Become a Writer Today

Natasa Lekic on How to Find and Work with a Book Editor

May 05, 2021 Bryan Collins Season 2
Become a Writer Today
Natasa Lekic on How to Find and Work with a Book Editor
Chapters
Become a Writer Today
Natasa Lekic on How to Find and Work with a Book Editor
May 05, 2021 Season 2
Bryan Collins

You may think that as you're the book's author, then you're the best person to edit it, but finding and working with a good editor can help improve the writing that you produce.

Not only will editors find and fix errors in your manuscript that you might have missed when you were writing them, but it can also be like having access to your own coach or mentor. Editors are trained professionals who can help you improve your craft and help you spot issues you've missed.

A good editor can offer advice specific to the types of problems you have with writing that you won't necessarily find in a book about writing.

I caught up with the founder of NY Book Editor, Natasa Lekic. Her company has been in the business of helping authors for over eight years, and they have several high-profile success stories, some of which she talks about in this week's interview.
 
In this episode we discuss: 

  • Why Natasa started NY Book Editor
  • Who is NY Book Editor's target market?
  • What is a good editorial fit?
  • How long the editorial process takes
  • At what point should you enlist the help of an editor?
  • How much does an editor cost?

Resources:

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/becomeawritertoday)

Show Notes Transcript

You may think that as you're the book's author, then you're the best person to edit it, but finding and working with a good editor can help improve the writing that you produce.

Not only will editors find and fix errors in your manuscript that you might have missed when you were writing them, but it can also be like having access to your own coach or mentor. Editors are trained professionals who can help you improve your craft and help you spot issues you've missed.

A good editor can offer advice specific to the types of problems you have with writing that you won't necessarily find in a book about writing.

I caught up with the founder of NY Book Editor, Natasa Lekic. Her company has been in the business of helping authors for over eight years, and they have several high-profile success stories, some of which she talks about in this week's interview.
 
In this episode we discuss: 

  • Why Natasa started NY Book Editor
  • Who is NY Book Editor's target market?
  • What is a good editorial fit?
  • How long the editorial process takes
  • At what point should you enlist the help of an editor?
  • How much does an editor cost?

Resources:

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/becomeawritertoday)

Natasa:
As for the investment, once again, I'd really recommend working on the book as much as possible on your own or in writing groups, with friends commenting on it before hiring an editor. Because you want to make sure that anything that you can recognize or iron out on your own or with help from other writers, you want to do so that the editor is really responding to things that you wouldn't have seen, right?

Introduction:
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast with Bryan Collins. Here you'll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.

Bryan:
What's it like to work with a book editor and where can you find one? Hi there, my name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast. At the time of recording this episode I'm actually working through some edits of my new book which is a story driven parenting book. I suppose I've spent the past six or seven months rewriting this book, so it's always difficult when I get feedback from an editor because I feel like I'm near the finish line, and then I look at all of their comments and suggested changes and it's really difficult to know where to start. In fact, when I get feedback like this what I normally do is set it aside for a few days and then sit down and work through it. That's actually something that comes up in this week's interview as well.

Bryan:
Now, when I published my first book I didn't do any of this. I made a lot of mistakes. I thought because I was a journalist and I'd taken courses in writing that I could rework the book myself. I actually published a short productivity book for our writers back in 2014. I remember I read through the book six or seven months later after it was live on Amazon for a while, and realized that it wasn't very good so I took the book down and I spent a good six months reworking the book and then re-uploaded it and republished it. To be honest, I would have saved myself a lot of time, a lot of stress and headaches if I had just held off on publishing and saved up money to work with an editor who would have helped me find and fix issues with the book in the first place.

Bryan:
But I guess because it was my first book back in 2014 I really wanted to get something out there and get something live, fall forwards, move fast and all that. I guess it's natural for many writers to feel like they need to have a book so they can call themselves an author. But these days I've come to think that a book is a little bit different to an article, and certainly different to a blog post. Blog posts are a little bit disposable, you write them and rewrite them over time. If you're writing articles you could spend a couple of weeks on it and then it'll go live in a publication and then you can move on. Or you can almost readdress the themes or ideas in that article in a follow up, or even by writing about the same topic for a different publication.

Bryan:
But a book is a little bit different because I guess there's a sense of more permanency to a book. Your name is attached to it, when people look up your name in Google or when you look up your name in Google because not many people are probably doing it if it's your first book, and it's almost like your calling card too. Oddly enough, when I wrote this productivity book, at the time I was working as a copywriter for a software company and I remember a senior VP joined the company and he was looking to create a new content marketing team. So he invited me into Dublin city center for drinks because he wanted to get a flavor for who I was. He started asking me how I would approach working on this particular content marketing team.

Bryan:
But then he said something that really surprised me, he said, "Oh yeah, by the way, I bought a copy of your book and I read a few chapters." I didn't quite know what to make of it, but when I drove home that night I was... I should say, I wasn't drinking. But when I drove home that night I was a little bit embarrassed because I knew there was a few mistakes in the book and maybe that put him off from offering me the job. It turns out it didn't, but I did go back and fix those issues in the book. These days I don't feel in such a rush to publish books as quickly just so I can get something live. I see them more as creative projects and I like to spend a bit of time on them to get them right, which I guess is why I spend so much time on the parenting book that I'm working on at the moment.

Bryan:
I'm hoping that I'll work through the edits over the next month or two and I'll have it published, I guess, in May, which you could always hold me to account if it's not live in May. The other thing that I've learnt about editing books is that it can be fun because you get to find and fix errors in your manuscript that you might have missed when you were writing them. And if you're working with an editor it's almost like you have a free coach or a free mentor, well not free, but you have a coach or a mentor who can help you improve at your craft because they're a trained professional and they can help you spot issues that you've missed. And they can also offer advice that's specific to the types of problems that you have with writing that you can't necessarily find in a book about the craft or in a book about writing.

Bryan:
So that's the other great benefit even if the book doesn't necessarily turn into the glowing success that you want, and that certainly didn't happen with my first book or two. I still felt like working with an editor later on helped me get better at writing nonfiction books. And working with an editor is the topic of this week's podcast interview. I catch up with Natasa Lekic, she's the owner of NY Book Editor. Her company has been in business at helping authors for over eight years, and they have a number of high profile success stories which she talks about in this week's interview. But before we got into the success stories, I started by asking Natasa why she set up the company and who she helps in the first place.

Bryan:
Now that said, before we go over to this week's interview I do have a quick ask. If you enjoy the show, please consider leaving a review on the iTunes Store. More reviews and more ratings, more shares, if you're not listening on iTunes you could do it at Stitcher or Spotify, will help more people find the show. And if you really enjoyed the show, for just a couple of dollars a month you can visit my Patreon page, that's patreon.com/becomeawritertoday and there's a support link in the show notes, so you can go and click on that. And if you become a Patreon of the show for just a couple of dollars a month, I'll give you discounts on writing software, my writing books and also a discount on my courses and any material you decide to take out. And if I ever meet you in person, I'll buy you a drink.

Bryan:
Hopefully, I'll get to meet you in person when this lockdown ever comes to an end. So visit patreon.com/becomeawritertoday. Now, with that said, let's go over to this week's interview with Natasa. And I started by asking her why she set up NY Book Editors and who she helps.

Natasa:
Yeah. I come from the traditional publishing industry. My last position was at Atlas & Co which was distributed by Norton. I started NY Book Editors because in 2012 it seemed to me like self-publishing was becoming a viable option for authors and I just felt like there would be this need for the same standard of editing that traditional publishing provides but that was missing at the time in the independent space. So that was the reason the company started.

Bryan:
Are there particular types of authors that you help, any particular genres that you specialize in?

Natasa:
Actually, we work with genres across the board, we have 34 editors. The only genre that we don't work in is children's picture books.

Bryan:
Yeah.

Natasa:
Yeah. So other than that, really every other genre. If we don't have the right editorial fit we let the author know, so there are scenarios where that is the case.

Bryan:
Yeah. I guess that brings up a good question, because one of the great things about self-publishing is you don't need to ask permission from any gatekeepers to publish your book. So how would you decide what's a good editorial fit?

Natasa:
The very first step is, is the manuscript ready for a professional editor? There are manuscripts where the author hasn't spent probably enough time self-editing, and so that's the first step. Because editing is an investment and our team does consist of very experienced editors, so the first question is are they ready for that? If they're not, we recommend some books on the craft usually, or even books in their genre sometimes to work on it a little bit more on their own before engaging an editor. So, that's the first step. The second one is, is it a good fit for the editor as well? So really the great edits come from the work resonating with the editor, so it has to appeal to them on a deeper level. They have to agree with what the author is saying and understand the tone and the voice and appreciate it in order to really engage with the work in the way that you would hope.

Bryan:
You said that editing is an investment in author's book, maybe some new authors wonder if they actually need an editor in the first place. What would you say to somebody who has a concern or a question like that?

Natasa:
Yeah. I would say that any book that you admire has had an editor, so it's getting to the point where a book flows really well and is compelling usually means that the author had support. I think it's hard for an author to see sometimes the forest for the trees when. Writing a book is really a Herculean task. It's hard to see your own weaknesses when you've been immersed in the work for so long. It's important to have an objective perspective, a professional eye on it.

Bryan:
And how long does the editorial process normally take?

Natasa:
Oh, that really varies, Bryan. That's a hard question, such a hard question. The key thing is the editor should really evaluate the manuscript before even talking about the type of edit that would be best for it. Because some authors are really far along and they're ready for a line edit, so they're ready to go into the really micro level, is this sentence clear, is this getting across what you want? Versus other authors are earlier on in their development and they should get a critique. So it all depends on the stage of the manuscript.

Bryan:
That's one thing I've been wondering about lately, so I'm working with an editor on an edit of a book that's quite far along, so it's probably more of a line edit. But I'm wondering for somebody who wants to write several books does it make more sense to enlist the editor's help sooner, or should they rewrite it several times themselves and then enlist the help of an editor?

Natasa:
That's a great question. It depends on where they feel like the weakness lies, whether they feel like there might be a conceptual problem, a thematic problem, whether there are big picture issues. Maybe it's the structure of the book versus if they feel that that's solid, that there are solid foundations, then they should wait until it's fairly polished and the editor can work with them on that as well. Because you're getting a line edit doesn't mean that you don't get any of the big picture advice. You do, but it's to the extent that you don't have to rewrite a lot of the work, right? So if you're getting a line edit you don't want to be rewriting 40% of your book.

Bryan:
Yeah. That's an issue I had years ago, I spent a lot of time rewriting the same parts of my book over and over, when it would have been more helpful, I think, to get somebody else to give me a more critical feedback about why the entire manuscript wasn't working.

Natasa:
Right. And you knew that that was the issue at the time, right?

Bryan:
I knew afterwards, but at the time I didn't know what I was doing. It was a collection of short stories. I was in a creative writing group but I spent a lot of time rewriting the same stories when I didn't get feedback on the actual structure of the story rather than specific sentences in the collection. So what's the number one issue your team sees with manuscripts from authors these days?

Natasa:
It really depends on the genre. Most of your audience, would you say their writing business books?

Bryan:
Probably nonfiction, but there is some people who are writing thrillers and fantasy as well. But yeah, I write a lot of nonfiction, so I guess you could talk about either, whichever one you feel is more relevant.

Natasa:
In nonfiction, I think a lot of it is, well, actually, that applies to fiction too, getting the voice right. With nonfiction, it's going... When it comes to anecdotes, which are an essential part of a lot of nonfiction, taking out the inessential because when you're talking about your own experiences it seems like a lot of details are important when they're really not. So really streamlining the story in the anecdotes and focusing on the aspects of it that illustrate your point.

Bryan:
Do you think a lot of nonfiction... This is something I'm probably struggling with, so I'm probably getting some free consulting off you. Do you think nonfiction needs to have a takeaway at the end of the chapter or something that's prescriptive and almost uses words like you should or you can?

Natasa:
It really depends on the purpose of the book. It really depends on what you intend the reader to walk away with.

Bryan:
Yeah. I guess I'm thinking of, I suppose a lot of self-help books adopt that kind of prescriptive advice.

Natasa:
Yeah. I think readers have become more and more accustomed to that because they want to understand, and I think that has a lot to do with blogs and the internet, they want the takeaways to be summarized and actionable at the end of a chapter. And so, I would agree that that's a very popular format, for good reason.

Bryan:
A couple of years ago I took a story writing workshop with Robert McKee.

Natasa:
Oh yeah, I did that too. Isn't it amazing?

Bryan:
Yeah, it's excellent. Yeah, it's really good. He's so passionate.

Natasa:
Yeah.

Bryan:
Yeah. He came to Ireland for a weekend in Kerry. His book is brilliant - 'Story', I think he's published a lot of books since.

Natasa:
Do you have the one on dialogue, the new one?

Bryan:
I don't have the one on dialogue, no. Is that good?

Natasa:
Yeah. I mean, all of his work is so good.

Bryan:
Yeah, well I mean, he's coached a lot of top writers at Pixar and so on. One of my big takeaways from the workshop was the conventions of a genre and how every book or every genre has different things that you need to tick or accomplish to satisfy the reader, and you need to know what those are. Do you think that's something that authors today are aware of before they start writing their first book, or is it something they have to learn?

Natasa:
I think the authors who have read widely in their genre are aware of it, and sometimes that's intuitive because they've just read so many of those stories and so they understand that they should hit certain points. I think that that's also a good reason why it's important to find an editor who has worked in the genre, so to make sure that the editor has experience. There are also a lot of books that straddle two genres nowadays. And so, that's a bit of a harder task because then you have to satisfy both readers, right?

Bryan:
Is it possible to sell a book if it's in two genres?

Natasa:
It is. It is. What publishers will usually do is focus on one, so sell it as one and then apply the other one in other ways to base the marketing and publicity on that audience as well, but have one be the dominant genre.

Bryan:
Do any examples come to mind? I guess sometimes Stephen King seems to write in two genres even though he's marketed as horror a lot of the time.

Natasa:
Yeah, and fantasy. Yeah.

Bryan:
Yeah. I'm also curious, you said there a few minutes ago that editing your book is an investment. I get emails from authors sometimes and they don't have a lot of money because it's their first book and they're writing it for an hour before work each morning and they've family or they want to save for a house and the prospects of getting a book edited is a little bit overwhelming. So what would you say to somebody like that, how much should they plan to budget for their book and is it money well spent, I guess?

Natasa:
Yeah. Well, I'm a bit biased. I would definitely say it's money well spent, and mostly because it's also... I think it's really the fastest way to progress as an author. Not to say that classes aren't good and reading books on craft aren't incredibly valuable and having a writing group isn't incredibly valuable. But when you have a professional responding to your words and your particular issues, it just really accelerates your progress in the craft. As for the investment, once again, I'd really recommend working on the book as much as possible on your own or in writing groups, with friends commenting on it before hiring an editor. Because you want to make sure that anything that you can recognize or iron out on your own or with help from other writers you want to do so that the editor is really responding to things that you wouldn't have seen, right? It's a deeper level.

Natasa:
And as for the cost, it depends on the length of the manuscript and the type of edit. So what we call a manuscript critique, or some people call it a developmental edit, where you're not getting the line edit, that's basically the only difference, for a 50,000 word manuscript would be about 1500 US dollars, I don't know if you want to convert that. And then, comprehensive edit, which includes that plus the line edit is about $2500 for a 50,000 word manuscript.

Bryan:
And would the author need to proofread as well, or would the line edit encompass that?

Natasa:
No, the author would absolutely need a copy edit as well if they intend to self-publish.

Bryan:
Yeah. Okay.

Natasa:
That follows. I would say that if budget is a real concern, and I know I will probably get yelled at for this, but I would say it's better to focus on the edit than the copy edit because a copy edit... I mean, it's so hard to pick up on the grammar and factual inconsistencies maybe yourself, but it is more likely that you'll be able to do that than do a developmental edit on your own work.

Bryan:
Yeah. That makes sense. How long does the developmental edit take, and how long does the line edit take?

Natasa:
The developmental edit, it depends on the editor's schedule, but it'll usually be about two months before you get it back in either case. It could be longer, sometimes it's been six months. It's a very [crosstalk 00:18:42].

Bryan:
Yeah. Wow, that's quite a while.

Natasa:
Yeah.

Bryan:
Must be a big book.

Natasa:
You know, it's the kind of thing where if you find an editor who is really your ideal fit, they'll usually wait.

Bryan:
What about [inaudible 00:18:55] delivery from the editor, what should a new author expect from their editor, what will the output look like? Would you be able to describe the report that they get or the annotated word doc?

Natasa:
Yeah. With the critique, well with everything they would get a memo, an editorial memo, and that's giving them the high level view, and that's what they should always start on. When they receive the material they should start with the memo, they should read that first. And then, the manuscript will either contain comments or comments and a line edit so using track changes, that's standard, it will always be track changes throughout the manuscript. And when it comes to a copy edit it's very similar in that it's also track changes in the document.

Bryan:
When an author receives feedback from their editor it can be a little bit overwhelming when they see how much work they have to do.

Natasa:
Oh my gosh, we call it a radioactive document. I don't know if you know Nathan Bransford, he came up with that term. But it does feel like it's radioactive, yeah.

Bryan:
Yeah. It's something you don't even know where to start. When they get a lot of feedback from their editor, how should they approach that problem?

Natasa:
They should put it down and leave it alone for a few days. And I mean that, I mean that sincerely. And also, know that it's normal to find it overwhelming, I mean almost every author does. You think that you're almost there, you've done so much work, and then you get all this feedback that's ideally pointing out things that when you hear it you know that it's true, it feels like it is an issue, and that's what makes it so daunting. Because if you could just overlook it, then you wouldn't mind. So yes, spend a few days not looking at it, just let it seep in. And then, go through it and really, with every comment that you agree with, just write down a to-do note about how you're going to implement that feedback.

Natasa:
Often the editor will suggest how to implement it, probably in the memo depending on the scope of the feedback and decide whether that feels right to you, whether you want to try that option or whether something else comes to mind. It doesn't have to be comprehensive, it could be on your next read through what really jumps out to you as the few things you want to work on first. And expect that you'll be coming back to that memo many, many times because there's a lot of information that's packed in. And just like with a book, there are things that you might overlook on the first, second, third reading. And then, once you've started working through all the suggestions, the smaller, finer points might come to mind as the next step in your revision.

Bryan:
Can the author go back to their editor at any point?

Natasa:
Absolutely. Yeah. A key part of the edit is also talking to the editor, so making sure that you have phone calls where you can discuss the changes, discuss how you're thinking about them. A lot of the phone calls include brainstorming sessions. So yeah, talking to the editor afterwards is very important.

Bryan:
So if it takes two months to get a report back from the editor, is there a ballpark, and I know it would depend on the length of the book, but how long it takes authors to rework their book and then get to the point where they can actually hit publish on Amazon and IngramSpark?

Natasa:
Yeah. I mean, it varies by the scope of the changes and also the time that the author has to devote to it. So as you mentioned, and a lot of the authors we work with have that hour to, probably at 5:00 AM in the morning, that's the norm. So if that's what you have then it may take six months or more to really implement the revisions.

Bryan:
And what about going from a finished draft to an audiobook? Sometimes when you read work out loud you can hear things that need to change. Is that something that authors have ever come back to you about? They've tried to create an audiobook basically and they've realized that something doesn't work?

Natasa:
Yes. Oh, no, they've never come back to us with that, but that is advice that we usually give is to read it out loud and to see how it sounds before committing to the changes. It's actually a really good tool, I'm glad you mentioned it.

Bryan:
And in terms of actually getting the manuscript ready to give to you or an editor, do you give authors particular guidelines about what format to use and font choice and spacing and so on?

Natasa:
Yeah. It's usually, so Microsoft Word, Times New Roman, 12 font, either every other line or 1.5 line separation. If it's not done, we just do it to the manuscript.

Bryan:
Okay. I was just curious, what if the author was writing in Scrivener or something like that?

Natasa:
So how does that work? Then you would just export it, right, as a Microsoft Word?

Bryan:
Yeah.

Natasa:
Yeah.

Bryan:
Yeah. Okay. That makes sense. Your company has had a number of big success stories as well from some of the manuscripts that you've edited.

Natasa:
Yeah. That's been exciting. So Sabaa Tahir's book, An Ember in the Ashes. She was a first time author. Martha Hall Kelly, Lilac Girls was a first time author and Gary Bishop was also a first time author, all of who became New York Times best sellers. We also have a lot of self-publishing authors who became Amazon best sellers. It's really rewarding to have seen that journey when it's the author's first book. And across the board they didn't expect it, I would say that. And that's really interesting too. I don't think anyone came in thinking this is going to be a best seller.

Bryan:
So would they have gotten the book edited with your company and then sold it to a book agent?

Natasa:
Yes.

Bryan:
Okay.

Natasa:
That's exactly how it works. I would say 60% of our authors... My original thought behind the company turned out to be wrong. 40% of our authors approximately want to self-publish, and about 60% actually want to publish traditionally, but they just need a leg up in order to find representation.

Bryan:
Okay. How do authors find you or how do they find your company?

Natasa:
So it's nybookeditors.com or newyorkbookeditors.com, and we have a submission form that gets a sample of the work and gives us some information about the project. And then, there's also an additional form about the author's writing background that comes later.

Bryan:
You also provide a couple of other services as well. I think I saw ghostwriting on your services page, is that right?

Natasa:
Yes, that's right. Also, this might be relevant for your audience, proposal edits and query letter edits.

Bryan:
So that's if you want to get ready to send it to an agent?

Natasa:
Right.

Bryan:
Okay. It was very nice to talk to you today.

Natasa:
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me, Bryan.

Bryan:
Thanks, Natasa. I hope you enjoyed this week's episode. If you did, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store or sharing the show on Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you're listening. More reviews, more ratings and more shares will help more people find the Become a Writer Today podcast. And did you know for just a couple of dollars a month you could become a Patreon for the show. Visit patreon.com/becomeawritertoday or look for the support button in the show notes. Your support will help me record, produce and publish more episodes each month. And if you become a Patreon, I'll give you my writing books, discounts on writing software and on my writing courses.