Ad Astra 2016, day 1: The relationship between self-publishers and editors

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that needs correction or clarification, please let me know and I’ll fix it post-hasty.

Panellists: Rob Howell, Jennifer Jaquith, Charlotte Ashley, Beverly Bambury (moderator), Vanessa Ricci-Thode


VRT: There are three types of editing: the substantive edit, line editing, and copy editing. The substantive edit is also called a comprehensive edit, or a structural edit. It’s big picture stuff. Does the story make sense, is it compelling, are characters distinct, are story events consistent, are there too many or too few characters? Line editing looks at the story on a paragraph/sentence level. Given your style/voice, is each sentence written well, does each paragraph make sense, do your transitions flow? Copy editing is the nitty, gritty stuff: spelling, punctuation, and so on. There are places where the various editing tasks might overlap. In doing a line edit, some spelling and punctuation might be addressed.

RH: My editor works with me in stages. She’ll address global concerns first, then move on to more detailed editing. My mom’s a professional copy editor, so I have that covered.

BB: I don’t work with a self-publisher who hasn’t had at least one professional edit done on their book. What are the common issues editors see?

JJ: I have a list of hit words. Seems, felt, just, started to, etc.

CA: People who come to me at the wrong stage are a challenge. I love writers who come to be expecting the cost and work involved. Writing is a process of drafting and resting, but some people are on deadlines and they can’t do that.

NRT: Writers make the same mistakes over and over. Mixing tenses, head-hopping, showing versus telling. If you enter into a relationship with your editor, we get to know your particular weaknesses and look out for them.

BB: I look for the crutch words . . . actually, as I see it. Filler words that don’t really add anything to the work.

RH: I am guilty of overusing the shrug. I use it a lot. My editor points it out so I can fix it. You need an editor who can see your faults.

BB: How did your relationship with your editor evolve?

RH: When I was writing academically, I had my ego knocked out through editing. We’d debate the amount of white space on the page.

BB: Editors, how is it from your perspective?

VRT: I use beta readers for structural editing, but otherwise, I depend on my editor.

CA: I write short stories. You don’t get edited until the story is accepted for publication.

JJ: I’m a possessive writer. In technical writing, you hand everything over to the editor. I don’t argue and nine times out of ten, I’ll make the requested changes. Sometimes I don’t know how to improve the piece.

BB: I wrote a piece for Dirge. A friend of mine turned out to be a sexual predator. It was very internal. The editors helped me turn it into a personal essay. You have to trust the process.

CA: I write a lot of non-fiction as well. I once wrote a book review and the editors cut it up. I didn’t know until I saw it in print and at the time, I thought they hadn’t liked it. It turns out it was a matter of the space they had to devote to the review.

RH: If you’re a writer, the most terrifying moment is when you have to send your work off. I know I have someone on my side. It’s still terrifying, but it’s better.

BB: Do you have a success story you’d like to share? What constitutes a successful relationship?

RH: I’m the driver of the race car, the jockey on the horse, what have you. We all do our parts, everything comes together, I read the manuscript one last time, and if I think “I like this,” it’s a job well done.

JJ: You have to understand that the editor wants to like your work. They want to make it better. You have to be open to questions and discussions. You have to make a connection.

CA: A successful client is one who comes back to me. Some don’t come back, or they come back years later and say “you were right.”

VRT: Authors who come back, who are happy with the results, who are willing to do the work.

BB: The editor is rooting for the writer. Everyone needs an editor.

Q: How much time does a substantive edit take?

VRT: It varies, but I can review an 80 to 100 thousand word manuscript in 30 to 40 hours. Sometimes I might recommend a manuscript evaluation. It’s focused on overall strengths and weaknesses.

RH: Scheduling is important. I create a schedule so I can produce consistently. I try to write three books a year. My business model works because I produce. I have 2016 all planned out.

BB: That’s a good point. How far in advance should a writer make contact with the editor?

AC: I like two months lead time.

Q: What’s better proofreading or beta readers? And if you have betas, do you still need a developmental editor?

CA: An editor will be able to tell if your work needs a developmental edit.

VRT: A good editor will be honest.

RH: I chose my beta readers for specific reasons. I have a friend in martial arts who looks specifically at my fight scenes. I have a horse person who looks at logistics and whether I’m treating my fictional horses right or not.

Q: When you’re doing a developmental edit and you hate the story, what do you say?

VRT: I can tell the author that I’m not the right editor for this piece. I’m a member of the Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC) and we make referrals to one another.

CA: When someone says to me they’ve sent the manuscript to 500 agents and 1000 publishers and nobody wants to take it on, I know I have to be cruel to be kind. An editor can’t sell your novel for you.

JJ: I can’t edit horror. I can’t sleep.

CA: There are some issues I can’t handle in a manuscript. Racism or sexism is a definite “no” for me.

BB: As a publicist, I see some things that bother me. People of colour who are stereotypes, pedophilia.

Q: How do you generate a client list?

VRT: I work through the EAC and referrals mostly, but I get some clients through social media and networking.

RH: I have an embarrassing story for you. My editor Kelly and I have known each other forever through the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). The first two editors fell through and only after I was working with the third and had my first book out did I find out that Kelly was an editor.

CA: I get most of my clients through word of mouth.

Q: How much should I expect to spend?

CA: A substantive edit usually runs about $2000. Proofreading can be $300. Expect to spend between $500 and $1000 on average.

And that was time.

Next week, one of my favourite sessions from this year’s Ad Astra: The influence of Shakespeare on  science fiction and fantasy.