Author Interviews

* you can find the original interviews and much more on my 'everything writing' blog (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com), the main items being the interviews (new ones posted there 7am UK time daily) as well as author spotlights, guest posts, flash fiction or poetry 7pm.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Author interview with memoirist Fiona Gold Kroll (revisited)

Back in February 2014, I interviewed author Fiona Gold Kroll for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...

Welcome to another of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author Fiona Gold Kroll. 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, Fiona. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
FionaFiona: Hello Morgen. Thank you so much for having me! My name is Fiona Gold Kroll and I live in Toronto, Canada. I’m a married mother of two adult children and a grandmother. Before retiring five years ago, I was a corporate researcher. Writing came naturally to me even as a child and I frequently added pictures my stories. Though my work entailed writing reports, I didn’t begin writing for myself until five years ago. An editor friend suggested that I write a memoir about my search for my great-uncle Benjamin. People were fascinated with the story. So, I sat down and wrote. The novice in me said “get an editor” before submitting the manuscript to agents and publishers and it was a very smart move. I chose the perfect editor. She is not only a consummate professional, she understood the story. Her contacts in the publishing industry were instrumental in finding a publisher interested in my book. The manuscript was also in good shape when they read it.
Morgen: A very wise novice. Having an editor is the most costly part of self-publishing (eBooks are uploaded word processed documents and covers are fairly easy – and free – to create – I have a guide here) but it’s certainly the most important aspect. Sure, a cover, title and blurb entice the reader but have an average or below-average book and your reader will not only make it to the end of your book and certainly be unlikely to read any more but these days, authors rely on positive word of mouth (it’s how ‘Fifty Shades’ got so big). To-date, 95% of my editing clients have been self-published as it’s very encouraging that they are so willing to make their product the best it can be before sharing it with the wider world. I do know of someone who finished writing their novel on a Friday and published it online the following weekend. I’ve never read it but even the best writers need editors. Even though I’m an editor, I still hire one for my writing because she spots things I haven’t (because I wrote it and knew what I meant by something) and comes up with great suggestions.
Fiona: I also took a creative writing course, when I had almost finished writing A Stone for Benjamin. I loved it and began writing short stories including The Butterfly Effect. Encouraged by my instructor to submit the story for publication I was surprised when it was accepted by our national newspaper The Globe & Mail. I was told that I had a voice and I realized that I loved writing. I write every day, it helps distract me from winter. Then I get distracted walking our dog through the forest and beside the river during the summer months! Joking aside, ideas are constantly drifting through my mind and I can’t wait to write each day.
Morgen: That’s lovely. I started with short stories and they’ll always be my first love. With your non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Fiona: This was an easy decision for me. I spent several years searching for my great-uncle who disappeared from Paris in 1941. I travelled to Paris and Poland in an effort to find the truth about his disappearance. Once I had all the answers, I knew I had to write about Benjamin and the effect the research had on me.
Morgen: It does sound like a great story. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Fiona: Stone for Benjamin was published by Iguana Books in November, 2013. I contributed to Un train parmi tant d’autres a French memoir and wrote The Butterfly Effect, a short story published in 2013. No, I don’t use a pseudonym.
Morgen: I mentioned self-publishing a moment ago. Is it a route you’ve ever considered?
Fiona: I was prepared to self-publish A Stone for Benjamin however I was fortunate in finding a publisher interested in my book. That said, I would consider self-publishing in the future.
Morgen: It’s a great option. Is your book available as an eBook? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Fiona: A Stone for Benjamin is available as an eBook and paperback. I still prefer a paper book but I can store three or four books on my reader versus packing those books when travelling. One way or the other I think electronic books are here to stay.
Morgen: I’d say so. I subscribe to a couple of newletters, one of which is http://digitalbooktoday.com which emails me a list of free titles (updated daily) so I have about 2,000 eBooks (I do buy some too!) on my Kindle so I need never run out of material, especially as I generally only have time to read a book a week. I mentioned the importance of a cover, title and blurb, did you choose the title / cover of your book?
A Stone for BenjaminFiona: That’s a good question. I didn’t choose the title of my book; my editor came up with the name though ultimately I had the final say. As it happened I was very pleased with it. I had something else in mind when it came to the cover design but I agree with my publisher that it works well with A Stone for Benjamin.
Morgen: It’s certainly intriguing and the cover is charming. Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Fiona: That depends on how far back you want to go. :) Yes, they did to some degree. I loved the classics, Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows), Louisa May Alcott (Little Women), and Jane Austen (Pride & Prejudice) to name a few.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Fiona: I have two or three story lines that I’m working on at the moment. All are fiction based on fact, some are historical. It gives me the opportunity to use my research skills and write. I’m a bit of a stickler for historical accuracy. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy Downton Abbey… it’s all about the details!
Morgen: It certainly is. I – as I often am – was late to it; mid-season two, but was then hooked and bought season one so I could catch up. I don’t watch much TV (usually too busy – see aforementioned one book a week) so am selective. You said you “can’t wait to write each day”, do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Fiona: Yes, I’m suffering from writer’s block at the moment! That said I make myself write everyday whether I feel like it or not. I’m confident that the words will eventually flow and they usually do.
Morgen: Sometimes we just have to push ourselves. As you say, once you get going, you settle, and out it comes. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Fiona: I used to write and edit, write and edit until I lost the flow and became discouraged. I now prefer to edit when I reach the end of my story.
Morgen: Me too. I think it’s a case of getting the idea down on to paper then worrying about the finer detail. Being a “stickler for historical accuracy”, do you have to do much research?
Fiona: I’m a big proponent of research and it shows in A Stone for Benjamin.
Morgen: It’s worth it. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Fiona: Yes, I think all authors do!
Morgen: I certainly have, although I like to think that if the story is good enough, it can be whipped into shape. Do you pitch for submissions and / or are you commissioned to write?
Fiona: Being a new author, I have to pitch for submissions.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Fiona: Yes, I received two rejections of A Stone for Benjamin. I was disappointed but not disillusioned! It lasted for perhaps ten minutes and then I ploughed ahead with trying to find an interested publisher. I leveraged everyone I knew in the industry and it worked. 
Morgen: Definitely third time lucky then. I’m up to thirty-something (for one novel and numerous short stories), although I remind myself that Dean Koontz had 500+ before his first novel was published so I have some way to go. :) Do you enter any non-fiction competitions?
Fiona: To be honest I haven’t had time to enter competitions, although I do intend to in the future.
Morgen: I’d always advise being careful with competitions; just enter reputable ones that don’t cost too much. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Fiona: Currently, I don’t have an agent. I don’t believe they are vital but I wouldn’t dismiss having one either. 
Morgen: Me neither. :) Do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Fiona: My publisher expects its authors to assist and I do a lot of on-line marketing for A Stone for Benjamin. I also market myself as an author. Its hard work and the part of writing that I don’t particularly enjoy.
Morgen: Having a website is certainly important and out of all the authors I’ve interviewed, only two have said they do no marketing yet they’re active on Facebook and Twitter. Marketing is usually the answer to the second part of this next question (mostly because of the time)… What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Fiona: I love writing but dislike the interruptions of daily life. It’s solitary, yet I never anticipated such pleasure at being alone with my thoughts.
Morgen: Me too. As you say, having more time to write would be great. If any of your books were audiobooked, whom would you have as the narrator(s)?
Fiona: That’s a very good question.
Morgen: Thank you. It’s one of the newer ones. :)
Fiona: A Stone for Benjamin is a powerful story. Meryl Streep or Ralph Fiennes would make excellent narrators.
Morgen: I’d listen to them (I love audiobooks). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Fiona: There are probably hundreds of thousands of unpublished manuscripts that have been destroyed or are languishing somewhere because authors lost confidence in themselves. Believe in yourself and never give up!
Morgen: Absolutely. I nearly did following my first creative writing class (as a new student) but I wrote a short story for homework and ping… <light bulb moment> and here we are, nine years later. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Fiona: Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. I love to cook, in particular French style food. That said, there would probably be very little time to eat… we’d be too busy talking!
Morgen: I’d love to come up with some 6-worders with Ernest. Do you write fiction? If so, are there any differences or similarities between writing non-fiction and fiction?
Fiona: I lean towards non-fiction but I am writing a novel at the moment. If the story is fiction based on fact then research is the common denominator. However, fiction gives your mind the freedom to explore characters in an in-depth way. 
Morgen: It certainly does. The only non-fiction I write is about writing, although the topic for my next Beginners class is non-fiction so I’m looking forward to preparing for that. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Fiona: I get an idea and run with it.
Morgen: Most people do. I plotted my first novel and it sort of stuck to the plan, but it made me realise I didn’t need to figure too much out in advance. That’s something my new students find reassuring. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Fiona: No I’m not. Writing has become the joy in my life.
Morgen: :) Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Fiona: http://janefriedman.com/ http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/blog-interviews and the Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
Morgen: Ah, thank you. I’m in great company. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Fiona: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, RebelMouse, Linkedin and Pinterest. Twitter and Goodreads are great at spreading the word. RebelMouse is an extension of all of my social networks and does bring in additional followers. Facebook and Pinterest are a waste of time for me, but I maintain the sites anyway. Linkedin is good for networking but not for selling books.
Morgen: I’m on RebelMouse but I do little with it. I should. <note to self: find more time for things like RebelMouse> LinkedIn has brought me a few editing clients and I enjoy answering other writers’ questions. As you say, it’s a good networking tool, probably the best. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Fiona: I believe the future for writers will be challenging, especially in light of computer-generated books.
Morgen: It will, although I do think we have more opportunities now. Agents can find us… the ones that are looking online, anyway. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Thank you, Fiona. It was great chatting with you.
*
I then invited Fiona to include an excerpt of her writing…
Introduction
My father is dying. He has slipped into a coma, and I hold his hand as he rests peacefully in his bed. He is in a private room in the hospice on the ground floor of a hospital near Toronto. Two Canada geese stand like sentries outside the window, and the sun shines brightly into the room with a promise of spring and life, exactly as he would have wanted it.
Orphaned by the age of ten, my father faced life with enthusiasm in spite of his loss. Whenever challenges presented themselves, he would get back up on his feet, choose to see the glass half full and move on. My parents remained married for almost sixty-five mostly-happy years, until my mother died ten months earlier. Following her death, my father’s rapidly failing health came as no surprise.
I had an exceptional relationship with my father. If he refused to do something my mother wanted, she would say to me, “You speak to Dad. He’ll listen to you.” His love and encouragement remained unconditional throughout my life. When I began searching for my great-uncle Benjamin, who disappeared in 1941, my father became my biggest supporter and sounding board. Although Benjamin was my mother’s uncle, my parents viewed both sides of the family as one. For my father, Benjamin was also his uncle — end of story.
Sitting beside my father a few days before he slipped into the coma, I held his frail hand in mine. His voice was weak as we discussed my search for Benjamin. He turned his head towards me and said, “You have to write this book.”
Chapter 1
I ran into her bedroom every morning, waiting patiently for Sheva to hand me a biscuit from the packet she kept tucked away in the night table beside her bed. We lived with my grandparents. My grandmother was a powerhouse, in personality if not in stature — she stood four feet, ten inches tall. I was too young to understand, and I didn’t realize that Sheva was ill; she passed away when I was barely two years old. Despite my age at the time, I still remember some incidents that occurred back then, and my grandmother’s face is etched in my memory. My grandfather’s, too.
My mother and I visited my grandfather each week at his factory in the East End of London. Scooping me into his arms as soon as he saw me, my grandfather called me mamela (“little mother” in Yiddish). Sometimes I climbed on his lap while he brought his big, gentle hands around in front of me. He would carefully peel, core and slice an apple, and we would share it. Then he would take my small hand, covering it with his large, calloused fingers as we walked across the street together to Mr. Roumania’s shop.
Standing on my toes, I would crane my neck in an effort to see the contents of the huge, clear glass jars of sweets lined up like soldiers on the shelves behind the counter. My grandfather waited patiently while I chose a mixture to take home with me. Mr. Roumania weighed the sweets and carefully poured them into a small, white paper bag. He held the two corners of the bag together then quickly tossed the bag over several times to create twists at each end ensuring the bag stayed closed.
My grandfather paid him, but he accepted the money under protest — Mr. Roumania had known my grandfather since before the war. My grandfather did not enjoy living alone and he remarried one year after Sheva died. He adored his grandchildren, and I loved watching him smile when I walked into a room. I always looked up to him; he made me feel safe. He died when I was eight. I wish I had known him longer.
My grandparents carried passports that identified them as Russian Poles, though they were Polish Jews who immigrated to London, England, where my parents, my brother and I were born. My family never discussed the Holocaust during my childhood, and the Hebrew school that I attended didn’t teach the subject either. Though I knew that something terrible had happened to my grandparents’ families during the war, I sensed that I was never to ask my mother about it. My father and I shared a common interest in history. An avid reader, my father had several books pertaining to World War II, though none of them were specifically about the Holocaust, a subject we never discussed in front of my mother.
My mother never read a book or saw a movie concerning the Holocaust, and whenever a documentary about the subject came on television, my father would quickly change the channel so as not to upset my mother. Privately I sought out documentaries and movies about the Holocaust and read as many books as I could find on the topic, though never at home.
I was just a toddler at the time, but I remember the first time I saw my grandmother’s family photo album. Most of the photographs of her family in Poland had discoloured, while others had a sepia hue to them, but I could see my ancestors’ faces clearly. The musty black album was tied together with a tasseled gold cord, and I used to flip through the large book, trying to figure out my relationship to all the strange faces that peered back at me. I constantly asked my mother to tell me about the family, but when I asked what happened to them, she simply said they’d died. Relating the age of the photographs to the people pictured, I readily accepted her story.
I always returned to one photograph in particular: a picture taken in Paris of my grandmother’s brother Benjamin with his wife and their baby daughter. Benjamin had his arm wrapped around his pretty young wife, who held their first-born child close to her face. Drawn to Benjamin, with his bright eyes, slight smile and thick, dark, curly hair, I intuited his strength of character and sense of self-worth.
Copyright © Fiona Gold Kroll
**
And a synopsis of her latest book…
Chasing Holocaust shadows across Europe and beyond, Fiona begins her powerful journey searching for clues with nothing more than a misspelled name, old photographs and family stories. Determined to uncover the truth about Benjamin’s life and death and France’s betrayal of its Jewish population, Fiona pieces together her great-uncle’s life, elevating Benjamin’s legacy from a number tattooed on his arm at Auschwitz to a more complete memory of the vibrant man he was.
***
Fiona Gold Kroll was born in London, England where she attended university before immigrating to Toronto in the 1960s. She married and had two children. After the death of her husband, Fiona pursued a career in corporate research. In her spare time, Fiona began investigating her family tree.
Fiona wrote a summary about her great-uncle in 2009, later published in Un train parmi tant d’autres, a French memoir of Convoy 6 destined for Auschwitz. Fiona later published a short story The Butterfly Effect, in March 2013. A Stone for Benjamin, is her first book.
Happily remarried, Fiona continues to write in Canada.
***
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. Because of the time they take to put together (I add in comments as if we’re chatting), they do now carry a fee (£20 / €25 / $30) and they are also subsequently posted on morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com and morgensauthorinterviews.blogspot.co.uk but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Author interview with my editor Rachel Daven Skinner (revisited)

Back in January 2014, I interviewed editor Rachel Daven Skinner for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...

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.
RachelRachel: 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?
Rachel: Gah! I hate figuring out rates, and so do the other editors I’ve spoken with and read forum and blog posts from. What I’ve noticed is that editors working for businesses, agencies, and publishers often charge an hourly rate, sometimes even a flat rate for the project as a whole. Editors working one-on-one with author clients generally do not charge hourly. Many indie authors, at least at this stage of the self-publishing boom, have never worked with an editor before, and the idea of an unknown final price based on actual hours needed to complete the job, well, that’s scary! Budget is often the major concern for an indie author, so they need to know in advance exactly what the endeavour is going to cost before they commit to moving forward.
So for non-hourly pay breakdowns, the options are to charge per word, per page, or per 1,000 words. I’ve noticed that in the US it’s more common to see rates per word, with rates per page coming in second, whereas in the UK it’s more common to see editors listing their prices per 1,000 words. Since a page is always equal to 250 words for the sake of industry calculations, essentially all three options amount to the same thing. Personally, I list my prices per word since it’s the most straightforward for plugging into a calculation.
Morgen: Me too, so that authors can see at a glance how much it will cost and most of my clients are indies (as am I to-date).
RDS website smallRachel: The UK’s Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) and the US’s Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), both of which are the leading relevant industry leaders in their respective countries, list rate recommendations in an hourly format, so figuring out non-hourly rates requires a bit of reverse engineering and first-hand experience, which has been known to lead to grey hairs and wine consumption. *ahem* For setting my Romance Refined rates, I studied 30+ websites, including the two groups mentioned above, editing companies, freelance editors working for publishers, and freelance editors for indie authors – for the US and UK market – and then made a spreadsheet to compare them all. The toughest part of rate comparing is that there are so many definitions and interpretations of the various types of editing, and editors offer so many approaches to editing (what type of editing will they be doing? do they do each type of editing separately or do they combine multiple types into a single round of editing? how many times will they read through the manuscript? will follow-up be included? and on and on) It can be really challenging for authors to compare apples to apples. I wish I had a good solution to bring to the table, but ultimately, my best advice is for authors to research as much as possible so that they know what questions to ask when they interview potential editors.
Morgen: I think this is where the free sample comes in. I do the first 1,000 words for free so that the author can see what sort of feedback they’d get. If it’s what they’re looking for then they know it’s likely to be a good match. Fortunately more people proceed with me than don’t. How much notice do you get (would you like / need) for editing a project?
Rachel: The sooner I can pencil in tentative dates for a client, the better! Choc Lit normally notifies me a month or so in advance as to which upcoming title will be assigned to me. For all other clients, it varies. If I have an opening in my schedule and I’m intrigued by the project then I don’t mind accepting last-minute work. Generally, though, I like to book one month prior so that I can plan my life accordingly and aim for an even pace. There are times when I’ll be booked solid for a few months in advance because I may have several ongoing projects that will take turns on my desk as they all go through multiple phases of editing.
Morgen: You’re one of Choc Lit’s primary editors for their paperback list – do you have much dealing with other publishers?
Rachel: Not yet, but I’m available to freelance with other publishers.
Morgen: I’ve heard numerous authors say they can self-publish without an editor – what would you say to that?
Rachel: I cringe and make an involuntary ‘not good’ face, but usually I say polite things. :-) I’ve never spoken to or heard of an editor that would let themselves be published without another editor first working on the material, so what does that say? It’s human nature to need more than one set of eyes on a project of any sort. Would an architect rely on his sister to tell him that his blueprint was perfect and ready to compete at a home show where the competition was going to be stiff? If his sister is a fellow architect, maybe, but otherwise who cares if she thinks it’s a pretty drawing? I have a related post for my blog in the works, but the gist is this: If your top-pick publisher signed you tomorrow, with excellent royalty terms and all the rest, how much would you expect them to spend on getting you published and successful? Would you expect them to make you famous for free, without any additional polishing, effort, or insight? No. So why would a self-publishing author think they wouldn’t also need to bring the same level of well-rounded professionalism to their work? Yes, there will always be exceptions, but generally speaking you have to invest upfront if you want to give your book the best chance possible for long-term success – and payoff.
Morgen: Absolutely. Apart from you picking up errors (fortunately not many to-date), you do come up with some brilliant suggestions. How do you prefer to edit – on screen or on paper?
Rachel: On screen. I can’t even do creative writing on paper. My brain doesn’t work very linear, I guess, so I constantly tweak and reorder the things I type. That, and the SearchFind, and Replace commands are an editor’s best friend. I really can’t imagine editing without those tools.
Morgen: And for me, the undo button. We were friends first before you became my editor – do you find it any different editing for people you already know? Feel free to be honest. :)
Rachel: Yes and no. In some ways it’s more challenging because I’m more nervous about hurting a friend’s feelings, but really I’m just as aware of the need for tact and respect with a stranger. I have to make sure I’m approaching the project with my business hat on, since the point of my job is to be critical (but to do it nicely!), instead of approaching it as a friend who just wants to be supportive. Editing a friend usually makes it more likely that the author will want to brainstorm solutions or frustrations together, because that rapport already exists, whereas strangers seem less interested in live back-and-forth exchanges by phone or IM. I love collaborative brainstorming, especially by IM, so that can be a fun perk. :-)
Morgen: :) You mentioned earlier that you don’t write fiction – do you think if you were also a writer it would influence being an editor?
Rachel: Any time I try to write creatively – or even blog posts like this! – it’s a glaring reminder for me of just how hard authors work at their craft, and that helps me keep kindness and respect at the forefront of all my author–editor relationships. I do think that the more I can improve my own writing skills, the better I’ll be able to guide authors.
Morgen: You also mentioned going on editing courses – if someone wanted to become an editor, how would they go about it? Are there qualifications they can gain? Would they need them? Is there much competition to be an editor?
Rachel: I once asked Philippa Pride – “The Book Doctor” and Stephen King’s British editor – that same question, and she recommended the Publishing Training Centre in the UK for classes and certifications, and to find an apprenticeship for any position at a publishing house, which is how she started out. I’ve taken classes through SfEP, which partners with PTC, and I landed the position as Choc Lit’s production editor by asking if they had any apprenticeship opportunities and they hired me instead. So, I’d say there’s merit to Philippa’s advice, lol. That said, I’ve learned and developed my skills more so by studying and researching on my own. The problem is that it’s hard to quantify that to potential clients or employers, so having any type of organisation or school to back you up is going to be helpful for getting your foot in the door.
Go to conferences and conventions to network like crazy. Read topical books and blogs. Join local or online writing groups as well as professional editing organisations (their online forums can be a great source for mentorship – more on that later in this interview!). And best of all, ask questions to any editor willing to listen. I, for one, always welcome emails from anyone looking for info, whether it’s a specific question like ‘how would you style this sentence’ or general advice. I have a forum on my website or email me at  Rachel@RomanceRefined.com
Morgen: I love going to live events as it’s so different to interacting online – which I love – or sitting in my office with just my dog for company – which I also love. It’s especially great to put faces to names and now I’m teaching, I get paid to share my knowledge and enthusiasm to others so that’s the icing on the proverbial cake. Are you involved in any of the marketing for your clients?
Rachel: I follow my authors on twitter and facebook and re-tweet / share their news-worthy posts. During publication month I try to pay close attention to the book’s exposure and buzz so that I can write my own congratulatory or buzz-worthy posts, and I feature the latest publication I’ve edited on my Romance Refined homepage. I’ve also given away a few of my authors’ books as prizes or gifts.
Morgen: What would we do without social media? Are there any books that you’ve edited that you remember for all the right / wrong reasons?
Rachel: Yes to both, lol! But the details stay with me.
Morgen: Fair enough. :) How important do you think title / covers are?
Rachel: A lot of writers aren’t going to like my answer, but I’m going to be honest. Want to know how I shop for books these days? I get a daily email from Pixel of Ink that has a collection of about a dozen Kindle books that are on special for either free or cheap. I very quickly scroll through the list, looking only at covers. If I see one that looks interesting I’ll stop to read the title. If the title and cover combo fit together and I like the feel of it, I don’t bother to read the blurb, I just click the link to go direct to Amazon so that I can look at the reviews. If a book doesn’t have at least 25 reviews, I close the page. If the 25+ reviews don’t average about 4.5 stars, I close the page. If the price is more than $2.99 or so, I close the page. If the page is still open after all of that, I finally read the blurb and make my decision. Before I start getting hate mail, bear in mind that I own 600+ books that I’ve not yet read, I have a list of authors I auto-buy because I’m already a fan, and I also buy books that are recommended to me by fellow readers whose taste I trust. But for shopping blind? Covers scream about the quality between the pages. Professional covers are obvious, they just are, and if an author has trusted the quality of their product enough to pay for a cover artist, then it’s more likely they’ve been meticulous with the book’s content. Always true? Heck no. But in a flooded market, it’s a common benchmark.
Morgen: I’d not heard of Pixels of Ink but I get similar emails from digitalbooktoday.com and bookbub.com, although, like you, I buy books too. Do you work every day? If there is such a thing, do you ever suffer from editor’s block?
Rachel: I have a really unstable work pattern, which I’m trying to remedy. There are times when I don’t work for five days, followed by working every day for two weeks straight. I can’t remember the last time I took a vacation where I didn’t end up working at some point on the trip, which is not so good. I definitely suffer from editor’s block sometimes; usually the cure is reading strictly for pleasure so that I can recharge. It’s all-too-common for me to work through the night till the wee hours, because I’m naturally a night owl and once I’ve hit my stride, I hate to stop because I know it’ll take me a while to find my groove again the next day. They aren’t good work patterns, so I’m trying really hard to make myself work more ‘normal’, steadily-paced hours.
Morgen: Reading for pleasure? What’s that? :) I joined three reading groups (at different times) to get me to read more but each time I stopped at reading a book I didn’t want to read (which defeated the object). I review short stories and writing guides every other Wednesday so at least I read something I’ll enjoy (usually anyway) but even when I read other fiction, I’m still analysing. It’s like going to the cinema, I can’t switch off, which can be frustrating. Do you have to do much research for your job?
Rachel: It depends on the manuscript, but yes, every project requires a bit of research during they fact-checking, copy-editing stage. Usually historicals require the most research, often for etymology of a word or phrase to ensure it’s not anachronistic. For a contemporary I once researched a famous painting quite extensively and learned some surprising things about multiple versions that the artist had rendered.
Morgen: I was on a U.S. underwater forensic team’s website the other day for a mystery novel I was editing – that was fun reading. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your editing life? Has anything surprised you?
Rachel: I love the relationships I get to build with my authors and the whole collaborative experience. I get so excited when I see a book get well reviewed or nominated for an award, because I know how excited and proud that author will be, and I absolutely love knowing that in some way I was able to contribute to their joy and success. It makes me happy. I miss being able to constantly read for pleasure, though. There are so many books that I really really want to read, but there’ll never be enough time to get to them all. Heck, even if I had no job and did nothing but read for pleasure, there wouldn’t be enough time! Despite how much I read, I’m a rather slow reader; I guess I like to savour the experience and cherish each nuance that the writer (and editor!) constructed. :-) I also struggle with setting aside time to work on my blog!
Morgen: I’m far too slow too, especially when I’m reviewing – I almost write a comment for every page! As for the blogging, that’s partly why I have so many guests. :) If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Rachel: King Arthur, Shakespeare, and Tom Hanks. They’d cover a wide spread of advice on love and marriage, don’t you think? (Or maybe I should sub Hugh Jackman for Tom – Hugh is known for being a great husband and he’s hotter than hell. And he could talk about poop and I’d still enjoy listening.) I’d have international tapas so that the old boys could try new things, and it would have to be catered because I cannot multitask whilst in the kitchen – a notorious fact amongst anyone who’s ever had a meal at my house – and I’m not sure I’d want to leave the three of them on their own.
Morgen: Sorry William but I’d replace you with Hugh. One of Mr Jackman’s early movies, Paperback Hero, is one of my top 10… for obvious reasons (my no.1 is equally obvious: Stranger Than Fiction). What do you do when you’re not working? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
Rachel: Am I allowed to say “read”? It’s truly my addiction. And I absolutely love to travel. Fun fact: When I book flights, I take into consideration which route and layover lets me take fullest advantage of guilt-free reading time.
Morgen: You absolutely are. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Rachel: SO MANY. For writers embarking on self-edits or prepping to work with an editor, Beth Hill, The Editor’s Blog is a font of helpful advice and examples. She’s also great at interacting with anyone that leaves a question in the comments. Stephen King’s On Writing is a classic for a reason. For sources more geared towards editors, The Subversive Copy Editor book and blog are great; I haunt Constant Hale, both her books and her blog, Constant Comment; Louise Harnby’s blog, The Proofreader’s Parlour (how cute is that vintage parlour theme?); and Rich Adin’s blog, An American Editor. For style guides and dictionaries, check out the list of reference materials on my website, but as a general note, style guides are great not just for their technical sections; they all have a great section on the actual process of editing and book publishing.
Morgen: ‘On Writing’ is the most recommended guide in these interviews and I’ve recommended it to my students. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Rachel: I rely on Twitter for networking with industry professionals, and although it hasn’t led directly to any work yet, I’m confident that it’ll help open doors in the long run. I’m an SfEP associate, and their forum has definitely proved helpful as a place to connect and ask questions. I have an online subscription for the Chicago Manual of Style, and I’ve utilised their forum too. I’m a member of the EFA, and this past week I received an email asking if they could feature me in a spotlight online and in their newsletter at the end of March, so who knows what they may lead to!
Morgen: I love being invited to take part in things – I can (and do) talk writing all day long. Is your website, http://www.romancerefined.com, the best place to find out about you and your work? Do you take enquiries from authors directly?
Rachel: Yup, my website is a great jumping off point for information on working with me. I also have a blog there were I do book reviews, author interviews, etc., although life has been so busy since I moved this summer that the blog has been neglected lately. I’ve got a stockpile of reviews to get uploaded!
Morgen: Oh great. Maybe I could have some (after the event is fine) for my blog? Thank you, Rachel. It’s been such a pleasure chatting with you and we’ll miss you at this year’s Get Writing Day. Oh, and happy birthday for yesterday.
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Rachel Daven Skinner is a freelance editor of romantic fiction. American born and raised, she recently spent four years living near London before moving to Hawaii in August 2013. Her conglomeration of English lends itself to bridging the gap in writing that spans the Atlantic. She’s a Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) associate, an Editorial Freelancers Associate (EFA) member, a Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) member, and a Romance Writers of America (RWA) member. Find out more about Rachel and the editing services she offers at www.RomanceRefined.com, where she also blogs editing tips, book reviews, interviews with authors on the topic of editing, and more. The site also has some great resources like a downloadable style sheet and timeline for sorting out your story continuity, a list of worldwide romance conferences and conventions for readers and writers, and more goodies.
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If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. Because of the time they take to put together (I add in comments as if we’re chatting), they do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£20 / €25 / $30) for the new interviews on this blog (they also subsequently get posted on morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com and morgensauthorinterviews.blogspot.co.uk) but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
If you would like to send me a book review, see Book Reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed here.
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