Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions

If you’re planning to self publish, hiring an editor for a manuscript critique or dev edit is a great first step – I salute you! But receiving feedback from your editor isn’t the end, it’s the beginning. Next you have to digest all their comments and decide whether you want to implement their suggestions. An editor might recommend you combine two similar secondary characters into one, or include more sensory description in order to bring your setting to life. If you agree, you’ll need to do more work on your manuscript. A developmental editor won’t ‘fix’ or change your story for you. They’ll give you advice on how to change it yourself. After all, this is your story, and it’s not an editor’s place to turn your book into the book they would have written.

This means that your book won’t be ready to publish immediately after hiring an editor, because there will always be more work to be done. And even after that developmental work is finished, there are other steps you might want to take before sharing your work with the world. It’s a good idea to hire a copy-editor and proofreader to get your manuscript ready at the micro level, and then you might decide to hire a cover designer or somebody to write your back page blurb. There are lots of stages on the road to self publishing, and the great thing about the process is that you’re completely in charge and get to decide which steps are important to you.

I don’t work with authors beyond the developmental editing stage, so I’m not able to help you with copy-editing or cover design, or getting your book onto Amazon. But there are LOADS of fabulous people who can help, and lots of free resources online to guide you, so I will be very happy to point you in the right direction.

Well, the writer bit’s easy. You – lovely, hardworking author – are the reason I do this job and you’re at the centre of everything I do, think, read and write.

And then the wolf part. I’ve been rather obsessed with fairytales ever since studying them on my Children’s Literature MA. I love how deliciously dark and gruesome the original stories were, and I’m fascinated by the transition they’ve made from oral tales in peasants’ kitchens to Disney musicals on the big screen. Although they were never meant for a young audience, original folktales like Hansel and Gretel and Beauty and the Beast serve up everything I love in children’s books: horror, magic, monsters and mystery.

Little Red Riding Hood is my favourite. It featured in at least three of my MA essays and I spent a significant portion of my dissertation analysing the colour of Red’s cloak and comparing her to Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I adore the story’s sense of danger and macabre and all its secret, conflicting meanings (like that the wolf really represents a sexual predator trying to tempt little girls away from their mothers, or that he’s actually a symbol of all the men executed as werewolves in the 17th century). So, a wolf felt like the perfect companion for this fairytale-loving children’s book editor.

Also, that literary image of the little girl – or sheep, or pig, or fox – creeping cautiously through the woods while the predatory wolf waits in the shadows made me think a little of the editing process. Handing your words over to a stranger is a scary thing and it takes a lot of courage to open yourself up to feedback from a professional. But I think sometimes there’s this fear that an editor is there to scold or mock you for doing things wrong, like we live to tell you how terrible your work is. That is absolutely not what most editors do. We’re here to work with you, to help you make your story everything you want it to be. Most of us are patient and kind and cheering you on. The process should be exciting and encouraging, not off-putting.

We’re not scary. And wolves aren’t as bad as Charles Perrault and the Grimms make out, either. But if you see one in the woods, run. Just in case. (Wolves, I mean. Not editors.)

I edit the types of books that I love to read: horror, mystery, sci-fi and fantasy (even if the story just contains a splash of one of those elements). These types of books are referred to as ‘genre fiction’ or sometimes ‘commercial fiction’. A couple of the categories also come under the ‘speculative fiction’ heading.

In a nutshell, speculative stories focus on imagined situations or themes, such as ghosts, zombies, time travel or dystopian futures. The author is speculating on what could be. Genre fiction refers to stories that are written specifically to fit into a given genre, like horror or mystery, as opposed to literary novels. They typically follow genre conventions and readers know roughly what sort of story to expect. Some genre fiction is also speculative fiction (like supernatural horror or sci-fi). There are some sub-genres of genre fiction that I don’t edit because I don’t particularly enjoy reading them, like pure romance or westerns.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a realistic, magic-free middle grade or YA as much as the next gal. I grew up devouring Paula Danziger’s tales of awkward, lovestruck teenagers who lived in the real world (although one of them did move to the moon) and some of my favourite children’s books have two feet planted firmly on the ground. But it’s the dark, supernatural, spooky, imaginative stories that really get this little bookworm’s heart racing, so those are the books I can add the most value to.

Yes, it matters! Of course, there are those rare crossover books that appeal to children and teenagers – and adults, for that matter – but those are few and far between. If you want your story to find its way into the hands of readers who will truly love it and understand it and tell all their friends about it, you need to know who you’re writing for. There are different conventions and expectations for middle grade and young adult, because a ten-year-old has a completely different frame of reference to a 16-year-old. They’re experiencing different emotions and changes and viewing the world in different ways. A primary school reader might just be experiencing his first crush, while a sixth former may be in the throes of an intense sexual relationship.

Here’s a very rough guide to help you establish whether your story is middle grade or young adult. Ask yourself:

  • How old is my main character? Young readers like to read up, so aim for a protagonist who’s about two years old than the reader you’re writing for. Main characters in middle grade should be no more than 13 – anything older is YA territory, with around 21 being the upper limit.
  • How long is my book? Middle grade word counts range from around 20,000 to 60,000, while YA novels can be anywhere up to around 100,000 words.
  • What themes am I exploring? Middle grade novels often focus on friendships, family bonds and first experiences. Main characters are trying to exert their independence but usually return to the comfort of home or whatever life they knew before. Young Adult stories tend to feature more intense relationships and emotions as protagonists question their own identities and make life-changing decisions.

The Wolves’ Den – a resource hub for new authors – is on its way, so for more detailed information about middle grade VS young adult, register below for Writer and the Wolf updates.

There are several types of professional editing available and they all happen at different stages in the process. You might opt for just one or two editing services or you might decide to take your book through each stage. To give you an idea of your options, here are the types of editing available, and the order they should typically be done in:

  1. Manuscript critique/assessment: This is a big-picture review of your novel focusing on the fundamental story elements like plot, structure, character and genre. It won’t include actual edits or comments within the manuscript itself but will rather come in the form of several pages of feedback and suggestions to improve your story.
  2. Developmental edit: This will focus on the same issues as above but will come with comments and recommendations throughout the manuscript, usually via in-line comments or comment bubbles in the margin. It will cost quite a bit more than a manuscript critique but is much more intensive.
  3. Copyedit / line-edit: This stage focuses on sentence-level issues like spelling, grammar and consistency and should always come after a developmental edit because it’s likely you’ll be making some big changes to your manuscript – maybe even deleting whole chunks – and it’s a waste to have text edited if it’s not definitely staying!
  4. Proofread: This will be the last stage in the editing process, usually after your book has been sent to a designer or typesetter. Proofreaders perform a final quality check, looking out for sentence-level issues that have been left behind, like typos and inconsistent punctuation. It’s an important stage because no editors are perfect and there will always be mistakes hiding in your manuscript that weren’t spotted.

It’s important to note that these services can vary from editor to editor, even if they’re calling them the same thing, so double check what’s included when you hire a professional editor.

Professional body

Currently in the UK there is no official accreditation for editors (like you’d find for accountants or engineers, for example). That said, the CIEP recently gained chartership status which means members (like me!) will soon have the opportunity to take accredited qualifications. Until then, there are various levels of CIEP membership and editors can work their way through the ranks by taking courses, providing evidence of their editing work and passing the CIEP’s editing test. I’ve done all those things and am currently a Professional member.

Because there’s no one way to become a professional editor, you’ll find we all have a range of backgrounds and credentials. It’s important to know what sort of editor you’re looking for so you can find one whose experience and expertise matches your needs.

Editing training

I’ve trained to be a specialist fiction editor by studying – sometimes in person, sometimes online – with various professional bodies around the world. I’ve taken courses with CIEP and PTC (Publishing Training Centre), the two most widely recognised editorial training providers in the UK, and overseas with The Editorial Freelancers Association, Editors Canada and ACES. This training has covered not just the intricacies of fiction editing but also how to help independent authors on their journey to publication, as well as how to edit for specific audiences and genres including middle grade, YA, mystery, fantasy and graphic novels.

Qualifications

I also have two Master’s degrees in Children’s Literature and Novel Writing. My Children’s Literature degree from Roehampton University explored the literary, creative, social and historical contexts of children’s and YA books, from Victorian tracts to contemporary classics, and kick-started my own creative writing for young readers. When I edit your novel, I bring to it everything I learned on this MA: a working knowledge of children’s publishing, solid experience of analysing and exploring children’s and YA books at the story level, a clear understanding of the conventions associated with each age category from picture book to YA, and an absolutely unrelenting adoration and respect for children’s books. My 20,000-word dissertation,Painting the Town Green: Structuralist Perspectives on the Value of Colour in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, earned me a distinction and a literary prize, and taught me a lot – A LOT – about analysing children’s books on multiple levels. There was no theme, allusion, story goal, character motivation or author intention in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that I didn’t find eventually!

My Novel Writing MA from Middlesex University took a practical and theoretical approach to fiction writing. Modules included ‘Reading as a Novelist’, ‘Developing the Novel’ and ‘Research for Fiction’, and tutorials ran from idea generation and character development right through to pitching a book to publishers and agents. Each week I produced 500 words of creative writing in response to a prompt, such as ‘describe the topography and poetics of a setting considering its dual nature as physical, functional and emotional’ or ‘create the fictional voice of an unreliable or untrustworthy character’, and my classmates and tutors gave their critique. In turn, I critiqued others’ writing samples – something that taught me a lot about the craft and about giving sensitive, thoughtful feedback. We also considered genre, marketability and publishing trends and how they related to our own writing projects, and learned how to write an effective synopsis, blurb and cover letter. The climax of the MA was a 20,000-word creative dissertation, producing the first few chapters of a novel. I wrote the middle grade story of Leena, an amateur astronomer who struggles with social anxiety and embarrassing ghost-hunter parents. It earned me a distinction from my tutors, who urged me to carry on with the project and seek publication. Maybe I will one day!

Sample edits are a great way for editors, particularly copyeditors, to show you their editing style before you go ahead and hire them. They might offer to work on a few pages or a chapter and send it back to you to read through, and then it’s up to you to decide if this is the editor for you. It’s also a useful way for them to estimate how long the edit will take them and give you an accurate quote.

This isn’t so easy for developmental editors because one page or chapter of your novel isn’t a standalone piece of writing. Whilst a copyeditor can typically address issues such as spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax on the first page without seeing the rest of the manuscript, a developmental editor can’t comment on big picture issues like characterisation or plot without reading the entire novel. For example, if I leave a comment on page one to say your protagonist needs a clear goal, and you come back to say ‘I’ve given him a goal on page 2!’, I’ve wasted time flagging a problem that has already been resolved. A sample doesn’t give a developmental editor enough information to go on.

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