Here are some answers to questions people often ask me:
- When should an author contact you regarding editing?
- What kind of information do you like to have from your clients when you’re beginning a project?
- Should a manuscript be in any sort of particular format when a client sends it to you?
- What gets you excited about an editing project?
- Are your clients ever nervous—or even scared—when they contact you?
- What is your workday like?
It’s usually best if an author waits until the book is finished before contacting me about editing. At that point, the author has a clear idea of where the story should go—the major plot points are there and the author feels as though the story is theirs and complete. Sometimes by this point the author also knows what the book’s strengths and weaknesses might be, but not always.
I have worked with authors, though, who are writing their books as we go. These situations usually arise when the author wants more than an editor—they want a writing coach. This is an intensive project, but it’s fun for me to help authors shape their stories from the ground up.
I like to know the general premise or storyline of the book as well as why they wrote that story. What brought them to it? I like to know about their writing experience and what they think they’ve done well with the book and where they feel their writing is weak. Details that are helpful are the total word count of the book, if they’ve written it in Word (or if they can convert it to Word), and what deadline they have in mind for completing the editing. I always like to see a sample of the book whenever possible before committing to a project; it helps me evaluate the work the book needs as well as my fee and my timeline.
I work best with Word, so I prefer that my clients send me a Word document (.doc or .docx). Beyond that, the simpler, the better. I used to prefer that they send them to me double-spaced (and if they weren’t double-spaced, I’d change them so that they were), but now I don’t require that. I’ve gotten used to working on books that are spaced at about 1.15. If I were to receive one that was single-spaced, I’d probably change that to at least 1.15 just because it’s a little easier on my eyes.
I prefer that they not be formatted within any type of template and that they be free of images of any sort. The files get big and bulky—unwieldly—when they’re inside a template or filled with images, and none of that helps me edit the words.
A very basic format is best: spaced at 1.15 to double-spaced, one-inch margins all around, and a basic font such as Calibri, Arial, or Times New Roman at about 11 point. Courier is easy to read but it’s big.
I get excited when my client is excited—when they’re open to the editing process and eager to learn. I used to be a teacher and part of me still really enjoys helping my clients learn how to be better writers. When I have a client with that mind-set, it doesn’t really matter what their book is about, whether it’s nonfiction or fiction, or whether it’s their first book or their tenth. As long as they’re excited about the process, then I get excited too.
Yes! I don’t know if anyone has ever told me they were scared, but many, many, many of them tell me they’re nervous about sharing their work and letting someone else (me—an editor) work on it. And why shouldn’t they be nervous? They’ve spent probably months and months, sometimes years, working on this book. They’ve poured their heart into it. They’ve sacrificed time with their friends and their families in order to produce this book, and it’s the best they can do on their own. And they’re going to hand it to a stranger? Yes, they’re nervous, and I totally get it.
I’m a writer too, so I understand how scary (nerve-wracking) it can be to hire someone to work with your words. I try to be very open about the process—how it will work, what I’ll do and what I won’t do, what they can expect when they get the book back. I empathize because I can. I ask for directions from them so that they are still in control of the process: what do they want me to focus on and what do they want me to leave alone?
I always remind them that I know that it’s their book. I’ll make changes to it, I’ll ask questions, and I’ll suggest they think differently about certain parts of it, but at the end of the day, it’s their book and they have the authority to implement every single edit I make or ignore every single edit I make. I think that helps them feel more at ease. The control is always in their hands.
I am usually working on more than one project at a time. I have several clients who send me work on a regular (usually monthly) basis, and then I always have an influx of new clients who find me through various platforms.
Depending on the individual deadlines, I am usually able to structure my workday so that I’m spending about an hour to an hour and a half each day on each project. One project might take me, say, ten hours, but instead of working for two days and getting it done, I like to stretch it out over about ten workdays (unless, as I said, my client really needs a rush delivery—which doesn’t happen often).
I schedule my work like this because I’ve found it keeps me fresh. If I worked on the same book for five or six hours each day, chances are I would find my attention drifting after a couple hours. If I can switch things up though, and work for an hour on a sci-fi novel, an hour on an academic report, an hour on a self-help book, and an hour on a mystery, then my attention never flags because they’re different books and they keep me fresh. It’s a win-win for everybody.