Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Do Unpublished Writers Need an Editor?

Do Unpublished Writers Need an Editor? An Interview with Editor Denise Logsdon

Today I'm pleased to introduce my friend, editor Denise Logsdon. Denise is a fantastic, thorough editor who edits all kinds of material from technical reports to novels.

You might be asking yourself, do you need an editor if you're unpublished?

The answer is a resounding yes.

Most literary agency websites say to potential queriers, "Don't submit your work until it's in the best shape possible." They shouldn't actually have to say this, but clearly there's a need to. Submitting work that needs a copy edit, or a substantive edit, or an overall plot edit, isn't going to help you. In fact it'll get you a rejection.

I can honestly say I've queried projects before that hadn't been properly edited. And by properly edited, I mean typos, style issues, and inconsistencies were rife throughout. I don't know if they garnered me rejections by themselves, but it wasn't my best foot forward, was it?

Through a stealthy combination of sugar, a friend in common, a shared experience of annoying children, and bribery with a custom website, Denise edited my novel. Her result wasn't your average critique group edit or beta reader edit. Those edits are very valuable, but Denise is an editor with an eye to what sucks and what doesn't. And she gives it to you straight.

And writers need that.

Denise's edits were sensible and logical, and her copy edits saved me from looking like a bumbling idiot. If I hadn't swindled her into editing my novel, I would have paid for it. It's the best money you'll ever spend if you're serious about publication. I can honestly say that now if I query, I'm putting my best foot forward.

Denise gives a run down of editing services on her website, where she'll also be blogging about how to do things better (you'll definitely want to check for her posts if you want to improve your writing).

Better yet, below is a Q&A with Denise herself! 

I think you'll get a sense from the discussion below of Denise's sense of humor and methodical approach.

Sierra: What kind of editing do you offer novelists?

Denise: I offer basic proofreading, which is just fixing what is unequivocally wrong: typos, grammar errors. The next step up and what most novels really need at the final draft stage is copyediting or line editing, which includes proofreading but goes further. I will point out errors of consistency and logic and everything from plot holes to awkward phrases. Every writer has a handful of favorite words; if I see an unusual word repeated I will mark it. I also provide a critique service; this is part of the copyediting package, but I am willing to do just a critique if a writer wants it. This is generally a few pages listing the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript, what works and what really doesn't. If you tell me you have certain concerns or you're trying to address a problem someone else has mentioned, I will pay attention to those areas. I have a fairly good idea of what agents are looking for in a first novel, and if I don't think your first five pages are going to capture an agent's interest, I'll let you know that and what you might do to fix it.  (Emphasis from Sierra to call out attention that very valuable service!)

Sierra: What are some of the most common problems you see with novels?

Denise: #1. Slow opening. Most draft novels start out with what a writer I know calls "throat-clearing chapters." These are fine to help you organize your characters and exposition, but usually they need to be severely pared down if not cut entirely. If your story doesn't pick up speed until Chapter 6, find a way to get the reader there within five or ten pages.

#2. Errors of scope and ambition. I hear from many writers who have just completed the first book in a series or a trilogy, and inevitably there isn't enough story to fill even one book. If you've just taught yourself to cook, don't host a banquet. Invite your best friend for dinner. When you've succeeded at making one small, exquisite meal, then you can move on to the next level.

#3. The autobiographical novel. Everyone has one to some degree. Write it and get it out of your system, but if you really want to get it published, be ready to slice out everything in it that is your personal history and not fiction. We can tell the difference.

#4. Dude, where's my B-plot? Novels often start out with a large, usually too large, cast of characters complete with back stories, and then they seem to disappear, one by one. Unless you're writing a murder mystery, this is a problem. A well developed story has at least two plots that work together like gears in a machine. If you can't keep the second plot going, your story will break down.

Sierra: Can you describe how you work?

Denise: Meticulously and often late at night. I like to read a work of fiction or literary nonfiction all the way through without even hitting the Track Changes button, then I go back and start editing. Some works require a third reading. I can do a quick turnaround, but the manuscript and the author benefit if I can take a little time and really think about the story and the best way to let it shine.  (Sierra: writers take note. Denise gives your work two or three pass throughs--now THAT is dedication!)

Sierra: Can you talk a little about the types of nonfiction you edit-- memoirs, etc?

Denise: I edit memoir and biography--my degree is in writing nonfiction, so I spent a couple of years immersed in life stories and learned to critique and edit them as works separate from their authors. I also work on other types of nonfiction, such as self-improvement and how-to books. I do academic articles and dissertations, and those can turn into mass-market books, which are exciting to do: translating arcane language into something that will grab the attention of the average layperson.

Sierra: What should writers do to their manuscripts BEFORE engaging an editor?
Denise: Finish them. I cannot stress this enough. Let your book rest for awhile--set it aside for a week or a month, then read it over before you send it to anyone else. Be absolutely and positively DONE with your story. This doesn't mean the work is done; you'll have revisions after it's edited and after your beta readers give you feedback. If you're lucky enough to land representation, your agent will probably want things changed, but you can't send an unfinished or uncertain draft out into the world. Please don't send something to your editor that is three-quarters done; it's a waste of everyone's time, especially yours.

Check out Denise's website!


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