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Subscribe to the Write Track newsletter. This unique newsletter features writing tips and contests along with condensed author interviews and excerpts of their work. Issued monthly. Feedback and suggestions are welcome.
Newsletter Dated: 3/16/2003 8:36:57 AM

Subject: Write Track Newsletter

Editor: Carol Kluz
March 16, 2003

Our special guest in this issue of Write Track Newsletter is Gary Kessler, a professional editor who prepares manuscripts for production by publishers. He is also an author of both fiction and nonfiction books. His many accomplishments and writer's aids can be viewed at his website Gary is best know as a regular at WritersNet where he answers questions from beginners and the more experienced writers about the gamut of editing and publishing.

1. Carol: Gary, Recently, you donated your time and talents to compile the works of authors from around the world into two volumes titled The WritersNet Anthology of Prose. Each volume has a subtitle. Can you tell us how such a huge project like this was accomplished and why you opted to go through a POD publisher rather than market it to a traditional?

Gary: The project did take a great deal of time and effort, but this was more because its most important function was one of work-shopping the entries of any short work of prose that anyone in the world (who wrote in English) wanted to submit electronically. We turned the normal selection paradigm of the publishing industry on its head. Instead of selecting only the top 10 percent or so of entries that required little or no reworking and only minimal line editing and just rejecting the rest, the WritersNet Anthology of Prose project assumed that whatever could be made publishable would be accepted for publication and would be reworked through author-editor cooperation until the works either were publishable or it was determined they just could not meet publishable requirements in one or more element. Thus, 80 percent of the entries were published after editing and rewriting to various degrees. In this project, the end product was not the focus–although we believe that the quality of the end project was quite high; direct help to the author in bringing one or more short works of prose to publishable quality was the project’s "meat." Although several of the anthology’s contributors have already said that the publishing "credit" their work in the anthology subsequently was useful in finding an agent or a publisher, this aspect of the project was just "gravy."

The project did turn out bigger than I or the administrator’s of WritersNet had imagined, with the submitted wordage amounting to more than three times what we anticipated and necessitating two volumes rather than the planned single volume. But in a previous job as managing editor of the U.S. government’s foreign news agency, I was trained to overseeing the compilation and publication of eight volumes of essays and news reports every working day, with an annual published wordage of more than thirty million words, so compiling two books totaling some 250,000 words with no particular deadline didn’t seem too daunting a task.

We opted to go with a POD publisher for several key reasons. Although the focus for most books should be on the promotion and salability of the book, in our project the book was just a by-product of the central product. High sales were not a key goal. However, publication upon demand, inexpensive production, fast publication, the ability of authors to retain copyright on their individual contributions, and wide-ranging distribution (four continents were represented in the home countries of contributors) were key goals. A major POD publisher, such as the one we picked–iUniverse–met our primary goals in ways that a traditional could not.

2. Carol: You had an exciting job that took you to hot spots around the world. Can you tell us a little about it and explain how these experiences helped you decide to become a book editor?

I didn’t really realize until I settled in the Virginia foothills of the Blue Ridge within the last few years that I had been living in any hot spots in my first career. I was raised in hot spots as a child–in Korea at the beginning of the war there; in Germany just ten years after the end of WWII and during the period Germany regained its independence, and in France when de Gaulle took power there by way of a coup (and immediately threw my family of the country). So living in Japan during that country’s reversion to independence, being chased from one falling capital to another (Saigon to Phnom Penh) until landing in Bangkok mere days before a bloody coup that shut the country down (and me in the American embassy and my family in a compound across town) for several months, and living very publicly as a senior U.S. intelligence official in the Middle East for a good many years didn’t seem all that threatening until I returned to the States and saw how most people there lived.

I’m not sure how these experiences helped me to decide to become a book editor–except that I will admit that at some point I grew tired of checking my car for bombs before driving it anywhere and started looking for less exciting options. But I have loved books all of my life, so writing them and working with them was already in the back of my mind all of the time I was a news agency editor, which, however, is a whole different type of editing than trade and academic book editing. As chief analyst for my news agency during one stint in Washington D.C., however, I did edit what is quite similar to nonfiction journal articles and books. Therefore, when I was looking for a "ratchet down" paid activity for semiretirement, book editing became a likely option. I actually was planning to try writing fiction in my semiretirement (I’d already written six novels) and took a few courses in book publishing at the University of Virginia to gain knowledge in not being taken by agents and publishers. But I soon learned that the only people who were assured of making a profit from book publishing were book copyeditors and printers. So after I took early retirement from my U.S. government job I quickly decided to combine a freelance book editing business with my own writing and went ahead and earned certificates in both book editing and book publishing from UVa. to gain the credentials (and networks to publishers) I needed to be in that business.

3. Carol: You've published as well as edited books. Please talk about your books and what you have planned for the future. Any advice on marketing?

Thus far the success of my own books point to how fortunate it is that I have a good government annuity, marketable editing skills, an employed spouse, and paid-up college bills for my children. My own books tend to be eclectic and purposely are structured in counterpoint to the formulas that make bestsellers. I was in the American Embassy in Cyprus for my last, lengthy assignment and worked on the side as the arts and entertainment columnist for the country’s major English-language newspaper. Largely because of the latter, I was commissioned to write a series of tourist-friendly novels based in Cyprus and highlighting its archaeological, historical, cultural, and recreational amenities. I used this opportunity to explore a theme that interested me: what could replace the good old espionage novel now that the United States had won the cold war. I thus wrote a series of six novels based on Cyprus, each of which explored at least one different now-prevalent form of modern espionage or international crime. By happenstance the six were only published in Greek, and the only English-language rights I currently hold are electronic rights. So, the first of these novels, Laughter Down the Mountain, was published as an e-novel by New Concepts Publishers in 2001, and the second in the series, Retired with Prejudice, was released by NCP in 2002. The remaining four should come out as e-novels in later years, unless I can disengage the English print rights before that, and I have the outline prepared for a seventh novel in this series.
Targeting the start of the Lewis and Clark Expedition celebrations and national awards garnered by Charlottesville, Virginia’s, downtown pedestrian mall project, I released a short story anthology collection (with photographs and an essay on the rich history of the Charlottesville area) called On the Downtown Mall (Gorgias Press) at the March 2002 annual Virginia Festival of the Book.

My editing work and the WritersNet Anthology of Prose project pretty much suspended my own writing efforts for the last year, but I do have material building for two Central Virginia based novels. One called Final Flight was inspired by an actual event (most of my novel ideas originate in the news) in which an airplane crashed in the Blue Ridge Mountains and it took weeks to find out who was in the plane and what mission it had been on. My novel will provide six separate, interlocking stories that would answer this question. The other novel, as yet unnamed, takes the story of the last man hanged in Charlottesville, Virginia–who also happened to be the town’s mayor and who was convicted of murdering his wife–and writing a parallel, modern-day version of the murder and the trial and making use of one of the legends of this event that provides a very interesting twist to the story.

But the book I am working on most actively is the one I’m writing with you, Carol, which is a self-help book on finding out where to go for answers to questions on getting published based on basic questions we’ve actually run across on Internet discussion boards.
The only advice I can give on marketing beyond writing blockbuster best-sellers that sell themselves is to very objectively determine what is the realistic audience for what you have written and to dangle the book as closely under the eyes of those readers as you can. For instance, my On the Downtown Mall book has had a pretty good sales run for a short story anthology that also is a regional book because I managed to have it launched at a book festival that maximized the available buyers and to focus its themes in the very city (and on the very street) that was hosting the book festival. In addition, the book’s content was associated with a "buzz" event (in this case, the kickoff of the national Lewis and Clark Expedition celebrations–which started in Charlottesville, Virginia).

4. Carol: You're an accomplished professional. Do you have any tips/advice to pass along to writers breaking in?

I think I’m still as much in the learning mode as most everyone else, but the best advice I can think of giving to writers who are breaking in is, first, to fully prepare themselves in the art and technique of writing before trying to become published and, second, to learn everything they possibly can about the publishing industry and how best to submit their material (and who best to submit it to) before leaping into the submissions game.

Thank you again, Gary, for your time. Any aspiring writer should look over Mr. Kessler’s website. He has a vast amount of help resources as well as sage advice for writers.
--------------------------------------------------------A FEW QUOTES ABOUT REWRITES AND EDITING FROM WELL-KNOWN AUTHORS.

"Every novelist has a different purpose--and often several purposes which might even be contradictory."
Irwin Shaw

"What I had to face, the very bitter lesson that everyone who wants to write has got to learn, was that a thing may in itself be the finest piece of writing one has ever done, and yet have absolutely no place in the manuscript one hopes to publish."
Thomas Wolfe

"No iron can pierce the heart with such force as a period put at the right place."
Isaac Babel

"I have rewritten--often several times--every word I have ever written. My pencils outlast their erasers."
Vladimir Nabokov

"Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity."
Charles Mingus

"I think the only person a writer has an obligation to is himself. If what I write doesn't fulfill something in me, if I don't honestly feel it's the best I can do, then I'm miserable."
Truman Capote

"I have never thought of myself as a good writer. Anyone who wants reassurance of that should read one of my first drafts. But I'm one of the world's great rewriters."
James A. Michener

"How do I know what I think, until I see what I say?"
E.M. Forster

"It is perfectly okay to write garbage--as long as you edit brilliantly."
C.J. Cherryh

"To write simply is as difficult as to be good."
W. Somerset Maugham

"Rules are a point to build a story around. They are a plain, solid, square foundation. If you stick to that foundation, you get a solid, plain, square building. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing notable either. To make an interesting building, you've got to go beyond that foundation, ignoring it as much as you can without having the building fall apart. The bending of the rules until the story is ready to crumble is what makes a good story--interesting, intriguing, and plausible, but almost ready to burst."
David "Pasha" Morrow

"Half my life is an act of revision."
John Irving

"Writing is rewriting. A writer must learn to deepen characters, trim writing, intensify scenes. To fall in love with a first draft to the point where one cannot change it is to greatly enhance the prospects of never publishing."
Richard North Patterson

"Books aren't written--they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it."
Michael Crichton

-------------------------------------------------------- Resources galore for the writer Critique site Grammar & Composition Index Writer’s Resource Directory

For any suggestions regarding the Write Track Newsletter, contact Carol Kluz at

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