Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Ask an Editor
12/28/2009 9:57:51 PM
An interview with professional editor, Andrea Howe of Blue Falcon Editing Services. She shares in her experience and offers tips to authors polishing up their manuscripts.
Andrea Howe Interview:
LTS: For those of you visiting my weekly blog, I have something special for the writer in you! As 2009 winds down and we look forward to another year filled with writing projects or making the New Yearís resolution that 2010 will be the year to submit the manuscript to an agent or publisher, I have a special guest blogger willing to share in her experience and knowledge in the publishing world.
Instead of featuring a debut or established author or sharing my thoughts and tips on the writing process, today Iíd like to introduce you to a talented editor with an incredible amount of experience, Andrea Howe of Blue Falcon Editing.
I first met you two years ago at the Surrey International Writers Conference, so I know your name and reputation, but for the readers becoming acquainted with you for the first time, letís start with a little history. Where did you learn to hone your editing skills and how did you get your start in this business?
AH: That's an interesting question, Lorna. I have been called a Ďnaturalí by a few people, which means I didn't need to do a lot of learning before I started editing professionally. I just know what the language requires. I can say most of my knowledge of what's accepted and what isn't came from the ĎChicago Manual of Styleí and the ĎGregg Reference Manualí. These two books have come in handy over the years. I also depend heavily on ĎWebster's Collegiate Dictionaryí.
As far as honing my skills, that comes from actually working. The more I work, the more experience I get with different writing styles, and the more I can help each writer on an individual level.
How I got started in this business is a long story. Let me give you a shortened version. When I was in college, a friend told me I needed to be a copy editor. I said, ďWhat's a copy editor?Ē He said, ďTrust me. It's what you do.Ē
LTS: In the past, it is my understanding if a publisher liked the storyline or concept, the characters, etc., but on a scale of 1 to 10, the manuscript was rated a 3 because of typos, poor grammar and so on, the publisher would still accept the work. They would print it only after the author worked with their editor to polish it up. These days, because the role of a publishing companyís editor has changed drastically, having little in the way of time to devote to actual editing, an author must be prepared to submit a work that rates about an 8 on this scale before a publisher will seriously consider taking it on. Do you feel this is true in most cases? That a manuscript with all the wonderful elements of a great story, but rather unpolished, is bound to be relegated to the slush pile or worse yet, the Ďround filing cabinetí if itís not as close to print-ready as it should be?
AH: That is what I understand. Publishing is not what it used to be. As you said, the editors donít have time to deal with a manuscript that needs a lot of work. Not only that, but they donít want to go into business with someone they feel doesnít take the work seriously. Thatís what some editors feel when they see typos and plot holes in a story. They would definitely toss that kind of manuscript into the circular file. Although I have never worked in house at a publishing house, I can tell you that a polished manuscript is more likely to get an editorís attention, just as it will get a readerís attention. Think about it from the readerís point of view. Donít you hate wading through errors in a book? Youíre likely to set aside a book loaded with typos, if you even picked it up in the first place.
LTS: Do you provide a service that will only correct typos and catch grammatical errors, or do you also provide editing advice to help the author Ďtrim the fatí, thereby producing a more streamlined, smoother telling of the tale or make suggestions when a character needs to be fleshed out more and so on?
AH: I go beyond the traditional role of the copy editor. I help with story and character development and aid the writer in creating a full and lush experience for the reader. Scenes that donít move the story or add any information about the characters arenít necessary. I also look at the other side of the coin, though, and encourage writers to flesh out a story where itís needed.
LTS: Can you explain to our readers what is involved in the editing process once a writer hires you for the task, handing over the manuscript for you to begin your work?
AH: I canít speak for others, but I like to work in Microsoft Word. I use the Track Changes function and the Comment tool to mark my edits and communicate with the writer. Some other tools I use include e-mail and the phone to keep in touch with the writer and character sheets I created to help with continuity. I spent quite a while designing the character sheets I use, which are based on those one can find in Dungeons & Dragons books. They really make it easy to see all the info about a character at a glance and keep important things, such as physical attributes and familial relationships, consistent throughout. I like to edit the entire manuscript in one shot, rather than dealing with stories piecemeal over time. I also advise writers to have the manuscript at a point where they would expect itís ready for submission before sending it to me. If a writer is rewriting while I have the manuscript, that means I will need to reedit, which just costs money and time. If there is anything that causes me to pull up short while Iím editing, something that requires serious rewriting, I will advise the writer and let that rewriting happen before continuing. Otherwise, I like to handle it, as I said, in one straight shot because that helps maintain continuity and lets me really analyze the flow of the story.
LTS: I feel there is a certain level of trust between an author and an editor when they work on a manuscript. How does an author know if the person he or she wishes to hire as an editor is the right person for the job? Is there a board regulating this practice or an ĎAuthor Bewareí website a writer can turn to for advice or recommendations?
AH: Iím not sure if thereís a place to go for an ďAuthor BewareĒ sort of list. The best thing a writer can do is get a sample of the editing before getting involved with an editor. Thatís what I do. I provide free samples (with estimates) with no obligation. If the writer doesnít like the sample, he or she can go elsewhere without worrying about wasting money on someone who wonít do a good job.
Also, a good editor whoís been out there a while will have testimonials. I have several on my Web site and in my brochure. Along with those testimonials should be at least a small list of completed work. A writer can see if those works were published and, if so, see if they are good. I have been involved in many published works, and a few have even ended up on best-seller lists. It might also be a good idea for a writer to spend a few minutes talking with the editor to better understand the editorís thought process and feelings about the work. Good communication is essential to the relationship.
LTS: Many believe hiring a good editor is like an investment in a oneís publishing future. It can turn a good story into a great one! It can also mean the difference between acceptance and rejection in the publishing world or receiving a good or bad book review. However, the reality is, not all authors can afford to hire a good, reputable editor. Do you have any practical advice for the starving writer who is juggling several jobs to make ends meet and can only dream about hiring an editing service?
AH: Yes, I must agree that getting involved with a good editor is an investment. Once you have found one you mesh with well, you will find that he or she makes your writing better in ways you couldnít imagine. The closer you are with your editor, the more that person will read your mind and help you bring the best out of your writing.
However, if you canít afford an editor, there are other options. Join a local critique group. Other writers can help you improve your writing, and you can help them with theirs. Enter writing contests. Some of them require a monetary investment, but not all of them do. A lot of those contests are judged by professionals, such as published authors, editors, or agents, and you can get really good feedback from them. Go to conferences that have writersí workshops and/or blue pencils (where one sits down with a professional writer, editor, or agent, and gets feedback on his or her work). There are a ton of conferences all over the world that cater to writers trying to improve their skills. ShawGuides has a great listing on their Web site: writing.shawguides.com.
LTS: What do you say to a writer who is fearful the editing process will mean losing their voice in the telling of the story?
AH: You need to work with an editor who can maintain your voice. It helps if you work with someone whoís not an aspiring writer. That sort of person is more likely to try to rewrite your work as he or she would have written it. However, thatís not always the case. Again, I would like to refer you back to my comment about samples. If you can get an editing sample before you get involved with an editor, that should give you a good idea of whether that person will change your voice. I would also point again to examples of the editorís work out in the real world. If you read several edited pieces and find they all sound kind of the same, although theyíre from different authors, you might suspect that the editor is putting his or her voice into the writing.
LTS: Speaking of voices, I tend to use the third-person point of view in writing my fantasy series, mostly because it is the easiest POV for me to work with. On one occasion, a friend mentioned about writing her novel and how she was skipping around from one POV to another. Is it because my mind is unable to multi-task when it comes to reading, or can this constantly changing POV be confusing in general? Any thoughts on POV and which one works best in a particular writing style or situation?
AH: Iím guessing you mean the omniscient (or all-knowing), third-person POV. Thatís not terribly uncommon, but the more common is what your friend described. The limited, third-person POV is what you find most often in published novels. You will likely find the head-hopping she described as well so the writer can continue the story and flesh things out when the main character is not in the room. Itís less common to find the single-character POV used throughout, but itís not unheard of. Iím sure some of your readers are familiar with the Harry Potter series; that story is told almost entirely from Harryís point of view, which is how weíre not sure about certain things (e.g., Snapeís allegiance) until Harry finds out.
For most writers, I advise a limited, third-person POV from different charactersí perspectives. Itís easy to follow for the reader and allows, as I said, for fleshing out of the story when the main character isnít around.
The thing you have to look out for if youíre looking at the world through different charactersí eyes is not mixing them in the same scene. You want to keep each scene from a single characterís POV. I would also advise using past tense because thatís what people are familiar and comfortable with.
However, these are not the only methods to use. Iím currently editing a novel that is in first-person, present tense. It works for this novel. A writer needs to decide what form of story-telling works best for the story.
LTS: What are some the most common mistakes youíve found when editing a manuscript and do you have any tips to help writers avoid them?
AH: Thatís another tough question, Lorna. Iíve found lots of problems that crop up frequently. The best bit of advice I can give your readers is know your language. Know when to use lie and when to use lay. Know the difference between comprise and compose. Understand the way English is constructed so you know when to use I and when to use me. Some people seem to feel they sound more intelligent if they use I and comprise. What they donít realize is that these words have specific meanings and are used in specific instances. When they are used incorrectly, it doesnít make you sound more intelligent; it does just the opposite. Oh, and please, please, please donít use utilize when you just mean use. Thereís nothing wrong with use! I feel bad for the poor little word. When did it become a status sign to say utilize or worse, utilization? The only time you should use utilize is if youíre applying something to a purpose it was not intended for. Let me give you an example. I could utilize my shoe as a hammer, but if Iím going to put a nail in the wall, I would simply use a hammer.
Here are a few more things to look out for:
lighting/lightening/lightning (look them up in the dictionary if you donít know them)
that/who (a person is who)
Donít overdo it. Thereís no need for the st in amongst or amidst or for the s in backwards, upwards, towards, or any other -wards words.
LTS: I was recently at a writers program and one of the questions that came up, but was not answered with any real clarity was when Ďmightí and Ďmayí, as well as the semi-colon as opposed to the comma, is used correctly. Can you share with our readers your thoughts or simple tips to help us better understand the proper use of these and similar words, plus punctuation?
AH: Might has the air of possibility but not necessarily expectation, whereas may has the feeling of ability or permission. Here are some examples: It might rain today. (One would not usually give the rain permission to fall.) If youíre done with that book, you may put it back on the shelf. (You donít have to, but if you want to, go ahead.) May I ask you a question? (Asking permission pretty much gets may automatically.) I hoped she might find us. (Again, you have possibility without expectation.)
The Gregg Reference Manual has a great description of when to use a semicolon instead of a comma, complete with examples. I will try to paraphrase that here. (1) A semicolon is used to separate two independent clauses (that is, two complete sentences) that are closely related enough that you donít want them to be separated by a period. Hereís an example: I need to complete this job; they wonít pay me until itís done. (2) Use a semicolon in a list of items if there are items with commas. Example: I have a short, fat cat; two dogs; and a parakeet. Those are the two most common uses for a semicolon.
I hope that helps.
LTS: Over time and experience Iíve developed certain peeves resulting from taking a critical look at my own writing. One is the overuse of the word Ďthatí and the other would be beginning a paragraph with: ďSuddenly, theÖ!Ē Do you have any such pet peeves when it comes to editing or is there anything we, as writers, should be aware of before submitting our works to an agent or publisher?
AH: I covered a lot of my personal pet peeves a couple of questions ago. The thing I would like every writer to think about is the character. Youíre likely writing a story with more than one character. Give each character, well, characteristics. Make your characters unique. Everyone speaks differently, moves differently, and thinks differently from those around him or her. Look at your friends. Take quirks from them and apply them liberally to your characters. As weird as this sounds, one of the things that struck me about the character of Belle from Disneyís Beauty and the Beast was that her hair wasnít perfect. She often pushed it back when a lock fell across her forehead. If you have the movie, go back and check it out. That is the sort of thing that gives a character dimension. I recently edited a science fiction manuscript where the characters came from different planets. Each planet had certain things that identified them in their speech. For instance, one group related everything to trees and growing things. All of their idioms were based in the forest. The same could be said for another group that related everything to sailing. It made it very easy for the reader to identify speakers when several different races were in a conversation. That also made it almost unnecessary to use dialogue tags (such as he said), which are often overused. Just remember that not everyone talks exactly the same, even if theyíre from the same town or family. We all have different experiences that lead us to be different. Display that in your characters.
LTS: Excellent advice, Andrea! Now, without naming names or giving away titles, have you ever been faced with a manuscript so poorly written it was obvious the authorís dear grandmother convinced him that he had created a lovely piece of literature worthy of gracing the shelves of B&N, when in reality, it wasnít? Iím speaking of the one with holes in the plot, poorly developed characters, etc. so much so, it would require a lot work on your part (and a major re-write on the authorís) that youíve had to say ďno thank youĒ to the editing assignment?
AH: I have not turned down a manuscript because I thought it would require too much work. Thatís one of the reasons I charge by the hour instead of by the word or the page. My clients pay for the work I do on their manuscripts, and that includes serious rewriting if the situation warrants it. (Thatís something we work out ahead of time.) However, if I feel there isnít a market for the story or rewriting needs to be intense (perhaps taking the story in a different direction altogether), I will advise the writer of this. Sometimes the writer will ask me to go ahead with the edit anyway, choosing to have something clean to work with for the rewriting.
The thing that will get me to flatly turn down an assignment without really trying is the subject matter. I admit that I will not edit erotic fiction or heavily religious texts (the preaching kind that tell me in no uncertain terms that I must follow this religion or be doomed for all eternity). These subjects make me uncomfortable, and if Iím not comfortable with the text, I wonít do a good job on the edit.
I recently turned down a writer who thought that his work was so close to perfect that I should lower my rate for him. I tried many times to explain that my rate is constant and a clean manuscript will get a lower final cost because it will not take as long to edit, but he didnít understand. I finally had to turn him down and ask him to find someone who would better mesh with his thoughts on the subject.
For the most part, I try to work with the writer to improve the story rather than just throwing in the towel.
LTS: You have extensive experience editing all types of manuscripts. What is your favorite to work on, fiction or non-fiction and do they present different types of challenges?
AH: I specialize in fantasy, which is always fiction. Nonfiction presents the challenge of getting the facts right. I know this seems like a ďduhĒ moment, but youíd be surprised how many writers donít take the time to look up simple things, such as the proper spellings of peopleís names or the titles of books.
I like fantasy because itís one of the genres I really enjoy reading. It takes skill to identify what is needed in a fantasy story, what makes it more real to the readers. One needs to create the world, in some cases from the ground up (no pun intended), to make it come alive for the readers. I like to help with that where I can. I relish the challenge of maintaining continuity in a world of the writerís creation. There are rules that must be followed. Theyíre not always the same rules we have in our world, but they need to be applied just as surely as gravity in our world.
LTS: What is the best part of your job as an editor? What is the worst?
AH: The best part is helping a writer feel good about his or her manuscript. The worst is probably not being able to sit down and really enjoy reading a book for pleasure because Iím constantly editing.
LTS: Iím going to put you on the spot: Having helped so many authors with the editing process and being acknowledged for your skills as an editor, which one of the books youíve worked on was the most gratifying and why?
AH: I have worked on some really terrific manuscripts that have gone on to be very successful. However, the word gratifying brings to mind really getting involved in the creation of a wonderful story. At this point in my career I have only one project that I feel I worked on deeply to get the best story out of the writer: Brian Rathboneís The Dawning of Power trilogy. I know you, Lorna, are familiar with Brianís writing. He and I worked together for a long time to really shape his world and flesh out his characters. I am pleased with the result, and more important, he is pleased. Itís a best seller on Mobipocket (ebooks), and heís received absolutely fabulous reviews (including 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon). People (and I include myself in those people) are looking forward to the next installment.
LTS: When you are not editing and you have time to read for pleasure, who is your favorite author and why?
AH: Iím a rereader. I like to reread books that I have enjoyed. I have a pretty bad memory too, which helps because I donít often remember what happened. As I said, I like fantasy, but I also read mystery and suspense. I havenít read many different authorsí works because I like to get involved in series. I enjoy books by David Eddings, Terry Brooks (whose character Brin Ohmsford is probably my favorite in the literature Iíve read), Mercedes Lackey, and Robert Jordan (big series for all of them) in the fantasy genre. I also enjoy Dean Koontz and Mary Higgins Clark, who write suspense. Iím a fan of Shakespeareís plays. I recently picked up books by Carol Berg and Joshua Palmatier, both fantasy authors I met in my convention travels, and Iíve enjoyed both.
I know you asked for my favorite author, but I canít narrow it down to just one. Sometimes it depends on my mood.
LTS: What are you reading now and what is on your Ďmust readí wish list?
AH: When I have time, the book on my bedside table is The Skewed Throne by Joshua Palmatier. My must-read list is populated by the end of the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (and others since his death). Itís not done yet, though, and I intend to wait until itís finished.
LTS: With all your skill and wisdom when it comes to editing and crafting a story, can the readers expect a novel from you any time soon or do you intend to stick with editing?
AH: Um, no. I love editing and have no real desire to write anything original. My writing is composed of things such as this, answers to questions people have and advice to writers. The most youíll see out of me is rewriting.
LTS: This has been a fascinating session! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Andrea, but one last thing before you go: Where can writers requiring your editing services reach you for rates and other pertinent information?
AH: It was my pleasure to do this, Lorna. Thank you for asking such thought-provoking questions. Feel free to ask more in the future if you are so inclined.
The easiest place to find info about me is on my Web site: www.bluefalconediting.com. You can also see where Iíll be, conferences and such, so we can meet in person.
I can be reached by e-mail at andrea.bluefalconediting.com or phone at 425-290-1676.
People can also find me on Facebook:
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An Interview with Author & Book Reviewer Caroline Leavitt - Tuesday, September 01, 2009
An Interview with Kathleen Bolton - Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Interview with author/artist Scott Kessman: - Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Interview with author/artist Scott Kessman: - Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Part 2 of the Kim Falconer Interview - Thursday, August 13, 2009
An Interview with Kim Falconer - Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Part 2 An Interview with Alan Baxter - Thursday, August 06, 2009
An Interview with Alan Baxter - Tuesday, August 04, 2009
If You Write It, They Will Come (buy it)Ö Not! - Sunday, July 26, 2009
Lori A. May: Author Extraordinaire - Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Merits of a Writers Conference - Sunday, July 19, 2009
Part 2 Publishing in the Digital Age - Thursday, July 16, 2009
Publishing in the Digital Age - Monday, July 13, 2009
Writing Tips for the Novice Novelist - Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Flog the Blog - Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Do's & Don't of a TV interview - Saturday, June 27, 2009
Mortality & Writing - Friday, June 26, 2009
The Art of Editing 101 - Tuesday, June 23, 2009
How To Write When Suffering from Bad Memory Retention - Saturday, June 20, 2009
Finding Inspiration from Others - Thursday, June 18, 2009
To Blog or Twitter... - Tuesday, June 16, 2009