Friday, July 10, 2009

Guest Blogger Charlene Patterson: Bethany House Editor

It is my great pleasure to introduce Charlene Patterson, my former editor at Bethany House Publishing. I'll never be able to send her enough chocolate (although she would like me to try) in exchange for all the things she taught me about story and characterization during my time under her direction. God knew I needed a tenderhearted genius to get me through my maiden publishing experience, and He gifted me Charlene. I'm deeply grateful. She's a little shy about sharing her picture, but she loves Montana, so this picture represents the size of her character and strength. Charlene is now Managing Editor, Fiction. This means an office with a window, which she soundly deserves.

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.

Not enough:
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.


Violet N. said...

So SHE was the secret behind your marvelous first book!

Patti, I won your book Like a Watered Garden in a little contest put on by Dave Long eons ago - loved the book and actually reviewed it here. Unfortunately I haven't read any more by you, but I must. Loved your voice in that one!

Unknown said...

"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."

I love that Charlene put these two points together - it highlights the tricky art of novel writing. On one hand she's asking for authors to be original - not chasing after the market by copycatting. Then, right after that, she lets us know that publishers expect authors to write a book that fits in the market.

She's not contradicting herself! I think Charlene is highlighting the need to be true to your voice and talent and matching that with the reality of the people who will likely buy your book. Being original AND believable is important!

There are a couple of other things I want to highlight in this guest post - and will do so in another comment a bit later.

Kathleen Popa said...

Charlene, what an honor to meet the editor who had such an influence on one of my favorite authors, Patti Hill.

Interesting that you love 1st person POV. It's one of my favorites, but many people say it's their least favorite. You've encouraged me.

Thank you for this wonderful post.

Unknown said...

I'm always interested in hearing what the people behind the scenes have to say about the industry. I particularly enjoyed hearing Charlene's comments on what she feels is (and isn't) overdone in the market these days.

And I love the mountain pic!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

this was a wealth of information, as i've asked to meet with charlene at the ACFW conference. glad to read she likes first person! yay!

Jessica Nelson said...

Charlene is on my list for possible editor appointments so I've been cruising the net to find out what she likes.
Thank you SO much for doing this interview! I also read an older Q&A with her and she seems like such a helpful, sweet person.
This was super great for me to read. Thank you!