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What a Writer Wants... What a Writer Needs

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                                           Yeah, I get my title doesn’t trip off the tongue like the lyrics
                                                      of the Christina Aguilera song, but hey, what can I say?
                                                              It’s that pesky extra syllable that’s to blame…

Here’s an idea of what filled up too much of my time lately during my holiday break–as I waited for feedback from Margo Dill, an editor extraordinaire:

6:17 a.m. Maybe my editor is up early, she finished looking over my manuscript and sent me her critique today. She’s had it for 14 days. Yeah, Christmas Eve and Christmas day were two of those 14 days, but two weeks is enough time to critique 50,000 words, right?
12:30 p.m. I went out for four hours, knowing that when I got back, my critique would be in my inbox.
5:20 p.m. Margo has probably parked her daughter in front of a game system for hours and hours so she can finish reading my manuscript. Dinnertime? She can toss her kiddo a bag of chips and a 2-liter bottle of soda and say, “Bon appetit!” Isn’t that a reasonable expectation?
8:16 p.m. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. It’s an email from Margo. Oh. It’s not about my manuscript. It’s about something else. Doesn’t she know that whenever I see an email from anyone whose name begins with a M, I start to squeal at such a high pitch, my family’s been wearing earplugs? Why is she teasing me like this?
8:27 p.m. A friend emailed me: Margo is busy judging a WOW writing contest, and she has a client who got a book deal, so probably Margo is doing some last-minute edits for them. Why does a national contest and a book-about-to-get-printed-and-put-on-bookstore-shelves take precedence over my manuscript? Ain’t I important, too? And I’ve been so patient…

Yes, this is an exaggeration when it comes to my expectations (although I minimized the 149 number of times I’ve checked–daily–my email), and I don’t advocate parents feeding their child potato chips and sugary soda for dinner, with electronics as a babysitter. When it comes to writers with book deals and obligations like judging a writing contest, I’m at the bottom of the priority list–as I should be. I’m just trying to paint the picture of an impatient writer and show the craziness that’s in our heads sometimes… which leads me to thinking what is the difference between what we want and what we need.

I’d love an email from my editor early in the process, something like, “Sioux, the beginning of this story is great. The more I read, the more I’m lovin’ it.”  The problem? One, that’s not how professionals do it and two, what happens if 20 pages into the manuscript, the story tanks? I want some preliminary feedback. However, what I need is critique on the whole manuscript. After all, it is hopefully a cohesive and compelling piece, from the first word to the last line.

I’d love to have an editor who devotes all their time to my manuscript. I want them to put aside their other work, their other clients, their other obligations and focus on just me. The problem? An editor who is not well-rounded and doesn’t have a life to live is not going to be a decent writer or critic (in my opinion). And an editor who doesn’t have other clients means they lack experience. What I need is an editor who can juggle many different projects at once, who is in demand enough that they have to juggle several jobs simultaneously.

I’d love to get my manuscript critiqued in a few days. A week, tops. Isn’t that enough time to read it and make notes of any minor changes that are needed? Yes, I want it fast. Instantly. But what I need is thorough, and thorough can’t be done quickly. If my editor rushes through reading my work, they might miss some plot holes, some character mix-ups. They might gloss over the draggy parts in their hurry to get back to me.

And now, I’m off to check my email. Again. I made a little bet with myself: if I took the time and wrote this post, by the time I finished, the critique would be in my inbox…

Sioux Roslawski did hear from her editor in a timely manner and she got a big thumbs-up from Margo. In the next couple of weeks she’ll make some minor revisions and then begin sending it out. Sioux got what she wanted–encouraging and constructive feedback and she got what she needed–a critique that missed none of the tiny details but at the same time, kept the bigger picture in mind.

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Total 2 comments
  • jknbt

    the unspoken rule of all publishing is “Thou Shalt NOT Embarass or Harass Your Editor”, which is especially true if you are a newbie writer needing a break. Margo just put your fine work on the bottom of the pile of 100 other things she has to read this week. After three months, send her a snail-mail letter marked “Urgent” asking her what the deal is. If no reply or no response about the critique after a reasonable time, go ahead and send the hard copy off to an agent who says they want to work with you. ALSO, where is your agent? The filter for the publishing business is the professional agent. If you can’t get an agent interested in your stuff, this is a good indicator that your writing is sub-standard. If you send unagented stuff “over the transom” like you apparently did, it automatically goes to the bottom of the pile. The editor wants to read the stuff a known, respected, professional agent is excited about enough to risk their reputation and future sales on it. Sorry, but everything I read in your whine you posted says you sent unagented, second-rate (third rate?) stuff to a busy editor who doesn’t have time to invest reading your work.

  • jknbt

    oops, meant to say “embarrass”

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