I really enjoy About pages. They’re interesting, don’t you think? What folks choose to reveal, what they don’t. (Here are some I really like for various reasons: Fluid Pudding, Jenny B. Jones, Jane Friedman, Jennifer Loudin. I could go on and on.) But part of me thinks it’s insane to think people would read this much. The other part of me thinks I need to rewrite my own About page.
I’ve thought all along that I have revealed who I am in my blog posts, but I guess it really is insane to think anyone will read a dozen articles to get a feel for what kind of editor I might be and who I am as a person.
This was made abundantly clear to me recently when a writer with whom I’d been negotiating a project raised some questions about whether or not I was the right editor for her. I’d come highly recommended from a mutual friend who has worked with me in a professional capacity over a series of projects. (This mutual friend had even brought us together over a casual lunch.)
But then … this writer had other friends with other ideas, of course. That’s cool; I lean on my friends for advice too. To her credit, the writer brought up these questions and invited me to respond; she is absolutely one of the most professional people I’ve ever had this conversation with. “I’ve had various friends from the literary world give me conflicting advice,” she said.
My writing mentor chided me for considering spending money on editing; he says it’s the writer’s duty to work, rework, and rework until it’s just right, and then have a valued friend who knows your work give it a read—that’s it. (Easy advice from someone whose books have always been picked up by publishers.) Another encouraged me to go to New York for an editor, because it would give me more of a leg up in the process. I’ve also been advised to make sure the editor is a good fit, that the work they’ve edited is similar to what I’ve written. That feels like sound advice, and my novel is not faith-based, though much of your work is in that market.
All good points. So let’s talk about them. Not necessarily in order. :)
I got hands-on experience working for a faith-based publishing company (though not in New York, as you will have guessed by now). I started moonlighting for one of the editors—first reading book proposals (the so-called slush pile) and later proofing, copyediting, functioning as the last reader before the press, and, finally, content editing. I wrote hundreds of book blurbs too.
When my job ended (after several years), I had a network of publishing professionals scattered around the country at various publishers; and when I decided to try my hand at freelancing, I called these people, and many of them sent me work. They continue to do so. This is a good thing for a freelance editor. It has enabled me to work from home (in the swanky second-floor office in the pink house with the green door) for twelve-plus years. This is a not-insignificant amount of time to be self-employed, and I believe it speaks to the quality of work I deliver.*
Because of where I learned my craft, my experience, I do work on a lot of faith-based projects. I also work on a lot of projects that are sold into the general market. And here’s the takeaway on that: the things that make good writing good are the same no matter what audience the writing is intended for; the things that constitute a good plot, that make a plot work, are the same, no matter what the genre.
Most importantly, the things that make a good editor are innate, in my opinion. You can study and study and practice and practice and read and read and read (and I read obsessively), but ask around about this. You’ll often hear publishing professionals say it’s a gift. Some years ago I read Thomas McCormack’s The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist (he ran St. Martin’s Press for years) and he says the same thing (he calls it “editorial sensibility” and says you either have it or you don’t). I don’t mean to make too much of this but when I started editing (my late 40s) I realized I’d found my gift and my joy. I’m good at it, and I don’t know how to explain why, really.
I do hear about “fit” a lot. I’ve heard “What if you don’t like my book?” for example. The answer to this question is, No, I don’t have to like it, because I’m a professional, and I take my editorial duty very seriously. (Check the link; you’ll see.) I’m not convinced that fit is essential, though it has its moments. And I sometimes get people who ask for a “free sample” to make that call. Since I have yet to get work from any sort of example I’ve provided, you’ll understand why I haven’t set aside an hour every day to crank out free samples.
That brings us back to the insanity of my putting my thoughts on how I edit into blog posts (since it wouldn’t be ethical of me to send you someone else’s editorial notes). I have written many, many articles about my editorial philosophy. But you’re busy, just like I am. Perhaps, though, you’d be interested in this series? It’s about a book published by one of the New York houses that was so purely awful I just couldn’t resist giving my editorial opinion about it. These aren’t really editorial notes. (I’m much nicer in my notes.) But you will see the sorts of things I notice when I edit. I think I could have fixed this bad book. (ahem)
How Did This Book Get Published? 1
How Did This Book Get Published? 2
How Did This Book Get Published? 3
How Did This Book Get Published? 4
How Did This Book Get Published? 5
How Did This Book Get Published? 6
How Did This Book Get Published? 7
Now, should you hire an editor to help you get an agent or a book deal? As best I can tell, some agents are recommending their authors get professional editing before they shop the manuscript. Agents used to do this sort of thing (and many still do), but in the changing publishing landscape lots of them find they don’t have time. I sometimes get work from writers whose agents (or prospective agents) suggested they get editorial advice—and I’ve had several authors who ended up signing with agents after we worked on a project together. As competitive as the market is these days—not to mention how little editorial oversight some NY imprints are providing—I don’t think anyone will turn away a manuscript solely because it has been worked on before it got to the agent or publisher.
New York? Yes, you could certainly go to a New York–based freelance editor. I’m not cheap but a New Yorker definitely wouldn’t be (cost of living), and I’m not convinced it would help you** for this reason: I have had clients make this very assumption—that I can help them, once I’ve edited, find an agent or a publisher—but I am very careful to remind them they hired me to edit. My correspondence is explicit about what I am being paid for. My guess is a New York editor would feel the same. It’s about professional ethics.
Finally, I do have opinions about hoping to get actual editing assistance from a friend/reader who loves you, but … well, you know. :) You’ve already thought of that anyway.
So that’s how I feel about it. What do you think? Should I put all of this in my About page?
* Have I made everyone happy? No. But that’s a lot to ask.
** Though it could! It could! You never know.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”