The Second Best Thing I Learned Before Being Published

While finding a writing mentor was the most impactful factor in my path to publication, learning to obtain good editing was the second most important key to my success. Even more challenging than locating a talented editor was finding the right editor for me, and it wasn’t until that editor/writer relationship was fully evolved did I realize how essential it was for my growth. A good editor not only helps shape my story, he lets me know what I do well and where I need work.

During my twenty-year journey in the publishing industry, I’ve watched the job of proper editing being pushed down from the publishing houses, through the agent’s office (if you are lucky enough to have a good one), and to the author’s desk. While some editing has always rested with the author, a gradual increase in responsibilities has occurred until today where virtually everything but copy editing is thrust upon the author.

This is both frustrating and empowering. While proper editing requires a great deal of work and vigilance, the author has large control over who edits his work. And remember, an author cannot edit his own work. No writer can, and no successful author does. He cannot be completely objective regarding his strengths and weaknesses and what needs to be done with the story at hand.

So the two primary questions are: What does a good editor do? And how do you find one? I’ll offer some advice.

First of all, anyone can offer an opinion of your work, and they will, even if you don’t ask. Anyone with an English degree or even a published book can hang a shingle and offer editing services. However, an unskilled opinion, of which there are many, and the wrong editorial sensibilities can damage your work in progress, not to mention your course and psyche as a writer. Most opinions of your work should be reserved for street commentary on the Internet, and much of it has the value of gum stuck to your shoe.

The right editor will understand your genre, as well as the specific work at hand. There is no exception here. You do not want a great romance editor working on your fantasy novel or biography. While her talents as an editor may span pages, she must be able to prove her experience with actual published books within your genre as the result of her labor. She must also be able to provide references from the authors of those books. Read those books. Talk to those authors. Ask what the editor did for them and what the editor concentrated on during the process. If a prospective editor has little relevant experience, she brings nothing to the table that you can use as an author.

A good editor will understand you and what you need. Like a psychologist, editors tinker with the soul of your work. She must understand you as a person, what you are trying to accomplish, and have the patience to guide you toward the discoveries you need, no matter where you are in the artistic growth process. Schedule a conversation or a series of interviews to see if you want to work with a specific editor. Provide a sample chapter in order to view both her skill and her methodology as an editor. It is perfectly acceptable to pay for sample editing. Do not sign a contract for a long work unless you are completely comfortable and confident that this editor will help you.

Hiring an editor creates both a business and personal relationship that often extends beyond the book itself and lasts for years. For my first four published novels, I returned to the same editor over and over, and each time he was more insightful about the work and me as a writer. In fact, what I was trying to accomplish as a writer was first articulated, not by me, but by my trusted edited. A lover won’t identify your fingerprints as well. A talented editor that understands your work is worth his weight in books and will likely be a long-time friend and advocate for your work.

Useful articles on the logistics of finding an editor:

Christopher Klim is the author of several books including the novel, Idiot!, and the short collection, True Surrealism. He is currently working on a novel trilogy about the space program past, present, and future. See his popular series on publishing: The Book Killers.

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The Importance of Finding a Mentor

Two decades ago, years before my first novel was published, I discovered the man who would change my writing life. I’d been thrashing around with a few novel submissions, limited short story success, and a pile of neatly printed form rejections from Manhattan. I was in the pool with a million wannabe writers, who talked the talk and walked the walk but got virtually nowhere.

Then I made a fateful decision. With my latest rejection, I had received a handwritten note of encouragement from a New York editor. He didn’t want my bad novel, but everything I’d been told in writing groups, conferences, and the endless volumes of guidebooks was that a personal note was unusual. I shot back a letter of thanks for the feedback and asked one simple question: Any suggestions?

Weeks later, that editor wrote that there was an author/friend in Delaware who occasionally took on emerging writers. He was moderately expensive, and I had to audition first. No promises were made, but I was excited. I felt like I was finally getting somewhere. The author took me on and eventually dropped the per page charge. He became the most influential person in my life—the writing mentor who coached me to publishing my first novel and guided my career for decades.

My mentor began by showing me what I did well and how to feature it within my writing. That understanding still effects my work today. He also pointed out my deficiencies and showed me ways to strengthen them. As a sounding board, he shaped every one of my novel concepts. I’m not sure I even understood what a novel was before I met him. I was too much raw talent, rolling around aimlessly through words. With my mentor, I discovered both the joy and responsibility of writing a novel. He taught me how to focus and raise my profile as a writer.

At some point in your career, you’ll seek a mentor to get you to the next level. A mentor is someone who has gone ahead of you on the journey, knows the pitfalls, and can provide timely advice. You have to find a mentor. He won’t find you. In my case, I’d experimented with writing teachers and groups, hoping to make a helpful connection. For the most part, it was a waste of time when I should have been reading or writing, but I was putting myself out there and asked questions. Eventually the right mentor crossed my path—a bestselling author at the end of his career who wrote the kind of books I’d like write and had accumulated priceless wisdom.

Today the world is bigger than hit or miss hometown connections and the cruel realities of pub row in Manhattan. There are industry-specific mentor groups, which are accessible on-line through a variety of social media platforms. In the writing world, don’t be a pest. Don’t send unsolicited manuscripts to authors. Don’t corner them at conferences. Connect with them on-line. Ask a question. Offer to buy them a cup of coffee. The majority of the time, you will be ignored. Everyone is busy. But eventually you will connect with the right person who will help you in unimaginable ways.