You have that novel or story collection you’ve written. Or that dissertation you defended and want to retool before moving forward. You have a completed work that you’ve spent a lot of time with, but you’re not sure what’s next. Do you shop it around to publishers? Do you carve out pieces and pitch them? Do you ask friends to read it? How do you know if your work…works?
You can ask me to give you an aerial view.
Imagine having a beta reader who also notices grammatical issues, user-unfriendly sentence or paragraph structure, and wordiness—all from what my colleague Karen Conlin calls the 30,000 ft. level. This is the kind of thing an aerial view from an experienced editor can give you. Because these are generally comments-only reads, I can focus on the experience of moving through your work. I’m still reading like an editor, so I’m noticing clunky sentences, overstuffed paragraphs, and anything else that can slow down or confuse your reader. I don’t edit these, though; I simply make marginal notes.
I’ve done three of these aerial views, and I’ve enjoyed the work immensely. They were a refreshing change from line editing or proofreading. I’ve done a novel, a scholarly book being revised before resubmission, and a dissertation that the writer wanted to repurpose. I read these works interactively: I added comments, asked questions, and shared reactions as I was reading. Some were compliments about a good sentence or phrase; others were queries when I wasn’t sure about the structure, purpose, or message.
Here’s the rundown for each:
- The novelist had been working on his book for a few years and needed new eyes on it. He told a good story about a group of middle-aged friends, but in spots he had too many flashbacks and struggled to signal them to the reader consistently. As an avid Faulkner and Woolf fan, I’ve read a lot of extended flashbacks in fiction. Some of these sections the writer set off in italics, and some he didn’t. I suggested that he have a more regular style to avoid confusing his readers. Likewise, some parts had too much setup before the action and dialogue started; I suggested trimming some of these establishing descriptions. He also overdid some (potentially) dated references to 1960s’ and 1970s’ pop culture. The references were timely for his characters, but some felt forced and could have confused readers. I got him to think more fully about his target readership and how to keep them engaged. He later thanked me for my “good fresh reading and professional thoughts on the manuscript’s presentation.”
- The first scholar was trying to apply feedback he’d gotten from his publisher: they wanted a revise-and-resubmit on a book about two 19th-century American writers. From my time as an English professor, I knew the era but not specifics about the writers he was discussing. He needed an educated nonspecialist reader like me who (1) could read the material from the perspective of someone who needed to learn it and (2) had written a book focusing on the relationship between two writers. The scholar had two lengthy chapters at the beginning that—while they gave important historical context—delayed his discussion of the two writers the book was about. I suggested that he condense these into one leaner, more useful chapter. He also tended to compartmentalize his analysis of the writers and his historical discussions. I suggested that he instead overlap them to improve his book’s cohesiveness and readability. Throughout, I also made suggestions for shortening sentences or breaking up paragraphs. He later applied my edits and resubmitted a leaner and much improved manuscript to the press.
- The second scholar was revisiting her dissertation and didn’t want to go the traditional route of making it an academic book. Because I again acted as an educated nonspecialist, I was a good stand-in for an intellectually curious reader new to her work. The scholar had a lot of material and research, and I made several suggestions for repackaging it into blog posts and digital learning modules. Because she’d written the project at different times and cobbled parts together from notes and presentations, there was repetitive information and prose. (Such repetition is inevitable in long-term projects.) Because she didn’t have a sharp enough target audience in mind, her work was sometimes too general and sometimes too specialized. Because her research had spanned several years, many parts were essentially information dumps without a clear “why” or purpose. I noted these and other revisable issues in my comments and final report. She’s currently reworking her material and figuring out how to repackage it into a more user-friendly format.
In my final reports to the writers, I shared with them what I’d edit or flag if they wanted to hire me further. At least one is planning to hire me for the next stage.
Aerial views don’t take quite as long to do as line editing, but they’re not quick read-throughs. Each of these took me a few weeks because I spread out my reading to stay fresh. In a way, this work is editorial triage: we look at your book and identify problem areas. If you like what we’ve done, you can then hire us to copy edit material we’ve already read. It’s inevitable that I notice typos or edit-worthy writing issues when doing an aerial view, but I don’t do any editing. If I feel lost or disengaged in a section, I’ll tell you. If I see too many references to other works or ideas that splinter your focus, I’ll tell you. If I have to read a wordy sentence a few times to understand your meaning, I’ll tell you. And, if I notice strong writing techniques or effective choices of structure, I’ll tell you—to keep doing it.
Sometimes, the key first step in getting that novel or scholarly book published is getting objective feedback on the completed first version. An aerial view from someone like me can start showing you the path to get your work out there.
Have an idea for another post on writing or editing topics? Let me know.