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Kitchen Table Q & A with Barbara Berson

June 23, 2015

Fifteen writers gathered in my crowded kitchen for a wide-ranging discussion with seasoned editor, Barbara Berson. Here are some highlights:


Barbara Berson

When should I get an editor involved?

Barbara. You might not need an editor. If you have a writing group, you may get feedback, perspective, and advice that works for you. You can also get feedback by taking writing classes or signing up for a mentor through a writing program. If the elements of fiction are working and you’re excited about your work, you might be ready to send it out to an agent or publisher.  When you’ve done everything you can do and you have taken the work as far as you can go, that’s when you may need an editor to help burst it open by asking a lot of questions.

How do you work with authors?

Barbara. I see the relationship as a conversation. It’s a very collaborative process. I try to identify the strengths and work with the author to make the work stronger. Usually, I read through once and then read again to make notes about what’s working, and where I have questions. I prefer to meet one-on-one with the author to talk about the work. Simply writing memos feels one-sided. It’s much more productive to have a conversation so that I can ask questions to help the writer identify the concerns and figure out how to solve the problem. Sometimes I have an idea that might help address a problem. It may help or it may spark another idea for the writer. With a full edit, I provide detailed notes as well. Praise is very important because writers need to know what their strengths and gifts are and how to work with them.

What is the cost of hiring an editor?
Barbara. The cost depends on several factors. I usually read the first 30-40 pages to get an idea of what the issues might be in the work. I consider that as well as the length in order to figure out how time-consuming the edit will be. One-third to one-half of the cost of a full edit will also include a meeting with the author. The range would be about $1200- 2200 for an assessment and $3,000 + for a full edit. The length of time depends on how quickly the author responds to questions. It can take a year to complete two drafts but most of the time the process takes 6 to 8 months.

How can I find an editor?
Barbara. Word of mouth and references from other authors are the best ways. You can also look at editors’ websites, LinkedIn or the Editors’ Association of Canada. Look at what they have done. It’s a good idea to hire someone who has experience.

What are the trends in publishing now?
Barbara. Big publishers tend to be risk-averse. Smaller publishers are more likely to take chances with new writers. “Misery Memoirs” are always popular! (The Glass Castle) and so is the genre of blending fiction and memoir (Sheila Heti or Karl Ove Knausgård). But do not write to trend. The most important thing is to start with your own voice, language and story. An editor will respond to the gifts you are offering. However there are elements of fiction that are useful to talk about like point of view, plot, dialogue and story. An acquisitions editor looks for a great story, a story they haven’t read before and a strong voice. I have a lot of respect for the work that writers do.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 23, 2015 5:04 pm

    This was such a helpful Q+A. Thanks for the invite and for the highlights!

  2. Valerie McDonald permalink
    June 23, 2015 5:51 pm

    Thanks to the group for diving right in to the discussion!

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