Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
I hope you’re enjoying this time of the year as much as I am with wonderful holiday music, and I hope you enjoy this interview as much as this magical time of the year! We’re here today with the incredibly talented Melissa Richeson who has recently transitioned from being a wonderful agent to focusing on her freelance editing, and she’s here to share all about editing andd books!
Melissa and some books she helped edited/represented
Kaitlyn: Hi, Melissa, thanks for joining us today!
Melissa: Thanks for the opportunity, Kaitlyn!
Kaitlyn: Of course. You’ve helped so many wonderful creators; we’re so lucky to have you here! To start off, can you share a bit about how you got into editing?
Melissa: Sure! My background is in marketing, and I’ve long worked as a freelance content creator and editor, mostly for magazine and website clients in the travel, finance, and real estate spaces. When I first dipped my toe into the kidlit world back in 2015, I was immediately intrigued by the role that literary agents play in championing books. One connection led to another, and eventually I became a literary agent myself, thrilled by the opportunity to combine my business training with my creative side. As a new agent, I was mentored in the art of editing manuscripts, which in many ways felt like a natural progression from what I had already been doing within the content realm. Editing my clients’ manuscripts became a favorite part of my job as an agent.
Earlier this year, I began offering kidlit editorial services through my business, Page Turn Editorial. The reasoning was two-fold: First, I love doing it! Plain and simple, editing stories for kidlit authors brings me so much joy. 🙂 Second, I felt like it would be a way to better encourage authors in their journey to publication.
And honestly, those two motivations were interconnected. I got into agenting because I wanted to uplift amazing authors (ahem, ALL authors are amazing!) and help them publish amazing books. My agency mentor made sure that I understood upfront that most (new) agents work for pennies when you consider all the hours spent vs. the commissions received. So I went in knowing that agenting would be a job of passion, not of pay, and I was fine with that. I was in it to make a difference, to help authors’ dreams of publication come true … which, thankfully I was able to see happen! I closed several great contracts for my clients starting in my very first year. Dreams coming true! Cue high fives and happy dances! (Side note: I recognize the privilege in the above statement. Without my husband’s good-paying job and a content side hustle of my own, I wouldn’t have been able to take on a job of passion. That's a privilege I don’t want to gloss over.)
But here’s the thing. We talk a lot about the weight of receiving rejections, and that’s 100% valid. (As a writer and as an agent, I’ve felt that truth!) But I don’t think we talk much about the toll that giving rejections takes. I wasn’t really prepared for how sending out hundreds of passes every month would affect my mental health. Over time, agenting felt less and less meaningful, due to all the rejections I needed to send. (And “needed” is accurate on a practical level; agents’ capacity is finite and no one can take on or even give feedback to all 300-500+ people that query every month.) I really felt horrible, like, “Am I even making a difference here? Because it feels like I’m mostly just a dream crusher.” And that’s a rough mental place to be in, especially for someone who’s relying on the metaphorical pay of making a difference to keep doing their job. Like I said, that side effect came as a surprise to me, so that’s why I’m trying to open up more about it now. Rejections are a part of the creative process, but they’re no fun from either side.
Anyway, after talking with some other industry professionals, I decided that offering editorial services might be a way to get back to the root of why I became an agent in the first place: a way to encourage and uplift more authors in their journey; a way to offer insight into what’s working and what might make a story even better; a way to offset all the daily negativity I had to give with constructive thoughts (because I planned at the time to keep agenting). There was no way for me to represent every author or even give feedback to every querier. But by using the skills that I’d developed as an editor combined with the market knowledge I’d acquired as an agent, maybe I could help more authors move one step closer to their goal. That’s the heart behind why I started Page Turn. 🙂
Oh boy, that was a long answer to a simple question, haha!
Kaitlyn: Long answers are the best! It’s how we learn, and you gave so much for these lovely readers to learn just in the first question. I can’t wait for the next one! And here it comes: Can you share some similarities and differences between agenting and editing, and share a bit about how your previous experience helps you with editing?
Melissa: As an editorial agent, my aim was to help my clients polish up their projects to be the best version possible before we sent them out on submission. In today’s publishing climate, with acquisitions editors overworked and overwhelmed from every side, a submission really needs to be in top form to be considered; editors often don’t have time to take on debut projects that need a lot of work.
As a freelance editor, my goal is now similar, only I’m working with clients who are one step earlier in the process. Usually clients come to me wanting to make their manuscript the best it can be before querying agents. I think this is a wise strategy, because agents also are evaluating projects based on their own limited time. It’s in an author’s best interest to make sure their manuscript is the best it can be before querying, since agents don’t usually accept re-queries (unless the manuscript has been significantly changed).
My work as an agent definitely informs my work as an editor. I look at every project through the lens of salability now, and I think that adds value for my clients. I’ll often add comments to the tune of, “This is great! To really catch an agent’s eye, you may want to consider…” or “You’re on the right track! In terms of traditional publishing standards, you may want to…” or some such. I’ll also usually comment on comps, hook, or that “stand out” factor that might help them when they go to query. In that way, I think that my experience as an agent adds another layer of helpfulness to my editorial clients.
Kaitlyn: Oh wow! Anyone who works with you is going to definitely get more than what they expected! Speaking of, can you dive a bit deeper and share some notes you give often to writers when providing feedback?
Melissa: Here’s what I think could be considered my top three:
- Read. I will often provide some mentor texts for clients, especially those who may be newer to writing. I can explain a concept like theme or meter in my editorial letter, but seeing it in action in an actual book is so much better.
- Maybe Don’t Rhyme. Rhyme is difficult to get right and can be difficult to sell. If a client seems to be struggling with the mechanics of poetry, I often encourage them to write a draft in prose. That way, they can see which version is stronger and move on confidently from there. Or, if the client wants me to, I’ll weigh in with thoughts on both versions to help them decide on a direction.
- Enhance the Theme. I’m a huge proponent of theme as a unifier, so I will often comment on ways to make the theme stronger. Sometimes that means making it more cohesive, other times more explicit or more subtle. But yeah, theme often plays a role in my editorial feedback.
Kaitlyn: I recommend all of these, too, and LOVE the enhanced theme; that says a lot about salability, essentially, why will someone want to buy this? Now, can you share why editors are so important to the writing process?
Melissa: Editors can sometimes see areas that the author may be blind to. As authors, we get too close to our work and can’t see the forest for the trees –– or vice versa! An editor comes in with a fresh set of eyes, and sometimes that can make all the difference when you feel lost in the woods, so to speak.
That being said, I don’t ever want to make it seem like an author must hire a freelance editor to be published. That’s not the case at all. Yes, editors can be helpful, but authors who can’t afford editorial services (or conferences or critiques) shouldn’t feel pressure to do so. Feedback is important, but that can come in the form of a critique partner or critique group (for free!).
Kaitlyn: Agreed! I started out and didn’t have the money to pay for awesome conferences and freelance editors, so I read, read, read, wrote, wrote, wrote, and swapped critiques constantly, then saved money so I could afford these wonderful things, and of course, in the meantime, I participated in contests and giveaways, too. (Psst, readers, you can maybe win a critique if you read all the way to the end!) Melissa, can you share a bit about your services?
Melissa: I’d love to! I usually take a hybrid approach to manuscript editing, which means I make in-text comments at the line level (grammar, word choice, sentence structure, continuity, etc.) and then offer an in-depth editorial letter that covers the larger scope (plot, character, pacing, theme, etc.) I edit everything from query letters to full novels, and I work with authors on both traditional and self-publishing tracks.
Kaitlyn: Wow, that is amazing! In and beyond these edit suggestions, what’s your favorite advice to give to authors?
Melissa: Listen to YOU. You can listen to your critique partners’ feedback and your beta readers’ thoughts. You can listen to an agent’s critique or a freelance editor’s advice. But this is a subjective business, and all those opinions about how to make your book “better” may not line up. At the end of the day, it’s YOUR name on the book, so go in the direction that rings truest to YOU.
Kaitlyn: YES! That is so true; there’s a huge balance between taking advice that helps and advice that hurts, and especially newer writers can get caught changing their story to appease others. But don’t worry, readers, the more you write, the more you’ll be able to tell what advice works for you and what isn’t a fit for your story. Can you share one of your favorite books from each kidlit category and what qualities you think make this such a standout book?
Melissa: Oh my word, I could talk books all day, but I’ll narrow it down to one favorite per category. For picture books, I will never stop loving THE NIGHT GARDENER (Fan) for the way the art and the text work together to tell the story. In middle grade, I adore the zany character and heartfelt themes (there it is!) of FLORA AND ULYSSES (DiCamillo). I love so many YA books, but one that I’ll never get over is LOVELY WAR (Berry) for its unexpected fusion of multiple perspectives and its intersectional plot.
Kaitlyn: That was a great mini-class on great books! Now, can you share what’s next for you?
Melissa: Well, right now I’m doing what I love, so I’d say more of the same is next! 🙂 Helping authors find ways to elevate their stories is truly one of my greatest joys. I’m also periodically assisting some agent friends with their client workload and representing select projects (by referral) under the umbrella of my mentor’s agency. This ensures that I stay relevant in terms of publishing trends and editors’ desires –– something I think is important in order to be the best freelance editor I can be. I could see myself returning to a full agent position in the future, but for right now the horizon looks a lot like my current surroundings.
Kaitlyn: That is so wonderful to hear; follow your passion! Thanks for helping so many amazing creators bring their books into the world, and of course, thanks again for sharing so much wonderful information with us today!
Melissa: My pleasure, Kaitlyn!
Bio: Melissa Richeson is a freelance editor who loves to help enhance picture book, middle grade, and young adult manuscripts with an eye toward theme, voice, and ultimate salability. During her years as a literary agent, Melissa took an editorial approach to her clients’ work, which led to successfully securing contracts at Big Four and independent publishers alike. Though offering editorial services and consultations is her main focus at this time, Melissa continues to act as an assistant literary agent in a limited, referral-only capacity, ensuring that she keeps an “ear to the ground” in terms of publishing trends and momentum. Connect with Melissa via Twitter (@MelissaRicheson) or via her website (newpageturn.com).
Melissa is offering 10% off products and editorial services with code WELOVEKAITLYN, good through 1/31/22. Simply use the code at checkout or mention it after receiving a quote for services.
In addition, one author can win a free query letter, picture book, OR first five pages edit (author’s choice) from Melissa by following the steps below.
To enter the giveaway:
Follow Melissa on Twitter @MelissaRicheson, tag three friends in the comments of Kaitlyn’s tweet who might be interested in Melissa’s editing services, and RT Kaitlyn’s Tweet about this post. THEN, come back here and comment below that you’ve done these things. Each of the three things you do will earn you an extra entry into the giveaway!
Thanks as always, readers, for reading my blog and supporting wonderful creators. I hope you have happy holidays, and I’m looking forward to connecting with you all again in the new year!
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez