How to Finish Writing Someone Else’s Novel

From Publishers Weekly:

Rhoda Lerman was known as a writer’s writer. Jewish, feminist, inspired by spirituality and folklore, she was compared to Isaac Bashevis Singer and dubbed “the female Saul Bellow.” Having written works of fiction and nonfiction over a five-decade career, Rhoda died in 2015, leaving behind a novel she’d been working on for the previous 10 years. That’s where I came in.

It was literary agent Murray Weiss who first contacted me about Rhoda’s final manuscript (actually, manuscripts—there were a few different versions of the novel). He wondered if I might revise, consolidate, and basically do whatever editorial work was necessary to get her final brilliant work to market.

I don’t normally read an author’s backlist before taking on a project, but this wasn’t a normal job, and I was determined to stay true to Rhoda’s voice. Surely some sort of preparation was necessary. So, I did the world’s best kind of homework, savoring the exquisite pleasure of discovering a new writer, awestruck as I studied Rhoda’s remarkable body of work. Her novels featured long, brilliant sentences that surprised me again and again. (A PW review from April 1989 called her “the very opposite of a minimalist.”)

Each book was completely unlike the previous one. Rhoda must have driven her publishers crazy as they struggled to market and sell such a boundlessly imaginative storyteller. Her plots were unpredictable. She had no limits. In other words, Rhoda was a genius.

Weiss organized a phone interview for me with the Lerman family. When Bob spoke of his wife Rhoda, his love was palpable, and I sensed her strong spirit. It was clear how important it was to him and his two daughters to publish Rhoda’s masterwork. I gushed to them about how I adored her earlier novels—especially God’s Ear, a funny but serious book in which a real estate agent is tormented by his father’s mischievous ghost. With my enthusiasm for Rhoda’s work so evident, the gig was mine.

The manuscript I began work on was 150,000 words. Among other narrative goals, I hoped to deliver a finished work of 100,000. An editor’s job is to respect the author’s vision, but how does one make these changes and maintain an author’s integrity when one does not have her ear? I had to listen very carefully to Rhoda. I had to become Rhoda’s ear.

Rhoda’s new novel, Solimeos, might be characterized as literary, as her prose is exquisite. Maybe it’s satire. Also, it has elements of magical realism. It follows Axel von Pappendorf, a naive boy in World War II–era Germany whose father is an aristocratic Nazi linguist. After the war is lost, Axel and his family are spirited away to the Brazilian jungle to help create a new, occult-obsessed German Reich. Twisted passions, ayahuasca visions, startling historical discoveries, vengeance, and much more ensue. It’s a love story, but complicated.

What I already knew from my study of Rhoda’s work was confirmed by the manuscript: she eschewed modern condescension to readers, continually challenging them. The only other writer I worked with who crafted similarly lengthy, lyrical sentences filled with surprising clauses and illustrative digressions, but nonetheless executed with pitch-perfect aplomb, was Caleb Carr.

In long passages, Axel and his linguist father trace the ancient roots of words like Og and I back to Osiris and Pergamon. Sometimes I’d happen upon an outrageous plot twist and would protest—this came out of nowhere! But how much of this was too much? Rhoda was a commercial and critically acclaimed writer. She might challenge her readers, but she would not want to drive them away. Some of these beautiful words had to go.

Solimeos, the new novel from the female Saul Bellow, was published this spring by Wicked Son Books, which is headed by Adam Bellow. That’s some nice karmic resonance. But there’s more. In her novel Animal Acts, the animal-loving Rhoda explored the consciousness of other species in a story about a woman on a cross-country trip with a gorilla.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The Beauty of Beta Readers!

From dyiMFA:

You’ve finished your manuscript, congratulations! Now what?

After all these months or years spent on your book, you’re fairly close to the material and it can be hard to objectively assess your own work. So, it’s time for others’ feedback.


Feedback will help you make the book the best it can be. Just like you’d want feedback on your schoolwork or at your job, feedback on your writing is an important step.


Your mind might jump to the idea of asking your spouse, best friend, or family members. After all, you have access to these people.

This can sometimes work, however, be mindful that:

  •  They care about their relationship with you and may be hesitant to provide critical comments
  • They may not be your target reader and therefore may comment on aspects that wouldn’t be an issue for readers in your genre

The most objective sources for feedback will come from a combination of editing professionals and beta readers.

This article won’t go into details on hiring editing professionals like developmental and copy-line editors. It also won’t cover how to find and work with sensitivity readers. Just know that all of these roles can be really important to the quality of your work. The key is to find professionals that you work well with.

Rather, this article will address a question that a pre-published author asked me: “How do I find beta readers?”


First, what are beta readers? Beta readers are people who read your manuscript before it goes to the printer for publication. The term comes from information technology, where beta testing is used to find and eliminate problems before launching new computer programs.

Beta readers are different than publishing industry professionals whom you’d hire. They’re “ordinary” readers who can point out places where your story is confusing, where the continuity is awry, where plot points are missing or where there are factual errors. Remember though, that it’s unlikely for any single person to find all of these things, so be grateful for any issues a reader finds but don’t expect one person to find them all.


For me, I find beta readers helpful at several stages. Having one or two trusted readers look at an early manuscript can help iron out big issues like plot holes, unlikable characters or action-reactions that don’t make sense. However, they will have to understand that the manuscript may be messy. You may need to get them in the right mindset to overlook any typos or grammatical issues and ask them to focus on the big picture.

Secondly, I appreciate having beta readers after developmental editing and after copy-line edits. The beauty of great beta readers is getting fresh sets of eyes on the work, since you’ll be very close to the material after having been through multiple rounds of edits.

By the way, it’s also validating to hear when readers enjoy the story. Don’t underestimate the joy of getting positive feedback!


One key to helpful feedback is to specify what input you want. Your questions may differ at different stages of the editing process. To get honest input, make clear that your feelings won’t be hurt by critical comments. Critique is what you need to make the work stronger!

Here’s are some sample questions you could ask beta readers. Use these as thought starters and customize for your own need:

  • How early in the story did you feel a connection with a character?
  • Which parts, if any, made you feel bored and want to stop reading?
  • Which parts evoked emotion for you?
  • Did anything confuse you? What needs to be clarified? Please highlight the confusing sections.
  • Any scenes that feel authentic emotionally?
  • Any parts where the person’s actions didn’t make sense?
  • Which character(s) were your favorite? Why?
  • Which character(s) did you not like? Why?
  • Did any scene, dialog, or event seem awkward? Perhaps a character does or says something that does not fit with his/her personality.
  • What emotion(s) were you left with at the end? Were you satisfied with the way the story ended?

You can personalize your questions to hone in on a specific area where you think there may be issues, or where you’d like your readers to focus.

Link to the rest at dyiMFA

How to Survive Editing

From Jane Friedman:

When I opened the just-edited manuscript of my first book, some 12 years ago, I gasped.

My editor had covered it in so many red marks, it looked as though she might have accidentally stabbed herself with an X-Acto knife.

Worse, I was totally unprepared. I’d spent my entire working life as an editor—first at a community weekly newspaper, then at a large metropolitan daily, then a brief stint as a book editor, finally as a freelance writer and editor. I thought I knew how to edit. Even myself.

Perhaps more persuasively, I’d also had a dozen beta readers—many of them professional writers—comb through the manuscript to critique, question, and eviscerate my words. My manuscript was definitely in the best possible shape it could have been.

How was it possible that this editor found so many fresh problems? Did she really know what she was doing?

Turns out, of course, that she did. As soon as I’d calmed down and gone through her comments, one by one, I could see they made sense. And, besides, I knew her to be not just a superb editor, but a wise and well-informed person.

But having a strong, gut-punch reaction to being edited is part of the cost of doing business when writing. You’ve poured your heart into your words. In fact, you’ve anguished over every damn one of them. It’s hard to hear that your manuscript, your child, has an ugly nose.

If you are going to be facing an editor’s red pen, here is my advice on how to survive the process:

If you can choose your own editor, choose carefully.

Approach the job as if you were hiring a contractor for your much-loved house. Find someone who specializes in your genre. Talk to at least three different editors who might suit. Make sure you actually like them, as well as trust their abilities. Get three references from each and don’t think holding the references in your hands is enough—check them all, thoroughly. Ask questions not just about the quality of these editors’ work but also ask about what they were like to work with. If the editor sounds promising, request a test edit (of about 750 to 1,000 words of text), even if you have to pay for it, so you can see what you think of the editor’s work. If you like it, then agree upon cost and a deadline and sign a contract.

Don’t rush your hiring process or make it slapdash. Take your time and do it right.

Be prepared for a lot of red ink.

Somehow, anticipating lots of red ink—rather than the blissfully color-free pages I had expected—will make the inevitable result easier to bear. And if you find red ink offensive (as many people do), ask your editor to use green, blue or purple for their comments instead. And if they resist, which I would consider a terrible sign, hire someone else.

Take it slow.

Give yourself at least a full day to do nothing more than glance at the volume of comments and steel yourself. There is no need for you to respond to edits at the speed of light. Take your time and get your feelings in the right place first. Do some deep breathing.

Remind yourself the editor is there to help you. Understandably, it’s going to feel as though the editor is doing nothing but criticizing you. But in fact, any editor is really in loco lectorem—Latin for “in the position of a reader.” Consider your editor to be your partner, there to help protect your published work from mistakes and misunderstandings. What can be worse than an editor who points out too many mistakes? Easy! A published work with mistakes.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

How to Pursue a Career in Editing: Advice for College Students

From Jane Friedman:


I’m a college student majoring in English. I have had internships but not in the world of editing, but my dream is to be an editor and writer. Do you have any advice or guidance to offer on how to make this dream a reality?

—Desperate Gen-Zer

Dear Desperate Gen-Zer:

I’m desperately glad you asked this question. You’ve hit on one of my main concerns in our industry: Anyone can hang out a shingle as an editor, which results in a very wide range of knowledge and experience levels. I love that you are interested in seeking out a path for developing your skills.

You say you want to be a writer too. That’s useful—the skills you learn in that pursuit are the core of becoming a good editor. In fact, although they are very different skill sets, much of what you can do to master one will serve you well in the other.

You’ve asked a pretty enormous question that I need to address in a manageable number of words, so I’m going to give the quick-and-dirty version of how to develop both careers through two essential approaches: Study and practice, with an emphasis on editing (not least because of the nature of this column).

Study the craft

Writing and editing both rest on the same foundation: an understanding of story craft and language. You learn how the sausage is made—and made well—and eventually internalize those skills so that they’re automatic; you don’t have to focus consciously on craft and mechanics because they become a part of you.

There are an overwhelming number of resources for expanding your skills. It’s a lifelong process; after 30 years in this business I’m still learning every day. I’m betting you’re already digging into some of them: craft books, classes, webinars, workshops, blogs and other outlets (like Jane’s!); conferences.

You’re already doing one great thing toward your career in majoring in English, which will give you a sound foundation for both writing and editing. (I can’t tell you how often I think back to my college papers in my own English major and think what wonderful training ground they were for learning to analyze and articulate a text’s effectiveness.)

Another thing you could do now is work with your university publications and gain skills in writing and hands-on editing.

For readers who are past their college days, there are reputable programs for learning editing skills, like those offered by the University of Chicago (the masterminds behind the industry-standard bible, The Chicago Manual of Style) and the Editorial Freelancers’ Association (EFA), taught by career editors.

Be discerning about where you learn—there are countless programs claiming to teach editing skills and offering self-declared certifications, but keep in mind there is no “official” set of standards, training programs, or governing body for offering editorial services. Caveat editor.

For insight into editing specifically, I can’t recommend highly enough master editor Sol Stein’s books Stein on Writing and How to Grow a Novel, and A. Scott Berg’s biography Max Perkins, Editor of Genius, which shows intimately how renowned editor Perkins worked with some of our most venerated authors. There’s even a new documentary, Turn Every Page, about the 50-year collaborative relationship between author Robert Caro and editor Robert Gottlieb.

Try not to get too overwhelmed by the amount of info that’s out there—or to subscribe to one school of thought or system too slavishly. The many approaches and techniques you can learn are all tools for your toolbox that you can draw on. The more you learn, the greater your skill set as both a writer and an editor—and the better you will become at both.


You mention internships, and I’m so glad you did—editing is definitely an apprenticeship craft, one that’s most thoroughly and deeply learned by seeing it done and by practicing doing it—over and over and over again. There’s a reason for the system at publishing houses where editors work up from assistant to lead editors—there is no more effective way to learn this skill and craft.

This is a crucial place where training programs often fall short. The misconception that you can learn to be an editor simply from a course or certificate on editing can lead to bad editing, a cardinal sin in my mind that can do great damage to an author’s writing and psyche (and charge them for the “privilege”). In my opinion editors shouldn’t hawk their services before they’ve logged solid, relevant experience in the particular field where they’re working (e.g., publishing or academia or journalism, fiction or nonfiction, and specific genres).

There are so many excellent ways to do that—a couple of which I already mentioned above. But also:

Work with a publishing house as an intern or assistant editor

They are legion now, not just the Big Five in New York—find a small press near you. Back in my day (oh, how I love hearing old-people phrases like this come out of my mouth), I started as a freelance proofreader and copyeditor for the Big Six (at the time), long before electronic editing, when all revisions were made on hard copy and I got to see the editors’ and authors’ work right there on the pages I was reading, comments and all, and I learned what got changed and why.

If you can’t find a publisher in your area, try apprenticing with a reputable working pro. (I’ve mentored a number of high school and college students, both through school programs but also one-on-one when a student or fledgling editor contacted me directly.) This is a great way to see what makes for an effective edit firsthand—and to learn directly from a professional editor how they work, what they look for, and how they offer useful feedback to authors.

Work with the people who work with manuscripts

Interning with a literary agency can be another way to hone your skills in action. Reading endless submissions off the slush pile (your likely entry point at an agency) and learning what agents do and don’t respond to as effective and marketable work is invaluable training ground.

Any practice at analyzing a story and articulating its strengths and weakness is wonderful training: I worked in my baby days reading book and screenplay submissions and writing reports on them for a Hollywood producer, an ad agency that specialized in book campaigns, and a fledgling movie-review database engine.

Learn from IRL manuscripts

One of the most useful things I ever did as a budding editor was join an especially large critique group (more than 25 members) that met weekly and focused on a single submission each meeting. Not only did I get hands-on regular practice in analyzing and conveying what made a manuscript (someone else’s, crucial for objectivity) effective or not, but even more valuable: I got to hear many other viewpoints as well. It taught me what was useful feedback and what was not, gave me perspective on how subjective a craft editing is, and—not unimportant!—the difference between a positive and constructive approach and a dictatorial or righteous one. The latter offered little value to an author.

Another good way to learn: Sit in on as many industry-pro “read and critiques” as you possibly can—at conferences, retreats, classes, workshops. The great value of these lies in seeing what jumps out at these professionals and hearing why—and, in the best-case scenario, how they offer suggestions for addressing areas of weakness.

There are more and more opportunities to do this: Bestselling author George Saunders offers a regular Story Club on Substack where he and attendees analyze short stories for what makes them work (or not). I do something similar, though less highbrow, with book chapters and other forms of storytelling in my Analyze Like an Editor Story Club. Agent Peter Cox of Litopia offers a weekly Pop-up Submissions program where authors submit a page or two of their WIPs and it’s analyzed by Peter, his industry guests, and a “genius room” of fellow authors. Look for similar opportunities to see pros in action.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Lots of links in the OP.

More Words You’re Probably Using Wrong

From Writer Unboxed:

I see you, word nerds. I know who you are. You’re the ones who can’t drive by a billboard with a grammar mistake (“In a class of it’s own”) without visibly cringing. Who have memes like this as your screen saver. Who keep Dreyer’s English in your nightstand and regularly reread and analyze passages like it’s the King James Bible.

I see you, and I feel you.

As an editor I may or may not derive an inordinate amount of amusement from malapropisms, dangling modifiers, quotation marks misused for emphasis that call the author’s “authority” into question, and comically clumsily translated signs like these…but I know I am not alone.

A few posts ago I wrote about words you’re probably using wrong, and from the comments it seemed to hit a chord with my fellow word nerds, so here’s another ridiculous helping of word nerdery to delight you, enlighten you, and perhaps let you bask in superiority, chortling at those poor benighted fools who violate the vernacular. (Spoiler, though—judging from my 15 years at the beginning of my editing career as a Big Six copyeditor, that’s most of us at some time or another.)

Misusing our language commits a cardinal sin of writing, which is to muddy your intentions and the readers’ experience of your story. Knowing how to use the main tool of our business, language, allows you to be a more effective storyteller.

So with that lofty goal in mind…let’s get down and nerdy with it.

Picking Apart Parts of Speech

You don’t “feel badly” for someone, unless you’re trying to have a feeling for them and you just can’t swing it; you simply feel bad for them. (Probably because of their substandard grammar, I’m betting.)

And you don’t cap a list of progressively important things with “most importantly,” unless you’re saying it with the air of a self-satisfied douchebag—it’s just “most important.”

I might wonder hopefully if you already knew that, but I wouldn’t write “Hopefully you knew that” unless I’m referring to the optimistic quality of your knowing.

Something can be “on top of” something else, or “over it,” or even “over-the-top” (as this post, in fact, could be accused of being), but not “overtop” unless you’re using it as a colloquialism in a character’s point of view. “Overtop” is not a preposition, any more than “underbottom” or “throughmiddle” are.

While we’re on the topic, “any more” referring to quantity should be two words, not one, in usages such as the last sentence. “Anymore” is only for time, despite that for some philistines these usages are supposedly interchangeable (but never supposably).

My examples have taken a turn for the worse—which is a worst-case scenario for some readers, if worse comes to worst.

If you haven’t as yet tuned out (never “as of yet”—but you already knew that, didn’t you?), let’s move on to other troubling misusages.

Fallacious phraseology

If you’re offering someone an ARC of your book, it’s an advance copy, not an advanced one (unless you are distinguishing it from a remedial edition you give to your less erudite friends).

If you’re letting it all hang out you’re buck naked, not butt naked (no matter how intuitive the latter may seem, given the fundamental involvement of one’s derriere). And no judgments if you do like to get nakey­ on the regular—that’s perfectly all right (but never alright).

Less refers to amount; fewer to number. For that matter, “number” delineates the numeric quantity of something, and “amount” its volume. By this time, though, maybe you couldn’t care less (not “fewer,” of course)—not “could care less,” because if you can still care even less than you already do, there’s work to be done yet in getting you good and fed up.

If you’re lousy with cash, you may be flush, but you’re flushed only if you’re also feeling embarrassed about it, or overheated from earning it. (Or if the school bully has shoved your head into the toilet to take it from you.)

On that note, you may flush out something from your eye, but if you’re expanding on a topic (such as flushing), then you’re fleshing it out—even though that sounds like the scene of a grisly murder (but not a gristly one, unless the corpse is also quite tough to the tooth). That might land you in dire straits (not straights, unless you’re around a bunch of nihilistic heterosexuals).

I’ve taken a tortuous route to arrive at some of these metaphors…which might be feeling torturous to some of you. So shall we move on to a final lightning round?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Is PG alone in hitting a grammatical speed bump with phraseology?

For PG, the suffix, ology, implies the study of something or a discrete area of knowledge. Archeology, psychology, etc., etc.

If that’s correct, phraseology would be the study of phrasing. Improper Phrasing or Improper Use of Phrases would seem to PG to be a better option for the term as used in the OP.

PG decided to see what Grammarly thought about the OP.

Grammarly found 24 grammatical errors in the OP, written by an experienced New York publishing editor, but Big G expressed no opinion about phraseology.

It appears that PG’s attitude toward phraseology is incorrect, archaic, antiquated and/or superannuated. Apparently, the fog in PG’s brain is a bit thicker than usual today. He blames the aftereffects of the Covid shut-downs.

Critiquing 101: Ten Do’s and Don’ts for Giving Helpful Critiques

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

I often advise new writers to look for a critique group to help them learn the writing ropes and get free feedback as well as the support they need when starting on a writing journey. But critique groups vary widely and some can be dangerous to a writer’s mental health.

. . . .

But now I think it’s time for a checklist for providing a useful critique. It’s a delicate business, and not everybody can critique effectively. If you don’t read much outside your genre, or you never read fiction, you need to learn to open your mind or find a group that’s genre-specific.

No matter your genre, a good critique requires empathy. Learn to empathize with your fellow writers. If they are newbies, critique accordingly. Remember you were a beginner once. Pick one or two areas to work on. Nobody can take in a huge amount of information all at once, and 100% negativity shuts down a person’s ability to listen. It feels like an attack, even to a seasoned writer.

. . . .

Notes for the Critiqued:

  • Tell your group the genre and audience you’re writing for, and let them know where you want readers to focus: pacing, clarity, dialogue, grammar, repetitions, authenticity, etc.
  • Don’t expect 100% praise.
  • Stay silent during an oral critique, except to give a quick answer to a direct question. Once the critiques are finished, you can elaborate.
  • Don’t argue or explain “what you really meant.” One of the major things a critique can do is tell writers how much of what’s in our heads did or didn’t make it onto the page.
  • Give trigger warnings: If you’re going to read a scene of rape, abuse, torture, or extreme violence, let the critique group know beforehand. Some members may prefer to give it a pass and not read or listen to that piece.

Do’s and Don’ts for Critiquing

1. Do Keep in Mind the Purpose of the Critique

Remember everybody was a beginner once, and everybody makes mistakes. It’s your job to help them remedy those mistakes, not send them home in tears.

A manuscript critique is not the same as a book review:

  • A review is for readers — to help them decide whether a book is for them.
  • A critique is for writers — to help them improve the piece they are working on.

Whether you’re exchanging critiques online or in person, reading out loud, or sending around digital copies, as a critiquer, you have ONE job: help writers improve their work.

This is not a time to talk politics, religion, or hold forth on your distain for people who order pineapple on their pizza.

No matter how much you hate Chick Lit, don’t condemn a Chick Lit piece because it’s not angsty prose about middle-aged academics with prostate issues. Your job is to help make it the best Chick Lit it can be.

Avoid culture wars. We live in an era when the simple act of writing is going to offend somebody somewhere, so work on being helpful, not offended.

A critique is also not the place to show off. The writer being critiqued doesn’t care that you’ve read all the works of Proust in the original French, or that you once took a writing workshop with somebody who went to high school with Stephen King.

. . . .

3. Do Use the “Sandwich Method”

The human brain can’t take unrelenting criticism. 100% negativity comes across as an attack, and the only thing gained is the writer’s anger and distrust.

Start with something positive and conclude with another. Even if a beginner has presented 5 pages of embarrassing classic writing mistakes, use your imagination to come up with something positive to say. You’re a creative person, remember?

When I was first learning the ropes as a stage director, a veteran director told me that no matter how dismal an actor’s performance is, you should never give notes that are 100% critical.

Sometimes you have to say, “You remembered your blocking! You didn’t fall down!” before you tell him that playing Hamlet with a hillbilly accent is not working.

Make sure you remember the nice comment at the end too. “You looked good up there!” always worked, and kept the costumers happy.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

The Naughtiest Word in Writing

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

There’s a word commonly uttered in writing circles, a word that often strikes fear even in the most seasoned of novelists. Revision. Yep, revision. I know it’s scary, but I promise, it’s going to be okay. I can say that now, but when I first learned about the art of revision, I was pretty sure me and my novel were going to be anything but okay. 

I wrote my first manuscript bit by bit, sitting at my kitchen table while my youngest child attended preschool. I’ll never forget the feeling of excitement that coursed through me as I typed the words, “the end,” into the document. It was exhilarating. I had done it. I wrote a book! 

After doing a quick perusal of the manuscript and without missing a beat, I signed up for a writers conference where some literary agents would be in attendance. At the conference, I took a seat at a round table with a small group of other aspiring author hopefuls and held my breath as one by one the agents read a few pages from each of our manuscripts and provided comments. Spoiler alert…the feedback on mine was not good. Sure, they liked the story idea. But they could tell there were plot holes, that the descriptions of setting needed improvement, that my characters felt flat. I scratched my head as I turned their comments over in my mind. What in the world did it all even mean? Plot holes? Flat characters? How am I supposed to fix all of that? I had no idea. 

So, after returning home from the conference and attempting to lick my wounds, I decided my book simply wasn’t good enough. Not only that, I also decided I wasn’t good enough. In that moment, I knew for certain I was not destined to be a writer. With that in mind, I tucked my manuscript away in a file on my computer and vowed to never look at it again. That embarrassing chapter of my life would remain where it belonged, permanently behind me. 

But the tiny whisper of my writing voice refused to keep quiet and with no small amount of courage, I submitted a few pages of that manuscript to a local writing class. Much to my surprise, I was admitted. Hope bubbled within me for a whole second before fear crept in. Sure, I was excited about this class and grateful for the opportunity. But worries and doubts plagued my thoughts. One of the goals for the class was to try to write a complete novel. A novel with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Could I actually do it? Again? Did this story idea even have what it takes to run the distance of an entire novel? Would the novel be riddled with plot holes as deep as the ocean? I couldn’t be sure. But I steadied my breath and decided it was a chance worth taking. 

The class was a trip. I adored my classmates, loved reading and critiquing their work, and devoured learning about writing in general. Our teacher was proud that by the end of the class, each of us had finished our manuscripts. Hooray! We were thrilled. I clung to my printed-out pages and thought maybe this manuscript would be the one. The one literary agents would like. Maybe I got it right this time. No flat characters here, I hoped. 

As the class celebrated with cookies and wine, the teacher began the last lecture. And said the word. Yes, that word. Revision. What? 

“No, no, no,” I thought. My manuscript is done. It’s written. Ready to go. 

My teacher shook her head. Nope. In fact, our work had just begun. 

At the time, this news did not make me happy. But after the final day of class, I vowed to continue to study the craft of writing and eventually received an MFA. Through that process, I learned to embrace revision, to view that naughty word as a decent and obedient one. 

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

When Should Writers Stand Their Ground Versus Defer to an Editor?

From Jane Friedman:


I write dark fantasy stories for adults that explore survival after sexual trauma and war. My work focuses on the aftermath of sexual violence and the way my protagonists stubbornly live well after the unthinkable. There are no on-page depictions of SA in my work. Naturally, edits are a must and I am very receptive to feedback (I’m in journalism, so tough deletions and red pens are familiar friends of mine).

As a debut writer who was previously represented by a literary agent, I made structural, style, and developmental edits to my manuscript on the guidance of my agent. I wanted to ask how an agent’s edits differ from those of a publishing house’s editor?

Since I work as a newspaper editor, I often have strong opinions about what accessible writing looks like. Should I stand my ground with regard to edits (professionally, of course) or is it best for unpublished authors to trust the expertise of their agents and editors? Especially when it comes to issues such as sexual violence, racism, or war, I am very firm that my work shouldn’t be edited purely for the sake of “good taste” or “finding the book a home” in the commercial market. How can a debut writer navigate this challenge?

—Writer Who Writes Entire War Scenes But Is Afraid to Even Politely Disagree

Dear Polite War-Scene Writer:

These are three great, intertwining questions, and the answers to all of them depend on a fourth: Do you want to traditionally publish?

For authors who self-publish, there are no gatekeepers and no intermediaries between their vision and the audience’s eyeballs. There’s also no one to save us from ourselves when we’re so wedded to our vision that we can’t see the red flags waving.

But questioning agent-editor-author relationships sounds like you do want to traditionally publish. Part of that process is finding an agent you trust and believe in, who trusts and believes in you, who will then negotiate a publishing deal that will support your vision while getting your book to as many eyeballs as possible.

A “good” agent—one who is the right partner to help you make your best book and sell it—may or may not be an editorial agent (that is, an agent who will also edit your work). The best publisher to support and distribute your book may ask for hundreds of revisions, or none. In both cases, sometimes the first round of revision requests come from the agent or editor’s assistant, to fix larger challenges before the agent or editor wades in for a last pass. What’s important is that you, the author, believe this partnership will help you. Perhaps you’ve admired books from this press or agency. Perhaps they said something profound in an interview. Or you loved their ideas on the pre-signing phone call. But whatever it was, you’re on board the We Can Do This Together Express, destination Bookshelves.

You should, of course, fundamentally agree with your partners’ advice, even if you want to quibble on the details. If your agent or publisher’s idea of “good taste” doesn’t line up with yours, they aren’t the right partners. Yes, there will be suggested edits where you say, “I really think it needs to be this way.” Very often, the problem the agent or publisher has identified isn’t actually at that exact place in the text. Sometimes the real issue is that a scene or a moment hasn’t been set up well, and the fix is adding or changing information in the pages before.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Feedback and Editing: The Right Eyes at the Right Time

From Writers Helping Writers:

Unless you wrote your book exclusively for your own satisfaction, once your creative vision is on the page, it’s time to zoom in on how the book works for readers. The key is getting the right kind of feedback for where you are in the revision and editing process—and dodging the kind that will pull you off track.

Much of this choice hinges on your editorial budget. You could do most or all these steps for yourself at no cost, but the quality of your book will reflect the quality of the production behind it. Most writers end up drawing on both free and paid feedback options.

Writing Feedback: Stage by Stage

With a newly complete manuscript Volunteer feedback is perfect at this stage of your book’s development. One or two alpha readers (often a spouse, critique partner, or close friend) provide that initial gut check on what’s hitting home and what’s missing the target.

During second and later drafts

As you continue working through early drafts, crowdsourced feedback continues to be your best bet. Lean on your peers in critique partners and groups, collecting enough opinions to sort out which point to genuine issues and which simply refer to personal taste.

Active drafting can be an opportunity for coaching or mentoring on story problems identified by critique buddies—a character arc that refuses to gel, saggy pacing, a general lack of zing—if your budget and time comfortably allow it. A little one-on-one help from a pro now could prevent you from filling your manuscript with pernicious errors that will inflate your editing rate down the line. (Incorrect use of dialogue tags and action beats, I’m looking at you!)

Before you’re ready for professional editing

Once you sense you’re nearing the limits of your ability to improve your book on your own, it’s time to bring in beta readers. Beta readers provide high-level, subjective, personal feedback such as “the pacing felt slow in the middle” or “I just didn’t like that character at all.”

Although paying for beta reading ensures the readers will finish the book and return feedback, it’s not necessary to hire a pro. In fact (unpopular opinion ahead), an editor is the wrong choice for beta reading. The reason is simple: Beta reading is not Editing Lite™. It’s designed to generate genuine reader reaction, not analysis from a trained professional.

When you’re ready for professional editing

When you’re ready for professional editing, marching in with a request for a particular type or level of editing puts you at risk of getting precisely what you ask for—whether your manuscript needs it or not. It would be like relying on Dr. Google to diagnose a physical ailment, then convincing a local doctor to prescribe strictly the medications and treatments you’ve decided you need.

Choose your editor with care. You deserve a specialist who resonates with you and your work, not whoever offers the lowest rates and immediate availability.

Once you’ve found the perfect editorial collaborator, let them recommend what your manuscript needs. Their recommendations should be based on what will best support your story, your writing, and your publishing goals. If your editor hasn’t reviewed all those points, you can’t be sure you’ll get what you need.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Make a Pass; I Dare You: Revising Your Draft

From Writer Unboxed:

Recently, I allowed myself to type those two precious words:


I’d completed my first rough draft of my historical novel-in-progress. Of course, finishing a draft is not THE END at all.

Those two magical words are the call to arms, the rallying cry to get one’s butt back into one’s damned chair, to double down, dig deep, grovel, beg, and maybe ugly cry.

It’s time to revise.

Hopefully, one is armed with tissues as well as a stash of tried-and-true methods for honing, pruning, enriching and revealing; plus the fresh input of trusted beta readers, freelance editors, a publishing editor, and/or literary agent (if one’s agent is the editorial sort).

I asked four generous and highly esteemed fellow authors whose names begin with “J” about their tips-n-tricks for revision so that I can, selfishly, mine their ideas for my own use. And yes, I am sharing the 411 here with you.

Janet Fitch- author of the Oprah’s Book Club selection and feature film, WHITE OLEANDER; and most recently, CHIMES OF A LOST CATHEDRAL. Her Janet Fitch’s Writing Wednesday YouTube series is a gem.

“I think in terms of revision “layers”. First layer, the scenes—making sure each scene has a change, that something has good and truly happened, and the POV character can’t go back to the way it was before. Second layer, I check the senses—am I embodying the story, using all the senses, every page? I make sure the WHERE is firmly established and continues to be refreshed. Third layer, the polishing. I make sure every sentence sings—checking the verbs for specificity and flavor, that the language has texture or ‘crunch,’ and that there’s variety in sentence length and structure. I will read this draft aloud, listening for the music I’m making.”

Jane Healey- bestselling historical novelist and host of the fab webinar series H3- Historical Happy Hour. Her most recent book, THE SECRET STEALERS is out from Lake Union Publishing.

“When I’m revising I always remind myself that readers are very smart, so in the first round of revisions, I do what I think of as a “macro” review and question every chapter, every scene and every event and ask myself, does this chapter/scene/event matter enough to remain in the story? Does it advance the narrative or shed light on character enough that it deserves to stay in the novel? And if it doesn’t, I take it out (always saving it somewhere else just in case). And then the next round is the micro review – more of a line by line review of exposition, dialogue etc. to make sure that I’m not talking down to readers in any way – I’m not repeating things they already know, or annoying them with details they don’t need to know. I find reading out loud helps at this stage, it’s much easier to spot clunky dialogue or unnecessary description when I read out loud.”

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

5 Ways to Use Fiverr to Publish Your Book

From Self Publishing with Dale:

When I first decided that I wanted to write a novel I have to admit I was a bit naïve going into the process. I was fumbling my way through and asking questions to authors that I knew on a regular basis.

. . . .

As soon as I hit my word target I realized there was a lot more work to go just to get it to a point where I could consider publishing it. This is when I took to Fiverr and other freelance sites to find experts that can assist me with the post-writing work of creating a book.

The results were a mixed bag, but on the whole I highly recommend at a minimum getting ideas from sellers on Fiverr if you are writing a book.

. . . .

1. Finding an editor

I created a job on multiple sites (mainly focused though on Fiverr and Upwork) to try and find an editor that could take my rough draft and help me get it closer and closer to a finished product. I received a lot of responses from both sites and I quickly realized I needed to be asking more questions to help weed out all of the people responding to my gig.

I asked questions like: How many YA books have you edited? How many books have focused on fan fiction or Norse myths? I would recommend that you think about these things prior to listing your jobs so you can more efficiently get through what will be quite a large volume of people submitting bids or applying to your job.

I ended up paying $350 for the first round of edits on a 53,000-word novel (as an aside, the novel finished around 61,000 words). I got incredibly lucky or did a decent job of vetting the editors because the person I found was amazing, efficient, and literally made all the difference in the world to my book.

Most of the online services would have cost triple the amount of money and would not have turned the book around in three working days. This was an incredible value and I am extremely happy with the choice I made to list this job.

2. Creating a Book Cover

My next gig that I listed was to have a graphic designer help me create a proper book cover for my eBook. I decided to focus on just an eBook release so I only needed a front cover. The volume of responses that I got from this job was a bit overwhelming and there was a very wide range of prices.

I tried a couple of sellers for this and provided them with the information they requested to take a crack at the book cover. The results of this job varied wildly from really terrible designs to ones that were okay but unusable. I ended up creating my own book cover using Canva and some ideas that I picked up from the various Fiverr designs that came my way.

I ended up spending around $150 for these services in total and ultimately didn’t use the results other than to influence the final book cover design. In the grand scheme of things this is a small price to pay to get some creative ideas and I do think that you can get usable book covers this way although I think I would encourage paying on the higher end of the bids as this was definitely an area where I got what I paid for with each design.

3. Copy for my Amazon listing

As soon as I got through a few rounds of edits (each round cost me the same as I used the same seller). I was ready to publish my book. In order to do that you have to do things like prepare the copy for the Amazon listing which is almost an art in itself.

Ultimately, I ended up using the same seller that did the editing for my book to help write (really edit) the copy that would go up in all of the online bookstores (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc.).

This was a modest cost of $50 and it made a huge difference in what I released. They expertly guided me through how to entice people to read the book by making it less of a short summary and more of a comparison piece to other similar books and shows that the reader might also like. I would not have thought of doing that without their assistance, but it makes complete sense.

Link to the rest at Self Publishing with Dale

PG would be interested in any experiences visitors have had, good or not-so-good, hiring help with writing/publishing from Fiverr, Upwork or other similar online service marketplaces.

The Author’s Guide to Fiverr

From Indies Unlimited:

If you’re a self-published author, there are chances that someone has suggested you get a cover or some editing on Fiverr. Upon learning the site Fiverr got its name because you could pay people five bucks for an assignment, you quickly dismiss whoever gave you that advice. You’re certain you can’t get anything good for that price. Well, don’t dismiss Fiverr so quickly. Just like a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover, Fiverr is more nuanced than its name suggests.

What is Fiverr?

Fiverr is a marketplace where you can either buy or sell service. The name comes from the fact that services start at $5. Now, there may be some great services that you can get for $5, but I haven’t found many. The real benefit of Fiverr is as a marketplace. You can see people selling things you want–such as covers, artwork, and editing. When you log on to purchase an item, the product or service sold is called a gig.

What Do Authors Buy on Fiverr?

Authors can buy pretty much anything, even other authors to write their books (I’m not kidding, ghostwriting gigs are there). Generally, authors want to write their own books, so, on a practical level, authors tend to purchase editing, covers, artwork (for ads or extras), copy writing/blurb writing, and logos.

If It’s not $5, How Much Is It?

The prices vary, and a lot of the deals will look like they’re five dollars, but they’re not — in practical terms — that cheap. For example, the ghostwriting gig I linked to above is $5, and for that fee, the author will deliver up to 200 words. At that rate, a 60,000-word novel would run you $1,500. Editing is similar. A good editing gig may charge $5 to edit 500 words. For an 80,000-word book, that will come out to $800. However, the good thing about all gigs is there’s the option to ask for a custom quote. When you do that, you tell the person how long your book is, what the genre is, and ask them for a quote. They may tell you they’ll charge you $700 (a $100 discount on what you would pay if you tried to order 160 of the $5 gigs). Not all gigs start at $5. The better cover designers start their gigs at a minimum of $15, but usually run at least $35. You need to look at what you get with a gig. Most gigs come with three options: bare bones, middle ground, and the luxury package. For a cover, the barebones gigs tend to only allow you one cover image. It’s hard to get a good cover with a single image; usually it requires at least a background image and another one. Authors wanting a cover that follows traditional cover guidelines will want to pay more for a gig that allows at least a couple of images.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

Best Practices for Working with an Independent Editor

From Writers Helping Writers:

Before Your Edit

1. Agreements about the business details of your project protect you both. An agreement needn’t be a formal printed contract signed in person; an email constitutes a legal agreement. The agreement should define the scope of work, start and finish dates and other relevant deadlines, total cost and payment schedule, and a clear explanation of what happens if either party cancels or breaches the agreement.

2. New writers often mistakenly believe they need a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) to protect their material. Your work is legally copyrighted the moment you commit it to print, making NDAs cumbersome, unnecessary, and often a sign of professional mistrust.

3. Most editors require a deposit to get your book on their calendar, customarily ranging from a flat fee of $100 or more to the first half of the total fee. You can expect to pay your total editing bill in full before the editor releases the edited manuscript.

4. If you can’t or don’t want to use your editor’s preferred payment method, aren’t located in the same country as they are, or prefer a slow payment method like personal checks, ask if your choice will create any issues. Allow enough time to process payments without holding up the project.

5. Missing your editing date by even a day or two could leave your manuscript without time to fit into its scheduled slot, if the deadline is tight or your editor is busy. Communicate as soon as you suspect you may have a problem hitting your scheduled editing date.

6. The time it takes to edit a manuscript varies widely, depending on your manuscript’s needs, the type of editing, and the editor’s schedule and work practices. Developmental editing usually takes the longest. Line editing is slower than copyediting, and proofreading is the fastest editing service.

If there were such a thing as a typical editing rate among all these levels of service, it might run from 20,000 to 35,000 words per week. You get what you pay for. If all the editor has time for is a breakneck race through the manuscript, that’s precisely what you’ll get.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

“Perfect to Me”: How Self-Editing Can Take Your Novel to the Next Stage

From Writers Helping Writers:

Part of the trick of hiring an editor is knowing when your manuscript is ready to hand over to them. There’s no point submitting a draft that you already know has POV issues or structural problems. The ideal situation I like to be in when I deliver my manuscript to an editor is that I think it’s perfect. Of course, it never is, but “perfect to me” means I’ve done everything I know how to do. That way, the editor will teach me something.

There are three main types of edits: developmental, line, and proofreading. At each stage, an author can do a lot of self-editing to create a “perfect-to-me” manuscript.

The Developmental Stage

A developmental edit tackles big-picture issues: plot, structure, characterization, point of view and the like. It can be hard to see where a novel isn’t working on a substantive level. Sometimes you know it’s not working but can’t figure out why. In both cases, I find it helpful to work through structural exercises.

List the major structural elements that should appear in a novel and fill in the blanks. You can go as basic as three-act structure (inciting incident, midpoint, climax, etc.) or you can get more detailed with something like a Save the Cat beat sheet. It amounts to the same thing: a novel must build momentum and it does this by hitting certain pivotal moments. If while doing this exercise you discover you’ve skipped a step or two, that’s probably where your problem lies.

Literary agent Hannah Sheppard boils this process down to a single sentence: When A (inciting incident) happens, B (character) must do C (action) otherwise/before D (catastrophe). Try filling it in. If you can’t, you’ll know there’s a problem.

One of the most common developmental issues I encounter as an editor is the protagonist’s lack of a strong, measurable goal. This goal needs to power the main character through the whole manuscript. One way to test this is to write a synopsis of the novel. Yuk, I know. A synopsis shows flaws. It’s a scary process. If you can’t boil your story down to a few pages that clearly trace a protagonist’s quest for a goal, you’ve got trouble.

Another thing a synopsis will reveal is causality (or the lack of it). If you find yourself connecting plot elements with the words, “and then,” (as opposed to “but,” or “therefore”), your story won’t be building the momentum it needs to hold a reader’s attention.

Has your protagonist done something at the end of the novel that he couldn’t have done at the beginning? If not, you have a character arc issue.

I could write an entire piece on point of view—and indeed, many editors have. Go read a few of them. I will say one thing here. It seems like it would be easiest to write in omniscient so you have access to every character’s thoughts. In fact, it’s the hardest POV to master.

Don’t be tempted to add new business to a novel to solve an existing problem. Often, you simply haven’t delivered on the promises you’ve made.

Most clients I deal with believe one developmental edit is all their novel needs. In fact, it takes several passes to wrinkle out developmental issues. Writing a novel is (or should be) like building a house of cards. Remove one card and half the house topples. Developmental edits are hard for that reason. As soon as you solve one problem, you’ve created five others. You should not expect this to be a quick and simple job. Most writers are in too much of a rush. Good work takes time. A novel benefits greatly from smoking on the shelf for a month or so after a major edit. Indeed, time might be the best editor of all.

Sometimes clients are tempted to skip the developmental stage. Because they’ve worked for so long on their novels and have used beta readers, they believe they can jump straight into a line edit and (bonus) save some money. Skipping the developmental stage is like building a house on sand. Even when I’ve worked for a year on a novel and finally decide it’s ready to send to my publisher, the first thing they do is assign me—you guessed it—a developmental editor.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

What It Takes to Be a Freelance Editor

From Jane Friedman:

You should be an editor.

Perhaps someone’s said it to you. Perhaps, after volunteering to critique a friend’s book, reading for hours, and writing 2,000 words of feedback (more than you both bargained for), you’ve said to yourself:

I should be an editor.

You love reading, right? And you’re really good with grammar and spelling. Maybe you even have an English degree or an MFA. What else do you need?

Curiosity, education, and ruthlessness.

An editor’s number-one asset is curiosity.

Not just double-checking facts or looking up info for the manuscript they’re working on right now, but a constant, lifelong level of I need to know.

I recently edited an essay that quoted King Lear’s Cordelia. It was a great line—“I cannot heave my heart into my mouth”—but it didn’t mean what the author thought it did. The quote did not support her point. I didn’t have time to reread King Lear and perform textual analysis, as I’d budgeted 30 minutes for this edit. I already knew it, because I’ve seen Lear four times. Fact-checking wasn’t even officially part of this job, but the essay was fundamentally flawed without that existing knowledge.

I’ve always been curious about Shakespeare. And law school. And the oceanic geology of East Asia. And the workflow of commercial kitchens. And dressage. And, and, and. I’ve never met a fact I didn’t want to know. Eventually, most of them come in handy.

. . . .

Editors must be ruthless.

What makes that sentence above true to the narrator’s voice?

Is this the right place in the book to show her desperate to return to the simplicity of childhood, and to tear the reader’s heart that she can’t?

Because no matter how beautiful the writing is, if a sentence doesn’t fit the character or the story, it’s gotta go.

Many early-career authors use their elevated Special Writer Voice, and their editors must challenge them not to make their words “better” or “more polished,” but more truthful to the author’s own voice.

Purely nurturing feedback is unhelpful. Straight criticism is discouraging. An editor must identify what’s wrong, clarify why it must be fixed, and excite the author to do the work. Editors must inflict the pain of “It’s not good enough, yet.” I’ve told more than one author to cut their first 50 pages. That’s painful! What I say about their work must ring so true that they trust me enough to endure that pain, for the sake of a better next draft.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman