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Interview with an Editor: Part 2

March 27th 2014

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.

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Interview with an Editor

March 24th 2014

Cassie Cox is an editor at Red Adept Publishing and graciously agreed to be interviewed for the blog! Check out Cassie’s suggestions on how to make the first five pages of a manuscript really stand out and what manuscripts she’s hoping to find in her editing queue.

What are your editing roles at Red Adept?

I line edit, content edit, and proofread.

What happens after you first receive a manuscript?

I run a count of every word in the MS by frequency, so I can see if there are any words that are overused.

Do you have any suggestions for authors to facilitate the editing process either on their end or yours?

I always appreciate it when authors double-space their books. I have worked on many single-spaced books–there’s nothing wrong with it–but double-space is much easier on my eyes. Other things that help… Letting me know which editing techniques you like or really hate is good. For example, if you hate starting a line with “He said…” then tell me that so I don’t insert things you’re going to reject offhand. Similarly, if you love when an editor leaves you comments like “Oh my god, I knew it! I knew she was going to buy a puggle!” then tell me that too. I err toward professional in my communications with authors, but I’ve found most authors prefer an editor who interacts with them as a person, not just as a client.

What are some common mistakes newbie authors make in their manuscripts?

Obviously new authors have a tendency to mess up some rules about punctuation and grammar. But more important mistakes are descriptions. New authors frequently data dump. For example, they’ll introduce a character with a paragraph or two of descriptions. They’ll tell me what the character looks like, including their clothes, and possibly what kind of car they drive. They’ll tell me that their character is in a house and describe the rooms down to the doily on the mantle. This kind of writing tends to lose a reader because people generally don’t absorb information well in large chunks. I also find that a lot of those descriptions just aren’t necessary at all. If the character is unimportant to the overall story and development of the main character, then we don’t ever need to know that she has a rose tattoo on her left buttock.

What are some words or phrases writers typically overuse?

This just depends on the author. If an author thinks they’re using a word too often, the Find tool is their best friend.

What do you suggest authors do to make their first five pages really stand out?

Avoid data dumps. Don’t tell me what’s going on in your book, SHOW me. Hit the ground running with action. I don’t mean shoot ‘em up action (unless that’s your thing) but show me people talking and doing things. Watching your characters do something as simple as go to Starbucks for a cup of coffee is almost certainly going to be more interesting than reading paragraphs of background information.

Are there any manuscripts that you’d like to see in your editing queue that you’re not currently seeing? Are there tropes you’re tired of seeing as well?

I’m actually really interested in getting some LGBT books. I’m a big fan of romance (which is why I edit so much erotica) and I’d love to see some less-conventional romances. Also, anything to do with Shakespeare. It doesn’t have to be an LGBT Shakespeare book. Though that would cool.

Do you have any author/client from hell stories?

Not answering. Sorry!

What makes you want to work with an author again?

I love when an author plays back with me. If I leave a comment like, “Hey, I love country music too!” and they respond “Well who doesn’t?” then that makes me feel like we’re getting to know each other as people. I also like when an author gives me feedback about what they like/don’t like about my work. I’ll also want to work with an author again if I really loved their book, especially if it’s a series of books.

What made you decide to become an editor?

I stumbled into editing. A friend of mine asked me to work on her book, and I did. I loved it so much that I found a job doing it. I’ve been editing ever since.

What qualities make up a good editor?

The drive to learn is important. I’m still learning new things about punctuation and grammar and spelling, and I think I probably always will. I love that about my job. I’m also always learning from the books I work on.

Patience and attention to detail. Sitting in front of a computer for hours on end, combing through someone’s book for errors and things you can make better can be tedious if you don’t enjoy it.

Ability to self-monitor and meet deadlines. Deadlines are really important in this business. Authors frequently tell their fans what the release date of the next book is, and the book may go through several more hands after I’m done. If I’m a couple days late, that throws off the entire schedule. No one breathes down my neck about getting my work done, so I have to be the one to impose daily quotas and make myself stick to them.

Thank you so much, Cassie, for taking the time out of your busy editing schedule to share your thoughts on editing and writing. We authors are always taking notes.

Cassie is a hard-core Shakespeare geek with too many cats. She has spent most of the last three years working as an editor and homemaker, and she hopes to one day be as cool as Abby Sciuto.

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