To many of us, especially if you’ve rarely (or never!) worked with your own personal editor, the ins, outs, expectations and daily frustrations of the editing life can feel like a bit of a mystery.
A strange land the writer just isn’t fully equipped to traverse unscathed.
Which of your possible submissions are likely to satisfy a particular editor’s needs? What do editors want to see when your information lands in their inbox? Will developmental editors take on any writer who’s willing to pay enough? And what exactly are they doing while the bill totals up?
To put an end to the confusion – and to arm all our beloved AutoCrit readers with the tools they need to transform that hard climb to the top into a chauffeured 4×4 experience – we bring you… Ask the Editor!
Throughout this new series, we’ll be enlisting the no holds barred expertise of editors from many corners of the publishing industry, and extracting as much gold from their waggling tongues as we can.
And our first guest is no holds barred, indeed!
Meet Geoff Brown, Co-director and Acquisitions Editor of Australia’s Cohesion Press.
Since chronicling his rocky history with his debut book, Hammered: Memoir of an Addict, Geoff has gone on to develop Cohesion Press into an award-winning small press, boasting some of his niche’s biggest names in genre fiction amongst his stable, including Jonathan Maberry, Weston Ochse, Joseph Nassise, and Greig Beck.
He even hosts haunted asylum tours!
Focused on military horror (think big guns and big monsters), with Geoff at the reins Cohesion Press has grown from strength to strength throughout the ongoing publishing of its flagship anthology series, SNAFU, and beyond. In fact, the release of SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest even managed to beat genre titan Stephen King out of first place on the Amazon US horror chart.
Not being one to mince words, Geoff came to the table with some brutal (yet tender) honesty and the lively language to match. If you’re repulsed by the odd bout of profanity, consider yourself warned…
But we think you’ll find the insights he has to offer will be of great value to you.
Take it away, Geoff!
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?
Geoff Brown: I began as a writer. I studied professional writing and editing at a tertiary level, and worked out I was quite good at all the different levels of editing the work of others. It was a sensible step from that to opening up Cohesion Editing and Proofreading (now closed, as I have no time for freelance stuff anymore).
In the years I have worked in the industry, I have seen editing move from trained professionals working in the field with major content producers, to untrained morons who once self-published a shapeshifter romance book selling their lack of ability to other self-publishers.
These days, anyone can (and does) call themselves an editor, and as they are servicing people who can barely string a sentence together, their clients have no grasp on the concept that the ‘editors’ are actually introducing more errors into the work than were there before. There are still professionals about, but it’s harder to find them amongst the idiots.
AC: 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 an editor’s perspective? What’s your personal approach, technique or system for efficient editing?
GB: Rather than an average day, how about we look at working on one piece of writing? In this case, fiction, as non-fiction is a very different beast.
First, I’ll do a quick read-through to get a sense of the story. Then a second, more thorough read to get a sense of the writer’s style and intention in the story.
Next, I’ll sit down with a pen and paper to write down a few points about the story and style of writing. At that point, I go through and look at the structure.
This is different for long pieces to short pieces, and each story needs different things – whether it’s changing from passive to active voice, switching telling to showing, culling word-vomit, or expansion to ensure readers get what the author is trying to give.
After that, the edits are sent back to the writer for their approval and rework.
Once the work is done structurally, it’s time to look at copy editing, or a more micro look at how sentences and style work to attain what the author is trying to do. This looks more at grammar and such, and is done with track changes running for the author to go over and approve or not.
Finally, we have a proofread, then the final read to make sure everything works smoothly.
AC: What are the most common issues you see in pieces submitted to you?
GB: Guidelines are meant to be followed. Mostly, they are glanced at, given token thought, or ignored completely.
I always suggest people who submit to our main anthology series (SNAFU) read some (or at least one) of the earlier editions, and see what it is we publish before they write something to send us.
Apart from lack of awareness in what we are looking for, the most common thing I see that irks me is over-writing at the start.
People don’t need to tell us what we’re heading into. Get rid of the exposition and throw us straight into the action, or the mystery, or SOMETHING. Hook us right from the get-go.
AC: 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?
GB: The style guides that suit the region of the writer or publication are essential when it comes to basic copy editing and proofreading, yes, but in regard to the structural editing side of things, I suggest people need to really know the genre… so the best thing to do is read widely within the areas in which you intend to work.
Learn the tropes, the clichés, and the way readers expect things to pan out. Yes, clichés and such can be dangerous, but they also can say in a small sentence what would otherwise take much longer.
Learning how the readers think is an invaluable lesson.
AC: Do you recognize 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 toolkit?
GB: It is, at times, obvious that more care has been taken with editing and proofing, but that could be either the writer’s own work or an external editor [before the writing has reached me].
It’s always preferable to do your very best not to send things that contain s*** spelling, incorrect punctuation, and are filled with homophones that any sixth grader with some basic intelligence could have picked up.
Words are your tools and your weapons, writers. Learn how to use the damn things.
AC: 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)?
GB: Take advice. Argue if you feel strongly about something, but be prepared to defend your decisions yet still lose the war.
Don’t pull the old “You’re harshing my creative, artsy buzz by demanding that I have sentences with fewer than 400 words.” Learn how to take constructive criticism, and learn how to kill your favorite passages if they serve no purpose.
AC: How can a writer most DEFINITELY get on your bad side?
GB: One thing that really s****s me is already covered (arguing about artistic license to cover lack of ability) but also… learn how to use your word processing program.
That is another basic tool, yet so many writers don’t even know how to set a specific style for documents and insist on throwing TABs and five million spaces instead of using the ‘first line indent’ option that is so easy.
Also, don’t be an arrogant dick. You pay editors to pick up your mistakes. Trust them to do so. They may well be open to argument at times, but a good editor will know when artistic crap works and when it’s just being pedantic or pretentious. Listen to them.
Also, DO NOT send stuff to publishers that doesn’t suit what they publish. My press, Cohesion Press, publishes action-based horror/sci-fi and creature feature, where giant creatures eat a lot of people before they are blown up.
Don’t send me literary horror, and don’t send me message sci-fi. I might read that stuff, but I don’t publish it. Do your research and target your submissions to the right companies.
AC: Recall, if you will, your single biggest editing nightmare. What happened? Why? How did it impact yourself and the writer, and what did you learn from it?
GB: One author, who thinks they are the next big literary writer, decided to write a generic horror/action piece with hopes of making some money to support their pretentious literary career. This person then refused to make changes to make the tale interesting and not-as-slow-as-f***.
Then they sooked when they didn’t like the cover (that cost a grand to design by one of the best in the business).
“It’s not literary enough,” they said. “I want it to look literary.”
Guess what, writer? We are NOT a literary publisher. We publish military horror and creature features where giant things eats lots of people and then get the s*** shot out of them. To appeal to our fans, you actually have to kill people before the end of your book.
AC: Any final comments or words of wisdom for the writers out there?
GB: Self-publishing is perfectly fine these days. If that’s what floats your boat, do it. But, do it WELL.
Don’t skimp on any part of the process, from writing to editing to cover design and layout and internal design too.
If you DO skimp on any of that, don’t expect to sell a million unless you are damn lucky or a marketing genius.
And don’t skimp on marketing, either. That’s what brings sales. Marketing gets people looking at the cover, then the cover gets people reading the synopsis, and only then, if you hook them, do you have a sale.
So there we have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. What do you think of Geoff’s advice? Leave your comments below and let’s get talking!
Also, if you have any burning questions you’d love to see posed to a professional editor, go ahead and put them in the comments or email them to us by clicking here. Who knows… they might just show up in a future entry of Ask the Editor.
Our deepest thanks to Geoff for taking the time out to chat with us. All you action and monster lovers can find out all about the growing range of Cohesion Press books at their website: https://cohesionpress.com/our-books/
And if you’d love to make editors happy with cleanly self-edited work that takes the traditions and nuances of your specific genre into account — just like Geoff suggests — you should give AutoCrit a try today.
Built word by word on data obtained from millions of books across multiple types of genre, it’s every fiction writer’s secret weapon!