As a writer and published author, I have learned to dread finishing a book. I know that sounds strange, because finishing a book is one of the greatest feelings in the world. Still, it’s true. Finishing a book leads to editing a book. You’re probably asking yourself how bad can that be? Let me paint you a quick picture. You drop your child off at your mother’s for the day. Sounds innocent enough. Then, when you get back, your dear mom proceeds to tell you everything you’re doing wrong as a parent, and tells you how to fix it. There, now it’s not so innocent is it? But, that’s exactly what happens when you hand in a book to be edited. Your baby is flawed and it’s all your fault!
Okay, that might be a bit overboard. Still, edits are creativity blockers of the nastiest sort. Over the years though, I can’t deny editors have shaped me into a better writer, and I’ve learned way more than I ever would have otherwise. Left to my own devices, I’m something of a stubborn mule.
Since, every author has both a healthy respect and incurable fear of editors, I thought what better way to stop the insanity than to invite one to the Giggles and see what exactly goes through an editor’s mind. What makes them tick! I feel perfectly justified in chloroforming one and bringing them into the offices. They struggle otherwise. In my defense, I did put her in a massage chair before tying her up. So, she’s all comfy. Bear with me while I take her gag out and we’ll get this interview started.
While the taste of duct tape and old sock gets out of her mouth, allow me to introduce Ann Narcisian Videan. I had the pleasure of working with her on the updated version of How Wicked Can She Go? and had a truly amazing experience. She taught me so much and addicted me to Kevin Hearne along the way. So a win win!
Jmo: Ann welcome to the Giggles and yes that taste does go away so stop spitting on the linoleum. It’s rented.
Ann: I’m actually quite delighted to be here, thanks. The massage chair conforms to my back in a lovely way, and the onion/peach flavor from the shoe odor-sterilizer faded nicely after I expectorated a few times. [She nods to the Holes fans.]
Jmo: First off, let me say thank you. I really did have a learning experience working on Wicked with you. Now, to the questions. When you approach an edit, what is your process?
Ann: Thanks, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Wicked. A definite favorite! I can’t recall laughing so much out loud, except maybe while reading Kevin Hearne.
Regarding my process… As a writer and author myself, I’ve experienced the tears prickling when someone criticizes my written baby, so I like to work with, rather than mandate to, authors. Also, in my role as owner of a firm creating marketing content writing for clients for 18 years, I also have learned how to temper the criticism with humor and camaraderie, so no one’s eyes tear up. After all, we’re in this together, right? We both want to delight readers with the most creative, exciting and seamless story experience possible.
I start my editing process by touching base with the author to get a feel for their style, and things they know I should watch for during my edit. My style is very cooperative, so I want to work closely with the writer to get the book they want, in their voice. I ascribe to Pablo Picasso’s philosophy that you should, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” You must honor grammatical rules to make the writing clearer, as well as the author’s voice and style, yet still make the read easy and intriguing for readers. Sometimes, that means exercising creative license.
When I delve in to the edit, I keep my word radar attuned mostly to grammar, active voice, and story flow. I am a stickler for replacing inactive verbs with active ones. So, I warn my authors up-front I’m going to make rewording suggestions around “to be” verbs like “is,” “was,” “had,” and “been.” Sometimes this requires pretty extensive editing. I don’t expect them to make every single change I suggest, but I do ask them to consider the spirit of an idea and work to make it their own.
Jmo: I have Beta read for several of my fellow authors. The hardest part is stopping the editing process and getting lost in the story. How hard is it for you to not get lost in the story you’re working on? Or, is there a secret to detaching yourself from the reading to deal with the grammatical issues?
Ann: I used to have more trouble with this before I had so much experience. To compensate, I’d sometimes read sections backward, or read them out loud. It also helps to edit for a specific thing, like grammar, on one pass-through, then edit for another thing, like story flow, the next time through. This takes quite a bit of time, though, so I’m happy to have reached the point where I’ve trained my brain to stop at familiar grammatical changes, point-of-view hang-ups, inactive verbs, and any number of other edits, while still absorbing the story. [I have to admit, though, my brain is so well trained now, that I find myself mentally editing menus in restaurants, commercials and movie dialogue, Powerpoint presentations in business meetings, and even my own verbal speech. It can become quite annoying, especially to my family who received the brunt of it. J]
When I do find my mind lost in a story, or in my “reader mind,” which happens once in a while, especially during high action scenes, I allow myself to keep reading until I’m satisfied or reach the culmination of the scene. Then, I go back and re-read the section again using my “editor mind.”
Jmo: Editing is more than being a spell or grammar checker. I know how easy it is to forget from one scene to the next the flow of a story. Sometimes details, plot elements or just a character’s name can slip through the cracks. How much of your time usually falls into the story side of a book versus the grammar side?
Ann: I’d say at least 65 percent of my editing, on average, involves grammatical correction, especially if an author doesn’t use active voice/verbs, or is fuzzy on the best use of commas.
Another 34 percent would involve story elements: character positioning continuity, clarity of action, misspellings of key names, glitches in the story line, etc. An objective eye, and someone who hasn’t rewritten a scene until they’re sick of it, can be a very valuable asset to a story. That’s the true value of an editor, in my opinion, “to see things that no writer has seen before.” [You’ll please forgive my nerdy references? Sometimes Star Trek just offers the best way to explain something, or Doctor Who, or Joss Whedon… OK, I’ll stop.]
Don’t forget the final 1 percent of editing: praising the author for a great idea, perfect turn of phrase, or surprise story twist. Love those!
Jmo: I myself adhere to Star Wars explains it all, but agree with Doctor Who in principle. What is the most satisfying aspect of editing? Flip side to that, the most frustrating aspect to it?
Ann: I adore reading the amazing stories authors create. How often I think, “What I unique idea, I never would have thought of that!” This goes hand-in-hand with the intriguing writers behind the stories. I find these human creatures who pound words into their keyboards every day, extremely fascinating. They’re curious beings, tuned-in to people and ideas, and knowledgeable about cool places and experiences. It’s a joy to get to know them.
Frustration sets in when an author is not willing to try to improve his or her writing. I just sigh when an author isn’t willing to open up to a new way of doing something grammatically or story-wise. I don’t mind if s/he pushes back with a solid reason for keeping something the way it is, but to not even be receptive to learning something new to improve his or her writing is just unfortunate. I’ve written and edited for more than 30 years and I am still learning from my authors. I can’t wait to learn something that’s going to make my own books better, or that will enhance the reader’s experience.
Jmo: Just as an author breathes their life into their books, editors come into the process with their own unique outlook. What added value do you bring as an editor because of your work and life background?
Ann: I’ve loved words since I was a tiny child, singing every lyric I could get my ears on, reading voraciously when I could, excelling in English in school, and carrying that on into my marketing career. Honestly, I’ve written about everything you can possibly think of: from poems, ads and music lyrics to magazine articles, news releases and annual reports. This broad background, along with my career specialty of developing word-of-mouth marketing strategy for clients, brings to authors my experience in making words and ideas resonate with readers. What word choices cause emotional reactions, make an idea relatable, and more.
Jmo: I promise after you answer this last question, you’re free to go. I’ll even give you a nice cookie for being such a good sport. This is the Darkside after all and we do have cookies, and nondisclosure agreements to get me out of kidnapping prosecution.
If you could give one piece of advice to an author before they kick a book your way, what would it be? Make that to any author who hopes to get published.
Ann: Use your word processor tools to conduct a global search of your document, respectively, for the words, “is,” “was,” “had,” and “been,” and other “to be” verbs that distance your reader from the action. Just scan the pages and look for clusters of the highlighted word the search found. If you have more than one, two, or maybe three of one of these words on a page, you need to write in a more active voice using more active verbs. This will generate more vibrant writing, and create clear and exciting mental images to entice a reader to delve emotionally into your story.
Jmo: Thanks again for stopping by today Ann. Before you get that cookie and I get your signature on this little document stating you will not have me arrested and sent to the big house, please let our readers know where they can find you out there on the internet?
Ann: If you give me two cookies, I will forgive all!
Jmo: Two Cookies it is!
Ann Narcisian Videan writes and edits marketing content for authors and visionary entrepreneurs, backed by 30 years of marketing experience focused on strategic word-of-mouth consulting. She currently serves as a fiction editor for sweet-romance publisher Desert Breeze Publishing in California. She also authored and composed Rhythms & Muse a women’s fiction novel and accompanying music soundtrack of five original songs. She’s currently writing the Delfaerune Rhapsody Series, a trilogy of young-adult fantasy adventure novels about an 18-year-old New Zealander who discovers she’s the fae musical prodigy who must retrieve and master three ancient instruments to save her worlds.