I’d like to preface by saying two things. First, hiring a freelance book editor is not going to guarantee you a publishing contract. Second, editors approach their work differently. To be clear, the information that I am sharing applies to me and only me. I am not speaking for other developmental book editors. Publishing is a subjective business.
The big picture
I am a large canvas editor. I wear two hats; my reader hat and my editor hat. I use my reactions on both levels to form suggestions for clients. I react as I read and clients will find plenty of notes in the margin. I do not censor these comments or try to sugarcoat a reaction if it happens to be negative. I do not believe that it makes sense to wear kid gloves while working for a client.
I am looking for great stories and natural storytelling ability. Something that hooks me, holds me and lures/lulls me, to a satisfying ending. I don’t follow a formula or edit off a checklist. I focus on the main characters; are they likable; are they believable; are the circumstances believable. I have no problem with a familiar plot with a new twist. I look for strong pacing. I hate clichés. I hate cop-outs. I focus on tense. I focus a lot on point of view. Are there too many at one time? Is reading like watching a tennis match? Am I with one character enough to get a grasp on that character or being moved onto someone else too quickly? Conflict is always a big issue for writers and seems to come up a lot in conversation. Does one character have something another character wants? If I am reading a love story, is there an obstacle that needs to be overcome? Does Life throw a believable curve ball at these folks? Is the conflict interpersonal between the hero and heroine? What’s at stake?
Editing for a market
Sometimes I do edit toward the market. Is it funny enough? Is it sexy enough? Is the police procedure creative? Is the puzzle hard to solve? Do I feel the jeopardy the character is in? Does the writer know where she/he would like this manuscript to end up? Is there an audience out there that might be the right one?
At least two rounds of editing
I prefer to complete two edits. The first is the content edit; the broad strokes. Once revisions have been done, I edit a second time focusing on the line by line issues; dialogue tags, adverbs, fluff and filter words. I don’t know how many freelancers offer two reads as part of their package. I can’t see how one can consider a job finished without reviewing a file after major work has been done on it by the writer.
Style rules are for copy editors
I am not a writer. I do not have books on my desk about style and grammar rules. I don’t pick up on dangling participles or esoteric rules. I always suggest clients hire a copy editor as the final phase of any editorial services package. Whether one isgoing the Traditional route or the Self publishing route.
My job is to fix, enhance, suggest, support, listen, bring to light what may be hidden. Try this; how about that; move this here; make this person funnier. Begin the story in a different spot. It’s the larger stuff that I focus on first. I don’t make big “x’s” through sections unless totally necessary. I like to have a free-flowing style…talk off the top of my head; listen to my initial reactions. I enjoy the brainstorming phone sessions with clients! I am not a creative writing teacher. I don’t offer classes. I fix books to the best of my ability and use my 20 years in the commercial fiction business to aid clients in any way I can.
Guidance for my writers
I can and do consult on career paths. I can and do consult on literary agents. I try to steer clients in the right direction for their specific work so they aren’t wasting valuable time. Sometimes I say, “you should put this one away and start a new one.” I’ve worked with a ton of authors with varying degrees of experience. Most appreciate the honest and straightforward approach. I am not a hand-holder as anyone who knows me well will tell you! Although any time a client needs totalk, I try to make myself available.
Professional editing takes time
A freelance job for me is not a quick thing. It takes time. I try to work at a good pace as I know there is an anxiousness to get results and move forward. But sometimes it just doesn’t work that way. I fly by the seat of my pants a lot. I listen to my immediate reactions a lot, both positive and negative. I think of myself as an author’s editor rather than a company person (so to speak). Editing for me is truly enjoyable work. It was always the favorite part about my job when I was in Corporate America. I am as passionate about it now, 20 years later, as I was when a rookie. I think of my work as entering into short-term partnerships;helping to create something, making it great and then patting it on the head and sending it on its way.
CAROLINE T. has edited 400 novels, including 3 New York Times Bestsellers. Her genres include romance, women’s fiction, thrillers, and mysteries.