To 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.
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”?
The 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.
I 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.
An 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