This post originally ran on January 6, 2010, but its advice is timeless.
You have decided to submit your manuscript to a freelance editor. On one level you are hoping that editor will identify any issues that might prevent a publishing house from purchasing your book so that you can fix them before you are rejected. But deep down inside—no matter how much you are paying for the service—you are also kind of hoping that editor will deem your work “brilliant as is” and return it with only a few typos changed.
I know. I may be an editor, but I am also a writer who has previously hired a freelance editor. And it’s amazing how your thumping heart can squeeze all common sense from your brain as you open up your evaluation and wonder…does she think I’m any good?
Ahem—wrong question. If submitting to a freelance editor is on your New Year's resolution list, please keep this post handy and read it through a few times before you read your edited pages.
1. Editors know how hard it is to communicate effectively on paper—it’s often harder than the author thinks—and respect anyone who gives it their best shot. Your editor wants you to succeed and will apply special evaluation skills to help you do so. To communicate these concepts she must put marks on your page.
Marks on the page ≠ “I am a bad writer.”
Marks on the page = your editor is doing what you paid her to do.
2. Ask any published author: each manuscript attempted offers up its own specific challenges. You submitted your work to be edited because you wanted to determine whether those problems have been adequately addressed, and whether others you haven’t yet identified lurk between the lines. While reading your editor’s evaluation of your work is not the time to pretend those problems never existed.
3. Identifying problems is helpful because problems have solutions. No doubt your editor will point you toward some possible solutions. Her suggestions might take the story in a direction you hadn’t hoped for—but read them anyway. You don’t have to use them, but they might help loosen your hold on your former way of thinking so you can move in a more productive direction.
4. Rather than brace yourself against your editor's comments, open yourself to their possibilities. Allow a week or two to digest them so whatever truth is there can sink in.
5. Even constructive criticism can be difficult to read. Try to accommodate your discomfort. “If I were an agent I would have stopped reading here” is not an easy thing for you to read or your editor to write—but its very honesty is a gift. Especially if the only feedback you’d received thus far was from family and friends who think your writing is “awesome.”
I’ll leave you with this related story. Determined to make the most of his talent, a friend of mine studied classical voice in New York City at a rate he could barely afford—$200 an hour. One day, during his lesson, he broke down. He had sacrificed so much to be there and could no longer take the constant criticism. “You only tell me the things I do wrong,” he told his instructor. The instructor seemed baffled. “That’s because you’re paying me to correct what isn’t working,” he said. “You have improved significantly since you started studying with me. The fact that we are working on new problems indicates this. Now. We have 15 minutes left. Do you want to spend that $50 on me attempting to help you feel better about yourself, or do you want to learn a little something more from me today?”
The moral of this anecdote, of course, is that creative endeavor is hard and taking criticism is even harder. Make sure you do what you need to do to bolster your spirits. Pray. Meditate. Go for a walk. Kiss your dog. Read inspirational literature. Just don’t expect your editor to provide coddling that is at odds with the honest feedback you are paying to receive.
Remember that your editor’s remarks have no bearing on her opinion of you or on her thoughts as to whether or not you are a good writer. A good writer is simply someone who continues to address the problems in the writing until no barriers remain between her story and the reader eager to enter it.
And never underestimate the transformative power of hard work. Once your diligent problem solving starts to shove those barriers out of the way in the revision process, that editor that seemed to be your harshest critic will become your greatest cheerleader.
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Formerly a dance critic and arts journalist, she now writes women's fiction and memoir. At her blog, Healing through Writing, she is currently posting about the philosophical, logistical, and biological challenges of healing from a triple ankle fracture sustained during Hurricane Irene.