Five things I learned about my writing from hiring an editor.
There are so many options out there for writers to further develop their work. From novel writing courses, writing groups, manuscript assessments to hiring a professional editor.
What’s the best option? Well, I’ve tried out all of these over the years with varying degrees of success. The one thing to gain from all of these options is receiving feedback.
This year, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do with my latest manuscript. I toyed with the idea of hiring a structural editor, but I had three questions:
Is it worth the money?
Will it further develop me as a writer?
Will it provide me with guidance to move toward my goal of getting published?
Well, I did hire an editor and to my relief, the answer to all these questions is a resounding YES.
Why did I decide to hire a structural editor?
The short answer: I was at a stage in my writing career where I had to try something different.
The long answer: I wrote seven manuscripts in ten years and had sent out two on submission (one in 2014 and one in 2017). Last year my crime novel received 24 rejections from agents. This year, armed with a new manuscript I made it my goal to get a literary agent by the end of 2018. I’ve had feedback on my writing over the years, from partial critiques by industry professionals to workshopping scenes to working with a critique partner and getting feedback on (mostly) the first half of the book. I knew that if I wanted an agent (and to be published) I had to try something new. I had to make sure my novel was the absolute BEST it could be, and I knew I had got it as far as I could on my own.
I know professional editors are expensive and after an encouraging chat with my husband and lots of research I decided this was the best option for me to move forward. If I give writing my all, then I will have no regrets, right?
How did I find a professional editor?
Once it was decided that I would pay the money for an editor, I made a choice not to look for low-budget options. I wanted feedback from a trusted industry professional as I know once my manuscript goes out for submission, I have only one chance to impress.
I listened to the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, I visited author websites and I perused the Freelance Editor’s Network. There were a couple of names that kept popping up. I contacted two, one told me they were unavailable for the next 6+ months and the other had availability in four months time. I booked in with the second one and it was scheduled for June. At the last minute due to family reasons, the editor became unavailable, but quickly put me in touch with another editor (whom I had also heard of and was very excited to work with!) and she squeezed me in at the end of June. This editor had worked with a major publishing house as an editor and publisher and had a special interest in my genre (crime/ thrillers)= perfect!
5 things I learned when I hired a structural editor:
- Book it in advance!
I naively thought that the moment I decided to have my book edited, it would be a quick and straightforward process. I soon realised that reputable and experienced editors are in high demand! 4-6 months was the average wait time and this really knocked about my 12-month plan to secure an agent. I had to account for the time required to make the revisions, work on my ‘pitch’ and then approach agents!
2. I can write.
Now, this came as quite the surprise! It shouldn’t have really, because in the past 1-2 years I have had plenty of feedback on my writing and no one has told me it is awful or that I should give up. But, when you enlist the help of a PROFESSIONAL, it can be really intimidating. Here is someone who has chosen a book out of the slush pile and seen that it ends up on a bookshelf. There’s that nagging self-doubt: do I really have what it takes?
The editor started her feedback with this line “You’re an excellent writer and you’ve clearly put a lot of work into the manuscript.” And she ended it with this “As I said you have an excellent writing style and I don’t doubt that you’ll become a published author with this or another book.”
I think I cried and laughed at the same time! I didn’t realise how much I needed that validation. Have all the hours, weeks, months, years that I have put into writing novels been worth it? Yes. It’s validation that’s much needed when you take time away from your family- your child- to tap away at a keyboard and spend time with imaginary people. Even with 100% family support, I can’t help but feel a little guilty.
Can’t escape it!
3. My use of present and past tense is/ was atrocious!
So I didn’t pay $2000 for an editor to tell me I’m wonderful and in between those encouraging first and final lines of her email, there were twenty very useful points made on character, pacing, and plot. All of which I expected to see in the report.
However, I hadn’t realised just how awful I am at tense. The novel was written in past tense (though the feedback was to rewrite it in present tense- which I did), but having this pointed out to me really helped me hone my own copyediting skills.
This is the first time it has been brought to my attention…and I think you can only get that from a professional editor. I’ve worked with readers and writers, but those little technicalities are easily missed. Just this point alone made the whole edit worth it.
I’m very grateful that the editor also worked through the first half of my novel, providing copyedit feedback (which was well above the work that I paid her for) and this was really invaluable.
4. The benefit of feedback outweighs any negatives.
I always welcome feedback on my writing because I want it to be the best it can be. But, it’s scary putting your words out there, because those words represent you. Even if your characters are completely different to you or behave in ways you never would, those words formed in your head. It makes you feel vulnerable. Exposed.
Over the past few years, I’ve discovered that feedback is so beneficial and it really does outweigh any potential negatives.
When I received the email from my editor, I skim read the feedback (re-reading that first and last line many, many times :-)) and the twenty points she made but I did not open the attachment until two weeks later. For some reason, I had thought that those twenty points were just a summary of the 2000 things wrong with my manuscript. When I finally gathered up the courage to look at the attachment I discovered that the editor had gone the extra mile to provide copyediting feedback on my manuscript. In the comments there were notes that referred back to the initial 20 points. Those 20 points were the only plot issues to address. That’s it. What a relief!
The anticipation was way scarier than the reality.
5. I still have self-doubt.
With the feedback I received on my novel, I further developed the story and redrafted it two more times. It really is at a stage where I think it’s the best it can possibly be. But, there’s still that thought at the back of my mind: Is it good enough?
And even though there were only twenty points to address in the edit, and the editor had said my writing was excellent and I had an excellent writing style… I kept getting drawn back to that final statement “I don’t doubt that you’ll become a published author with this or another book.”
I know I’m probably overanalysing it, but I can’t help but read the subliminal message: this book isn’t the one!
I know in talking to other aspiring, emerging and even established writers, that the self-doubt will probably never really go away. I guess it’s something I’ll have to learn to live with.
So, whats’ the verdict?
A structural edit was by far the best decision I’ve made in my writing career.
It’s still early days yet. My manuscript Secrets That Bind Us (psychological thriller) is now out on submission. I’ve had a couple of rejections already. But no one has said go back to the drawing board and start again. Compared to last years rejections (those generic, impersonal thanks, but no thanks ones) this time I’m getting feedback from agents who have not only read what I’ve sent them but have taken the time to offer a personalised response. My writing doesn’t suck, but the story may not be a good fit for them. While at the outset it’s disappointing to get this feedback, it does give me hope. Maybe my editor is right: this isn’t the one that will get me the publishing contract. But maybe the next one will be! Either way, stories are subjective, and there may be an agent out there that feels as passionate about my story as I do.