Never Underestimate the Power and Value of Good Editing.
New-fangled publishing options.
Just what does that mean? Well, first it's important to point out that anyone who wants to be a published author today can be a published author, what with all the vanity presses in the marketplace and all the self-publishing opportunities that are built into Amazon and other platforms. As a result, literary quality is often compromised because not everyone who jumps aboard one of these new-fangled wagons is a skilled writer. That's where old-fashioned values come in. The values are mine! I believe that anything that is going to be published, regardless of where, when or how, should be as editorially sound--as well-written, comprehensible and pleasant to read--as possible. That's the only way to maintain a level of respect and dignity for the writing profession.
As a book editor, I will make sure your work is as good as it can be. My editorial skills are verifiable, my professional values unassailable. As Confucius said, "Words are the voice of the heart." Please read on.
have been at it for decades. That’s just the way it is.
Two groups in particular need professional editing perhaps a little more than others:
- New authors who have never written a book before;
- Authors who use a vanity publisher or the Kindle self-publishing program and as a result have limited access to skilled editorial professionals who can check and improve on their output.
It is perfectly natural for authors to see and
feel their work so passionately from their own hearts and minds that they fail
to see the kinds of problems that many readers will recognize. They get too
close to their work—too comfortable. That’s normal. Problems that can creep
into even the most skilled literary projects include:
- Run-on sentences: "As soon as the alarm went off, Jason slid out of bed, took off his pajamas, put on pants and a pullover shirt, stuffed a piece of unbuttered bread down his throat, took two gigantic gulps of milk, and ran out the back door, hoping that Angela had not yet left her own house so that he could 'accidentally' bump into her on the corner of Elm Street and Merchant Avenue, where he planned to use one of the impromptu-sounding speeches he had been working on over the last three days" would be much more effective as three or four separate sentences, each one that could effectively add to the dramatic effect of the story without tiring out the reader;
- Mixed tenses (past, present): "He saw Angela walking toward him. 'Early enough for you?' he says, hoping she'll find it funny. She smiled, but says nothing" goes back and forth from past tense to present tense four times in three sentences. It is the definition of sloppy writing. "He saw Angela walking toward him. 'Early enough for you?' he said, hoping she would find it funny. She smiled, but said nothing" is the way it should be written;
- Misplaced modifiers: "Since he fell fast asleep under the bed, Jim couldn't find his little kitten for hours" is incorrect. The kitten was under the bed, not Jim;
- Passive as opposed to active voice: "The house, upstairs and downstairs, was cleaned by their remorseful children" is extremely passive and weak. "Their guilt-stricken children cleaned the entire house" is a more active, stronger and compelling way to say it.
- Too many ing words at once, which slows down the narrative: "Finally giving in, he began talking about the troubling memories bothering him over the years, which is exactly what his family had been wanting him to do" has five ing words in a single sentence, tediously weighing it down. "He took the hint and spoke freely about all the memories that had irked him for years. That's exactly what they wanted him to do" has no ing words, is shorter, and flows much better;
- Descriptions and explanations that are familiar to the author but may be unclear to the reader: "So when his bosses found out that he was accepting payola from A&R men and some publicity hounds at the labels, they told him that he could take the first bus back to Cleveland and go back down to 20,000 watts" would be fine--but only if the author had already explained what was meant by payola, A&R, publicity hounds, labels, and 20,000 watts. If, however, those were the first references, many readers would be hopelessly lost, and quite possibly disinterested by that point.
"It has been my good fortune to collaborate with Joel as my book editor. He was perfectly attuned to what I was trying to express. He preserved my creative process while giving the work a polished, professional style."
--Gibbs Williams, PhD, New York City Psychotherapist
"Joel has a magical way with words. I am truly thrilled with his edits! I highly recommend him for any writing or editing projects. He also has a great personality and is very easy to work with."
--Sandra Long, President, Post Road Consulting
There is information below about rates and policies. You can always send an email to
Joel@JoeltheWriter.com to ask any questions at all.
Never underestimate the value of good writing. It turns work that’s just okay into work that is truly powerful. It commands attention. Readers will be drawn in instead of turned away.
Let me share something with you. In addition to editing, I also used to review books for a company called The US Review and I must report to you that the vast majority of self-published books have so many problems with language, punctuation and sentence structure that it became almost impossible for me to give them a good review. Sloppy writing tells me that the author cared only about one thing—the author—and not about the reader. Writers need to go an extra mile (sometimes ten miles!) on behalf of their readers. Otherwise, why even go to the trouble of getting published at all?
That's me in the photograph above. It shows what I look like (at least when I have advanced notice that someone is going to snap a shot). Obviously, though, it does not show what I can do as an editor.
Would you like to see of some of the work I’ve edited? Here are four examples from three of my recent book editing projects.
1. An as-of-yet untitled autobiography by a very successful businessman;
2. "Heaven, Anyone?" a novel by a first-time author;
3. "LinkedIn for Personal Branding," revision of a book written by a marketing expert;
4. "Smack in the Middle," a memoir by a psychotherapist.
5. "The K5 Conspiracy," an espionage novella by a foreign student.
First you'll see a few paragraphs exactly the way the authors sent them to me. Following that you'll see my edit of those paragraphs. I'll include a few comments about the changes I made, and why I made them.
One of the worst decisions I ever made. John Engler had two hats. Senate majority leader, and candidate for Michigan governor. In a campaign you can’t cross church and state. Anything he did for the Senate had to be independent from the campaign. Money and contributions were the third rail. You had to document all donations, have a budget for donations, couldn’t use campaign money for the senate, and on and on.
This is from "Heaven, Anyone," a not-yet-published novel by a first-timer named John Yates, whose daytime profession is as a designer of kitchens and bathrooms. John's story, loosely based on fact, concerns a group of college students in the Nineteen Seventies who find themselves in a bit of hot water. These paragraphs are directly from the author’s original manuscript, before I began the editing process.
It was Wednesday night and after dinner it was quiet in suite 703. Tommy was listening to Jimi Hendrix with his headphones on and the others were doing homework with their doors open. The silence was interrupted by a loud banging on the outer suite door next to the lounge. Even Tommy sat bolt upright on his bed. Who the heck could that be? he thought.
“Campus Police,” yelled a man’s voice from the outer hallway. Tommy froze solid. Sam and Ben got right up and went to the door.
“Hi, come in,” said Sam, pointing into the lounge and ushering in two young men and a young woman with light blue-gray shirts and navy pants.
“How ya doing,” said the first man in. “We’re assisting the Amherst Police Department with their ongoing investigation of the death of the Amherst College student, who died this past weekend. I’m sure you heard about it, as it’s been all over the news. He was attacked along with another student a few weeks ago in Amherst and, unfortunately, he died after being in a coma since the incident.”
I felt as if the mood established here was not quite what the author was trying to convey. So I repositioned a few lines and tightened others to try to achieve that mood. I revised some quotes to give them a stronger relationship to real people talking the way real people talk. Finally, there are certain literary choices one can make (adjective selection; cut-off sentences, etc.) in order to give a written scene the drama and emotion it deserves. Many of those choices were lacking in the original. I included them in the revision below:
There wasn’t a sound in Suite 703. It was late Wednesday night and the boys just finished their dinner and had retired to their separate bedrooms. Tommy was resting on his bed listening to Jimi Hendrix with his headphones on, while the other sighed over their homework by their desks. The silence was interrupted by a loud banging on the suite door, from the hallway. Even Tommy, in a headphone daze of his own, sat upright on his bed when he heard the noise, wondering, as did they all, who was at the door. They hadn’t been expecting anyone.
“Campus police,” came the response from the other side of the door—from someone with a deep voice. Tommy did not move, but Sam and Ben left their rooms and went straight to the door. Sam opened it. Standing there were a middle-aged man and a younger woman, both wearing light blue shirts and navy slacks.
“Hi, come in,” Sam said, pointing toward the suite’s lounge. He led the way.
“How you doing?” said the man, with little if any emotion in his voice. “We’re assisting the Amherst Police Department with their investigation into the attack of that Amherst College student. I’m sure you heard about it.”
“Well…” began Sam, “yes, we heard something about it, but—”
“He's dead,” the man starkly interrupted. “He was in a coma, but he died."
Here are a few paragraphs from a book about how to effectively use LinkedIn to help grow a business or organization. It will be an updated version of a previously-published book written by Sandra Long, a distinguished marketing consultant and proven expert in the field. Here’s one section from Sandra's original draft of the update:
Just Imagine: Bill and Mark
Just imagine Bill walks into a networking event or party. He heads straight to the food table. Bill keeps talking and spewing out his sales pitch. To top it off, a lot of his topics revolve around him.
Now imagine his cousin Mark, who enters the room and shows authentic interest in others. He engages other people with interesting conversation.
The cousins are starkly different in their approaches. Mark attracts people and prospects while Bill repels them. Please know that the online world is no different than real life. Your job is to be like Mark, and attract people to you. The trick is to be helpful and genuinely interested in others.
The rhythm and structure of the original sometimes tended to give the impression of being a stream-of-consciousness speech by the author. There are many times an approach like is entirely appropriate; a serious business book may not always be one of them. I kept Sandra's specific narrative exactly as she had it, but fine-tuned it with as professional and as consistent a tone as possible. I also changed the subhead, which seemed to beg for something a little more intriguing--perhaps more literary. The author was appreciative of the choice. Here's my revision.
A Tale of Two Cousins
Imagine Bill walking into a networking event. He heads straight to the food table, then starts to spew his sales pitch, and never comes up for air. Everything he says revolves around himself.
Now imagine his cousin Mark, who enters the room and shows authentic interest in all the other people at the event. He engages them with interesting conversation.
These two cousins take starkly different approaches. As a result, Bill repels and Mark attracts. Here’s a big secret: the online world is no different. So make it your job to be like Mark, not Bill. The key is to be helpful and genuinely interested in others.
Here are a few paragraphs from the first draft of a book called "Smack in the Middle: My Turbulent Time Treating Heroin Addicts at Odyssey House," by Gibbs Williams, Ph.D. It is a memoir of the author's harrowing experience early in his career, and his draft was based on his own decades-old notes and diaries. This is part of his original submission to me, exactly as he wrote it:
Today’s group of potential inductees consisted of six scruffy men and four dejected women, all hard core heroin addicts, ranging in age from twenty to thirty, of mixed nationalities – three Puerto Ricans, four whites, and three blacks.
I immediately focused on a tall, emaciated black man named Tyrone, about twenty years old, noting a surprisingly instant rapport, despite our many obvious differences: his blackness, my whiteness; his tallness, my shortness; his lower class background, my upper middle class background; his lack of formal education, my life-long immersion in it.
“Tyrone, what motivated you to come here today?” Staring at me blankly, he remained mute. Clutching, I wondered how best to deal with his unresponsiveness. Hoping he would soon start talking, I waited him out, but his silence persisted.
His passivity increased my nervousness that if I couldn’t engage him in conversation, I’d fail my first solo induction meeting. I figured my best strategy was to follow Kimberly’s advice to just wing it.
“Tyrone, since no one forced you to come, there must be a reason why you’re here.” Affirming my comment, his head nodded up and down but no words came out of his mouth. "Are you always so talkative?”
Everyone laughed. Tyrone smiled. Finally for the first time during this meeting I felt hopeful.
Of all the samples on this blog, this one resembles a complete rewrite more than the others. The author acknowledged that the notes and diaries on which he based his draft were not necessarily written with future publication in mind, even though he already had a literary bent when working on them. I took the author's story--thought by thought, moment to moment--and wrote it in a novelistic way so that readers would be drawn in from the beginning and stick with it all the way through. Here's my edit, and the way it was published:
The inductees were already in the room when I arrived, all of them hardcore heroin addicts. The ten of them—six scruffy men and four doleful women—had entered from the side street. They ranged in age from twenty to thirty. Four were Caucasian, three Puerto Rican, and three black. A few sat on hard, wobbly wooden chairs and the others settled in on the floor. It occurred to me that either option—uncomfortable seats or cement—were not unfamiliar to these people at all. Perhaps that helped foster for them some odd sense of security.
The first addict on whom I focused was a guy named Tyrone. He was a tall, twenty-year-old near-skeleton of a man. I sensed an instant connection with him, despite our significant disparities: I was short, he was tall; I grew up in the comfortable middle-class, he was raised in a squalid lower-class tenement; I had been immersed in lifelong learning, he lacked any formal education (though he was obviously very intelligent); I was white, he was black.
“Tyrone, what motivated you to come here today?” I asked after I finished my opening statement. He sat silently and stared at the blank wall.
I chose to wait him out. His determination to remain mute was as strong as mine was to hang on. For a while it seemed to be a standoff. I couldn’t let that happen.
“Tyrone,” I said, “no one forced you to come here. So there must be a reason why you did. What is it? What’s the reason?”
His head nodded ever so slightly, merely to acknowledge that he had heard the question. But that’s as far as the acknowledgement went. Still no words came out of his mouth.
“Are you always so talkative?” I asked.
Everyone laughed. Tyrone smiled. Hope returned.
A young man from a foreign country told me that he has wanted to be writer from the time he was a child. He had no experience as an author, but wrote a draft of a short espionage thriller called "K5" (which I convinced him to retitle "The K5 Conspiracy") which did in fact have an intriguing plot and the one-the-edge,, paranoiac atmosphere reminiscent of a number of notable books in this genre. Here are his original two opening paragraphs.
In the middle of the road, at day time everyone staring, screaming loud, with their arms around the heads. I was on the bike heading to work, as usual, but my eyes and mind couldn’t let me keep biking as I was so curious about what happening on the other side of the road. So I decided to take a look.
To the extent possible, I kept his scenes as he envisioned them, and maintained his sense of action and confusion--but I did so by rewriting at least 75 percent of his original copy, thereby turning these opening chapters into something far more in line with what American readers are used to and will find compelling. Here are my two edited opening paragraphs.
There is information below about rates and policies. You can always send an email to
Joel@JoeltheWriter.com to ask any questions at all.
Here are some of the books I have edited:
I use a per-page rate which is highly competitive with all other book editing services. With a per-page rate you know exactly what you will be expected to pay, regardless of how much editing is ultimately required or how many back-and-forth discussions we have to do via email.
Here's how it works. First, via email you send me three pages of your manuscript, along with some additional information that I will ask for as soon as you contact me. This step serves two purposes: One, it will help me determine the per-page rate (based on the extent of editing I determine will be required), and two, it will help you determine if you would like to me to be your editor. How? Because I will edit those three pages for free and email them back to you. That way you can decide if my editing style meets your needs and expectations. (Please make sure your document is double-spaced with 12-point Times-New Roman type.) If it's a go, then you will email the entire manuscript to me (double-spaced, 12-point). When I've completed the first half, I will send it back to you, request half the payment, and then get to work on the second half. You'll be asked to complete payment when you receive the edited second half back from me. Write to me at Joel@JoeltheWriter.com with questions or for more information.
Payment is either via PayPal or a personal check mailed to my office address. There is no limit on how much work I have to do in order to get the job done (and that includes emails back and forth for questions and clarifications). The rate never changes. What's more, I am happy to discuss ideas and suggestions on the marketing & promotion of your book even after it's published. That's part of the rate! It's an extra value built in.
Write to me at Joel@JoeltheWriter.com and let's get started. _______________________________________________________
"Joel has the ability to polish any editorial project so that it sparkles. He makes it look easy, which makes us look good."
--Kate Sirignano, President, Image Marketing Consultants
"When Joel polishes my novellas and short stories, his turnaround time is reliable and he retains the original message and feeling of all my work. I highly recommend him for any literary project."
--Robertson Tirado, author & filmmaker