Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ever Wondered What it's Like to be an Editor? And an Author?

You hear about editors, don't you? I imagine them as shadowy characters lurking behind posh publishers, beavering away on manuscripts with a green sunshade on their head, elastic metal armbands, ink-stained fingers and definitely wearing rimless glasses. I think they might be terrifying creatures because you do hear comments about them from authors: "Mey book is currently with mey editor", "Ai'm waiting for mey edits", "Ai'm going to work all week now on mey edits because mey editor wants me to change the ending". Who are these people? What do they do? Could I be an editor? Would I want to be an editor? Have you never asked yourself these questions? I have and I'm here today to help you answer them.

Firstly, authors don't talk like that, so don't shoot me and second, take a look at Emma Shortt - editor extraordinaire - and you'll see my imagination couldn't have been further out of whack.

 Whoa all you gentlemen out there, kindly pay attention to the blog and not Em's picture.

Thank you.

So today I've invited Emma to answer a couple of teensy weensy questions about her job. And, by the way, she's an author too!

Hi Emma. Thank you so much for letting me use you as a “victim”.

Sue: If a reporter were to follow you around all day, what would his readers see in your daily work?
Em: Well, let's imagine they're there first thing, not a good idea purely due to the hair – it’s at least four foot high in the morning. Anyhoos they'd see me reaching over, through a hair cloud, to press snooze on the alarm clock which has just rung at 7:00. This alarm/snooze ritual will go on till about 7:40 when I know the horror can be put off no more. I'll get up, drag the kids out of bed and rush around to get everything sorted. There's NEVER enough time in the mornings. By nine the kids are dropped off at school, I'm in my suit (wishing for trackies and uggs) and on my way to work. During the walk from carpark to office, I'll check my Blackberry for any messages. My publisher’s based in Canada so there's a time difference. If there are no messages I'll get my notebook out and write down any thoughts I've had whilst sleeping. Some of my best ideas come to me in dreams.LOL - we won't go into that.

I'll spend the day writing math reports (I’m a numbers geek) and attending meetings then finish work at 5ish. Again, on the way home the Blackberry and notebook come out. I'll grab the girls from various clubs, cook dinner (badly), clean up (quickly) and by now it's getting on for eight o clock. The laptop comes on and the real days work begins. I'll either write or edit and I try to do this every night bar Tuesdays (this is the only day my fiancée has off work and the poor man needs some attention).

If I'm editing it works like this. My publisher (Evernight) sends me a manuscript through. I do a first read and give initial thoughts, concerns etc. This might be something as simple as a few tweaks to a major re-write [oh Heaven forbid]. The MS goes back to the author who then addresses these issues. The turnaround for this is about a fortnight. The MS comes back and I'll check it to make sure the author has addressed the issues, if so I'll do a complete proof read of the whole MS, I'll re-write parts if need be, correct grammar and punctuation and make sure the flow is right. I both copy and content edit – so it’s the whole nine yards. One thing I won’t do is compromise the author’s voice. This is her book, not mine, my job is to polish it up not re-mould it. If the issues haven't been addressed then it goes back to the author again. This is rare, usually we do only two edit rounds. Total turnaround is about 6 weeks, this is all done by email.

At the moment I don’t play any part in the acquisitions process. I mean sure, if someone sent me something I could pass it on to my publisher and say, this is one for us, but I’m not a reader. My job is back office only [ha! with inky fingers and visas and stuff]. I get the manuscripts after the contract has gone out so there’s no turning back. Once I have that book I HAVE to make it saleable. Whatever it takes, removing chapters, adding them, deleting characters – it’s all wide open. I’ve been very lucky so far to work with a multi-published author, she’s fab and her work has been more than saleable before I’ve gotten a-hold of it. 

Sue: How did you find your way to becoming an editor?
Em: I began my editing career when I joined the editing team for the Litopia e-zine MUSE. I really enjoyed the process and wanted to try my hand at something else. I knew exactly what sort of books I wanted to work on and it was a question of looking round for opportunities, luckily one found me. Evernight, a brand new romance and urban fantasy publisher, friended me on Facebook. I was working on a paranormal romance series at the time so skipped over to their website to check out their submission guidelines. It was then I noticed their ad for editors. I applied immediately.

A few days later Stacey (the publisher) emailed me some samples to edit. I did, she sent more, and after a couple of weeks I had my contract. That was in August, I've edited four books since then and it's been really fun - plus it's pretty fab to get paid! 

Sue: What's the best part of your job?

Em: Stacey is just lovely. She's been so supportive from day one. She was willing to work with me to get me to the standard she expects from her editors. I've really appreciated that. The authors at Evernight are also lovely, there's a real community spirit. Plus I get to work on the sort of books I love to read, which is like a dream come true.

It's also so amazing when the author is receptive to suggestions and together, we polish the MS into a little diamond. Then to see the finished product out there, getting 5 star reviews - well that's just fab.

Sue: What's the worst?

Em: I constantly find myself wondering where I'll find the time. At the beginning of each week I'll work out what I need to get done and my heart drops a little. I've a full time job, two kids, a luscious man and numerous other commitments so time is my worst enemy.

The kids come first, followed by the day job (which pays the bills) and then the editing. This comes before my own writing, I'm contracted and it pays - so it kinda has to. So yeah, the writing can suffer if time is short and that can be difficult. 

Sue: What advice would you give someone if they want to be an editor?

 Em: Read, read, read! Find the books you like to read and look for opportunities in that area. I don't think I could edit books I don't want to read - it just wouldn't work. Also think about the sort of editing you want to do, copy (the nuts and bolts like grammar, punctuation etc) or content (the flow of the story) or both. If it’s copy you MUST have a good handle on language, read some books, style guides etc. If it’s content you must read, read, read!

Also get online, make contacts and get involved - the jobs won't find you.

Lastly if you're a writer, which I guess most editors are, you have to draw a line. You can't let your style influence that of the authors. You have to seperate youself from your own ego, you are the editor, it's not your book.  The author’s voice HAS to be preserved; you're bringing out the best from them - not the best from yourself.

Sue:  You're also a published author. How much time do you spend on editing and writing?

Em:  I try for every night of the week, bar Tuesdays. Generally eight till one. I've been blessed with a bout of insomnia of late which means I can push it to about two-ish - though I'm suffering for it, my diet coke consumption scares even me! I try to edit weekdays and write weekends. On a week day I know I have to be in bed for two max as I have to be up for work the next morning. But on the weekends I can stay up till whatever time and I need that buffer if I hit the zone. No writer likes to stop when they’re in full flow. 

 OK, let's have a cup of tea. Milk anyone? Cold or hot (well, I don't know, do I? I hate tea). I did tell you that Emma's an author - or at least you should've got that message by now, if you're paying attention, of course and not staring at her picture. HERE COMES A TEASER!

On December 3rd her story will be here:

(Gentlemen, please...!)

So I'd like to ask some questions about your work as an author now (a published one!) 

 Sue: Tell us about this new book

Emm: The Christmas Fae is the first in my paranormal romance FairyTales series. It’s a teaser really to set the scene for my Fae world. It will be published on December the 3rd as part of the Evernight ‘Twas a Dark and Delicious Christmas anthology.(Wonderful news!)

It tells the story of Isadora who has recently been promoted to Christmas Fairy. It’s her job to grant one wish to make one human’s Christmas perfect. Lucas is the lucky wish recipient and as soon as he meets Isadora he knows exactly what he’ll be wishing for. Isaodra in his bed. Fae law forbids Isadora from refusing and she’d not complaining but when the magic fades will the feelings they’ve discovered disappear? Or will Lucas and Isadora realize that love is not just for Christmas it’s forever.

This story has a heat level ‘3’, which means, in places, it’s pretty full on. I had a real giggle writing those scenes. I also have a bit of a horror of my work colleagues and family reading the book. I’m not too sure how it’ll play out in the office or round the Christmas table once they realize how filthy my mind is! LOL - now we know why the dreams work so well.

The Christmas Fae will be followed by The Valentine’s Fae and then others, each book is longer and more complex than the last. 

Sue: What advice would you give to a new writer trying to get published (apart from pay attention to your editor)?

Emm:  Ooo I’m not the right person to ask that question. These days when someone tells me they’re thinking about writing my usual response is, don’t bother. The trouble is I don’t think most people have any idea the amount of work that’s involved, I know I didn’t. When I got involved in writing (about five years ago now) I assumed I’d write an amazing book, get published, make a load of dosh and duh dah! It sooo doesn’t work like that.

Try instead long hours hunched over the computer, after a manic day at work, trying to cudgel the old brain into producing 2000 words. Or having to delete yesterdays 2000 because they’re crap. Try coming home to rejection envelopes piled high on the mat and feeling your heart drop. Countless hours spent trying to build yourself a platform. I wouldn’t even want to calculate the hours it takes to increase the blog by one follower or the Facebook group etc. It’s very, very difficult, like a full time job only with no pay. And then there’s the guilt, it’s like having a nagging mother on your shoulder – all the time. Did you write tonight? Only 500 words… Oh disappointing. Why are you wasting time watching that show, you should be writing, you didn’t do anything last night... 

Any newbie writer needs to realize that it is HARD work with very little reward for a long while. I’m only just seeing the fruits of my labors – five years after I begun. And the cash I’ve made so far? Oh, I don’t even want to think about it.

Still, I don’t want to be all gloom and doom, there are some positives. Like when something gets accepted and you see it out there in the real world. That is an amazing feeling. Or when the words work properly and you read it back and your heart beats a little faster. Being a writer, in my opinion, is just about the best darn job there is, but make no mistake, if you’re going to do it properly, it is a job!

Once you’ve made the decision that writing is for you then my best advice is to follow your own instincts, and if that means breaking the rules, break them. I don’t think I ever did what I was told, don’t phone agents, don’t email publishers direct, no multiple POVs, no telling. Bugger that, I write what feels right and if someone wants to read it after the fact then that’s brill but if they don’t then that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I shudder at the idea of this formula type writing that we get rammed down our throats or the strict way we’re told we must approach agents and publishers. They’re human beings for crikes sake, yes they’re busy, but you know what, so am I. I’ve never once had an agent or a publisher complain about the way I interact with them. Besides publishing is changing drastically, it will be the canny, break-the-rules type writers that will flourish.

Sue: There're an awful lot of "don'ts" aren't there? Sigh. Ahem. When you write, Em, do you go with the flow or write a detailed outline?

Em: Panster! (I never know how to spell that word, I always write "Pantser") I never write an outline, where’s the fun in that? I start with an idea and roll. Once I’m into the story I’ll start making notes, character info, back story etc but never before. Besides I never know what my characters are going to do, I’m sure they’d ignore any outlines I gave them.  

Sue: Of all your work, which book or story do you like best and why?

Emm: Immune. Long time friends of mine will know that this is the first book I ever really finished to my satisfaction, and the first I ever sent out on the submission merry-go-round. It’s a post apocalyptic romance and I thought it was brilliant, this belief was not helped by the response I got from agents. I’m a dreadfully canny saleswoman so I had them queuing up to read the full. Unfortunately it was not as brilliant as I first thought and I didn’t get an agent from it. I’m glad about that now, I wasn’t ready and my views on publishing have changed a fair bit.

Still, I love this book, and eventually I’ll re-write it and get it published even if I Kindle it myself. I’ve never been able to let it go, the characters haunt me three years after the fact and I know one day I’ll have to get them out there.

Sue: Do you put anything of yourself into your stories?

Emm: There’s a reason we call our house The House of Burning Bras. Me and my girls, grammatically incorrect I know, but it’s always been ‘me and my girls’ (I have two children Vix 16 and Bear 11), are the sort of women you hope your son never marries. Demanding, loud and distinctly lacking in tact we are, what is my idea of how a woman should be. My female characters have to live up to that. I could never write a weak willed female character, physically I could not hit the keys. My women have to be strong and self sufficient. I mean sure, they can be flawed – everyone is – but they have to be able to stand alone. I want my female characters to inspire other women to get out there and do what they want to do, to be what they want to be. I write romance but one thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t be in love unless you know yourself. My female characters always know themselves, maybe not at the beginning but by the end certainly.

Sue: Do you read books like you edit or write, or do you read books for pleasure that are completely different? Who are your favorite authors?

Em: I read everything, it’s my main hobby besides eating cupcakes. I read heaps of romance, you have to read the genre you write in and I love it. I have a deep and undeniable weakness for Harlequin historicals (Nicola Cornick is my idol), I also love paranormal romance (Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series rocks). I’m very keen on a bit of crime mystery, Sue Grafton and P.J. Tracey, and I love the classics, Austen and Bronte. Oh and Bernard Cornwell and Philip Pullman, His Dark Material’s changed my whole view on writing.

It’s all about characters with me, Lyra and Will saying goodbye between dimensions, Amy and Joss falling in love over a lottery ticket… the characters are what make me fall for an author. Once they’ve got me they’ll have me for life and I’ll buy every book they write, I’m a very loyal fan! 

See? Told you they were only a few teensy weensy questions. Poor Emma, I've exhausted her but I'd just like to tell you that she's a lovely person with nothing of the snarky editor about her at all.

Emma, thank you for coming today. I'm looking forward to reading the anthology and, just to make some people very happy indeed, here's another look:

Wait for the weekend - I'll have more details then and I may let you in on some of Emma's "filthy bits". If you're good. Watch this space...


  1. You did indeed work me hard Sue :). Let's hope I get you as an author one day... I'll return the favour!

  2. And I thought you were a sweetie!

    Seriously, it was a pleasure and I think you must be a great editor.

  3. Delightful! Thanks so much for this, Sue and Emma!

  4. It's our pleasure, Carol. At your service - always

  5. This is wonderful! I've read plenty of author interviews, but no editor interviews. And as an aspiring editor, I really enjoyed and benefited from this.

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Thanks Alissa :)

    Carol you're a super sweetie as always x.

  7. Sue as soon as I get involved in the reading side you're on my list.

  8. Thank you Alissa - your comments are always appreciated. Great feedback

    Emma - you want me?!!! Hell's teeth. Does that mean it's revenge time?

  9. Fascinating insight into the work of an editor.
    Great interview

  10. The english grammar prepositions is here to check grammar mistakes in sentence or in article. I am sure that it will be applicable in all books or articles. Good post!


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