Friday, May 13, 2016

Working with an Editor

I've been an editor for a number of years now and have had the honour of working with so many fantastic, talented, amazing authors from all over the world that I consider myself extremely privileged. And I like to think that most of those I've worked with have got as much raw, green, high-in-oxidants, low-in-saturated-fats goodness from our working relationship as me.

Sadly, I don't think all writers, or editors, can say the same. Which is just horrible, but this doth maketh moi more determined.

However, I'm going to cut to the chase ...

There are two things I make crystal to any author I work with:

a) I am a professional, here to help, not hinder, or put down, or destroy, or mock. I am your fan, your cheerleader, your support. Use me, my skills, my expertise, BUT ... I will be honest, always.  

b) And you've got to be prepared to improve and work on your manuscript. It's highly unlikely I will come back to you after two weeks and say, 'It's perfect, don't change a thing'. You're paying me to pick your story to pieces and make sure it's absolutely water tight and the best it can possibly be. I will destruct, but I will teach you to construct. So, on receipt of an edited manuscript and report, the first emotion you might feel is OVERWHELM OVERLOAD.

Yeah, it can be a major shock to the system, and when considering how much effort and time might have to go into the rewrite, not to mention how much you've already put into your story, this often sends authors packing. Writing is easy. Writing well and producing an irresistible peach of a book is most definitely not.  

I know many (me included) writers who've cried, stamped on their edited manuscript, thrown it in the trash, cried, vowed never to write again, sobbed, scribbled all over it, cried again, been convinced the editor is out of their mind, cried ... OK, you get the picture.

But you know what, it's perfectly fine to react this way. Writing is an emotional beast. However, I implore you to come out the other side of this tantrum fighting, pumped and roaring for success. You and your editor are about to team up to create the next NY Times bestseller!

So, to build on Kara's blog earlier this week on how to find a reputable freelance editor, here are a few tips to consider before, during and after you work with them ...

1. Your manuscript, that story you've bled out from the deepest part of your soul, is your baby. You cherish it. You love it. And so should your editor. They should treat you and it with nothing but respect. One thing I will never do, and no editor anywhere ever should ever do, is tell an author their book is dreadful or any element unsurmountable. Because, quite frankly, this is never ever the case. OK, some books might need more work than others, but every one has the potential to be a work of art, and every author has the potential to be a quality craftsman. Consider that editor lucky you picked them.

2. An editor's time is precious, their skills invaluable, so make sure before you even send your work to them you've done all you can to make your book as good as you can. The internet is golden for seeking out writing articles and websites (much like this one!) that give you so much amazing advice to hone your writing, make sure you abuse it. And find critique partners. You won't believe how many writers out there like you need someone like you.

3. You're paying a lot of money for a professional to help you be better at what you love. Make sure you research them; speak with their previous clients, look at their success rate, check them out on social media and so on. And, a lot of editors offer a sample edit – maybe 1000 words or similar. Use this as a chance to see if you like their style and can handle what's to come.

4. You don't necessarily have to sign a contract with the editor, but you should receive some kind of email or document outlining what you're paying for and most definitely that your work will be treated confidentially. If they don't offer one, ask for one or discuss such things via email. Then keep those emails. I doubt there are any editors out there who will steal or share your work, but be sure to cover yourself.

5. You agree a rate, a date, and an outline. You send your manuscript to your editor. You wait one, two, maybe three weeks (depending on the word count of your book and whether they work full or part time) until your editor returns everything to you. During this waiting time, work on something new, or take a holiday, or read. Time and distance are the most powerful weapons during edits.

6. On receipt of your documents, take your time to read and devour everything. An editor will not rewrite your book for you, they will show you the way. Once you've read through, maybe take more time out to let all the information fester – who doesn't love a good fester? Or, if you're not one for sitting about, take out a notepad and jot down ideas. Play around with their suggestions. Look up more info on the internet or read published books in the same category and genre to support their suggestions. Try not to dive straight into revisions. Again: Time and distance are the most powerful weapons during edits.

7. Work through any suggested developmental edits first, concentrating on plot threads, structure and characterisation, your story skeleton, the cogs, the mechanics. These tend to lead to major changes to the manuscript, which in turn affects the acute elements. Once you're confident your story is solid and your characters are literally alive, then work through paragraph by paragraph focusing on sentence structure, show don't tell, punctuation, grammar, and that final injection of detailed characterisation and plot layering, and that all important final sprinkling of glittery fairy unicorn dust.

8. Put your manuscript away. Again: Time and distance are the most powerful weapons during edits.

9. Did your editor offer a follow-up read? Not many do, this is a big commitment, but perhaps recontact the editor you used and ask them how much they charge, if they do at all, to read through your squeaky, polished manuscript. Or find another editor, or other authors to do this for you. You need eyes, as many as you can find, and preferably not ones that belong to family and friends.

10. Keep the big picture in mind and enjoy yourself.

Remember why you wanted to write in the first place, and why you contacted the editor. To be better. To improve. To become published. Whatever, just keep focused on the goal. Some genius somewhere once said, 'It takes years to be an overnight success'.
I am always happy to answer questions from prospective clients, or simply those seeking snippets of advice. Please leave a comment or a question, or email me at if there's anything you want to know!

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