Dear Author: Deciding on a Voice

by | Dec 15, 2011

by David Carr

David Carr is a book editor from the San Francisco Bay Area here in California. His last article for TheBookDesigner was A Book Editor Speaks: The Challenge of the First Chapters. Today he turns to the letters freelance editors send in response to writers’ queries for a lesson on “voice.”

Joel asked me to write about “Finding your own voice.” I’ll get to that, but here’s a piece about what “voice” means.

  • “Thank you for your interest in my editorial support. Please send a sample chapter. After my perusal, we can schedule your free 20 minute consultation, after which you can decide how to proceed.”
  • “With more than twenty-five years working in the field of publishing as a freelance editor and acquisitions consultant for Volcano Press, it is a pleasure to offer my considered opinion about your manuscript. Please submit the first and the most challenging chapters, double spaced Times New Roman, for evaluation of your potential as my client. Include remittance of $250, which will be refunded within 30 days if I feel your work is beyond resuscitation. Any submissions which do not meet specifications listed here will be summarily trashed.”
  • “I’m an editor, see. So I know how to get it right. OK, you want help? Then listen up, ears perked so I know I’m not wasting my breath, gottit?”
  • “I really appreciate your willingness to submit your heart-felt labor for my humble advice on how to improve your manuscript. With twenty-five years experience, I am very aware of the sensitivity of the author-editor relationship. I want you to feel that you can say anything to me about the quality of my work, as well as express your concerns about the ease of communication between us. I am here to serve my clients by bringing their subtlest concepts to polished perfection.”
  • “I’m the wrong editor for your genre.”
  • “Thanks for trusting me with your writing. I can see the value of your idea, and I have a number of suggestions for how to clarify the issues and the structure. I can also make some stylistic suggestions that will improve readability for your specific audience. I’m happy to point you in the right direction and support you in moving forward through the process. I can suggest a colleague who may be available to undertake the full editing process, if you feel that will support you most fruitfully.”
  • “The last writer who mistook himself for an author got a DUI after reading my evaluation. If you still want to move forward, pop a check in the mail and my assistant will put you in the scheduling queue.”

The Point

Some of these turn you off, some invite you forward, some are intended to insult. They demonstrate how different “voices” convey the relationship the writer wants to establish with the reader. Each has its own mood and intention.

Before you begin writing, besides knowing your content, consider what voice will carry it most effectively. Different voices can attract different audiences, so it is important to consider the people you want to reach with your message.

In fiction, giving different voices to different characters is an efficient and intriguing way to convey their relationship, and inform the reader about the psychological structure and socioeconomic background of the characters—without describing details of clothing, setting, etc.

The readers will draw on their own life experiences to understand what the characters are bringing to their adventure. When you read, don’t you want to be drawn into the story personally? That’s one tool for achieving it.

Until next time, delight in the process.

David-Carr-editorDavid Colin Carr ( has been editing fiction and non-fiction since 1988 with writers as far flung as China and Thailand, as well as with doctoral students in the Bay Area and New York. He works collaboratively with clients to activate their passion and vision – with clarity, coherence, and in their distinctive voice. David is dedicated to projects that value, expand, and connect our human hearts – offering his own heart, counseling experience, and creativity to bring forth the brilliance of both the writing and the collaborative relationship. He is associate editor with Volcano Press.

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  1. brianna long

    i think i just ate a real fly wait you herd me wait a minute stuffed animals cant talk

  2. Joel Friedlander

    I agree with Billy about the way to format work that will be going into an editing process, and I even do this with my own writing when it comes time to edit. As you might have guessed, I’ve written about this several times, most recently this summer in:

    My Monospaced Life

  3. Billy

    I would be wary of any editor who demands that you submit your manuscript in any proportionally spaced font.

    • David Colin Carr

      Besides the piece being presented to bring a giggle to the intimidating process of hiring an editor, Billy, I’m curious what your reasoning is behind the standard I see in the publishing world. Proportional spacing is very easy on the reader’s eye. It’s also what our modern computer-glued eyes are used to.
      What makes me crazy as an editor is working on fully justified margins. Every time I make a change, every character on the screen shifts position. When I type fast, the speed of the dancing characters makes me nauseous.

      • Billy

        Proportionally spaced fonts hide formatting mistakes. I know this from experience. They do look better than any monospaced font, but they hide formatting errors. It is better, in my opinion, to work with a monospace font, such as a member of the Courier family or even Monaco if you prefer a sans serif font, and then convert the MS to a proportional font after the editing is complete.

        I also suggest that an author leave the page layout work to a professional who specializes in that art. Were I a professional copy editor, I would require all manuscripts submitted to me be in a monospaced font, fully double spaced, and left justified only. This was the old way of doing things, but it is still just as valid today as it was when everything published was aimed at print on paper.

        • David Colin Carr

          Thanks for clarifying, Billy. On book designers – I totally agree. On formatting problems not being visible, as an editor I always work in MS Word with formatting marks visible. In Word 2003, Tools/Options then down to second block “Formatting Marks”: check ALL. This will show double spaces when you want single, paragraphs at the end of a line which should wrap to next line, etc. I’ve just installed Word 2010 and haven’t faced the challenge of locating formatting marks yet.

          • Billy

            I work in LibreOffice Writer. It has an option to show all non-printing characters and I do work with that feature set to on. I just wish that everyone else would do the same and in LibreOffice, you need merely to click one button to do that. Still, it is very difficult for most people to pick out all of those little grey marks in Word or LibreOffice or OpenOffice while using proportionally spaced fonts. Believe me, i have plenty of reason for making this assertion.

            While working with an author’s group, I have edited several hundred thousands of words, and I have run into an enormous number of formatting errors for the very reason that everyone likes and is wont to use the proportionally spaced fonts, but none of them can actually do a good job of eliminating formatting errors while using them. Just try it. You will then see that I am telling the truth. Editing while using a monospaced font is much simpler than trying to do the same work using a proportionally spaced font.

            Oh, and everyone’s favourite font seems to be Times New Roman. It is the worst of the lot when it comes to stashing formatting mistakes out of sight. Take my word for it and try Courier New or Courier 10 Pitch. The difference will be breathtaking.

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