Working with Manuscript Consultants

Over the past years, I've read books on writing, I've taken online classes, participated in critique groups and spent countless hours writing. But when I stop to think about it, aside from writing itself, nothing has been more helpful to my writing growth than attending conferences and workshops. In fact, these events were impetus for classes, and critique groups and books.
I won't go into the obvious benefits of going to these sorts of gatherings. (Friends! Knowledge! Inspiration! Contacts!) What I'd like to do is highlight a less known but wonderful aspect of getting out there, and figuring out who does what in the world of writing books:
Meeting editors for hire. Or Manuscript Consultants. Sometimes called Manuscript Doctors, but I don't like this term and I don't think they do, either. But, essentially, these are capable people who can be hired to help with various stages of preparing a manuscript.
In the past eight years, I've worked with three such individuals during very different points of my writing journey. All three were instrumental to me pushing myself to the next step. All three were wonderful, professional people. Two, I now count as dear friends.
The services Manuscript Consultants provide are diverse. They can range from help with a query to a detailed copy edit. Conceptual to structural, their services can be tailored to fit your needs. This is a good thing. As I look back, what I asked my Manuscript Consultant seven years ago about my first WIP was broad. I wanted to know if I'd crafted a story. It was that simple. Did I have a beginning, middle and end? Did my characters do the things... you know, the growth/arc thing... that characters are supposed to do?
Nowadays, I can be more specific because I know more. Not just about writing a story or characters. I know about my own process, so I can ask for help when I need it. I can be specific, so my consultant can be, too. (But, I still ask if I've told a story. That's what it's all about, right?)
You'll find that Manuscript Consultants have different qualifications. Some are writers themselves. Some have edited professionally. Do this research. Be smart. This is your writing, so find out as much as you can before you hire them. Are they really going to help you? Do you know anyone who can vouch for them?
This was where attending conferences really helped me. I met two of the consultants I work with at workshops. I had the opportunity, through critiques at these events, to see them in action before I ever considered hiring them. When you're bent over your pages together, you can get a good sense for whether you've found a mentor who can help you grow your writing. Also, you can scope out their communication style. I like nice people who I can trust to tell me the truth. That's what I always look for. If they make me laugh, then I'm sold.
On a side note, I don't think working with a consultant replaces having a regular, trustworthy critique group. For me, it has supplemented what I receive from my amazing, brilliant, generous friends. (Sorry, but they are.)
Now, on to cost. This is a difficult one. I've struggled with spending money on my writing, not just on working with consultants. As a stay at home mother, I haven't been a financial contributor to the household for a while. But I decided a few years ago that writing is my start-up business. That I'd invest in it, in me, because this was what I wanted. I would approach it as though success was imminent. So every birthday, every anniversary and Christmas (ouch, I know) I banked gift credits and saved them for my writing expenses. And I find a way, when it's tight, to make my start-up a priority. I'm not saying it's been easy. What I am saying is that it has absolutely been worth it.
Next week, I'll be interviewing two Manuscript Consultants here at YA Muses. We'll look a little more closely at the services they provide. We'll talk about how they work with their clients. And I think, knowing those two, we may laugh a little as well.
Thanks for coming by. Now go forth and write! Success is imminent!

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