Some might call it fate. Others, opportunism. Scrolling through hashtags and bios, looking for interesting people to follow and connect with, I stumbled upon a newer account. A fledgling editor looking for his place in the writerly community. Trying to build a portfolio, just starting out. I followed and scrolled on, mulling it over. I’d wanted to work with an editor for some time, but hadn’t yet summoned the courage or saved up the funds to do so. Was this the gentle tug of destiny?
When he followed back, it just felt right to make contact. With butterflies in my stomach and my typical bumbling apology over my inability to concisely describe my work, I asked if he would consider working with me. His prompt response made me do a little jig in my chair. He would!
It took a few days for me to send my manuscript his way, along with a handful of long-winded questions, as is my custom. He was quick to respond and answered all of my questions about him and his editing. I found the tone of his emails friendly and professional, and felt that my book baby was in good hands.
And that’s when it hit me. The imposter syndrome, some call it. The utter dread at what I had done. This was not a friend from my writing group, not a family member. These people, no matter how they might insist to the contrary, held an inherent bias in my favor. They liked me. How could I be sure they liked my stories as much as they said? Perhaps I never could. But I had just sent my first manuscript, one which had gone through countless revisions, endless nitpicking, multiple rewrites, to a perfect stranger who was looking at it from a professional, third-party perspective. What had I done? I shoved the fear back down to the depths from whence it came and went about my life. I could not unsend the email. I could only wait and see what happened.
The next time Justin contacted me, it was to inform me that he was about a third of the way through and was right on schedule with his original timeline. His brief notes were like food for my soul, and I reread them several times with a smile on my face. He started on a high note, offering feedback on some of the oft-repeated quirks of my writing style, and ended on a high note.
As a writer, you, too might feel a bit overprotective of your work, sensitive to even the kindest of commentary. I am here to tell you that not once did this exchange make me, with my fragile ego, feel attacked in any way. It felt articulate and reasonable, and confirmed several issues I knew were a problem, but which I had seemed unable to pick up on while caught up in my own little world. The fact that he would be highlighting these issues throughout the document took a huge weight off of my shoulders, making tackling them feel like a much less insurmountable task than it had before.
I was preparing for bed on the eve of the day he’d expected to be finished, feeling like a child on Christmas Eve who wasn’t certain if there would be presents or coal beneath the tree the next morning. And suddenly, I had an email. I wouldn’t have to spend a fitful night wondering-—the reckoning was upon me!
Oh, friends. Lit by the gentle glow of my iPhone I scrolled through the tiny text of the word document, skimming the comments and changes with growing delight. There were so, so many highlights. How had I missed so much? And yet, it didn’t feel like failure. It felt amazing. It felt like opportunity. Much of it was simply highlighting my overuse of certain bad habits. It was an issue of volume, repetition of the same mistakes over and over that I had simply grown too close to see.
And the commentary! Simply incredible. It was easy to see Justin’s thorough and thoughtful process on every page. Comments that pointed chapters ahead indicated the way he had gone through and come back again with the whole story in mind. Some of them made me laugh out loud at his appreciation of a particular sentence or bit of dialogue. Some opened my eyes to an info dump and helped me with suggestions to condense or rework it. Some clearly showed his attention to detail, suggesting that he’d gone outside of the document to fact check my research. Some were thoughtful digressions on the subtext of the story—these gave me the warmest of fuzzies. He’d seen and appreciated the underlying themes.
That’s what I took away from the entire experience. Justin had seen and appreciated my work on more than just a surface level. I’d expected him to chastise my overuse of -ly adverbs, to offer critique on clunky transitions or overly verbose description or an abundance of unnecessary commas. I had not expected to end up with an extremely well thought-out and executed service that far exceeded my hopes. Justin seems genuinely passionate in what he does. He did his job in a respectful and methodical manner while still taking the time to appreciate and comment on the story as a whole. He made me feel so at ease that I found myself wanting to write back, expounding on every comment to tell him about the details of the rest of the series, all the spoilers and foreshadowing and planting I’d done. I didn’t do this, of course, but I felt like I could.
I am blown away by this experience, and I could not possibly be more pleased with Justin’s work. If you are looking to work with an editor who is not only clearly adept at his work but also just a genuinely decent human being, and you’re ready to take the plunge, I would wholeheartedly point you in his direction-—with gusto. I cannot wait to send Justin my next manuscript, and it would please me greatly if, when I am ready to do so, he says, “I’m so sorry, but it will be a bit of a wait. I have so many people ahead of you!”