Monday, April 29, 2013

Editing Success: How Do You Measure It?

Dear Potential Client,

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.

Image via BusinessOnLine
Reality is, getting an agent or receiving a traditional publishing contract has always been for a select few. That’s one reason “the long haul” is effective—eventually, competition from debut authors with your commensurate level of increasing skill will drop away.

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, 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 VisitingConnect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.


  1. You asked: P.S. For our readers: what is your measure of success, whether in writing, publishing, or working with an editor?

    Re: working with an editor.
    Expectations I have of an editor? Let me count the ways:
    1. Fix what can be fixed and point out what is beyond repair.
    2. Make it easier to understand for the reader.
    3. Make it more enjoyable for the reader.
    4. Make it more educational for the reader.
    5. Numbers 2, 3, and 4 may sound redundant but they are separate issues that only the best editors address.
    6. Charge a fair price. Everyone has to eat but try to remember that 99.9999% of writers do not make a living from their writing. We pay our editors, proofreaders, cover designers, and others from funds unrelated to our writing.
    7. Don't expect writers to use you for every book. I usually let the same editor work on 2 of my books and then find a different one for the next 2 because using different editors ultimately makes for better writers.

  2. Very good letter, Kathryn. I may steal sections of it to respond to queries I get that ask how soon we can get the book into the marketplace and would I be willing to take a percentage of sales in lieu of a fee.

    I'm sure you will have some responses to Anonymous, but I can't resist responding to number 7. My experience with working with the same editor for several books has been beneficial in that we develop an understanding and appreciation to the gifts we each bring to the work. In the long run, I think that makes us both better at our jobs.

  3. To that opening question, Kathryn, I'd be too tempted to answer, "Why? You think you have something that is better then the usual drivel I see?"

  4. What criteria should a writer use to choose an editor wisely?

  5. Anonymous:
    I think your expectations 1-4 are reasonable, although difficult to "measure." Ostensibly you would need before and after testimonies from the same readers, and those readers would have to have excellent memories (because it takes you some time to address developmental edits) and be highly knowledgable and discerning. My best friend and I share similar tastes in books but is beyond her abilities to share how my own manuscripts improve after editorial feedback is applied.

    Even more responses from agents wouldn't do the trick, since individual tastes vary so. Even an agent re-reading the same ms isn't giving unsullied feedback, as she has read countless pitches and mss since yours and will not recall every detail.

    That's not to say it won't be better—I'm just saying the improvement is not easily measurable. So to start your interaction with an editor by asking for "proof" seems the wrong way to go about things, to me.

    Your #6 is completely understandable but outside your control—you may make your money elsewhere, but the editor makes her living by editing, it's her own business, and she charges what she charges. If you can't afford her, move on to another.

    #7 proves that you have been making use of editors and come up with a plan that works for you, so bravo!

  6. Maryann,

    That's awesome that you have developed a deep relationship with your editor! That's very special indeed, but certainly doesn't always happen. If I had a great editor I'd hang on with all my might—and get the varied perspective that stimulates and helps me grow through writing workshops, conferences, and other educational opportunities. But to each his own!

  7. Christopher:
    Good point. :) But I do want to believe that before submitting to an editor, each one of us has poured all the love and skill and talent we possibly can over our manuscripts. For that reason, I will allow that each of us feels our current manuscript is our masterpiece, because I think that's how it should be.

  8. Diana:
    Short question worthy of a whole post! And we've addressed it here at the BRP many times. If you type "choosing an editor" into the top left search bar many posts will come up, including Linda Lane's "Choosing the Right Editor" from 2009.

    Most importantly, I think you need to be clear about your genre and goals and clearly state them when interviewing the editor. Check out the editor's website—mine at can pre-screen potential clients by genre and price that need not bother contacting me (erotica + will you come down to $200 = bad fit for me, lol). I think recommendations are important, because only they can speak to the process.

  9. Kathryn, this post speaks to my heart.

    And I can emphasize what you stated that once a developmental edit is "done" it's not nearly "done" as more issues may arise with the new edits added in.

    As for me my measure of success in working with an editor are many - but here are two.

    First, is that after incorporating such edits I continue to receive requests for full manuscripts from agents - and along with their rejections I receive valuable feedback to make the story stronger. Why is this a measure of success? Because it tells me that agents (who know the market) want to read my story and can see potential in it, and are giving me the time to send back feedback.

    And second, in going on my third round of developmental edits with my amazing editor who helps me draw the power from my story(YOU!) I am filling my writer's toolbox. This toolbox is brimming with what I continue to learn that makes me a better writer. I can actually SEE things in my writing I never saw before and have learned to writer SLOWER and craft it better in the drafting. It's an exciting thing!

    Am I up for going the distance? I am! For it is the journey I believe that will make the destination so much more worthwhile.

  10. Thanks for offering your perspective, Donna, as some one "in the process."

    As Maryann also implied, many of us who work as freelance editors are also authors. Because we believe so in the collaborative nature of developmental editing, we also are consumers of such services.

  11. Here are some links to articles on how to choose an editor:

  12. Thanks for plugging in the links, Diana!

  13. Kathryn,
    As an editor and as a writer, I can say from multiple perspectives that this is a very wise post!

  14. Thanks for stopping by and lending your experienced perspective, Ginger!

  15. Very well done, Kathryn. Based on the number of writers who have inquired about my services and the number who have actually have hired me to edit their books, I can guess that many have motives that take precedence over the excellence of their manuscripts. Also, they have no perception of the time, energy, and expertise it takes to edit a manuscript well.

    I'll never forget the woman who sent me a rambling story of great length and dubious quality (yes, it needed lots of work) and then told me she'd pay me out of her book sales. She was obviously disappointed, as well as very surprised, when I declined.

  16. Oy, LInda! I've had "clients" suggest that although they can't pay me for more than the first 100 pages, since I love literature so much, I'll probably want to read to the end and comment on the whole thing anyway. I'm sure they'd be surprised at my restraint in this regard.

  17. Editing Success: How Do You Measure It?

    I’ve read your comments, Katherine, and I respectively disagree with your philosophy. When a prospective client asks me about my experience with a similar project to theirs, I answer it openly and honestly. It’s an opportunity for both of us to evaluate if my experience matches their project and expectations.

    I also disagree with your analogy about the dietician. Having that question about experience is not like going into a clinic because you know you need a diet for your health, and asking the dietician what her measurements are. Instead, it’s like asking a dietician “How many patients in similar health have you successfully helped to lose a similar amount of weight as me?” It’s a fair question and deserves and honest answer so that it has the strongest potential to end successfully, not badly.

    Certainly, if one has areas of less experience, an explanation about how one plans to overcome potential challenges is in order. Let’s help our clients who refer us and prospects who consider us feel confident in our abilities that we have successfully provided to others.

    Sheila Ecung
    ArrowStarr Communications

  18. Hi Sheila, of course you can disagree with my philosophy, and thank you for adding your perspective here. This is such a subjective business and thank goodness for this—I am the first to admit that not every editor is right for every writer.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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