Ask the Editor — Jane Haertel

We are so happy to have our next guest editor, Jane Haertel, join us today. Read and learn!

Crazy_DiamondName:  Jane Haertel, Crazy Diamond Editing Services (

Area of Expertise: Romance of any shade, Young Adult, New Adult

How did you become an independent editor? A few years ago, a friend who was preparing to indie publish her YA novel asked me to proofread for her. My fussbudget nature would not allow me to leave it at a simple proofread, though, and I ended up copy and line editing the whole book for her, as well as providing content editing. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop, and I discovered that I had both a knack and a love for this part of the publishing process. After that, I picked up another client, who consistently began to hit the New York Times and USA Today lists of best-sellers, and through word of mouth I now have more than a dozen steady clients (several of whom hit the lists with every book).

Feta_Attraction_CoverWhat are three things we should know about your area of expertise? Everyone—are you listening?—everyone needs an editor. (Yes, even me. Especially me.) When you’re all excited to indie publish something, and you’ve been over your manuscript a few times, it’s so tempting to think: Oh, in high school I was great at grammar and spelling, so I can save myself some coin by doing my own editing. Or: I’ve been writing for years. I’m not paying someone for something I can do myself. Wrong. You know what you meant to say, but that might not be what comes out on the page. And in general, your mom/sister/best friend is probably not the best person to do editing of any kind on your book. They love you, and they won’t want to hurt your feelings. Hire a professional. No matter your skill level, you need an objective, experienced set of eyes on your work.

Editing is expensive. Sorry, but it’s true. It takes many, many, many hours to make just the first pass through a full-length manuscript, and this is how we editors make our livings. Especially for authors who are independently publishing their first works, there is a tendency to look for the lowest price and fastest turnaround. I wrote a book, darn it, and I want to start making my millions immediately. I can’t afford to hire an editor (or proofreader, professional cover artist, formatter). I would argue that you can’t afford not to assemble the best possible team to get your work out there. The market is glutted right now with indie books and getting good editing (and proofreading, and cover art, and formatting) is something you can control. If you want to make it in the indie world, you have to produce a product that is on a par with books published by New York houses. And yes, that costs money.

Still not convinced? Think about it this way. Writing and publishing books is a business. Would you expect to start, say, a knitting shop without providing any capital upfront for retail space, inventory, staffing? And, oh, open your doors to the public before all these things were in place? Of course not. That would be crazy, right? Putting your indie book out for sale is no different.

So get creative if you have to raise the money to hire professionals. If you have a special skill, perhaps you can barter services. I have edited in exchange for personal training, and for cookies. Which, now that I think about it, should probably be mutually exclusive. There’s probably stuff in your house that you can sell on eBay or Craigslist. Can you take on some freelance work of your own, such as cooking, sewing or knitting/crocheting for hire? Or take on a few hours of overtime at your day job? How about eating at home instead of going out to dinner? That’s the same as earning $50 or more, money that you can put toward your dreams. It’ll be worth the sacrifice upfront when the money from your beautifully professional book starts rolling in!

What do people usually get wrong? Good writing is not necessarily grammatically correct. In fact, perfect grammar makes fiction stilted and inaccessible to the reader. But there are some rules that should not be broken. Here are the mistakes I see most frequently:

Alright, alot. These are not words. Use all right and a lot.
Misuse of the apostrophe. This is perhaps my biggest pet peeve. Never, ever use an apostrophe to form the plural of anything. Example: Peach’s For Sale. Who is Peaches? What’s she selling? See what I mean? And the other most common assault on the poor apostrophe is the various formations of the word its. The only time that word should have an apostrophe is if you can replace it with it is or it has, never to show possession.
Adverbs. Okay, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m not one of those people who thinks that every –ly construction should be eradicated from a manuscript. Most, yes. But they don’t bother me as long as the author uses them … sparingly. And try not to end a sentence with an adverb like sparingly, LOL!
Misuse of the forms of the verb to lie. (Lay, lain, laid) The rules are too long to list, but here’s a link to a site that may help.
Using dialogue tags other than said. Ninety-eight percent of the time, said is all you need. You want the reader focusing on your characters’ words, not getting distracted because you tried to get creative. “Hand me that glass of water,” he spouted/hissed/emitted/etc., etc. Once in a while, okay. But don’t make a habit of it.
And my personal pet peeve, the word smirk. Please, please, please. Unless your character is an annoying adolescent, or an adult acting like an annoying adolescent, do not have him/her smirking. A smirking character is automatically unlikeable. So, particularly in romance, but this holds true for other genres, do not let a main character perform this juvenile action.

Is there a great idea you’d love to share? Here’s a bit of my personal hoodoo. If you are stuck in the middle of a project, or you have finished a project and sent it off somewhere, perhaps to a potential agent or publishing house and you’re waiting on the outcome, go clean something that hasn’t been cleaned in a long time. Even better, get unwanted stuff out of your house—not just moved to another spot, but actually thrown away or donated. Still better, tackle something that you’ve been putting off or avoiding and that has been nagging at you. For example, if you hate going to the dentist, make—and keep—that appointment. Call an old friend you’ve been meaning to get back in touch with. The more things you do, the quicker and better the magic works.

Jane's_Head_ShotYou see, making space in your head and your life allows new, wonderful things to come in. Nature abhors a vacuum. It works every time, but not always in the way you expect it. I did a lot of cleaning and decluttering while I was querying agents, and I not only got the call from an amazing agent, I got a three-book contract, all in a two-week span. 

What are you working on? As an editor, I’m working on a juicy New Adult novel for a very good writer, so it hardly feels like a job, LOL!

Readers: Jane will be available to answer your editing questions throughout the day.

Jane Haertel, who writes as Susannah Hardy, attended St. Lawrence University, graduating with a degree in history, and has worked as a waitress, handbag designer/manufacturer, paralegal, and currently as an editor of independently published short stories, novellas and novels at She serves on the board of directors of the Connecticut Romance Writers of America and is a member of Sisters in Crime. Jane lives in Connecticut with her husband, teenaged son, and Elvira the Wonder Cat. You can connect with her alter ego, Susannah Hardy, at, on Twitter: @susannahhardy1, and on Facebook: Her first novel, FETA ATTRACTION, releases January 6, 2015 from Berkley Prime Crime.

28 Thoughts

  1. Thanks for joining us today, Jane! The Wickeds and I were just talking about how you shouldn’t always be grammatically correct in a novel. It comes out sounding awkward.

    1. Thanks for having me! And yes, especially in dialogue, perfect grammar sounds forced and unnatural, unless perhaps your character is a snooty Harvard professor of classic literature or something similar and it’s a deliberate choice on the author’s part to write him/her that way.

      1. That’s interesting. I never thought of that. I will have to pay attention to the books I read. Since I have left proper grammar writing back in high school (comma key does not work) I thought that would be a problem. When I started to write… I found it was more than having a plot. Dialogue…chapters…paragraphs…they all have to be done in a way so as not to bore the reader.

      2. So true, Frances. The worst thing a writer can do is bore the reader. I find that usually happens when there’s too much description of the surroundings, too long a dialogue conversation that’s not broken up with some physical actions (even as simple as taking a sip of water, or drumming fingers on the table, or shifting in the character’s seat), or when there’s too much backstory lumped in all at once. Hope your comma key gets fixed! You need those, LOL!

  2. Jane, I love your advice on writing and on making magic happen while waiting for word on projects. I couldn’t agree with you more! Thanks for sharing your wisdom and for visiting today!

    1. I’m thrilled to be here! I can’t tell you how many of my author friends have used my Hoodoo advice and gotten agents and contracts. Clearing space in your mind, head, heart and surroundings makes way for the new to come in–even if it’s not exactly what you thought you wanted. And the rewards often come in the form of money and/or opportunities!

    1. Thanks to you and Barbara for making my first library talk a totally nontraumatic experience! Looking forward to meeting up with you and all the Wickeds at Crime Bake in November.

  3. Delighted to see you here with the Wickeds, Jane. Excited to have the release of FETA ATTRACTION just around the corner. 🙂 A question about editing; is it helpful to editors if a writer has run the copy through an editing software like Autocrit first? Thanks!

    1. Darling Rhonda! Hugs for coming to visit me here at the Wickeds this morning! Yes, I’ve found Autocrit (, or similar software, such as SmartEdit ( to be very useful, especially for finding repeated words, cliches, and mechanical things like missing or wonky punctuation and spacing. In fact I use SmartEdit (which has a free trial, so give it a try!) as a last check on most of the manuscripts I work on (both my own and other people’s). No software is a substitute for a pair of human eyeballs, of course, but it’s really good for finding the above-mentioned things. And the more you use it on your own work, the more you will recognize your individual pet words and phrases, those things that you tend to repeat while you’re writing without even knowing it. So if you study your own patterns, theoretically your future manuscripts will be cleaner.

      And of course, your editor will love you for a cleaner manuscript, which means s/he can focus more on other aspects of your story without being distracted by those little, nagging problems. At Crazy Diamond, I give a discount for a clean manuscript (not all freelancers do), so if you’re paying for your own editing, you may be able to save a little money by doing some of this work yourself.

      1. Thank you, Jane, I’d already noticed AutoCrit as a great way to ferret out pesky speech patterns. 🙂 Already, I thought I’d been rocking active voice with vivid verbs, except AC showed me I was using past perfect for snippets of backstory as well as double perfect for the Dilemma part of Sequels. (Oh, believe me, I had to look up those verb conjugation terms.) Also, I agree about the value of a second set of eyeballs. We’re all too close to what we write, so our eyes are happy to tell us little white lies. 🙂

  4. Welcome. And I have to give any series called “Greek to Me” a chance.

    I absolutely agree that everyone needs an editor. I find the authors who think they don’t are the ones who need it the most. (Or at least since they didn’t have an editor it is more noticeable.)

    1. Very true, Mark. You can always tell when a book has not been edited, or has been poorly edited. I’m willing to forgive a little blip here and there, that’s inevitable in any book, but I won’t read a second book by an author if the first one wasn’t done right. I hope you like Feta Attraction! Interestingly, the publisher wanted a different series title until we all finally decided to go back to Greek to Me (which was how I wrote the initial proposal). I like that best, and fortunately the publisher agreed.

  5. Jane, great to “see” you again so soon! Wonderful post, and great suggestions. I find that when I am nearing the time I am almost done, I have lost my ability to use the English language. Never mind lay/lie/laid. Editors are important. GOOD editors are a gift.

    Thanks for visiting the blog today!

    1. You too, Julianne! (My sister is a Julie Anne, btw!) I’m so happy with my editor at Berkley, as well as the copyeditor who did a beautiful job on my manuscript. And I hope I’ve made a difference in other people’s work as well. It’s a big responsibility, helping other people fulfill their dreams. Can’t wait for your mystery to come out! It sounds like so much fun. I’m a big fan of the niche-shop mysteries. I love learning stuff while I’m reading 🙂

  6. This is wonderful advice, Jane! Writing takes work and people need to continue look for ways to improve their craft. Having a good editor is key to the next step. I’m looking forward to reading your book!

  7. I’m a new reader of the material on this site, and this was the first post I read. It was informative and interesting. I’m flagging it so I can come back when my manuscript is done. Only one question, and I hope it isn’t being submitted to late: Should the manuscript be completely done before hiring an editor?

    1. Hi, Barbara. It’s great to meet you here at the Wicked Cozies. There’s so much excellent material on this site. You will have lots of fun exploring it. As to your question, this will be one of those “it depends” answers.

      There are several reasons a writer might hire an independent editor: (1) You are having difficulty with plot, characterization, and/or story structure, or are “stuck” in some other way, and you want professional feedback and assistance. In this case, a developmental (content) editor can help you finish that manuscript and make sure your story unfolds properly and is understandable, and that your characters are properly motivated and have clear goals and believable conflict. If you are just starting out, may I suggest a couple of reference books that may make this process easier for you? In my opinion, no writer should be without Debra Dixon’s GOAL, MOTIVATION AND CONFLICT (the links to the book are on her website: Another really good one for mystery writers is Hallie Ephron’s WRITING AND SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL (the link is on her website:

      (2) You’ve finished a manuscript, and you want to get it ready for independent (self) publication. In this case, you would hire an editor to provide feedback on everything listed above, as well as to provide line/copy edits which will make your story really shine. Some editors can do both developmental and line/copy editing; many specialize in one or the other (they are different skill sets) so you might need to hire two different people. Lest you run screaming from the potential cost of hiring two editors, let me just say that a good, competent, insightful critique partner and/or honest beta readers may be able to take the place of a developmental edit. If you don’t have a critique group or the support of a writers’ group such as Sisters in Crime or Romance Writers of America and you’d like help finding one, please email me at crazydiamondediting (at) aol (dot) com and I’ll do my best to put you touch with a group in your area. That’s how important I think it is to have the support of a group of like-minded people.

      (3) You have finished a manuscript, and you want to polish it for submission to agents or small press editors. This would be a personal choice on the part of the author, certainly not “required,” but it’s a great way to spot any potential problems that might cause an agent or editor to reject your story. Many editors (myself included) offer submission package reviews for much less money than a full edit would cost. The package could include review of the query, synopsis, and the first few chapters. However, again, and at the risk of putting myself out of a job, this function can often be done quite effectively by critique partners and/or professional groups.

      Good luck with your story, Barbara! Keep us posted on your progress.

      1. Thank you so much for your comprehensive reply!. I can’t wait until I’m ready to go to editing. I’m writing my second draft (first novel) right now with a target to complete by the end of November. The first 50 pages are 90% done, with the hard 10% left. Thank you again for your help. You’ve given me a lot to think about!

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