A Conversation with Sue Winegardner

I have had the pleasure of knowing Sue Winegardner, Assistant Editor at Entangled Publishing, for going on about a year now. We met through a local critique group, and quickly found a mutual love of Aaron Sorkin, good writing, and excellent wine. After one particular night of at least two of those things, I came home with a crash course in romantic fiction tropes and a monster hangover and proceeded to brain dump 6,000 words of what became my first attempt at writing in a new genre.

That WIP is currently on hold, but I wanted to share some words of wisdom from an incredibly intelligent, funny, and inspiring woman. I was debating a couple of ways to write up this interview, and decided to sit back and let Sue speak for herself. Pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee (or tea!) and see what she has to say about writing, editing, publishing – and life in general. Sue – take it away!

Q (Infamous Scribber): How did you become involved with/get hired at Entangled?

A (Sue Winegardner): Actually, it was pretty fluky. My critique partner, Ophelia London, had just been signed by Entangled for Abby Road, so she was stalking the Senior Editors at Entangled. She alerted me to a Tweet that Heather Howland had put out asking for interns. I applied, and she asked me to start reading for her. Literally the first submission I read was Leah Rae Miller’s THE SUMMER I BECAME A NERD, which I loved. I wrote a gushing report, comparing it to the movie Easy A, and Stephanie Perkins’ ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. Fast forward about six months, and Heather asked me to join her as an Assistant Editor. The best bit? I got to work on THE SUMMER I BECAME A NERD, which was published in print and ebook last month!

Abby Road by Ophelia London, Sue Winegardner's critique partner and Entangled author.

Abby Road by Ophelia London, Sue Winegardner’s critique partner and Entangled author.

Q: What are some common misconceptions of aspiring writers? And how would you – gently – correct those misconceptions?

A: When I first started writing, about eight years ago, and researching the publishing industry, every blog, website, magazine and book said that you had to get an agent to be published. Of course that is absolutely not true anymore.

But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to educate yourself if you decide not to go the agent route. Research what an agent does, so that you can fulfill that role yourself if you want to. Likewise, if you decide to self-publish, make sure you know exactly what steps an agent and editor and publisher take, so you can give your book the best chance it can have.

For example, most agents will do an editorial pass on your manuscript, then an editor will typically do 3-4 passes, followed by a pass by the copyeditor and another by the proofreader. Then the book will be formatted, and then the publisher will put together a marketing plan. So if you opt to self-publish, don’t think it necessarily means you can skip those steps!

If you plan on publishing traditionally, DO NOT be discouraged by rejections. DO NOT. Not everyone is going to love your book (I mean have you loved EVERY book you’ve ever read?). You just have to keep going and find the one agent or editor who does love your style and story. Meg Cabot used to lug a mail bag of rejection letters that she received, when she made speeches, but she said that it got too heavy to carry around easily. Everyone is rejected. Everyone. It’s a badge of honor that you put yourself out there. Wear it with pride!

Q: What is the funniest error you have ever proofread (changing the names to protect the innocent…)?

A: …some of the funniest stuff comes from queries. With the amount of information on websites and blogs it still amazes me to see queries that say nothing about the book, or ones that start “I’m not going to bore you with a query,” or “I know you said you wanted a query, but I’m, like, totally unconventional, so I’m not going to do that!!” (Yes, two exclamation points!). Sometimes I think that as long as you research, and actually tell us about your book, you’re already head and shoulders above a lot of queriers! (S.W. note -Rachel… is that a word???) (I.S. note – It is if you want it to be!)

Q: What aspects of the Entangled business model make it unique? How could someone who is self-publishing apply those aspects to their own business model?

A: Entangled was started by authors, for authors. Everything the company does is to try to help authors become successful. Part of what works so well is the community of Entangled authors who support and promote each other. This network is definitely one of the most important foundations of being a successful author. All the authors participate, celebrating good news, commiserating with the bad news (ever had all your reviews disappear from Amazon? Things like that), but what I’ve seen recently is authors being completely transparent with each other about their marketing and promotion. They share hard numbers on the amount of hits promotions or advertisements got, and what impact that had on book sales, and what the return on investment was.

The Summer I Became a Nerd, by Leah Rae Miller, one of the first submissions Sue read, that later became one of the first books she helped publish.

The Summer I Became a Nerd, by Leah Rae Miller, one of the first submissions Sue read, that later became one of the first books she helped publish.

Remember, a commercial book is a commercial book whether you get a million dollar advance from a New York house, or you type it out on a typewriter, bind it yourself and sell it on a street corner. There is always a market for a great book. The tipping point between a great book and a best-selling great book, is mostly marketing. As a self-published author, if you can put together a network of people you can share this kind of information and support with, you’re golden.

Q: What are your own ambitions as far as writing is concerned? (How is your YA novel coming along?)

A: Yikes! I have two completed YA books which I need to re-visit and polish to a shine before I think about doing anything with them! I am also trying to write a category romance. Having been exposed to so many great category romances, and so many sketchy ones, I can see how difficult this genre is to nail. I know, you think it looks easy, but you really need a combination of art, and a good mechanical understanding of the composite parts that make a successful category romance. So yes, I’m challenging myself there!

Q: How did you end up in Fayetteville? (And so glad you did!)

A: Well, I’ve lived in London, Paris and New York, so naturally Fayetteville, NC, was next on the list. (Insert pause as I.S. chokes in polite disbelief.) Oh, alright, my husband is stationed at Pope Army Airfield, next to Fort Bragg. We love being here. I won’t lie, sometimes I miss home, but we are very happy where we are right now!

Q: At this point, I know a lot of my readers are writers themselves. To that end, do you have any top-secret professional editing tips to share?

A: I think probably the most interesting thing I’ve learned from reading the slush, and working on newly acquired books, is that ‘voice’ isn’t always a catchall for ‘the way you write’. Voice is what is left when you refine your sentence structure and grammar, and really reveal what your characters are thinking and feeling.

The desk where the editing magic happens. I wonder if you can bottle this?

The desk where the editing magic happens. I wonder if you can bottle this?

Also, when you’ve finished writing a book, the task of going all the way back to the first chapter to start all over again to edit can be overwhelming. The best advice I was given is to edit each chapter at a time (and rarely more than one chapter a day) and treat each one like a mini book. Make sure it has a beginning, middle and end, try to end on a cliffhanger so that the reader won’t want to put the book down at the chapter’s end, and finally, remove every sentence, paragraph or scene that doesn’t move the story, or the character arc forward. Easy peasy, right?

Q: Where do you see yourself in five to ten years?

A: My future is completely uncharted! In five or ten years I could be anywhere in the world, depending on where my husband is stationed, but I hope that I am still writing and editing, and meeting awesome writers (like you, Rachel) (I.S. note – Aw shucks, I’m blushing. 😀 Also, totally leaving in this ego-boosting shoutout) and reveling in the wonderful online groups that spring up daily to help and support writers, and give them opportunities to get published.

Q: If you could say one thing to future writers, what would it be?

A: LIVE! Nothing informs your writing like a life lived well. All your experiences, all the people watching, all the physical manifestations of emotion you witness, the desperate sadness, the giddy joy…all these things will bring your writing to life if you can tap into your memories and get those visceral reactions on paper.

Sue and canine-companion, Kora.

Sue and canine-companion, Kora.

Q: Anything else to add?

A: Search out a writing group and/or critique partners. It takes balls to share your work, but the returns are immeasurable. Better writing, better critiquing skills, a wider view of different writing styles, genres and POV.  It’s terrifying, but gratifying. And if you dare…set up your own renegade critique group with like-minded writers.

Don’t be afraid to attend writer conferences to network, and hone your writing, pitching and querying skills. I found a great critique partner at one a few years ago, and learned a whole bunch of stuff about industry and craft.

Compete in Twitter pitches, enter query contests, and put yourself and your work out there. You may as well get used to it, because when your book is published, you will definitely have to be out there!

And good luck!

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If you ever want to see Sue ranting on inappropriate word uses, or randomly tweeting on weird British things, then go follow! @scwine

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Special Offer! Sue has generously offered a query letter+first five pages critique to five lucky commenters. I will leave the comments section open for two weeks (June 7) at the end of which, I will select five commenters at random to submit material. If we don’t have enough commenters (sad face), then we’ll take the first five who have something to say! Thanks for reading!

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10 Responses to A Conversation with Sue Winegardner

  1. Sam Beck says:

    Thanks for the interview ladies! It was great to get to know another side of the wonderful, talented Sue Winegardner, (who I am lucky enough to get to work with at Entangled, so don’t put me in the drawing). But to the rest of you…yes… you so want to win this query letter/first 5 critique! Sue has a great eye, (and ear), for a story and she’ll tell you what’s up without destroying your soul. 🙂

  2. Katrina Bragonje says:

    Lots of great information and food for thought.

  3. Susan says:

    Enjoyed the interview! I always think of editors living in NYC, not NC. I had no idea there was such an active writer’s group in Fayetteville. My husband is civilian contractor at Ft. Bragg, but we live in Sanford & I commute to Raleigh, so not sure it’s a viable option for me, but nice to know it’s there.

    I’m only just starting to really make time for writing, so don’t enter me in the drawing unless Sue is willing to hold the offer open for a couple of year! LOL

    Rachel – I’ve effectively killed an hour at work today reading through your blog. Thanks for the diversion! I’ll be back. And on this Memorial Day weekend, thank you for your service! My son is at Ft. Bliss, and I have to say you had a much better station in TX than he has!

  4. Sue Winegardner says:

    I’m happy to hold it over for you, or you can just send me five pages when you’ve written five pages! Thanks for reading Rachel’s blog!

  5. Xandra James says:

    Great interview – always interesting to hear how someone makes it into the publishing business 🙂

    And I completely agree regarding rejections. They’re killer and drop your confidence to the floor, but all these little obstacles are there to make you a better writer (and if you print them out you can light the bbq with them!) 😉

  6. Ava Jae says:

    Fantastic interview! It’s always great to get some insight on the other side of the curtain. Entangled is a great publishing house and it’s very exciting to hear more about it and watch it grow. 🙂

  7. Desiree says:

    I would love to be entered into the contest. Thank you for posting!

  8. Heather says:

    I love when people in the industry take time out of their busy lives. This was a really great interview. The whole concept of an ‘author run’ publishing house is fantastic.

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