Welcome, everyone, to the beginning of NANOWRIMO season! The time of year that makes publishers tremble. Today, I’m interviewing Trysh Thompson, an Assistant Editor for World Weaver Press and Pen and Kink Publishing. Let’s start this off with a few questions about you specifically.
What kind of training did you get to become an editor?
Truth be told, I didn’t do any with the specific be-all end-all goal of being an editor. I have a Bachelors of Science in Journalism and a Masters of Arts in Mass Communications, so writing has been at the core of everything I’ve studied and every job I’ve had since college. It was a natural fit. Especially once my friends realized I was the captain of the Grammar Police and I wasn’t going to stop. But let’s be real here, editing–especially this kind of editing–is about a lot more than proper grammar. It’s things like story flow and pacing and what makes a good plot and what’s been overdone. Honestly, the only way to learn what you need to do for this type of editing is experience.
How long have you been editing?
I started at World Weaver Press in December 2014. However, I didn’t pick up my first editing project until ten months later in October 2015, because I’m really picky. (Oh, and the first project I tried to pick up was picked up elsewhere before I could get my hands on it. That’s the nature of the business though.)
What made you want to do this?
I lucked into it. Plain and simple. My friend sent me a link to the ad World Weaver Press had out for assistant editors (shout out to Bethany). I remember replying to her and saying I wasn’t remotely qualified but I appreciated the thought. I set it aside and tried not to think about it, but it nagged in my head, so I sent my resume in on a whim. I was shocked as all get out that this little technical writer and former journalist even landed an interview to be a fiction editor, let alone be offered the position. So, as I said, luck and the right friends reading the right want ads at the right time.
Okay, for the meat!
In your opinion, what’s the difference between small press and self-publishing?
There’s really not much of one, yet, at the same time there’s a world of difference.
When you self-publish, you are the–to pull out a term from my day job–project manager. You control the writing, the editing, the cover design, the formatting, the ISBN, the distribution, the marketing. It’s all you to do and to fund. (No, you don’t have to physically do it all, you can hire people to do it for you, but at the end of the day, you’re responsible for making sure it gets done.) You are the one who has final say on everything. It’s your baby, through and through. You’re out the money if it fails, but you also reap major rewards if it’s successful.
Small-press publishing, you get some help along the way. Your small press publisher will take on your project and provide you with editing, cover design, distribution, and maybe even help a little with marketing. The difference here is that your publisher is now your project manager. They are investing in your book. They have final say on the editing (with your help) and cover design. It’s entirely possible, and I’ve seen it happen, for authors to despise their covers that small press publishers made. Although you’re more involved in the creative process at a small press publisher, at the end of the day, the publisher gets to make the final decisions. You also have to keep in mind, the publisher wants your book to sell. So these decisions are not made in a desire to piss you off, but rather to cater to what they know about the market. But you are more likely to be listened to at a small-press publisher versus a big five publisher.
The one big advantage I see to small-press publishing over self-publishing is that you get a champion for your book. A built-in support system. They may not have the resources at their disposal that a larger publisher will have, but generally, they’ve got more than most self-pub authors. At least at the publishing houses I work with, as an editor, we care as much for the project as the author does. I know the characters in the books I edit, I love the characters in the books I edit, and I get to know the authors I work with as well. I am the biggest fan and cheerleader for my authors and I will do everything I can to help these books succeed, even if it’s posting it to my personal Facebook page and begging my friends to buy a copy. I’m not above begging. Especially when the project and author are worthy enough of that. (I even push the hell out of their stuff that’s not with me. Because I love their writing so much.)
As a small press acquisition manager, do you, or any of the other editors you work with, primarily publish books you’ve received query letters for, or gotten from the slush pile?
With very few exceptions, that’s pretty much how we do it at World Weaver Press. (Pen and Kink operates a bit differently as it’s a micropress and tends to work with hand-curated authors.) We will open the submissions inbox for a period of time and it’s the responsibility of myself and the other three editors to read the queries and samples, and determine if there’s anything we’d like to read more of. We ask for the first 5,000 words of a manuscript along with a query. The first 5K is a pretty good indication if it’s going to work for us or not.
Now, I need to throw this out right now… just because a project is rejected does NOT mean it doesn’t have merit. That’s the most common misconception by newbies in the publishing world. If anything, publishing is one of the most subjective businesses in the world. For example, my lane is paranormal romance. I’ve had books come in that were phenomenally written and were intriguing, but I wasn’t the right editor to take it on because I didn’t know a thing about the subject matter. Or your title could be too similar to a project the editor already has. There are a lot of reasons you may get a rejection from the slush pile that has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of your writing. You also have to remember that a lot of small press editors have day jobs and lives, so there are only so many projects they can take on before they have a mental breakdown. I’ve seen plenty of projects that I, or my fellow editors, have rejected go on to have wild success with other publishers/editors.
Have you ever solicited an author for a manuscript? Why?
Yup. I was at a convention and an author was hanging out with me and told me about a project she had set off to the side and I loved the premise, so I was like, “give it to me now.” I’m currently waiting on a revised manuscript for that one. So it happens. Some people say never to talk about your projects because you don’t want to jinx them. On the flip side, you never know who you might be talking to who can help take you to the next level.
Query letters and agents – are they necessary?
Query letters, yes. Agents, not exactly. A lot of small press publishers don’t really like working with agents. It’s all personal preference by small press management. But a query letter is a must. It introduces the person reading slush to who you are, what else you’ve written, and gives us an overview of what you’re sending. (Plus it gives us the information we need to stalk you, and yes, we do. Especially on Twitter.) We make an initial decision to read on or not based off the query letter so take the time to write a compelling one. Please, for the love of all things holy, if you’re going to address it to a specific editor (if that’s allowed–it is at WWP), make sure you spell the person’s name correctly and use the appropriate pronoun.
As a matter of personal preference, which goes against standard publishing norms, I hate being given comparison titles in a query letter. Mainly because I’ve received them and been like, “Oh, I loved that book, so of course I’ll check this one out,” only to get into the manuscript and find it is absolutely nothing like what it was compared to. Furthermore, I want you to bring something original to the table. I don’t want to know that your wrote the modern take on To Kill a Mockingbird. Tell me why it’s unique and I should care about it. (This is advice that solely applies to me only. Most editors have their wants, desires, likes, and dislikes posted somewhere. Find them. Use them to your advantage. Do your homework. We’ll notice, and we’ll appreciate it.)
As someone who looks into the depths of the slush pile, what is the most common thing you see? Not necessarily a good or bad thing, just most common.
Whew, save for the anthology I’m reading for, I haven’t been in the slush pile for a long time. I see a lot of people who aren’t paying attention. Look at a publisher’s previous books and what they want–if your book doesn’t fit what they publish, don’t send it anyway and hope for the best. (I’ve seen this more than you’d think.) To the point of the anthology I’m currently reading slush for, don’t send me some random trunk story that in no way answers the call I put out. When we put out anthology calls, we are looking for something in particular, the theme that will tie all the stories together. If you go out into left field to give me something that is in no way satisfying the call, you’re only hurting yourself (and making me angry for wasting my time).
What would you like to see more of?
I’m the paranormal romance girl at WWP, so I’m all about the paranormal romance. I’d love some unique paranormal element. I’ve edited vampires before. I’ve edited people who control time. I’ve written angels (yep, I write too). So I want something outside of that. Here’s a little tip from me to you… if you use a lesser-known paranormal creature, you can pretty much write the rules. I mean, you can with any paranormal, but how many people have you heard bitching about the fact the Twilight vampires sparkle in the sun instead of bursting into flames? Case closed.
What would you like to see less of?
For the love of all things holy, please don’t argue or beg me after I’ve rejected your manuscript or short story. I’ve seen it so many times that I reject for whatever reason, and the author comes back and begs, “but if I do this and I do that, will you give me another chance?” Here’s the thing, I weigh all that. Sometimes I don’t have the time to devote to get it completely right. Sometimes it’s because it’s so good, I don’t know what I, as an editor, can add to it to make it better. (That’s a real reason for rejection, I have done it.) Regardless, I weighed all my options and I decided for whatever reason, that I wasn’t going to take it on.
I once told my husband while we were still dating that women can sense desperation and it’s not attractive. Editors can too. And when you can’t accept a decision and learn from it, instead belaboring the point, you are proving to us that we made a smart decision in rejecting because you would be difficult to work with (and it’s a community, editors talk to each other). Accept your rejection with grace and class and learn from it. That’s why some editors give you advice when we reject, so you can learn and enhance your craft. We’re not all out there just to squash your dreams and laugh maniacally behind your backs. We want you to succeed.
What cardinal sin will make you reject a manuscript so fast it breaks the sound barrier?
Ha. There are many. As I mentioned, I’m big on proper grammar, so if I have a manuscript that’s riddled with typos, I’m out before I begin. If you couldn’t take the time to at least run spell check or least look through your manuscript again to catch basic punctuation and capitalization errors, why should I? That shows me that you work too fast and don’t treat your work with the level of respect it deserves. Respect yourself and your work enough for that.
As I’m the paranormal romance girl, of course, I need an element of romance somewhere in what I’m reading. However, the easiest way to get an instant no out of me is to include aliens. I’m not a fan of aliens, they freak me out and always have. Also not a fan of space, in general.
What is the current trending topic in romance writing? Vampires or something else?
The current trending trope is constantly evolving. In contemporary romance, motorcycle clubs are huge. *shrug* In paranormal romance, yeah, vampires are big. Which is funny because everyone said vampires were over. But they are everywhere. Shifters are really big, too.
Is it worth an author’s time to try to write something that fits the current trend? Why?
From a publisher’s standpoint, of course. Because it will sell.
However, as an editor and a writer myself, I’m not a fan of chasing tropes. Settle in kiddies, it’s time for life lessons from the slush piles.
Publishing trends change from week to week. Which is ironic because publishing is one of the slowest businesses known to man. Funny, huh? Generally, when we put a book under contract, it won’t be out for about a year. Some small presses move faster than this. We don’t. Bigger presses tend to have a good year or so between contract and release, sometimes more. So when you have a large gap like that, there’s no telling if the trope you were chasing will still be en vogue when the book finally comes out.
This is actually where small press publishers are your friend. Small press publishers are able to pick up niche stories or just really good stories from an overdone trope that larger publishers would pass on. We’re able to breathe life into it when someone else would say it was too large a gamble. That’s what happened when I took on Bite Somebody. Vampires were “over” and I said I didn’t care because I loved the story.
Other than a basic grammar and spelling check, what is the most helpful thing an author can do for you before sending their manuscript?
For the love of all things holy, get someone to beta read your work. I cannot stress to you how important it is for someone else to read your manuscript before you send it to professionals. Beta readers will tell you if a plot line isn’t working, if a joke fell flat, if your character is one dimensional, if there are inconsistencies in your plot, things like that. (If everyone you send it to says, “yeah, yeah, it’s great,” then send it to more people. Nothing you ever write will be without flaws. Take the time to find them or have someone else help you find them. Let’s just say, if you’ve got a massive plot hole, it’s better that your neighbor find it before I do.)
Plus, it’s just common sense. You know the backstory. You know what the words on the page are supposed to say. You know where the body parts are during sex–you missed the fact there are three arms in the scene because your head fills in with what you expect to be there. Outside people won’t. You need fresh eyes on a project. Always and forever. The first set of fresh eyes shouldn’t be the person making the decision on publishing it or not.
Have you ever read something that needed grammar help so bad, but you liked the story enough to give it a try anyway? What was it about if you can answer that, and did you publish it (after major work)?
Nope, that’s an out for me. It raises too many red flags. Every editor has their hill to die on, that’s one of mine. A few typos, I get. A few comma splices, I get. But everywhere? No. There are tools and experts available. Use them. Respect your story enough for that.
Beyond the obvious editing, what can authors do before submitting their manuscript to increase the chances of them getting picked up by a publisher? Should they already have a fan base? Should they already be marketing? Should they already know what their brand is?
We deal with a lot of debut authors in small press land, and that’s totally fine. You don’t need a fan base, but it doesn’t hurt either. Don’t market the book until it’s done, signed, and has a cover. To that end on a cover, do not submit a cover with your story. With very, very few exceptions, a publisher will not care about what you’ve already made up. You can give them your vision, you can help push it in that direction, but at the end of the day, the cover is the publisher’s call.
As far as a brand–I can go both ways. It’s good to know your lane. On the flip side, there’s nothing wrong with trying out new genres. I’m a big fan of genre hopping, but if you are genre hopping, make sure you know the basics of what’s expected from the new genre you’re writing. Every genre has rules and it’s your job as the writer to be aware of them, and my job as the editor to either enforce them (or go ahead and let you break them, we do that too).
What is the fastest way for someone to improve their writing?
Read. Read. Read. Read. Read everything you can, particularly if you want to learn a new genre. Want to write a mystery but don’t know how? Read a bunch of them. Reading is single-handedly the easiest and most consistent way to improve your writing.
Do you have any tips for authors who are looking to start the querying/submission process? Do’s and DON’Ts?
I’ve already given quite a few, but here are a couple more:
- Do check Absolute Write for any red flags about the publisher to which you are submitting.
- Do ask questions. If you want to make sure an editor is open or wants what you have to offer, don’t be afraid to hit them up on social media and ask a question. I’d much rather you do that than send me some space opera that I’ll reject just because I don’t do space.
- Do remember that this entire industry involves us helping one another. Support your friends. Offer to read their stuff. Share their cover reveals and releases. Remember karma–when you get your book deal, those people will remember it.
- Do not talk shit about other authors, editors, or publishers on social media.
When you finally get that coveted contract… Do not ever, ever, ever, ever sign a contract that will involve you paying for services. A real publisher will pay for your editing, cover, ISBN, and distribution at the very least. Yes, you will have to purchase copies of the book from the publisher for your stock for author events, but you control how many. Never get roped into a contract that requires a minimum number of books to be purchased or you’ll have them in your garage until the end of time. The only money you should be out based on a small-press publishing contract is the money you pay to market yourself.