Sunday, October 23, 2016

Losing Interest in Your Book

I go through a phase I heartily detest when I'm writing a book. After I've finished the first draft, I start losing interest about one third into the revision process. My self-talk gets negative, "This book is boring. My writing is awful. Why should I bother any more?" It happens with every book I write.

Now, I recognize this phase for what it is. But it thoroughly scares writers the first time it occurs. I assure you—it's common and normal. It too will pass!

I've learned to view this mental slump as a signal of exhaustion with the book. My answer is to take a complete a break from the manuscript, indeed from all writing if I can. I have to stop not only tinkering with my manuscript, but also stop thinking about it. It takes me a good two weeks to achieve this.

I try to plan a vacation for the time I expect my motivation to plummet and I leave my laptop behind. If I can't go away, I fill my time at home—decorate a room or play a lot of golf. This solution works for me every time and I return to the book full of ideas, high motivation, and energy. Try it!

© Julie H. Ferguson 2016 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Writer Meets Editor or Agent

This week the Surrey International Writers' Conference gets underway. If you're attending, this post is for you!

Conferences are rites of passage for most aspiring authors. We attend these events to learn from the greats, maybe even talk to them; we inhale the craft at workshops; we get mega-motivated; and we pitch our W-I-P to acquisition editors and agents, one-on-one. 

Before you do book these appointments, be sure your manuscript is highly polished because many writers make the mistake of meeting editors and agents several years too early and leave disappointed. Your writers' group should be able to help you determine when your manuscript is ready for publication and you're well prepared for this step. 

With a dry mouth and a knot in your stomach, you make your way to your first meeting with an editor of one of Canada’s premier publishers . This is why you’re here, of course, but it doesn’t make it any easier. So here are a few tips to bolster your courage and to ensure a successful conversation:

  1. Pick the most suitable editors/agents for your work – do some research ahead of time. Be able to enthusiastically describe your book in one sentence. My book is about…. Practice saying it out loud…lots.
  2. Have a sample of your work for the editor to read that is correctly formatted – anything less and you create an unprofessional impression. (More than 50% of manuscripts handed over at conferences are single-spaced!) Make sure it is the very best writing you can deliver. Have abusiness card to leave behind you.
  3. Know what you need to learn from this encounter beforehand. Write a list so you don’t forget to ask your questions.
  4. And, don't hog the conversation — nerves tend to make people babble and then you never hear the pearls of wisdom from the person you chose to meet. You only have fifteen minutes…and it goes by fast!
  5. Make notes immediately after the meeting or you'll forget the details and how you agreed to proceed.
Take three deep breaths and go for it….

© Julie H. Ferguson 2016

Sunday, October 09, 2016

What Does an Acquisition Editor Do?

I wish I'd written this post about acquisition editors, but my writer friend and colleague, Joyce Gram did. I couldn't say it better myself.
Writers have to forearm themselves: You need to know what range of tasks acquisition editors do before writing the perfect query letter for fiction and nonfiction books. You also must understand the questions acquisition editors have to answer at publishers' editorial board meetings. Knowing all this enables you to convey the info they require to pitch your book to the board. It's the same for nonfiction, but your proposal has to go a step further and provide more detail for acquisition editors.  
Both the query and the proposal, if you cover the bases, also reassures the editor that you're a professional too.

In a previous post, I did my best to convince you of the value of hiring a freelance editor to take a dispassionate look at your manuscript to show you what’s possible and help you gain perspective on your work. I argued that taking this step might make the difference between having your manuscript looked at by a publisher or tossed into the slush pile. Here, I’m going to tell you what an acquisitions editor does—and if this doesn’t convince you, then perhaps nothing will. 
Publishing houses acquire books
 in two main ways:
1) By choosing manuscripts received from agents or authors that have excellent commercial promise
2) By seeking out authors to write specific projects that the publishing house has determined will sell.

Both jobs fall to the acquisitions editor. She is the first to see a manuscript, and if she doesn’t like it—really like it—it will go no further. But she must do more than just like it. She must convince her superiors—the publisher as well as the marketing and publicity departments—to really like it as well. She must pitch it down to the last detail: the superior quality of the writing; the manuscript’s uniqueness and slant; its suitability for the publisher’s booklist; its favourable comparison to other titles in the market; the cost to produce; timing of publication; price; expected profit; longevity. She must also assess the author: How well known is s/he? How many titles has he published? What are his sales? How much marketing experience does she have? Is she cooperative or a pain in the ass? Does he “show” well at media events and book signings, or does he look like he’d rather be hiding in the weeds?

The acquisitions editor’s job is riding on all of this. If the titles and authors she promotes do not end up making money for the publishing house, she’s gone. So, this is not really about you, the writer; it’s about her! If you want to impress her, do everything you can to produce the best you can; and, please, check the publisher’s submissions guidelines and be prepared to wait some time while the acquisitions editor pitches your book to the publishing house.
These books are a must for unpublished authors:

  • Elizabeth Lyon, The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit: Everything You Need to Know About Queries, Synopses, Marketing, and Breaking In. New York: Penguin, 1997.
  • __________, Nonfiction Proposals Anybody Can Write. New York: TarcherPerigee, 2002.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

How Freelance Writers Can Add Value that Editors Can't Resist


In the last decade, freelancers have become content providers in a fast-paced, visual, and connected world. When demand for articles dropped when print periodicals shrank in the economic slump of 2008-9 and now when competition is high, writers need to offer editors more than just an 800 word article to get published. Whether you are breaking into freelancing or you have been writing for years, you have no choice but to embrace today's reality.
Many periodicals provide their readers with both print and web versions. Some want more than just text to drive traffic to and fro between their magazine and website. To find out what added incentives a freelancer can offer editors, check their websites. You’ll be surprised how many publications use content other than articles and other mechanisms to entice and retain their readers. And it is their writers who provide it.
Once you know the array of value-added offerings magazines use regularly, you can develop the right mix. Here are some of the most common offerings freelancers must consider:
  • A variety of article lengths (feature (2000+), department (700-1200), and shorts (300-400)
  • A print version and an online version (think smartphone screens as well as tablets)
  • A choice of sidebars 
  • Images are essential for online articles and they should be yours if at all possible
  • Activity on social media sites to promote the periodical and your article(s). (Twitter and Instagram are the most effective, especially for travel writers)
  • Short video clips (with audio) for the website
  • A guest blog post
  • An author blog interview
  • A podcast that augments your text with IVs and sound effects (least important offering, IMO).
If you quail at the thought of using Twitter and/or Instagram or creating video clips, choose to pitch to magazines that don’t use them (though most employ Twitter with images).  Alternatively, learn how and start competing with writers who already offer these attractive options. Start adding value that editors can’t resist!

© Julie H. Ferguson 2016

Monday, September 26, 2016


Professional editors also provide structural editing, also known as substantive or developmental editing, to authors. For me, this is one of the most useful tasks an editor can do, especially for long form works.  Over a year or two, an author can forget what they've written leading to undue repetition, omissions, inconsistencies regarding characters, and unnecessary scenes. Then there is "scaffolding,"  something we all do, but that's for another post. Today Joyce Gram, professional editor and writer, writes about structural editing from her point of view: 

Those of you who have faithfully followed my articles here will have noticed that I have focused on the minutia of editing—punctuation, verb style, word usage—detail that I said in my inaugural piece makes writing flow, smoothes the reader's way, spares the reader the irritation of interruption and confusion. But minutia, defined by the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as "a precise, trivial, or minor detail," is only one part of editing (though it is often the part that makes for the best debate; in fact, the debate can get downright dirty!). Another part is "substantive" or "structural" editing, what I like to call the "Big Picture." 

When an editor looks at structure, she asks herself, Does the structure of the manuscript work as whole, given the nature of the publication? A personal essay or opinion piece for a local newspaper will be structured differently than a short story, website, or how-to book. A letter to the editor cries out for a logical sequence that the reader can grasp in seconds without effort. A novel calls for a compelling sequence that will captivate and hold the reader for many hours. Structural rules are not carved in stone, but readers and publishers have expectations. Whatever your piece, its organization must be easy to follow, without gaps, missing steps, or unclear transitions. Readers look for prose that is clear, concise, and a pleasure to read. Few will backtrack to figure out your argument or make sense of what your characters are doing. What matters most is a structure that, combined with all the other elements of good writing, draws your reader right to the last sentence.

Recommended resource on substantive editing: Editors' Association of Canada Professional Editorials standards:

© Joyce Gram 

Sunday, August 28, 2016


I'm a writer who is very project-oriented. I work flat out on one project until it's finished, then I take a break. Yes, it's tiring and my brain feels worn out today.

Some writers work and take a break every couple of hours or once a week. I cannot be as productive that way — we're all different.

I expected to take most of August off and then got snowed by clients who'd finished their projects and needed guidance on their next steps towards publication. But I'm nearly done and I'm heading to Ottawa for a family visit soon.

This post is my way of letting my blog readers know that there won't be any more posts here until late September 2016. Then I'll be back....

Sunday, August 21, 2016

TRANSLITERATION: How to Use It as a Writer

I have been writing travel stories for about a decade now and often spatter a few words of the language of the country to add colour and enhance the sense of place in my articles. This habit has its good side and downsides, and makes me glad I have a good professional editor.
Translation is different from transliteration. 

Translation expresses the sense of the word and is used verbally as well as in text, e.g. when whole articles and books are converted into another language.

Transliteration, in contrast, is representations of written words in a language other than the main language of a book or article. Easier to do if both languages use the Latin alphabet like this post does. More difficult if you're using a word from, say, Arabic or Russian whose alphabet is totally different and you are endeavouring to put it into the Latin alphabet phonetically.

Many years ago, I discovered there are rules for writers when inserting a few foreign words into their writing for publication.  The Chicago Manual of Style is the ultimate guide for transliteration assistance in sections 11.91 to 11.95 for Latin and non-Latin alphabets.
The rules when languages use the Latin alphabet include:
  • The foreign word (other than proper names) is italicized in an English language work if it has not become part of the English language, either for the first use only or all the time – it depends on your publisher's guidelines. 
  • A foreign word that has been absorbed into English is not italicized. You'd be surprised how many have made the transition, so I always check the Oxford or Webster dictionaries to see if the word is listed.  

I visit France often and regularly face this issue when writing about my travels there. The French word for castle is 
ch√Ęteau, but it is now considered an English word too, has lost the circumflex, and would not be italicized. Merci is not in the Oxford Canadian Dictionary. Metro is anglicized. Aurevoir is not.

For example: "Aurevoir," Heloise said, smiling. "The chateau is at the top of the hill in Saumur." (Note the two proper names that are French, but the font is normal.)

If I'm in doubt, I consult an expert. Always! Foreign languages also have different capitalization rules from English for proper names and hyphenation, e.g. rue de Grenelle; St-Malo (note: in English, St. Albans has no hyphen but a period). 

So writers need to employ extreme attention to detail when using transliteration.

© Julie H. Ferguson