Finding an editor can be a frustrating and daunting process. Leslie Berry joins us today to talk about her search for an editor.
So glad you’re here, Leslie!
After a lengthy search for an editor, I took the leap of faith…and landed on the dark side. Luckily I didn’t start ripping things apart because it was a bad match.
As a writer I strive to make every word in a story infuse setting, contribute to characterization, and add unique flavor to a story. I like words. I get attached. That’s why I need an editor, but finding the right person to wrestle your manuscript into shape is a task worthy of a Hobbit, almost as hard as tugging the One Ring off Bilbo’s index finger. It’s on par with bagging Mr. Wonderful and even more important since romantic pursuits offer their own reward.
Let mine be a cautionary tale.
I approached the editor/writer relationship as a symbiotic arrangement rather than a parasitic one. My experience, reminiscent of one of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories, serves as a parable of how things should have been, how events turned out much worse, but how I succeeded in the end. Hopefully you’ll find something useful in my journey, but since every writer’s road leads to a different destination, your mileage may vary.
Upon completing my novel, hereafter identified as Frankenscript, I began the search for an editor. I was confident the story had veins of gold woven throughout, shiny goodness between the pages. Mounds of backstory had been excavated and information dumps sifted to sieve out the clutter but the finished story had problems. After so many revisions and numerous drafts, I simply couldn’t do it alone.
Finding an editor was a mysterious process to me. I read helpful blogs, made inquiries of successful writers, talked to people in publishing, and haunted writer’s conferences. I made a list of what services to look for, another list of questions to ask, and yet a third list to address the things you need to know but aren’t so easy to ask. I circled potential editors like a shark scenting prey.
Hiring a professional is a reciprocal process, remember that symbiotic thing? The editors were scoping out my work, sampling the words I gave them, listening to my pitch, and considering. Eventually I narrowed my search down to five potential editors. One recommendation was so far beyond my financial range I never made it past her website. Two others were crossed off after the initial phone interview because they didn’t feel comfortable offering a sample of their work. Really? The last two were both people I had personally met. One was scheduled through the end of the year.
As I write this I realize I selected my editor by default. There’s another thing to avoid.
In all fairness, the editor I hired may do a bang-up job for other people but we didn’t bond. It sounds corny, but the longer we worked together the less trust I maintained about her abilities as an editor. She worked for an editing house, one people had recommended and said good things about. I’m convinced free sample edits are the gateway drug of publishing, a taste to get you hooked. Here’s the short list of recommendations from my experience:
- Get a detailed written agreement or contract
- Be prepared to pay for what you get
- Insist on getting what you pay for
- Detail your expectations
- Detail their expectations and make sure they match yours
- Agree on what comes in a developmental edit, copyediting, or proofing
My experience in regard to this list was mixed but I’m not unhappy about dealing with the company. My complaints might seem inconsequential, but when you profess to be a professional working in the industry of words I expect professionalism. This is what I got for two editorial passes through the book:
- Three missed deadlines
- A six page letter with fifty-four typos
- Manuscript markups with no suggestions for improvement
- Nothing about story arcs or character arcs
- Incorrect identification of setting, story elements, and character names
A lengthy phone conversation resulted in bad feelings on both sides. This was not the symbiotic relationship I desired. I put Frankenscript in a box and slid him under the bed. After six weeks of letting the situation stagnate, I read through the editor’s results again. I studied her comments. I spellchecked her document and re-read it another time. She had made some quite smart suggestions I might have used except my trust had been fractured. I vacillated. I procrastinated. I argued with the mirror, told my reflection I was being thin-skinned and over-sensitive; that I had paid a professional to give me critical unvarnished feedback and now, maybe I didn’t want to acknowledge the cold hard truth.
Finally I talked to some writer friends and discussed the situation with my critique group. I put it out of mind for a while and wrote a novella. Then I ran into the editor who’d been backlogged till the end of the year. She listened with a commiserating ear and made a pity offer to take a look at my work over the weekend. The following Monday, after spending a lot of money on the first editor, I hired a second one.
Frankenscript crawled out from under the bed with a chortle.
My editor’s simple suggestions on the first two chapters have smoothed chronology, established concrete character arcs, refined the plot and improved the pace of the story. There is a universe of difference between the two experiences. I’m already confident that Frankenscript will be ready to start the querying process by the end of the year and he’ll be scar free.
If the moral of this story hasn’t bludgeoned you over the head yet, let me be succinct, don’t get discouraged. Trust your instincts. Even when you do everything right, things go wrong. Don’t settle for lousy work even if you paid too much money. Let your manuscript rest while your chest aches and your stomach hurts and you question if there’s any point in ever picking up a pen again, then pull up your big-girl panties and get back to writing. Even if your pages have already spent way too much time lounging in a shadowy space, never give up.
People are waiting to hear your story.
The advent of self-publishing has resulted in a proliferation of editorial services. What would you look for in an editor? Have you ever hired an editor? Please share your experiences with us!
Lucia Macro, executive editor at Avon/Morrow, visits the RU campus on Monday, October 15th.
Bio: Leslie writes about messed-up people, sinister events, suspenseful moments, and intriguing settings. Her work often features paranormal and romantic elements because life is boring without spooky stuff and warm bodies. She’s nudging her novels along the publishing track and in the meantime is learning brevity by writing flash fiction. Talk to her via twitter @LesannBerry or visit her blog at www.lesannberry.com for more stuff and nonsense.
- When is it Time to Hire an Editor? with RU Contributing Editor Heather Webb
- Ask an Editor: Theresa Stevens on Ten Steps to A Clean Submission
- The Best Way to Edit, by Tracy Sumner
- Freelance Editor Panel
- A Good Editor – Don’t Leave Home Without One – Donnell Bell