MY BOOK EDITING PROCESS


I want to talk about my book editing style and process. First off, here’s my background. In a sense, I have been writing my whole life. Ever since I was a kid, I’d pen poems and prose like a mad-child, bordering on obsession. My mother and I would exchange apologies via long-form letter when we fought. Etc.

After landing my BA in writing from San Francisco State—and turning down an acceptance for the MA in Writing program—I decided to intern with a literary agent in the Bay Area. Here I learned everything I possibly could about the submission process, the dreaded slush pile, acquisitions editors, queries, rejections, and on and on. In the process I had been getting my short stories and nonfiction pieces published in little lit mags and journals. I eventually became the senior agent at the firm’s assistant and I learned from the inside out.

Eventually, that agent told me to go off on my own and do what I clearly did best: book editing. So I did. I’d been editing her acquired clients’ books for months by that point, many of whom went on to be published. I realized she was right and I knew I didn’t want to be an agent (too much business and finance).

In the last few years I have published many more stories and written several more books. And I’ve developed the unique editing style that many writers have come to respect. I focus on what’s called “developmental” editing. This means I focus mainly on the following: structure, plot, character-development, pace, logistical issues, dialogue, transitions, etc. Basically, I zoom the camera out and look at what is working and what isn’t. In today’s tough, competitive commercial writing environment this is key. You need and deserve a passionate editor who is backing you up and who knows something about the industry. I go to writing conferences year-round and know the agent submission process. Not all editors do.

So here’s my process. First off, I only handle fiction and memoir. Within fiction I will work with YA or adult, and pretty much any genre except for paranormal. Sci-fi fantasy is okay but I generally prefer more “realistic” novels; that’s just my taste. But if you’re unsure, email me (michaelmohreditor@gmail.com).

For memoir, I take just about anything. A recent memoir client was Christian Picciolini, an ex neo-Nazi skinhead (one of the first in America) who got sucked into the scene in the mid-80s and got out in the mid-90s. He formed a non-profit called “Life After Hate” that helps young people (or anyone) disentangle from hate groups. He is a pro-diversity, non-violent, anti-racist activist now who fights for global change. His memoir was published in April, 2015 and is called, “Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead.” Check it out. It’s an incredible, important book that everyone, especially in America, should read. With the Sandy Hook, South Carolina, Oregon and now Florida shootings, his book is more pressing than ever. Order it on Amazon HERE.

I usually do a 10-20 page test edit for the prospective client. This is one-time only and is free. The point is that the client can then decide whether they want to work with me or not. Often they are knocked sideways at my skill and ability to locate exactly what needs work. A good editor always can and will do this. Once we’ve established that we want to work together, I’ll draft and we’ll sign a short, standard book editing contract. Then the client will pay me the first half of the total bill, based off my flat-fee listed on my website. As it stands currently I charge 2 cents per word. Multiply this by your word count and that’d be your total bill. (Add 2.9% PayPal fee if paying via PP. I also accept physical check by mail.)

Once we’ve signed a contract, you’ve paid me the first half, and you’ve sent me the full, up-to-date manuscript as a word.doc, I then delve in. We would have agreed upon a certain deadline for me to have finished by this point, which will be listed in the contract so we’re both crystal clear. From here, I will edit the book and then send it back to you by the deadline, simple as that.

Now, you might be asking, What is the book going to look like upon return? Good question. Traditionally, I would mark up the “digital page,” so to speak, with red comments all over. I still do this to an extent. But lately (in addition to the “tracked” changes in red and red comments below paragraphs that I deem as “needing work”) I do the vast majority of my commentary “off the page.” This means I take extensive notes on a yellow legal pad as I go and then at the end I produce a [usually] 5-15 single-spaced page “editorial letter” that essentially documents every “issue” I have with the book and what I think you can and should do, in my professional opinion, to strengthen your work. This includes very practical methods for actually making the book stronger and tighter. Often the mistakes I see on newer writers’ books are very common and simple to fix. Sometimes it requires much rewriting and revision and sometimes it requires an entire rewrite. In any case, you’ll learn as a writer from my comments, that I can guarantee.

So if you have a novel or memoir you’re trying to take to the next level, please do send me an email. I prefer to hear a bit about you and your writing history (if any) and a little query or synopsis about the book, plus the first chapter, all in a word.doc attachment with your introductory email. Again: michaelmohreditor@gmail.com.

Remember: writing is a lot of work. Be patient, be willing to hear constructive criticism, and be open to revision and rewriting. It’s just part of The Process.

Write on.

“You said it. Let’s edit.”

Michael Mohr

P.S.: Come find me at the Southern California Writers' Conference in Irvine, CA, 9/23-25. I'm on the faculty under the AGENTS AND EDITORS section: Click HERE. (Scroll down.)


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