Friday, May 20, 2011

Writing a Fine Line with Guest Blogger: Rebecca Forster

Win 1 of 5 free book downloads and meet bestselling author Rebecca Forster today at the Book Boost!

She's here to give us the bottom line about working with freelance editors and here's what she had to say...


Spring. We begin anew. We slough off our baggage and leave the dreary months behind. Except when we don’t. Which brings us to the topic of freelance editors.

I have dragged mine into every spring, every new project, every new puddle of angst where I wallow secure in the knowledge that I will never write a decent book again. I have done this for 26 years. I have faced each spring insecure and uncertain though I have published 23 novels, 2 indie published novels and one script in development. My freelance editor’s name is Jenny Jensen*.

To her credit, she does not roll her eyes as she takes me by the scruff of the neck, shakes off the muck and and points me back to the computer. I work with her because she is in my corner and that is important in publishing – to have someone in your corner. I work with her because I sell more often when I do.

That fact alone should be enough for me to never question my association with Jenny, yet I do. I want to know why, after all these years, can’t I edit myself? Haven’t I learned anything from her? I had to know. Am I an author idiot?

Thankfully, the answer is no and Jenny had a couple of good reasons why I isn’t:

  • Writing is a fast and furious process when it is going well. Grammar and spelling are not top of mind when an author is ‘in the zone’; words and ideas must flow freely.
  • Self-editing is prone to ‘blindness’. The author often sees no difference between her intent and the typed words. A good editor understands and respects the author’s words and voice while cleaning up the grammatical flaws that set the signals – signals that allow the reader to effortlessly navigate the story.
  • Some writers see punctuation as a bother. A well-punctuated manuscript will catch the eye of a publisher and so will one that is not punctuated well. Only one will sell.
  • Finally, some people are writers and others are editors. Like a writer with an instinct for story, an editor has an instinct for a pause, a rolling stop and when to quit. She knows when creativity and inspiration becomes awkward and interferes with story.

Knowing why I use a freelance editor usually leads to the question…

Can Only Rich Writers Afford a Freelance Editor?

Anyone who has been writing as long as I have can tell you that writing is not the road to riches. Most of us write while holding down other jobs and dealing with families. Some write for the pure love of it; most write in the hopes of making it their profession. So, how can the expense of a freelance editor be justified?

First an author must understand that books are business. New York publishers have bottom lines to meet, independently published authors want to sell their books, online retailers want to turn a profit. The way to determine if it is worth spending money on a freelance editor is to first define your writing objective.

If you want to attract an agent, a New York publisher or stand out in the indie market then, in my opinion, an editorial eye is a necessity. Prices range from the ridiculously cheap to the astronomically expensive. Some projects only need grammatical assistance and others continuity or story editing. Story editing is more expensive but, in my case, is critical. I write thrillers that rely on a trail of clues and red herrings and I cannot assess the effectiveness the webs I weave on my own.

In this roiling market, those who offer the cleanest, most professional product will be noticed. In the e-book market, those who present a flawed product will be called on the carpet instantly and very publicly. That is the worst kind of publicity and hard to recover from.

How Do I Work with a Freelance Editor?

The same way you work with a New York editor attached to a publisher. You respect one another’s expertise and perspective. You have discussions, not confrontations. You understand that while this is your book, her work is also held out to public scrutiny.

The Author:

Do not forward your first draft. Make it the best it can be before offering it for critique.
When the editor returns her comments/changes read them, set them aside and come back to them in 24 hours.

Look at your edited work with an objective eye. The editor is the first reader. If she questions something so will the person who buys your book.

Pay your bills, say your thank yous. Even if you don’t like editorial suggestions, the work has been done. This is a small community- and getting smaller all the time considering the internet - and an author’s reputation is easily damaged.

Ask questions. If something doesn’t make sense, talk it out. Most freelance editors offer a certain number of follow-ups. Be succinct. Be focused.

Do not expect continuity editing if you have paid strictly for grammar/spelling edits.

The Editor:

Should be respectful of your work and have no genre preferences.

Should exhibit that she understands your ‘voice’.

Should clearly state their fees up front and be specific about what the service entails.

Should have an acceptable turn around time.

Bottom line, if you can afford it, freelance editing makes all the difference in your final product. If you can’t spend the money find the next best thing: a middle school English teacher to help out, a wonderful book on grammar or a friend who will be read your manuscript and be honest.

Rest assured, you are not an author idiot if you can’t self-edit. You are a writer. Other (wonderful) people are (thankfully) editors. Together, we make books that people want to read.

*Jenny resides at
Note the wonderful example on her home page of what a difference punctuation can make.

A Note from the Book Boost: Rebecca, thank you so much for joining us today. Your blog post was great and something that a lot of writers probably haven't considered trying. I'm definitely going to check out your fabulous Jenny. Please tell us more about your book.


In a remote mountain community, the execution of a grocer and the abduction of a world-renowned model leave the local sheriff searching for a connection, two killers and a woman who is running for her life. In the next 48 hours, Sheriff Dove Connelly will learn that nothing in his mountain enclave is what it seems and what he can’t acknowledge will be the death of him and the woman he is desperate to save.

Excerpt (edited for length):

Dove Connelly’s Bedroom
2:17 a.m.

Dove Connelly caught up the phone on the first ring even though it was set so low as to make the sound virtually mute. Any other human being in a deep sleep wouldn’t have heard it, but Dove wasn’t any one else.

First, he didn’t sleep all that deep anymore. Then there was the thing he had in him. It was his sixth sense that let him hear and see what others didn’t, anticipate what others couldn’t.

Most people respected his talent, some thanked God for it and others who weren’t so law abiding steered clear of it. His wife, Cherie, used to tease him, swearing that she would be forever faithful because he would know her intentions even before she strayed. But that was before the unthinkable happened. Now, if Cherie spoke of that sixth sense at all, she did so with regret, sad that the gift had forsaken Dove when they needed it most.

Tonight Dove’s wife didn’t move when he pushed aside the covers and got out of bed. He put the phone to his ear, padding along to the kitchen in bare feet, wearing only old sweat pants, having no inkling that he’d be putting on his uniform any time soon.

“What is it, Jessica? Hogan boys tear up the tavern again?” He kept his voice low. The house wasn’t big.

Jessica Taylor started to speak but all Dove heard was the news catching in her throat. In all the years he had known her, Jessica reported to him using a scale of verbal sorrow, outrage or downright disbelief that gave him a clue as to enormity of the crime that was waiting on him. This night, for a layer of a second, she was speechless. Dove’s blood ran cold; as cold as it had run all those months ago when another crime was over and done before he knew it had even begun.

“Talk to me, Jessica.”

“Oh God, Dove, we got a bad ‘un. Bad as anything.”The woman pulled in a breath and it went no further than the middle of her chest.

“What and where?”

“One of ours, Dove. Paddy Johnson was drivin’ home, saw the lights at the Mountain Store and figured Fritz was hostin’ one of his poker parties like he used to.” Jessica breathed deep again and this time it went all the way in to her gut.“Paddy stopped into the store thinking to pick up a hand, Dove. He went into the store and found Fritz dead. Head splattered all over the back room. I’m so sorry.”

“Ah, Jesus.”

Dove put a hand to his face. There were no words to express Dove’s shock and sorrow. Bowing his head, covering his eyes did not make this news easier to take. They were talking about Fritz, a jack-o-lantern of a man: solid, round, possessed of a smile that cracked his face in two and lit up even the darkest times.

Dove remembered Fritz passing hot coffee to him on a bitter morning. Dove could still hear Fritz’s good words even when there was nothing good in his own life to speak of. Fritz was Dove’s best friend and confessor, the only one who knew what had really gone on in the sheriff’s home. Fritz was fond of reminding the sheriff that he carried the spirit of the bird his mother had named him for. Dove. Peace. Fritz had tried so hard to help Dove make peace with his demons.

Now Fritz was gone and Dove was shamed he slept through the man’s dying. That he didn’t feel his friend’s need was as close to a sin as anything he could imagine. There would come a time for personal reckoning. The time wasn’t now. Now was the time for Dove to do his job.

“Where’s Paddy?” Dove asked flatly.

“Says he’s sittin’ in his truck waitin’ on you. He called from the store but didn’t want to stay inside.”There was a beat before Jessica asked: “Want me to let the state boys know?”

“Give them a call but I’m not waiting on them, Jessie.”

“Alright, Dove.”

“Ring up Tim and get him out there. Call Nathan, too.”

“You going to trust Nathan with this?” Jessica asked tentatively.

“I trust him, Jessica. You make the call,” Dove directed. Then he thought again. “And Bernadette. We’ve got to let Bernadette know.”

“I’ll see to it, Dove,” Jessica offered but he had already changed his mind.

“Never mind. Not yet. I’ll go out to the store first. There’s always a chance Paddy is wrong.”Dove clutched for something that would make this better. The straw he came up with was speculation. It was a short one, a ridiculous dodge, but it was what he had. “Besides, if Bernadette’s awake she’ll know something’s gone down. Can’t be as close as those two have been all these years and not know.”

Jessica murmured something Dove couldn’t quite catch. It sounded like ‘hallelujah’. He was about to ring off when she stopped him.

“Dove, you think he could have done it himself? I mean, it’s been hard on him with Bernadette and all.”

“No,” he snapped. “Fritz wouldn’t have left us with that on our mind.”

“You’re right,” Jessica agreed. “You just do what you’ve got to do, Dove. I’ll be by the phone ready to help with whatever you need.”



“Lock your doors. Keep your eyes open. Is your gun loaded?”

“Dove, whoever did this is probably gone. Besides, I can take ca. . .”

“You do it, Jessica,” Dove snapped. “One friend gone is enough. I won’t have another.”

Dove rang off. He kept his thoughts so close there wasn’t room for his huge sorrow. He dressed in the near dark, the small light in the bathroom casting only the faintest glow. Cherie saw that his uniform was laundered good as any city cop. She reasoned that if Dove’s size didn’t make people think twice before coming down on him, his starched and pressed uniform would. Even in these big mountains where so much law was made just by two people meeting up together, a fine uniform made a difference.

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Mona Karel said...

Rebecca, great post. Thank you for reminding us all to stay professional. For anyone who wants a good read with some serious twists, I really recommend Before Her Eyes. The ending set me back on my rear!

Arthur Levine said...

Rebecca, great info.


Sandra Cox said...

Rebecca, This was a very insightful blog. I'm so glad I stopped by to read it. Wishing you all the best.