Blog Tour - Chris Evans

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Readers, please join me today in welcoming Chris Evans, author of The Iron Elves series. Chris is also an editor of history and current affairs/conflicts books including the highly successful Stackpole Military History Series.

Thanks for the opportunity to talk to your readers.

Writing a book is mostly an exercise in isolation so I appreciate chances like this when I can get away from the novel for a bit and talk about the process. Did you ever read, or watch, The Shinning? I’m just saying, authorsget that way whether there’s blood in the elevator or not. I’m also an editor so I live with conflicting if ultimately symbiotic impulses of wanting to write and wanting to edit, which is great as long as you get them in the right order.

The Iron Elves series is my first so it’s been a learning experience. I’ve edited over 150 books in my career, but writing one proved to be a whole new challenge. I thought I knew what I was in for…ha! I do understand my authors a lot better now. They aren’t as crazy as I once thought.

The series is a fantasy complete with elves and dwarves, but set in a time period based in part on the Napoleonic Wars of the late 1700s and early 1800s with a good measure of inspiration from later British imperialism as well. That said, it’s not historical fantasy, but I suppose the elves pretty much give that away. It’s been called epic, and I suppose that fits considering the world does hang in the balance, but I think of it more in terms of a big adventure as seen through the eyes of a very unique regiment and its extremely conflicted commander. What fascinates me is the reactions of the characters to ever worsening events, and how they make the choices they do.

I know a lot of fantasy readers are also writers so I thought I’d also talk about some things to keep in mind as you get ready to submit your novel to a publisher or agent. As an editor for nine years I won’t say I’ve seen it all, but I’ve seen a lot, so hopefully you’ll find something useful here.

In an age of instant access to virtually infinite amounts of information there’s no longer a reason that you can’t be well informed when you approach your first publisher or agency. This is worth repeating because as an editor I see potentially good writers make basic mistakes on an almost daily basis with the end result being a rejection letter. Speaking as an editor, I can tell you that my colleagues and I are, or believe we are, overworked, under-appreciated, convinced-of-our-genius, capricious, and generally looking for an excuse, any excuse, to reject a manuscript. Most of us are genuinely nice people, too, but we save that for after hours or for writers we actually work with. Seriously, most editors are in a perpetual state of swamped. The quickest way to put a smile on an editor’s face is to give them a reason to reject your manuscript...without reading it. Yes, without reading it. And we won't lose a wink of sleep over it either wondering if we passed up the next Harry Potter, DaVinci Code or Kite Runner. Our in boxes are full to overflowing with new manuscripts to read so there isn’t time to worry about the ones you rejected yesterday.

Does that sound harsh? Good, it’s supposed to. If you’re serious about writing, and I mean get up early, stay up late, write between loads of laundry/class/shifts kind of serious, then you need to be serious about how you approach an editor or an agent.

Personally, I will kill a manuscript in a heartbeat for any of the following:

1. To Whom It May Concern – Most editors have parents, and even legal names. Odds are no one hollers at them “Hey, Whom!” Whenever you contact a publishing house or agency find a specific person to send your query to. Names are usually published on the company website, perhaps in the catalog, phone directory, in the acknowledgements in a book, and on any number of websites dedicated to how to get published. Failure to surmount this hurdle will result in an assistant sending you a standard form rejection letter. And you can bet they’ll get your name right…on the return envelope.

2. Unprofessional emails or letters – Basic penmanship still counts for something. Avoid, like the proverbial plague, using all lower case as in 'hey dude, i just wrote this amazing book' I doubt the editors at Surfer's Monthly would accept it, let alone anyone else. Email is not an excuse for bad grammar. Before you email, however, check to see if this editor is an unrepentant Luddite and still wants submissions over the transom via the US Postal Service. Never send a complete manuscript or even a sample without first confirming that that is desired. There’s nothing an editor loves more than to see a five pound slab land on their desk with no idea why.

3. Impatience - Do you remember sitting in the back seat of the car as a child on a long trip and repeatedly asking your parents if you were there yet? Do you recall their reaction? Was it lots of hugs and candy, or various threats to pull over, turn around and/or sell you to the first band of traveling gypsies they saw? This is like that. The more you ask, the more likely it becomes the editor will reject it and breathe a sigh of relief you won't be hounding them for years to come about cover art, galleys, royalty statements and so on. See, we editors can extrapolate, and if you are this impatient now, what will you be like down the road? Going home with the gypsies, that's where.

4. Phone calls/chance meetings – Let’s say you've stalked me for two days at a convention, waiting for the perfect moment to bump into me and tell me about your amazing book. Guess what, there isn't one. No editor wants to hear a plot described to them out of the blue. Same thing with a phone call. Having said that, if you bump into me and do have a book you'd like me to consider, then say that and ask how you might submit it. That let's me tell you I'd like to see a couple of chapters and outline by email, or you can mail me your proposal, or whatever. You smile, thank me and walk away. You leave with a direct path to having your manuscript considered. I leave not feeling annoyed and possibly remembering the encounter without malice a week later when your manuscript shows up. Win-win.

5. If an editor does agree to look at your manuscript have it ready to go. Fight the urge to start shopping your book based on the first few chapters. Sure, books have been sold that way, but they are few and far between.

6. My friends/mom/dog like it - Your uncle thinks it's the greatest book he's ever read, and he reads a lot now that he's gone away for fifteen to life. Let the editor figure out how brilliant you are. Then, if you really are, he’ll take all the credit for discovering you and won’t have to share it with Uncle Norton in the county lock up.

7. Just like Kite Runner only better…and with more kites - Talk about how some aspect of a best seller inspired you, or how this or that writer engaged your sense of wonder, but don't tell an editor your book is going to be the next big thing. Let them tell you. And everyone else. They're not shy, they will.

8. Oprah - Just...don't. Please. Writing the name Oprah anywhere in a query is tantamount to admitting you suffer from a debilitating and almost certainly fatal mental illness. You will be hit by lightning, win the lottery, and solve the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle before Oprah chooses your book. Really.

Editors live and die by the authors they buy, so their time and energy is devoted to them. If you want to join the stable then give yourself a chance and remember that editors, according to recent studies, are people too. They have bad hair days, feel insecure, wonder how they are still single and approaching 40, well, some of them might wonder that, and seek to assuage their fears and sorrows not by looking inward toward self-improvement, but in eating chocolate and finding the next great book. So avoid annoying them, and include chocolate with every submission. Oh, and if humorous sarcasm is lost on you, don’t really send the chocolate…unless the editor asks for it.

Thanks again for giving me the chance to chat. Opportunities like these keep the squirrels of the mind at bay.

~ Chris Evans

Lovely to have you stop by, Chris and it's great reading your thoughts! Anytime you want to do it again... Also, thanks to Sarah of Pocket Books for arranging this blog to be a stop on this tour.
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1 People said

  1. Great interview! I really enjoyed reading this. Iron Elves huh?

    I will keep an eye out for them.


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