Friday, March 2, 2012

Fourteen Things to Consider Before You Tie the Knot

By Peg Brantley, Writer at Work, Stumbling Toward Publication

Strong marriages yield strong results. Strong results strengthen marriages.

In a traditional publishing relationship, most writers are assigned his or her editor. It’s an arranged marriage. Some of them work, some of them don’t. It’s a crapshoot.

The world has changed, and now writers actually have choices. So do editors. We’ve entered the equivalent of the 60’s. Well, sorta.

Assuming we all agree every writer needs an editor in order to fulfill herself (and vice versa), the important thing here is to find a good match. Ideally, you want to create numerous offspring, make a lot of friends, and grow old together.

As I approach the time when I’m ready to enter into a relationship, I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that the first collaborative effort, and subsequent offspring, is like living together first to test the waters. Can we communicate? Do we have the same goals? Will you respect me in the morning?

Here are some things to consider (in no particular order) before you move in together:

  •         Do you love my genre (or general genre)?
  •         Who are your current partners?
  •         Who are your former partners and why did you part ways?
  •         How do you prefer to communicate?
  •         Do you have a personal philosophy regarding editing?
  •         What are your strengths?
  •        What are your weaknesses?
  •         How long does it take you, on average, to complete a project?
  •         Are you too cheap? Too expensive? (This is not a trick question, although it can be tricky.)
  •         What professional writer/editor organizations do you belong to?
  •         When and why did you become a freelance editor?
  •         What biases do you have that might reflect in your edits or editing style?
  •         What are the main ways you feel you help a writer take their work to the next level?
  •         Have you ever left a relationship early because you hated something about it?

I fully understand not all of these questions are going to be answered right away. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have them.

For those of you who have made the commitment, or experienced the pain of divorce, what should I be looking for . . . or looking out for?


  1. Wow. You have certainly put a lot of thought into this selection. No matter who you choose, going through your manuscript after it's been edited is painful. It's hard to face that much correction and criticism all at once. So I recommend getting a sample edit and noting the tone of the corrections and whether you can handle 300 pages of them. :)

  2. I agree with L.J. My first draft was 200K words and obviously I needed an editor who could make drastic cuts while preserving my voice. When I sent out samples for editing I made sure the editor knew my expectations. Only one made the cut (several actually added to the word count!). If you can "connect" on a personal level (similar interests/worldview) I think that's a bonus but probably unrealistic. A professional editor is just that...a professional. They want to give you the best service they can. The trick is finding that editor who you can work well with. I think you're on the right track in terms of not entering this relationship with blinders on. You are hiring someone for a service and as the customer you want to select someone that will meet your expectations. Keep us posted on the progress.

  3. As an editor, I find your questions interesting--and helpful for both parties. Two comments:

    1. Not every author wants it known they've had work professionally edited, so read a client list knowing there are holes in it.

    2. I'm a little confused about the biases question. Do you mean writing style or genre, or something else entirely?

    One suggestion: Working with an editor is a relationship. I'd suggest you first hire a potential editor to work on your first three chapters, or first 50 pages. This will give both of you some insight into whether or not you'll jive. If the two of you don't click for whatever reason, you haven't lost a very big investment or a lot of time. Go on a three chapter date, as it were, before jumping into the full relationship. It's good for both sides.

    Good luck with your writing.

  4. Good points, Ramona.

    As an editor, I have writers contacting me about editing their novel manuscript at the rate of about 3-5 per week, far more than I can accept. (I edit electronically, using Microsoft Word Track changes.) If a story interests me, and the writing shows promise and is ready for copyediting, I'll do a sample edit of 6-12 pages and send that back to the author, with Track Changes visible and comments in the margin, as well as additional comments in the email. This gives the writer a chance to see how I'd handle their work.

    If we decide to start working together, the process is interactive. I edit in sections of about 2-6 chapters at a time, with payments in advance of each section. I send the section to the client (as an attachment to an email) and they do revisions and send it back. A section can go back and forth several times before I move on to the next section. If for some reason we aren't clicking, either party can drop out at the end of a section, and no one has lost anything.

  5. I'm definitely planning on dating around first. Sample edits will let both my potential editor and me have an idea as to whether or not we will work well together.

    LJ, thanks for the heads-up regarding the pain. Even with a mutual goal of making the story a better one, I'm sure there will be some defensiveness and feelings of inadequacy.

  6. Oh, oops. I meant to clarify my question regarding biases . . .

    I attended a writing workshop at which Chris Roerden said something to the effect that there are no rules in writing, but there are biases.

    From prologues to backstory to punctuation to character development . . . we all have our preferences and biases.

    I hope that clarifies my intent.

  7. Hi L. J.
    I love this list and am going to link it in my pages. I need one on editors.

    I have an excellent editor. I didn't ask all these questions but we had mutual friends. You never know though, and I've heard it's a good idea to have two editors. That isn't in the budget right now.

  8. Just a word of caution re your list of questions, Peg. Your analogy of a writer and their editor being in a "relationship" is spot on. And just as on a first date, no one wants to be confronted with a list of questions like it's an interview, it's probably best to approach a potential editor a bit more subtly, too. From what my clients tell me, really good editors are hard to find, so best not to inadvertently turn any away.

    You can start by snooping around their website and reading testimonials/reviews of their work. See if they edit your genre, and whether they just do final proofreading, or offer the whole works, including big-picture advice where needed. Check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

    But really, it boils down to this: it's all about the writing and the treatment of your story,and whether you feel they're making it stronger.

    I've had people phone me wanting to talk about their story before emailing it, but I really can't say anything at all until I've read several pages and their synopsis. And conversely, the best way for them to find out how I'll treat their writing is by reading my sample edit and comments, both in the margin of the story and in the accompanying email. That's the bottom line. Of course, after that, follow-up emails or phone calls are great for additional questions and clarifications.

  9. Thanks for your good thoughts, Jodie.

    I have been snooping around a few websites and getting referrals. It's a process. As I said, I don't expect to get answers to those questions right away, but they are questions I have. And if I have them, I imagine most other writers do as well.

    My mantra is now "Trust the Process", and this is just one more step.

  10. Also, the "How long does it take" question is an irrelevant one, in many ways, as with my process of sending sections back and forth, it depends mostly on how much time the writer takes to get to the revisions. I'm waiting for revisions from several clients right now, who have full-time jobs, family obligations, etc. I get to my part very quickly, then end up waiting for them to do the hard part - revising and rewriting, based on my suggestions. Fortunately, I have other clients whose manuscripts I work on while I'm waiting, so it works out really well for me.

    But there's no "quick fix," and the editor can be fast and efficient but the process can still take months because the story may need a major overhaul, or the writer is busy with other things as well.

  11. I know you're right about the time, and the timing. And the amount of work left to do.

    Right now I'm indulging in the "almost there" fantasy.

  12. Good for you, Peg! That's so exciting! Good luck with this project, and can't wait to read it!

  13. Peg--I've said this repeatedly but I'll say it once more: finding an editor is crucial to the success to a novel, but finding the right editor is even more so. Take your time and be discriminating. One thing I should mention as well--the one thing that clues me in to a good one (besides their editing skill) is the ability to treat your project as if it were their own. That is what makes all the difference in the world--when you feel they are as invested in the project as you. Hard to find in an editor, but man, when you do, what a difference it makes in the final product.

  14. Good questions, Peg. I debated about jumping in, but here I go.

    Usually I ask for the first chapter and one late in the book as a sample to see how we fit. First chapters have often been polished and edited by critique groups and others, so they may not give an accurate picture of the writer's work.

    My goal is to respect the author's voice and their work while producing a good book. I know how much effort goes into creating a novel, and I try to offer constructive criticism. I explain problems I find and discuss areas that, in my opinion, could be handled differently. Many areas of editing are subjective, which is why a discussion by phone is sometimes more productive than email.

  15. When you're contracted with a publisher, you get who they assign (although if there are conflicts, you can probably request a different editor)

    With free-lance, the genre thing is big...there are expected conventions and the editor ought to understand them and be familiar with the genre.

    An author I know submitted work to an editor, and even though the editor knew the genre and accepted the work, the editor backed out after starting the edits, and said it was because of the genre. A waste of time and energy for both editor and author.


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