Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Really, Editors Are People Too!

   One of the most painful lessons to learn throughout the publishing of The Gaze: there's no such thing as self-editing.  However, stubborn as always, I gave it an honest effort and had the audacity to feel satisfied with the end result.
  I came across a reader who proclaimed Gaze had "countless errors."  
  After spending an entire night looking at page after page, I ran into a couple of words that weren't spaced, one that was misspelled (form instead of from), and one or two comma issues.
  I replied to the reader to apologize for the errors, genuinely mortified.
  The reader surprised me by pointing out my potential as a writer and suggested I needed a good copy editor.  Of course I needed a copy editor, but at over 255,000 words, the fee was... well, exorbitant.  (I told one editing firm that I was looking to edit my novel, not put their children through college.)
   She then offered to help me edit the piece.  My pride and ego conspired against my common sense and challenged her with a "What do I need you for?  I'm getting some good reviews."
   Heather Jacquemin then simply showed me the error of my ways.  After correcting a few pages, I changed my tune and profusely apologized.  
   To use a cliché―I'm positive will make Heather cringe―it marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  
   Throughout her editing of The Gaze, I learned more than I could have anticipated.  She pointed out my tendencies, redundancies, word overuse, and plot inconsistencies.  At one point, I bit my lip and let my head drop on the desk.  Talk about a wake up call...  
   Her comments were direct and to the point; at times in the form of textual slaps I sorely needed to improve. 
   So what makes an editor?  Some of my author friends may agree with my own image of a malevolent, heartless grouch, wielding a red pen, eager to make our heart bleed with each slash, cutting our book along with our dreams to ribbons.  Just like she would slash that last sentence.
   A bit melodramatic perhaps, but I do have some experience with a certain English professor who loved to rip my essays right before my eyes if she wasn’t pleased with my work.  That’s how I viewed editors. 
   My Sheri is not an editor, but she is a reader cursed (or blessed depending on the situation) with linear thinking, but that’s exactly what makes her a better candidate to be an editor rather than a writer.  With tears in my eyes, I’ve handed her pieces of writing that she found lacking, which left me sullen for hours before going back to the page.  (Hell yeah, I sulked.)
   It’s not easy to swallow those, but I began asking myself: Do I want to see this type of critique from a dozen reviewers?  The answer was no.  I’d rather hear it from someone I know and trust. 
   An editor is an important ally every writer needs.  But, did you know there are different types of editing?  I didn't.  And if you think about all the work that goes into staring at a manuscript, looking for grammatical errors, typos, inconsistencies, and general flaws one paragraph at a time, then you'd ask yourself, why would anyone in their right mind want to be an editor?
   Why not ask mine?

What made you want to edit?

I’ve always loved the beauty of the perfect word, sought refuge in books, and excelled in writing.  I started my career as a high school English teacher. Two years in, an administrator asked me to teach journalism because she thought my “creativity” made me the perfect candidate. Following my inaugural year as newspaper adviser, I jumped into advising competitive yearbook at the national level. I recognized my skill for coaching writing, and I loved the idea of creating a book integrating writing, photography, and design. Years later, in the thick of indie-publishing, I read and reviewed some novels that prompted me to offer my professional help to writers. I began freelance copyediting because I wanted to use my skills to help authors. I enjoy copyediting, but I’m also good at it.

And I can attest to your skills.  The finalized version of The Gaze is smoother, much more concise, and several pages lighter.  What makes editing worthwhile? 

Editing is worthwhile because I get to play an integral role in a lengthy creative process. I enjoy visualizing a goal, planning its success, and following through until the end. Helping others materialize their visions also thrills me because I have the opportunity to watch their creative vision morph into a sellable product. Editing is worthwhile because it can elevate a decent manuscript into a great one; editing won’t turn a total failure into excellence, but it will certainly improve every manuscript significantly. 

It's clear you have a passion for editing.  You don't look at it like a chore as most of us, authors would.  What's the editing process?

I skim the manuscript before I begin working with a client to make sure it doesn’t require more or less editing than the author believes. After we agree on the level of editing, I begin. For a copyedit or substantive edit, I read through the manuscript once to get a feel for the general story. I begin the style sheet and make notes that I will later use to detail the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses. Then, I use Microsoft’s Track Changes feature to copyedit line-by-line. Authors can either accept or reject the changes I’ve made, but I encourage them to dialogue with me about any possible objections before making their final decisions. I offer professional, individualized service, and my thorough input accommodates each author’s style. 
It's an awful lot of work.  What is the toughest part of editing?

Criticizing another person’s work and communicating its problems is never an easy task, even when spurred by good intentions. The toughest part of editing is not the editing, but in approaching the piece of writing and its author with fragility yet conviction, assertiveness yet gentleness. It can also be tough to balance the big picture with the details, and know when to focus on which issue, especially when the piece of writing is, well, a mess. Unfortunately, fragile egos, uncertainty in changing times, and bad experiences with other editors often taint a client’s perspective, so I find myself fighting against negative stereotypes of editors and prejudiced ideas about editing in general, especially during this foundational shift of the publishing industry toward self-publishing. But like all good relationships, professional relationships take time, good communication, compromise, and strength, all of which I willingly invest.  
That about sums up our initial meeting, but I'm glad I didn't listen to my ego or what was left of my pride after your review... more on that later.   Do you have to care about the story? In other words, do you have to like the story before you decide to edit it?

A good story is a good story, regardless of genre. Stories should be well-paced and have active verbs, tension on every page, believable dialogue, and consistent and authentic narration. Of course, I prefer reading a story I love because I’m a reader at heart, but no, I don’t have to like the story to edit it. My editing laser beam does not have an OFF switch, so I don’t have to worry that potential disinterest will blind me.

I've always wondered about that.  So in other words, you take a very clinical approach to editing, which is an advantage for the author.  What's the extent of your responsibility as a contributor for the success of the piece?

My level of responsibility for the success of a piece depends on how much input I’ve given. If I helped develop the piece of writing, I feel more responsible for its success than if I only proofread it. Ultimately, the manuscript’s success depends on the general market and its readers, the author’s skill, the quality of the advertising, the competency of the editor, and the effectiveness of the cover design. Oh – and a little luck and hard work never hurt, either.

I used to think (and I wasn't the only one) that English majors and grammar zealots would eventually turn a novel into a text book.  How do you conserve your author's voice?

Diction creates tone, and tone creates voice. To conserve that voice, I remain conscientious of the author’s tone and I never haphazardly choose or remove words. I also zoom in on each character’s voice and personality, checking for consistency and authenticity. Cutting out unnecessary words does not alter the author’s voice; instead, it removes the muzzle that muffles the clarity of that voice.

That's what impressed me the most when you got done with The Gaze.  The tone was actually clearer.  Here's a question I'll probably regret.  What are your editing pet peeves?

Lazy writing irks me; I will kill every cliché, every arbitrary repetition, every instance of an unreliable narrator, every unnecessary word, and every weak use of there isthere arestuffthingverymany, and beautiful.  I also feel frustrated when authors don’t believe they need copyeditors, or when authors don’t invest 100% effort into their manuscript before requesting my advice and opinion. I prefer working with authors who strive for excellence because it is mutually beneficial when both partners work hard and work well.

I can't help feeling every one of those pet peeves applies to me.  Completely accurate of where I was when we crossed paths.  There are so many things I thought were so beautiful, and I thought I wrote a lot of very interesting stuff, good as gold, and right as rain... Okay, I'll stop.  I'm glad you showed me how wrong I was.  Or at least I was after I stopped kicking the doors and cowering in a corner like an abused puppy.  (couldn't help it) When the writing is terrible, how do you go about addressing the issues to your author?

If the writing is terrible, I inform the author honestly and directly. I am paid to provide my honest, professional opinion, even if that opinion scalds. Sometimes, I may have to renegotiate our agreement if excessive revisions will necessitate extensive time. But I will always communicate and assume the author wants to devote time to improving the manuscript. I am a problem-solver, so I value constructive criticism and use it as a gauge of my usefulness; the more constructive criticism I offer, the more value I have.

Just like you did when pointing out how much you honestly hated one of my characters because...  No need to go into that.  (ahem)  What does it take to impress you as a reader, as an editor?

As a reader, I’m impressed with stories that linger in my heart or mind long after I’ve finished reading them. I love stories that I have to digest before I can even consider gulping down another story. I like when I can still feel the marks on my arm from the punch a story has given me. As an editor, I’m impressed with purposeful, powerful narratives complete with appropriate pacing, which is a feat for most writers of fiction.

You've validated my goal as a writer, to produce a memorable piece of writing.  It's good to know what an editor wants out of an author.  Once you make a comment or recommendation, how do expect your authors to react?

Editing requires criticism and change, two large pills for authors to swallow. Side effects may include feelings of worthlessness, headaches, levels of anger ranging from frustration to rage, a physiological drive to fight or flee, a temporary reduction in self-pride, and an obsessive need to rewrite. Over time, side effects will subside, creating renewed hope, a motivating sense of productivity, and abundant gratification and appreciation.

Yup, I used some grapefruit juice and vodka to swallow those pills, and I went through every side effect, particularly attaining renewed hope and motivation.  What's rewarding to you as an editor?

Watching a manuscript undergo the editing process inspires me.  Editing rewards my competitive side, the one that thrives on successfully finishing challenges. Editing also rewards my inner philanthropist because I know my skills ease authors’ pain and maximize their productivity. Editing fulfills my need to create, my need to produce an item of value, and my need to reach out and help other people.

Have you considered writing your own material, and would you be the one to edit it?

Right now, I have no intention of publishing in the near future. If I ever did choose to publish, I would read my manuscript no fewer than forty times before sending it to a copyeditor. In my hunt for a copyeditor with excellent communication skills and a sharp eye, I would scour websites, peruse blogs, and ask for recommendations. I wouldn’t enter a courtroom without a lawyer or a classroom without a teacher, nor would I enter the publishing arena without an editor on my side.
You couldn't be more right.  Scammers are always on the prowl.  Editor aside, what makes Heather, the person?  

My sophomore year of college, I gave birth to my first daughter on a Sunday. On Wednesday, I returned to my English 102 class, cursing the wooden chairs for the entire three hours. During my senior year of college, my water broke in the school library during a research project in my Literary Genres class. I gave birth to my second daughter that day, a Friday, and returned to class on Monday. My Literary Genres professor has never forgotten me, that mommy-to-be who earned a 4.0 both semesters she brought her daughters into this world. I approach editing with a similar technique to parenting; I am firm, consistent, fair, strong, and effective. I have high expectations and I encourage and expect hard work, pride, and 100% effort. I am not the heartless, foaming-at-the-mouth editor who thrives on making authors cry with my criticisms. I am a mom, a teacher, a vegetarian, and an aunt to seventeen nieces and nephews. But mostly, I am a hard worker, an overachiever of sorts, and a teacher at heart.

Heather, I've told you several times how grateful I am to have crossed paths with you.  I resisted the idea of introducing you this way because frankly, I didn't want to share your skills with others.  
I appreciate your honesty, your strength as a person, and more than anything, your infinite patience. Having you in my corner has strengthened the level of my writing far more than I could have anticipated.  

* * *

   I used to think editors and authors lived a similar relation to a judge and a lawyer or even a cop and a criminal.  Heather may have wanted to keep up that old adage, but she has a big heart.  Which shocked me because I honestly believed heartlessness was a prerequisite for editors.  But really, editors are people too! 
   I wasn't naive enough to believe I'd reach my goals by myself, but I have a hard time trusting those who claim to be the best at anything.  To elicit a frown from Heather, she can talk the talk and walk the walk.  She's been an instrumental part in writing My Two Flags.  Because of its premise, I'm too emotionally close to the story, and I knew I'd run into a problem with objectivity, but Heather was able to give me the right perspective to make that novel a piece of writing worth reading, and I can't wait to see what we can accomplish as a team in the future.

To learn more about Heather and her Editing Services visit:

See what a brutally honest review look like from an avid reader. http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/8578690-heather


  1. This is brilliant! Heartening to see someone give an editor the validation they too should receive. They are the hidden co-author, the collaborator, the ones who make the work 'shiny' with their polish. All too often the editor is left tucked out of sight with just a short acknowledgement. Good on you Javier for this qualification and congrats to Heather for recognising Javier's spark and helping him to ignite. (I've checked this 40 times for errors...)

    1. Thanks, Kaye! I know... I've been much more conscientious of my spelling.

  2. I think it's wonderful, Javier, that you did this interview with Heather. I was curious to learn what she thought of editing, the process she typically follows, and a bit of her background. Now that I know a little about her I am convinced she might take the book I'm currently working on and throw it in a wood chipper to turn it back into a tree. Haha, just kidding. I'm happy to learn about such a wonderful person, and the thought is now raked and planted in my mind to use her services when I get to that point in my writing. ;)

    1. Editing is one of those skills best left to someone with the training, the honesty, and the passion for it. And Heather is terrific. Thank you, Kristi

  3. This post will be an eye opener for many. I could have written every answer myself (except for the 4.0 and babies thing...CHEERS to you Heather!) because I completely agree with Heather and approach my clients in the same way. I hope they feel the same way about my work as you do about your editor's. You've heard it from me before Javier. We're not trying to break you. We just know what you are capable of, and work very hard to yank it out of you and onto the paper. I think this is a fitting "thank you" to someone who is passionate about her job and should be recognized for the good work that she does.

    1. It takes a special talent to edit. I've said before that the mindset of an author is a light bulb while an editor's is a laser beam. I can pull my mind in several directions, which does little good without focus. Heather gave me specific areas to focus on, and the story improved exponentially, by spotting issues I would have never seen.

  4. This post made me cringe..because I have lived your life! It's hard to give your baby up and let someone else take the reigns! But finding not only a friend and an editor is priceless! I feel the same about my editor, she's amazing, but bitterly honest and that's what good editor/author relationship should be!!
    Cheers, Lisa Thanks for the post :)

    1. Lisa,
      Heather could tell you I did not exactly receive her critiques with open arms, back when she was just another reader. I still have the bitterly honest email that put me in a corner to lick my wounded pride. However, once I got over that, and realized she was gauging the level of my commitment to improve, she became akin to my old football coach, who endlessly berated me in the interest of pushing me to be the best I could be. That's what an editor should be to an author. I've come to appreciate brutal honesty.

  5. Wonderful tribute to editor Heather. I wish more authors appreciated the efforts of their editors. Heather, few author admit to having less than stellar skills and are willing to learn, shoving ego and pride aside. A great team will always accomplish great goals.
    I laughed a few times, no one loves a wise cracking author more than I do, but don't think for a moment that shall earn you leniency. Best of luck and here is to a bright future for both of you!

    1. Thank you, Kaycee, that means a lot coming from you. I hope you're discovering the next great British novelist.

    2. Kaycee, you're so right about authors not typically burying their pride and accepting that someone else might actually make their writing better. Sheesh - I don't know who gave editors such a bad name, but I intend to turn that around. And yeah, Javier just loves to tease me and torture me; I think it's his special way of inflicting a fraction of the pain he must feel after I've finished editing his manuscripts. :)

  6. Thank you for this post, Javier. I love the way it turned out after you added the funny pictures and cartoon. But - ahem - that little paragraph exemplifying my pet peeves made me cringe, wiseguy. But hey, I guess we shouldn't always be too serious, eh?

    1. I had to get it out of my system. All is fair in text and blog. I won't do that again in a novel. Deal?

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