Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Underwater release

Today I'm taking a look at the first self-published book I've edited to actually make it to the self-publishing stage (that I know of). If you're interested in self-publishing or in freelance editing stuff that isn't shooting for a publishing house, take a look behind the curtain. 

And check out Julia McDermott's post for the writer's view!

Finding an editor and starting out:

This manuscript came my way in what's starting to be a routine: I edit one person's work, that person brings my critique to his or her writing group, and someone else in the group decides to give it a whirl. That isn't always the case, certainly-- I get inquiries from people who found me through Google, I'm working on boosting my Amazon/Goodreads presence, and I've even had a few lovely jobs come my way because my first client's agent gives my name to some of her clients when they need extra polishing. Working through a few degrees of separation is great....and then I have clients who appear, work with me, and then vanish without ever telling me how they found my webpage. This case, however, was a lot less mysterious. A friend of my family had started writing in the past few years and heard in casual conversation with my parents, who are now several states away, that I did freelance editing now. I worked on two samples for him and his writing group apparently loved the feedback as much as she did. Julia McDermott decided that my touch was what her book needed for that final push to publication.

Julia had previously written a New Adult travel-romance called Make That Deux, but Underwater was a suspense novel in an entirely different style. She'd worked it over with her group but decided to ask if I did suspense. It's not my normal cup of tea, sci-fi/fantasy addict that I am, but it was a good change of pace. Most of my recent editing projects have had protagonists in their late twenties at the oldest, but Underwater's cast of characters is firmly in their thirties and forties with the ensuing career, family, and financial troubles. This was more of a stretch outside my own head than working with even teenage male protagonists, but I ended up having quite of a bit of empathy for these characters and delivered something on the order of seventeen single-spaced pages of feedback. Fortunately, she was happy instead of intimidated (once the initial adjustment shock of my wall of text passed). Manuscript overviews for freelance jobs can be high-pressure, since you know that you're the only one there to catch things, but it's also fun to be the lead voice of critique.

The feedback chain:

Working with Julia opened another new avenue: after reading through my notes a few times, exchanging e-mails, and doing some light rewrites, she was interested in a Skype meeting. It's always been an option, but not one that any of my freelance clients had chosen to pursue. We talked through different things that I thought should be changed or cut, and I reassured her that disagreeing with me sometimes wasn't a problem: it's natural to be a bit defensive about something you've created. Working with both sides of this makes for an interesting balancing act. As an author sending your work out, you have to be willing to change it, sometimes in major ways....even though sending it out means that you've gotten it as far as you can on your own and it feels strong. As an editor, you have to bear those background hours of work in mind when you suggest changes but still not pull your punches too much if there's a major flaw that needs addressing for the plot and characters to be believable. It's tempting to see every manuscript as a lump of clay that could be molded into a shape you like better, but part of editing is recognizing that you're not a co-author. You're a consultant, and ideally a trusted one, but you don't have the power to make major ultimatums unless you're working at a publishing house and the book is already under contract. As a freelancer, the goal is to pull back, grasp the author's vision, and then pick your battles so that you're not floundering through all two hundred of your suggestions on Skype or during a phone call. 

Skyping was definitely helpful for both of us, since we had the manuscript open in separate windows, and hearing someone explain something out loud can be faster than e-mailing. She went back to her rewrites at the end of that long chat with a new pile of notes and came back to me for tightening and line editing a few weeks later. The changes in the manuscript were amazing-- several minor characters had completely changed and the climax snapped together much better, in part because my programmer roommate had overheard part of the Skype call and charged in briefly to give us both a brief lesson in SQL injection and its relevance to a hacking-heavy plot. Whether you're on the author or editor side of this table, intelligent friends who happen to be experts in their field are golden. I have an MD/PhD student who happens to be a black belt, two programmers, a teacher, an aerospace engineer, and a motley assortment of other friends on tap to answer quick "is this plausible?"  questions. I also put out a few quick polls on Facebook to answer questions like "do people commonly say this?" or "how much password-sharing do you do online?" Never underestimate the untapped resource field of people you know-- most people who aren't swamped don't mind helping out with quick slice of life questions. 

Wrapping up and publication:

After line edits, Julia and I had the chance to meet for a little while during her trip to Chapel Hill, and I enjoyed the chance to look at her cover art candidates and talk over how her last changes were going. If you live in the same area as your editor and really want a meeting, offer to buy lunch or dinner. I do this every few months with my local client because I enjoy talking shop while being bribed with delicious food, and the time flies by in a way that it doesn't on Skype. In-person meetings also allow for more flexibility-- looking through all the cover art suggestions would have meant a lot of downloading or opening links in an e-mail, but in person I could just flip through the tablet gallery and explain why I thought some color schemes fit the tone of the book better than others. She was already towards the one that was my favorite, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy having some input. 

And now, a month after that meeting, Underwater is available as both a paperback and a Kindle edition via Amazon. If you're interested in suspense, the real estate market, the business world, or dysfunctional families, this one might be your cup of tea. My parting shot for authors working with freelance editors is this: if your book is actually published, either through self-publishing or a publishing house, keep in touch and let your editor know. I've edited quite a few manuscripts freelance now, and Julia is only the second author to follow up and let me know what happened. I'm happy to provide advice on future books and a bit of free publicity; seeing the authors I've helped succeed in getting their books out there helps make the hours on this job worthwhile. 

Just chime in if you have any questions about this process or editing in general! I try to steer clear of some specifics to respect privacy, but I also enjoy talking about what I do.


  1. A great bit of education for all three of us. Thanks.

    Bill Hines

    1. You're welcome! And thank *you* for getting me to look at those samples-- I enjoy reaching out of my normal editing box to try new things.