How I Found the Editor for the Undersea Shell Game

I had decided that I was going to find and use a substantive editor to help me with my second draft of The Undersea Shell Game at the Grub Street Muse conference in May of 2013 held in Boston Massachusetts.  This decision was based upon feedback I had received from an agent after reviewing my unfinished manuscript with her. I am an engineer by trade and the mechanics of maintaining a proper tense and voice in my writing was clearly going to need some professional help if I want to create something I could be proud of publishing.

I completed the first draft of The Undersea Shell Game on Labor Day, September 2nd, 2013.

Then I started to do my homework on how to find an editor.

I stumbled upon this great website.

I had heard about Jane Friedman at Grub Street.

I loosely followed the instructions from the following article:

5 Ways to Find the Right Freelance Book Editor By Stacy Ennis

I didn’t interview past customers and I provided a sample editing test. This is where I found Editorial Free Lancers Association. There is a lot of great info on this site.

On September 23rd I submitted a job listing on the EFA Job List.  It was free as advertised.

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This is the exact job posting:

Editorial Freelancers Association

September 23, 2013

Job # 5513

When responding to job postings, please reply to the client in the manner requested. Please do not use your reply button. If you do, the email will go to the EFA office rather than to the client.

Work Type: substantive editor for technical fiction novel


Looking for help to ready my military fiction novel for submission to a publisher. 381 page rough first draft has been completed. Would prefer an editor in the Boston area but a great fit elsewhere will be considered. I am flexible and willing to make changes that make sense. I view this as a collaborative process. Candidate will be expected to complete an unpaid test on 3 sample pages of work. This will give us both a good idea if we are compatible to work together. Once selected I am happy to enter a contractual agreement. Please do not bid on this work if you have no interest in the US Navy or submarines.

It has been my lifelong dream to write a novel. I have 10 years of experience as an officer in submarines during the period “The Undersea Shell Game” was written. I have been journaling my entire life, have a passion for story telling and am an avid fiction reader. I recently retired from the Navy Reserve as a Captain. I am a Corporate Technology Executive in the financial services. I have an under graduate degree in Marine Engineering, graduate studies in Nuclear Engineering and an MBA.

Location: Boston, Ma

Rate: $ 40 per Hour

Contact Name: John Shea

Contact Company: None

Contact Website: None

Contact Method: -by email


Within a few days I had 25 replies from prospective editors.

One of which was this one:

Dear Mr. Shea: I am the co-author, with Michael DiMercurio, of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Submarines, as well as the former editor-in-chief of The Military Technical Journal. Here’s a link.’s+Guide+submarines

I promise to give your manuscript the tender loving care it deserves. Please send me your test.

I am…

Michael Benson

Mike included his resume that I have removed for privacy purposes.

Then on September 28, 2013 I sent this to all of the editors that had replied to my ad:


I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. I received many more responses to my ad than I had anticipated.  I do most of my writing work on the weekends because I have a rather demanding day job that sometimes has me travelling.  I will do most of my work on the project on weekends.  I would expect whomever I end up engaging for this assignment I will be in contact with during the week, by email, phone or skype. I am flexible to whatever communication means you are most comfortable with.

I am flexible with the story as well.  It is currently set in the north Atlantic in the post cold war year of 1993 with involvement with Russian Submarines smuggling nuclear material into Iraq.  If there is a strong opinion to make the story more current, and change Iraq for North Korea, that is doable. Russia needs to be locked in I think.  I am also open to changing characters names as well.

Attached to this email are the first 5 pages of chapter 2, of my 381 page rough first draft.  I only ask you to edit the first 3 pages. The additional 2 pages are included just to give you a feel for the story. In addition to being grammatically challenged, I know my writing struggles with “voice” and “color and detail” around the characters.  This is where I am looking for the most help.  I think I have cobbled together a good plot and story.

All people bidding on the work are being given the same sample to make the process fair and the comparison easier for me. I expect to review the edits next weekend and will create a short list of editors I will seek to see standard terms and conditions and estimates for the work.  I will let you know either way.  I plan to have an editor chosen and terms agreed upon by the end of the October if not sooner.  I hope to have this document ready to submit to publishing houses by May at the latest.

I appreciate you getting back to me and taking the time to provide sample work.


John L. Shea

20 Editors provided sample work.  5 dropped out.  Mike Benson was selected.  I sent the following note to all that participated on October 8th 2013.

Thank you for your interest in working with me as the editor of my book and taking the time to perform the test edit.  I was amazed by the quality of the work that I reviewed this weekend. Because of the quality of everyone’s work, the decision was extremely difficult, however, after a reviewing the entire set of test edits, one editor had a unique background and experience that nearly perfectly matched my needs that I have engaged.

Thank you again for your interest and the many great tips and pieces of advice.


John Shea

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