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Ask an Editor

by Arlene W. Robinson

Welcome to the premiere of "Ask an Editor," a monthly column intended to help writers understand the editing process a bit better. In this column, we'll also occasionally share information about book marketing, promotion, and publicity. Booking Matters hopes this section will help you find out things you might not know you needed to know about both subjects. Each month, we'll answer as many of your questions as space permits, with emphasis on those that would benefit the greatest number of aspiring writers and authors.

A natural question at this point would be, "Who are you?" The short answer is: I've been a professional editor since 1996, and have edited over 20 books and coauthored two. One of my editing projects—I Am Not Afraid to Dream, by Dr. Joe N. Lester (JoeWolf Publishing, 1999), was reviewed in Ebony and is now in its second printing. Another book, The Twelfth Man Standing, by Michael Holmes (Vantage Press, 2001), was the recipient of the Turner Broadcasting Network's Trumpet Award last year. My first book—With God, All Things are Possible with Leanna Mack Rogers—was published this summer.

I love to write . . . but even more, I love it when others read what I write. Out of this passion came my zeal for helping others improve their own writing. Now I have clients all over the country, and even in other countries. (My first suggestion: harness the power of the Internet for yourself!). Along the way, I've learned a great deal about book writing and promotion, and certainly made my share of mistakes, too. That's why I'm excited to be able to share what I've learned with you.

For this, the first column, I'd like to answer the one question I'm asked more than any other:

Q. What's the first bit of advice you'd give someone trying to become published?

A. It's not enough to just write the book—you also have to learn everything you can to give your book its best chance of success. It can be hard for a writer to think of their book as a business, but it really is. Whether you publish your book yourself or find a traditional publisher, you'll face sometimes-fierce competition to market (sell) your book. Knowing the "tricks of the trade" can make the difference between a successful book and one that gathers dust in a warehouse, unread.

So don't be satisfied until your book—your "product"—is the best it can possibly be. As one "trick," have your story professionally edited if possible—it's the best way to give you the all-essential pair of "fresh eyes" that even bestsellers need. Editing won't turn a bad story or idea into a good one, but a well-edited book earns far more respect than one littered with errors. A professional editor can point out problems with more than just spelling and grammar, too. This can help turn a so-so book into a page-turner.

If professional editing's not possible, at least ask other readers you respect to read and make comments. Or turn to one of the many books available to help you do your own editing. In fact, one excellent book on the subject is called Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Renni Browne and Dave King. Quill/HarperResource Books, 2001). While not a substitute for a professional edit or critique, either option can make a difference in your success.

While you're sharpening your writing and editing skills, gather every tidbit you can about the business of writing, too. In other words, learn all you can about ways to promote your book. One common myth about book promotion is that if an author has a traditional publisher, they don't have to worry about book promotion—that their publisher will take care of everything. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially in the case of a first-time author, when the publisher budgets little money for promotion. As much as this editor is loathe to admit it, the promotion process is at least as important (if not more so!) than the writing and editing.

I could go on, but I won't. Why? Because that's all the space we have for this month! Please send your questions and/or comments to the email address at the end of this column, and I look forward to answering them next month!


Reprinted with the permission of Booking Matters ( a literary publication that promotes authors, book clubs, and bookstores.