I am an immense fan of what I call the “clean manuscript”. That means the manuscript doesn’t require me to do any of the following: Lose hair. Attempt to remove my eyeballs with a fork or melon baller. Grind my teeth. Slouch over my laptop in sheer disgust. And those are just a few of my reactions to having to work on the dreaded “dirty manuscript”. Clean manuscripts allow me to do my job properly, efficiently, and the result is always a pleased client, which is what both client and editor should desire as the end result.
The cleaner the manuscript, the quicker it will be returned to you. I am happy to correct all minor things I catch, all major things, and provide you with extensive notes regarding readability, plot, etc. It’s my job, and I do it well. The reason I loathe the “dirty manuscript” is because it requires months of attention. Most people have never re-read their original manuscript, they just turn it over to me and expect me to make it readable and sellable. I’m good, but I am not a miracle worker. If you give me a manuscript that requires rewrites, revisions, and overhauls, the blame does not reside with me. In fact, I don’t see why there needs to be blame at all. It is what it is. I cannot polish something that isn’t a diamond in the rough, or even a high quality gemstone.
The best way to get the right results in the editing process is as follows:
A- Work your story, and write it well. Outlining helps for some, and distracts others. Do what works for you. Everyone is different in this respect, and that’s okay.
B- Always use proper spelling and grammar. Do not use slang. When in doubt, use a thesaurus and/or a dictionary. They will be incredibly helpful tools for you at all times.
C- It is NOT beneath me to remind you that “alright” is NOT a word. Every time someone tells me they’re a writer and they use words like “alright” or “anyways”, I die a little inside.
D- I hate over-use of any particular word, especially in the same sentence or paragraph. If I see it twice in the same sentence to describe something or someone, I’m cutting it. I will tell you in my notes precisely why I cut it and correct you when you do it again and again.
E- Be open to any and all legitimate suggestions from your editor. After all, a good editor wants you to succeed.
Many writers struggle with spelling, proper tense, punctuation, remaining in one point of view at a time, and grammar. These are things I take note of and assist with. I always double-check spelling for the country of origin, or the country in which the author is seeking publication. American English is different from British English, which is also used in a vast majority of countries far away from the U.K. Some people request I edit in American English and others request British English. I’m good with both, but I do suggest that a person have two separate copies when they are looking for representation with agents more than one market.
When in doubt of how good or interesting your work may or may not be, hire a beta reader. You do not want friends, family, or the lady down the street to tell you how fabulous your work is before it has even seen an editor, but you DO need someone who will tell you the absolute truth and has no vested interest in your work.
Many people report how much others loved their story (read: family and friends), and then I read it and shake my head in disbelief because it’s as if someone spit random thoughts onto a page, as opposed to being a cohesive story that one can follow without suspecting they’ve lost their mind. You might very well be able to find someone willing to beta read for free, but I believe in paying someone who has absolutely no connection to you whatsoever. You’re paying for a critic, and their overall opinion. You can be specific with them about what their role is. It should cost under $50-$60, and is generally less than half that, depending on the person’s experience. I have seen people hire as many as ten beta readers and as few as one. It is a relatively small investment to help you better yourself as a writer and it helps you produce a better product overall.
Some people think it’s insane to seek out a beta or three, but I have had many authors publish work and then come to me later on to ask me to beta a new project, saying they wish they had done that with their first body of work, or their second, but that now that they know more about writing, they don’t see how people can simply go to friends and family. They’ve grown as writers and want to produce a better product. I agree with them, and applaud their candor.
I do plenty of beta work. I’m extremely honest when I do it for people because I know how hard it is to get the truth out of others when it pertains to something so close to your heart. I have been lucky to always have people tell me the truth. No one has ever kissed my ass in regard to anything, leave alone my work.
Your immediate instinct might be to listen to the praise you receive and run with it, but I’d listen for the constructive criticism and the person who is honest enough to point out the flaws and give you detailed feedback. Ultimately you can take opinions with a grain of salt and a shovel full of sand, but this is a crucial step. Some people prefer alpha readers who read chapters as they are completed. I have done that for people, usually reading one chapter at a time or a dozen chapters at a time, but I prefer to beta because I don’t end up feeling like I am somehow missing some huge portion of the story that will eventually be written. I also prefer material that isn’t raw. Plus, I think it’s good to encourage new writers to complete their projects and push them in the right direction in regard to their strengths. Not only is it good karma, it’s also genuine. There is room for everyone in the community. You are not going to be perceived as my competition because the only person I have to compete against is myself. It’s my job to write what I write and write it well, just as it is your job to do the same with your work.
Writers who believe they can edit their own work because they don’t want to pay someone is one of the saddest things I see. Not that long ago a friend sent me a copy of her completed book. I was, and still am, happy for her, but I didn’t have time to read it right away. I remember reading a few pages initially and then not being able to pick it up again for a while because I was busy. Late one night, when I was unable to sleep, I decided to give it a shot. I became slightly engrossed and then reached a portion of the story that annoyed me beyond words. She’d taken a conversation we’d had years ago and used it as an idea in her story. Initially, I was LIVID. Then, the more I thought about it, I decided that she probably didn’t recall the conversation, or who she’d had it with, and had simply logged the idea in her head. I really don’t think she had any malicious intent behind it, because if she did, then why send it to me if she knew I’d see what she wrote and flip out on her? It’s not even worth bringing up, so I have chosen not to mention it when I do give her feedback on it. However, my point in all this is that she didn’t pay for an editor, she had friends beta and edit for her, and so while I was reading, I found spots where the entire thing needs to be corrected and revised. Luckily, the mistakes are minor and only a very discerning eye would notice them, but I saw them and winced because I know this book is important to her.
I had a potential client tell me she couldn’t afford me. Okay. I went so far as to offer her a reduced rate and she still insisted that I was too high (publicly she told others I had the BEST prices). Freelance editors normally charge between $1000-$5000 for their services. My rate was significantly lower, but I reached a point in dealing with her where I said to myself “I am NOT going to price myself any lower simply to get a client. I work hard, this is not a game, and I have bills to pay, just like anyone else.” She, and many others, believe they can “do it themselves”. These are the very same people who want free advice from someone with experience and don’t listen to a word you say, because they’re convinced they know it all, which is the height of ignorance.
I don’t know it all, but I have the experience. I’m not perfect, but I’m open to learning. By proxy, we should all be learning something new each day.
Some days I write. Some days I edit. Some days I cannot get out of bed. And yet, I’ve never submitted anything that might make someone want to tear their eyes out. I suspect it comes from having excellent English teachers and from not having any one, ever, gloss my work over.
I’m grateful to those who helped me perfect my voice and even more grateful to those who encouraged it. It’s one of those things that helps me spot all the diamonds and gems that might never see the light of day without the proper encouragement.
copyright © 2015 by Lisa Marino & Blackbird Serenity LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.