What to Expect from an Editor

September 25, 2017

Many of the authors I worked with over my career told me how upset they were with me when first seeing my edits, but once they realized my job was to help them make their writing better and more clear for the reader, they understood that nothing I said was personal to them–it was about improving their relationship with their reader.

So, what exactly should you expect from your editor? Here are some tips to help you.

  • Look for an editor who maintains respect for your ability as a writer while directing revisions to your work.
  • Determine if your editor can see the big picture (your general topic) of what your article or book is about while paying attention to the details in your sentences.
  • Be clear yourself about why you’re writing your article or book. Ask yourself, “What is this about in general? What are the deeper themes I want to cover?” The point is you want some compelling reason for writing so your reader feels satisfied when done reading. Once you’re clear about the reason, keep your focus on it to avoid going off in other directions.
  • Be sensitive to the fact that you know what you’re trying to say, but unless you make that clear in your writing, you’re expecting your reader to read your mind. Editors are the link between writers and readers. Your editor should always have the reader in mind when working with you to make your writing more clear and concise.
  • Ask for clarification when you don’t understand your editor’s comment or suggestion.
  • Watch that your editor helps you with both copy editing and content editing. Content editing is about clarity, understanding, organization. Copy editing is about grammar, punctuation, spelling. You need your editor to provide both.
  • Remember that a good editor strives for balance between keeping your voice and style while ensuring your writing is clear and grammatically correct.

I told authors I worked with that they the only ones who can write what they write. No one else has their perspective of life based on their knowledge, experience, and observation.

My job as editor was to make sure they clearly communicate with their readers. My job as editor was not to change their voice into mine (which, unfortunately, sometimes editors try to do by rewording or reworking an author’s piece).

Your editor should challenge you to be clear and to rewrite in your own voice to achieve clarity for the reader. Happy writing!


Submission Rejected? Tips for Moving on.

November 14, 2014

One thing freelance writers learn early in their careers is rejection is commonplace. When I taught my “Writing for Fun and Profit” series, I reminded students it was their submissions, not them, being rejected.

So what is rejection anyway? It’s simply a decision to not purchase or publish a submission. The decision could be based on business such as the periodical just published a similar article, or it could be based on emotion such as the decision-maker simply didn’t like the title.

If you’ve done your homework before submitting, your acceptance rate should improve. I know because I sold the first thing I submitted to Victoria magazine, to Woman’s World Weekly magazine, and to Mpls/St.Paul magazine. I also sold the first weekly newspaper column I submitted to newspapers in Oklahoma (when I lived there) and in Minnesota. The key to my acceptance rate was I did my homework and studied what each publisher published, wrote in the style of the publication, and was professional in my submission.

Yet, I’ve had my share of rejection as well and coping with rejection is what this post is about. Here are some tips to help you.

  • Understand that rejection isn’t personal–it’s just part of the writing business. Placing your submission on the editorial calendar, not your writing, is what’s being rejected.
  • Move on. I told my students to create a list of publishers/publications for each manuscript. If a rejection notice came in, cross the name of that publisher off, and submit to the next one on the list.
  • Keep writing. The writing world is full of stories about how many times well-known authors were rejected before finally being published. Look for these stories if it will encourage you to keep writing.
  • Learn from your writing. Sometimes a manuscript isn’t ready to be published, but every time you write, you have the opportunity to learn and improve.
  • Realize editors make mistakes. Editors are people. They don’t have crystal balls to show them what will or won’t succeed in the marketplace. They want the writers they work with to be successful.
  • Think about something worse than rejection that could happen to you. Doing that will help you regain your perspective and see the rejection for what it is–part of being a writer.
  • Remember that you can’t be published if you don’t write–and submit!

Hope these tips help you the next time your submission is rejected. Keep these tips handy and when a rejection comes in, simply say, “Next!” and submit to the next name on your list. Happy writing!

Ten Commandments for Getting Published

August 27, 2014

Authors enjoy more publishing options today than ever. Still, the thinking that being royalty published is the ultimate goal remains for many authors. It is with that in mind that I write this post.

I. Thou Shalt Write. It’s amazing how many authors dream of being published but don’t find time to write. Begin with a writing goal in mind (could be time, pages, character sketches, or whatever), then commit to working on reaching the goal.

II. Thou Shalt Write Well. Like it or not, the English language has standards. Learn them, then apply them to your writing.

III. Thou Shalt Revise. Most things created by humans are not perfect. So it goes with writing. Revision means taking a critical look at the writing flow, the consistency of detail, the word choice, etc., and doing it sentence by sentence.

IV. Thou Shalt Understand the Publishing Business. Publishing is business, not dream fulfillment. As in any business venture, the axiom that one must spend money to make money holds. You may have to invest in yourself as a business by attending workshops, researching, etc. If you expect publishers to invest in your writing, why wouldn’t you do the same?

V. Thou Shalt Understand Submission Rules. If the agent or publisher’s submission guidelines say to submit only query letters, do not send sample chapters. If they say to also submit sample chapters, do not submit only a single-page query letter.

VI. Thou Shalt Take Rejection in Stride. One of my writing professors in college told me that rejections mean one thing–I’m working. How right she was. She taught me to create a list of possible markets, then send off my query to the first one on the list. If my offer (NOTE: I said offer, not me personally) was rejected, check off that name, say, “Next,” then send to the next name on the list. Repeat as necessary.

VII. Thou Shalt Learn Patience. Publishing can be a slow process. If you’ve submitted your offer, instead of waiting by the mailbox every day, get busy. I hope you get busy writing, but get busy doing something.

VIII. Thou Shalt Work Positively with Editors. Join a writers group if you want feedback while writing. Then, after you’ve finished your article or book, find an editor. Editors are there to help you improve your writing, so strive to work positively with that person. Granted, not all editors are good fits for all writers, but when you find one you can work with, you’ve struck writing gold.

IX. Thou Shalt Not Frustrate Publishers. When you’re selling something to someone, that person becomes your customer. Irritating customers is not good business. If your primary contact at your publisher is your editor, that person becomes your customer.

X. Thou Shalt Manage Expectations. Few things in life go exactly as expected. So it is with publishing. Learn to manage your expectations and reduce your frustrations.

Above all, remember that you cannot be published if you don’t write. Happy writing!

10 Things You Need to do to Successfully Self-publish

July 10, 2013

Most authors know to stay away from vanity presses–the ones that take your money and publish your book as is. But few authors think about self-publishing being the ultimate in vanity publishing. Instead, they write the book, insert the text into some publishing program, list the book online, and expect the book to sell itself.

There are some self-publishing success stories (The Celestine Prophecy, What Color is Your Parachute?, The Christmas Box), but success comes with a lot of hard work after the book is written. Here are ten things you need to do to have a shot at becoming a self-publishing success.

  1. Educate yourself and have a plan. Publishing is not dream fulfillment. It is business, and it is a competitive business, so read books on publishing, take classes, join associations of publishers and learn from others’ experiences.
  2. Study the competition. I recently heard there are 16,000 books written about President Lincoln. Browse the online bookstores and see how many books are written on your subject. Then decide how you can make your book stand out by offering something new, better, more, or different.
  3. Write what people want to read. Hard as it is to accept, few people care about your opinion or life experiences. They want to be entertained or educated, and your book needs to satisfy that want.
  4. Think marketing every minute. Before you publish your book, have a marketing plan that starts with identifying your reader and how you can reach that target market. Blog? Articles? Seminars? Classes? Corporate training? Bundle with other authors’ books? Book signings or events? Trade shows?
  5. Hire a professional book editor. You know what you want to say in your book, therefore you are not qualified to edit your manuscript because you’ll see what should be there rather than what actually is there. Avoid hiring English teachers, avid readers, friends, etc. because as willing as these folks are to help, they’re not book editors. Be sure the editor you hire follows the Chicago Manual of Style, the book publishing standard.
  6. Create a catchy title. The title needs to be short and clear. Alfred Hitchcock preferred one-word titles for his films and people remember them!
  7. Hire a book cover designer. The purpose of the front cover is attract the reader/buyer to your book. Your book is competing with thousands of others in the marketplace, so hire a book cover designer (as opposed to a general graphic designer) to create a dynamite cover for you.
  8. Make the book interior inviting. Your designer can help you with font choice, layout, folio, etc.
  9. Price your book competitively. When doing step #2, make note of the prices of the books you’ll be competing with. You’ll know how much you can sell the book for, then do the math to see how many books you’ll need to sell before you start making a profit after paying all your self-publishing and marketing expenses.
  10. Promote your book at every opportunity. Nobody cares about your book as much as you do, so you need to be enthusiastically looking for every opportunity to get your book in front of your target market. Marketing never stops as long as you have a book to sell.

Now you have ten things you need to do to successfully self-publish. Remember that only you can write what you write, and your readers are waiting.

Happy writing!


Which Editor in the Masthead Gets the Query?

May 21, 2013

If you want a magazine to buy your article, you need to make sure your query letter gets to the right person. You begin by looking over the masthead. There is no standard masthead so you have some decisions to make. Here are some tips to help you.

  • Since job titles are cheap, look at both title and where the name is positioned in the masthead lineup.
  • Larger magazines put the Editor or Editor-in-Chief at the top–that’s too high to bother with your query letter.
  • Read on down the masthead and find the editor who handles what you’re selling–Articles Editor, Features Editor, Beauty Editor, Fashion Editor, etc.
  • If there’s no specific title such as Articles or Features, look for the Managing Editor.
  • If there’s no Managing Editor, the third name down the masthead is a good bet as the person who makes the buying decisions.
  • You’ve gone too far down the masthead if you run into Senior Editor, Contributing Editor, Associate Editor, or Assistant Editor. These are hard-working folks, but chances are they don’t have the purchasing authority you seek.
  • Smaller magazines may have only a handful of names on the masthead. If that’s what you discover, go ahead and address your query to the name at the top since that’s probably the person with purchasing authority.

With all that said, don’t overlook the value of connecting with editorial staff even if they don’t have purchasing authority. Sometimes the only way to get your foot in the door is by connecting with someone a bit lower on the masthead.

Finally, if you absolutely cannot determine which name should get your query, go ahead and call the main number of the publication and ask. This is a last resort, but it’s better than sending your query without a person’s name on it.

If you make the sale, it’s your job to listen to whatever the editor tells you–point of view, deadlines, word count, etc. are all things the editor could cover. Professional writers deliver quality writing on time. That means the article requires little editing. Once your reputation for professionalism is noted, you’re on your way to developing a good working relationship with your editor. And, as in any industry, editors move on to other publications and take their contacts with them, which could be great for you.

Writers who stay within word count, meet deadlines, and require little editing are harder to find than you realize. That’s why so many magazines are staff written. Prove you’re one of the elite who delivers and you’ll be freelancing as much as you want.

Happy writing!

Do You Need a Development Editor?

May 10, 2013

Authors know what they want to say, but sometimes they’re so close to their writing that they don’t fill in the blanks as well as they think they do. If you’ve noticed that in your writing, you may want to consider working with a development editor. Here’s a primer for you.

  • A development editor figures out what works in your book and what doesn’t. Then he or she offers specific suggestions on how to correct the issue or fix the problem.
  • A development editor asks you about your agenda in writing the book, then questions you to discover whether or not that’s what’s getting in the way of the book’s purpose/flow.
  • A development editor offers a comprehensive critique of your book. This isn’t the same as content or copy editing, however. It’s an analytical critique of the book over all.
  • A development editor may do content or copy editing, but those are additional services and paid for separately.
  • A development editor provides a cost/price proposal and keeps you abreast of progress in terms of deadline and costs.

Why would you invest in a development editor? Once an agent or acquisitions editor rejects a book, there’s little hope of having an improved version considered. Thus, you’ll want your manuscript in the best shape possible before shopping it around.

How do you find a development editor? As with anything, word-of-mouth and referrals typically offer best results. You may get referrals from agents or other editors, and if you do, you’ll want to be sure they aren’t  in “associate” programs where one pays a fee or commission to the other for business sent.

How do you make your decision? Find out how the development editor works, how he or she proposes to go about the project, and what references he or she can provide. My experience with references is they’re always positive or they wouldn’t be offered to you.

Bottom line is not all authors write the same way ,and not all development editors work the same way. Do some homework, and find the one who works best with you.

Happy writing!

Editing is a Critical Part of the Writing Process

October 3, 2012

I attended two meetings and one seminar last week and one issue surfaced in each venue–today’s writing needs more editing. When pressed for more details, each person talked about the explosion of independent publishing created by technology and the deterioration of the quality of the end result. Most of the complaints centered around e-books, but independently published (aka self-published) print books were just as bad.

Here are some of the points raised in the discussions during last week’s meetings:

  • Simple punctuation errors such as where to place commas or periods with quotation marks (both go inside the quotation mark, by the way).
  • Simple punctuation errors such as whether or not to place a comma before the conjunction in a series (per the book industry standard, Chicago Manual of Style, a comma goes before the conjunction in a series).
  • Pronoun/antecedent disagreement (plural pronouns such as they or their with singular antecedents such as speaker). Example: When a speaker tells their audience a story, they should use more gestures. Edited version: Most speakers should use more gestures when telling stories to their audiences.
  • Overuse of trite expressions.
  • Overuse of favorite words or phrases.
  • Overuse of scare quotes. Scare quotes are the quotation marks put around words. These should be used judiciously and only when “scaring” a reader into seeing a word is used in unusual manner. Too many scare quotes become distracting.
  • Capitalization of job titles without a person’s name. Example: I couldn’t reach the Principal, so I called the Superintendent.
  • Using ellipsis to show a break or pause. The correct punctuation for that is a dash. Ellipsis shows omission, not pause. The one exception is that ellipsis is correctly used  in dialogue to show faltering speech.
  • Sometimes words are missing.

The take-away from the discussions is the writer’s credibility is compromised, if not dismissed, when he or she shows little regard for details before publishing.

One caution, however. Avoid asking people who love you (and everything you write) to help you with your editing. They simply won’t tell you where your writing lacks clarity or needs work, either because they don’t see it  themselves or they don’t want to risk hurting you.

Do yourself and your reader a favor and invest in hiring an editor before you independently publish your work. The perception of your credibility depends on it.

Does all of this mean your “baby” won’t have a birthmark? No. Writers are human. Editors are human. Humans make mistakes. It happens, even in the big publishing houses. All I’m suggesting is it’s worth doing a little extra editing for both you and your reader.

Happy writing!