ELLEN BROCK: ON FREELANCE BOOK EDITING
Ellen Brock—a freelance developmental and copy book editor like me—posted a blog article from September of last year about the seriousness of being a book editor. She talked about how it’s not about being a ‘passionate’ editor but rather a hardworking, logical one. She said: “When you go to a mechanic, you don’t expect them to fall in love with your car. And you’re not going to accuse the mechanic of being ‘terse,’ ‘cold,’ or ‘bitchy’ when he tells you that your car is totaled because you drove it into a brick wall. Mechanics tell the truth. Editors tell the truth. The real question is whether or not you’re ready to hear it.”
Now, I have only had one client who really got irritated at me for my edits. I had one other who was mildly irritated. I think that Brock is absolutely accurate. Writers—I am one—are very passionate, sensitive, intense, often misunderstood people. To sit down for months or even years and craft a full-length novel is, to say the least, hardcore. And it’s very lonely and quiet. It’s private. A book is your sweet baby.
When you then, as a writer, go and hand off your book to some book editor—some stranger, someone taking your money—it can be easy to take things personally. Do yourself a favor: don’t. I’ve been there. Man, I have heard writers—famous ones—tell me my writing basically sucks. Ok, maybe they didn’t literally say that. But it felt that way! And I did take it personally.
The truth is—as Brock so articulately testifies—a writer’s best friend is a serious, balls-to-the-wall, logical, objective book editor. For me, when I edit someone else’s book, I expect to give the same thing I expect to receive via an editor looking at my own book: total honesty. Brock mentions editors being like car mechanics. That’s true. We have the tools of objectivity and knowledge of the industry. Our goal is to point out what’s working and what’s not working in your novel.
I think, especially for newer, unpublished writers, it’s a very sticky thing to finish a book, have all your friends and family pat you on the back and be proud, and then hand it over to an editor who then goes to town on it and gives you criticism. Now, don’t get me wrong: There should ALWAYS be common respect given from editor to writer/author, and vice versa. Of course. There is never any reason to be rude, especially from the editor to the writer. It’s not personal.
But it IS the editor’s job to—like that mechanic—use their tools to point out the strengths and weaknesses. Are there obvious issues in terms of plot? Do we care about the protagonist and his/her journey? Are the characters relatable? Are there logic issues within the plot? Is there constant tension? Do you use effective cliff hangers to keep us reading? Is your story within a reasonable word count for your chosen genre? Is the book overall marketable/salable? Do you have a decent query? These questions could go on ad infinitum.
The point here is: Don’t hire an editor thinking you’re getting a champion of your work or a psychotherapist. You’re hiring a prose mechanic to help locate the weak spots in your novel and helping to alleviate the issues so your book can shine brightly.
The other thing is: know what kind of editing you want. If you don’t know, ask the editor. Most new writers with a first novel need developmental editing which is what I focus on. This looks at plot, pace, dialogue, character, logic issues, etc. Like I mentioned above. This zooms the literary camera out, so to speak, to see the greater picture. Later, after you’ve done revisions, you can talk about a copy/line edit.
If you’d like me to edit your novel or memoir, email me your query and first chapter (as attachments) to: firstname.lastname@example.org. I can do a free 5-10 page test edit wherein you can decide if you’d like to hire me. I handle almost any type of novel other than children’s, middle-grade, Sci-fi or picture books. Currently I am backed up until late August. Formerly a literary agent’s assistant, I am also a published short story writer. My work can be found at Alfie Dog Press online. My stories are 66 cents each! I am available for developmental and copy editing. And remember: Treat your editors well! They work hard for you!
“You said it. Let’s edit.”