In this episode of Ask the Editor, we’re joined by the talented Robbi Sommers Bryant!
Having worked as a professional, multi-genre editor since 2011, Robbi has also been published both traditionally and through self-publishing. Her award-winning books include a novella, four novels, five short-story collections, and one book of poetry. Published in magazines including Readers Digest, Redbook, and Penthouse, her writing can also be found in college textbooks and several anthologies.
Her work was optioned twice for television’s Movie of the Week, and she is also the past president (and current vice president) of Redwood Writers — the largest branch of the California Writer’s Club, sporting 335 members. Her editorial focus is developmental, content, and copy editing.
Welcome, Robbi, and let’s get started!
AutoCrit: To begin, give us a brief walkthrough of your path as an editor. How did you find your way into the position, and have you witnessed the landscape evolve in any sense throughout your career?
Robbi Sommers Bryant: I began my career as a writer. Published for ten years by a traditional publisher, I was fortunate to have the aid of their editor who taught me an incredible amount about the process. This publisher released 10 of my books – each one involved an in-depth journey with my editor.
As I grew more confident, I started editing my friends’ works. Word soon got around, and I began a small editing business. One referral led to the next, and now I have a full-time business, which has been running since 2011.
What I’ve noticed changing since I’ve become an editor is that more people are turning to self-publishing. I’ve read more than enough self-published books that apparently were only edited by the author. Poor sentence structure, repeated words, grammar errors and so on run throughout the manuscript.
To help potential writers see the benefits of using an editor (whether self-publishing or going through a traditional publisher), I offer a free 10-page edit. In this way, writers can compare their self-edited work to how a professional editor would fix and polish the piece. I haven’t had one potential client say no after they’ve experienced the difference.
AutoCrit: Many writers understand what an editor does in terms of function, but the day-to-day job remains something of a mystery. Can you walk us through an average day from your perspective? What’s your personal approach, technique or system for efficient editing?
Robbi Sommers Bryant: I’m not sure how it first happened, but now I’m in the habit of beginning my work day at 2:30 a.m. I get up, eat breakfast, work a crossword puzzle, and head into my office. I limit my editing to 50 pages per author, per day. Each 50-page increment takes an average of four to five hours. I don’t edit more than two authors per day, so I alternate authors regularly.
The first time I edit, I look for developmental and structural issues. At the same time, I correct grammar problems and sentence structure as I see fit. The first draft is then sent back to the writer with various types of “homework” exercises depending on their manuscript’s needs. After my client does the exercise – for example, writing the arc of each of the characters – they go on to read through the first draft of the edit.
For the second round, more emphasis is placed on sentence structure, compelling writing, word choices, passive vs. active verbs, and so on.
Once I’ve finished draft two, it returns to the author and so on.
AutoCrit: Do you have a preference or specialism for the genre/types of books you edit? What type do you most like working on, and why? On the flip-side of that, which do you dislike the most, and why?
Robbi Sommers Bryant: I’ve worked on many different genres and, so far, have liked them all. What I don’t like is working with a lazy writer. What I mean is, for example, being content to write a sentence such as:
‘Mike was a very weird man but fit in.’
Rather than something like:
‘An eclectic man, Mike was known to wear plaids and stripes together yet look fashionable.’
Or using clichés.
‘Mike stood on the edge of the diving board. “Here goes nothing,” he called to his friends.’
‘Mike stood on the edge of the diving board. “Don’t expect an Olympic dive,” he called to his friends.’
AutoCrit: What are the most common issues you see in manuscripts when you first get to work on them?
Robbi Sommers Bryant: The most common issues I find in manuscripts when I get them are dull, flat sentences, overuse of passive verbs vs. active, unnecessary narrative, and extensive back story.
AutoCrit: Do you have any particular Editor’s Bible type books or guides you would recommend for writers, or are you mainly subject to the whims of individual style guides?
Robbi Sommers Bryant: My favorite books that I use and recommend for editing are The Word Finder (J.R. Rodale), The Synonym Finder (J.R. Rodale), The Chicago Manual of Style (The University of Chicago Press), and Showing and Telling by Laurie Alberts.
AutoCrit: How do you feel the meteoric rise of self-publishing has affected the industry, and the role of editors in particular?
Robbi Sommers Bryant: As I mentioned before, I believe the increase in self-publishing has caused the savvy writer to turn to editors for input and corrections before taking their editing to the publication stage. If a writer hasn’t learned the benefits of working with an editor, they will hear about it in the Amazon reviews. I can’t think of anything worse than readers not finishing a book because there were simply too many errors.
AutoCrit: Do you recognise and/or appreciate when a writer has obviously put in the effort to self-edit before passing their work to you? Do you consider a familiarity with self-editing to be an essential part of the writer’s tool kit?
Robbi Sommers Bryant: I appreciate when a writer puts in the effort to edit their manuscript to best of their abilities before it lands on my desk. And yes, I think it is essential for the writer to have a “tool kit” for self-editing. Autocrit, for example, is an excellent program for a writer to not only see many of their mistakes but to get explanations for what they need to correct. (And no, I was not told to add that. I am impressed with the in-depth editing information Autocrit provides!)
AutoCrit: With your answer to the previous question in mind, what top tips/things to look out for would you offer to writers if they want to keep their editor happy (and complete the editing process as painlessly as possible)?
Robbi Sommers Bryant: Being aware of the following would make editing a relatively painless process:
- Learning proper grammar
- Being aware of sentence structure variations
- Avoiding wordy sentences
- Learning the difference between active and passive verbs
- Limiting adverb use
- Knowing the theme, story and character arcs of your story
AutoCrit: Recall, if you will, your single biggest editing nightmare. What happened? Why? How did it impact you and the writer, and what did you learn from it?
Robbi Sommers Bryant: The biggest editing nightmare involved a client who wanted to end her story with a character doing the exact same thing she did in the beginning. The technique she chose was to add the first few pages of the story to the end, verbatim. My continual suggestion urged the writer to use a different technique to establish her goal. No reader wants to read several pages of the exact same words. The author was adamant. What I learned is that as an editor, I had to let go of what I felt was best for a manuscript and, after stating what I think works in a clear and concise way, allow the writer to have the final say… even if it is to the manuscript’s demise.
AutoCrit: Any final comments or words of wisdom for our audience?
Robbi Sommers Bryant: With the right editor, the process can be fun.
And that’s it for this episode! Many thanks to Robbi for taking the time out to chat with us. Find out more about Robbi’s books, and her editing experience, at her website here: https://robbibryant.com/
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