Working With an Editor – part 2

Posted: July 21, 2017 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

english proofreading sheet with red marks

Last week I discussed the pros and cons of hiring a professional editor for your novel manuscript, and my personal experience in choosing one for myself.  This week I’ll show you what you can expect from different kinds of editing services.

The muses aligned or the planets favored us (or insert your own supernatural reason) and the same day we hired a professional editor for my daughter’s and my middle grade manuscript, we won a free first ten pages critique through a contest.  In this case, the critique came from a past winner of #PitchWars, who had a manuscript good enough to be chosen by a mentor and who then went through the intense revision process that is the hallmark of that event.  So while he is not strictly an editing professional, he is certainly an experienced one.  And, because it was through a contest and not a manuscript swap between peers, he was not looking for reciprocation the way a fellow writer in a critique group might. Because this critique only covered 10 total pages, the comments drilled down to word level.  This is the kind of critique you may get with a Copy Edit.  Below is a screen grab from the middle of those ten pages, with comments from my editor:

Editer1

In this case my editor requested the pages in a Word document, in proper manuscript format.  This works well, because the comments and edits can be tracked, as you see above. Others prefer the online Google Docs, which have similar tools, however with Google Docs, you can see the edits live as they come in, and respond with comments and questions of your own.  A third option, Dropbox, is the best of both worlds, as you can share a link to a Word document in your Dropbox, and your editor can open that same document in his or her Dropbox.  This arrangement also allows for instant gratification and back-and-forth.  I prefer the Dropbox method, because ultimately the manuscript is going to need to be in Word, and I don’t want to have to copy and reformat the whole thing if I don’t have to.  But any of these methods will get the job done.

For the professional edit I chose a developmental editor, because our manuscript was well polished from a grammar and spelling standpoint, and it had already been read by scores of beta readers and critique partners, so I was confident the vast majority of the typos were cleaned up.  Likewise, I felt confident that line-by-line issues, such as awkward transitions, confusing sentences, and inconsistencies had been resolved.  What I paid for was a Developmental Edit, which covers  plot, structure, character, pacing, dialogue, world-building and writing style, presented in an overall critique letter, rather than line-by-line or even chapter-by-chapter breakdowns.

I chose Write On Editing, for their experience, their age-group focus, and their reasonable price.  I was ultimately won over by their fast and friendly replies and willingness to answer questions.  In fact, before asking for a dime, Michelle invited us to send her the whole manuscript so she could read it and tell us which level of editing would be the best fit for us.  She recommended the least expensive option, and even worked with us on the price. Here are some of the comments we received after about two weeks:

Plot:

You have a wonderful story line in THE LAST PRINCESS…. (a full paragraph detailing the things that Michelle liked and what worked).

There are a few points that I feel you might want to address however.

Cat seems to immediately accept that she will become the next princess without too much internal examination or obsessing about what that means for her, her future, or her family. A bit more internal dialogue would help readers to connect with that new-found responsibility. Also, what is Cat expecting to actually do as a Princess? She makes vague statements about wanting to unify the fae but what does that actually entail?

Cat’s time at Squirrel Scout camp is so much fun! The pranks were pretty funny and it was a great way for her to meet Hunter and learn new skills too. That said, pranking usually goes both ways at camp. Can her group plot or even prank other groups in what they think is retaliation? I would imagine these girls would be speculating nonstop about who was messing with them, but that line of thought seems pretty non-existent.

World Building:

Much as I like the plot, I feel like this is one of the weakest areas in THE LAST PRINCESS. I honestly have no idea what time of year the story is taking place. At the start, Cat is working on home school projects but shortly afterwards she is going away to camp for a week. Is school just getting out before summer? Giving more details about the timing will help the reader to place themselves more firmly in the contexts of your character’s lives.

Another facet I wasn’t too sure on was the family’s booth at the Rockford Fair. While reading, I was distracted trying to figure out if it was located in a travelling or permanent fairground. I think it’s the latter, but if so, how does that work? Fairs typically last for a short period only. Consider changing it to a small shop in a tourist type town that might have a carnival aspect (I kept imaging Coney Island, to be honest). Think about what makes it unique or special and why people come to visit.

Character Development:

Cat’s Mom: One of my main concerns is the unevenness of this character. I like where she ends up, but I was quite confused with her character for most of the novel. Cat emphasizes the fact that her mom expects her to be “little miss perfect” by getting good grades and avoiding things like fairy tales but I didn’t see much beyond those two points. In fact, she has her join Squirrel Scouts which seems the opposite of being success-minded since they go hiking and get dirty etc. (unless you incorporate something how she thinks it will give her leadership skills or something). And it doesn’t really match with her actions either. I couldn’t understand how a mom who runs a booth selling flowers and pottery at a fair would be so preoccupied with perfection, as she seemed quite hippy-ish. You might be able to keep the details as is, but make the mom a bit more OCD regarding Cat’s activities. She already is concerned about school work but you could add in scenes of her carefully scheduling out Cat’s every minute between scouts, soccer, school, and helping with the shop, for example.

Michelle rounded out her critique letter with a number of random thoughts:

– How did Thomas get over the mumps so fast? Wouldn’t he be quite weak after leaving the hospital, yet their mother takes the family out to dinner that night.

– On p.77 Cat tells us why she thinks her family is more poor than usual. Instead of telling your reader all at once, could this be broken up and inserted in little snippets throughout so it gradually builds?

Finally, the editing package included a 45 minute Skype or phone conversation, where I can ask questions and get feedback on possible solutions to some of these issues.  To get the most out of this, I’ve started a list of questions to ask, and will continue to add to it right up until the scheduled time for our call.

Next week I’ll discuss how I plan to make the most out of these critiques, and how several of the comments led to ideas on how to fix the issues.

 

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Comments
  1. Tom Flood says:

    Hi, John. I neglected to say I’ve been on your mail list for quite a long time and I have found your transparency regarding your writing career very refreshing and your dedication to this blog impressive.The above article is a terrific example. I would like to add that you might warn readers that you went at this process backwards, according to generally recommended ways of proceeding. Developmental is usually regarded as the first stop on the edit schedule (after assessment/appraisal, of course). If major changes are required, you don’t want to have to [pay for all that copy editing and proofreading more than once. Copy edit next, then proofing:often both at once in the self-pub world.
    Looks like you got a manuscript assessment report, which was good of them and proves they’re kosher (as you were seeking ms development – considerably more expensive).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent point. However I came by the copy editing the hard way — by polishing by hand over a long period of time. I never planned to pay for an editor, as I never expected to be able to afford one, so I have been laboring for awhile now to make this ms as good as I can with free help — beta readers and CPs.

      Thanks for following and the kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul Cobb says:

    Hi, John. Read parts 1 & 2 with interest. Still haven’t got round to publishing my own trilogy aimed at young adults, as yet, but I have done several proofreadings of it myself and find that the editing is a never ending job, a bit like painting the Forth Rail Bridge, as they say here in the UK. Also had the trilogy read by other people and had valuable feedback for free – even though you have to see through their desire to not want to cause upset, rather than supply honesty. I have definitely had invaluable feedback on literals and basic errors, suggestions on copy changes and also on plot changes, which considering the sheer size of all 3 books was extremely welcome. All readers claim to have got hooked by the stories, though, and at times begged me to send chapters through faster!
    The main point I received was repetitiveness in something that was integral to the stories, which I did address as I went along, but I fear might still be the sticking point.

    As a graphic designer, I have also supplied a proofreading service, both as a main service to an Advertising Agency, and also as an ancillary service to design jobs where the customer has supplied copy, often ‘ropey’. In this case I have included proofreading and copy editing suggestions, leaving the decision on accepting them up to the customer. In most cases customers have been very grateful, but on occasions it has fallen flat with customers feeling slighted and taking offence at what is seen as criticism of their abilities! Guess it is all about knowing your customer and how far to go with them.

    I mention this because I find the idea of employing someone purely as an out and out proofreader hard to understand. Often when I have done this I have stumbled on sections of text that have been badly worded or are repetitive. To NOT then make copy editing suggestions is SOOOO wrong in my book, rather than to carry on regardless.

    Going back to editing of story texts, I find the best way is to go back to them after a long break so you are looking at them, in essence, afresh. Especially with a huge amount of copy, you yourself know the story inside out and will be able to check for consistency.

    Perhaps the most valuable of the editing services you mention is the third, with comments on plot lines and characters etc etc. However, especially if this is provided by a publishing house editor with the message that we will publish only after the suggestions have been carried out, can cause immense clashes if you can’t agree!

    I look forward to reading more.

    Paul Cobb

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul, Thank you for reading and for your comments. Many writers do not have (or have not been able to find) a lot of fellow writers they can trust or with sufficient experience to give them constructive criticism. Also, MANY aspiring writers cling to advice given to them, without fully understanding the context of the “rule” — Don’t Use Passive Voice, Never Begin with Dialogue, Never Use Adverbs, Always Use “Said.” The list goes on, and many of my fellow writers who have critiqued my work will whip out these tidbits as if they were handed down from On High chiseled into a stone tablet. Rules were meant to be broken and under the right circumstances breaking a rule is absolutely the right choice. But if a writer treats these “rules” as strictly black or white, they will tell you to “fix” things that are important stylistic choices. That’s where hiring a professional, seasoned editor makes sense. Here are some of my older posts on the subject:
      https://johnrberkowitz.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/the-letter-of-the-law/
      https://johnrberkowitz.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/knowing-when-to-follow-a-critiques-advice-and-not/

      Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Working With an Editor – part 2 July 21, 2017 […]

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  4. Wow. I was a bit offended when I read that the “hippy-ish” mom would not be bent on perfection. Oddly, a different Michelle (editor) once told me some things I had written (actual facts from my own past) would never happen in real life, and I should rewrite those parts. Wha???

    For what it’s worth, my younger years were a bit “hippy-ish” in ways, and some of my current personality is still such. And I was so nuts about perfection! You can ask anyone who ever worked with me, back then. I’ve always been way overboard on honesty, too. I homeschooled the kids (they had to make a B or better, or we repeated the lesson from a different angle to make sure they understood it) and we aimed for college (they’ve all been there), although we spent a lot of time camping and fishing at the lake, making and selling crafts, etc. We even popped a tent and held our classes in the front yard, for a while.

    Now that I have settled down and all the kids are grown, I have realized that perfection is not possible for everyone, so I often accept their very best without complaint. I also allow myself a downfall or two, occasionally.

    So, it IS quite possible for your character’s mom to be both “hippy-ish” and success-minded. There is nothing wrong with wanting your children to appreciate your way of life, yet want them to have the best education and success possible. (At least, I never thought there was.)

    I do not know how these things are presented in your story. That might be the problem your editor saw. I’m not saying she’s wrong about your story. However, I am saying she obviously does not know there are a LOT of us “confused” people out here. haha

    What I did with my situation was look back at what I had written and try to figure out why it seemed so impossible to her. I wanted it to be as real to everyone else as it had been for me. I was able to change a few key things to make it more believable for someone who had such a limited view of reality. So, the feedback DID help me. But, I had to study to figure out how to use it in a positive way.

    I have learned that those who have never had much hardship or color in life often do not believe some things could really happen. It is sad they have been so limited and deprived.

    I also agree with what you said about newer writers being critiqued and not realizing some rules are meant to be broken in the right places. Many famous books begin with dialogue, such as Charlotte’s Web. But, some folks swear by that rule.

    Basically, what you have shared is good info. I think the reality thing got me mostly because it was a Michelle who said something very similar on my story. It was a long time ago, but you never forget when someone tells you that parts of your life are not possible and/or not believable. This one does give you some good ideas on fixing it. I had to figure mine out on my own. But keep in mind that we are all different. I already like your mom character and am interested in your story, as long as she still has that “free spirit” quality.

    Oh, yeah. I agree with above comments that you would normally start with the bigger parts that need to be fixed. Why? Because rearranging things and writing new stuff often causes new editing issues. So, you start with all the repetitive issues, rearranging, and rewriting. Then you move to clean up the more specific issues, then do the proofreading last.

    Thanks for putting this out for folks to learn from.

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  5. […] Working With an Editor – part 2 July 21, 2017 […]

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