Having helped to usher roughly a dozen novels into print over the last two years as one of Edit911.com, Inc.’s book editors, I have been asked to delineate how our book editing services go beyond those that you might find touted elsewhere online. Frankly, this is a no-brainer. Most of our competitors, if you read between the lines of their advertised competencies, are essentially what I would call “clean-up crews”–that is to say, hygienically-minded proofreaders. If you aspire to a more rigorous and professional treatment of your full-length manuscript, go with Edit911.com, Inc.
Over the years this company has notched an enviable record in securing authors’ contracts for publication, many of whom were first-time petitioners for acceptance of their work. Given my experience in this venture, I will summarize below the process I go through while editing a novel. That outline, in turn, may suggest some points for fiction writers to keep in mind as they prepare drafts of their manuscripts.
Be true to the author’s voice
The first thing I try to detect and, in my role as a book editor, respect is the text’s latent voice. This involves more than the technicality of identifying narrational point of view. It also is not easy to describe. What I initially try to do is to hear the author’s cadences as they percolate through characters’ dialogical speech patterns, which of course should be distinctive to each. Through them I cock an ear for the echo, register, or stylistic tonality of a writer’s ventriloquism, the kind of nuanced effect found, for example, in John le Carré’s latest production titled Our Kind of Traitor (2010). Attunement to this idiom guides me in proposing editorial changes.
Assure the characters’ credibility
I next concern myself with the credibility of those characters. Do they speak in a manner consistent with their individual depiction and the text’s setting? “Spiffy,” for example, is an inapt description of male attire in 1920s New Hampshire. I also pay close attention to how characters are originally introduced, since such profiling will have a significant bearing on their subsequent roles. Are they plausible, again as gauged in terms of the work’s fictional context, and are their actions congruent with both the story’s events and human psychology? Persuade us that your invented personae are real and that we should care about what happens to them.
Attend to the plot
Then comes the matter of plot. While verifying that developments jive with previously indicated circumstances, I check for minor lapses. Sometimes this can be a minefield. As in a 5,000-piece puzzle, one wrong detail can derail the entire project. Consultant editors should be fanatically adept at questioning these occasional miscues. Thus, if you do not find that your manuscript comes back to you with at least some marginal queries about plot consistency, something is wrong. Even Homer nodded. We all need another pair of eyes to tell us how we’re doing.
What does it all add up to?
What I look for, finally, in a fictional manuscript is an answer to the question, “So what?” By the narrative’s climax and resolution there should be some indication, however obliquely framed, of its conceptual import. This is another way of saying that the text ought to limn by its end what has been at stake throughout the entire plot. Formulaic or pat closures, of course, should be avoided. The dénouement instead must arise credibly from earlier plot complications and project some larger insight into what has informed them all along. The pay-off for the reader, in other words, should be worth his or her investment of time and attention.
Is it a satisfying, organic story?
These major points encompass what I look for while editing a novel. My approach is to work from the inside out, letting a fictional manuscript’s flow guide me in monitoring its unfolding design. I would like to think that most editors adhere to this method, or something like it, but in my experience many come at the task from the outside in. Seek professional assistance, then, from those who are sensitive to your work’s organic shape. That doesn’t mean they’ll be uncritical; it does mean, however, that their suggestions will mesh with your text’s objectives. The book editors affiliated with Edit911′s book editing service are, hands down, your best resource in this regard.
It’s no secret that venues for scholarly publication, especially in the humanities, have constricted in the last twenty years. When I published a 375-page collection of essays in 1985, I found it relatively easy, based upon a detailed prospectus, to secure a contract with a university press. Since then, however, fiscal pressures have compelled many academic institutions to retrench. The upshot has been a reduction of operating subsidies for journals, a mandated narrowing of monograph publishers’ editorial missions, and a concomitant increase of responsibility for prospective authors to document the marketability of their projects.
Many, perhaps most, scholars will find the last development an alien expectation, particularly when the average print run for a book is fewer than 1,000 copies. By dint of their vocational immersion in the world of ideas, academicians are unaccustomed to gauging the extrinsic worth of their work in terms of consumer demand. Now more than ever, however, those seeking publication are being called upon to validate why their manuscripts warrant the investment of institutionally limited capital. A new pragmatism has overtaken an earlier culture of scholarship for its own sake.
Given this shift in today’s publishing environment, I offer below some tips based upon my recent experience of negotiating a contract for an 85,000-word monograph on British espionage fiction. After I contacted a dozen carefully chosen university presses in the U.S. and abroad about the project, only two were receptive to considering it for refereed review. Rather than throw the dice and risk the lag of a delayed editorial commitment, I decided to approach a commercial firm that on its website profiles itself as “a leading independent publisher of academic and nonfiction books.” Because its extensive backlist of authors includes several prominent scholars, some of whom I knew personally, I decided to pursue this outlet.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that my decision would entail more extensive book editing and ongoing negotiation related to my work’s marketability. After securing a contract, I went back and forth many times with the publisher’s staff about the issue of what would “sell” my book. Their first concern was my proposed title. I had assumed that Covert Operations: British Espionage Fiction was fairly clever and elegantly simple, but it was pointed out to me that research libraries, which comprise the largest group of those purchasing academic releases, require greater specificity as well as precision in titles. After prolonged debate over various alternatives, mine eventually morphed into The Art of Indirection in British Espionage Fiction: A Critical Study of Six Novelists. (Although I still find the compromise somewhat clunky, I can live with it.) The publisher and I also danced the same jig about what constitutes “fair-use” copyright law concerning quotations from primary texts, which despite fifteen years as the editor of a scholarly journal I since have learned is an incalculably slippery slope. Finally, I will be expected to play an active role in marketing my monograph by suggesting the names/addresses of contact persons for reviews and others with specialized interests (e.g., cohorts within the Modern Language Association of America) to whom it might be promoted.
How, then, can I sum up what I have discovered in these times of shrunken horizons for scholarly publication? Some bulleted points to consider as you investigate prospects in this field may prove helpful.
• Why should the publisher be interested in your submission? Tailor your cover letter tightly to the journal’s or press’s formal mission statement. Demonstrate, in other words, that it is the right “fit” for your piece.
• How will my submission complement or enhance the venue’s extant line of releases? This too is part of the marketing game. As in the preceding entry, show that you are thoroughly familiar with the targeted publisher’s past coverage.
• Given your response to the preceding point, how will your manuscript, if accepted, attract new readers to the venue’s backlist while also expanding its current clientele? (I use the last word intentionally.) Avoid generalities and bromides that carry little persuasive weight.
• What can you contribute to the successful marketing of your text? If it is appropriate for classroom adoption, say so. Otherwise demarcate, again in concrete terms, the reading demographic for which your work is intended.
• How, lastly, can you assist the prospective press in other ways of attracting attention to your monograph? Recommend, for example, review contacts in local/regional newspapers and journals with no-cost reciprocal arrangements for full-page advertisements.
All these considerations are secondary, of course, to your main channels of investigation and scholarly interest, but to one degree or another you will have to address them in today’s world of highly competitive publishing. The trick, if you will, is not to believe that your job is done once you have completed the artifact itself. Like it or not, we are all enlisted in promoting our individual efforts within a market-driven economy.