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Category : Resources for Writing
Becky Germany is a Senior Editor at Barbour Publishing, and a familiar face at writing conferences. I recently asked her a couple questions about the industry…
In many ways, Barbour has become a leader in Christian fiction — doing novellas, establishing a book club, focusing on mass market. Where does all the creative thinking come from?
Becky: We’re the leading CBA publisher of fiction categorized as romance. We rank fourth in the number of units produced in fiction in CBA. We started publishing fiction as romance flip books way back in 1983 with authors like Colleen Reece, Irene Brand, and Elaine Schultze. I wasn’t at Barbour then, so I"m not sure how it was decided to settle upon romance, but it’s been our strength ever since. The Heartsong Presents book club began in 1992, the year before I joined the company, and out of that has come a number of stars — Tracie Peterson, Wanda Brunstetter, Lauraine Snelling, Colleen Coble, Cathy Marie Hake, and more (forgive me for not trying to name them all, Chip). Our fiction series have helped us remain open to working with unpublished authors and developing them into strong writers.
Another Barbour strength has been doing series and repackaging previously published material (including Grace Livingston Hill) to extend the breadth and life of the product. Our novella collections were born when we decided we could create new short stories specifically for collections under topics of our choice. So the creative thinking seems to extend from Barbour’s roots, and builds on what we do best. Our team members are, for the most part, people who have been with Barbour many years and who know the company’s success model. We’ve learned to work within our strengths and to keep our product subjects broad, in order to appeal to the widest audience.
What are some of the things that have worked (and not worked) in fiction for you?
A couple months ago, my buddy Andy Meisenheimer stopped in to talk about one of his pet peeves: the overuse of novelists turning all thoughts into italics in their manuscripts. Andy is an editor at Zondervan, and his post caused much debate and hand-wringing with some writers. Never being one to avoid a good controversy, I asked him if he’d come back.
Chip: So your last visit to my site created a stir, Andy. You ready to face this again?
Andy: Yeah, my last guest blog might have come across as Andy’s Vindictive Rant About Certain Arbitrary Rules of Style. People assuring me they’d never, ever, use thought italics, and people offering condolences to the poor writers who have to obey my every whim (and Mike Snyder, constantly calling to let me know his progress in eliminating thought italics from his current manuscript). Instead of a discourse, it became an ultimatum. Instead of "okay" and "better," it became "wrong" and "right."
My intention for that post, and any time I speak up about words, is to encourage writers toward better writing. They aren’t rants about my personal hot-button issues. They aren’t indirect ways of editing my current authors (please, Mike — stop calling). If your editors says to take out all semicolons, I encourage you to say, "Puh-leeze. You got somethin’ to back that up? The market isn’t buying books with semicolons?"
Chip: So would you say an editor’s job is to continue the conventions? Or to help an author break them successfully?
Andy: An editor’s job is to help the author discern what’s working. A good editor must appeal only to conventions of the craft and the effect upon the intended reader to justify editorial comment. And convention and effect are fluid things, open to change and dialogue and debate. Not that they are subjective; there are conventions, and there are effects upon readers, and their equivocation does not
I happen to be a huge fan of critique groups, and have participated in several until I moved or they wised up and threw me out. The experience has taught me a few principles for getting the most out of the group. My ten laws for critique groups:
1. Ask yourself why you want a group. What do you hope to get out of it? You ought to have clear expectations going in, so that you’ve got some way to evaluate the benefits to your writing later. Some people basically want to hang out with writers — more or less the same reason they attend writing conferences. There’s nothing wrong with that, and if that’s your reason for joining, you should easily find a group that meets your needs. Others really want a dedicated group of professional writers to take a careful look at their material. If that’s what you’re after (and, being a reader of this blog, which is aimed more or less at writers, I figure that’s the majority of people reading this little missive), you’re going to need to put a lot more thought into your group.
2. The value of a critique group is based almost entirely on the membership. So look for people who are at your level or maybe just a bit better than you (if your ego can take it), and talk to them about the group. People need to know what the commitment will be (a weekly or maybe twice-a-month meeting that lasts a couple hours), what the expectations are (that members will actually read the other member’s writings before coming to a meeting), and what the benefit is to them ("You will hear advice for improving your writing").
3. Invite people to participate. Don’t put an announcement in the local newspaper or an invitation in the church bulletin. You’ll get the hangers-on, the wannabes, and, very possibly, members of my family.
Back from soggy Scotland (just missed the terrorist attack on Glasgow airport by a few hours) and hoping to get caught up. Jennifer wrote to ask, "As an agent and a reader, are there writing errors that drive you crazy?"
Yes! Of course! Here’s one! Novelists who use exclamation points as though the period key didn’t work! I hate this! Really!!!
Here’s "another" one: The "author" who feels a "need" to put emphasized words in "quotes," since they apparently think it makes them look more "official." This is particularly tiresome when a "funny" author decides to put his "punchlines" in quotations. (Does anybody remember the episode of Friends where Joey kept putting "finger quotes" around certain "words," even though he didn’t understand how to do it?) Here’s an "idea" — cut the quotation marks in your "epic."
And a third (related) item: People who use an open parenthesis but no close parenthesis. (For example, this kind.
Fourth is the serial comma. Drives me crazy. The rule for using commas is that there should be ONE LESS COMMA THAN THE ITEMS IN YOUR LIST. So if you list five things, you’d use four commas. An example: "Farnsworth visited Scotland, Wales, England, Ireland, and Djibouti." Note that there are five countries and four commas — one less than the list. Writers often drop the last comma, in an apparent attempt to make "Ireland and Djibouti" one country. (Similar to Trinidad and Tobaggo, if you’re into geography jokes.) Makes no sense at all.
Fifth is the adverbial ending "ly," which some authors insert regularly in an attemptly to sound scholarly. Note that this paragraph doesn’t start with the word "fifthly." From a strict editorial perspective, "fifth" is an adverb. To add "ly" to the end is to adverbialize an adverb. Why write "firstly" when it is clearer to write "first"? (Besides, if it’s a long list, can you really defend "thirteenthly"?)