Friday, December 31, 2010

Welcome 2011 to a Happy New Year of Writing

It's impossible for me to believe 2011 is here already. I just blinked and another year flew by. But whether 2010 was ghastly with rejections and disappointment, or it provided you with pleasure and success, there's one thing for certain. 2011 can be a time for renewal--for wiping the slate clean. The publishing industry is a lot like 2010. Blink and it will change.

In honor of 2011, I'm doing just that. My friend, RITA nominee Therese Walsh and author of THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY and also co-founder of Writer Unboxed gave me permission to use the following article. The title may read THE UNPUBLISHED WRITER'S SEVEN DEADLY SINS. But look close, and I believe Therese's words speak to published authors equally.

I'm ankle deep in revisions on my 2007 Golden Heart finaling book that sold to Bell Bridge Books, so that's my main focus right now.

But I have some great interviews coming up with 2009 Golden Heart winner Darynda Jones and her highly touted, FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT, award-winning author, Kaki Warner, OPEN COUNTRY AND PIECES OF SKY and her new release CHASING THE SUN.

I can't wait to talk to these very talented ladies and see what makes their writing so successful.

Also, don't forget to check in on January 3rd, when Leslie Ann Sartor aka LA presents Award-winning Author Nancy Haddock. Nancy will talk to us about EMPOWERMENT and how to identify your own power for 2011 and every day beyond .

Big things in store, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, please read what Therese has to say, and see if, like me, they don't apply to you. On behalf of my fellow Scribes, here's to your writing, to following your dreams and a successful and healthy New Year.

Happy Writing. ~ Donnell

The Unpublished Writers Seven Deadly Sins

by Therese Walsh

1. A weak concept. Let’s write a book about a guy and a girl and a dog, and love and a peach pie. And maybe an eye patch. Or not. A STRONG concept will not only increase the likelihood that you’ll be successful in the end, but it can actually help you to finish your wip. How? It’ll inspire you to sit and work on it for hours at a time. Like a body, prone and needing CPR, your manuscript needs your help. If you love it–really, really love it–and see value in it, you will keep breathing life into it until it starts breathing on its own.

2. No deadline. My kids’ school has asked my hubby and me to write a song as their new anthem. Cool, eh? They asked two months ago, and we’ve yet to work on it. I was joking with the secretary about it recently. “You should give us a deadline,” I said. “It’s all right,” she said, “you can’t rush creativity.” I smiled, shook my head. “Oh, you’d be surprised.” As someone who’s had the benefit of the hot-iron push of deadline, I’m here to tell you that it’s a truly motivating factor. But how to impose a deadline on yourself when there isn’t anyone waiting for the script on the other end, prod in hand, check in the other? You just do. You entrust an editor-like authority to those who understand your desire to reach The End–like a critique partner or buggy sister–and then let them use a pseudo-prod to bother you regularly. You mark your calendar with your deadlines–”finish part 1″…”wrap up first draft”–and you reward yourself when you meet the mark. Push yourself, and let others push you too. Don’t let your wip become an unsung song.

3. A bad critique group. Having a bad critique group can set you back even further than having a bad agent, because a bad group might mean the script is never finished in the first place. What makes for a bad group? No one knows anything more than you do. Snark (not Miss) tops the agenda at every meeting. Advice flies faster than the Wicked Witch’s gaggle of monkeys on a bad day. You edit your manuscript to please three people and set off three more. You wind up feeling utterly depleted, confused and strangely addicted to the experience–because you’re writing, after all, maybe more than ever, and people seem to want to read what you’ve written and– Stop. Set yourself free. Find some writers who you can trust and who can truly teach you something. About how to tell a good story. About the craft. About the business. And then learn and grow so that you can be an asset to them as well.

4. Relying overmuch on anyone but yourself. Even the best critique group in the world cannot write your manuscript for you. They cannot get you an agent, an editor, a contract or a check. Don’t expect them to, even if they have connections. Your writerly friends cannot and should not be expected to pat your hand and soothe your ego every time you hit a snag; there will be lots of snags, and you will burn out your valuable allies if you burden them with every one. So you dig deep. You take what you’ve learned and you find a way to become your own toughest critic and best cheerleader. And when things are very rough or when you have some joy to share, then you reach out. Writing can be a lonely occupation, but it will be less so if you listen first and foremost to your inner voice and the many voices of all the characters sprung to life on your pages.

5. Flying blind. I wrote my first novel-length manuscript without doing any craft work. I had James Frey’s How to Write A Damn Good Novel, II (not I) on my bookshelf because I felt cool having it there. But I didn’t crack it. I had books on publishing children’s books on my shelf too, but I’d never done much with those either. What I had was ego. I thought I knew how a story would unfold, so I let the characters take me on a wild journey. I learned, through writers’ loops, that I was a pantser. Cool, I thought; that’s my style, it’s how I’ll succeed. Or not. Because even though the agents I sent my script to liked my voice and many of my story’s elements, the plot itself was about as holey as a nine-year-old-boy’s socks after a season of baseball. (You know what I’m talking about.)

I have craft books now–30+ books on novel writing and screenplay writing: books to inspire, to churn ideas; to help with editing and block; easy-breezy reads and bicep-straining tomes–and I’ve read all or some of most of them. I try not to overdo it. I try to reach for these books only when I know I need the help, because I’m fearful of overwhelming the creative side of my brain with Too Many Rules. But the thing is, you need to know the rules if you’re going to play the game to win. Sure you can play the game without rules–you can even have fun doing it. But don’t be surprised if, at the end of the day, you find yourself swinging that bat alone, the others up and quit on you, sick of saying, “No, no! Second base is THERE!”

6. Not doing the hard edit. No one likes doing major edits. Wait. Can’t it work if X? Don’t you understand that his motivation is Y? Okay. It’s your story. You either see the need for work or you don’t. But if you have three people telling you they don’t understand your protagonist’s motivations, or that there’s no chemistry between a pair of would-be lovers, or that the plot skips like your dad’s old Star Wars album after you left it to bake on the dashboard of your car (oops), then you should really think about listening. And cracking one of those editing books. And doing a Hard Edit. You might not want to do it; in fact, you’d be a rare breed of writer if you did. You might even believe it would be easier just to quit and start another story all together–especially if this advice comes once you’ve finished a full draft. You might even be right. But if you love your story as you should (see rule 1), then you shouldn’t give up on it at the 11th hour. No one said this was going to be easy, and if they did you should go on and hit them with a cream pie or something. Right in the eyeball.

7. Quitting. I was torn about whether to list this one as “Not Believing” or “Quitting,” but really these vices go hand in hand. If you don’t believe in your story or your abilities as a writer, you will be more inclined to quit before you’ve finished your script or done the Hard Edit. If you feel you have compelling reasons not to believe in yourself–say you’ve received a rash of rejections lately, and none of them were favorable–you STILL can’t quit. Sorry; I’m not going to make this easy on you. It just means you’ve fallen victim to one of the deadly sins. Maybe you need more craft work or a new critique group or a better concept. Figure it out and keep going. Because EVERYthing you learn, EVERY critique you’re able to ingest without defense and grow from, EVERYtime you alone push yourself out of the dumps and carry on with your script, you become a better, stronger writer.

You cannot quit. You cannot. Not as long as you believe in your story and feel its pulse beneath your fingers. You cannot quit as long as you feel the drive in your gut to tell the tale. Because it will eat away at you if you do–until you dust off your notes and your keyboard, and try, try again.

I may not know much, but I know this.

Write on, all!

Thanks, Therese!

This article first appeared on Writer's Unboxed,

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Power On!

Empowerment may be in the Universal Consciousness, but do you know what personal power truly is – much less how to use yours?

You will!

Tune into Five Scribes on January 3rd when author Nancy Haddock will outline how to identify and use your own innate power every single day of 2011 and beyond!

Nancy Haddock writes light paranormal mystery romance for Berkley. La Vida Vampire hit national bestseller lists, and both La Vida Vampire and Last Vampire Standing were awarded 4½ stars from Romantic Times BookReviews magazine. Always the Vampire, her third book in the series, will be released in May 2011.

Nancy has been a speech & language pathologist, a high school teacher, a mentor, and has studied various disciplines, including Native American religion and Huna medicine. She hails from Oklahoma, lived in the Dallas area for many years, and now makes historic St. Augustine, Florida her home.

Stay tuned, I know I am, I can't wait!!  What a great way to start a new year.


Friday, December 17, 2010

End of the Road

I know I've been MIA, and I apologize. It seems the addition of a letter to my degree meant a time vacuum would form in my life. I've had less time than I've had time obligated, and I'm pretty sure this means I've missed a few potty breaks.

But it's over! I have officially passed all my classes, have received passes from my thesis advisers, and am on the schedule at January's residency to present my thesis. Zoinks! I'm nearly done, so close the speck of light at the end of the tunnel now looks more like an oncoming train.

I have to say, as much as I loved this program, I'm relieved. I've been doing this for three years now, longer than anticipated because of the shift to the better degree, and the last year especially has been quite a challenge. It's all been worth it, though. And even though I'm already quaking at the thought of standing in front of my peers and faculty to read from my thesis, I'm also ready to pass out.

It's the end of the road, but at the same time, the book's life is just beginning. I've just turned in the first round of edits based on discussion (namely about expanding the book into a series), and I know I'll have significant changes to make to it once my editor has made a pass through it. When I put my thesis into stasis at the library before I graduate, it'll be the end of the road in academia...for now. One day, I'd like to get my PhD. But shhhh. Don't tell my husband about this brilliant plan. School loans come due next month. ;)

I'm starting to think publishing is this big spiral of joy and omg edits are due and excitement and omg I have writer's block. School just primed that pump.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Have You Ever...

Watched a movie or read a book and just wanted to cradle your head in your arms because it was SO good and you want to write like that, convey that emotion so well, have that fantastic retort, make the perfect scene.

Dang, I have! 

I just watched a movie that made me so jealous.  I want to write like that. 

This wanting to be better, to make the screen come alive becomes an itch and I guess the only way to scratch it is to become a better I won't stop now.

Keep on learning, writing and maybe we'll reach that next pinnacle and someone else will bury their head on their arms and think...I want to write like that.

I hope so.

PS. I'm not telling you which movie I just watched :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Physical Proxies, Or How To Convey Emotion!!

Robert Gosnell, screenwriter, mentor, and teacher taught me an extremely important lesson one day after I was finished beating my head against the wall TRYING to figure out how to convey the right emotion...silently, without dialogue.  The use of physical proxies.

Believe me, this is NOT just a technique for screenwriters.

There's really no mystery to the concept of physical proxies, or anything new. It's simply a reflection of the old "show, don't tell" rule.

The first thing I try to incorporate into my screenwriting process, and I know many screenwriters do this, is an ability to watch the movie as I'm writing it. When I have emotional information I want to convey; the kind which would be delivered through narrative in a novel, I picture the scene, the characters and the interaction going on and ask myself how each character would translate that information through an action, a reaction, a look, a tone or dialogue subtext.

If it's going to come through dialogue, then I'm looking for subtext. I don't want a literal translation of emotion into words, I want to say it in subtext that is unique to that character's attitude.

Remember that scene from "Rocky" that I use in class, (LAS: watch Rocky and this scene) where Mickey, the Burgess Meridith character, goes to Rocky's little apartment, in hopes of talking Rocky into letting him be his manager?  I chose that scene to study, mostly because I wanted to demonstrate how to effectively keep a long scene interesting. That scene was more than seven minutes long. Seven minutes of dialogue. Theoretically, that should be death, yet the scene played beautifully. The conflict was set up earlier, when Mickey told Rocky he should retire, and took Rocky's locker away from him, giving it to an up-and-coming fighter. Now, he wants to be Rocky's manager.

What I also point out in this scene is how well it added complexity to Rocky's character, using irony and opposing traits. Here's where we get to the physical proxies. Mickey is following Rocky around the room, making his case, talking about his experience, showing Rocky pictures of young Mickey as a boxer.

And, what does Rocky do?  He keeps moving away from Mickey.  (LAS: Here is the physical proxy...the silent part, though it doesn't always have to be silent to use this technique) He throws darts at a dart board. He gets a beer from the refrigerator. He walks to his bedroom. Finally, when all else fails, he goes into the bathroom and closes the door.

Here's a big, tough, heavyweight fighter, and what is he doing? Avoiding confrontation. He keeps telling Mickey, "The fights set. I don't need no manager." But, we know what's really going on. Mickey gave up on him. Mickey told him to quit. Mickey hurt his feelings. You could see it, stirring around inside him. You knew the reason he was saying "no." Nobody had to tell us, because Rocky showed us. The only time it was really addressed was in Rocky's bedroom. Mickey follows him in and sees a poster of the heavyweight legend Rocky Graziano on the wall. He remarks that Rocky reminds him of Graziano. "You move like him. You got heart." Rocky replies, "Yeah, I got heart. But, I ain't got no locker, do I, Mick?"

Now, let's look at it from Mickey's point-of-view. Look at the action he takes to convince Rocky. He brings a picture of himself as a young fighter to show Rocky--who just remarks that he hasn't taken very good care of the picture.  Mickey relates exploits of some of his tough fights. He insists that Rocky needs him. Nobody has to tell us Mickey is desperate for this. We can see it in his demeanor. When Rocky finally goes into the bathroom and shuts the door in Mickey's face, you can see the fight go out of Mickey. You can see the defeat on his face and in his manner. He wearily rests his forehead against the bathroom door and mumbles..."I'm 76 years old." Subtext for "this is my last chance." From confident hope to desperation to defeat to utter resignation, all shown through his actions, reactions, subtext, facial expressions and body language.

Think of it as mime, if you like. Think of it as silent films. Ask yourself, "What if there is no sound? How can I show what my character is feeling?" If your character is well developed; well rounded, the right action for that character to express his inner feelings will be there. Rocky was a brute with a soft spot. Tough and crude, yet sensitive and vulnerable. Those conflicting traits going on inside him caused him to react to a given situation in his own unique, personal way. So, his "physical proxies" were his, alone.

Like I said, nothing really new, just a mindset to help express emotions visually.

Perhaps it's nothing new, but to me, a light bulb went off.  I hope this helps shine some light in your writing.

Thanks Bob!


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Message for Julia: A visit with Superromance Author Angel Smits

Dear Five Scribe Readers: I am pleased to bring you today the very talented Angel Smits. I have to qualify that I’ve known Angel for years, and have to share something she may not even know. I became her number one fan years ago, when as a new writer I attended Open Critique and Angel headed it up. She gave an allotted time for us to read, and before the time was up, someone started giving me feedback on my newby mistakes. Angel shushed the member, saying, “Quiet, I’m reading a really good story.”

Well, I read a VERY good story recently called A MESSAGE TO JULIA. Julia’s a lot like Angel in that she’s fearless, protective and entirely introspective. I’d like to share with you a review Angel recently received, and then I hope you’ll help me welcome Angel Smits to the Five Scribes.

Like many around the globe I sat glued to the TV as they brought up the Chilean miners after their long ordeal underground. A Message for Julia was timely beyond belief! I could picture Linc trying to fit in the small capsule just as the Chilean miners had to. You must have spent a ton of time researching this one. Based on what I saw and read on the Internet, Julia was extremely accurate.

I started reading this morning and just finished...I couldn't put it down! You have woven a terrific story with complex levels and touching, emotional content. Thank you. I love reading books that touch the heart the way this one did mine.

~~ Nancy Heubeck

D.B: Well, with that I could probably say interview over, go buy this book! But no, Angel’s mine for a few questions at least. ;) Welcome again, Angel. Now I know you’re a Colorado girl, but your story takes place in a fictitious place called Parilton, Pennsylvania and around the Winding Trail Mine. What inspired this story?

A.S.: Thanks, Donnell. What a great intro. You’re so good to me. And that story was really good. I remember that day. I’m really pleased to be here.

To answer your question, the story idea came while I was watching the news coverage of the Sago Mining disaster years ago. I remember a picture of a woman, one of the family members. Her face held so much pain and was streaked with tears, but still she was looking up, hoping to hear some type of news. She touched my heart. I so wanted to give her a happy ending. I couldn’t get her out of my head, and she became Julia.

The setting grew out of that idea. I picked Pennsylvania because the coal mines in West Virginia and Pennsylvania are still very active and are where the coal mining culture is located. We have mines here in Colorado and I know a lot just from my own family’s history, but the culture isn’t here. So I had to go find it.

D.B.: I’ll try not to give the entire plot away, but I picked up the book’s theme was all about understanding and forgiveness. Julia suffers a late term miscarriage, and after months of trying again, her husband Linc refuses to try alternate methods of conception. Along with their different upbringings, his refusal and Julia’s secrets drive them further apart. Unfortunately, it takes a mining disaster for both to put love into perspective. Do you agree with my perception?

A.S. I’d say you’re pretty astute. I think that’s a big part of any relationship that works and when people have hurt each other, as Julia and Linc have done, that’s the only things that can save them. Too often it’s human nature that we don’t “wake up” until something or someone smacks up upside the head.

D.B: The loss of a child storyline has been done. But in MESSAGE TO JULIA, the way you wrote it made me feel for both of these characters. You presented both their viewpoints brilliantly. Will you talk about the male/female point of view? Is this something that comes instinctively or do you struggle with it until you get it right?

A.S.: I used to think I wrote the female POV well and that I struggled with the male POV. That was a rather narrow way of thinking--you know since I’m a girl I’d automatically understand girls, right? So I started going to workshops to try and learn how to write from a guy’s point of view. I felt like I was getting a pretty good handle on it. Then something happened. My son started to write.

I’m part of a group that writes improv regularly and he joined. I’m biased, I know, but he’s pretty good. Listening to his stuff, it dawned on me that gender doesn’t matter. When my son wrote a scene where his hero (a werewolf) was heartbroken over the girl he was in love with, I just sat there in shock. First that my kid had written something so well, and second, that it was so heartfelt, and didn’t sound at all like a girl. Everyone really liked that piece. And I learned a lot. Yeah, guys say things differently, or have different body language, but inside? They hurt just like I do. They feel just like I do. It doesn’t matter if it’s male or female. It’s more about knowing that specific character well. Both mothers and fathers mourn the loss of a child. Since I started writing from Linc’s POV or Julia’s POV not his or hers, my writing’s gotten much better and clearer—and easier.

D.B.: Conflict between other characters is also something you do well. As I mentioned Julia, an only child, has a mind of her own. She’s protective of her students and isn’t thrilled when a seventeen year old quits school to work in the mine. Julia faces censure from the school board for interfering. Later, not only does the seventeen year old get trapped in the mine with Julia’s husband Linc, but the censoring school board member’s husband.

I pictured Angel Smits at her keyboard saying, I’ll put them together until they can play nice. But, wow, did you pull at readers’ heartstrings while doing it. Will you talk about conflict? You set it up so well between characters. And how did this thread in the story come to be?

A.S. Wow you are really going to put me through the paces, aren’t you? Conflict is what stories are about. I have heard Donald Maass talk several times and read his books. (Really great resources. If you don’t have them, get them. Study them.) He talks about heaping on the problems for your characters. Paint them into a corner. Keep asking yourself what more could happen? Additionally, don’t think of it as just one of those hectic days, but what more could happen that will be worst for THIS character. That’s how we are in real life, too, isn’t it? The hectic day eventually ends and you go home, but the painful issues follow you and eventually have to be solved.

Using Ryan seemed to fall naturally in place for me. Julia was a teacher and loved kids, but because of her miscarriage she quit teaching little kids and went to the high school, foolishly thinking that would be safer. Not a chance. I put her in a corner because older kids have even bigger problems sometimes. She couldn’t run away anymore.

D.B. I know that MESSAGE TO JULIA survived many drafts. I think you said that you used flashbacks originally. But I have to say I loved the way the scenes transitioned between the families in the makeshift waiting area to the miners trapped 200 feet below the surface. My heart lurched with every heading. Thursday afternoon, 4:00 p.m. to Thursday afternoon, Three and a Half Hours Underground, finally escalating to Saturday evening, 9:00 p.m. to Saturday Night, Fifty-Four and a Half Hours Underground.

Did you devise this, Angel? Or was this a collaboration of your editor?

A.S.: I have to give Paula Eykelhoff, one of my editors full credit for that idea. Yes, this book was originally written with the Everlasting Line in mind. But when it went defunct, I was still writing the book. Paula and I met at a couple different Romance Writers Conferences and she really liked the idea. We’d brainstorm and I’d come home and rework it. We did that four different times before they made an offer. She thought by actually marking the time, it would add to the tension. It did. It also made me stick really tightly to a timeline, which was a challenge but ultimately great for me the writer and the story.

D.B. You won the Golden Heart in 1996 so it’s no secret that you can write beautifully. But you have such lovely written passages throughout your book, such as…

Julia’s POV:

She nodded. On autopilot, she grabbed her purse and keys and closed the door. Settled in the passenger seat, she looked back at the house as Hank climbed in behind the wheel of her half-loaded car. It looked the same as it had just a few minutes ago--just as it had when she’d driven away on Friday, leaving Linc and it behind--and yet everything was different.

She was different. Numbness took over. Numb was good.

Linc’s POV:

“Zach convince you to write that letter?”

Linc chuckled. “Thinking about it.”

“Thinking don’t get it done.”

That was true, “You writing one?”

“Nope don’t have to.”


“Wrote one years ago, when I had my first heart attack. Left it in the safe deposit box. Shirley’ll find it when I’m gone one day.”

“What’d you say? How did you say goodbye?”

“I didn’t. I told her how much I appreciated having her, not how much I’d hate it without her. Think positive. Leave your wife with a light to see through the darkness. Don’t extinguish it by pointing out what’s hurting her.”

Linc stared at the older man. “How’d you get so wise down here in the bowels of earth?”

“Maybe talking to God near the devil’s playground gives you points.” Gabe whispered the words, and Linc knew he’d drifted off to sleep…

D.B.: I’d give my book away in a drawing, but it’s autographed. Plus, it was kind of soggy by this point. Well done, Angel. I have three final questions/comments before I let you go, because my questions take up three pages.

A MESSAGE FOR JULIA could be construed as political. There are some safety and ethical issues for these men who go down in the mines every day. Was that your intent? The way you delve into the topic is seamless. But I wanted your thoughts on the mining industry, and what you, yourself write, is one of the most dangerous industries.

A.S.: I didn’t start out to put in anything political, but I am drawn to a story that has an issue in it. This one grew organically out of the whole mining industry itself. As I researched and learned more, I realized that. Mining is one of the most perilous fields to work in. People die on a regular basis, and for what? Energy? To run our computers and hair dryers? And they aren’t getting rich doing it, either. Even our military gets hazard pay when they go into dangerous places.

Sadly, even the people within the industry itself don’t agree with each other, which fit perfectly in my story. There are regulations and equipment, like the shelter they had in the Chilean mine that can keep miners safer. Yet few mines have them in place, and there’s nothing to make them do it. Even public outcry has minimal effect.

D.B.: Will you talk about the timing of this book? I understand Harlequin puts out its books months to years in advance. How did you feel when the Chilean mining tragedy hit the airwaves and MESSAGE TO JULIA was on the cusps of release?

A.S. As I said, I started writing this right after Sago which was in 2006. Harlequin bought this book back in April, and at that time, slated it for the December release. Long before the Chilean mine. When Chili happened, we were all a little nervous. If things went bad, it could look pretty bad for the book. It was a little eerie as they were trapped and the stories started coming out. An older guy was the crew chief. One of the guys had a wife expecting a baby any minute now. I told my friends the only plot line I missed was the mistresses, which probably wouldn’t have played out well in a romance anyway.

Sadly, though, there are mining disasters all the time, they just don’t hit the major airwaves. Since Chile there have been at least two others, one in Australia and one in China. So it would have probably been more likely that there wasn’t one.

D.B.: Angel, you should be so proud of A MESSAGE TO JULIA. From my perspective I found your research flawless. My heart ached every time you wrote about the seven pings, and it soared at Seven Bells Consulting. I look forward to many, many more of your heart warming and inspiring books.

A.S. Thanks. It was definitely one of those books I’d call a gift book. It came to me and I so loved Linc and Julia. I’m glad to know others enjoyed it.

To learn more about Angel, check out her web page at For anyone who leaves a question or a comment for Angel, you will be entered in a drawing to receive A Message for Julia. We'll draw late Wednesday evening, so be sure to leave an e-mail or a way we can contact you to let you know you've won. Thanks for stopping by, and, Angel, thank you!

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Can’t Beat Subjectivity

Desperation and/or frustration send many writers to writers’ loops and to Google in search of a freelance editor. Which may or may not be a good thing depending upon the writer’s expectation.

Freelance editors charge anywhere from $4/page up to . . . I don’t know what, but it’s far from inexpensive. For a 350-page manuscript, that’s $1,400. And that’s on the cheaper side.

Anyone considering using a freelance editor must understand three key things that should help build realistic expectations for the experience. Firstly, there are no guarantees. It is HIGHLY unlikely that any freelance editor can guarantee that after having worked with her, you will produce a work that will definitely be bought. Not immediately or even in your lifetime. Too many unpredictable things go into the purchase of a book for ANYBODY to guarantee you that they can help you improve your book enough to sell it.

Secondly, you must consider your ROI—Return On Investment. Selling your book puts you in business. You have a commodity—your book, and you sell it to a publisher. You are going to give a freelance editor a LOT of money to help you whip your story and your writing into shape, but how much will you most likely sell that book for? The grim reality is that most authors are offered an advance of less than $10,000 on a first book—and more often the advance is closer to $3,000. If you paid the freelance editor $1,500 to help you whip your story into shape, you’ve eaten up most—if not all-- of your advance. Don’t forget the $3,000 is pre-tax dollars and the editor’s fee is post tax dollars.

Lastly and most importantly to keep in mind is the subjectivity element. You simply can not beat subjectivity. The publishing market is a very fluid entity, meaning that editors are constantly looking for something new and fresh that they think will be the “next big thing”. And each editor has different tastes. You could revise a story such that one editor thinks it’s absolutely perfect. But you give that exact same story to another equally qualified editor and I guarantee, she’ll want to see different things emphasized, and will have suggestions to improve the “perfect” edited work.

Now throw agents into the equation, because if you want to sell to a major publisher, you’ll need to get to the editors through the gatekeepers. The agents are another whole level of subjectivity. Another whole level of important people who may not agree with the edits your freelance editor felt were absolutely necessary.

So when considering employing a freelance editor, one needs to go into it with her eyes completely open to the reality of the situation. Sure, your freelance editor can open a few doors for you by recommending you to an agent or two. She can guide your story towards industry professionals who might enjoy it, but that’s still no guarantee. To not accept or downplay the importance of the truths of the three points above is a recipe for disappointment and bitterness.

I have used a freelance editor years ago and it worked out just fine. I did not get a publishing contract from the experience, however she was helpful to me. When we finished, her recommendation opened a few doors and got the work read by agents, however the agents had a different opinion of the story than my editor—and that’s okay. That’s just the nature of the business. You cannot beat subjectivity. You can’t.

What about you guys? Has anybody used a freelance editor before? What was your experience like?