Ad Astra Day 2: When an editor is not an editor

Panel: Anne Groell; Max Turner; Michael Matheson; Karen Dales

AG: I’m executive editor at Penguin Random House (A.K.A. Random Penguin) working with high profile clients such as George R.R. Martin and Connie Willis.

MT: Author and freelance editor.

MM: I’m editor for ChiZine’s book imprint and I do some freelance work on the side.

KD: I’m an author, creative writing teacher, and more recently, a freelance editor. What’s the biggest misconception writers have about editors?

AG: People don’t think editors edit anymore. I have to love a book if I take it on. I may read it as many as fifteen times in the editing process. I really have to love it.

MT: Stephen King says in his On Writing that he edits once, and the book is ready. This is not what usually happens for most writers. When I submitted my manuscript, I assumed it would come back heavily marked up with specific direction. This did not happen either. I had submitted a 160k word draft and was told there was an 80k word story hidden in it. I was asked to cut 60k words. The book is the intellectual property of the author. Editors won’t muck around in it. Their aim is to help the author turn the novel into the best book it can be. It’s a very hands off process.

MM: Good editing is completely invisible. There are different types of editing: the substantive, which is global and concerned with structural issues. Does the book work? Then, there’s line editing. This is a closer look at consistencies and story logic. Finally, there is copyediting. At this stage, when large chunks of the text will not be disappearing, errors are covered, line by line.

KD: You have to be careful with self-publishing. With ebooks, unqualified editors make for a poor product. A good freelance editor will ask for a sample of your writing first. They have to like it. You have to be able to trust them with your work.

AG: I’ve sent out 20-35 page editing letters in the past. That’s love.

MT: Are established authors edited as thoroughly as newer authors?

AG: They are if their editor is good.

KD: I know of a New York Times Best Selling Author who’s next book in a series was not picked up by the publisher. She decided to self-publish and did not opt for a qualified editor. The book she self-published was not comparable to the others in the series. (Mel’s note: I think the word actually used was crap.)

AG: If you’re my client, you may not like my solutions, but you have to concede that this particular aspect of your novel isn’t working. We can talk about other solutions, but what isn’t working has to change. Bottom line.

KD: Fact-checking is critical. I edited a SF time-travel novel set in renaissance London. One of the main settings used was the Tower of London. Not all of the building existed at the time. I asked the author to do more thorough research. Then the manuscript was submitted indicating that there were balconies on the White Tower. This was again, not the case. I sent it back a second time. This may be an extreme example, but even he improved and now he’s one of my favourite people to work with.

MM: Do not depend on Wikipedia for your research.

MT: You have to be willing to do as much work on the research as you are willing to work on revisions and rewrites.

MM: Editors are not inviolable. Stick to the heart of your story. Defend it if you need to.

KD: With another book I was working on, the author wanted to send the manuscript to her uncle, who turned out to be Jack Whyte. Jack edited extensively, but he edited to the way he wrote. He threatened the author’s voice. I had to step in and defend her work.

AG: We are champions for our authors.

Q: What is the value of beta readers?

AG: It can be helpful. You have to trust them, though. They have to be objective and they should have some expertise in what you’re writing.

KD: “I like that” is not constructive. The best beta readers are not going to be your family or friends.

MT: Asking your friend to beta-read for you isn’t fair. They feel obliged to like your work.

(Mel’s note: Margaret and Kim, sorry if you feel this way. I do not expect you to feed my vanity. I do trust you and will take direction.)

MM: If you hire an independent editor, never ask them to edit multiple versions of you manuscript. You’ll never earn back what you pay them.

Q: What should an author look for when hiring and independent editor and how much should you expect to pay?

KD: Look for education, a degree in a related field, experience, and ask for references. Most editors will ask for $1.50 to $2 per word or a maximum number of pages.

MM: Some also charge a flat rate.

MT: Get the recommendation of a writer you trust. Every writer has a shelf of “learning novels.” If you read early Bradbury, you can see the difference between that work and his more mature novels.

KD: Trunk novels can be rewritten, though.

Q: As an editor, how do you improve?

AG: Learn to cut. The two Connie Willis novels Black Out and All Clear originally came to my desk as a 300k word draft.

MM: Work as a slush reader or apprentice at a publisher.

KD: Work as an assistant editor.

MM: You learn to establish a collaborative relationship with your authors.

MT: What happens when you establish that relationship and they then hand in crap?

AG: It’s horrible.

And that’s it for the session.

There are only three more sessions for me to transcribe and then I’ll write a wee wrap up piece.

Overall, Ad Astra was well worth the trip. It will probably be one of my staple conventions from here on out.

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Book review of Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris

Once again, this is a bit overdue. I finished reading the first of Roz’s NYN series last month, but my crazy life has run away with me again. I’ve had to pick and choose what I’m posting about.

First, a word about what’s coming up next weekend and how you can take part

Next weekend, on May 3, 2014, the Google Plus community @M2the5th will be holding its second online writing workshop with Roz. We’ll be starting out on Twitter with a Tweet chat and then moving to a Google Plus video call.

I posted previously on starting out with Tweet chats, for those who need a primer.

I’m not an expert with Google Plus video calls yet, but if you have a laptop with a camera and mic built in, or a desktop with an inexpensive camera and mic (I have a combo unit from Microsoft that works wonderfully) and a GooglePlus account, you can join in the fun.

All you have to do in Google Plus to prepare is download the hangout application, which doesn’t take long (depending on your connection speed). I like Google Plus for this kind of thing, because it’s user friendly and fairly intuitive. You don’t have to jump through a bunch of technical hoops to get started.

So if you want to take part, forward your name to either Lori Sailiata, or Amy Pabalan in the Twitter chat. One of them will be wrangling the hangout crowd and sending out invitations to join. Once you’ve received your invitation, simply accept, and your video feed should show up in the filmstrip section at the bottom of the hangout window.

Roz reports that she’s had to use Chrome as her browser for the best result, but I’m using Firefox and I haven’t had any difficulties yet. *seeks wood upon which to knock*

The review

What Amazon says:

Nail Your NovelNail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence

‘This book should be used as a text in writing courses’

‘There are shedloads of books on how to write novels, and a lot of them are longer and considerably less useful’

‘I wish I’d had this book a long time ago’

‘The author has a proven track record as a writer of fiction, as opposed to writers of “how to write” books’

Are you writing a novel? Do you want to make sure you finish? Will you get lost and fizzle out? Will you spend more time reading about how to write than actually getting the words down?

Most books on novel-writing will make you read hundreds of pages about character arcs, inciting incidents, heroes’ journeys. It’s great to know that – but while you’re reading about it you’re not writing your book.

And what these books don’t tell you is how to use this learning and get the job done.

Nail Your Novel is a writing buddy – and mentor – in a book.

In 10 easy steps it will tell you:
*how to shape your big idea and make a novel out of it
*how to do your research and how to use it
*how to organise your time.
*how to plot and build characters
*when you’re going to hit problems and what to do about them
*how to write on the days you don’t feel inspired
*how to reread what you’ve written and polish it.

Along the way, Thumbnail Notes give tutorials about storytelling and storycraft – strictly when you need them. The author has written nearly a dozen novels that have made it into print – and this is how she did it.

You don’t even need to read the whole book before you get started. You read a section, then do as it says. And, once you’re finally satisfied, Nail Your Novel will tell you how to sell it to publishers and agents.

You’ve dreamed of writing a novel. Don’t procrastinate with another theory book. Don’t launch in, get stuck and throw your hard work in a drawer. Nail your novel.

My thoughts:

I’ve been reading writing craft books for years. In fact, one could say that I’m a writing craft book junkie. Yes, the support group will be starting shortly.

My approach in reading these books is to adopt those parts of the writer’s process that make sense to me and my ever-evolving process. I cherry pick, experiment, and incorporate as appropriate.

I would characterize Roz’s approach as organic, that is, her plotting activities arise naturally from the journaling, research, and gestation that most writers will normally engage in as a preparation to actual writing.

Her version of plotting will appeal to the avid pantser and her “gamification,” albeit non-technological, of structuring and plot-fixing activities will motivate even the most spreadsheet-phobic of writers. Having said that, plotting-oriented, or technophile writers will also find lots of tips and tricks to adapt for their use.

The techniques in Nail Your Novel can be used not only from the inception of your novel, but the writer can also engage in the process at later stages of novel writing. Having entered into Roz’s methodology with already drafted novels, I’m working through her beat sheet activity, adapting it to my own use as I prepare for future revision.

Roz even has activities to prepare the writer for querying or self-publication, whichever path the author chooses to pursue.

I’ve also felt validated in several instances as bits and pieces of my existing process appear in slightly different forms throughout Nail Your Novel.

For all the excellent content, Nail Your Novel is also a relatively quick read, well-organized, and easy to understand. Roz gets right to the heart of the matter and encourages reading writers to get their hands dirty, metaphorically speaking.

Her writing style embodies what she asks writers to strive for: clear, informative, and entertaining. Roz doesn’t waste a word.

Roz’s book receives my highest recommendation. It’s on my virtual writer’s shelf beside Ursula K. LeGuin’s, Jane Yolen’s, Donald Maass’s, and K.M. Weiland’s craft writing books and I’m sure I’ll be referring to it often.

My rating:

5 out of 5 stars.

About the author:Roz Morris

Roz Morris has nearly two decades of experience writing novels and helping floundering authors find their way. She is a senior book doctor for a major literary consultancy in London, writes fiction under her own name and has ghostwritten bestselling fiction for high-profile writers with major publishers, including Random House, Puffin, and Mammoth.