Romantic Life Lessons, Writing Tips

25 Things I’d Tell Myself If I Joined Publishing Today–The COVID Edition

Four years ago, I ambitiously worked up 50 things. Even 25 things is a massive undertaking and pandemic attention span says no way can I do this. Just resist the lists, people. Or say yes to an amber liquid on the rocks first.

Because of pandemic(s), there are things you won’t tolerate anymore. Honor the new truths that blossomed out of way too much tragedy. Knowing your boundaries will help you navigate any industry that tries to suck your well dry.

Balance the boundaries with an amazing show of skills–consistently. It will freak everyone out.

It’s easy–and temporarily satisfying–to get angry on social media at the many injustices in publishing, especially when you are doing more for less. Like Charmins toilet paper, you are nine rolls smushed into a four-roll package for thirty cents less. That’s publishing–and most corporations. Social media is one of the few places where you can let it rip. Do that–and take concrete action to further yourself: job search, join a group that does active things and speaks truth to power.

One of the best ways to succeed is to figure out every nook and cranny of your job and your boss’s. Anticipate the needs of your manager and conquer what they don’t even realize they need. A lot of knowledge is power, not to mention swagger.

It’s okay to edit late at night while heavily medicated or intoxicated. Just go over it again in the morning. Don’t tell anyone.

Reward yourself RICHLY for every accomplishment. Also, as I said in Fifty Things, write it down immediately. Not only do you have a living document of your achievements, but you can also relive how great you are at times when you really need it. There’s no greater pleasure than whipping out your Scroll of Excellence for The Aboves. Even though they won’t read it, message received.

Make friends/be friendly with anyone in Managing Editorial/Production departments. They are the best.

In life and at work, there is always someone you can’t stop loving even though they’re unvaccinated. But you shouldn’t have to work in the same office with them.

Avoid assholery of any kind, even though it’s tempting to engage because real life can be damned boring. This is not the 1950s or the 1980s or even 2020 anymore. Mad Men is just so…gross. You absolutely don’t need to bear the degradation of anyone’s bad behavior. Keep careful notes and visit HR as often as you need.

The best way to get through a remote workday is to break down the day by half hours (like Hugh Grant does in About a Boy) and take many window-shopping breaks. Bonus points for suggesting makeup tutorials to me since that is my heroin.

Always wait at least a day before answering a pissy email from a “professional,” especially the kind who doesn’t give two shits if you’re wheezing with COVID.

It doesn’t matter what you wear to work anymore, but it kind of does.

Email triage is a sick, twisted game corporations dreamed up to raise your cortisol levels, especially as we remote. Don’t fall for the flimsy communication with the human types we miss. As noted by work gurus, hyper-email-vigilance negates productivity.

Stay in touch with your work buddies who are resigning. It doesn’t have to be a daily email. Over a long career, you will see each other again and why not have more friends?

When applying for a job or sending a submission, write a charming and targeted cover letter. Even if they don’t ask for one. They are more fun to read than a resume.

Everyone’s social skills have deteriorated. Maybe there’s one person who hasn’t been affected by this whole mess, but let’s believe they are crying softly in a dark corner the way I was last week.

Many things can be accomplished by turning off all electronics and jotting down ideas on paper. It’s so simple it’s crazy.

You don’t have to explain why you listened to every second of the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard trial. As an editor, you need to know everything. Plus, you’re kind of a lawyer.

Always have a question in your pocket, but use it wisely and not just as the meeting is ending. Exception if your meeting is with one person, who is likely desperate to prolong human contact so please keep talking with the more questions.

Never ingest things from communal fruit plates, bins, urns, refrigerators unless you know exactly where the grub has been, who touched it, and in what century.

Get back to reading for pleasure. This can be one of the first things to go, but very easy to pick up again.

Do keep track of whether or not Kim Kardashian finishes law school. Your laser focus on this is everything.

Don’t beat yourself up for keeping twelve different notebooks tracking different versions of the same thing. I see you.

If you can envision working in a field other than publishing, investigate further. That quiet jotting-down-ideas thing works really well for this. Sometimes you don’t know another path even exists.

But if you love books and editing, you might be stuck with this complicated soulmate. Publishing is going through things right now–though it’s always been like a mission to Mars via roller coaster. Take a hard look at the years ahead. Do you believe in the work you are doing? Will you ever make a livable wage? This is where you pull out the self-awareness and determine what you want, what you can bear, and what you can do for books.

Now excuse me while I go back to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

Writing Tips

Fleshing Out Yossi’s Journey

There are numerous places where editing and writing intersect. One of these is when a manuscript reads as if it’s been written in a rush. Action, action, line of dialogue, action. The scene might call for fast-paced movement, but weaving in a little description or POV won’t necessarily slow down the pacing. On the contrary, it can save your reader’s wandering eye.

When I edit, I read the jumpy, too rushed text “out loud” in my head. If the writer’s voice is consistent, shows command of the unfolding scene, I make mental smiley faces. But if the narrative feels vacant or confusing–with characters moving like robots–I wonder how the writer has skipped a few steps to get to the end and omitted adequate description. Sometimes writers (and editors) just want to finish their quotas for the day. I feel that pain myself and then suffer for it later when I have to go back and do the job right.

A few times, I’ve been given the task to flesh out stories (mine or someone else’s) where the need to rush to the end is strong. It feels fine when you’re getting down all those words. But then, it’s flat. Diagnosing the problem is easy, but sitting down to fill out empty spaces can be daunting yet thoroughly exciting. One suddenly has lots of room to play. Why not play?

As an example:

First of all, who is Yossi and why does he need to leave? He must be Alexander the Great since he needs to conquer. But also, he fears the elevator. How interesting that there’s only one adjective. Basically, the reader can only gauge so much. This is where you roll up your sleeves and go to town.

Don’t glossy moth carcasses sound awesome? You have to wonder if Yossi is about to engage in some kind of mating ritual. I don’t want to see what comes next. Or maybe I do? It’s not like I ever look away.

Maybe we need a sentence or two about why he needs to leave. Is it just because of the Bichon Frise or is it something else? What’s driving him–aside from what we could assume to be dog sex?

You never know where a story’s going to go, do you? This one definitely isn’t finished.

The moral of the story is to fill in those cracks even if you think your story is fine. In the end, Yossi may have a simple journey from Point A to Point B and we don’t need all this crap. That’s why the delete button is there for your pleasure. Part of the joy of writing is discovery. So what you feel is filler could be the darling touch that the reader will remember forever.

Glossy moth carcasses.

Writing Tips

Welcome to Synopsis Camp!

IMG_2493What is more painful than writing a synopsis? Writing a blog post about writing synopses. Just kidding not really. While on an editor panel, I promised to write this post and I’m glad I did. From the bottom of my heart, I feel that banging out that synopsis is essential–and easy.

Let’s just get it out of the way, that every writer tells me, “I can’t write a synopsis.” And I can’t eat pickled beets unless you give me money, which is what my mother and brother did once. Seriously, you can write a synopsis. If you can write a book, you can write a synopsis. Remember high school, college? It’s a matter of getting into the right head space and practicing. I don’t blame you for complaining. I have to write synopses, too, and I do plenty of whining about it. Then I realize what a skill it is: being able to summarize your work.

One thing to note: Editors need that synopsis. They have to pitch your story to higher ups. We might even require a refresher if we haven’t looked at your book in a few weeks. There are so many books that we read between your submission and that second or third read. A synopsis turns out to be a handy guide to your story. It introduces everyone to the basics.

But how do you write a dry synopsis on a story you are so passionate about? It can be done, I swear. If we can survive the elements, reality television, and the presidential campaign, we can tackle this onerous task.

Because I hate writing synopses myself, I’ve devised a handy way to get through the pain. Maybe it’ll help you, too.

  1. Choose two days where your goal is to write the synopsis. No other writing, no other big projects. Just the synopsis.
  2. Write a logline, a one-sentence summary of your story, two sentences tops. Encapsulating your premise into one neat sentence is a talent and one you can show off when you pitch your story. You will use that logline over and over again.
  3. Prepare yourself psychologically for the longer synopsis. Editors have different requirements, but I like to ask for a five-page synopsis, double spaced. If you can do this, you’re in great shape. Line up your pencils, hydrate, and say, “I can do this.”
  4. Break down your synopsis into three parts. Act I, Act II, and Act III–but don’t label them as such in your synopsis. It’s easier to write a synopsis when you think of it in smaller segments. Never write a chapter by chapter breakdown. These are hard to follow.
  5. Write Act I in the morning. You have that surge of energy, you’ve had your coffee, so get out those first 500 words. You’ll be shocked at how little time this takes.
  6. Take a few hours off. Let Act II percolate in your head. Eat lunch. Have another coffee and then go at it. Get the middle of the story down in lovely prose. No need for gimmicks, just the story as if you were telling someone about it. Think generalities. Think that annoying paper that you’re writing for school. Readable, engaging writing that will inform the editor.
  7. Reward yourself. Watch an episode of your favorite show. Eat a Snickers and/or Cheese Puffs (see picture).
  8. It’s late afternoon, when you’re almost ready to call it a day. Maybe you want to take a nap, but you have one last item on your to do list: Act III. Make it dramatic and exciting! You’re on the home stretch!
  9. You did it. Was that so hard? Maybe, if you think mowing the lawn is hard. It’s just not something you want to do, but you did it because it needed doing. If you didn’t have a Snickers before, you deserve one now.
  10. Forget about your synopsis for the rest of the night. Sweet dreams! They will be sweet because you accomplished this one little yet crucial part of the writing process.
  11. Wakey, wakey! Don’t you hate it when people say that? I do, too, but not so much since I finished a synopsis. After breakfast or whenever the neurons start firing, go over your synopsis, revise it, edit it, then look over it five more times throughout the day. Remind yourself how awesome you are for writing a synopsis, which all of us hate to do.
  12. You are now done–and a new graduate of Synopsis Camp. For good measure and because this is a heinous chore, reward yourself often.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to go over your work, but the hardest part is often getting the words down. As a writer, though, you’re used to that, right? In conclusion, I’ll let you in on a secret. The synopsis is important, though many of editors don’t love reading them. It is truly a guide. The most important part is your voice, your story. But we still want the synopsis. 🙂

Romantic Life Lessons, Uncategorized

Editor Is [not] the New Billionaire

iStock_000016891929XSmallMy first few years in New York, working as an assistant editor, I lived on credit cards. It cost a lot to live in Manhattan and, once again, I’d chosen a career that didn’t promise wealth. Maybe I should have been more financially pragmatic and looked for an apartment in Queens or Brooklyn, but I wasn’t. Those years taught me a lot about cutting corners, which I still do to some extent nineteen years later. If you love to edit books, you can do better than survive. Here’s how:

Food:

Breakfast can easily turn into lunch. If you put off breakfast, tada, it’s lunchtime! That’s one meal you don’t have to pay for.

Lunch: If you want to stay healthy and save money, make your own. Most of us give in to the sandwich bar. Reasoning: you’re too busy as a working woman to prepare food. Sadly, this can’t carry through to dinner unless you want to blow all your money. Another way to save money: take out industry people. It’s professional, enjoyable, and it’s a write-off or your company will reimburse you.* Did I just say that out loud?

Continue reading “Editor Is [not] the New Billionaire”

Writing Tips

More of My Romance Writing Pet Peeves

I know you’re supposed to include some good with the bad, so here’s something I love: reunion romances. We’ve all had a romance that we’ve fantasized about revisiting. In Romanceland, you can! I also love cranky Alpha heroes, heroines with a touch of crazy, characters facing natural disasters and the one-night stand that winds up being happily ever after.

Because there’s balance in the cosmos, here are more of my pet peeves. I’ll try to be gentle:

*On page 1, someone is driving. I know that’s a repeat. Sometimes driving to a destination in the opening is necessary and it’s not enough for me to reject a story but grrrrr, I see it so often, especially in suspenseful romances.

*After a passionate night, the heroine wakes up to the hero cooking breakfast. He can make an omelet. I can’t even make an omelet. You’d think this might be a unique post-coital scene, but it’s not. The hero often makes soft, fluffy eggs for breakfast, which signifies his soft, fluffy underbelly. Oh, and the other cliché, the character waking up to the smell of bacon or strong coffee. I wish I kept eggs and bacon in my fridge but sadly, I just have condiments.

*When they’re lost in the woods, there’s always an abandoned cabin. And in that cabin, there’s a dusty pantry. Somehow, the heroine finds enough there to prepare a five-course meal. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if all they had was a can of tuna to share?  Maybe not so romantic but potentially funny and real.

*Characters become amateur sleuths. A cop will go to a murder scene and someone close to the victim will insist on helping with the case. They fall in love as they both search for clues. This aggravates me, though I see it all the time and it can be explained away. Plus, if someone close to me were involved in such misfortune, I’d like to think I’d be a giant pain in the posterior and insist on helping. It’s still a pet peeve. I do like, though, when non-law-enforcement characters find themselves in the middle of a suspenseful situation.

*The ex is a passionless dweeb or a gold digger. My problem with this is…well, we’ve all made mistakes, but the ex must have had some good qualities or else why would the hero/heroine get involved?

*Exes/parents/grandparents are killed in car crashes. It’s easy to kill off characters this way, but car crashes are a given now in romances. Maybe these extraneous characters could exist without appearing on the scene. Car crashes create emotional conflict by making a central character an instant orphan. It happens, it’s real and awful but if I had a penny for all the car crashes I’ve seen…They have no impact on me anymore.

And those are my pet peeves for this Monday.

Romantic Life Lessons

One Romance Editor’s Holiday in Salem

My religious background is mixed. My grandfather was a Baptist minister. My mother and father are atheists. My husband is Jewish. My brother is  Buddhist. I have many Evangelical Christian, Pagan, Catholic, Agnostic friends and relatives, too. I like to float between all religions, claiming membership, though my latest joy has been learning about my husband’s traditions. We did Easter the previous year (ate a lot of eggs, chocolate, and ham with my mother), so this year we went to visit his family in Boston. First, we snuck in some time in witch-tastic Salem. I’d always wanted to go.

My main rule for the weekend was to soak up history and religion and to avoid all reading–unless trashy tabloids to which I am addicted. We toured the Witch History Museum, ate at Red’s, meandered down the quaint streets and even toyed with the idea of “ghost tracking” at our B&B*. This seemed too scary so we remained sedate, indulging in touristic opportunities. I purchased my witchy souvenirs and even had a mischievous black cat cross my path (scaring the you-know-what out of husband).

My editor hat found its way back on my head during the tour of The House of The Seven Gables. So much had happened in that house over centuries: fortune made and lost, families and literature. The rooms, the ornate wallpaper, the snifter of brandy, chandeliers, and low ceilings. Of course, I had to get Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic to go with my experience! I forgot about religion entirely.

Or maybe I realized that books are my religion.

*There is a ghost tracking app on the iPad, which, I confess, we use often.

Romantic Life Lessons

Make a Romance Editor Cry

I’d been working as a Romance editor for six months, and by then, I’d thought I read it all. Westerns, vampires, medievals, boss-secretary stories, and sheik romances. My brain was filled with love stories, and I steeled myself against all emotion. Then it happened. Coffee, desk, morning enthusiasm, a quiet office…and a really good story that made me feel something.

By the afternoon, I was weeping. The heroine had gone through so much. Ravaged, deflowered in the worst way and her own castle, suddenly orphaned, nearly lifeless (but still beautiful). When the hero came along, she didn’t much care. Of course, she couldn’t avoid him either since he was in her castle. By the end, she was still frozen until he kept insisting that no matter how badly she felt, they were still connected. I lost my marbles and carried the tome to my boss, who was so consoling and sympathetic.

In the end, I didn’t get to work on the book, but I’m happy that it found its way into reader’s hands. Fifteen years later, I still remember that moment when I forgot to be so critical and FELT. Such is a writer’s gift.