The Internet is flush with editors. So I should be able to email my favourite genre matches, and they’ll jump at the chance to work with me, right? Not necessarily. Logic dictates that editors can only take on so many projects at a time. Editor Andi Cumbo explains how to put your best foot forward.
Andi Cumbo is a writer, editor & farmer. She teaches writing, coaches writers, edits manuscripts for other writers, and runs writing retreats at her farm in Virginia. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in Literature, and has taught at several colleges and universities including George Mason University, Cecil College, Stevenson University, Santa Clara University, and Solano College. Follow her writing and editing journey on Facebook and Twitter.
1. What information should an author query a potential editor with?
Great question. I suspect every editor will answer this differently. When I hear from an author I don’t know, I want to know a bit about the book—i.e. the blurb, back cover copy, or just a quick description; this information helps me get a sense both of the content of the book and how well the writer can describe his/her work. I want to know how many words the manuscript has, and I use this number to give quotes and timelines. I want to know what type of editing the writer wants or to know the writer is aware that they need help determining what type of editing they need. I’ve recently written a post about the ways I define the various types of editing, but every editor defines these terms slightly differently. So it’s wise to talk with the editor to be sure you’re on the same pages with your definitions. Finally, and in some ways most importantly, I want to know the author has reasonable expectations of what the editing process is. If someone wants me to do a content edit for a full, book-length manuscript in 5 days, that’s a red flag for me because that process takes a great deal of time. Or if the author balks at the price for a certain type of work, I take a moment because, while I certainly understand budgets (boy do I!), the work of editing is time-consuming, and a wise writer wants the editor to take her time and do the work well. Finally, if a writer asks me about how many bestsellers I’ve edited, I take a deep breath and know this client probably isn’t for me because, well, my editing work doesn’t guarantee a bestseller. The process of getting on those lists is VERY complex, and many things factor in – including the content of the book, the cover design, what other books are out. So in short, if a writer has expectations I cannot fulfill—even with my extensive experience and strong testimonials, then I will wish them the best but not take them on as a client because, in the end, the editing relationship isn’t going to work. And that’s really key – when you select an editor, you are choosing someone to trust with one of the biggest labors of your life. You have to like that person and believe they are going to do the best work for you and your book. Not every editor is right for every writer or for every book. . . so be wise and trust your gut when choosing.
2. As an editor, which draft do you want to see?
Another great question. As an editor, I want to see the manuscript only after the writer has done everything s/he knows how to do. So I don’t want to see the first draft or even the second. I want the writer to have battled and struggled and tested and adjusted as much as s/he can determine to do. Then, when s/he is left with no clear direction about what to do next, that’s when I come in. I think about it this way—if the writer knows what to do to make something better, there’s no value in paying me to do that. It’s wiser for the writer to improve the work as best s/he knows how and THEN, bring me in to point out what I see or to help her/him solve problems that s/he doesn’t know how to solve yet.
3. Can you offer advice on pre-editing blogs/resources?
Sure, I love a few websites especially. 1. Joan Dempsey: Joan’s resources on revision, in particular, are splendid and useful. 2. DIY MFA: This site is the creation of Gabriela Pereira, and she dispenses great advice on the craft of writing. 3. Jane Friedman: Jane gives a great deal of good advice on publishing, but her blog is also chock-full of great writing advice. 4. Terrible Minds: Chuck Wendig has some of the best writing advice out there. He’s witty and smart, and he isn’t afraid to speak his mind. 5. Me: I write weekly on some aspect of writing—craft or the writing life or publishing, and I also run a free online community for writers. A more general piece of advice here, too. Not all writing wisdom is going to work for you. Some of it will be downright wrong for your life, so don’t get burdened by reading too much advice. It can be absolutely overwhelming. Instead, find a few sources of information from people you like and trust (that’s key), and then just read their work. It’s not necessary to read every bit of writing advice from every person out there. . . instead, take what you need and feel free to discard the rest. Really. Just because Earnest Hemingway or Jesmyn Ward did it, doesn’t mean you have to.
You can learn more about Andi’s editing expertise here.
I compiled this post for the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join the hop, click here. (It’s fun!)
Do you have any thoughts on finding and querying editors? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.