How I Built My Side Biz as an Editor

by Elizabeth Sumner Wafler
published in Community

2019. My literary agent was subbing my third manuscript to acquiring editors for publication. I had just completed manuscript number four with the help of a book coach to whom I paid upwards of a grand. As I pondered its publication path, I realized I needed a side biz to bring in some bread. A devotee of the authors supporting authors movement, I wanted to share what I’d learned about writing with other writers. Something I could do from home. In pajamas and pigtails if I wanted.

I’d retired from a twenty-year tenure in teaching to write full-time. (How I had the temerity to think I could do that is another story worth blogging about.) Though I’m lucky to have a husband who pays the bills, my piggy bank was silent.

I had four books under my belt and an agent. But what of value should I offer other writers?

I’d worked with editors on various things and learned (from my very first one) how the back and forth mark-ups and comments could be fun, even hella hilarious. She once declared she’d buy me a pink pony if I made a certain change. She rewarded me with “keyboard smashes” when I really knocked her socks off (e.g., 2xr0vcpz5qmv9bjfgddtbzj!!!)

But could I be an editor when I’d majored in education and had no MFA?

I punched up my critique partner, who had majored in English. She had just finished a book. I asked her if she wanted to start an editorial side biz with me. “We could call it Four Eyes,” I said, “because four eyes are better than two.” She loved the idea but with a daughter’s wedding to plan, she was up to her eyeballs in seating charts, uninspired caterers, and tulle.

I’d go it alone and maybe she’d join me later. But what would my focus be?

I didn’t want to spend weeks chained to my desk doing developmental edits, or line-editing entire manuscripts. I had to focus on something specific, a task I could accomplish in a day, something fun that I was really good at.

So, what was my gift/the specialty of the house?

I looked back at files stuffed with editor comments. I listened to readers. They described my writing as:

  • “grotesquely gorgeous” (This fave still makes me LOL)
  • “lyrical, lush, and filled with emotion”
  • “peppered with striking alliteration that creates rhythm and mood—that’s rich, relatable, and vibrant” (I’m a card-carrying slut for alliteration)
  • “describes place and setting that makes me feel like I’m right there in every scene”
  • “refreshing in a dark, dystopian market”
  • “full of description that paints a visual picture”
  • “emotionally charged and thought-provoking”

It all boiled down to imagery.                                                           

Side Biz - exhausted dog

My most favorite part of the process. The part when I was revising. When I got playful with words and sentences and the magic happened. When I slapped my palms on my desk, and shouted to my snoring office assistant, “Mirabelle! I’m a genius! I’m going to make us rich!” In retrospect, I should have let sleeping dogs lie.

I started a list.

I had to let clients know precisely how I could help make their sentences pop, their synopses sizzle, give their pitches and queries a grabby, look-at-me quality. And help them with what had become instinctive for me regarding plot and pacing.

  • Use rich imagery to evoke a stronger sense of place and/or time
  • Make your characters memorable by giving them personality and dimension
  • Create realistic, impactful dialogue
  • Learn to write a point of view that not only differentiates characters, but is consistent and clear
  • Ensure your protagonist’s actions drive the story to the next event in each scene and chapter
  • Make sure your plot points tie back to the theme/point of the story

What would I name the service?

It was time to get this side biz branded. I contacted my first editor and asked her what one word described my writing. Without hesitation, she said, “evocative.”

I looked at definitions:

  • bringing to mind an emotional reaction
  • recalling strong images, memories, or feelings
  • the action of eliciting a response
  • evoking a strong sense of time and place

Eeep! It was so me.

My branding had been perfect and painless.

With visions of business cards and banners boomeranging my brain, I needed a logo to make my side biz a reality. I found a great designer on Etsy who had choose-your-own-color, ready-drawn ink pens. “Simple, but elegant, please,” I requested. And I think it is. I love handing it to people, except to those who raise a sly brow before I explain, “Not pro-vocative, e-vocative.” Some of them are disappointed.

But I still needed a logo for the editorial page of my website. I really loved the name Four Eyes. But, wait! A glasses wearer, I could still be Four Eyes. I contacted the designer again and described exactly what I wanted. It was perfect. (See image below.)

The “M” Word 

One of the words my mother told me not to discuss in polite company. M-o-n-e-y. It was time to put a price tag on all those thoughtfully considered services. I studied the sites of other editors and evaluated their price points based on how long they’d been editing, their credentials, and affiliations. I made sure my prices came just under those of the least experienced. I typed up a table for the editorial page of my website, delineating what I would do and what it would cost the client.

I put it out there.

Then advertised the hell out of it. On all my social media platforms, pinning it to the top of my Twitter feed. I believe the value helped spread the word. I asked clients for a brief testimonial when our work was done. They trusted me. They really did! I didn’t even have to offer to buy them ponies. Then I posted the testimonials to my website. I had a blast working with developing writers. I was an editor! I am an editor.


Elizabeth Sumner Wafler writes evocative women’s fiction and is represented by the Knight Agency. A member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, she serves as Director of Craft Education. She enjoys working with other writers through her editing business Four Eyes Editorial. She lives with her husband and cairn terrier Mirabelle in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where she can be found at a farmer’s market in search of the perfect heirloom tomato, or at one of the area’s vineyards, enjoying a glass of Virginia wine. Check out her website: elizabethsumnerwafler.com


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