To-may-to To-mah-to … The importance of finding an editor who ‘gets’ your writing style – Alison Ragsdale

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By Alison Ragsdale

When I decided to self-publish my first novel, Tuesday’s Socks, in 2014 I was both excited and terrified. Riddled with self-doubt about the quality of the writing and also daunted by the uncharted territory of the self-publishing world, the clearest message I had received from other authors throughout months of research was that the most critical part of the process was finding a great editor.

Knowing that I needed the professional wit and wisdom of (at least) one such editor – the challenge was on. Beginning my writing career as a Scottish transplant to the USA, I realised that I wrote in a hybrid style involving a mixture of both English and Scottish-isms, further complicated by the use of many American spellings.

In order to get my ‘baby’ to a state where I was happy to share it with the world, I was advised to test-drive a couple of editors until I found that elusive perfect fit. The first I contacted looked promising, but as soon as she did an initial pass of an extract of the manuscript it was clear that she was more concerned with correcting my British spelling than giving me the broader perspective on the book that I was looking for. I thanked her politely (I am, after all, a Brit) and moved on.

The next editor I tried sent my inquiry email back to me, corrected. I wasn’t sure if he thought it was a good way to show his editing proficiency or whether he was just disturbed by my use of the word handbag versus purse. Moving on again, I turned to a wonderful writers’ forum that I had joined and after more research I eventually located two potential editors to contact. The first, the insightful Canadian author and editor Bev Katz-Rosenbaum, provided me with a wonderful developmental edit focusing on the big picture and forgiving me my s’s instead of ‘z’s. I was thrilled with the laser-sharp review and practical suggestions.

Taking the advice of an author friend about using your existing network to reach other professionals, I asked Bev if she knew of a copy editor who might take me on for the next phase. Happily, she recommended Amanda Sumner (Careful Copyediting). Girding my loins for another telling-off, I sent a tentative email to this paragon of professional correcting, condensing and modifying apologising for my over use of commas and long, wordy sentences (case in point). Joy of joys I received a response saying that she’d be happy to work with me and that the Brit-erican spelling and grammar wouldn’t phase her as she had in fact obtained her bachelor’s degree in literature and linguistics from Manchester University. Hurrah – a bi-lingual editor! I did a happy dance, sent her the manuscript and never looked back.

I’ve worked with these immensely talented ladies on all three books so far and when Finding Heather was picked up by Lake Union Publishing earlier this year, I was told that the book was in ‘great editorial shape’. So, long story short, now that I am two years into this and have become a hybrid author, working within both the self and traditional publishing worlds, I would reiterate that pearl of wisdom to any newbie. Whatever budget you have to allocate to the process of preparing your manuscript for publishing, regardless of the direction you are choosing, take your time and make finding the right editor(s) a priority. Unless you locate that certain someone who can happily let you say to-mah-to and still respect you in the morning, you may have to call the whole thing off.

Former professional ballet dancer and marketing consultant, Alison Ragsdale’s debut novel, Tuesday’s Socks, and her second, The Father-Daughter Club, are both Amazon best-sellers. The Father-Daughter Club was featured in the March, 2015 Kirkus Reviews magazine and was also awarded the IPPY 2016 Bronze Medal for Best Regional Fiction – Europe. Her latest novel, Finding Heather, was originally released in 2015. The new edition and audio version (Lake Union Publishing) are being released in October, 2016.

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