Once you’ve chosen a literary edit or critique service from Dog Ear Publishing, you’re likely wondering what will happen next. Stephanie and Angela talk you through the process, including what your editor is hoping to see, common issues that can make an editor’s job more difficult, and how an author can work together with an editor to ensure the process goes smoothly!
Stephanie: Angela and I have been editing collectively for 31 years, and in this podcast, we try to take some of the confusion out of writing and publishing your book. Today, we are going to discuss how we perform critiques, which Dog Ear provides in the form of literary critiques. Which is just the critique, which we’re focusing on today. Then also literary edits, which consist of copy edit combined with a critique. That’s the way I like to describe it.
Angela, what do you have to say to get us started today?
Angela: Well, I guess what I’d really like to talk about is how authors can help us before they even decide to send in their work for a critique. Actually, maybe not even us, but anytime they send in a work anywhere for a critique. There’s some things that will help your editor. Doing a basic spellcheck, doing at least one round of beta testing, where you have test readers read over your book, give you suggestions, and then you take the suggestions that you think are valid, and you make your book that much better for them.
Angela: Friends and family, kind of iffy on the test reader part. They don’t always feel like they can be honest with you about what you’ve written, so sometimes it’s better to go outside of that circle. Find a writer’s group even online or in person, or just some kind of service where you can work with other people who you know will be honest about what you’ve written.
Stephanie: Right. And-
Stephanie: Sorry. I just wanted to say, some people may wonder well you know, why do that if I’m going to have it edited anyway. Really the key here is that we encounter books that have plot issues, questions, where something is missing. Somebody ends up somewhere suddenly that they shouldn’t have been able to get there so quickly or something like that.
Beta readers are excellent for not only giving you feedback on what they … Sorry, for giving you opinions not only on what they think of the book, but also for catching things like that, that you’re just too close to. You know, you may have rewritten a scene and have completely forgotten that then this other thing happens later. Beta readers are great for that.
That’s the kind of thing that you want to address, so that your editor doesn’t have to worry about that and spend time addressing that with you, so they can focus on other things.
Angela: Right. That’s, I think, one of the most important points of any of this is that the better shape your book is in when you send it out to an editor, number one, the more bang for your buck. I mean if they’re not sitting there fixing spelling errors and continuity issues, you’re going to be able to have them look a lot deeper into what you’ve written. Conflict, plot and subplot, pacing, continuity, all of those things that go to the core of making your book work or not.
Even doing some research on the typical issues that people find in novels. Verb tenses, point of view, continuity, and then fixing those things before you send them off to your editor can make a massive difference, not just in how much time and money you spend paying the editor to look over your project, but how much more in depth they’re able to go.
Stephanie: Absolutely, because when there are a lot of problems all over the board, it can be challenging for us to choose which ones to address. Obviously, for time considerations, we can’t spend all day pointing out every problem in your book, but when it is in the best possible shape before you send it to us, we can catch a fair number of those.
If you’ve got plot issues and point of view issues and verb tense issues and continuity issues and story arc issues, and you don’t know who you’re writing for. There’s just so much to address, it makes it very challenging for us to decide.
Angela: When we write the critique, we don’t want to overwhelm the author either.
Angela: If we’ve got 10 pages full of suggestions, it’s just too much for … I think it would be too much for anybody to handle if it was 10 pages worth of suggestions.
Angela: We focus on the most pressing, so the better shape your book is in, the shorter your critique will be, the happier you will be, and-
Stephanie: You know, because … Sorry, go ahead.
Angela: No, go ahead.
Stephanie: I was just going to say, I find that a good rule of thumb is to always pick the top three or four issues. Sometimes I’ve had a list of seven things, and that’s it, and it’s a small list. It’s a two-page thing. “Hey this is beautiful, here are the seven things I found that you might want to think about,” and it’s like “Here’s one plot point that I found weird.” Otherwise, it may be three things, but one of them is point of view. It shifts constantly through the book, and I can’t, you know.
Angela: Yes. [inaudible 00:05:43]. Yes.
Stephanie: Yeah, and that’s gonna be something that is gonna be harder for you to fix as well, and if you’re addressing those basic structural issues all through the book, then you’ve kind of wasted an edit because you’re still gonna probably want an edit afterward. We don’t want you to do that. We love to see editors improving their work, but it is always better to have it in as good a shape as possible before we start.
Angela: I think too, I think a lot of authors get so excited once they type “the end” at the end. They save it, and they’re done, and they’re thinking, “Okay, now I really want somebody to read this and tell me what it’s like.” A lot of times, as an editor, that’s the book I get. It’s just been finished. It hasn’t had any … I mean no spell check, no beta readers, nothing. So-
Stephanie: And maybe even the author hasn’t let it sit and marinate for a while.
Angela: Exactly, exactly.
Stephanie: And come back and read it yourself.
Angela: Right, exactly, because the book that you write today, if you read it a month from now, it’s not going to look the way it looks today. I mean you grow. You change. Time has passed and you’re able to actually read it a little bit more critically and have some distance from it, and that’s really important.
So try not to send out the book as soon as you finish it. We know you’re excited. Find a writer’s group, share it with those. Find a reader friend who’s just like a total bookworm and share it with that person. Then see what kind of changes you can make to make it better.
I think authors, anybody that’s actually working on a project, they’re just too close to it. They need an objective third party. They need somebody they trust whose word they know the person knows what they’re talking about, and that there’s kind of that distance where they won’t take the advice personally.
Stephanie: Yes, absolutely.
Angela: Some of the editing that we send back, I think, you know we’ve always talked about those red marks on the paper taking you back to grade school and making you feel like the teacher’s smacking your wrist with a ruler going, “No, no, no. You don’t put that comma there.” You have to be able to take a step back and just realize that we’re all kind of working for the same common goal.
Stephanie: Right. And I think a lot of the things that we end up addressing in critiques, they inform many of the articles that we end up writing for the Editor’s Corner. I can’t tell you the number of times that I ended up writing in a critique, “I don’t know who your audience is. I don’t know what your intended purpose is. What’s your purpose in writing this book?”
I mean, my gosh, that led me to, I don’t even know how many articles. Those are your two top things. You need to know before you start writing, or at least before you get far in, who your audience is and what your purpose is because that’s going to inform everything you do.
As we’ve discussed, like I said, in those articles, and I think we’ve discussed it in previous podcasts. Those are the top two things that everybody is looking at. Even if they aren’t aware they’re looking at that when they’re reading your book, they’re looking for that.
Angela: Right. I still come back to … I know like as a beginning author, you probably feel like you should just be able to sit down and write it out. “Well professional authors probably don’t ever have to study this stuff, so I’m just gonna sit down and write it and see what happens.” The honest truth is that every writer that ends up as a professional or ends up successful has started off at this base point where they know nothing. Over time and with critiques and editors and publishing companies and just self criticism, honestly, they work up to the point they’re at, at that professional level.
Reading and studying is part of your job as an author. It is going to make you so much better at finding and just figuring out what you’re trying to say, who you’re trying to say it to, and the quickest way to say it.
Stephanie: Yes, I absolutely agree. I don’t even have anything to add to that.
Angela: Oh, I have never done that one before. Let me give myself a pat on the back for that.
Stephanie: That was that pause. I was like, I have nothing to add to that.
Angela: Okay. I’ll take that. I guess one more thing that I want to talk about too is that the problems that an editor is going to see in the manuscript while doing a critique, they’re the same kind of issues that a reader is going to see. So while editors are trained to look for specific things, especially verb tenses and point of view. We may know the name for them, but a reader is still going to get tripped up on the same thing we get tripped up on. They may just not be able to explain it in the same way we will explain it. Right?
Stephanie: Exactly. Yes. Yeah.
Angela: So, yeah.
Stephanie: I like to point that out, that I’m going into this, I’m offering my feedback as both an editor and as a naïve reader. When we do developmental edits, we also write the critiques we have, typically three critiques, and so I always point that out in my first round that this is the only time at which I get to be a naïve reader of your manuscript is in that first round of a developmental edit.
Yes, we are catching those things that just about any reader will catch, and we’re also hopefully, gonna catch some things that most readers probably would not catch to also help you be stronger. But yeah, there are some things that definitely will need to be addressed. Sorry, I kind of lost myself in that thought there.
Angela: That’s okay. It was a complex thought, so that’s all right. I guess we just really want authors to take the whole critique experience as a learning experience. Ask questions, study what you need to study, at least take the suggestions into consideration. We never to expect you to just tic off every single thing we’ve suggested, but just at least try to look at it critically.
We like to believe we always have a point when we make a suggestion. At least take them into consideration, and try to work with your editor. They’re there to help you and especially to help your readers. Like I said, we’ve been trained in this. We’ve been doing this for many, many years, so we’re probably gonna notice some things that as a novice author, you maybe haven’t even run across or knew existed yet.
Stephanie: Right. So again, when we take on a critique, once again I just kind of want to reiterate, that we’re not going to be able to address everything that is in your manuscript. We are going to pick the top three or four. If you are having just a literary critique, not a literary edit or developmental edit, we are also going to be telling you what type of edit we think that your book can most benefit from.
Stephanie: I know we used to have a lot more just basic literary critiques than we do now, but I think a lot of people were wondering what level of edit that they required, and I think a lot of people are surprised at that, at how much their manuscript can be improved by an edit when they have just the critique.
Again, critiques are gonna go mostly looking at the high-level stuff, really the high-level stuff. We’re gonna start at the highest possible level we can, which really means the structural level, the deepest nitty-grittiest … See I say highest level, and then I say the deepest, most nitty-gritty part of your book.
Angela: The important things.
Stephanie: Because it’s the foundation of your book. We call them high-level, but they’re the foundation. High-level on our list of things that we’re looking at, audience, your purpose, and your story arc and pacing and continuity and verb tenses and point of view. Everybody’s got different issues, but you know really you have to have those basics in place. Those audience and purpose and your story arc, oh boy, do they have to be in place.
Angela: Oh yes, and I actually was curious what you thought about if it was a good idea to have a critique prior to having an edit because I know as a literary edit, we offer the critique and the edit at the same time. But I’ve always felt like if you’re going to go through having a critique, there’s probably gonna be so many changes that are gonna need to be made, that it almost makes more sense to wait on the edit, once you’ve made your revisions. But I was curious what you thought about that.
Stephanie: Well, I’ve seen it both ways over the years. I think that early on we did a lot more, like I’ve already mentioned, of just the literary critiques. Part of the problem I think a lot of those people, I never ended up seeing their manuscripts again. Now whether they just came to Dog Ear and said, “Hey those were great ideas, thanks.” And they revised their book. I think that a lot of authors maybe actually got kind of scared away by how much work they had.
Angela: Oh okay.
Stephanie: Again, I think a lot … From what I’ve seen, a lot of times, whenever they were just literary critiques, they were in rougher shape even than the people who tend to get literary edits.
Stephanie: So it’s really hard for me to say whether … I mean yes, in theory, I love the idea of having a critique done before we ever do the edit, but then at the same time, if I’m just doing a critique, a lot of times I’m going, “Okay look, you really need to at least have a basic copy edit, but here are your other issues.”
Stephanie: You know, I kind of love the literary edits because we can just fix all that stuff we see, that normal everyday stuff the quote “pedestrian” stuff. We can just fit that in a literary edit. It’s kind above and beyond a copy edit because we are fixing those things that we definitely wouldn’t fix in just a copy edit. Then we say in the letter, “Hey look, I went ahead and took care of this for you.”
Stephanie: I don’t know. I kind of love the literary edit in that respect because I know that I’m kind of being given permission to go ahead and do a little bit more.
Angela: Well I think being able to go into it a little bit more deeply too because you’re doing the copy edit, it almost forces you to look at the manuscript a little bit more in depth and take a little bit more time because you’re having to fix those grammar and spelling and punctuation things anyway.
Stephanie: Right, and I find that a lot of times I make notes within the manuscript itself. I make notes to myself to come back to, and sometimes by the time I reach the end, that’s resolved. And I’m like, “Oh well I can just fix this real quick,” or it’s just a one sentence fix here, or just a couple of points to throw into the author as a little bonus. “Hey by the way, I think you can write two paragraphs and fix this problem that I noticed.”
Yeah, I really do like that added in depth because like I said, I always like to describe a literary edit as a copy edit plus a critique, but it really is more in depth.
Angela: That is very true. That’s very true.
Stephanie: You know, in a perfect world, someone would have a critique first, and then come back to us for a literary edit. Obviously, in a perfect world for us, I think.
Angela: Right. You make a good point too about getting that simple critique back, and just going, “Well, crap. This is way too much. I’m just going to put this over here, forget about it and move on.”
Stephanie: I think if people have invested in the literary edit, sorry, I tend to just kind of slur literary for some reason. If you’ve invested in the literary edit, I think a lot of those people are more invested in making sure that they get it right. I always try to be supportive and helpful even in just a basic critique. You know, “You can do this. You can absolutely do this.”
Angela: That’s right.
Stephanie: But I wonder too, if people who get just the critique are kind of testing the waters, you know, just kind of dipping their toe and like [inaudible 00:18:46]. You know?
Angela: See how you do. Yeah, well and-
Stephanie: So I think … Go ahead.
Angela: I was just gonna say, I have yet to read a book as an editor ever, that didn’t at least have something I liked, so I cannot-
Stephanie: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Angela: Yeah. I mean, I can’t imagine any editor would send out a critique without telling you some of the good things that they find because there’s always something that’s well done, even if it is something simple as the narrative being extremely heartfelt or like the idea the world that the author’s building has been really well thought out.
There’s always something that has a positive to it that I think every editor should be pointing out just to keep authors reminded, you know, you can do this. It’s gonna seem overwhelming sometimes, but we don’t have to chuck the entire project just because we have a couple of issues.
Stephanie: Oh yeah absolutely, and everybody has their own strengths and their own … I hate to call them weaknesses. Your strengths, and then the things that you can improve upon. That’s how I always like to phrase them because they’re only as weak as you let them be. You can always improve upon them. Everybody has different strengths, so I may edit two books in a week, and the strengths I see in one may not occur at all in the second one.
So I always like to point out at least one good strength. Usually it’s multiple strengths. I like to point out a strength for every area needing improvement because everyone has a story worth telling, and everyone has a strength that they can build upon. You’re absolutely right.
Angela: I agree.
Angela: All right.
Stephanie: We do really like to stay positive and to help you with that. Again, I like seeing manuscripts come back. I mean I’ve seen some manuscripts, I think upward … It’s crazy. I think I’ve seen one four or five times, but I really like being able to watch progression.
Angela: Oh yes, yes.
Stephanie: And to really work with authors. Sometimes it’s sad to know that you’re just going to see this manuscript this one time, and you’re like, “Oh, I want to see it again.” Sometimes I tell authors, specifically, “I want to see your book when it’s all done.” Because we’re in the editing side, we don’t always get to be part of the production and the post-production and see when it’s ready. Because we’re editors, I think we’re book lovers, and we probably … If you’re anything like me, you’ve read several books multiple times.
Angela: Maybe, I’m not saying, but maybe.
Stephanie: There are books I love to read again and again.
Stephanie: Yeah. So I always like to see that potential and to help authors create a book like that.
Angela: I completely agree. I don’t think we would be doing this job if we weren’t like lovers of books, but beyond that just wanting to help make the books that get out there the best they can possibly be.
Stephanie: Absolutely. Yeah. Really, I don’t do this because I love to criticize people. I don’t like that at all. I love helping people make-
Angela: Yeah, so you say.
Stephanie: I love helping people make their text just shine, as much as possible. That really is the joy in it. Yes absolutely a critique is not just critical. Critical in the negative way because critical is you know, casting a critical eye. You’re also looking at strengths, and we also do like to help boost your confidence in other ways.
Angela: Absolutely, well because we want to make the book the best it can be. I mean that’s the whole point of it is that when it gets out there, we want to have our name associated with it because we’re so proud of how it turned out.
Stephanie: Absolutely. And apart from that, I always like to say that I like to help you improve as a writer. Every time you work on your book, you’re also working on yourself. Even if it’s the only book you ever write, you’re not gonna be unchanged from publishing it, so I like to help you be a better writer as well. Even the things you learn in a critique, a lot of writing skills can be applied for book-length manuscripts, all the way down to letters. A lot of the same principles apply.
Angela: Yeah, that’s incredibly true because if you’re sending out to publishers and agents and everything else, you’re going to be writing a lot of letters, and the better you do that and the more you learn, the better off you’re gonna be.
Stephanie: Mm-hmm. You have different forms obviously, but it’s the same basic writing principles.
Stephanie: Yeah, so do you have anything else to add.
Angela: No, I think we have jumped into the deep end and covered about everything I could possibly think of for that one.