This is a part of my life that came about accidentally, in the course of beta-reading kajillion manuscripts for an organization called Critters.Org.
I read and review books, often two or more a week, and having been through the editing experience several times myself, it just happened naturally. I found myself helping other authors make their manuscripts submission ready. One day I looked at my calendar and realized my day was completely divided in half—I worked on the manuscripts of other authors, helping them see their work with clarity in the evenings, and I wrote my own work in the mornings.
I am not a ‘grammar queen,’ although I do use the Chicago Manual of Style, and also some AP style. Strunk and White figure largely in my work. Grammar and such is the line-editor’s job, and I work closely with three very fine line-editors. I am charged with helping an author get their manuscript ready to go to the line-editor.
What I actually do is this: I examine the story over all, and point out the rough spots along with the strengths. At this point, I am looking at the narrative, asking questions such as:
- How does the story flow?
- Do I care about the characters?
- Does the story make sense?
- What are the story elements
- What is the theme?
- What impedes the flow?
- Does the tense and voice remain consistent? Where does it change?
I look at individual elements of the story, such as plot, characterization, dialogue, and setting. I look at the interaction between them.
These are the questions I ask myself and in turn will comment on, and ask the author:
- Would this sequence of events really happen?
- Would this character really react the way the author has portrayed?
- How else might the character behave?
- Why is this character making this decision?
- Does this feel authentic? Is it plausible?
- Would this character talk like this?
- Is each character a good fit for his/her role in this situation?
- Is this the most logical sequence of events?
- What is missing that might make it believable or logical?
Did the back-story accidentally take over? Back-story happens, but it is important not to be married to it. Back-story can be shown in small strokes, without allowing it to take over and bog the story down. I learned this the hard way with my own first book, which is currently undergoing a full rewrite to remove that very problem. I think back-story begins to take over when an author is developing the story, and as the story grows in the mind of the author so does all the fluff. I now write my back-story as a completely separate document, and then use it to build my story, the same way I do my character bios.
How is this story being told? There are places where a small amount of telling is necessary and doesn’t ruin the experience, but is there too much telling rather than showing? I might make suggestions for alternate, indirect ways of getting the point across.
These are just the beginning—there is also the experience of the environment. Is too much emphasis placed on auditory and visual descriptions? Maybe not enough? What is the emotional experience for the reader? Does the author show the hurt, the anger, the joy in a way the reader immediately identifies with? Do they overwhelm you with heavy descriptions of emotional angst? Maybe not enough description?
In my own work I have committed every one of these ‘sins’.
It is essential that you have more than one set of eyes on your work, and that those eyes are attuned to you as an author. The first editor gets your work as ready as it can be for the second editor, who gets it ready for the beta-readers, who find all the typos, incidents and accidents.
I see the raw manuscript as it fell out of the author’s head, and I help him take that diamond-in-the-rough to the next level.
It takes a village to help an author get a book ready for consumption. Indies don’t have the resources the big publishers have. Helping an indie author realize his dream is an awesome perk of being in this business. Yes I do like to be paid, but no amount of money can compensate for hours and hours spent poring over a manuscript that is a worthless mess and dealing with an author who simply wants his ego stroked. This is why we indie editors don’t accept every manuscript that comes across our desk.
I love being a part of the process because I love to read. Reading is my passion and my life. When I read a published novel to review for my Best in Fantasy blog, I am looking at that novel as a starry-eyed consumer, not as an editor or an author. If I don’t get that feeling of amazement, I feel cheated. Like a child sampling sweets at the Easter buffet, I move on to the next book, hoping to discover the next “Memory Sorrow and Thorn” or “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.
When I edit, my goal is to help that author find the magic that lies within himself and to help him have faith in his craft and in his ability to tell a damned good story.
I wouldn’t trade this job for anything!