Welcome to the two hundred and ninety-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with editor and novelist Jennifer Ciotta. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Jennifer. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Jennifer: Hello, Morgen. First of all, thank you for including me in your wonderful blog!
Morgen: Oh, you’re so welcome. Lovely to have you. 🙂
Jennifer: I have been an editor for 10 years in both the online magazine and book worlds. I’m based in the Greater New York City area. I’ve been a serious writer since 1996, which was my first year of university. I wrote for my school newspaper and then in my third year, I obtained an internship with a major newspaper in Pennsylvania, where I contributed articles, some of which made the front page.
Morgen: How lovely, to have known what you wanted to do. I’m definitely a latecomer (late 30s before I caught the writing bug). What genre do you write and have you considered other genres?
Jennifer: My debut novel, I, Putin (Vladimir Putin novel), falls into the alternative history/biography genre. Therefore, if you like the book American Wife and the movies The King’s Speech, The Queen and The Social Network, my book would appeal to you. Yes, I’d love to write in other genres, especially historical fiction.
Morgen: I met three agents at a writers’ conference last July and they all wanted more historical. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Jennifer: Right now, I do not have an agent. From what I’ve observed in the New York publishing industry from my day job as an independent book manuscript editor, I would say they are vital if you want a representative to negotiate foreign rights and movie deals and anything else “big” by publishing standards.
Morgen: Indeed. And generally they earn their fee. Is your book available as an eBook? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Jennifer: I, Putin is available on both the Kindle and the Nook. I’m about to use a middleman to get on iBook. Yes, I was very involved in the process, which I highly recommend to others. The great part of doing an eBook first is you can get reader feedback and catch a few stray errors, and it’s not in permanent ink. You can upload a new eBook file anytime you want. I should have I, Putin in paperback in April 2012.
Morgen: Isn’t that the great thing about eBooks. I’m hoping someone will spot an error in something of mine. No-one’s told me yet – I hope they’re not just being nice. 🙂 Although I use an editor so hopefully there’s nothing to spot. How much of your marketing do you do?
Jennifer: I do all the marketing from publicity to press releases to securing cover blurbs, etc.
Morgen: Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Jennifer: Of course, I love the character of Vladimir Putin because, much to my readers’ surprise, he comes across as very relatable and human. I also love Gosha, Putin’s fictional personal aide, because he is so flawed and vulnerable. If the novel were made into a film, I could see Daniel Craig playing Putin. Both looks-wise and personality-wise, he’d be a good fit; although I could see an unknown actor playing Putin too. In my novel, there is a Bill Clinton character, and I could see Kyle Chandler from the Friday Night Lights television show easily playing Clinton.
Morgen: Unless you could get Messrs Puntin and Clinton to play themselves. 🙂 Did you have any say in the title / covers of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
Jennifer: Yes, I had total control. Both the title and book cover are crucial. A great title attracts readers, agents and publishing house editors. A great book cover catches the eye, and in the world of self-publishing, it shows you are a professional.
Morgen: It does. There are so many people vying for readers that you have to have something that says “pick me”. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Jennifer: I believe reading helps the craft of writing, so I read a lot. The “new” theory with literary writers is “there’s no such thing as writer’s block,” but I disagree. I do get it once in a while, and when I do, I now know it signals that I’m still thinking over how to approach a scene, character, etc.
Morgen: Maybe doing too much of the same thing – variety definitely freshens the brain. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Jennifer: Since I’m an editor, I edit my writing naturally. Whereas other writers write a huge amount and have to cut their writing down, I have the opposite issue. I edit as I write, so I never write enough! For example, my first novel is supposed to be 80,000 words by industry standards, but it’s a novella at 59,000 words.
Morgen: That’s good to hear – I have two of those, but then certain with eBooks, size no longer matters. 🙂 Do you have to do much research?
Jennifer: I researched I, Putin for 12 years, including the completion a Master’s degree at New York University.
Morgen: Wow. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Jennifer: Never give up. There were points in the 12 years of researching and writing my book where I thought, “I can’t do this anymore.” But I pushed past this feeling. Be kind to yourself, and it’s okay to take a break once in a while.
Morgen: And you’re here now. 🙂 If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Jennifer: Vladimir Putin, J.D. Salinger and my grandma. That would be a fun, yet really strange dinner party. I’d definitely hide the takeaway containers because I can’t cook.
Morgen: Me neither. Well, I can when I try, I just don’t try very often. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Jennifer: I’m a book manuscript editor with my own company, Pencey X Pages. I love editing the books of my clients and bringing their work to the highest level. I’ve seen my clients flourish as writers and become great authors.
Morgen: 🙂 Since you’re an editor, do you have any editing tips for writers?
Jennifer: Tip #1) Read great literature. You will become both a better writer and editor if you read the classics. The great writing will seep into your brain, and you will learn how to construct powerful and poignant prose.
Tip #2) Spend money on a good final edit once your book manuscript is complete. I’m not saying this to give myself work; I’m saying it because everyone needs an editor to bring her / his writing to the highest level possible. Make sure the editor has a professional website with testimonials from real people (use a search engine to look up their names and books), and when you speak to or email the editor, make sure s/he offers a free sample edit and that s/he puts you on the offensive (instead of the defensive). You have to make sure you’re choosing the best editor for your book and you feel comfortable with this person.
Morgen: Absolutely you do. My only expense is for an editor and she’s worth her weight, as the cliché goes. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Jennifer: Because readers tell me they love my blog, I have to mention it: http://penceyxpages.com.
Morgen: Of course, no problem. We’re here to get to know more about you so feel free to elaborate.
Jennifer: Pencey X Pages promotes author success, and I blog on topics, such as three unknown things you must include in a query letter, advice on how to self-edit your book, what works for me (and doesn’t work for me) with book publicity, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter at: PenceyX.
Morgen: I do. 🙂
Jennifer: I recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. It will give writers the basics into self-editing, and then I recommend hiring a good book manuscript editor, because every book needs a second pair of eyes.
Morgen: Ooh, a book I don’t have. 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Jennifer: So far, I’m really enjoying the Fiction Writers Guild, Book Publishing Professionals and Coaches (Life, Business, etc.) Support Group on LinkedIn. I’ve been receiving a lot of great tips on these forums. I joined the Coaches forum because I work with self-help authors and I love hearing ideas and positive insights from coaches.
Morgen: LinkedIn’s great, isn’t it. I was invited (by a fellow writer) to join and thought it was only business but that’s what writing is really, isn’t it, isn’t another industry, although the friendliest I’ve ever met. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Jennifer: I see the author as the businessperson. S/he is the author, publicist, marketing strategist, salesperson, technological support, etc. In the future, the writer will step even more into these roles.
Morgen: And have a bigger share of the pie. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Jennifer: To check out I, Putin (Vladimir Putin novel), please visit: http://vladimirputinnovel.com. You can also download a free sample on your Kindle or Nook to decide if the book is for you. You can follow I, Putin on Twitter at: i_putin.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Jennifer: I’d like to mention to all your readers, Morgen, that I, Putin is not dense or hard to read, so please do not be discouraged by the Russian subject matter. You don’t need to know a thing about Vladimir Putin or Russian politics. My writing is a hybrid between literary and commercial, so readers have told me it’s a fairly easy read.
Morgen: Sounds good to me. 🙂 Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Jennifer: No, but I’d like to say thank you! Morgen, you’re a wonderful resource for all writers.
Morgen: My goodness, you’re so welcome. I’m obsessed, I can’t help it but then I think that’s written into our job descriptions with invisible ink. Thank you, Jennifer. I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you today and I look forward to your returning at your p/leisure. 🙂
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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