If your manuscript gets only rejections from agents and publishers, or if your independently published book has no sales or bad reviews, it may benefit from a tune-up by a professional editor.
Really? Even if everyone in your family thinks it is perfect? Even though you had applause and encouragement when you read portions to your writing group? Even when it was stringently critiqued and corrected chapter by chapter by many readers in an online critique group?
The answer is yes. Consider this: all the best written work has been edited, and not just for spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
I recently exchanged ideas about editing with Eamon Ó Cléirigh, who for years was one of my best critique partners on CritiqueCircle.com.
Eamon has turned his talents to professional editing. This seems to me a perfect role for him and a good thing for writers who want to publish. I’d say he’s not only an editor, he’s part writing coach.
Here’s a portion of our dialog:
ME: I know some of your strengths as an editor, but what do your other clients say?
EAMON: My clients value my adherence to detail and my ability to bring the best out of a sentence – to tweak it just enough that it builds on what came before and supports what’s to come.
One of my strongest points, though, is dialogue. I have a proud background in theatre, where I spent several happy years writing in collaboration with other hungry thespians, honing our scripting and acting skills, constantly developing our understanding of the finer nuances of character. Because of that, plus my lifelong love of the written word, I’m simply comfortable with all aspects of the process.
ME: I can testify that your evaluations are not only thorough, they’re offered in a way that’s easy to take. We like to believe we have thick skins, but early in our careers we can be hurt and discouraged by harsh criticism. Ultimately a writer needs to toughen up, because there will always be readers who don’t like our styles or stories, and some will tell us in unkind terms.
EAMON: From personal experience, I’m aware of how detrimental unconstructive and ill-considered critique can be to a writer who has put everything into their work-in-progress. In that regard, all my editing suggestions are made in a supportive manner.
I’ll never ‘tell’ a writer how it is, or how it should be. I’m not here to dictate, rather to show another avenue that I believe will allow the work to shine and reach its full potential.
ME: I’ve always wondered what an editor would do with a manuscript so full of errors that it needs a total rewrite. Do you ever turn down a prospective client?
EAMON: Yes, I do turn down manuscripts. If a sample chapter is error-laden, or the writing is simply below a workable level, I suggest that the writer take time to focus on enhancing their grasp of the craft of writing – on developing a better understanding of the basic rules of grammar, structure, style, and generally investing themselves in the qualitative aspect of writing, rather than just pumping out words to have them on paper.
If someone has gone through the trouble to get their story out – and I know that isn’t easy – it has to be worth taking time to actually put it into shape before sending it out to be edited. I’m an editor, not a rewriter – though in saying that, I offer suggestions to the writer if particular elements of structure need to be worked on. That’s just part of the process – I go deep and everything that needs my attention gets it.
ME: I recommend CritiqueCircle to everyone, but though a critique group is a great forum for learning the craft of writing, it’s no substitute for a full-book edit.
EAMON: You’re right, critiquing a chapter at a time is a world apart from a full edit, but the principle is the same – each word/phrase/sentence is reviewed, but always in the context of the bigger picture. A writer can produce a flood of beautiful words, but what’s the point if the plot is all over the place, if there’s no real dynamic due to lack of conflict, tension, or pacing due to bad style? What if characters are inconsistent, or if dialogue and character interaction are weak and liable to trip the reader so many times as to evoke those dreaded eye-rolls?
My involvement on CritiqueCircle.com and other forums encouraged me to adapt a holistic approach to editing. All aspects of writing have to be looked at if the complete package is to develop sufficiently to satisfy not just the writer – who’s paying me, but the reader – who’s paying the writer.
ME: I’m sure I don’t have what it takes to be an editor. For example, I can’t read some genres. Are there types of works you do not accept?
EAMON: Not to date. To be honest, I’ve edited memoirs that have contained more real-life horrors than many novels I’ve read or worked on. My basic filter comes into play when I receive the sample chapter. If it works in the bigger picture of story, then I’m open to taking it on. Look, I’m a well-travelled man, and not just in distance. If a writer thinks there may be readers out there for whatever they have to offer, and if the book works as a whole, then it’s good enough for me.
ME: I admire that attitude, and I envy people who read widely. How long do you work on a manuscript?
EAMON: My general turnaround is two weeks for a 90k manuscript, but that can change depending on the work involved. I’m a flexible guy, always leaving the door ajar for anything that might crop up. I’ll let the client know if there are issues that may lead to a delay.
Generally, I give a manuscript one read-through before the first edit begins, but that’s a ‘working’ read, at a slow pace, making notes for future reference. I always construct a style sheet, ensuring consistency throughout the editing process.
ME: A style sheet—what a good idea. Do you accept printed copies?
EAMON: No, it’s all online.
ME: Online services make everything easy. Do your clients also pay online?
EAMON: I accept payment through Paypal, especially from my American clients, through bank transfer, or by post (registered). I’ll even meet for a coffee if a hand-to-hand transaction is preferred.
ME: Since I’m in the US and you’re in Ireland, I’m sorry to say that meeting for coffee probably won’t happen for us.
You know, the decision to hire an editor can be tough for a writer who has no idea if the book will earn a dime. It took me about two years to earn back the money I invested for the editing, formatting, and cover design of my first book. Eventually it was all worthwhile. So I’m curious. How do you price an edit?
EAMON: I’m far from the most expensive, yet not the cheapest. Though I charge by word count, the level of work will also dictate the fee – all the more reason why a writer should bring their WIP [work in progress] as close to a ready-to-go stage as possible. While I’m obviously in this to make a living, I’m also cognizant of the realities of life as a writer. I’m not in it to pull the max out of a prospective client, none of which have complained to date. I work at 250 words per page, double-spaced, generally at €3 per page [currently $3.42 US], though that can change, as I said earlier.
For that a client receives a comprehensive line-edit, followed on return by a full second edit, followed on return by a solid proofread.
ME: Three reads for the money—that sounds good. Eamon, I’ve enjoyed our online chat. Thanks for letting me publish it.
Eamon is from Dublin, Ireland, residing for the past twelve years in beautiful and historic Sligo where he edits full-time between beach and forest walks. A lover of the written word from as far back as he can remember, he dipped several toes in the acting world before diving head-first into writing, critiquing, and, ultimately, editing. He says there is little he likes better than to see a client’s manuscript fully developed before being released to the universe at large. His blog is http://writingfromtheoutsidein.blogspot.ie/