Friday, October 19, 2012

Q & A with freelance editor Lindsay Murdock, owner of Murdock editing

Lindsay Murdock, editor of Murdock Editing, runs a company committed to helping authors who have completed manuscripts but know they need a boost to get from the slush pile to the YES pile or to prepare their manuscripts for flawless self-publishing. After working for literary agencies as a reader and manuscript evaluator and later as an editor for several publishing firms, she decided to start a company to work directly with authors to polish and prepare their manuscripts for the big time.

What is it that drives you to do what you do?
Wow. Okay, that’s quite a question to start with! I do share my story on my website, but I’ll give a short run-down here.
I like my authors (and I know their agents do too!). I like working with my clients to shape their characters and stories. I like being able to take a manuscript that would clearly not make it out of the slush pile at a big agency and help the author turn it into something that gets attention. You can’t always do that as an agent. Agents make money on commission, so if the book doesn’t sell, they don’t get paid. And in the publishing world today, that means most agents can only really afford to take on clients who have manuscripts that are at least 80% ready to go.

Once upon a time in a land not so far away (actually, my first agency job was at a firm only a few miles from my current office), I worked as a literary agent’s assistant. My job was to sort through all of the queries, picking out only the very best and most likely to be what my agent was looking for. I requested those few partials then had to send simple form rejection letters to the rest. It seems cruel, but that’s all we could do—every day another batch of 50-100 queries arrived in the mail.
Of the partials, I was told to read the first ten to twenty pages. If the manuscript didn’t grab me right from the start, another rejection letter went out.

Once we got to the full manuscript stage, I read it through and completed an evaluation, then wrote an evaluation report for my agent, either recommending that he take a read through himself, or that we send out yet another rejection letter.

In the second two stages, I was already close enough to the manuscript that I could, more often than not, have told the author exactly what he was doing wrong—and exactly what he needed to do right to make his manuscript ready to sell. But by then we’d moved on to trying to find the next manuscript—the next book that might actually bring money into the firm.

And that is why I do what I do. That is why I’m not a literary agent. Because when a manuscript comes to my door, or an author contacts me about fixing up his or her manuscript, I don’t have to turn anyone away. I don’t have to send out rejection letters just so I can move on to the next big thing. I have the opportunity to sit down, read the entire manuscript, and provide the author with the tools he or she needs to realize his or her writing dreams. Would I make more money as an agent? Probably. But would I give up the relationships I have with my authors? Or the sense of accomplishment I get when I receive the signed early reviewer copy editions of a book that was languishing under the author’s bed before I stepped in and helped guide her journey to publication? Absolutely not.

As a graduate of BU you were able to offer valuable insight on the campus and surrounding area for my novel. What was your college experience like? Did you participate in any extracurricular activities or sports? Any entertaining stories you’d like to share?

Oh lord, the college years! I loved BU. It’s not quite your “typical” college experience – our campus was the city, and we didn’t even have a football team. Reliving those college days through your manuscript was a little bizarre. You’d mention a pizza place, and I’d know exactly what the tables looked like and how that cracker-pizza-crust tasted. So much fun for me.

As for extracurriculars, I’ve never had the coordination to play sports, but I was (but of course) an editor at the Daily Free Press, the campus independent newspaper. I’ll save my entertaining stories for another time.

Have you always lived in the Boston area? What are some of your favorite places that you have visited?

I grew up in Pennsylvania, but my mother’s family has been in Boston for as long as anyone can remember. I came up to Boston for college and fell in love with the city. Left for a few years for publishing jobs in NY, but made my way back here as soon as I could.

My favorite place I’ve ever visited, is, by far, Prague. Most beautiful city I’ve ever seen.

What genres do you personally enjoy reading the most? Who is your favorite author all-time? Why? Who are some of your current favorites?

My favorite genres to both read and edit (right now – this changes every few years) are fantasy, YA, thrillers, and mysteries. I honestly don’t have a favorite author of all time – I read constantly, even when I’m not editing. Thank God for the Kindle – my books were already taking up half my bedroom, my office, and almost my entire storage space before they invented that. I can tell you a few of the books recently that make my top ten for the year: Gods Behaving Badly, The Dog Stars, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Flowertown, Shine Shine Shine, Gone Girl, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, and Miss Peregrines’s Home for Peculiar Children.

When you aren’t editing what do you like to do for fun? Any favorite hobbies or TV shows?

I absolutely love to cook. Right now I’m making homemade Mexican turkey soup using leftovers from last night’s roast turkey dinner. I knit (just scarves, I have yet to graduate beyond straight lines). My favorite TV shows are Walking Dead, Downtown Abbey, Law and Order, and Doctor Who.

Any pets in the Murdock household these days? Do you consider yourself more of a dog person or cat person? Any cute pet stories you’d like to share?

Oh, I’m definitely a cat person, but don’t tell the sweet dog I grew up with. I have one cat, but I live in a neighborhood with a huge feral cat population. When I first moved in some five years ago, one of them had a litter on my porch. I fed and raised them and found them homes. Apparently cats talk, because since then, EVERY YEAR a new litter shows up on or under my porch. How do they know?

 What do you remember about your first client?

My first client was an amazing woman. It was her first novel, and it was my first time branching out as a freelancer. I think we found each other on craigslist. I didn’t charge her anything – I just wanted to get my feet wet and see if this was really something I could and wanted to do. We ended up working together for almost two years. I was probably only 22 at the time. That novel didn’t get published, but we both learned so much, and her second novel (which I also edited a couple years later) did find a publisher and did well. One of the proudest moments of my life.

What are some of the challenges you routinely face when working with clients?

The biggest challenge is always finding the right path to the next draft or revision plan. I can and do point out all the spelling and grammatical errors – but it’s the big stuff – plot, character development, tension – that’s much tougher to fix. Working with clients to make sure they stay the course and don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater out of frustration is my number one goal post-editing. It’s hard work!

How do you choose your clients?
I’m not the right editor for every book or every author, and I’m the first to admit that. All of my possible clients go through my ringer before I start working with them whether they realize it or not – I make sure that we’re on the same page via e-mail or phone and I ALWAYS do a sample edit. After so many years on the job, I’m usually able to get a good sense of if an author and I will work well together after a day or two and that sample edit. If not, I simply won’t take the project, no matter how many hours or dollars are involved. I love my job, and I want my clients to love working with me. If I don’t think we’re a good match, I’ll recommend one of my colleagues. Have I ever been wrong? Yes. And honestly, in those cases, I’m quite frank with the author and do everything I can to match them up with a better editor for the job, even if we’re half-way through.
I strongly believe that the writer-editor relationship is vital to the success of a manuscript.
How can someone determine if they need to hire an editor?
For the long answer, go here and here. It might be time to seek an editor’s help if:
§  You’ve edited and edited and edited. Then rewrote. Then edited some more. Then queried. Then read a book on making your first pages snazzier. Then queried. Sent in a few partials. And nothing is happening.
§  You’re getting back suggestions and comments on your partials (or fulls) in your agent-rejection letters, which is great. Except none of them seem to agree on what is actually wrong with the manuscript, you disagree with half of them, and some of them don’t even sound like they’re about your book. And you have no idea what to do about any of them.
§  You ARE a writer. You know it in your soul. And you’ve finally finished your first manuscript. But you’re also a mom, a wife, a lawyer, a friend, a student, a family-chauffeur, a cook, a dog-walker, and about a million other things. You know your manuscript isn’t perfect or ready, but you also don’t know where to begin when it comes to editing or rewriting (or, if it’s a second or third draft, what to do next). You need someone to take that stack of paper (and you) and act as editor, writing coach, motivator, teacher, friend, and, to some extent, task-master.
§  You ARE NOT a writer. You know THAT in your soul. But you’ve got something very important to say, and you want to say it in book form.
And that was the short answer!
If they decide to hire an editor, what should they do next?
Well, you can check out my blog series, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Hire an Editor,” parts I, II, and III.
But, again, the short answer: Do your research. You’ll find plenty of editing companies advertising online. Ignore the “big guys.” Chances are, they’re farming your work out to folks who have no experience in the industry whatsoever. Focus on smaller companies where you can learn about the editor’s experience. Pick someone who has experience in your genre. And then ASK QUESTIONS. Keep in mind YOU are doing the hiring here. Any editor worth his or her salt will be happy to answer all of your questions and provide references. As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t just hiring someone to paint a wall – this has to be a person you’re comfortable working with for the long haul. Listen to your gut.
Why Choose Murdock Editing?
Chad, you’re killing me here :) Really forcing my hand on the bragging front. Alright, so, here are my six selling points.
§  Personal attention. I recognize that my clients are important and unique, with stories to tell, and I make it my mission to work with writers to make sure that those stories get heard.
§  Experience. My editing and evaluations are based on years of experience in the publishing field. I continue to work with top agents and publishers and draw upon everything I learned in newspaper, book publishing, and academic editing positions, plus years of freelance work.
§  One editor. Corporate editing services farm your work out to inexperienced editors. I work directly with you at all times on everything, from proofreading to proposals. No subcontractors, no students, no interns. Just me.
§  Knowledge. I read a book a week to keep up-to-date on the latest and greatest and pride myself in keeping abreast of who is buying what and why. I know how to get your manuscript where it needs to go.
§  Tech savvy. Working with a self-publishing or e-book service and need help? I’ve worked with a number of companies, big and small, and I can help you navigate the process from beginning to end.
§  Success. My clients see results—and requests!
What services do you offer?
·         Manuscript Evaluation (my specialty and the premier service)
·         Substantive/Developmental Editing
·         Proofreading
·         Copy Editing
·         Proposal Packages: Query Letters and Synopses
·         Classes
·         Consulting
My personal testimonial from working with Lindsay:
Hiring Lindsay was by far the best decision I’ve made in my writing career. I’d spent almost five months editing my first draft on my own, utilizing feedback from friends and family, and thought I had it as close to perfect as I could make it. It makes me laugh just saying that now.

With Lindsay’s guidance I wove in sub-plots and additional scenes that completely transformed my book, adding much-needed depth to the central conflict and building up tension toward the climatic ending.

Lindsay helped me overcome technical flaws in my writing and forced me to confront issues that I knew needed improvement going in (the beginning was too rushed, things were far too easy for the main character).

She offers candid, constructive advice with improvement suggestions that go far beyond just marking up a manuscript and is a meticulous fact checker. She will challenge you to make your own writing better, and sometimes that can be frustrating, but if you’re open to her suggestions and push yourself the end result will blow you away.

She is quick to offer words of encouragement and point out things you are doing well, and unlike a lot of freelance editors, she will continue to work with you long after she has sent across her evaluation. I truly view her as a partner in the development of my novel.

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