She agreed to answer a few questions for us. Be prepared for a sneak peek onto an editor's desk.
Patti: What is the job of an editor in the process from submitted manuscript to published book? Feel free to summarize.
Charlene: How about this? Since we have several types of editors—all with different job duties—I’ll tell you the process the manuscript goes through here at Bethany House. First, the author turns in his or her final draft—hopefully somewhere close to the due date. Under the guidance of the acquisitions editor, several people from the editorial department read the manuscript and put together feedback and suggestions. The author usually does rewrites based on those suggestions and turns in a new draft. That manuscript goes to the line editor, who does a line-by-line edit, making sure the plot makes sense, the characters are well drawn, the pace stays on track, etc. After the line edit, the manuscript goes to a copyeditor, who corrects grammar, punctuation, the timeline, etc. After the book is laid out by typesetting, several proofreaders read it to correct any errors that have slipped through.
Patti: Tell us about your dream author. What skills would make that author easy to work with?
Charlene: My dream author has a wonderful natural writing voice, uses words creatively and beautifully, has a great sense for her market and audience, and sells well so that the whole company is happy. Authors who are a joy to work with usually have these things in common: they are thrilled to be published by Bethany House, excited about their characters and story, thrive with editorial feedback, and have about fifty thousand friends who want to buy their book. Grin.
Patti: What advice do you have for yet-to-be published authors on developing craft?
Charlene: Read award-winning authors in the genre in which you want to publish. Make sure a lot of people—people who will tell you the truth—read your manuscript before I do. Find your voice—that’s a hard thing, I know, but you don’t want your book to sound like everyone else’s. Try writing in first-person if you usually write in third, or third if you usually write in first. You may be surprised by how that makes you think differently about your characters and story. Make sure I can tell who’s POV I’m in just by the words the character uses, even if your story is in third-person.
Patti: What makes you jump with glee when reading a manuscript for the first time?
Strong writing paired with an engaging story that I know our company can sell.
Patti: Give it to us straight. What three things (or more) frustrate you about the submitted manuscripts you read?
You’re going to start sensing a pattern here. The three things that frustrate me are 1) A certain similarity. I don’t know how or why this is happening, but a lot of people seem to be copycatting rather than finding their own voice. 2) Lack of awareness of the market. A new writer has to give me something I can clearly sell first to the publishing team here and then to the audience. Spending a little time on our website or in a Christian bookstore can give you a quick idea of where your story fits in. 3) The fourth chapter on. I think a lot of authors spend a large amount of time on their first three chapters, knowing those are the ones they’ll showcase in a proposal. I find that a lot of people can do an outstanding job on the first three chapters of a novel. A lot fewer people can hold my interest for an entire manuscript. Polish those first three chapters, definitely. But then make sure your story keeps moving and keeps the reader turning pages. Sprinkle little mysteries and plot points throughout. Make sure the characters grow and change. Don’t let your characters have long, pointless conversations. Put your characters in some tough fixes so they have a lot at stake. Make sure every scene is leading somewhere.
Patti: Here’s a related question: What do you see too much in proposals? Not enough?
Charlene: Things I see too much of:
1) Inheritances, especially the kind that send you back to your hometown or a random small town
2) Ranches. How many people currently or historically actually live(d) on a ranch? How many people can actually write it realistically?
3) Too-perfect children. Children can be used to great effect in a story, but so many of the children I see in stories are too saintly perfect, too eloquent for their age, or have no reason to be in the manuscript.
4) Memoirs disguised as fiction. Don’t do it. Your life story or your grandma’s life story would be a good thing to share with your family, but it probably won’t make for an interesting novel.
1) First-person. This is my favorite POV type, and I don’t see it often enough.
2) Interesting locations within the U.S. I enjoy stories set in Colorado and Montana, but I’d like to see more variety in locations.
3) Fathers and sons. A strong female character tends to be important to connect with the mostly female CBA audience, but I miss seeing strong father and son relationships.
Charlene isn't soliciting manuscripts or evaluating ideas today, but if you have any questions about what an editor does or wants, please feel free to send off a question.