Interview with my editor

Although I’ve been writing erotic fiction for roughly 11 years now, having an editor is a thing for me.  I first worked with an editor when I wrote for Carnal Nation.  I first thought to work with an editor for my fiction after Carnal Nation shuttered its doors.  I tried a few people, but I never found the right person.

A friend of mine offered to look at a story of mine last year.  I sent it over to her, and thus began my professional relationship with Jessica Augustsson.  Over the past year, I’ve really seen the quality of my work go up.  We’ve worked together on (if I haven’t lost count, and I think I may have) 5 short stories, and she is now editing as I work on my novel.  She is my go-to reader, and I can offer no higher praise than to say that I credit my recent acceptances in no small part to her editorial eye.  I’ve also learned what some of my “usual suspect” faults are as a writer, and now when I edit my own work, I have a sharper eye for those faults.

Worth noting-my blog is very much a first draft/off the cuff writing, so don’t blame any of my faults on the blog here on her!

I thought it would be fun to ask her some questions and publish her answers on the blog.  I know many of my readers are also writers, so you may find her answers enlightening.

pith_helmet_2Holder of the metaphorical red pen…

1-How did you become interested in editing?

Oh, gosh. I don’t know really. I think maybe there is something in the things we love to do that emerge even at an early age? I have distinct memories of my grandfather teaching me to read using magnetic letters on an old coal-burning stove we had in our house when I was a kid. Throughout school and well into college, I always enjoyed my English classes, both the literature aspect AND the grammar aspect, but never had an inkling of what kind of career one should have with an English degree. So even though they were the classes I loved the most, I sort of pushed the idea aside. I was focusing on political science, particularly international politics, which is a bit ironic too, I suppose. 🙂 And then out of necessity, once I was living and attending university in Sweden, I needed a way to earn extra money. Well, the English department had a deal with the business school, and some of us English students would edit their business theses. The pay was pretty low, but it was at a time when every little bit helps, and I really sort of enjoyed it, even though the subjects might not have been all that riveting. (I have a LOT of semi-useless knowledge about Sweden’s wood pulp industry now, and how a recent name change did NOT go over well in France! *grin*)

Then, off and on, I did some editing and translating for some software companies through people my husband knew. Then finally after finishing my Master’s, I became a technical writer and editor for a software company in 1999. After about seven years with them, I worked for a company that assigns projects to freelancers for just under a year before going out on my own. I learned some really valuable things while working for them, such as what sorts of texts people tend to want editing for, what various publishers expect, and the large and small differences between different English speaking countries’ general editing rules, as well as a few different diplomacy tools for working with a variety of clients. However, these sorts of companies that farm out projects take an extremely large chunk of the fee, and it was just unsustainable for me in the long run, as far as living expenses and such, to continue working for them.  Fortunately, when I took the leap of going out on my own, a few of the clients I’d asked about giving me possible references decided to come with me.

So my way of becoming a copyeditor was perhaps not the typical track. I’m not really aware of how things might be for those who worked directly for publishing companies or newspapers.  I do know many companies like to have lists of freelancers who’ve proven reliable, and through word of mouth, I’ve managed to get myself added to a couple of those lists.  But that channel of work doesn’t provide much, so self-advertisement is still key for freelancers.

2-What sorts of things do you edit?

Hmm… I really think it might be easier to say what I _haven’t_ edited. 🙂

I really enjoy my work because the variety is so…er…varied! From medical and scientific journal articles to museum leaflets to erotic and science fiction short stories to full-length fiction and non-fiction manuscripts. I’ve even helped ghost-write a novel and some short stories.

3-When an author sends you a piece, what is your process?

I always offer a sample edit, so usually that’s the first thing I do. I find this gives me a chance to see what level of editing might be needed (and gear my fee and time allotment accordingly), and gives the potential client a chance to see what kind of edit they’re going to get in return. That way, if they just don’t feel like we’re going to mesh, they can decide not to hire me. That’s usually fine by me, as sometimes it can be more work to discuss disagreements than it is to simply edit a document. (This sounds really awful, doesn’t it? Basically, I try to offer suggestions to improve grammar, flow, clarity, etc., and if a client decides not to go along with that suggestion, that’s obviously up to them. But I’ve had clients try to explain to me with each and every item why their way is better and want to know in detail why I made the suggestion I made. (Which, by the way, I have no problem with explaining, but in one case the client asked this repeatedly for weeks for everything I edited and it ended up being such a time and mental energy suck.)) In any case, I like to give people the view of what to expect up front, so they can make a determination as to whether they’d like to use my services. Based on comments on my website, you can see that most people are pretty happy. 🙂

Anyway, after that, I’ve found with shorter works, I edit them, just using the first-time reader eyes to inspire thoughts and questions as I go through, which can help point out places that need clarification, etc. Then I send the work back to the author and they can look through, make changes if they like, and send it back, as I always include a quick second read-through in my fees. This is because I know writing and polishing that writing is a process and not just a one-time fix-it-and-it’s-done deal. Sometimes when we change things, other little errors can creep in, too, without us realizing it, so I always try to keep an eye out for those in the second read-through.

For longer works, I usually do basically the same process as above, but on a chapter-by-chapter or section-by-section basis. I used to do the whole thing before replying, but I found through the years that if only a short section is edited at a time, this gives the author a chance to see the comments in say the first chapter, notice this is something they have a problem with throughout the novel, and they can fix the second chapter before sending it to me for the first edit. This gives them a better edit, since I’m not only highlighting the same thing throughout, and helps them develop their writing skills at the same time.

4-I’m sure every author (me included) fantasizes about getting back a piece with the “perfect! No errors!” back from their editor. Does that ever happen?

🙂  No, I’m afraid not. Not even on my own writing! Fresh eyes will always find something. I have a couple of people I trust to edit my own work, but for real story submissions and things like that, I’m never going to send out my work unlooked at by someone else. No matter how good a writer you are, how excellent your grammar skills, there will always be a typo, a reference error, a subject-verb disagreement due to having changed a sentence somewhere along the line. Plus, when we write, we’re trying to get mental images down into words on paper (or the computer screen). When we do this, a lot of material gets left in our heads. We see it clearly because we know what’s going on. But someone else who reads it won’t have all the data you have, and so a lot of my red marks in stories have to do with that–helping the author complete the picture on paper so it matches as closely as possible the one in their heads.

5-How do you balance yelling an author where their work needs help/clarification/etc and not making them cry. I ask because your comments always motivate rather than deflate me.

Diplomacy definitely turned out to be a lot bigger part of my job than I’d first imagined. But there has to be this understanding that people’s writing work, whether it’s a story or a PhD thesis, is their baby. And here I am slashing it up and sending it back to them as a big red, blobby mess. The important thing to do is much of what psychology teaches. You don’t tell somebody that they did something _wrong_ or that they wrote badly. Writing is so subjective anyway. So instead of merely saying something is unclear, for example, I will try to also add a suggestion or a question showing what kinds of questions the part that’s unclear is prompting in my head.

6-Do you have any advice you wish authors could hear before they send you their work?

That a quality edit is going to take longer to edit than they think. Time and time again I’ve had people send me really long theses that are due the next Monday or full-length manuscripts that they think should be ready for publication in a month. As a substantive editor, I know it’s going to take longer than that for even the absolute best of writers–and no, it’s not _just_ because I’m slow. 🙂

The other thing which is tied back to the previous thing is that many authors think that they just hand their manuscripts over to me and I hand them back a ready-to-publish copy–that I’m going to “fix it” and all will be done and pristine. People need to understand that the editing process is a back and forth thing. It’s going to require just as much work (or more) from them as it is from me before they have a publishable copy of anything. This is also why it takes a long time.

Then it would be nice if they also knew that once an agency or publisher has accepted their work, they will likely run it through another editing stage. This does not mean they have wasted their money on me. What I do is substantive editing, and what the in-house editor does is final editing that prepares it for publication by going through and generally polishing, fixing formatting, and some mild line editing and typo corrections–yes, those are going to creep in too. Even the best of us are human. I help people get their foot in the door as best I can. But there will almost always be a bit more editing to come. Writing’s a looooong process.

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