Before publishing Perceval’s Secret as an e-book, I wanted a professional editor to give it a good read. The last thing I needed was to embarrass myself by publishing something that needed more work. On the recommendation of a writer friend, I hired a professional editor who also teaches creative writing at a local college, and she had published a novel and a memoir herself. I wanted to share the process that we followed and how I responded/felt about it.
First, I contacted Patricia via the e-mail address my writer friend had supplied, mentioning immediately that he had given me her name and e-mail. People like to know how you found them. I told her the purpose of the contact, described the novel, and asked if she’d be interested in editing it. If so, what did her schedule look like? Patricia responded enthusiastically and told me she could do it during August, and her process which I really liked.
Even before I sent her the manuscript, we had a phone meeting. I thought this was a brilliant thing to do. Why? It gives both parties a chance to see how they communicate, ask questions, get a feel for how the other thinks and works. We discussed what I wanted her to look for and she filled in what she was willing to do for the manuscript. By the end of the 30-minute meeting, I was feeling really happy. We discussed her fee. Let me repeat this, we discussed her fee. We discussed what that fee included: the phone meeting, her reading/editing during the month of August, and an in-person meeting after she finished, plus a written summary of comments. Excellent! I asked her how she wanted to read the manuscript — hard copy or electronic file? She chose electronic file so she could do track changes on the manuscript. This was also excellent.
My next step was to create one large file that contained all the chapters in order, including any front pages, the title page, etc. Then I zipped the file and e-mailed it to her. I also wrote a separate e-mail that summarized our phone meeting, including what we’d agreed she’d do, what we’d agreed her fee would be, and the timetable, as well as a paragraph about terminating our contract or letting me know if she’d be delayed for any reason. I asked her to reply to the e-mail telling me if I’d gotten it all right, if she agreed or disagreed and why. She replied with an “agreed!” and thanked me for putting it all in writing for both of us.
My next step was waiting while she worked. Of course, I worked on other things while I waited. A couple days before the deadline, Patricia sent me an e-mail to set up the in-person meeting for the following week. We agreed, via e-mail, to a meeting day, time, and place.
At the appointed day and time, I waited for Patricia in the cafe. When she arrived, I bought us both something to drink, and we settled down at a table to work. It was work, too, not a social meeting, and a real conversation. She began with the kind of feedback I love to hear: what I’d done well, right, fabulously great. Most of my concerns were unfounded. However, a couple were not. Patricia came at this feedback constructively, pointing out her understanding of my choices as a writer, then offering suggestions for fixing each problem. I was pleased that Point of View wasn’t a problem, and I switched POVs deftly. But…the POV I’d chosen had created a story and plot problem that we discussed. We talked about which characters were weak and why, what I could do to strengthen their presence in the story. We talked about kinds of things I needed to cut to streamline the read, e.g. Evan’s comments on other people’s clothing. She found it hard to believe that he’d be that interested. True. We discussed the pacing, and what I could do to ratchet up the suspense.
I’d expected to talk for 60-75 minutes with her. We talked for two hours, although the last fifteen minutes were less about my novel and more about writing in general and teaching writing. By the time I left, I felt energized and as if I was walking on a pillow of air all the way home. That’s how a writer should feel after an editorial meeting. I was eager to get to work, excited that Patricia had really understood the novel and enjoyed it.
What I did next was the opposite of what I wanted to do. I did nothing. I took a day to just let Patricia’s feedback really sink in and to let my imagination play with her suggestions. Then I wrote out in more detail my ideas as I re-read my notes and Patricia’s summary. Six pages of notes. Then I opened the manuscript Patricia had returned via e-mail and began going through her track changes comments and suggestions. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but my meeting with an editor has given me the energy and drive to do it….