At February’s San Miguel de Allende writer’s conference, agent Kathleen Anderson had some great advice for writers. One of the unexpected good fortunes to shake loose from the publishing industry’s layoffs is the sudden abundance of freelance editors for hire.
Let me clarify exactly how good this is. There have always been lots of freelance editors. I am one. In my ten years of full-time freelancing, I have had to work very hard to distinguish my website from the sites of unscrupulous people who say they know how to edit, but don’t know the difference between an em-dash and an M&M.
The editors that Kathleen Anderson is talking about, on the other hand, are hard to find on the web. They have little websites that are as plain as vanilla pudding. But buried on those HTML-coded dinosaurs is a list of successful authors that scrolls, and scrolls, and (remember, these aren’t high-tech websites) keeps on scrolling.
You’ll pay a lot for these editors’ services. You’ll get unvarnished honesty, and a frank opinion of how salable your manuscript is. The advice is worth it. I have sat through hundreds of workshops in my writing career, and edited hundreds of manuscripts since I left the Carnegie Mellon University Press to start my own business. I don’t trust editors easily. I may not have hired one had my mentor, Jane McCafferty (First You Try Everything, One Heart), not personally recommended her now-freelance editor, Marjorie Braman, to me.
And let me say, Kathleen Anderson’s tip is right on. Marjorie is now probably the only person in the world who can tell me to change everything, and I’ll listen. I am sixty pages into a revision of a novel I never thought I would rewrite, and I love what the advice is doing for the story.
Being an editor gives me some advantages as a writer, but I still need outside help. If I didn’t love my characters enough to overlook a few of their shortcomings, I wouldn’t have felt compelled to tell their stories in the first place. As my wife’s academic advisor once told her about medicine, “You don’t have to know everything. You just can’t be stupid.”
And it would be foolish indeed to ignore the wealth of editorial talent out there right now.