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Do Whatever It Takes

Lately, I’ve gotten a few raised eyebrows when I tell people that I’m having my book edited before I turn it in to my publisher. “Why in the world are you getting outside edits, when you have such talented in-house editors who will read your book and give you their excellent feedback?”

Eyebrows inch higher when I inform people I’ve paid my freelance editor to critique my book.

You might wonder, “Why bother? Why go to all the trouble and expense? After all, your book is contracted. It’s a sure thing. It’s not like they’re going to reject it if they think it needs work.”

True. My Bethany House editors won’t reject it. In fact, they’ve already approved my story, read the synopsis for it, and given some initial input. They said they’re looking forward to reading the completed book. So, if they already like it and trust my writing ability, why didn’t I turn it in after I finished my self-editing?

Here’s what it boils down to for me: I’m not satisfied with the status quo. I want to do whatever it takes to make my next book better. I’m not writing it to please my publisher (although I hope it will). I’m not just trying to get by. And I’m not resting secure in my 3-book contract.

Instead, I hope I can create a book that satisfies my readers to the very core of their beings. I want to reach for new heights in my writing and story. And I want to stay on the cutting edge—because I know nothing in this market or industry is stable.

In order to push myself, I need critical feedback from a variety of qualified sources. I can’t read my own book objectively enough to find the issues that need fixing. (I talked about that in this post: Why Every Writer Needs Feedback.) What’s more, if I really hope to improve with each book, then I need to surround myself with team members who each offer a unique perspective but balance one another.

My freelance editor, Tiffany Colter, has been part of my team for a while. She hones in on the bigger scene and story issues that need work. My newest team member, Keli Gwyn, was a former assistant editor, and her strength is in finding the smaller problems.

Tiffany and Keli bring distinct aspects to the critique process. They’re both talented editors, but each looked at my manuscript with very different eyes. And each of their critiques challenged me to take my writing skill and story to the next level.

When I send my book to my Bethany House editors in a couple weeks, they’ll read it and challenge me even more, in different ways. They’ll give their expertise advice on the market, on what readers will like, and what I’ll need to change to make my story as saleable as possible.

In other words, I’ve got a balanced editing team, each bringing critical but differing perspectives to the editing process. In putting my book through a rigorous and intense workout, it's costing me time, money, and effort. But I'm willing to do everything possible to improve.

We all need to do whatever it takes to push ourselves to new heights in our writing and stories. Even if we have what we think is a “sure thing” or “a done deal,” why wouldn’t we want to keep challenging ourselves to be better?

Here are my parting thoughts:

*We’ll never be good enough to stop getting feedback.

*We need to seek out qualified, constructive criticism from those at our level or better.

*We should never be content with status quo, but should be constantly stretching ourselves to reach higher.

How have you challenged yourself lately to do more or to work harder at improving? Are you doing whatever it takes to push yourself higher? Or have you been settling for the status quo?

58 comments:

  1. Excellent post..... striving for more for yourself as a way of life. Thanks! :O)

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  2. Very well said, Jody. I love your energy and your perseverance to be the very best that you can be. I definitely think we have to do everything we can to make our work shine. And if you're going to all that time and expense after having a contract, those who seek publication should at least consider what they can do to keep improving.

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  3. Great post! I might need to fork up some doe for a professional edit with this story. I'm not sure yet. But I also want to do whatever it takes to make sure every story I write is better than the last one. It's hard!! Especially when part of me is still looking back at my last story. I need to just let go, trust in the writing process (and God!), and do the work, ya know?

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  4. I admire your professionalism. I've read so many books that are the third or fourth one an author has written, and they don't seem as good or as polished as the first. Amost like they are coasting on their previous success. We can never stop improving!

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  5. Yes I am! I'm taking a course in July and hiring a professional editor for this current book. It's important to make our books the best we can!

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  6. Jody,

    Great post. There is nothing in that settles for status quo (or else my wonderful wife wouldn't comment so much about the amount of time I spend on my "hobby.")

    To get better in my writing is something I strive for. Just wish I had more time than I do. I have to take what scant free time I have and use it wisely.

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  7. Clapping. I'm so right there with you on this post.

    ~ Wendy

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  8. I paid two professional editors before submitting my memoir. I paid for additional editing after I began publication process. Status quo is not acceptable for me either. Striving for the best, but knowing it's progress, not perfection, is what helps me along the path. You are an inspiration, Jody.
    Karen

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  9. I never can get too much help with editing! Even when I think my story is the best it can be and maybe won a contest, I still pull it back out and edit it again!

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  10. Terrific post, Jody. With your attitude and desire to continually better your writing, your words will linger in readers' thoughts long after they read The End.

    Tiff is terrific at what she does. I don't know how the woman finds time in the day to complete everything, but she does! Great asset to your team!

    I haven't hired anyone yet, but I've been working harder to write better. Being mentored by Susan May Warren has opened my eyes to a new way of writing. I'm revising a novel I wrote before becoming involved in My Book Therapy and I've found many areas for improvement.

    Learning to write better stretches our abilities and helps us to take a greater pride in the work we produce.

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  11. I'm actually an excellent settler...too good, in fact. *Grin*
    I need to push myself more! Definitely. Thanks for the reminder. :-)

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  12. Note to self: Jody asks really tough questions first thing on Monday morning - drink more coffee before stopping by her blog!

    I don't settle for status quo. I've been in editing mode on a project and really paying attention to a) is this needed and b) how can I tighten the story. It's amazing what I can eliminate with these two simple stepping stones. I've also been reading a lot more and paying attention to how debut and established writers are adhering, or not, to the general writing rules. How much description about characters are the authors giving? How much scenery/room description? How much detail . . . or not on actions the characters make?

    For me, the answers to those questions make me challenge myself much more. No, not trying to write like those authors, but, trying to get a feel for what agents/editors/publishers/et al are allowing their writers to do with, well, their writing.

    S

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  13. Humble. Teachable. Reaching for excellence. Encouraging. Inspirational.

    All words I'd use to describe you.

    I'm taking a short break from the novel ideas to learn some more, try some new things--reading, responding to word prompts, playing with a little poetry to trim my words. I'd be willing to pay an editor or whatever it takes in order to birth something that will change lives.

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  14. I think it's inspiring that you're reaching higher. I never thought of a writer who has an agent and a house seeking outside edits. But it sounds logical to me now. The more eyes the better. It's amazing what one reader will pick up as opposed to another. There are so many variables that come into play.

    Let me ask you one question: how to separate all that feedback? I ask because I think that's been my trouble lately. Though I know the manuscript needs edits, I may have lent it to too many ears. Flushing through all the feedback while keeping my focus on the main story has been difficult.

    For a month my opening chapter was in a mess. I think I've finally worked it out, listening to my gut. Just another learning curve. ";-)

    As always, wonderful post and I appreciate it. ";-)

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  15. Your work ethic is an inspiration, Jody.

    Today I wrote a post especially for my writer friends. I hope you'll like it!

    http://www.moonboatcafe.com/2010/06/dailiness.html

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  16. Your parting thoughts, those bullet points, are certainly important. Those are the things we need to keep in mind as we grow as writers.

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  17. Good for you for finding and using a system that draws out your best work.

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  18. Yes, yes, yes!!!

    I have done this for EVERY BOOK and do not regret one penny that I spent.

    Sigh. It takes a village to write a good book. At least in my case...

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  19. Good for you for taking this extra step! I like the fact that you are so proactive about making sure that you are turning in the best product possible. And sometimes that requires an outside eye to see the things that we don't see ourselves, simply because we are too close to our own work.

    When I first started to work with my writing partner, she was officially my beta. The first time she looked at what I was writing, she did a gentle review, correcting grammar, typos etc. I came right back to her and told her that I wanted a real edit. So she did. And that's how we work -- I write it, she rips it apart (her comments in Word are red, so we call it 'bleeding'; it's good if the chapter is 'bleeding'), then we build it back together as a team. And the product is immensely better for the effort.

    We don't write in the classic 'write your first draft and then edit' process that so many writers use. We write each chapter, put it through 4 or 5 versions and then move on. Then at the end we edit the piece again several times as a whole. It's a lot of work, but well worth it.

    For our last novel, we then put it through a team of 10 critique readers (some authors, some English majors, some professional editors) and let them tear it apart. That was a great experience -- the authors had comments on story and character arcs; the editors had comments on character arcs and line edits; the English majors had comments on grammar and line edits. I did another full 6 weeks of edits following these comments and I'm very happy with our final product as a result. Do I think that it can't be improved by other publishing professionals? No; I'm sure there is room for improvement still. But I think we've taken it as far as we can on our own.

    I agree 100% with your parting thoughts. Status quo is simply setting the bar too low. And whatever it takes to get our writing to be the best it can be is what is required.

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  20. I've been revising my manuscript like mad and reading everything I can to improve it. I meet with a critique group every couple of weeks and have given my MS to several beta readers. I also attended a critique session with an agent. But I'd still like to find someone to edit it. Do you have any suggestions about how to find a good quality editor?

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  21. I love it. This really gives me a lot to think about for the future.

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  22. Jody - this post is so timely for me because I've been considering the same thing (though the novel isn't near finished)...but, when it is, I think I might hire an outside editor to review it. Why not? We need that level of feedback and I think it's great you are not "resting in your 3 book deal". Kudos. That's what will make you a long standing author.

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  23. Just make sure the edits don't become too subjective. Every writer/editor has their own style. If an editor isn't a big fan of long narrative stretches, then you could be breaking up a great scene to add dialog where it doesn't belong.
    Be careful with whom you're allowing to edit.

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  24. Fabulous post (as always!) with so much to think about. I'm halfway through edits on my 5th draft of a YA novel. My agent had one of her assistants read through Draft #4, and I'm utilizing her comments as I complete edits on Draft #5. My agent will read this draft when I'm done, and we'll take it from there. Unless she's head over heels in love with it (a girl can dream, can't she?), I'll ask her if she thinks getting a freelance editor would be a good move.

    You're the bomb. I'm RT'ing. ;-)

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  25. Love this post! Unfortunately, my lack of funds aren't allowing me to hire the freelance editor I so wanted to look over my manuscript. Hopefully my book sales of my debut that it will allow me to hire her for my next. And I couldn't agree more with you. I'll do anything and everything (within reason) that I can to improve. Like you, I'm not satisfied with status-quo.
    Great post, Jody! xx

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  26. Great post, Jody! I've never hired a free-lance editor but I do have work critiqued by a variety of people who all offer different perspectives and expertise.

    It it so true that you cannot settle for "just good enough." And wanting your book to be as good as it can be means pushing yourself probably beyond where you thought or imagined you could even go in terms of time and number of edits and rewrites. Thanks, Jody!

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  27. Perfection may be an impossible goal but improvement is within everyone's reach. I paid a freelance editor to look at my previous novel and learned a lot. So far, my current ms has had four Beta readers and is now in the hands of a more experienced author for another critiquing. Only then do I think it will be ready to send to an editor.

    There's a lot of wisdom in what Gary says about being careful who we let edit... or, at least, be cautious in what advice we take. I've heard of one editor who ended up editing a novice's book into what she would have written and the original voice was lost. I think finding the right editor may be almost as important as finding the right agent. Yours sound like gems!

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  28. This is exactly why Jody is such an incredible writer. She has a writing style that connects intensely from the first page.

    Jody is also extremely teachable and wants to write better. When I tell her "Your story actually starts on page 8. Chop the beginning." She listens to my reasons rather than telling me all of hers.

    Jody also has a very strong voice. She is extremely recognizable and I'm fairly confident that if someone gave me an unmarked manuscript in a pile I'd find Jody's.

    When I edited her most recent book a week ago I was extra tough. I knew how well she could write and I knew what I needed to feel from her.

    Her response?

    "Tiff, isn't there more that I need to work on?"

    "Jody, I told you to rework this entire section."

    See, that is Jody in a nutshell. She wants her readers to get the BEST possible book for their buck.

    You can feel her commitment in every line. Every sentence.

    She has made me cry during her scenes more times than I care to admit and I've stopped editing before to go in the other room and hug my husband because my heart was breaking when I read her character.

    It is truly an honor to partner with her on her books. She never coasts. She shows the kind of dedication to craft that makes a person a best seller.

    I've read the book that is coming out this fall, but I'll be among the first to buy it when it releases.

    For myself and for members of my family.

    Jody, you deserve every bit of success coming and thank you so much for being so willing to share what you've learned on your journey with all your readers.

    Tif

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  29. I just read the second book in a series and I think it could've used an objective editor prior to going to the publisher. In my opinion, it didn't live up to the marketing hype and wasn't as good as the first book. So I think your strategy is a fair one.

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  30. I love that. You are writing for you, not your publisher. That's how it should be!

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  31. My eyes don't see redundant phrases. My critique partners do. That's not something that goes away! I think you're very smart to have extra eyes before sending in your ms.

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  32. Shari Larsen asked: "Let me ask you one question: how to separate all that feedback? I ask because I think that's been my trouble lately. Though I know the manuscript needs edits, I may have lent it to too many ears. Flushing through all the feedback while keeping my focus on the main story has been difficult."

    My answer: Hi Shari! Great question! We do need to be careful about OVER-editing, as some have pointed out in their comments. I think that's why it's good to find a few select people to be apart of your team, people who are knowledgeable of the writing craft and can give you constructive feedback. Too many opinions could potentially lead to confusion and stiffling your voice. Perhaps you need to narrow down the most talented critique partners, picking the ones who can offer you differing but complimentary feedback. And everyone else can be more like a beta reader--offering feedback, but not necessarily so detailed.

    On a more practical side of keeping track of feedback--I print out a chapter by chapter/scene by scene spread sheet. Then I take notes into that spread sheet of things I need to add to scenes or delete. That helps me keep track of bigger issues.

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  33. I do whatever I can to improve from ms to ms! That I can afford.

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  34. Melissa Gill asked: Do you have any suggestions about how to find a good quality editor?

    My answer: My agent, Rachelle Gardner has a list of freelance editors on her blog. I usually send people there as a place to start researching. My freelance editor, Tiffany Colter's link is listed on my blog in the sidebar. Another suggestion is to put out a tweet on Twitter asking people who they've used and liked.

    I liked Tiffany's style. Her charges are very reasonable. And she works very hard. I've grown a lot through her critiquing.

    As with anything, check around, compare prices, ask for sample edit, and be wise about it.

    Hope that gets you started! :-)

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  35. Thanks, Jody -- this is exactly the advice I needed to hear. I've been grappling with whether or not to hire a freelance editor to work with me on my manuscript. I hesitated, honestly, because I don't want to spend the money. But now I read this, and I think perhaps it's time. I don't have an agent or a book deal, but still, I think it may be time to have a professional look at my work.

    Thanks for the much-needed incentive!

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  36. I completely agree that we'll never be good enough to stop getting feedback. I LOVE to hear other's opinions of my writing. My first critique group helped me immeasurably, and I grew as a result.

    Currently I'm an editor for a magazine and believe it or not, editing has made me a better writer; I find errors others never see. I learn while I work, and I love it. Likewise, I need fresh eyes on my work, because after a while, I just can't see the errors anymore.

    I also appreciate your desire to push yourself, and write about it, cuz you're pushing me, too. Thank you!

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  37. Thanks for the inspiration to never settle! You're a great roll model.

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  38. I'm a big Tiff fan too. I had no idea Rachelle recommended her as well. I'll have to go and check out Rachelle's sidebar. Do you have Tiff give a full edit including in-line work or is it an overall critique? Something in between? I'd love to know.

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  39. Good post. I think it's always important to push ourselves if we're writing for the right reasons.

    I've pushed myself lately by reading more craft novels, entering my first contest, and getting more feedback on my work. It's been fun and challenging to apply everything I've learned to my stories.

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  40. Jody, you constantly amaze me by your perseverance and your focus on excellence! Thank you for that I can learn so much from you as a fellow writer! ;) As always, I appreciate the tips and advice that you share! I am also at the point in my writing career, about to launch soon and I must do whatever it takes as you said.
    Now, is the hardest because I must believe in myself for the first flight! .. thank you for the nudge! xx Jenn

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  41. Great post. As for my writing, I am alwasy trying to learn more and try to make each story better than the last.

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  42. I take a lot of online courses, read as many craft books as I can and then I go to my CPs for story, plot, character critiques. I can't afford to pay someone for editing, but I have amazing CPs who all bring something different to the table.

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  43. Paint me seriously impressed with your professionalism and striving to improve your craft. Brava!

    My latest thoughts are turning to improving my story-telling skills. I like to take a book on craft, study it chapter by chapter and blog about it (just with my crit group) - which forces me to take it seriously and write/blog about it and think it through. You have to really understand something in order to "teach" it, so that forces me to take it to a higher level. :)

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  44. I think it's great what you are doing and it's a great reminder that we should never rest easy once we have a publishing contract. We have to like what we right and be proud of the end product.

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  45. Wow, I'm intrigued that you have an editor even though you have a contract. I had never thought of that before.

    In answer to your question, I have been learning much in the past few months, and my writing has taken a turn for the better. I hope I never stop learning - because I want my writing to never stop improving!

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  46. *sigh* Okay, you caught me. I admit that I have been rather lethargic regarding my writing lately. I have five queries floating out there, having recently finished my WIP, and I haven't done anything new. But I will...and I'll push myself harder when I do...I promise. :-)

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  47. Hi Jody -

    Wow! You have a great team of professionals supporting you.

    My latest effort was the Genesis Contest because it offered feedback from three judges. Now, I'm studying how to liven up my setting and strengthen motivation. I've addressed the concerns of the first judge, and I'm moving on to the next one.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  48. You know, I agree with you. I would do the same thing. Why not present as polished a package as possible? It represents you. I'm for putting your best foot forward and always learning and growing.
    Blessings,
    Karen

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  49. Standing O on this post, Jody! I love to hear your determination and your passion in your words. Your work ethic is admirable and I aspire to be like you when I grow up. :)

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  50. Just love your attitude and determination to put forth your best foot forward in your writing career, Jody. There is no excuse for mediocrity, which is a curse by itself.
    This post has inspired me to hire a freelance editor for my books.
    All the best for your books!

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  51. T. Anne asked: "Do you have Tiff give a full edit including in-line work or is it an overall critique? Something in between? I'd love to know."

    My Answer: Hi T. Anne! I don't think Tiff is on the list of Rachelle's editors, but Rachelle does have her on her blog sidebar under "Important Resources for Writers." I think that's probably how I first got hooked up with Tiff.

    Anyway, Tiff has done various types of edits for me. On the first book, she did more of a line-edit. The second was a line-edit but not as intense (simply because I was under a time crunch and needed to get the book in to Bethany House.) This most recent book, ended up being more of a substantive edit. Of course she marked the smaller problems she ran across too, but mostly she picked up on character and plot issues that needed work.

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  52. I love this line: I'm not satisfied with the status quo.

    When you are, then there's a problem. Great post!

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  53. Great post, thanks for sharing.
    My edits with my first wip is keeping me occupied.

    I am trying new writing styles, just for fun. Call me crazy. :)

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  54. Great post Jody! I'm currently singing "Stick With the Status Quo" from High School Musical now though. lol I think it's always important to push ourselves.

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  55. Very simple: smart. The edits and feedback won't always be helpful, but it often will lead to something good, including ideas you never would have already had. Also, holding yourself to a high standard is always a good idea!

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  56. Wow, Jody, I was so impressed with this post (how do you keep coming up with such consistently excellent ones?) and also loved reading your freelance editor's comments. Wow again! If I were you, I'd frame that! You've never been boastful about your writing, but now that I've heard someone else sing your praises, I'm even more excited to read your book. It's getting closer! :) You just amaze me, really. I stand in awe at your perseverance and dedication to the craft AND your family and faith.

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  57. Your work ethic impresses me...truly. Not resting on the 3-book deal is amazing.

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  58. As a freelance editor, I usually get that response- 'oh I don't need your services' and then writers come crawling back to me when they get rejected. Thank you for highlighting this need to polish a MS

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