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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