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How to Get the Most from Your Book Editing Experience








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:


DO:

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.



DON’Ts


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):



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