April 26, 2011

What Self-Publishers Need from Editors: A Discussion in San Francisco


I recently attended a meeting of the Bay Area Editors’ Forum (BAEF) at which members of The Road to Self-Publication: A Working Group—which includes authors and other professionals with an interest in self-publishing—met with BAEF member editors for a discussion on the role of editors in self-publishing.

The forum, held in San Francisco on April 18, was titled Editors and Self-Publishers: A Match Made in Heaven. It was designed as an information exchange that would cover topics such as how self-publishing authors find editors, how authors can determine what editing a manuscript needs, and how prices for editing services are set.

The discussion contrasted the editorial needs of self-publishing authors, including those who may wish to attempt traditional publishing first, with the needs of authors following the traditional publishing route via agents and publishing houses.

For example, agents may wish to put authors in touch with editors to polish manuscripts before sending them to potential publishers, yet these agents have often already vetted the manuscripts in question to ensure they don’t need restructuring. This means that the type of editing these authors need is generally in the realm of copyediting (line editing to proofreading).

On the other hand, the self-publishers’ needs covered everything from manuscript assessment and substantive editing to formatting for multiple print-on-demand and ebook service providers, ranging from Lulu and Smashwords to Amazon.com’s CreateSpace.

The attendees from the self-publishing working group were very interested in quality and in ensuring a high reputation for self-published works. To paraphrase one attendee, they generally wanted an editor to “make my book the best it can be.” However, while some authors had strong feelings about what they wanted from an editor, most expressed difficulty in determining which services would benefit their manuscript. They were emphatically looking for guidance from an editor.

Several self-publishers stressed the desirability of having a single editor who could perform all tasks needed in handling their manuscript from final draft to published book. Yet many editors specialize in only one or a few of the services needed. Hearing the message that jacks-of-all-trades would have a big advantage in this niche, some editors said they would rethink their skills or strategies, and others said they’d look into building networks so they could act increasingly as managing editors, subcontracting tasks like formatting or cover design as needed.

Another frustration, whether the author planned to self-publish or to first attempt the traditional route, was widely different price quotes to edit the same work, even taking into account differences in the services offered. Because editors bid on different bases (for example, by project, word, or hour), the authors reported difficulty comparing quotes. They emphasized that a fixed project price was far preferable to an hourly fee.

Many of the editors attending stressed the importance of communicating expectations, such as extent of editing and project scope. Several strongly recommended seeing the work and returning a sample edit to start a discussion before finalizing a quote or agreement for the work.

Only touched on was the difficulty that authors have locating suitably qualified editors. Complicating their search, those who find their way to sites like the BAEF’s (www.editorsforum.org) are often faced with an array of terms describing editing services (like developmental editing and light copyediting), most of which came across to the working group as being defined on a traditional publishing model.

The discussion with the working group prompted a reassessment of some features of the BAEF website, which is linked to a searchable database of affiliated editors. One proposal was to welcome requests for quotes without a commitment to hiring an editor, and another was to improve searchability in order to identify editors with particular skills (for example, formatting expertise) relevant to self-publishing. 

A few observations with clear relevance for freelance developmental editors particularly struck me:
  • The strong preference authors had for working with a single editor to complete all tasks needed for a publication-ready manuscript
  • The preference authors had for project-based quotes
  • The need for editor websites to be more author friendly

Might any of these observations affect how you work or market your services? Do you currently work with authors who are self-publishing, and in what capacity? What feedback have you gotten from past clients or authors inquiring about your services? I think this is a conversation editors are going to continue to have, both in person and online, and I’m curious what other editors’ experiences have been.

—Marta Tanrikulu

April 14, 2011

Good advice. No, really.


Each of us begins freelancing surrounded by our own specific community of friends, colleagues, and loved ones—many of whom offer advice.

Some of it is good advice.

I thought I’d make a list of good advice I received when I began freelance editing. By “good advice,” I mean advice that I have tested out and am grateful for every day.

Also, I’d love to hear from other editors out there who remember the good advice they got from their friends and family. Share the wealth! There’s space in the comments, or you can email authoreditorclinic@gmail.com and I’ll compile another list down the line.

And here’s my short list of good advice:

·      Open your mouth and tell people what you do for a living.

I’m an introvert. Most of us editors are, I think. But I get almost all of my work by word-of-mouth, sometimes from friends I would never have guessed know people who need the kind of editing I do. I’ve also come to appreciate that telling people what I do is a daily reflection of the editing I do compared to the editing I want to be doing next year and ongoing. 
(Thank you, Amy.)

·      Write thank-you cards.

They’re pretty. They remind me to appreciate the clients I have and the worklife I’ve chosen. And they bring me more work.  At the end of 2009, I sent a thank-you card to a client I’d edited one article for, earlier that year. It reminded her to contact me about another project—and I’ve edited a project for her or her teammates just about every month since then. 
(Thank you, Ann.)

·      Buy a big desk calendar.

I know many people use electonic or online calendars these days. But I’m still grateful to the person who told me, at the very beginning, to buy a desk calendar big enough to write everything down, all in one place. I’m still using the same style of calendar that I searched for that first year. 
(Thank you, Susan.)

·      Get regular massage.

It sounded extravagant to me at the time. And it took me a while to start taking this advice seriously. But I sit at a desk all day—which is actually pretty hard on the body. Regular massage (for the past year and a half) has curbed my tendency toward tendonitis in the wrists and elbows, improved my comfort sitting at the computer … and is opening up my shoulders so I’m having more fun dancing on the weekends, too. This was good advice. 
(Thank you, Susan.)

·      Set apart a percentage of each check you receive, and use it to pay your taxes.

I did this religiously the first three years I freelanced—and paying taxes—first annually, and then quarterly—was a breeze. Then I got busier (hey, more money coming in! less need to worry!),  and I’ve fallen off the bandwagon. Now, despite being up to my ears in work, paying my first-quarter taxes this week is going to hurt.  I hereby resolve, at the beginning of this tax-paying year, to return to the good advice I got at the beginning of my career.

Do tell, what advice about editing or freelancing have you found most valuable?

—Kyra Freestar

April 8, 2011

Re: editors and editing

I read a lot of online news and opinion about writing and publishing these days. And because—well, because I'm an editor, I guess—I continue to sigh and wish for more appreciation for the role of editing and editors. That is, people like you and me who spend our days editing text. (Managing and acquiring editors, like The New York Times's Bill Keller, who might bemoan the aggregation that I'm about to commit, tend to get more press.)


As editor Karalynn Ott asked on this blog last month, "Is it because our work, to most people, is invisible?"


Thus, this post. The first of many, I hope, to collect references relevant to editors and editing. 





Comments are open—any recent news you've read on editors and editing? 


—Kyra Freestar

April 6, 2011

A self-directed syllabus for improving your craft

Or: How do you stay in a working frame of mind when you have no work? 

One of the benefits of being a freelance editor is the ability to make your own schedule, arranging projects in a way that works for your particular life. However, in every freelancer’s career there will be times when the work is slow and, for one reason or another, you’ve exhausted your comfort level for downtime.

I challenged myself to turn some recent downtime into time that contributes to my understanding of the craft of developmental editing. The result was a list of learning activities that form a kind of “continuing ed” for the freelance editor. Classes and online seminars are great options, but sometimes scheduling or finances don’t permit you to do something that formal. What follows is my version of a self-directed syllabus for improving your craft.

Read. Read well. Read mostly good books. After you finish a book, write a brief note about aspects of the narrative you thought the author handled well, innovatively, or poorly. These notes become useful, real-world examples to reference in your editorial letters with clients.

If you suffer, like me, from kid-in-a-candy-shop paralysis at the bookstore or library, reading lists can give you a thematic path through the shelves. Some reading lists to explore:
  • James Wood, a literary critic on staff at The New Yorker and Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism at Harvard, proposed the Best Books Since 1945 (originally printed in the Guardian, Oct. 7, 1994).
  • Donald Barthelme, a writer and professor who championed a postmodern style of short-short fiction, created a reading syllabus for students that continues to inspire writers.
  • Harold Bloom’s Western Canon was controversial almost as soon as it was published.
  • Backlash to Bloom’s Western Canon resulted in alternative reading lists, like the Non-Western Reading List and feminist reading lists: try Wikipedia’s List of Feminist Literature or A Celebration of Women Writers, maintained by librarian Mary Mark, which is searchable by author name, time period, geography, and ethnicity.
  • The American Library Association creates an extraordinary number of reading lists, including their Notable Books Reading List (2011) and the (growing) list of banned and challenged books, which gives a unique historical perspective on what is considered tasteful and appropriate for the time. For editors of YA, this might provide an interesting foundation for conversations with writers.


Expand your understanding of story laterally by reading screenplays, stage plays, and poetry. Poetry can invigorate your feel for language, tone, and voice. Scripts highlight aspects of structure, scene, dialog, plot, and pacing. Go classic with Shakespeare, modern with Ibsen, mythologic with Kushner, or minimalist with Mamet.

Branch out to subgenres in your genre(s). Sometimes you run across a manuscript that becomes a completely different animal by shifting the genre slantwise—a dry biography about the writer’s grandmother emerging more confidently as a folksy cookbook. So if you’ve done most of your work in memoir, investigate travelogues or foodie novels. If you usually work on sci-fi, read some horror and fantasy. You may be able to see a different book peeking out of the manuscript you’re working on, and give the writer some much-needed energy and focus.

Read the foundations of your genre(s). Wikipedia’s List of Genres has detail on the beginnings and prominent works of many genres. Reading pioneering books and novels can add depth and context to your analysis that you won’t get from simply critiquing more manuscripts.

Read the bestsellers in your genre(s). Whether you like the books or not, it will keep your conversations with writers fresh.

Teach a class locally or online. Many towns and cities have adult education centers with enthusiastic local teachers. Online venues include the Editorial Freelancers Association and Media Bistro. If you’re up for a challenge, consider creating your own topic-driven video for a blog or YouTube. Check out WORDplay as an example.

Volunteer to field questions about the editing process for a local writers group. This will give you firsthand information about what writers want and will help you refine your services. To find a writers group, look for postings at bookstores, libraries, coffee shops, colleges, and on craigslist.

Work on your own stories, memoir, or novel. The challenges you face working out a thorny bit of dialogue or delivering just the right amount of setting will inform both your critical eye and your compassionate voice as an editor.            

Critique story excerpts or become a beta reader in an online writers forum. A few to check out are Backspace, Literature and Latte, Poets & Writers, WritersNet, Absolute Write, and Zoetrope’s Virtual Studio.

Critique yourself. Re-read your marked-up manuscripts and previous letters to authors. What stayed with you from a particular manuscript? Did that aspect make it into your analysis? Has time tempered any of your feedback? Are there areas you habitually disregard because you’re not confident about your analysis? (For me, POV is always a challenge and I sometimes don’t go as deep as I could.)

I certainly haven’t checked all of these off my list, and many of them represent a real stretch for me. (Teach? Eek!!) But in the often-haphazard times between manuscripts, my syllabus offers me a sense of progress and direction. Some of the items imply “marketing” my skills, but at a more basic level they offer a connection to a larger community, something I struggle with as a freelancer even as I appreciate my autonomy. I’d love to hear how you handle time between projects, whether it’s focused on learning or simply staying engaged with like-minded people. 

—Beth Stokes