Monday, February 25, 2008

Creating Words that Sell

Deciding whether or not to take the step to hire an editor is a big decision for every writer, regardless of genre. It's a little like moving to a country where you don't speak the language and trying to negotiate a real estate transaction. Your feet turn to clay and your decision is . . . to not decide.

Instead, you reach for the chocolate.

Today, my good friend, Susan Lohrer, is giving us some basic information about this critical element of writing.

When does someone need an editor? Actually, you don't always need to work with an editor in order to get an agent or a publishing contract. But there are a few circumstances in which you may choose to work with a professional editor. Say an agent or an acquisitions editor is seriously interested in your work but wants you to submit your manuscript once it's cleaned up-this is a great time to have a copy editor spiff up your grammar and typos. Or if your manuscripts consistently final in writing competitions or you get requests for full manuscripts, yet a contract remains elusive-this is a great time to have your manuscript critiqued or evaluated in preparation for a structural edit edit. Some people, if expense is not an issue, choose to shorten their learning curve by working with an editor the way a student works with a one-on-one tutor. Occasionally, a nonfiction writer who has an established marketing platform may make an informed choice to self-publish-in this case, working with a professional editor is essential. There are as many reasons to work with an editor-or not-as there are authors.

Should I wait to see what an agent or publisher thinks first? Why or why not? By all means. :-) Just don't keep revamping and sending in the same manuscript. Agents and acquisitions editors have excellent memories. Work on your craft and submit new manuscripts that are more well-written than the ones you submitted before. When your craft reaches a certain level, agents and acquisitions editors will take notice.

What do editors do? We help you polish your craft. From catching typos and fine-tuning grammar to refining scene and story structure, a good editor will show you what you need to to do make your manuscript more marketable.

Doesn't the publisher have an editor? Yes, traditional publishing houses have several editors working on each manuscript. If you and your acquisitions editor are happy with your manuscripts, it might be silly to spend money on extra editing. However, if you've tried repeatedly to break into a bigger market or a different imprint, working with a professional editor could be just the thing to get you past that hurdle.

How much do they charge? What if I can't afford one? Rates depend on the editor. Someone who's edited many best sellers will charge on the high end of the scale, and someone who's just starting out will charge on the low end. The old caveat applies: You usually get what you pay for. If you can't afford an editor, don't despair. Study books on writing. Dissect the novels you love and discover how the authors use setting, characterization, dialogue-and all the other components of a novel-to create a gripping story. Join a critique group. Attend workshops and conferences if that's feasible for you. Work hard. Persistence is the defining quality of the published author. (Peg, here's a link with the rate info your readers want: Christian Editor.)

Is Cousin Clarice who teaches English good enough? Or my roommate in college? If all you need is a second pair of eyes to catch a few typos, sure. But if you need more than that, look for someone who has experience in the world of publishing, someone who can guide you through the intricacies of contemporary story structure-a professional editor.

What kinds of questions should I ask when I'm looking for an editor? Ask for references from published clients and follow up on them. Authors who work with great editors are happy to give great references. If an editor can't or won't produce references, you can assume that person has either no experience or no skill as an editor. Ask the clients whether the editor delivered the level of service that was agreed upon, within the agreed timeframe, and without messing with the author's voice. Get a firm estimate on price and the level of editing required, and get a sample of the editor's work. Some editors charge a small fee for this, but keep in mind a brief critique can take several hours to prepare; a good critique also addresses your specific needs as a writer so that you can move forward with improving your weak areas even if you don't pursue further editing at this time.

What should I expect? You should expect the editor to clearly outline your writing's strengths and weaknesses and offer a plan for improving what's not working. A good working relationship is a must, so if you want an update every five minutes and your editor prefers to keep in touch once a week, or the other way around, you're not a good fit. If you need a gentle hand of correction and your editor makes excellent but blunt suggestions to improve your manuscript, you may not be a good fit. And most important, you should expect the editor to help you elevate your understanding of the craft of writing so that you can produce marketable manuscripts.

What shouldn't I expect? You shouldn't expect an editor to whip your 100,000-word manuscript into shape in three days. That kind of project often takes weeks or even longer, depending on the initial condition of the manuscript. Even the start date may not come as quickly as you'd like it to. Editors who are known to have successfully published clients tend also to have full schedules and often book projects months in advance.

What if I don't think they did a very good job? If you get references and a sample of the editor's work, this should not happen. When in doubt, ask for a contract before the work starts. Though many excellent editors regularly work without a contract, every reputable editor can provide a contract that outlines what will happen if either of you decide the arrangement isn't working out.

Susan Lohrer specializes in substantive editing of women's fiction. She works one-on-one with authors, encouraging them to learn their craft and consistently produce compelling, marketable stories. Her editing style: gentle persistence. Many of her clients have won or been finalists for prestigious awards including the Christie, Excellence in Media Silver Angel, American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year, National Readers Choice, Beacon, and Jessie Cameron Alison Writer of the Year.

It's all better with friends.

1 comment:

  1. Peg,
    Thanks for the insight! I think I'm going to hire an editor to go over my novel.