medica The hardest part of my job as a book development editor is delivering bad news to a writer.

An agent is not interested in offering you representation.

An acquisition editor decides to pass after reading your proposal and sample chapters.

You failed to make necessary editorial revisions.

Rejection is a hard message to deliver. And it happens to be a task I do more often than delivering the kind of good news I gave Laurel Guy this week when she received a contract offer in writing from Schiffer Publishing for her book, 365 THINGS TO DO IN ITHACA, NY.

The hardest work I do is communicate constructive criticism. As a writer myself, I try to do so with compassion. It’s not easy and sometimes it hurts.

medic5When your writing is purple prose or too academic. Ouch.

When you can’t answer my two questions. Who cares? So What? Ew.

When the likelihood of traditional publication is negligible. Harumph.

As a book doctor, I provide diagnostic and prescriptive medicine to literary artists. I’m more therapist than cheerleader. When you hire me, I tell you what you need to know, not what you want to hear.

I feel compelled to deliver an honest appraisal. My reputation is on the line. The hardest part of my job comes when the prognosis is poor or fatal. Palliative care is part of my practice – writing has its own rewards independent of publishing – but it is a minor part.

medic6Since publishing IS a business, authors need to understand professional assessments and appraisals of manuscripts and book proposals are based on the bottom line. I try to set aside my own personal preferences and prejudices and focus on a P&L- a Profit & Loss statement. This isn’t a hobby or some moonlighting gig. My purpose is to advocate for authors in their publishing pursuits. I’d rather be the one to deliver bad news than you be rejected without any opportunity for revision or correct simple mistakes you didn’t intend to make. I offer you remedies in my recommendations to avoid more bad news from publishers.

If you had spinach between your teeth, I’d be the one to tell you as your friend. Privately. And I’d slip you the travel-sized mint-flavored dental floss from my bag into your palm discretely. As a book development editor, I’m the one who will tell you what works, what needs work, and how to complete the work. Before you send out your query letter, proposal, or manuscript, doesn’t your work deserve a second-look?

Jenna Goodman is currently accepting new clients who write fiction, YA, and children’s books. In September, I will be open to new nonfiction and memoir authors.

3 thoughts on “Literary Medic

  1. Thank you for delivering good and bad news with kindness and honesty the last three years. Thank you for telling me what didn’t work without making me feel discouraged or hopeless. Thank you for putting up with my anxieties and needs. Thank you for walking me through the world of social media and not being put off by my resistance. Thank you for not giving up on me when I felt like giving up on myself.

    You’re a pro, Jill Swenson. It’s an honor to travel with you behind and next to me.

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