Last summer I had the honor of working on a beautiful family history titled Our Shining Legacy. Written by sisters Jewel Waller Davis and Joyce Waller Baden, the book tells the inspiring story of the Waller-Dungee family and their family-owned jewelry store, Waller & Company Jewelers.
The store, located in Richmond, Virginia, was started by their grandfather, M.C. Waller, and continues to operate. It is one of the few Black-owned family-owned stores in the area, and it has been in business since 1900.
A couple of weeks ago I received this exciting news:
At the recent 2021 conference of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS), a book about our family history, Our Shining Legacy, was named winner of an International AAHGS Book Award in the Non-Fiction: Historical category.
AAHGS has been working to preserve African American history for the past 40 years. According to its website (www.AAHGS.org):
The International AAHGS Book Award® celebrates published works that promote the knowledge of African American history, genealogy and research, and to introduce the substantial contributions made by African Americans in American and International history.
The legacy in Our Shining Legacy is real. Jewel and Joyce are both very accomplished women, as is seemingly their entire lineage. Several generations of Wallers and Dungees are profiled, each with a resume to envy. To be sure, these sisters had a lot of history to share. And the accolades continue to pile up.
Congratulations, Joyce and Jewel! Your hard work paid off. Thank you for letting me be part of your publishing journey!
Previously I wrote that my daughter/coauthor and I had reached a milestone with our book. We had finished the revisions and were sending it out to beta readers. Of course, revisions are never truly over, and I was afraid it would take another 18 months to get to a final manuscript. That’s how long it took us to get to a nearly complete manuscript.
Good news! It didn’t take 18 months!
We received excellent feedback from our beta readers, Chris Pickett and Katherine Melvin. We are so grateful to them for taking the time to read out work and offer their help. The book wouldn’t be the same without them.
Over about four weeks, Nancy and I worked through all of their suggestions and did our best to fix the problems they had pointed out. And believe me, there were plenty!
I still had to nudge my daughter often to get her to work on the book. But she came to an important conclusion: “It’s fun to work on the revisions when you do it a lot. When there is a lot of time in between, it’s like, Ugh, can’t I do something else?”
We are now endeavoring to put the book into a design template. This is new territory for me, but I’m excited. We chose one of Joel Friedlander’s inexpensive templates, opting to pay with our time and sweat instead of our money for this project.
Authors and publishers looking to hire an editor need to confirm the editor’s practical skills before making an offer. Editing tests and sample edits are the most common ways to do this. Both are effective, but they have distinct uses and can have very different results. If you want to be certain you are getting the right editor for your book at a fair price, you will do well to know the difference.
An Editing Test Helps the Client
When I was first starting out as an editor, I applied for a job at several publishing houses. I have done freelance work for many others. Nearly all of them asked me to take an editing test to prove I was qualified.
These tests would often include various sections that required different skills, such as spelling tricky or industry-specific words and formatting references, as well as a selection of writing to edit. The excerpt would be riddled with errors the publisher expected me to catch.
This was and is common practice. A well-crafted editing test is a very good way for publishers to get a feel for an editor’s skills before they hire them. And I never minded. In fact, I would include an offer to take a test in my cover letters. How else could I demonstrate not only that I had taken the courses but that I possessed the skills of a professional editor?
(I have even guided other publishers on how to do this; see this article in the IBPA Independent.)
Other Ways to Assess an Editor’s Skills
Early in my career, editing tests were my friend. They gave me a practical way to show my stuff to a publisher that would have many kinds of books and other projects for me to edit. Once I began working for individuals outside of traditional presses, however, I discovered I needed a different way to prove I was qualified.
Unfortunately, I found the most obvious options were flawed:
Individuals wanting to hire me weren’t likely to have prepared a test, and I couldn’t exactly provide one for them. I would know all the answers.
Preparing a portfolio of previous editing work would be difficult. I would need permission from the authors to share their work, and as a newer editor, my portfolio was slim.
A list of recent titles, though helpful, can give a skewed impression of an editor’s work. Many people work together to publish a book. How much credit (or blame) can one editor take?
Providing references or testimonials would give me some street cred, but a test is much more objective than endorsements from strangers.
All of these options have their uses (well, maybe not the first one; I don’t know anyone who creates their own test). Many editors’ websites, including my own, provide a list of recent titles as well as testimonials from satisfied clients. I believe both add to the picture of who the editor is and what their experience has entailed. If you need an editor, try to find either or both of these features on their website.
But these suggestions also leave something to be desired.
Thankfully, there is one more method for demonstrating the high quality of one’s work without all of the drawbacks. For authors, this is also likely the best way to learn what a particular editor can do for you.
A Sample Edit Helps Both the Client and the Editor
Somewhere along the line I must have heard about a sample edit, because after debating the other ways to woo clients, that’s what I decided to do.
Here’s how the sample edit works:
A potential client sends me their manuscript, or at least 50 pages of it.
I select 2–5 pages from the sample and edit it as I would the full manuscript. At the same time, I assess how much time it will take me to complete the project and what level of editing this project really needs.
I return the edited sample to the author along with a cost estimate and scheduling information.
Sample edits have many benefits, for both editor and author:
As the editor, I get to see what shape the manuscript really is in—not just what the author told me—and I can prove my worth to the author.
The author gets to see what kinds of changes I am likely to make to their work and determine if we are a good fit.
This is the key difference: Whereas a test will tell you if the editor is qualified, a sample edit will tell you if this is someone you can trust with your writing project.
(Longtime readers will know I am a huge fan of sample edits. You can read more about them here and here.)
What This Means for You
If you simply want to assess your editor’s knowledge, the editing test may be right for you. Those who go this route should be sure they are crafting a test that is reflective of the challenges in the work.
Also—and this is very important—they should be up front with their editor that what they are sending is indeed a test and not a sample. Here’s why.
Remember what I said about using the sample edit to assess what level of editing your book needs? That has real-world implications. If I believe what you have sent is a representative sample but it is actually much worse than the real thing, then I will misjudge the quality of the writing and the cost estimate will reflect the additional work.
To ensure you aren’t overcharged, be transparent with your editor.
There’s nothing to say you can’t insert a few errors into your sample to make sure the editor can catch basic typos or address your pet peeves. However, it is counterproductive to submit something that does not reflect the type or amount of work the editor will be doing.
Now, if you want to know what the editor will do on live copy (i.e., your writing project), and you want to get a fair estimate of the cost involved, the sample edit is your better bet. That’s because the sample edit does double duty, helping you and the editor to know if this is a good match.
In the end, the most important thing to remember is this: Editing is an emotional time. You want to hire the editor who best fits you and your book. Sample edits and editing tests can help you do that.
For more about how to hire and work with a freelance editor, check out this series of posts.
I am pleased to announce the return of two exciting classes I will be teaching this summer: Launch Your Writing or Editing Business Now and Choose Your Best Book-Publishing Path. Both are hosted by The Writer’s Center in Bethesda and will be held via Zoom.
With online classes, your location no longer holds you back! These classes are fun and interactive and will set you on the path to achieving your next big goal. (You can even attend from your favorite vacation spot.)
Details for each class follow. Feel free to email me with any questions. Just reply to this email. More information is also available through the Writer’s Center website.
Launch Your Writing or Editing Business Now, The Writer’s Center, May 15 – June 12
Prepare for business success with this four-week class. Together we will explore the seven steps you need to take to launch a writing or editing business that thrives. Topics include getting the right training, growing your network, choosing your business model, managing business finances, and maintaining your business once launched. Plenty of in-class and at-home exercises will spur the momentum and excitement of building a business from scratch. By the end of this class, you will be well on your way to realizing your dream of working for yourself. Note: No meeting on May 29. Presented online. Register via the Writer’s Center website.
Choose Your Best Book-Publishing Path, The Writer’s Center, June 22 and June 29
In this two-week online class, we will explore what you get with each publishing route, what it takes to succeed, and the financial side of publishing. Be prepared for lots of personal exploration and hands-on investigation. After this class, you will know what your options are and be on your way to determining which book-publishing path will lead to your success. Presented online. Register via the Writer’s Center website.
In this guest post, first-time author F.M. Deemyad shares her experience with traditional publishing. Her book, The Sky Worshipers: A Novel of Mongol Conquests, tells the story of the brave women taken captive by the Mongols and how they influenced them from within. The book is available now on NetGalley for viewers and bloggers to download. The print book will be in bookstores on March 2, 2021.
Facing the World of Traditional Publishing
The publishing process is quite intimidating for the first-time novelist who has spent months, and in my case, years trying to complete a work worth reading. Suddenly one feels outside one’s reclusive shell, forced to attend conferences, reach out to agents, and give short speeches to impress them. There is a need to learn the skills necessary to market one’s work, not just remain focused on accomplishing a voluminous manuscript. Marketing is an entirely different world from the world of writing and editing, and most writers find the process intimidating if not downright frightening.
The Agent Search
Finding the right agent/representative is similar to traditional marriage. The parents (here the publishing company, market forces, etc.) have to give their consent for what can turn into a lifelong commitment. Also, the agent and the writer have to be the right match, or the relationship will never take shape or be short-lived.
During the face-to-face conversations, the agents I encountered were mostly young and focused on specific genres. One has a few minutes to convince the agent about the positive outcome of a longtime struggle to accomplish one’s goal. They call it an elevator pitch. That is if one shares the ride when ascending or descending two floors.
Before meeting one agent at a conference last year, I wondered if Shakespeare was alive and had to meet the agent about publishing Romeo and Juliet, what would his pitch sound like?
“My novel is about two young lovers from two feuding families who are left with no choice but to commit suicide at the end.”
The agent would probably politely refuse the work and say, “We don’t do tragedies.”
Considering the magnitude of the novel I had written, which encompassed the entire Mongol era of the thirteenth century and the women taken captive during that time, only two or three agents out of a dozen who interviewed me during numerous conferences requested the first few pages of my work.
Most agents wanted to see the full manuscript, not just a few pages, and they showed interest in my work except for what they called “too much historical fact.” I was reluctant to turn the narrative into a mere novel, void of the details that made it historically authentic.
The other issue was that the process was excruciatingly slow. One publisher reached out to me and accepted my work almost one year after submission. By then, I was already under contract with another publisher.
I found recordkeeping to be of utmost importance. Having the name of the agent, pertinent publishing company, date of submission, and other details handy prevented me from reaching out to them more than once. There are online resources available that are also good for recordkeeping but I generally handle matters the old-fashioned way.
Two resource books that I bought at a conference namely,—“Novel and Short Story Writers Market” and “Guide to Literary Agents”—were useful in finally allowing me to find the right match for my novel.
What Developmental Editors Can Do
I must mention here that utilizing the services of great developmental editors, who understand your work and appreciate what you are trying to accomplish, is helpful not only because they elevate your work but also because they give you the confidence you need before embarking on this journey.
My editor was well versed in classic literature and had studied at the University of Oxford. She also did the line editing of my work and was extremely helpful in identifying modern terminology that did not belong in a book written by a narrator who lived in the thirteenth century. For example, I had used the term “global” when in fact this was an era long before Galileo, and people considered the earth to be flat.
I am glad that I chose the same person for developmental editing as well as the line editing of my work. This allowed my editor to read the work more than once, and even during line-editing after the corrections she had asked for were implemented; she did point out, on more than one occasion, areas that needed further development.
Writers Helping Writers
I must add that attendance at writers’ conferences had its merits, for it allowed me to learn about the publishing process and the choices available to writers. These conferences also are great venues for getting the word out about one’s upcoming novel, poetry book, or other work in progress. Also, reaching out to other writers and book enthusiasts via social media allowed me to learn from their experiences and set the stage for presenting my work when published.
Another benefit of attending conferences for most of us who are introverts is finding and developing relationships with other writers and even established authors. When the time came to find individuals to write blurbs for me, I had a list of outstanding authors to reach out to and ask if they were willing to read nearly 400 pages and evaluate my work. Several authors agreed, and their evaluation certainly helped to make the work more appealing to potential readers.
Finding the right group to workshop with is another important factor in succeeding in this path. At least three individuals in a workshop group that I had joined had their work published, and they provided me with valuable lessons on how to navigate this process. In addition, the workshop placed the right amount of pressure on me to accomplish the work within a limited time frame.
Last but not least are comps. Comps are works that are comparable to your novel or nonfiction book that have sold well and have been written in recent years. Finding the right comps, usually two or three books, will help the agent identify the status of your work. However, you must avoid comparing your work with the most outstanding authors who have sold thousands of books, especially if you are a first-time author. The comps have to be reasonably close to the work you have accomplished if you want to increase your chances of success.
In conclusion, I must mention that as in any serious endeavor in life, obtaining valuable information is the key to success. Whether you are in the habit of doing online research, or you prefer to obtain your information through books and in conferences, diligence, tireless effort, and remaining committed to your goal of becoming a published author pays off. Like gardening, writing is a profession that requires long-term commitment. One cannot expect a tree to grow overnight and bear fruit.
About the Author
F.M. Deemyad is the author of The Sky Worshipers: A Novel of Mongol Conquests. Born in Kermanshah, Iran, she grew up in the capital, Tehran, attending bilingual schools run by Christian and Jewish minorities. Her father, born and raised in India, had come to Iran when he was in his late twenties. Being the son of a linguist who had taught English Literature in India for a number of years, he exposed the author in her preschool years to the English language, and she learned to love classic literature under her father’s instructions. She received a B.A. in Biophysics from the University of Houston and a Master’s degree in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She currently resides with her husband in Maryland.
Nearly every event I had planned for 2020 was either cancelled or moved online. For 2021, we have all hopped on to the virtual bandwagon, and that’s a good thing.
I have a number of speaking engagements and workshops planned for January to April on a range of topics. I hope you will be able to attend at least one. Most are free and open to the public, and all are virtual.
January 21, 2021: Nonfiction Authors Panel with Valarie Austin (moderator), Phil Padget, and myself. Howard County Chapter of the Maryland Writers Association. 7-9 p.m. Find out what it’s like to be a published nonfiction author. You must register on the MWA-HoCo website to receive the link.
February 9, 2021: Self-Publishing, Traditional Publishing, or Hybrid?: A discussion of pros and cons. Midwest Publishers Association. 7:30-9:30 p.m. Learn more about MiPA here.
February 20, 2021: Is Your Writing Mojo MIA? Panel discussion with Valarie Austin, B. Morrison, and myself (moderator). Montgomery and Frederick County chapters of the MWA. 1-3 p.m. Get innovative strategies for restarting your writing. You must register on the MWA-Montgomery website to receive the link.
March 20, 2021: Crafting a Marketable Manuscript. Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. 10:30-11:30 a.m. Learn more about CAPA here.
April 15, 2021: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process (a perennial favorite). Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. 7-8:30 p.m. Learn more about UPPAA here.
Want to know more? You will find descriptions and all the details on the Events page on my website.
In June 2019 I had a poem published in a neat little online poetry mag that specializes in women’s poetry. It is the first poem I wrote as an adult, and getting it published was a real treat—but also a total fluke. See, I’m not a poet. I’m not even a writer. I’m an editor, born and raised, and that’s that.
At least, that’s what I have been telling myself.
As an editor, I have worked with great writers and terrible writers. Based on that, I thought I knew what it took to be a writer. I also knew I didn’t have it. When I put pen to paper, everything I did seemed to fall just short of making me a full-fledged writer. And the closer I got to meeting my perception of a writer, the higher my expectations became.
For example, I began keeping a journal at age 17 and haven’t stopped. But I rarely revise, and it has never been published, so in my mind, that doesn’t make me a writer. Anyone can keep a journal.
In my twenties, I had some personal essays published on a friend’s ezine. Yes, I wrote and refined the essays, and they were published, but it wasn’t like my friend was not going to publish them. She said so herself. Again, not a writer.
In 2010, the now-acclaimed Lowestoft Chronicle accepted my humorous essay “Dented”—another fluke!—and then selected it for its anthology. I was thrilled. Maybe I was a writer after all.
But no. That was the first year of publication for Lowestoft, so I could be pretty sure they threw me in because they needed material.
Then December 2012 rolled around. I had been freelance editing for about 8 years by then, and my work had been steady for most of that time. But wouldn’t you know it, two big editing projects were postponed for December and January. At the same time, I had been tossing around the idea of writing a book (still not a writer!) based on the workshops I had been leading. I thought it would be a good business move. Now that I had the time, why not see what I could do?
Twenty months later, I self-published a two-time book-of-the-year award winner. I knew in my heart I still wasn’t a writer, however, because I had published it myself. Real writers are published by strangers. But I felt I was getting closer. (To celebrate the book launch, my husband gave me an engraved business card case. It reads: “Katherine Pickett, Editor and Author.” He said he ordered it that way because he knew I identified as an editor first.)
For several months surrounding the release of my book, I pitched
about a dozen articles that were published across the internet and in print. This time strangers were publishing my work, and not first-year publications like I was used to. Some were blogs I had read and admired for a while.
Hey,I may be on to something, I thought. My confidence was building.
I went on to do some journalistic writing—I was assigned a topic, interviewed some folks, wrote it up. This time I was being paid to write. That makes me a professional writer, doesn’t it? But here I stumbled again. Ask anybody: You’re not a real writer if it isn’t a creative work.
Notice how I keep moving the goal posts?
But now—now I have this poem, a lyrical creative work published by strangers. It fits. I fit! So this is it. I’m officially an editor and a writer. And it only took 20 publications for me to get here.
Of course, I’m not alone in my angst. Psychology Today defines imposter syndrome as “a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.”1
Although imposter syndrome is not considered a real illness, it does affect our lives and our livelihoods. Because of the multitude of job descriptions for “writer,” I think writers may be particularly susceptible to it. It is precisely what I experienced over the course of my writing life.
In fact, you can find evidence of my insecurity in the first sentence of this essay.
Did you notice the way I diminished the significance of the magazine that published my poem, calling it “little” and “neat”? Apparently it doesn’t even deserve the full name of “magazine.” It’s an “online mag.” I don’t want anyone to think I am taking myself too seriously. It takes much more than one publication to make a person a writer.
Or does it? Does it require publication at all?
Looking back at my struggle, I believe I have been missing a larger point about who gets to call themselves a writer. I’m not a writer just because I finally reached the highest bar I set for myself. I have always had the drive to write down my thoughts and share them with the people around me, and to me, that drive to write is the definition of a writer.
So, no, publication is not required. The writing—that’s what makes a person a writer. If you also have a drive to write, I invite you to claim the title. It is yours for the taking.
I recently had an email exchange with someone who is making the switch from writing feature articles to blogging for his company. He asked me to read his latest blog post before he published it. I was happy to oblige. After I read it, I had some advice about his writing tone.
Me: “I think you are missing an opportunity to engage your readers more by talking directly to them.”
Blogger: “Well, this is important, so how do I do this?”
He’s right, this is very important. Striking the right tone is an essential part of marketing. It can be the difference between reaching your target audience with your blog and reaching no one at all.
As to his second point — how to engage readers with a blog — I can think of several ways. Continue reading →
A friend said, “Never write chapter summaries. They suck the life out of the story.” I believe that’s only true if you hold yourself hostage to the summaries. In fact, I believe they are crucial. Let me tell you why.
This fall and winter I began writing a chapter book with my six-year-old. It’s called Carla and Lola Go to School, But Where Is Miss Quimby?, which gives you a good idea of what it’s about. As with many books, the concept is sound. It’s the execution that will make the difference.
Before we attempted to write the book, I made sure we did what I tell all of my authors they must do:
First we jotted down general ideas about what we wanted our book to be about, who the characters would be, and what the setting would be. We also set down what the four main obstacles would be, the general structure of the book, and how it would end. (Spoiler alert: They find Miss Quimby.)
At that point, my daughter was ready to dive in. We opened a new document and started to type. And that’s when I truly learned why writers need chapter summaries.
Amending the Plan
In our initial plan, we had agreed on one opening for the book, but once that first paragraph was written, we didn’t know where to go. My daughter, being six, forgot what we had planned and wanted Miss Quimby to be at school. To my daughter’s dismay, I put on the brakes. We had forgotten to write our chapter summaries!
Using paper and pen, we jotted down who the characters were in each chapter, what the obstacle or action would be, and how they would overcome it or carry it out. We also noted the setting for that chapter and made sure the timeline worked with what would come before and after.
Team Writing vs. Going It Alone
Because we were writing as a team, the summaries were even more important than for a solo writer. We needed to agree on what would happen before it was written or we would spend all of our writing time arguing it out. We would never finish.
However, even a solo writer needs to know where they want their story to go. And if you are like many writers, you might have to take a few days or even weeks away from your writing. How do you remember where you wanted to go if you didn’t record it somewhere? Based on what I’ve seen in my editing, writers’ memories may not be as good as they think.
In the case of my daughter’s book, as we were writing the summary for chapter 9, we realized chapters 8 and 9 needed to come sooner. That would tie the story line together much more neatly. How much easier it was to make that change when the “chapters” were only a paragraph instead of the full shebang! How much time and heartache we saved by making this decision now rather than after we had sweated over the writing!
The book has a long way to go. The chapter summaries are going to guide us on the journey.
Check out these resources to help you find your own way with chapter summaries: