Ask the Editor—Elizabeth Buege

Earlier this week I shared my Q&A for Pitch to Publication 2016. Well, two more of my MS Editors are participating as well! I wanted to feature them both here, too, so you can get to know them a bit better. First up is Elizabeth Buege. 


Twitter: @ekbuege


Elizabeth Buege is a Midwestern girl with a lifelong love of words. She graduated from the University of Northwestern—St. Paul with a B.A. in English writing and internship experience in nonprofit writing and book editing. She now teaches secondary writing classes for homeschool students through a local co-op, where her job is to help teens fall in love with words and learn to express critical thought clearly. Elizabeth also loves helping authors become better writers, so she offers book critiques and editing services at, where she blogs writing tips and related topics to help authors grow in their craft. When she’s not editing books or grading research papers, she’s probably reading, writing, or enjoying the world around her.img_0695

What is your writing and editing background?

I’ve been writing since I was six years old. I jumped at the chance to major in English Writing in college, but when I left with degree in hand, I was burned out on technique lessons and needed quite a bit of time to find my own sense of story again. Taking on the “those who can’t, teach” mindset, I went into editing (first internships, then freelance) instead of keeping up writing at first. I have absolutely loved working with other people’s stories, and I wouldn’t choose any other job! Thankfully, though, time and space have helped me rediscover a love for my own writing, so I’m working more and more of that into my life, too.

What are your major editing accomplishments?

First of all, being here right now! My college adviser told me that I would never be assertive enough to run a freelance business, so my greatest accomplishment is proving her wrong. In the work itself, I get a real sense of accomplishment when I see what a client does with their book after receiving a manuscript critique. I know that’s mostly thanks to the authors’ own talents, but it feels good to look and think, “Hey, my knowledge, skills, and suggestions helped them get there!”

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

I always ask myself, “What does this book need?” Sometimes, that looks like changing up my normal manuscript critique format to something better suited to an author’s questions, goals, and struggles. Other times, that looks like letting go of my ideas of what would work best and helping an author make their way work, even if I don’t agree with it. It always involves understanding what the author is trying to accomplish and getting behind them. If my goals aren’t the same as theirs, then I’m doing something wrong.

What types of books do you enjoy working with?

I love books where I can really get into the main character’s head and heart and connect with them. I don’t necessarily need to be able to relate to their lives. In fact, most of the characters I work with live lives totally different from mine, but there’s something about being human that comes through in all the best books. There are certain genres I get sent more than others, especially science fiction and fantasy, but I’m always getting excited when I find the humanity in genres and subgenres that are new to me.

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

The two biggest mistakes I see are (a) copying other simple writing styles without knowing why and (b) getting sloppy with point of view. I’m always questioning writers: Why did you choose this tense? Why did you choose this way of describing things? I often hear “I’m not sure” in response. Know what your tools are and how you can them–don’t copy the people around you, because they might not know what they’re doing either. Also, use just one viewpoint at a time, and don’t share information the POV character wouldn’t know. They’re your filter between story and reader; make good use of them.

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

Making major revisions isn’t a sign of bad writing; it’s a necessity of good writing. You can’t just throw out a draft and then proofread it; you have to revise on the structure, scene, and sentence levels in individual drafts–sometimes, even more than once per level.

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

Read books from different eras. I can tell when writers haven’t read widely–they start to sound like everyone else who is writing right now. Pay attention to how story works and how language works, and then practice writing. Get good feedback from an editor or qualified beta reader/critique partner and then accept it. There is always room to grow, and it’s better to ask for help than to get offended by it.

What is the most important consideration in selecting a book editor?

Are you comfortable with each other? This will look different for everyone, but it’s important. Communication-wise, I’m a good fit for people who like things in writing, but I was a bad fit for a client who was uncomfortable with long messages and wanted phone conversations. What I include in a manuscript critique will look different from what another editor includes. Likewise, my style suggestions on a line edit will look quite different from those of another editor. Communicate with multiple editors and get samples. Read their websites. Who do you feel most comfortable with? Work with that one (after making sure they own and use The Chicago Manual of Style, of course!).

Why would a writer need a book editor?

A writer, no matter how skilled, isn’t going to catch every plot hole or awkward sentence in their writing. You need an outside eye. Qualified critique partners and beta readers can do a lot, but an editor will have the education and experience necessary to give your book a stronger read-through. They’re being paid a lot to do what they do, too, so it’s in their best interest to give it their full attention.

 What do you do for fun that does not deal with the literary scene?

It feels like I don’t have a ton of time for things that aren’t reading, writing, editing, and grading papers. When I can, though, I try to make room in life for cooking, gardening, photography, playing games, and exploring parks. I love to experience the world around me!

Seriously, we need to know your favorite meal and why?

I’m in a weird transition period right now as I deal with my lactose intolerance. I think my favorite nondairy meal right now might be salmon with rice and salad, but that might change by tomorrow. My favorite non-meal food is fresh-popped popcorn. I could eat it every day and never get sick of it–salt, not sugar, is my food weakness.

MOST IMPORTANTLY What kind of entries are you looking for in your Pitch to Publication query box? Please bullet point your wish list.

  • Age category doesn’t matter–MG, YA, or Adult entries are fine!
  • Speculative fiction, especially fantasy, science fiction, and magic realism.
  • Genre-benders–I want stories that don’t fit in a box.
  • Character, character, character! I want to love them and care about their needs.
  • NONE of these, please: horror, erotica, or paranormal (some urban/contemporary fantasy can be okay, but I’m not particularly interested in zombies, demons, vampires, and the like).
  • I’m NOT the best fit for stories whose intent is to address hot social issues like gender, race, orientation, or specific political issues. There are editors who are much better than I am at bringing these stories to life! I tend to stay away from stories that are also causes; the fine line between the two is hard to walk.


Ask the Editor—Pitch to Publication Q&A

Pitch to Publication round two is coming! Last year I picked two writers and both got an agent. Whooooooo will be this year’s winner? I’m very excited to find out.

Here’s my interview, full of writing advice and insider information.


Lara is a freelance editor and story coach specializing in fiction and comics. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Northwestern–St. Paul in Interdisciplinary Studies (Literature, Writing, Editing, and Design). She love genre-benders, graphic novels, coffee table books, and smart, geeky fiction.

What is your writing and editing background?

I started tutoring writing and literacy in 2005. From 2008–2009, I was an acquisitions editor for my university’s literary journal. I’ve been freelance editing fiction since 2009, comics since 2013.

My passion is actually editing, to the point where I do that in my free time—hence participating in this contest!—but I do write, too. I’ve had half a dozen poems and some short fiction published in literary journals and magazines. My blog ( gets more of my attention than the long-form fiction I’ve written.

What are your major editing accomplishments?

I’m not sure I can distinguish between “major” and “minor”—I care more about the writer’s growth in their technique than their frequency of book deals. Whenever a writer says that I’ve helped his or her craft, that’s huge! But I’ll admit I get proud when agents and other editors compliment me on my editorial insight. Both of my picks from last year’s P2P got agents, and I actually cried happy tears for them. They did so much work, I am beyond proud of them.

Okay, I will add the following:

1) Seeing my name in the acknowledgements of published books. Tears!

2) Reading my clients’ names and their manuscripts I worked on in PUBLISHER’S MARKETPLACE—a very exciting thing that results in many emoji and all caps. Especially when they’re tied with names like Knopf and Tor. (Can you tell another one of my clients is about to share some good news?)

My next editorial life goal is getting a Newbery sticker on a book that has my name in the acknowledgements.

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

Writing for publication is a collaborative effort with a goal of creating experiences for the reader. Editorial choices acknowledge and affirm the reader’s participation in fulfilling the fictional world.

Editing is also 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.

What types of books do you enjoy working with?

Immersive stories populated with distinct characters. I like my tropes subverted, and I like “happy for now” endings. I do like romance, but I want just as much (if not more) time spent on friends and family relationships. No human is an island.

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

Writing the unremarkable: if it’s not remarkable, why remark on it? Summarize or cut anything not crucial to the story (a character believably interacting and conflicting en route to a goal).

Over description and underestimation of the reader: Pick a “divine detail” to set the scene. Be specific. Paint a few meaningful, distinct strokes, and let the reader fill in the rest. Readers don’t want to be lectured; they want to participate in the story.

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.

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

Nothing about writing is easy! But reading omnivorously (poetry, fiction, popular hits, literary gems) will improve your writing. You write as well as you read.

Regardless of skill, writers who are easy to work with will find better success. Be a good listener, be professional, respect your readers, and remember that agents and editors are readers, too.

What is the most important consideration in selecting a book editor?

Qualifications and personality are equally important.

QUALIFICATIONS—Require either formal education in the field or experience being published at a national level. (An objective, literary authority should have acknowledged the editor’s writing or editing ability).

PERSONALITY—Decide whether you’d get along with the person. Read bios, interact online, and ask for a sample edit of your work before you agree to a quote.

Why would a writer need a book editor?

Every writer needs an editor, even editors themselves! Not everyone needs hire a freelance editor before getting an agent, however. Having beta readers can definitely help iron out the major kinks. I recommend writers invest in a freelance editor if they know they need professional insight.

What do you do for fun that does not deal with the literary scene?

Besides being a constant mom of two boys? Haha. When the halflings are in bed, I like to play board games with my husband while watching TV. I’m always thirsty for stories, whether I’m reading or not.

Seriously, we need to know your favorite meal and why?

Are we talking about a specific meal, or a favorite dish? I’ll take steak and potatoes in any form. But if we’re talking specific meals, here’s my top 3:

1) My BFF’s mom’s enchiladas
2) Original Beau Jo’s pizza (Idaho Springs, CO) with honey on the crust
3) Slice of bacon and a mug full of salted caramel ice cream with crushed pretzels (the only “meal” I ate the day Alan Rickman died)
Comfort and nostalgia, that’s why. And taste. …Is this a metaphor for what I like to read?

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

  • Historical middle grade
  • Historical YA involving a natural disaster, mystery, or doo-wop group (historical fantasy is OK)
  • Illustrated novels (any age category, any genre except erotica)
  • An adventure story with a plucky, geriatric protagonist
  • Any “blue hearts” or “pears” from last year’s contests (I believe in second chances!)—I do still have my list of favorites, so no cheating. In other words, if you got a request from me last year, or were one of the winners of #pg70pit, you can submit a polished manuscript to me during #pit2pub16. Use the same email address you used last year.

On the Death of a Genius

A writer friend texted me the news this morning.

Immediately I wished I was in a courtyard with wand-wielders. As a poor substitute, I watched a scene from Half-Blood Prince and made this.


This afternoon I was swiping through old photos of me (which my aunt texted a few weeks ago).

I guess with Alan Rickman’s death, I’m getting all “I open at the close”—trying to decide how to live more truly to my child self. The silly, creative girl who didn’t limit herself, didn’t compare herself to others, didn’t fear failure:


Rickman didn’t get his big break until his forties. He gave us almost thirty years of brilliance—of character immersion so great, people are mourning not only him, but also the various fictional characters he loaned his soul to.

On Tolkien’s birthday, I posted about how long it took him to find success. Earlier this week, I retweeted this from Saladin Ahmed (though I usually don’t share tweets with cursing) because it felt relevant to what I’ve been feeling and reading this year thus far:

I’d like to think I’ve got time, but what if not? What am I doing that will leave a legacy? How am I moving toward my creative goals?

As a student, I always gave myself this deadline age of thirty-three. I’d tell myself, nobody was more influential than Jesus, and he didn’t start recruiting disciples until he was thirty-three. Why expect I’ll make a difference before thirty?

Well, some people do. Some people find fame as teenagers.

But those people aren’t me. And maybe they aren’t you.

So what do we do? We acknowledge that no two paths to success are the same, and those paths can often change. We acknowledge that there is no “right way” or “right time” to do creative things—just the way that makes most sense to who we are and what season we’re in.

We each have obstacles in our lives. The point is not giving up. That’s why we read stories. Characters can’t control their inciting incident, but they can decide how they will move forward. Either way, they’re active:

“Folk seem to have been just landed in [adventures], usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on—and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end.”

(Sam to Frodo, The Two Towers)

Maybe you need more experience or training before you can move forward. Maybe you are a caretaker; someone is dependent upon you. Maybe you have a job that leaves you overworked or exhausted, but you need the income. Maybe you need time for self-care.

But maybe you need to distinguish between what is necessary and what is important, and prioritize accordingly.

So where are you standing right now, en route to your creative goals? What stands in your way? What can you do about those obstacles? How can you work around or despite them? Comment below.

The Road Goes Ever On: Tolkien’s Publishing Journey

All editing services are 15% off in January!

J.R.R. Tolkien was born January 3, 1892. I know I’ve envied his abilities as a writer—perhaps you have, too. So to encourage you, I wanted to share some facts of his published works and show you a timeline.

But first! A Happy New Year card from his mother, featuring a baby Tolkien:


“Taken by our own vines!” Someone write me a novel about Mabel Tolkien.

Doesn’t her handwriting look like Tolkien’s? Fantastic. Anyway:

The Hobbit

Published in September, 1937, nine years after Tolkien scribbled out the idea: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” The Hobbit was an immediate success.

Farmer Giles of Ham and The Simarillion

Written the same year The Hobbit was published, Farmer Giles of Ham wouldn’t be published for another twelve years.

The Silmarillion interested Tolkien’s publisher, Stanley Unwin, but he ultimately rejected, wanting more hobbit literature. The Silmarillion would be edited and published by Christopher Tolkien (Ronald’s son) in 1977, three years after Tolkien died and forty years after The Hobbit was published.

The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King

Tolkien began writing a sequel for The Hobbit in 1939. Over the next ten years, the story evolved, becoming darker and written for an older audience. The Lord of the Rings was written in six parts and published as three books over two years, from July 1954 to October 1955. Tolkien wanted the books to be published in one volume (it would have been over 1,500 pages) and wanted to call the final book “The War of the Ring,” thinking “The Return of the King” gave away too much. He also thought that The Silmarillion needed to be published first, but the publisher did not agree. (Honestly, I agree with the publisher—The Silmarillion works better as an appendix-sequel than a prologue-prequel.)

Tolkien did write more than what is offered here (see The Tolkien Society, below), but these are the only book-length works of prose fiction published during his life. Here’s a timeline giving Tolkien’s ages for reference:

  • Age 36—Tolkien writes down an idea: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
  • Age 41—Tolkien starts telling his children bedtime stories about hobbits. Then he starts writing the story down.
  • Age 44—Tolkien finishes The Hobbit.
  • Age 45—Stanley Unwin publishes The Hobbit; Tolkien writes Farmer Giles of Ham and works on The Silmarillion
  • Age 47—Tolkien begins writing a sequel to The Hobbit which, in development with The Silmarillion, would become The Lord of the Rings.
  • Age 55—Tolkien finishes writing The Lord of the Rings and sends the manuscript to his publisher’s son Rayner Unwin, who had recommended The Hobbit for publication when he was a child.
  • Age 57—Stanley Unwin publishes Farmer Giles of Ham; Tolkien finishes editing The Lord of the Rings.
  • Age 62—Rayner Unwin, now working at his father’s firm, publishes The Lord of the Rings.

Not only did Tolkien take years to write books, but the publication of these books took years also. Remember that traditional publishing takes time. Don’t get discouraged by the wait—keep writing! The more you write, and the more people in the business you get to know, the better your chances of getting published by a traditional publisher. Traditional publishers are always looking for the best stories. Writing good stories and having good relationships with other writers and readers will get the attention of publishers—if not now, then eventually. Keep writing, reading, and connecting.


  • 3-Minute J.R.R. Tolkien by Gary Raymond
  • “Books by J.R.R. Tolkien” list from The Tolkien Society