Jay Wurts Writer and Editor
About Jay Wurts Writer and Editor

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes you different from other writers and editors who offer editorial services? Although many freelancers have edited and authored books, few have worked with both trade and textbook publishers, made sales to Hollywood and TV, performed broadcast book promotion, or served as screenwriter, playwright, production editor, art director, multimedia editor, web content provider, or dealt directly with the business side of publishing— from author’s and sub-rights contracts to accounting—let alone have practical experience in other fields, including the military, industry, management, education, and corporate communications. While some freelancers are happy to learn their craft on your project, I don’t think clients should pay for it.

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What makes your Diagnostic & Prescriptive (D&P) memo different from the analysis provided by other editors? Many freelancers are better at spotting problems than fixing them. They approach developmental editing the way journalists review a book—by telling you what they liked and disliked. This may or may not pertain to the salability of your work or the realities of the current marketplace. How does your book stack up against competing and complementary literature? What do agents and editors expect from a book like yours? Are there more efficient and effective ways to achieve the affect you want? Very low-cost critiques are just that: a quick-and-easy list of complaints (most common to first-time authors) with recommendations, if any, lifted straight from writing textbooks. My aim with every D&P is to arm my authors with enough information to achieve their project goals—period. That usually means getting an agent and/or getting published.

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Why don’t you write comments and corrections directly onto my manuscript? Sometimes I do, but only when I feel your work is almost ready for an agent or publisher. Pencil edits, "track" edits, and marginal annotations are fine for final polish and copy edits, but not for the early stages of book development, which often involve rethinking and restructuring. In these cases, I give you feedback and suggestions by pulling examples from your work and dissecting them in the D&P memo, where I fully explain my reasons and show you ways to correct any problems (not just in one place, but wherever they occur) and flag new opportunities, no matter how much space it takes. The D&P memo also gives me room to digress on technique when that seems necessary, something you just can't do in a one-inch margin. However, if you ask me to review subsequent drafts and your revisions show progress toward resolving issues raised by the D&P memo, I will return pencil edits to those pages typically used by gatekeepers for a "first look" evaluation. For example, most screeners read unsolicited material only until they hit a showstopper or conclude the author just isn't ready for publication. Some screeners quit after the first page or two while others may continue for 10, 20, or more before pulling the plug; but no gatekeeper finishes an entire proposal or manuscript when the opening pages disappoint them. Therefore, my pencil edits follow this same pattern: I continue until I reach the point where I believe screeners would either reject the project or feel it is worth their time to read the entire submittal. If I find a fatal flaw, I stop and send you my edits to that point, along with the reason I think the draft needs more work. The good news is, these edits and comments usually suggest ways to enhance the salability of the entire manuscript--not just those all-important opening pages. Keep in mind, too, that my edits represent just one way of solving a particular problem or achieving a desired effect. You are free to adopt them as-is or find your own solutions, expressed your own way. Our sole, mutual objective is to improve your authorial skills until your work can speak for itself successfully in a very competitive business.

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How do I know the content of my work is safe with you—that nobody will steal my ideas? Trust forms the basis of a professional relationship. People who take money under false pretenses, promise things they can’t delivery, or misuse confidential information (let alone infringe on copyrighted material!) don’t stay in this business for long. And don’t forget: trust is a two-way street. Every freelancer has had clients who promised to pay but didn’t, or felt their editor’s phone was a 24-7 help line. Over the years I’ve found that the best way to build trust is to begin with a written agreement. This agreement specifies, among other things, who owns and controls the copyright (including work I produce for you), what can be disclosed to third parties, how and when I am to be paid and what you get for your money. These are standard provisions for contractors, architects, and lawyers. Freelancers who forego them because they think they’re too complicated or scary also seem to be those who complain most about client disputes and bad debts. Successful freelancers give good service because they’re proud of their work and want to protect their reputations—and I’m certainly one of those. But I also believe we have better things to do than solve problems that are easily prevented with a reliable written agreement. (To review my privacy policy, please click here: Jay's Privacy Policy.)

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I’ve published some work already, isn’t your service designed for beginners? It’s designed for writers who want help. Most of my clients are novices, but some are experienced writers trying their hand at a first book or a new genre and have discovered that their old habits are holding them back. Regardless of a client’s background, my main job is to reveal possibilities that the author hadn’t considered. Different professions reward different styles of writing. People with a strong academic background—college professors, lawyers, doctors, and so on—tend to write with the cumbersome syntax and passive voice required by scholarly journals. Journalists may write in a livelier style, but they can be sprinters who have trouble sustaining a book-length idea. Believe it or not, English majors sometimes have more problems writing for the trade than anyone. Their work tends to be derived from other books and their awe for great authors sometimes keeps them from taking risks. In short, since writing is really thinking and any profession “programs” its practitioners to think in certain ways, a big part of my job is helping you unlearn old habits and think outside your box.

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How can you afford to defer a third of your developmental editing fee until a client finds a publisher? What if that never happens? It’s a risk, but I’ve done this long enough to know that if I do a complete and thorough job in the D&P phase, the rest has a better chance to happen. I’d rather do extra work “on spec” and have my authors succeed (and share in that success), than send them on their way with a map but not a rudder. Also, our agreement allows either party to terminate the Support Phase under certain conditions. For example, if you later decide not to seek publication or choose to convert your work to a different literary form (such as novelizing a memoir or recasting a book as a screenplay) the Support Phase ends, since you are essentially starting a new project. On the other hand, if you tell me (or demonstrate in subsequent drafts) that you are unable or unwilling to make revisions pursuant to advice in the D&P Memo, my support obligation ends, since work performed "on spec" assumes a reasonable chance of compensation and all my advice is aimed at helping you sell your work. So, as long as we pursue the same goal and share the same game plan--leaving plenty of room for new ideas—I'll stick with you as long as it takes. 

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I notice that when your services are billed through an agent, the agent sometimes takes a commission. Isn't that a conflict of interest? No. I am not an agency employee and when the agent acts as intermediary, he or she provides a tangible service that benefits all concerned. Some authors are reluctant to deposit funds directly with a freelancer. If an agent holds the deposit in their client trust account, the client may stop payment if any dispute arises. From my perspective, I am relieved of collection hassles and assured that adequate funds are available. Also, an agent who acts as fiduciary during the development process usually feels more commitment to a client. Not all agents wish to participate in this manner, but when they do, everyone usually comes out ahead.

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My checkbook is a little low right now—what are my payment options? You pay for the D&P phase in two installments: the first when we agree to work together, the second when I deliver the D&P memo. If it’s not practical for you to pay with a personal or company check, or postal money order, you can pay with a credit card through PayPal. (See the Developmental Editing and Contact pages of this web site for more information.)

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I already know what’s wrong with my manuscript—can I forego the D&P phase and ask for help with a specific problem? You can ask, but I must still review your work and react objectively to what’s in front of me. When you go to the doctor, do you diagnose your own condition and prescribe your own treatment? All writers have blind spots, so it’s foolish to pre-empt feedback in certain areas that might turn out to be essential.

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Can’t I get the help I need from books and workshops? Books and workshops are fine, but they can’t take the place of intensive, one-on-one coaching where the only subject is your project, your goals, and your particular writing choices. Sure, I recommend good reference books to my clients and offer group programs myself. But while exercises can ground you in basics and classes can be great motivators, even the best just scratch the surface. In past centuries, artists and composers seeking true mastery studied with a master. Times have changed, but that principle remains the same.

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How soon will I get my D&P memo? I prepare D&P memos on a first come, first served basis. That is, as soon as you’ve executed our agreement and I’ve received your material and deposit, I put your project in the next available slot on my calendar. Typically, the D&P analysis takes a week to ten days to complete. If anything happens to delay your project significantly, I’ll let you know and give you a revised delivery date. Once it’s begun, however, I never suspend a D&P assignment for another job, regardless of the circumstances.

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What if I see the D&P Memo and decide that I’d rather have you make the revisions for me or collaborate as my coauthor? That happens occasionally, but it’s rare. The short answer is: if I agree to work with you under those conditions, we would terminate the editing agreement and draw up a new one reflecting the scope of the job. Writing takes more time and energy than editing and, in some instances, prior commitments might prevent me from participating in the way you have in mind. Because of this, I try to ascertain a client’s commitment to authorship with the information I obtain before accepting an assignment. (See the Contact page of this web site for more information about starting a new project.)

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Can you help me get an agent? I can help you look, but representation is always up to the agent. Over the years, I’ve met or worked with dozens of agents (some clients are already represented when they contact me) and many more agents know me from my books, book reviews, and other professional contacts. For unrepresented clients, I offer two kinds of agency referrals—both of which require prior completion of a D&P Memo. For clients who recast the work but do not show revisions to me, I offer a short list of agents who might be interested in their subject and approach. I give such clients permission to use my name in their query provided they tell the agent that while I provided guidance for revisions, I did not review them. For clients whose revisions I’ve examined, I offer a similar list along with a brief written assessment of the final work that they may pass along with their query. Obviously, while I can attest to the serious intent of any author who seeks editorial help, I can only recommend those works I think meet trade standards and have a reasonable chance to be sold.

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If I can’t get an agent, will you help me find a publisher? Yes. With the consolidation of the publishing industry over the last two decades, the pool of economically viable imprints available to agents has diminished. This means a fair number of niche publishers—small and speciality presses—never see an agent but still need authors. While you shouldn’t write off big publishers just because you don’t have an agent (though many won’t accept queries without one, there are a couple of ways around this), you may have better luck with these smaller houses provided your approach and timing are right. I can help you narrow your search, critique your query letter, and assist you in evaluating any offer you receive.

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Can you help me if I choose to self-publish? Digital technology and the Internet have vastly expanded options for both traditional publishers and self-publishing authors. With the phenomenal growth of Print-On-Demand (POD), e-books, book apps, blogging, on-line retailing and cyber promotion, much of the hassle and expense has been removed from book production and distribution--but this new convenience comes at a price. While niche books (those with a small but enthusiastic following), reprints, revised editions, and personal memoirs/family editions that would otherwise go unpublished now have a chance to find a bigger audience, self-publishers are being offered, and find themselves having to master, tasks that had previously been delegated to specialists or relegated to a mainstream publisher's organization: selecting and correctly using publishing software, overseeing book production (which should include, but too often omits, both substantive and copy editing) and distribution--whether via Internet, the cloud, or brick-and-mortar retailers--not to mention book promotion and exploiting subsidiary rights. I have helped several authors with these types of projects, and in doing so have identified a number of reliable POD and e-book publishing services that can help launch your career as a self-publisher cost-effectively.

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I represent a company that provides self-publishing services. How can I interest clients in developmental edits when they think their books are fine the way they wrote them? The quick answer is: reader reaction determines success, not wishful thinking. All authors have blind spots and when they market a well-produced book that still needs substantive edits, it's like serving a half-baked cake. Unfortunately, most self-publishing services confine their editorial support to copy edits—and many author-clients unwisely forego even this important step. After all, most of these authors are weary of rejection by traditional agents and publishers. The last thing they want to hear (especially when paying the bills!) is that their content and style need work. Those who are serious about their craft, however, know that even star athletes need a coach. By referring your promising, motivated authors to me, or by adding my development service to your menu of publishing options, you can enhance your firmís reputation, improve a title's chance for success, and help your authors earn the prestige, satisfaction, and financial rewards that first called them to the writer's life.

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What if I still need help after I sign a publisher's contract? While a publisher's contract ends the Support Phase and provides a satisfying conclusion to your quest, publishers only view it as the beginning. The acquisition editor, imprint editor (or editor-in-chief), production editor, copy editor, book designer--even the publisher and marketing team--may have their own ideas about revisions to enhance your book. Usually, these changes are minor, but sometimes they cause a seismic shift in the way you conceive your work. If you find yourself unwilling to make, or are incapable of making, the desired changes, you run the risk of a rejected manuscript and contract termination. In these situations, some publishers offer a short list of pre-vetted freelance writers you can hire to solve the problem, but many first-time authors prefer to work with the same developmental editor who helped them make the sale in the first place. After all, your original literary coach already knows the book's development history, your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and is experienced in tailoring manuscripts to a publisher's specifications. If you find yourself in this position, talk to me about your publisher's goals and deadlines, and how their vision for the book differs from yours. Chances are we'll find a timely, cost-effective way to satisfy all parties and keep your authorial career on track. (For more information, see the Developmental Writing page under the Professional Services section of this web site.)

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I'm not sure if my idea works better as a short story or a book, or as fiction or nonfiction. Can I just submit a few pages to you and pay for a short-form D&P analysis? Although the nuts-and-bolts of good writing are similar in any form, specific choices depend on the length and purpose of each piece. Like a composer deciding whether to write a song or a symphony, only you can define your goals and the affect you want to achieve. If your short story has book-length potential, Iíll tell you; just as I flag longer manuscripts that donít seem to reflect a book-length idea. And since autobiographical novels and true-story fiction contain a lot of facts, some work better as nonfiction—but that decision rests with you. The best editors help you achieve your literary objectives and donít force ideas upon you. So once youíve targeted the market you want to master and picked the hill—or mountain!—you want to climb, Iím here to help.

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Now the $64 question: What are my real chances of getting published? Nobody’s crystal ball is perfect, and I am the last person to tell anyone that he or she should stop writing. I only know that while some authors succeed for reasons nobody predicted, authors don't fail until they quit. If you take my developmental edits seriously, apply yourself diligently, and persevere, I guarantee that you will become a better writer and that your work will improve. Is that enough to make you a published—let alone a bestselling—author? I can’t say. I can only say that I am willing to bet a third of my fee on your success. Will you bet the remainder?

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