Four Ways to Choose an Editor (and why we all need one)

This is an expanded version of a post that first appeared on The Muffin.

Too many definitions

There’s only so long, isn’t there? There’s only so long writers can tell ourselves that it’s just an unlucky streak, or that our preferred genre just isn’t popular right now. When that moment comes… when ‘so long’ becomes ‘too long’… it’s time to just do it. Just pack up the draft that came screaming out of you like offspring, work out the Velcro on your wallet, and hire yourself an editor. Someone to help seal up your plot and tone down your hyperbole.

That’s what I did after a few millennia of rejections, and I haven’t regretted it for a microsecond. I am writing again.
It’s a difficult decision to make, I’ll grant: tougher than the choice between buttermilk or buckwheat at Denny’s. To admit to oneself that another reader might see the value and flaw in your manuscript more clearly than you do is a humbling realization. Once it’s made, though, the hardest part is over.
Of course, choosing from the many, many editors available edges into the race as a very close second-hardest. How do you trust someone who isn’t much more than a website? With some advice from Cathy Hall at WOW, here are the four steps I took to face the challenge.

Step One: Decide who will be encouraging

Yes, I actually placed this as my first priority. With so much discouragement stemming naturally from the process of submission, I knew that I needed somethingand something fastto get my motivation back on track. What would be the point of finding out what is wrong with my work, if the news might only empty my sails and leave me unable to revise? A good editor knows as much about when to be positive as when to be critical, so that a tailwind might take that writer all the way to a final draft and to representation. Try to put aside the selfishness of this prioritybecause there is someand focus instead on the benefits of adding more of what you do well to your writing.
Establish some communication with the editors you are considering. You will have plenty of questions to ask them, and their answers will tell you volumes about their nature. Personally, I shy away from services who do not identify the exact person who will be doing your editing. You need a connection first!

Step Two: Decide who will be honest

To some extent, this is a contradiction of step one, and it must be. Editors, like schools, probably need to balance keeping their clients happy with evaluating honestly. Biting that proverbial hand might not seem to serve their interests, but it is an essential part of the service… otherwise, why even bother seeking advice?


Be sure to get a sample.

A good editor with some history should be able to provide you with samples of previous work: some of the comments and advice that they have offered other clients. Of course, you should only peek if you know that your editor has permission from that author, but there is bound to be someone who is OK with it..

Step Three: Decide who is qualified
This one’s a no-brainer, but perhaps the most difficult to achieve. “Qualified” is only partly based on a resume that your editor might provide. Have they published any books themselves? Can you access their blog to see how they write, and how they write about writing? If you’ve been a writer for long, you are bound to know other writers who have had good experiences. Cast as wide a net as you can in polling these colleagues; maybe a good editor’s name will even come up twice.

Step Four: Decide who is best for your genre

Again, some legwork is necessary here. Not all editors write fiction or memoirs themselves, so if you are writing a Science Fiction novel or a Romance, then it’s too easy to assume that a good editor might be equally qualified for anything. It would be nice to know an editor well enough to determine their reading preferences, but that’s a bit hard to achieve. This was the one area where I wasn’t comfortable before I made my choice and, even though it worked out, I would have preferred to know how much experience my editor had with my particular genre.

With all of these factors weighed, my eventual choice was the hardworking and prolific Matthew Bird. A blogger, author of successful how-to-write books, and just an approachable human being, it was a fairly simple matter to answer most of the questions that I had. Is there still risk? Always. Is the same editor right for everyone? Absolutely not. Will the same editor suit every book you write? Unlikely… but finding an editor, like going out on a blind date, will be a much more rewarding experience after these four steps of due diligence.
Comment me up with any steps that I missed!

– Some poorly edited Words from K. Alan.

‘Write What You Know…’ but how well should you know it?

Earlier in the year, I posted this series exploring some of the classic advice to writers: you know, ‘Show, Don’t Tell,’ ‘Describe your Setting,’ and other well-meaning contradictions that make writing so much more baffling. It’s a continual struggle to know how far to take this advice—a tightrope act worthy of Barnum & Bailey, in the days that we still loved the circus.

I have decided that a better way to put the advice to ‘Write What You Know’ might be, instead, to ‘Incorporate What You Know.’ It lacks the zing of a catchy slogan, I realize, and it relies on a three-syllable vocabulary… but I caught myself following this advice when writing one of my recent novels. In my humorous adventure, Driven, targeted DMV driving instructor David Bosley (‘Deebo’ to his dangerous-driving students) grapples with a past that is pieced together in a series of prologues to several of the chapters.

What I discovered, as I wrote these, is that I was recognizing more and more of my past. Unlike Deebo, I’ve never been caught up in a conspiracy involving a federal agency, but he and I still share a few experiences, like this one:


From Driven, Chapter III

The Den

When I was being held prisoner in my childhood Sunday School, the latest in a stream of youth leaders, Margy Chapman, tried to teach us the parable of Daniel and the Lion’s Den. Margy had made the mistake of trying to approach us as a ‘cool’ equal, allowing us to call her by her first name, hard ‘g’ and all, and ultimately evoking our predatory nature as children. It was only many years later that I began to appreciate the effort she was making.

“Daniel knew,” she promised us, then raised her voice slightly to compete with our disinterested chatter. “He knew that the Lord would protect him from the lion, so he did as the Romans asked, and…”

“How?” Bertie Wilson interrupted.

Flustered already, Margy stumbled, “How…how did he…?”

“How did he know,” Bertie clarified with exaggerated impatience, “that God would protect him?”

Continue reading

Recovering Muchness: Four strategies to help walk away from rejection.


Don’t look too closely…

It’s every morning, lately, that the reflection in my mirror is wrong. Not just reversed, because reflections are always reversed, but wrong: influenced, and mildly possessed. Someone slightly other than me.

I’m sure that others have lived this. Perhaps everyone has. Lewis Carroll almost certainly lived it, when he imagined a world that fractured images rather than glass, just beyond his own mirror. What did he see, that day he was so inspired? Were there really talking chess pieces and bullfrogs looking back at him, or just someone that he didn’t quite recognize? Someone not quite himself?

Did rejection by publishers change even his reflection?

Continue reading

Always Check the Basement

creepybasementstairsThere is something in everyone’s basement.

The basement is a place where accumulations of treasures coat themselves with enough dust to make them seem immaterial—dispassionate and discolored. Technology that you were going to repair decades ago has gone obsolete alongside boxes of unsorted photos. Exercise benches languish; spare parts oxidize into the air. The smell over there catches your attention, but for another few weeks might be mild enough to ignore. That’s what the place is for, after all: ignoring.

It’s just a basement. It’s where you ignore colors and treasures.

It’s where you ignore your passions.

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Who are we Fooling? …Choosing Simplicity over Style.

April Fool’s, everyone!

fools-hatYes, I know it was last week; my mind hasn’t been that addled by free time and hard drives full of media. Last week, you might remember, is when I pulled my very first WordPress prank, by posting the ‘lyrics’ to the old Meow Mix commercial, and suggesting it might be literature. I then tweeted about it—twice, like I do for every other post—and invited the world to view it. I crossed my fingers, hoping that the world wouldn’t: hoping, despite myself, that world would prefer rich human debate over literary trends to the image of a long-deceased mouser lip-syncing one word.

Guess what? The world likes the cat better.

According to my stats, the singing tabby got more views than my last two editorial posts: one exploring publishing trends, and the other lamenting what the loss of Dana Plato could mean to writers. Continue reading

Mix This

Today, we take a break from my usual medley of fiction, advice and introspective centers for this acknowledgement of true literature. You can sing along with the lyrics I have provided.


(First verse: sung piano)

Meow, meow, meow, meow,
Meow, meow, meow, meow,
Meow, meow, meow, meow,
Meow, meow, meow, meow.

(Second verse: crescendo to mezzo-forte. Note emphasis.) Continue reading

Promote or Perish: 3 services publishers used to offer.

Publisher. Publication. Publicity.


Hit the bricks and sell those novels!

See the similarity in those words? It’s not a coincidence. Those who hang out the “Publisher” shingle on their little shack are promising, by their very title, to create publicity for the works they print.

And yet, authors, how many times have you been preparing to submit a manuscript, and been deflated by a statement like this?

Over the past ten years, the publishing industry has changed drastically. These changes now mean that authors carry the responsibilities of promotion, marketing, and publicity for their works. Many authors fail at this difficult task, meaning their contract is cancelled, and any future contracts are at risk. It’s a cold, hard fact that an author’s books must become popular for the industry to be able to keep publishing.

This is an excerpt from the submissions page of a small, independent press. I have changed (and, I must say, corrected) some of the vocabulary and sentence structure, in order to keep search engines from locating the exact source. I would credit this publisher, but it might seem I am picking on them. I am not. Such clauses, to some degree or another, are fixtures in most small publishers’ disclaimers these days. That “cold, hard fact” is one that has affected us all.

Here’s the thing, though, about facts: people with power are the ones who create them. I think most of us would agree that, even now, publishers hold much more power than authors.  Continue reading