Have you wondered what it’s like to work with an editor? Have a few questions about how an editor may help your work? Nicole Ayers of Ayers Edits answers questions about the editorial process and what writers should consider before working with an editor.
Q: How do you know if you can work with a writer?
NA: I communicate a lot with prospective clients. I share information about my process, offer sample edits, ask questions about their wants and experiences, and invite questions. I make myself available via email, phone, and/or Skype. And while part of all this is to give the person the information they need to know about working with me, the back-and-forth gives me insight about them. If someone’s not responsive or kind, then I know we won’t be a good fit. The sample edit also helps me decide if we can work together. Sometimes a manuscript includes content I prefer not to edit, or I see that the scope of work needed is very different than what the prospective client has requested. And I’ve learned to trust my gut. If the project doesn’t feel like a good fit for me, I politely pass.
Q: What is your process as you read through a clients work and do you read once through before making any edits?
NA: My process depends on the type of edit I’m performing. If it’s a developmental edit or manuscript evaluation, I read the entire manuscript and jot down first-impression notes when I finish. I let some time pass (usually several days at least) while ideas marinate, then I begin a close read of the manuscript, jotting down notes and ideas as I go. When working at the word level, I also make two passes, but I’m editing from the first word read.
Q: What should a writer ask an editor before working with her or him?
NA: I wrote a blog post once that compared finding the right editor to a blind date. It’s important to ask lots of questions. Obvious ones include pricing, availability, and timelines. But other questions to consider asking include the editor’s prior experience with your genre, whether or not they use an agreement or contract, and how often they’ll communicate with you during the process. Ask what support is offered/available once edits are returned. I’ve also been asked why I’m an editor, what I like most and least about my job, and other questions that all attempt to show the writer if I can be trusted with their work.
Q: If the story isn’t ready to submit- even after edits- do you tell the writer?
NA: Yes, if. And that can be a big if because I don’t see the entire manuscript after the author makes revisions unless they hire me to complete a second-pass edit or we negotiate a review in our original agreement.
Q: What are common mistakes writers make that they can learn to fix themselves.
NA: Oh, there are lots. As a former teacher, I think writers can learn many self-editing tricks with the right instruction. Dialogue is a biggie—from a grammatical standpoint as well as a stylistic issue. Writers can learn appropriate formatting of dialogue, and they can learn how to make it sound authentic to their characters.
Q: Typically, how long does a writer have to wait to receive notes from you?
NA: That depends on several factors, including length of manuscript, type of edit, complexity of the edit, and my schedule. It can be as few as two weeks and as many as eight. Do keep in mind that the clock doesn’t start ticking until I actually start the manuscript. My calendar books out months in advance. Writers don’t usually look for an editor before their manuscript is ready. Then they have to wait for the editor they want to work with to have an opening, or they have to work with someone else whose schedule has more availability.
Q. Any advice for writers struggling with being ready to submit when their manuscript is not?
NA: Yoga. Meditation. Deep breathing. Really what they’re struggling with is patience and humility, which is so hard to practice. But if you can master patience in small ways, like holding a yoga pose, then you can transfer it to the bigger things in life.
An idea more specific to writing is to work on shorter pieces that can be submitted to contests or for publication in journals and the like. It gives the writer good practice with the submission process and feeds that need without putting the manuscript out there when it’s not ready.
Q:. What’s your opinion on writers critique groups and conferences?
NA: Those are two different animals. I’ll start with conferences. If the conference is well organized, it can be a great experience. You can attend workshops and panels with valuable take-aways. You can network with all sorts of people. And you can gain exposure for yourself if you present or find some other way to participate. So I say yes to conferences. Just be sure to do your research before you choose one.
My feelings about writing critique groups are mixed. If you’re with the “right” group, then you can grow tremendously as a writer. The problem comes when you’re not in the right group. And finding the “right” group can be tough. Look for writers in your genre, the more specific the better. Also, try to find writers that are better than you. You’ll learn a lot from them. If you’re the strongest writer, it will be a lot harder for you to grow. And beware the nitpickers (unless, of course, you’ve asked for that sort of feedback).
Also, think about your purpose for joining the group. If it’s to spend time with other writers, learn new skills, practice craft, and/or learn how to handle constructive criticism, go for it. If you’re trying to ready a specific manuscript for publication, think twice. Rarely will you share your entire manuscript at once—usually you share a couple of chapters at a time—and the process can take months. There are other issues with continuity and pacing that come up when revising like this as well. If your goal is to get a particular manuscript ready without hiring an editor, think about finding one partner that you trust to trade manuscripts with or consider beta readers.
Q: What do editorial notes look like?
NA: Again it depends on the type of edit. For line and copyedits, I use Track Changes to mark all edits. I also use the Comments feature to make queries or explain my editing suggestions. I also provide a style sheet that tracks spellings, treatment of proper nouns and numbers, as well as “rules” followed. For developmental edits, I use the Comments feature in the manuscript, and I write a multi-page editorial summary broken into the following sections: characters, point of view, setting, timeline, story arc (including ideas for revisions, elaborations, and deletions), pacing, tone, and my favorite things.
Follow Nicole on Twitter @AyersEdits.