Hi, welcome to the Library of Erana and thank you for talking to us today.
Thanks for having me!
Please introduce yourself.
I’m Jillian Leigh. Like Batman, I have two identities: one is as an author of historical romance, the other is as an editor. Unlike Batman, I don’t wear a tight-fitting suit to fight crime. Instead, I get to fight word crimes in my pyjamas (sorry, bad joke, I know). I work with several publishers as a content and copy editor, as well as providing freelance editing and formatting services for indie authors.
Perhaps I should point out that I don’t actually work in my pyjamas—though I could if I wanted to. That’s the beauty of this job!
How did you get into this line of work?
Going through the process of being edited myself—and seeing editors at work—served as a catalyst for getting me started. I’m also an ex-English teacher and I’ve been writing, critiquing and judging contests for a long (long!) time. I’d always been interested in editing, but once upon a time, opportunities to have a career in publishing were rather limited. Fortunately, changes in the industry over the last decade have opened up things for editors as well as writers. I’ve been lucky enough to slide in sideways, so to speak.
Are there genres you refuse, if so why is that? Do you have any you love?
I never say never. If I turned something down, it would most likely be because of graphic physical or sexual violence, or because I found the content offensively discriminatory in some way. Thankfully, that situation hasn’t arisen yet. While I’m open to all genres, I do have my favorites, of course. I particularly enjoy all sub-genres of romance as well as erotica, women’s fiction, historical fiction, New Adult and Young Adult fiction. I think my understanding of romance makes me better suited to that genre as well.
Are you also a writer? If so do you self-edit or do you use the services of another editor?
Yes, I’ve been writing for quite a while. My work goes through a publisher, but if I were to self-publish, I would definitely hire a freelance editor. Everyone needs another set of eyes on their work, because even the most careful and talented of writers still has ‘blind spots’—problem areas they don’t even know are a problem.
What are your opinions of self-edited work by authors?
Every writer has to do some editing—i.e. revising and redrafting in order to make the book stronger. It’s a pretty rare author who can whip up a first draft and call it a day. But I know you’re talking about authors who publish their books without having them professionally edited. I believe that authors who choose to do this are missing out on some major benefits:
- Professional editing can save the author from embarrassing bloopers or needless typos (and the harsh reviews that often result from either);
- It makes the book (and by extension, the author) look more professional;
- It’s a valuable learning experience for any writer, new or experienced.
I understand that sometimes authors are reluctant to seek out an editor. One reason often cited for this is the cost involved. But I would argue that in this competitive environment, editing is more affordable than ever before, and there are ways to find funding for this purpose if money is tight. Another reason some writers forgo professional editing is that they’re afraid the editor will butcher their book. This is why getting a sample edit is so important. Authors should also remember that, whilst they are paying for the editor’s advice, they aren’t obliged to take it if they feel it interferes with their voice or style. Look at the issue behind the advice, and see if there’s another way to fix it—one that you feel comfortable with.
Have you ever refused a manuscript?
On a couple of occasions, I’ve turned down a copy editing job because I felt the manuscript needed more structural work first.
Have you ever had an author refuse your suggestions/changes? If so how did you deal with it?
Not that I’m aware of. But, as I said above, ultimately, it’s up to the author to decide what’s best for the book. I always tell authors that I’m happy to discuss the reasoning behind my suggestions. An author is more likely to agree with my suggestions if s/he understands the rationale behind them, agrees that there is an issue to fix and figures out the best way to fix it (whether that’s the way I suggest, or something even better).
Editors often receive a bad press in the writing community, what are your thoughts on this?
Yes, I’ve noticed this. We do get accused a fair bit of being frustrated writers on a power trip! I have to say, though, sometimes this distrust of editors is merited. I think we’ve all heard horror stories about the editor from hell who rewrote the book the way she wanted it, or who apparently couldn’t find one thing she didn’t want to change.
On the other hand, sometimes that distrust is founded on ignorance or inexperience. Some authors are surprised by the extent and scope of their edits, particularly if they’ve never been through the editing process before (e.g. through traditional publishing), they haven’t been exposed to intensive critique by others, and they haven’t yet learned to separate their product from themselves. (I don’t mean that to sound patronizing; it’s hard for any of us to separate our ego from our work. However, professional writers must do it to a certain extent if they’re going to survive in a harsh industry.) Receiving a lengthy editorial letter or mark-up on every page can be an uncomfortable, humbling experience for even the most confident of us, and especially if the author isn’t accustomed to receiving impartial feedback.
And, as if that isn’t enough, the relationship is further complicated by the fact that, except in rare circumstances, pretty much all communication is conducted long-distance. Take away body language and tone of voice, and what sounds matter-of-fact to one person might sound harsh to another. There’s an art to writing comments that are neither too long-winded nor too curt. I don’t know that any of us manage that 100% of the time.
Please could you tell us about the process involved with editing for, say, a 100k word Manuscript.
If I’m doing substantive (aka content) editing, the first thing I do is read the entire book a couple of times. At this point, I don’t do anything with the manuscript. I’ll jot down notes, but basically my role is that of a reader. After I’m familiar with the story, I’ll consider where, in my opinion, the book could be made stronger. Usually I’ll write a summary for the author with specific examples, and provide suggestions or alternatives to assist in fixing the issues I’ve raised. If the author agrees with my assessment, s/he goes ahead and revises as needed. After we’re both happy that the basic structure of the book is solid, I’ll look at things line by line—the logic of cause and effect/stimulus and response, sentence construction, word choice, POV violations, showing vs. telling, and whatever else crops up. All changes are tracked so that the author can accept or reject changes and see the comments I’ve made.
When I’m copy editing, I’ll read a portion of the manuscript to get a feel for how the author writes, but then I basically start at the beginning and go through it line by line. I make sure that the basics (spelling, punctuation, grammar) are correct, but I also check for clunky, overly long or repetitive sentences, I make sure that the right word is being used in the right place, and I do some basic fact-checking as well.
What is the difference between proof-reading and editing?
Proofreading, whilst its meaning has become more generalized over time, is essentially about checking for errors. Editing goes beyond that, to look at clarity, conciseness, and matters of style and technique.
Do you have a part of the process you really enjoy? Is there a part you don’t?
I must say this is the most enjoyable work I’ve ever done. Some manuscripts are harder work than others, but even the toughest one is still a lot easier to whip into shape than a hormonal teenager who hates writing essays!
Outside of your work as an editor do you read for pleasure? What genre do you enjoy the most?
I read a lot. I can’t imagine an editor (at least a fiction editor) not enjoying reading, not loving language and books and stories that take you out of yourself and into another world. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I particularly enjoy romance (contemporary, historical, erotic, NA). On the other hand, I also love an interesting biography, and I enjoy true crime, history and historical fiction as well.
If so do you find yourself editing the work as you go or are you able to “switch off?”
It really depends on how much there is to edit J. A few typos here and there don’t worry me too much. I’m more likely to be pulled out of the story by the constant misuse of words. When an author—who is a wordsmith by trade—can’t be bothered to choose the most exact word, or even one that makes sense, I have to wonder what they think writing is about! I must admit I also find it difficult sometimes to finish a book that is obviously someone’s first effort at writing and isn’t ready to be out there yet. That’s when I really wish the author had received some helpful feedback and advice, if not from a professional, then from a writing group or critique partner.
What advice would you give to someone starting out as an editor?
Be patient and start slowly. Don’t be disheartened if the world doesn’t come knocking on your door right away. As with authors, discoverability is one of the biggest hurdles you’ll face. Try to find some opportunities to get your name out there. Do your best work.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to self-edit?
OK, I realize that may not have been the most persuasive argument, and not particularly helpful advice. So, for anyone who wants to go it alone, here are some things you can do to prepare your book for publication:
- After you’ve written the first draft, set it aside for a time and work on something else. Then come back to the manuscript, preferably after a month or more (you’ll have achieved a bit of mental and emotional distance from the book by this stage), and read it through. You’ll be amazed at how many things you see that need fixing.
- Look at the book scene by scene. Is every scene pulling its weight? Does the book begin and end strongly? Is there rising tension? Are your characters’ goals significant enough? Are the conflicts, whether internal or external, serious and complex enough to sustain the plot? Could you eliminate or consolidate sub-plots/characters/scenes? Have you used the most effective point of view in each scene? Does the pacing vary throughout the book—quicker in scenes of action or tension, and slower in love scenes or moments of introspection? Have you ‘shown’ the story rather than ‘told’ it? Is your writing vivid, with strong verbs and specific adjectives?
- Invest in one or both of these books: Getting the Words Right by Theodore Cheney and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King. Both are well worth buying for their in-depth advice.
- Find some beta readers who enjoy your genre. Rather than inviting them to give their general impressions, ask them to answer specific questions about your book. Then use the information they give you to make further improvements.
- Use some of the free online editing tools available. You can find some of them at http://editminion.com, https://www.autocrit.com, and http://prowritingaid.com. They’re not infallible, and they do limit how much text you can have analysed at one time, but they will help you to see where you’ve overused words or used clichés.
Tell us a silly fact about yourself.
I have no spatial awareness or map-reading skills whatsoever. I can turn the map 360° and it still doesn’t help. My husband would actually rather ask for directions than rely on my navigation!
Please add any links to your blog/website etc.
Thanks for having me! If anyone is interested in getting touch with me, please visit http://firstlookforauthors.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.