Helen Ginger is a freelance editor and book consultant, with an informational and interactive blog for writers and a free weekly e-newsletter that has gone out to subscribers around the globe for ten years. She coaches writers on the publishing industry, finding an agent, and polishing their work for publication. You can also follow her on Twitter.
Let’s see what kind of advice Coach Ginger has for us as she answers my questions. Afterward, you can ask some of your own in the Comments section.
When did you first notice you were hung-up on typos?
Actually, I don’t consider myself hung-up on typos. Everybody makes typos. I do it constantly. Sometimes, my fingers seem to type whatever they want. Typos are no big deal. Word will catch some, but not all, of your typos. The others you have to catch yourself. If a word looks odd, stop and look it up in the dictionary. Another technique is to read what you’ve written, slowly, word by word. You’ll catch common mistakes like writing your when you meant you’re. Word won’t mark those for you. Correct typos and go on. Don’t get hung up on them.
What advice would you give someone interested in becoming an editor?
Most editors seem to come from a background of English. I have a Bachelor’s in English and helped to pay my undergraduate tuition by grading papers for Dr. Stedman, one of my college English professors. If you don’t have that background or if you're wanting to keep up-to-date, you’ll need to study up on the editing manuals. Choose ones written in the last decade, not ones from the last century. Styles and grammar rules change. They’re in flux. Not all, mind you, but some. A newer grammar/editing manual will have all the hard-and-fast rules, plus the new usage. Other than that, read, especially in the genre you’ll be editing.
What's the best advice you have ever received from a writer?
On writing: Create an outline or plot points, but don’t be married to it.
On editing: Get a good dictionary. Don’t rely on the limited one on your computer.
What's the best advice you've given a writer?
Listen to yourself and those you trust. Some writers will get in a critique group and try to do everything anyone in the group suggests. They end up with a jumbled manuscript with no voice. The book you’re writing is yours; it’s not a group project. That doesn’t mean you should ignore all advice. Listen to what your critique partners have to say. Take home the pages they edited and made notes on. Read their comments. Then let it sit overnight or even longer before you begin making changes (if any) to your work.
In your opinion, what makes an editor great?
An editor not only makes your manuscript better, she teaches. If an editor rewrites every cliché, for example, in your work, you learn nothing. It might make it easier for you, but you’ll keep taking the easy way out by throwing in clichés instead of working on more creative ways to say things. A great editor notes repetitive mistakes, offers one or two suggestions, then, after that, marks the mistakes so you can change them yourself. An editor works with you more than for you.
What's the one misperception about editors you want to clear up? Some people believe that the job of an editor is to correct mistakes. I believe the editor’s job is to help the writer make her work better.
Why should a writer choose to work with you?
I work hard on each manuscript. I can be really fast if your agent wants a final run-through before the manuscript goes to the publisher. Normally, though, I spend a lot of time on each book. I read each manuscript three times, marking edits and leaving comments. I read for an hour or so, then set it aside and take a break. If after getting your manuscript back, you do a rewrite of a section, I’ll look at it again. After getting back my edits, if you have questions, you can email or call. I can’t think of anyone I’ve edited that I don’t end up considering a friend.
What genres do you focus on? Why?
I do romance, young adult, and non-fiction. Primarily, however, I edit mystery or suspense. It’s what I read the most. It’s what I most often get asked to edit.
Jesaka Long is helping you get to know the pencils behind the blog. Got a burning question for your favorite contributor? Send it my way: jesaka [at] jesakalong.com.