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Doctor! Doctor!

 Okay.  I hired a book doctor--or to be more politically correct--a freelance editor.  

Let me explain.  Last spring, I took a trip to Cape Town, South Africa with a group of teachers and students from Vanderbilt University.   While visiting the township of Manenberg, just outside Cape Town, I met a woman named Rita who tended a garden in the midst of incredible poverty, violence, and social injustice.  I was inspired by her courage and hope, and that night I wrote a picture book text about Rita and her garden

I am not a picture book writer.  It's hard--really hard--to write a compelling picture book.  But I revised, rewrote, and rearranged the words until I thought I had something. I liked my draft.  So I sent it to my agent.  She read it and agreed that I'm not a picture book writer.  But the story is important to me.  I want it to have "legs" and be a good manuscript.  Honestly, I'd like to see it as a finished text with art and a cool cover and on the shelf at Davis Kidd,  my local bookstore. 


So I hired Kara LaReau    at Bluebird Works to work with me on the book. Kara, formerly an editor at Candlewick Press and Scholastic Press and a fabulous picture book author in her own right, recently opened her own company offering freelance creative services to authors, agents, and publishers. More about Kara later in the week.


This is the first time I have actually have worked with an editor for hire.  But for some time, many of my writing friends have speculated if working with a freelance editor on a manuscript before approaching an agent or publishing house editor is going to be the model of the future.  It makes sense in this economy, when publishing house editors are being asked to focus more and more on acquisition, market potential, and margin. Publishing houses have merged into giant corporations with more meetings and less time. And as any editor knows, editing takes time. Lots of time.  

Agents receive thousands of queries each year, and few have the inclination to work with a writer on a manuscript that's not strong enough for representation. As the late Giles Gordon (Curtis Brown LTD) wrote, 
"A literary agency most emphatically isn’t a finishing school for aspiring authors."  While there are plenty of agents who do editorial work, an agent's goal is to represent and sell your manuscript.  It helps if your manuscript is ready to sell.


I attended the Agents and Editors Conference this weekend in Austin sponsored by the Writers' League of Texas, and the idea that freelance editors were becoming more and more of the publishing landscape was pretty much common wisdom. This week I want to talk about the role of the freelance editor, or book doctor.  Is there a difference?  

How does the process work?  
How much does it cost?  
And what can a writer hope to gain by working with a freelance editor or book doctor?  


Tomorrow, we'll begin by defining the roles of the book doctor or freelance editor. Later in the week we'll visit with Deborah Brodie, the very successful book doctor and freelance editor.  We'll also chat with agents Erin Murphy (Erin Murphy Literary Agency ) and Emily van Beek (Pippin Properties Inc.) on the topic.  

Meanwhile, comment back to me if you have used a freelance editor or book doctor. I'm curious about your experience. 
Anon.  HH.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 29th, 2009 02:24 pm (UTC)
Thanks for bringing this topic up!

Thanks. I attended the WLT conference too. I saw you in passing. :) I'm the gal with the curls for camoflauge. I really appreciate you sharinf your experience and bringing up info like freelance editorial costs.

Looking forward to upcoming posts.

Lindsey S
Jun. 29th, 2009 02:40 pm (UTC)
Hiring editors
Interesting. Editorial Anonymous (aka Moonrat) also addresses the issue of whether or not to hire a freelance editor in her blogpost today too: http://editorialass.blogspot.com/2009/06/pre-editing-or-my-thoughts-on-hiring.html

And we were discussing it yesterday on twitter during #writechat (Sundays 3-6pm eastern time).

I'm really looking forward to what you have to say on the subject.

Jun. 29th, 2009 03:21 pm (UTC)
To hire or not...
Jeanie: I don't fully agree with Editorial Anonymous about finding an agent first. For a lot of writers, finding the right agent can be as daunting as finding an editor. Thanks for your comment. Looks like it will be a fun week! Helen
Jun. 29th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
You could always do the Vermont College Picture Book Semester!
Jun. 29th, 2009 10:59 pm (UTC)
Picture books
I could...it's an equation of money and time! H.
Jun. 30th, 2009 01:03 pm (UTC)
Whatever it takes!
I was the first to hear Helen's draft of this book and I promise to "chip in" for the book doctor who might help get it on its way to being published! It is truly beautiful. We learned so much from the people of Manenberg, South Africa and I am so grateful that Helen has captured Rita's work to share it with children....and adults! Ann
Jun. 30th, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Whatever it takes!
Thank you, dear Ann. I'm optimistic that Kara will help me bring the book along. The experience of South Africa will be with me always...and I would love to share a little piece of it. Helen
Jun. 30th, 2009 02:56 pm (UTC)
Staying tuned ...
The story of Rita and her garden sounds fascinating! I've always been in awe of my PB writer friends. It IS a completely different skill. Did working on the PB give you any new tools to bring to novel writing? Look forward to hearing more about Kara, Rita and the progress of your picture book.
Jun. 30th, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC)
Re: Staying tuned ...
I talk a bit more about Kara and how the process worked today. I don't really talk about the actual picture book, but I'll try to get to that later this week. I think the one obvious thing that translated to my novel writing is just the focus on words. Vocabulary is so important in the limited space of picture books. It made me really think about every word I use. That's a good--if somewhat maddening--thing to consider while writing a novel. But using just the right words really transforms a text..and that is true in longer works of fiction just as it is in shorter forms. H.
Jul. 2nd, 2009 04:02 am (UTC)
I loved working with Kara on my first two picture books. I had so much to learn. I still have so much to learn. She was my editor and she pulled me out of the slush pile. I will always be grateful to her. I would never have had the guts to apply to Vermont College if I hadn't sold those two books.
Your book sounds wonderful.

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )