hiring a developmental editor


 

Often, aspiring memoir writers ask me how to get started. Do they just hire a ghostwriter and pay for phone time to start telling their stories and getting them into documents? That’s one way to begin, but it is not the only way. I think it’s important to start the writing yourself so you can begin seeing the themes and lessons that you will want to emphasize in your memoir or book of life lessons. Let me offer some writing prompts for you memoir writers who are trying to figure out how to tell your life story.

 

Writing Prompt #1: Write the inspirational story of the moment in your life when you felt the most empowered. Use sensory detail—words that evoke sounds, sensations, visual images, and so on. What did it feel like to be in your body that moment when you spoke your truth? When you walked away from a bad situation? When you felt completely at one with the universe? When you knew you were okay, for the first time in a very long time? When you knew you had achieved success? (This story may end up being at the very beginning of the book.)

 

Writing Prompt #2: Write a story of being a young child playing. What toy were you playing with, and why did you enjoy playing with it? Use sensory detail. What did it feel like to lie on the rug in your family’s living room, or sit on the linoleum in your family’s kitchen, as you played? What were you imagining? What were you feeling? (This exercise can be very effective for drawing out of your unconscious mind a story that tells us something about who you are as an adult, what you value, and what the themes of your story are.)

 

Writing Prompt #3: Tell a funny story that captures your sense of humor. It could be a recent story or an old one from your childhood. Make sure that this story reveals your vulnerability, so that the reader relates to you person to person instead of just seeing you as an expert or leader.

 

After writing these stories, read them aloud. Make any changes to the writing you feel are necessary. Edit these stories as best you can, checking spelling and grammar.

 

Begin to think about what these stories have in common. What are your strengths, weaknesses, and interests as revealed in these stories? What, if anything, do your stories say to a reader about how you overcame challenges? What do they tell people about your personality?

 

All memoirs need a narrative arc. We need to see progress in the story as it takes us from the beginning, through the middle, and to the end. We need to watch you come of age, learn to run a successful business despite humble beginnings and mistakes along the way, grow into a person who has come to peace with your past and developed wisdom and a sense of clarity and purpose, and so on. Think about how you would sum up your memoir in a sentence. How would you describe it using two paragraphs that might be found on the back of the book or on the Amazon page for the book? Look at other books for examples.

 

Once you done some of the writing and started to get a sense of what the central story of your memoir is, think about whether you want to write a memoir, a life lessons book, or a self-help book with takeaway exercises and perhaps even an action plan for developing new habits. Do you want to write a personal history for yourself, your family, and your close friends, and perhaps mine it for stories to use in another book, such as a book related to your business as a speaker and consultant, or in a memoir about one specific time in your life?

 

Whether your plan is to publish the book for yourself and your family and friends, for a larger audience that includes fans of your work as an expert in your field, begin your writing today with these writing prompts for memoir writers. Even if you end up doing a life lessons book or a self-help book, you will be glad you wrote up these stories. Doing so will help you get a better sense of how to integrate your personal anecdotes into the book you want to write. A professional developmental editor or ghostwriter can better help you if you have put some time into writing some stories and putting some thought to the central story of your memoir. You will have an easier time conveying your vision of your memoir once you have written some of the stories, so be sure to get started with these memoir writing prompts!

 

(Do you want to know more about the difference between a developmental editor and a ghostwriter? A ghostwriter actually writes drafts of chapters. A developmental editor works with written material such as rough drafts of manuscripts or chapters. You can learn more about developmental editing by watching my video on cut-and-paste editing, available on YouTube.)

 

 

memoir writing life story life lessons

Writing prompts can help you get started with your memoir or other book that features your story.

 

 

Writing a memoir or nonfiction book but afraid you’re not a “real” writer with a broad enough vocabulary and an ability to create elegant metaphors? Banish that fear. I can offer you three ways to energize your writing to bring it up to the next level so that your book is compelling and your ideas and anecdotes come alive for your readers.

1. Pick strong verbs.

Avoid variations on the verb “to be” where you can because “to be” and its forms are weak, wimpy verbs. Also, turn nouns into strong verbs that make your writing and storytelling more energetic and compelling.

 

Weak: Summer is my favorite season.

“Is” is a form of the verb “to be.”

Strong: I favor summer over all the other seasons.

“Favor” is a strong verb compared to “is.”

 

Weak: My partner made an assumption that I was not ready for change.

“Was” is weak.

Strong: My partner assumed that change would overwhelm me.

“Assumed” is stronger than “made an assumption” and it’s less wordy. “Was” is weak. Also, when you begin choosing verbs that could go into that clause, you start getting more precise with your words, which gives your writing more oomph. Here, turning the noun “assumption” into a strong verb helps tighten the writing, making it more energetic.

2. Use a thesaurus to find variations on words.

Look for the overuse of certain words in your writing. Did you use “creative” in the first sentence of a paragraph, “creativity” in the second sentence, and “create” in another paragraph on the same page? Even if your book is on creativity, you want to use a variety of words to get across the concept of creativity. A thesaurus can lead you to words such as innovative, resourceful, imaginative, originality, inventive, and more. Bonus tip: If it’s hard to find a synonym you haven’t already used, maybe you need to tighten the writing so it’s less repetitive.

3. Use figurative language and wordplay.

If you keep using the same words over and over, you’re in the company of the great writer J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, who said she became frustrated trying to find new ways of saying “corridor” or “hall” when describing the movement of characters. When it seems there’s no way to avoid overusing a word that’s key to your story, work, and message, consider using figurative language and wordplay.

Weak: I created my 40-day program for people who think they’re not creative to help them develop their creativity.

We get it! But using variations on “to create” over and over will bore your reader.

Strong: I developed my 40-day program for people who think they’re not “the creative type” to help them discover their inner playground child, the self that sees the world as a playground filled with possibilities for doing something different and innovative.

Here, the writer actually is using figurative language to energize her writing and help brand herself at the same time. As a developmental editor or ghostwriter who also does book publishing consultations, I would say, “Terrific! Now Google ‘inner playground child’ to see if anyone else is using it, and consider buying the dot com URL (www.PlaygroundChild.com) to reserve it—and setting up an Inner Playground Child professional page on Facebook to help secure your brand and a clever turn-of-phrase to go with it.” Branding is key for setting your book and your work apart from others’ in the marketplace, so I would help steer you toward words, phrases, and clauses that would be unique to you.

 

Need help with writing, strategizing, branding, and envisioning your nonfiction mind/body/spirit book? Contact me today and let me know where you are with your plan for your book and what kind of help you need. (Perhaps a Vision Plan is your next step?)

 

 

energize your writing book power

 

 

 

 

Authors, do you know how to avoid accidentally plagiarizing when using online sources to do research for writing your book? I have some tricks to share.

 

Rarely do you see blatant plagiarism where a writer cuts and pastes into a document from online sources and simply replaces a few words as happened this week with Monica Crowley, author of What the (Bleep) Just Happened, published by a division of HarperCollins Publishers, one of the Big Five publishers (and one I used to work at as an in-house acquisitions editor). You can’t rely on an in-house acquisitions editor or their copyediting and proofreading team to make sure you didn’t plagiarize. So if you are doing online research to write a self-help, life lessons, or other nonfiction book, know what you have to do to treat the authors of original material with respect and avoid plagiarizing accidentally.

 

In my opinion, Crowley should have known it was wrong to simply use others’ words and replace a word here and there–for example, she replaced “depends” with “relies” and “prominent” with “major.” Maybe she actually thought this was acceptable.

 

It is not.

 

Even if you know better than to write over someone else’s words, to be safe, never, ever cut and paste someone else’s words into a document unless you put their words in quotation marks and note the source along with adding a link that takes you to that source!  Take the time to cite resources properly.

 

Even then, it is best to put the notes in an idea file document. Create some headers to categorize the material to remind you that this is just the idea file and not a file of your writing. I like to use all caps and create a header with summary concepts, like SENSORY OVERLOAD TANTRUMS MELTDOWNS and SENSORY OVERLOAD SYMPTOMS. Then, when I go to write the chapter, I can work with the idea file, but I know I’m not actually going to salvage any of the writing in the idea file. I’m going to memorize it and then outline from what I know.

 

Also, I generally write in Times New Roman, Arial, or Cambria (common default fonts), so I like to put any direct quotes I save in another font to signal to me “this is someone else’s writing.” That’s another a safety mechanism that can prevent accidentally misreading someone else’s words as yours.

 

If it’s hard to imagine how you might reword the material, look it up in a few different sources and memorize the concepts. This way, it’s easier to come up with how you would say it.

 

Be cautious about lists, too. For example, if I were to list the common symptoms of sensory processing disorder, number one on the list would be unusual under-reactions or overreactions to everyday sensations. There only so many ways to say all that, and it truly is the most basic symptom, which pretty much defines disordered or dysfunctional sensory processing. Writing some variation of that symptom as #1 on the list is just giving readers a fact in your own words. But if #2, #3, #4, and #5 on the list are in almost the exact same order as they are in a list someone else wrote, you didn’t do your research carefully. The symptoms lists are everywhere. Mentally process what you read, remember the basic symptoms, and then write them in a list, from memory, and then check a few sources to see if you forgot any. I’ve written a symptoms list many times and I can’t remember what I’ve put as symptom number two each time. Who knows? It’s really #1 that’s memorable.

avoid plagiarism writing a book

Avoid accidentally plagiarizing when you are writing a book!

 

If you hire a researcher, that person could cause you to accidentally plagiarize. Perhaps Crowley had a ghostwriter or researcher helping her, and Crowley was not on top of the researcher’s work. Even so, the helper might not have been responsible for these passages.  A professional ghostwriter can often pick up on a researcher’s or author/expert/client’s cut and paste from someone else’s site when the document is returned from the author/expert/client. A ghostwriter or developmental editor will look for font and formatting changes as well as words that don’t sound like the author/expert would use them. For example, in one plagiarized passage, Crowley used the term “coyly”—that’s an unusual word. If I were the ghostwriter or developmental editor working on a book like this, I’d find or ask for the original source of the anecdote and Google “Churchill drunk coyly” and similar combinations to figure out the original source of the anecdote. I probably would have found the same source she (or her researcher) used and realized oh no, this is plagiarized and that means other passages may be too! That’s just one way I would research an anecdote or ask the client to research it. Be really clear with a researcher about what you want delivered. Think about whether you might want your researcher to read this article and discuss it with you.

 

Also in that anecdote, she had Winston Churchill saying something to a woman while “drunk” (an informal word that you should not use to describe people who are inebriated unless you are sure you want to use that word.) I’d question who referred to him as “drunk” and look that up using a search engine, and perhaps Google Books.

 

Anecdotes should be put in your own words, just as if you were telling the story to someone else. You should cite the original source in an endnote or footnote if you can’t find multiple sources that have the same basic details. Use your own words; it’s easy to do. You would do it if you were speaking on a teleseminar or in front of an audience, wouldn’t you?

 

Good researchers and writers doing research take detailed notes. They save links and summarize what was on the site, and put in quotation marks specific locutions/combinations of words they might want to use as a direct quote. They even use ellipses (that’s: . . .) and brackets (that’s []) to be sure the quote is not tampered with, and they note the page number. Then, in later drafts, they, and the copyeditor, go back and check the quotation in context, word for word, punctuation mark for punctuation mark.

 

When rewording material, process it mentally. Sit and think about all the research you did on a particular topic, and think about what details your reader needs to know. A statistic? Dates? Actual quotes from people that show they clearly misspoke, misremembered, or lied about details and dates? People often don’t remember exact details so do some research online, using reliable sources. Just for fun, try to find a reliable source for the claim that drinking 8 ounces of water a day is important for health. Go to a .gov site, or Web MD or Mayo Clinic or a major medical college (with a .edu) and try to get evidence to support this claim. Good luck! Whatever you find, cite the source in your text or even in endnotes and paraphrase it accurately if you choose to paraphrase. Books rarely have footnotes anymore since people don’t like them at the foot (bottom) of the page. I love endnotes. They help me see where an author got her information, clue me into other books I might want to read and articles I might want to check out, and provide information that didn’t quite fit in the main text but is still interesting.

 

It’s shocking that someone who gets a major book deal would plagiarize, but it can happen. Be sure you talk with professionals in the book business about any research that needs to get done for your book and any fact checking it requires. They can save you embarrassments and headaches–and headlines and lost credibility.

 

 

So to sum up:

 

Don’t rely on someone else to catch any accidental cutting-and-pasting of words from another source!

 

Don’t cut and paste someone else’s words into your document without clearly marking what is a quotation and citing the source, including a link. 

 

Use tricks like all-caps headers, idea files, quotations and citations and links for every quote, and different fonts to avoid accidentally mistaking someone else’s words as your own.

 

Memorize concepts. Process your ideas before writing them in your own words. Paraphrase accurately but still, cite sources.

 

Be cautious about lists.

 

If you hire a researcher, discuss with that professional what they will deliver. Consider having them read this article. 

 

Cite your sources. Cite your sources. Cite your sources.

 

Want to receive even more practical information about writing mind/body/spirit nonfiction? Be sure to sign up for my email newsletter and you won’t miss any of the free information and special offers I have for my followers!

 

 

Have you completed a memoir, or written a lot of material, and become stuck? A developmental editor can help you figure out what you need to do and how you can reshape your material. I do this work and find it very rewarding because I love helping clients tell their stories. Whenever I can, I offer would-be authors advice on how to get unstuck in the process of writing their memoir or self-help book, and in that spirit, I’d like to share with you an interview I did with a colleague, Al Desetta.

Al Desetta is a ghostwriter/developmental editor I have referred people to when the project isn’t quite right for me or the timing isn’t going to work out given the client’s plans and my schedule. I asked him to shed some light on how he works so that people who follow my blog can learn from him.

 

Nancy: Many people are confused by what a developmental editor does. How would you describe what you do?

 

Al: A developmental editor helps an author develop the true potential in a completed or partially completed manuscript. Unlike a copyeditor who simply corrects a manuscript, a developmental editor looks for ways to help the author improve it, which typically includes helping the writer reorganize the book, rewrite parts of it, add new or additional information, cut or deemphasize parts of a manuscript, etc. For example, I often help memoir writers deepen certain aspects of their stories that they may have overlooked or not considered important. Writers—especially first time writers—are frequently too close to their experience to fully realize the true power in certain events. As a developmental editor, I help authors find the “diamond in the rough” of their experience.

 

Nancy: Who is your typical client? Why do they hire you? For instance, where are they in their process of writing?

 

Al: A typical client is a first-time author who has written a book, but who is uncertain about the quality of the work and seeks me out for objective and constructive feedback. They know they have the germ of a good idea, or even a pretty well-developed book, but they want someone who can offer a professional opinion on the state of the manuscript and ways to improve it.

developmental editor

Stuck on writing your memoir? Hire a developmental editor to evaluate it and help you write it! Developmental editor Al Desetta explains.

 

Nancy: You ghostwrite and you do developmental editing. How do you help a client decide which service is the right one for that particular project?

 

Al: Usually clients are pretty clear about which service they want. Ghostwriting is for people who don’t have the time or skills to write their own books. Developmental editing is for authors who have written their own books, but who are stuck in some way. Sometimes developmental editing also includes some ghostwriting. I’m helping an author right now who has partially completed a memoir. Some of what I do with her is developmental editing—I ask her questions and point out areas where she can improve and develop the manuscript. But I also do a little ghostwriting to help in the process—I interview her about aspects of her life, write chapters based on the interviews, and she then revises these chapters and adds more information.

 

Nancy: When you get full or partial manuscripts from a new client working on a nonfiction book, what are the most common problems you see?

 

Al: Two common problems are overwriting and lack of a workable structure. These problems often surface in memoirs, but are also true of most nonfiction books.

 

Memoir writers often tend to overwrite—they are so close to their experience that they don’t know how to manage or shape it. They think they can write their way out of this problem, but that only compounds the problem. A memoir can’t be about an entire person’s life—it has to focus on an aspect of a person’s experience. What you leave out is as important as what you decide to include.

Related to this is the importance of structure. When an author doesn’t have a workable structure or organization, it’s like driving without a map. Or, to use an analogy that a writing teacher once told me, you set out rowing on the ocean and you lose sight of land. And you keep rowing, hoping to sight land on the other side. But pretty soon you realize you’re lost on the ocean and more rowing (or more writing) won’t get you back to land. Having an organization or structure at the start helps a writer from getting lost, especially in memoir writing, where the author has access to great amounts of information about her life, but often isn’t sure what to include or how to organize it.

 

Nancy: Are there any recent developmental editing projects that stand out for you that self-help mind/body/spirit or inspirational memoir writers could learn from? Any lessons you drew from these recent projects, or were reminded of?

 

Al: One lesson that always stands out is how gratifying the process can be, for both writer and editor. People have life experiences or ideas that they’ve always wanted to write about, but all authors encounter obstacles as they try to write about them. Right now I’m ghostwriting a memoir for a mother and son who were held captive for months by Islamic terrorists in the Philippines. It’s been a wonderful experience to help them create the book they’ve always wanted to write, a process that has also helped them to heal.

 

As a developmental editor and ghostwriter myself, I understand Al’s enthusiasm for helping people to tell stories that lead to healing for themselves and others. If you are eager to get unstuck in writing your memoir, consider contacting a professional, experienced developmental editor to get you back on track.

 

Al Desetta’s website, where you can learn more about his services and the kinds of books he has worked on, is www.AlDesetta.Com

 

 

Most larger book publishers insist that you submit your book through a literary agent, although many smaller publishers do not. Agents are gatekeepers: They choose to represent only those books they feel have a decent chance of getting a book deal and an advance. When an in-house acquisitions editor receives a pitch from a literary agent well known to that editor, it’s as if the bouncer at a club just let you through the red velvet ropes. That’s because many agents have personal relationships with the editors in your genre who want to hear about the projects she is selling. If they don’t have relationships with the editors, but have a solid track record of selling books that have done well in the marketplace, an editor will want to get to know that agent and find out what projects she is pitching. Agents and editors cultivate relationships with each other when they realize they share similar tastes. Specializing in certain genres of books is efficient for everyone, so when it comes to finding an agent, you want one who has experience working with books like yours.

Where do you find literary agents that might be right for your book project? You can meet them at writers’ conferences (and learn a lot about book publishing and writing at the same time). You can research agents online or in books such as The Literary Marketplace (a huge tome available in most public libraries and updated annually), Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, or The Writer’s Market. However, my favorite two places to find the names of potential literary agents are www.publishersmarketplace.com and the acknowledgements section of books similar to the one you’re writing. (If you can’t think of any books similar to yours, check out my article on the comparative books list.) Publishers Marketplace will allow you to search a multitude of recent book deals (as well as other publishing information) for the low cost of $20 a month (and you can cancel your subscription at any time). You can research agents and editors in your genre, find out which agents and editors connected on specific books, and even, sometimes, figure out approximately how much of an advance the author received. Then too, the acknowledgements section of books will often list the names of literary agents because happy authors often like to publicly thank their agents. Don’t forget you can also search acknowledgments pages on Amazon.com and through Google Books. Type into the search bar “acknowledgements,” “thanks” and “thank you,” or even “agent” to find the names you’re seeking.

And how do you know a particular agent is right for you?

Tip 1: Look at the agent’s listAsk to see a list of books she’s sold to publishers if that list isn’t available on her website. An in-house editor is no more impressed by an unsolicited submission from a self-appointed literary agent she doesn’t know and who hasn’t sold strong book projects than she is by an unsolicited submission from an author she doesn’t know and who hasn’t sold any books.

Tip 2: Listen to your gut. You have to feel confident that the agent understands your book and books similar to it. If she doesn’t, how will she sell it? If her editorial suggestions on your manuscript or book proposal don’t sit right with you, you don’t have to take them. You can try to find another agent. That said, don’t let your ego get in the way! Agents use book proposals as selling tools, and they keep up on what acquisitions editors are looking for, so don’t be too quick to dismiss an agent’s advice.  A successful agent’s opinions about your book are shaped by her experiences, and if she’s sold books like yours to publishers, her professional advice may turn out to be absolutely invaluable.

You have to feel comfortable with the agent’s style of working with clients. You’re not looking for a friend who will reassure you that you’re a terrific writer; you’re looking for a busy, successful professional who will naturally limit her socializing with clients so that she can do what she was hired to do—sell!

Tip 3: Query more than one agent. It is acceptable to pitch to more than one agent at once. Why shouldn’t you give yourself some options? Send your book proposal to the first agent who responds to your query letter. If another agent responds, send the proposal to her, too, and let her know that another agent is interested and has requested the proposal. Yes, if you write a terrific query letter, you are likely to get more than one “nibble” from an agent! It’s a very common scenario.

Then too, if you’d like to ask me to help you strategize about what agents to approach and how long to wait for replies, you can always feel free to hire me as a book publishing consultant. Learn more on my services page.

Not sure you’re ready to send your book proposal to an agent? Have you begun the writing and conceptualizing of your book, and started to talk about it and write about it in person or online? You might be ready for a vision plan call with me to strategize your book writing and publishing plan. Check out the description and contact me through the contact form on my website (and yes, the details on that form help me to help you).

Want to know more about the books I’ve worked on? See my testimonials on my website.

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Developmental editor, ghostwriter, and book publishing consultant Nancy Peske at work!

Developmental editor, ghostwriter, and book publishing consultant Nancy Peske at work!

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