Friday, November 18, 2011

Grateful for My Dream Clients

Today I would like to express my gratitude to the writers I’ve worked with who understand that writing a long story (novel or narrative nonfiction) isn’t easy.

Until recently my dream clients have:
  • read and written a lot in their lives, for pleasure or work or school
  • undertaken a writing education, whether in a formal MFA program, during on-the-job journalism training, or by attending workshops, continuing education classes, and writing conferences.
  • realized that their writing education is never complete, and that each project will present its own challenges.
  • networked with other writers farther down the publication road so they have a realistic view of what they’re in for and the effort involved.
  • improved on earlier drafts of their project after sharing with a critique group or other trusted advance readers.
  • hired a developmental writer for the express purpose of identifying problems and suggesting solutions, so will not get angry or lose heart when she does so.
As you can see, my dream client is a hard worker. But this year I learned that not all hard workers adopt the same process for achieving their goals. Because this year I met Martin.

Martin told me that many decades ago he’d had an unusual life experience that he’d now written as a novel. I felt ambivalent when I heard this. Basing a novel on real events can be tricky, as once the story structure is in place it is often the “real” parts that stick out as irrelevant or unnecessary—and the writer is typically loathe to change them.

A retired researcher who had often written for publication in scientific journals, Martin had received no formal education in writing since his undergrad days as an aspiring poet. Nearing 80 and used to working alone, he had no time or inclination to go back and get the kind of education I outlined above.

So he embraced his strengths as a researcher and read numerous classic novels and analyzed them as to what made them work, slowly but surely absorbing plot structures, methods of characterization, and ways to build psychological tension. He applied what he learned to his first draft, checking his progress with trusted first readers. Only after several drafts did he seek my services.

His voice was confident from word one because he knew what he was trying to do and had a plan for doing it. Since I didn’t have to teach him to write I was able to dig into the underlying structural issues without distraction. I’m still not quite sure how much of his novel is “real” because Martin was always willing to make changes in service of the story so it would ring “true.” And he didn’t make suggested changes verbatim—he took every suggestion I made and ran with it in his own direction. This tickled me to no end.

Even at his age he never rushed the process. He wanted to get this right. And when he had made revisions based on my suggestions, he did something else my dream clients do:
  • he took advantage of my lower rates for repeat projects and ran it all past me again, realizing that any major change can instigate a host of new problems.
Martin’s education was nothing like one I might have outlined for him, but it served him well. Because he was so willing to help himself, I was able to help him all the more.

He did not leave me wondering if all my effort was worthwhile. I saw his revised, stunning project through to completion, and as he now submits to agents, I am reinvigorated to the work of editing new clients.

Authors willing to work hard? See me. I’ll gladly list you among my roster of dream clients!

Editors: what attributes define your dream clients? And writers: what do you want in a dream editor?

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation service that offers submission package reviews. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her debut novel, The Art of Falling, was published by Sourcebooks in January 2014. She blogs at The Fine Art of VisitingConnect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.


  1. Thanks for sharing the qualities that make an author a 'dream client'

  2. Enjoyed meeting Martin and seeing how the dynamics worked between you two. My dream clients are much like Martin in that they often come to me having done a lot of advance work and clearly know what they expect of our working relationship. Other dream clients, like one I am working with now, has come with little knowledge of the craft of writing, but has a good story. She has been open to my comments and suggestions, and we are having a good time as I give her a mini-writing course. She is so eager and willing and not the least bit defensive. That makes the process so much easier, and there is a lot of mutual respect in our partnership.

  3. Maryann, thanks so much for sharing a story from the other end of the spectrum. Engaging an editor also willing to act as a writing coach is another valid way of receiving a very story-specific writing education. What more engaging way is there to study than with one's own concept, and one's own characters?

  4. You might be my dream editor, but I doubt that I'd be your dream writer ... unless you've taken some, uh, mind-altering substance before bedtime.

  5. I can see where some clients could be nightmares instead of dreams!

    Morgan Mandel

  6. Let's just say they're not like the client I'm dealing with today, who shot me an email about how disappointed she was in my editing of a chapter — only to find out she had sent me the wrong file to edit. Nor are they like the one who chastised me about my suggested changes when his manuscript was so bad that it was a challenge to read, let alone edit. Then I learned the agent he had insisted was on pins and needles, waiting for his masterpiece, had evaporated into thin air.

    On the other hand, I've edited for some real treasures, writers who've worked with me on every chapter and been so grateful for the learning experience, which they've applied to their future books.

    It's a mixed bag, Kathryn. Some days are tough, but then some are great. I'm thankful for those days and for those writers because they make all the effort (and the few difficult ones) so worth it.

  7. Chris: Is that "mind-altering," or "expectation-altering," lol? Now be honest...

  8. Morgan: How true. Linda covered that nicely in her comment!

    But Linda, you're right, and that's why I wanted to use this as my gratitude post: the hard workers who muffle their frustrated screams with their pillows, adapt, then get back to work are the writers that make it all worthwhile.

  9. Excellent post. Being a writer is a constant learning process. I have stacks of books I've read, more I want to read, and I still feel like I don't know anything. I take my job as a writer very seriously, even though I've never done a formal masters program (and likely never will, purely for financial reasons). It's good to know that a formal education isn't necessarily a requirement for this career.

  10. Girlseeksplace: I have a master's, but not in writing. An MFA is necessary only if you want to teach at the college level. There are many cheaper ways to undertake a serious education in writing, as I listed here—and as I have done. But no education is more important than writing, sharing, and rewriting. That's how we grow as writers, because it's all about the communication.

  11. I don't have an MFA and it's reassuring to have someone say it isn't necessary, that the writing and rewriting and writing some more is what's important. Thanks for the reminder.

  12. Yvonne: Okay, since you goaded me (lol), I'll take my statement a step further: I've heard some people with MFAs say that the degree can be a hindrance to a writing career (if you don't plan to support yourself as a writing prof). Reading the classics has its place, but publishing trends come and go, the personal computer and video games have reduced attention spans, and there may be no point in holding yourself to a lofty ideal if you can never sell your book. It will be interesting to see if e-publishing takes off for literary works as well as commercial.

  13. And before anyone protests--I wasn't trying to play into the tired commercial vs literary debate with my last comment! I'm a middle-of-the-roader: my tastes lean towards accessible literary fiction (also called "upmarket fiction").


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