In my last post on editors, I talked about the last editor I worked with, and my experience with her. There was a lot of criticism – some warranted, some crushing, and some that left me with more questions than answers received.
Now I’d like to discuss the latest editor I worked with, and the night-and-day different experience I had with her.
I met my most recent editor through a friend. My friend, we’ll call him MV, is part of a Catholic Young Professionals group in Omaha. There he met a woman who had self-published two books. Through their conversation MV learned that this woman had her sister edit her books, and through several emails they put the two of us in contact.
I was skeptical at first, but sister of this editor has done exceptionally well for herself and her books are still selling. It helped that her price was a fraction of what most editors charge as she was just getting her editing services off the ground. Jackpot!
Over a four week period my editor and I worked through my manuscript, first two copy-edits, and the finally an in-depth content edit looking at story structure, flow, identifying plot holes, and strengthening certain points such as one main character’s growth from meek to strong and the culture of the fictional people I am writing about.
My most recent editor was very thorough with grammar and punctuation. She was able to catch quite a bit of what the previous editor and I had missed. My editor was also able to go through and help make sentences and even paragraphs more clear and concise to better get the story across to my reader.
Through the in-depth content edit, my editor identified areas of confusion which need clarification, and areas where the story was weak and need additional dialogue and/or description.
It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. While my story is now stronger, there were times I wasn’t sure about my most recent editor. In all edits, and especially the last, she gave me a lot of pumping up and “your story is great, you’re a great writer” type of compliments. While this is a stark contrast from my previous editor, I don’t think it’s what I need to hear. I needed a hard, critical perspective and many times it seemed I was being provided too much positive reinforcement in a place where it wasn’t warranted.
Sometimes too many compliments and the like can be debilitating to identifying problems and fixing them, in this case in my manuscript. It can lead us into believing we have a great story when, in fact, we don’t.
With my current editor I had to be even more critical of my work, and bring things up to her and try to have her look at them in different ways. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes she replied with, “I actually feel that’s really good and I don’t feel it needs to be changed.”
Regardless of whether it is actually good or not, she said things like that so often that my blood pressure spiked a little and, after our meetings, I would go back and comb through my manuscript more.
So maybe it was a good thing?
Most recently (within the last two years) I have had two very different editors. One was overwhelmingly critical and, after paying a hefty sum for a single edit, cut off her availability. The other was much cheaper, but the constant positive reinforcement on things I thought were wrong made me concerned about the quality of her edits. The result: I believe I have a completed, ready to publish manuscript. Unfortunately, these, and one other editor many many years ago, are the only benchmarks I have for what editors should be like.
After reading both posts, what are your thoughts on these two editors? What have been your experiences with editors? I’d also like to hear the thoughts of editors/agents in the business.
Until next time!. . .
Update: the book is coming along swimmingly.
Part of the reason the recent editing of the book is going so well is the clear lines of communication between my editor and myself. Like any endeavor – writing, military operations, power plant maintenance, family – communication is key. I find over-communication tends to be better (though perhaps a little annoying) than under-communication.
Now I’m not going to write a whole lot on this. I am going to put a lot more into “A Tale of Two Editors – Part 2”. But it has been such a good experience that I wanted to cover it.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Throughout the whole editing process this last month, my editor and I have been in regular communication through phone calls, emails, and face-to-face meetings.
Some people may think that this could become cumbersome, even annoying. At times my first reaction is just that.
But the high level of communication has allowed us to deconflict issues we’ve had, reschedule meetings without issue, and to verify next steps and expectations.
Talking through things has allowed my editor to have a much deeper grasp of where I want to go with my story, and the background to it. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable talking about all the nerdy stuff in my book. But the more I explain, the more my editor has been able to guide me in a better direction, and my book is really shaping up because of it.
Now Communicate Some More
I’m going to go back to the possibility of annoyance for a second.
I am very straight forward, concise, to-the-point kind of guy. I want the facts, and then to tackle the solution. I don’t need fluff or prolonged discussion.
I quickly found that this would not work in this case.
First and foremost, while my editor and I have gotten to know one another better, we still really don’t know each other well. We have both had to learn to understand how the other operates, reads, and understands things.
While I am a straight to the point kind of person, my editor needs more discussion. That, and I found that greater discussion in greater detail was required so that my editor could really grasp what I am trying to do with my book. It was a bit of a mental stretch for me, but once I got past my mental block, my editor has come to understand my book better and, as I said before, has helped me change it for the better.
For example, I wanted to ensure that the culture of the Star Folk, the main peoples described in my book, had a lot of examples without just info dumping. Info dumps make the writing boring and interrupt the flow. At first I tried to describe this and my editor had a difficult time helping me. But once I described the culture more, where and how I wanted to describe it, and examples of info dumps, my editor was able to give me suggestions and help me brainstorm.
The issue with this kind of communication is it’s a soft skill. It’s more difficult to make it into a procedure, or to document a process.
I have to understand myself and how I communicate, and learn how the other person receives information, processes it, and communicates back. And I have to do this each time with different people, whether writing, at work, or with family and friends.
As many may know, it takes time, practice, and many iterations of trial and error.
Communication through the editing process has been key to helping my book become better. Sometimes the over-communication has at first seemed unnecessary, but I’ve learned it’s required if I want my editor to really be able to help me. Perhaps if I had done this more in the past, my book would be further along that it is.
The book is, in fact, coming along really well! I wouldn’t normally say that – I would say good, or decent, or it doesn’t quite suck. But I can honestly say the book is making some real leaps to something much more organized, professional, and almost ready for publishing. I will have more updates in the weeks to come.
Until next time. . .
This is from the Weekly Writer’s Prompt from Writer’s Digest: Hiring A New Villain, originally posted April 27, 2017. 500 words.
I crossed my left leg over my right as the monstrosity settled down into the chair on the other side of my dark wood desk.
“So, Mardock,” I began.
He immediately corrected me, his voice booming from behind the scarred metal helm that covered most of his face. “MOR-dock. Not MAR-dock. Mordock the Blood Drinker.”
As Mordock spoke, the sense of something just behind the veil of reality chattering and barking filled the room.
“Right,” I said, making note of it on my yellow writing pad.
I met Mordock’s hellish gaze. His eyes were red hot coals burning within his helmet. As Mordock shifted in seat the veins in his tree trunk of a neck and boulder-sized shoulders rippled – almost as if the tentacles of some creature resided under his skin rather than veins.
“So, Mordock, tell me a bit about yourself, and what would make you the best candidate for the villain of my next novel.”
“I began life as a slave in one of the tribes on the plains of Hruntnor,” Mordock began, his voice almost a shout. “My mother was a concubine of the tribe’s chief, and though I was his son he treated me lower than the livestock. As a young man I was thrown into the fighting pits, and quickly earned a reputation as a brutal killer.”
I scribbled notes as he spoke.
“It was the night of the blood moon that I discovered my destiny,” he continued. “I and fourteen other slaves fell into a sinkhole. I was the only one to survive. Within was a cave, and there the dark gods offered me power, taking the deaths of the thirteen other slaves as a satisfactory offering.”
Though I couldn’t see Mordock’s smile, I could hear it in his voice and see it in the flare of his fiery eyes.
“I climbed from that cave and killed my father, taking control of the tribe. I subjugated the surrounding tribes, leaving offerings of death to my fell patrons in my wake.”
I nodded approvingly. I liked what I heard.
There was just one more question I had.
“This all sounds excellent,” I said. “But can you do sneaky and underhanded?”
Mordock stopped and froze in place, his blazing eyes cooled for a moment.
“Uh. . .I, uh. . .I can kill.”
“Right, I gathered that. But can you craft and hatch maniacal plans?”
“Well. . .” I could see his red eyes narrowed in a frown. “I can. . .I can launch campaigns. . .and slaughter thousands. . .did I mention I can kill?”
“Yes, you did mention that.”
“Good, good,” he said, helmeted head bobbing. “Yes, I can definitely kill.”
“Well, thank you, Mordock,” I said, standing up. “I will be in contact.”
Mordock shook my hand, and I could tell he was a little dejected. He opened the door to my office, and I could see the long line of villain applicants had increased since the beginning of Mordock’s interview.
“Next!” I yelled.
So I’m back into the actual writing schtick. My book previously published under the title “Der Sternvolker” (which, by the way, is terribly improper German grammar; Es tut mir leid) went through a major edit last year, and is going through another one as we speak.
My experience with the two different editors I’ve used has been like night and day. One barely communicated at all, the other communicates a lot. One had a very definitive vision of where they wanted to go, the other looks to me for more guidance.
I’m sure other new writers are going, or will go through similar experiences. Here I will describe my experiences, and welcome input from other just starting authors who working with their first or second editor.
Part One covers my first editor. NOTE: This isn’t a positive or negative, and I attempt to simply relate things as they occurred. I do, however, write several lessons learned at the end.
I won’t use names in this article. So the first editor I used shall be dubbed: Editor One.
Editor One was an experienced editor with quite a few titles under her belt, as well as a few titles she wrote herself. I was excited to work with her as she seemed to generally understand the more sci-fi sort of things I was trying to get through, such as Cowboy Bebop and Firefly references. I was in geek heaven. She also had a firm grasp of the Turkey City Lexicon which has become the standard in a lot of writing circles, specifically in sci-fi/fantasy writing.
When I solicited her editing services she sent me a sample edit of the first few pages of my manuscript, and upon receipt of her edits confirmed I wanted her to edit my work.
It was the price tag that hit me: $2,400.
I had just received my tax return back, and instead of paying off some more debt, I decided to take the leap and pay her for her services.
And so the editing began.
I heard nothing for about four weeks.
And then, one day, my edited manuscript appeared in my inbox! I was ecstatic.
I went through the manuscript to see what she had done. It was diced, chopped, sliced, and beaten. And it needed to be. There was so much in my old manuscript that needed work, and that was just downright bad.
But, most of her notes were comments or recommendations. No hard “change this” or “move this here and it will really pop” or “delete this garbage and rewrite it.”
Included in her fee was a 1 hour consultation on her edits. I sought further information on many of her comments, and where things should go and how I should rewrite certain parts. She didn’t offer much. One of the recommendations I remember after asking if I should write a certain part a certain way was, “Really that’s up to you.”
At the end of our conversation I made the comment that I had a lot of deleting and rewriting to do, and she responded with, “And that’s one of the great parts of writing. You get your edits, and then you get to rewrite, sometimes the entire book!”
And that was that. My hour was up and I had exhausted my services with her.
I delved into the task of rewriting my manuscript – again. And then I re-rewrote it, and eventually stumbled upon my current editor…
First and foremost I felt some confusion with the process, especially at the end. My thought was that, while the editor can’t tell me exactly what to write, shouldn’t they at least be able to help with how to write it?
And that is where clearer communication would come in. I should have asked more questions about exactly what more of her editing looked like, maybe have check-ins throughout the process to get a feel for what she was saying and recommending, and get clarity on the details of the 1-hour consultation at the end. Maybe ask how such conversations went over with her other clients, what they covered, and what she absolutely would not/could not do.
I did look into other editors before I chose the one that edited my MS. Pricing for the length of my book (110k words) was about the same, give or take $50. With my contracts/procurement background I definitely got a wide selection of pricing and compare their editing styles and what they offered in their services (ie. post-edit consultation). Ultimately she was the best bang for my buck.
Perhaps I should have looked harder for editors, maybe there were veteran editors out there who could have offered better pricing for the same/similar services. And I would recommend to any readers to absolutely do so. Solicit examples and pricing from at least seven (7) different editors, and I recommend going all the way up to ten (10). Understand their editing style, personality, what they will do, and what they won’t do in the editing process.
Make sure everything is clear, and preferably in writing so there are no questions, disagreements, or misunderstandings down the road.
To Be Continued
I am currently working with my latest editor. Part 2 will be posted upon completion of her editing services, upon which time I will write about the experience, and lessons learned.
I hope this is helpful for new writers like me. If you’re a new writer, or even a veteran writer, tell me about some of your experiences – good, bad, and indifferent, and the lessons you learned. Are there any editors you would recommend to others?
Until next time. . .