Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Meet the Editor: Helen Ginger

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]

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  1. Great interview, Helen. Thanks.

    I also enjoy reading the tips you provide on your blog and in your newsletter. Both are great tools for writers.

  2. Thank you Charlotte. Your blog is one I enjoy reading- and I always learn something.

    Charlotte's blog is at:

  3. What a terrific interview!

    I'm in love with my editor, frankly. She's so thoughtful, and respectful, and during the whole processs, it's clear we're in it together to create the best possible outcome.

    After 30 plus years as a tv reporter, I've worked with editors --both in writing and in video--and I know and embrace how often what's "pretty good" can be made "really good!" by just a few intelligent and thoughtful tweaks.

    Sometimes it's seeing a big picture that the writer hasn't realized is there. Sometimes it's a parallel construction that emerges. Sometimes even a theme the editor sees that the author has missed. It's a joy and a treat when that happens.

    And Helen, you're so right about "fixing." My editor will say in the margin:
    "The reader will not understand where this is taking place. Please address."

    "Please address"! How perfect is that?

  4. Great interview, Helen. Fantastic tips too. I especially appreciate the advice about critique groups. When I started writing, I joined a crit group that bashed me around like I was doing 12 rounds with Ali. I nearly gave up writing. Tread carefully with those crit groups- especially online!

  5. Hank, it sounds like you have a wonderful editor. That cooperative feeling is what you want to have with your editor.

  6. Lauri, I was in a critique group like that. It took me a while but I finally realized that after each meeting, I was driving home yelling. I got out. Best thing I ever did for myself and my writing.

  7. Great answers, Helen. I especially like your attitude about editors not making all the improvements FOR the author - cliche rewrites, words used repetitively, etc. - rather point them out to the author and let him or her do the work and grow from the exercise.

    Nice post.

  8. Thank you Marvin.

    Marvin was also featured here on The Blood Red Pencil. Just scroll down a couple of days to read his answers to the same questions.

  9. Hi Helen,
    After reading your interview, I'm even more glad I have you as my editor for Killer Career.

    Morgan Mandel

  10. Great interview, Helen, :-) It's awesome to see that many of us share the same mission as editors.

  11. Ahh, Morgan, you're a sweetie. Incidentally, I'm nearing the end of the second read-through on yours.

  12. Hello Chick Lit Gurrl. Thank you for stopping by. I love your blog.

    If anyone hasn't been to visit her blog, go to:

  13. Chicklit Gurrl has a three-part series coming up here this week, so stay tuned!

    Nice interview, Helen. It's obvious why you're always busy with editing work. And you're a sweetie, too! :D


  14. Enjoyed the interview, Helen. It is great to find out a little more about each other.

  15. Great advice and tips as always, Helen. I have always had really good experiences with crit groups, both while I was in college and even now I have a great online group that has been together for years. I guess it depends on the writer in a lot of cases too. How willing you are to let opinion fluctuate you from your course, because there is a huge difference between opinion and critical advice. Thanks for sharing your wisdom here and on your blog.

    Jenny Bean
    The Inner Bean

  16. Helen,
    Great advice on critique groups. I was in a wonderful group for several years. We used to say if one of us mentioned something, think about it briefly and decide whether you need to do anything about it. If two of us pointed out the same thing, consider it seriously. and if all three of us said the same thing, you probably need to change it.

  17. This proves that when you visit a blog, be sure to read the comments. That's where you often find the best advice! What a great group of writers.


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