New Authors: Is It Time for Your Checkup?

Are you toiling away at your manuscript, waiting until the big day you finally call it "finished" before you hire an editor? Just because you're not done yet doesn't mean you can't get value from some editorial feedback; in fact, it could save you from unnecessary work and make the whole writing process go a lot more smoothlynot to mention inspire you to keep going.

Since I announced my new freelance editorial business a couple of months ago (yay, me!), three different acquaintances of mine have contacted me for help in realizing their writing dreams. These three people come from completely separate parts of my life: an old pal from high school, a colleague from my former corporate life, and a longtime family friend. How great is that? I love discovering authors where I never knew they existed. And I’ve struggled to make progress on my own writing aspirations (I’ve been “writing a novel” for well over ten years, most of which has involved not writing a novel), so I’m awed and inspired to find so many people who are actually doing it.

  • One has drafted her first romance novel (amazing!). She hopes to land a traditional publishing contract, and wants to hire a professional editor to polish her prose before she shares it with agents—very smart. But when she sent me the manuscript, I quickly saw that she first has a big-picture issue to deal with: at 200,000+ words, her novel is far longer than most publishers are willing to consider. While I’ve offered her a few editing options, including a full manuscript evaluation, I suspect she will simply go away and come back six months from now with a shorter manuscript. This will reduce her editing costs and make her manuscript more marketable—a win all around.
  • Another of these acquaintances has written most of her memoir—she has a fascinating, moving life story—but asked me to critique a couple of chapters before she started shopping it around. I wrote her a six-page report discussing what worked well in her writing as well as some ways to strengthen it, which included letting more of her own feelings show to really bring out her personality. Now she can take my suggestions and apply them to her entire manuscript.
  • The third is a little like me; she’s had a novel in her head for years and is trying to get herself moving. She’s asked me to assess the twelve thousand words she’s written, as well as her outline, to try to pre-emptively address any issues with her writing or with the story itself. Just like I did for my memoir-writer, I’m working on a critique to help her be better equipped as she dives into the rest of her writing.

It hadn’t really occurred to me that incomplete writing should or could be professionally edited—it seemed like a waste of someone’s money to edit something they still planned to work on. But these new clients (I still get a kick outta that word) have given me a new perspective.

New authors, especially, can benefit from an editor’s experienced eye. A critique on a short piece of writing (which, I will say, should be as polished as you can make it, so the editor gets a true view of your best work) can be a great way to identify issues early, develop your skills, give yourself the kick in the pants you need to get writing, and make your finished product much stronger.

Writing is a skill, and who better to help you develop it than someone who helps writers improve every day? Talk to your editor about a small introductory project to help set you on the right path. It could save you time and money in the long run.

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Yikes—this is my first blog post! The first of many, I hope, that will offer writing advice, editing tips, ramblings about books and reading, lamentations about the freelance life... so many possibilities. Let me know what you think; I'd love to hear from you.

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Based on these experiences, I’m creating an editing package called something like a New-Author Checkup (Check-in? Help me out, guys; better naming ideas?). For a few hundred dollars or so, depending on how long a sample I’m working with, I’ll provide a written critique that looks at:

  • Writing ability: mechanics, style/voice, common mistakes or issues, any authorly tics
  • The story/content itself (as much as can be seen from a short excerpt):
    • For fiction: believability, characters, pacing, dialogue, setting, plot
    • For non-fiction: organization/structure, flow, argument

It’s sort of a mini–manuscript evaluation, and can be a great way for an author to find out once and for all what it’s going to take to finally get that book written.