Hey, this is Cheryl here, bringing you a great interview full of valuable tips and information, compliments of my friends at GumboWriters.com. Today's interview is with freelance editor John Paine. I feel obligated to add that for some writers, having their work edited can be very "paine-ful" (sorry--it just had to be said), but professional editing is a necessary process that separates great works from mediocre. With that said, please check out the interview. ~ Cheryl Kaye Tardif
GumboWriters: John, you've been in the business for a long time. How did you get started and what is it exactly that you do?
John: Not surprisingly, I started as an aspiring young writer. I decided at age 30 that I really didn't have the talent to be great, and I moved to New York to get an editorial position in publishing. I rapidly rose through the ranks and created a unique position for myself as a manuscript editor, or a house doctor. That's because those years of writing gave me a good intuitive feel for what writers try to get done in their stories. For 20+ years I have been helping authors both with large-scale story structure and with line-by-line, intensive editing. Depending on the project, especially in the field of nonfiction, I have served as virtually a ghostwriter.
Tell us the difference between line editing, copy editing, development editing, and what would you say is your forte?
Actually, the ranking is developmental editing, line editing, and copy editing. Developmental editing consists of helping authors to direct their characters and their plots to become stronger. I usually write page-specific notes that amount to roughly 15-20 pages, giving suggestions for new scenes, what scenes might be cut for better pacing, where more character background might be inserted, and which scenes might be moved around for a solid, building story. Line editing is what it sounds like: using a pencil line by line to prune and add to an author's text so that every sentence is crisp, using action verbs and effective sentence stem-dependent clause structure. As a former writer, I often write in phrases, sentences, or paragraphs to make sure the scene doesn't turn in unexpected directions that lose the reader. Copy editing is much more minor, consisting of a grammar, spelling, and punctuation check. A good copy editor will also help with sentence smoothness.
Why should a non-fiction editor write a book proposal first? And is that something you can help them with?
Today 95% of nonfiction books are sold through proposals. These are selling documents that give an outline of why an editor should buy the book. They come in pieces that are fairly standard, although proposals do not follow a strict template. They should contain an opening overview roughly 3-5 pages long that should capture an editor's attention right away. An author bio section is necessary, because most nonfiction authors are also speakers or have media contacts that will help sell the book. A competition section, with five or so competing books, lets the editor know (1) there is a market for your book and (2) why your book is different from what's out there. A section that contains a summary of each chapter is a vital part, because that's where you can show what the book will actually contain. Finally, 1-3 sample chapters are provided to provide a glimpse of your style, since a vast difference exists between a popular self-help book and a serious academic work. And yes, I do write (and sell) proposals regularly, as you might have been able to guess by now.
Why should writers work with you when they have thousands of other choices? What makes you so special, John?
I think there are many good editors, at least the ones who have New York publishing experience or the equivalent. My own approach is to keep the author in the driver's seat as much as possible. That means using constructive criticism that is politic in making its points. I like being nice, and I seek a good rapport with an author. I think I give sound advice, both for large-scale plot issues and for character enhancements. I know I'm an excellent line editor, because that's how I established my reputation in the first place. Judging by now many authors come back to me for their later books, I believe I provide a service that genuinely helps them learn how to write books. Finally, a word of caution to authors: Beware of these guys hanging out on the Net; a lot of their backgrounds aren't even close to being acceptable. Everybody is a self-appointed critic in the world of writing, so look closely at their credentials.
Is there anything wrong with having an editor edit your work before you send it to an agent or an editor? Is that cheating?
Seeking help as a writer is a wise decision most of the time. Seeing the forest for the trees in a book is probably the most difficult decision-making area in the arts. There are just so many words. In my profession, what often happens is that a writer who uses me the first time experiences a marked learning curve, one that tapers off in the second and third books as he or she applies the structural/character-building methods that I have taught them. By the fifth or so book, if you've been paying attention, you don't need an editor anymore. I know for a fact that agents like authors who have shown true desire by hiring an editor before they make their submission.
Won't agents and editors be disappointed that you didn't come up with the brilliant manuscript by your own doing?
Publishing is a business, by and large. If you are the next Norman Mailer or Alice Munro, you aren't going to hire an editor anyway. You'll be making those editorial decisions yourself. But that includes less than 1% of all writers. If you're writing for the popular market, an agent or editor is less worried about your artistry than your ability to keep readers on the edge of their seat.
Are there any famous or successful authors who work with editors before submitting their work to their agents or editors?
The more famous the author, the less editing he or she will accept. You could call it the diva equation. That's not to say they wouldn't benefit by editorial help, but they're fawned upon by their publishers, and they're making millions, so why should they bother?
Who are some of the best-known authors you've worked with?
I have worked with dozens of well-known authors. Anyone who is interested can visit my website, johnpaine.com.
How many books or book proposals would you say you've worked on that have ended up being sold? And what are some of your favorites (i.e., most well-known)?
Every year I help roughly 10 authors sell their books. I also work for publishers, so that number is doubled, in terms of published books I edit annually. I take a lot of pride in what I do, and I don't work on books that I don't think have a chance of being published. This summer, on the fiction side, I helped a debut author sell his psychological thriller, and that gave me a great deal of satisfaction, because he is so talented. On the nonfiction side, I helped turn a doctoral thesis into a history book that was bought by Harvard University Press, and that also was a challenge that gave me a great deal of pleasure.
How much do you charge for your services? Will authors have to re-mortgage their house to pay for it? Do you take payments?
It depends on the book. A ballpark figure is $10 per double-spaced manuscript page. I work in phases anyway, so a payment system is already built in. I'll charge for the read and initial editorial letter; then a retainer; the developmental edit; and the line edit. I will work out a payment schedule if needed, but obviously I'd prefer that the invoices be paid in full.
If we're interested in using your services, what is the first step and how does the process work?
The first step is to visit my website: johnpaine.com. That serves as my resume, so an author can check my credentials. The last page on the site has a contact sheet. I ask that an author send a 1-2 page synopsis plus 25 pages of the book so that I can evaluate whether he or she really should be spending money on me. I then call the author for a preliminary discussion of the book, plus my editing procedures, fees, timing, etc., at no cost. If the author decides to go ahead, the first step is my reading the entire manuscript and then a phone call to discuss which directions the editing might take, followed by a written editorial report. Along with that is an estimate for the entire edit, with fixed maximums for the different stages of editing.
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