A Chat with the Editor

Earlier this past weekend/week, I gave you guys the chance to submit questions for my editor, Jeri. She’s generously answered many of the inquiries I received. To make it easier on Jeri, I condensed and combined some of the questions, and anything in italics is from me–I couldn’t help putting in a few side-notes in addition to asking the questions. Now, before we get started, I want to give a little bit of background info.

Jeri–or Editor #1 as I usually refer to her–has worked with me since I released The Wild Swans in 2014. She’s edited almost all of my books–although some she didn’t get a chance to take a crack at until recently–and she’s the only editor I use for everything. (Editor #2 just works with me on Timeless Fairy Tales. Jeri has gone through all of my stories.) I consider her to be an excellent colleague, but she is also an awesome friend and has the best taste in books. Okay, we’re ready to get going!

KM Shea: For our first question, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Jeri: Oh, wow. An interview and a personal question? I feel like I have a spotlight pointed at me… I’m a working mom with three kiddos, a fantastic husband, and two dogs. I was born and bred in the West and have lived in multiple states and cities around the Rockies. I have an MA in English, and with that I taught technical writing and composition for years, leading me into the editing world. However, editing hasn’t been my day job for a long time. I just do it for fun on the side while I work in corporate training for my 9-5.

K: How did editing become your career?

J: I actually stumbled into editing from an academic pathway. I planned on being an English instructor (after I realized doctors don’t get to go home very often) and worked as an adjunct at four different universities/colleges while we settled and started our family. The class I loved teaching the most was technical writing because commas and grammar make me happy. That technical writing background was absolutely mandatory for what I do to help KM Shea. An editor must know when to use a comma and when to use a semi-colon, to know the difference between a phrase and a clause, a compound and a compound-complex sentence.

From there, I worked as the senior editor for an academic research program for several years. In that role, I got very good at figuring out what authors meant through their context and at being able to articulate it for them without changing their voice. That skill/talent is critical. KM’s voice is so awesome that you want to hear her, not me. So it’s important for any editor to have the gift of…translation, so to speak—to be able to pull out of an author’s context what she’s really trying to say and to keep the “fix” clean enough to sound like her, not like the editor.

Editing is kind of a marriage between those two skills—the technical, math-like nature of grammar and usage and the gut-feel of knowing what an author really meant to say, but didn’t. (KM Shea: She’s right. While I mostly wax poetry about Jeri’s ability to fix my various cases of comma abuse, her ability to tweak a sentence so it is structurally complete but sounds the same is just as important.)

K: What is your editing process? Do you edit while you read, or read the book first then edit, do you watch for specific things, or just fix whatever errors you find?

J: I read and edit simultaneously. But, this comes down to the difference between copyediting and editing. And I kind of do both. Because KM’s nice and patient with me, she doesn’t care that I make organizational and character recommendations as I go—acting as more of an editor. And for that, I have to read. (KM Shea: *snorts* What she’s not telling you is those “recommendations” point out critical flaws. Addressing them help flesh out and fix the characters/scene/story.)

But, I make copyediting changes as I go, too, wiping out commas and spelling errors. And then I do a second pass after KM has made revisions because, like everyone, I’m human and miss things the first time around. (KM Shea: She’s being generous. She also has to take a second pass because I’ll make changes and add paragraphs/scenes and muck the whole thing up again.) As KM has mentioned in her posts, I think I have two talents: though I can’t make up a story for the life of me, I am good at finding the holes in the stories others weave. And I know how to fill those holes and what that character would say or do (especially if the characters are as awesome as they are in KM Shea’s books). Then, I know where the punctuation should be changed to make that meaning come across and to be true (as much as is possible, with some artistic license) to the English language and all its crazy intricacies.

K: How long does it take you to edit a Timeless Fairy Tale? In comparison, how long does it take you to edit a King Arthurs story?

J: KM sends her novels to me in amazingly good condition. They don’t take me very long at all. Because her voice is so clean and her characters already so well fleshed out, I can edit a Timeless Fairy Tale in about a weekend (around feeding my kids and going to the grocery store). The King Arthurs took me less time because they were short. I think I cranked through four of them in a long weekend.

That said, though, I have edited some books that have eaten my life for months. KM’s just come to me immensely clean. For instance, I just finished a project for another friend that went through 8 drafts. Yep, 8. So, if you’re feeling like editing’s always going to be smooth and easy, it’s not. And sometimes the content is atrocious. Tax books are really boring to edit.

K: Which of K. M. Shea’s books have the hardest content to edit?

J: Hmmm…this one’s hard. She’s such a clean writer, that content isn’t really the problem. The faster the writing flows for her, though, the more I have to edit—when she’s on a roll, she’s really going fast. Then there may be a few more goofs than normal, or a character may need a tweak or two, but that’s about it. She’s a dream to edit.

The content is really the characters and this new world she is creating. She is very adept at introducing it a piece at a time so readers aren’t overwhelmed, but receive what they want when they should be getting it. So, as an editor, the only thing I have to watch is if a first-time reader would get it or not. If not, then she’ll have to fix it. If so, then we’re good.

K: What’s the hardest part about editing?

J: The hardest part is that usually, a 9-5 editing job is filled with boring content. Tax books and history texts can sometimes really make me yawn. The several years I worked as an editor for my full-time gig, I was editing Department of Defense stuff. Snooze-fest. I totally lucked out in finding novels as freelance. And even if you are editing novels, editing GOOD novels is a completely different experience. I have a dream gig here, folks. (KM Shea: I feel honored you would say that, but a part of me wants to protest because I see all the corrections you make to polish my manuscripts!)

K: What is your favorite book?

J: Too many to count. I actually have over 1500 books at my house. I kind of have a slight obsession…

My favorites of KM’s are these (I think in this order, but that changes daily):

  • Rumpelstiltskin
  • MBRC
  • Red Rope of Fate
  • Arthur stories
  • Cinderella
  • Snow Queen (but none of you have read it yet…) (KM Shea: Hahah, that’s so sneaky of you to mention it!)

Some of my favorites as these (in no particular order):

  • Persuasion
  • Count of Monte Cristo
  • Night Circus (KM Shea: Ohmygoodness, she introduced me to this book, and I LOVE IT! It has such beautiful language!)
  • Love Walked In
  • Desert Solitaire
  • Much Ado about Nothing (though Hamlet and Twelfth Night are right up there, too)
  • Edenbrooke (KM Shea: Another one she introduced me to, you MUST read this one if you like historical romances!)
  • Walden
  • Seeking Persephone
  • The Wednesday Wars
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  • Flowers for Algernon
  • The Mother Tongue (but really, anything by Bill Bryson is amazing)
  • Sherlock Holmes (I love the short stories more than the novellas…The Speckled Band is really fabulous)
  • Walden
  • Silas Marner
  • O Pioneers!
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel (I love that it was written by a woman aristocrat)
  • The Cask of Amontillado (if you haven’t read Poe in October, you’re missing out)
  • The Lord of the Rings series
  • Harry Potter series
  • Nearly anything by Robin McKinley, Shannon Hale, ED Baker, or Gayle Carson Levine
  • The Mitford series by Jan Karon
  • The Virginian (and pretty much any western ever…Louis L’Amour can spin a great yarn)
  • The Good Earth
  • The Tempest
  • And, I should probably stop there, or we’ll be here for a while…

K: Like I said before, she has excellent taste. That’s all for today, although I’m hoping to have Jeri here on the blog again in the future. Please give her a shout-out, if you like, in the comments! A good editor, like Jeri, is worth her weight in gold. Thanks for all your hard work, Jeri! That’s it for this weekend, but I will tease you all and let you know that I have a fun announcement to share next week… until then, Champions, have a great weekend!

6 comments on “A Chat with the Editor

  1. I like your taste in Shakespeare’s comedies and the long, long, beautiful list of favorite books XD Great insights into your dynamic with K.M. and the editing process as a whole! Makes me curious how much of this is inherent to the work, and how much of it is just the way you personally work. So glad K.M. did this interview with you, Jeri!

    • Hmmm, that’s a good point. I know my personality certainly has an affect on the kind of material I write. Increasing your skill at something boils down to practice, but your habits and quirks can certainly make your job easier!

  2. I believe a big thanks is in order for both KM Shea and Jeri for this incredibly informative interview. To be able to keep personality in text (especially if that personality is as vibrant as KM Shea’s) as well as correct small errors are great talents and ones that I admire (especially if the owner of those talents is able to edit both amazing books such as KM Shea’s and some… drier texts *cough cough tax books cough*) I am forever grateful to you Jeri for recommending such great books and for editing ones that everyone can’t help but love. Again on behalf of all readers thank you to you both!

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