As an aspiring author, it’s difficult to know how good your work actually is. There are writer’s groups and beta readers, but you’re generally reliant on your peers (i.e., other unpublished authors or non-writers) for that, which can lead to mixed results. I knew that if I wanted ANH NGUYEN AND THE DISCORDIAN to be as good as it could be, I had to hire a professional editor.

In early April of 2019 I had submitted my query for THE INHABITORS, my first novel, to a Twitter competition called #RevPit. Essentially, #RevPit pairs aspiring authors with seasoned editors. Everything is done on a volunteer basis for the editors, which is pretty amazing to be honest. That’s a lot of time to work with someone for no real gain.

Anyway, I found out about this near the deadline and threw together a pitch for my three chosen editors. I wasn’t picked by any of them, but one, Sione Aeschliman (pronounced Ash-lemon) did send me a few paragraphs of feedback on my query. Not expecting anything, I was surprised to receive it. The feedback, as short as it was, really helped me to think about the story. I kept zir in mind for when I knew I would want to work with a professional editor.

Last year was that time. In November I reached out to Sione and asked if ze’d be willing to take me on. After reviewing my logline and the first ten pages of the manuscript to get a sense of whether or not ze would be a good fit, Sione agreed. Ze sent me a contract that outlined zir rate, what to expect from the read, and the timelines with which I could expect feedback. Once I agreed to those terms I sent off the novella.

I was nervous. I really felt like if Sione hated it, or felt like it wasn’t well written (considering ze was reading something like the fourth draft), then I’d have to at least consider whether or not to continue pursuing this dream. It’s unlikely I’d have given up completely (I don’t think that’s in my nature), but it would have given me pause.

Within a month I received Sione’s edit letter–10 pages of detailed feedback. Ze broke it out into three major sections:

  • General thoughts on the story and a list of zir favorite lines. I really appreciated this, as it did wonders for my confidence that I’m not actually a terrible writer.
  • Must-do suggestions to improve the story. Obviously, any suggestions from an editor to an author are just that–suggestions. But Sione felt strongly that these things needed to be addressed in order for the story to be as strong as possible. I agreed with zir and did my best to address those concerns.
  • Nice-to-have suggestions that Sione felt would improve aspects of the story, but weren’t as critical as the “must-do” ones.

Once I had a chance to review Sione’s feedback, we scheduled a one-hour video call for me to ask questions and seek clarifications. I sent over my list of questions in advance, broken into questions pertaining to this story and questions that I wanted answers for pertaining to my career (after all, I’ve never even met someone actively working in the publishing industry before). Sione answered all of my questions to the best of zir ability, bounced around ideas on how to fix some of the issues ze pointed out, and ended the call by getting to know me a bit.

What I found most valuable about this process was the way in which Sione identified my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Ze understood what I was trying to do and tailored zir feedback to that. In the process ze helped me to realize areas of my skillset I need to pay more attention to. For example, because I come from a screenwriting background I emphasize visual and auditory description over any of the other senses. There are five in total, did you know that? Prose benefits from a sense (pun intended) of them all.

I don’t believe Sione is taking clients at the moment, as ze is busy on zir own project: Inclusive Future Magazine. I recommend you contribute to the Kickstarter. You can also follow Sione on Twitter @writelearndream.