How to Be a Good Author: An Editor’s Perspective

Do you have what it takes to be a good author? This is not the same as being a good writer, at least not from an editor’s vantage point. No, although working with authors who are skilled with the pen does make an editor’s job more enjoyable, it is only one of many factors to be considered. Rather, it is the writer’s ability to maintain a good business relationship with his or her editor that makes one a good or bad author in an editor’s eyes.

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Lucky for you, it isn’t hard to be a good author. You can keep your relationship with your editor on solid ground—and reap the many benefits of that relationship—by following this simple advice.

Be respectful.

Some authors approach the editing process as a battle, with their editor being their greatest adversary. This attitude can result in yelling, angry e-mails, and nasty comments directed at the editor—the very person who has been entrusted with the precious manuscript.

Rude behavior does nothing to encourage your editor to do his or her best work. An attitude of collaboration and mutual respect, on the other hand, will get you much closer to your goal of a high-quality book and will rarely lead to the hurt feelings so common with the opposite approach.

Be patient.

CooperationIf you have put much time and effort into your manuscript, you are likely anxious to hear back from your editor to find out what he or she thought of it. Truly good editing can take some time, however, and most editors have multiple clients, so be prepared to wait.

If you are at a loss for how to fill your time, get started on your marketing campaign. It is never too early to gather the names of influential people and publications that may be willing to review your book.

Be timely.

If you have agreed to a deadline, do your best to meet it. If you are unable to meet a deadline, do not go to ground and avoid your editor’s calls. Communicate your needs and work hard to make the adjusted deadline. Having to track down an AWOL author is a major pet peeve of all editors and is, frankly, a waste of time.

Be organized.

Good organization can save many hours of work for you and your editor.

  • Label your electronic files in such a way that you can always find the most recent version of your manuscript.
  • If you have photos, use a numbering system that indicates which chapter the photo goes with.
  • Finally, keep meticulous research notes so that you can answer the inevitable requests from your editor for more information on where you found your materials.

A systematic approach to research will also help you if you decide to publish a revised edition in the future and need to return to your original sources.

Be flexible.

red penMany authors become rigid when an outsider attempts to make changes to their writing. Yet, fighting every change makes the editing process a drudgery for both author and editor. Yes, it is your book, but you have called in professional help for a reason. Your editor is working to make it the best, most marketable book it can be.

If you are willing to collaborate, listen to your editor’s feedback, and potentially tweak your initial vision for the project to one that satisfies both of your concerns, you will likely find yourself with an even better book than you ever thought possible!

Be a good communicator.

In an age when most communication is done over the Internet, confusion and miscommunication run rampant. Take your time when responding to e-mails and make sure you have answered the questions that were asked. If you have questions for your editor, compile them into one message rather than sending four or five e-mails, each with a separate question.

You will save time for yourself and your editor, and you will avoid much of the confusion, wasted effort, and frustration that result from miscommunication.

Be enthusiastic!

At times the road to publication has grown so long that authors lose all enthusiasm for their books. When the author is no longer engaged, editing can become a tiresome and boring task. If you want a good, thorough edit, show your enthusiasm for the project. Be open to ideas, and be willing to put in the effort needed to create a compelling piece of writing. Your editor will respond in kind.

When each party is fully engaged in the project, the editing process is a fun and rewarding time, and the result is a book both author and editor can be proud of.

It doesn’t take much to be a good author. Remember a few common courtesies and you will always be on your editor’s good side. That can mean great things for you as an author. Most important, you will receive your editor’s best work. You will also likely benefit from his or her extra effort to promote you and your book. What’s more, your reputation as a good author could even help you get that next book published, and isn’t that what being a good author is all about?

This article originally appeared on Walrus Publishing on September 4, 2014.

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Inspiration Can Sneak Up On You: Three Ways to Inspire Your Writing

In October I attended my old writers’ group after being away for close to two years. The speaker, Sarah Kaufman, was not scheduled to talk about my area of writing, but I went anyway. Sometimes you just have to get up and go.

Of all the information Kaufman presented, one small comment sparked my interest the most. She explained that as she was writing her book, The Art of Grace, her publisher noted, “It could be like Quiet!”

At that moment, Sarah was not using her competition, but her comparables as inspiration for her book.

This is an often overlooked way to better your writing.

Normally we look for books on our same topic, targeted to our same audience, to see what’s what. How can we do what they did, only better?

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But when you have a topic and aren’t sure how you want to approach it, a close look at books that do the same thing as yours but on a different topic — what are known as comparables — now that can be a source of real inspiration.

Inspiration can be funny. We never know when it will come or where we will find it:

  • A friend recently moved to Germany and said he was surprised by how uninspired he felt by his new surroundings. This feeling then inspired him to write a novel about a character who felt the same way.
  • I went to a writing group to connect with old friends, and I found inspiration to write this post about inspiration. How meta is that?

The feeling of being uninspired is a drain on our writing lives.

Often, this feeling keeps us inside and away from our bookish pals. We unsubscribe from newsletters and blogs about writing, and we avoid being alone with the computer. Who wants to be reminded of how much they aren’t writing?

But what I learned from all of this is threefold:

  1. Putting yourself in public spaces can trigger new ideas.
  2. Reading widely, not just in your genre or about your main topic of interest, can improve your writing and lead you in new directions.
  3. Sometimes you have to open your mind to accept the inspiration that comes.

So get up and go. See, do, and read new things, and follow wherever it leads you.

Do you have a story about inspiration sneaking up on you? Leave it in the comments!

 

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Hinkebein Family Album

For the past few years I have been mentally compiling a playlist of songs from my childhood and teen years. I often hear songs on the radio that immediately remind me of one of my sisters or brother. I wanted to capture that experience and share it with my siblings — a portrait of my family through music.

These are songs we listened to on our record player or tape deck, often while we cleaned the house together on a Saturday or Sunday morning. We fought a lot and shared many dismal days, but those moments with the house full of kids and the stereo turned up are some of the rosiest memories I have. This would be my tribute to those times.

With 8 kids in the family, I could assign 2 songs per sibling, plus an opening and closing song we all enjoyed, for a nice, tight 18-song album. But as I worked through it, I realized I couldn’t leave out my parents, and a couple of my brothers-in-law started hanging around when I was 5. I wanted to include them too. What to do?

Aha! Bonus tracks!

With my plan in place, I set about gathering the music and determining the order. The following playlist is the result.

I can hear each song play from only the title. Can you?

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Hinkebein Family Album

 

Side A. The Four Oldest

  1. We Are Family / Sister Sledge
  2. Copacabana / Barry Manilow
  3. Jet / Wings
  4. Don’t Ask Me Why / Billy Joel
  5. Fast Car / Tracy Chapman
  6. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da / The Beatles
  7. 1999 / Prince
  8. Surfing with the Alien / Joe Satriani
  9. Sultans of Swing / Dire Straits

Side B. The Four Youngest

  1. Kiss Off / Violent Femmes
  2. Smooth Operator / Sade
  3. What’s Love Got to Do With It / Tina Turner
  4. Every Heartbeat / Amy Grant
  5. Poison / Bel Biv Devoe
  6. Once / Pearl Jam
  7. Eternal Flame / The Bangles
  8. Running Down a Dream / Tom Petty
  9. Bugged at My Old Man / The Beach Boys

Bonus Tracks: Michael, Bill, Mom, and Dad

  1. Owner of a Lonely Heart / Yes
  2. Can’t Fight This Feeling / REO Speedwagon
  3. Break My Stride / Matthew Wilder
  4. King of the Road / Roger Miller

 

 

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It’s About Earning Clients, Not Just Finding Them

Most self-employed people, including freelance editors, have the inherent challenge of finding clients. But that is only half the story. The real challenge is landing them and keeping them.

To do that, you have to prove your worth. You have to earn a client.

Generosity Is Key

Some freelancers are reluctant to give anything away. I have written before about why I think that is a bad idea. While I may have softened somewhat on exactly how much you should give away, I do think the generous among us get much more than we give.

There are three broad categories for what a person has to give: money, time, and talent.

money-300x271I don’t see many freelancers donating money to their clients, but they could knock a few dollars off their fees for a new client, or for an old client hiring a new service. Those ideas can help you sign an author.

The trouble I have found, though, is that often the beneficiary of a discount no longer values your services to the same degree.

Giving time and talent—now that is where you can demonstrate how valuable you and your work are. And that is exactly what I mean when I talk about earning a client.

Here are five ways I have earned clients over the years, and you can use them too.

  1. Take Time to Explain Your Editing Process

About three years into my freelancing career, I began working with self-publishers. Each time I had a prospective client, I would write an extensive email explaining how my process works. This took a lot of time and effort that I knew could be spent more wisely.

However, I also knew my clients needed the information. How could I balance these two needs?

Over time, I formalized my process, put it in a document, and now have it posted on my website for any potential client to download and read. Those authors who haven’t read my website receive a copy when we first set up a phone call to discuss a project.

The response has been very positive. I often hear, “I appreciate how open you are about the process” and “I like that you have explained all of the steps up front.”

The benefit to me, besides saving time, is that it sets expectations. Now everyone knows what is going to happen and why. It’s much easier to please your clients when they know what you have promised to do for them.

  1. Take Time to Explain Style Decisions

I earned one client when he asked why some endnotes used a comma before the page numbers and others used a colon. He had been working with a traditional publisher and I was the copyeditor assigned to the project.

I explained that per Chicago Manual of Style, journal citations use a colon and book citations use a comma before page numbers. He said:

“No one has ever been able to explain that to me. Thank you.”

He proceeded to hire me to edit his next book before submitting it to the publisher. Since then we have worked on three more books together over 10 years.

  1. Share Your Talent Through a Sample Edit

Performing a sample edit helps the editor at least as much as it does the potential client. Sample edits allow editors to determine how much work a new project is going to be. It lets you see the writing for yourself, rather than taking the author’s word for it when it comes to

  • How long the manuscript is
  • How strong the writing is
  • How organized the author is

These factors tell the editor how much time the editing will take, what level of editing is required, and how much to quote for the project.

For their part, the author gets to see what kinds of changes will be made and what the editor’s editing style is.

This helps the author to decide whether the editor is a good fit. Further, the author could take the suggestions from the sample edit and apply them to their work before submitting the manuscript for a full edit.

For both parties, the sample edit again helps to set expectations. Clear expectations are key to a good working relationship, and that leads to (1) repeat business and (2) word-of-mouth advertising. Both are essential to a healthy business.

  1. Suggest Additional Resources—Books, Websites, Videos

Having access to additional resources makes you a resource. That means clients will come back to you when they need advice or guidance. It builds trust, and the more someone trusts you, the more likely they are to hire you.

dreamstimelarge_57561641You can find many of my favorite resources on this website and many more in Publishing Resources for Authors, Editors, and Publishers (PDF available on my website; Kindle edition available through Amazon).

Being able to refer clients to other publishing professionals, such as book designers, graphic artists, marketers, and agents, is one more way to be a resource for your clients.

You are valuable for your knowledge and your connections. Proving your value is how you earn a client.

  1. Admit It When a Project Is Outside Your Area of Expertise

The last, best way I know how to earn a client is to admit it when you are not the right editor for a project. This honesty goes a long way in building trust.

For some editors, sending a potential client to another editor sounds like the exact opposite of what you should do. How does that at all contribute to landing a client?

By turning down projects for which you are unable to do a high-quality job, you are saving your reputation.

Rather than being known as the editor who missed a lot of errors or misled an author about their credentials, you become the editor who is conscientious and confident enough to send a client to another professional.

In the future, this client may come back to you with another project, with a different task on the same project, or with a potential new client via a referral.

When it comes to attracting and keeping clients, repeat customers and word-of-mouth advertising can’t be beat.

 

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Fictionalizing Your Story? Commit!

A few years ago I read Jeannette Walls’s Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel. It is the fictionalized tale of her grandmother and mother living on the frontier. It was a lovely book and I highly recommend it.

I have just one reservation: In fictionalizing the story, Walls did not go far enough. She did not fully commit.

This choice left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. I wanted a fuller story—a novel.

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Before and since that time, I have seen the same problem with some of my clients’ works as well as in published books. After the A Million Little Pieces fiasco, more people are hesitant to call their memoirs nonfiction if they include anything not verifiably true, and they are opting to fictionalize. Here is my advice to those authors:

If that is your decision, then embrace it!

Employ all of the tools of storytelling that are available to a novelist to make your fictionalized story a worthy read:

  • Develop back stories for your characters
  • Invent dialogue and settings
  • Embellish feelings and reactions for your characters
  • Rearrange events and create new ones

In sum, fill in the details you don’t remember or never were told, to craft a full-bodied story that readers will enjoy.

Detach yourself from reality!

Some authors are reluctant to create something for fear of not being true to the story they wish to tell. I believe it is possible to capture the essence of an event while placing it in a different setting or inventing dialogue that you have no way to verify.

But fictionalizing isn’t just about filling in the details. Novelists have even more tools that keep their stories moving. You can use them too!

  • Combine or eliminate characters
  • Skip events that don’t fit with the narrative arc
  • Summarize background information
  • Leave out the details that don’t move the plot or aid character development

Omitting information can be as difficult as inventing it when your goal is to be true to your story. Yet, the best storytellers know when to expound on a seemingly minor detail and when to bridge over events that don’t contribute to the effect they want to achieve.

You have to do what is right and best for your work. Let the shackles of reality go, and commit to the genre you have chosen.

When you fail to commit, you leave readers adrift.

 

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Two POP clients earn media coverage!

Congratulations to Thomas Caulfield, author of Ephphatha: Growing Up Profoundly Deaf but Not Dumb in the Hearing World, a basketball memoir that is about much more than basketball.

Ephphatha cover

This is a beautiful story about a father and his son who overcame many obstacles to find success both on the basketball court and in the classroom. I’m proud to have served as the developmental editor on this project. Read about it here:

14 Best New Basketball Player Books to Read in 2019 (The Book Authority)

 

and here:

Interesting Reads: Ephphatha by Dr. Thomas Caulfield (Living with Hearing Loss)

Also in the news was Building a Business with a Beat, a business self-help book written by the inimitable founder of Jazzercise, Judi Missett.

Judi Missett cover

I copyedited this book for McGraw-Hill at the start of the year and enjoyed it immensely. Read about it in The Atlantic:

The Fitness Craze that Changed the Way Women Exercise

It takes a great many people to publish each and every book. Seeing those books get the attention they deserve is a reward for all who participate in the publishing journey.

Kudos, Tom and Judi!

 

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Researching the Competition — Example: Serena Williams Biography

Researching the competition for your next book can be a roller coaster of emotions. First you think your idea is completely new and out of the ordinary. Yay! Then you start to find others like yours. Nooo! Then you see those books are ancient and yours will be fresh and new. Yay! Then you search again and find 5 new releases. Heartbreak!

It can be exhausting going through all of that, and perhaps that is why many writers avoid researching their competition. However, if you plan to market your book to anyone outside of your family and friends, you need to know who you are up against.

Let’s say  you are interested in writing a book about US tennis great Serena Williams. A quick Amazon search for Williams brings up 419 items. Sorting by year of publication, we seTennis Racquete 12 of those books were slated for publication in 2019 alone. That is a whole lot of competition for a book about Serena Williams!

Looking closer, however, you will also note that very few Serena books were published before 2019. So how do you make your case that your book will have the shelf-life needed to recoup your and your publisher’s investment?

Another search, this time for tennis biographies, illustrates the long life of tennis as a source for biographies: Arthur Ashe, the icon who played in the 1960s, is the subject of a biography set to publish in 2020. Nearly 60 years is a pretty good shelf life.

You need not be discouraged by the competition. All of these books indicate that there is a large population interested in reading about the lives of sports stars.

That said, you might also take this information and decide instead to write about someone else, say, Maria Sharapova, who is ranked number two by ESPN for famous female athletes but has had just a handful of books written about her. Explore a wide-open market like that and you just might land on the bestseller list.

Researching the competition is scary, but it can also lead to inspiration and will almost certainly fuel your success. Keep with it until you know exactly who you are up against.

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Writing Prompts: Get Published on the POP Newsletter

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Would you like to be published on my blog, The POP Newsletter? Here’s your chance.

First, respond to one of the writing prompts below. Then follow these simple rules:

  • The submitted piece must clearly relate to the prompt.
  • Genre and style are open, but no erotica, please.
  • Publication is at my discretion.
  • Some editing may be required before publication.
  • Word limit: 2,000 words.

And now, the prompts:

  1. This is fear country
  2. What are you waiting for?

Submit your work to me at katherine [at] popediting [dot] net. Please paste your submission into the body of an email.

I look forward to reading your submission!

 

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#1 New Release on Amazon?!

Perfect Bound: Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, Revised Edition, released August 26, and on August 29 it was the #1 New Release in writing guides on Amazon!

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Amazon even put a banner on the Perfect Bound book profile page, which was great to see:

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I won’t tell you how many books I had to sell to reach this milestone. Thirty copies? Three copies? Who’s counting? All I know is, with all the work that goes into making a book, it really is a treat to see the accolades.

Get your very own copy of the Amazon #1 New Release and find out what all the fuss is about. You just might discover it’s worth all hype!

 

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Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

Before You Hire an Editor, Do These 4 Things

The other day, I called around to find someone who could tell me why the bush in my front yard was dying. “Dying” may have been too generous. It seemed like maybe it was already dead. It had slowly turned brown over the past year and as of the week before, three-fourths of it was leafless. Not to mention, the trunk seemed to be growing something.

Still, I was hoping someone could help me salvage what was left.

The lawn care company I called first recommended a garden center. The garden center recommended a tree specialist. The tree specialist said this:

“Dead is dead.”

He explained that he could come take a look but it would cost me $250 and it didn’t sound like there was much left to save. “I’m not usually one to turn down billable hours, but it’s not like I can do an autopsy or even a tissue sample. Dead is dead.”

I thanked him for his forthright manner and said I would take his gentle suggestion not to hire him.

The next weekend, my husband went out with a saw to see what he could do. The bush turned out to be so dead, the saw was unnecessary. He more or less yanked it out of the ground with his bare hands.

I’m glad I saved my $250. It is a treat to encounter someone who isn’t just looking to make a buck.

To tell the truth, that tree specialist reminded me of me.

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Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

It doesn’t happen often, but there have been times when I had to turn down a client simply because I thought they would be wasting their money by hiring me. Not that their book idea was dead; they just were not ready for editing. (I have written previously about the reactions I have gotten when this happened after editing had already started.)

I am always pleased when writers want to have their books edited before publishing them. Sometimes, however, they have a few more steps to take before it is wise to spend money on an editor.

Here are 4 steps you should take before hiring an editor:

  • Let the manuscript simmer. Take a week or, better yet, a month away from the manuscript before you begin your revisions. You can spend this time not thinking about the book at all, or use it to build your marketing platform, research agents and publishers, or read other books that will help you hone your craft.
  • Read through the manuscript 2 or more times to make revisions. Most people require 20 revisions to get their work where they want it. It is an iterative process. However, you will probably need an outsider’s perspective before you get quite that far.
  • Share your work with a friend. No, a friend isn’t likely to give you the best feedback, but you have to start somewhere. If you don’t already have a writing group to tell you what is good and bad about your story, start with a friend. You need to get the gumption up to expose your work to someone else and it’s OK if you start with a softball.
  • Find a writing group, beta readers, or other outside people with writing experience to read your manuscript. Arrange for 3–5 well-chosen readers to give you specific constructive feedback on the writing. Then sort the feedback to determine which changes support your vision for the book.

You could continue on this path until you have completed your 20 revisions. That’s not a bad plan. But you might also decide it’s time to hire an editor before then. That’s not a bad plan either. What I would strongly advise against is typing “The End” and immediately beginning your search for an editor.

As the tree specialist illustrated, it’s often faster and cheaper to rip a dead bush out of the ground yourself than to pay someone to tell you what you already know.

[Related: How to Hire a Freelance Editor in 5 Easy Steps]

 

cover for the revised edition of Perfect Bound

 

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