My developmental editor and I had been working together for a while on my latest book. We had pulled my manuscript apart and put it back together several times. I was grateful for her help, but I knew that it still did not hang together well. It was a memoir about travel: mine and my young adult daughters, told from all three of our perspectives. Because I was blending my own voice with that of my daughters, it felt like a mosaic of lovely pieces but with no strong connecting theme. I was still a bit uneasy.
At least it had a good title: Who Will Accompany You? It needed more, maybe a lot more. I just didn’t know what.
Maybe a copyedit, my developmental editor suggested. Copyeditors are great at smoothing things out and making them readable. So I readily agreed and was introduced to Samantha Shubert.
I still remember our first conversation. In the most respectful way, Sam told me that the biggest theme of the book was missing. It was implied, for sure. She felt that the whole piece would really shine by bringing it out.
She could not have known how eager I was for this feedback, and I saw that she took great care to be clear, while also being encouraging.
I knew immediately that she was correct, but now I was right back where I’d started. I didn’t know how to do what she was recommending. “Let me show you what I mean,” Sam offered. She would rework some of the introductory sections, reinforcing that big missing theme and tightening the storytelling.
Have I mentioned that I was nervous? I’m an experienced writer, a columnist, and a published memoirist. I’m no stranger to the revision process. Still, I was attached to this draft of the story. It was fun and engaging. Should I let a stranger just tinker with it? I could see that being honest was a risk for Sam too. I was struck by the fact that she thought enough of the work to want to bring it to its full potential. She said she was also willing to simply copyedit the existing manuscript as initially requested. It was my choice: “It’s totally up to you,” she said.
And that phrase made all the difference. I was still the author, and it was still my story. Relieved, I told her to go ahead and overhaul a short section of the manuscript. It was a test for both of us. I had never before had anyone write for me, and I felt uneasy about it, like I was cheating somehow, having someone else do my work.
I checked my emails frequently. How would it be? How would I tell her if I didn’t like what she had written? What if it didn’t represent me?
When the new version arrived, I opened the document, holding my breath. It was as if Sam had rummaged around in my brain and come up with a clearer way of telling the story, one that flowed between the disparate voices with grace and ease. She was definitely paying attention to what I had written, using my examples and my language. She wanted the manuscript to be what I intended—but also as engaging as possible for the reader.
At that point, we started working together in earnest. Sam was always transparent about our contract, about what she was expected to do, and about how we would work in tandem. She was also clear about her rates and how many hours she was putting in at every step. Even more important, she was open about her own vision for the project. She asked me to write new material to delve into the emotional backdrop of my life: my parents, my childhood, my marriage.
She offered to do the writing or, if I preferred, to have a conversation that she would transcribe. But writing was the fun part for me, so more often than not, I did the writing and she edited. She was apologetic about making me do more work, but I appreciated every suggestion because I knew it was all strengthening the book. Now that I knew that her goal was to reflect my feelings as accurately as possible, it was easy to give her feedback about any aspect of the story.
And, of course, not everything was perfect. I couldn’t help but let her know when something didn’t work, be it a word, a phrase, or a misunderstood idea. “Great!” she would reply, never defensive or upset. The collaboration was in every way a meeting of the minds in the best sense. Sam made clear that I was the arbiter of what would stay and what would go. Even when it came to really difficult decisions, like cutting some of my favorite stories, we talked and came to the conclusion, together, about which parts did—or did not—serve the whole.
It was not about ego or being right so much as seeing the whole picture and knowing what fit.
She worried sometimes that her suggestions would tamp down my voice, but I felt that it brought out my best. It is always important to listen to our own voices, of course, as we know ourselves better than anyone else. But it’s just as important to listen to an expert, someone who knows a lot more about the writing and publishing in general.
To take advantage of someone’s expertise means respecting their ideas, even when we might initially have doubts. Sam made it easy to do this, because she was willing to work within my comfort zone, as well as push the edges of it, and thereby gain my trust. I could not have foreseen how much fun it would be to sculpt this work together. And I know, without question, that I could not have done it on my own.
The published book has garnered some great reviews. Several people commented that their favorite section is the last one, entitled “Home.” Full disclosure: This section, which delves into the meaning of travel for my family—tracing the thread from my mom, to me, to my girls—did not exist before Sam told me it ought to. It provides depth, context, and emotion that connects with my readers. It makes sense of my journey.
That, in a nutshell, is what Sam does for writers. Her ability to see both what an author intends and what a reader needs makes her an ideal companion on the book-writing journey. I’m thrilled that this experienced, honest, deeply respectful, and straightforward expert accompanied me!
See her work at www.SamanthaShubert.com