Diagnostic Service (or Critique)
The first thing an author of a “finished” manuscript needs is a professional to read the entire work and give it a diagnosis, a prognosis, and a prescription for improvement. The medical analogy is very fitting here. You may have already asked friends to read and critique your book. But your friends will tell you your book is great because they don’t want to hurt your feelings and because they don’t feel like they really know how to critique it anyway. (And they’re right about that!). But I’m more like a doctor than a friend. If you suspected you were ill, you wouldn’t want your doctor to say, “Oh, you’re fine,” just to spare your feelings, would you?
I will diagnose, from a professional standpoint, what is problematic (as well as promising) about your book and point you in the right direction for improvements. If you choose this service, I will:
- Read your entire manuscript.
- Write a detailed memo full of specific examples from your writing and ideas for improvement.
- Discuss the ideas with you over the phone.
It is essential to take this step before having the manuscript line edited or copy edited, as you may end up doing a good deal of rewriting or reorganizing and perhaps creating whole new sections that will then need to be edited.
While a critique gives you an overview of the challenges you face in your manuscript, a development edit goes much further in providing you with specific feedback on every scene in your novel (or every topic in your nonfiction book) and provides fixes or suggested fixes for much of whatever is problematic. This intensive edit is ideal for writers who know that there are problems with their work but don’t quite know how to fix them.
When I do this sort of edit, I ask you to provide your manuscript in the form of a Word document, and I make changes directly in the file (using Track Changes) and write comments either in the text of the manuscript, if they are lengthy, or in a Comments box. When I’m working on a novel, my focus is on pacing, flow, clarity, plausibility, characters, dialogue, descriptions, plot, narrative arc, and more; if I’m working on a nonfiction book, I’ll attend to matters of logic, organization, clarity, coherence, repetitiveness, quality of the prose, and general flow of the writing. Sometimes a very knowledgeable nonfiction writer who is an expert in his field will have trouble explaining a particular concept to a less-expert audience, often because it is so clear in his mind that he doesn’t see what others might not “get” about it. In that case, I might talk the author through it on the phone, take notes, and draft a section that the author can then use to put into his or her own words.
A development edit is intense and goes deep–like, root canal kind of deep. I guarantee, you will learn a lot by going through this process and will begin to think about aspects of narrative you’ve never thought of before, even if you’ve done a lot of writing throughout your life.
Then there is the nitty-gritty of line editing. For this task, I work through the entire book, line by line, word by word, and make corrections as well as suggestions for improving the prose. A line edit is not as focused on structural issues as a development edit. It focuses more on grammar, sentence structure, transitions, and other aspects of the writing. Getting these things just right makes a world of difference when it comes to impressing the professionals who will decide your book’s fate. If you are self-publishing, this step is essential to producing a professional-caliber book that might garner positive reviews and hopefully some real respect. (The typical view of self-published books is that they are sorely lacking in editing and full of glaring errors. Don’t let your book add to that stereotype. Don’t let sloppiness detract from the story you have to tell.)
Line editing involves more than simply correcting grammar and diction. For nonfiction, it concerns getting rid of repetitive language, maintaining a good narrative flow from one topic to another, and making sure all ideas are expressed in the clearest way possible, using words to best effect. A good line editor may do a little bit of writing but always in the author’s “voice” and with the aim of enhancing what the author intends to say.
If you request it, I will send you edited chapters as I go along so that you can see what I’m doing. If at any point you decide the work is getting too expensive (or is no longer useful, for whatever reason), you can simply ask me to stop. One option is to ask me to edit only a few chapters of the book so that you can get a good feel for what needs to be done and then try to improve the rest on your own.
NOTE: Line editing is NOT copy editing. The latter takes place after you are completely finished organizing and polishing your book. If you secure a publishing contract, your publisher will take care of the copy editing. If you self-publish, you will need to arrange for copy editing after the line edit because the line edit will typically result in many revisions.
In the busy world of publishing, first impressions are crucial. Your proposal, more than your actual book, represents your big chance to sell your “wares” in the marketplace, both your idea and your competence to carry it out. A classy proposal can convince a publisher (or agent) that you are to be taken seriously.
I help authors write proposals that publishers consider professional and market-oriented. I know the process and can provide an essential leg-up to those who don’t. For example, a writer is typically more focused on the merits of the book, while publishers are often more concerned with its salability. I can help you bridge that gap. Part of the process involves choosing well-edited sample manuscript chapters that meet the expectations of publishing professionals.
Sample Edit: Finding the right editor is a daunting process. Just because someone has a website and claims to be an editor doesn’t mean that person really knows what he/she is talking about. Having spent a number of years at a publishing company doesn’t necessarily mean the person has great editorial skills, good taste, or an ability to work constructively with an author. What if the editor seems knowledgeable, but the two of you just don’t see eye to eye about what constitutes good writing—i.e., you’re just not compatible? What if her advice turns out to be trivial and seems to reflect her own subjective tastes and quirks? You need to know what you’re getting into before you take that leap of faith and hire someone who will be providing you with a relatively intangible service. You shouldn’t get stuck with someone who is not on your wavelength and who is not really helping you.
To make sure you and I are comfortable with each other, I like to do a sample line edit of a page or two of the manuscript free of charge to give you an idea of how I work, the kinds of things I would query, and the types of suggestions I would make. This will help you get a sense of what I do, how I communicate, how I think. And you can feel confident that if I don’t feel I can help you–for whatever reason–I will tell you so and wish you luck and send you on your way. I don’t expect to be the perfect match for every writer.