My lovely content editor at Red Adept Publishing, Kris James, agreed to be interviewed for the bloggy blog! Kris and I had a really wonderful working relationship. Not only did she spot the flaws in my manuscript and then help me fix them, but she was also encouraging and complimentary. I finished my edits with renewed confidence in my work, which for any newbie writer, is crucial if you’re ever going to write a second book. Also, I’ve learned a lot of what-not-to-do the second time around. Thanks, Kris! And Ms. James is also a published author in two genres. So she’s knows her editing stuff and her writing stuff. I dare you not to learn something valuable here.
You’re a content editor. For those readers who are unfamiliar with the various editing roles, what does a content editor do specifically that a line editor does not?
A content editor deals with all the aspects of storytelling, while a line editor handles the elements of writing. I work with how authors tell their stories, as opposed to the actual words they use to do so. It can be a subtle difference, but I work with ideas and concepts, instead of phrases and punctuation. For example, I’ll tell you to add more setting description, but I won’t tell you which words to use. When you write that description out, I won’t tell you if you have a dangling modifier or if your verb tenses don’t match. (But I’ll notice.) I will tell you that you described the palm trees three times but never mentioned what kind of material made the path under your characters’ feet crunch, and since you mentioned the crunching, it’s going to seem like a worldbuilding point, and readers will be curious about its source–dead leaves, seashells, tiny fish skeletons? I keep your world vivid and harmonious, true to its own logic.
How did you become an editor?
I began at RAP in the Acquisitions department, reading through the slush pile. It was very informative. Only a small percentage of submissions are picked up for publication. Learning which manuscripts were and weren’t projects that would be a good fit for our publishing house, and why, was a big step toward better understanding the tools an editor employs to raise a manuscript’s storytelling to publication standard. I love to read, and I want to enjoy my time inside someone else’s world. My knack for not only seeing weak spots and suggesting fixes, but seeing what isn’t even there yet, helps me help authors tell the best stories they can.
What happens after you first receive a manuscript?
I create a notes page for that specific manuscript from our handy dandy content editing template, which is formatted to address all the major storytelling elements. I consider and comment on the overall health of those elements, even if my report simply states that the author is very good with pacing, or tone, or character arc, and needs no major edits in that area. Reassurance is a good thing–authors need to know what their strong areas are as well as which parts of their storytelling need improvement. Checking the notes page before I begin ensures that I keep all the elements of storytelling in the back of my mind as I read the manuscript, so I can better give the author an accurate assessment of their manuscript’s status and recommend targeted improvements during the editing process.
Do you have any suggestions for authors to facilitate the editing process either on their end or yours?
Since content editing takes place before any other editing services, I get the documents fresh from the authors, as they formatted it. It’s always nice to get a manuscript that’s double-spaced in Times New Roman 12 point, with paragraphs that have first-line indent instead of tabs. Words to be italicized are sometimes submitted as underlined instead–a holdover from older-style submission guidelines that are increasingly discarded by agents and publishers alike, including RAP. And it’s always nice to see smart quotes. Such modern formatting isn’t as common as you’d think. At some point, someone has to go through and change anything that doesn’t meet this list. I’m not a formatter, but I can’t begin to do my job until I can read the document clearly.
What are some common mistakes newbie authors make in their manuscripts?
The most common is simply a lack of experience in getting the images in their heads onto the page in such a way that everything they see (and nothing they don’t) is included in their scenes. Most new authors don’t realize that their description is too thin and/or vague to paint a clear picture for someone who doesn’t already know the story. Only with competent feedback on what’s getting across and what isn’t can an author improve their concept of what details should be shared and what is unnecessary–as in info dumps, a pacing-killer that lurks at the other end of the detail spectrum.
What are some words or phrases writers typically overuse?
That often depends on the author and the tone of the book they’ve written. Usually, it’s an opening word for too many sentences, like “Suddenly,” or a favorite phrase that gets assigned to several characters who all “took a moment to ponder” or “gnawed on his lip,” or some highly noticeable words (petrichor, toxicity, effusive, spongiform, etc–anything unusual to the story) that the author randomly uses often enough that the reader starts noticing them as individual words instead of part of the narrative.
Are there any manuscripts that you’d like to see in your editing queue? Are there tropes you’re tired of seeing?
I love giant fantasy worlds. I’d love to work on a book–a whole series–that had so many lands, I’d start to worry that I’d never get to read about them all. Different cultures, customs, foods, dress, transportation, magics, all of it. My brain runs on planet-sized ideas, so the bigger the story’s world, the happier I am. And I’m never tired of tropes. I love tropes. There’s always a way to change a cliché back into a trope. Some days, it’s my job to do exactly that, and those days, I’m ecstatic.
Do you have any author client from hell stories?
Nope. My clients are all awesome authors eager to learn and improve their craft, and willing to work hard to do it. The only hellish conflict I endure is plot conflict, and I inhale that stuff like chocolate crack. Characters hate me for what I insist the author put them through.
What makes you want to work with an author again?
If they get excited about learning some new trick, rule, or technique that improves their writing skills, I know they’re a keeper. I love the craft, and I love authors who love it, too.
How do you balance your editing job with your own novel writing?
Tag-teaming. My brain does this thing called hyperfocus, which is pure awesome for helping me immerse myself in an author’s world and catch all the little areas where the seams don’t match up. But it does mean I can’t work very well on two projects concurrently. So I edit someone’s novel, then I work on my own–say, I do the outline. Then another author’s novel, then my rough draft. Then another edit, then my second draft, and so on. Compartmentalizing for the win.
Thanks Kris for sharing your expertise! Anyone interested in submitting to Red Adept can check out their submission guidelines here.