Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Editing Offer

One of the neat things about Christian writing is the way we get to know others who share this common bond. We can meet them at writers’ workshops, at conferences, in crit groups, or even via their blogs. I’ve become something of a “pen pal” with Tina Helmuth, who wears two hats in the area of Christian writing. I mentioned Tina's editing services in a prior blog, and now I thought it would be interesting for you to get to know a bit more about her as a writer as well as a critiquer and independent editor.

RM: Tina, you took second place in this year’s Genesis competition in the historical division. How long did it take you to write Hidden Snares, and was it your first novel?

TH: Yes, it was the first novel I’d ever written. I want to flash a “results not typical” warning before I answer how long it took. Actual writing time was about six years. You have to understand that I started it purely as a hobby and I knew nothing about writing. Plus I’ve done extensive research. Really. If I mention a full moon, there was actually a full moon on that day in history.

When I completed the first draft, I was proud that I’d been able to complete a novel. I even tried to get it published after only a couple of drafts. Then I started studying the craft and found out how little I knew. I had good writing instincts, but my execution was so poor that after a couple of years I basically threw it out and started over. I salvaged my plot and my characters, but the writing was all fresh. That’s when my journey began in earnest.

RM: Like most of us, I suspect that, in addition to encouraging events, you’ve had some disappointing times along the road to writing. Would you share some of your highs and lows?

TH: My first rejection letter was the hardest. Back then I thought publishers would see writing potential and want to work with someone who had a good story idea—sort of take a writer under their wing to mold and shape them. So young and naïve! I had chosen my favorite publisher to send to first, so I was crushed when I was rejected. And the rejection form letters just kept coming.

Another low was when more than one friend advised me to write children’s books. My translation: Your writing is too simplistic to satisfy an adult audience. That was what prompted me to throw it out and start over. So they actually did me a favor.

Since I’ve come so far, my victories are all the sweeter. Just over two months ago, I signed with an excellent agent. Now my rejections are coming with reasons. And more than one respectable editor has complimented my writing ability.

RM: Besides writing, you also edit. And you have sort of a different focus from some of the professional independent editors. Can you tell the readers about what you offer?

TH: I have a heart for helping writers who are just starting out. Probably because I floundered for so long on my own. I started a critiquing blog called The Ink’s Not Dry. Writers submit their first chapter—roughly 3,000 words—and I critique it for free, then post it on my blog for others to learn from.

I say beginners, but the editing I’ve done for the blog has ranged from newbies with not even a rough draft completed, to polished writers whose only obstacle to publication is meeting up with the right editor. I’ve even critiqued one or two authors already published by small presses.

RM: It sounds to me that the offer to edit a first chapter at no cost represents one of the best bargains around. For those who don’t already know, why is the first chapter—even the first five pages (to quote Noah Lukeman)—so important?

TH: Agents and editors are inundated with proposals. The writing in those first pages has to stand out, or they’re not going to take more of their valuable time to read further. Don’t give them an excuse to put down your pages prematurely. If they see messy grammar and poor punctuation, they’ll immediately say, “Not ready.”

But beyond the technical, you’ve got to hook the reader. Make them care about your character and put that character in a high-stakes situation from the beginning. The stakes can be emotional or physical. If not much is happening with your character, ask yourself if you’re starting the story in the right spot.

Thinking beyond getting an editor’s attention, you want that bookstore browser to be captured by your story from the start. You won’t be there to say, “Oh, but it’s about to get so good!”

RM: What if someone wants to engage your services to edit a whole manuscript?

TH: My contact information is on my blog. They can email me for a quote. My fee is around $300 for a complete manuscript, but that will vary slightly depending on length. I always edit the first chapter for free as a way of seeing if the writer and I are a good fit for each other.

RM: Where do you stand with your own writing right now?

TH: The proposal for Hidden Snares is sitting on several editors’ desks. Meanwhile I’ve started a new WIP. Looking ahead to the day I might be under a contract deadline, I challenged myself to have a polished manuscript done in six months.

RM: And any final thoughts for our readers?

TH: Most probably know this already, but I’ll say it anyway. If you aren’t part of a critique group, join one. It’s so vital to have someone else look at our writing. Friends and family can give good feedback—strictly as readers. But fellow writers will catch things that no one else can. It may sound like I’m shooting myself in the foot since I do paid critiques, but a free exchange of critiques is the best place to start.

It’s been a pleasure, Richard. Thanks so much for having me on your blog.

Tina, thanks for sharing your experience and your advice. I think one important “take-away” message is that, although we all may think our initial efforts at writing are wonderful, sometimes they’re like the first waffle—the one you use for practice, then throw away. The secret, I guess, is to keep cooking.


Crystal Laine Miller said...

What a great interview with Tina. And what a great offer--a free critique! Teena Stewart has sung praises of Tina for a long time, and now I'm getting to know her. Better take advantage of this offer before she is in much demand.

Thanks, Richard, for your amazing questions and offering glimpses into writing and publishing.

Tina Helmuth said...

I forgot to mention one important thing in this interview. When I post critiques on my blog, I also post a link to the author's blog or website. So there's a bit of free promotion involved, too.

So if any of you decide to take me up on a free critique, please include a link in your email.

Thanks again, Richard.

The Koala Bear Writer said...

Nice interview - good advice. I recently found a crit partner and am looking forward to working with her and being able to help each other. I like the cooking analogy.

The Koala Bear Writer said...

Nice interview - good advice. I recently found a crit partner and am looking forward to working with her and being able to help each other. I like the cooking analogy.