Developmental, Line, and Copy Editing
for Novels, 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 readers — 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 acquisition editors, contest committees, literary managers, even media critics 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. Working with me is like a one-on-one writing seminar with your manuscript as the only project on the table. 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 (because I’m a writer too) I know how tone-deaf editing is the bane of creative writers. So 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.

literary or genre fiction?

My own loves are literary fiction 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 structure, 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 art is to “invent the truth” (as William Zinsser puts it), building their story on a bedrock of emotional honesty while 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 unique essence and depth of your experience, to recreate lively scenes instead of summarizing. I can help you focus, trim, and go deeper, to tell a story that shimmers with quiet authenticity and takes emotional risks.

A Taste of Mary’s Fiction & Memoir Edits

before

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 Mabel was opening the door, as she stopped and poised on the threshold, about 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

This little scene has comic and emotional promise, if you can find it. The problem here is a tendency to overwrite. 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 and slows the pace. The effect of all the verbiage is distance and passivity.

Note the many “was -ing” verb constructions (continuous participles combined with to be verbs). Granted, the writer wants distance as part of the characterization. Fair enough, let’s leave the hint of traumatic disassociation (“he heard himself speak…”). In fact, the edit aims to leave as many of the original word choices as possible. Then let’s tighten the material for momentum and pacing, and to shape its 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 specific sensory detail, swiped from another part of this manuscript, to become a mirror to Mabel’s feelings. Bonus: it adds a touch of comic irony.

Below are the sorts of line edits I suggest to an author, using Word’s track changes and comments. The final decisions to accept or reject such edits are always yours. Here’s what it looks like on the page:

      

after

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


     what my clients say


“Mary extends a deft hand to any writer. She’s knowledgeable, kind, and compassionate. Deep in her bones she knows narrative style.“
Georgie Craig, novelist
Hawk Hill
work in progress

“Mary did a great job. Her astute developmental suggestions helped make my books stronger and clearer, without provoking defensiveness — an achievement indeed!“
Kate Raphael, novelist, Palestinian mysteries series:
Murder Under the Bridge
and Murder Under the Fig Tree
Update from Kate: “Murder Under the Fig Tree is a Lambda finalist!“

“This experience was exactly as I wanted it to be. Mary proved to be highly professional and skillful in her craft and very easy to communicate with. Our work together was a pleasure, it was finished in time, and exceeded my expectations. Mary made many suggestions and worked on my book with passion, enthusiasm, and creative intuition that I deeply appreciate. I hope to work with her again on my future projects and would recommend her to any writer or publisher.”
Olga Yahontova, MD, novelist
Michael Gate

“Your advice has been very insightful. I’m excited to dive in! Your comments point out problems I had a hard time approaching, so it’s been great.”
Alexandria Root, novelist
The Dead Life
work in progress

“I couldn’t have made a better choice. Mary demonstrated respect, understanding, and compassion for my writing. She shared ideas, asked probing questions, and delivered her edits well before our agreed upon deadline. She won my heart. Thank you, Mary, for taking my hand and leading me forward.”
Linda Morrow, memoirist
When Down Means Up: Lessons in Down Syndrome and Love
forthcoming 2020

“Our book is a bilingual translation (Russian–English). Mary did an excellent review of the English half, and helped format and prepare for publication with our publishing house in Russia. Mary helped a lot and very efficiently, and the price was very fair.”
Gennady Farber, executive editor
The Fate of Our Fathers: Life and Death during Stalin’s Reign of Terror
a memoir by Vladimir Berger

“I appreciated Mary’s keen eye and diligent work on a beloved epic-in-draft. Her insights helped me to sharpen the narrative and gave me much to think about. It is so much further along due to Mary's editing skills.“
Scott Parson, novelist
Immortal Man
work in progress

“Mary, I love what you are doing. I found so many of your comments and suggestions to be great.”
Lynn Edwards, memorist
Running for My Life

“Working with Mary was very enlightening. She kept me encouraged throughout the process of editing and gave me great comments and ideas. This was my first book, and she really kept me going. Great response time. She did a wonderful job. Brilliant.”
Stina Niklasson, novelist
Dead in the Head

“A very fine and diligent copyediting job. I’m so glad I found you.“
Johanna McCloy, executive editor
Six Car Lengths Behind an Elephant
a memoir by Lillian McCloy