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Frequenty Asked Questions
1) Why can’t the manuscript analysis and the line edit of my novel be done at the same time?
The two processes are as different as spraying crops from an airplane and picking vegetables by hand! It’s impossible for a farmer to do both at once.
The manuscript analysis is a "macro" edit; that is, it’s an assessment of the big picture. Is the plot working? Is there enough tension? Are the characters well-rounded and believable? What about dialogue? If the dialogue is stilted and all the characters sound alike, you need to go back to the drawing board. Is the ending satisfying? Are all the problems solved, for better or worse? Are there dangling threads that need to be tied? You don’t want to leave your readers confused or frustrated in any way. After looking at all these and a number of other areas, I give the writer a detailed report with suggestions on how to "fix" anything that isn’t working, along with lots of praise for the things that are! Then he/she can revise the manuscript with this information in mind.
A line edit is a "micro" edit in which editors correct errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, and syntax. Most editors use the latest edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or the American Heritage Dictionary to make sure that preferred spellings are used. (No, running spell check isn’t sufficient.) For rules on punctuation, capitalization, and various grammar and style issues, book editors refer to The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition, which has been the book publishing industry standard since 1906.
So, as you can imagine, there is no way to concentrate on these tiny things word by word, line by line, and at the same time determine if the big picture is satisfying. To use another metaphor, it would be like stepping out onto an overlook in the mountains to enjoy the panorama while looking through a soda straw!
2) What’s the difference between line editing and proofreading?
The line edit is done on your typed manuscript before it is submitted to a publisher. After your manuscript has been accepted by a publisher, it is typeset. Then the publisher sends you a galley proof to go over one last time before the book is printed. This is your last chance (or the proofreader’s last chance) to correct any errors that slipped through at the line editing stage and to catch any errors made by the typesetter. The proofreader is looking for all kinds of problems: errors in spacing, type size, fonts, etc.
Today, many publishers ask for the manuscript to be submitted on a disk or CD-ROM. The typesetting is then done electronically; that is, the book designer transfers the words from your disk into his/her system and then begins to format them as they will look in the printed book. During this transfer, glitches can occur. For example, your apostrophes may disappear and your italicized words may no longer be in italics. The list goes on.
To make sure that your book is the best it can possibly be, I would advise that you leave this proofreading task to a professional.
3) Is it all right to use my personal stationery for the query letter?
Not if your personal stationery has sunsets or frolicking kittens. If your stationery is simple and businesslike, it's OK; if not, use quality paper in white or off-white. The manuscript should be on plain white.
4) Won't a pretty typeface make my manuscript stand out?
Yes, and you don't want it to. Agents and editors prefer that you use a readable serif typeface like Times New Roman. Nothing froufrou. I often get children's book manuscripts on colored paper with "cute" type in large letters. This is a definite no-no. (Please refer to my Articles section for guidelines on preparing your manuscript.)
5) May I send you my manuscript before it's finished?
A year or two ago, I would have said, "no." It seemed pointless for me to look at a third of a book, but I've changed my thinking. Several clients urged me to look at what they'd done so far, just to find out if they were on the right track. It turned out to be helpful to them. One decided, after my feedback, to change her point of view. It was much easier for her to go back and do that after 100 pages than after writing the whole book (her final product was 325 pages). Another client got the validation she wanted. I found her characters believable and her dialogue natural; the plot was working too because I was eager to find out what happened next.
6) How do I know if I need manuscript analysis, line editing, or both?
You can e-mail me your first chapter or two; then, as Joan Rivers likes to say, "Let's talk." Or I can e-mail you and let you know what I think would be best. Most people need one or the other, not both.
7) Can you help me with my query letter and synopsis?
Yes, but I don't look at them before reading the manuscript; I don't want to know ahead of time what's going to happen. After I have read the book, I am happy to critique and line edit both. If a query needs a lot of work, I give the writer detailed directions, but I don't do the rewrite. This has worked well for my clients.
8) Can you help me find an agent or publisher?
I have guided a number of clients through this process, telling them how to proceed and letting them do the work. (It's more budget-friendly that way.) But some people who don't want to do research pay me my hourly rate to do it for them. This question is often followed by another question: "Do you know any agents?" What that question really means is, "Can you hook me up with an agent you have an 'in' with?" The answer to the first question is, "Yes, I do know some agents." But the answer to the real question is, "I might recommend that you query a certain publisher or an agent whom I think would be interested in your book. But I don't get on the phone and try to match up my clients with agents."
9) Do you edit book proposals?
Yes, I critique and line edit book proposals. I can also steer you to a colleague who teaches a workshop on preparing book proposals; she will work with you one-on-one if you need help. Here are several books on the subject: How To Write a Book Proposal, by Michael Larsen; Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write, by Elizabeth Lyon; From Book Idea to Bestseller, by Michael Snell.
10) Is it a good idea to enter contests?
I think it's a great idea. I encourage clients and students in my workshops and writing classes to submit their work to contests. First of all, you may win the contest; you may come in second, or third, or receive honorable mention. And awards look good on cover letters to agents and publishers. Some contests include publication of winners' work. (Make sure you don't sign over all your rights to the work, at least not without careful consideration.) A second reason to enter contests is that sometimes you get excellent feedback from the contest judge. A year or two ago, I submitted a short story that didn't win, but I got praise and helpful advice from a respected author. One final note: If you enter a contest that is widely publicized and carries a huge purse, the competition will be fierce. As a beginner, you may be more likely to win a $100 prize in a city contest than a $5000 prize in an international contest. But go for it, and good luck!