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

‘Tis the season.  No, not that season. Wedding season. Well, truthfully, celebration season is more like it. Anniversaries, special birthdays, retirements and graduations all call for toasts, a few charming or thoughtful remarks, perhaps two minutes’ worth of paying tribute with some well-chosen words to a person or a couple you care about.

Hopefully, the notion of proposing a toast doesn’t immediately cause you to hyperventilate, but if your throat goes sandpapery at the thought of raising a glass and uttering something coherent, let alone articulate, here are some tips to ease you along the way….

  1. Forget about “winging it!” Trust me, very few of us are talented or trained enough that we can depend on inspiration to strike at precisely the moment we need it to….that is, when our voices are being amplified and lots of people, many of whom we don’t know, are staring at us expectantly. Many people are surprised that they are suddenly overcome by either nerves or emotion, but it’s a special day, and it’s bound to happen. And if you’ve had a couple of drinks to “loosen you up”?  Whoa, don’t go there!
  2. Resist the temptation to put off planning your remarks. It’s just human nature to procrastinate on a task that seems daunting, but leaving the preparation of a toast till the last minute will just cause you to panic. Take some time in the days or weeks leading up to the big event to think about what you’d like to say, how the person or people you are honoring have affected your life, what they mean to you, what you admire…all that good stuff, and get it down, either on paper or index cards.
  3. If you have no idea where to start, just think about why you were called upon to speak. What’s your relationship to the honoree? Are you a sister, mentor, or best friend? What can you share with the audience based on that identity that no one else can?
  4. Most of us are not poets. Rhyming couplets, or other poetic frippery, if not done well, sadly just come off as cheesy, and detract from the importance of your kind thoughts and the sincerity you should ideally project. Unless you’re really talented at it, ditch the poetry.
  5. Some people are naturally funny. If you are, go for it. But don’t feel you have to be a stand-up comedian if it doesn’t suit your personality.  Much better to be affectionate, warm or even gently teasing.  But remember, this is not a roast.  It’s not appropriate to embarrass people just because you have a microphone at your disposal. I came across a great line from Jeff Nussbaum, of West Wing Writers, on how to figure out what’s appropriate in a wedding toast: “In order to stay in the bounds of propriety, deliver it like a eulogy for two people who are still alive.  The humor should be appreciative rather than embarrassing.”
  6. Don’t ramble. A three- to five- minute speech is perfect for family or work events. Since an ideal pace is 150 words per minute, that’s a maximum of 750 words.  When you’re done, you want people to be thinking, “Wow, that was great!” not “Wow, that was long!”
  7. Stay away from “inside jokes.” Clearly, you have a special relationship with the honoree. That’s why you were asked to speak.  But remember that probably half the audience doesn’t know you, and you want to be inclusive, not exclusive, in making everyone feel part of the celebration.
  8. If you’re really stuck for inspiration, think of a loose theme, such as “three reasons I love this person.” Then thread that through your remarks, ideally coming up with some solid back-up for those feelings….which leads to:
  9. Try to show, not just tell. Illustrate your compliments or praise with an anecdote, if you can. It’s so much more effective to relate how your best buddy lent you some money and his car when you went out on your first date with the girl of your dreams, rather than just saying he was “always there for you.”
  10. If it’s a wedding, and you are the bride, groom, or someone close to either, let the guests in on the story of “the meet. Audiences love to share in  the romance, learn how the couple were introduced, where they met, and what bumps were encountered along the way. If it’s a close friend you’ve been asked to toast, and the two of you met and bonded in an interesting or funny way, that’s good fodder for your remarks as well.

You’ve got this, right?  Be affectionate, respectful, and above all, prepared.  Rehearse many times until you’re comfortable enough not to have to read your remarks verbatim.  Engage the audience and the honoree(s) with your eyes, raise your glass, and remember, it’s all about them, not you!  Don’t you agree?

It fell into my head the other day that it might be useful for me to post some friendly reminders for the new year about how to improve your writing.

Of course, you don’t need ME to give you writing tips; there are tons of books and lists by celebrated writers, both living and dead, with bons mots galore about how to write so that people will pay attention to your words.

Still, there are certain practical, straightforward pieces of advice that it can’t hurt to reiterate.   Re-read any piece of writing you admire, do a bit of analysis, and I’ll bet you’ll find evidence of the advice below.  (of course, great writers DO break the accepted rules, but I guarantee they’ve learned them well before they break them!)

Ten quick reminders, I thought, of the techniques good writers use most often.  I’ll just rhyme those puppies off, and get on with my work.

You can’t imagine how I dithered over this list.  Just ten?  Which are the ten absolutely most important? How can I limit it to ten?  Maybe the list should be longer?

Nah.  Here it is…..for now, just ten actions to take and constructions to avoid!

  1. Show, don’t tell! When I started editing many years ago, I found myself writing this phrase in the margins of unpublished manuscripts over and over.  It’s still my most valuable piece of advice to writers, cliché though it may be.  Don’t narrate the action; demonstrate it!  Put your reader or listener right into the middle of it.  This is how you engage their attention and gain their empathy. Anton Chekhov famously said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
  2. Avoid qualifiers. We all pepper our everyday conversation with qualifiers or intensifiers such as very, really, too, quite and so. But unless you’re writing an academic article or presentation and truly want your audience to understand that what you’re claiming is open to doubt, using qualifiers suggests that you don’t really know what you’re talking about! And you’re weakening your writing as well.  Watch out for these common descriptors and wherever possible, hit DELETE!

kind of
sort of
and my personal current pet peeve: literally

“I felt so cooped up I was literally climbing the walls.”  Really?  Unless you’re Spiderman, I don’t think so!

  1. Mimimize “ly” adverbs. Constructions that modify action words often indicate that the writer didn’t take the time to find the right, more powerful verb.   Instead of moving cautiously, a heroine can creep. An old man can shamble rather than walking painfully down the street , and a window can slam shut instead of closing noisily.  In general, take the time to find exactly the word you want.  Mark Twain cautioned that “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
  2. Beware of grammar expletives. Constructions such as it is, it was, it won’t, it takes, here is, there is, and there will be notoriously reduce your writing’s power by deflecting attention from the main driver of your sentence. Then they drop you into more literary hot water because they require additional pronouns to complete your thought. Your sentence becomes littered with unnecessary verbiage before you can snap your fingers.  Why say “there are many people who write…” when you can be clearer and more direct with “many people write’?
  3. Cut the redundancies. ( I originally wrote “cut OUT” the redundancies and then realized that the “out” was redundant!) has a terrific list of 200 common redundancies.  When you glance through it, you’ll be shocked at how many of the listed expressions form part of your everyday speech or writing.  All-time record?  Basic necessities? Fall down?  General public? Try not to use two words when one will do!
  4. Replace the negative with the positive. It’s more straightforward to say what something is rather than what it isn’t. “She wasn’t really convinced he meant what he said” is more concisely stated as “She doubted his sincerity.” If it isn’t that good, it’s probably bad, terrible, awful, outrageous or even mediocre. If it isn’t that bad, it’s probably all right, okay, passable, tolerable or even….mediocre!
  5. Change passive to active wherever possible. Which is more convincing: “That guy wasn’t shot by me!” or “I didn’t shoot that guy!”? See what I’m sayin’?
  6. Read it aloud. Our eyes and brain can work in concert to sneakily show what we want to see or hear what we want to hear. Reading out loud disrupts our brain’s attempt to make everything look perfect. When you find yourself stumbling over a phrase, or mangling the pronunciation of a word, you will know what sections need improving.  And you’ll be surprised by how many misspellings and typos your generous, over-compensating brain glossed right over.
  7. Be liberal with commas. I know I’m doling out advice that flies in the face of current punctuation trends here, (and I certainly recommend learning generally accepted comma usage) but as Lynne Truss has charmingly reminded us in Eats Shoots and Leaves, one of the original functions of the comma was “to point up—rather in the manner of musical notation—such literary qualities as rhythm, direction, pitch, tone and flow.” When you do read your work aloud, as I’ve advised above, it will become instantly obvious where an additional comma will clarify your meaning and direct your reader to pause.  If you’re writing a speech and will be delivering your words to an audience yourself, I’d counsel an unstinting application of commas wherever you need to remind yourself to breathe, emphasize, convey emotion, or allow your listener to catch up with your thought process.  Okay, so shoot me.  That’s my advice and I’m sticking to it!
  8. Step away from the work. It’s so important to give yourself distance from your creation. With the benefit of time and a different perspective, you can much more easily spot mistakes and areas for improvements.  Writers who become adept at this can actually feel as if they are editing someone else’s work.

     Then, of course, you need to fix it. Revise, revise, revise! Many authors tell me they enjoy this process much more than the actual writing.

I’ll return to Mark Twain, who said it better than I could.  Besides, he has serious credibility!

“The time to begin an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time, you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.

(By the way, I have no idea if Mr. Twain originally placed a comma after the word “time”, but I added one, because I felt the rhythm of the sentence improved when one could breathe before the big reveal of the final clause!)


Do you have pieces of advice, either from yourself or writing experts you admire, to add to this list?  Please share them!  As you know, I thought the list was too short anyway!