pile of books with no time to read

Getting Published: The Magic of the First Page

So, You Want to Be an Author

You’ve probably spent years of your life hunched over your newest novel, affectionately referring to it as your “baby.” This is the culmination of your life’s work. It’s got it all: an interesting protagonist, a brewing mystery, the perfect romance, and an idyllic setting to ground it all. You’ve eagerly sent it off to all the local publishers who have reputable connections under their belt to launch your dreams of being published. Now you are impatiently waiting for that acceptance letter to hit your inbox.
You finally hear back from those sluggish publishers, and there you see it: rejected. Rejected. And rejected, again. It feels like years of your life have been thrown away like it was a haphazard poem scribbled on a Denny’s napkin, submitted on some drunken whim.

Think Like an Editor

Each year publishers receive thousands of submissions from hopefuls just like you. According to Sophie Playle, a writer for Liminal Pages, publishers receive “between three and ten . . . of thousands” of manuscripts per year. While editors would love to slush through each and every submission for the next best-seller, it just isn’t feasible.
Imagine you’re an editor at one of your local indie publishing houses. A slush pile of submissions stares back at you every day, overflowing your submissions inbox. One of your volunteer readers acquires one manuscript among every fifty; the first page kicks off without much of a bang, and the setting is described in a way that is reminiscent of the pastoral poetry of (way) yester-year. Maybe the volunteer reader has the time to graze the second page. More rolling hills. More “a whole lot of nothing.” The manuscript is tossed into the rejection pile along with eighty to ninety percent of the other submission hopefuls.
Now, imagine you’re an editor for a mid-range publishing house. They’ve got the higher-up connections of your dreams, and a few catchy titles to back them up. Their slush pile is about twice the size, if not more, of the indie publishers’. You pick up a manuscript, eye the lengthy, adjective-laden prose, and off it goes into the rejection pile. You dive into the next submission without a second thought, just waiting for the magic.
Publishers often have volunteer readers perform the preliminary acquisitions process in order to sort through their growing mound of submissions. These readers are typically undergrad or grad students who are engaged with literature in their programs. These readers don’t have time to sift through one hundred pages of every manuscript to wait for the storm to finally brew: if the magic isn’t there from the beginning, forget about it.

Think Like a Reader

According to Michael Shymanski, one of Ooligan’s Acquisitions Managers, think of your first page as the reader’s initial impression, much like “meeting your friend’s spouse for the first time.” First impressions can be insignificant, even disastrous, or they can be absolute magic. If the magic is there, an editor will know it immediately.
It’s no surprise then that pacing is crucial. While you wouldn’t want to jump straight into all the juicy details in the first paragraph, the first impression needs to “hint at an underlying theme,” and demonstrate a “nuance that provides depth to conflict and characters” (Shymanski). You want to give away just enough so that the reader gets a sense of the story’s direction and they can’t wait to continue reading.

Creating the Magic

So how do you create that “magic”? Shymanski suggests that it’s pretty simple: be original. A submission that may need some developmental or copyediting will receive more attention if it’s “beautifully written” and utterly original.
Hammering in on the importance of the first page, Lincoln Michel, author, editor, and Buzzfeed Contributor Extraordinaire, suggests that if your story can’t captivate the editor in the first page, the chances of it capturing a “random reader” are nil. Michel suggests constructing your story backwards if all the action begins on page three hundred.
Don’t be afraid to dive deep into “diversification and experimentation of voice” (Shymanski). Let your characters shine in a new light. Keep your reader craving more. And if the magic is there, maybe that editor will turn the page.
Oh, and please read the publisher’s submission guidelines before you submit your Harry Potter fan fiction to a poetry house.

Racing Forward with Iditarod Nights

Hello, everyone! With The Gifts We Keep by Katie Grindeland launched into the world and doing well, my team at Ooligan Press is racing forward with the next book to be published as part of our partnership with Multnomah County Library: Iditarod Nights by Cindy Hiday! This is the second of the Library Writers Project selections to be annually published through the unique partnership between Multnomah County Library and Ooligan Press, and we are excited to be taking this new manuscript through the publication process.

In 2018, Ooligan Press and Multnomah County Library partnered up to celebrate the Portland area’s local authors. Since 2015, Multnomah County Library has solicited submissions of self-published works of fiction and memoir by local authors to be added to its Library Writers Project ebook collection. Together, as a local library and a local publisher, we have joined forces to bring these previously ebook-only works to print in an annual series.

This year’s title, Iditarod Nights, is a Library Writers Project selection from 2016 that features adventure, romance, and dogs. The story alternates between the viewpoints of Portland criminal defense attorney Claire Stanfield and Nome bar-and-grill owner Dillon Cord. Both are running from secrets and trauma in their pasts, both must struggle to survive the Alaskan wilderness as they compete in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and neither wants to embark on a new romance. But sometimes the heart has other plans.

To give you a sense of the person behind the book, here is Cindy’s author bio:

Writing in the spirit of adventure and happy endings, Cindy Hiday has won numerous honors, including first place in the Kay Snow Awards for Fiction from Willamette Writers. Her 2014 novel Father, Son & Grace is a Five-Star Readers’ Favorite and a local book club choice. Cindy draws inspiration from the beautiful state of Oregon, where she lives with her husband and four-legged friends. When she isn’t hard at work on her next novel or mentoring the latest group of writing talent as a part-time instructor for Mt. Hood Community College, Cindy enjoys hiking, gardening, and traveling.

Iditarod Nights will be available in both trade paperback and ebook versions in Spring 2020, and I can’t wait to see how it develops along the road to traditional publication. Follow Ooligan’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts for more updates!

To learn more about The Gifts We Keep and Katie Grindeland, please visit our book page.
Click here for more insight into the Library Writers Project and for information on how to submit your manuscript to the library.

Preparing a Party for The Gifts We Keep

Hello, everyone! I am thrilled to say that The Gifts We Keep (April 16, 2019) is now a real physical book! The Ooligan Press digital department has created the ebook, the physical book is back from the printer, and the project team is hard at work with the social media department to spread the word about the upcoming release. Other members of the team have been soliciting reviews and articles from local media throughout the Portland Metropolitan area and making sure everything is ready for the book to be in bookstores and available online across the nation. With the launch on the horizon, my team and I are excited to see The Gifts We Keep out in the real world.

Now is a hectic but really rewarding time for our team, because so many of our efforts for the past months are finally coming to fruition and we are now able to hold our reward in our hands: a beautiful copy of The Gifts We Keep. As part of this, we hosted a launch party to celebrate our author Katie Grindeland, her wonderful book, the new partnership between Ooligan Press and the Multnomah County Library, and to see many of you holding a copy of the book in your hands. A lot goes into planning a launch party. Our dearest wish was to find a wonderful, welcoming space that could hold the many excited members of our reading community who were eager to get their hands on The Gifts We Keep. Our goal was to provide a fun night of food, drink, and readings to celebrate everyone’s hard work on the project without breaking the bank. As with all events, advanced planning, coordination, and keeping true to a vision are key to assuring that the night meets everyone’s expectations.

For this event, our team focused on fulfilling the desires of our author, Katie Grindeland, so that she and The Gifts We Keep could successfully take center stage and be celebrated by all of her friends and family. Together with Multnomah County Library and the Ooligan Press team, it was an amazing night, as local authors, a local library, and a local publisher all joined forces to celebrate our literary community. Stay tuned for more updates on the book’s official release on April 16, on Ooligan’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! You won’t want to miss your chance to acquire your very own copy of The Gifts We Keep!

Click here to learn more about The Gifts We Keep and Katie Grindeland. The Gifts We Keep will be available in both trade paperback and ebook versions beginning on April 16, 2019.
Click here for more insight into the background and aspirations of the Library Writers Project and for information on how to submit your manuscript to the library.

Designs of the Future and Beyond: 2018 Sci-Fi Book Cover Trends

We all judge books by their covers—none more than me. I especially judge the covers in my favorite genre of science fiction, and I have high expectations. Selfishly, I’m hoping to see less cheesy covers that focus on real models superimposed onto green screen backgrounds of fantasy worlds and more covers that include clean, intriguing, and eye-catching illustrations and dynamic color—but, hey, I’m only one of the multitudes of hungry readers.

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However, I refuse to believe we can’t move past the paperback designs of the past with their jumble of chunky fonts, strange color palettes, and, dare I say, unappealing illustrations of aliens.

What trends in fonts, color, and overall design dominated the genre last year, and what will heighten and inspire future book covers? Let’s jump in and start judging based on my not-so-expert opinion.

Dynamic, powerful reds:
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Many cover designs are featuring red either as an element of the overall color palette, as a major element of the design, or even to highlight and contrast the book title and author name against the background. The warm tones are reminiscent of blood, fire, and all those wonderful, quintessential dystopian elements. Visually stunning and striking, I can see this trend continuing beyond 2019 releases.

Interesting and surprising color contrasts:
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Surprising color combinations are pushing the boundaries of traditional science fiction cover designs into a new space (pun intended). Vivid, punchy yellows, soft, calm mints, and smooth gradients all contrast with the images and textures displayed on the covers, like burning houses or radioactive elephants.

Clear symbols on clean backgrounds:
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These covers all achieve a blend of various design elements with the use of clear symbolism conveying a specific mood or theme to the reader. Using texture, easy-to-read fonts, and recognizable images against contrasting backgrounds, these covers portray dark, mysterious, and treacherous worlds.

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Relying on clear symbols that resonate with the viewer, these designs represent an element of danger that can be disarming and unnerving and use representations of predators from the natural world that are familiar to us, like snakes or disembodied tentacles. Every human can identify with the primal fear these symbols evoke.

Complex and illustrative:
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More and more book covers are utilizing digital illustrations or a combination of illustrated and digital elements. I’m extremely excited to see beautiful, dark, and brilliantly executed illustrations that convey a science fiction feel without feeling overly cheesy.

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I’ve included a broad range of what I mean by “complex and illustrative.” These covers display a wide range of complexity and symbolism in their designs. Highlighting a lone protagonist is still a popular design trope, but there are ways that modern design can use this classic element to establish a striking visual image.

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In the more old-school, classic illustrative covers above, we can see how science fiction book covers have evolved and will continue to evolve as cover design moves into more digitally rendered, visually appealing, easy to read, and exciting illustrations that new and old readers alike can appreciate and love. (Also, a beetle spaceship? Now that’s just rad.)

All caps, and futuristic fonts:
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Most, if not all, of these covers utilize this last and most glaring trend of modern science fiction book covers. With the popularity of Andy Weir’s The Martian, futuristic fonts are ever-present elements of science fiction cover design. As we turn to our mobile devices and the internet to source and discover our books, book design across genres are attempting to include large, easy-to-read fonts so even at a quick glance at a tiny thumbnail, consumers can see the title and author. There are many exceptions to this rule, but the majority of science fiction cover designs use sans-serif fonts, giving a cleaner look to the overall design. Plus, the blockier fonts give the covers a futuristic, technological vibe.

I can’t wait to see how designers build upon these popular trends and continue to push boundaries and hook readers in just on a single glance. How do you feel about the direction of science fiction book cover design, and what would you like to see on the cover of your favorite science fiction books in 2019?

Presenting The Gifts We Keep

Hello, everyone! My name is Emily Frantz, and I became a project manager way back in April. Sorry for the delayed greetings! But I promise that during all that time, I’ve been busy helping launch an amazing new project for Ooligan that I am thrilled to finally share with you. The Gifts We Keep, by debut author Katie Grindeland, is the first of the Library Writers Project selections to be annually published through the unique partnership between Multnomah County Library and Ooligan Press.

Since 2015, from mid-October to mid-December each year, Multnomah County Library accepts submissions from local authors who would like to see their work added to the library’s ebook collection. Now, through this partnership, selections from the Library Writers Project will be traditionally published by Ooligan Press—joining the forces of local authors, a local library, and a local publisher to help our literary community as a whole flourish into the future.

I have been working hard with my team on The Gifts We Keep, a selection from 2015 that has been among the most popular titles offered through the Library Writers Project. It is an evocative work of fiction told through the eyes of five protagonists about family, pain, loss, and the gifts left in the wake of tragedy. Dangerous secrets, past tragedies, and a violent obsession emerge when Emerson and her estranged family agree to care for a ten-year-old Native-Alaskan girl and a complete stranger, Addie. Emerson has buried her emotions since her husband’s suicide a decade past. Meanwhile, her younger sister, Tillie, pursues a new romance with a woman and avoids her questions about the accident which left her in a wheelchair. Their mother, Eve, flits through life unable to address her daughters’ pain. And the handsome neighbor, Henry, jumps from one adulterous relationship to another while pining for the woman he truly loves. If these five can face their true selves, each other, and their past, they just might find a way forward to a life filled with love and happiness.

My team is now at the stage where we are collecting reviews, sending out press releases, and crafting social media in preparation for the release of the book in April. But it feels just like yesterday that I was starting out on this project with no idea where it would go. We have come so far, and this partnership will continue long after The Gifts We Keep is published and out into the world. I am so happy that I have seen the beginning of this new chapter at Ooligan and can’t wait to bring you the final version of The Gifts We Keep. Until then, stay tuned on Ooligan’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates. The Gifts We Keep will be available in both trade paperback and ebook versions on April 16, 2019.

To learn more about The Gifts We Keep and Katie Grindeland, please visit our book page.
Click here for more insight on the Library Writers Project and for information on how to submit your manuscript to the library.

Is freelance editorial work right for you?

As the publishing industry evolves, media and publishing independents have witnessed the dissolution of the full-time copy editor. Among magazine, news media, and book publishing entities, an in-house copy chief is often considered a luxury of days gone by. The expense of the full-time position is often too difficult to justify, and the responsibility of clean copy can fall on in-house production teams.

Enter the outsourced editor—the freelancer. Everyone needs an edit, and freelance work in a variety of editing formats often goes to the bravehearted independents. Hence, the world’s copy editors of 2018 often find themselves living the dream of the remote entrepreneur, the freelance copy editor.

According to an article in World Economic Forum, “freelancers represent 35% of the United States workforce … freelancing is on the rise worldwide.” And when numbers of independent contractors continue to grow among the labor force as a whole, those numbers may be even higher among professional editors.

“We are still at the leading edge of a once-in-a-century upheaval in our workforce,” states the October 2015 Monthly Labor Review for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “The freelance surge is the Industrial Revolution of our time.” And whether as a side hustle or main squeeze, freelance work may be in your future, too.

And why wouldn’t editors try going it alone? It’s the American editor’s dream. Freelancers responded voluntarily to an unscientific poll, and offered what they viewed as the most beneficial aspects of their own experiences in the field:

“Most editing work requires a certain level of concentration that is almost impossible to achieve in an office environment,” wrote one respondent. “Being able to work from home, set my own hours, and be more selective about the projects I work on are by far the best aspects of freelancing for me.”

“Being able to set my own rules and guidelines,” another editor wrote. “I dislike following house style rules, especially if they make no sense whatsoever. Also, I have a chronic illness, so being able to work from home is vital.”

However, freelance editor testimonies also convey more complicated scenarios than these. At a glance, freelancing appears to offer attractive alternatives to the traditional office cubicle grind, and in many cases it does. But the reality is that there’s more to freelancing than meets the eye.

Being your own boss requires self-discipline and time management. Freelancing can often require the editor to edit work immediately as it becomes available. Fast-breaking copy can require the entrepreneurial editor to juggle life around the edits, not the other way around.

Regarding marketing and business promotion, freelancers claim the best means of advertising and growth is still via word-of-mouth reputation established among repeat clients and relationships developed over time. And while landing a full-time, steady position as an editor has become less likely, the opportunity to nurture long-term relationships with a few key clients can add up to a healthy revenue stream for a small business. However, when a freelancer delivers shabby work with lackluster results, they develop a poor reputation and do not last long as independents.

Just as any house marketing professionals would, freelancers make use of all the free marketing tools available to them—all social media vehicles within reach. They use Facebook, Twitter, and others. Freelancers also attend industry seminars, writer conferences, and stay abreast of changes in the industry. And it’s not all fun and games. Editors commented that the return on time invested in marketing can feel negligible.

Other potential pitfalls:

“There’s certainly a level of anxiety that comes from pursuing an inconsistent line of work. I’ve also had clients that expect far too much of my time for the rate they are paying me. I think it’s often hard for people employing freelance editors to remember that their project is probably one among many for that editor, and that because most freelance workers don’t have taxes or benefit costs withheld from their pay, the rate they’re paid ends up being far less than it may seem.”

Freelancers also need to maintain the standard in premium editorial services and the prevailing wage among the professional community. Editors advise the following:

“In the vein of pricing, I set my prices based on [Editorial Freelancers Association] standards, but even if I put that in a contract, about 50% of prospective clients still don’t understand the parameters for ‘reasonable prices.’ Many clients will try to argue or haggle over estimates, despite my contract specifically pointing to the EFA.”

“Don’t expect to get your best clients right away. It takes a lot of work and shameless self-promotion to get a solid list of clients. Until then, you should probably have another job on the side, because you won’t make beans for the first couple years.”

Additional editorial advice:

“Don’t let anyone refuse to pay you for training. I once, quite regrettably, sunk hours into unpaid training for a client who had a particular way of doing things. The training was so specific to their process that it was hard to transfer the skills I acquired for that client’s work to other projects.”

“Get qualifications, business experience, and a portfolio before even considering it. I prepared for six years before becoming freelance.”

“Have a business goal that will attract people to you. Find that one thing that makes you stand out.”

Whatever your entrepreneurial ambitions with editorial work might be, do your research, learn your market and its potential, and be persistent. Good editors make good writing happen.

Better to Split Infinitives than Hairs

Hopefully you can see the merits of this blog post, irregardless of your feelings about what it’s comprised of. How irritating did you find that sentence? How many mistakes did you see? I bet it was four. More importantly, did you understand the sentiment behind the words? Would you have enjoyed reading the sentence more if it said: “It has to be hoped that the merits of this piece are apparent, despite any misgivings with regards to its composition?” This is the difference between prescriptivism and descriptivism in editing and writing. Maintaining the attitude of a descriptivist when editing, particularly for fiction and memoir, is crucial to preserving an author’s voice.

Prescriptivism, as you may have already guessed, is the tendency toward rigidly following the rules of grammar—writing as it is prescribed and presumably as taught in schools. (As the Dalai Lama said, “Know the rules well so you can break them effectively.”) Descriptivism, however, is more concerned with the fluid and ever-changing nature of language. To the descriptivist, the moment a new word is created and used it is a proper and acceptable part of the language. Even the Oxford English Dictionary (a medium one would assume to be staunchly prescriptivist) chose the “crying laughing emoji” as its word of the year for 2015, as emoji are now solidly in the realm of widely used language. That is not to say that emoji would or even should be considered a normal part of literature. (Though some sites have reduced classic works to a few hundred emoji, and the stories are still remarkably understandable, though obviously somewhat lacking in nuance.) And while language as casual and grammatically unsound as the first sentence you read here should never make its way into academic papers, there is little reason for an editor to cut that sentence to shreds if they were to read it in a manuscript.

If a sentence like that were presented as dialogue, the descriptivist editor would strive to maintain as much of the original language as possible while a prescriptivist would aim only for perfection, even if it changes the tone of the speaker. Who are you to say how a character should speak, how a narrator should think? Writing can and should feel natural, like the author is having a conversation with their readers. The more an editor changes the author’s words unnecessarily, the more of a divide the editor creates between the writer and the reader. An editor’s purpose is to facilitate the transfer of an author’s ideas and language to an audience, not to strip it of personality for consumption. Authors like Mark Z. Danielewski are prime examples of how evolving language elevates a novel, and his trademark style would not be conducive to prescriptivist editing styles. Stuffy, rigid prose has its place in literature, and true mistakes or ambiguity ought to be corrected, but your average book needs to be accessible, inviting, and edited descriptively. As long as y’all understand the sentence as written, it’s okay if it ain’t perfect. See?

The Hybrid: When the House Style Guide Creates a Frankenstein

Opinions are like. . .you know: everybody’s got one. House editing style guides and preferences are no different. Browse through any random collection of imprint house publications, periodicals, or online articles, and you’ll witness a menagerie of guides, including The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), the Associated Press Stylebook (AP), and a smattering of personal preferences seemingly chosen at random. The resulting style format can resemble an amalgamation of spare parts—something akin to a Frankenstein’s monster of house style. The curious aspect is the specific, obscure details individual editors decide to take a stand on—the hills upon which they choose to fight and die.

The minutia editors sometimes battle over regarding their in-house style guides is often actually arbitrary. As Amy Einsohn identifies in her seminal work, The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications, an editor’s chief concern is consistency. Unless a specific punctuation format, page layout issue, or capitalization question muddles an author’s intended message, the specifics of style are subjective. What matters most is developing a house style that nurtures familiarity for readers, a reliable format that endears readers to a publisher’s signature style.

Consider The New York Times, one of the most successful newspaper publications of all time. Many aspects of the paper’s articles adhere to AP style; some do not. The paper’s headlines, for example, resemble a format closer to CMOS regarding capitalization, but the effect is one of the Times‘s most endearing characteristics. The purpose of a house style guide is to engage repeat readers with a given consistency of style.

The concept bears keeping in mind the crucial constituency Einsohn defines: Copy editors must serve the author, the publisher, and the reader (3). An editor’s process begins with the careful initiation of her relationship with an author. “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change,” (178) writes Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in her classic work, Frankenstein, and an author experiencing the inner conflict of style choice changes made without their consent can feel personally slighted at the abrupt modification. When an author’s submitted manuscript is suddenly rearranged into a formatting style contradictory to their comfortable darlings, the sudden shift can feel like a wound.

With this in mind, consider the ongoing struggle between prescriptivist and descriptivist grammarians. Carol Fisher Saller writes in The Subversive Copy Editor, “The sad fact is, in spite of their enthusiasm for imposing rules on other people’s copy, copy editors are not always aware that some of their long-held rules are controversial or have even been discarded” (51). In other words, building a monster of style choices harvested from CMOS, AP, and personal preferences doesn’t have to be a blasphemous move away any be-all end-all of standards. A copy editor has to know the rules to break the rules, but as long as the resulting publication serves the constituency, the product isn’t broken.

So, copy editors of the world, as you build your own house style, feel free to unearth your preferences from a range of sources. Borrow a head from here, an arm from there, and bolt it all together into your own, unique monster. As long as the house style guide serves the writer, the publisher, and the reader with a consistent, reliable format, a hybrid of styles is nothing to fear.

Line Editing: The Last Great Publishing Mystery

When I decided to start my own freelance editing business, I was faced with a very important question: what editing services would I offer? I knew that developmental editing covers big picture issues, and copyediting tackles grammar and other sentence-level issues. But what about line editing?

Here at Ooligan Press, we don’t typically do line edits. We go from developmental editing to copyediting, and we’re not the only publishing company that does this. This is reflected in the graduate program curriculum. In addition to the introductory Book Editing class, there are courses in developmental editing and copyediting, but not line editing.

Books about publishing also tend to skip over this step in the editorial process. When they do mention it, there is some inconsistency. As acknowledged in Editing Fact and Fiction, discussing “different types of editing isn’t easy because no firm boundaries separate them.” The authors go on to define line editing as “substantive work on the manuscript.” They give examples that include checking for clear transitions, consistent tone, natural-sounding dialogue, and repetition.

In The Book Publishing Industry, author Albert Greco waxes poetic about line editing being undertaken “quietly and alone, often in small windowless cubicles,” but turns practical when describing the line editor’s primary goals “to read the manuscript for errors, inconsistencies, themes or issues that need additional explanation or elaboration, extraneous material that could be deleted, unclear sentences” and so forth, with a secondary aim to “determine whether the manuscript is clear, readable, and stylistically acceptable.”

In contrast, Developmental Editing by Scott Norton asserts that developmental editing “is sometimes called substantive editing or line editing,” equating the two rather than drawing distinctions.

An internet search turned up a more consistent definition of line editing: it’s all about the writing itself at the scene, paragraph, and sentence levels. But that does not eliminate all confusion. A developmental edit focuses more on issues related to the story, characters, and overall structure, and the copyedit concerns itself with rules and consistency at the level of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other sentence-level issues. The reason the line edit is so nebulous is because it overlaps both of these other steps; it too is concerned with big picture issues, albeit on a smaller scale, and with the more nitpicky issues where they are most glaring.

Given that there is overlap between the different stages of editing, and the fact that some smaller presses forgo line editing altogether, why should we even care about it? It’s a legitimate question. I think the line edit holds an important place in the publishing process, even if it doesn’t get the benefit of being a distinct procedure.

The issues that line editing addresses have to be addressed somehow. Presses that do not line edit may make up for it with an extra round of developmental edits, a heavy copyedit, or by only accepting manuscripts by authors who are either very strong writers or good at self-editing. Whether a formal line edit is undertaken or not, the results of line editing must be achieved. Having a separate step for this process can be helpful to authors, managing editors, or both.

The bottom line is that line editing is hard to explain. It’s a bit of a catch-all. In addition to being the last chance to catch developmental issues and the first pass at a copyedit, I like to think of it as polishing the manuscript.

“Don’t Touch My Baby!”: Responding to a Developmental Edit

You did it! You finished your book! All those hours (and who knows how many there were) have finally paid off. You sent the manuscript to a freelance editor for final adjustments before trying to get it published. Or perhaps you sent the manuscript to an agent who asked for it after hearing your pitch at that last conference; they found a home for it at a publishing company, and you ended up signing a contract. Either way, suddenly you have an editor. Your very own editor. You can’t wait to get their feedback.

But then you actually get the feedback. You find your editor has made too many comments to wrap your head around, and the editorial letter feels like it’s fifty pages long. Still, you’re an intrepid author! You will do whatever it takes to see your book in print. So you open the documents on your computer and settle in to read.

As you scan through the comments, a sense of unease settles upon you. They advise so many changes that you’re beginning to suspect that your editor hates the book, and they hate you for writing it. Maybe it isn’t any good after all? You find yourself doubting the meaning of life. But then you rally. This is your book. This is your baby, the story you’ve labored over with blood, sweat, and carpal tunnel. They obviously just don’t get it.

These are the opening stages of grief that you may go through when receiving a developmental edit on your manuscript. But don’t worry. You’re not alone.

One of my very good friends is an author. We’ve known each other since 2004, when we met in college. I was one of her beta readers for years, until I graduated to the role of line editor. Despite our long working relationship and mutual respect, she recently confided in me that when she first receives my feedback, it’s very discouraging. Even though it’s coming from me—her good friend whom she trusts—she has to take a step back and remind herself that the feedback isn’t personal and that I’m probably right (her words). Once she’s done that, she can roll up her metaphorical sleeves and get to work.

You see, editors want you to succeed. We want your manuscript to be polished and engaging, and we will do everything in our power to help you get it there. And we’re not just there to point out the things you missed; we highlight what you did well, too. After all, if you do something particularly well, we want you to know about it so you can do it more.

Publishing is tough. It’s a long, exacting process for everybody, including the authors. So what do you do when you get a developmental edit back? First, take a moment to prepare yourself for what will likely feel like an attack, not just on your baby but on you as well. Remind yourself that an edit is a good thing and that it’s not personal. Next, read through the manuscript comments and the editorial letter. Make sure you have chocolate, wine, or a punching bag nearby.

Once you’ve finished looking everything over, you may find you need a breather. Feel free to set the whole thing aside for a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks. In fact, I recommend it! When you come back to it, you’ll be refreshed and ready to see the feedback for the valuable aid that it is, and you can settle in to work on your revisions with steely determination.

Once you reach that point, you’re unstoppable.