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Melva McLean

Lost and Found

Photo by Jordan Ladikos on Unsplash

Over the years I’ve done a lot of freelance fiction editing, mostly developmental. I send off the manuscripts with a critical analysis, a lot of developmental markup and some copy editing. Some of the authors go on to be published; their autographed works are on my bookshelves. Of the ones not published, about half come back to me and half don’t.

Every year I Google the names of a few of my “lost ones.” And I try to include as many as I can in my annual season’s greetings email in December. I nudge them a bit with: How’s it going? Are you still working on your book? Get any nibbles from publishers? That sort of thing. I really so want to know. Some of the stories — a lot of them — have been very good, some excellent. I remember a young adult fantasy novel with setting, plot and characters as unique and refreshing as I’d ever seen. There was another novel, a meaty, well-researched historical fiction that just screamed the first of a series. Yet another was a good love story with a to-cry-for ending.

I know what keeps people from finishing a work. There are financial reasons; that’s a big one. It takes money to take time off employment to write. It also takes energy, which can be hard to find at the end of a day’s work. Sometimes it’s one’s own illness or family responsibilities that become more important than finishing a novel. It can also be from burnout, especially with a large project. And it can be disappointment after three rejection letters. As a writer, I’m familiar with that one.

A few who have connected just simply say they’ve lost the desire to finish. They don’t say why, and I don’t ask. It’s too personal a question. That’s the one that makes me wonder what I could have done more. I’m already too honest with people, but could I perhaps have prepared them for the hard work of a revision? Worse: Did I neglect to tell them how important it is to enjoy the process of creation?

And then one pops up, out of the blue. The phone goes “ding” and I look down to see the words: “You probably don’t remember me or my book, but…”

I don’t even finish reading the email before I start replying that of course I remember them and wondered where they’d gone. For various reasons they had to set aside their book for two or three years. But now they have a revision they’re pretty happy with. Would I be interested?

You bet.


Do you have any lost and found stories, about manuscripts, clients or your own inspiration?


Previous post from Melva McLean: What’s in a Name?

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2 Comments on “Lost and Found”

  • Margaret F Sadler


    What an encouraging message, Melva. My response rate is nowhere as high as yours. I’m pleased to hear that there’s an editor who really makes this work. Congratulations!

    I’m curious. How do you do this? How do people hear about you? How do you estimate your charge? Did “practice make perfect” or have you taken courses in developmental editing for fiction?

    • Melva


      Hi Margaret:

      I think keeping in touch with previous clients, publishers, and editors helps. When I get new referrals or “lost” ones showing up again, it’s usually within the first 3 months of the year, so I think my personalized Christmas cards (print or e-cards) help.

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