About a month ago I was approached by a fellow writer to participate in a roundtable discussion about editors. The author championing the discussion, Jan, didn’t set any rules. She wanted an “open, anything goes” talk. Her only stipulations? We must all be currently working with a professional editor and none of us had ever been an editor or editor/author ourselves.
Mask free, no social distancing, and no sanitizer—Jan set up our video conference via Zoom. The eight of us in attendance ranged in age from 27 to 75—the youngest being Kelly, a self-proclaimed neophyte in the literary world to Zack, a veteran writer and the only nonfiction author in the group.
Like me, Zack began his journalistic career in the print industry, moved into advertising at an aerospace company, and went on to become a tech writer for Pharma. Unlike me, he ended his career in the corporate world at a tech giant before retiring to write full time.
Jan gave Kelly the lead, and she set the flow for the discussion—the pros and cons of hiring an editor. Unfortunately, but not uncommon, Kelly had been stiffed by her first editor, and social-media shamed by her second editor whom she fired when four months had passed and the woman hadn’t produced an edited manuscript. Not only did she refuse to return the book, the editor shutdown all communication with Kelly, who eventually found an editor she liked through the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA).
Mitch, a sci-fi writer, was thrilled with his first editor and everything ran smoothly until his editor morphed into a politician during a recent election. His social media rants spilled into his daily dealings with his clients as he lobbied to sway their political views on a series of topics—all controversial to so many. Mitch finally hired a new editor.
“Unless your business is politics, keep politics out of your business,” said Stephie, who writes mysteries. “The same holds for airing your dirty laundry on social media. In this day and age when 70% of employers use social media to screen their candidates during the hiring process, it’s career suicide to post personal information or grievances. Some things are best kept to yourself.”
When Erica disagreed with Stephie’s blanket statement on politics and business, Mitch came to Stephie’s defense. “I have no problem with writing and/or discussing political views or any other controversial viewpoints, but there is a time and place for that. When politics becomes an editor’s main agenda, such as bombarding me with emails that espouse his POV, then all he has succeeded in doing is alienate me. I repeat, there is a time and place for that.”
“Interesting that the conversation has moved in this direction,” interjected Peg, a publicist turned thriller writer. “When I set out to hire my first editor, I interviewed four candidates. Then I screened their social media. I immediately cut my four to two, and of the two I asked for references.” While checking referrals Peg stumbled upon a friend’s Facebook page. The “friend” was having a meltdown, calling out clients who hadn’t paid her or thanked her for editing their manuscripts. Sure, both are unacceptable behavior, but the world doesn’t need to know. The “friend” was the editor Peg had under consideration, so she hired her last option, number four, and they have been a team for years.
Jan took charge and steered the conversation to how each of us had gone about hiring our current editor. Half of the group had found their first editor either through a fellow author or a recommendation from someone in the publishing industry. The other half had relied on the Editorial Freelancers Association. The EFA website is a wealth of information. An author can tailor his editorial needs by filling out a short form of editorial requirements, and then choose the editor that will best suit his project. Their website: https://www.the-efa.org
Zack, many confirmed, had a well-versed, extremely knowledgeable editor who was most sought after, except for one caveat: he only edited nonfiction. If he had agreed to step out of his nonfiction role only, I wouldn’t have hesitated to hire him. His attention to detail was unsurpassed, and he had a strong foothold in the STEM fields. Since the group anticipated a glowing report from Zack, Jan asked if she could skip over his input for the time being. Instead, she turned to me and asked, “Your story?”
Rather than concentrate on what hadn’t worked, I chose to focus on what had brought success. The process was by no means instant, and the road I took proved to be costly in the long run. As a novice, I thought all I had to do was find a good editor. There are plenty of good editors, but what I should’ve done was honed in on my genre first and worked backwards.
Writing a thriller series with various scientific plot lines requires not only a good editor, but one who can grasp the tech aspect and follow the tread through an often complex storyline without getting lost. Someone who can see the forest, but focus on the trees at the same time. In addition, someone who can carry those insights from one book to the next if the author is writing a series.
To hold my attention as a writer, I prefer to have a plot as well as a subplot. Interweaving the two ups the ante and makes writing more challenging. The real work comes during the edits, following these threads as they intertwine throughout the book.
What I learned as I researched editors is that they are much more than people who correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. As the series progressed and I gained more literary experience, I found myself gravitating from the copy edit stage to the developmental editing phase. So, when I began to self-edit book four—CLON-X—I took a somewhat radical detour from my routine than with the first three books in the series.
Even though CLON-X was a polished rough draft, as I had written and rewritten the manuscript more than twice, I decided to “pitch” my book to my editors to get their feedback on the story line. Several comments contrary to where I thought the plot should go led me to rethink the book’s direction.
Also, a year prior, while writing Gadgets, I introduced a giant schnauzer—Bullet—as my villain’s companion. When my protagonist, Darcy, kills her antagonist, she does the right thing and adopts Bullet. In the original version of CLON-X, written in 2013, Bullet played a minor role. In the rewrite version, circa 2018, Bullet is a key player in the plotlines.
In 1996, I attended a writing class given by Don Whittington. I learned a lot, but the one thing I walked away with was the plot twist. One of the most rewarding comments for me is when my editors or readers say, “I didn’t see that coming.” That one comment makes all the work worthwhile.
Genocide was my longest literary work to date at 502 pages, and my most complex plotline. A reader’s review summed up my editors’ efforts in one sentence: “Complex plot, but you made it so easy to follow.” Goal, achieved.
As I mentioned earlier, I took a different approach during my rewrite of CLON-X and pitched the story line to my editors. I followed up with a brainstorming session with one of my editors who lives nearby. From our two-hour conversation, I left with my brain humming from new ideas. Longer rewrite and more work, but definitely worth the effort.
My new approach—pitching my story line and then developmental brainstorming—has proven invaluable. Sometimes as an author, you are too close to the subject and need to stand back. This approach has saved me from the frustration of a total rewrite before you are too vested in the story and has even steered me in an entirely different direction, one that makes for a much better book.
Learn more about editors and editing: Repeat after Me: Write, Edit, and Edit Some More
Read more about Don Whittington: Why I Self-Published My Thriller Series
See more of Nancy’s work on my website. She designed my Taos Mountain header and the Darcy and Bullet logo. Nancy’s website: https://www.nancyhilgertfineart.com