September 28, 2015

Lisa Poisso, Book Editor


Editing for Debut & Emerging Authors

I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.—Flannery O’Connor

If you’re a new or emerging author of fiction, you’re in the right place. As a book editor and story coach, I specialize in working with early- and mid-career writers.

My front-loaded approach begins with story coaching to help you transfer your ideas from your head to the page using both classic and contemporary storytelling and narrative techniques. Once your manuscript is on its feet, tune and polish your book with services such as developmental editing (story editing), a manuscript critique, and line editing.

If your query to literary agents is struggling to achieve liftoff, I can help identify what parts of your submissions package could be holding you back and tune your query to get your manuscript in the door.

Developmental Editing & Manuscript Critiques

I will always remember, Lisa told me I had a ‘manuscript-length discussion of theme’ . . . all the icing and decoration but no cake! I needed to crack some more eggs. She has a great sense of humour, too!—J.C. Thomas

Developmental editing is big-picture editing that addresses your story and characters. It’s often called “story editing” because it primarily address the story (its contents) and the storytelling (the way you’ve chosen to tell it).

Developmental editing expands and strengthens your storytelling and narrative technique. It covers effective use of point of view, dialogue tags and action beats, characterization, dramatic tension, exposition and description, theme, balancing scene with exposition and dialogue, transitions, hooks, scene structure, and more. A thorough developmental edit often involves extensive revision or writing a new draft.


  • You’ve received and implemented initial feedback from at least several early readers.
  • You’ve worked through multiple story drafts using a methodical revision plan. This is not your first draft, or your first draft plus some scene or dialogue tweaks and a spellcheck.
  • You’re confident your story hangs together and there are no remaining plot holes. If you’re not sure, you need more outside readers and objective (not friends and family) feedback. If you know problems exist but you don’t know how to address them, you may need a consultation or coaching rather than developmental editing. Scroll down for more details about coaching.
  • Now that you have a solid manuscript in place, you’re looking for editorial help honing your story and plot, character arcs, and storytelling techniques.
  • You want editorial feedback directly on the pages of your entire manuscript, as well as a separate editorial report. If you’re seeking only the high-level feedback of an editorial report, consider a manuscript critique, which offers your choice of a 90-minute video or phone consultation or a comprehensive editorial report (typically over twenty pages).
  • If your manuscript isn’t quite ready for editing yet, I can help you get there. Scroll down for more details on story coaching and partial edits.

I work only with writers I believe I can help reach specific writing, editing, and publishing goals. A complimentary assessment helps us both determine what you and your book need. Interested in exploring the possibilities? Let’s talk about working together on your book.


Substantive Editing

Also commonly referred to as line editing, substantive editing zooms in on your writing in an process some writers have described as “a developmental edit for the writing.”

This is not a final polishing edit like a copyedit. A substantive edit challenges you with observations, questions, and suggestions designed to strengthen your authorial voice, hone your technique, and expand the flow and quality of the writing. It also addresses lingering story and character issues from previous story-level work.


  • Your plot and story need little further attention, you’ve completed beta reading feedback, and you do not plan to make further story-level changes.

I take on substantive editing only for writers who are ready to stretch the literary quality of their work with more vibrant, compelling writing. A complimentary assessment helps us both determine what you and your book need. Interested in exploring the possibilities? Let’s talk about working together on your book.


Partial Edits

Emerging writers tend to struggle with the same issues over and over. Partial edits and critiques are an affordable way to turn a burst of editing into actionable advice for your entire manuscript. For example, a first-act edit provides global feedback on your use of point of view, narrative tense, dialogue content and mechanics, character arcs, character motivation and conflict, characterization, dramatic tension, pacing, writing style …

I learned so much during the process, and I am certain I’m a much better writer from having worked with her.—Karen Cimms


  • You’re polishing your first pages for querying and submission to a literary agent.
  • You want to see feedback about your writing directly on the manuscript.
  • You’re a seasoned writer new to writing fiction and need help solidifying fiction-specific techniques.
  • You’re a new author who’s never worked with an editor before.
  • You’re still revising your novel and want to identify key issues to address in the next draft.
  • You’d like better editing rates and results based on knocking out major issues on your own first.

I work only with writers I believe I can help reach specific writing, editing, and publishing goals. A complimentary assessment helps us both determine if a partial edit could be right for you and your book. Interested in exploring the possibilities? Let’s talk about working together on your book.


FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions About Editing

Your book is ready for editing if you've developed the manuscript as far as you can on your own and with the help of peer feedback. That's a much more extensive process than reading through the manuscript a few times to check grammar and spelling, tweak dialogue, and massage a couple of scenes.

Here's a more complete picture of what's involved:

It's a lot of work—I get it, I really do, and I'm ready and waiting for you at the end of that process.

Coaching is becoming popular as more authors realize the importance of the strongest possible start for their writing careers.

Story coaching is designed to help you develop a compelling story and tell it in a way that readers can't resist. We talk about your story idea itself and how it fits into today's marketplace. We examine the techniques and creative choices you've used to tell your story and consider other options to make the story tighter, deeper, or stronger. We work together to tune the plot, character arcs, and themes of the story. We may also hone techniques for scenes, point of view, dialogue, and more.

Story coaching typically comes in before or after your first (or an early) draft. It's not the sort of book coaching that walks alongside you as you write your book, which could be seen as a type of incremental editing. Story coaching shows you how to make your first draft do the work of several early drafts, getting you closer to an edit-ready manuscript earlier in your writing process.

Story coaching isn't the same thing as motivational or accountability coaching, which isn't part of my coaching services. Want to work with me on your story? Please arrive with your creative energies fully and amazingly ablaze.

Visit my coaching page for more details about story coaching.

You could—but I don't usually recommend it.

Many new writers figure they'll begin with a simple proofread—“just clean it up,” they’ll say. They want to see how the book does before they invest significant money, or they figure it’s not worth spending a lot of money until their books begin selling enough money to make back the investment in editing.

This is flawed thinking. A novel isn’t a weekend crafts project. This project will consume months or even years of your time as you vie to get noticed among the tens of thousands of books published every week. Welcome to Thunderdome—thousands of books enter, few books leave. Why waste your time and effort writing an entire novel with anything less than an intelligent, informed approach?

I love using the Plot Accelerator prior to drafting a book. Based on my experience, it results in faster, cleaner drafting and reduced need for major revisions and edits. Reader reviews of my first Plot Accelerator-planned book are a full star level higher than its predecessor, making it a valuable part of my process.—K.A. Wiggins

Not every author needs story coaching. If you’re a seasoned author who’s already mastered the techniques of storytelling and writing fiction, coaching or multiple rounds of editing could be overkill.

Even so, most of my established clients do use a compressed version of Plot Accelerator coaching before or after their first drafts. It's an invaluable way to ensure your story is on track.

In a word: Yes.

Pouring your time and editorial budget into line editing or copyediting a manuscript that’s not ready for prime time is a waste. I don’t want that for your book, and neither should you.

My initial assessment of your manuscript will help determine whether a manuscript critique or a developmental edit will be the best approach. Either way, I urge you to begin at the beginning: with your story. A manuscript critique or developmental edit will help you realize the potential of your book's story, plot, pacing, character arcs, themes, and narrative voice.

If your goal is to publish traditionally, you may not need to follow developmental work with a line edit or copyedit. Once you have a book deal, the publisher is responsible for copyediting the manuscript. In today’s spectacularly competitive marketplace, though, you may want every possible advantage to help your manuscript stand out from the slush pile.

Read: Should you have your manuscript edited before submitting it to agents and publishers?

If you’re self-publishing, it’s up to you whether you’ll be producing your books to the same standards of quality of an established publishing house. To publish a professional-caliber book, you'll need copyediting in addition to developmental editing.

Read: Types of editing—a primer

Line editing and copyediting are separate processes from developmental editing, and I offer them only to seasoned authors and manuscripts that are ready for that level of polish. If you’re a new client interested in moving directly into line/copy or comprehensive editing, please get in touch to discuss your story and situation.

Your book is as unique as you are, and I don't offer a one-size-fits-all fee or set range for editing. I'll assess and quote your project individually, based primarily on the type of editing and level of intervention that the manuscript needs.

My fees align with the industry-standard rates published by the Editorial Freelancers Association. You can expect to pay in the neighborhood of one to two cents ($0.01-$0.02 USD) per word for critiques, two to four cents ($0.02-$0.04 USD) per word for editing, and more for comprehensive (multi-level) editing.

To arrive at your quote, we'll cover a lot of ground: your creative intentions for this story, the framework of your story and character arcs, your editing and publishing goals, your writing background, and anything else you think is key to understanding your book. I'll also review as much of your manuscript as is available.

Editing is most effective for fully revised manuscripts that have been reviewed by multiple non-biased readers. If your work is in an earlier stage of development, story coaching could be a better fit and a smarter use of your editorial budget.

An edit of several hundred words is included in my personalized proposal for you. Each comment is clearly labeled to show what type of editorial feedback it is, to help you see how each type of editing can strengthen your manuscript.

Your proposal also includes a page or more of feedback on your manuscript's current strengths and opportunities for development. This feedback typically includes observations on your story concept, genre fit, story structure, plotting and scenes, character arcs, point of view, writing quality, and more. You'll receive more than ample feedback to gain a clear picture of the issues I've identified in your manuscript and a good feel for my feedback style.

One caveat: Keep in mind that it's not possible to provide developmental (story-level) feedback without by definition considering the entire story—and that would mean evaluating the entire book. That's obviously not practical for a sample or proposal. Most comments and edits on an initial assessment address issues related to narrative technique or matters of line editing and copyediting. The best way to learn if I'd be a good fit as your developmental editor is to hire me for a Ready Check or story coaching first.

While my specialty is story itself rather than specific genres, your project will be squarely in my wheelhouse if it's mainstream adult, upmarket (book club), or women's fiction; magical realism; historical fiction; and any flavor of thriller or suspense, action-adventure, or horror.

I'm experienced with and accept most flavors of romance and speculative fiction (sci-fi and fantasy). I accept short stories and memoir on a limited basis, and I coach but do not edit children's fiction (including YA and MG).

I do not work with slice-of-life, stream of consciousness, or experimental fiction, nor do I work with books resting on frameworks other than Aristotelian story form. I accept literary fiction on a limited basis; let's talk about your project.

I am not currently accepting family or generational sagas, autobiographies or biographies, narrative nonfiction, RPG or gaming projects, or poetry.

Absolutely, although you may find what you're looking for on my success stories page or this account of how one client found the right editor.
If your agent query is struggling to achieve liftoff, a consultation can help you identify what parts of your submissions package could be holding you back and tune it to get your manuscript in the door. I'm not currently offering written query and submission critiques. Line editing clients get automatic access to self-paced Query Accelerators (traditional publishing) or Blurb Accelerators (self-publishing) along with their edits.


One-on-One Consultations

If you’ve ever wanted help figuring out how all the pieces of your story fit together, you’ll probably find a consultation is just the thing you need to keep you moving forward. Spend time with me on a video or phone call to pinpoint issues, brainstorm through knotty issues, or plot your next moves.

Before our call, you’ll send me up up to three questions, along with background material to help me grasp the issue: an excerpt from your manuscript, a query letter and submission packet, your synopsis, an outline—whatever will give me a sense of what you’re struggling with. All feedback is delivered during our consultation; written edits or comments are not included.

One-on-one consultations are CURRENTLY CLOSED.


When You’re Not Quite Ready for Editing

Story coaching is the most effective on-ramp I know of to an edit-ready manuscript. Accelerate your ideas onto the page with short-term, high-impact story coaching. You’ll absorb the storytelling and writing techniques to fully express your creative intentions while sharpening and strengthening your story and writing in the process.


Two to four revelatory months of coaching to accelerate your story and writing toward an edit-ready manuscript. The insights and techniques you’ll gain during coaching will serve you for the rest of your writing career.

The PLOT ACCELERATOR: Understand what makes a story work and how to apply those principles to your own manuscript. It’s been called a developmental edit in a bottle.

The SCENE ACCELERATOR: How do you move from story outline and planning to scenes on the page? Take the mystery out of building effective scenes that propel the plot and characters to weave story.

The WRITING ACCELERATOR: Solve the most prevalent issues in your writing before you’ve woven them into the entire manuscript. We’ll work one-on-one to untangle and polish your prose.

It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write.

Let them think you were born that way.—Ernest Hemingway

Lisa Poisso, Book CoachThanks for reading all the way to the bottom. You rock.

Looking for an editor to accelerate your journey from new writer to emerging author? That editor could be me. Or maybe you want a story coach to steer you through story development and writing; I can help you with that, too.

If you’re ready to accelerate your novel, let’s work together.

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