Monday, March 24, 2008

Guest - Leslie Hodges, Editor

Good morning, everyone. Angela gave a wonderful introduction for this week's guest in today's first post so without further ado, let's welcome Leslie Hodges of Wings ePress, Inc.



What makes an editor choose one book over another? Is it the story? The characterization? What is it that makes me want to contract a book?

Truthfully? I don't have a tried and true process. I look for submissions that interest me as a reader. It can be one or many things, but there must be something about the book that draws me in, makes me feel an emotional connection to the characters. There are, however, some things that I do look for, or things that make me reject a manuscript.

For starters, I can’t tell you how many manuscripts I receive that read like a first draft. These manuscripts contain many misused words, grammatical errors and typos. I receive manuscripts on a regular basis that have problems with homonyms, or verb tense. No matter how good the story is, this kind of thing makes it hard to get through without being distracted by these problems. I’m not saying the manuscript needs to be absolutely perfect. But basic writing skills are essential. As an editor, I’m willing to work with an author to improve the manuscript and help with the writing, but it’s not my job to teach English 101 to an author.

World Building is essential to any story not set on Earth as we know it. When you have your book set on other planets or worlds, you need to build those worlds and try to explain everything possible about that world to the reader within the context of the story. This means establishing social mores, politics, religion and philosphies of this world, and making sure that the reader can visualize these worlds completely. You, as the author, needs to let the reader know exactly what your world is like. You are the creator of this world. Just because you can see it clearly in your head, it doesn’t mean your reader can. You need to do the necessary work in your writing to explain everything about that world to your readers.

Compelling Characters will make all the difference. You need character descriptions that paint a vivid picture in the mind of the reader. They need to be able to visualize the two main characters (hero and heroine) in a romance, plus they also need to be able to "see" the villain. We need, not only the physical description, but also the emotional description--what makes this person tick? To build a great character you need to know that person inside and out. That may mean doing a character chart. For example, what is this person's background? Did they come from a loving family? Were there two parents in the home? Were there siblings? Was this character the first born? The middle child? The baby? Were they wealthy? Middle class? Poor? Were they church goers? What religion? How devout? How well educated is she/he? What is his/her profession? Do they smoke? Drink? What is his/her favorite meal? Who is the best friend? For how long? Since grade school? High school? College? You need not reveal all of this information to your reader but if you know it, it will come across in the story and you will be able to better portray your characters because you will know how they would react in any situation. Characters in a novel need to be emotionally appealing to your reader. Otherwise, why should they continue to read the story?

If you are writing a romance novel, your Hero/Heroine need to have good chemistry. And I don’t mean just sex scenes. A couple needs to have chemistry outside the bedroom. The reader needs to be able to picture them being together forever. Just putting your characters in a bedroom and letting them have sex doesn’t give them chemistry. I read so many submissions where I just can’t see enough chemistry for it to be realistic that the two of them could possibly end up together--and many times as a reader, I don’t want them to. That’s not good in a romance novel. You want your reader to believe in their love.

Oh! And here is one I’m going to throw in that may sound quite unusual, but it happened again recently and really ticked me off, so I’m going to pass it on it you. When I write a rejection letter, sometimes I use a generic one, but if I feel a book has real promise I will take the time to write a detailed letter of the areas I feel that an author can work on to make the book better. And I tell them that if they are interested in making these changes, I’d be happy to take another look at the manuscript. I try to make these letters as kind and constructive as I can. I understand it’s hard for an author to get a rejection letter. You would not believe the amount of snarky, rude letters I get back from authors. Some of them telling me things like I’m a clueless hack that doesn’t know what I’m talking about. (I always mumble something under my breath at these about how I may be a clueless hack, but you’re the one that submitted the manuscript to me, not the other way around). More recently I got a letter back from an author about six months after I sent the rejection letter. It stated that she was quite glad she didn’t take my rude suggestions about her story, because she had been picked up by another publisher, and look! She was their current bestseller, so it just goes to show I had no clue what I was talking about. Curiousity demanded I click on the link. She was with a publisher I had never heard of, and they had for sale her book and three others. So she was the bestseller out of four available books. Like somehow that was going to make me regret not contracting her manuscript. My point is (yes, I do have one, this isn’t just a rant), I will never accept another submission from her again. When she queries, I will decline to look at the manuscript. I keep a file of authors that are problems. Why? Because if an author is a problem before I ever contract one of their books, what will they be like afterwards? Act like a professional no matter how you feel about the editor/agent, etc. They may be publishing your book someday.

Finally, some last bits of advice that I hope you find helpful: I’m always looking for something completely different from what you would see on the market. A different plot, concept, etc. For example, while vampire romances are extremely popular, it's becoming difficult to come up with a fresh plot. Not that I don't want to see vamp novels--I do, just make sure your tale has something a little different, something special to set it apart from the hundreds of others out there. I'd say the same is true for shapeshifters of the wolven variety. Give me something just a little different. The problem with novels of this type is that the basic premise is the same for the vampires or werewolves, so you need something that makes your book unique, to stand out from the others. I am looking for books to find that unusual spark to make the reader sit up and take notice.

It is a good practice to find several objective readers or critique partners to read your story and give you comments on their impressions. If you do this without trying to explain anything to them about the story, you can begin to see some areas where you, as a writer, have not made things as clear on paper as they are in your imagination.

Lastly, believe in yourself. Don’t give up, and never stop writing.

Leslie Hodges
Senior Editor: Historical Romance
Managing Editor: FF&P, General Fiction
Wings ePress, Inc.

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8 comments:

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Excellent post, Leslie! Thank you for coming by.

Skylar Masey said...

Hi Leslie!

Thanks so much for blogging with us today. I read that you are looking for manusctips outside the mainstream, but is there anything you really hope you find? Something that you can't put down if it comes across your desk/inbox?

Lynda K. Scott said...

Leslie, thanks for being with us today. Those were great tips about knowing the background of your characters. Even if all the details don't make it into your manuscript, it helps you create believable characters.

lahodges said...

One of the things I would like to see more of is romantic comedy. Think Mary Janice Davidson or Stephanie Rowe type. It rarely crosses my desk, so when it does I sit up and take notice. Also, I am so tired of seeing heroines that are looking for the hero to come save them. I don't want heroines that are victims. Victims of society, their family, their religion, etc. I rarely get manuscripts where the heroine is really kick-ass and able to take care of herself. She's looking for a partner (or doesn't know that's what she's looking for) not someone to come along and save her. Do I contract books with wimpy heroines? Of course. But I love to see really strong heroines.

Savanna Kougar said...

Leslie, thanks for all the insights. I wish I had a manuscript to send your way. Especially since some of my heroines are kick-ass, and usually out of this world.

*lizzie starr said...

Excellent points, Leslie...I couldn't agree with you more. LOL

Skylar Masey said...

And I love to write really strong heroines :0) Would you like straight romantic comedy? Or would you prefer to mix the 2 sub-genres? Which I understand is a really big hit with editors right now.

Many thanks for the answers!

lahodges said...

Either one works for me. I'm not big into sub-genres, I like them just as well straight.