Interview with an Editor Part III
A while back I was reading a really great book. I won’t mention the name of the book because it was terrible.
I loved reading that terribly great book because I wanted to support the author. He was very young and this was the first book he had written. I love it when someone steps out and writes a book and the thought of a young person writing a book is just awesome! I loved reading that book.
I wish, however, he had used an editor. Actually, maybe he had used one. If so, I wish he had listened to his editor. The book could have been great.
This is the third post in this series called, “Interview with an Editor.” Make sure you check out the first two interviews with Eric Shay Howard and Deborah A. Bowman. I sincerely hope that you find these interviews helpful and that they are exposing you to the value, place and benefit of a good editor.
Today I’m interviewing B. N. Harrison. Brittany is an editor, author and ghost writer extraordinaire. I’ve had the privilege of interacting with Brittany through email a fair amount. I’ve also read some of her work. She is someone who balances a love of the details with a quick wit. I think that’s a great mix for an editor.
I have also seen a manuscript that Brittany edited. I could see in her notes and comments that she pushed hard for consistency in story-flow as well as proper grammar and more!
You can find out a lot about Brittany (including a link to her book and essays and more) on the following site: about.me/bnharrison.
But let’s get to the interview!
1. What are the most common grammar/story-line/character issues you catch as you edit a book?
Lately, I find myself reading more and more manuscripts with MAJOR style and formatting issues. That probably doesn’t sound very important, but, I cannot emphasize this enough, it is crucial that your book looks like a book when I open the file. That means you’ve got all the boring stuff down cold: you don’t run multiple lines of dialogue from different speakers into the same paragraph, you start new paragraphs when the speaker or actor changes, your paragraphs in general are a reasonable length, you capitalize words properly, you know the difference between a sentence and a run-on sentence. If you’re not expert in all these style issues, then no one will ever take your story seriously. A potential agent or editor will glance at your very first page and drop your manuscript on the “Nope” pile without reading a word. Your independently hired editor/proofreader will heave a long, weary sigh, realizing that they’re about to spend the entire contract period correcting the same basic issues over and over again on every page, which makes it more difficult to focus on the story and the characters.
Generally speaking, people who are avid readers–as all writers should be–internalize these rules and reproduce them fairly effortlessly. But if that sort of thing comes less easily to you, for whatever reason, then hire someone to do proofreading ONLY before you seek professional feedback on the story itself.
Also: show, don’t tell. It’s a cliche for a reason. Google the term, read examples, figure it out. Do that BEFORE I have to write “show don’t tell” 300 times in my track notes on your manuscript.
2. As an editor, if you could give one piece of advice to a new author, what would it be?
Read everything. Read even more than you write. Read terrible writing, read brilliant writing, pay attention to the language in advertisements and flyers and billboards and the dialogue on TV. Pay attention to how the people around you speak. Eavesdrop (discreetly) on conversations between strangers on the bus. You’ll use all of it.
3. As an editor, if you could give one piece of advice to a seasoned author, what would it be?
Chill out, slow down, and enjoy the process. The holy grail of being a writer is finding the story you need to tell and learning how to tell it well. There’s no other reason to be a writer unless you feel that way about what you’re doing.
4. As an editor, what advice would you give to an author when it comes to receiving feedback from an editor?
Let your editor’s comments be a source of inspiration and energy to you. Negative feedback can be crushing, but only let it crush you temporarily. Vent about it to a friend, take a shower, then get back to work. Make up your mind that critical feedback is your big chance to get it right this time. Get excited about that chance. After all, how many second chances do we get in life, generally?
5. As an editor, what kind of questions do authors ask that let you know they are really looking for your input?
It’s more about general attitude than it is about specific questions, but when someone tells me “I am willing to do whatever it takes to make this story better”, that’s when I take the gloves off and stop the clock. Did you hire me for 3 hours? Chances are I’m going to work for 10 hours and bill you for 3. If you’re genuinely that committed, I’ll give you everything I’ve got.
6. Is there a question you wish authors would ask you and what’s the answer to it?
Yes. “Can you glance at my manuscript and tell me if this is ready for editing?” If you ask me this question, I will look at your manuscript and give you an answer for no charge.
I, or any professional, can read a sentence, a paragraph, or at most the first page of your story, and have a fairly good idea whether or not NOW is the time for you to be spending your hard-earned money on an editor. Ideally, hiring an editor should be the last step in your process, after you’ve already written a draft, made everyone you know read the draft, polished the draft based on the feedback you’ve received, and made everyone read it again. Unless you just happen to have enough disposable income to pay an editor to essentially be your creative writing teacher, you shouldn’t bring them into the process in until you and your beta readers are at least 80% certain that you’re ready to start approaching agents and publishers, or uploading to Kindle, or publishing in any form. You’ll get the most mileage out of my services if you’re bringing me your absolute strongest work.
So again, let me share some info about B. N. Harrison. You can check out her book or essays or contact her through the following link: about.me/bnharrison.
I hope you have found these three interviews to be helpful for you. I have been so encouraged by my interaction with each of these editors.