Tuesday, March 15, 2016

An open letter to David Levithan about Every Day


To David Levithan:
I’ve adored your writing since I read Boy Meets Boy for a YA Lit class (with Professor Diane Johnson at the University of South Carolina), and I got to meet you one year at YALLfest. I loved the pure spirit of your stories and your clever way with words. My connection to Every Day runs deeper than that; this book asks some of the same questions my soul is always asking and inspires me to be a better person.
Reading any book is an exercise in empathy. You step into a character’s shoes for a while. This book amplifies that effect, because the person whose shoes you’re stepping into is also constantly stepping into new shoes. He demonstrates how gracefully it can be done with observations like, “Some girls and boys obliterate their rooms as they grow older, thinking they have to banish all their younger incarnations in order to convincingly inhabit a new one. But Rhiannon is more secure with her past than that…. J.D. Salinger sits next to Dr. Seuss on her bookshelf.”
At one point, A and Rhiannon help a girl who is mentally ill. As a major depressive and a mental health advocate, I want to thank you for a portrayal of mental illness that is scientific and rings true.
But when I read this part, I had a moment of inspiration and wondered if I was predicting how the book would end: Doesn’t A’s existence encapsulate the essence of selflessness? Couldn’t he become inspired to improve the life of each person he inhabits in some small way? He says, “I have the potential to be the devil…. Yes, I could get away with it, but certainly we all have the potential to commit the crime. We choose not to. Every single day, we choose not to.” Moving as this is, why not mention the flipside of this potential? To be a guardian angel? To be the ultimate empath?
I suppose there’s the fear that such a moment of inspiration would come across as didactic; that characters must be more flawed than that; that books are only meant to ask questions, not provide answers. Maybe I ask too much of novel heroes in my own insecure search for wisdom.
Instead of energized inspiration to improve the lives he inhabits, A has a quiet principle of non-interference (which he tends to violate). In its own way, this is pure and selfless, and maybe a moment of inspiration would glorify that selflessness too much. Maybe it would make the book too similar to A’s most loathed book, The Giving Tree. Am I getting this right?
If you read this, thank you a million times over. I would love to hear from you.
Courtney Diles Henderson

Monday, March 7, 2016

Choosing an Editor for Your Book


I’m currently searching for an editor for the book I finished in November. I’ve decided to turn to Upwork.com, the current evolution of Elance.com, which I used to know and love. I set the budget at $400—a little above what I would charge, myself, as an editor for the same job—and I’ve gotten 73 applicants. How to go about narrowing this down?
  1. Most of the time, typos are forgivable. This is not one of those times. If they lowercase “I’m” or refer to the “Huger Games” in your cover letter, this is a reason to archive the proposal. I tried to keep reading until I found at least two typos, but none of the proposals with typos made it into my top 5.
  2. I’m looking for an editor who respects my budget. If someone sends in an $800 proposal, that’s an automatic no. I did carefully consider a proposal set at $450 because the editor went to extra lengths to edit the book synopsis I provided in the posting.
  3. I’m looking for an editor who knows the genre. If Harry Potter is the best YA fantasy example you can come up with, you’re not what I’m looking for. Harry Potter is found in the Middle Grade section of the bookstore, not the YA section. So is Percy Jackson. Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones are fantasy, not YA fantasy. The Hunger Games are science fiction, not fantasy. I’m looking for answers like Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor or the Gemma Doyle books by Libba Bray.
  4. I provided filtering questions in the job posting. Everyone who applies had to answer three questions:

    “Are you comfortable copyediting and editing developmentally at the same time?” I mainly provided this question to make it clear what kind of editor I’m looking for. If someone is only a proofreader, they are less likely to apply for the job.

    “Are you comfortable making a second pass after changes are made?” This is nice to know, but not a deal-breaker. Many said that a second pass would be no problem. Others said they would prefer to charge an additional fee. This didn’t really make a difference in the filtering process.

    “Are you familiar with the YA fantasy genre?” See item 3.
  5. I’m looking for an editor who clicks with my story. I provided a two-paragraph blurb in the job description, and I narrowed down applicants to those who commented on this blurb and sounded excited to read more.
Even with all of these requirements in mind, I have four applicants I can’t choose between. The top applicants have worked at publishing houses and literary agencies, have great educations, and have published books of their own. No matter who I choose, I’m bound to end up with a winner.