Editor Interview

#PitchtoPublication is Samantha Fountain’s new contest which pairs writers with freelance editors before an agent round. I’ll be participating as an editor, and Samantha interviewed me on her blog. To find out more about the Pitch to Publication contest, check out sfountain.com.

Interview originally appeared on sfountain.com, along with interviews of the other participating editors.

Q. How did you become a freelance editor?

I was an English Department TA in high school and throughout college. Grammar has always interested me. In high school, everyone figured I’d either become a teacher or be an editor at a publishing house. As a writing coach and freelance editor, I get the best parts of both—teaching receptive, determined writers and editing without having to worry about sales.

I was one of the acquiring editors at my university literary magazine and loved it. Some of my peers went on to work in publishing, but I liked the flexibility of freelancing because I have two small children at home. 

Q. Do you have a general philosophy for how you approach your editing work?

I’m more of a literary editor than a commercial one. I don’t do it for the money, I do it because I love literature and writing. (Enough to pay a private university thousands of dollars to give me reading and writing assignments for four years!) Of course, this is my job, so I need to be paid for my work. I never overcharge or undercharge, and I base my rates on the EFA standards.

Editing is a collaboration between writer and editor. It’s a mutual partnership. It’s a conversation. I encourage my current and potential clients to ask questions and voice concerns. Some writers need more nurturing. Others want to improve at any cost. Either way, I give honest, encouraging feedback. I’m never harsh, but I do respectfully snark sometimes. Editors and agents are snarky creatures. It keeps us sane in the slush.

Q. What are the most common mistakes you see in new writers work?

Cliches: If you’ve seen a phrase on someone else’s page, it’s probably a cliche. If you’ve heard it in a movie trailer, it’s definitely a cliche. If you have body parts moving of their own accord—eyes shooting open, for example—it’s not only a cliche, it’s an awkward visual.

Telling rather than showing: Telling does have its place. For example, you can tell me that a character shut the door without describing her movement across the room, the sound of the door creaking. Unless shutting the door is somehow a plot device, it’s not important and can be summarized. Novels do require some telling, otherwise they’d be scripts. But readers want to experience the story, so include feelings and sensations to incorporate the reader.

Over description and underestimation of the reader: Pick a “divine detail” to set the scene. Describe that, then let the reader fill in the rest. Readers don’t want to be lectured; they want to participate in the story.

Q. What’s the one thing most novelists don’t understand about the art of revision?

The first draft is about exploration and expression. It’s about the writer. Revision is about creating experiences for the reader.

Most writers write for themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if writers want to work with agents and acquisition editors, if they want their work read by thousands of people, they need to recognize that literature is collaborative. Just read the acknowledgements at the back of a novel! Writing is a solitary effort, but success and publishing are both team efforts.

Q. What’s one easy thing every writer can do right now to make themselves a better writer?

Nothing about writing is easy! But writers who are easy to work with will become better writers. Read a lot, be a good listener, be professional, respect your readers, and remember that agents and editors are readers, too.

Q. What kind of entries are you looking for in your Pitch to Publication query box?

I’m a very omnivorous reader, so genre doesn’t matter. I want a story I can escape into, with characters who are uniquely human, not underdeveloped stereotypes. I want subverted tropes. I want something that isn’t cookie-cutter. What makes your story different from everything else out there?

Note: I’m not going to assume that anyone has read the same books I have, so I’ll give TV and movie examples to illustrate. If you haven’t seen them, it only takes an hour or two to rectify.

Writers with a graphic novel script, good gracious, send that baby to ME. For novels, I want all the genre-illusive pieces (Princess Bride, Doctor Who, Galavant). All the bromances (Sherlock, Psych). All the will-they-won’t-they spy and crime-fighting duos (Chuck, Castle). Anything depressing yet hilarious or with a happy-for-now ending (500 Days of Summer, Casablanca). Adventure stories that pass the Mako Mori test (Firefly, Pacific Rim). Character-focused historical fiction with an interesting plot (Indiana Jones). And possibly guilty-pleasure thrillers (Pretty Little Liars).

I do have a couple rules: no erotica, sexual violence, violence against children, or misogynist or racist POVs. Those stories are not for me.

Q. What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

Minneapolis has too many creameries for me to ever just pick ONE favorite ice cream flavor. But I tend to gravitate toward complex flavors which combine textures. I like salted caramel pretzel. Grand Ole Creamery has Cookie Monster flavor, which is butter pecan with Oreo and cookie dough pieces and maybe M&Ms?—it’s amazing.

Q. How do you take your caffeine?

Chai Tea Latte, usually. Before 8pm or else I’m up all night! Also the chocolate I sneak while my kids are napping.

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