Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I admit it -- it took me several minutes to find the book that had the stats on how many times various authors had their manuscripts rejected before having them accepted. I'm working on a stack of twenty books and as many magazines. OK, "stack" is a misnomer, as the reading material is everywhere, in heaps.

Ah, but the quote I seek was in a book about probability and randomness: yes, I read math books. I've been a math teacher, I am fascinated by numbers. The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow (pages 9 and 10)

"Suppose four publishers have rejected... your manuscript. [do] the rejections by all those publishing experts mean your manuscript is no good... could it be that publishing success is so unpredictable... that numerous publishers could miss the point and send... letters that say thanks but no thanks?"

John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces was deemed not much by editor Robert Gottleib (!!!) at Simon & Schuster; an opinion also held by Hodding Carter. Toole committed suicide in 1969, his mother badgered publishers for years, the book was finally published in 1980 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.

 The Dairy of a Young Girl by Anne Frank was rejected by multiple publishers.

Sylvia Plath: "...isn't enough talent for us to take notice."

George Orwell, Animal House: "...impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S."

Tony Hillerman was told by his agent to get rid of the "Indian stuff" in his novels.

Theodore Geisel (Dr. Suess) had his first children's book rejected by twenty-seven publishers.

John Grisham's manuscript A Time to Kill was rejected by twenty-six publishers. His second manuscript, The Firm, was only picked up only after a bootleg copy was optioned for $600,000 for the movie rights.

And famously, JK Rowling's first Harry Potter Manuscript was rejected by nine publishers.

The point is -- PERSISTENCE. Successful people in every field, not just writers, are those who don't give up. Keep shopping that manuscript around: if you keep getting the same comments from publishers, take a hard cold look at your writing; revise if needed, but be persistent.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Proofreader's Marks

I miss editing on paper and I miss proofreader's marks.

Back in the olden days, manuscripts came to me in plain text on long rolls of newsprint. I worked for a typesetter and each hunk of text of paper maybe two feet long:  about as big as I could get on my desk, about a half chapter in plain text. The length of the paper was determined by the vicissitudes of the Merganthaler VIP which I won't go into here.

The text was not easy to read because it contained all the coding (bold, italic and so forth)  and we read for content and for code. Nonetheless it was easy to find misspellings, punctuation errors and such. Theoretically the text would have been through a substantive edit before it got to me, but I often found many other errors -- verb tense disagreements. I still find myself trying to put proofreader's marks when I edit today in Marked Changes.

After a couple rounds of editing we would call for the manuscript in format -- the galley proof, and only then would we see the text in page format. A final read, very through by me and the author and the corrected manuscript went up to Production to be pasted up. I was luck enough to be able to proof and paste up a number of books, occasionally even running the press.

Enough of the olden days. Frankly, it's much faster to edit in Marked Changes and faster for all manner of writing (for better or worse) to be published.

I leave you with some fun proofreader's marks:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Banquet ("Where's the Duck?")

The largest (contemporary) annual human migration on earth is now: when Chinese go home for the New Year. This weekend I joined the migration; journeying off the island and to Seattle for my family's annual dinner. The dinner has been on the Sunday closest to the new year for ages -- always on a Sunday because our dads worked in restaurants and had Sunday off. (Or so I presume -- Sunday is also a slow-in-the-evening restaurant day, good time to take over for a family banquet.)

We tried having the dinner President's Day weekend a couple of times, but that was no good. We're a couple of generations in now and President's Day weekend is a skiing weekend for a lot of folks.

When I was a kid, there were at least twelve courses, often more; we'd start eating at 3:00 and end around 9:00. Many of the "courses" were mere bites, nibbles, something to go with the alcohol. There was a lot of toasting. Every table had a centerpiece of bottles of mixers (7-Up, Club Soda) and a bottle of Four Roses. My parents would bring a bottle of Seagram's VO or Seagram's 7, often both. My godfather favored Crown Royal. No one drank beer or wine, and someone always had a bottle of Ng Ga Pay.

A toast, a nibble, another toast, another nibble. A fair number of rather racy jokes. Stories about life in China. All in Chinese, I understood about every tenth word. I got to drink soda, which was a treat.

When I was very young, usually after we had duck -- not Peking duck, Cantonese duck -- I'd be sent up to our room in the Milwaukee Hotel to sleep. The old folks who lived in the building would check on me every hour (I remember them quietly opening the door). Some would leave sesame candies on the table for me.

The halls of the Milwaukee smelled like gas, the old elevator was simultaneously scary and cool. My godfather's rooms were just behind the flashing hotel sign. My godfather's restaurant, the Little Three Grand, was right next door. (Hmmm, a quick Google of the restaurant's name revealed a teacup from the restaurant that just sold. Drat.)

My folks would party until the wee hours, come in giggling in the wee hours. They went over to the Wah Mee Club after the banquet for a nightcap and a little gambling. The Wah Mee closed in 1983 after fourteen people were killed in the club. But when it was open, it was one of the few places where Chinese could go with white friends; where mixed-race couples could order a drink. (My godfather was Chinese, my godmother white.)

This year dinner was pared down to eight courses; and most of the traditional foods were there, at least in spirit. Sharkfin soup was replaced with fish maw soup, crispy chicken instead of duck. But there were straw mushrooms, black mushrooms, prawns, a whole steamed fish. No toasts, just firecrackers, and a raffle. We always have a raffle: for years the top prize was a TV.

We don't ask all the guys who immigrated to stand up. There are just a couple left, but each table used to be proudly filled with so-and-so and his family, so-and-so and his family. Fifty guys, maybe more; a toast for each. But we still introduce ourselves by saying who our father was and where we lived; for the younger generations it's grandfather, father and where you live.

Signing off, Terri Locke, daughter of Hank Locke, Aberdeen.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Inner Critic

Oh, my inner critic: wondering whether or not my writing is any good. Apparently Amanda McKittrick Ros was untroubled by doubts. She wins the dubious title of "Worst Novelist in History" in a Slate article about Mark O'Donnell's eBook "Epic Fail". I'd download it in a minute if  I wasn't already backed up to my hairline in other things that must be read.

Our January submission period just ended and there are fifty proposals for us editors to review. Fifty proposals that cleared the first hurdle: can the author follow instructions and send us what we asked for?

We see a fair number of proposals that don't -- (1) complete manuscripts with no cover letter; (2) complete manuscripts with a cover letter and a note indicating the ms has already been professionally edited and is "ready to publish"; (3) queries for manuscripts as yet unwritten or just a few chapters written; (4) titles already published elsewhere with the note "I want to change publishers".

(1) A cover letter is standard. Who are you? What is this story about? We will request the complete manuscript if we are interested. Subset: manuscript with cover letter telling us that the story "takes time to develop, therefore I am sending you the whole manuscript." These stories usually take five chapters to describe the wonderful magical fantasy world we are entering. This is called backstory, writers.

(2) Cool that your manuscript is already edited and "ready to go". What do you mean by "professionally edited"? Copy-edited? (I do appreciate correct spelling and grammar.) Substantive? Do we get to go any additional editing or is your prose untouchable? Occasionally I see a manuscript that is too polished and I wonder if it's already been published; there's a difference between a raw well-crafted manuscript and one that's been published.

(3) If you're an established author with a long-time working relationship with a publisher you might be able to write a couple of sample chapters and sell the book. However, most of us want to see the finished manuscript. We want to know that you can write the book, not just polish the first few chapters. We often see manuscripts with the first few chapters polished and the rest in dire need of substantive editing. But if you've got a great story with compelling characters, we'll take it on.

(4) Really? Your other publisher is cool with you shopping your manuscript to other publishers? "It's just for the eBook. The print book will be with Publisher A." However, when we check Publisher A's web site we see that this isn't true. Publisher A owns your book. Sorry that Publisher A doesn't publish eBooks. That was in the contract, wasn't it? Read that contract. If it says that the publisher has exclusive rights, they have exclusive rights as outlined in the contract and supported by law. (Not your interpretation. Imagine yourself in court saying that you signed the contract but you took it to mean...)

(And see #2 above.)