What am I talking about when I say I offer “freelance services?” Fixing typos? Reconstructing awkward sentence structure? A little bit, yes. But it’s more than that.
When I receive your manuscript in my inbox, what am I looking for? What is my approach to editing the books I release on Broken River? They are almost the same, with one minor difference.
THINGS I DO
1) COCONUT WATER: I receive your manuscript and open up the document in Microsoft Word. I click over to the “Review” tab and select “Track Changes.” I normally have a delicious drink nearby, some kind of juice or coconut water.
2) SINKING IN: I begin reading. Normally, this “sinking in” process creates a lot of notes, which I’ll then look back at and fix later on. The enormous amount of notes are the result of approaching a manuscript by a writer whose voice I am not familiar with. I live very much inside my head, so I have about 5,000 quirks and idiosyncrasies that manifest boldly when confronted with writing that doesn’t fall into lockstep. It kind of sucks, and it’s the same thing I have to get through when reading for fun. I have to give every book about ten to fifteen pages to begin gelling, before the stupid voices quiet down and I’m able to understand and adapt to the voice I’m interacting with.
This process is one of the most vital points of the editing process. When I first started doing this, I made the mistake of trying to make every book the best JDO book it could be. That is stupid. Eventually, after receiving some well-placed, bristly feedback, I began to approach doctoring like, well, a doctor. If you’re confronted with a sick person, you might offer suggestions and talk to them about their diet, their exercise regimen, etc. But you have to take their build into consideration: everyone is made differently, everyone speaks in a different voice. It is vital to understand that voice and try to make it the best possible version of itself. This is an important distinction.
3) I READ THE DAMN THING: Typically I do this in bursts of 20 pages at a time, followed by a ten to fifteen minute break. I do five sessions like this a day. Typically three sessions, then a lunch, then two more. Then I’m wrapped up. I leave myself notes in my notebook, and close it until the next day. Therefore, I finish about 100 pages a day. Any more than that and my eyes begin to glaze over, I get sloppy, or I begin to hate the book (no matter how good it is). I never want to get to the point where I hate the book. I have to find its good heart underneath, and put in the work to tease that out. Otherwise, I’m just doing a job, not teaching, not helping, not practicing an art.
4) I GET TO KNOW THE CHARACTERS: It doesn’t matter to me if it’s the protagonist or the bartender. I want to know who that person is. This is, to me, the most vital part of all narrative writing (that includes characters). When readers engage with a book, they are engaging with a nebulously authoritative voice that guides them along. That voice either knows what it’s talking about, or it doesn’t. It knows its characters, or it doesn’t. Once we reach a point where I feel the author has added in a stock character to keep the plot moving, I immediately seize on that. There are absolutely no exceptions to this. Whether it’s one line or twenty, every single character in your manuscript needs to have a life outside of the book. If we can see the strings being pulled, if we can see clearly that they are in service of the plot, we’re going to have a discussion.
We’re going to talk about who this character is. Hopes, dreams, pet peeves, history. If they’re in a relationship, we’re going to have a Skype talk about their past together, how each of them feels about each other, the secret language they’ve developed between themselves. This is the most important thing about dialogue and character interactions: everyone creates new languages for those close to them. So, what are those languages? How do the characters code switch? We’ll dig into that.
5) NARRATIVE STRUCTURE: If your narrative, at any point, comes to a grinding, painful halt, that’s a talk. This can happen in a number of different ways, but for the most part I’ve noticed it’s related to tangential plotting, in which the author will travel down a road they think is important, being as deeply invested in the world as they are, but for the reader seems completely off-base. Remember, YOU need to know it inside and out, not the reader. In fact, you should hide as much as you reveal. Know it deeply, and then talk as if everyone knows what you mean. That builds authority. It also keeps the plot on track: mentioning things offhand, not falling down rabbit holes, that’s how we keep the thing moving like a freight train. Full speed.
Sometimes the scenes are out of order. Sometimes information is revealed before it should be, if it’s needed at all. Sometimes we just have to shuffle some things around. But we’ll get it smooth and firing on all cylinders.
6) SENTENCE STRUCTURE: Clunky lines will be terminated. We will read lines aloud and we will see what works or what doesn’t. There are hundreds of good rhythms out there. Our job is to find yours. Because once you tap into it, once you find that rhythmic lane, you are on your way.
7) RISK: Every so often, if I think a writer is receptive to it, I might suggest they take a risk with their story. This is a pretty rare occasion. For the most part, I don’t want to reinvent the wheel with your manuscript. But if I think you’re open, I might throw the idea out. If you find it compelling, it’s yours. Not every subversion of cliché works, however. Sometimes you have to let the plot be the plot. It is a rickety bridge that I cross with only a few people, carefully.
THINGS I DON’T DO
1) PRAISE INDISCRIMINATELY: I used to have a problem with being too much of an asshole. Then I realized that my points were received much more clearly, that an author was willing to work with me, if I was nice about it. Nice, however, does not mean I’m there to cheerlead for you. I mean, I will. If I think an idea is incredible or a line is good enough to melt socks, I will let you know. This is about finding your strengths, and that’s a part of it. I might not love your book like you love your book. I might love your book more than you love your book. But I’m here to help. Gentle platitudes are for deathbeds.
2) COPYEDIT: Remember when I said earlier that I apply the same methods to my freelance work as I do to Broken River? This is where the paths diverge. For BRB, I copyedit the hell out of those books, usually combing through them four or five times. For freelance work, however, I don’t have the time (or the mental energy, to be honest) to fix every typo or grammatical dumper in the piece. If I catch it, I’ll fix it. But I’m not looking for it. However, I can point you in the direction of several great copyeditors when we’re finished (or if that’s all that you need).
Price: 1/2 cent / word. $25 minimum project fee.
This is basically my no-bullshit advice on stuff. I have indeed heard folks tell me some of the horrible advice they’ve heard over the years, and I can maybe give you a different, more practical way of looking at developing a life as a working writer. This one, like I said, I’m on the fence about. I will yell about the doctoring till the cows come home, but I’m not going to label myself as any kind of expert about anything. I am, however, a guy with opinions, who does write as his main source of income. So take from that what you will. I can also get you pumped and talk through blocks, if that’s your thing.
Price: $30/ half hour ($20/ half hour through Patreon)
If you want to get down into the mud and get that book to become a living thing, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to work on your manuscript, short stories, or portfolio.