Thank you for applying!

Hello everyone,

Quick announcement: thank you to everyone who expressed interest in our subcontractor opportunity. We’ve made our decisions, and we’ll be sending out emails shortly.

Thanks again!

Sarah & Sylvia

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Freelance editors: Are you looking for projects to fill in the gaps? If so, we might be looking for you.

Hello there, friends!

As many of you know, Sarah and Sylvia have been running Ex Libris together since early 2012 and freelanced separately before then. With a lot of hard work, support, and some good old-fashioned luck, we’ve grown our little editorial company that could into a thriving business.

Speaking of support, we’re now hoping to move toward the possibility of hiring subcontractors to help us out with a few projects here and there when things get busy. Are you a freelance editor with at least two years of professional experience? Are you looking to occasionally supplement your current schedule? If so, you could be just the person we’re looking for.

If this sounds like an opportunity you’d like to explore, please email us at contactexlibris@exlibrisediting.com with:

  • a PDF of your most up-to-date résumé
  • a little about yourself and your experience as an editor
  • a bit about your professional identity and goals
  • what type(s) of editing (fiction, nonfiction, academic, etc.) and what levels of editing (proofreading, copyediting, developmental editing, etc.) you are most familiar with/you are hoping to work with.

If your credentials match up with what we’re looking for, we will ask you to provide a work sample or two and to perform a copyediting test. We will do our best to respond to everyone who applies, but depending on the number of responses we receive, this may or may not be possible. We expect to make our final decisions on or before October 31, 2014.

Please note: this is for contract work only, and we are expecting to have work available to subcontractors on an as-needed, part-time basis at most. Please do not expect a steady flow of new projects from this arrangement.

We look forward to hearing from you!

—Sarah & Sylvia

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Shaping the Spark: Inspiration, Plotting, and Character Development

by Melanie Figueroa

When you get an idea for your next story, chances are you’ll want to dive right in. You’ll be sitting on the train or walking down the street when the muses decide to grace you with their presence—but you’ll never be next to a computer or notepad, because that’d just be too easy. As you’re rushing to get home, maybe you even jot down a few lines on your phone, on a crumpled receipt you found buried in your bag, or, heck, even your palm.

Fueled by the adrenaline from the rush of new ideas, you sit down and knock out a few thousand words, but then the spark starts to dwindle. You’ve hit a wall. Oh, the spark’s still there, but the ingredients for the perfect fire to keep that spark burning haven’t been built yet. This is why pre-writing can be such a useful tool for writers. While those few thousand words of initial free writing can be a great way to get going, stories rarely appear in our minds fully formed. After that initial burst of inspiration, it’s usually a good idea to pause and start laying the groundwork for your story before you go any further. Writing tends to be about ten percent inspiration and ninety percent hard work—the hard work being all the effort (plotting, character development, and yes, the actual writing part!) that comes with feeding that spark into a roaring fire.

I’ve found that if you don’t get at least a skeleton of your plot down ahead of time, it can be really easy to get lost in your own narrative. Should Character A go down Path 1 or Path 2? When does the climax hit? What’s the central conflict? What are the stakes? Sometimes it’s fun to just see where the story takes you, but it can also be useful to know your main plot points (how you want to open your story, the rising action, the climax, the denouement, etc.) before you plunge your characters into the fray. Which leads me to the second pre-writing point of interest: character development. Characters often take on a life of their own as you write, but in order for them to do so, it helps to know them intimately—flesh and bone and then some—before they even set foot on the page.

There are countless ways to approach pre-writing. For me, character sketches come first. Other writers may choose to begin with a more detailed outline of the plot, but I’d like to focus on where/how to start with character development since it’s what I have the most experience with.

When it comes to character sketches, it’s good to start with the basics. List their physical characteristics, age, ethnicity, etc. What is their background? Who are their friends and family? What are they afraid of, and what do they want and why? Even if hardly any of this makes it into your actual manuscript (in fact, a lot of it probably won’t), filling in these crucial details will help you to write authentically from your characters’ POV(s) and to make sure that their thoughts and actions are genuine and believable as they encounter obstacles and grow throughout the course of the narrative.

At this year’s AWP conference, I attended a panel called “I’m Just Not That Into You: Unsympathetic Characters in Fiction.” Among the panelists was author Hannah Tinti, who teaches creative writing at Columbia University and edits One Story. Hannah gave the audience her five-point plan for creating well-rounded characters, in which she uses the idea of a superhero and villain to demonstrate a way to approach character sketches:

  1. Costume (What do they physically look like?)
  2. Superpower (What are they good at?)
  3. Kryptonite (What’s one thing that could destroy them?)
  4. Backstory (Where did they come from?)
  5. Quest/Diabolical Plan (What do they want?)

If this checklist sounds useful to you, why not write it down and tape it to the wall above your desk? Or tuck it away close to where you write—somewhere easy to reach. Pull it out when you are in the pre-writing stages or when you’ve hit a wall with a character, and ask yourself some of Hannah’s questions. Or, better yet, ask your characters directly, and see what they tell you.

The best stories, in my opinion, are stories in which the plot is driven by the characters, not the other way around. Characters advance the plot by being the people they are and making the choices they make. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t map out your story’s plot; just be prepared for things to shift around as your characters come to life on the page and interact with each other and with your plot points. Often, the story will change as your understanding of the characters deepens, which can be frustrating, inspiring, challenging, confusing, and exciting—frequently all at once.

As you shape your story and the people who populate it, keep this in mind: as long as you care about your characters and what happens to them, your readers will, too.

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National Poetry Month: Sylvia and Melanie Weigh In

Hi there everyone,

April’s almost at an end, but it’s not too late for Sylvia and intern Melanie to tip their hats to their favorite poems!

Sylvia:

My favorite poem is “Stings” by Sylvia Plath, out of her Ariel collection.

Bare-handed, I hand the combs.
The man in white smiles, bare-handed,
Our cheesecloth gauntlets neat and sweet,
The throats of our wrists brave lilies.
He and I

Have a thousand clean cells between us,
Eight combs of yellow cups,
And the hive itself a teacup,
White with pink flowers on it,
With excessive love I enameled it

Thinking “Sweetness, sweetness.”
Brood cells gray as the fossils of shells
Terrify me, they seem so old.
What am I buying, wormy mahogany?
Is there any queen at all in it?

If there is, she is old,
Her wings torn shawls, her long body
Rubbed of its plush–
Poor and bare and unqueenly and even shameful.
I stand in a column

Of winged, unmiraculous women,
Honey-drudgers.
I am no drudge
Though for years I have eaten dust
And dried plates with my dense hair.

And seen my strangeness evaporate,
Blue dew from dangerous skin.
Will they hate me,
These women who only scurry,
Whose news is the open cherry, the open clover?

It is almost over.
I am in control.
Here is my honey-machine,
It will work without thinking,
Opening, in spring, like an industrious virgin

To scour the creaming crests
As the moon, for its ivory powders, scours the sea.
A third person is watching.
He has nothing to do with the bee-seller or with me.
Now he is gone

In eight great bounds, a great scapegoat.
Here is his slipper, here is another,
And here the square of white linen
He wore instead of a hat.
He was sweet,

The sweat of his efforts a rain
Tugging the world to fruit.
The bees found him out,
Molding onto his lips like lies,
Complicating his features.

They thought death was worth it, but I
Have a self to recover, a queen.
Is she dead, is she sleeping?
Where has she been,
With her lion-red body, her wings of glass?

Now she is flying
More terrible than she ever was, red
Scar in the sky, red comet
Over the engine that killed her—
The mausoleum, the wax house.

What don’t I love about this poem? In all seriousness, it’s difficult to talk about “Stings,” and Sylvia Plath’s writing in general, without just losing control of my faculties completely and turning into a blubbering mess on the floor.

Plath is spare and impassioned in turns, and the choices she makes with her words somehow manage to feel both deliberate and off-the-cuff in this really emotionally affecting way. For example, “To scour the creaming crests / As the moon, for its ivory powders, scours the sea” brings my attention to the alliteration, the slant rhyme, and the incorporation of all those luminous, white-tinted words like moon and creaming and ivory—everything is very controlled and lovely—and “Where has she been / With her lion-red body, her wings of glass?” feels more visceral and alive, (her lion-red body) and also delicate and vulnerable (wings of glass), coupled with a starkly presented question to the reader (where has she been) that demands you ask this of yourself, as well.

Thematically, this poem covers a lot of ground. There’s the push and pull between autonomy and domesticity/traditional gender roles, jealousy, suicide ideation, love, grief, sex, hope, betrayal, femininity, freedom, and so much more. The extended apiology metaphor has so many layers that I can’t always see all of them at once; I’ll read through the poem and the flowers and honey-gathering will pop out as a symbol of the sweetness of domestic life, and another time all I’ll be able to focus on is the image of the bees as women tearing themselves to jealous pieces over a man, and yet another time the queen is the part of the soul that withers and dies when we compromise parts of ourselves for any number of the many obligations and promises and debts that life throws at us and that we don’t always know how to handle.

Most of all, this poem gives me an incredibly intense feeling of being both trapped and free at the same time. It makes me want to crawl under a rock and never come out and also burst apart and become a million stars rocketing through the sky. I’ll never be over this poem.

Melanie:

I have a lot of favorite poems—which probably defeats the point of having a favorite at all. Like Sylvia, Plath has always resonated with me. One of my favorite books is The Bell Jar. After I read it, I began sifting through Plath’s poems. “Mad Girl’s Love Song” caught my attention. It’s not about a romanticized or idealized love, but rather one full of longing. Recently, I learned that’s a common thread throughout many of the poems I enjoy—a level of honesty. The world can be ugly and gritty, and moments that frequently touch our hearts are small and simple. They’re intimate—that’s the poetry I read.

When I first moved to Portland, I got involved with a literary nonprofit called Late Night Library. They frequently host readings downtown, and I attended one featuring Marcus Jackson. He lives in Nashville and has been published in the The New Yorker, but I hadn’t read any of his poems prior to the event. Hearing him read was a great experience. Every member of the audience reacted to his poems in some way. The people that filled his lines were real, everyday individuals. They were your wife, your father, the regulars in the bar down the street. You felt their presence. Later on, I read every poem of his I could find (online, because I didn’t own his book yet), and I fell in love with “Kiss”:

Saving money the summer
before moving to New York,
I painted houses during days,
nights in a restaurant kitchen
hosing dishes, loading them
into a steel washer that gusted
steam until two a.m.
Once, when I came home,
my back and neck bidding for bed,
asleep on the couch laid dad.
Flicker from muted TV
was the room’s lone light,
but I could see his face fine,
broad nose, thick cheeks
holding glow as he breathed.
In five hours I would wake,
ride in the crew truck
to the assigned site,
gallon buckets and stepladders
chattering over road bumps,
axels clanging
like prongs of a struck fork.
Still, I stood and stared
at dad, a man
who poured four years
into the Navy during war,
who worked worse
jobs for shorter pay than me,
whose hands have blackened
fixing cars that quit
no matter how many replaced parts.
Above our house, clouds
polished moon as they passed.
Dad wriggled,
body pain or threatening dreams.
What else could I do
but bend down slow
and touch once
my lips to his brown brow?

When I spoke to Jackson after the reading, he told me that in his own poetry he tries to describe one scene—one moment—in the most honest yet beautiful way that he can. I think he achieves that. The problem with poetry (for most people) is that they can’t relate to it. They feel that they have to be holding the poem in one hand and a thesaurus in the other simply to understand it. But Jackson is writing to his father. To the man that works long hours for little pay. He manages to make the mundane poetic.

What’s you’re favorite poem? Why? It’s not too late to share!

–Sylvia and Melanie

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Better Late Than Never: Emerald City Comic Con 2014!

Here’s a little fact that will surprise no one who’s ever spent more than five minutes with me:

I’m a geek.

A rather huge one.

I’ve been head over heels for all things science fiction/fantasy since I was a little kid. I regularly attend Doctor Who trivia at my local geeky bar, I have a quote from A Song of Ice and Fire tattooed across my left wrist, and I’ll happily talk you under the table about Star Trek and Sherlock Holmes and Firefly and Tolkien any day of the week given the slightest provocation. I wear my geekiness proudly on my sleeve, and I’m of an age where I’ve stopped being worried about people judging me because of it, simply because I no longer desire to expend the energy it takes to be bothered about it.

Yes, my friends, the geek life is and always has been the life for me. As Simon Pegg so eloquently put it in his book, Nerd Do Well:

“Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.”

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to enjoy a lot of amicable commingling between my life as a geek and my life as an editor. I’ve found that being really passionate about things that I enjoy has turned me into a much sharper and enthusiastic editor, and that doing what I do for a living has made me a more active and critical consumer of the media that I love.

My geeky life and my professional life have been colliding in unexpected and especially wonderful ways lately. The weekend of March 28th through the 30th, for example, I attended Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, Washington. I didn’t go in any professional capacity—I spent the weekend running around oo’ing and ahh’ing over all the amazing cosplays, attending tons of panels, and ogling the wares at the hundreds of vendor tables and exhibits with a group of fellow gleeful fanfolk—but I ended up having a ton of rewarding experiences over the course of the con that spoke to my identity as an editor, as well.

ECCC did a fantastic job of representing both the local and national stage in the comic/graphic novel and sci-fi/fantasy spheres, with big industry names such as Dark Horse in attendance as well as tons of small presses, independent artists, and more. There were also lots of panels on writing and publishing, and I attended as many of them as I could. My favorites were definitely the writing for young adult audiences panel (“when I was a young writer, we had to write uphill, both ways, in the snow!”), the Welcome to Night Vale panel (“Stories about the world as it is are compelling, and the world is full of different kinds of people. Anything less is boring.”), and getting to listen to the incomparable John Scalzi, blogger, novelist, and former president of the SFWA, read a chapter from his forthcoming book and drop some knowledge about writing and the business of books (“Much of the writing process is muscle memory. If I only wrote when I was inspired, I’d be dead broke.”)

If I had to sum up the weekend in one quote, though…well, I couldn’t do it, because I have two. The first, from Welcome to Night Vale’s ever-brilliant Cecil Baldwin:

“We make art out of necessity.”

And second—I think I might need to get this embroidered on a pillow or hung on my wall someday—from someone sitting next to me during a panel who seemed to be giving a why-I-love-sci-fi-and-fantasy-and-why-you-should-to elevator pitch to a friend:

“Come over to the dark side! We have cookies. And magic. And spaceships.”

Sounds good to me :)

Me (a la gender-swapped Sherlock Holmes, sadly without my riding crop and persian slipper stuffed with tobacco), one of my con buddies, and the Welcome to Night Vale Crew!

Me (in my gender-swapped Sherlock Holmes cosplay, sadly without my riding crop and persian slipper stuffed with tobacco), a friend, and the Welcome to Night Vale Crew.

Live long and prosper, etc.

–Sylvia

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Behind the Scenes of Freelance Editing: 10 Facts From Sylvia Spratt

This post was originally published at The Poetics Project by Missy Lacock.

Let’s face it: If you’re reading this blog, you love writing and reading—and probably wouldn’t mind a paycheck for doing it. Enter freelance editing, just one of the many positions available to talented bookworms. Sylvia Spratt, cofounder of Ex Libris Editing, a two-person editorial firm based in Portland, Oregon, and Denver, Colorado, agreed to share ten behind-the-scenes facts with The Poetics Project about operating a freelance editing business.

Consider founding a company, partnership, or informal collective.

Although Sylvia has been editing in some capacity for around ten years, she decided to cofound her LLC two and half years ago with her friend and business partner, Sarah Heilman.

What’s the advantage of forming an LLC instead of maintaining sole proprietorship?

“Increasing consumer confidence,” Sylvia said. Some clients feel more secure working with a company instead of hiring an individual. “We collaborate on marketing, and we have the legal protection of a company, even though we take on most of our projects individually,” Sylvia said. “We also wanted room to grow in the future, which is why we settled on an LLC.”

The hard part? “Remembering to get out of your PJ’s when you’re working from home!”

Be prepared to take tests.

It’s not always as simple as finding a manuscript to edit; editors often undergo regular testing to prove they’re worth the expense—especially for larger clients. Test materials usually cover grammar and style, especially where less-common style guides such as AMA Style (for the medical sphere) and IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) are concerned. The tests are usually timed for acceptable ranges and completed using track changes in Microsoft Word.

Most clients are referred by word of mouth.

Networking and positive referrals are key to consistent freelance employment. However, freelancers can also find editing gigs by combing sites like bookjobs or mediabistro, or, for a yearly fee, by joining the Editorial Freelancers Association.

Businesses still hire copyeditors.

More and more businesses are utilizing freelancers to help cut costs, but Sylvia said in-house office jobs for editors definitely still exist at ad agencies, PR firms, publishing houses (but they’re extremely competitive), universities, and even local giants like Nike and adidas.

Continue reading

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AWP 2014 and The Author-Editor Relationship

Although Sarah and Sylvia sadly weren’t able to make it up to Seattle for AWP this year, our intern, Melanie Figueroa, did. Here’s a short recap of the three days she spent at the writer’s conference:

AWP is an overwhelming conference, in the best possible sense of the word, but with over 10,000 people in attendance, that’s to be expected. You can spend a whole day walking up and down the aisles at the book fair, meeting editors, designers, agents, and other publishing professionals or digging through the plethora of discounted books available—and I did.

In addition to exploring the book fair, I went to several panels: one on unsympathetic characters, a few on writing for young adults, another on humor in memoir, and, lastly, a panel focusing on the author-editor relationship, which will be the main focus of this post.

The author-editor panel was led by Grove Atlantic’s publisher, Morgan Entrekin. Grove Atlantic editor, Elisabeth Schmitz, and several of their authors, including Sherman Alexie, Margaret Wrinkle, and Jamie Quatro, were also on the panel.

Grove Atlantic has a particularly hands-on approach to the author-editor relationship, forging lasting friendships with their authors whenever possible. Elisabeth has worked as an editor for all three authors and occasionally goes jogging with Jamie. Sherman Alexie has published the majority of his work, except for his Young Adult books, with Grove Atlantic since the 90s. Morgan, reflecting on a conversation he had with an editor at a larger house at a previous book fair, said, “I stepped away from the author, and he came up to me. ‘You shouldn’t be such close friends with your writers. They’ll only break your heart.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Does that mean you shouldn’t fall in love?’”

Today, many publishing houses—especially big New York houses—often aren’t able to maintain this sort of relationship with their authors. While it’s custom for an author to offer the house that published his or her previous book first look at a manuscript, publishing houses don’t always acquire these manuscripts, and authors often jump from house to house.

For a while, the same applied to editors. “Traditionally, editors stayed with one publisher,” Morgan told the audience. “Then that changed, but I do think it’s starting to slow down.” Elisabeth, for instance, has been with Grove Atlantic for almost twenty years.

I took a lot away from this panel, even if much of it was a lot of great quotes of Sherman, saying things like, “We were at the Chateau…These are the things you get to say when you’re published. So f**k you all. Sorry. That was the Valium.” Proving that he is just as awkward, gleefully inappropriate, and funny as one would think. (In case you were wondering, the Valium was for his back, which he hurt the night before playing basketball.)

Mainly, I learned how important the role of trust is between author and editor. Sherman, candid as always, recalled a time where he vehemently fought with Elisabeth to keep a chapter in his novel Flight that involved the time-traveling protagonist fighting a saber-tooth tiger. Elisabeth won the fight. It’s been seven years since Flight was published, and after rereading that chapter, Sherman, who now calls the chapter “horrible,” is grateful that Elisabeth fought so hard to cut it. “That kind of relationship,” Sherman said. “Can only occur over the long-term and through trust.”

Sherman went on to say, “In the midst of all the sorrow, pain, rejection, the review you didn’t get, the sales you didn’t meet, the awards that slipped by, the shitty person who said the shitty thing, your sharing it all with your editor.”

Best,

Melanie, Sarah, and Sylvia

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