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My Work Ethics

I strive to produce the highest quality in all my work and to offer the greatest value to all writers who choose to work with me. My full-time profession for 50+ years has been editing books and teaching writing.

I believe in working on one book at a time and devoting all my attention to it until it is finished, without letting my focus be interrupted. That's why my telephone hours are often sparse and my e-mail replies delayed.

Chris Roerden, EditorThese days I am taking on fewer clients a year, usually limited to:

  • mystery authors who've already been traditionally published, plus a very small number of promising new mystery writers who are serious about seeking traditional publishing, not self-publishing
  • publishers — usually mid-sized independent presses
    and a select few nonfiction self-publishers.

Authors I've edited have been published by St. Martin's Press, Berkley Prime Crime, Midnight Ink, Forge, Intrigue, Harlequin, Viking, Rodale, Oceanview, Five Star/Cengage, Walker & Co., and more.

Since publication of DON'T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION (which is the expanded version for all writers of the original DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY), I now require fiction writers who work with me to read either of these books and integrate as many of my recommendations as are applicable to their own manuscripts before sending me their work. If your local public and college libraries don't have copies for you to borrow, you can ask their Collection Development Librarian to acquire copies for their permanent collections.

To see a list of some of the many novels I've edited for authors, please click published work. For a list of non-fiction materials that I wrote or edited, please click the button at the end of that page.

Referrals received and given

Referrals from authors I've edited, from colleagues in publishing, and from readers of one of my books on revising are the source of my editing and consulting work. I do not advertise. Neither do I wish to be queried by those who simply Google "editing," because they are usually shopping around to learn what prices are charged. I can tell you now that my rates will never be the lowest — nor the highest.

As for my making referrals to others in the business, whenever the needs of a client go beyond my own expertise, I suggest further sources of information and make referrals to other experts in the industry who can supply that information better than I can. I refuse to list "preferred vendors" on my website (and thereby receive a fee for doing so), because I don't believe writers can be assured of access to the best in the industry when referrals are for sale.

Also — I do not make referrals to agents. I feel it is unethical to let an author believe that engaging me would lead to an agent referral. When a client chooses me as her or his editor, I'd like both of us to be comfortable in the knowledge that it's strictly because of my editorial skills and publishing experience.

Subject Matter

Along the same lines, I feel it would be unethical for me to accept assignments to edit books that either do not interest me (military, for example) or should reach markets I'm not familiar with (historicals, religion). It would also be unethical for me to edit a book that I believe has little chance of finding an agent or a publisher. That's why I ask prospective clients who feel they are ready for editing to furnish a sample of their manuscript and fill out a 3-page questionnaire (which can be downloaded by clicking ready?)

I have no wish to profit from any writer's inexperience. Making one's way as a writer is challenging enough.
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Choices I offer

I believe that most new fiction writers can benefit from an edit and critique of the first 10 to 25 pages of a manuscript. The same is true for a new writer of nonfiction. Such critiques should be made on the first chapter of the book's content, and not the first text that appears such as an introduction, preface, or other preliminary or "front" matter.

Writers who acquire a critique of a "partial" (jargon for the first few chapters of a manuscript) become empowered to apply the lessons of that critique to the balance of their drafts, thereby raising a manuscript to a higher level of readiness for a full edit. I do not offer critiques in place of editing, because reading a manuscript in its entirety, making informed notes about it, and writing a thorough analysis of it takes as much time as actually editing it. An edit plus a critique gives authors much more value for their money than a critique alone—if they are willing to learn.

  • Critiques of entire books are usually general in the suggestions offered, leaving the writer to interpret how to actually apply those suggestions to their text. I believe a full-length critique may be of use to well-established authors in the process of developing later books, but of little value to new writers.
  • Critiques of single chapters, on the other hand, when combined with an edit of the same pages, is something I do recommend to help new writers evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their work. After I critique any part of a book manuscript, if writers then wish to have the rest of their chapters edited, I require that they first apply to every remaining page all the suggestions already recieved that they agree with.
  • Editing offers the same suggestions as a critique, but provides a great many more specifics and shows how those edits may be applied. Too often, a suggestion without a demonstration of how to apply it can be misunderstood.
  • Market-Savvy EditingSM lets me offer the same detailed benefits as all of the above-described editorial services, with the added value of a marketing perspective — which is what all informed critiques should reflect. Therefore, the editor should be a reader of the same genre or a related genre, because each has its own market. And each market has agents and publishers who specialize in reaching those very markets.

Accepting a manuscript for editing does not mean I can ensure or even predict its publication. No one can. The market is crowded, competitive, and fickle. So if you meet someone who claims to ensure successful publication, run — don't walk — to find a more trustworthy editor.

Once in a while, as my editing gets further along in a manuscript, I may begin to see that it is not sustaining its initial promise as a marketable book. If I believe that further editing is unlikely to sufficiently improve that book's chances for success, I stop and explain to the author what I'm observing. I then return the unexpended part of the author's advance payment together with the pages already edited. The author ends up with the same evaluation that a critique would have provided, plus something more detailed and functional: the editing of one's own writing — a tangible product from which to learn more effective techniques for future writing efforts.

Naturally, my opinion is that of only one person. Some editors and publishing advocates like to tell authors what they want to hear. I don't.

Only once has a client let me know that she strongly disagreed with an evaluation of mine — which is every author's right, of course. I was told that she'd found another editor who contradicted my evaluation and praised her manuscript. To my knowledge, that novel is still unpublished, as is that writer. My experience has been that a writer, upon learning her or his manuscript is not likely to produce the hoped-for result even with substantial editing and rewriting, is grateful for the opportunity to save years of further effort, cost, and disappointment.
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When it comes to editing the non-fiction work of a self-publisher — whose investment of effort and money is even greater and whose success depends on far more than the merit of the manuscript itself — I attempt to learn how he or she plans to market and distribute a book before I take on its editing. If I find that the content has promise but the marketing plan is unrealistic, inadequate, or unlikely to help the author reach the desired goal — and if I see how the plan for marketing and distribution of the book could be significantly improved — I might suggest working with that author in a consulting capacity before actually performing the editing. After a while, the manuscript and the author become ready for the next step, and at that point I can refer the author to an expert in book marketing who is willing to take on a beginning publisher — especially a first-time self-publisher who has begun to acquire some market savvy.

Once in a while I meet a self-publisher with an inadequate plan who is not interested in learning how to market effectively. The author assumes that simply printing a book is sufficient to get it into bookstores. In that case I decline to take the editing altogether, regardless of the merit of the book's content. I prefer to edit only those manuscripts I believe have a decent chance of reaching their authors' intended market. Often, that sort of decent chance can be predicted from a limited edit and a realistic marketing plan.

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I do not discuss work-in-progress at any time with anyone other than its author. After it has been published and I become aware that its acknowledgments page informs readers of my editing work, I break my silence. That is when I help promote the book as widely as I'm able to. I list it on this website (together with a way for readers to order it), mention it when I publish a newsletter, display it in my office and at trade shows I attend, and talk it up whenever I can in my workshops and other public appearances.

If the author also sends me a press packet I am often able to promote the book more effectively.

As part of my desire to create a long-lasting, positive relationship with each of my clients, I invite you to check my references and my clients' evaluations, and to learn for yourself both the quality of my work and my integrity as an editor.
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My Experience

When I began my career in niche publishing in my hometown of New York City more than 50 years ago, I wasn't planning to become an editor. I thought I'd work with my training in commercial art and design. But I soon discovered that publishing appreciated skills I'd always taken for granted: reading and writing.

I learned to edit in the best possible way — on the job as understudy to talented editors — and after a number of years worked my way into the position of a very busy managing editor for a rapidly growing niche publisher in Milwaukee, WI. In 1983 I decided to become an even busier independent editor, because — like many who move from editorial into management — I missed the hands-on manuscript analysis that can guide authors to more effective, more publishable writing.

After my first 10 years of working in NYC, my husband received the first of many transfers to Albany, NY, where I worked for a small publishing house and started a family. In less than two years we were on the move again, to southern Maine, where I wrote my first book — a history of Cape Elizabeth, ME. Researching that book (assisted by two toddlers) motivated me for the first time to go to college. In 1965 I enrolled at the University of Maine-Portland, now the U. of Southern Maine, and in four years received my B.A. in English, with — to my great surprise — highest honors (summa cum laude).

The English Department encouraged me to pursue a graduate degree and offered me a position, not as a grad student/teaching assistant but as an actual instructor of writing (based, I suppose, on my previous work history as well as my undergraduate grades). I accepted! While my youngsters attended nursery school, then elementary school, I taught day classes and some evening classes, free to make up my own course titles and content. In two years I earned my M.A. — the FIRST Master's in English awarded for graduate work conducted entirely on the Portland, Maine, commuter campus. That particular distinction resulted from my discovering the only way to avoid the required summer residency on the Orono campus, a hardship for me with youngsters home all summer.

As the Dean of the Graduate School, whom I journeyed to the Orono campus to see, explained it: I must add to my graduate experience "intellectual intercourse with the graduate faculty"— which only residency on the Orono campus could offer at the time. After asking exactly what that entailed, I went home and organized the graduate student body on the Portland campus, served as its first president, initiated its student newsletter (writing, editing, and mimeographing it via a hand-cranked antique), and arranged with the undergraduate student body to host, at private wine and cheese receptions for grad students, graduate faculty, and notables, the guest speakers that student body had the resources to bring to campus (such as Alex Haley). In that way I replicated the "intellectual intercourse" the Dean had outlined.

Next family transfer: to Syracuse, NY, where I was hired by Empire State College of the State University of New York as a writing mentor to independent study students. Mentoring others convinced me of what I'd long suspected: that writing could be taught more effectively outside the classroom than in it through one-on-one coaching and a gentle but instructive process of editing — similar to what takes place in a publisher's editorial meeting. But it took one more transfer, to Wisconsin, where the university wouldn't even interview an instructor who lacked a doctorate, which led to my starting classes in French to expand my foreign language requirement for a PhD. At the same time I was hired to teach writing at a voc/tech school, then quit and did community organizing for the next 10 years until my sons left for college, producing position papers, training manuals for volunteers, and testifying at the capital in Madison. In 1984 when I decided to go back to paid employment, I took on the caught-in-the-middle-management status of managing editor at a niche publishing house. I lasted for not quite one year before the desire to recapture the satisfaction of the hands-on, one-on-one editing process led me to finally hang out my shingle as an independent editor.

That's when I began to affiliate with national and regional associations of independent publishers. Over the next 11 years founded an organization of high quality Wisconsin presses such as Kalmbach and the University of Wisconsin Press. After I merged that state organization into MidAmerica Publishers Assn. (founded by John Kremer, author of 1000 Ways to Market Your Books), I became president of MAPA and later merged that into the national Publishers Marketing Association, now Independent Book Publishers Association. All this time I was also speaking at conferences. The more I learned about the production and marketing of books the more convinced I became of the need to educate writers in the skills that would help them survive in the competitive world of publishing.

So I entered the university classroom once again, this time initiating the first outreach program in book publishing for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. For the next nine years while editing for authors and small businesses during the day I led evening and summer classes that introduced about 2,000 Midwest writers to the workings of the book industry and the need for market savvy in becoming published authors.

Similar classes were requested by Alverno College (which had also refused to interview me when I'd first arrived in Milwaukee) and by various business conferences and annual writer's conferences — including two sponsored by Cardinal Stritch University, which invited me as its keynote speaker in 1998. I served on the boards of Women in Communications for Southeast Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Society for Technical Communication, and presented numerous sessions on technical editing to my peers at state and regional conferences and one international STC convention.

One of my business clients at the time, GE Medical Systems, sent me together with its management personnel to receive training in ISO 9000 quality standards. That special training affecting a corporation's quality certification allowed me to be one of the first writers, speakers, and trainers of technical writers in how to create the documentation essential for a corporation's ISO 9000 certification. At the time, writing about how to produce that documentation was such a pioneering concept that my first article on it in a technical journal was plagiarized. But I won damages because another technical writer I knew who read an ASQ journal recognized what could only be my work on the subject. What fun it was to prevail over the plagiarizer!

In my growing independent editing function, occasionally being asked to edit a client's nonfiction book led to being asked to ghostwrite it. One of the nonfiction crime books I ghosted in the mid-90s qualified me for full membership in Mystery Writers of America. Shortly after relocating from Wisconsin to Greensboro, NC, Elizabeth Daniels Squire invited me to join the board of MWA's Southeast region, where I served six years and edited the region's quarterly publication for seven.

After my own 11th book came out, DON'T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION (the expanded version for writers in all genres of the original DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY), I've been presenting a greater number of skills-based workshops at writers conferences throughout the U.S. and Canada. (A list of appearances can be seen by clicking /training.html, and a mix & match menu of workshop topics can be accessed by clicking /presents.html.)

Other organizations to which I cheerfully pay dues include Sisters in Crime, Wisconsin Regional Writers, North Carolina Writers' Network, and Mensa. In 1991, Who's Who of American Women saw fit to list me in its pages and continue doing so for the next 15 years.

Over the years, in addition to editing a few thousand book manuscripts, I've written 75 or so articles, co-authored a simulation game, and written 11 pre-sold books, 5 of them as ghostwriter. (It's why I don't call myself a freelancer: I don't write something, then try to find a publisher for it.) My only noncommissioned book is one that I intentionally self-published mid-career because by then I knew I could reach its niche market directly. It's about my adventures teaching English communication skills to Korean schoolteachers abroad through UNESCO. It's called Open Gate, and a few new copies are still available from me at a lower cost than are being sold for by the used book dealers on Amazon.com.

Badger Book Quarterly asked me to write a column on Market-SavvySM book publishing, which ran for two years, and two of my articles on "Market-SavvySM Editing" (reprinted on this site) were written for the 5th and 6th editions of John Kremer's 1001 Ways to Market Your Books.

After a lifetime of living and working in the vigorous climates of New York, Maine, and Wisconsin, in 1999 I welcomed my choice of moving to Greensboro, NC (not a transfer), enabling me to enjoy many more years of editing without having to put down my pencil to pick up a snow shovel. I continue to delight in having my work help authors and publishers produce superior work they can be proud of — and that helps them win awards.

You can visit awards for a list, and published work for information about some of the books I've edited and authored.

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