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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.






  • By Victoria Mixon

    We’re talking this month about vetting publishing professionals as you work your way from your original inspiration all the way to actual publication—particularly the role that freelance independent editors play in this journey.

    A funny thing happened in the publishing industry thirty or forty years ago.

    We went through all of this the first time. But it wasn’t independent freelance editors we were talking about then. It was somebody else.

    It was literary agents.

    Did you know that we didn’t always have agents? Of course you did. Once upon a time, there were writers, and there were publishers, and ever the twain did meet. Writers queried publishers’ editors, and publishers’ editors acquired and edited their manuscripts.

    Then someone wrote a book claiming everyone was a writer, they just didn’t know it, and suddenly Being a Writer became one of the Top 10 Luxury Destinations. Suddenly writing magazines were born. The writing workshop was born. The writers’ MFA was born.

    The flood was born.

    And suddenly publishers’ acquisitions editors were drowning in manuscripts from everyone who up until then had been a writer but just hadn’t known it. Was the first literary agent some acquisitions editor’s husband or wife trying to pick up part of the workload so they’d still have someone to talk to over the dinner table? The best friend of a bunch of acquisitions editors? An acquisitions editor gone renegade? (Plenty of them do.)

    We know that Morton Janklow of Janklow & Nesbit Associates was the one who bumped agents’ commission from the old standard 10% up to the current standard 15%. He also sued William Morrow for trying to refuse to publish a book. This is what happens when you tangle with an ex-lawyer.

    Not only that, but publishers routinely told writers, “You don’t need an agent.” (Some of them still do.) You know why? Because they didn’t want writers thinking agent representation was a guarantee of publication.

    It’s not. There are no guarantees. Publishers themselves have been known to buy books and then refuse to publish them.

    Even so, these days agents are everywhere, the gatekeepers of the inner sanctum, and I support them with all my heart.

    You bet I do.

    Even though they cost money. They’re not essential. And they can’t guarantee publication.

    The big stick that agents carry is access to publishers’ acquisitions editors and the leverage to negotiate advances. Top agents understand the business of the industry because they help make it. The contract itself isn’t rocket science. My husband and I have signed real estate contracts that make publishing contracts look like Sesame Street.

    You can learn them. You have to try.

    There have also always been small presses, as well as imprints of large presses, who commonly work directly with authors, no agent involved. My friend Cynthia Wall, author of The Courage to Trust, was asked to write her book by Cypress House Publishing and is now being asked to write a sequel. (Did Wall hire an independent editor? Yes, she did. Does she share her royalties with an agent? No, she does not.)

    And as the economy carries us all toward the waterfall of the Death of Giant Advances, negotiation is becoming less an issue of leverage and more an issue—as it should have been all along—of long-term goal-setting and, most importantly, cooperation.

    In fact, with the advent of self-publishing, the implosion of the big houses and concurrent rise of small presses, and the massively-networked ease of Print On Demand and e-publication, agents are actually becoming less essential.

    And there are literary agent scams. Boy, are there. You track them down the same places you track down freelance independent editor scams: Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware.

    But I still recommend agents. Some of my best friends have been agents. Agents have the time and motivation to keep an eye glued permanently on publishing, track its permutations, network with other publishing professionals, build relationships with publishing houses, attend conferences, hash over late-breaking industry news in graphic detail, and generally manage an author’s career so the author has time to—guess what?—write.

    Besides which, agents like this stuff! Writers, if they’re smart, like to write. They’re not the same thing.

    Most of all, the agent’s role as gatekeeper is more important now than ever.

    The truth is that the business of selling fiction is nothing like the craft of creating it, and if you’ve put all your energy into learning the craft you can easily be mowed down by the maddened hordes stampeded toward the business end. Agents may have been invented to alleviate this problem, but now the sheer numbers mean, honestly, that the busiest agents need agents of their own. (This is why they hire assistants, rely increasingly on recommendations, and even refuse unsolicited submissions.)

    Agents building relationships with top freelance independent editors only makes sense in today’s publishing environment. Those of us in the trenches with aspiring writers know who has the fresh ideas. We know who’s in it for the long haul and who’s just an amateur looking to take advantage of what seems like little more than a glorified lottery. We also know how to turn an over-used plot into a fresh take on a proven idea. And we have the time to help.

    Agents and acquisitions editors—although they also know a lot of this stuff—do not.

    As publishers’ acquisitions editors edit less and less, more and more agents struggle to edit their clients’ manuscripts without either the time or training to do it effectively. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that excellent agents aren’t taking on editing chores. They are. And this bodes ill for everyone concerned. . .especially the reader.

    As the economy makes the growing lack of publishers’ in-house editing more and more obvious and entrenched, it becomes much more important for agents and their clients to differentiate the really good independent freelance editors from the amateurs.

    This difference is absolutely essential for the aspiring writer.

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world’s expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I’m working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who has worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In his sci-fi Anghazi Series, Beyer uses his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which “space bridges” allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny’s debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield’s second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans’ fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez’ debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff’s abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star. Read more. . .


ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .


ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” Read more. . .


In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

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