Posts Tagged hiring an editor

No luck submitting my book to agents and publishers – should I hire a different editor?

I had this interesting email.

I’ve written a thriller. I worked on it for a few years with an editor who said it was ready to submit. However, following lots of submissions but no requests for the full MS I began to work with another editor. The two are like chalk and cheese and I`m now in a quandary as to the way forward. Is this something you can help with?

There aren’t any easy answers here. You’re dealing with a massive unknown – the reactions of the publishers and agents you submitted to.

No news is… no news

It’s possible that your manuscript is perfectly publishable in terms of writing standard, but not what agents and publishers are looking for in other ways. You might not be on trend, or you might be too close to a trend they have decided will soon be over (even if it won’t).

There was a time, a few years ago, when a publisher or agent might tell you if your writing made the grade in terms of quality. It was a thing: the rave rejection. Your writing’s great but we don’t know how to market it. Now they don’t reply at all.

The publishers and agents might also have reacted to personal characteristics you can’t change – gender, ethnicity, age. That’s pretty terrible, but it’s true, according to a dispiriting chat I had recently with a literary agent. You, personally, might not be marketable.

The two editors who gave different advice about the book

To your other point, about the different feedback from the editors you’ve worked with, I’m not surprised.

It’s possible that your second editor found extensive flaws, but it’s also possible that they noted you wanted a publishing deal, and thought the answer was a complete rework. The book might need those changes, it might not. It might already be darn good from a reader’s point of view.

And this brings me to another point. Freelance editors who are hired by authors don’t look for the same thing as editors who are hired by publishers. A freelance editor will judge the book by the suitability for the reader – will it satisfy them, is it fresh enough for current tastes. An editor working for a publisher will be shaping the book for the publisher’s current agenda, which may be totally different. A publisher might, for instance, be trying to forecast the tastes in the next two years because that’s when they’ll publish.

So… what should you do?

Do you need another editor? That depends.

No you don’t…  if you’re confident in the previous editor’s advice, and in the way the book has turned out with their guidance.

Yes you might… if you think you’ve now matured as a writer and could take the book to another level.

But will a new editor help you get a publishing deal?

That’s impossible to predict. Also, you might write many versions of this book, all of which would satisfy readers, and still not woo a publisher.

Fortunately, there are other good options! You could look for a small press who handles your genre and approach them directly. You’re more likely to get an actual reply and at least you’ll know if your book needs more work. Or go indie (in which case you will need editors for the production process, but that’s another story… more about that here).  

Best of luck.

Guys, what would you tell my correspondent? Let’s discuss in the comments!

If you’d like help with your writing, my Nail Your Novel books are here. If you’re curious about my own work, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

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How to cope with a hefty report from a developmental editor

Getting your manuscript back from a developmental editor can be an ordeal. Indeed it’s a writing rite of passage. But – deep breath – we’ve all been there. So here is some friendly handholding.

1 Rest assured, you are not alone in feeling anxious or, indeed overwhelmed. Opening a document with reams of comments usually feels like being disembowelled.

2 So much commentary? Most of us aren’t prepared for the level of detail. But editors are sensitive to issues, ideas and nuances you never thought would matter. This is what you want. They are a supercharged, supersensitive version of your ideal reader. Also, they are primed to explore the nooks and crannies you haven’t explored yourself, probably because you were intent on other things.

3 Many of the editor’s comments will be questions and appreciation, not deletions and corrections. They are working with your material, not against it. They are your book’s advocate.

4 Your first reactions won’t be the most reliable or useful. But you need to see everything, and quickly, so do a fast read just to see what’s there. Streak through the manuscript, perhaps with wine or a hefty bar of chocolate, but don’t take the comments too much to heart at this stage. That’s not to say they will be negative, but your book is a sensitive nerve and your first read-through will not be in your calmest state of mind. So read it, maybe sulk and fume. Then put it away. That first essential task is done. Take a break.

5 After this, it’s not as bad as you think. Read the report several more times. Now you’ve seen the worst – which is what you were looking for in the first read – look for other kinds of comment. A developmental report should be constructive, not destructive. Its aim is to help you make a worthwhile book for readers. Appreciate the report’s full scope. It should tell you what works as well as what doesn’t work. It should ask questions that are helpful, and guide you to solutions, not dead ends. Almost certainly you will fail to notice the things that the editor has praised, or the things that are not as bad as you think.

6 Let it settle. After a few days you’ll start to get spontaneous answers from your subconscious. Also, the outlook will seem more positive, especially if the report recommended drastic changes. At first, these might seem disruptive or impossible, and you might not adopt every suggestion your editor makes. The best solutions will come from you anyway. But after a few days you’ll have a new perspective on the deeper questions and you’ll see new possibilities. You might even begin to like the changes that initially made you despair.

7 Your editor will be waiting for follow-up questions, but allow time for their commentary to bed in. You will solve a surprising amount on your own, and soon a new vision of the book will take shape in your mind. Once you have that, you’ll find the most useful questions to discuss with your editor.

8 Also remember: you’re doing this for your book, because you believe in it.

Psst… there’s loads about self-editing and getting critiques in Nail Your Novel and my Nail Your Novel workbook.

Is there anything you’d add?

If you’d like help with your writing, my Nail Your Novel books are here. If you’re curious about my own work, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s been going on on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

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Editing as creative development – guest post at Ingram Spark

Good developmental editing is one of the cornerstones of book production, but indie authors have a special advantage over the traditionally published. Indies can use the editing process to nurture their potential and perhaps find talents they didn’t suspect. I’m talking about this role of the editor at the IngramSpark blog today.

And if you’re in the environs of London, you can come and see me talk about this in a one-day self-publishing masterclass. I’m one of four expert speakers covering all the publishing bases (editorial, design, publicity, distribution) at this.

If you hop over to my post, you’ll see a special discount code.

Finally, permit me a little discreet throat-clearing … yes, you know about Not Quite Lost, but I can’t help mentioning it because it publishes in two weeks’ time and I’m rather excited.

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American English, British English, Canadian English… which to use for your book?

w&alogotomayto tomato what brand of English should you useYesterday I spoke at the Writers & Artists self-publishing conference, and one of the attendees raised this subject… which led to an interesting debate.

First of all, does it matter if your editor is American, British, Canadian, Australian, or any other flavour of English?

Not for developmental editing, because that’s about the substance of the book. The editor won’t be recommending line corrections or studying your phrasing or grammar (although they might remark on it).

But in copy editing and proofreading, your use of language will be under scrutiny. That’s where you need an editor in tune with your territory. (Here’s a post on the different editorial processes and the order to do them.)

You say tomayto…

In case you’re wondering, there is far more difference than spellings and vocab. I’m a thoroughly Brit speaker, and I couldn’t copy-edit or proof a US book. Or an Australian book. Each territory has its own grammar, usage and punctuation. When I read a blog or book by an American that I know has immaculate language, my red pen itches.

Which of the Englishes to choose for your book?

If you’re from the UK, should you make a separate edition for the US … and others?

If you’ve been traditionally published, you might know that separate editions are made for each territory, and the books are usually re-edited for local ears. (Indeed, the rights may be sold to completely different publishers.)

Sometimes this goes beyond spelling and language use. The title might be changed; English locations and environments might be changed, all to be more appealing to the market. I worked on a book that was changed significantly for America because it took place in an English school. The rewrite replaced cricket with baseball and other details to make it less foreign for US readers. (Usually I’d find that irritating. Surely kids know that pavements are sidewalks and bonnets are hoods, right? But the publisher had a good artistic reason; the book was about a demon trapped in an ordinary school, and the humour worked because everything else was absolutely familiar.)

In indie publishing, the platforms are set up so that your edition goes worldwide. On KDP you can exclude territories, but I don’t think you can on Smashwords and other platforms – which makes it difficult to produce separate editions. Indeed, I don’t know any indies who do this because they’d lose certain advantages such as cross-linking of reviews.

So indies have to choose their variety of English and stick to it. Some authors change the spellings to American but keep everything else UK. They use American brand names too – one conference attendee cited the example of paracetamol, and how Americans are confused if you don’t call it Tylenol. For me, mixing the Englishes is too weird for my pedantic editor brain, so I stick to Brit.

How much do readers mind?

There was an interesting response from other speakers.

Mel Sherratt (@WriterMels), who writes crime thrillers, said when she first published she was appalled to find reviews on Amazon US that complained her book was full of errors. Digging further, she found this was a response to her UK English. But other readers said they enjoyed the distinctive English flavour, which was appropriate to her setting, so she decided that Englishness was part of her signature.

Paul Pilkington (@PaulPilkington), who writes suspense mystery, said he’d also had remarks from American readers. so he puts a note in the front matter, explaining that his books use UK conventions.

With my own novels, I have more reviews from US than UK readers. No one’s ever complained about the pronounced Brit flavour. Nail Your Novel fared a little differently, but not significantly so. In about 150 reviews for book 1, I had one reader who mistook the UK English for errors. I actually did the unwise thing of replying to the review – don’t do this at home – and asked for examples. When I pointed out that they were all sanctioned by the Oxford English Dictionary, he removed the review. (As I said, tackling negative reviews is usually a hiding to nothing, but I think it’s justified where your competence is being questioned for a dumb reason.)
Thanks for the tomato pic epSOS on Flickr

Clearly, some categories of reader will be more forgiving than others of a non-US usage. We’ll all have our own comfort levels and solutions, and it would be interesting to discuss further. What brand of English do you use? Do you make concessions to other territories? Have you ever had negative reviews based on this and did it make you take action? Let’s discuss!

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