Brilliant writing will always need a proper editor.
Hi there, I’m Laura McNellis, and I’m an editor. Thank you, Sean, for inviting me here today! For those who don’t know me, I’ve worked at eXtasy/ Devine books for nearly 3 years now, and I have my own private editing business. I’m a married mother of two adult kids and one teenager. I’m still working on my degree that I will get someday! And I’m a line editor mostly working with foreign writers.
I fell into this business by accident really. I helped a couple of friends edit/proof fanfic for about a year while I read books that I loved in my downtime from University. I won’t name the author or the publishing house here, but I was reading a book published by another house and found errors that I just couldn’t let go. So, I wrote to them with a detailed list of things I found. Now at this point, I was only trained for academic writing, and I really had no idea what went into editing novels. However, I did know the difference between they’re, their and there and it was driving me crazy.
Anyway, I received an email back saying that they didn’t use or need editors because their authors were top notch…then why did I find errors? After a few emails, I had an offer from eXtasy and Jay Austin promising to turn me into a proper editor lol. Over the next few years, I learned that academic writing was nothing like novel writing! For a while there, I felt lost and horrible at my job when the manuscripts came back from the proofer with so many red edits that I missed. But I stuck in and well, Jay said I wasn’t allowed to leave now. So, I guess I’m here to stay lol.
Right, the questions I get asked the most surprised me at first, but here they are.
What is an editor? And what do they do?
There are different types of editors. There’s the Editor in Chief (EIC), that’s my boss Jay. Besides being so crazy busy I wonder how she still functions some days lol, she does it all! First, she’s the one to deal with the authors and their contracts. Sounds easy, but there’s a lot that goes into those and things can and do go wrong even and up to release day! She edits, proofs, and formats when needed. On top of that, she deals with authors and editors in all kinds of moods. She’s the frontline defense for us editors when the authors get their edits and freak because we edited…yes, that does happen. She also has to be our boss and tell us when we’ve not completed our job with either proper edits or failed to meet the deadlines. Once that’s all finished (yeah right lol) she has the job of getting all the books ready for release. She needs to make sure each and every department has everything ready, has the book been edited, galley sent, proofed, formatted and cover art completed? Are all the e-reader formats completed? Once all that’s done she uploads to the site manager on all the sale sites for them to meet the world and make you readers happy.
Then there is the Assistant Editor in Chief, that’s my trainer and proofer Brigit. She’s the original grammar Nazi. Nothing gets by her…NOTHING! And she, as one of the editor trainers, loves to send out handouts with all kinds of grammar stuff. I know she has some responsibilities with Jay, but she’s there everyday full time making sure I worked my magic for my authors.
The Acquisition Editor who has the amazing job of reading the first few chapters and giving their opinion on whether we should offer a contract and makes notes for us editors if there are major issues to look out for. Sounds like a dream job, right? Umm, no. They don’t get to finish the books! Oh, the horror! I would never be able to do that every day!
Then there are line editors, that’s me! Well, after seeing what everyone else does I kind of feel silly now lol! Right, seriously, I’m the first professional that will see your whole book. I look at the book line by line and try to make sure these are all in place:
Grammar or house rules. They’re on the easier side to spot since the rules are the rules as long as you know them. Who knows what a dangling participle is? LOL Yep, I do.
Plot holes or timeline inconsistencies that might turn a reader off. Did the writer say 3 weeks then later say 2? Can a person really do that in that position? Hey wait, wasn’t he already standing? Was that supposed to character A but they have character B written there?
Point of View changes, or as we call them POV or head hopping. I think most writers falter here more than anywhere. Questions the author needs to ask themselves here are can MC (main character) A see that behind him? Can they really hear that whisper? Can they feel what that other MC is feeling? Most of the time it can be fixed with adding just a few words, changing to dialog, or as large as having to re-write the situation or delete it altogether.
Self-description, anything that can describe a character in the POV narration is a no-no. This can range from hair color to the character narrating how good looking they are in certain ways. Would the MC call themselves that in their head? Would they think about how they look then?
Tense. When writing in the third person (most common and better option most of the time) needs to be in Past Progressive. This can be tricky. Most people don’t know that the words now, this, and here are present tense actions! They should be avoided like the plague but used more than people realize while writing. When writing in the first person, there’s the option of past progressive or present tense. Sounds better, right? Ask many readers, and they will say to you they don’t like the use of I and me in the narrative for the most part. Those books are also harder to edit because they tend to flip back and forth in tense. (Sean’s very good at his tense lol)
Sentence word counts and run-on sentences. (cough, Sean) This is another major one for new writers. I have to be able to spot the longer sentences, highlight in Word to tell me just how many there are, and then figure out how to split it up while keeping the author's original thought in place.
So, that’s just the first round of edits! There can be anywhere between 1 and 7 rounds of edits (God help the writer if there are 7 rounds of edits!!!). Different editors have different styles, so not all are like me. However, I’m known as the teaching editor. I seem to have the ability to get authors to understand what I’m telling them and I leave tons of comments as I edit so they understand why I’m marking the way that I am.
But this job is a balancing act every day. There’s the technical part of my job, the actual editing. But there’s also the personal side because this work I’m taking a red pen to is someone’s hopes and dreams to be a writer! As I tell all my new authors, “This is your baby, not mine, and I will do my very best to add to the final book rather than hack away at it.” But there lies the balancing. I have to be able to tell people, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t see this selling very much.” But I also need to know the market and be able to tell them a solution to the problem.
Over the past year, I’ve seen plenty of people try their hand at doing this privately. I have some advice for you that you might not want to hear. No one gets rich editing! No one! You do this job because you love books and you love the people who write them. There are people out there who will contact editors and expect a free edit or ask, “Could you just look it over and tell me where I should fix it?” Authors will complain saying the rates are too high and act affronted when they hear it averages out to less than half of minimum wage per hour (US). Those are few and far between, but they are there.
While others will just amaze you, and accept whatever you charge because they know you can do a great job for them (Meraki, kisses). And the best ones will take your advice to heart and learn! Oh, those are my favorites, like my Sean, Lee, Jesse, Catherine, April and Meraki to name a few J
Okay, wrapping up here I promise. For those who realize editing is a tough job worked for the love of a good book and not for the paycheck thank you from all of us. For those who think it’s easy…Ha! I laugh in your direction LOL. But I wouldn’t give it up for the world!
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A personal note from Sean Kerr
I was lucky enough to be given Laura as my editor when I became an Author for eXtasy books. That had to be one of the very best days of my life. Laura is an exceptional woman. Not only does she do a huge amount for the LGBT movement where she lives, Laura knows more about the world of M/M literature than anyone else I know in the industry. When i started working with Laura, I did not know what to expect. I had never been published before, never mind working with an editor. I was nervous as hell. Wow. what a woman. She took this author, raw and green, and she worked with me on my books, guiding, polishing, perfecting, and she did this with a touch of absolute class that sets her above all others. Laura made me feel at ease immediately, and in a very short amount of time, I found that I thought of her not as my editor, but as a very dear, very wonderful friend. Every book that I have worked with Laura on had been an absolute joy, and when I finish a book and send it off to eXtasy, it is with a huge amount of excitement, because i know I will get to work with Laura again. Some of the notes she makes inside the manuscript make me howl with laughter, but you know, this woman is at the top of her game, and nobody, nobody does it better. Thank you Laura for being a part of my life, and for making this whole author experience one of the most stunningly wonderful things I have ever done in my life.