owl in winter

owl in winter

Monday, July 28, 2014

Working with an Editor - Do You Need One?

I recently hired an editor to work with me on my women’s fiction novel. It was an important decision in my hopeful career as an author and an important investment in me.

Some years ago I was all agog over Nicholas Sparks books. Yes, I know, communal gag now and we’ll move on. I read Nicholas Sparks like the world was on fire. And after awhile, I don’t remember which Nicholas Sparks missive it was, but I put the book down upon finishing and said, I could write that. In fact, I could write that better than that. 

We all know the story of Nicholas Sparks – he hit it out of the park with mega-agent Theresa Parks and she made him a celebrity and she’s got no worries now, she takes his work and it’s published and everybody’s a millionaire and they're dancing with glee. I said, I could be that guy.

And so I started writing. And I kept reading. Eventually, I became acquainted with Barbara Samuel, an author out of Colorado Springs, and took writing classes from her. And I wrote my great American novel, and I rewrote and I polished and I edited and I said, it’s done. Time to query. I’d done my homework and that’s what you do next, right? My naivete had no bounds. I queried agents who were looking for what I was writing. I queried 70 times. And I got 69 either outright rejections or no response, which is the same thing, and one “maybe.” The maybe didn’t pan out and querying before my project was polished wasn't getting me any closer to outrunning Nicholas Sparks.

Numb, I put my manuscript away for years. I wrote other things but my brain and my heart kept going back to that one manuscript. I brushed the dust off on January 1, 2013, read through it again and set it down. Oh my. All I ever wanted to be is a published author, a good one – a Nicholas Sparks success story. I learned enough by that point to know something was wrong and my book wouldn't be published in its present state.

I asked a couple of friends to read it and give me some feedback as to where I was going wrong. One of my friends, a fellow ORA member (I read and reviewed her novel for her) came back and said, “The story is there but, you’ve gone as far as you can with your friends. You need a professional here.” On a whim, she sent five pages to her editor, who promptly sent them back complete with redline and comments. A little fire lit in me. My feet got set on a path. My friend gave me good recommendations on her editor and after researching the gal and thinking about it for a while, and gathering the funds together to pay her, I reached out to Rebecca T. Dickinson, Rebecca T. Dickson Agency, out of New Hampshire, and as they say, the rest is history. We work very well together – she refines my words without taking my voice away. Becky's the polish, the “why?” and the “explain this, say what you bloody well mean.”  She provokes me, she makes me dig and she makes me be transparent. She makes me see the bigger picture.

So why hire an editor in the first place? Simple. You are too close to your words – you are not objective. You need an unbiased eye to review your work, and tell you in plain terms where you’re screwing up. I told a friend I’d hired an editor and she said, “I don’t think I could take anybody messing with my words.” Classic mistake. Check your ego at the door. You hired a professional, which you are not, and the professional is going to mess with your words. And, quite honestly, if you can’t be edited, the hope of being published by any traditional means is nil. If you publish on your own, the results may be dismal at best. Listen, even Stephen King has an editor, actually, a whole line of them. Nobody's above it, in other words.

Be aware. Editors are expensive. You’re going to pay for their services. Some charge, as mine does, by the word, others charge by the page. However you go about it, you will pay for the service. As I mentioned earlier, I made a clear investment in me, in what I want in my life.

Will an editor baby you around and kiss your butt and let you languish in writers’ junior high? Not so much, no. That is not what an editor is there to do. I remember early on working with Becky, she asked me about the way I was labeling my chapters because I was using the character’s name, along with the date of whatever day this new thing was happening. I thought the technique was so clever and I wasn't sure how to respond the first time she asked me about it and so I went selectively deaf for a moment. I really liked it the way it was. Then she asked the second time and I quite graciously explained that this was my more creative way of labeling chapters, much more original than chapter 1, 2 and so forth. I made my case. She responded with one word – “Nope.” NOPE???? Seriously? But, I'm so clever! I let myself fume for a minute or two and then, I read her suggestion and I realized, she’s right. This is exactly what she's here to do - help me. I haven’t always immediately agreed with some of her edits but I’ll tell you in all honesty, when I go back in and read the sentence the way she’s reconstructed it, I say, yeah, that’s better, that’s polished, that’s right. I have had no issues with her messing with my words, so to speak.

So, are you brave enough to seek out an editor? There may be some people available in your area, particularly if you're part of a writing group. Otherwise, check out WritersDigest.com, kirkus reviews, and predatorsandeditors.com. 

Be prepared for the journey of your life, the investment in YOU.