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FAQ on Editing/Publishing | A Small Treatise on the Publishing World

I have received quite a bit of e-mail asking various questions about publishing and/or editing, and some patterns have emerged. Some of the most-asked questions are addressed below. I certainly don't mind corresponding with people on the Net who are willing to wait for me to have free time in my schedule to write back. I'm not a curmudgeon, and I've been enjoying the contacts I've made so far. But, if you have a pressing question, it might be answered below. Check it out. 

Finally, please take note that the following are my opinions only. Ask any three editors the same questions and you will get three differing answers. Also, I cannot claim any true "expertise" in the field, only my experience over the last decade or so. I do not hold any responsibility for anyone's experience in writing or editing or publishing based on the following information.

How Can I Get Started in Freelance Editing? 
If you haven't worked in-house for a publisher, chances are you won't be able to get started as a freelance copyeditor or proofreader. You won't be able to be a book editor without working in-house as one for a number of years. 

I was rather flippant on my homepage when I said that I went freelance because I thought commuting was stupid. While that is true for me, I must also point out that I worked in-house for many years in publishing before going freelance full time: first at Houghton Mifflin, then at Porter Sargent Publishing, then as the managing editor and executive editor at the American Scientific Affiliation, handling all their publishing contracts. It took many years of low pay and long hours, and many hours hunched behind a steering wheel driving into Boston. It doesn't happen overnight. 

If you have experience as an editor, copyeditor, or proofreader on a professional level, with a publishing house or magazine, you should know how to make your own contacts, and can go about it on your own rather well. Some pointers: be firm about the length of time a project will take you, and stick to your guns if they want something done over a weekend or in a rush--it will cost them extra. Call when you're returning a manuscript and say it's coming to them: this gives you the opportunity to say, "Gee, got any more?" It can't hurt, and often means you end up with an instant turnaround business. Don't overprice yourself and don't underprice yourself. A good guide is available from the Editorial Freelancer's Association, which publishes an unofficial standards survey every few years. Joining them is a good idea: they also offer group rates for insurance and other perks. Write to: 

Editorial Freelancers Association, Inc.
71 West 23rd Street, Suite 1504
New York, NY 10010
EFA Web site 

If you want experience, you can always work in-house. See below. 

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How Can I Get Started in Publishing? 
The major centers for publishing include New York City, San Francisco, and Boston, in the United States. You will most likely have to live in or near one of these cities in order to work in-house for a time. Expect to start as an editorial assistant, which is a lowly job in many ways, but the best way to receive the gem of publishing: good, old-fashioned in-house training through "apprenticeship." The pay is famously lousy, but it's the main way to begin your way toward editorship. 

Yes, even if you are beginning a "second career," you may have to spend some time as an E.A. It's the way publishing works. 

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I Have This Book I Want to Get Published ... 
Seriously, I really can't help you get your book published. If you honestly don't know where to begin, here's a basic primer. You can also write to me at the address on the home page. 

(1) Join a writers group. It can be a good experience for learning what others think of your writing, and it will give you a place to learn about getting published. It will also give you a support group when you receive your rejection letters. There are writers groups in almost every city and small town in America. Ask around. The library is a good place to start. 

(2) Go to the library or bookstore and get a book called The Writer's Market for whatever year this is. (This year's guide is therefore Writer's Market 1999.) It is widely available at every chain store. If they don't have it, they can order it for you. 

(3) In the guide, look up, by category, whatever type of book you've written. Say you have a children's book. In the "Children's Book" section will be listed various publishers of books, magazines, etc. There is a guide in the front which explains the listings. Pay attention especially as to whether or not they would like to see a "query letter" (which is simply a letter explaining what your book is); "sample chapters" (and please only send them whatever number of chapters they stipulate--editors hate receiving 5 chapters if they ask for only 3! And send consecutive chapters: don't send chapters 1, 3, and 25. Send chapters 1, 2, and 3.); or "full manuscript" (which is the whole book). 

(4) Check for author guidelines from the publishers before you send anything to them. Write with an SASE included (self-addressed, stamped envelope--with adequate and correct postage--if you are overseas, send a paid international postal reply). Follow their guidelines to the letter. If there are no guidelines available, check the front of Writer's Market. There are standard guidelines for how your manuscript should be typed and presented listed there. 

(5) Don't send your manuscript to more than one publisher at a time. If it is accepted by one and then by another at the same time, you could get into a legal nightmare. Just don't do it. Be patient and wait for a reply. 

(6) Get used to rejection. It makes you stronger. 

(7) Don't quit your day job. 

(8) If you're a mother of an infant and think you have "a lot of time on your hands" and want to therefore be a writer (or freelance editor), please think about it two or three times and perhaps wait until your child is at least out of diapers. A lot of young mothers have asked me about editing at home with an infant. I edit at home with only cats for distraction and sometimes I want to throw them out the door into the snow. You can't (or shouldn't) do that to children! 

Seriously, writing professionally takes a lot of time. A man or woman at home alone with a child or children doesn't stand a chance at 8 or 10 hours of uninterrupted, concentrated work. I know some authors who both write at home and have several children--it takes both of them and some tag-team parenting/writing to make it work. It's hard, but it can be done. If you'd like to be put in touch with some people who have succeeded at juggling children and freelancing, write to me and I'll be happy pass you along to them. 

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I Need A Training Course in Basic Copyediting & Proofreading
My business, Windhaven Press: Consulting & Editorial Services™, offers classes. Write to me; I'd be pleased to help you out, or refer you to local courses closer to your home. 
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What Can You Tell Me About Wizards of the Coast or MAGIC: The Gathering®? 
No, no, no. I can't. Don't ask. Go away. My contract doesn't let me talk about anything at all, really, except that I've done books with them. See their homepage for all the public information you could ever desire. Or join a Usenet group about their games. 
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What You Should Never, Ever Do 
(1) Don't send me or any other freelance editor a manuscript without asking first. 

No, we will not read your manuscript for free. No, we won't even talk about your manuscript for free. This is what we do professionally. Sorry if this sounds callous, but think about it. If you were a plumber, would you fix everyone's boiler for free? A stranger's? A stranger's from the Net? My rates can be obtained by writing to me. 

(2) Don't hand a manuscript to an editor if you see them at a science fiction convention. (Yes, this has happened to every editor I know. I even know one who had to hide in a bathroom to get away from a writer who practically stalked her.) See the above paragraph. 

(3) Don't ever send a manuscript or query letter out without an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) enclosed. Make sure there is adequate postage. If you don't include this, you will never see your manuscript again, and you stand a good chance of never even receiving a letter of rejection. 

(4) Don't send "cute" things in with your manuscript or query letter. Don't send a picture (unless asked for one). Don't send your child's latest kindergarten drawing. Don't include a lock of hair, a copy of your favorite recipe, or your dog's pawprint decorating the letter, however tempting it seems to you. 

(5) Don't be "cute" in your cover letter or query letter. Be businesslike. Tell us about your book and why we should buy it. Telling us about your cat or your dead mother won't sell your manuscript (unless, of couse, that's what it's about!). Don't get personal. And never, ever write a threatening note even in humor (such as, "Publish my book or I'll blow up your office"). We have to take those sorts of things seriously. You will be found and you will be arrested. Honest. Just don't do it. 

(6) Don't bug an editor about your manuscript right away. A waiting time of 6 months is not unheard of. Response times range from 2 weeks to 1 year. Many guides list average response times from various publishers. Be patient. If you don't hear anything for a couple of months, write a polite note. If you don't hear anything for a year, call or write and ask politely. It's possible that the editor you sent your manuscript to has moved to another house and your manuscript is sitting at the bottom of a new, very large pile. 

(7) And I can't repeat this enough: DON'T CALL FREELANCERS AT NIGHT, ON WEEKENDS, OR DURING VACATIONS. We have some privacy, even though we "work at home." If you call during those times, expect either a phone machine, or a polite refusal to discuss business at that time.

FAQ on Editing/Publishing | A Small Treatise on the Publishing World

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