James N. Bond
“James examines the symbols of language the way a biologist examines cells.”
~ New York Times Review of Books
Beta readings, manuscript evaluations, proofreading, line editing, copy editing, developmental editing, query letters, book proposals.
Need some assistance with your manuscript? For twenty years I have joined forces with fiction and nonfiction writers from all over the world. I start by preparing a free sample edit of your work. I will be happy to talk with you in detail about your publishing needs.
Success in publishing results from keeping readers engaged. Unfortunately, though, many writers lose their readers. I excel at identifying precisely where in your manuscript that is likely to happen, and how to prevent it.
My education immersed me in the creative processes of the world’s great literary and pre-literate cultures. Earning my English MA, I studied the entire sweep of Western literatures, from Gilgamesh to flash fiction. For years, one of my own volumes, Derrida for Beginners, was the best-selling introduction to one of the century’s most influential voices in literary theory. I also studied under the able tutelage of Hugh Kenner, remembered best for his monumental masterpiece, The Pound Era. For my Religious Studies MA, I studied the ancient and diverse Indo-European tradition of visionary poetics illumining a broad range of literatures throughout Europe and Asia. Consequently I have edited not only novels and short stories, but nonfiction, including many books on spirituality.
Writers report that I bring to their manuscripts questions and insights that other editors never would have considered. These insights cause things to snap into focus. Writers then feel energized to proceed with new vision.
My own books have been published by William Morrow, Prentice Hall, Hosei University Press (Japan), Chongqing University Press (China), Pensamento (Brazil), Thassalia (Spain), Hans-Ulrich Möhring (Germany), and Orient Longman (India). I have also authored the most successful titles in the For Beginners series and written a volume cited by Library Journal as one of the Top Ten Business Books of the Year. My pillow book unveiling South Pacific coming-of-age customs ignited a much celebrated, nationwide slow love revolution in the zen-infused archipelago of Japan. In the realm of verse, I translated the poems of San Juan de la Cruz, illustrated by Group f/64 photographer Imogen Cunningham. I have freelanced as a script consultant for the film industry as well as an editor for Fielding University, True Pictures, Image G, and SendPoints (China).
When Writing Meets Editing
There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen. – Rumi
Think about it. Most unveilings, most often, are not social. Like sobbing or undressing, your best writing probably unfolds in seclusion. Yet writing emerges in relationship: to your entire inner universe of dreams, memories, and reflections. Perhaps this is why, as naturally as meanings seek sounds, you may seek out an editor. Perhaps you once participated in a writing workshop and now miss that collegial camaraderie. Maybe you yearn for the insights of a meticulous, trusted, tactfully honest mentor.
As a writer, ideas pop into your head. If you are intuitive, you may even receive visions. Edith Wharton received them within the space of her inner eye, her “secret garden.” Each vision contained the seed form of a new novel or short story. She would write while tuned in to the pulse of that embryonic oracle.
“James is an extraordinary editor, an iconoclast. He edited my book on sixteen women Nobel Peace Laureates. His editing was also appreciated by the Nobel Peace Laureates I interviewed for my book. James really did a fantastic job and added glory to my book. I cracked a deal with one of the biggest publishing houses—HarperCollins. I give full credit to James for giving life to my project and I strongly feel his work has a Midas touch.”
— Supriya Vani
For most writers, though, seeds of inspiration do not hover patiently within the sky of the mind. Often they take flight, as when puffing on a delicate sphere of dandelion seeds. If you are a writer, often while you are going about your daily business, the seeds of words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs swirl about like galaxies of snow on your forehead. To capture them, with breath barely moving, you convene quiet ingatherings, calm nests to lure these fleet potencies home. Paradoxically, this often marks the beginning a long and silent creative voyage, for these inspired meaning bearers, streaking the darkness radiantly, often lure you across strange and uncharted seas of thought.
Usually it is toward the evening of such a voyage that a writer seeks out an editor. The writer trusts that a good editor will know well the shapes of stories and the ways of words. Many writers, after all, sense that their manuscripts harbor strengths and weaknesses. These writers may be nagged by a feeling that their original vision eludes their grasp. This can bug a serious writer to the point of insomnia. For, as Mark Twain quipped, the difference between the almost right word and the right one is the difference between a lightning bug and lightning.
Other writers may worry they may have too forcefully attempted to colonize their readers’ imaginations with too obvious a plotline. In response, I may ask them to explore something more starkly etched: so that plot appears only through inference. Then their readers, with a geomancer’s sensitivity to impalpabilities, may follow the trail of a more muted, mysterious unfolding of the story, one that animates characters more invisibly, subtly and compellingly. Still other writers may ask for help in transforming an overall monochrome tone into layered veils of brooding colors.
Some writers may ask if their writing seems too self-indulgent, if they should mix in more starch. Many will want to know only if their work is publishable, or if I will write up a detailed, closely considered critique, or perform just a proofread.
Over the years I have learned that editing and mentoring are arts in themselves. I know that a manuscript is a writer’s dream and lifeblood. From the moment I approach any manuscript, I remember I am a guest, that I am facilitating another writer’s process. I remember that it is not my job to subordinate that process to the straitjacket of any theory or model.
I remember that good editing is like a valley: open and receptive, creating a space of possibilities. I know from experience that at the lowest point of the valley lies something like a body of water, and that when the air is still, the water becomes a perfect mirror. Everything turns towards the mirror. Half the lake reflects all of the mountain. The lake likes the moon over her. One speaks softly by a lake. What is said over there is heard over here. The more softly you speak, the clearer you hear. A lake is devoted to listening. You can hear her dreaming. When it’s quiet you can hear the stream inside the lake, listening.
When editing I am interested in learning how. I usually float each editorial hunch in the form of a question. How did you arrive at this particular image? How does this image reflect the meaning of the paragraph? How does the paragraph itself contribute to your overall theme? What if . . . ?
Proceeding in such a manner, listening to the writer, the manuscript begins to awaken within itself. For when the most frail ripple of questioning settles into silence, what happens? The textures of that still space reveal the conversation’s essential mood, the reflective surface upon which novel creative forms and content dawn.
Thus, much of the work I do is asking a writer to consider alternative expressions. Most of the time those expressions turn out to be the very ones the writer had originally intended, which had somehow escaped. Editing then becomes an ingathering, a homecoming, a rebirth of meaning.
How I Contribute to Your Own Writing Process
Across the desk of any literary agent or publisher flows an endless stream of literary traffic. The moment your manuscript floats across that desk, it must snap the reader’s attention into focus with the force of a collision—the kind of collisions that happen in sweaty, slightly dangerous nightclubs. Your manuscript’s body language must resemble the electrifying gap between two seemingly unrelated images that—bumping up against each other—spark a strangely magnetizing current . . .
I edit to improve the likelihood of your manuscript doing that. To get there, I may suggest one of three types of editing: the Eagle’s Eye View, the Ground Level View, or Your Own View: an editing plan structured on your unique needs.
Both the Eagle’s-Eye View and the Ground-Level View analyze
- how the plot of your particular story (linear, spiral, meandering, etc.) intermeshes with the journeys of your characters (fictional or nonfictional) and other story elements
- why readers are going to care about your characters (or how you can make that happen)
- how each character’s unique dialog, dialect, and voice reinforce or undermine their external personas and interior worlds (and how to attend to that if needed)
- how your story’s point of view (first person, second person, third person, ensemble, etc.) is maximally effective (or could be)
- how dynamic the tone of your story is (and how a flat tone, unless intended, can be improved)
- how your story’s pacing contributes to or obstructs its narrative flow (and how to improve that)
- how your story’s strongest areas work, and how to strengthen up weaker passages
- how believable your narrative is (for instance, unless a character is working undercover, a character’s dialog should usually be consistent with the character’s perspective, the kind of person the character is)
The Eagle’s-Eye View
When flying at altitudes elevated enough to take in the patterns of wrinkled seas crawling toward their shores, an eagle can still zero in on a mouse. I call this a wide-angle but detailed assessment of your manuscript a Critique. I zero in closely on plot, character development, point of view, tone, pacing, believability, and perspective, making careful notes as I read. I then write up a substantial, detailed editorial report, addressing each of those areas and more, so that you can strengthen the areas of the manuscript I have pointed out.
In a Critique, I do not write editing marks on your manuscript. I also do not correct grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Those finishing touches are best applied after you have made the revisions I suggest.
The Ground Level View
This is like a worm’s-eye view of your writing. It is down to earth and so involves analysis and corrections. First I examine plot, character, point of view, tone, pacing, believability, perspective, and whatever else is notable. I then dig in, using Word’s Track Changes function, and make all necessary grammatical, spelling, and stylistic changes. These are changes that appear as suggestions. I work slowly, with an eye to the unity of the work among its echoing intricacies of elements. I attend to weak, inconsistent, redundant, and awkward passages. I am schooled in publishing industry standards, so my editing suggestions comply with the most current editions of the Chicago Manual of Style and Websters Collegiate Dictionary. I also take careful notes. As in a Critique, I write up a substantial, detailed editorial report of all the areas of your manuscript, explaining changes I have made.
Working as an author, tutor, English professor, film industry consultant, and editor, I have mentored a great variety of writers from all over the world, in every genre, in both academic and literary spheres. Educationally I am fortunate to have a background in comparative literatures. This has given me a broad view of aesthetic possibilities.
In an era when media monopolies maintain their strangleholds on publishing, some of the most exciting novelists and short-story writers I work with have been midwifed into literary culture through small, independent, avant-garde presses or literary journals, often with open-minded women at the helm. Although most fiction brought out by major houses still plods along in the same old narrative-structure footsteps of nineteenth-century novels, more adventurous writers explore unconventional forms more often found in film and even music video. Although these writers do not make much money, they do catalyze the ambient creative zeitgeist. After all, established writers such as Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, Cormac McCarthy, T. C. Boyle (one of my neighbors), Jon Hawks, and Robert Coover, have often drawn from the narrative oddities of these unsung, daring souls. After all, why stick to a third-person, chronological narrative when spiral, nonlinear, parallel, daisy chain, and a gaggle of other story-telling forms are at your disposal?
Some Publishers of Clients’ and My Own Books
William Morrow, Prentice Hall, Harper Collins, Hosei University Press, Chongquing University Press, Pensamento, Thassalia, Hans-Ulrich Möhring, Orient Longman, For Beginners, Arcadia, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Wolf William, Fast Forward Press, Red Dancefloor Press, White Road, U-District, BookBaby, Wolf William, Mascot, Timbre Press, SendPoints
Literary Journals / Magazines / Newspapers
Antipodes, The Carolina Quarterly, The Barcelona Review, Katharsis, Island, Quadrant, Australian Book Review, La Voz de Galicia, American Literary Review, Tulane Review, Australian Literary Resource, The New Yorker, Spirituality & Health, Tahiti Beach Press, Talking River, Torrid Literature, Pembroke Magazine, Carolina Quarterly, American Literary Review, Fugue, Kyoto Journal, Montecito Journal, The Santa Barbara Independent, Flyleaf Journal, Jabberwock Review, Flint Hills Review, Crack the Spine, Apeiron, Santa Ana River Review
Bluebird Productions, Australia
“James is an exceptional editor. Beginner or best seller—no matter how talented or at what stage in his or her career no writer could come away from a read by this editor without insights into their work. James Powell asks questions that many writers would never have considered and thereby nudges his clients toward a deeper understanding of the, as Pound put it, “unspeakably difficult” art of writing, but James does so with deference and grace. His approach is that of the ideal editor: he wishes to bring out as much as possible that which you yourself have envisioned, not what his vision of the work may be. Yet he certainly does have a vision of what good writing should look like and will be glad to impart that—with generous comments and clear suggestions and with his ear always open to any disagreements or reflections that naturally arise in the editing process.”
— William Huhn , listed five times in The Best American Essay series and nominated for two Pushcart Prizes.
“James was very helpful to me in the editing phase. He turned around my 69,000 word novel in just four weeks, beating my time expectations. His text edits were thorough, thoughtful, and extremely helpful. His comments on my novel were thought-provoking, and I was able to shore up several points of potential weakness. My book is much better for James’ help.”
— Robert Winter
“I have very good news. My book was picked up by a publisher! I wanted to make sure you are included in the credits as my editor, if you would like to be acknowledged. Please let me know! I am very excited!”
— Gina Bortolussi
“His comments were practical and insightful. I felt that he understood my style of writing, he made comments that resonated with me. He also shared other reading materials relevant to what I’m doing. He always answered me promptly, and was generous with his time and his suggestions. His evaluations included overall structure as well as the “feeling” aspect of what I am trying to accomplish. I felt that all of his remarks were sensitive to and respectful of my own writing style and never asked me to try to do something outside of the world of what I am doing—a world which he was respectful of, and understood. He gave me a very reasonable price for his work, based on my limited budget, but I feel he went beyond the minimum in his thoughtful responses. He also asked me interesting questions about the content that I had never thought about, and pointed out connections and ideas I hadn’t seen. These questions and ideas do that wonderful thing. They create a spark—the one that energizes you to sit down at your desk and work. I will definitely contact him again, and often. The experience has been invaluable and exciting. Thank you!”
— Shawna Kent, short story writer