Thank you for your recent e-mail, under the subject line “doctoring,” that sought information about my editing services by asking, “May I ask how many novels you have worked on that have been published via traditional routes?”
Of course you can ask. You have every right to. But in my experience, when a potential client starts out with this question, it ends badly.
It's sort of like going into a clinic because you know you need a diet for your health, and asking the dietician what her measurements are and what she weighs before she has a chance to find out anything about you and your needs, and how she can help you be the best version of yourself.
Or to embrace your subject line metaphor: not all people seek out doctors for the same reason. If your goal is to get rid of your cough, and the doc says the only way to do so is to stop smoking and start exercising, and you institute a new plan of walking home from work but feel you've earned the right to sneak cigarettes on the way, your emphysema will not be a reflection of the quality of help you received.
Like dieting, publishing success demands diligence applied over the long haul. You must learn the industry, polish marketing and business writing skills, network extensively, and forge the kind of can-do attitude and inner resilience that can see you through what may be years of rejection. As a developmental editor, I can't control any of that.
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What I can do: help you develop that skill. You will grow in your appreciation of story and gain experience collaborating with an editor. You will experience that rush that always comes when your writing grows in both confidence and nuance. I will honor your creativity by delving deeply into your project and analyzing the best structures for supporting its meaning. In my experience, it is those who treasure these benefits—as opposed to those who are looking for the bottom line—who have what it takes to go the distance.
A warning: “going the distance” often means hiring me for another edit, since once you’ve gone in and made changes, it is possible that you’ve unwittingly introduced new issues that must be addressed. Like any learning, it’s a process, and your dedication to it is key.
So, dear potential client, let’s start again. Maybe you could tell me a bit about you, your manuscript (a paragraph synopsis including genre would be fine, since I don't work with all genres), and your publishing goals?
I appreciate your indulgence. The art of writing means very much to me, and I am looking to work with people who feel the same way. Like any art, writing will demand more of you than you have the right to demand of it. The unexpected rewards will enrich your life.
Since I've only been editing for seven years, and my clients vary wildly with regard to both skill and their ability to devote time to their craft, not all of them have yet published—but those who seek this goal are significantly closer. If your measure of success is the rapid accumulation of money from book sales by the end of this year, we may not be the best fit. Not because it’s not a lovely dream—it's one that motivates many of us. And not because I don't want to bother sending off the results list you requested, in time. But starting off an inquiry with results does not point the spotlight where it is most relevant: on your manuscript, and the effort you are willing to spend to make it the best it can possibly be.
If you are excited by what I have to offer, I look forward to hearing from you. If not, please understand, as I have come to, that not every writer/editor combination is a good fit. I truly wish you the best of luck on your publishing journey.
Your Developmental Editor
P.S. For our readers: what is your measure of success, whether in writing, publishing, or working with an editor?
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation service specializing in effective storytelling. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her debut novel, The Art of Falling, is due out by Sourcebooks in January 2014. She blogs at The Fine Art of Visiting. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.