Welcome to the seven hundredth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with my editor Rachel Daven Skinner. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Rachel.
Rachel: Hi, Morgen. Thanks for having me as your 700th guest interviewee!
Morgen: Oh you’re so welcome. It’s great to have you. By the way, folks, although I’m a freelance editor, no one should edit their own novels without having another (ideally professional) pair of eyes looking over them, so Rachel’s mine. 🙂 Rachel, please tell us something about yourself, and how you came to be an editor.
Rachel: I’m American born and raised – Washington and California – and then I fell in love with a military guy and packed my bags (actually, just what could fit in my car, which included three cats) and followed him to Colorado. Four years and a wedding later, we moved on to London for the next four years, and this past summer we moved to Hawaii. (I swear I married him for more than his travel perks!) Morgen, was it Nov ’09 that we met? I think so. I know we met at a Chorleywood Bookshop event and swapped business cards, and back then both of our titles read ‘Writer’. Your podcast was in its infancy; no blog or website for either of us. I was exploring the idea of being a writer thanks to a two-day career boot camp I’d attended that spring, where writing kept popping up at the top of test results for jobs matching my personality, skills, and interests. That fall I joined an online writing community, but from the get-go I spent more time reading other people’s work than contributing any of my own. I became increasingly particular, both in my head as a reader as well as in the constructive and detailed critiques I would post within the writing group. I soon had requests from a few of the authors to work with them in an editing capacity on their in-progress novels before they posted their work for the group’s feedback, and it eventually dawned on me that not only was I was better at tweaking other people’s writing than coming up with the material myself, I also enjoyed it more.
But back to meeting Morgen. She encouraged me to join her at Get Writing, a St. Albans one-day writing conference in the spring of ’10, and thank God I left my cozy hermit shell and actually went, because that day had a huge impact on my career path. Indie publisher Choc Lit had an hour panel slot, and I was so intrigued by their fresh approach to publishing through the use of their Tasting Panel – test readers for manuscripts under consideration – that I sent them an email that very night to enquire about joining the Choc Lit team. I spent a year on their Tasting Panel before getting promoted to be their production editor, then after a year in that position I was promoted to be one of the primary freelance editors for their paperback list. (You can see my editing portfolio on my website.) Aside from my ongoing work with Choc Lit, Romance Refined is my independent service where authors can hire me for freelance editing.
A few months ago, as I was unpacking boxes in our new house, I came across my notes from the ’09 career boot camp I’d attended. Guess what else kept appearing in my top five best-suited careers? Yup, being an editor. Funny how it didn’t register on my radar right away!
There’s definitely been an element of ‘right place, right time’ in my career thus far, but over the past few years I’ve also taken several editing courses, spent countless hours following editor bloggers, studying the field, reading (yes, reading) style guides, attending conferences and conventions, talking to authors, and always reading reading reading novels.
Morgen: I’d forgotten about the Chorleywood Lit Fest – yes, we met in Toby Litt’s writing class. You’re currently based in Hawaii (lucky thing!) – does location makes a difference to your work?
Rachel: The wonderful thing about being a freelance editor is that my job is entirely portable. As the wife of a military man, that’s crucial for my career! I have visions of taking my laptop to a beachside café shack and sipping a Blue Hawaiian while I work, but it hasn’t happened yet. 😉 As for finding clients and peers, I admit there’s not a lot of local networking events, which I will sorely miss now that I’ve been spoiled by London opportunities, but thankfully the internet is a fabulous water cooler. Freelance clients come to me by word-of-mouth recommendations and from my website popping up on Google searches. I’ll also be flying out for the RT Booklovers Convention in May, which I’m so stinking excited about.
Morgen: I would be too. Is there a format (novels, non-fiction, short stories…) / genre that you generally edit (and / or one that you prefer)?
Rachel: In the vein of ‘do what you love’, I only edit fiction. Entirely against my will, I just cannot maintain focus while reading non-fiction for any length of time, and focus is essential when editing! Within the fiction scope, my preference is romantic fiction, meaning fiction where a romantic element is secondary or equal to the main plot, not necessarily the driving force of the plot. My favourite genres are suspense / mystery / crime, historical, dystopian / light sci-fi / light fantasy, comedy, and anything with an atmospheric setting (I’m particularly attached to books set in the UK right now since I feel homesick). I do read and edit beyond those particular genre parameters, though. I’ve edited a few novellas and a short story anthology and am open to editing more of them, but I prefer full-length novels. I like to get really attached to characters and feel as though I’ve been on a long journey, not just a day trip.
Morgen: Short stories are my first love but I tend to be sent novels more than anything else. A rather global question, but are there common mistakes an author can make?
Rachel: Absolutely, but I’ll just name one: A writer needs to read the genre for which they are writing. It’s crucial that they know the genre’s tropes even if they plan to avoid them in their own writing; know what readers expect from the genre so that the author doesn’t make false promises in a synopsis or jacket blurb that leave the reader disappointed in the end, which will surely result in negative reviews even if the writing and story were good; and know where their writing fits in the marketplace so that they can approach the appropriate agents and publishers or know how to appropriately self-market.
Morgen: That can be hard, especially where the story crosses genres. Do editors generally charge by the word or the hour and which do you think is best?