In the writing world, to Oxford comma or not is a near religious debate. The first time I saw a Twitter war on the subject I had to look up what it was, then check my manuscript to see which team I supported. (It turns out I’m pro-Oxford comma. Feel free to berate or applaud me in the comments.) My non-opinion made me realize a benefit of having no writing education is a total lack of pre-conceived notions surrounding what works and doesn’t work. I go by what feels easiest to read. A drawback is that I’m learning on the job.
My sister is my first reader. She tells me whether she likes the characters, cares about what’s going to happen, and if the ending is satisfying. When there’s a problem, she brainstorms solutions with me. When I make her laugh, she puts a little happy face in the margin. When something doesn’t make sense, she circles the section and writes WTF?!? on top, but she does it with love. Her support is unconditional, which allows my fragile ego to trust her with rough, rough drafts.
Once I have a completed manuscript, I hire a freelance editor before sending it to my agent and editor. I go this route over writing groups and critique circles for several reasons:
- I love, love, love to read, but I don’t love the idea of picking someone’s work apart. I’m not qualified to take on that role for someone else’s baby. I didn’t even know what the Oxford comma was for goodness sake.
- While I have thick skin and am hungry for feedback, I don’t care for public lashings. I know there are amazing writing groups out there, but I’ve also heard nightmares endured while trying to find them.
- Writing is wholly subjective. When I seek opinions, I need to be able to weight the value of the input. Having a well-respected
publishing professional edit my project gives me a high level of confidence in their feedback.
- I can be high maintenance because I’m the customer. This allows me to circle back, ask for specific areas of focus, etc.
- I want feedback from a professor not a study buddy. If I had an MFA, a freelance editor would likely be a waste, but I don’t. I consider the expense part of my writing education.
- You get one, educated opinion, instead of multiple, conflicting opinions.
- I’m at the bottom of the author totem pole. A complete unknown. I want to be thought of as easy to work with, which means submititng a manuscript that’s in great shape.
- It’s fast. As long as I’ve reserved a spot in advance, I get edits back in 2 weeks.
The barrier to this route is the added expense. For a clean manuscript in good condition where you’re looking for story feedback (not copy edits), it runs about a penny a word. (My freelance editor is shaking her head as she reads this because rates swing widely. They will ask for a sample chapter to help them determine how much effort your project will take.)
There’s not one right way, but, for me, a great freelance editor is a worthy expense.
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