Are you in the planning stage for a new story? Maybe you’ve started a first draft, but you’re stymied by some aspect of plotting or writing. Wouldn’t it be great to have a sounding board to discuss your ideas, options for structure and plot, POV choice, narrative tense to use, and so on? It can’t hurt to get an educated opinion about your approach before you begin writing or during the writing process. That’s where story coaching comes in.
What is story coaching?
Story coaching is consultation that a seasoned editor provides. It’s a discussion with dark fiction writers about literary aspects of their work and choices they could make to develop a sound blueprint from which to construct an effective story.
Story coaching is for you if you’re noodling an incomplete idea or wrestling with an unfinished manuscript you’re unsure what to do with. Story coaching—which I provide through video consultation (link coming soon)—will help guide you toward completing a solid draft. I’m also available if you simply have burning questions about writing craft.
Story coaching is typically most helpful early in the story development process. Instead of spending days, weeks, or months writing a story that doesn’t work, story coaching prepares you to draft the most powerful story you can write—a story that will connect and satisfy readers, readers willing to shell out more of their book-buying dollars for your future work—along with positive reviews.
Story coaching can also take place well after the first draft to gain feedback and insight about challenging aspects of your dark fiction project.
What I provide with story coaching
As a certified editor, I can review early pages you send (a partial or complete manuscript). Or I can simply discuss your story with you through video consultation (link coming soon).
Here are a few story coaching services I offer:
Determining acceptable word count for your genre (dark fiction only)
If you’re considering booking a story coaching session with me, here are a few ways you can prepare:
Take a few days to jot down some issues with your story and how you might go about writing it. Include any questions about this and writing in general.
If you’ve written pages, review the topics in the first list under “What I provide with story coaching.” Then make notes or record more questions about these aspects of your story.
Complete the exercise of writing a 100-word blurb for your story, novella, or novel. It will help you discover what your story’s about. For instructions, go here.
When you’re ready for story coaching, contact me and let me know where you are in your writing process and what you’d like to discuss. I’m available to help you learn more about the craft of writing dark fiction and develop a better, more successful story.
When a fiction writer says, “I need an editor,” what exactly does it mean? What kind of editor? What kind of editing? This post discusses different levels and types on the fiction editing spectrum.
It took me thirty years of struggling through my own writing process to realize there’s more to producing an effective, salable story—whether it be a short story, novelette, novella, or novel. Much more than merely throwing X number of words on the page and running spellcheck before rushing the a manuscript to an agent or publisher.
The most important thing I’ve learned is that editing is not only necessary, but crucial to successfully placing stories in today’s markets, including self-publishing. And “editing” isn’t a one-size-fits-all service; there are different types of editing, depending on where your manuscript is in the writing and revision process.
Five levels of editing
I provide story coaching (link coming soon) for consultation during the planning and drafting stage of story development.
When you’ve produced a manuscript draft, I offer comprehensive fiction editing at the following levels that range from very high down to the nitty gritty:
The types of editing at each of these levels exist on the following spectrum.
The editing spectrum
As a results-oriented editor of dark fiction, I provide all five levels of editing, along with a few other services.
Wherever you are in your writing process with a piece of dark fiction, I can help you improve your work.
If you’re here…
You’ll benefit from this kind of editing…
Perhaps you’re still in the planning stage and haven’t yet begun drafting a new story. You could use a sounding board to discuss your idea, options for structure and plot, POV choice, narrative tense to use, and so on. You’d like an opinion about your approach to writing before you begin (or during) the writing process.
Story coaching (link coming soon) is for those who are noodling about an incomplete idea or wrestling with an unfinished manuscript you’re unsure what to do with. Story coaching—which I provide through video consultation (link coming soon)—will help guide you toward completing a solid draft. I’m also available if you simply have burning questions about writing craft.
You’ve drafted a story, novella, or novel that you need to have evaluated at the story level. Are you heading in the right direction? Are all the pieces in place, or is something missing? Are they in the most effective order? Does it need developmental editing or more? What could you do to make this story better before you revise and polish? You need a broad, comprehensive analysis of your manuscript.
Manuscript evaluation gives you an educated opinion, in writing, about how your draft stacks up, evaluating such elements as structure, plot, pacing, characterization, point of view, dialogue, description, setting, and more. Most importantly, it includes what you could do to improve these elements and make your story better. Part of evaluation is determining if further editing would benefit your work.
You’re trying your best but need hands-on help to include all the elements of a strong story: structure, plot, characterization, point of view, and so on. Are the necessary pieces in place, in the most effective order, and in the right proportion? Have you made any glaring errors at your story’s foundation that would lead to rejection?
Developmental editing evaluates the building blocks of your story, checking that they’re present and working well together. It ensures that your structure and plot are solid, characters well-drawn and motivated, point of view correctly executed, setting and description vividly drawn, dialogue rings true, mood and tone support the overall story.
You’ve written a solid story (thanks to developmental editing), and now it’s time to focus on how you communicate those ideas to your readers. You’ve got a unique writing style that you want to preserve. But the way you build and connect paragraphs and sentences could use refinement. You want a seamless reading experience to keep readers reading.
Line editing enhances your writing style so that your language is clear, flows effortlessly, and reads well. Refining paragraph and sentence construction ensures that all the right building blocks are in place and maximizes the effectiveness of the ideas you communicate. Misspellings, wrong words, awkward phrasing, and more are corrected. Line editing tightens your writing.
You’ve written a solid story (thanks to developmental editing), which line editing further improved. Now it’s time to polish your work so it doesn’t get rejected because you submitted a less than professional manuscript. You know you need help with sentence structure, grammar, and spelling. That help is available.
Copy editing hones your writing style by correcting spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation errors; ensuring that your writing adheres to editorial style standards; clarifying the text by eliminating ambiguous or factually incorrect information; flagging continuity inconsistencies; and producing a smooth reading experience.
Your story, novella, or novel has undergone line editing and copy editing. Now it’s time to go over the text with a fine-toothed comb to catch all those minor but pesky errors that bother some readers. You’ve proofed the manuscript yourself, but you need a second set of eyes before bringing your baby out in public.
Proofreading ensures that your manuscript is free from spelling, grammar, and other errors that could ruin the reading experience and discredit your writing—and you. Proofreading will detect any remaining minor errors in your text, from misplaced commas to misused words, and correct typographical and layout issues.
You may only want to work on early issues with story coaching, manuscript critique, or developmental editing. Many writers skip these early steps and instead contract for a simple proofread to finalize their work before seeking publication. I learned the hard way in my own fiction-writing career that this is a big mistake—one that cost me decades of constant rejections.
Here’s why this is important…
The importance of editing in stages
Why edit in stages? Simply because it’s humanly impossible to flag every kind of error in one pass.
Instead, to maximize the effectiveness of comprehensive editing, it’s industry best practice to perform each editing stage individually, progressing to the next only when the current stage is thorough and complete.
In other words, you should send your manuscript in order through each of the four editing stages. Doing so ensures you’re addressing problems logically and not wasting time and effort correcting passages that need to be rewritten or may be removed.
This means you complete story-level work (manuscript evaluation and developmental editing) before doing text-level work. Line editing should always come before copy editing, not after or at the same time.
An example of editing in stages
Here’s a writer’s original passage:
The toothless hag hissed; spraying blood over her furowed chin and the bouquet of leafy twigs she proffered. Her drooping body was covered with vines. He took them from her and she screamed to curdle the blood in his heart.
Here’s what a line editor would do to improve the passage:
The toothless hag hissed; spraying blood over her furowed chin and the bouquet of leafy twigs she proffered. Vines covered hHer drooping body was covered with vines. He took accepted them twigs from her and she screamed, to curdlingethe his blood in his heart.
Reads better, doesn’t it? But editing isn’t complete. A copy editor would clean it up like this:
The toothless hag hissed,; spraying blood over her furowed furrowed chin and the bouquet of leafy twigs she proffered. Vines covered her drooping body. He accepted the twigs from her and she screamed, curdling his blood.
Even better. A proofreader would use a fine-toothed comb to ensure the final edited paragraph was the best it could be:
The toothless hag hissed, spraying blood over her furrowed chin and the bouquet of leafy twigs she proffered. Vines covered her drooping body. He accepted the twigs from her, and she screamed, curdling his blood.
Granted, inserting a necessary comma isn’t much of a change in a single paragraph, but proofreaders find and fix many other minor issues in a whole manuscript.
Important: You should complete both developmental and line editing before you query agents or traditional publishers. If you’ll be self-publishing, you should complete all editing stages (developmental, line, and copy editing; then proofreading) before putting your book on the market. (Although, even if your book is already on the market, you may have the manuscript edited at some level and re-upload the corrected content.)
As a comprehensive editor of dark fiction, I supplement every level of editing with an editorial letter that explains and provides context for comments and edits I’ve made in your marked-up manuscript.
The bottom line
What you want most of all is a seasoned editor who understands the differences between the four levels of editing and who can explain what each will do to improve your dark fiction.
When you’re ready to take the next step to improve your writing, I can evaluate your manuscript, discuss your options with you, and lead you through the process of producing a polished piece of dark fiction. For more information, check out Dark Fiction Editing.
What an editor can—and cannot—do (and that includes me)
An editor can:
Tell you why your story doesn’t work.
Show you how to fix what needs fixing.
Improve your story so that it reaches its full potential.
Help you become a better, more skilled writer.
An editor cannot:
Fix your manuscript for you.
Guarantee anything, especially publication.
It’s up to you to make (or not make) the suggested changes. And, although no editor can guarantee publication, I can move you closer to your goals. Every edit is a learning experience that will help you become a better writer.
If you don’t know what kind of editing you need
Not sure what level of editing would benefit you most? Read through the following list and pick one or two that best represent your situation.
If you’ve completed a story and want an analysis of story elements, revealing what’s working, what isn’t, plus suggestions for improvement, you need manuscript evaluation.
If you simply need a sounding board to discuss your idea, get an opinion about your approach to writing, and ask writing craft questions, you need story coaching (which I provide through video consultation).
If you have an incomplete idea or unfinished manuscript you’re unsure what to do with, you need story coaching or developmental editing to help you complete a solid draft.
If you’ve finished an early draft of a work and need help to solidify it at the story level, you need developmental editing.
If you’ve completed a manuscript and think it’s pretty good but you want it streamlined and tightened, you need line editing.
If your manuscript has been through line editing, you need copy editing.
If your manuscript has been through the previous levels, you need proofreading.
If your manuscript has been through all the above, congratulations! You’re ready to submit or self-publish.
If you’re still not sure what kind of editing you need or have questions, contact me and ask. We’ll figure something out that will best serve you, your story, and your writing career.
You’ve drafted a piece of dark fiction, but you’re not sure whether it’s ready for editing. Are the plot and structure as effective as they could be? Are your characters fully developed and believable, or do they come off as flat? Did you pick the best POV—and execute it correctly? What could you do to improve your story before you revise and polish? A skilled editor can answer these questions through manuscript evaluation.
What is manuscript evaluation?
Manuscript evaluation, or critique, is a high-level overview and comprehensive assessment of your work, whether it be a short story, novella, or novel.
After you’ve finished a draft, you naturally need to revise it but often don’t know how to approach such a formidable task. Manuscript evaluation by a qualified story editor provides a workable process toward “re-vision”—seeing with fresh eyes—what you’ve put on paper. It analyzes what is and isn’t working, and develops a plan to implement improvements.
Manuscript evaluation offers an educated opinion, in writing, about how your draft stacks up to published fiction standards. The editor evaluates and reports on such elements as structure, plot, pacing, characterization, point of view, description, setting, and more. Most importantly, a professional critique includes what you could do to sharpen these elements and make your story better.
Why and when should you request a manuscript evaluation?
The next step beyond story coaching (link coming soon), manuscript evaluation is an entry-level edit for when you’ve completed some actual writing.
You might seek critique and feedback when you’ve finished your first (or second or subsequent) draft. Or after you’ve submitted the work to beta readers and made your own preparatory revisions.
A note about beta reading: A seasoned story editor’s manuscript evaluation goes far beyond a beta read. Beta readers can give you feedback based on their personal experience as readers in your genre. But manuscript evaluation is a deepwater analysis from an editorial professional who can can envision how to develop your story’s full potential. Isn’t that what you’re looking for?
You could even opt for manuscript evaluation after you’ve self-published a book that’s received less than stellar reviews. Manuscript critique will assess what’s going on—or not going on that should be—with your manuscript. Editor feedback will suggest how to fix problems identified.
Although developmental editing is a story-level edit designed to reshape fiction early in the revision process, your manuscript may not be ready for it. Manuscript evaluation is an introductory step that identifies the structural strengths and weaknesses of your work. Based on the editor’s guidance, you get a second go at revising your dark fiction before submitting it for developmental editing.
Part of manuscript evaluation is determining whether further editing would benefit your work. As a developmental editor, I not only review and evaluate your manuscript but will let you know if I recommend further editing. (The next step in the process (X Spectrum) is most likely developmental editing.)
What an editor does during manuscript evaluation—and how long it takes
How much time a manuscript evaluation takes depends on the size of your manuscript. I can critique a short story in a week. Novellas in three to four weeks. Novels may take six to eight weeks.
Here are the fundamentals that I review and assess during manuscript evaluation:
Word count for your genre (dark fiction only)
Plot, story structure, and pacing
Conflict and tension
Characterization and character development
Point of view, narration, and narrative voice
Narrative consistency and continuity
Setting and description
I don’t do the following in manuscript evaluation:
Correct grammar, spelling, or word choice
Edit at the paragraph or sentence level
Fix dialogue problems
The result of manuscript evaluation: the editorial report
An editorial report (also called an editorial letter or memo) is what an editor returns after thoroughly reviewing a manuscript. The report provides the valuable feedback you’re looking for as a writer of dark fiction.
In my editorial reports, I begin with a general statement about your work, pointing out strengths and weaknesses. Then I delve into specific critiques of the core narrative elements listed in the previous section. These assessments include advice about how to improve your story with actionable steps for revision, such as:
Evaluation of your story’s premise
Information you could cut—or add, if it’s missing
Whether your word count is appropriate for your particular dark fiction market
Ways to solidify story structure, reconstruct your plot, and avoid clichés
Recommendations on how to heighten conflict and tension
How you might fix instances of inconsistent pacing
Suggestions to deepen character development and make your story people more authentic
How to strengthen your chosen point of view, narration, and narrative voice
Any narrative inconsistencies
Better ways to describe characters and action grounded in your story setting
Tips to underscore your theme
The editorial report contains information and instruction that could lead you to make substantial changes to your manuscript. Toward this end, my guidance will help you develop a revision strategy that, if implemented, will improve your story.
Finally, the editorial report concludes with any suggestions for further editing, such as developmental editing.
Your job after manuscript evaluation
You may have questions after you’ve had time to read and digest my editorial report. If so, you’re welcome to email me back for any necessary clarification about my comments and suggestions. If you’d like to conference with me to receive further advice, I offer 50% off a thirty-minute video consultation (link coming soon).
If you submit an early draft, my editorial direction may prompt a significant rewrite. If you send a polished draft after several rounds of your own revision, my comments might focus instead on deepening character development or nuancing your story’s themes.
In either case, when you receive the editorial report, you may spend a few weeks incorporating my feedback or otherwise rewriting portions of your manuscript. Rest assured, this work will strengthen your story structure and improve its content, moving you closer to the possibility of publication.
How manuscript evaluation leads to developmental editing
If you’re still in the drafting stage and aren’t sure what level of editing you need, it can’t hurt to start with manuscript evaluation. Critique identifies big-picture story issues and suggests how to fix them. You then can do your own revision (a great exercise for developing writers) and submit the revised manuscript afterward for developmental editing.
When you follow the staged editorial process in the Fiction Editing Spectrum and begin with manuscript evaluation, you’ll save money in the long run when you move on to developmental editing; I provide a discount for both services.
I typically recommend you submit your dark fiction for manuscript evaluation first. By making your own changes based on my feedback, you’ll learn how to revise your own work. And your story will be more cohesive moving forward.
With developmental editing, I also provide an editorial report. However, the information and suggestions will be more in-depth and include inline comments. Since you will have addressed structural and other overarching issues during your revision following manuscript evaluation, I’ll be able to focus on finessing your story into something even more powerful and compelling.
Reedsy averages the cost of an editorial assessment at $0.0197 cents per word ($0.02). This means that, for an 80,000-word book, the average quote would be $1520.
My rate for manuscript evaluation is $2.95 per 250-word page, which comes out to $0.0118 per word. For more information about my editing rates, see Dark Fiction Editing Rates.
How you can start the process of manuscript evaluation
If you’re thinking about submitting your latest work (or a previously shelved manuscript) for evaluation, I’ll need you to do something important for me. (And, by the way, I’m not the only editor who may request what I’m about to ask you.)
Write me the back cover description for your book. This text of around 100 words lets me know what your story is about and what you intended to accomplish in writing it. I’ll use this summary as a basis to evaluate the whole manuscript.
Book descriptions communicate what your story’s about through three simple elements:
Who your main character is
Your character’s story problem and goal
The conflict arrayed against them (what’s at stake)
In describing what your story’s about, provide the premise without giving away any twists or the ending. These few sentences are what you’re promising to those who risk buying your work. I need this information so that I can evaluate whether your manuscript delivers on what you’ve promised.
How to write your book description
The protagonist is a character whose life is upended by a problem and who therefore pursues a goal to resolve that problem. During this process, they encounter conflict that threatens what’s most important to them—the stakes of the story.
Here’s my 94-word book description for Death Perception, a supernatural thriller:
Nineteen-year-old Kennet Singleton lives with his invalid mother in a personal care facility, but he wants out. He operates the crematory at the local funeral home, where he discovers he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes.
He thinks his ability is no big deal since his customers are already dead. But when his perception differs from what’s on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers. To save the residents and avenge the dead, Kennet must bring the killers to justice.
Let’s analyze this:
Who’s the protagonist?
Young Kennet Singleton is a crematory operator with a mediumistic ability.
What’s his problem and story goal?
He wants to escape the personal care home where he lives with his mother and get a place of his own. But his ability to discern the cause of death of those he cremates entangles him with murderers.
What’s at stake in the conflict?
In his desire to save the care home residents and avenge the murdered dead, Kennet must stay alive to expose the killers and bring them to justice.
It takes a little doing, but see if you can write a 100-word book description for your story, novella, or novel. Then you’ll be ready to contact me about manuscript evaluation.
If you’re looking for a high-level assessment of the narrative elements in a work of dark fiction, an analysis that will guide you into a more effective revision process, consider manuscript evaluation. Drop me a line about your project soon, and let’s explore how to make your work more publishable.
MANY GENRES, ONE CRAFT Now Available for Purchase!
Editing is the art and craft of shaping and refining a manuscript into a publishable book. But gone are the days of a publishing house editor doing this work for the writer. For editors, buying books they think will sell has, of necessity, become the first order of business, and often takes most of their time.
So, before you submit your work to a publisher, introduce yourself to your very first editor: you!
That’s the start of my article about self-editing in MANY GENRES, ONE CRAFT: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction (Headline Books, 2011), an amazing anthology of instructional articles for fiction writers looking for advice on how to improve their writing and better navigate the mass market for genre novels.
MANY GENRES, ONE CRAFT gathers the voices of today’s top genre writers and writing instructors affiliated with Seton Hill University’s acclaimed MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction. This hefty book is like a “genre writer’s workshop in a bottle”! Every contributor is a seasoned veteran in the industry or an up-and-coming writer. Many are bestsellers who have won multiple literary awards for their potent and entertaining genre fiction.
More importantly, these contributors know how to teach genre fiction. They are all trained teachers, visiting authors, or published alums from the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program offered by Seton Hill University—the only grad school dedicated to writing commercially-viable genre novels of quality.
One of the things that prevents otherwise good storytellers and writers from achieving publication is an unpolished manuscript. In my article, “Your Very First Editor,” I teach practically how to hone your prose and make it shine, increasing your chances for sale.