Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Editor Interview: Barbara Warren, Blue Mountain Editorial Service

Barbara Warren, author and owner of Blue Mountain Editorial Service, lives on a farm in the beautiful Ozarks in Missouri with her husband Charles, a herd of cattle and an office cat named Rosicat, who was abandoned at their church when she was just a kitten. Rosicat manages the office. Charles and Barbara do the work. She is a writer, editor, and Sunday school teacher. Her hobbies are reading and raising flowers. Barbara was my editor on Cowgirl Dreams, published by Treble Heart Books
Can you expand on your editing background--how did you get into it? Did you take classes?

No, I didn’t take classes. I belonged to a writer’s group and we critiqued each other’s work. People kept urging me to become an editor, and after a while I took them seriously. I do read a lot of books on writing and have an extensive library of books about writing and editing. I keep studying, wanting to grow so I can do a better job for the writers whose books I edit.

How long have you been editing?
I’ve been editing for twenty years. It’s a job I love and I hope I can keep doing it for many more years.

Do you do most of your work for Treble Heart Books or do you also do freelance editing?
I have my own business, Blue Mountain Editorial Service and am listed on several on-line sites. My clients are both published and non-published, and many of them come through word of mouth. I also get clients from Treble Heart and Lee Emory is great to work with. I’ve met many very good writers through her.

What is your advice for a writer who would like to become an editor?
Study books on writing and editing. Gain experience by editing for fellow writers. Study what is selling, and read books in all genres, not just what you like. When you think you are ready, make sure you have a website. Post your company online in places like Preditors and Editors. List it in books like Sally Stuart’s Christian Market Guide (both are free). Have brochures printed and ask writer friends to give you an endorsement. Hand out brochures and cards every chance you get. Attend writers’ conferences and ask permission to display your brochure. Establish business ethics and live by them. Always do more than you are expected to do. Help your clients any way you can, and always be honest. Don’t tell a client how good he or she is, point out what is good, but also point out the faults and tell the writer how to make the book better.

What are the major mistakes you look for when editing a manuscript?
One big mistake is to tell the story instead of showing it through dialogue and action. It’s the difference between someone telling you what happened yesterday and you being present when it actually happened.

Choose one viewpoint character per scene and show what happens in that scene in that character’s point of view. Let the reader see what that character sees, hears what he hears. Instead of saying Sally was scared. Show Sally frozen in place, every nerve tuned, listening for a footfall. See the difference?

Let your characters talk natural, the way you and the people you know talk. Don’t have a ‘good old boy’ talk like a college professor. Keep it casual, avoid formal language.
Know your characters. Know how each one would act in a stressful situation. Some people panic. Others withdraw. What will the character you have invented do?

What would you say are the “good” qualities of an acceptable manuscript?
Characters who seem real with believable problems. People read stories to learn about people. Think of your favorite books. Do you remember the plots? I’m betting you remember the characters.

Active writing as opposed to passive. Don’t write “tables were being set up.” Show who is setting up the tables. And avoid writing about ‘the man.’ Name him. If you read in the paper that a man jumped off the bridge you might be interested. If you read that John Walker jumped off the First Street Bridge, you’re more interested. And if you read that John Walker, owner of the local Sonic and the father of four children jumped off the First Street Bridge, then your emotions are engaged.

Always remember your reader. Will the reader understand what you are saying? Will the reader be offended? Are you preaching to the reader or trying to convert him to your point of view? Treat your readers with respect.

At what point should a writer seek an editor?
When you have written, rewritten, and feel you can’t do any more to the manuscript, then you are ready to have someone else look at it. But first do all you can to make it a good manuscript. No point in paying someone else to do what you can do yourself.

What can an independent editor do for an author in preparing her manuscript for submission to a publisher?
A good editor can point out flaws in the story, check for flow, awkward sentences, make sure there are no loose ends, and that it engages the emotions of the reader. An editor can also show proper formatting, help with a synopsis and query letter, and work with the writer to make the manuscript and proposal the best the two of them can make it. A good editor is not in it just for the money. He or she will do everything possible to help the writer polish that manuscript until it shines.

Barbara is also an author. The Gathering Storm, a mystery and her first novel, has been released from Jireh Publishers and is available at Amazon and on her web site. Her agent is Terry Burns with Hartline Literary Agency.

A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. She has her first novel published, Cowgirl Dreams, based on her grandmother. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series, and blogs.

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  1. Thanks to Barbara and Heidi for this interesting interview and the excellent advice on what we should look for in polishing our own manuscripts.

    Barbara, do you find wandering point of view in many of the manuscripts you edit, or do most writers seem to have POV under control?

  2. I've just informed Barbara this interview has been posted, so stay tuned for her reply.

    My answer, from my own experience, is yes, especially in new writers. But, I also read published books where the author is "head-hopping" all over the place!

  3. What a great interview. Barbara was my editor for TENDERFOOT and I enjoyed working with her. Even more important, I felt comfortable following her advice.

  4. Thank you for these tips. This may be the best description I've ever seen on the difference between "showing" and "telling".

    I get it now. (It remains to be seen whether or not I can do it.)

  5. I love that Rosicats name. Thanks for sharing with us today.

    Morgan Mandel

  6. Enjoyed the interview very much. I especially liked the example you gave about naming the character and giving details that engage the reader. That is what it is all about.

  7. Thanks to all of you for leaving comments! It's always helpful to get information from those who are in the business!

  8. Great interview, Heidi. Barbara was the editor on my book Winds of Change. She is great to work with. Fantastic job to both of you ladies.

  9. I have worked with Barbara on my last two books, Emeralds on Wednesday and Gently Generous. She is a pleasure as well as a treasure to work with.

    Virginia Czaja,
    Writing as Virginia Crane

  10. Yes she is! A lovely person and very easy to work with!

  11. AS a writer who also works as a freelance editor, I must say that Barbara is right on -- the show-don't-tell thing, POV, character-appropriate dialogue, emotionally engaging the reader, etc. This is an exceptional interview, Heidi. Thank you for bringing it to us.

  12. Hi, Patricia.
    A lot of writers don't have a point of view problem. But it's tricky. You have to remember that you can only tell or show your reader what your viewpoint character can see, hear, think, feel, know, etc. It's like you are in a room and you know what you think but you can't know what everyone else thinks. Put yourself in the charcter's mind. Now you can only know what that character can know.
    Even those of us who don't have a problem with POV can mess up once in a while.


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