By Chris Eboch
If you’ve been in many critique groups, you might recognize the following characters.
- The Grammarian. She doesn’t have a lot to say about the content of your work, but she’ll circle every typo in red pen and may insist you follow strict grammar rules that have long since gone out of date.
- The Mouse. You can’t tell whether or not she likes your work, because she never voices an opinion, preferring to hide behind the excuse that she’s not experienced enough to offer feedback.
- The Perpetual Beginner. This person truly isn’t experienced enough to offer feedback, and never seems to improve. This type can be divided into The Rut, who brings in the same manuscript over and over without ever making substantial changes (despite all your thoughtful advice) and The Hummingbird, who throws away a manuscript as soon as it’s gotten one negative comment, preferring to work on something else.
- Father Knows Best. He always has an opinion, which he voices clearly and often. He prefers to discuss how he would write the story if it were his own, not the author’s vision.
- The Bully. She or he (other characters are typically one gender or the other, but this one and the next can go either way) enjoys tearing apart your manuscript. No suggestions, just criticisms bordering on insults.
- The Cheerleader. She or he loves everything you do! This is gratifying, especially when you are doubting your talent, but not particularly helpful in identifying weak spots.
All these characters have one thing in common. They don’t really help you improve your work.
Critique groups can be great. At their best, they are both a source of emotional support and a way to get thoughtful, detailed suggestions about your writing. If you have one of those groups, remember to say thank you (perhaps with hugs and chocolates). But most writers aren’t that lucky. Beginners in particular may find it hard to join a serious, experienced critique group, as often the best writers want to work with other professionals, not spend their time teaching beginners for free.
This is when hiring an editor can help. You can work with an experienced professional who will prioritize your work because it’s a job. If someone is paying me $400 to critique a novel, I’m going to devote my time to getting it done well and quickly. I’ll dig deep and be as tough – but helpful – as I can be. For example, I’ve critiqued a couple of picture book manuscripts that seemed excellent on the first read. But because I was getting paid, I settled down for a second and third close read, analyzed the structure of the material, and came up with several suggestions that I – and the authors – thought would make the manuscripts even better.
My novel critique letters typically run five or six single-spaced pages, with comments broken down into categories such as Characters, Setting, Plot (Beginning, Middle, and End), Theme, and Style. As much as I love my critique group members, I don’t have that kind of time to spend on them.
It’s tempting to stick with trading manuscripts for free, and you may get some excellent feedback that way. But there comes a time when you need professional help. You might ask a friend to help you bandage a scraped knee, but if you have a bone sticking out of your leg, you’re going to the hospital. When it’s serious, professional experience counts, so if you are serious about your writing, find professional editors.
When is it time to hire a professional editor? First, keep in mind that most successful authors do a minimum of five major rewrites, and many say they do up to 20 revisions. Assuming you don’t want to hire an editor for each draft, do what you can on your own first. Use some of the many tools available for analyzing your work. I developed my Plot Outline Exercise to help authors analyze their work for everything from conflict to character arc to subplot balance. The Plot Outline Exercise is available on my Kris Bock website as a free download, and it’s also in my book Advanced Plotting with more explanation and resources.
Other options are the Complications Worksheet or the Goal, Motivation, Confict, Tension tips on the Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing blog, and books such as Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon, and Novel Metamorphosis, by Darcy Pattison. Once you’ve dealt with the big picture and want to improve your style, I love Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.
You can also get feedback from family and friends at this point. Don’t take their comments too seriously (family and friends can fall into the same categories as the critique group members mentioned above), but ask them to mark any place they were bored, confused, or disbelieving. Then if you have a critique group, let them tackle the work.
Your manuscript should have improved a lot, but still, consider getting a professional review before you send your work to editors or agents so you make the best possible impression. If you aren’t convinced you really need professional help, do a trial run, sending a half dozen queries out to see what kind of response you get. I’ve had several clients come to me after querying, getting requests for partial manuscripts, and then not having the editor or agent request the full. This is a good indicator that the idea may be strong, but the writing isn’t there yet.
And if you’re planning to self publish, hire an editor long before you start worrying about cover art and distribution. Start with a content editor who can help you shape the story. Finish up with a copy editor or proofreader who can make sure your work won’t annoy those readers who notice every misplaced comma. Indie publishing is great (I’ve explored it myself with my romantic suspense), but you’re on your own, so give yourself the same advantage that traditionally published authors have – get an editor.
If you’d like to know more about my editing work, stop by my website. I provide content editing for fiction and nonfiction for all ages. Novels are $1.50 per page, minimum $100. I write a 4-6 page editorial letter with advice on plot/character/flow/style, plus comments on the manuscript. Picture books, short stories or articles under 1200 words are $40.
Chris Eboch’s book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots and is available in print or e-book on Amazon or B&N. Learn about Chris’s children’s books at www.chriseboch.com or visit her Amazon page or B&N page. Check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog. Chris also writes romantic suspense for adults under the name Kris Bock. Visit her website or see Kris Bock’s books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.
Websites: www.krisbock.com or http://www.chriseboch.com for children’s books
Facebook: Kris Bock Author Page
Blog focused on the craft of writing: Write Like a Pro!
Chris Eboch’s profile photo by Sonia Sones.
I realize that not every editor/proofreader is perfect for every writer. This is why I am presenting the series, Editor Spotlight. If you know an editor or proofreader who would like to participate, ask them to contact me at karenselliott AT midco DOT net. The Editor Spotlight series will be presented throughout the next several months in between my regular blog posts and special theme weeks. – Karen S. Elliott
Editor Spotlight – Heidi Thomas
Editor Spotlight – Shawn MacKenzie
22 responses to “Editor Spotlight – Chris Eboch”
Great post. I know authors who have encountered each of your characters. Choices and decisions about whether or not to remain in the group vary.
I personally cannot imagine being part of a critique group. These characters would drive me nuts and give me heartburn. A writer needs an editor. It is one of those special relationships, almost like being a counsellor, priest, or sacred confidant. Hats off to editors.
First, a great article and needed series Karen. Secondly and strictly from the outside looking in, I think a writer, especially a new one needs to know what they want, what to expect, and what they are going to get from an editor. I think there is confusion about what the editor role is sometimes. Wiping away that confusion at the onset goes a long way for both the writer and the editor then there are no unrealistic expectations on the part of the writer and minimal surprises when they get their edited manuscript back. Great post!
Thank you, all. ontheplumtree, interesting comparison between editor and priest. Could be a blog post there!
DiAnne, that’s a great point about knowing what to expect. I had one client come to me after working with a different editor. She said she paid a lot of money and only got copyediting comments. She had a good draft, but it needed some major work before it was ready for that kind of polish. Some editors will do five or 10 pages as a free sample. I don’t do that, but I will share an example of a critique I have done for someone else (identifying details removed) so a potential client knows how much — and what kind — a feedback she’ll get.
One thing I’ve found very interesting, 95 percent of my clients are enthusiastic about the critique, even if it means they have lots of work yet to do. (The remaining five percent haven’t disagreed with my advice, they just haven’t necessarily wanted to do that much work.)
I think that’s one advantage to charging for critiques — people who are willing to spend several hundred dollars expect to get serious feedback, not just compliments. People don’t always take the advice as seriously when they get it for free.
Chris – Thank you so much for this remarkable post! You’ve passed along such concrete tools to better my writing. Can’t wait to see you at Summer Conference. XO! Edie
This has also been a lesson for me, Chris. I need to re-work my services and fees page! Not only a great post, but great comments.
Hi, Edie, thanks for stopping by!
Karen, you make strong, clear promises on your “Hire Me” page. What ideas do you have for changes?
I’m buying “Advanced Plotting” on Amazon as I type this. Doggone, Girl! You’re good! I will pay your editing fees any day for an edit of my mss. Recommeded Read:
“Framed” by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Hysterical! XO! Edie
Edie – good choice! And I hope you follow Write Like a Pro! blog by Chris. Fabulous stuff over there.
Chris – Though I feel that my editing work is fabulous (ahem), I think I might be over-priced in today’s e-pub market. Many prospective clients are self-published (working people) and do not have a lot of money to toss into an edit or even a “simple” proofread. As I have told many clients, I cannot simply proofread! I must let the writer know if I find sagging plots, poorly-written characters, stumbling segues, blah dialog, over-use of adjectives and adverbs, etc. I am in brainstorming mode with a few of my clients to determine if I need to amend proofreading and editing fees.
It’s a tough position, Karen. I have no doubt that you’re worth your price. However, proofreading gets quite expensive for a full length adult novel. The only way I’ve been able to get professional proofreading for my self-published books is by working out a trade. I’m sure if you can find a way to lower prices and still make a living, you’d have grateful clients.
Thumbs up to all that, Chris!
I’ve used Karen to proofread/edit my blog posts, and she’s worth every penny. Not only does she save me from embarrassing myself, but her gentle, but clear, feedback makes me a better communicator. I do understand that someone needing a whole novel done might have trouble with the total cost.
Chris, you’ve done all writers a service in helping them be clear about what to look for in an editor.
Karen your series is so, so valuable in shining a spotlight on these talented editors and the various ways in which they ply their craft.
Thank you Elizabeth. I am glad you are enjoying the editor blogs. Me too!
I still refer to the notes I took in Chris’s workshop at the Kansas City SCBWI con. This post made me laugh as my mind automatically slotted the people of my crit group into the various categories, but it is still amazing the ideas and brainstorming that can get done. And there is something to be said for support, even if it is only emotional. I have to say that there is the rare crit partner who isn’t afraid to be brutally honest, tell you the potential they see, and make you a better writer for it. Those are the ones I never take for granted, and I always feed them.
Thanks for the post!
Hi, Heather. I actually prefer brutal honesty and giving it to me hard, than the “wee! how wonderful.” Feed the editors, but watch your fingers. 🙂
Thanks, Elizabeth and Heather. I agree that you’re lucky if you can find the rare crit partner who is brutally honest — not because they are trying to be brutal, but because they’re not afraid to push you hard, if they also have experience and insight. I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple of those, and I’d cringe in preparation for the critiques, because I knew it would be tough and require a lot of work, but also be exactly right.
And having a few cheerleaders in your life is a wonderful thing too! We all need those, so long as we also have some tougher types to keep us realistic.
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I enjoy critique groups, but all the voices can be overwhelming. I’m leaning more toward one voice – a paid editor – when I finish my revisions. This series has helped a lot. Thanks Chris and Karen.
Critique groups can be hard if you get conflicting advice, Stacy. Multiple opinions can also be an advantage, so you know what is individual bias and what is a larger problem. I’m working with one student and I feel her voice is not appropriate for the age/gender of the character. She disagrees. I’ve encouraged her to get additional feedback from people of that age/gender and hopefully that will sort out the problem. Critique groups can also be a good starting point to iron out some of the questions and concerns, so your time with a paid editor is more effective (and if they charge by the hour, cheaper).
On the other hand, some people feel confused or overwhelmed by different opinions and then find it hard to keep going or even lose enthusiasm for the project. This may be a sign of a poor critique group fit, or it may just be that some people have trouble processing and trusting/ignoring conflicting advice.
Whether with a critique group or a paid editor, ultimately you have to make the final decisions on your project.
Age or gender of a character … I have read numerous books that (I felt) mis-spoke for a child’s character or a teen character. It makes me assume that they never listened to children of that age or teens at all before completing their novel. I also read a novel recently that had a character of a certain group of challenged individuals. Having worked for five years with these challenged individuals, I KNEW that a few of the thoughts in the book were wrong. Reinforces “do your research.”
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