On our most recent First Draft Friday video chat — which we’ll soon be turning into a podcast — bestselling fantasy author Charlie N. Holmberg sat down with veteran editor Jason Kirk to discuss the benefits that a professional book editor can bring to an author’s writing career.
I hired a developmental editor on Reedsy to get my first novel, Biohack, into shape and was thrilled with her incisive feedback and detailed markup of my manuscript. (I was also relieved that she found the storyline engrossing and plausible.) For my next thriller, Catch and Kill (part of the same series), I incorporated many of the lessons I learned the first time out.
Even if you’re confident in your writing, plot structure and storyline, it’s worth having a professional editor provide a detailed report about your manuscript — at least with your debut novel, if not with each succeeding one. Supplement that with the lessons you’ll glean from Marlowe, Authors A.I.’s artificial intelligence and virtual editor, and you’ll be in great shape.
When are you ready for an editor?
I met Jason Kirk earlier this year on a Zoom chat when we decided to start building out Authors A.I.’s talent directory (still a work in progress). Jason was recommended to us by two of the authors on our team, fantasy authors Charlie N. Holmberg and Jeff Wheeler.
Jason is the award-winning editor of more than a hundred books. He offers developmental editing and line editing across a range of fiction and nonfiction genres. Books he has worked on have hit the Wall Street Journal best-seller list nine times; won the Arthur C. Clarke, British Science Fiction, and dozens of other awards; and moved more than 9 million units.
He and Charlie discuss Jason’s advice for working with a professional editor on the video chat, and you’ll want to download his free handout:
The stronger your manuscript before you start working with a professional editor, the more you’ll get out of the editing process. The following steps will help you revise your complete manuscript until you know you’re ready to bring an editor on board.
Here are Jason’s top tips:
Raise the stakes
1Review everything that your characters have to gain or lose, individually and together. Now how can you up the ante? Not once, but also for her, for him, for them. Then, repeat. The more that your characters have on the line, the more that readers will care about what happens next, the more they’ll feel the burden of your character’s choices, and the more dramatic and memorable your story will become.
2Read your work aloud. Record yourself, and listen back. Then ask a friend to read your work aloud to you. Take lots of notes. When you hear your own prose, you put yourself in the position of your readers. Now how can your language be more engaging, more various, more rhythmic, less predictable, and clearer? (Pro tip: Compare “before and after” recordings of a passage that you’ve revised. When you hear the difference, you’ll never skip this step again.)
Consult an oracle
3Marlowe is an artificial intelligence that provides a 25-page report about your novel in less than an hour, critiquing the manuscript along 12 different dimensions to help you strengthen the pacing, narrative arc, story beats, language, and more. Check out a sample report for Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (authors.ai) for an in-depth sense of how much this cutting-edge technology can teach you about your own manuscript.
Seek your blind spots
4Do any of your characters claim an ethnicity — either real or fictionally derived from reality — that is different than yours? What about religion? Race? Gender? Sexual identity? Non-magical abilities? You don’t have to write only “what you know,” but seek out readers who live the identities that your characters claim. Ask them to read your work and help you identify your blind spots. Compensate them.
The bottom line
Before working with an editor, the goal of revising your complete manuscript should be to ensure that it is as strong as you can make it on your own. Recognize the available resources — human and technological – and make use of them first. Then ask yourself: Is this the absolute best I can do without the help of a professional editor? When the answer is yes, you’re ready.