Home » Blog » 40 Questions from a Would-Be Client

40 Questions from a Would-Be Client

book editor Stacey Donovanby Stacey Donovan

Editor’s note: Based on a true story. Identifying characteristics in regard to plot, setting, gender, and genre have been changed to protect the innocent wannabe novelist.

Potential client’s introduction

Please indulge me the following questions about you and your services. To those who’ve already given generously of your time (after editing my opening pages for free) to answer some of the questions that follow, I open with apologies for the trouble of wading through them for those queries you’ve yet to comment on.

First, a bit about me!

I am an esteemed novelist based in Bronx, NY. I am serious about my writing, I want to be published, and I work way too hard (8 drafts in 8 months). I know I need frank editorial help on every page. I also need constant praise and insight, or all the editorial advice in the world won’t change my mind. In short, I need to know you believe in the story I’m trying to tell and to feel like you are on my side no matter how good my writing is.

My project clocks in at 125,000 words, although I’ve got several other chapters set aside that can and should be included; these are the protagonist’s dreams, which occur out of time in the novel. Kind of dreamy, you know? It’s a transgender coming-of-age story AND a Vietnam War mystery novel, set in the mountains of rocky Colorado in the summer of ‘68.

Oh, it needs a title. What are your immediate thoughts?

The backstory takes place from the 1930s through the 1950s, in Vietnam, Los Angeles, Colorado, and upstate New York.

The subject matter and themes touch upon transgender culture, white supremacy, the Vietnam War efforts, the “hippie lifestyle”, trans phobia, and the class and economic divides of America in the 1960s.

Of particular note, I have drawn upon the historical record to spotlight the history of the LGBT community and war efforts in America: homosexuality, still considered a “moral defect” was one of the few things that would render one ineligible for draft. Many pretended to be gay to escape the war. My protagonist, Ron (secretly thought of as Veronica), is in the closet about being transgender and looking to escape the war, but terrified of coming out. Hailing from NYC, he journeys to LA in search of broader acceptance. The three other major characters are: Lucas, Ron’s love interest that he finds in an unlikely place, Carla, a real woman and a private in the US Army, and Dmitri, an anti-war activist.

Having said all of the above, why do you think collaborating with me on this project is a good fit for us?

Your developmental editing services

Do you provide editorial advice on your first pass through my manuscript, as well as (all or part of) the revised draft I write based on your initial feedback?

And, all for the same price? That’s what I’ve been told.

Which of these editing tools do you prefer to work with: hard copy, Microsoft Word’s track changes, email, or freestanding feedback and comments in separate Word documents?

What about telephone calls?

What’s your typical turnaround time? I assume you work on weekends and holidays.

Are you available for spontaneous phone and in-person meetings to discuss ongoing work after your first edit while I revise?

Are you based in New York City as you should be?

How many other full-length book projects are you currently working on? What about screenplays? There’s a definite blockbuster waiting to happen in my story.

Your developmental editing experience

How many years have you been doing this kind of editing?

How many published novels have you content-edited?

Which among these would you say might relate to the story, subject, and themes of my novel?

How often do you work with first-time novelists? Or is that your specialty as it should be?

Can you provide a reference for any published first novels that you content-edited?

Are you a novelist? If so, are you published? If not, why not? Or is it more: Teach what you think you know?

Publishing house experience

What brick-and-mortar publishers have you worked for as a fiction book editor? What literary agencies? Do you know any millennial editors who have any clout?

Professional contacts

Could you characterize and name the contacts you currently maintain among acquisition editors and literary agents who might be interested in a novel like mine?

Should the need arise, are you able to make introductions to these contacts on my behalf as you should be?

Other skills

Do you feel you are qualified to advise on my novel’s marketability and general readership appeal? If so, why? If not, why not?


Do you use a written contract, or does my deposit confirm our agreement?
Should I know about any things that you bill for separately from your fee quote?

I am able to spend no more than $575 (maybe $650) for editorial services at this time. Ah, the curse of the itinerant freelance life…which I know you can understand.


What’s your favorite country to travel to? State in the lower 48?

What time period interests you most and why?

What’s your favorite historical moment in US history? (It can be from a novel.)

Do you have a sense of humor as you should?

In closing

If you haven’t hit the delete button after all of the above, I assume that means you’re really interested in partnering with this willing and eager new writing client?

And you’ll provide top-level service if I can promise $650? I can pay after the edit is completed.

Have I missed anything?

Once I hear back from you, I will be able to determine if you’re the right editor for me. Fingers crossed – I mean, cross your fingers!

Editor’s Note: Ask me anything, just not these questions. Like you, I am committed to your success. Let’s not f87k it up.


Donovan is a writing coach, mentor, collaborator and ghostwriter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *