What I learned by hiring a concept editor

I’ve returned to my first work in progress.

Longtime readers will recall I was working on a manuscript about the year I turned 15 and learned to French kiss. That was some time ago. The manuscript lost its way when it couldn’t decide who the narrator was. So I picked up a new project and published it; the project turned about to be How to Look Hot & Feel Amazing In Your 40s: The 21-Day Age-Defying Diet, Exercise & Everything Makeover Plan. That book came out in May.

Though not overly enthusiastic about it, I returned to my first work in progress (but not before outlining three other books — no kidding, that’s the creative itch at work, people). Unfortunately, my work in progress hadn’t changed much in a year. My narrator was still unclear. So I combed through the manuscript, trying to refocus.

And then I hired a concept editor.

Yes, even self-published writers need editors. Maybe especially self-publishers. I needed an editor, preferably in my target audience of women who grew up in the ’80s, who was willing to look at the big picture. I found her in Brit Washburn, an essayist and poet in South Carolina.

We went back and forth on the manuscript for a month, and here’s are three things I learned through the valuable process of volleying with an unbiased editor:

  1. The audience for my work in progress is young adult, probably 14-17. It turns out kids nowadays read more than novels about vampires and the apocalypse. Novelist Judy Blume, for example, has built a brand on writing about life’s small revelations. A number of nonfiction books have been written for that audience; I am now immersing myself in several books aimed for that group (I’ll shared reviews of those books in a future post).
  2. The manuscript needs more. More mature perspective. A clearer life lesson. A stronger ending.
  3. The manuscript needs less. I included a secondary story in the book that turns out is weak and unnecessary. Nothing hurts a writer more than pushing the delete button, but I have excised the secondary story from the manuscript.

So, I am back at work, dear fans. Writing, rewriting and polishing.

This is the playground of the dedicated writer.