Monday, March 10, 2014

FROM THE DESK OF THE EDITOR: From Guest, Harrison Demchick (eden unger bowditch)

My guest is Harrison Demchick, editor, author, screenwriter. Harrison is a brilliant editor who has left Bancroft Press and now works with freelance editorial boutique Ambitious Enterprises ( 
I was in a panic since he has worked with me on the first two Young Inventors Guild books and I cannot imagine life without Harrison as my editor, even beyond this series. He is deeply thorough and asks all the right questions that stimulate and allow for the author to be more attentive to the path of the story. And he is totally willing to be told 'NO' if need be.
All this said, he is the author of The Listeners and is my writing partner of the screenplays for The Atomic Weight of Secrets . . . and The Ravens of Solemano . . .
Harrison is going to share his wisdom, first through these four questions and then through the discussion in the comments below.
Anyone who participates in the conversation below will be eligible to win a free critique of a synopsis and the first few pages of their manuscript!
1. As an editor at Bancroft, what did you find the most important thing when reviewing a submission?

I actually didn’t review many submissions, but when I did, and really whoever was doing it, the most important thing we would look for is something interesting and exciting. And that’s awfully vague, I know. But what small presses will sometimes do that big publishers usually will not is take on a manuscript that has the potential to be great, even if it isn’t there yet. On a fundamental level, the reason is that a publisher wants to be passionate about what it publishes.

We were passionate about great stories and characters.  I personally gravitated toward strong voices—the kind that transport you to a time and place so vividly that you may well have lived there yourself.

2. What would you suggest to an author struggling with a manuscript that has been rejected?

There’s not an author in the world who has never been rejected. All your favorite writers were rejected, probably many times, and ultimately the determining factor is the same one that got you to a completed draft to begin with: You need to have the drive and determination to see things through. It’s true of the writing process, it’s true of the revision process, and it’s true of the submission process as well—not to mention marketing.

But that said, what you don’t want to do is get into the mindset that everyone rejecting your novel is an idiot unable to grasp your obvious brilliance. You don’t want to decide, based on that, to self-publish exactly the manuscript you have. And that’s not a knock on self-publishing. If you feel that’s the path for you, and it has never been more legitimate than it is today, then by all means it’s the path you should take.

But not until your manuscript is as strong as it can be. If you’re receiving a lot of rejections, before you go ahead and ignore the whole submission process, step back and think: Maybe they have a point. Maybe I’m not finished yet. Maybe my book can be better.

And maybe that’s not the case at all, but you don’t want to put your work out there until it’s as strong as it can possibly be. Get feedback. Bring on an editor who doesn’t belong to a publishing house or agency—someone whose concern isn’t commercial viability, but rather purely quality. Take the time to revise. “Good enough” is never good enough.

3. Before submitting a manuscript (either to an editor, publisher, or with aspirations of getting a book deal) what would you suggest an author do to have the best shot at a positive response?

It depends on who you’re submitting to. If you’re bringing on an editor, the main thing you need to do is understand that there may well be a lot more work ahead of you. You’re paying an editor to be that professional pair of eyes that can see what you can’t, so you can’t expect him to say only what you want to hear. He’s going to tell you what you need to know, and if he’s really good, he’s going to help you fix whatever problems exist and reach your full potential. But you can only do that if you’re open to it.

As for publishers or agents, what you really want to show them is polish. That doesn’t just mean correcting incorrect spelling or grammar (although most submissions editors will stop reading in the space of a few pages if they’re not engaged, so obvious mistakes are a surefire way to get a manuscript rejected). It means that what you’re sending out should be as strong as you can make it. You’ve worked with an editor. You’ve taken critiques. You’ve grown as a writer and improved your manuscript. What you’re sending out there is genuinely the best you can do. Generally speaking, you can only send the same manuscript to the same agent or publisher once, so make sure it’s the best version of itself.

4. A few tips for all authors?

There are so many, and I hope I can give out a lot more in the conversation below. But I think the most important thing authors need to understand is that every struggle they hit—the rejection, the massive editorial letter, and everything before and after and in-between—is part of the process. You can’t write that amazing third draft without those somewhat less than brilliant first and second drafts. There are no shortcuts, even though you sometimes want there to be.

The other thing I can impart is kind of obvious, and we’ve all heard it, but it’s important: A writer has to write. A writer has to set the time aside. Back around August, my writer friends and I started gathering every Sunday at 3:30 to work on our own projects, and even though I never thought that was something I needed—I’ve always been a pretty self-motivated person—I have never been more productive in my entire life. I finished a screenplay, several times (because it wasn’t really done yet, and probably still isn’t). I started another. And I’ve had this perpetually regenerating writer’s high as a result.

And that’s something we should all keep in mind as well. Amidst the struggle and the frustration of the blank or otherwise imperfect page, let’s not forget that we’re writers because writing is fun. We want to write. We need to write. And when we take the time, it feels really, really good.

Now, I’d love for you all to take some time to ask me some more questions, because I’ll be hanging around Project Mayhem to answer them.

And even if you don’t win that free critique, don’t worry. You can still sign up for a free half-hour editorial consultation at And if you mention Project Mayhem when you sign up, you’ll get 10 percent off any developmental editorial service.

I’m looking forward to talking with all of you!


  1. Great interview. My mantra for this year is "writing is fun." (I think I'm getting there...

    I second Harrison's comments about a small press taking on projects with potential. My friend, Laura Stanfill, has started a small press in Portland called Forest Avenue Press. She is championing "quiet" novels, and getting a lot of kudos--at least locally. Here's a LINK to Forest Avenue Press.

    1. I always love to hear about small presses battling for great books. That's the world I came up in. I hated the marketing part--it's why I'm freelance now--but I respect anyone with the courage to fight that fight.

  2. Great interview!! Love this quote from Harrison: "You can’t write that amazing third draft without those somewhat less than brilliant first and second drafts. There are no shortcuts, even though you sometimes want there to be."

    1. Thanks, Paul! I certainly hope it helps. One of the most important thing you have going into your next draft, which you can't possibly have with your first, is hindsight. You know what you want to do far better now, and you use that going forward.

  3. I love #2!

    I have read SO MANY self-published books that could have been great if they had been through a few more drafts.

    And, ahem, I've read the free samples for (and passed on) 10 for every one of the ones I mentioned above.

    1. Dianne, that's the tricky thing about self-publishing. It's great that authors have the ability to control everything in a way they've never been able to before, but that means that anyone can publish anything tomorrow, without taking the time to craft or perfect. Anyone who's ever seen the submissions pile for any publishing house knows that the majority of those books genuinely should not be published--that is, not in their current state.

      A lot of the roadblocks that used to exist are gone now, but editing and revision were never roadblocks. They're essential parts of any artist's creative process.

  4. What a great post and a generous offer. Off to spread the word!

  5. One of the hardest things I have had to learn is to put the manuscript away for a month or two. It looks like an old friend when you return, but one you are ready to face in a fresh new way.

    I like to hear there are no shortcuts. I've tried and it doesn't work. So, on the editor side, what's the hardest part of your job?

    1. Greg, taking time away can make a *huge* difference, especially when you're stuck. That's one I think it took a while for me to learn--I don't know that I was able to do it until I realized switching between projects is okay (and actually a lot more efficient at getting things finished).

      As for the hardest part of my job . . . hmm. Maybe determining how to approach the editorial letter. I think one of the most important parts of what I do is figuring out exactly how to explain the issues I see to the author. Different manuscripts have different issues, obviously, but different authors have different approaches as well, and I want to be sure to be as clear as possible and as helpful to the particular person I'm working with. I've only done my job if I've left them with a clear sense of what they need to do moving forward.

      So it's either that, or the writer's cramp in my right wrist.

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  7. Fantastic interview and very insightful. Thank you for taking the time to do this, Harrison. You're awesome!

    I think one of the questions I struggle with is, when do you know the manuscript is as good as you can get it? After critiques, after a ton of drafts, after self-doubt and after self-assurance, you send it out there, and as soon as you get some consecutive rejections, you start saying to yourself, "Crap! Where did I go wrong? I thought I followed all the right suggestions, interlaced with my passion from within?"

    And regardless, you come to a logical conclusion you can always make it better. You can always improve it. So you intellectually convince yourself you submitted too soon, and maybe you should mess with it again.

    Ha! So, yeah... amidst the rejection and the continuance of querying, how do you maintain the notion that it is actually, maybe, possibly, good enough!? And at the same time realistically conclude that its possibly not?

    I think too much. All this thought over a humorous MG! Help Harrison!

  8. Jared,

    Happy to help! It's actually funny that you bring this up. A month or two ago, I was working on a guest blog about that nagging little feeling--you know, the one you get in the back of your mind when you *want* to be done with your manuscript, but you know, in fact, that you are not. The blog was inspired by the screenplay I mentioned above, which I really wanted to be done with after about two years working on the first draft. I tried to ignore that feeling, and for a few days I succeeded. But . . . the feeling was there for a reason. And it's almost always right.

    So I kept working, and I wrote the blog, and Ally, my colleague at Ambitious Enterprises, said, what about the other feeling? The one where you keep revising something even though it's already finished?

    Well, that just complicates everything, doesn't it?

    But I think it's a different feeling. Generally, your instincts are better than you think they are, and maybe a little bit smarter than you--or at least quicker on the uptake. If you read through your manuscript and aren't affected or moved, even if it's been a while--if you find scenes that, even if good, aren't hitting you like they're great--then there's probably still work to be done.

    You're done, I think, when it hits you like it's supposed to hit you. Of course, you still need those critiques to see what you can't, and then you revise and improve, but ultimately you come to a point where you're no longer making improvements--only lateral changes. If you reach a point where you're making changes just because you think you have to, rather than due to any particular thing in the manuscript you're trying to improve, I think that's when you're done.

    Not the most concrete answer, I know, but it's tough to be definitive about a thing like this.

    Here's my guest blog on the subject if you're curious:

    I hope this helps! The tricky thing is that there will always be rejections, even if it's amazing. Rejections aren't to be ignored entirely, especially if they seem to refer to the same particular problem, but they can't be taken as gospel either. Go down that road and nothing is ever good, much less finished.

  9. Thank you, Harrison. I think you're spot on. I know that nagging feeling and I think you hit the nail right on the head. I agree with you on our instincts, and yet sometimes our emotions and perceptions are so overpowering its hard to differentiate them between our instincts. But there is something deep within when you just know. Absolutely helpful answer. I will head over to your post on the subject and read it, but I thank you so much for the above. Very, very helpful.

  10. Thanks for participating, everyone! Greg Pattridge, you're the randomly selected winner of a free critique of the first few pages and synopsis of a manuscript. Congratulations!

    Everyone else, I'd still love to talk with you! If you have a finished manuscript, or expect to soon, just go to to sign up for a free half-hour consultation. Mention Project Mayhem and get 10 percent off on any developmental service.

    I'm looking forward to talking with all of you.

  11. Great interview! Thank you eden and Harrison.

    1. I appreciate it, Braden! I'm sorry you missed the contest, but if you have a manuscript in need of a developmental editor, you can still get 10 percent off if you mention your participation in this discussion.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!