September 21, 2012

Pamela Greenwood on Editing YA

What makes it YA?

Translation: How can I help my client evaluate a manuscript in terms of its potential as a book for the young adult marketplace?

Recently an editor colleague posed just question to me. Her client had written an adult novel, but a friend of the client had suggested it would attract a young adult audience. My colleague asked: “How much sex is allowed in a young adult novel? This one has a fair amount of ‘fooling around,’ though only one true lovemaking scene. Would this disqualify it from young adult status?”

The short answer is probably not. One sex scene would not automatically bump the story up to the adult market. But there’s a lot more to it, for editors, librarians, parents, and teens themselves. The label “young adults” represents a wide age range: preteen through high school, though the upper end is open. Many YA books are of interest to adult readers (not just those with vampires or Harry Potter in the cast of characters). And many adult books are widely read by teens; in fact, you can find discussions of crossover books on various websites. Here’s a list that might interest you:

I’ll be teaching an online focus class starting October 16 on editing young adult fiction for editors that will include what’s appropriate regarding sexual content, asking these kinds of questions: How does it work in the scope of the theme? What effect does it have on the characters? Does it change the trajectory of the plot? Another important consideration for young adult authors is creating an authentic teen voice, and how that grows out of the character’s experiences and motivations. Ask: Is that voice as believable in the fooling around scenes as it is in the other encounters the characters have and in the decision-making reflections?

There’s more information on this four-week class and registering at the Author-Editor Clinic website. 

--Pamela Greenwood

September 18, 2012

"The tyranny of the linear"--working with chronology

This week in the Introduction to Developmental Editing class we've been working on the issue of chronology in personal memoirs and fiction (especially novels that imitate memoirs). In my current lecture I included a quote from Sven Birkerts’s book The Art of Time in Memoir that I've found enormously helpful:

“…writers just starting to work with memoir often have a real difficulty with this crucial distinction between event sequence and story. The impulse to tell sequentially works with gravity-like force, generating structures that sag from the tedium of ‘and then and then…’ recounting and produce dense thickets of ostensibly relevant information. The writer gets the dread feeling that everything belongs, that important moments only make sense when all the facts have been presented. Every first-time memoirist comes up against it—the demon of infinite regress. To get this, you have to know that.”

I suggest, in our work as editors, that we often see two different sides of this problem with event sequencing. Sometimes a manuscript is too sequentially structured: it bulges with details, both essential and unimportant, and marches along from date to date in mind-numbing rhythm, what Birkerts calls “the tyranny of the linear.” 

Sometimes, on the other hand, in an attempt to make the narrative more compelling or dramatic, the author has told it in a nonlinear or non-chronological fashion that can be hard to follow if not done well. The memoir or novel may shift from present to many different pasts trying to capture certain themes. The author has moved around in time to such an extent that we're confused trying to follow the when’s and then’s. 

If you're interested in thinking about how to work with writers and how to think about issues like plot, pacing, and chronology, another 8-week introductory online class begins October 3 and runs through the end of November. The editors in the current class are from all over North America and have many different backgrounds. It makes for interesting discussion. The registration deadline is September 28. Email us at for more information.

--Barbara Sjoholm

September 11, 2012

Fall Classes Starting Soon

The first fall on-line class on the Author-Editor Clinic schedule starts next week. This is my four-week overview of Character and POV issues in developmental editing and it runs from September 18 – October 9, 2012. If you like thinking about fiction and want to increase your understanding of how to analyze and talk to authors about creating stronger characters or developing better point of view techniques, this class may be for you.

Its lectures and assignments cover:

  • Character in the novel: physical description, voice and dialog, movement; motivation and back stories; characters in relationship and in action; identifying character versus plot issues.
  • POV, from basic to complex: unreliable narrators, child narrators, characters in genre fiction, and methods and devices for introducing diverse POVs.

Other classes this fall include the eight-week introduction to developmental editing class, Karalynn Ott's business class, and two repeats of popular focus classes: one on young adult editing by Pamela Greenwood and one on self-publishing for editors by Waverly Fitzgerald.

And while we're mentioning Waverly, here's a shout-out for her newest book, for mystery lovers and dog owners: Dial C for Chihuahua. Waverly is writing under the pen name Waverly Curtis with Curt Colbert. They'll be at Seattle's own  Elliott Bay Book Company, to celebrate the publication of Dial C for Chihuahua on Saturday, September 29 from 6 PM to 7:30 PM.

She writes, "There will be a dramatic reading, some dog-themed treats and a guest appearance by Pepe, the Chihuahua who inspired the novel. Expect some surprises as well."

--Barbara Sjoholm