Yesterday (Saturday) was my monthly RWA chapter meeting.  The speaker was the publisher/owner of Entangled Publishing, Liz Pelletier.  She gave a most interesting talk, which included the insight into the business of publishing.  Entangled Publishing put out its first book in 2011 and since then has published many books, including those which hit the bestseller lists.  Its most popular imprint is the Young Adult Entangled Teen line.

Liz presented a talk for our members about editing for a bestseller.  Since so many books have hit the lists, she obviously has some insight into how to make a story written at its best.  How to do this was the topic of her program.

Entangled always has its acquired manuscripts go through three rounds of edits.  This was a new editing approach to me the first time I heard about it, but since then, I’ve learned many publishers do at least three rounds  At Entangled, each round has a central focus:
1.  Full read of the story
2.  Line edit of the story
3.  Line edit of the craft

The first pass (sometimes called the developmental edit) is for the content of the story.  The editor looks for plot holes, a great voice, likable—yet marginalized—characters, pacing and high stakes.  Everyone wanted to know who a marginalized character was.  Ms. Pelletier explained it as an underdog, someone the reader can empathize with.  Readers can’t form emotional bonds of caring with someone who is beautiful, athletic, rich, noble and perfect in any way.  No one views themselves as perfect–even if that person matches all the previously listed traits, so to bond, there must be an underdog aspect to the main character.

The next round is line edits the story.  Any time there is a reaction shown in the manuscript, there must be a corresponding action that caused that reaction.  If a point of view character becomes angry, something must have triggered that emotion within him.  That something must be written on the page.  Especially in the character’s point of view, the reader must know the character’s thinking to understand the motivation and empathize.

This edit also checks logistics.  If a character was sitting down on page 15, he cannot sit down again in the same scene on page 17, unless he stood up sometime in between.  Also, did every scene start with a question and end with some sort of disaster?  Not necessarily volcanoes blowing up, but something bad making things worse for the character.  Jack Bickham expands on what a disaster is in his book Scene & Structure.

The third round of edits focuses on what people usually critique:  the grammar and overused words.  She talked about commas and is a fan of the Oxford comma usage.  Example:
He grabbed the scarf, mittens and hat (not Oxford, no comma after mittens)
He grabbed the scarf, mittens, and hat.  (Oxford usage)
This debate can rage among grammarians.  Depending upon your publisher, they will follow a style guide that answers this question.  Self-published authors should also pick a style guide to follow.  She also believes the words looked and saw are not needed as part of dialogue tags because it’s assumed the characters are facing each other when they speak.  If not, then use them.

After her program, Ms. Pelletier took pitches from several members who hoped to interest her in their manuscripts.  It is certainly a privilege to have an editor meet with our chapter.  She joined some of us for dinner before the day ended.  She gave me some specific tools to use when writing my books.  I especially need to rethink my opposition to the Oxford comma.  Maybe I should use it.  Hmmm.