Monday, May 25, 2009

Author/Editor Discussion

The Blood-Red Pencil specializes in advice from editors. Today, we’re doing something a bit different. We’re having an author and editor discussion. All of you can join in by adding your comments or asking questions at the end.

Our author today is best-selling author, Sylvia Dickey Smith. She writes the Sidra Smart mystery series. Her series is set in Southeast Texas in the area where Sylvia herself grew up. That area of Texas is unique in its mix of people, from Cajuns to Dutch descendants to the Scots-Irish. As you might guess, her books are filled with lively characters and the area itself becomes something of a character.

She has three books out starring Sidra Smart. The first was called Dance on His Grave. The second is Deadly Sins Deadly Secrets. And her most current book is Dead Wreckoning. Sylvia says the focus of her writing is on “the strengths and weaknesses of middle-aged and older women finding their way and developing a strong identity of their own.”

Our editor is Helen Ginger. She edits for writers, blogs, tweets, and sends out her e-zine for writers (for ten years now!). Helen is currently writing in the TechCareer series for TSTC Publishing and will have three books coming out this year: Automotive Technology, Avionics, and Gaming.

Sylvia and Helen are here to talk about the editing process. Afterward, if you have questions for either one, ask away in the comments section.

Hello Sylvia! Welcome.

(Sylvia’s going to ask the first question, then Helen and Sylvia will alternate.)

Sylvia: When you first looked at DEAD WRECKONING, did you throw up your hands and say, what have I gotten myself into? :-)

Helen: It’s a good thing you put that little smiley face in your question, ‘cause that’s what I did. I smiled and said to myself, this is gonna be different and fun. Sidra gets pulled into situations she doesn’t necessarily want to be in, but once she’s involved, she goes all out. There’s mystery, a bit of humor and a touch of the paranormal, i.e. ghosts.

Helen: How about from your point of view, Sylvia -- When you decided to work with an editor on DEAD WRECKONING, what were you looking for or expecting from me?

Sylvia: When I approached you about editing DEAD WRECKONING I had a couple of things I really wanted you to address. I know no book is totally error free. However, I wanted as many eyes looking at this manuscript before it went to press as I could get. One grammatical mistake I consistently make is comma placement. When a sentence looks like it doesn't have enough commas, I sprinkle in a few. Then, on the flip side, if it looks like it has too many I take out a few. Seriously, I know that is not the proper way to make that decision--but at times it seems that's my best shot!

I will say right up front, I am not an English major. I accept my shortcomings in that area. So why not go to someone who is skilled at doing so! It was worth what it cost me.

Second, I wanted you to check my plot lines, my red herrings, my clues sprinkled throughout. I don't write simple plots. They tend to get rather involved. I wanted you to unravel my plots and insure that I left no loose ends.

Sylvia: What did you think about the novel overall? Did you feel like I was wise in choosing to have it edited?

Helen: Your novel didn’t need a lot of line editing. I work on some manuscripts that do. Once or twice, I’ve finished an edit and felt bad because I knew once I sent it back, the writer would be shocked by all the marks. But DEAD WRECKONING was pretty polished by the time you sent it to me.

Having said that, yes, I think you were right to send it to me. What we were able to work on were things like starting the book off strong, drawing your readers into the story right away; pacing so that the momentum doesn’t drag; and catching glitches in the plot or timeline. It helps to have someone say, this is where you should begin the book, or who is this character? or the reader is going to get lost in all this technical stuff.

Helen: Did you get what you expected and how did you feel when you first opened the edited manuscript?

Sylvia: Oh yes. You did an excellent job finding my errors and giving me feedback on plot lines. As far as what I felt when I opened the edited manuscript--actually pleased that you didn't find more errors than you did! DEAD WRECKONING ended up stronger and better.

Sylvia: What advice would you give an author such as myself regarding editing, and taking the advice and make the changes suggested?

Helen: When you get your manuscript back from your editor, do NOT click “accept all changes.” Above all, this is your book.

Read the edits, taking breaks if you need to. Mark the ones you’re going to have to think about. Maybe you aren’t sure how to address them. Maybe you’re not sure you need to make a change there. Maybe it requires a major change and you’re not sure you’re ready or willing to tackle it. Accept the edits you right-away agree with. Then work on the others.

Helen: How did you decide what advice, comments, or edits to accept and what to ignore?

Sylvia: The most difficult advice you gave me, that I ending up taking, was to cut the first four or five pages of the manuscript. That scene took place out in the swamp with an old woman named Boo Murphy climbing up on a resurrected pirate schooner. Her imagination carried her back to the 1700s, riding a sailing vessel with pirate Calico Jack Rackam and her ancestor, Anne Bonny. Truly 'my darling', and I killed it! Your suggested that the strong scene and Boo's character, overshadowed my protagonist, Sidra Smart. I knew you were correct and went with your advice.

Sylvia: What advice would you give authors regarding editing and proof reading?

Helen: Do as much as you can before sending it to an editor. And if you don’t send it to an editor, do your own work before sending it to an agent, a publisher, or publishing it yourself. If you can’t afford a professional editor, then join a critique group in your local area or online - you’ll get help, you’ll help others, and you’ll learn how to edit and critique. Agents are not taking on as many clients as before. Publishers are tightening their catalog lists and looking to celebrity authors or authors with a platform. You have to have a clean, as well as unique, manuscript.

Thank you, Sylvia, for sharing with us today!

You can check out Sylvia Dickey Smith’s events page to find out where you can catch her in person.

Now, the Comments section is open. Ask Sylvia questions about her books, writing, or working with an editor. You can also ask me, Helen Ginger, about working with writers or editing.

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  1. Very good tips, thank you very much. More tips on Writing A Book can be found at

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Penny.


  3. I always want to know how much it costs to get an editor! Is that too tacky to ask here?

    Your Blog Book Tours HQ

  4. It can vary widely, Dani, depending on the editor, what you're asking the editor to do, and whether there will be follow up editing as the author re-writes.

    Clearly the more involved the editing, the higher the cost. Line editing is usually the least (not always, though), but fact checking is more work, so it will probably cost more, and doing more involved editing can cost more too - character development, continuity, concept, structure, etc.

    Some editors do one edit, some do multiple, some will work on re-writes.

    Know what you're asking for and what kind of edit you're going to get before you commit to an editor. And don't be afraid to ask the cost for what you want done.

  5. Interesting conversation! Thanks for sharing. Every editing contract and expectation is different. It's important to be very clear upfront.

  6. Thanks L.J. For anyone who doesn't know L.J., she's a very good editor herself.

  7. I have to admit that almost every suggestion Helen made for my manuscript made sense, so I accepted. The ones I didn't accept exactly as she suggested were a means to get me thinking for better ways of expressing myself. Helen's a great editor!

    Morgan Mandel

  8. Hello Morgan. Of course I was a great editor. You were a great writer, so my job was easy! ;-D

  9. Sorry to be late in tuning in, folks. Yesterday we spent the day entertaining our grandson's girlfriend's family! Neat time, but I didn't get on the computer. And Morgan, I took all of Helen's suggestions too--at least I think I did. She gave great help. And because of it, she'll do my next one, too. I find it a great help to have that third eye look at my work. And Dani, I'm glad Helen answered your question, since that is Helen's business and not mine. But if you have a good editor, it is well worth every penny. And yes, L. J. upfront expectations make the whole thing so much more successful.


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