|Editor Mollie Traver|
Part of the Indie Authors Series
JH: Part One of my Q&A with freelance editor Mollie Traver is available here where we discuss her time at St. Martin’s Griffin, the different types of editing and how she made the transition from Big Five editor to freelancer.
Purely by chance, Mollie and I reconnected at the perfect time for both of us: She was launching her editorial business and I was in need of a topnotch professional. I'd just worked with an editor who'd offered good work in the past, but this time they rushed the proofing and it went bad in a heartbeat. Bad like me receiving a note from a NY Times bestselling author, who'd I'd ask to blurb the first book in my Chandler Steele series, kindly informing me there were typos in the finished manuscript. Same with one of my critique partners who reported there were no less than ten typos in the first twenty-five pages.
Ugh. (I used much stronger language than this.)
Simultaneously I was in contact with St. Martin's (who published my first four Demon Trappers books) on a separate matter and learned that Mollie was no longer with the publishing house. A bit of GoogleFu located her on Facebook and I asked if she was editing freelance. I rejoiced when the answer was yes. Since then she's offered full editorial control on the Chandler Series (developmental edits all the way through) as well as editing and proofreading for a number of other projects, including the last three books in my Demon Trappers series.
So let's dig in....
For indie authors, what do you feel is the best way to find a qualified freelance editor? Certainly word-of-mouth is important, but how else can they the locate the best editor for their type of work?
First of all, serious kudos to you, writer, for getting to this stage! This probably means you’ve been working so hard on your book alone in your writing cave for months or years, possibly foregoing sleep, social activity, and/or Netflix nights, and now you’re ready to share it. Finishing a book (a) and taking it seriously enough to seek professional guidance (b) are both huge accomplishments.
Jana mentioned word-of-mouth, so I’ll just add that one of the best ways to find a trusted editor is to seek out authors you may not know in person but whose work you like and just ask them who they’ve worked with. Consider targeting indie authors, rather than traditionally published, who are more likely to have hired independent contractors for their books, and shoot them a Facebook message, tweet, or email.
I think most authors would be happy to answer this question. Many editors, like me, work solo, and you can find us by searching for “freelance editor [your book’s category]” and checking out their websites, making sure they have some testimonials and a collection of work displayed. But since that can feel like a shot in the dark, I also recommend checking out some editor collectives/companies online, where the editors are sure to be vetted and have real publishing experience. Some examples: NY Book editors, Kirkus Reviews editing services, Reedsy, the Editorial Freelancers Association.
What is the ballpark range one should expect to pay for editorial services?
I recommend visiting the website of the Editorial Freelancers Association, and their rates chart. This chart is not a rule by any means, but it at least gives you an idea of what some editors base their fees on. The range can be huge these days, but you might expect to pay roughly $5-10/page for a development edit, and $3-7/page for a copy edit (the industry standard for one page is 250 words). The first thing to find out from an editor is how they charge—either hourly or by the word/page. I much prefer a fixed project fee, which I base on the word count, as I think this takes the anxiety and guesswork out for the author, but if an editor you’re interested in working with does charge hourly, ask what their estimated number of hours is for the project and if they have any provisions for going way over that estimate.
We formed a partnership years ago, one based on mutual respect, which meant working with you as a freelance editor didn't have any start-up problems. However, for those who have just hired an editor, what's the best way to establish a solid working relationship?
I love this question! As much as I’m passionate about reading, I think my favorite part of being an editor has always been forming relationships with my authors. Being there as a helping hand or listening ear, advising on next steps, problem-solving together on a tricky edit. I think this relationship can be a fun mix of friend, partner, and client, and once I work with an author, I can’t help but feel invested in their career. It’s a type of service and business that, the more you give, the more it gives back. Because I feel this way, and understand that it requires a lot of trust to delve into one’s writing, I always try to communicate in a warm, friendly, cozy way right off the bat. And I love it when an author responds in kind.
If you are not a person who finds email the most comfortable place, then by all means, ask your (prospective) editor if you can get on the phone to set up that early dynamic—putting a voice to a name can be a wonderful way to establish a closer working relationship. Better yet, I use FaceTime with my authors more and more these days—it makes the world feel just a little bit smaller. Always feel free to ask questions—get specific about what an editor is going to do for you, how they work, and on what timeframe. There are no dumb questions—seriously. I recommend kindness and patience always (though that’s more of a life ethos than simply an editing one), but since this is also a business, involving your own time and money, you want to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your editorial experience, which brings me to the next question . . .
What if there is an issue? How should an author approach an editor to let him/her know this isn't working?
I can’t recommend open communication enough. Like authors, freelance editors often work in isolation—we don’t always have colleagues or thought partners to help us gauge how we’re doing. So I really love receiving feedback from my authors—some of it is great feedback (I call these love letters, and I write them to all my authors too), and some of it is constructive process feedback, and I’ve only become a better, more thoughtful editor thanks to both kinds. One of my authors told me once that, though she was finding all my constructive manuscript comments spot-on, she wondered if I could actively add in more positive comments too, just to keep her motivated as she revised and help her understand what NOT to change. As obvious as this may sound, this was a lightbulb moment for me; I had assumed she knew that everything I wasn’t commenting on was perfect and awesome, but this is communication by omission, and it’s rarely as effective as pointing out specifics. My growth as an editor is never done, and your editor’s shouldn’t be either. If something isn’t working well for you, I suggest you begin with a warm, polite email opening up the topic (moving to the phone if the situation calls for it)—and remember that your editor is also a human, and probably isn’t doing it on purpose (grin).
What are the most common mistakes you see authors make in terms of their writing?
This is a tough one to answer briefly here—not because I want to list lots of mistakes, but because I think it’s so personal to each author and book. But overall, I often see problems with authors trying to do too much, plot-wise and time-wise. It’s a common temptation to bite off a ton as an author, having your book span months or a year when the story itself requires less time (which can lead to lots of boring summary), or having a huge ensemble cast that can’t all be developed satisfactorily in the space they have, or a hyper-complex plot involving two different villains, and often two or more different central conflicts. I often have conversations with my authors about the big picture first—narrowing in on the most important central story of their novel, what the character wants/needs/is trying to prevent, and then making sure all the other elements of the book are contributing in some important way. It might be super fun to write scenes with your funny side-side character, but if they’re not advancing the main story in some way, consider saving him for your next novel, where he can really shine.
Besides manuscript editing, you also offer your expertise for Agent Queries. What's the standard now? One page, two pages? How much of a sample should an author send along (depending on submission guidelines)?
This is another huge topic that’s difficult to touch on briefly (I’ve taught hours-long workshops on it!), but bottom line, I recommend carefully perusing each agent’s submission guidelines on their website and following those to the letter. If the agent’s website asks for a ten-page sample, send that; if they ask for the first three chapters, send that. I know it can seem like you’re jumping through a lot of hoops to give agents what they want, but it’s important to remember that they’re considering tens of submissions a day and removing all barriers for them while they’re reading yours will help your cause. In terms of letter length, I recommend about a manuscript page (double-spaced) for fiction, or less—not too much more. Many agents put great information on their sites about how to write a query letter (check out Irene Goodman Literary Agency, as an example), and you can also find helpful ideas at sites like Writers Digest.
Any other words of wisdom?
Keep going, keep going, keep going! My favorite college writing mentor once told me that you should only call yourself an author once you can cover your entire fridge with rejection letters—an exaggeration perhaps, but the idea is a good one, that being an author requires writing AND sharing your writing, not just the first thing. (He went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction a few years ago, so he must know something.) And partner up—join a writing group, or just find one person who likes the kind of book you’ve written and whose opinion you trust. I often recommend to authors that they get “beta reads” of their manuscripts before I see them—your reader might not be a professional, but they’re something just as important: a member of your audience. Get their off-the-cuff impressions, and use those to guide your revision before you pay money to get it critiqued professionally.
Thank you for your time and your insights, Mollie. Where it is daunting to receive lengthy developmental edits of my manuscript—the one for KILLING GAME was nine pages single spaced, working through Mollie’s in-depth analyses kept my stories on track and didn’t let me get lost in the details. Over the many years, I have found that an experienced editor can make the difference between a decent book and one that blows the readers away. Fortunately, I’ve had the privilege of working with one of the best.
And if you wish to see Mollie and I in action, we’ll be meeting up once again at the Georgia Romance Writer’s Moonlight and Magnolias Conference in Atlanta (October 2018). Hope to see some of you there.
If you have questions for Mollie, please feel free to leave them here.
Best known for her young adult Demon Trappers series, she writes what intrigues her, and spends a good deal of time fretting about whether demons actually exist.
When not wandering around the internet researching exorcisms, or posting on social media (eerily similar, those two), Jana can be found in Atlanta with her very patient husband, and a rapidly dwindling collection of single malt Scotch.
Jana Oliver | Chandler Steele | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads |
About Cat's Paw
Because of the Russian mobster, Morgan Blake lost both her husband, and her career at the FBI. Now working with Veritas, she's eager to take Buryshkin down. So eager, she's willing to do anything to make that happen, even sacrificing a certain ex-con, if needed.
As a load of tainted cocaine hits New Orleans' streets, the body count quickly rises. To prevent more deaths, and a potential drug war, Morgan and Alex must learn that revenge comes at too high a price, and that love always has its own agenda.
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