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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, July 27, 2014

EDITS, EDITORS, EDITING—The Secret Weapon of Every Successful Writer

by Ruth Harris

Editing is life. The blue tie? Or the yellow one? Peter or Paul? Or Mary?

You’re an editor—whether or not you know it yet—because to edit is to choose.

As a former editor, I’m obviously biased. As a writer, I've learned that for me (and for just about every writer I know or have worked with), editing is the most interesting and exciting part of writing a book.

  • Editing is your opportunity to figure out what you really mean to say and how best to say it.
  • Editing gives you the chance to come up with the killer line of dialogue, the on-target mot juste, the breath-taking cliffhanger that keeps the pages turning.
  • Editing is the stage at which you cut the blubber or expand and embroider when you’ve gone too bare-bones.
  • Editing can shore up a blah plot, identify, fill and fix plot holes; turn wooden characters into living, breathing, believable people.
  • Editing lets you to pick up the pace when necessary and slow it down when you need to give the reader a chance to breathe.
  • Editors are partners, coaches, shrinks, cops and cheerleaders—sometimes all at the same time. They dispense tough love when needed and gold stars when earned.

In my experience, editing takes longer than writing and can turn an OMG-did-I-write-that? draft into a book you can be proud of.

Your editors are your teachers especially if you are a beginning writer. Pay attention to them and you will come face to face with your worst habits—passive characters and/or passive verbs, adjective overkill, adverb and/or pronoun abuse, dangling participles, untethered plot points, run-on sentences.

You will also learn how to polish your strengths and turn interesting narrative into compelling storytelling, good dialogue to great, plot-twists-that-fall-flat into a breath-taking, never-saw-it-coming shocks.

Editing is expensive and choosing an editor is like picking a great date for Saturday night—without help from OkCupid or eharmony. Due to contractions in TradPublishing, there are many knowledgeable and experienced freelance editors offering their services. Most offer a sample edit of ten pages or so, a useful try-before-you-buy option.

Whether you plan to self-publish, want to work with a small press or are looking for an agent and a TradPub deal, hiring an editor to take a cool, calm look at your book is essential because—as if you didn’t already know—the days of Maxwell Perkins are long gone.

Define how much editing you need: 

Valerie Comer wrote a succinct analysis of the differences between a rewrite, revision and editing that will help clarify your thinking.

Where to start looking for an editor: 

Elisabeth Kauffman lists professional associations and sources and dispenses solid advice about what questions to ask as you search for your perfect editor.

Network with other writers in your genre: 

They will be able to suggest editors who know what they’re doing and warn you away from those who don’t. Writers’ Cafe has yellow-page lists of editors and threads about editors and editing pop up often.

Understand the different kinds of editing:

Learn the difference between developmental (or content) editing and copyediting.

Joanna Penn describes the functions of different kinds of editors and offers valuable guidance about how to find the right editor.

Developmental: A developmental/content editor’s contributions involve a broad overview of the manuscript, its structure, scene and chapter placement or rearrangement, even the basics of plot and character. A developmental/content editor (sometimes called a book doctor) can answer an SOS when a manuscript is on life support and needs rescue.

Victoria Mixon delves further into the various aspects of editing and describes how the editing process works between writer and editor. She also addresses the circumstances that involve trimming, re-writing, rearranging, and even the writing of new material.

Editor Belinda Pollard warns writers not to depend on editorial labels but to find out exactly what to expect from different kinds of editors no matter what they’re called. She also reminds us that “the right feedback at the right time is the secret weapon of every successful author.” I couldn’t agree more!

Copyediting: Copyediting takes place at a later stage when all the nuts and bolts of a story are in place. The copyeditor is concerned with clarity, clarity, cohesion, consistency, and correctness (the "4 Cs”) according to Amy Einsohn's The Copyeditor's Handbook.

Proofreading: Proofing is yet another stage in the editorial process and comes last of all, just before you send your book out into the world. The good proofreader is über detail-oriented, on the look out for typos, typographical glitches and lapses in spelling and punctuation.

The Writers Center posted a good article that covers the art and craft of proofreading.

The Chicago Manual of Style offers a Rosetta Stone to proofreader’s marks and squiggles.

Not all editors are the same. Some edit with a light hand, preferring to let the writer’s own voice come through. Other editors take a firmer approach, making an effort to conform your manuscript to current industry standards. Decide which approach you prefer and which one will work best for you and your book.

Choose an editor who’s an expert in your genre. S/he will be knowledgable about current trends, best practices and no-nos. A sci-fi specialist will not be up to date on the latest in romance. And vice versa.

Your editor is your partner and guide—not your overlord. Feel free to disagree with suggestions but be sure you have a good reason for your choices. Sometimes a brief discussion will lead to a third solution that’s even better.

Even billionaires need editors. Warren Buffett’s long-time editor at Fortune, Carol Loomis, spills the beans.

Basics to take care of before you send off your manuscript. 

Doing some advance clean-up will save you and your editor time and money:

  • Create a style sheet as you write. It’s not hard and it is invaluable for you and for your editor. I’ve written before about the importance of style sheets.
  • Perform a basic spell check and watch out for homonyms and homophones—words that sound alike but have different meanings. They will pass a spell check but you must actually read the sentence in context to ensure the word you used is the word you mean. Examples: through/threw; there/their/they’re, here/hear, by/bye/buy, to/two/too.
  • Run a grammar program. Most word processors have one and will root out common errors that guarantee rejection and/or bad reviews.
  • Review your dialogue tags. They can often be pruned or even deleted.
  • The cliché finder will hunt down, uh, clichés.
  • The Passivator will highlight passive verbs and adverbs.

India Drummond takes on editors (the cyber kind) in this review of White Smoke, Style Writers, Serenity Software, and Autocrit.

I don’t recommend self-editing for beginning writers who will probably need help with at least some or possibly all of the following: pacing, character, structure and/or story arc.

With more experience, though, plus a crit group or beta readers, you will be able to read your manuscript with a more detached and professional eye. If you’re not sure whether or not you need an editor, Derek Murphy pinpoints some important issues and suggests affordable alternatives.

If you want to go ahead on your own, be on the lookout for:
  • Flabby language and trite dialogue.
  • A saggy middle.
  • A blah (or confused) ending.
  • Info dumps.
  • Boring backstory.
  • Good guys who are too good and bad guys who are too bad. (Yes, it’s possible.) Characters require shades of grey to be believable.
  • Too many sub-plots? The ones that go nowhere, wander off and disappear or result in a dead end? Decide if they should be combined and streamlined or even done away with.
  • Too many characters? Do they get in each other’s way? Do they perform the same function in your book? Cut and combine is the answer.

Deborah Rains Dixon addresses story structure, why it’s crucial and includes different examples of structure.

In Self-Editing For Fiction Writers, two professional editors cover such aspects of fiction as dialogue, exposition, point of view and interior monologue.

If you think all this sounds too picky and painful not to mention too time-consuming and expensive to bother with, think again. As someone who served time in the slush pile, I guarantee: an unedited manuscript is the mark of the amateur, the bane of the pro, the kiss of death, a sure-fire route to nowheresville.

It’s your book. You decide.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you hire your own editor? How did you find your editor? Do you use the cyber-kind? Do you have any other tips for self-editing? What are your biggest problems that you need to address when you edit? 


A hilarious, fast-paced read from Ruth Harris! "Chick Lit for Chicks who weren't born yesterday"

The Chanel Caper is $2.99 on Amazon USAmazon UK and Nook | Kobo | iBooks

THE CHANEL CAPER Nora Ephron meets James Bond...or is it the other way around? Blake Weston is a smart, savvy, no BS, 56-year-old Nora Ephron-like New Yorker. Her DH, Ralph Marino, is a très James Bond ex-cop & head of security for a large international corporation. At a tense time in their relationship, Blake and Ralph are forced to work together to solve a murder in Shanghai and break up an international piracy ring.

Ruth Harris is a million-copy New York Times and Amazon bestselling author and a Romantic Times award winner for "best contemporary." Critics have called Ruth's fiction "brilliant," "steamy," "stylishly written," "richly plotted," "first-class entertainment" and "a sure thing."


WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? CONTEST. Creative Writing Institute Short Story Contest. NO ENTRY FEE. First prize - $200 USD or a Writing Course with a Personal Tutor, valued at $260.Second prize - $100 USD or a Credit of $150 toward a Writing Course. Third prize - $50 USD or a Credit of $100 toward a Writing Course. Word limit: between 1,000 and 2,000 words. Your story may be any genre, but this exact sentence must appear in the story: "I have a list and a map. What could possibly go wrong?" Deadline August 9

CHICKEN SOUP - HEARTFELT STORIES BY MOMS Pays $200 for 1,200 words. Stories can deal with the pains and highlights of motherhood, the wonders of parenting grandchildren, special moments of raising a newborn, being a role model to a teenager, or anything that touches the heart of a mom. Deadline September 30.

Barthelme Prize for experimental flash fiction. $17 Entry Fee 500-word limit. $1000 first prize, $250 hon. mention prizes. Online submission form. Deadline August 31.

Want to Appear in Writer's Digest? Here's how. Have you ever tried to write a book in a month-as part of NaNoWriMo, with a writing group, or just on your own? What was your experience? WD wants to hear from you. Tell them about your write-a-thon! Send your story-along with your full name, city and state to writersdigest@fwmedia.com with "BIAM" in the subject line. Responses may appear in Writer's Digest publications and/or on WritersDigest.com.

Short Romance stories with holiday themes: Crimson Romance Ebooks (A division of F & W, publisher of Writer's Digest Books) is looking for holiday themed shorts (10K-20K words) Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa 2014, New Year's Eve 2015, Deadline: August 15th

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Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Passivator - that sounds like the Terminator! As I'm in the middle of editing, I will definitely check that out after I comment.
I admit I've never hired an editor. I work with two test readers and three critique partners, and then work with my publisher's editor. I've never had a problem being open to any of their suggestions, either. Please - help me make it better!
And I like editing best for all those reasons you listed!

July 27, 2014 at 10:19 AM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

I'm probably one of the few in the crowd who finds editing fairly easy to do, and even fun (at least judging from fellow writers who scowl at me). Self-editing tips:

* If you're an organic writer (meaning you don't outline), do a very fast pass over the the book and look for junk that came in that you don't need -- and this even before you revise so you don't waste time with what's not needed. Trim it out and then do another fast pass for anything you missed or that might be more obvious with stuff already trimmed.

* Don't overedit to the point where you edit yourself out of the story. This is easy to do when you're getting conflicting critiques or trying to make the story perfect. I still remember a writer who asked me to review his indie fantasy anthology. His critique group evidently told him his descriptions were boring and to get rid of them, so he edited them out -- along with his world building, and much of what made the stories his.

* Be careful with tips on flabby language. Sometimes it's easy to mistake something that really should be in the story, but looks like it's excess. I used to work with a cowriter, and he was always focused on trying to trim what he thought was excess but was important for characterization. It may take more words to say something, but if that's your character's way of thinking or talking, then it's not wrong or excess.

July 27, 2014 at 10:32 AM  
Blogger Wm. L. Hahn said...

A great post Ruth, and very apt for me right now as my first-ever professionally edited tale is coming out to the world!
This is a powerful semantic issue for me: I took your bullet about what editors are, and mentally crossed out every word except "cops". My beta-readers and I myself weren't editing- we were HELPING! Part of my problem comes from my day job where I also write but for a technical-business audience. Editing is mandatory, and while I've found the editors themselves to be absolutely lovely people, their job is to stamp out every vestige of color, interest, or culturally-bound reference in the work. So I've been VERY suspicious of editors; the whole subject triggers every defensive bone in my body (and I've got plenty of those).
On top of that editing violates Hahn's Golden Rule of Writing: "Your writing shall cost thy family no gold".
But when my publisher introduced me to an editor's work by saying "he will be only helpful" I discovered that it can be just that. Still a little cautious! But happy I tried it this time, with a tale that means so much to me personally.

July 27, 2014 at 10:45 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Alex—I have the distinct feeling that your 2 test readers, 3 critique partners & publisher's editor are doing the job that needs being done! ;-)

July 27, 2014 at 10:51 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Linda—Thanks for taking the time to comment. I agree: editing is the fun part! Editing gets you & your book where you want to be.

July 27, 2014 at 10:53 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

William—I'm glad to hear you've had a positive, "helpful" experience with your editor. The editorial experience should be positive—and creative—and help you raise your work to its best level.

Doesn't mean I don't understand the caution, either! ;-)

July 27, 2014 at 10:56 AM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

The times I've placed my short fiction I've had the opportunity to work with excellent editors who've managed the copy & developmental editing with aplomb. I had one abysmal experience with an educational journal article, but mostly I am a huge fan of editors. I have hopes of working int he future with editors on novel-length MSs. Thanks for the concise, clean explanation of the world of editing.

July 27, 2014 at 11:18 AM  
OpenID paulfahey said...

Hi,Ruth, I've edited two anthologies to date and both times my mantra was "Don't edit out the writer's voice or style." I often came close to making suggestions that weren't quite right for a piece and the contributors let me know. I'm so glad they did. We had great discussions about everything including the style manual I used for the book. Sometimes even style books don't allow for a writer's specific voice. You've not only provided great advice here but a ton of links that I'm gonna check out. Especially now since I'm between writing projects and trying to fill the well before I start in again on something new. Thanks again for a great post. Always appreciated. Paul

July 27, 2014 at 12:03 PM  
Blogger Hope Clark said...

I love editing, but I don't deceive myself that I can be my everything in terms of editing my work. Just finished going over the copyedits on my 4th novel coming out in September, and I was dumbfounded at the things I typed that I hadn't caught, and that my other editor didn't catch, or my critique group didn't catch. Those different layers of editing are SO important. Thanks for such a concise article.

July 27, 2014 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger Julie Musil said...

Editing is my favorite part of the process! A first draft is tough for me to get down on paper. I love editing when I'm about four drafts in, when the manuscript starts reading like a real book, instead of the crap I wrote in draft one.

I use two beta readers then edit like heck before paying for a freelance editor. I'm always open to suggestions from anyone who can make my stories better!

Thanks for all these amazing resources.

July 27, 2014 at 1:24 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

CS—Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad to hear you've had such constructive help from your editors and hope you will repeat the experience with your novel-length mss. The right editor(s) can make *all* the difference!

July 27, 2014 at 1:36 PM  
Blogger Nina Badzin said...

Such excellent resources! Thank you!

July 27, 2014 at 1:39 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Hi Paul! The productive back-and-forth between editor and writer is invaluable and you are so professional in understanding when your own edits weren't quite on-target. No one's perfect—not writers, not editors—but the collaboration between them can produce the transformative creative spark. We all always hope to achieve that whether in writer OR editor mode.

July 27, 2014 at 1:41 PM  
Blogger Helena Kjellvander said...

Thanks! I'm in an editing process, and it s rather hard. You gave me a totally new perspective :)

July 27, 2014 at 1:42 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Hope—Gah! it's just incredible how many mistakes/glitches/typos come up even in an ms that's already been through rounds of editing. You definitely don't have to ask me how I know!

July 27, 2014 at 1:42 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Julie—Thanks! You're soooo right. About the fourth time around is when you begin to think you might actually have a real book on your hands—first three are usually the Sanitation Dept, i.e. getting rid of the crap. ;-)

July 27, 2014 at 1:46 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Nina—Thanks. Hope you found some helpful links.

July 27, 2014 at 1:47 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Helen—Thank *you*! I hope that new perspective will help you past the thorny parts of the process. Getting to the "fun" part will be well worth it!

July 27, 2014 at 1:49 PM  
Blogger Leanne Dyck said...

I've grown from working with editors and revising my own writing has helped me see how much my writing skill have developed. Editing and revising are very important steps in the writing process.

July 27, 2014 at 4:11 PM  
Blogger Rosi said...

This is just chock full of good tips and links. Thanks!

July 27, 2014 at 8:43 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Leanne—It sounds like you've used your editors and the editing process in the most productive way—to improve your own skills. Everything you've learned can be applied over and over again in the future!

July 28, 2014 at 4:25 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Rosi—Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your kind words!

July 28, 2014 at 4:26 AM  
Blogger Sarah Brentyn said...

I was about to argue that editing is my least favorite part of writing then I read your bullet points. And I agree with them. I actually enjoy doing all those things.

I love the link on the differences between a rewrite, revision, and editing. I have always found these to be very different and am flummoxed when people say I need to “edit” when what they really mean is a complete overhaul—a “rewrite”. Love the different kinds of editing info, too. (I can’t believe there is a cliché finder. Hilarious.)

Thanks for the post!

July 28, 2014 at 7:31 AM  
Blogger Jeannie Miernik said...

Yes, yes, yes! I think that a love of rewriting and editing is what separates serious writers from people who just have an emotional need for an audience. It's the difference between wanting to "be a writer" and wanting to produce something beautiful. Crafting, reworking, and perfecting something already written is a whole different kind of pleasure than the rush of writing new material.

July 28, 2014 at 7:45 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Sarah—Yessss! Doing all things referred to as "editorial" are fun. Improving a ms is a pleasure—and should feel like one. Glad I turned around your thinking!

July 28, 2014 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Jeannie—thank you! I've said it a million times (just ask my DH!): "It ain't the writing. It's the rewriting and the editing." Separates the pros from the wannabes. Really, if you want a gem, you have to do the polishing. No short cuts!

July 28, 2014 at 8:08 AM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

I'm getting ready to reedit a book I wrote years ago. And I'm actually very excited about it. I'm excited to see how much my voice has changed, to see (hopefully) how much better a writer I am now, and I think it will be fun to introduce my mature editing self to my younger writer self. Thanks for all the good tips and references. Wow...a lot of great info!

July 28, 2014 at 8:52 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jeannie--This is so true, I had to chime in! "love of rewriting and editing is what separates serious writers from people who just have an emotional need for an audience." I see this in critique groups so often--people who are just there for the audience and never process the feedback or try to improve their work. Thanks for the great quote!

July 28, 2014 at 9:58 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Christine—No wonder you're excited! I just reedited/rewrote an old book. It was fascinating to see how I've changed—and how much styles of story telling have changed. Used to be "telling," now it's "showing." Good luck with your edits/rewrites…have a ball!

July 28, 2014 at 10:13 AM  
Blogger Gay Degani said...

Editing IS the fun part, even when you think that if you read that manuscript one more time you're going to stick that fork you're eating apple pie with straight into your throat. But you open to that first page and read it again, and soon even the pie is forgotten. And it is always amazing to me, that if I am reading mindfully, how much can be finessed or how many end quotation marks I've forgotten, even the third or fourth time through. I've learned the hard way too, to love and embrace editors, but also to be wary of assuming they will catch everything, whether it's a simple typo or a glitch in the story. When I reread my novel for the umpteenth time for the trade paperback (there was a serilized on-line version already, a hardcover gift edition and a ebook addition which all came first) I shocked my editor with 100 new changes. Some were clarity issues, punctuation, finessing, but two were big logic glitches. OMG. It happens to everyone. A novel is a complicated product and the author must take responsibility for early editing and final editing and must also have help from others besides herself. It is the only way to produce a product that you can be proud of.

Thanks for this piece. Will be sharing with fellow writers...

July 28, 2014 at 11:06 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Gay—You're soooo right! It is shocking to find big glitches even after you've been through the d*mn book a zillion times. Amazing how often it happens. Scary, too.

Thanks for spreading the word!

July 28, 2014 at 11:35 AM  
Blogger Gay Degani said...

My pleasure. As an editor at an online mag, I am always talking about this step in the writing process. For me, this is when you learn what your subconscious is trying to tell you!!

July 28, 2014 at 11:40 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Gay—yes! The subconscious is the source of the work. The writer must allow the subc to run free. Often, at least for me, it's only at the end that I understand what I was trying to do. The subc knits it all together: the writer has to get out of the way.

July 28, 2014 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger Gay Degani said...

I love the way you put that. I read some article awhile back that tried to shatter my belief in right brain-left brain activity. I think it was in the WSJ, but I say bunk. Understanding the difference between free-thought while writing and disciplined thought while editing is of key importance if a writer wants to learn how to master the craft.

July 28, 2014 at 12:02 PM  
Blogger Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Ruth,

Some fantastic information in here... Thanks! I learned the hard way. With hundreds of revisions on my first novel. Definitely a learning experience. Thank God for CP's and Beta's ... their patience was endless and I grew as a writer and EDITOR. Now I do editing as a service. The creative kind. LOL. My specialty is creating atmosphere and breathing life into a scene.... I LOVE to edit this way. With so many authors streamlining their stories to an anorexic degree, description is needed to feel the space and emotion. Not too much, but some.

July 29, 2014 at 6:28 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Michael—What a great story! You're living proof that editing rocks and is the way to a living, breathing, dynamic story. Love your concept of anorexic fiction. I agree!

July 29, 2014 at 6:38 AM  
Blogger Aaron Johnson said...

Speaking about editing; I always edit my book all the time. improving my work can take lots of time to do it!
I've written 3 E-books, edited them, and finalize it,--before I decided to publish it.
Your post is very useful.

July 29, 2014 at 12:07 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Aaron—Thanks, happy to hear the post was useful. I recently read that Dean Koontz writes each page 30 times (IIRC) which really means that he edits constantly & carefully as he goes along. Sounds like you use a variation of his approach! He added that you'd think that method would slow him down but that, in fact, it doesn't.

July 29, 2014 at 1:08 PM  
Blogger Eileen Goudge said...

For my first foray from TradPublishing to indie I used the fabulous editor/copyeditor team that is Perfect Pen Communications http://perfectpencommunications.com. They were a joy to work with and delivered in a timely fashion. Before, I always had in-house editors to edit my work, so it was a load off my mind to be in the company of professionals for this one.

July 31, 2014 at 3:56 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Eileen—Thanks for the rec. Appreciated!

July 31, 2014 at 12:56 PM  
OpenID zeesouthcombe.com said...

I have edited, revised, and rewritten myself, and have then relied largely on some fantastic beta readers for developmental editing.

I'm hiring a professional for copy-editing, Diane Povey. I found her online, but she is from NZ (where I live), and part of hiring her has been a) understanding NZ English, and b) supporting NZ business, which I believe is important.

She also gives a 'corrections report', which looks into some developmental editing, but not in great depth. This works for me as I don't have a lot of money to invest (I'll be self-publishing later this year).

On another note, I've been reading your blog for yonks, but this is the first time commenting. Thanks for sharing your experiences and advice - we all really appreciate it!

Cheers :-)

August 1, 2014 at 5:17 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Zeesouthcombe—Thank *you* for your kind words and for taking the time to comment. Anne and I are delighted to welcome you!

It sounds like you've found just the right approach for editing your work—input from high-quality beta readers plus an editor who knows NZ English and can offer a degree of developmental editing. Good luck with your book!

August 2, 2014 at 5:24 AM  
Blogger Zenobia Southcombe said...

Thanks! Keep up the fantastic blog!

August 6, 2014 at 6:11 PM  

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