“It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.”—C.J. Cherryh
WHY FICTION WRITERS NEED AN EDITOR
This information can be more important than anything else you’ll find on my blog site. I mainly address the concerns of writers who have finished a final draft; but you’ll do yourself a favor by thinking about getting an editor while you’re still working on your third, fourth, fifth … or tenth draft. I use terms that mainly apply to fiction, but creative nonfiction writers also need a competent editor. Writers need editors no matter what type of writing they do. Finding the right editor is a necessary step toward launching your career as a writer.
Before figuring out how to sell your manuscript, you have to get your final draft on paper or a computer screen. Manuscript needs to be free of errors. Invest in getting your manuscript publishable, and eventually it will be published.
When you think you’ve written your final draft, you’ll say to yourself, “I’ve finally finished my novel. Now what do I do?” The answer is that your novel is not finished until it is published. It doesn’t matter if you’ve spent years writing a masterpiece, or you’ve used all your free time at night and on weekends writing a compelling novel, if your manuscript is not in the best shape it can be it does not stand much of a chance of finding a publisher. If for no other reason, your chances of finding a publisher are close to none without a literary agent.
Finding the right publisher is what agents are good at. An agent will not take you as a client unless he or she is sure about selling your manuscript. Around 90% of new writers with agents eventually get a published. The percentage of published new writers without agents is too small to mean anything—except that maybe there’s such a thing as extraordinarily good luck. If you have faith in extraordinarily good luck, then buy a lottery ticket; if you want your fiction published by a company that can distribute it, get a literary agent. A professionally edited manuscript dramatically increases your chance of getting an agent.
Literary agents receive dozens, if not hundreds, of manuscripts each month. Of course, they’re all hoping to represent the author of the next Harry Potter, Life of Pi, Gone Girl, The Hunger Games … Agents hope to discover a novel that sells exceptionally well and can be turned into a movie. But successful agents are realistic: while hoping to find a literary goldmine, they’re actually looking for books that sell well enough to make them a long term profit. Your manuscript could be what agents are looking for; it also can be what they are hoping for. But your manuscript is not going to be anything except a ream of paper if no agent will read it. Having your manuscript professionally edited removes a huge obstacle between your manuscript and an agent.
Perhaps you believe what I’m telling you about having your manuscript professionally edited, but you want to save some money. That would be a huge mistake. New writers sometimes think they can get constructive suggestions from family members. New writers often think their friend who got mostly A’s in English can edit fiction. Getting your manuscript into shape involves much more than correcting grammar, punctuation, and typos. Editing fiction is a specialized skill that requires talent and training.
There are four reasons why letting friends or relatives edit your fiction is a bad idea: People close to you will tell you what they think you want to hear, or they’ll focus on mistakes that have little to do with improving your story, or they’ll pay little attention to problems they simply do not know how to fix, or they’ll think your characters are based on them. Friends and family members rarely have the experience or the talent necessary for editing fiction. You probably won’t have to pay your sister or your friend much to edit your manuscript, but it can cost you in the long run.
If you expect a publisher to edit your manuscript, you are mistaken. The time when editors at publishing houses thoroughly edited manuscripts ended decades ago. Usually, copy editing is all you can expect from a publisher. Today, we’re expected to do the substantive editing ourselves or to hire an editor. Of course, if you have a history with a publishing house, they might put money into editing your book. But if you are reading this, you probably don’t have an extensive publishing history.
Self-publishing is the escape route that leads nowhere when an unedited novel or ebook does not sell many copies. Of course, your close friends and some of your dedicated blog readers will buy your novel. But book reviewers are not going to promote an unedited novel, and your ebook is not likely to find a publisher who will print and distribute it. Regardless of the genre, there are too many well written novels competing against yours. You’ve invested months, maybe years, writing your novel; you need to invest in having it in the best shape possible. The best way to do that is to find an editor who’ll make your book publishable.
Maybe you haven’t finished your novel, but you have portions to submit for grants, awards, and contests. Writing contests are a much overlooked source of income for new writers. There are thousands of grants, fellowships, and offering awards between $500 and $5,000 for short stories and novel excerpts. Besides the financial incentive, receiving an award or winning a contest is a solid foundation for building your publishing history. Getting your short stores or an excerpt from your novel in magazines or literary journals also helps to establish a publishing history. An agent is more likely to request the manuscript from a previously published writer than one who has no history. Although it is helpful to have a publishing history, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have one. If you’ve written an enticing query letter, and have a well edited manuscript, you’ve gotten past the most difficult part of turning your manuscript into a book.
WHAT I WILL EDIT
I edit all types of literary fiction, genre fiction, and creative nonfiction. I treat each writer as an individual; every story is special. I enjoy editing science fiction, historical fiction, crime fiction, horror, mystery, true crime, and memoir. Regardless of the genre, I always do my best work, and I enjoy being the first reader of a new story.
I also write query letters and book proposals (non-fiction proposals only). The details of what to expect from me, and how much I charge, are on dropdown pages below NEED AN EDITOR. My prices are either comparable to or lower than other professional editors. And I will not charge for reading 10 – 20 pages to see if I’m the right editor for your story. If I’m not the right editor for you, I will try, at no charge, to help you find one who is. I want you to be successful.
WHAT I DO NOT EDIT
I have no problem editing fiction with profanity in the narrative or the dialogue. Some of the best fiction writers have their characters talking the way many Americans talk, and that means they’ll occasionally use profanity. If I think the profanity is damaging to the prose, I’ll suggest a change. I’ll warn the writer when I’m absolutely certain the expletives are for shock value and might prevent the story from being published. But any words the writer is adamant about leaving in stays in. After all, it’s not my story, and what I think is excessive could be OK with a publisher.
I’m OK with explicit sexual dialogue and sexual scenes, as long as it does something for your characters and moves the story forward. Sexual situations are one thing; erotica and pornography are another. I do not edit porn or erotica. Anyway, after skimming through Fifty Shades of Grey, I don’t think you need a professional editor to get erotica published. All you need is something resembling a story written in Standard American English, and a hungry agent. You probably could get your high school friend who got B’s in English to copy edit your erotica. Editing porn might be easy work, but I wouldn’t feel good about doing it. I’ll pass on the porn and erotica.
I love stories that question social or political issues. But I will not edit propaganda, even if I agree with it. I like characters who go through a religious or an ideological crisis. However, I don’t work with writers on a mission to convince readers to convert to a religion, despise a group of people, or subscribe to a political movement. If your manuscript is more propaganda than story, I’ll see if you’re willing to get off your soap box and let me show you how to soften the ideology and strengthen your story. If you want to move people to action or save their souls, you can do a better job with fiction than with propaganda. I’m very good at de-propagandizing fiction.
WHAT I EXPECT FROM CLIENTS
Part of what I will do for you involves what I will not do. I retain the right to dissolve our business relationship if you insist on doing anything I consider self-sabotage. That doesn’t mean I expect you to take every suggestion I offer; it means we need to part ways if you send insulting letters or emails to literary agents or acquisition editors. Agents and editors talk to one another. And they remember writers who get crazy with them. Nobody can help you if you’re getting in your own way. I’ll do my best to help you deal with rejection and learn to use it to your advantage.
Every writer gets rejection letters. You have to learn how to get over it. Cuss, stomp your feet, scream. Take a long walk in the mountains or on the beach. Drink a few beers, smoke a joint, eat a gallon of ice cream …. As long as you don’t hurt yourself or someone else, do what you have to do to get over the rejection. Remember that many formulaic rejection letters are sent by an assistant who might not have carefully read your manuscript. With a little luck, your next rejection letter will have suggestions for improving your manuscript, and I can help you with that. If you are patient and persistent, amd willing to do the necessary work, your book will be published.
Contact me by email and we can negotiate the price. I’m reasonable. My associate Sharon Reese edits cooking, nutrition, and health-related writing. Sharon’s blog is Healthful Cooking: http://www.healthful-cooking.com/