Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Freelance Editors. Okay, Just 13 Things.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t particularly like numbered-list blogposts. They just feel artificial to me. So…um…here’s one about editors. Sorry.

1. We edit because we love books and writers but also for the money.

2. It’s a good thing we love books and writers. (And Ramen noodles.)

3. We don’t laugh with maniacal glee while slicing and dicing our way through your manuscript. We know how hard it is to write, and how much harder still it is to share that writing with a virtual stranger – especially someone whose job it is to find all the things that don’t work. We do, however, cringe and swear a lot. This is not because we hate you. It’s because we like you and want you to succeed and are frustrated because you aren’t there yet. (Or may never get there. Yeah. We do think that about some of you. Thankfully “there” is a subjective place that doesn’t necessarily mean lack of publishing success.)

4. We have nightmares about your stories. Sometimes this is because the story is scary. Sometimes it’s because the writing is.

5. We fall in love with some of your characters. The best ones move into our brains, just down the street from Katniss and Hermione.

6. We drink a lot of [coffee, tea, Diet Coke, wine, whiskey]. Pick one. Or five.

7. We understand and fully endorse the health benefits of a standing desk. We sit anyway.

8. We frequently feel invisible. How often do you hear published authors talking up their editors? Yeah, it happens. Just not very often. We’re mostly okay with this, because we sincerely welcome an author’s success. But every once in a while we’d like to be recognized for the role we play.

9. We read a lot. Not just the manuscripts you send us, but also the books that pile up on our virtual and/or actual nightstands. Reading good books is how we get better as editors. Yes, I know. It’s how you get better as writers, too. See? We’re not so different.

10. We do our level best to know and wear your writing voice when editing so the notes and changes not only resonate with you, they sound like you. Sometimes this is easy. Sometimes it’s nearly impossible, like when you haven’t written enough to establish a voice yet.

11. Once in a while we get things wrong. Editing isn’t a science; it’s an art. We have off days just like you do. Listen to our advice, consider it carefully, but don’t ignore your own inner editor. Because it’s your book. We’re just trying to make it your best book.

12. There is no twelve. I deleted it because it didn’t add anything to the narrative. Sometimes we do this with your manuscript too.

13. We respect you a lot. But we respect your story just a little bit more. Don’t take it personally.

The Maybe (An Imaginary Conversation Between Writer and Editor)

Writer: Which is the better career – janitor or hairdresser?

Editor: I take it you got my editorial notes.

Writer: Yeah. So tell me. Which one?

Editor: You already have a job.

Writer: Humor me.

Editor: Hairdresser.

Writer: Wrong. Janitor.

Editor: I didn’t know there was a right answer.

Writer: Exactly! Do you see what I did there? You just fell into my segue trap.

Editor: You’re talking about my notes, aren’t you. Clever.

Writer: I know, right? So about those notes…

Editor: Which ones?

Writer: Well…all of them. But let’s start with the one that says “you show great promise.” That’s just another way of saying “you suck as a writer” isn’t it.

Editor: No. It’s just a way of saying you’re not “there” yet. That’s why I wrote the rest of the notes. I’m trying to help you find your way.

Writer: Where exactly is “there”?

Editor: There? That’s the place where an agent reading your manuscript shouts “Yes!” so loudly she scares one of the nine lives out of the office cat.

Writer: Okay. So you think I’m not there yet. I get that. Are you saying I should self-publish?

Editor: No. I’m not saying that at all. If you want to do that, fine. But even if you choose to self-publish, you still want to go to “there.”

Writer: I thought I was nearly there until I saw your notes.

Editor: “Nearly” is an interesting word choice. Lots of authors are “nearly” there. So many, in fact, that you really can’t tell one from the next. Do you see how that creates a problem for agents?

Writer: I guess. But if I’m nearly there, why do I feel like such a failure after reading all your notes?

Editor: Blame The Maybe.

Writer: The what?

Editor: The Maybe. Tell me, why do you write?

Writer: Because I like writing.

Editor: You don’t need me for that. Why did you hire an editor?

Writer: Because I want to be published. Someday.

Editor: Right. What makes you think you’re worthy of being published. Someday.

Writer: I don’t know. I guess I hoped that maybe…

Editor: Stop there. See The Maybe? When you came to me, you were standing on the sunny side of The Maybe. That’s the side where hope lives. It’s a pretty great place. The possibilities are endless. Maybe you’ll be the next Stephen King. Maybe your novel will be as popular as The Hunger Games. Or maybe you’ll find just enough readers to write full time, even if you never reach the bestsellers list.

Writer: Is it so wrong to hope?

Editor: Absolutely not. But you were asking me why you felt like a failure, remember? Here’s why: when you saw you had work to do, you stepped to the dark side of The Maybe. That’s where doubt rules. Suddenly you’re thinking “Maybe I can’t write after all,” or “Maybe I’ll never reach my dream of being traditionally published.”

Writer: When I got your notes, I was still pretty pumped. I do want to be a better writer. But then…you really like the color red don’t you.

Editor: You’re speaking metaphorically.

Writer: Yes.

Editor: It’s a strong metaphor, well-matched to the moment, and you didn’t follow it up with unnecessary explanation.

Writer: You’re giving me a writing lesson right now, aren’t you.

Editor: Yes.

Writer: So you think I can do this? You think I can get “there” from here?

Editor: I think that’s mostly up to you. How are you at paradoxes?

Writer: At writing them?

Editor: At living them. A successful writing life is all about paradox. You have to be okay holding confidence and uncertainty at the same time. Then there are the publishing twins: idealism and realism. Love and hate? That’s the definition of writing in three words. If you can’t live in paradox, the writing life isn’t for you. Can you do that? Can you be patient and eager at the same time?

Writer: Maybe.

Editor: Which side of The Maybe was that?

Writer: The sunny side.

Editor: Putting off your career change, then?

Writer: For a little while longer. Yeah.

Editor: Good. Because I was lying before. You wouldn’t make a good hairdresser.

Writer: Why not?

Editor: You don’t know the first thing about cutting. Yet.

Writer: That’s a segue, isn’t it.

Editor: Yes.


According to Degree of Difficulty, it’s right up there with the first sentence of your novel, the query/love letter to your agent-crush, and the recommendation letter for that former employee who slept with your husband but really is a damn good accountant and shouldn’t be denied a job just because she’s a horrible waste of skin.

I’m talking about the dreaded Acknowledgments page.

I’m here to save you some pain. Because that’s what the courts tell me I have to do in order to compensate for all the damage I do as editor. (It was either this, or work at a morgue. But I’m afraid of…wait for it…Lindsay Lohan.)

The Acknowledgments page may be the greatest work of fiction you’ll ever write. To make it easier for you, I’ve provided a template below. Simply replace the bracketed descriptions with the appropriate info, then send this to your publisher mere minutes before your book goes to press. You don’t want to send it too early because at least three people you’ve thought about listing will say something stupid and lose their thank-worthiness between the deadline your editor gives you and the last possible moment you can actually turn it in (which is just after the publisher says, “We’re going with ‘I’d like to thank Kanye West and God’ if you don’t send the information in the next five minutes”).

So, here. And you’re welcome. And please sign my time sheet so I can count this toward my community service.


Wow, what a ride. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all the help I got from the great team at [name of publisher], including [list of people you don’t know personally who apparently had something to do with the production of the book, like the cover artist, copyeditor, proofreader, coffee monkey, that creepy guy with the blue goatee  from the marketing department]. Gosh, guys – you’re all the best!

I really wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my [mother; father; spermbank; alien host]. Thanks for [birthing me; empowering me; locking me in a closet for seventeen years so I’d have plenty to write about]. I’m proud to be called your [son; daughter; demon spawn; alleged murderer].

Thanks also to my writing group friends, [list only those people who said nice things about your book and not that woman who said it was like Twilight only not as well-written]. Your [hard work; encouragement; hopelessness as writers] inspires me.

This book would be [marginally readable; ten times as good; like Twilight only not as well-written] if it weren’t for the tireless work of my editor, [editor’s name goes here]. I still think you’re wrong about [deleting the prologue; changing the POV; re-writing the entire novel in your voice]. Just kidding. All your advice was brilliant. You deserve a [raise; vacation; bloodletting].

What can I say about my agent, [agent’s name goes here]? No really, what can I say [that captures the magnitude of thanks I owe him/her; that is defensible in court]? Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Then, of course, there is the one person who not only believed in me, but also endured my [late nights; whining; lack of personal hygiene; constant swearing]. I’m talking, of course, about my [spouse; significant other; puppet-master; imaginary childhood friend]. You are [the yin to my yang; the moon and a million stars; the reason I wake up in the morning; the reason I drink]. This book is for you.

To all my readers – past, present and future – I love all of you more than [Downton Abbey; Nutella; the Downton Abbey episode where everyone was eating Nutella; Rob Lowe; that feeling you get when you’re about to be stabbed].

Above all, thanks be to [God, Buddha, Aslan, Kanye West, my cleverly-named dog Hemingway].