Monday, May 24, 2010


Rhonda Browning White

As professional editors, we hear it all the time.

“I paid Editor X four hundred dollars, (or a thousand dollars, or fifty bucks) to edit my manuscript, and I’m still getting rejections. The agents are telling me it still needs a lot of work. Have I been scammed?”

It breaks our hearts, but we have to answer, “Yes. You have.”

A professional edit of your work is an investment. It’s an investment in your manuscript, in your reputation as a writer of excellence, and in your career as a published (or soon-to-be-published) author. Hence, you want to select the best editor possible for your work. But in a world of scam artists, or even well-meaning acquaintances who offer to edit your work for a few bucks, how do you decide which editor to trust with your manuscript?

In this two-part essay series, I’ll address some of the questions you should ask of potential editors and the answers to seek before you hand over your manuscript (and your money).

  • Determine what kind of editing your manuscript (book, novel, novella, short story, chapbook, etc.) needs. Do you need simple proofreading by a qualified professional? Do you need a full edit with feedback on active voice, characterization, plotting, pacing, and other important story elements? Do you need more in-depth assistance, such as a complete re-write to restructure or round-out your story, or to act out (show) the scenes that are written in a telling fashion? Do you have a basic outline and completed research, but you need a professional writer to ghostwrite your story? In addition to the edit, do you want post-edit assistance, such as help preparing a proposal, query letter or synopsis? Or do you simply need a professional read-through analysis where a qualified editor will study your manuscript and make overall suggestions or offer direction for improvements you can make on your own? Once you know what you need, you can search with confidence for the right candidate for the job.
  • Research the editor or editing firm thoroughly on the Internet. Search both company name and the individual editor’s name. Check to see what is said about them outside of their own website, and see how active they are in the writing community. Are they listed as workshop presenters or speakers at writing conferences? Are they mentioned on author websites with a note of thanks for what they've done? Look for an editing company that provides excellent references and testimonials from clients.

  • Check to make sure the editing company has two or more editors. If one has a family emergency, you’ll want a back-up contingency plan to ensure your work is finished before the deadline you were given. Another benefit of a company with multiple editors is that, while one editor may thrive on editing doctorate dissertations, another may detest them, yet love to edit romances or horror stories. Choose a company with multi-talented editors, so you can ensure you’ll have a long-term relationship with the group, no matter which direction your muse may lead you.

  • Ask for a free sample edit. Reputable editors will be happy to ediT a few pages (250-500 words) of your novel or book. Of course, if you’ve written a two-page short story or brief article, don’t expect a free sample—that’s unfair to the editor. It’s important to see if the editor can supply the exact assistance you need and if you two are compatible as a team. Your relationship with your editor is a marriage, of sorts, so make sure honesty and communication are part of the equation. Can you email your editor and expect a response within one business day? (If your free sample edit is returned within one business day, you can expect the same prompt response to your questions and concerns). Will you editor agree to conference call (telephone) meetings? Will there be an additional fee for such phone conferences? Were you provided a phone number at which to contact your editor, free of charge, with questions regarding your edit?
  • Expect to pay fair wages for professional work. There’s an old adage that says, “If you pay with peanuts, you’ll end up working with monkeys.” The so-called editor who offers to edit your manuscript in exchange for nail salon services, babysitting, or auto repair is not a professional. Professional editors are highly skilled, college-educated, published experts who accept only real money for real work. Editors pay taxes on their wages (no “under the table” business), they carry business insurance, and they will provide you with a legal contract prepared by an attorney who is familiar with the publishing industry.
  • Settle on an exact fee—in writing. Be certain how much the professional editing service you request will cost. What is the exact fee for the service provided? Will you be billed by-the-hour (typically only for ghostwriting or writing that requires research, which can’t always be quantified by a word-count); or will you be charged a per-word fee? Expect to pay less for small services, such as professional proofreading or for a read-through analysis, and more for ghost-editing (a service that’s more detailed than a full edit, but less involved than ghostwriting). Typical full-edit fees range from three cents per word to ten cents per word, depending on the company and the editor. Ghostwriting fees may range from thirty cents to fifty cents per word. Proofreading fees may range from one to three cents per word. In addition to the basics, make sure you seek value-added services, such as frequent communication, a multi-page written analysis of the work completed on your manuscript, or perhaps even your name listed on the editor’s web site as a free marketing tool for your published book.
  • Ask about payment options. Does the editor or editing company accept credit cards, or are they strictly cash-and-carry? (Many credit cards offer free cardholder protection services). Will the editor accept your work piecemeal (a chapter at a time as you can afford to pay)? Do they offer gift certificates? Will they accept international payments? Professional editing companies will offer a variety of options to make doing business with them convenient and affordable.
  • Ask for an editing contract. Make sure specifics are spelled out for you, particularly, two things: First, that the writer retains all rights to his manuscript, including suggestions made by the editor pertaining to his manuscript. Second, the editor will keep confidential all information about the writer and the submitted manuscript. The contract should also spell out exactly how much the edit will cost, what it will include (one edit, multiple edits, rewrites, follow-up services, phone conferences, and an estimated date of completion).
Check back this fall for more tips on selecting the right editor for your manuscript. Remember, you and your editor are a team! Choose one who will be with you through many manuscripts to come!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Writing for an Online Audience

by Jessica Murphy, Inspiration for Writers, Inc. intern.

When writing for an online audience, you must meet different needs than you normally would. People read online text 25 percent more slowly than they read text in print. As a result, they become less patient: up to 80 percent of online readers scan the page for what they need instead of actually reading its contents.

You must therefore write even more clearly and persuasively for an online audience. To do so, you can either persuade your readers to read your entire document or - more likely - make it as easy as possible for them to find the information they need. The following guidelines will help you achieve your purpose:

1. Put the most important information first. This way, readers can immediately access the information they need.

2. Use headings and subheadings. Headings help the reader scan the document for what they need by identifying topics.

3. Limit each paragraph to three or four sentences. This breaks up large blocks of text, which makes the document look less daunting.

4. Use a short line length. Limiting it to half the width of the screen helps reduce eye movement.

5. Write concisely. Short, simple sentences with concrete nouns and active verbs work well.

6. Make bulleted or numbered lists. Doing so breaks up paragraphs, shortens line length, and highlights important information. Bulleted lists show items of equal importance, while numbered lists show items in descending order of importance or in chronological order.

7. Use sufficient contrast. Make sure your audience can read your document by testing it at Juicy Studio's Luminosity Color Contrast Ratio Analyzer. This site will tell you if your contrast passes or fails a readability test.

8. Use sans serif fonts. Sans serif fonts lack the little feet on each character. Times New Roman is a serif font, while Helvetica is a sans serif font. I wrote this post in Verdana, a sans serif font created specifically for online use.

9. Avoid italics. They are harder to read on a screen than in print.

Online readers need clear, concise information when reading documents on the Internet. These guidelines should help you both meet their needs and achieve your own goals.


Oliu, Walter E., Charles T. Brusaw, and Gerald J Alred. Writing That Works: Communicating Effectively on the Job. 9th edition. Boston: Bedford-St. Martin's, 2007. 515-528.

Rude, Carolyn D. Technical Editing. 4th edition. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2006. 119, 399.

(c) 2010, Inspiration for Writers, Inc., All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Slice of Writer's Life

Tips for surviving a writer's conference.

Darwin was right when he coined, "Survival of the fittest." You have to be in good shape to survive a writer's conference. The travel, the workshops, the food, the smiling, the walking, and the parties are enough to bring the healthiest of writers to their tender knees. The hours, the reading, the listening, and the networking can make a writer's conference fun or a big fat flop.

Most cons for writer folk are pretty well organized. Honestly, how easy can it be herding a bunch of people who spend most of their "productive" time sitting still and perched on the edge of a rolling office chair from Office Depot? They are not in the habit of moving at light speed for much of anything unless it's the mail to collect acceptance letters, checks, and of course, letters of rejection. Even though they should, most writers "forget" to exercise on a daily basis and that makes the exercise of attending conference workshops a challenge for some.

However, you may be one of the few writers I met in the fitness center of the Hyatt hotel two weeks ago as I was exercising while attending the Romantic Times Booklover's Convention 2010 in Columbus, Ohio. Wait. The only other people on the equipment with me were male romance cover models keeping their pecs in working order for the pageant and the picture sessions. I took my yoga mat with me, but when I saw the parade of cover models taking the elevators to the basement, I followed and was not disappointed. The scenery was great but the exercise allowed me to function and come home from the con only a little worn out and able to rejoin the normal household pace without much more than a two-hour nap. Most of the other writers I know who attend this conference need three days to recover. I don't have that luxury.

Besides taking your yoga mat, what else should you do to "survive" a writer's conference? Here are my ideas:

1. Prepare. Start early on preparations including getting eight hours of sleep several nights before going to the conference.

2. Food. Pack any particular foods you must eat. Don't rely on local food availabilities to provide what you're used to eating. I limit the amount of white flour and high fructose corn syrup I eat, so I packed a loaf of white spelt bread and took a six-pack of bottled water to save money. I even called the hotel restaurant ahead of time so I could plan my meals around what they serve that I can eat.

3. Exercise. Committ to exercise at least once (should exercise a few minutes a day) while at the conference. That's why I packed my yoga mat. Ten minutes of yoga in the morning before the workshops made a huge difference to my energy levels and my attitude all day.

4. Water. Drink water and lots of it. No matter what everyone else is drinking, you should drink more water than usual while at conferences. Water is cleansing and calming. For every glass of wine or beer you deposit, drink two of water.

5. Advance planning. Plan your workshops in advance. Even if you do not get the workshop schedule until you arrive, take fifteen minutes to make a list of the sessions you want to attend. Check the maps (if one is provided) and be reasonable about how much distance you can cover between sessions. The walking at con does not count as exercise it only contributes to exhaustion. And wear reasonable shoes.

6. Pamper yourself. Take pampering tools with you. A few drops of lavender oil in the bath water will revitalize and even your temperament so you can cope with the hectic pace and crowds of conferences. Driving? Pack the motorized foot bath and soak your feet every night!

So many great things normally happen at a writer's conference no matter what level or type of writer you are. Pack your patience, your best attitude, and your yoga mat and you will come home with good information and perhaps a new book contract like I did!

You get out of a writer's con what you put in to it. Stuff it with positivity and that's what you'll get in return.

Get thee to the nearest writer's con soon, but be smart and healthy about it!

Be well, write well,
Joy Held
copyright 2010

Right now I'm reading Vengeance Road, by Rick Mofina,
Love it! Action, mystery, suspense and really well written. Met him at RT con! Check it out!
What are YOU reading?

Writer Wellness, A Writer's Path to Health and Creativity
Joy Held
New Leaf Books, 2003