Writers on Editing: Ronie Kendig

Ronie_KendigTo launch this new occasional feature of Writing On The Fine Line, my guest, Ronie Kendig, has donated a fantastic prize: The four-DVD set of the entire “Firefly” television show. It includes all 14 episodes, plus three unaired episodes—and more. If you haven’t seen this, it will … Change. Your. Life. Or, at least entertain you.

But, let’s make it even better: I’ll throw in the best self-editing book on the market, Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, as well as How To Write A Book Proposal, by Michael Larsen.

The winner gets it all! To enter, leave a short comment about an unforgettable editing experience you had. If it was a good experience, you can mention the editor’s name. But, if it was a bad experience, discretion is advised.

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Each writer has self-editing checks they always make with their manuscripts. What are yours?

Beyond normal plot checks, I watch for echoes of words. I also watch for “was” “–ing” pairings. I’m not a “was” Nazi, but I do pay attention to them. If I can find a better and natural way of rewriting that sentence, then I change it. If the change draws attention to the sentence, then I leave it. I also make sure each sentence ends strong, especially the last sentence of paragraphs.

When you receive edits back from an editor, whether freelance or with your publisher, what is your first reaction?

I gotta admit—I’m a jellyfish (no rhino skin on this gal), so it’s hard for me to open a document and see the editor has bled all over my baby. I’m aware of how hard this is on me, so I take my time. I read through the changes and the requested revisions, leave it for a day or two (if I can), then come back to it. I get it done and pray myself through it.

How much editing do you get back? How much do you have to “fix”?

TalonThe best example is probably to compare the two books I’ve turned in most recently: Talon: Combat Tracking Team and Beowulf: Explosives Detection Dog. In Talon, I was blessed to have only minor content/macro changes. That story poured out of me as if I’d had an IV attached. Beowulf, on the other hand, had quite a few threads to straighten or fix, and I even went in and wrote an entirely new thread to answer some questions my amazing editor had about the story.

BeowulfI admit I was discouraged that I hadn’t turned in a perfect manuscript (can you say unrealistic expectations?), but I attribute the state of that manuscript to having only 2.5 months to write because of other writing commitments, a major move across the U.S. with my family, and a conference. That edit was a bit rough.

Do the edits make you feel like you’ve failed or that you’ve been empowered? Or, do you just sigh and make them?

Initially, they always make me feel like a failure. In fact, the very first edit on my debut novel was a bloodbath—because the editor ran out of time and had to combine her macro edit with her line edit. I totally crashed and burned when I saw that.

Edits are still rough on me because I am very sensitive. But being sensitive does not equate to not succeeding. You’ve heard the phrase, “If you’re going to make it in this business, you must have a rhino skin,” right? Well, I don’t believe that. What you do need to succeed is determination. And I’m a thick-headed Irish girl, so I have that by the boatloads. For the most part, I just get the edits done. Then go eat a dozen glazed donuts.

What have you learned, as a writer, from having your books edited?

That each editor has his or her own quirks, just as writers do—and I think it’s imperative a writer is paired with the right editor. The most empowering thing that has ever been said to me is, “it’s your story,” meaning when an editor and I disagree, that’s okay. It is perfectly fine to ask the editor to leave something as you wrote it. So, when I feel strongly about things, then I do push back. But I’ve also learned that it’s important not to “waste capital” on piddly things. The relationship with your editor is so important. She or he is not against you. They want your book to be the best. You want the same thing.

When you write a series of books, do you have the same editor throughout the whole series? What’s your normal editorial process?

For my first three books, I had three different editors (and was published at two different houses). Halfway through the Discarded Heroes series, a highly respected editor and I agreed we wanted to work together. So, I put in the request to work with this amazing woman—and she has edited all my books since. She gets me. She gets what I’m writing. I’ve now done five books with this editor and it’s my prayer that I never write a book without her again.

Since I write for a smaller publisher, my books sometimes do not get a massive content edit separate from the rest of the book. The process for a single book begins with me turning in the manuscript. From there, it goes to my editor who will read for content and continuity of the characters, the main plot, the subplots, etc., and then she sends it back to me so I can address her questions and concerns. But, contained within that edit is a line edit as well.

Once I’ve made all the changes I feel are necessary, I return it to the editor. She cleans up the document and processes what I’ve changed. She might have a question or two more, and then she returns it to my publisher. The next time I see my book it’s in galley form. This is where I do a read-thru of the manuscript to catch any last-minute typos and other changes that have affected the manuscript.

What would you say to unpublished writers about freelance editing of their manuscripts?

The most critical thing is to be sure you’re getting what you’re looking for. If an editor is only going to hunt down passives or the like, make sure that’s what you want. If you’re looking for story content and flow, make sure the editor is doing that. Paired with that, make sure this editor is someone who finds the kind of stuff you’re looking for.

I’ve hired an editor before that I thought was perfect. I was wrong—but it was also partly my fault. Not until I got the edit back did I realize my mistake. Slapping a couple hundred bucks on the table for an edit does not a perfect manuscript guarantee.

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RonieKendigAn Army brat, Ronie Kendig grew up in the classic military family, with her father often TDY and her mother holding down the proverbial fort. Their family moved often, which left Ronie attending six schools by the time she’d entered fourth grade. Her only respite and “friends” during this time were the characters she created.

It was no surprise when she married a military veteran—Brian, her real-life hero—in June 1990. They have four children and live with three dogs in Dallas TX.

Since her first publication in 2010, Ronie and her books have been gained critical acclaim and national attention, including a Christy Award for contemporary romance in 2012 for Wolfsbane. Visit her online.

Read more about Ronie in this article by Diana Prusik in the ACFW Journal. Share your unforgettable editing experience to enter!

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

28 thoughts on “Writers on Editing: Ronie Kendig

  1. My most memorable editing session happened at a conference. I met an editor, and she agreed to look over one of my pieces. She returned it in a day with little red circles all over the pages. In each circle was the same word. She wrote in the margin, “Your favorite word?”

    Best editing lesson I’ve ever had. And she remains my friend to this day.

  2. I had a great experience with an editor, Erynn Newman. She was personable, had great turnaround, reasonably priced, and taught me so much. I was smiling at my own mistakes throughout the WIP instead of feeling defensive. She helped me tweak my writing so that I learned in the process. Someone I would definitely recommend – in fact, I have recommended her to many people.

    Thank you for this opportunity.

    clSwalwell@gmail.com

    In Him,

    Cheri 🙂

    • That’s a great editor … one who can have you smiling at your mistakes. I find that it’s a question of perspective on the editor’s part that enables that. When we make it clear that we’re trying to help the writer make their writing better, not just pointing out error after error, it’s much easier to take. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I am unpublished as far as fiction. I hired Sharon Hinck to do a line by line edit of an 80,000 first manuscript. She not only found the story I had hidden in my rough riding draft but re-endeared my characters to me. The specific enthusiasm as well as the gentle but firm exasperation she offered allowed me to gently shelf my first endeavor and unleash a conscious effort to improve.

  4. Great post, Ronie!

    I had a helpful edit done by Gina Holmes, and I truly felt empowered. She pointed out strengths in my writing, so when I did read a comment about something that didn’t quite work, it didn’t hurt. I learned a lot about my own writing, and the experience left me feeling like–with what I’d learned in those few pages–I could tackle the full MS on my own and make it shine. She respected my voice. A few other editors seemed intent on rewriting my work with their voice. There’s nothing more irritating than that.

    And this is an important point for people seeking an editor, as Ronie mentioned–“Slapping a couple hundred bucks on the table for an edit does not a perfect manuscript guarantee.” Find an editor who offers a few sample pages and make sure you’ll benefit from working with them. Or tell them straight up, “I’m looking for help on A and B.” When you find an editor who listens to that and equips YOU to write your best? You’ve found gold.

  5. I usually have to let the mss sit in my inbox for a couple of days and work up my courage to look at it. After the initial “go through” I generally walk away, weeping, and then curl up in the fetal position with some chocolate and a few dozen Dr. Peppers, convinced that I have no business trying to be an author and that I should give it all up and study to be a pipefitter or something. Three days later, I emerge from my sugar coma and open up the mss and… attack! Somehow, this process seems to fortify me for rewriting (I think it’s due to the chocolate and Dr. Pepper.) It is at this point that I remember that I AM A WRITER and that I am, also, a RE-WRITER and I re-realize how blessed I am to be graced by the wisdom of my trusted editors.

    I have a process of using two developmental editors. The first one identifies the big holes in the story, the cheesy stuff, the scenes that are lacking something, or (more often) scenes I’ve sent into overkill territory. She guides me into a fairly extensive rewrite and encourages every “aha!” moment–even when those discoveries send me back to the fetal position for an hour or two. (She’s talked me down from so many ledges, in fact, that I would recommend her to the local PD if they don’t have a psychologist available for that guy on the bridge.) When I’ve completed that first official rewrite I generally float on a cloud of “I’m so awesome” for a few days, believing my hard work has resulted in a perfect plot, well-rounded characters, and tension on every page.

    So far, this has turned out to be an incorrect assumption. But a nice few moments of bliss.

    After the cloud of awesomeness dissipates I take the plunge and send the rewritten mss to the second developmental editor. She finds holes in the new material, points out the many places where I “overfixed” problems identified by the first editor, and places where I need to add tension, earlier, and more often. This editor helps me pare scenes down, pick up the pace, and attack scenes and plot points with further clarity, in fewer words.

    And when it’s all done, I celebrate with some more chocolate and Dr. Pepper and big virtual hugs to these special ladies who give so much of their time, imagination, and talent to help me make my books better: Sandra Byrd & Jenny Quinlan (Historical Editorial) I can’t imagine a better team!

    • Serena, first off, you ARE a writer! LOL. I was engrossed just reading your post about editing. Heh heh. Sandra Byrd is great, too. I worked with her a couple times when we both worked for The Christian Writers Guild. Thanks for sharing! It was very entertaining.

      • Glad you were entertained! If I can make someone laugh, it is a good day. 🙂 And, as I told Ronie on FB, my long-winded comment is simply more evidence of why I need editorial input! LOL.

  6. I’ve not been through the editing process… yet. The time is coming and I admit to feeling relieved in reading that Ronie is a jellyfish. I’m trying to prep myself for the process but I am far from rhino-skinned. The whole process so far has taught me so much that, although I am so nervous, I am looking forward to the learning that will come with it. Thank-you to everyone for sharing your experiences. I am reading them all.
    Ronie is amazing and I love her books. Awesome to see the front cover of Beowulf too!

      • Thank you! I’m not so much worried about the editors, but more at my own reaction. Like many of us, I am my own worst enemy. Where an editor would be throwing me a lift-raft to help me figure out where I want to go, I would likely be holding my own head under the water in shame. I’m hoping that I pleasantly surprise myself.

  7. So far the only editing experience I’ve had was in a contest I entered. It was interesting to see the differences in the comments left by the three judges. It made me realize that once I am in a place to have my manuscript edited, I will have to remember that some of the suggestions are due to the preferences of the editor, and that a different editor might make different suggestions. That will hopefully keep me from taking the suggestions too personally. That the editor is really just helping make the manuscript the best it can be.

  8. I love everything about this. Michael is right, I was also surprised about Ronie at first, because her characters are tough as nails, but she’s one of the most sensitive and sweet people I’ve ever met.
    Also, thanks for the shout out, Cheri! I’m so glad I was able to help.
    Personally, I haven’t been professionally edited yet, but I’ve gotten lots of feedback from crit partners, agents, award-winning authors (including Gina AND Ronie), and some contest judges. Some of it has been amazingly helpful, and I know made my story stronger. Some has been really encouraging. Some hard to hear, but still good for me, and some just downright crazy.
    I definitely have the jellyfish skin too, so I often have to walk away and come back to it after taking some time to process. It’s sometimes hard to decide whether I resist a change because it’s just hard or it’s genuinely not right for my story.
    I’m so thankful for the friends and crit partners who have loved me and my stories enough to help make them better.

    • Erynn, Glad you stopped by! It’s important to be able to discern what’s helpful for your story and what is not…what could even be harmful to your story. No editor, just like no author, is perfect. But more often than not we can work together to get a manuscript closer to perfect.

  9. Great article.

    I have a habit of using the same phrases all the time. His fists curl at his sides, her heart beats against her ribcage.

    Someone editing one of my stories for a contest pointed this out and turned me onto tag crowd. Now I put each scene in to see what words I repeat a lot of. It always amazes me some of the words I use over and over again. But it has definitely cleaned up my writing a lot!

  10. I really enjoyed Ronie’s experience working with an editor. Since I’ve been on both sides of the coin, I admit that the editing process is not for the faint of heart. The first time I had a story selected for publication and received the requested edits, at first I was a little demoralized, as in I hadn’t written the perfect story, but over the years, I’ve learned to ‘get over it’. As writers, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. As an editor, I am conscientious about my suggestions and the manner in which feedback is delivered. I’m not an ‘easy’ editor, but I believe in working with the writer to make the work the best it can be.

    One last word on editors, I was asked to write an article, which I did, and some edits were requested, which I made, but let’s just say I was shocked when the article appeared in print, and there wasn’t much that looked familiar. After speaking with the editor, the reply was that things had changed direction and there wasn’t time to contact me for the rewrite… but ‘you’ll get paid for it anyway’. It was definitely a learning experience.

    It would be great to win the prize. I look forward to checking out some of Ronie’s books.

  11. You had me at unaired “Firefly” episodes!

    I have had editing from critique partners, a published author, and I had a great editing experience with you Michael. My most unforgettable moment was with a critique partner a few years ago. She tore my writing apart, and I was devastated as a new writer. Several weeks ago I went back and read her comments only to realize they were really weren’t that bad. They were actually helpful.

    It is always hard when you first see all of those red words and comments all over your heart and soul, but after the initial shock wears off I am grateful. I try to soak in the feedback and apply it to my writing so that I can become better. Editors are so important in the writing process because it is really hard to pull yourself out of your own writing.

  12. A good editor makes me look with it and brilliant. And they don’t get any credit. (Well, maybe some from a writer who understands what they’re getting from a good editor, but most of the time, very little.) Mike is one of those good editors. The generosity involved is pretty amazing.

    However, I had the opportunity to do some professional editing for several months a couple of years back. I still remember the experience with a certain amount of dread. The hostility I got from a writer I was trying to help never ceased to surprise me. And the lies. Did they think I didn’t know? I learned so much about working with an editor from that experience. Like, if you’re behind and you know it, just say so. It’s so much better than “the dog ate my homework” story.

    I wrote about someone I gave advice who now makes six figures as a writer, and how that connected to my editing experience. If Mike will permit me, I’ll put the link here.

    http://pikespeakwriters.blogspot.com/2012/01/column-business-of-writing-editors-seat.html

    Who knows, you may get a chuckle out of it, and maybe even take away something that’ll increase your bottom line. (Now wouldn’t that be nice?)

    • Thanks my friend! It’s great to work with a writer who gets what editing is all about. In the link, Linda says to be “that” writer. The one the editor LOVES to work with. Yeah, see, she gets it because she IS that writer.

    • How exciting! Please see it as a wonderful opportunity to learn more as a writer. Soak it in and don’t, as Ronie suggests, be afraid to push back on the suggested changes you think might damage your story. But do so with grace and humility–and pick your battles wisely.

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