Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Question Asked & Answered - How can I help you help me?

I occasionally get asked questions with answers that should be shared with other people. This is one of those times.

Andy asked, "I'm writing a manuscript (disclosure - I will one day have it done and send it to you), until it's done, what are the best things I can do (editing, preparation, etc) to make your future job easier?"

This is a common question. And I know a lot people who edit-as-they-write, either over the course of each sentence as they write it, or at the end of a spurt of writing when they can sit down and go through the day's pages. I'm not always sure which is "better", since both can be either helpful (in catching simple mistakes) or detrimental (they're stall tactics to keep you from finishing or they're just ways to heap a sense of failure onto your shoulders), but assuming that whatever you're doing is working for you, there are other things you can do to make my life (and whatever editor you work with) easier.

Behold, a list.

1. Check your spelling. This is the easiest step, and probably the one most avoided. The majority of programs now provide you with very happy red squiggles under a word for a reason, and even if the dictionary is inaccurate, take the time to make it accurate. It's one less obstacle to overcome and one more 'check mark' in the professional column for you.

2. Ask questions. If you're going to blind-submit to me (which is totally an option, but I can almost guarantee you it will be an exercise in patience for you), or if you're planning on submitting work, make sure you've asked some questions. What questions? These:

  1. What format would you (the editor) like to receive the manuscript in?
  2. How would you (the editor) like to be paid?
  3. In what format will I (the author) receive feedback?
  4. When can I (the author) expect that feedback?
  5. What sort of comments should I expect to see as feedback?
  6. Is there some sort of contract or agreement we make/sign for this?  
Yes there are loads more questions, I just gave you the first 6 that popped into my head as the first 6 I usually see or reply to. By asking these questions, and actually paying attention to the answers (more on that in a minute) a relationship between author and editor is built and the product of that relationship will be (hopefully) an improved manuscript.

3. Follow instructions. The majority of rejections and ignored manuscripts occur not because the work wasn't any good, but because the submitter didn't follow whatever directions necessary when sending the submission wherever they sent it. If you can't follow directions, then the editor/author relationship is not going to go well. This is not said so that you think all editors are dictators bent on ruining your work, but so that you're aware that the reason there are submission guidelines is often NOT arbitrary and often VERY important.

Now if you don't know what you need to do or need to send for a submission, ask. It may take extra time (an extra email, for example), but it will be worth it.

For example, here are my guidelines:

  1. Digital submissions preferred, older Word formats especially welcomed.
  2. No Mac .pages or similar. Also, no PDFs. 
  3. If you have to print it out, DO NOT bind your manuscripts.
  4. If you have to print it out, DO NOT expect your printed manuscript returned to you in the pristine state you send it.
  5. When you send your manuscript, include in your email at least 2 ways to contact you (phone, social media).
  6. When you send your manuscript, include also the word count, title and genre.
That's it. Why do I ask those things? Here's why.

1. I have several old computers that I work from. They do not all have the newest version of Word installed.
2. I no longer own a Mac (it's on the list to-be-bought)
3. On a print manuscript, I go through and write on/all over the pages. I need access to the individual pages.
4. I write on things. A lot.
5. I need to know how to reach you, and don't like playing just email or phone tag.
6. I need to know what you're planning to do with the manuscript, because that helps me know how to help you improve it.

(Fred Hicks really turned me onto this idea of transparency, and I'm really making an effort to be better at that, in addition to my on going efforts to mind my tone and be a good representative of myself, my business and my clients.  It's an addictive, positive thing.)

4. Pay. There are bills to pay. This is my job. Writing your book may not be your only full-time job, but editing IS my only job. Prompt payment is appreciated. (Note: I know times are tough, if money is tight or could become tight, the best policy is to TALK ABOUT IT, and make it a non-issue. I personally am a lot happier and more comfortable knowing that it might be an extra week or two for that check to arrive if I know in advance.)

5. Respect is a two-way street. When I take you on as a client, even if we disagree over something in the manuscript (like I think you should change a verb or flip something around and you think I should go lick an outlet), I'm not going to jump online and air our problems out for people to hear. Likewise, in the event that the money gets tight, or it's been a while since you cut me a check, I'm not using this blog to out you as some kind of non-paying ne'er-do-well. I respect you, and protect our relationship. Do the same for me.

6. Understand that I am going to talk about our successes. When things are rocking and good, I'm going to talk about it. I'll hop on Twitter and talk about the great day or how much I enjoy the work we're doing. And when the manuscript becomes a book and people can go buy it, I'm definitely going to talk about it.

Example: See this? I worked on this. It's awesome. And you should buy it, because I know of no other story where a spunky heroine waps a raptor with a wrench.

The same is true for any promotional work you do, or any crowd-sourcing efforts. I will back your Kickstarter, tell my friends and family about the project(s), and generally drum up good buzz. It's a good thing. I'm not doing this to call you out or put you on the spot, it's what I do to help OUR project succeed.

7. Do your best. A lot of people think an editor's job is to take whatever tangle of words you put on paper, in whatever form, and build a successful book/game/website/presentation/whatever from it. True, yes, I can do that, given enough time and with enough planning. But that's not what my job is - if it was, I'd just be writing FOR you, which I'm so not doing. Now, I'm not going to be petty and say "If you don't do a good job, I won't either", because that's exactly the behavior I'm looking to avoid, but I cannot stress that if you want me to take you seriously and professionally, then you need to do your best. Write your best, even if that's not perfect. Put together the best story you can. If there are imperfections or holes or problems, admit them up front so we can work on them. Don't half-ass this. Don't quit either.

If you do those seven things, the editor/author relationship thrives. And I agree with the prevailing sentiment that the relationship should be a collaborative one, not one where the editor goes for the jugular and breaks the writer down no matter who they are. That's not healthy. That's not writing. That's power-tripping. And it smacks of not-actually-knowing-what-the-craft-and-point-of-writing-and-editing-is-ness.