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I’m a published writer and developmental editor; I’ve been doing both for around 14 years. Along the way I successfully edited many books (both fiction and memoir), among them Christian Picciolini’s “White American Youth,” Deborah Holt Larkin’s “A Lovely Girl: The Tragedy of Olga Duncan and the Trial of One of California’s Most Notorious Killers,” and Gini Grossenbacher’s “Madam in Silk,” among many others.

Over the years I got my degree in writing from San Francisco State; I interned for a literary agent for nine months in 2013; I began getting my fiction published; I wrote 12 books; I started a Substack writing newsletter; and I edited hundreds of books. I also joined probably half a dozen freelance editing/writing sites, such as Upwork, the EFA (Editorial Freelancer’s Association, a great resource for new writers seeking editing), BAEF (Bay Area Editors’ Forum), Fiver, and more. During all this time I learned a LOT about what works and what doesn’t work for editing, both from my perspective and from the perspective of the author.

From this experience I include below a common list of Do’s and Don’ts:


1. Before choosing an editor: Do some serious research. First: What type of editing do you actually need? Most new writers need structural/substantive aka developmental editing, NOT line or copy editing or proofreading, etc.

2. After deciding what type of editing you need, make sure you do your homework about each editor you look at. What are their qualifications? How long have they been in the industry? Do they have proven, tested, published titles to tout? Do they have testimonials? Feel free to even email a few of the writers with testimonials to see what their experience was.

3. Ok. You know the type of editing you need for your book, and you’ve found an editor. Great. This one is going to be annoying but it needs to be said: Be prepared to spend some money. Nowadays, sadly, the vast majority of new writers more or less want something for just about nothing. I can’t tell you how many writers have asked me to do free work, or have offered me rates so abysmally low that I couldn’t possibly respect myself if I took the gig. Quality costs bread, pure and simple. I charge 5 cents per word. So if your book were 85,000 words that’d be $4,250. I know. It’s a lot. Again: You pay for quality. It’s a tough one because the chances of a writer legitimately making money off their book are very slim. But most writers write out of love, not potential profit.

4. Accept as many of the suggested changes as you possibly can. In the end, yes, the book is ultimately YOURs, of your creation entirely. I would never, ever say that a writer should 100% accept every single suggestion from an editor. That would be foolhardy for anything in life…except perhaps a doctor. (Although not necessarily even then.) That said: Do your very best to be receptive and grateful for the time, effort and energy your editor put in. If they’re a quality editor they labored hard on your book. Be thankful for that. Go over the manuscript slowly and scrupulously. Pause before emailing about a project. Take some deep breaths. Take notes. Think deeply. Put the book away for a few days or a week or two, then come back to it and try your best to see it as objectively as you can. Remember: Your close friends and family do NOT represent the general reader. The general reader is hostile going in; they expect powerful writing and to be constantly entertained. An editor’s job is to prepare your book for serious scrutiny from strangers who have no emotional investment in you or your writing. You have to prove yourself.

5. Accept the hard fact that writing and producing a quality book takes TIME. So many new writers are incredibly impatient nowadays. Relax: This is not a contest to see who finishes first. It can often take three, six, nine months, even a year or longer (not often this long but sometimes) to get an early draft into tip-top shape. It requires emailing back and forth between editor and client; zoom calls; revisions; breaks; etc.


1. Don’t TELL the experienced editor (especially as a new writer) how “things will go.” This is disturbingly common. “You’re going to edit at this rate at this speed and look at these things.” That’s like having very little to no clue how a car’s engine works and bringing the car into the mechanic and trying to tell them how to fix it. You obviously don’t know how to fix it, which is why it’s in the shop to begin with. Trust, people. Trust.

2. Don’t lowball the editor financially. Always pay what they ask. If you can’t afford the editor, find someone more affordable, or save up for the one you want. Also: Always, always, always pay on time. Don’t be one of “those” clients.

3. Don’t disrespect your editor’s time. A developmental edit is ONE go-through; any further edits or rounds cost another full price. (You heard me right.) We editors do this for a living. Remember that. Also: Yes, you can email back and forth and do a few zoom calls after an edit (admittedly, there is a lot to discuss and digest), but after that’s done, don’t consistently email or call your editor. They have a life, too, and of course “time is money.” Don’t be surprised if some editors charge for phone calls. Really, anytime we’re focusing on YOU we should be getting paid. Lawyers get paid the same way. How would you react if I started expecting you to do free phone calls about your work? Unhappy, is my guess.

4. Don’t expect an editor to make changes in your manuscript. An editor makes SUGGESTIONS, unless you have a prior understanding which changes this. Editors suggest changes; the author goes through the MS and makes (or doesn’t make) these changes. Then you discuss. The end.

5. Don’t be too sensitive about suggestions by an editor. Look, as a writer myself, I understand being sensitive. I do. It can hurt and feel very harsh and uncomfortable to have your words, your characters, your plot, your dialogue critiqued and marked-up. Most writers write to some degree in lonely isolation. You create this universe on the page and it’s very much your “baby.” Then some asshole goes through and marks all of it up and says you should do this, shouldn’t do that, etc. I get it. I’ve been there. It hurts. It’s painful. Emotional. You sometimes get angry, resentful, reactive. But do yourself and your editor a favor: Take some deep, slow breaths; pause; put it away for a while if need be; and try to come to it as objectively as you can. Again: The editor is attempting to prepare the writer for the harsh, scrutinizing landscape of Random Readers. Believe me: Many readers will NOT have mercy. The editor is here to genuinely help. Trust that.

Michael Mohr

Some trusted websites for new writers (click on):

A-number one advice for new writers especially: Don’t rush the process. Man oh man. How many writers approach me who think they’re going to hand me their first or second draft of a novel and after one developmental edit they’re going to be done? Far too many. In this new landscape of 21st century ‘everyone’s a writer’ world, the culture has simply been infected with the idea that ‘anyone can do it.’ This isn’t to mock or knock anyone. Believe me. I take every email I receive seriously. But my point is: Respect the craft of writing.

Like anything—plumbing, law, construction, acting—there is much to learn before you can really write a serious novel. Some go to college and do the MFA. Some join a professional workshop. Some simply read constantly and write every day. There is no one right way to become a writer. Mostly I think it’s about drive, ambition, life experience, perseverance. Ambitious, nascent writers will go to writers’ conferences, join critique groups, carve out a daily or several-times-weekly writing discipline. They take it seriously. When they write a novel, they go through half a dozen or more drafts before even considering it anywhere near being “done.”

Referring to my opening paragraph, I’m not saying a writer can’t approach me—or any other editor—early in the stages of their novel-in-progress, or in their career. They can and should. But be aware that when you do, at this early stage, you will most likely be asked—encouraged—to follow up with several developmental edits. This isn’t because I want your money and am trying to squeeze you. Yes, I do editing more or less fulltime, and yes, I need to eat and survive. But, honestly, it’s really all about the fact that serious novels take serious time and care.

Debut novelist Gabriel Tallent (“My Absolute Darling”) took eight years to create the final draft of his book. It took Stephanie Danler many, many years and drafts and hardship to create “Sweetbitter.” Emma Cline took several years writing “The Girls.” My ex neo-Nazi skinhead client, Christian Picciolini, worked on his book, “Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead” for years before at last coming to me in 2014 and then working with me for a full year before his book was released in early 2015. My mom worked arguably for 15 years—on and off—until she finally finished a solid draft of her novel (published 2015), Lori Mohr’s “The Road at My Door.”

My point? It takes TIME. Be patient. Respect the process and the craft. Don’t rush it. Accept that you’re going to have to spend time and money. No, it’s not as easy as the media may make it seem. Writing a book is like raising a child. Think of it that way. It’ll wake you up in the middle of the night, torturing you. It’ll scream at you when you’re so tired you feel like you can’t go on. It takes finesse and kindness and love and every ounce of your energy and attention and respect.

I do developmental editing, focusing on plot and structure and voice and tone and dialogue and character-development and logic issues, etc. I zoom the camera out and look at the big picture of your novel. I will look at almost any type of book, except for children’s or mystery or serious fantasy. I prefer adult literary novels, gritty, real, raw YA, and memoir. If you aren’t sure, email me: Browse the rest of my website. Again, I am more than happy to assist you from the very early stages. But be aware of what, precisely, you are jumping into. You’ll likely spend six months, a year, two years. You’ll spend money. But you’ll grow as a writer, and you’ll end up with a strong, drum-tight, diamond-sharp product.

It’s up to you, writers.

You said it, let’s edit.

Michael Mohr

Hey everyone! Before I say anything else: Please do check out my Substack writing newsletter, where I’m currently publishing my “fictional memoir” about my time during Covid living in what turned out to be a totally violent, insane section of East Harlem in Manhattan, New York City. (CLICK HERE.) *Please do consider subscribing. It will always remain free for all. I would greatly appreciate it, of course, if you’d like to become a paying member.

I come from a writing family. My mother is an author and used to write for a national magazine. My uncle is a novelist and screenwriter. Two cousins are writers—one writes for a videogame company, and the other does independent travel writing. So, you might say it’s “in my blood.” I grew up reading my mom’s prodigious library of classics as a young child, which familiarized me with twentieth-century authors such as Earnest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Flannery O’ Connor, and a plethora of others who shaped American writing in profound and unexpected ways.

An active alcoholic from age 17-27, I read and wrote but couldn’t get my shit together enough to truly cobble up a large, meaningful project. (Aka a novel.) Finally—when I hit bottom and got sober in 2010—I finished my first book, what became an autobiographical YA novel. I worked on that book endlessly and by 2011 was submitting to agents. This was a major amateur mistake. I didn’t know that then, of course. Hindsight is 20/20. I was still a nascent writer, still forming my voice and style. I hadn’t written enough words yet; hadn’t read enough books. I needed more time in the creative furnace, so to speak.

Between 2011 and 2016 I wrote several more books, pumping our prose proudly and incessantly. I also interned for a literary agent during that time, began reading voraciously, and joined my first writing workshop on 44th Street in North Oakland. (I was living in the Bay Area.) At last, in 2012, when I was just shy of thirty, I got my first short story published in a literary magazine. I actually got paid (not much) for my writing. Of course I was thrilled.

My YA novel started getting agent interest for the first time in early 2016. This was after I’d broken down and hired a former Random House-turned-freelance editor who worked with me to shape the book for eight hard but productive months. She loved the novel, and after we finished she said it was ready and that, were she still acquiring books at Random House, she’d certainly take it. It was around then that agents started responding to my query letter and sample pages. Then they started asking for the whole book. Many read it. Some read it more than once. I started getting long, personal emails from agents praising the book; the writing, the voice, the style, the characters, the plot.

And yet, in the end, no agent took the book, despite several saying they could “see it on the shelf.” A couple signaled indirectly that, it being the time of Trump, it was “problematic” that the narrator was a WSM (White Straight Male) from the upperclass. It was time for “underrepresented voices” to rise from the white ashes of bigoted Major Publishing. I understood this concept on a basic level, of course, but it didn’t change the fact that it felt unfair and censorious. In my opinion good writing is good writing, regardless of skin pigmentation, class, gender or historical differences. Punishing new white writers then, in 2016, for the “sins of the fathers” didn’t make sense to me. Still doesn’t. And it’s only gotten worse.

Like many writers I’d always wanted to be published by The Big Boys. I wanted an agent and a major publisher—Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, etc. I wanted to walk into bookstores and see MY book, with an awesome cover. But I’ve been trying to get to this goal for the past 12 years…and the door seems perennially locked no matter how hard I try. The industry seems to be getting more and more Woke, more and more political and ideological, less and less interested in serious art or divergent, transgressive viewpoints. Publishing has become a monolith of Wokeism. After the Penguin-Random House anti-trust trial, where we all learned how little the vast majority of authors get paid from major houses, and given the fact that major houses rarely pay for writers’ book tours or PR, it finally dawned on me, at nearly 40 years old: Fuck it; I’ll do it myself.

And so that is precisely what I’m doing. This is why I started my Substack newsletter: Click here to read my Substack Newsletter. I figure: if agents and publishers are the old gatekeepers, and they no longer believe (for the most part) in literature and true Art, and they’re not paying writers much of anything and they aren’t supporting their PR campaigns: What reason, really, do I have to stick with that old paradigm? For a long time I was secretly critical and judgmental of “self-publishing” mainly because anyone and their grandma can do it, and there is some BAD self-published writing out there. That said: There is also some terrific writing put out directly by authors. I finally grasped that, if I wanted to write for an audience and have a shot at making decent money as a writer—which is my eternal calling and always has been—it was time to let go of the old dream of getting an agent and a major publishing contract.

So here I am. I started my Substack on August 21, 2022. I’m posting every 3-4 days. Subscribers have been joining, slowly. So far I’m not making much money but I feel strongly that this will change over time. Readers will pay for good, honest writing. And that’s always been my thing: Good, serious, honest writing. No Wokeism. No ideology. No insult to the reader or trying to make readers think a certain way. Just real, raw, gritty, true, down-to-the-core writing.

Isn’t that the whole goddamn point?

Michael Mohr

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