What got you into editing as a profession, and what helps with being a good editor?
So that’s actually a funny story. Waaaaaaay back in high school, I signed up to work on the school newspaper. The teacher noticed me informally answering other people’s questions about spelling and word choice, and decided I should be the editor. That would have been where it stopped, except that the school principal made a habit of censoring editorials in the paper. It enraged me, and I embarked on an anti-censorship campaign that ultimately got me suspended a few times… but I learned the value of carefully-chosen language, and learned the lengths to which those in power will go to suppress ideas. I was hooked.
In my opinion, a good editor is someone who understands that editors have a sacred charge to help people express important ideas with the greatest degree of clarity possible. All the rest is just details of how that’s accomplished.
When you edit an article or manuscript, what are key items that you focus on, and why?
Story… because stories are the ideas I mentioned above. The story has got to be there, or there’s no reason to publish it. I could care less about grammar, punctuation, copyediting stuff; I want to read a good story, one that challenges me, makes me think, transports me.
So conversely, sloppy storytelling, reliance on tropes, and plagiarism result in instant round filing. No one’s got time for that. If you can’t be bothered to polish your storytelling craft, I can’t be bothered to polish your book. However, if the story’s there, there’s nothing I won’t do to help you make it glorious.
As an editor, do you find that you are stronger in certain areas, such as genres, than others?
Not really, no. I am a technical editor for a living, so my experience is pretty diverse. The basic fundamentals of story and polishing that story are kind of universal. I spot hackneyed tropes faster in genres I’m familiar with, but even in ones I’m not, they become pretty obvious pretty fast.
What is the most difficult part of editing for you?
Not getting cranky when I feel like someone is throwing their work at me disrespectfully. I think of my work as being like sculpture. I love the Michanegelo quote, of “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” I like to think that everyone who submits something to me did so because they love it, and want other people to love it too. It makes me nuts when people don’t spellcheck, or just assume that they’ve written timeless prose, and figure that the editor will do all the polish work. If a writer doesn’t know how to be a professional but wants to be taught, that’s golden. When they refuse to be taught, it really puts me off.
What are ways that beginning writers can make an editor’s job easier?
Be professional. Take the work seriously. Throw yourself into learning how to be a better storyteller. Take every opportunity to educate yourself about writing as a skill, as a business, as a professional activity. And then take conscious steps to level up wherever you can.
How long did it take you to establish yourself as an editor? Are there things you’d have done differently to get into editing if you had more information when you started?
Depends on what you mean by “establish myself”. An astonishing amount of my work is with repeat customers, or people that I’ve known for 20-plus years, whose stuff I edited, and they liked the experience, so told their friends.
Considering that my entry into editorial work was accidental, no, I’m pretty happy with how it’s gone so far.
Would you recommend that writers learn editing?
Not really, no. I think writers should spend their time in story. Writing and editing are entirely different professions. I would infinitely rather have a writer say to me, “I know nothing about editing, but I know everything about story.”
I worked with an author a few years ago who is in fact a professional storyteller. Brilliant guy, and has an amazing sense of pacing, of rhythm, of arc and of plot. His books are phenomenally good. His draft submission to the house I was working with at that time was nightmarish from a copyedit perspective, but the story was so good, I still find myself wandering off to inhabit that world in my head. Brilliant worldcrafting. Thing is, I can fix the commas. Anyone can. But only one person could have written that story.
In your editing, do you find yourself on occasion going back and editing your edits?
Oh, absolutely. I read through everything three times. Once just for the read, to judge the overall story arc. Again, for continuity, and then a third time for copyediting considerations. So there are often things to change (the technical term is “stet”) about what I edit.
In the different genres of books, are there different styles of editing that work best for the genres? Are there any differences in editing horror over say a science fiction manuscript?
Not really. The elements of storytelling are really similar across genre. I do more fact-checking for sci-fi than I do for romance, generally. Nailing your pacing is generally more relevant in horror than in fantasy. There are tiny adjustments, but generally, language is language. If there’s a lot of idiom in the work, that can take some researching, to make sure it’s right and consistent and believable.
What makes a good editor? What educational background would help an editor, and are there classes or experiences that might be a detriment to good editing?
Editors, good ones, are constantly learning. Grammar isn’t a done deal, it’s a living thing that changes over time. Editors discuss these things constantly. Right now, we’re all busy hashing out our relationship to things like gender-neutrality and correct pronoun choice, slang, and idiom. Staying active in editorial communities is critical to maintaining your relevance, but also your humility. Too many editors allow themselves to isolate, and then they become gatekeepers rather than enablers. In my opinion it’s important to remember that without writers, there’s no need for us at all.
As a promotions manager, how would you describe your job?
Essentially, my job is to familiarize myself with the work, collaborate with the Editor and Business Manager on appropriate genre classifications, brainstorm ideas for whom to contact, where to go, what to do to make the book visible on a larger scale, and then pursue opportunities from the office and encourage authors to pursue others on their end.
Tell me about the role of Marketing & Promotions, specifically in the world of the small press.
If you didn’t want people to read your book, you wouldn’t bother to publish it, right? But simply publishing isn’t enough these days because the competition is too overwhelming. You’ve got to wave a flag to get some attention. Marketing & Promotions is a function that can make or break a small press and, potentially, its authors. Regardless of the quality and quantity of the books being published, if the public doesn’t know to look for them, they will grow dusty alongside the piles of pulp fiction. Marketing & Promotions is your little flag.
Promotions for books is a lot about appearances and book signings. Are there other ways that can help promote a book, or an author?
Promotions such as appearances and book signings are done on the author side of the equation. On the press side, you have more of the marketing track, like contacting genre periodicals to inquire about inclusion in their next issue, chatting up potential partners to arrange sharing links to each other’s web sites, and long, sometimes fruitless hours of online research into other avenues of promotion.
Do you find that when you consider how to promote a book, that demographics come into play?
Demographics — in general, “Who is your target audience?” — is a big component of activities such as partnering with local indie booksellers, and readings at local libraries and coffee houses. It also, subtly, comes into play in most other things, such as which associations to join for networking.
How do you decide where an author’s book fits best? Is it just by genre, or are there other factors that determine demographic fit?
I want to be clear that when I talk about demographics in this context, I mean to refer to groups of people who buy science fiction & fantasy novels versus historical romance novels versus nonfiction works; you know what I mean? I’m not referring to demographics in terms of age, race, religion, or ethnicity in a local community. So, where does a book fit? That’s really about subject matter, tone of voice, literary device, etc. Sometimes the easiest way to determine a basic genre fit is to ask the author!
When Paper Angel Press decides to promote a book, what are the steps that you need to go through to get ready for promotion and marketing?
First, I want to point out that it’s not really a decision to promote or not. We are your publisher, and marketing your book is just one of the services we provide. That being said, there really isn’t a manual for preparing to market a book; it’s more a matter of hashing out how, where, how much, degree of author participation, etc. Each book/author is unique.
Are there different challenges between promoting new authors and established authors with a dedicated following?
Are there differences in the way I would market your new book versus James Patterson’s new book? Sure! <laugh> But my experience is only with small, independent presses and, usually, new-ish authors. In that case, you start at ground zero and work your way up a crowded ladder waving your little flag.
Have you found that there are differences in approach with the different genres like fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, etc., when you look at marketing and promoting a book?
Yes and no. Some basics are pretty universal, but each crowd tends to respond to different stimuli. Word choice and graphics styles are as important in marketing, say, historical romance, as they are in writing it, in order to best communicate to the genre’s fans.
When you look at being in promotions, have you found any instances where what you thought you knew about promotions turned out to be the opposite of what you expected?
No, actually. <laughs> Not yet, anyway. I thought, going into it, that it was going to be an uphill battle, and nothing has yet altered that expectation.
From your perspective, what can first time novelists, and experienced writers, do to help you, as Marketing & Promotions Manager?
Work with me. I’m here to help you as much as the business of the press. Be clear — with yourself and with me — what your expectations are: of me and the press. What milestones define “success” for you? What are your strengths and weaknesses in promoting your own work? We all work within our own limited resources, so be realistic. If you have ideas for marketing or promoting your work, speak them! I’m open to investigating new avenues or supporting your efforts. To me, it’s all about getting the book some good exposure.
Now that we’re heavily into November, and anyone doing NaNoWriMo is already committed to their novel, a lot of writers are asking, “What’s next? What do I do now that I’ve written it?”
We are here to help! Paper Angel Press will be running a blog series during the entire month of December, “Slush Pile December,” to help you get your manuscript into shape for potential submission.
Every Thursday, we will throw down on some topic of relevance to the new writer looking to make their submission stand out from the rest of the slush pile.
We are super excited about this series, and we hope you will be too. Stay tuned…