At the recent Novelists’ Inc conference in St. Pete Beach, Florida, Mary Theresa Hussey and I offered a panel discussion on the role of freelance editors in the publishing process.  The notes below are an adaptation of the points made in our discussion.

Where Do Editors Come In?

NINC 2017

Mary-Theresa Hussey

Good Stories Well Told


Marsha Zinberg

The Write Touch


Types of Editors and Services:


Be aware that there is no one set definition for the terms listed below, and authors and editors can blend them together, particularly during the past few years, as traditional and independent publishers change duties, or cross borders and countries. Ask for clarification about the roles and make sure your expectations and your editor’s are similar.

Concept/Consulting Editor – works on early stages of proposal or series to work out potential flaws in editorial or marketing concerns.

Developmental/Content Editor – does a deep dive into the manuscript, looking at structure, language, plot, characterization.

Line Editor – focuses on grammar, language, sentence structure, repetition, etc.

Copy Editor – does a final polish with a grammatical eye.

Beta Reader – first reader. Can focus on one aspect, or overall feel or reader appeal.

Proofreading – final check of spelling/grammar/missing words and so on.

Manuscript Critique/Editorial Assessment – often a lighter developmental edit.

Bible Creation: Many editors have experience in creating bibles (detailed outlines of characters, plots, themes, arcs, setting, family ties), over 4/6/8/16 books. Depending on needs, it can be high level or detailed.

Additionally, editors can assist a group of authors to coordinate the bible. Sometimes an outside voice can help negotiations on the handling of continuing characters and plots and makes sure that the continuity works across the breadth of the series.

Editors can also work on post-bibles. Do you remember all your minor characters? What season the book is set in? Where your characters went overseas? An editor can help organize this for you.

Story Creation:

Are you working on an idea in a new world and need some early feedback? Can your duke actually inherit the title? Can your heroine work as a riveter in the 1940s? Will your family tree work? Was that a state at the time? After you’ve come up with the initial concept, bouncing an idea off an editor can help refine your themes, explore possibilities and give suggestions on how to make your “crazy” idea work!

Are you doing a cozy mystery series? What is unique about your idea? What will make your series stand out? What can you do to incorporate that information?

Marketing ideas:

Editors have varying experience in marketing, but most with a background in traditional publishing have developed some marketing expertise that you can tap into!

Marketing-related services include the writing of back cover copy, taglines, and title development.

Some editors can also perform brand evaluations– looking at reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, B&N to pull out key and consistent phrases; looking at Amazon for metadata and presentation; offering feedback on website appearance, themes, colors; determining if there’s consistent presentation across website and covers and books; and helping to work out the unified vision of your brand;

Your editor may also be able to offer marketing advice–discussing career goals, competitive authors, talking through the benefits of traditional vs. self-publishing; advising on release schedules, and offering feedback on art and logos.

Do Your Homework:


  • Find the editor who works well with your goals and style
  • Check experience, references, recommendations
  • Ask for a sample edit of a couple of pages (most are willing to do this)
  • Many editors have a contract you can use to clarify responsibilities
  • Are there opportunities to talk/before after the edit?
  • Are the time frame, costs and expectations clear?

The Actual Edit:


  • Indicate areas you want specific feedback on
  • Ensure you are agreed on the end result
  • Some editors will question, some will fix—make sure you know what you’re getting (this can also shift according to the stage of the edit)
  • Agree on the process: will you get the marked-up manuscript, a revision letter, a memo, notes, a conversation, or a combination of these?


Recommendations from agents and fellow authors

Check out dedications/acknowledgements/Amazon info in books by favorite authors

Social Media: Twitter/Conferences/Websites

Some websites: (not in any particular order)

EFA –Editorial Freelancers Association

Publishers Marketplace –


Independent Editors Group

Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders, Indexers –


Society for Editors and Proofreaders –

New York Book Editors –


Recommended Resources

Undoubtedly there are ancient cave drawings that try to make sense out of love. Folks have been trying to fathom the unfathomable, to explain it, to define it, to embrace or reject it, since the dawn of time, and it has become variously the subject, the theme, the conflict, the climax or the resolution of literature’s greatest stories down through the ages.

Because love is so subjective, individuals respond to epigrams and advice about love with varying degrees of acceptance. (Personally, I’ve never thought that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” made any sense whatsoever!)

Here are a curated collection of literary aphorisms that speak to me; perhaps you’ll enjoy them for Valentine’s day as well.


You don’t love because: you love despite; not for the virtues, but despite the

faults. William Faulkner

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you.—Roald Dahl, The Witches

The desire to get married is a basic and primal instinct in women. It’s followed by another basic and primal instinct: the desire to be single again.Nora Ephron

I have learned not to worry about love; but to honor its coming with all my heart. Alice Walker

I was about half in love with her by the time we sat down. That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty…you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. — J. D. Salinger

Love is like the wind; you can’t see it but you can feel it. Nicholas Sparks

To get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with. — Mark Twain

Who, being loved, is poor? — Oscar Wilde

You can’t blame gravity for falling in love. —Albert Einstein

The best thing to hold on to in life is each other. —Audrey Hepburn

Keep love in our heart. Life without it is like a sunless garden where the flowers are dead. —Oscar Wilde Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired. —Oscar Wilde

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. —Lau Tzu

Love doesn’t make the world go round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile Franklin Jones

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt. Charles Schultz

Love is but the discovery of ourselves in others, and the delight in the recognition.

Alexander Smith

It is better to love wisely, no doubt: but to love foolishly is better than not to be able to love at all. William Makepeace Thackeray

We’re all a little weird, and life’s a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love. Dr. Seuss

The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.  Elie Wiesel

Love is of all passions the strongest, for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart, and the senses. Lao Tzu


There is no remedy for love but to love more. Henry David Thoreau

Love is a serious mental disease.  Plato

Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.  Bruce Lee

Love is the greatest refreshment in life.  Pablo Picasso

Love is not measured by how many times you touch each other, but by how many times you reach each other. Unknown

My granddaughter and I were discussing stories the other day.  We thought we might write one together.

“But, you know,” I said, trying to reduce the concept of structure to the simplest form possible, “we need something interesting to happen.  There needs to be a beginning, a middle and an end.”

“Oh, yeah, I know all about that,” she told me.  Not the first time I’d been outdistanced by a seven-year- old.  “You mean like ‘first, next, then and finally.   But before that, you need characters, setting, problem and solution.  THEN you do first, next, then and finallyThat’s how you tell a story.

Yup! Pretty much!

No matter if you are writing a novel, a memoir, a speech, a presentation or a sales pitch—or even selling yourself—the way you assemble and reveal the elements of your story is critical to the effect you want to create, the theme or moral you want to emerge, or the point you want to drive home. We humans are hardwired to learn, understand and communicate best through stories.

My last post, How to Say it Better in 2016–Literally!  covered tips for SAYING it Better.  Next up?  Six questions to ask yourself to ensure you TELL it better:

  1. Have I started in the right place?

It’s critical to engage your audience by starting with a hook to snag their interest.  Your narrative ideally should begin “in medias res”—in the middle of things.  There’s your protagonist, wanting, needing or doing something that either causes or reacts to the inciting incident….the occurrence or action that gets the story rolling.

Many storytellers make the mistake of spewing out several pages of background before giving their audience some kernel that helps them empathize or be otherwise fascinated with the protagonist.  Unfortunately, in our fast-paced, spoiled-for-choice digital world, we don’t have the luxury of our earliest spinners of tales to introduce our protagonists at birth and minutely narrate their journey to adulthood before that inciting incident happens that’s going to launch our story .  Get to it!  Drop us into the middle of the action and give us relevant background only as it affects the forward momentum of the story! (check out How will you explain it? below)

2.What’s the motivation?

Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”– Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!” — Ray Bradbury

Characters don’t act in a vacuum.  They do things for a reason.  (Well, maybe the wrong reason, but still….) Everyone wants something, or desperately needs something, and it’s best if it’s something they don’t yet have.   Make sure your reader understands your character’s goal, what is inciting him or her to embark on something risky, to change course, or to get up off their butts and do something foolhardy or dangerous….or completely “out of character.”

3.What’s at stake?

The higher the stakes, the more invested the reader (or listener) becomes in the character’s goal.  And if the clock is ticking, so much the better.  The stock market doesn’t have to destroy the economy, a bomb doesn’t have to explode, but is a child’s life on the line?  Can a convicted criminal clear her name? Can a gentleman reunite with the love of his life before his terminal illness snatches him away? Make us care!

And make sure the stakes are high enough to merit those foolhardy, dangerous or out-of-character actions I mentioned above! My personal pet peeve? Heroines who deliberately but inexplicably put themselves in harm’s way when they could have (a) not walked into a dark alley alone at midnight, (b) said something unnecessarily inflammatory to a weapon-toting terrorist, (c) called for backup instead of confronting twenty angry bikers all by her lonesome.)

4.How will the plot thicken?

As writing instructor Steven James puts it, “At the heart of story is tension, and at the heart of tension is unmet desire. At its core, a story is about a character who wants something but cannot get it. As soon as he gets it, the story is over. So, when you resolve a problem, it must always be within the context of an even greater plot escalation.  The plot must always thicken; it must never thin… .

If you remember to continually try to make things worse for the protagonist, and avoid that dreaded sagging middle of the story when nothing much is happening, you will make your story that much more engaging. Because we humans tend to think in patterns and process information to arrive at logical conclusions, plot twists are ideal for keeping your listener or reader engaged.  Think about deliberately breaking a logical pattern by incorporating a development that is paradoxical or unexpected.

5.How will you explain it?

But hold on there!  Just because you’ve created a deliberately shocking turn of events doesn’t mean it will work without a reasonable cause.  Your story still needs to be constructed in such a way that each element in it is caused by an action or event that preceded it.  Skilled storytellers are adept at layering in foreshadowing so that, though the listener is surprised, they realize in retrospect that the author has been giving them subtle clues to this turn of events all along. In stories that succeed in maintaining your interest page by page and chapter by chapter–or in a speech, minute by minute– discoveries and realizations happen AFTER the actions rather than before them.  To continually move the story forward, always try to build on what has already been said and done.

6.Are you sure that scene, that paragraph, that word… is absolutely necessary?

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~–Elmore Leonard

“Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.”—Kurt Vonnegut  Jr.

Both these quotes illustrate the importance of giving yourself the opportunity to take off your writer’s hat and don an analyst’s. Look critically at every line you’ve written and ask yourself if it has a function in your story.  Is it advancing the plot?  Is it describing a character? Be on the lookout for “information dumps” or long descriptive paragraphs that don’t contribute to revealing new information.

And then, accept that at some point, even if you really want to go over it just one more time, you are going to have to let go of your fledgling and allow your story to fly into the world.

Are you a spinner of tales?  What works best to captivate your audience?  Which storytellers do you admire most, and why?