Feel Like Popping Your Editor? Keep Calm and Read This.

Most writers know we require editors. The need for editing is drummed into us from the time we venture into our first writing class, blog, or forum. We know if we're offered a contract, we'll be assigned an in-house editor, and if we self-publish, we'll want to hire a freelancer.

These days, agents do a lot of editing too. (This is done on their own time before a book is sold, so it's one of the big pluses of having an agent.)

We've heard for years about the fantastic symbiotic relationships superstar authors have with their beloved editors.

So when we finally get an editor to take us on—either on a freelance basis or assigned by our publishing house—we might imagine the editing process will be all Kumbaya and hugs.

We picture getting our pages back from our wonderful editor covered with positive comments and little hearts. Maybe they'll catch a few typos and suggest we embellish the story of the house elves getting into the mulled wine for a few more pages and ask for a little more of the mechanics involved in the sex scene with the three-headed trolls from Alpha Centauri. 

And perhaps they'll mention it's one of the most entertaining, well-written books ever.

Or not.

The truth is your pages are probably going to come back bleeding with red ink. Or yellow highlighter and little multi-color comments if your editor uses Word to edit the way mine does.

"Wha....???!" you say as you wipe tears from your keyboard and reach for the chocolate and/or vodka. "But this is polished stuff. I worked years on this. How dare he say I need to cut it down to 100,000 words and eliminate half the house elves? I NEED 47 named elves to show the chaos that reigns in the House of Nevermorish!" 

Welcome to the club.

All authors have to go through the process. The truth is that the glorious stories we have in our rich imaginations don't usually make it onto the page in the first try. 

But as writers we can only see the work as it exists in our heads. 

Unfortunately editors see the actual pages. And so will readers. That's why we need to go through this. 

Without readers, we're just crazy people making up stories.

(And if you're doing NaNo right now, keep on being crazy. It's the crazy that makes it all happen!)

But the editor is our bridge from our own fantasy of brilliance to the reality of actually entertaining our readers.

Judy Probus is a new author whose first book debuted in January of 2014. Today she tells us about her own journey through the editing process.

I'm glad to see she's using some of the material her editor made her take out for a supplemental book of related stories. A lot of what you take out of one book can be used in another: either as a novella with backstory about your world or characters, or a series of short stories. Those eliminated elves might be able to star in a whole series of their own. These days, we have lots of options. No writing is wasted.

But before you plunge into the editing process, here are some tips for choosing a freelance editor:

Tip #1: Try a critique group, beta reader, or self-editing software first.

Judy took a raw, never-workshopped manuscript to a professional freelance editor for a complete developmental edit. You can save money by first doing some self-editing using editing software (which Ruth Harris discusses here), workshopping your book in a critique group, or sending it out to beta readers (check out Jami Gold's great post on betas here.)

Those methods can soften the blow considerably, so maybe you won't feel the way Judy did when you get your first edits, although I think almost all published writers have felt that way at times.

Tip #2: Know what kind of edit you need.

Judy needed a complete developmental edit. Some authors need a line edit, and some only want proofreading/copy-editing. For a breakdown of the types of editing available, and how much they cost, here's a helpful post from author/editor Meghan Ward

Tip #3: Get a sample edit. 

Anybody can call him/herself an editor. Many may know grammar, but not the conventions of writing fiction. That type can be great for proofreading, but not for developmental edits like Judy's.

Or they may be English majors who don't understand genre fiction who will try to turn your fast-paced thriller into a bad imitation of Karl Ove Knausgaard.

A sample can help you see if the editor is the right fit for you and your genre.

Tip #4 Look for red flags.

These days there are probably more people making money off new writers than there are people making money from their own writing, so watch out for these red flags. (For more on editing scams, see Writer Beware.)

Bad grammar on the webpage: Don't laugh. I've seen people who claim to be editors who don't know where apostrophes go. You don't want to pay them your hard-earned money.

Lots of testimonials from unknown, unpublished authors. A good editor will want to let you know about successful clients, and the site will probably include some testimonials, but if there are pages and pages of over-the-top praise from people who who are unGooglable and haven't been published anywhere, you could be in scammer territory.

A recommendation from one writer you know is better than praise from 100 unknowns (especially if they're fictitious.)

False claims. Scam editing services often tell newbies that agents don't accept work that hasn't been professionally edited. That's not true. In fact, if you've hired an editor, don't mention it in your query. They want to see your work, not your editor's.

If you're referred by a publisher or agency. This scam isn't so big in the age of self-publishing, but there are still bogus agents and vanity publishers who own "editing" services and use one to feed the other. People caught in their web not only get bad editing, but the "agent" won't represent them to anything but scammy, high priced vanity publishers. (Sometimes the "agent", "editor" and "publisher" are one and the same.)

Vagueness. If an editor won’t give you a firm pricing scale or a list of clients and a resume, you want to move on. Here's a link to the standard pricing for editing as given by the Editorial and Freelancers Association.

Condescension. Everybody makes typos. If an editor says stuff like, "Obviously you're too stupid to know that a sentence ends with a period, not a comma," or "the article 'the' is not spelled "teh"; you need to go back to kindergarten, kitteh," you should run. Disrespectful remarks of any kind should send you out the door. There is NO place for verbal abuse in the editor/author relationship.

But sometimes simple truth can sting. Especially if you've been working in a self-protected bubble like Judy. But if you listen and learn, you can work your way through it to a popular book, the way she did....Anne

What my Editor Did that Made me Want to Pop Him (and why that’s a good thing)

by Judy Probus

While I wrote the first draft of my Middle Grade fantasy, ImagiNation Unveiled: The Hidden Realm, my anxiety skyrocketed every time I thought about having it edited.

The mere idea evoked emotions similar to how I feel when I watch the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Jones steps off a ledge into thin air, hoping not to plunge to his death.

You see, in the early days of writing my story, I guarded it from strangers.

For a couple years, I created and lived in my own writing world. In it, I invented my characters, sharpened my writing skills, and developed the plot.

On occasion, I invited my husband in to read bits and pieces of the story that I was especially proud of or to talk through parts I was particularly hung up on. But for the most part, the story lived in a temperature-controlled, highly protected environment. As you can imagine, working in this environment was rewarding because it gave my imagination the opportunity to run wild and free.

When I put a period on the last sentence in the story, I wanted to throw a party and wait for a standing ovation. Yes, there’s no doubt it was an accomplishment worth celebrating. But there was also an elephant in the same room my story was locked in, which was that my story was indeed locked in a room!

My inner voice finally spoke up and vetoed my desire to claim I had reached the finish line. “Yo, writing warrior, you forgot something. Hold up and get a grip. Before the story becomes a book, you need a kick-butt and objective editor to proofread your text, lest you reveal all of your unintentional errors to the world!”

I had to come to grips with the fact I had been experimenting in a vacuum. I knew I had to open myself up to criticism if I wanted to grow as a writer and develop the story, but the thought of doing so was terrifying.

Nevertheless, like a courageous little Hobbit, I ventured out of my writing hole on a personal quest to find an editor who would rival Indiana Jones’ search for the holy grail. While sifting through my options on the Internet, to my surprise, an editor crossed my path via a mutual acquaintance.

I met Matt Langan, a technology entrepreneur and editor, when ImagiNation Unveiled: The Hidden Realm was two-thirds complete.

(Anne here. I'm not sure this is the best path for everybody. I think it's generally better to wait to hire an editor until after the book is complete. That's because you can't usually write the best opener until you've written the end of the story, and each rewrite will cost money. But obviously it can work, as it did for Judy.)

After an initial read, he decided to edit twenty pages at a time.

At first I was thrilled. But then when he returned the first twenty pages covered in red ink… I was devastated.

I returned home to vent to my dog, Buster. I paced, I ranted, and yes, I cursed once. I assumed I hired a madman for an editor. I found his directness and honesty offensive and assumed that we would never get through the text without parting ways on unfriendly terms!

Later that night, I took a deep breath and I read through the text he had pored over again.

While churning over each and every one of Matt’s comments, I realized that Matt devoted a substantial amount of time and thought to his critique of my fledgling manuscript, a true mark of a professional interested in realizing the story’s potential.

I asked myself, “Isn’t that the caliber of editor you were hoping for?”

So, I swallowed my bruised pride and scurried back to my laptop to make corrections while Matt put the next twenty pages under his editing microscope.

And so it went until over 400,000 words were shaved back to approximately 130,000.

Once a week, Matt and I met to discuss the next twenty pages. Sometimes we agreed, sometimes we didn’t, but we always maintained respect for one another’s abilities and the desire to create a top-shelf story.

During the editing process, Matt did more than find grammatical errors. He challenged me to rethink, rework, reimagine, and reinvent to the best of my capability. He never allowed me to slump into mediocrity.

Sometimes in the beginning, Matt’s candor got on my nerves, but when I realized it came from an honest attempt to better my story, I began to see things in a new light. I realized I wasn’t angry at him… I was just feeling the growing pains associated with getting better.

Sure enough, as the ink changed back from red to black and the story became tighter and faster, grunts changed to grins.

Three grueling edits and rewrites later (to date, Matt has read the book more than nine times), our working relationship and zeal for the project grew stronger. After we sent the manuscript to beta readers in several states and received unanimous thumbs up responses from them, I made a final sweep through the text before the story was published.

When positive reviews came across the wire from Amazon and reputable sites like NarniaFans and MuggleNet, the fire we went through together seemed like a cool fall Kentucky morning.

Below are some of the rigors and rewards Matt and I encountered during the editing process.

If you are an author, my wish is that by sharing my experience, I can help you feel more comfortable with the path you’re on or even inspire you to raise the bar and accept nothing but the best from your editor.

To my fellow readers, I hope the following thoughts make you feel as if you were peeking over my shoulder during the process so you can further appreciate the effort that authors put into crafting the final stories your imaginations love so much…

Rigors of Editing

      The most challenging part of the editing process for the writer is to remain objective and open to constructive criticism. The writer must set aside any emotional attachment to the story that may have been forged with the characters during the write and analyze the story in a new light.
      The editor’s largest challenge is to amend the text for details with the eyes of a hawk and the objective nature of a detective.
      Depending on the length of the story, the time-consuming process can take weeks or months. Quality cannot be rushed. If you’re committed to excellence, adopt a long-term perspective.
      Editing a novel is an eye-crossing, hair-tugging, one-page-at-a-time agony.
      Never settle. Always be willing and able to rewrite a scene over and over again until it feels just right.
      Red ink can be harsh on the writer’s eyes. Dear editor, please use another color.
      Toss your ego. It hinders progress like a series of speed bumps in the road.
      Editor and writer need to stay objective, tactful, open-minded, on point, and professional. The writer and editor’s personalities must be compatible.
      During the editing process, it’s important that the editor respects the writer’s voice/style. The writer must stay true to the characters’ voices when amending the text.
      Despite differences of opinion, stay strong through honest and open communication.

Rewards of Editing

      The reader’s version of the story is purged of extraneous words, grammar errors, disjointed scenes, and typos.
      Keen inspection of the text requires concentration and attention to every detail that results in a stronger text.
      The editing process unearths and polishes previously undiscovered diamonds in the rough.
      It challenges the writer/editor to perform at their highest levels.
      A worthwhile editor wields a merciless iron quill, an asset to be cherished.
      Iron is forged from fire. A good story is forged from fired up exchanges between editor and the writer.
      The write/edit collaboration doesn’t require an office. A coffee shop chat will produce powerful insight for both editor and writer.
      When you work on a book, many people will question you (strangers, friends, even family members). Although a good editor will question elements of your story, they will never question you as an author or human being. A great editor may not start as your friend, but he or she will become one. He or she should be there to bring clarity to your vision when you’re second-guessing yourself, inspire you when you’re stuck, and celebrate your breakthroughs.
      Striving for excellence requires dedication, sweat, and teamwork. There are no shortcuts, which means eventually there is no greater feeling of satisfaction upon reaching the conclusion of the process.

One of the best writing tips I ever read warned against using your family or friends to edit the story. I agree.

What started out as a rocky working relationship between Matt and me developed into a rock-solid friendship and professional relationship. I am extremely fortunate and happy to have met such a dedicated and diligent editor. I can only hope every writer finds a similar editor and friend.

Got story? I like to say, “Choose to edit or you’ll regret it.”

There is no magic formula for success as a writer, but there is writing magic to be discovered during the editing process.

PS: I know finding a terrific editor can be extremely challenging, which is why I put together a list of editors I’ve either personally worked with or have heard very good things about from writers I trust - you can see that list here. Just so you know, I’m exclusively offering this to Anne’s readers. I expect these editors might be overwhelmed with requests for work (and they deserve it) as a result of this post, so I apologize if this link is taken down shortly after it goes live. If you want to work with them, I recommend reaching out to them quickly...Judy

What about you, Scriveners? Have you reached the editing stage with your work? What has your experience been? Do you have an editor you'd like to recommend? Do you have any bad editor horror stories to share?


ImagiNation Unveiled: The Hidden Realm
a Middle Grade fantasy by Judy Probus

Digital and print copies are available on Amazon.com 
also at Amazon UK, Amazon CA

A once peaceful planet is under siege by an evil sorceress, an exiled member of the royal family, and the growing army they wield.

In a last ditch effort to put an end to the evil, a crystal wizard scans the solar system for help. He pinpoints three earthlings he thinks have the unique traits needed to complete a secret mission to find the three pieces of the Crystal Heart, a mysterious weapon that was broken and scattered throughout the ImagiNation centuries ago.

As if the task isn’t tough enough as it is, the earthlings are the Edwards siblings who are only 8, 11 and 17 years old. And they would have to fly to the four corners of the alien planet where magic, danger, and fantastical creatures lurk. But even if they succeed in their quest for the Crystal Heart, they’ll have to use it in an epic battle that seems destined to take place on the Crystal Castle’s lawn.

Notable reviews
"I think this could have the potential to be this generation's answer to The Never Ending Story." - NarniaFans.com

"A fascinating fantasy novel ... Reading this book felt very much like I was watching an episode of Avatar meets Indiana Jones in space." - MuggleNet.com

Judy Probus is the author of the adventure fantasy novel ImagiNation Unveiled: The Hidden Realm and its supplement, full of backstories, character descriptions and illustrations. Her husband Bill and extended family reside in Kentucky, “the unbridled state” – a perfect place and state of mind for a writer of adventure fantasy tales. Discover Judy’s imagination and what inspires her to write at ImagiNationUnveiled.com.


NPR SELECTED SHORTS CONTEST. First Prize is $ 1000,  plus a scholarship for a 10 week course at the Gotham Writers' Workshop. Your story will be read to a national audience by a well-known actor.  Deadline March 15, 2015

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WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

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