The Proofreader's Parlour
A blog for editors, proofreaders and writers
An editor or book coach can teach you new ideas and techniques, and help you begin the journey of mastering novel craft right from the get-go ... if you're prepared to embrace a growth mindset. My guest this week is Lisa Poisso, a professional editor and writing coach who specializes in helping authors fix the big-picture problems.
I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m not very good. Will you fix my book? If this sounds like the way you tiptoed into your first professional edit, you’re due for a new mindset. An edit is a creative opportunity begging to burst open and drench you with new ideas and techniques.
There’s no better time to reach for growth than when you’re first starting out. You’ll hear a lot of publishing types claim that debut authors need to put in their dues. Write, they tell you, and fail. Write more, and fail again. That’s the apprenticeship process – or so they say.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Hiring an editor or writing coach can be a smart way to accelerate your learning curve. It’s all about the way you and your editor approach your edit. Are you feeding your writing with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset?
The growth mindset
If you’re a first-time author, your debut novel isn’t likely to hit it big. You know that. Editors know that. So you might tell yourself that there’s no sense in paying for a professional edit until readers start buying your books and ‘it really matters'.
The problem is this: if your book isn’t very good and nobody wants to buy it, when will it really matter?
Enter a new mindset about developing your craft.
The fixed mindset, a term developed by Stanford University professor Carol Dweck, keeps your feet stuck to the same two dusty patches of dirt you’ve been standing on for years. With a fixed mindset, you accept that you possess finite abilities capped at a specific level. Editing is about propping up your shortcomings and repairing your inevitable mistakes.
But editors can help you achieve so much more. Your editor can show you how to structure a compelling story, beef up the elements that drive your plot, solidify your language, and polish your writing voice. You’ll make strides it might have taken years to struggle through on your own.
But that won’t happen unless you decide that developing your craft is worth the time, money, and effort. It won’t happen until you agree that you’re ready to grow.
Your first edit
A first novel is a learning experience. Authors call them ‘practice novels’ or ‘trunk novels'. They write their hearts out and then lock the results deep inside a file cabinet or trunk. The results aren’t all that different from the canvases artists create to experiment with and practise new techniques. They’re not meant for public consumption.
Good on you for finishing your first manuscript. A complete novel is a tremendous achievement – but it’s unlikely that this first effort will become a bestseller. So start writing the next one.
If you really want to make a go of this writing thing, you’ll need more than one good idea in a lifetime, right? Whip up the next concept and get it simmering. Meanwhile, seek feedback on the first manuscript from a writing partner or critique group. Give yourself the space to learn as you go rather than pinning all your hopes and ambitions on a single beginner’s effort.
And then when you’ve finally written something your test readers and critique partners are giving you good feedback about, consider a professional edit.
The learning curve
You could keep plugging away for years, feeding book after book to your writer’s trunk. You might gain some confidence and make some incremental progress. But without professional feedback, you might not be able to figure out which parts of your story work and which don’t. You might not be able to spot what passages show a distinctive authorial voice and what parts are still mushy.
At some point, it’s time for professional eyes. Send your manuscript to a few editors for a professional assessment. You’re not hiring anyone yet; you’re not paying for a critique or evaluation. All you want is that initial handshake. Every editor performs some sort of brief survey of new projects to help them decide if the project and type of work required falls within their wheelhouse.
Ask the editor to flip through, take a peek at a few spots, and see if your work is ready for editing. What strengths and weaknesses do they spot? What kind of editing do they recommend? Would they take you on as a client or do they have other recommendations?
If the results are encouraging, use the feedback you’ve gathered to help you choose a compatible editor. It’s time for some editing.
A learning experience
Even a routine, production-oriented edit is a learning experience. But when you hire an editor who enjoys working with authors bent on growth and improvement, an edit becomes something else altogether: an intense, one-on-one workshop in storytelling and writing.
I like to compare your motivations for an edit to the motivations you create for the characters in your story. Your characters’ external, conscious motivations wrap around their secret, unconscious motivations – and the same goes for you.
Polishing your manuscript for publication might be your conscious motivation, but with a growth mindset, you’ll come to realize that the real value of an edit lies in the substantial leaps you can make toward mastering your craft.
Professional editing is no guarantee that your novel will be publishable in the end. But if you’ve chosen a qualified professional, you can count on acquiring invaluable insights into your writing technique. You can count on a growth experience.
What’s your writing worth to you?
I’m constantly astounded by the number of new writers who don’t believe that writing is worth the level of commitment any serious hobbyist would give their hobby.
A recreational cyclist can easily drop thousands every year on bicycles, riding gear, event and travel fees, club and periodical subscriptions, and more. A collector of anything? The expenditures are obvious.
But when it comes to writing, people somehow feel guilty about spending money on classes or craft books or editing to help them develop their passion.
Just think how conflicted they must feel if they’re also harbouring hopes of getting published. Somehow, they have to go from beginner to professional with no help – and at no cost.
Is a professional edit still worth it even if your book never gets any bites from an agent or sells more than 50 copies on Amazon? If using your manuscript to spring to a new level of skill ignites your creative jets, you’re ready to invest in yourself. You’re ready to turn a growth mindset into growth. It’s that simple.
See you on the other side of the edit.
Lisa Poisso works with traditionally publishing and self-published authors to show them how to lift their stories to their full potential. She specializes in editing and coaching for commercial fiction, particularly upmarket and women’s fiction, action-adventure, and thrillers. She’s also a seasoned editor of fantasy, science fiction, and all flavors of speculative fiction.
Lisa has been a publication editor, journalist, managing editor, content writer, and communications consultant for more than 25 years. She holds degrees in journalism and fine arts and remains a working writer. She’s a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and a charter member of the Association of Independent Publishing Professionals.
Her studio staff includes her industrious editorial assistants – two greyhounds and a staghound. #45mphcouchpotatoes #adoptdontshop
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Louise Harnby is a fiction copyeditor and proofreader. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour and is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors and proofreaders.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader & Copyeditor, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
If you're an author, you might like to visit Louise’s Writing Library to access her latest self-publishing resources, all of which are free and available instantly.
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Featured in The Book Designer's Carnival of the Indies: Joel Friedlander's collection of 'outstanding articles recently posted to blogs'.
Winner of the Judith Butcher Award 2017 in respect of 'highly visible contributions to the SfEP and its membership'.