Assuming you survive the heart-wrenching, glorious process of writing a book, now you just need to destroy it.
Okay, perhaps I’m being a touch dramatic.
If you’ve gone through a developmental edit or you’re self-revising with a magenta marker, you know how hard it gets. Trying to look objectively at your lovely book feels like being forced to torture your loved ones with a rusty pitchfork.
Every change spawned additional changes, so I couldn’t get myself out of the maze. “But if this happens in chapter 2, then chapter 10 is all wrong and chapter 15 will break…” I was paralyzed by indecision and worry that I was ruining my book.
How I stopped losing my mind…
Make one change at a time. Make that change throughout the entire book. Resist the urge to fix everything at once.
When I changed my protagonist’s backstory, it meant she shouldn’t respond the same way in some situations. But the most important thing was to fix the actual backstory scenes first. Once that was done, then I could do a pass making sure her interactions with the killer were consistent. Then her interactions with the inspector, and so on.
How do you edit? Are you able to edit all the things at the same time as you move through the manuscript?
There are as many kinds of editors as there are writers. From the editor who gives you feedback and lets you decide how to address it all the way to the editor who rewrites your work like a plastic surgeon.
On the extreme end is the legendary short story writer Raymond Carver and his editor Gordon Lish. Lish made such deep changes to the stories, that they are almost like a joint work.
In one story, Raymond’s original ending:
For myself, I knew I wouldn’t forget the sight of that arm emerging out of the water. Like some kind of mysterious and terrible signal, it seemed to herald the misfortune that dogged our family in the coming years.
—is transformed into the dry, ironic and Hemingway-esque:
That arm coming up and going back down in the water, it was like so long to good times and hello to bad. Because it was nothing but that all the years after Dummy drowned himself in that dark water.
I had a very fine editor who pointed out numerous plot holes and areas for improvement. Our collaboration forced me to think through various pieces and sometimes make sweeping changes. I definitely appreciated and would work with her again, although a part of me wanted the plastic surgeon approach.
Which do you prefer?
After working on my book for a few years and pitching several agents, I heard my book was good but not compelling enough. I decided to hire an editor.
- Find a genre editor with a lot of experience
- Find an editor whose work you appreciate
I started with recommendations, my friend had an amazing experience at Girl Friday. They have a lot of editors and they’re friendly and professional. The main reason I didn’t go that route was after searching through their team, I didn’t see anyone with mystery experience. (I didn’t think to ask them who their freelancers were.)
Each genre has its own special tropes. In mystery, why does the policeman accept help from an amateur? Etc. I wanted someone who was deeply familiar with the tropes. Ideally, they would have worked on mysteries set in the 1920s or in England.
Next, I read the acknowledgements sections for historical mysteries set in England to see who the author thanked. Most of these editors were nestled in publishers and not available, except for one editor who had a Reedsy profile.
While he wasn’t doing freelance any longer, I was delighted with Reedsy – they vet all the book professionals (editors, publicists, etc.) on their site. They show you reviews. And – amazing! – they link to the books that these professionals worked on.
After reading samples of the books each professional worked on, I sent a request for quotes to 5 editors. Everyone replied, some asked to see more of the book and others sent samples of their work. The prices ranged from low to high, and I chose the expensive end of the spectrum because of the editor’s historical mystery experience. But there were a ton of great editors at lower price points too.
I would highly recommend Reedsy. Next up, how the editing process went…
Reedsy is a London-based marketplace for book services – everything from editing to cover design to marketing. What makes Reedsy stand out is that they diligently screen everyone who wants to offer services. They take only around 10-15% of the professionals who apply.
Based on their 15 months of usage, they’ve put together a truly comprehensive infographic of self-publishing costs. It’s nice to see a real budget and explanation of what you’re paying for.
Even though I’m going through the agent route and will be pitching again at a conference, I’m using Reedsy for editing. The consistent feedback is that my book has a strong premise and writing, but there are a few major threads that need to be fixed.
I just started the process with an editor who has years of mystery editing experience – fingers crossed!