Alice McVeigh - professional ghostwriter/editor, published novelist

Frequently asked questions

What is a copy-editor?

A copy-editor is someone who takes your manuscript and shakes it hard — resulting in all the dust slipping away — while all the remaining pieces fall into all those positions you meant them to take, in the first place. . .

More seriously, a copy-editor is someone who sympathetically removes any infelicities of grammar and punctuation, and who eases your prose into a real sense of flow.

Sometimes a copy-editor will feel bold enough to suggest corrections of plot, characterisation or thrust as well. But this is more often called 'developmental editing'.


OK, so what's developmental editing or substantive copy-editing?

This is copy-editing with caffeine.

Actually it's picture-perfect grammar and punctuation corrections combined with an accurate identification of plot fault-lines, characterisation miss-cues, and dialogue disasters, including suggestions for solving these issues. It might even include ideas that might take your writing to a whole new level.


What's the difference in price?

Not a lot: you'd be surprised. Developmental editing is such fun for the editor that you might even get an identical rate to copy-editing. Basically, it depends upon the appeal of the project. Every editor — even a published one, like me — yearns for creative input into another writer's world. Therefore, the rate per hour shouldn't vary much.


What's the difference between a costing for my whole manuscript or a rate per hour?

An exact costing for the whole manuscript is extremely convenient for you, in that you can plan exactly what you'll need to pay, but it's often hugely hard on your editor, who (unless you're relentlessly organised) is only guessing when he or she gives this quote (done, normally, on those very five pages you've yourself edited nineteen times of a 80,000 novel). Normally there is a ball-park figure, with some leeway in either direction. For me, the answer to this depends upon how much you trust your editor — have you worked with him before? If not, do you have faith in her? — and is one of the very hardest questions to answer.


Why are your fiction rates lower than your rates for academic/non-fiction works?

Sorry, but assisting fellow writers with fiction is just much more fun! (I'm married to a famous professor at the University of London and professors number among my closest friends, but suggesting ideas for dialogue or character is miles more thrilling than correcting clunky prose in a monograph.)


How soon will you get back to me?

Within 24 hours, always.


If I chose you, how would we work together?

That's entirely up to you. I can Skype, email, phone, whatever. I have clients who prefer to call me three times a week, and other clients for whom I've written a 100,000-word book without even once hearing their voice. (Admittedly, this is rare!) I've also travelled (as far as China) for several weeks to work with a client, but mostly I'd say that Skype and email work fine, and that the number of contacts per week is up to you.


Will you help me to possibly get published?

Yes, of course, but the crucial word here is possibly. Any editor who claims s/he can get you published, by a real live publisher, is (frankly) lying. All any editor can do is to make your book into completely publishable shape, removing every barrier preventing someone from taking a chance on it. Beyond that, it's in the hands of agents, publishers and luck! And yes, I can assist you in approaching literary agents.


What's a query letter?

It's a letter (that I can help you to write) which — plus a single-page synopsis of what happens in your book plus a few chapters — might entice an agent into taking you on as a client, in order to land a publishing contract afterwards. (And yes, the agent will take 10-15% of what your writing might earn, but it's so worth it, to have someone respected by the profession, on your side.)


Sorry, but what's a synopsis?

Roughly, it's a short, sharp description of what happens in your book, normally in under a page. It is inevitably required, along with query letter and a short slab — usually 50 pages or the first few chapters — of your prose, when applying to a literary agent for representation.


What's a literary agent?

Someone who has spent many years getting to know publishers, and whom publishers respect. Without your having representation from a literary agent, most publishers won't look at even a single page of your book.



Yes, that agent — who should have mega-important contacts — will attempt to interest one or more of them in your book. This is in their own interest, thanks to the percentage system I mentioned earlier.


But I think my book is already great! Why not go straight to a publisher?

Because they wouldn't read it. The average publisher gets several thousand manuscripts a week. With very few exceptions, the only way to get a book published by a publisher is through a literary agent. The other option is self-publishing, or e-publishing, which is also self-publishing. Which can be fantastic, but you have to put many more hours and effort into making a success of it, because absolutely anybody can publish a book this way, so the number of books published this way is scary.

It really depends on how much money and time you have to put into selling your self-published book. If you have loads of these, self-publishing can work brilliantly. If not, it's normally better go for a 'real' publisher, which means getting an agent first.


OK. I'll go along with all that. But how can I tell that you — or some other editor — won't copy the idea for my thriller and laugh all the way to Hollywood?

This naturally worries lots of writers, though such cases are infinitesimally rare. However, I take such questions seriously all the same. First, if I were you, I'd request an NDA from anyone — including me — that you might allow to work on your novel. (See here for what an NDA is, if you don't know already.) This allows you to sue any editor who does such a despicable thing.  Second, you should ensure that you aren't the only person (what if your house burned down?) with proof that you'd written your book. Send it to your parents. Ask your best friend to hang on to a printed-out copy. Always protect yourself, just in case.


What about the film rights to my story?

Film rights (of a book) are automatically protected by the book rights. Should you be lucky enough to sell the film rights, though (as I did once, to Channel 4, of my first novel) don't get too excited, because all that means normally is you get paid — rather well, I admit — simply in order to prevent any other company from making a film of your book for that year. The vast majority of film rights sold don't result in an actual film (due to the costs of even a low-budget film).

(The upside of this downside is that the film of a book is almost always lousy.)


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