What do freelance editors do?

Ask ten different freelance editors to tell you what they include in their various editorial packages, and chances are you’ll get ten slightly different answers. But this blog post from Reedsy (a fantastic resource for aspiring writers, and a company for which I’ve been working for years now) does a great job of giving you a comprehensive jumping-off point.

Check out their fantastic article about what authors can expect from freelance fiction editors, here.

The Great Distraction

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I was all set to write about first pages today. Common mistakes, what to do, what not to do, etc. The topic seemed to make the most sense, with the fantabulous #FicFest looming on the horizon. So down I sat with a cup of coffee and good intentions, yet I found myself typing the title atop this post: The Great Distraction. Er, come again? But as you do when your characters decide to take a sharp left when you’d politely asked, in your color-coded outline, for them to take a right, I went with it.

Contemporary writers live in the age of The Great Distraction. It used to be when you wanted to procrastinate from the writing task at hand, you’d go to the pub down the street, or clean your house. Or drink whiskey. Now, we have Twitter. And Facebook. And Instagram. And Snapchat. If you’re like me, you can somewhat justify this sort of meandering by reading the posts of other writers and links to articles about writing. Sometimes, they’re incredibly helpful. Still, not all distractions are created equal, and there are some that seem to linger long after you’ve x’ed out of whatever Internet writing hole you’ve fallen down. Those are the types of distractions I’m talking about: the ones that paralyze you, the ones that well and truly get in the way of productivity—not just for twenty minutes or an hour, but all day—maybe all week.

 

Here is a list of the Three Big Ones (and a little advice on looking the other way):

1. #1 Writers’ Most Wanted: the Recently Announced Book Deal/Agent/Subrights Alleyoop. Look, I find social media writer communities to be lovely places. There is support here that I, and many others, draw from on the daily. These people get you—they understand the hardships and challenges (and victories, and mini-celebrations) more than your friends and family probably will, because they’re experiencing the very same challenges and, hopefully, triumphs every day. When one of our own gets that elusive book deal/agent/what-have-you, the sincere outpouring of support is not for show. We are truly excited for them—not only do they deserve it, they are also paving the way for our potential victory down the line, too, right? Right.

So when I settle into my own manuscript an hour later, and I can’t stop thinking: when are you going to get that life-changing book deal, you hack? that makes me a monster, right? Wrong. It makes me, and anyone else out there similarly afflicted, human. We call it professional jealousy, and sure, I see that. But what I see most prominently is the root cause: self-doubt. The fear that we will never reach that point, we will never be that good, our own work is simply unworthy of publication, so why try?

Perhaps the better question is: what happens if I don’t try? What then? Unlike the answer to “why try,” this one is simple: NOTHING. Nothing happens if you don’t try. You’ll never get a book deal, never land an agent, never see your name on the cover of a book—that’s a certainty. By trying, you have everything to gain. Just ask any successful, published writer you know who almost didn’t finish their novels because they sometimes wondered, “why try?” One fundamental difference between you and them: they pushed past that question and persevered. You can too.

2. The Book Nerd’s Version of Keeping Up with the Joneses: that growing TBR pile. We accept this as a universal truth: you must read in order to be a good writer. As an editor, this is something I stress ad nauseam! Reading not only broadens your horizons as a writer, it educates you about the genre in which you’re writing, and (I firmly believe) exercises your imagination in a way that TV- and movie-watching just don’t accomplish (regardless of my passion for television).

As a writer/editor, I recognize that there are only twenty-four hours in a day. As much as I wish I’d been blessed with that quick-reading gene, reading is a commitment for me. Therefore, when I see (and mark down) all of the fabulous book recos my fellow reader/writers give online, it can start to feel a little….stressful. And I have a feeling I’m not alone. “I’ll add that to my growing TBR pile!” is a somewhat hyper-exasperated expression I see so often, it’s beginning to compete with “all the things” for space in my timeline (I’m not mocking—I use that expression whenever I get the chance J).

It’s true that reading is important to hone our abilities as writers. When given the choice, reading over interwebbing or watching TV is ideal. It’s also true that we have lives outside of writing and reading: full-time jobs, children, husbands, wives, school commitments, houses and apartments to clean, food to cook, laundry to do, bills to pay. Again, we are human; we have limits. Which means being okay with the fact that we’re still achieving a goal, even if we only read a book every other week, or every month. You’re reading, and even if you’re not reading all the things (see what I did there?), you’re still accomplishing something important and valuable.

3. The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. It’s easy to blame distraction on the Internet. But in truth, that’s only one brand available to us. Some of the most seductive, high-end distraction comes in the form of our loved ones.

Like any creative job, it’s difficult to quantify the value of what we do without a commission of some sort. Loved ones may look at what we’re doing and think it’s a hobby, until we’re paid to do it. When your husband/wife/child walks through that door and offers any number or alluring ways away from the page, it can be so enticing. But unless you’re writing as a hobbyist with no plans to publish, you must remember to put your foot down and, if necessary, educate the people around you. This is your job. Just like you wouldn’t walk away from your desk in the middle of a nine-to-five and skip out on your work, you must give your WIP the same respect.

I remember reading a Sarah Dessen novel once, in which the MC’s mother was a romance writer. She lived in a small house and wrote at her kitchen table. In order to discourage her kids from interrupting her writing time, she put up a beaded curtain in the doorway and when it was closed, her kids took that curtain to mean DO NOT DISTURB. I have always remembered that detail, because I thought it was a brilliant idea.

 

I wrote this blog because I’m not perfect. I procrastinate when I shouldn’t, I check Twitter when I should be adding words to my WIP, and despite knowing the answer, I do occasionally ask myself why try? Sometimes, we all need a reminder that we are worthwhile, and so are our endeavors to fulfill our dreams. Sometimes, we all need a little nudge to go back to the page and do our jobs so that we may someday have the opportunity to pave the path for others like us, sitting in front of the computer, wondering why try?

We try because it’s the only way to cross the finish line. We try because someday, we will succeed.

Go write.

An Editor Edits, and Other (Semi) Myths

When I applied to my first editorial position at a Big 5 publishing house, I was very green. I had experience writing, I was in graduate school working toward my writing MFA, and I was a dedicated, studious reader; my editorial experience was largely intuitive. To this day, I consider it an enormous blessing that the woman who hired me did so both because of my edit test, and the fact that we were kindred book spirits.

When I arrived for my first day of work, I had no idea what to expect. No clue what my workday would look like, or what my daily routine would consist of. All I really knew was that editors edited; I had a vague fantasy that I would spend most days reading with a latte in one hand and a red pen in the other—my hair done up in a haphazard bun, set in place by a pencil. Because that’s what editors looked like, right?

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Not quite.

One of the most common questions authors ask about my experience as an in-house editor: what did I actually do? It’s a good question. Below is a brief overview of a house editor’s responsibilities:

  1. She acquires books. An editor is your in-house advocate from the very beginning. When an editor reads a book she likes, that’s just the first step. Many things factor into whether or not she can make you an offer. During my career at S&S, there were many manuscripts I loved and wanted to acquire but could not—for various reasons. Here are just a few factors an editor must take into consideration before proposing acquisition:
  • Does it fit into the imprint’s identity? (Is it commercial enough? Literary enough?)
  • Will it sell? Does it make fiscal sense for the publisher? How are comparable titles/genres/subject matters performing in the marketplace?
  • Is it unique, or is it too similar to another title on our list? (We don’t want our titles competing with one another for sales.)
  • Will the other editors like the manuscript, too? How about the marketing team and sales reps?

 

  1. She introduces your book to everyone else in-house. Once an editor gets the go-ahead from the rest of the editors in her imprint, she must bring the book to an acquisitions meeting. There, she presents her case for wanting to acquire your book—to a team of marketing and publicity people, sales reps, designers, and publishers. Presenting a book at an acquisitions meeting is a bit like a lawyer delivering opening arguments in court. The editor presents her case for wanting to buy the book, and answers any questions anyone at the meeting might have about her vision for it (content, sales projections, marketing ideas, etc.).

 

  1. She prepares financial documents. This one was kind of a shocker to me when I started at S&S. Math?! But, but—I’m an editor! Both before and after a book is approved at an acquisitions meeting, the editor must work up a P&L (profit and loss statement) which projects sales figures based on comparable titles (and, for authors who have previously published, sales track). This document needs to be signed off on by the house financial team and publishers—and becomes the basis upon which the editor is allowed to make your agent the official offer to buy your book.

 

  1. She negotiates contracts. From there, the editor will negotiate the terms of your contract (with your agent). It’s important to note here that these terms have very little to do with editor input—typically, editors are working off of boilerplate terms and any divergence from these terms must be signed off on in advance. The editor’s job here is to ensure she’s offering you a deal that will both appeal to you and to the publishing house. Once the terms have been agreed upon, the editor generates contract paperwork for the legal department.

 

  1. She edits your manuscript. Once you’ve signed your contract and the deal has been struck, your editor will finally get to EDIT your manuscript! For both you and your editor, this is the part of the process makes the waiting, paperwork, and red tape worth it. Typically, editors must edit on their own time because they are too busy with meetings, paperwork, and other house obligations while they’re in the office. Out of the thirty plus novels I acquired at S&S, I can count on one hand the times I was actually able to edit at my desk. Most often, editors do their editing during weekends and in the evenings, once they are home from work.

 

  1. And so much more. Editors write the jacket copy, cover copy, and catalogue copy for your novel. They come up with cover concepts for designers. They present your novel at librarian previews, sales, and launch meetings before the book comes out—pointing out selling points, marketing ideas, and discussing content.

 

I hope this helps to explain a little more about what a publishing house editor does. As a freelancer, I must admit that while I miss aspects of working in-house (the camaraderie with fellow editors, being able to help authors get their work out into the world), I love being able to focus so acutely on editing itself.

Being a house editor is hard work– these folks certainly earn their place in your acknowledgements.

First Impressions in Publishing: How a Good Editor Can Help You Achieve Your Writing Dreams

First-Impressions

Writers have a tendency to spend more time and energy revising their first chapters than any other part of their novels. Why? Because in the publishing industry, first impressions matter. Whether you’re writing an agent query, the first paragraph of your novel, or introducing yourself—and your work—to an industry professional on Twitter, you only get one chance to make that first impression.

One of the best ways to ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward with your agent query and/or novel is to hire a freelance editor. Critique partners and beta readers are invaluable—and if you have a good CP in your life, you’re that much closer to perfecting your work. However, freelance editors—like agents and house editors—are industry professionals. Not only do we have a comprehensive understanding of what agents and editors are looking for, we also make our living based on our unique ability to read constructively and analytically, and to subsequently be able to communicate feedback, insight, and any outstanding or unresolved issues clearly and effectively. Our job is to not only help identify these issues, but also to help you find a way to resolve them.

One of my clients—let’s call him Tom—is a prolific writer. Before hiring me, Tom wrote dozens of novels—all of which he’d queried with agents, some of which had earned partial requests and one or two fulls, but none had ever garnered him an offer of representation. To hear him tell it, he resisted hiring a freelance editor for over a decade because it seemed to him a failing of sorts; hiring a freelance editor was an indication, in Tom’s mind, that he was not a good enough writer to succeed, period. He finally hired me out of sheer frustration—his most recent manuscript had received dozens of full manuscript requests from agents, all of whom he deeply admired, but each time, the novel was ultimately rejected.

Upon reading both his query letter and manuscript, I discovered two issues right away: the first was that the query letter and manuscript did not match one another. The query was quite well-written, but it did not accurately convey the tone and plot of his manuscript—a common error which most often results in precisely what Tom had recently experienced; agents loved the idea of the novel presented in the query, but the manuscript itself did not fulfill the expectations set forth in the query. The second problem was that the manuscript needed to be edited and revised. Though technically clean and grammatically correct, Tom’s manuscript contained several plot and consistency issues that needed to be resolved. Unfortunately, Tom had sent his manuscript out too soon and, based on that initial first impression, some of his most sought-after agents were no longer an option for him.

Over the next couple of months, I worked with Tom to revise his novel. Throughout the process, he often told me that he’d known some of the issues I pointed out existed in his work, but he hadn’t been able to put his finger on the root of the issue precisely enough to revise it effectively. And, though a few of his CPs had pointed out some of the issues as well, they hadn’t been able to help him figure out a way to change the story in a way that felt organic to Tom’s own personal writing and narrative style, while also resolving the problem. By the time we finished working together, Tom felt more confident about the quality of his work (and his promise as a writer in general) than he ever had before. Shortly after sending out his completed, polished manuscript, he received several requests for the full. This time, within a few short months, Tom had his first ever offer of representation.

I’m not saying that every writer who hires a freelance editor will come away from the experience with an agent and a book deal—although many have. Instead, I’ll stress that a good freelance editor can be an invaluable tool in helping you to identify, and fix, any extant problems in your novel, not to mention aiding you in perfecting story and craft on a line-by-line level. We are here to provide you with perspective, to make your novel the best version of itself it can be. Simply put, our job is to ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward, that your writing makes the best possible first impression.

In the workshop I lead this past weekend, Hook Them with Your First Ten Pages, we discussed how to make an excellent first impression within the first ten pages of our novels. We discussed the importance of establishing the correct tone, capturing our reader’s attention, and ensuring the quality of our writing in those opening pages reflects the literary integrity exhibited throughout. Whether your goal is to pique the interest of your dream agent in a query letter, or to ensure your introductory chapters are engaging enough to keep your reader reading, the importance of making a good, impactful first impression is paramount in the publishing industry. And with a freelance editor’s help, you just may find that this ever-elusive, excellent first impression is finally and definitively within your grasp.