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November 14, 2009

Everybody's Doing It

Everybody’s Doing It

Blog Ramona By Guest Blogger Ramona DeFelice Long

I wish this post could reveal some dirty little secret about the publishing industry that would send everybody off tittering and twittering, but sorry. My topic isn’t very dirty (sorry, Margie), and it really isn’t all that much of a secret. But, if you are an author--aspiring, established or accomplished—and you want to increase your odds of success in a field that’s as competitive as it is creative, read on.

What’s the big non-dirty, non-secret secret? Hiring an independent editor.

Lots of writers get other people to read their works in progress—spouses, friends, relatives, fellow writers, critique groups.  This feedback may stroke your ego or destroy it (depending on your mother), and it may help you produce work on time and sharpen your writing skills. 

This is all good.  Authors need love, too, and I’m an advocate for engaging yourself in the writing community. I personally belong to a very tough critique group. (We have printed standards. There’s a three-month trial period. New members are voted in, unanimously. We fire anyone who blows off critiquing responsibility.) 

So, with all of these available resources, why hire a professional?

That question just answered itself. Your friends, relatives and even your fellow writers are not professional editors. And, face it, they are not always unbiased. And, while it’s a no-no to write in a query “My grandma/BFF/writer’s group thinks my book is fabulous!” it’s a plus if you can say, “I worked with an independent editor on this story.” That tells an agent or publisher that you are committed to the craft, and that, in a competitive business, you want to give yourself an edge.

From a business POV, it’s a savvy career move. From an artist’s POV, it’s working to make your story the best that it can be. That’s what I do. As an independent editor, I work with authors to make stories the best that they can be.

This makes sense, I hope, but what about that little voice in your head saying, “But shouldn’t I be able to edit myself?” and “Isn’t it expensive?” and “How do I choose the right editor?”

Let’s talk to those little voices one by one.

1.    “If I’m a good writer, shouldn’t I be able to edit myself?”

Yes. And no.  Some lucky writers naturally sail on, recognizing highlights and flaws. But most writers struggle at various points. That’s why writer’s conferences are filled with How-To sessions. But even if you know what to or what not to do, you may not be sure you’ve effectively done it.  Is your beginning enough of a hook? Have you delayed too long in dropping the body? Is your subtle, mysterious voice really suffering from talking head syndrome? 

What about when you’ve worked and re-worked and re-re-worked, and you just can’t see the work anymore? That’s when you need a pair of fresh, professional eyes to read your story, and tell you what is and is not working. 

2.     “Doesn’t getting a book privately edited cost a lot of money?” 

Not necessarily. And think about this: This is an investment in your writing, just like attending a conference, where you may be one of hundreds of writers in workshops or panel discussions. Now think about having someone read every word and every page of your work in progress, and give you detailed, personal feedback on it. Is that money well invested?

3.    “What if I’ve only got part of a novel?” 

Getting an editor to read the beginning of a novel (a partial) is a very wise move. If it’s not engaging, or if there are big flaws, you find out early on. 

If you have a working draft, an editor will address the plusses and minuses of plot, setting, theme, voice and character. If your manuscript is in final draft form, it can be polished before sending it out.

4.    “What if I don’t agree with an independent editor’s advice?”

All published stories are edited. As an author, you will have to defend, change, cut, rewrite, rethink, redo. This is part of the gig. The more you do it, the less painful becomes the process.  But, always, it’s your story. Your name is on it. If you disagree with advice, back up your argument and explain why. That gets you thinking about your story. Which is always good.

5.    “How do I choose an independent editor?”

Two words: Research and Word of Mouth. (I know, that’s not 2 words.)  Google “hiring a freelance editor” and read testimonials. Read the acknowledgements on books you like. Ask around. I can’t name names, because I guarantee confidentiality to my clients, but if anyone wants to speak up, I won’t stop you.

6.    And finally, the big kahuna: “Doesn’t it show I’m weak as a writer to hire help?”

No, it does not. We’ve already established that most writers get help. If you hire a pro, you’re just trying to get the best help for the job.

Plus, read the title. It’s the truth. 

I know from experience that writers want to believe in their stories. They want to make them work, and they want them to be memorable. They want to share them. That’s why they are writing. My job is to help that process. For me, it’s a lot of fun. That’s why I do it.

For more information, please check out my blog: Ramona Long


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Ramona, nicely done! An independent editor is one of the most valuable tools in a Writer's Tool Chest one can ever have.

You're right, Ramona; it's a tough truth, but not an ugly one.

Writing done as a business IS a business, and the determined practitioner wants all the help they can get.

I can tell you that I've seen Ramona's work and she is fantastic.

Thanks for a great guest blog!!

Excellent post, Ramona. Working with an independent editor is one of, if not, the best career moves a serious writer can make. It's definitely worth the time and effort to find the right editor and develop a working relationship.

Thanks, peeps!

William, I like the Writer's Tool Chest concept. Something good to think about--what's in there now? What's missing or needs sharpening? Now I have a future little blog post brewing....

Tom, ditto on the phrase "determined practitioner." I take a firm stance that writers are artists, but practical is practical. An artist should never stop honing his/her craft. Even Edgar Allen Poe could not make a living solely by his pen. (He became an editor, BTW--and his already impressive skills improved sharply once he started reviewing stories for the Southern Literary Messenger magazine.)

Kathy! Was that you I saw swinging a Terrible Towel at Alex Trebek last night?

Ramona worked with me on a short story for an anthology and drew things out of me and the story that I wasn't even aware were there. It was an incredible and enlightening experience.

Looking forward to working with you again, Ramona!

I never send anything out, without having Ramona go over it first -- not even to my critique group!

Joanne is right about the relationship part. It does become a partnership, and both sides learn from one another. She takes chances in her work, and that helps and challenges me as both a fellow writer and editor.

Annette's comments are a good example of a writer who didn't fully recognize the depth or potential of what s/he's just written. (Happens to all of us--we hope!) She worked hard and it showed in the final product. It felt great to share that discovery with her.

The anthology she referenced is a collection by Sisters In Crimes' Guppies. I had the pleasure of editing the 20+ stories which will make up the anthology. All the writers had to go on was a single binding theme of "fish." What came out of that were some hilarious tales, and some haunting ones. I was so impressed with the work, and the writers, and had a blast doing the job. It's still being finalized, but when it's published, it will be a treat.

I think I'm just going to have to put Ramona on retainer.... just saying...:)

I whole-heartedly agree . . . working with an independent editor was one of the wisest things I did--and I'll definitely use her again!

Ramona -

You were referred to me by a very talented author.

You helped me enormously. Your editing suggestions made my ms tight like a brand new Beverly Hills face lift.

Thanks so much!


LOL and thanks, Pam. I may adopt that as my new slogan. My old slogan was, "Send me your manuscript or I'll hit you with a baseball bat." Amazingly, it didn't capture a lot of new business. "I'll make your ms tight like a brand new Beverly Hills face lift" might pack a more effective punch. So to speak.

Judy, I'm glad to read that you are happy with your independent editor (who is obviously not me.) Happy collaborations result in better stories, and that's good for everyone.

I've done editing for writers, but wouldn't begin to try to edit my own work. It's impossible to see one's own flaws, I think.

Editing is a good way to learn about writing, even just the copyediting that I do. Editing for content is an advanced skill, and I am in awe of your ability to give facelifts to manuscripts, Ramona!

Sorry I'm so late to the party! (Big weekend here.) I'm one of those paranoid authors who writes, then re-writes a zillion times---and that's *before* I send it out to be read and ripped apart. I've been working with Ramona for years, and it's always a relief to get her detailed responses. I want somebody who can be brutal with my work. (What's the point of praise only??)--I'm too paranoid to send my books out into the world without a lot of input ahead of time.

Babysitting the grandson solo tonight.--Thank heaven for books with pictures of dogs!

Go, Ramona--spread the word. We only have to look at the undeniably great writers of the 20th century and trace back to who their editors were, to see the benefit of hiring an editor. Sadly, many people today have been given the idea that if you have a keyboard you can publish a novel (which is great if you are an excellent communicator . . . but . . .) and even some publishing houses are too careless (a particular educational juggernaut comes to mind) to provide superb editing.
If there aren't at least a few people in the world who are almost scarily precise about the use of each word, each phrase, each scene, each theme, plotpoint act and resolution, where will excellence go?

Laraine, I think you are harkening back to that saying: "Typing is not writing."

I have yet to work with a writer who does not care deeply about his/her story. Writers are so happy to mold and shape and, most of all, talk about their work. They want to share their stories with readers, but first they want those stories to be all polished and shiny and sparkly. I'm happy to be the middleman who helps to make that happen.

I like that image -- you are the one who polishes those rough stones to make jewels . . .

"Besides, I think it's wonderful that I can stare at men's behinds all day," she says. --_Sew Up a Storm: All the Way to the Bank!_ by Karen L. Maslowski.
Game from Facebook -- *Turn to page 56 *Find the 5th sentence
*Post that sentence AS YOUR STATUS....AND POST these instructions as a commment to this status.
Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. use the CLOSEST book.

Excellent post, thanks!

Omigosh, Mary! That's hilarious.

(Mary was quoting from MY book!)

Mary, did you do that on purpose? Nice line, Karen . . . I've got to get your book!
Ramona, you're right that writers care about their work; and the writers who hire you are doubly lucky to have your understanding and expertise.

The hired editor is a great idea! If you cannot take constructive criticism from someone you paid for the insight, what are you going to do when NPR says your hero is trite and wooden?

Mary, one of my cousins sent me the page 56 line 5 one day. I was reading "Sin in the Second City" so the result could have been VERY interesting. It ended up the middle of a scene of a Mafia boss making spaghetti sauce while discussing splitting up Chicago's red light district. The single sentence was intriguing enough I had to explain it to cuz.

Alan, too funny -- You must be the "cool" cousin.
Laraine, on purpose? me??? that would require planning . .. ;-)

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