Finding the right freelance editor is a complicated thing. Beyond the fundamentals of qualifications and the strength of their story-craft, it’s a relationship which requires a kind of intimacy and trust deeper than we might have with many of our family members. How many people would you hand the child of your creation to and say “Study this in minute detail, without fear or favour, and tell me what’s wrong with it.”?
Ann gained my confidence with a simple technique. She cared. Deeply. I don’t mean she cared about me (though she did, and I now consider her a friend) I mean that she cared about the outcome of her work on my manuscript. This is something I’ve discovered is all too rare in these days when anyone with a computer can offer services to writers whether they have the skills or not.
The basic mechanism of editing is this: the editor gives advice and the writer can take it or leave it. Because of that, many editors consider their job done once they’ve delivered their notes, or perhaps after a single meeting to go over them and allow the writer to ask the first questions that come to mind. Whether to protect their own emotions or simply because they edit only to pay the bills so they can focus on their own writing, that’s about all you’ll get. Not so with Ann.
Ann wanted to be proud to be the editor of As Long As She Lives as much as I wanted to be proud of being its writer. And I know that Ann doesn’t take on work that she, or one of her staff, can’t get behind in that way. She takes time to discuss her notes with you because she wants you to take her advice or be clear about why you choose not to – and she’ll push back if she thinks your reason is a cop-out! At the end of the process not only is your manuscript is better but you know why it’s better and that makes you a better writer.
Ann and I have each independently described our professional relationship as “a little Bolshie” and that’s exactly what a writer needs, and should want, in an editor. I would not hesitate to recommend her considerable skills and passion to any writer.
As a writer, you need more than an editor with a good eye. What you really need is an editor with a good mind: someone who can challenge the ideas and assumptions in your writing, someone who can shape and polish your words so they sound like a better version of yourself. You need a writing partner. That’s what the process felt like for me on my first novel, The Current.
Ann understood my story and helped me to see the ways in which my writing was letting it down. It was a painful process sometimes, but I’ll be back for more.
I’m now working on my second novel and look forward to working with A story to tell… again when the time comes.
As a first-time author soon to self-publish I was searching for proofreading and copy editing for my novel, Just Went Out For Milk. What I received from A story to tell… was that and much more.
I called several editors and proofreaders before speaking to Ann, and was having trouble deciding on who would best help sculpt my work. My decision was made very soon after speaking with Ann. Her easygoing, approachable, almost coach-like manner made me confident that she would be the right editor for me.
The process of working with A story to tell… started with many conversations and emails, so that Ann could learn what I was looking for and so that I was comfortable with her approach and her level of editorial intervention. From there a manuscript appraisal was undertaken, from which I was given several pages of useful feedback.
I worked through another draft based on feedback, all the while pestering Ann with calls and emails about this, that or the other (all of which she responded to swiftly). After this came the copy-editing process, during which Ann went through the manuscript line by line and delivered the file back to me with suggested adjustments and comments in MS Word. From here, I went through the suggestions and decided which to keep. (I kept the large majority.)
We continued to communicate via email and phone as I worked through this, with Ann clearing up any questions I had. The whole time she was as much a coach as an editor. She guided and helped me beyond what I’d expect. Her knowledge of writing and the industry was outstanding and so helpful for a new author.
Simply, I received a better, more polished manuscript than what I handed in. So far, during the six months Just Went Out For Milk has been released the book has received a great deal of praise and I must thank Ann and Heather Kelly, who proofread JWOFM, for helping the book get to a publishable quality.
Despite being the single highest cost of self-publishing so far, the copy edit will be the one expense I will never regret.
That would have been the list if this article were entitled “A single most important thing I’ve learned”. But it’s not, so there are ten more below. Which I guess makes it eleven … never mind! Anyway, after getting eight quotes and four samples from Australian and American editors, I chose Lu Sexton of A story to tell… to copyedit Shizzle, Inc and I’m blown away with the results.
To be honest, I had a lot of reservations about paying for editing. After all I’d already had a structural edit; I’d revised the draft no less than a hundred times myself; I speaka English real good. Handing over cash for a promise of making your draft better is scary, even if that promise comes with a professional reputation and an exceptional sample edit.
In the end it was probably the sample that did it. Lu didn’t just pick up grammatical errors and turns of phrase; she made a few clever suggestions for heightening the drama and comedy without losing my protagonist’s voice. I had the balls to ask if the rest of the manuscript would get a similar treatment and got a polite answer that yes, it would. And it did. I got back not just an improved manuscript, but also a lesson in writing, customised just for me.
Here’s the list of lessons I promised, in no particular order:
Most of the suggestions were not just track changes; they were accompanied by comments explaining the reason for change. Not only that, I got a separate style sheet, to help my proofreader. I didn’t know those existed!
I could go on, but this is starting to get embarrassing. Plus, as we know, numbered lists attract more attention, and what is better than a nice fat top ten? So keep on writing, and start a savings account for the copy edit. You won’t regret it.
This post was first published here. Thanks Ana for permission to re-publish this post.
Sarah Day used A story to tell… manuscript appraisals to check the structure of her manuscript Volition. Here’s what she had to say:
Ann provided a structural edit of the first 8000 words of my manuscript as a trial service. I was very impressed with her detailed advice, which confirmed my own suspicions and provided a lot of suggestions I hadn’t considered. It was such a boost to receive high quality guidance as I had shown my manuscript to many other people and had been disappointed with the lack of useful feedback I received.
I consequently asked Ann to appraise the entire manuscript and am very happy to now feel that I am in a position to develop my novel to a publishable quality. Ann’s detailed feedback on the manuscript addressed many elements including structure, plot, characterisation, pace, point of view, language, dialogue and setting. The report provided a comprehensive guide as to where I should go from here and what aspects of the novel require work.
After feeling lost in the woods, I am now excited about fixing the structure and improving certain passages of writing, after which time I plan to engage Ann to do a full copy edit.
Ann really understood the work and provided very clear direction and encouragement. I can’t believe the value I received for such an affordable rate.
We are currently working with Jennifer Hansen on her first novel TV News Chick (working title). The manuscript has a lovely light touch, even though it’s a passionate and revealing look into the competitive, blokey world of TV journalism. Here’s what Jennifer has to say about our working together:
Many highly regarded literary types have given feedback on my writing over the years, but none has been as thorough as Ann Bolch. When providing a structural edit on my first novel, Ann’s attention to detail has been remarkable. She poses careful but useful questions of both the plot and character and, through really listening to my answers, she understands what I’m trying to achieve. This makes the entire writing process so much easier. She delivers her wisdom with good humour and the knowledge that this story is mine to tell.
As a copy editor, her eye for detail is amazing. She’s thorough and has dedicated time to learn about the finer points of grammar and punctuation. But even more important than picking up grammatical errors, Ann taps into the gist of a story and understands each character’s motivations and actions. Her overall advice is spot on. Plus she has this uncanny knack of knowing which bits to take out to tighten the story – an essential editorial skill, but hard to find. She’s a clear and willing communicator who’s become a real asset to my TV News Chick project.
Ann has a wonderful sense of rhythm, structure and pace – all of which are essential to making your novel flow in the best possible way. She’s a brilliant writer too, so well understands the entire process.
Jennifer Hansen: Journalist, Writer, Public speaker, Newsreader (formerly Channel Ten and ABC)
Lucy’s manuscript The Things We Tell Ourselves received the attention and praise it deserves by winning the 2012 Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. She’s currently developing it towards publication. We can’t wait for it to come out! We’re honoured to have helped out with structural and line-by-line issues.
Ann read an early draft of my first novel, The Things We Tell Ourselves, at a time when I was sorely in need of encouragement. As a practising writer, Ann has a keen understanding of the fragility of a writer’s ego, and the ways in which positive energy can be as important as the appraisal itself. This is not to say that she varnished the truth when giving feedback, rather, that her enthusiasm reminded me of my early ‘in love’ stage in the writing process, rekindling my desire to persevere and bring my manuscript to completion.
Ann’s advice was invaluable in so many ways. She has a great ability to enter fully and sympathetically into the life of a story – both its world and its characters – without loss of objectivity. Particular strengths are her ability to identify and trim the fat in a sentence or scene, or to detect false notes or a lack of clarity. Ann’s keen eye and careful editor’s pen tightens writing, and strengthens characters and narrative trajectory with great precision. Her thoughtful questions are a huge help in revealing the way forward. Her positive energy makes something that can be arduous a pleasure.
Lucy Treloar, Melbourne writer and editor.