In today’s publishing climate, your book needs a professional agent, ghost or mentor

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You’re a great writer. Your family and friends always said you have a book inside you. So you wrote the novel and now you’re scared to death—what if it fails? What if you actually succeed? Your book needs a professional editor or a ghost, whether you’re going to self-publish, shop it to publishers, or engage an agent.

Getting the ideas into words puts you miles ahead of the other 84% of Americans who know they have a book in them. Your next steps will make or break your project.

About a million paper-based books are published each year in the U.S. through known houses. If you don’t have an edge, you don’t have a book.

  • Create an original story with an unusual arc.
  • Write your best and polish it until it shines.
  • Every word must advance your reader and your story.
  • Build an author platform as you write, so you’re ready when the book is ready.
  • Hire a substantive editor or ghost to put the book in the condition demanded by publishers. This is not arbitrary – manuscript format and condition is an absolute. Don’t know the rules? Slush pile, here you come.

I talked to a first-time novelist about to launch her book. She took a path that made complete sense. She engaged one of the industry’s most successful ghosts to polish her novel and mentor her:

Why did you hire a ghostwriter/editor?

I didn’t even know what ghost writing was – till I looked up her (the ghostwriter’s) website. I finished writing this book – a year’s project, and was about to turn 40. It’s a nervous breakdown book. I plunked down in front of computer and wrote it in four months. I knew, as an avid reader, it wouldn’t get published the way it was. I kept revising, editing. I read a book or two on how to get published, but I didn’t know how to polish it.

I emailed Janet Evanovich, since she wrote a book on polishing. I was desperate, going on and on about what do I do next? How do I do this?

Look online for editors and thousands of things come up. Who’s legitimate; who isn’t?  Ken Wilson, Janet’s associate, gave me a name. I heard an angel chorus and my life changed.

What was the process like with your new editor?

I told her a great story was inside me with great characters. She listened, calmed me, made me breathe. I had researched her. It was evident she knew her stuff. I hired her as an editor. The book was already written, but she taught me first how to be a writer. It was such a process. Recognizing the dynamics of active vs passive, and forward plot movement. Every sentence must move your forward. We took 150K words to 90K. It’s so good now, I’m so excited, I can’t stand it.

I’d send her chapter 1, she’d look at it and send me recommendations. We talked about show not tell, pare down narration. Point of view. Then I’d redo it and send it back to her. She has patience, a soothing manner, a way to put things in perspective. She’s brutally honest — good and bad. I didn’t need another family member to tell me the book was good. She told me what was wrong, combined with what was right.

About half through, I got better at reworking stuff before I sent it to her – I got what she was saying, internalized it and it found its way into the work. Miracle.

She was mentor, coach, teacher. I never had a writing class in my life. Later, she did some ghosting, but I felt comfortable. It was my voice, my thinking, my story that I love and my characters.  I loved them before, but if I couldn’t get it out there in a way that readers could meet them and know how awesome they are, what’s the point? I’m accepted the help unashamedly.

What would you say to a writer hesitating to find a mentor/editor/ghost?

  1. Your book will be raw. No matter what your friends say.
  2. You have to believe in your mentor/editor’s skill. It’s an intimate relationship based on trust.
  3. Research before you hire someone. The worst thing would be to find an egotist whose goal is to shred your work and do it her way.
  4. Know that it will take months to polish the book.

Diana, the author I interviewed, concluded,

I was driven. The writing had to be done quickly — it’s my personality. I couldn’t sleep. I had to finish. My editor has read it cover to cover, and I love the slinky flow now. It sings to me – it was always singing in my head, and now it sings on paper. This is what I was trying to do; I had to learn it and my characters thanked me a thousand times. Get help.

Everything you need is in there, but may not be in the right place. The story is born as you write it. It may be a tangle, and the book is born in the edit.  If it means that much to you, and it’s bothering you as much as it haunted me, you need to find a professional to help. Friends are fine. Family is fine, but you need a professional if your work is to stand out and be respected.

Here’s more to read:

Why people buy self-published books

Contract, rights, and agents — a guide for writers

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