Wednesday, June 28, 2017

There's Editing - Then There's Editing

While I've edited a lot of books and articles in the number of years I've been a professional, I've never done anything quite like my latest project, which was working with another writer to put his newspaper columns into a book. But before I tell you about that, let me back up to the beginning of this whole thing.

Four years ago, I was contacted by Arcadia Publishing, asking if I would do a book about Winnsboro for their Images series. I think they found me online, which shows that an online presence can pay off, and they wanted my small town included in the series. Since I am relatively new to this area – sixteen years – I told the editor that I would be happy to do the book if I could work with the Official Winnsboro Historian, Bill Jones. They agreed, and Bill agreed, so we worked for a little over six months to put the first book together - Images of America, Winnsboro. As the title suggests, it is a book comprised mostly of photographs.

After that book came out, a number of people around town said it would really be great if all of the columns and articles that Bill has written about the history of this area of East Texas were compiled for a book. We didn’t mean for four years to elapse before we did the next book, but life interfered and it wasn’t until last December that we were able to start working on Reflections of Winnsboro.

Bill gathered material he wanted in the book, and we met weekly to go through it, much like we did while working on the first book. Together, we decided what material would be included and where it would go in chapters. There was no way that everything he has written could make it to print. He has written a lot over the last 30 years, mostly for the local weekly newspaper, The Winnsboro News, and he has mountains of material.

After our meetings, I'd take the clippings home, read them into my computer using Dragon Naturally Speaking and go through a process of editing and writing short transitions. To turn columns into a book, there is a lot more to it than just dumping the material onto pages. Columns are stand-alone pieces, and they need to flow smoothly from one to the other in a chapter. Making that happen was my biggest challenge.

Equally important was not losing Bill’s voice in that editing process. Even though he is highly educated and is a former history teacher, he has adopted a country down-home way of speaking and writing since coming back to his hometown in the '70s. It is his voice that resonates in the columns, and I knew people wanted to hear that voice in the book. Thankfully, I was able to achieve that, and Bill has been very happy with the book. He keeps saying he doesn't know how I was able to smooth everything out and still make it sound like him. I keep telling him that it's because I kept most of his words.

I published the book under my little imprint, MCM Enterprises, after having it copy-edited by Audrey Linter at ALTO Editing and professionally formatted. The cover was done by Dany Russell, a graphic artist, and in mid-May it was finally ready for the book launch party we had for Bill at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts. We had a terrific turn out for the party, and Bill was thrilled to see so many of his friends, some he had not seen in a while. When it was over, he told me that it was the nicest event that he has ever had in his honor.

Here we are at the book-launch party.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. She has written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Season Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.


  1. What a great project, Maryann! Getting to know locals, on occasion telling their stories as you have done, and embracing community is a potential we writers may often overlook. Not only can it provide the opportunities you've enjoyed, it can also produce a wealth of material for fiction writing. Creating fictional small towns based on what we know of our own hometowns or those nearby can provide a realistic locale for our next short story or novel. Of course, we need to be careful about closely mirroring friends and neighbors in our characters or of using local scandals as part of our storyline; however, much about small-town living appeals to a lot of readers. The feelings of camaraderie cooperation that exist in small populations but not so much in large metropolitan areas offer a great backdrop for a compelling book. Excellent post! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thanks, Linda. Since Bill and I finished this book, a local lady has asked us if we can do a book about her small community that was one of the first settlements in this area. She still lives on the family land that goes back several generations. We will start on that one in a couple of months after I finish my book I've been working on based on my mother's life.

    1. How cool that you get to do another one! Books that transport us to times gone by are such a welcome reprieve from our hectic world. Granted, the "good ol' days" were not necessarily all that good or the way we see them in the movies, but a simpler time sounds mighty inviting whenever I break down and watch the news. Enjoy your new project, and let me know when your book based on your mom's life comes out. I'd like to read it.

    2. I will let you know when that book comes out, Linda. I am about finished with the third draft, working with Kathryn Craft, and she has been a wonderful editor. I may try to get this published by a traditional publisher. We'll see.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks Diana. It was quite a bit of fun, and very interesting.

  4. Even if you're unfamiliar with the area, the local charm, color, and flavor shine through in this book. Definitely worth reading!

    1. Thanks for the endorsement, Audrey. I do enjoy reading books about other small towns. We can learn so much by reading the stories people share with historians. And the stories are what history is all about.

  5. What a great experience, Maryann. I bet you had a good time going through all the columns.


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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