Case Study: Solving Problems in Working with Indie Clients  (part 1 of 3)

Recently, a developmental editor colleague expressed some frustration around working with indie authors. She had three main areas of concern, and I’m going to address each of these in a blog post. They are all very common concerns.

Here’s the first, in her words:

“The responsibility. Having someone pay me (hopefully) good money to take care of their baby. I’m fairly confident, but I’m also afraid of getting something wrong. And so much of the work is subjective, especially DE, so there’s just that general sense sometimes of whether I’m making the best suggestions. Which leads me to worrying that a client is going to be unhappy and feel cheated or something.”

Even if I didn’t know this editor as well as I do, I would bet good money that she has never actually had a client express that they are unhappy or feel cheated. She is just worrying that it might happen. So, until a client does express unhappiness, just tell this bit of imposter syndrome to go sit down and shut up.

One thing I often do to counteract attacks of imposter syndrome is to keep an accomplishments list. I include nice things people have said about my work as a reminder that I do in fact know what I’m doing. Then when I start to doubt myself, I leaf through that file and put the doubts to rest. I’ve written about this more fully here.

DE work is subjective and different editors, each equally well-informed and trained, will have different reactions to the same ms. So, one thing we have to get comfortable with is the idea that there is no right or wrong. Especially if you’re a people-pleasing rule-follower (which describes the vast majority of editors I know!) this is a very hard ask. But remind yourself that there is no right and wrong. I have often said that if you read a ms with care and consideration and you give your feedback diplomatically and out of a desire to help an author grow (versus trying to prove a point), then you’ve done your work well.

That said, one way to build your confidence is to follow a proven methodology. I use my three-part template all the time and I encourage other editors to use it, too:

  1. Identify the developmental problem. If you can’t, if all you can say is, “Hmm, something feels off about this,” then you haven’t actually encountered a developmental problem—or else you need to fine-tune your radar to be able to identify the problem.  
  2. Explain why the problem is a problem for this manuscript. This helps editors avoid relying too heavily on generic advice that doesn’t apply. If all you can say is, “You’re using too many adverbs” without being also to explain why this is a problem for the manuscript, you haven’t actually encountered a developmental problem.
  3. Suggest a potential solution. This is not because the author can’t figure out how to, say, give Joan a stronger motivation. It is because providing a solution (a) prevents you from making recommendations that can’t possibly be implemented (“Give us more about Tony’s past history with Berniece and create a stronger sense of setting but make sure Tony meets the love interest by page 2 and that we know what the central conflict is before that.”) and (b) gives the author an idea of what type of solution will work. If you say, “There isn’t enough information about Joe here” it’s possible the author will info-dump for ten pages. If you say, “We need to know Joe’s age and a brief description of his appearance here,” it’s unlikely the author will info-dump for ten pages.

Similarly, if you’re editing in a specific genre, then keeping genre conventions in mind as you edit can help ensure you’re on the right track. This doesn’t mean a ms can’t bend the conventions but “what do readers expect of a story like this?” gives you a more objective place to start. For ex, in romance, readers expect a happily-ever-after and they expect the development of the love relationship to be the central concern of the novel. If you’re editing a romance ms that doesn’t have a HEA and the love relationship takes a backseat to the mystery, then you know some specific things you need to point out as being problematic.

And, consider using a DE checklist as a way to make sure you’re not overlooking anything.

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