Editors are Part of an Author’s Education
The freelance editors I’ve worked with have been an invaluable part of my education as a writer. I like some people’s approach better than others, but that’s a personal preference. Every time I’ve paid an editor to critique my writing, be it query, pages, or a full manuscript, I’ve invested in myself.
The evolution of a writer’s craft is an ongoing discovery. Sometimes it hurts. Rejections from agents can be downright depressing, and receiving feedback is often akin to having one’s soul crushed.
Which leads me to my next point:
When it Comes to Feedback, Keep an Open Mind
An editor’s job is not to tell me how much they love my story and pad my ego with praise. Mind you, I can only really work with someone who knows how to layer positive feedback with constructive criticism, otherwise I’ll shrivel up in a ball of “I’m not good enough,” or at least stop working with that particular person.
But it’s vital that an editor calls attention to the ways a story can be improved. Even if that means a complete rewrite of entire sections. Ouch!
At the same time, only a writer can decide what’s best for their own book. That means walking the line between being extremely receptive to feedback and willing to work ridiculously hard to improve, while still being true to the creative life of the project in question.
Try Out Different Editors
I recently had four different people critique the same query. It was fun, and an awesome experiment that gave me a chance to experience the style of different editors.
FREEBEES: Many editors will do a few sample pages for free, so that’s an awesome way to test out their style and quality. Also, keep your eye open on Twitter and writing blogs for freebees!
My point is that it’s been incredibly valuable to have the same piece reviewed by four sets of eyes, and listen to suggestions from four different voices. It helps me learn, regardless, but also find people whose editing voice matches what I need as an author.
Finding the Right Freelance Editor (Reviews)
NOTE: I’d recommend trying any of those listed below, but there are a TON of great freelance editors out there. Find the best one for you. Every one of these ladies are professional, reply in a timely manner, and have skills worth sharing!
Lynnette Labelle @LynnetteLabelle
I found Lynnette through the ever-so-excellent #PitchWars community. She was the first to tackle my query, and I also asked her to review the first 15 pages of the manuscript I’m getting ready to submit to agents. Which means she was the first to look at this material.
Lynnette sent me the most crushing and helpful review letter ever. In it, she tried to deliver the bad news with kindness: she saw a lot of craft issues in the pages, and I needed to rewrite the query.
What I LOVED about Lynnette was the fact that she really wanted me to understand how to improve. Her first feedback letter included a list of resources where I could read in depth about the things I needed to improve in my writing. Each link sent me to gave specific examples to understand the obstacles, and how to overcome them.
Lynnette also suggested I read GMCs by Debra Dixon. If you’ve never read this book, it’s priceless!
When I opened the files Lynnette sent back, my heart crawled into a hole. The query wasn’t that bad, really. She gave asked questions and pointed out what worked, what didn’t. Most of it didn’t. But the horrid thing was opening the file with my first 15 pages and pretty much getting the idea that I had to scrap all of it! Sorry, there were three paragraphs near the end that she liked, but she thought they’d be delivered better by bringing into real time, possibly giving the author of the book passage his own POV.
Ack! She was right, of course. I didn’t add another POV into the story, but I did rewrite the first 15 pages. I have to thank Lynnette for doing her job even though she knew it would be tough for me to take. Every writer will run into this at some point. The beautiful thing is, once you heal from the initial shock and grow a thicker skin, it is an incredible opportunity to learn.
I did two more rounds with Lynnette on the query, but I wasn’t quite satisfied by the time the reviews I’d paid for were up. That was on me, not Lynnette. But then I saw this freebee on Twitter.
Samantha Bohrman & Cristina Pippa @ManuFixed
The ladies at ManuFixed were another Twitter find. I saw their Black Friday free query promo and jumped on it. Now, this was a free critique, so that meant one critique, not a few passes back and forth, but it was still enough to convince me these ladies are fabulous to work with.
Having two editors comment on the same piece at once is downright awesome. They clearly have fun working together, and it comes through in their style of feedback.
Notes of encouragement were balanced with pushes to improve with specific suggestions that made sense to me. One of the things they suggested was using comp titles. I’d thought about this before, but couldn’t come up with anything. However, their suggestion of using movies instead of books made it way easier for me. Thor + the Matrix + Burlesque. Bam!
But they didn’t stop there. Below my query they wrote a concise letter summing up what they liked and what they thought the query needed. And below that . . .
A freaking example! Yes, they rewrote my query—using my content, of course—to give me an example of the way they thought it should be. It gave me a solid place to jump from, and I happily revised my query with their clarity, but with my voice. Way to go above and beyond, ladies, and really help me see a new perspective!
Still . . . after sitting on it for another week, I was super close, but I still hadn’t quite nailed it. But I saw the gals at Manufixed had a guest “Query Queen,” and something about her drew me in.
Kristi Belcamino @KristiBelcamino
Now, remember, going in to the process with Kristi my query was really close. But it was complicated, had too many names. My story is intricate, epic, and has a large cast of characters, including well known gods. There’s a double love story, a family saga, and the main plot of saving the world. How could I get across its beauty without drowning the essence of it in too many details?
I liked this woman from the get-go. She’s encouraging, spunky, and sharp as a dagger. Here’s her blog post on queries.
Kristi told me I was really close, then sent a file with a ton of notes. 🙂 Immediately, another layer of blur pulled away from my eyes, and I saw the query I’d read 9000 times in a different light. The beautiful thing was finding out that Kristi and I speak the same language. By that I mean her feedback made perfect sense to me, and I understood her suggestions without the slightest furrow of my brow.
And, lo and behold, she sent me another example! Like the gals from Manufixed, Kristi rearranged, cut, and finessed the thing until the overload of details had dropped away. There it was, the essence of my story, in my own words. A few minor word changes to make sure it was still 100% me, and finito, it was done!
Stephanie Diaz @StephanieDiaz
I won’t say I’ve saved the best for last, because all of these women are amazing, but Stephanie is something special. Part of that is because she’s given me developmental notes on four manuscripts now, and my writing has exploded into new realms because of her suggestions. She’s also done a fine polish for me before submissions.
We’ve got history. And Stephanie is super fun to work with!
When I get manuscripts back from her, they always come with a letter that focuses on the big picture issues that need attention. If a character is flat, she’ll tell me in the nicest way with suggestions on how to give them depth. If there’s not enough action or conflict, she’ll deliver the news with notes on how to fix it.
In the manuscript, she makes line edits (grammar, punctuation, etc.) plus adding extra suggestions in specific places. And when she catches “lightning” spelled with an e —in a story whose MC has a sword that shoots the stuff—she’ll highlight it in every instance, then inform me about the difference between the word “lightening,” and the bolts of energy I’d been trying to describe. Such patience.
I just received her feedback on my current manuscript. Yeah, maybe I thought it was query ready, but not quite. The beginning needs more. The last 1/3rd needs more. But my stomach no longer drops when I get her revision letters, because she always remains encouraging and points me in the right direction. Her suggestions always get my head spinning, and I’m already three chapters into the revise with a clear knowing of what I need to do.
Did I mention I love this woman?
One Final Takeaway
In addition to the importance of finding an editor who speaks your language, delivers feedback in a way that doesn’t crush your soul (at least not intentionally), and does their job well, an editor can also be moral support.
Now, I don’t mean email your editor every time an agent rejects you. No. A friend is better for that, or just grow one more layer of skin while plunging forth on the journey of being a writer.
But, for me at least, my editor is sometimes the only other person in the world who has read my work. This person has taken the adventure with my characters, and peaked inside my writer’s soul. This is part of the reason why I always smile when I think of Stephanie Diaz, because she’s been there to cheerlead me from the beginning, and is actually a fan of my writing. Being able to share my work with her has been a gift, just like it was a gift to work with each of the other editors on my query.
So, my final takeaway is this: try out a bunch of editors and see which one works best for you. Maybe you’re not sentimental, like I am, but you might find your editor is the best friend you can have along on the journey to evolve your craft.