Developmental and Copy Editing for
Novels, Stories, Memoirs, and Plays

artistry first

Find the shape and resonance in your material, then craft it into a story that will break open readers’ hearts. Strengthen characterizations, plot, internal coherence, and arc. Sprinkle with hooks. Bring it all together with your own delicious style.

Then make sure the copy is tight, clear, consistent, and clean, that all your choices support your narrative, not detract from it.

Having a little trouble with any of that? Not quite connecting with your audience and the marketplace — or your own hopes? You need an editor.

before you send it out

Once upon a time, literary-minded publishers nurtured talented new authors. Sadly, that tradition has gone the way of hot lead type. These days your manuscript must be the best it possibly can be before it goes out to critical eyes.

One thing hasn’t changed. Agents and acquisitions editors, literary managers in theaters and contest selection committees, all want good stories — it’s their stock in trade. They are delighted when they can say, “Yes! We love it.” But they don’t have time to fuss with something that’s not ready.

What’s a writer to do? You hire your own editor: me. I’m on your side. My approach is warm and helpful. Years of practice have given me a kind of editorial x-ray vision. Lovingly, gently, kindly, and ruthlessly, I will target exactly what’s not working, and why. Then I’ll help you fix it. At the same time, I respect your unique voice. It is your story, always.

Whether you’re a newcomer or a bestselling veteran, send them only the most polished, most brilliant, most truthful work you can possibly create (with the help of your personal editor).

self-publishing

In some cases, it makes better sense to retain full control and full rights, and become your own publisher. In self-publishing, you must be even more aware of your public presentation. Grammatical errors, typos, and wandering narratives all reflect poorly on you. So don’t do that. Hire an editorial pro to enhance your self-publishing brand. In addition to editing, I can help you navigate the self-publishing maze, and develop an action plan to self-market.

literary or genre fiction?

My own loves are literary fiction, poetry, and theater, with a lifelong delight in fairy tales, world myths, and folk stories. But I’m eclectic. I’m also widely read in classic science fiction, fantasy, noir, mysteries, romance, and comedy … and, I confess, more than a little trash (have to keep up with the market, after all).

This means I have the breadth and perspective to edit your manuscript on its own terms. My job is to bring out its best qualities, whether I’m editing for substance, style, or simply copy errors.

The best genre writing borrows freely from the complex techniques of literary fiction, while the tricks of the genres can lighten and quicken many a literary novel. Some of the most interesting writers working today don’t worry so much about the boundaries of literature or genre, but mix and match, choosing from a banquet of authorial options. Why not?

memoir

Readers (and thus publishers) love true stories. Memoirs have never been more popular. The memoirist’s game is to “invent the truth” (as William Zinsser puts it), using all the tools and strategies of the fiction writer. Seems like it should be easy. But it’s hard to write honestly about your life, to capture the essence and depth of your experience, to recreate lively scenes instead of summarizing. I can help you focus, trim, dig deeper. Let’s make art of your life’s story.

Email me for a free consultation.


A Sample of Mary’s Fiction & Memoir Edits

before

I see a lot of overwritten, overly careful prose. Some authors seem to fear that the reader won’t follow the story unless every process is described to the nth. But the opposite is true: overwriting gets in the way. For example:

Then it occurred to Herman, who was stirring his coffee, that he should do or say something. So at last he was standing up and turning around, as she was opening the door, poised on the threshold to leave forever. He heard himself speak with the voice of a frightened man. “Honey, don’t forget the cat food,” was his suggestion. Mabel was so upset, she slammed the door.

during

Now this little scene has comic and emotional promise, if you can find it. The effect of all the verbiage is distance and passivity. Note the many “was -ing” verb constructions. Granted, maybe the writer wants distance as part of the characterization. Fair enough, let’s leave some (“he heard himself speak…”). In fact, the edit aims to leave as many of the original word choices as possible. Otherwise, let’s shape the material first for momentum and pacing, then emotional and comic effect. Note that the author telegraphs Mabel’s reaction (“she was so upset…”) — often (not always) a weak choice, the proverbial telling instead of showing. Let’s transfer that feeling to a sensory detail from another part of this imagined manuscript, to become a mirror to Mabel’s feelings.

after

Herman turned as she poised on the threshold to leave forever. He heard himself speak with the voice of a frightened man. “Honey, don’t forget the cat food,” he suggested. Mabel slammed the door so hard her royal wedding commemorative plates jumped off the wall.

afterword

There are many options to editing the original passage; this is one version. These are the sorts of line edits I suggest to an author, using Word’s track changes and comments. The final decisions are always yours.


I’m happy to send potential clients detailed samples of my editing, including diagnostic/developmental reports. Please email me to request. (Because my work is confidential, all samples are invented, although based on actual projects.)