Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Meet the Editor: Maryann Miller

You know her as:

Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, she loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

Let's find out more about Maryann in our second Meet the Editor interview.

When did you first notice you were hung-up on typos?
I started editing for a slick, quarterly magazine about ten years after I started writing freelance articles. I was hired to work with other writers to get new stories assigned, written, and edited. But I didn't do copy editing or proofing at that point. There was another editor for that. Which is good, because copy editing has never been my strong suit. I am better at working with an author to get a story right, or improve a piece of fiction. Later, I discovered that I had a knack for script editing and script doctoring, so I did that for several years for a company in New York.

What advice would you give someone interested in becoming an editor?
Learn how it is done, either by working with a really good editor, or reading and re-reading books such as The Chicago Manual of Style, The Elements of Grammar, The Elements of Editing, and Strunk and White. Owning these reference books is especially helpful if someone wants to be a proof reader or copy editor. That is not something that can be done just because a person was good in high school English.

What's the best advice you have ever received from a writer?
I can't recall any advice from a writer pertaining to editing, but I have received some good advice about writing. Years ago a writer friend suggested that I should try to focus more on just one book at a time, as I tended to be all over the place with every new idea that popped into my head. I learned to jot those ideas down, and then get back to the work at hand.

What's the best advice you've given a writer?
Don't be afraid to let a story just come. Worry about craft and technique and editing after the first draft. Sometimes we are so worried about getting something "right" that we stifle the creativity. Anne Lamott did not call them "shitty first drafts" for nothing.

In your opinion, what makes an editor great?
The best editor I worked with, who was pretty great in my book, gave excellent suggestions for things to change to strengthen the story. She was also willing to allow a dialogue between us about things I did not want to change that were story elements and not craft problems. In the end, I was free to accept or reject her suggestions as long as they weren't mistakes. It is also important for an editor to respect an author's story enough not to want to change it just because the editor would have written it differently. There is a distinction between improving the craft and changing the story or the style of the writing.

What's the one misperception about editors you want to clear up? That all we want to do is slash someone's work to pieces, or that we somehow delight in making red marks all over a page. Despite the name of this blog, there is nothing I like better than to read an entire page of someone's manuscript and not find one thing that needs fixing. That is especially true in the second-go-round with a client. Because I work as much as a coach as an editor, I often do more than one edit of a new authors work, and I am thrilled when I see that the author learned a bit of self-editing in the first effort.

Why should a writer choose to work with you?
Because I am good at what I do. I have worked with a number of writers on their first books and helped them prepare the manuscripts for publication. They have all been more than pleased with my work and most of the books went on to be published. I am gentle in my approach -- writers do have egos, you know. And my rates are very reasonable.

What genres do you focus on? Why?
I don't focus on a particular genre. Some of the books I have edited include memoirs, a humorous novel, self-help, adventure, romance, and mysteries. I have not worked much with fantasy or science fiction, as I don't read in that genre and don't feel qualified to judge whether a story is working or not. There are story structure elements, characterizations, and plotting expectations in those genres that I am not familiar with, and I would only be comfortable doing a copy edit of books in those genres.


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.

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  1. Great answers, Maryann. I too take special pleasure when the "second go-around" with a manuscript leaves very little blood red on the pages.

  2. Thanks Maryann. Editors are a lot alike, I'm finding.

    If I started a blog all about editing, I'd have to call it The Hot Pink Pen, since that's what I use when I edit hard copy. Most of my work is done online, though.

  3. See, editors like animals. They must be nice!

    Morgan Mandel

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. LOL, Morgan. I should add that to my Web site.

  6. Am I the only one who reads a manuscript for a third time?


  7. I really enjoyed learning more about you, Maryann, :-)


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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