Interview with WORDSMITH'S Carol Givner
Many writers often try to edit their own work. Why is it important to utilize the services of a professional editor?
It’s difficult for actors to direct themselves. A writer needs an impartial opinion unclouded by emotion or intent. Who can separate the dancer from the dance? The writer is very close to the work and may miss issues and concerns. An outside point of view can spot editorial flags more readily. Also, authors know how they want the manuscript to read. Accordingly, they will see the intent in their minds instead of what is really there.
What is developmental editing?
Developmental editing is for content and structure. My developmental edits are very thorough and provide special instruction and assistance, page by page, even line by line. I write directly on the manuscript with suggestions and examples, moving text around, culling words and lines to their best advantage. I include point of view (as well as working with third person omniscient), show don't tell, fleshing out and development of plot and characters, adding dimension to setting and description, dialogue work, addition of inner dialogue where appropriate, foreshadowing (if there's a gun hanging over the fireplace in the first act, it has to fire in the third), effective blending of backstory into the text, and compelling hooks for the manuscript itself and as the lead-ins for chapters.
Personally, I think everyone needs their work proofread by several people. Or else embarrassing things can happen, like when I left the “l” out of Public in National Public Radio, and sent a rock star a chapter of his book called Butt Bryan, when I meant Buff Bryan. And, of course, the never-to-be-forgotten blooper of forgetting that a luscious actor had recently broken up with his wife and asking him -- no, you don’t want to know.
Another trick is to read your work aloud, and, even better, into a tape recorder. When you hear the story read back to you, you can easily see where and when you need to add or subtract content.
What is the difference between a developmental edit and a developmental critique?
My developmental edits evaluate the concepts and each word and how everything fits into the entire manuscript along with examples. My critiques evaluate the concepts with a few examples to get the writers started revising their manuscripts on their own.
Both draw on industry knowledge and effective writing skills. In addition, a critique may include a market analysis, or how well your book would fare going through the submission process or displayed at an online or brick and mortar bookstore.
With the advent of the Internet there are many “editors” who offer their services to writers. How can a writer tell which editor is the best for helping them reach their writing goals?
Be sure to ask for a free sample edit. Also, choose an editor who will be with you after the editing is done without charging you extra unless the project changes direction and you need, for example, a movie script. You should never feel uncomfortable questioning the edits. They are tools for you to take with you when you write the sequel. If you don’t understand the point of view changes or how to transfer your new learned skills of “show don’t tell”, then that editor was only project-based. You want an editor/mentor who will teach you to write for a lifetime. Even the smallest hints can give you additional skills and build a strong future.
I believe a good way to approach an edit is to hire the editor for three chapters only. If you like what you see, then move forward. No sense finding out you’re not compatible until after it’s all over.
What questions should every writer ask an editor before they begin working with them?
How much is this going to cost! Get a firm bid in writing as well as an editing agreement of what types of editing are going to be done. Ask what kind of editing is needed and why. Ask if the editor will also write a book proposal consisting of a query letter and synopsis for you. Ask if the editor thinks your book has a chance in the marketplace, and if not, why not? Don’t be taken in by grandiose claims of book deals and vast wealth. No editor should make promises. The best advice I can give my clients is that even though there are no guarantees in publishing, as in life, there are wondrous opportunities. If writers are blessed to have the spark of creativity in their hearts, they should nourish their inner writer, and choose editors who respect the integrity of their ideas and work. Don’t be bullied. Keep control. It’s your book.
I’ll bet you can tell I’m a writer myself. You should see how angry I get if some editor tells me I have to change something! Sheesh. Did he/she stay up all night working on the paragraph? And now it has to go? Forget it. It stays. Editors. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t publish without ‘em.
What are some of the mistakes that writers make when selecting an editor?
They hired the cheapest editor, or the one who is all praise and no criticism, or the one who guarantees publication, or the one with the biggest ego masquerading as experience. Ask for credentials. Ask for verifiable references.
Aside from basic editing services what can a professional editor do to enhance an individual’s writing ability?
Give praise and encouragement. An editor is a teacher, a mentor in the arts. An editor is obligated to find the spark in each writer’s manuscript, the breakthrough that makes him or her a Steinbeck or a Margaret Mitchell, and then build on that. If writers feels criticized or brow-beaten, they may give up. Working with an editor and mentor is supposed to be an empowering experience.
How much does it cost to work with a professional editor?
Editors charge from 1 cent to 20 cents per word, depending on the level of editing needed. Also, if you prefer to have your editor work by retainer, expect consulting or mentor rates from $20-$100 per hour. Ghostwriting can be anything. Be sure your ghostwriter sounds like you and writes in your voice!
As the writer coming up with the money for the edit, I like the by-the-word fee. In that way I know the exact amount. I don’t like surprises, unless they have to do with candy and flowers and sweet nothings whispered in my ear.
How often should writers communicate with their editor when working on a project? Whenever he or she would like! Some editors like to edit all the way through before any discussion takes place to be sure they see the entire project. Some authors, like me, would like feedback sometimes. “So, do you like it? What do you think? Does it suck? What do you think so far? Did you see what I did on page 6, line 8, word 2? Great, don’t you think? Do you know why I wrote that? Well, when I was a kid, there was this little boy who used to ride by on his….what? Oh. Sure. I can wait until you’re through with the edits. No, that’s fine. Really. I just thought I’d call and see how you liked the chapter where he kisses her for the first time. Did you like that one? What did you think? Nice, don’t you think? I liked that. It reminded me of . . . hello?”
What types of writing projects do editors typically work on?
Taking a manuscript through a developmental edit. Turning a novel into a screenplay. Critiquing a finished novel. Teaching the difference between show and tell. Explaining point of view. Writing a book proposal. And the hardest one of all – explaining that a rejection letter is just a letter. It isn’t the end of a career. It’s the beginning of a journey. It isn’t an opinion. It’s a job. It isn’t a grade from Old Lady Dingledorf in Room 218 with no air conditioning and the desk with no feet.
Here is an assignment from your editor, should our literary paths ever cross. Go to your keyboard and write, and let me know what wonders you create. And remember, when you invite me to your booksigning, I would appreciate an autographed copy. That’s Carol with no “e” and one “r”.