If you’ve finished a draft of a book and want to send it out, or self-publish, but you’re not sure it’s ready – or you know it’s not ready but can’t see what it needs – you start looking around for someone like me.
I offer creative, in-depth story analysis, with suggestions based on the intent of the manuscript and on your strengths; support and advice on how to improve your writing in general and how to deal with all the problems of being a writer; and copyediting. I can do all of these or just one.
Some writers need only a polish and a few minor fixes, others a thorough analysis and step-by-step suggestions for a complete rewrite. Most writers are closer to the second than the first—including many writers accepted by publishing houses. Publishers will take books that they know need a major overhaul, which their editors will assist with, but more often they don’t want to bother with something that isn’t close to perfect. Agents are, if anything, more demanding, and are very likely to tell you what’s wrong with your book in terms so vague that you have no idea what they mean, much less how to fix it. You can spend a lot of time trying to please an agent who may not know herself why she sort of likes your book and sort of doesn’t.
Criticism can sometimes be hard to hear. Support and kindness are necessary for most of us to benefit from it. I don’t just want to tell you what’s wrong; I want to tell you in a way that makes you excited about your work. “It could be a lot better,” is true of all our efforts. But how satisfying it is to build on your strengths, how interesting to wield new tools and tricks, how necessary to see your book from a different perspective (and not that of a relative or close friend).
I pinpoint where the weaknesses are, where the story loses steam or becomes implausible, note if it’s stuffed full of characters and scenes that don’t belong, or if it’s as yet only a sketch, with the important parts missing. Any decent editor can do that. How to fix what’s wrong is a trickier task, and in this area my 30-year experience of writing fiction is very helpful. I’ve faced most of the problems you’re facing. I’ve worked out how to make things happen without absurd coincidence, how and when to summarize, how to weave information into a moving story.
What usually happens with a client is that he incorporates some of my ideas, and others work to spark his imagination. He listens to my six ways to get around x-y-z, takes a few days or weeks to think about it, and then comes up with a solution I wouldn’t have dreamed of, one that takes the novel where it secretly wanted to go. Having someone tell you all the ways your story could be told often clarifies how you want it to be told; at its best a conversation with a careful reader/editor enlarges your understanding of what’s possible in writing, and what’s particularly exciting to you.