Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Importance of Professional Editing

Comma splices. Sentence fragments. Cliché expressions. Missing words. Commas and periods set outside quotation marks. Overuse of exclamation points. Misspellings. Passive voice.

Authors, please understand – errors like these will kill your writing. It doesn’t matter how compelling your storyline is; if any of these problems appear on the page, guess what your reader is going to remember?

As a publicist, I beg you to do the following:

Before you send your manuscript to an agent, publisher, or publicist, have it professionally edited.

Before you place a book online in any format, have it professionally edited.

Before you send your manuscript out to be printed, have it professionally edited.

Let’s talk a bit about editors.

Even though it helps to have people you know (i.e., friends and family) read your completed work, there is a huge difference between having your book read by your Aunt Martha, and having it read by someone who specializes in English grammar. Unless Aunt Martha is a professional editor, don’t go there. Even if she is an avid reader of books or a writer herself, don’t go there. Hire someone who has some credentials and understands proper grammar and punctuation.

If you can find a professional editor who has experience in the publishing industry, that’s even better.

Most editors will read books for content issues (this is known as a developmental, substantive, or content edit) and for grammatical/structural flaws (a copy-edit or detailed line-edit). You want someone who will do both, because a book with plot, character, and continuity issues can be as problematic as a book riddled with grammatical errors.

If you are a fiction author, a professional content editor will be able to tell you if your characters are believable, if they’re likeable, if their dialogue is appropriate, if your book’s plot makes sense, if you have a proper beginning, if your story contains enough conflict, if your protagonist and antagonist finally confront each other, and if you have a proper ending.

If your book is non-fiction, a professional content editor will help ensure that the book is factual, properly researched and annotated, timely, and contains information that makes it a worthy contender in its category.

How do you find professional editors? Here are some suggestions:

1. Ask professionals in the industry (agents, publicists, independent press owners, etc.) who they recommend. Most publishing industry pros have worked with editors and can recommend good ones to their clients.

2. Search online for professional editors who are experienced and can give you client references. Be sure to do your homework and contact those references before signing a contract. Ask to see samples of work they’ve done on documents similar to yours.

3. Place an advertisement on online job boards such as,, or, or post locally on Craigslist or in your local newspaper.

4. Ask fellow authors who they’ve used. Be sure they’re recommending professionals and not inexperienced friends or family (like Aunt Martha).

Finally, be clear about what you want an editor to do with your manuscript. (Note: You may want to consider having a contract if you’re going to hire someone for a substantial amount of work on your project.) I recommend having a content edit done first, so that you can correct those issues and rewrite the book before spending dollars on final copy-editing and proofreading.

Of course, it’s crucial that a book be completely edited, but if budget is an issue, consider having at least a portion of the book professionally scrubbed. If you find yourself having to cut costs, go with the first three chapters, since those are the most important for creating a positive first impression and engaging your reader.

Finally, once you’ve had your manuscript edited for content and grammatical issues, be sure to have the final version proofread (professionally, if possible) one last time for any items you might have missed.

Here is a list of websites with info about editing/editors (Disclaimer: The following is just a taste of what’s available on the Internet, and does not imply any specific recommendation):

Society for Editors and Proofreaders
American Copyeditors Society
Book Editing Associates

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reaching Out to Booksellers: A Publicist's Advice

I was heartened today to see that Success Magazine has named Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle as one of its American Comeback success stories, especially since a number of my clients have appeared there over the years. One of the reasons for the Elliott Bay Book Company's success is that the managers there, like many other booksellers who are struggling to stay alive in the current economic climate, have realized that hosting author appearances is a great way to get people into their stores (and to sell books).

Although in recent years many booksellers (and even some of the larger libraries) would not consider shelving books by self-published authors, the changes in the industry have forced them to reconsider. This is good news for authors and their publicists: it's now much easier to place both traditionally published and self-published authors in stores for signings, especially if they have written books that appeal to niche audiences or have compelling and/or newsworthy platforms.

Because of the enthusiasm booksellers are beginning to showing for author events, and because there's a good chance that more brick-and-mortar stores will go by the wayside in the future, authors should seriously consider doing a book tour now. Bookstore appearances provide authors with a vital opportunity to network and connect with readers. They also give booksellers a chance to meet authors directly and learn about their books first-hand, so they can promote those books to store customers when the signing is over.

There are some changes in the way bookstores handle author signings that are worth noting. Many independent booksellers are beginning to charge admission fees for author events. Generally, these fees are nominal (usually in the $10 range) and can be applied toward the purchase of a book. And others require that publishers and/or authors pay co-op fees (typically between $100-$200), to help offset the store’s promotion costs, including designing and sending eblasts, printing posters, drafting releases for local media, staffing, and clean up. While some consider these requests controversial, the decision to agree with admission and coop fees is entirely up to the publisher or author and is something to be aware of when booking events.

For those authors considering appearing at bookstores (and, again, I encourage all authors to do so before more brick and mortar stores close), here are a few tips on how to best reach out to booksellers:

Start with a good publisher
Avoid known vanity presses and be sure that your publisher is able to provide your book through the distribution channels that booksellers use to buy books (these include distributors/wholesalers like Baker & Taylor or Ingram).

Be professional in your approach
Show that you respect a bookseller’s time by being professional and courteous when you call. When phoning a bookseller, try not to waste time with small talk (avoid empty phrases such as, “Hi, how're you doing?”). Instead, tell whoever answers that you are an author interested in appearing at the store and ask to speak with the person who handles events. When that person is available, introduce yourself, state the name of your book and the ISBN number, and tell him or her what you’re looking for (a reading, a formal talk, a general book signing, a meet and greet, etc.). If there are specific dates when you’ll be available, have those in front of you so you can provide the information quickly. Be ready to describe your niche/audience and how many people you think you can bring to your event. If you’re offered a date, follow-up with a confirmation email message, so that the manager has all of the relevant info about your event in writing.

Be flexible
Many booksellers can’t afford to pay for shipping on books that they know might be returned. Be willing to bring books if a bookseller doesn’t want to order from the distributor or publisher. Negotiate for a percentage of sales (I’m seeing many booksellers be very generous with their terms, with some even allowing the author to keep all proceeds and decide themselves what percentage to offer the store).

Also, be flexible about dates and times for appearances. The bookseller will know the best times for traffic in the store, so go with his/her recommendation for your signing.

Target cities where you know people
The idea is to bring a crowd to the store, so unless you’re a celebrity or a known author with a following, try to book in places where you have friends or family who can help build an audience for your event.

Help drive traffic to your event
Offer to provide promotional material (standing posters, bookmarks, giveaways, etc.) to those booksellers who are willing to set up a display in their stores. Also, be sure to offer to contact local media, including print, radio, and television, a few weeks prior to your event.

Be courteous and memorable
Show up on time and do your best to provide a well-thought out and rehearsed presentation. Be courteous to those who take the time to attend your event; even if only one or two show up, give them your best presentation –- you never know what connections those individuals might have that can help spread the word about you and your book. And always bring extra copies of your book in case you have a higher turnout than expected.

Use the event as a marketing tool
Advertise your event on all your social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter,Goodreads,etc., and be sure to write about it afterwards. Take photos and post them on your web and blogsite.

Express gratitude
Be sure to take the time to thank the bookstore managers and staff for hosting your event. Collect business cards and/or take note of the names of all the staff members who help out at your signing, and be sure to mention them in your thank you note.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Please Read This Post Before You Send Me Your Book

I am blessed. I have a wonderful job (I get to read and promote books for a living!), incredible clients, a great family, terrific friends, amazing students (I teach a class at a local community college) and colleagues I adore.

And these blessings make me one busy gal.

Even so, I do the best I can to make myself available to authors who call or email wanting info on promoting books. And I’m always ready to read whatever is sent my way.

But, if you’d like me to consider taking you on as a client, I have a few favors to ask:

Please be sure to let me know ahead of time if you plan to send me a book or ms.
I can’t tell you how often I have books sent to me out of the blue, with no prior phone call or email message to tell me why the book is being sent my way. Why do you want me to read it? And what should I do with it once it’s been read? Please don’t make me guess about something so important; call or send me an email message before you send a book, so I will know what it is you’re looking for in the way of publicity and what to do with the book when it gets here.

Please be sure your book/ms has been edited before you send it my way.
If you want me to take you and your book seriously, then I strongly urge you to have it edited by a professional editor before you send it to me to read. If there are typos, POV shifts, missing words, incomplete sentences, sentence fragments, improper pronoun agreement, etc., chances are good that I’m not going to read your ms/book all the way through. And I probably won’t take you on as a client.

In other words, get your book read by as many people as you can before you send it out to anyone (including me).

Please don’t send manuscripts by email.
Printer cartridges are expensive, so I beg all interested authors to please call or email me first and then, if we both agree that I might be the right person to help promote your work, send a hard copy to me via regular mail at the following address:

Paula Margulies
8145 Borzoi Way
San Diego, CA 92129

And finally, please, please, PLEASE, be sure to include your contact info when you send me a book/ms.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But this is my number one pet peeve. I can’t let you know what I think of your book if I can’t reach you after I’ve read it. So, be sure to include your name, email address, and/or telephone number with the copy of your book (I don’t need a cover letter; a Post-It note is fine, as long as I can read what’s on it).

Thanks for humoring me with these requests. I’m looking forward to reading your work!