Monday, June 6, 2022

Should I Hire an Independent Editor?

 Q: Do you work with a professional editor? Why/why not? What would you look for if you hired a professional editor?

-from Susan


Good timing. For the first time ever, I will be working with a developmental editor this summer. Not for my French series, which is humming along nicely. But during the pandemic’s gloomiest days, sitting at home alone, not yet under contract for the two new French mysteries and feeling the itch to write, I had a light bulb moment.  Why not write a 21st century American take on one of my favorite operas, one I happened to be listening to at that moment. It was perfect – yes, a crime story; yes, filled with interesting, conflicted characters; yes, with a great climax. (And, no, I’m not going to spill the beans and tell you which opera.) It was not an easily defined genre tale and all the characters were, at least in the format I needed, new to me. But the plot…aha! 


I had so much fun writing it, finished a draft in three months, unheard of for me, went back in to flesh it out more, and took a friend, a wonderful crime writer, up on his offer to read it. He had good things to say and some smart suggestions, which encouraged me. But I still didn't know where it would sit on bookstore shelves and neither did my agent. And, it needed work. I wasn’t sure what to do next.


Enter the concept of a developmental editor, suggested by several author friends during a regular zoom call. Why work with an independent editor? For me, this being the first time, there were several reasons. My agent wasn’t sold on the story. It seemed to straddle a couple of sub-genres but not to sit comfortably in any one, and would be hard to sell if it couldn’t be defined more clearly. Second, I’d just been offered a new two-book contract for a series I don’t need another pair of eyes to help with, and I couldn’t focus all my attention on a book that might never sell. Third, I was beginning to think it fell into that category called “women’s fiction,” with which I was not familiar. Fourth, I liked this story immensely and didn’t want to give up getting it published without giving it every chance to succeed.


What I needed in an editor was someone with a proven track record of helping authors get the books she worked on sold. She needed to understand and have worked with women’s fiction authors I knew about and whose work I liked. She had to show me she knew the publishing business well enough to give me good advice. She needed to outline specifically what she would and could do, and what was not included in any deal I made with her. And, she had to like my sample chapters enough to believe I had something worth her time and reputation.


I’m happy to say I found her. I liked her based on our phone conversation, and she’s about to take on my manuscript. This is a new experience for me, and my hopes are high. If there’s a good book in there, she will help me find and write it. If it’s strong enough, I hope I can convince my agent to take it on. But in any case, I feel pleased knowing I didn’t abandon a project I believe in, didn’t give up and bury it in a computer file. 

The cost? An investment to consider, but let's say it's a birthday present to me. And, actually, today is my birthday!




Dietrich Kalteis said...

Happy birthday, Susan. Here's to lightbulb moments and editors.

James W. Ziskin said...

Joyeux anniversaire, Susan ! And I’m rooting for you.

Your friendly crime writer/reader friend

Brenda Chapman said...

Happy Birthday, Susan! All the best with this new book, which sounds really interesting.

Susan C Shea said...

Aren't those moments something, Dietrich?

Thanks Jim. Taking the time and energy to rad the draft was a gift!

Brenda, fingers crossed there's something there, not just in my fevered imagination!

Josh Stallings said...

Happy belated birthday! I can't think of a better investment than yourself. I know that feeling, when you sink your teeth into an idea and wont let it go. Those are the ideas the NEED to find form. Good luck!