An Accident of Birth. Sher is an author and editor, and you can find her website here. Sher has been a pleasure to work with. She carried out a structural edit and copy edit, then proofread my finished manuscript. Her attention to detail, combined with insightful feedback on story structure has worked wonders. I highly recommend Sher to anyone who wants a talented professional to do an excellent job.
Sher, first of all, tell us about your own writing.
First, thank you for the praise! I was looking for another hobby when gardening got too painful for my back. Then my youngest son, who was in middle school at the time, got run over by a truck, his second run-in with a moving vehicle within a few years. He’s fine now, but the hit and run in a busy intersection combined with a witness who disappeared later motivated me to write about a different kind of illegal aliens at the wheel. At first, I wrote very sporadically because I was too busy. Doctor appointments, hauling schoolwork back and forth, physical therapy. We also had hurricanes for three years running. Along the road between major revision one and umpteen, my middle grade SF evolved into two separate book series. The illegal aliens are in a YA paranormal, and the middle grade SF features Boy Scouts who try to save the broken Heartland of a sentient Earth. I also wrote a rhyming picture book I need to resubmit—sometime.
What made you choose editing as a profession?
I didn’t choose editing at first. More like it chose me. When I joined my first critique group, I found out I could spot and fix more problems than most. I traded critiques with local writers, and I helped Anna Banks with Of Poseidon before she got a two-book deal. Then I got a Kindle and started sending error lists to authors everywhere, including Susan Kaye Quinn for her Mindjacker series. By the third book, I helped copy edit, thinking someday I’d ask her to beta read my book. I would have traded forever, but after I sent Julia Dweck a rhyming verse to replace one with bad rhythm, she asked me to edit, not critique, her next rhyming picture book. For pay! That was a huge eye-opening moment. Since then, I've edited about two books a month for her, including, Blucy, her latest.
How do you balance your time between writing and editing?
Well, there’s not much balance. After I revised my website, I went from mostly writing to mostly editing. Now I only write when I’m between editing jobs, and that isn’t often because I keep sending error lists for books I review. I guess my love of reading other authors’ books overtook my desire to write my own. Part of it may be my knowing how my own book ends. No more mystery, but that’s not all. As a teen, I did a personality test that said I was “nurturing” and hated that label. But being a mother, volunteering at schools, church, and Boy Scouts taught me better. I even chose my pun name (my real name is Sheryl Hartwell) for the sound of sharing my heart. Now I feel I can help more people by editing, making their books attract more readers, than I can by finishing my own.
You offer the three kinds of edit – structural edit, copy edit and proofreading. Perhaps you could explain the differences between them and what’s involved in each.
Structural editing is like building or remodelling a house. For new clients, I usually find content problems that would adversely affect sales. Changing a scene from narrative to dialog and action, showing vs. telling, is like straightening a wall. Resequencing events is like moving the wall. Inconsistent world building may require resetting or expanding the foundation. Content editing is also called substantive line editing if it’s done by the track changes tool. I add notes at the location rather than just in an editorial letter. It’s important to know where to nail, not just that you need nails.
Copy editing is like changing out cracked or broken single-pane windows for impact-resistant double panes. It brings the book up to building code. But building code for books isn’t limited to the rules we learned in school. Unlike academia or the press, novels follow style rules from the Chicago Manual of Style. But where their style creates a jarring appearance, I follow typographer Robert Bringhurst’s advice. Let’s just say I like strong and pretty windows.
Proofreading is the last phase, like washing the new windows so readers don’t even notice there’s anything between them and the imaginary scene inside the house. With good proofreading, readers feel like they're taking part in the action, and they'll have no distractions until the author closes the curtains at the end. Then they’ll bang at the door until the author opens the curtains to the next book. Don't blame me if your windows end up with finger and nose prints!
You can find a more detailed explanation on Ellie Garratt's blog, along with the picture of the Queen Borg outfit.
What is it like, as a professional editor, working with independent authors?
I love it! You often made my day by going beyond what I asked of you. I loved your sense of humor and your complements. And it was fun working together to find ways around conflicting meanings of American and British words and blending styles. As a group, indie authors are anxious to succeed and willing to learn. They do what it takes to make a sturdy yet exciting, mysterious yet beautiful house, so readers will want to return again and again.
Does it help or hinder your work if you like or dislike what you are editing?
Great question. Reading anything beats cooking and house cleaning. Before I started editing for pay, I critiqued many memoirs and mysteries, not my areas of highest interest. I gave them the same attention as more exciting material and tried to make them more interesting. I also have the ability to concentrate for long hours of unexciting detail work (I once made a Queen Borg costume). I did decline a book for which I didn’t have the historical knowledge I considered necessary, and I don’t do erotica. But if I accepted a book and then found out I didn’t like it, I would consider it a challenge to make it likeable—not for me alone, but for a wider audience. If I couldn’t do that, I would not charge the author.
How much do you find your work as an editor helps with your own writing?
On the rare occasion I write between editing, I often look at my manuscript and wonder what I was thinking when I wrote such a bad scene. I’ve added some scenes, moved others, and rewritten still more, yet I have no doubt I will need an editor to help remodel my book.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what kind?
No, although I love music. I sing most of the time I’m not writing or editing. I even sing to my cats. But reading takes my full attention. I'm in another world. People can talk to me, and I’ll never know they’re speaking until they say my name. That focus may be why I catch errors others don’t. Or maybe that's because I have an artist's eye for detail. Maybe both.
Do you have any words of advice for budding indie authors out there?
Join a critique group, and not just any group. Make sure it’s for your genre and that you learn from the people. I wrote my first book over double the acceptable length for middle grade and never found out until I submitted it and got rejected. Later, I learned that the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is THE group to join for kidlit up through YA. With no local SCBWI critique group available, I put an ad in my area’s website and critiqued online until I got local members almost a year later. What a difference a good group makes. They motivate me to improve and keep trying. And they’ll serve for my first few rounds of structural editing. Your group can do the same for you, so when I edit your book, it’ll cost less. Woo-hoo!
Also, don’t ever think your spouse, partner, friend, etc. will tell you all the bad news you need to hear. They’ll want to spare your feelings. Don’t think even your worst enemy would give you the bad news you need because he or she won’t want you to improve and succeed. Find a good editor! One person may not be the best for all the phases. Give everyone the same sample pages, then choose.
Many writers say they can’t afford an editor. Wise writers know they can’t afford not to hire an editor. My rates are low, but I can and do refer writers to my trainee editors for content and copy editing at even lower rates. I believe in team building and cooperation to help us all rise together. I hope that sharing my heart helps others become better writers and better people. In other words, I believe in The Golden Rule.
I do free author hosting on my book blog (limited to kidlit up through YA).
I'd be honored to follow you back on twitter as @sherahart.
If you like my Sher A Hart page on Facebook, I'll return the favor. Please leave a link.
I will circle writers back as Sher A Hart.
Tony, thank you from the bottom of my heart for letting me edit your book and for the interview!
Sher, thanks for joining me here today, and thanks for an interesting and entertaining interview.