Interrogation—Elaine Ash

Who: Elaine Ash

What: She edits career authors as well as emerging talent. BESTSELLER METRICS is her first how-to book. It’s also a patent-pending software in development for the publishing industry.

Where: Los Angeles

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

As a fiction writer, you have published short stories, novelettes and novels. What was the inspiration to write BESTSELLER METRICS?

The inspiration came from editing novels for many years. I saw the same problems affecting novelists who were working incredibly hard to get published. Ten years ago I thought Oh, I’ll come across a book that talks about those issues one of these days. But no matter how hard I searched, that book never came along. A year or so ago I realized that if I didn’t do it myself, it wasn’t going to get done. So I got busy.

Tell me something I haven’t heard before about novel structure.

Here’s a news flash you don’t hear everyday: Word count changes structure. I see so many writers with great, absolutely thrilling stories who are getting rejected because they are trying to shoehorn an epic or a saga into a average-sized word count which is 85,000 words or less these days. So I developed a test for that. It’s Test #5. It’s one page of questions that you can download for free.

If your answers reveal that you are likely writing an epic or a saga, a whole bunch of things are going to be affected. First, you’re going to throw that 85,000-word rule out the window and look at the world of GAME OF THRONES or THE GODFATHER or another big, dynastic epic. I feel so strongly about this I could march around with a sign that says, “Save the Saga Writers!”

What’s the trick to minimizing revisions?

Make sure you’re revising the right things. Readers always know when a story’s not working—but they’re not necessarily good at pinpointing the reasons. So writers get to work revising characters that are already good, or adding scenes that don’t address the core structural problems. They work and work in good faith, and they get new feedback that tells them there’s still something wrong. It’s a painful and frustrating experience. I devised tests to give novelists the right feedback, the first time around. I’d really love to never see anybody do endless rounds with a manuscript again.

Who did you write this book for? Established authors? Aspiring authors?

Both. There is a little chapter called “The Feather Edit,” and all the experienced, published authors love it and want to feather-edit their next books. It’s about inserting little reminders of who recurring characters are so that readers don’t have to go flipping back through the book to remember them. Ever notice that you never have to do that with the top-selling authors? Readers never have to go flipping back because there are subtle embeds to prevent it.

Would editors benefit from reading BESTSELLER METRICS?

It would be great if other editors adopted my method to help their clients. Not just editors, but educators too. A teachers’ edition is in the works.

What’s next for you? Any plans to publish new fiction in the coming year?

My publisher, the incomparable Eric Campbell of Down and Out Books is tapping his fingers for a third book in the HARD BITE series. Got to get busy!

Find Elaine Ash: WebsiteFacebookTwitter

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S.W. Lauden is the Anthony Award-nominated author of the Tommy & Shayna Crime Caper novellas include CROSSWISE and CROSSED BONES (Down & Out Books). His Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION and GRIZZLY SEASON (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in Los Angeles.

1 Comment

  1. Terrific interview here! Elaine is so right on about so many things. Particularly luv when she says “Make sure you’re revising the right things… I’d really love to never see anybody do endless rounds with a manuscript again.”

    This really hits a chord, especially after sitting through countless grad school writing workshops…readers definitely don’t always get it right…they might know something isn’t working, but rarely can they ever tell you exactly why!

    May “Bestseller Metrics” end endless revisions forever!

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