stop sign against sunset

How to Know When to Stop Editing 

Every writer has heard the golden rule of writing a manuscript: write first, edit later. But when the first, second, and third drafts are done, when does the editing process actually conclude? Other than the hard deadline of sending a manuscript to print, editing can seem like a never-ending process without a real due date. But over-editing can be detrimental to your manuscript. So if you feel stuck in a rut while editing, here are a few tips to help you know when you’ve reached the end of the editing process.

Your changes are becoming smaller.

Once you’ve reached the end of your first draft and started the editing process, you’ll probably find yourself addressing plot holes and other areas that need improvement. As you continue to edit, however, there will be fewer and fewer big-picture issues that need addressing. If you find yourself mulling back and forth over a comma here and there, the wording of a specific sentence, or moving paragraphs around, it’s probably time to take a step back. If you have time, spend a few weeks thinking about your story. Plot out key points and how they tie together to form your unique narrative. Do any moments feel like a stretch or unnatural for your characters? Does that edit actually improve your manuscript, or is it just something to change? If you struggle to come up with changes you feel strongly about, you have probably reached a point where you are no longer improving your story, just making it different.

You’re editing without a second opinion.

Writing in any form is challenging, and showing your work to others is an even harder step to take. Editing can prevent your writing from getting to those who can look at it with fresh eyes and suggest changes that could help you write a stronger, more cohesive story. Remember that you know your story and your characters better than anyone, and not every suggestion has to be, or should be, followed if it doesn’t feel right. No first draft is perfect or the best your writing can be, but keeping your writing to yourself can lead to overlooking edits that may lead to a stronger story. Unless you are writing a story just for yourself, a second pair of eyes will bring forward any gaps you might have missed and allow you to polish your manuscript in exactly the right places without over-editing or focusing on minute changes.

Trust your instincts.

This may be the most challenging step of your editing journey, but you are the expert at telling your story, and only you can tell when it’s finished. If you find yourself going back time and time again to make the same changes or struggle to find anything you want to change, trust yourself to know when you’ve reached your final draft. Writing a manuscript is a huge feat, and your writing will be stronger by the end of it. Even if this is your first journey in writing, you have a stronger instinct than you might realize. Trust that you know your characters and lean into the sense of knowing when their story has reached its final iteration.

Writing may be a challenge in and of itself, but editing is another beast every writer must face. It may be scary to let your work go and say that it’s finally done, but your writing will be stronger for it. Over-editing can make a piece of writing feel overly structured and potentially limit your reader’s connection with the words on the page. While it’s easier said than done, don’t be afraid to send an imperfect draft into the world—it’s better than you think it is.

Happy editing!

hands hovering over typewriter

Tips and Tricks for Writing Memoirs

A memoir weaves together stories from the author’s life, but including every detail and event is impossible. So how do you narrow someone’s entire life to fit into one book? Here are three tips and tricks for writing and editing memoirs.

Trim the Timeline

A lifetime of unique experiences and events can make for an exciting read. When sitting down to write a memoir, many feel that they need to go from their birth all the way through the present, detailing everything that has happened from start to finish. While some memoirs do encompass the entirety of the author’s life, most should focus on particular events and periods in the author’s life.

The reality is that a book can only hold so much, and in order to build a cohesive, engaging narrative, the memoirist should trim the timeline of their life, only keeping what is truly helpful in showing their story.

But how do you determine what is worth including?

Think Thematically

A theme is an idea that runs throughout a work, such as love, friendship, overcoming adversity, etc. It’s important to decide what themes are important in telling your story because these will serve as a guide for what people, places, and events to include. Within the book itself, these themes can guide the reader in making meaning of your life experiences.

For example, if one of your themes is overcoming adversity in a creative way, then include the story of how you started a business from scratch after suddenly losing your long-time job. If loving and helping animals is an essential part of your life story, then include the story of the time you saved a baby bird from a hungry neighborhood cat and nursed it back to health.

Selecting scenes to support the book’s themes involves combing through your memories and selecting the gems that will immerse readers in your life experiences.

Mine Memories

Dig through your memories for moments that truly embody the themes you chose. An important part of making a moment stick in a reader’s mind is the prose itself, but being selective about which memories you include is also key. You may have saved countless stray puppies and sickly kittens, but which of these rescues had the biggest impact on you and your life? You may have endured many moments of adversity over the course of your life, but which ones have contributed the most to making you who you are today?

There may be many gems in your mine of memories, but the ones that sparkle and shine the brightest are the ones that readers are most likely to remember long after closing the book.

Writing a memoir can be an incredibly fulfilling and empowering experience, and editing one can be just as rewarding. Trimming the timeline, thinking thematically, and mining through memories can help the writing and editing of the memoir manuscript run smoother while making a more memorable and engaging experience for readers.

question marks on a brown background

Style Guide, Style Sheet—What’s the Difference?

One of the things I was most confused about when I first started editing with Ooligan was the difference between a style guide and a style sheet. There were a lot of times during my first term when I thought they were the same thing. With some hands-on practice—and the help of the editorial department—I soon learned that they are not the same and are actually quite different. For anyone who has been in a similar situation, here’s everything you need to know about style guides and style sheets.

Style Guides

Think of a style guide as a collection of rules and suggestions that editors use to ensure that everything follows a consistent set of guidelines. The style guide that is predominantly used in publishing is The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), although there are others such as the AP Stylebook and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA). According to the Chicago website, “The Chicago Manual of Style is the venerable, time-tested guide to style, usage, and grammar . . . It is the indispensable reference for writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, copywriters, designers, and publishers, informing the editorial canon with sound, definitive advice.” CMOS has rules on everything: capitalization, hyphenation, the treatment of numerals, abbreviations, punctuation, and even formatting. As I like to say, there is a rule for everything, and Chicago lists every rule.

A related document that you will come across is the in-house style guide. Sometimes an individual publishing house or press will deviate from the standard style guide, and these deviations are tracked in the in-house style guide. Think of an in-house style guide as a supplement to the major style guide that is specific to the press or publishing house. For example, if your press has guidelines on hyphenating compound words that differ from the guidelines in CMOS, these will be documented in the in-house style guide. Just like the standard style guide, it is expected that anyone who edits for the press follows these guidelines. I highly recommend browsing this article from Grammar Girl for more information.

Style Sheets

Unlike style guides, style sheets are unique to each manuscript or document. While style guides serve as an overarching umbrella of guidelines for all manuscripts, style sheets outline the specifics of each manuscript, and the overall goal is to create consistency. Think of a style sheet as a reference document that is created so that anyone who works on the project can see exactly how things should be spelled, formatted, and styled. Style sheets can outline everything from the proper spelling of names/characters/places in the manuscript, how to treat numbers and hyphens, and even when to capitalize or italicize certain words or phrases. Check out this website for more information on style sheets.

Style guides and style sheets are both important documents to use when editing. Both style guides (standard and in-house) outline the style, grammar, and layout guidelines that the manuscript should follow. Editors should be familiar with both style guides and consistently apply them to the manuscript. Style sheets are just as important, and as an editor, you should always be sure that you match what is on the style sheet for the manuscript you are working on.

I hope this helps clarify the differences between style guides and style sheets! Happy editing!

Group discussion

Being Vulnerable: Sharing Your Manuscript in a Writing Workshop

For the last year or so, I have been working on a novel. Like many aspiring novelists, I have made progress in fits and starts, sometimes writing many pages in a sitting and other times not touching the manuscript for weeks at a time. Slowly and sometimes painfully, I have completed a little more than half the story.

Until a few weeks ago, I had not shared any chapters of my novel with anyone. Several people knew that I was working on a story, and I had shared the basic plot with them, but I didn’t want to share anything that I had written.

I am a big believer in the value of allowing other people to read and edit your work. Without question, every writer needs an editor. The more complex the writing, the more value a writer receives from allowing someone else to review and comment on their work. I give drafts of all my nonfiction work to my wife to read, and the final product is always better after hearing her feedback.

But there’s something about writing fiction that makes it so much harder to let others see the work in progress. I think it’s because we are much more vulnerable when writing fiction. Rejecting our story is not merely a rejection of our ideas, it’s a rejection of us as an author and as a person.

Despite my reluctance in sharing my writing, I knew that having others review my novel was a good thing, so I joined a fiction writing workshop. The workshop operates like most others in that you submit a portion of your work to the group, and the group provides feedback, both collectively and individually.

While I joined this workshop voluntarily, I still felt great trepidation about it. When the first few responses to my work were posted ahead of the group conversation, I opened the documents with nothing less than abject fear. What if they hated it? What if they laughed at me?

Much to my surprise, I was not voted out of the group. The feedback was incredibly valuable, and each person had taken the time and care to explain how they had reacted to the manuscript and what they noticed about the craft. I came away with encouragement that I was not an awful author, and I received some specific ideas for revision.

Equally valuable was the time I spent reviewing and providing feedback on the other authors’ stories. The process of carefully considering what I was reading and providing useful feedback gave me many ideas to help improve my own writing.

The author Brené Brown says, “No vulnerability, no creativity.” A writing workshop is the perfect place for writers to put this axiom into action. Giving up your writing to others—being vulnerable to their feedback—is the key to sparking the creativity that is essential to good writing.

angel dancing on a mountain top

Sanderson and His Three Editors

Have you ever wondered how an epic fantasy novel is edited?

Rhythm of War is Brandon Sanderson’s fourth entry in a planned ten-book series called the Stormlight Archive. As part of the book’s campaign, Sanderson released a YouTube video that gives an inside look at how editors take on epic fantasy.

Rhythm of War has three editors: Devi Pillai, publisher at Tor and VP at Macmillan; Peter Ahlstrom, Sanderson’s personal editorial director; and Karen Ahlstrom, Sanderson’s personal continuity editor. These three people work in tandem with the author to read and edit the five drafts it usually takes Sanderson to finish a book.

Devi, who has worked with big publishers for over twenty years, begins by reading Sanderson’s manuscript three times: first as a fan, second with note-taking, and third with an editorial letter in mind—that’s over three thousand pages for one book! A standard editorial letter follows, and Peter later compiles every piece of suggestion and delivers it to Sanderson.

Peter’s job goes beyond the traditional scope of an editor. He not only serves as a second set of eyes for the manuscript, but he also collects all the commentary from the alpha- and beta-readers. Sanderson is very specific in how the information comes to him; when it comes to Microsoft Word, he prefers not to have commentary in the left-hand margins, so Peter annotates every piece of advice into paragraphs with numeration that refers to a separate Word doc.

Part of the reason for this specific type of documentation is because Rhythm of War (and most of Sanderson’s other books) has between thirty and fifty beta readers providing commentary—a luxury that most manuscripts don’t have. Beta reading is a process that is unique to Sanderson’s team. Beta readers offer early opinions on Sanderson’s manuscripts. When Sanderson asked Devi if other authors have beta readers, she responded, “you are an exception in how you use your beta readers … I don’t think anyone has the setup that you have in terms of using a beta reader, and having the whole group, and having Peter and all of that set up so you have it as streamlined.”

Beta reading isn’t like your typical galley or ARC. Sanderson believes it’s like having a test audience, and he’s surprised more authors don’t do it. “Movies and videogames and commercials and everybody, they all show things to test audiences and get feedback before it goes live. But a lot of writers I’ve noticed don’t.” The feedback from the betas is siphoned, and Peter delivers it to Sanderson if enough people bring attention to a certain aspect of the book.

Then there’s Karen’s job. She is the wiki keeper—she keeps track of timelines, characters, descriptions (i.e. making sure Sanderson doesn’t give blue eyes to a character who had brown eyes in the previous book), etc. An entire read-through of the manuscript is dedicated to assigning Spren (the nature spirits that inhabit the world of the Stormlight Archive). With this being the fourth book in the Stormlight Archive and planning six more, there’s a lot of information to keep track of. Karen also keeps Sanderson aware of flashbacks, dates, and times (especially when multiple scenes occur on the same day). She even gives advice on Sanderson’s world-naming by clearing up pronunciation issues and ensuring there aren’t any similarities with other universes.

Rhythm of War is undoubtedly a daunting task for its editors, and maybe even more so for the author. Like any author-editor relationship, there is bound to be some push and pull when it comes to the editing process. But Sanderson notes that he trusts his editors and agrees with roughly 70 to 80 percent of the comments that come his way. The editors and his beta readers help make the books just as much as Sanderson does. Sanderson knows that when enough people say the book is not working, then they are probably right.

You can find the full discussion on Brandon Sanderson’s YouTube channel. For anyone interested in becoming an editor, this is how fantasy best sellers are made.

More than Dotting i’s and Crossing t’s

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 16:00:18 +0000

Fall term has arrived and has brought with it students new to Ooligan Press, students new to the book publishing program, and students new to The Ocean in My Ears team. Joining our team this term we have the talented Brianne Robinson, who is not new to Ooligan but is new to our team, along with future publishing rockstars Terence Brierly, TJ Carter, Ava Dean, Taylor Farris, and Laura Nutter. Returning members include the canny Joanna Szabo and the punctilious Pam Wells.

While the new members are busy reading the manuscript, which went through developmental editing over the summer, the rest of the team has just begun work on the copyedit. The team is working under the expertise of the brilliant Whitney Edmunds, cohead of Ooligan’s editorial department. The copyediting team consists of not only Pam Wells and Joanna Szabo but also the careful copyediting eyes of Alison Cantrell, Jessica Clark, Ruth Kaplan, and Gloria Mulvihill.

So what, exactly, happens during a copyedit? defines copyediting as “editing (a manuscript, document, text, etc.) for publication, especially for punctuation, spelling, grammatical structure, style, etc.” And while this description is accurate, it is also ambiguous, so allow me to demystify the process. Copyeditors correct errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation, but also style and usage issues such as the overuse of bold or italic or inconsistent use of numbering styles, for example. Copyeditors also look for changes to a character’s appearance or speech pattern, abrupt jumps in the timeline, potential legal issues such as libel or breach of copyright, and potential factual errors.

Ultimately the job of the copy editor is to make sure that “Wedensday” ends up “Wednesday” and that the Oxford comma is either used consistently or omitted entirely. But it is more than that—it is, as The New Yorker’s Mary Norris points out, a job that “draws on the entire person: not just your knowledge of grammar and punctuation and usage and foreign languages and literature but also your experience of travel, gardening, shipping, singing, plumbing, Catholicism, Midwesternism, mozzarella, the A train, New Jersey.” Or, in the case of The Ocean in My Ears, “teenagers, the 1990s, Dairy Queen, small towns, hairspray, standardized testing, dating, VW Bugs, and Alaska.”

Meet the Ricochet River 25th Anniversary Crew

Thu, 28 Apr 2016 00:00:22 +0000

Welcome back to Rivers of the Pacific Northwest! Before we head any farther downstream, I’d like to introduce myself and the rest of my crew. We’ve added some top-notch talent this term, and they deserve a spotlight.

First up, Tyler Mathieson, our fearless leader through the stormy seas of Rhythm in the Rain, will graduate soon, and I am honored to be taking the helm. Over the past year I’ve watched Tyler take a group of mostly novice Oolies and turn us into a strong, efficient crew capable of handling the incredible pair of projects we’re working on today.

A great deal of this work revolves around editing. Robin Cody has sent us some exciting new material for Ricochet River‘s 25th anniversary edition, and we’ve been hard at work with Brian Friesen, developing his manuscript. Fortunately, our crew is overflowing with editorial talent. Katey Trnka, onetime head of Ooligan’s editorial department, is a language specialist. Though she’ll be graduating this term along with Tyler, I have no doubt both books will be more beautifully written having started their journeys with her guidance.

The sheer amount of editing to be done has attracted some new team members, including Elizabeth Nunes and Brendan Brown. Brendan actually worked on the team during Rhythm in the Rain‘s early days and is back now to share hard-earned lessons. Elizabeth comes to us fresh off last term’s wildly successful Write to Publish team and is ready to flex her editorial muscles.

For the next couple months we are lucky to have Maeko Bradshaw on board. Maeko, who will head up the acquisitions department next year, knows how to identify the gold within a manuscript and will be an invaluable asset as we help Friesen shine up his novel. And here to ensure we navigate the entire editorial process successfully, we have next year’s editorial leads, J. Whitney Edmunds and Nicholas Shea. Eventually we’ll have to share these three with the rest of the press, but for now we get the full benefit of their editing superpowers.

As much of the crew is obsessing over characters and commas, a few heroes are looking ahead towards future challenges, like marketing. It’s never too early to think about the audience for a book, and we are fortunate to have several crewmembers who specialize in keeping wind in those sails. (Or is it sales? Nautical marketing puns FTW.) Amanda Taylor, who will someday, I’m calling it now, be responsible for a viral marketing campaign that will blow your mind and win the internet, helps us think big picture. I can’t wait to see some of the ideas she is developing go live. Meanwhile, our resident design experts, Alyssa Hanchar and Julia Skillin ensure that everything you see from us will be beautiful and interesting, whether it’s a promotional bookmark, a web banner, or your new favorite meme.

Finally, our newest crew member, John Leavitt, comes to us courtesy of PSU’s MFA program. John’s a fiction writer himself and has joined this term to get a sense of what goes on behind the scenes at a publishing company. When I asked him for his thoughts on Ooligan so far, he said, “I had no idea you guys did so much work! There’s a lot more to it than just printing books.”

Indeed, there is a lot of work to do, much of it still to come. But with a crew this good, I have no doubt we’ll keep our heads above water, run the rapids, weather the storms, keep everything ship-shape, and sail smoothly towards publication. Someday I’ll even run out of nautical metaphors—but I don’t sea it happening yet.

Where are the Digital Critical Editions?

Fri, 20 Mar 2015 17:00:19 +0000

This past fall term, I took both Editorial Theory and Concepts in Digital Publishing. Editorial Theory mainly dealt with the divergent (read: ideologically fraught) theoretical principles underlying the creation of critical editions—that is, “authoritative” versions of works the academy has deemed worthy of scholarly editorial treatment. Research into the genesis and development of the work in question is the basis of any critical edition. Yes—surprise! Works of literature don’t just pop into existence; they develop before and even after they are first published, and many people besides the author (think editor, publisher, Ezra Pound, your not-quite-sober typesetter) have a hand in whether the hero dies or not, whether I love or adore you, or whether this very sentence ends in an excited exclamation point or a dignified and unassuming period. (Period it is!)

One work, different versions

One work, different versions.

To illustrate what scholarly editors are dealing with in a simplified way, this little table displays, along the x-axis, five static, self-contained iterations of the text. They stretch along a y-axis, however; that is, the overall work is in an ongoing process of development, in a state of flux.

Scholarly editors are confronted, then, with a question of representation: how do they create an edition that accounts fully for the text’s multidimensionality? Traditionally, editors in the Anglo-American context have created so-called eclectic editions that “flatten” the work into one clear reading text and note the variations between text versions in sprawling footnotes and/or appendixes (yeah, you know the ones). This usually results in a text that has never before existed—the editor picked one word from the manuscript, the next word from the first edition, and so on. The German-inflected Continental school of critical editing has traditionally put more emphasis on representing the development of the work over time and has devised intricate ways of representing several text versions at once.

Recto page of Jeffrey S. Cramer's 2004 edition of Walden, an eclectic edition with a clear reading text on the left and notes on the right..

Recto page of Jeffrey S. Cramer’s 2004 edition of Walden, an eclectic edition with a clear reading text on the left and notes on the right.

Hans Zeller’s 1975 representation of the textual history of C.F. Meyer’s poem "Der Rappe des Comturs" closely echoes my hypothetical table at the beginning of this post.

Hans Zeller’s 1975 representation of the textual history of C.F. Meyer’s poem “Der Rappe des Comturs” closely echoes my hypothetical table at the beginning of this post.

Hans Walter Gabler devised a system of diacritical marks to represent Joyce's continuous writing process in his 1984 edition of Ulysses.

Hans Walter Gabler devised a system of diacritical marks to represent Joyce’s continuous writing process in his 1984 edition of Ulysses.

The drawbacks of both schools’ preferred modes of representing the work quickly become apparent. The eclectic edition, in presenting the reader with a clear reading text, conceals the work’s multidimensionality—it represents the work as a static, choate entity. The historical edition, conversely, sacrifices readability for a representation of the work’s multidimensionality, thereby making it accessible to a highly specialized readership with a decidedly academic interest in the text only.

Because I was also taking Concepts in Digital Publishing, I soon became convinced that the limitations of both the eclectic and the historical edition are, to a great extent, conditioned by the materiality of the printed book format. Ink on paper inevitably inscribes a static text.

Cut to today, to now, to our brave new World Wide Web, to hypertext, which certainly has the potential to accommodate complex textual relationships. Where are the digital critical editions? Editions that offer their reader-users accessible texts, layered presentations of text versions, critical commentary that can be toggled on and off? Editions that are responsive to their readers’ needs?

The reality, as far as I can see, is that most online scholarly projects are repositories, databases of raw material more or less curated, or digital editions (without the “critical”). Don’t get me wrong—projects like Folger Digital Texts are immensely valuable resources (for their searchability alone), but they don’t account for the multidimensionality of the work(s) they contain.

The one single digital edition I have come across thus far that best makes use of the digital environment is the Digital Thoreau’s fluid-text edition of Walden, which first went online in February 2014. It allows readers to display seven stages of Thoreau’s manuscript alongside the standard print critical edition of Walden and to track passages throughout their development. It is critically annotated, and its intuitive user interface ensures that it’s accessible to general and scholarly readers alike. In the future, the project’s creators plan to add manuscript facsimiles.

The Digital Thoreau provides a promising model for future developments that might succeed in overcoming the problems of representation inherent to printed critical editions. The digital humanities have made huge strides in the past few decades, yet there is still a scarcity of digital critical editions. Here is a huge chance for universities, scholars, programmers, and publishers to set an example by fully exploiting the advantages of the digital environment.

Interview with Hawthorne Books Editor Adam O’Connor Rodriguez

Fri, 18 Jul 2014 19:00:42 +0000

We recently got the chance to talk with Adam O’Connor Rodriguez, who currently teaches the copyediting class in PSU’s graduate program in book publishing. An industry insider, he’s worked for Portland-based Hawthorne Books since 2007 and is now their senior editor. Among other titles, he edited Frank Meeink’s Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead, James Bernard Frost’s A Very Minor Prophet, and three of Scott Nadelson’s story collections. He is currently at work on David Shields’s anthology Life is Short – Art is Shorter, due for publication in May 2015.

Besides his work as Hawthorne’s in-house editor, Adam has been freelancing as developmental editor for many years and has served as editor for various literary journals. He is also fiction editor for the Burnside Review. His own fiction, poetry, and interviews appear in a variety of venues. Hailing from West Michigan, Adam received his MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University.

We enjoyed chatting with Adam about his substantial experience and his work philosophies immensely and are glad to share some of it with you here.


Adam, thank you so much taking the time to talk to us. First off, we’re curious to hear what a typical workday looks like for you.

Since I’m mostly a freelancer and work multiple gigs at once, it’s hard to break down what a typical workday looks like for me. I sleep less than most anyone I’ve ever met, two to four hours a night, so I keep odd hours—sometimes I work from 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m., sometimes day hours, sometimes eighteen hours straight if there’s a deadline, and other times my workday consists of checking my email when I get up and deciding there’s nothing I need to handle that day. That scenario’s very rare, but the point is that freelance work is inconsistent.


You’re currently working on two forthcoming titles for Hawthorne Books. How did you get involved with the press?

After I received my MFA and got married, my wife and I ranked our top ten cities we wanted to live in after graduation. Portland was high on our lists. If we’d have moved to New York, I had a line on a job as an associate editor at a major house, a really intriguing prospect with a magazine in North Carolina, and other opportunities too. But we decided place was more important than career, so I applied for every somewhat publishing-related job in Portland for about eight months.

<p>I’d just heard of Hawthorne because Clown Girl by Monica Drake was making some waves, and they were looking to hire an assistant production manager to help with office tasks. I figured with my diverse publishing skill set, I could become valuable to the company in many ways. I’d worked in restaurants and factories for a decade before I went to college, so I wasn’t worried about starting at a low-level job and working hard. Before we moved to Portland, I interviewed with Rhonda Hughes, publisher of Hawthorne, and she was one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met. We hit it off instantly. I worked in the office for a while at first, but it quickly became obvious I should be editing books, so I’ve been working for Hawthorne on that end since 2008.


After almost a decade here, do you think Portland is treating its editors well? How would you estimate job prospects in the city?

There’s a lot of passion for books and for making books in this town, but it’s hard to make a living working only for Portland-based companies as an editor. Difficult but not impossible. There simply aren’t many living-wage editorial jobs here, and even fewer in-house editorial positions.


You’ve described yourself in class as a project-oriented editor who cares about the final product—and knowing that you had a part in it—more than the journey. With that in mind, what would your dream editing project be?

My dream project might be something like Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead, which I edited years ago for Hawthorne. The first draft, the one we bought, was very, very rough. It read like an academic paper. Through many, many rounds of edits, the very receptive and intelligent author and I collaborated to smooth it into a compelling piece of narrative nonfiction that mattered. I feel like my perfect project would always be something like that: helping guide something rough and likely unpublishable, but with a great heart, into art that matters.


Do you prefer working freelance or as in-house editor, and what are some advantages of both arrangements?

I would probably prefer working as an in-house editor, but on my terms. A hybrid would be ideal. Advantages of freelance work are obvious: I get to set my own hours, work as much or as little as I want (generally; deadlines permitting) and accept or reject projects based on any arbitrary standards I set. The main disadvantage is probably less obvious: I’m at work all the time. Every minute I’m doing anything other than working is a minute I’m not earning money. To say that I “bring my work home with me” is a silly understatement. I’m always distracted, always under deadline, rarely relaxed. The advantages of working in-house are the advantages of any job: you work a certain number of hours on a certain number of projects and get paid an agreed-upon amount for your time. There’s little homework from most in-house jobs.


Thinking about your work as a whole, can you name three principles you follow that illustrate your philosophy as an editor?

All editors have thousands of microprinciples on which we rely, but if I had to distill it, it might be something like: editing is art, not science; kindness and compassion; and first, respect the author’s intentions.


What’s one of the most common misconceptions about what it means to be an editor?

That I give a shit if someone makes an error when speaking or writing informal prose like emails. I’m about the least formal person I know, and I use more slang, profanity, and bad grammar in speech and in informal written communication than most people. Despite that, even people I’ve known for twenty years sometimes think I’m going to correct their grammar—when I wouldn’t even think about it. The other misconception people have is that editing is simple “proofreading.” Editing is such a huge range of job titles that saying you’re an editor could mean you do such a range of things at work that it requires further explanation—do you acquire books? Work with authors? Compare text against originals? Manage schedules and check freelancers’ work? Decide which books your company publishes? Each of those tasks are in some editor’s job description.


A major part of an editor’s work involves dealing with clients on a more or less regular basis. In your work, what kind of author-editor relationship do you strive for, and what do you do to help foster it?

I want authors to think I’m someone who respects them entirely but that I [also] know my shit, because I do. I want them to think I read their work with the utmost respect and care and [that] any advice I give them comes from concern for the finished product’s quality. I want them to feel they’re collaborating with me, but they’re always in charge—if there’s an argument over a decision I make in a manuscript, I want authors to feel like they’ve already won that argument. I’ll state my case with conviction, but if I can’t be persuasive, the author is automatically right. I’ve never worked with a writer who I haven’t argued with about something, but I’ve never worked with one who wouldn’t have a drink with me today. That’s what I’m looking for. I arrive at that relationship by being honest about myself as an editor and a person—my flaws and strengths—and hoping that encourages the same from an author. It does.


You’ve been working in a variety of editorial positions for quite some time. What’s the best piece of advice you ever received that’s helped you in your profession?

When Sam Ligon, a brilliant editor, told me that I was already “there” as a top-level editor, I just needed to have a lighter hand and let the author’s voice carry the work instead of trying to take ownership of the manuscript, it changed my perception entirely. Mastering editing is about learning good judgment, not memorizing arbitrary rules. Less red on the manuscript—but the right red—is a hallmark of a good editor.

Certainly the biggest mistake editors who are just starting out make is overediting. I know I used to think that the more red pen on the page, the better the edit. That’s not at all true.


You taught the class on copyediting this term, which is just coming to an end. Has this experience revealed anything for you? That is, has teaching the class made you think in new ways about your work as an editor?

Teaching the copyediting class has revealed my own weaknesses as a copyeditor. While my on-page skills are high-level, I’ve learned I rely heavily on good judgment and instinct and less so on formal training. While teaching this class, I’ve learned that I need to push hard to learn and relearn fundamentals, because most of the editing processes and protocols I’ve invented over the years through trial and error, error, error have already been refined. Book learning is no substitute for experience in any arena, but it can be and almost certainly is a shortcut to sharpening skills.

I’ve also learned that the publishing program at PSU deserves its great reputation. Of the sixteen students in my class, I’d hire five or six tomorrow if I had need for a copyeditor. And every student has shown potential to be a very good copyeditor with continued development; I wouldn’t be lying if I recommended any of them for any job.


Self-Publishing Together

Thu, 11 Apr 2013 00:42:42 +0000

By Drew Lazzara

The thing that surprises me most about the evolution of the publishing industry is a gut feeling I have that lots of people really don’t like the publishing industry.

That surprises me because, at its absolute worst, publishing seems so benign. Most of the time, publishers just make books, and for that I thank them. But in the last six years or so, as the viability of self-publishing and associated technology has afforded writers greater opportunities, there has been a surprising swell in vitriol directed at traditional publishers. In some cases, the critiques read is if writers have toiled under the yoke and oppression of slavery since the dawn of the printed word, and they are finally being liberated to connect with their audience, unencumbered.

Publishers are depicted as greedy monopolists, hoarding intellectual rights, paying pittances to indentured authors, stifling creativity, over-charging an eager-but-cash-strapped public, cruelly mediating the relationship between readers and writers, and reaping huge profits for themselves. To hear some tell it, to pursue the publication of your book through traditional channels, whether you are a huge-selling author or an entirely unknown one, is a fool’s errand. (I can’t decide whether the fact that the author of that piece I linked to, Hugh Howey, signed a deal with Simon & Schuster constitutes hypocrisy or not. I guess he still wanted to be in bookstores).

I’m not really here to defend traditional publishing. I think the industry has made plenty of shortsighted mistakes that have rendered it non-adaptable. And even if it ran like a Swiss watch, nimbly water-bugging from trend to trend and innovation to innovation, bookmaking would still not offer all the advantages of self-publishing. Margins would still be low and most writers would still get heaps of rejection slips and marketing teams would still need loads of help from their authors and there would still be no guarantees and houses would still retain most of the rights because they would still foot the bill. So, as an industry, publishing merits criticism in lots of ways.

But publishing is also a process, and that distinction is critical for readers and writers of all stripes. As businesses, traditional publishing and self-publishing are simply about who controls the process.  The process itself does not change.

Those of us who work at some stage in the process don’t make enough noise about how critical and immutable those stages are. Editing is important, because even excellent writers need someone to help them cultivate their ideas. Sometimes, they need a team of those people. Readers depend on editors. Design is important, because an ugly book, or an e-book that is practically un-readable, is an embarrassing affront to paying customers and an injustice to art. Marketing, sales, and distribution are important for obvious reasons. The people who work at these stages are critical, and they deserve to be compensated for the value they add. This stuff is the real publishing, and I will adamantly defend the process.

You know who else doesn’t make enough noise about the necessity of the publishing process? Self-published authors. In lots of cases, they have been quick to criticize, and happy to ring the death-knell of publishing, but you hear next to nothing about the team of people that made their novels a success. In the Howey piece above, he pays a bit of lip-service to editing, but he doesn’t explain that the necessity of editing (and design and distribution) means that “self-publishing” still involves lots and lots of other people (you know, publishing professionals) in order to work.

I get a bit upset about this largely because I am a publishing professional. The implication that publishing is just a money-sucking dinosaur standing in the way of fairly-compensated authors and their voracious audience is misleading and insulting. Publishing as an industry has its flaws, and is paying the price. But the evolving form of publishing has done nothing to alter the fundamental process, and that’s where real publishing happens. Everyone involved in the process believes in books, reading, writing, and art. We also believe in being paid fairly for the work we do. I believe we do all those things a disservice when we pretend that we are at odds simply because there are suddenly different ways of accomplishing a familiar goal. Self-publishing might be liberating for authors in lots of ways, but it’s also liberating for editors like me. There is a future for all of us. On the same side, just like always.