A while ago I got into conversation with an academic editor called Helen Stevens (@HelenSaltEdit) on Twitter. I’d been posting photos of Saltaire – the village where we live in Yorkshire – and we found we had a lot in common. We decided to meet IRL (or “in real life” – I’m down with the terminology :) ) and Helen suggested a local café. That’s when we discovered we have even more in common than we thought …we actually live on the same street! I could have leaned out of my window and called up the road. The wonders of Twitter!
Last week Helen asked if I would give a talk to the northern branch of The Society for Editors and Proofreaders about my experience as an author on the receiving end of editing, and about how I began editing romance novels myself. Which leads me on to my news:- if you’ve followed my blog for a while you might have noticed (at least, I hope you’ve noticed!) that I’ve updated the design. Besides revamping the site, I’ve also made another major change. I have a page listing my books, but now I’ve added another page listing my services as an editor of romance and women’s fiction.
So, last Friday I put on my editor’s hat to meet up with members of the SfEP in the lovely Café in to the Opera on the top floor of Salt’s Mill in Saltaire. Here I gave a short talk about having my own books edited, and how I got into editing.
Here is the gist of my talk:
I wrote my first novel after joining the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. Writers who join the scheme are invited to submit a manuscript for appraisal by an experienced author. This was my first experience of “developmental editing”. I received a six-page critique of my story. My reader’s main piece of advice was to strengthen the romantic conflict that is essential in a romance novel. She also outlined other areas where she felt the story could be improved, in particular the hero’s motivation. I duly rewrote my book, following my reader’s advice, and the next time I submitted the manuscript I was told it was now ready for submission to a publisher. Hooray!
So, my first book – The Silk Romance – was accepted for publication in 2012. In those days I knew nothing at all about the
publishing industry and I had absolutely no idea what was to follow. In retrospect I was very lucky with my first publisher. I was told my book would go through two rounds of edits. The first round would concentrate on areas such as repetition, style, consistency, etc. Once I’d made any necessary revisions, the second round would be a final proofread.
The main thing I learned from my first editor was that I overuse exclamation marks in a big way!!! My editor did a count up and I was forced to admit they were ridiculously excessive! :) I also learned about “head-hopping”. I was changing the point of view between hero and heroine far too often and in a confusing and random fashion. This involved an extensive rewrite. (I have taken that lesson to heart and since then I’ve written several posts and articles on keeping POV consistent. Please check this one out for further detail on “head-hopping”.)
After being with this Canadian publisher, I then had my next novel published by a publisher here in the UK. My experience with their editing wasn’t so good. I’m quite a meticulous writer . One of the things I get praised for – even as agents are rejecting my book :) – is that my copy is very “clean”. It was really upsetting, then, to find that my book was released with errors in it, and that I had no control over recalling and redoing the files. Busy editors perhaps don’t realise just how precious a manuscript is to the author. It took me an entire year to write that book, and it’s heart-breaking to know that it has been released into the hands of readers with mistakes in that could easily have been rectified.
Through having my own manuscripts edited I’ve learned an enormous amount about what makes a really good romance novel. My experiences on the receiving end of editing were an excellent starting-point for getting into editing myself.
Over the five years since my first book was accepted I’ve made many friends and joined several author groups. (Writers – and romance authors in particular – are renowned for the support they show one another and the generous way they share information.) It was through one of these groups that I became part of an anthology of short stories. This was my very first experience of editing another author’s work. Each of us in the anthology sent her story to two of the others, and in this way each story had two editors. My edits must have been helpful because the author who was organising the collection began to ask me to edit more and more of the stories, to help make decisions on which stories should be accepted, and eventually to proofread the entire collection. I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed this process. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you have helped polish a story and made it the best it can possibly be.
After this experience, one or two romance authors got in touch, offering to pay me to edit their stories, and I began to take on more and more work from writers wanting to self-publish.
Last year I went to an event organised by the Society of Authors in Manchester. Here I listened to a talk given by Richard Sheehan (@RichardMSheehan), who is a member of the SfEP. Richard talked about how he’d got into editing after being made redundant from his job. He spent his redundancy money on some courses with the SfEP. Now he works full time as an editor, mainly of sci-fi and fantasy novels.
I decided to follow in Richard’s footsteps. I’ve now taken three courses with the SfEP, on proofreading, copy-editing, and editing fiction.
Here are some things I’ve learned since I began editing for other authors:
- Not everyone can write, so it’s important to do a sample edit first. There are some writers whose manuscript just can’t be edited into shape, and even extensive rewriting just isn’t going to make the story publishable. Don’t make the mistake of committing to copy-edit an entire book until you’ve established whether it’s worth the time involved (to both parties).
- As a fiction editor, it’s best to stick to editing the genres you know. I read a lot of romance and women’s fiction – both because I love these genres, and so that I can stay abreast of trends in the market. I do love to read other genres, but I’m not as familiar with them. I mention this because I once edited a dystopian short story about zombies. About six months afterwards I read Warm Bodies, which is a dystopian novel about zombies. I realised the author whose work I’d edited had copied a lot of her ideas from this book. Because I read so much romance, and because I’m in the Romantic Novelists’ Association, I’m more aware of what books are coming out in this genre, and whether an idea is fresh or not.
- I find the best editing work comes from networking. Also, do the best job you can with every author, and your reputation will spread.
- I have to think very hard about what work I can take on. I have my own writing. No matter how tempting it is to accept every manuscript offered, it would be a mistake to take on too much and risk letting an author down over a deadline.
I’m excited about taking this step into editing. When you collaborate with a writer you both have the same goal – to make the manuscript the best it can be.
If you are a writer of romance and are looking for an editor, please do get in touch via my contact page. I’d love to discuss your novel with you.
It was lovely to meet other members of the SfEP last week. I hope you enjoyed my post!
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If you’re a writer, what experiences have you had with editing – good, or bad? If you’re a fiction editor, what has your experience been working with authors?
And if you’re a reader, do you notice when a book has been poorly edited? Does it make you put that book down, or are you able to ignore the errors and enjoy the story?
If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!