Why Do You Need an Editor?

Nabokov said, “My pencils outlast my erasers.”

Writing well means trial and error and learning to master the craft. And that’s an on-going journey. I keep learning new things every year. You’re never “there.” You’re never perfect. And sometimes I think the more I learn, the less I know.

I once read of a famous writer of the past who would simply scribble out his manuscripts on whatever paper surface he might have at hand, give the pile to his editor at the publishing house, and that person made everything come together for lasting, classic fiction works.

That doesn’t happen anymore. Or if it does, it’s rare. As you probably know, publishing houses are now big conglomerates, with the “bean counters” more in charge than the “pencil pushers.” And the editors at these houses are usually underpaid and overworked. I had a young college-age friend who interned at a New York publisher one summer in recent years. She and other interns were in charge of wading through the slush piles. The job was daunting. She (and the interns—mostly volunteer) sent out the rejection form letters. She said there was even a room filled with agented manuscripts, some that had been there as long as a year.

It’s a discouraging picture. And I’m not telling you this to discourage you, but rather to EN-courage you. What this means is that these interns/editors—or whoever might read your manuscript—are looking for any reason to reject it, just to get through that pile faster. You have to be able to overcome those reasons.

So if they aren’t totally engrossed by your first line, first paragraph, or first page, chances are they won’t read any further. If they see typos, spelling errors, bad grammar—chuck it. Strange-looking fonts or lavender-colored paper—it’s out (they read so many, please spare their failing eyesight!) Formatting errors (single instead of double-spaced), no headers, chapters that begin at the top of the page instead of 1/3 down. Seemingly minor things, but…

This is where hiring an independent editor can help. And this is especially true if you are planning to self-publish. I don’t know about you, but after I’ve worked on a manuscript for weeks, months, even years, I become so close to the work that I cannot look at it objectively anymore. You probably know too, that your eye will see a misspelled word or a typo and your brain registers the word that it’s supposed to be.

From the Associated Press, a reminder to always check this word if editing “public” documents:

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. – Ottawa County will pay about $40,000 to correct an embarrassing typo on its Nov. 7 election ballot: The “L” was left out of “public.”

A total of 170,000 ballots will have to be reprinted. The mistake appeared in the text of a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would ban some types of affirmative action.

The word “public” was misspelled one of the six times it appears, county Clerk Daniel C. Krueger said Tuesday. Five or six people in his office had proofread the ballot, but it was an election clerk who found the mistake early last week.

“It’s just one of those words,” Krueger said. “Even after we told people it was in there, they still read over it.”

In the Seattle Times, a story about a new ramp at the ferry terminal explained that it was operated by a “system of wenches.”

And a headline on Google news: “Don Imus says he’s battling stage two prostrate cancer.”

So another pair of eyes can be most helpful. if you want to learn and grow and hopefully be published, you really want someone who is going to tell you the things you need to work on, to make your work stronger, to stand out.

The independent editor will be your friend as a writer – in the way that we all have one friend who tells us things we don’t want to hear and calls us on it when we’re not making sense. You know, the annoying friend. Your editor.

© Heidi M. Thomas

Published in: on February 23, 2011 at 5:33 am  Comments (4)  
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Interview with Barbara Warren, My Wonderful Editor

Barbara Warren, author and owner of Blue Mountain Editorial Service, lives on a farm in the beautiful Ozarks in Missouri with her husband Charles, a herd of cattle and an office cat named Rosicat, who was abandoned at their church when she was just a kitten. Rosicat manages the office. Charles and Barbara do the work. She is a writer, editor, and Sunday school teacher. Her hobbies are reading and raising flowers. Barbara was my editor on both of my novels, Cowgirl Dreams and Follow the Dream, published by Treble Heart Books.

Can you expand on your editing background–how did you get into it? Did you take classes?

No, I didn’t take classes. I belonged to a writer’s group and we critiqued each other’s work. People kept urging me to become an editor, and after a while I took them seriously. I do read a lot of books on writing and have an extensive library of books about writing and editing. I keep studying, wanting to grow so I can do a better job for the writers whose books I edit.

How long have you been editing?

I’ve been editing for twenty years. It’s a job I love and I hope I can keep doing it for many more years.

Do you do most of your work for Treble Heart Books or do you also do freelance editing?

I have my own business, Blue Mountain Editorial Service and am listed on several on-line sites. My clients are both published and non-published, and many of them come through word of mouth. I also get clients from Treble Heart and Lee Emory is great to work with. I’ve met many very good writers through her.

What is your advice for a writer who would like to become an editor?

Study books on writing and editing. Gain experience by editing for fellow writers. Study what is selling, and read books in all genres, not just what you like. When you think you are ready, make sure you have a website. Post your company online in places like Preditors and Editors. List it in books like Sally Stuart’s Christian Market Guide (both are free). Have brochures printed and ask writer friends to give you an endorsement. Hand out brochures and cards every chance you get. Attend writers’ conferences and ask permission to display your brochure. Establish business ethics and live by them. Always do more than you are expected to do. Help your clients any way you can, and always be honest. Don’t tell a client how good he or she is, point out what is good, but also point out the faults and tell the writer how to make the book better.

What are the major mistakes you look for when editing a manuscript?

One big mistake is to tell the story instead of showing it through dialogue and action. It’s the difference between someone telling you what happened yesterday and you being present when it actually happened.

Choose one viewpoint character per scene and show what happens in that scene in that character’s point of view. Let the reader see what that character sees, hears what he hears. Instead of saying Sally was scared. Show Sally frozen in place, every nerve tuned, listening for a footfall.  See the difference?

Let your characters talk natural, the way you and the people you know talk. Don’t have a ‘good old boy’ talk like a college professor. Keep it casual, avoid formal language.

Know your characters. Know how each one would act in a stressful situation. Some people panic. Others withdraw. What will the character you have invented do?

What would you say are the “good” qualities of an acceptable manuscript?

Characters who seem real with believable problems. People read stories to learn about people. Think of your favorite books. Do you remember the plots? I’m betting you remember the characters.

Active writing as opposed to passive. Don’t write “tables were being set up.” Show who is setting up the tables. And avoid writing about ‘the man.’ Name him. If you read in the paper that a man jumped off the bridge you might be interested. If you read that John Walker jumped off the First Street Bridge, you’re more interested. And if you read that John Walker, owner of the local Sonic and the father of four children jumped off the First Street Bridge, then your emotions are engaged.

Always remember your reader. Will the reader understand what you are saying? Will the reader be offended? Are you preaching to the reader or trying to convert him to your point of view? Treat your readers with respect.

At what point should a writer seek an editor?

When you have written, rewritten, and feel you can’t do any more to the manuscript, then you are ready to have someone else look at it. But first do all you can to make it a good manuscript. No point in paying someone else to do what you can do yourself.

What can an independent editor do for an author in preparing her manuscript for submission to a publisher?

A good editor can point out flaws in the story, check for flow, awkward sentences, make sure there are no loose ends, and that it engages the emotions of the reader. An editor can also show proper formatting, help with a synopsis and query letter, and work with the writer to make the manuscript and proposal the best the two of them can make it. A good editor is not in it just for the money. He or she will do everything possible to help the writer polish that manuscript until it shines.

Barbara is also an author. The Gathering Storm, a mystery and her first novel, was released by Jireh Publishers and is available at Amazon and on her web site http://www.barbarawarrenbluemountainedit.com Her agent is Terry Burns with Hartline Literary Agency.

Rewriting a Folktale – Walking Through Walls

By Karen Cioffi

When a writer’s muse seems to be on vacation, she may be at a loss for story ideas. While there are a number of sites and tools online to help get the creative juices flowing, one tool that writers might overlook is studying folktales.

Reading folktales is a great way to spin a new yarn, especially for children’s writing. I recently did a review of a children’s picture book published by Sylvan Dell that was based on an American Indian folktale. This shows they are publishable.

Folktales, also known as tall tales, and folklore, are stories specific to a country or region. They are usually short stories dealing with everyday life that come from oral tradition that is passed from generation to generation. Most often these tales involve animals, heavenly objects, and other non-human entities that possess human characteristics.

There is Mexican folklore, Irish folklore, Chinese folklore, as well as folklore from many other countries that have tales unique to their area. There is also American folklore that encompasses stories from each of the 50 states. There is a huge supply of stories to spin and weave.

In addition to reviewing a couple of published children’s books that were based on folktales, I wrote a children’s fantasy story based on an ancient Chinese tale.

Interestingly, prior to receiving an outline of the tale from a Chinese nonfiction writer I knew from one of my writing groups, I never thought of rewriting folktales. But, once given the outline, I loved the story and the message it presented. The outline itself was very rough and written with an adult as the main character (MC), which is often the case with very old folktales.

After reading the story I knew the MC would need to become a child. I think every children’s writer is aware that children want to read about children, not adults. And, the MC needs to be a couple of years older than the target audience the author is writing for.

Based on this, I decided to make my MC a 12-year-old boy. And, since I liked the ancient Chinese flavor of the story, I kept it and made the story take place in the 16th century China. After this was set, I needed to come up with a title and the MC’s name.

When choosing a title for your book, it’s important to keep it in line with the story and make it something that will be marketable to the age group you’re targeting. I chose Walking Through Walls, and it is scheduled to be available March 2011.

As far as the character’s name, you will need to base it on the time period and geographic location of the story, unless the character is out of his element. Since my story was to take place in China, I used a Chinese name, Wang.

To keep the flavor of your story consistent, you will also need to give it a feeling of authenticity. This will involve some research. How did the people dress during the time of your story? What names were used? What did they eat? What type of work or schooling was available? What locations might you mention? What type of crops and vegetation would be present? What types of homes did they live in? There are many aspects of the story that you will want to make as authentic as possible. And, it does matter, even in fiction stories; it will add richness to your story.

The next time you’re in the library, ask the librarian to show you a few folktales. Then imagine how you might rewrite one or more of them for today’s children’s book market.


Karen Cioffi is an author, ghostwriter, and freelance writer. For writing and marketing information visit (http://karencioffi.com) and sign up for her free newsletter: A Writer’s World. You’ll get 2 free e-books on writing and marketing in the process, and two more free e-books just for stopping by.

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Published in: on February 11, 2011 at 5:15 am  Comments (15)  

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: What I Did on My Vacation

While my husband attended a trade show in Las Vegas, his sister, Marylou, and I played tourist.

Lions napping while their trainers stand (er, sit) by at the MGM Grand.

We even “solved” a crime at the “CSI Experience.”

Fountains dance to music at the Bellagio.

The Rainforest Cafe at the MGM, complete with thunderstorms and animated jungle residents.

Lunch next to this colorful fish tank at the Rainforest Cafe

A beautiful but deadly jellyfish at the aquarium in Madalay Bay

After Las Vegas, we drove to AZ, where we visited downtown Prescott.

The Jersey Lilly Saloon on “Whiskey Row,” Prescott AZ. In my next books, I write about the Jersey Lilly in Ingomar, MT, where my grandparents lived during the 1940s and ’50s.

Published in: on February 3, 2011 at 12:32 am  Comments (2)  
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