for the American editions of the last three Harry Potter books. Please visit her website at http://www.cherylklein.com.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

One Way to Stand Up Against Whitewashing

Publishing, like most industries, is extremely imitative of past successes. Said imitation drove the fantasy boom of the early 2000s, the vampire boom that followed that, the paranormal and wimpy-kid booms that have followed that. Why? Each big success proved there was a sizable market for such books, and then publishers rushed to sign up books to serve that market, or to create covers that played to that market -- quite often nearly duplicating the covers that inspired the original boom.

So, if you're upset about whitewashing or the proportional lack of authors of color in the industry, here's one of the most useful things you as book-buyers or -bloggers could do to change the situation: Make a huge success. All of you get together and pick a book, new in hardcover or new in paperback, with a protagonist of color on the front cover. (Note: The book chosen cannot be a book that's already won major awards or by an author who's already a major-award-winner/famous, because the resulting success would be attributed to those reasons, not protagonist-of-color-on-the-cover reasons.)

Then everyone buy this book, all the same week, from stores that report to the New York Times bestseller list. The IndieBound or Publishers Weekly bestseller lists would be great as well. And get your friends or family members to buy it too. Get every reader you know. (Note this may require pre-ordering the book from your local bookstore to be sure they have it in stock. All the better: The book will be sure to get that bookseller's attention.)

Get the book on said bestseller list. (It may take a few weeks of sustained book-buying to make this happen; the link above explains why.) I've seen the kidlitosphere come together and do amazing things; I don't doubt this is possible.

Ideally, do it again a few weeks later with a protagonist of a different color.

And then do it again one more time, or as many times as necessary. Making this project a regular kidlitosphere event, like the Reading Challenges or the Blog Blast Tours, would be fantastic.

And then every editor* in future who wants to acquire a book by an author of color or put a protagonist of color on the cover of a book will have solid numerical support that says "These books and these covers WORK." And then we can do more of them, and pay their authors more, and get bigger marketing budgets, and all those good things. The very worst thing that can happen here is that some deserving author gets a lot more attention and book sales, and I don't think anyone will object to that.

(* I haven't had any negative experiences with this myself: Every time I've wanted to do either of these things, I've had Scholastic's full support. But I've been following the stories with interest.)

I apologize preemptively to anyone who says, "Of course there's a market for these books -- I'm a person of color, and I'm the market, dammit!" Many of us editors are genuinely trying to publish books for you, and your flaunting your power here could make a huge difference in that effort. And obviously, there are a lot of pieces to this conversation -- getting submissions from authors of color; matching those submissions to the right editor; having sympathetic editors available; finding the right places to market and sell the books; encouraging readers and adult-book-buyers to cross color lines in buying books -- and I'm in no way saying this would address all of it. This is just ONE piece that would help those of us who are interested in these issues within the industry move the ball forward.

Thanks to all of you for supporting these books.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Editorial Palavering: Jill Santopolo

I love reading interviews with other editors and hearing what they have to say about the craft, but for some reason, it only just occurred to me recently that hey, I'm a blogger -- I could do such interviews myself! So here's the first in what I hope will be an occasional series of Q&As on the children's-books-editorial life.

The star today is my good friend Jill Santopolo, who rose from editorial assistant to senior editor at Laura Geringer Books/HarperCollins before becoming the executive editor at Philomel/Penguin last fall. She has also written two terrific middle-grade mysteries starring a young detective named Alec Flint, published by Scholastic Press: The Nina, the Pinta, and the Vanishing Treasure, and The Ransom Note Blues. (And on a personal note, she is just as good a storyteller in person as she is in her books, and if there were any such thing as an editorial Best Dressed List, I have no doubt she would be on it.) Thanks for answering these questions, Jill!

Were you a writer or an editor first? I wrote stories my whole life--I still have one about a magical cat that I wrote when I was three--so I guess I'd have to say I was a writer first. But in terms of the kidlit world, I was an editor first. I started the first Alec book because I was around novels all day and wanted to see if I could write one from start to finish.

Who taught you how to edit? It's funny because editing doesn't seem to be a thing that's taught like calculus, say, or grammar or the alphabet. It seems to be more of a learn-by-osmosis process. In thinking about it, I probably first learned the skills that help me to edit as an undergrad English major at Columbia--picking out themes, plot devices, endowed objects, whatever it was that I pulled out of a story to use in an essay. Then it was probably Laura Geringer and Tamar Brazis, who I worked for in my first job as an editorial assistant, who taught me more. Tamar and I would sometimes sit and write a reader's report together, and through that I learned what types of things were important to focus on when putting thoughts together for an editor who would be writing an editorial letter. And then I'd read Laura's letters to authors and see which of Tamar and my points were included, what she'd added, how she worded her letters, etc.

After all of that, I got my MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts where the professors send the students what amounts to an editorial letter every month. From all of my mentors there--David Gifaldi, Sharon Darrow, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Marion Dane Bauer--I learned even more about editing--especially how important it is to tell authors the things they've done right instead of only talking about what can be improved. A lot of it, too, especially line editing, I think is instinctual.

What was the primary idea or value you took away from that education? I think the primary idea I took from all of that is that editing is just one person trying her hardest to help another person make a book the best in can be, and that there's no absolute way to do that--and also that the process can evolve and change.

A followup question about something you mentioned above: What is an "endowed object"? I've never heard that specific term before. Endowed objects (at least as I learned about them) are particular items that have an added layer of meaning. For example, a hat that's not just there to keep someone's head warm, but is also there as a reminder of a boy's mother because it's the last thing she knitted for him before she died. And then let's say that the boy is now homeless, that hat represents love and family and a sense of belonging. So the hat becomes a sort of shorthand for those feelings and is a touchstone for the boy. Often in a story with an endowed object, that object is part of the resolution. So in the story I've just invented, when that boy becomes close friends with a younger girl in the homeless shelter, he gives his hat to her at the end, when he finds out that his long lost aunt is going to adopt him. He no longer needs that reminder of love and security, but this girl does.

You did an MFA in Writing for Children at Vermont College -- how did that change your editing? My Vermont MFA changed my editing a lot--as I mentioned before, it helped teach me what was important to include in an editorial letter. But it also gave me more of a writer's vocabulary and a way to articulate my thoughts--after Vermont I was able to express the things I felt instinctively in a clearer, more concise way.

While every book and author need something different, of course, do you have a more or less standard editorial process? If so, could you describe it? I don't have a paint-by-numbers process, but I think more or less this is what I do: I email a copy of the manuscript I'm working on to whomever is assisting me on the project. Then I print the document and I start reading with a pen in my hand. I make comments in the margins about things I think are working really well or that I find confusing or illogical. Sometimes I ask questions or make exclamations about what's going on in the story. At the same time, I line-edit, cutting sentences, adding words, making notes about places that could use some fleshing out, etc. While I'm doing that, I have a document open on my computer and I jot notes there for my editorial letter--those are usually bigger picture things. I don't bother writing in paragraphs or even in full sentences--I just type in things like "fix love triangle. guy reads as creepy." or "look at screen play structure for plot" or whatever. Once I finish reading the manuscript I go back into any scenes that I've gained a new perspective on after reading the end of the story and re-line edit those. After that I turn my typed shorthand notes into the first draft of a letter. Then I flip through the marked up pages, adding smaller things that I feel are important enough to make it out of the margins.

Once that's finished, I talk to whomever is backing me up editorially on the project. We chat about the book, about our questions, about what we loved, etc., and then I go back into the editorial letter, tweak it, and add in any thoughts that emerged from the meeting. Sometimes I even incorporate large paragraphs of an assistant or intern's reader's report into my letter--telling the author that so-and-so came up with this point and I wholeheartedly agree. Then I read through my letter one last time and send it off to the author via e-mail. I follow that with a hard-copy of the letter and the scribbled-upon manuscript pages. I usually tell my authors to put the editorial letter in the freezer for at least three days and then give me a call or send me an e-mail if they have any questions or want to discuss anything further. Some letters are longer than others, and the content of the letter always depends on what a certain author's writing strengths are. I think I usually go through this process approximately three times on each book I edit (though of course some books need fewer rounds and some need more).

"The content of the letter always depends on what a certain author's writing strengths are" -- I agree absolutely. Could you talk a little about how you shape the content to suit those strengths? For instance, if an author's greatest strength was characterization, would you start from a characterization perspective, or would you talk in terms of plot instead because that's what needs more work? How do you make that judgment? You hit on exactly what I do in the second half of your question--if a writer has characterizations down, I focus on plot or dialogue or something else. And if someone is awesome at plot, I tend to spend more time talking about other aspects of the craft. As for how I make that judgment, it's usually pretty clear to me once I've read something. (Maybe that's the instinct part of the job?)

How would you define the editorial role in making a book? I think a book's editor has two main roles to play in the book-making process. First I think the editor is the book's in-house champion and guardian. From pitching the book to the publisher to introducing it to the sales and marketing groups at launch to stepping in when someone needs to dress up in a Pig costume to promote the book at BEA, I think the editor's job is to get across her passion for the project. Second, I think the editor is the book's creative guide. I think it's the editor's job to help the author realize his or her vision for the story as best as s/he can, to talk to the art director about the jacket and design, talk to marketing and sales folks about the title, and make sure the book comes together as a creative whole.

What are some common themes or ideas or motifs that run through the books you acquire? I've been thinking about that a lot recently, especially since I moved to Penguin--once I got here a lot of agents started asking me what defines me as an editor. This is what I've come up with in a nutshell: Most of the books I acquire are about empowerment. About kids who realize they're stronger, smarter and more capable than they thought they were or than society told them they were. That's a really important message to me--I don't think my books necessarily shout that message, but subtly, I think it's there in a lot of them. Empowerment in general--and actually female empowerment in specific. I love books that star strong women.

What book of yours has come out most recently? Could you tell me a little about it?
Since I've only been at Penguin for about ten months, my first Penguin novel won't be out until October, but I'll talk a little bit about that one. It's called NIGHTSHADE and is the first in a trilogy. The book is about a girl, Calla, who is the alpha female in a shape-shifting wolf pack. From birth she's known two things: She was born to serve the Keepers, and she was born to marry Ren LaRoche, the alpha male of a rival pack. But when she saves a human boy who was out hiking in the woods, she finds out some things about the Keepers that make her question her destiny. The book is really cinematic and tense and wonderful. I love the writing and the characters and the way Calla takes charge of her life. (There's that empowerment thing again...)

How many hours did you work in the past week?
Probably about 60 (or maybe even more), but this was ALA week, so it's not a fair judge. I'd say I usually work about 45ish.

In an ideal world, with practicality being no object, what would you have done if you hadn't become a children's book editor? How does that interest or passion influence what you do now? I probably would've gotten a PhD in childhood studies, taught in a university and written academic books (and probably fiction too) about children and childhood and how the experience of grown up has changed through the decades. I'm fascinated by the sociology, psychology and development of children and the way those things relate to the books children read, the games they play, and what they get out of those activities. I think it's probably another side of the same passion that lead me to becoming a children's book editor (and writer). Instead of studying children, I'm helping to create books that (hopefully) will affect them in a good way. I think that's part of why I'm so interested in books that have a message of empowerment and equality.

How do your writerly and editorial brains work together? Do you turn off one when you're using the other? Or do they take turns, or work simultaneously? (Would you even separate them into two brains?) I wish I could turn the editorial one off once in a while! Unfortunately, they're not separate--they're just one unified brain. When I write, I have to force myself not to revise chapters over and over and over again before I move on. I'm getting better, though, at moving ahead, getting words on a page, and making notes on what I need to work through so I can go back to them later. (After writing that, it makes me wonder if my brain is an editor's brain that I'm forcing to write stories...hmmm.)

I've always been impressed by your writerly discipline -- that you do two pages per day, even on top of all your editorial work. How did you discover this process? What makes it work for you? Well, two pages a day was my grad school method and is still my "novel under contract" method, but I've been slacking a bit as far as productivity goes recently. I do love two pages a day though--I feel like it's a doable goal. It takes me about 30-40 minutes, which is an amount of time that is pretty easy to find. Plus it makes it so that my brain is always involved in the story. I learned about the idea of writing a set amount each day from Michael Stearns, a former Harper colleague and current agent, who I think read about it in an article (or something) on Graham Greene.

Both of the novels you've published thus far are mysteries. What attracts you to the mystery form? What sort of planning goes into a mystery for you, distinct from other genres? I've always loved mysteries, from Nate the Great on. And what I love about reading them is also what I love about writing them: they're a puzzle. I like putting them together so that the reader can solve the mystery along with the main character--feed information in different ways at different times. I plan a lot when I write a mystery, but honestly, I plan a lot when I write anything. With a mystery, I come up with the problem, the perp, the clues, and the red herrings in advance. Then I put them in an order that I think won't give the answer away and will keep people curious. After that, I figure out how many chapters I'll need to tell the story and write a one- or two-sentence summary of what happens in each chapter and which clue or red herring will be used. The nice thing is that once the chapter outline is done, I can zoom ahead with the writing.

As an editor, what are three pieces of advice you would give to beginning writers? Hmm, okay: 1) This is a slow business, but everything will come together in the end, so try to be patient. 2) Make sure your expectations for your book and your publisher's expectations for the book are the same. 3) Don't forget to take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.

As a writer, what are three pieces of advice you would give to beginning writers?
1) Don't be afraid to ask questions (to your agent or your editor). 2) Talk to the publicist assigned to your book to find out what you can do to help promote your book in a helpful (and not harmful) way. 3) Don't forget to take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.