37 Comments

Michael, I just came across this earlier post, which is really helpful. I **love** editing, perhaps even more so than writing. I have edited -- hired by the AUTHORS, not presses -- to copy edit and proofread (not developmental editing) that have been published by Simon & Schuster, St. Martin's Press, Viking, Oxford, and W.W. Norton. I love "cleaning" up writing, which I think goes back to my two years as a paralegal before law school and then in law school and clerking for a judge. It brings my pleasure. I have written books, as you know. I spent 10 years writing about law and technology for Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Huffington Post, and was featured in the WSJ. I went to pretty schools (blah blah), but to some people, that matters. I'm not sure how to leverage the editing part. I'm about to start my sixth book about a civil rights leader, and my heart is already racing with anticipation. I am a TERRIBLE self-promoter. TERRIBLE. I'm trying to think how I can use Substack in this regard. Perhaps offer to edit (free) people's short stories, but most of them are already quite refined. Just to get my name out and for good kharma. It just seems as though these are decent credentials, even if I'm completely unknown, which doesn't bother me at the moment -- at least not enough to tap that aquifer anew. I would appreciate any thoughts / suggestions you might have. Thank you.

Expand full comment

Thank you for this. I hired a great development editor at Reedsy in March and used most of her revision suggestions. One of the reasons I chose her was because she'd been an acquisition editor for a couple of the big 5, and she was willing to do follow-up work, give feedback on revised chapters, etc. Now after doing the developmental work I've moved on to line editing, doing it myself to save money, using a couple of craft books. So my first question for you and any editor reading this is, do you have any line editing books you'd recommend? Second question: This editor said she really loved my book. She was super enthusiastic, which of course delighted me. And I really liked her, we talked about lots of stuff beyond editing my book. But I wondered if this was standard practice to be so enthusiastic about a book you've edited and how much weight, if any, to place on it.

Expand full comment
author

I focus on developmental editing so not sure re line editing. Sounds like you got a solid editor. Most editors try to be upbeat of course but she’s probably positive because she truly enjoyed the book.

Expand full comment

Wow - were you reading my mind, Michael? I just sent an email to one of my clients who asked me about editing the book (self-published in 2016) written by the founder of their agency. I have written their customer newsletter for about 2.5 years, and we work exceptionally well together; however, I generally don't edit unless it is built into my ghostwriting projects (and then only developmental). My contact there wanted me to explain the editing process, so I did. It will be quite an eye-opener for her and the founder.

Expand full comment
author

Ha!! Serendipity!! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙏

Expand full comment

Very important advice, though it's regrettable that the high price basically makes novel writing a rich person's hobby unless they can please the gatekeepers. Hopefully that changes in the near future, just as Substack is changing the potentialities of serialization. (While still remunerating editors sufficiently, of course)

Expand full comment
author

Agree. I’ve been on both sides of the equation, as writer and editor. One work-around is having an editor look at say the first 50 pages: Not perfect but it’s cheaper and gives the writer a baseline to work from. And yes: Substack makes things much easier re publishing which has both good and bad sides. Trade-offs, like everything, right?

Expand full comment

I'm glad to see there are concessions of that kind. What a lot of people forget about Paris was that it wasn't just it as a big, beautiful city that was alluring to writers. It was also dirt cheap, and not just for American writers. So I also get if editors' hands are tied: the economy is not at all conducive to producing those conditions.

Expand full comment
author

Re Paris: Tell me you’ve read Tropic of Cancer

Expand full comment

Sure have! In terms of artistic distinction, I think it's the closest we Americans will ever have to "the horny French novel." And there's a lot to learn from Miller's honesty. That being said, haven't decided if it's worth my while to read Tropic of Capricorn.

Expand full comment
Jun 9, 2023Liked by Sincere American Writing

This is great advice. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to let us know what a good editor does and how he works. It was very educational.

Expand full comment
author

Thank you. You’re welcome!

Expand full comment
Jun 9, 2023·edited Jun 10, 2023Liked by Sincere American Writing

Lots of editors back-slapping in the comments. Thought I'd ask a question from the paying debut author side: how does one editor know how to help craft what a thousand readers want to read, when publishers can't guess that, losing money on most books they bet on?

Expand full comment
author

It’s a fair question. Clearly, editors aren’t perfect. A good editor can help you shape and produce the best book possible. They’ll improve your chances. But you’re right: At the end of the day a lot of the industry relies on luck, timing, connections, etc. But not all of it. An honest editor will tell any writer this up front. In my standard contract I have a clause saying ‘This editing does not guarantee literary agent representation or publication of client’s manuscript.’ Thanks for the comment.

Expand full comment

I'm a member of the EFA (and pretty active in the Chicago chapter). There's so much information on the EFA discussion list about editing. It's been totally worth the cost of being a member.

Expand full comment
author

Love the EFA!

Expand full comment

As a writer and editor, I agree completely. Even though having your own work edited (as you said), stings a bit… I must admit, editors are God's gift to writers.

Expand full comment
author

🙏🙏🙏

Expand full comment
Jun 9, 2023Liked by Sincere American Writing

Appreciate this post Michael, nodded my head the whole way through. I’ve edited and published books, and edited all manner of other materials—and can share it’s much more lucrative to edit marketing materials for example than books. So if you find a good editor, pay them their rate. It’s still a lot lower than what you’d be paying a marketing or tech editor.

Expand full comment
author

Yes!!!!

Expand full comment

Spending a lot of money on editing hurts in the short term, but (if you work with a good editor) you're much more likely to end up with a book you can be proud of for the rest of your life -- and a book that appeals to a wider audience.

Expand full comment
author

Precisely 👍🏻

Expand full comment
Jun 9, 2023Liked by Sincere American Writing

Yes. Simply put, yes. Absolutely. I hope new writers take your advice. Recalcitrant writers, listen to this advice. A good editor is one of the best instruments in your professional development. They help you with that 90% perspiration. The 10% inspiration is all yours, and remains sacrosanct.

Expand full comment
author

Amen 🙏

Expand full comment

As both a writer and an editor, I completely endorse everything you've said here. I've seen every one of those examples over the years. Also: "I spent the last five years writing my epic fantasy saga of 200,000 words. I'm self-publishing in two weeks and have purchased ads on Amazon and Facebook that start the day before launch. Can you edit this for me by next week?"

Expand full comment
author

Ha!!!

Expand full comment
Jun 9, 2023Liked by Sincere American Writing

OMG Robb. You didn’t. They didn’t. That’s not a verbatim quote 😬😬😬😬😬

Expand full comment

I took minor liberties. A very slight (very slight) exaggeration. And it's happened more than once.

Expand full comment
Jun 9, 2023Liked by Sincere American Writing

What a fantastic post! It dawned on me that we share a remarkable professional kinship. It's truly delightful to stumble upon a kindred spirit like you amidst the lush expanse of Substack's vibrant community!

Expand full comment
author

Thank you! And yes: Absolutely!

Expand full comment

Could/should a writer assume an editor with previously published titles would help get the work into the hands of a publisher or an agent?

Expand full comment
author

Ditto what they said: Not the editor’s job. The publishing industry is a very fickle one full of luck, connections and great talent. Almost no one can guarantee agent representation.

Expand full comment

Makes perfect sense, and forgive my wording. In better phrasing what I meant to ask was: since you’re in the industry is it a thing to pass on stories you think have potential to publishers, editors, etc?

Which I take, from your responses, is a yes but only when you really feel there’s strong potential. Makes perfect sense. Thanks for the honest answers!

Expand full comment
Jun 9, 2023Liked by Sincere American Writing

I second what Robb says, definitely absolutely not the editors job. If they do it’s a favor as Robb says.

Expand full comment

I know you're asking Michael (it's his post, after all), but I thought I'd chime in from my perspective. That's a big no. Not the editor's job. In 17 years of editing, I've edited more than 250 manuscripts. I've recommended exactly one to my publisher, and that was last year. She was an established author with a platform of 30,000 followers who wrote a personal memoir that was powerful. I read an early draft, and recommended she query my publisher and drop my name in the query letter. I emailed the head of the publishing company and gave it my recommendation. I'm an editor for that publishing company, so they gave it a look. They accepted her book and assigned it to me for editing. I have (on rare occasions) assisted writers with crafting a query letter and synopsis and advised them on how to research agents to query, all for an additional fee for my time, of course.

Expand full comment
author

Exactly 👌

Expand full comment