Playing Doctor

Dear Miss Snark,
An agent said my first 50 pages were "very promising" and requested the rest of the book. Sent it back two weeks later with--what I thought-- was a very considerate letter, noting that she enjoyed reading it but would need to see some revisions before she would be willing to "represent it as a paranormal romance." I thought it was a supernatural thriller; but what's in a name.

Even though it was rejected, I was bolstered by the fact that she took the time to note some suggested changes. She wrote that if I chose to make "some of her suggestions", she would be willing to take a second look. Of course I'm willing! She also cautioned (as you have) not to submit the same product repackaged as a "major overhaul." Got it. I've studied where I went flat and am deleting and adding chapters and scenes, adjusting story line, excising characters. Should take me at least a couple of months. I'm also reading some of the authors she recommended in that genre.

Question: Would I be exhibiting nitwit behavior if I asked said agent if she could recommend an editor (book doctor) who works in this genre? I want it to be as good as it can before I resubmit it, but I also want it to fall safely within the parameters of a paranormal romance.

Well, not class nitwit behavior but this is definately in the "no no bad dog drop it" category.
First, agents are expressly forbidden from sending queriers to editors by the AAR code of ethics. (There's a lot about why in the Snarkives.)

Some of us skirt the rules very very quietly by having a couple names, and some websites like the Editorial Freelance association which we give out only in back alleys under cover of darkness and only after you give the secret password of the day.

You don't need a book doctor. Book doctors are mostly for non fiction, mostly for people who aren't writers. People who have a good concept and a good platform and for whom writing is not their forte. It makes sense for them to spend the thousands of dollars that book doctors cost because they have a decent shot at recouping those costs.

That's not you. You're writing a novel. A skilled and ruthless critique partner can do it all for you. And you can probably do it on your own.


Anonymous said...

Adding to the idea of a critique partner, I will not miss the opportunity to hawk Critique Circle, my absolutely favorite critique group. It's online, and there are members of all sorts of genres, including paranormal. In fact, I'm in the midst of critiquing a novel that's a paranormal thriller.

You can find CC at http://www.critiquecircle.com/default.asp

You'll have to become a member, but basic membership is free. Interestingly, CC has attracted published novelists.

Dave Kuzminski said...

P&E supports the need for agents to sometimes share the names of legitimate editors provided the writer asks first and no referral fees are involved. Additionally, P&E prefers that agents offer a choice of two or more so there's no funneling to a single source or less opportunity of that occurring.

Katharine said...

Bowing and scraping, I politely beg to differ with the wondrous Miss Snark.

As a professional freelance copyeditor with 22 years’ experience in publishing, I say using the services of a professional editor (not necessarily one who calls him- or herself a book doctor) is worthwhile. But why?

Authors hire freelance copyeditors because they know that their opus may have weak spots, and they want to maximize their chances of getting a publisher to buy their manuscript. If a publisher thinks it has to work too hard to whip a manuscript into a book that'll sell, it won't bother taking it on.

How do you find a freelance copyeditor if nobody will share contact info for one, and how do you know if he or she is proficient?

After you’ve had your manuscript critiqued by a writers’ group and revised it, do an Internet search on the phrase “freelance editor” or “freelance copyeditor.” Peruse the web sites of several of the freelancers who are listed in the search results. Look for a philosophy of editing, a client list, a résumé, a project list, and affiliations with profession-related associations, such as the Editorial Freelancers Association, which Miss Snark mentioned. (The EFA has an online directory of its members.) E-mail a few freelancers whose sites inspire confidence. Ask about their working process, their rates, their time frames. Of those whose responses you like, request a sample edit. This generally isn’t free, but because a sample is usually 5 to 10 of your 250-word double-spaced pages, it won’t be that expensive. Choose an editor on the basis of compatibility and how well you like his or her editing; don’t choose the one who says your golden prose is perfect as is. Choose the editor whom you feel will help your writing sound like what you meant to say in the first place. Then get a written contract and dig in!

Now, why should you go through working with a writers’ group first? Because that will deal with the big-picture issues. You can go directly to a copyeditor, but then you’ll be paying a great deal more because your work may very well need substantive editing, which takes longer, rather than copyediting. You can find definitions of the levels of editing here.

But can’t you just ask freelancers for references and contact them? Yes, but looking at a freelancer’s client list and résumé will tell you about the copyeditor’s background, how long he or she has been in the business, and how many—and which—clients have actually trusted him or her to edit.

Isn’t this process an awful lot of work, on top of the hard work of writing? Yes. But if you were looking for a new, expensive car, you’d likely take the time to shop around for the best value and the best warranty. Why would you do any less for the manuscript you’ve sweated over for months or years?

You know what? Everyone needs an editor—even an editor! Whenever I write for publication, I always have a colleague review my work before I submit it. An editor is a second (or fourth or fifteenth) set of eyes that can spot what you can’t see because you’re too close to your work. You know what you meant to write, so you see it on the page even if it’s not there.

I understand just how precious an author’s work is to him or her. That’s why I advise taking extra care in finding the right person to work with. I work both with publishers and directly with authors, and I treat each manuscript with respect, recognizing how much effort went into crafting it. My job isn’t to slash and burn. It’s to point out areas where readers may need more information or where they’re given too much of it, to get rid of wordiness, to point out lapses in logic, to polish the author’s gem until it shines.

Dorthygale said...

I second the recommend for Critique Circle. Try it, you'll like it!

Anonymous said...

Join RWA. Join the FF&P online chapter (Fantasy, Futuristic, Paranormal--and I might have the order wrong there). You can get tons of advice and guidance about the subgenre and probably can find a critique partner, all for a modest membership fee.

Kim said...

If I can throw in my two cents, I'd also recommend joining a local chapter of a writer's organizaton, such as a local RWA chapter. My local chapter offers critique sessions on various aspects of the craft that I've found very helpful!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Katharine and Dave, for that information. I agree a critique group is the way to go, along with many, many revisions and beta readers. However, in this publishing climate, tougher than it was even a couple years ago, publishers want a polished, edited work from the get go. If you believe in your work and others have told you of it's potential, I believe professional editing is a valid next step.

Author's Journey said...

Critters.org is another excellent free writing workshop. It's for sci-fi, fantasy and horror, so if your story is that kind of supernatural it's worth checking out.

Anonymous said...

In support of Critique Circle, one published author commented she got better and more detailed suggestions with this online group that she received from her editors at the publisher of her books.

Sue said...

Unless you are talking about works of non-fiction, I'm not sure I agree with Katharine about the need for an editor.

It is my opinion that one of the joys of writing fiction is discovering how to write fine prose, words that work for the story or message you wish to convey. While I think critique groups (or beta readers) are essential to that process (and they can and do offer editorial commentary), I would feel that I cheated myself if I paid a professional copyeditor to do the same thing. With extensive paid editing, the work would cease to be mine since fiction is as much about the story as it is about the way you tell that story.

Now, a good community college course in snappy grammar, that might be different. I think I would be willing to pay for a "private girls' school" education on that matter as my friends who attended Catholic schools, etc, seem to have that snappy style.

KZ said...

What a wealth of information to my original question. Thanks all -- this is great! I didn't know about Critique Circle and am going to check it out. I agree with Miss Snark's appraisal; as always, she keeps authors on track with what amounts to common sense and professionalism. I will not approach the agent for an editor. But I will probably seek out a professional copyeditor once all my revisions are in and it's been critiqued by someone familiar with the genre (basically to catch misused language that I missed). A V.P. at Knopf once told me a similar thing to Miss Snark: "no book doctors" "trust your instincts" "don't stop revising until it's as good as YOU can get it."
I do wonder, though, at what point does the writer become mired in associations and writer's groups and lose sight of his/her own voice. I quit one writer's group for that reason. I got seven subjective critiques. I'd be spinning my wheels forever if I tried to satisfy all those suggestions. I like the sound of a solid critiquing partner though. cheers!

Katharine said...

Sue wrote: "With extensive paid editing, the work would cease to be mine since fiction is as much about the story as it is about the way you tell that story."

But copyeditors don't rewrite, so the story would definitely still be yours. (Book doctors rewrite.) I used to edit the romance novels of a talented writer. She created engrossing plots and characters that seemed real enough to step off the page. But she couldn't avoid dangling modifiers to save her life. That's what she needed me for, not to rewrite her story. If a freelance editor wants to rewrite your story, don't let it happen, unless that's what you want.

-c- said...

I also have to disagree with Katharine--though I hate to do so, because I know she does this for a living. But if you need a copyeditor for a publisher to accept your book, well, frankly, you aren't ready for publication. And we all know there is a lot of ... excuse me ... published crap out there. Do we really want to join those ranks? We shouldn't publish just because we can. We should publish because we're ready. And needing a copyeditor just to get accepted by a publisher equals not ready yet.

I know many will disagree. But excellence should be our goal, not publication, right?

MTV said...

One comment I have addressing multiple comments on a work from writer's groups or beta readers -
Have a vision of what your work is, then I would class certain comments together and address only those that fit the vision. Otherwise, you can loose what the work is.

Since, ultimately, you are communicating with readers and want your story to come across, feedback is critical. At the same time YOU need to prioritize what needs to be addressed to stay true to your vision.

KZ - this is how you address - "A V.P. at Knopf once told me a similar thing to Miss Snark: "no book doctors" "trust your instincts" "don't stop revising until it's as good as YOU can get it."

After all, it is about the story that you want to tell.

Anne said...

"I got seven subjective critiques. I'd be spinning my wheels forever if I tried to satisfy all those suggestions."

I believe Stephen King's advice on this one is: if they're all remarking on the same thing, take another look; if they're all remarking on different things, you can safely ignore them.

Essentially, real problems are seen by many. Subjective "problems" are based on individual opinions and what irritates one may delight another.

Anonymous said...

kz wrote: I do wonder, though, at what point does the writer become mired in associations and writer's groups and lose sight of his/her own voice. I quit one writer's group for that reason. I got seven subjective critiques. I'd be spinning my wheels forever if I tried to satisfy all those suggestions. I like the sound of a solid critiquing partner though. cheers!

I can only tell you about my experience with Critique Circle. I was like a sponge as there was so much for me to learn (especially in the areas of grammar and punctuation), but I knew I had to trust my voice and my understanding of my characters. Interestingly, all of the critiques I've received (about 800 to date) have remarked on how my characters were alive, distinct and how they all had their unique voices. I haven't always agreed with the suggestions I've received, but I think that you have to be sure enough of your writing to know when the advice should be taken, and when it should not be. Also, conflicting suggestions can be useful to point out areas that need work, but not necessarily the specific suggestions offered.

Anyway, I'm glad you'll be giving CC a try. I suspect you'll not find much in the way of conflicting advice given the interest you've aroused in an agent.

Anonymous said...

Hey fellow snarklings (especially commenter,mtv) - a little help here!

I have received comments like: this is a strong work; great concept; needs a bit more editing, i.e., lose a couple thousand adjectives and adverbs and then get back to me. - Okay, that I get.

Then, an agent says after reading a partial: strong work; an important story, but needs to be more dramatic - writing is a bit dry. I've never heard anything close to that before. In fact, I've been cautioned to tone it down a notch or two.

What to do; what to do?

Before I burn the ms and throw myself into the conflagration, should I wonder if this reflects the personal taste of the agent or should I do the swan dive immediately?

I'm holding the gasoline can in one hand and the ms in the other so please hurry!

nir said...

I'll second Critters, learned a lot there.

-c- said...


Excess adverbs and adjectives, passive voice, convoluted sentence structure, compound sentences--all of this can cause "dryness" because you have to work too hard to figure out what's going on. It also gets in the way of the dramatic thrust.

I bet you have a very good command of the language, but your writing might not be as accessible or direct or rhythmic as it could be. I bet it's too dense. If you think that's the case, you could try picking an author you really admire who is not dense, and study and compare.

girl with a gas can said...

To -c-,

I'm putting down the gas can and stepping away.

Thank you.

aypcudv said...

"I got seven subjective critiques. I'd be spinning my wheels forever if I tried to satisfy all those suggestions."

Padgett Powell once told a workshop: You'll hear 15 different opinions on your work. Your job is to figure out which ONE of them is right for you. Lucky me--it was my first workshop ever. So I never felt frustrated by vastly differing critiques; I knew if just one had nearly-perfect pitch, and if I had the ability to hear which one, I was in great shape.

Sometimes I learned more from that winnowing process than I did from the one "right" critique.

MTV said...

Anon -

I think - C - has hit the "right" note. The two agents may be saying the same thing in different ways.

The first agent was more specific and there may be some overwriting there as well that needs to be dealt with.

My question would be: "Will he take it on after your next pass?"

Anne -

That's essentially what I was saying. I wondered where I got that idea from intially. I just extended that out to look at the frequency of comments in specific areas that were commented on.