In this edition of our Q&A series, Ask the Editor, say hello to Ray Rhamey!
Ray is an author, freelance fiction editor, and book designer (crrreative.com). He has been editing (developmental/content editing) book-length fiction since 2003. Before that, he was a copywriter and creative director in the advertising industry, and story editor/screenwriter at Filmation, an animation studio in Los Angeles. Ray also teaches writing workshops at writers’ conferences in the U.S. and Mexico.
He writes for the internationally known blog, Flogging the Quill (floggingthequill.com), on creating compelling fiction. His how-to book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling, receives rave reviews from writers, and readers call him a “genre-bending” writer – his The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles is satirical paranormal adventure, Gundown is a speculative thriller, The Summer Boy is a coming-of-age mystery set in 1958, and Hiding Magic is a blend of science fiction and contemporary fantasy.
Whew! That’s quite the background! You can find out more about Ray at rayrhamey.com – but for now, let’s get asking some questions!
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?
Ray Rhamey: I guess it begins with an innate talent for/sense of language. I remember my freshman English teacher in college trying to recruit me to become an English major – it just comes naturally to me. That covers the grammar side of things, but not a sense of story; that was yet to come. I evolved into a long career as a writer and creative director in advertising. My writing took me to being the head of a creative department. I supervised copywriters, directing and coaching them to create the most effective prose and dialogue – in essence, coaching and editing. But wait, there’s more…
Then I started writing novels and screenplays, and that’s where the story muscles began to develop – through writing and the study of how-to books. About four novels in, I joined a critique group in Seattle, and two of the members were an editor (journalism) and a published playwright. Each of them asked me to edit their novels. I did, and their enthusiastic responses led to working as an editor for an online “supplier” of editing, and then into freelancing on my own.
AutoCrit: Can you walk us through an average day from an editor’s perspective? What’s your personal approach, technique or system for efficient editing? Have you developed any unique quirks that mark your style?
Ray Rhamey: I can only speak to what I do, and it makes more sense for me to speak of a project rather than a day. I edit novels. The first step is to read through the novel onscreen, using Word’s track changes and comments features to make corrections and notes about what I read. The primary purpose is to get a sense of story and character. Once done, I let it sit and percolate at the back of my mind for a couple of days, during which I’ll work on other projects.
I print out the novel and go through it again on hard copy, wielding a red pen, making copious notes. If there are structural issues, I’ll begin formulating what to do during this read. Once done, I enter the many changes I’ve noted into the document and then let it sit for a couple more days.
I go through the novel a third time onscreen, always catching even more punctuation and typographical errors. If structure needs work, I’ll rearrange what I can and also write up notes on what to change later. A few pages of notes are the final step, with comments on both the strengths and shortcomings I find, and how to deal with the shortcomings.
If there are any aspects of editing that I think I’m particularly good at, they are continuity, story, and character. For some reason, during an edit the whole book takes up residence in my mind after the first read, and inconsistencies that the writer and their beta readers have missed jump out at me. That ability helps eliminate little glitches that can take a reader out of the story. I also have a finger on the pace of a story, and coach/edit writers into a crisper pace when a narrative lags.
AutoCrit: Do you have a preference or specialism for the genre/types of books you edit? Which type do you most like working on, and why? On the flip-side, which do you dislike the most, and why?
Ray Rhamey: I don’t think I’ve ever disliked a genre, but there are some I have almost no experience in and don’t feel qualified to edit. As a writer of science fiction, mystery, and fantasy, I feel most comfortable with those genres – a favorite client is writing an epic fantasy series that I’m enjoying working on. As an aside, I have done the cover and book design for two of her novels so far. I’ve also edited a considerable amount of women’s fiction and romantic thrillers, and I enjoy those too. I do not accept short stories or memoir – while I would feel fine about line-editing them, I don’t think of myself as expert enough in those areas to be a reliable judge of how well the story elements work for readers. I have edited non-fiction, but it’s not something I look for.
AutoCrit: What are the most common issues you see in manuscripts when you first get to work on them?
Ray Rhamey: One of the most common issues is overwriting, the inclusion of detailed action or description of things that don’t impact the story or characterization. Another is related to that: the “info dump” of setup and backstory wherein writers tell us the things they think the reader needs to know – which they actually don’t.
Flashbacks are also often the bane of a story’s momentum, though I recently edited a romantic suspense novel that was primarily – and artfully – told through tension-filled flashbacks.
Due to setup, too many manuscripts lack tension in the first pages, lack a problem the character must deal with or suffer consequences. Some writers like to ease into a story but, in my experience, the majority of readers don’t.
Other, smaller issues include comma faults – the comma is a tricky thing to use, and I’m still mastering the rules. Not that I don’t also break the rules in my own writing and for others if what is on the page works.
Over-use of a particular word or phrase will crop up, an easy fix. A recent novel had characters sniffing and growling constantly, and I urged the writer to change as many as possible.
AutoCrit: How do you feel the meteoric rise of self-publishing has affected the industry, and the role of editors in particular?
Ray Rhamey: As I understand it, there are far fewer in-house editors employed by publishers these days, with former employee editors now working on a freelance basis. I think there are more editors out there, and they’re easy to find on the Internet. Unfortunately, anyone can call themselves an editor… including me. That’s why I offer a free 5-page edit to people interested in an edit. I need for them to see what I do and how they feel about it, and I need to see if the manuscript is workable.
I also think that, with self-publishing so huge now, editors are both more needed than ever before and, if the evidence of so many self-published novels is representative, not utilized nearly enough. Every self-publishing author should, IMO, hire an editor after they’ve heard from their beta readers and rewritten and polished and self-edited to the best of their ability. I know it’s expensive, but the alternative is asking for trouble with readers.
Writers might consider crowdfunding the cost of editing and cover design – since I do both, you can get an idea of the cost from my website. If you search on the Internet for terms such as “crowdfund novel,” you’ll find a number of sites for crowdfunding literary efforts.
AutoCrit: Do you recognize and/or appreciate when a writer has 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?
Ray Rhamey: First, I don’t accept every project that comes my way. I turn down those that aren’t pretty much at a professional, publishable level in the writing. Several of my repeat clients are also editors, so their manuscripts are sharp to begin with – and yet I find tons of issues in continuity, punctuation, and sometimes story or character. Clearly, they self-edit, and yet that only gets them 90% of the way home. Self-editing is crucial for developing an ability to tell a story well.
AutoCrit: With your answer to the previous question in mind, what top tips would you offer to writers if they want to keep their editor happy (and complete the editing process as painlessly as possible)?
Ray Rhamey: There’s just one thing: be open, wide open, to considering the constructive criticism an editor offers. That’s one reason I do a free sample edit – is the writer open to what I have to say, and can they take advice? Usually, when I do take on a new client after the sample edit, they have made many of the changes I suggested in the sample edit.
Writing a professional-level novel has a long and steep learning curve. We’re all on it, and I don’t think anyone ever reaches the peak. There’s just simply too much to learn and absorb on what to do and how to do it when it comes to writing a novel.
I have huge respect for anyone who has the fortitude to complete a novel, no matter what its quality. It’s a gigantic achievement just to get to “the end.”
AutoCrit: 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?
Ray Rhamey: It was an edit for a British writer who lived in Italy. She was having financial difficulties, and my policy is 50% of the fee up front and 50% on completion of the edit. I will offer terms to people who can’t handle a large lump sum. I worked hard on this woman’s story, and it required a major restructuring. I also spelled out for her an alternative ending that brought the story to a strong climax (instead of the original version), and she used it. I felt badly for her, so I went ahead and sent the edit when she still owed $300. You guessed it – I never saw the $300, nor any thanks. I trust the writers I work for, just as they have to trust me.
In this case, the other side proved untrustworthy. So now I don’t release the edit until all the fee is taken care of.
AutoCrit: How would you suggest an author go about finding a reputable editor to work with? How do you prefer to be approached by prospective partners, and what kind of questions would you recommend authors ask before committing themselves to working with a certain editor?
Ray Rhamey: First, explore and search on the Internet. Find editors’ websites to see what they offer in terms of services and what they charge. One of my clients did this and winnowed his search down to three editors based on what their websites offered in terms of information. He then got a sample edit from all three, which quickly turned him off of two of the editors. I went on to edit his novel, which also included some restructuring, and I designed the interior and cover of the book.
As for me, an introductory email to introduce the work should come first. That email or a subsequent one should have 2 or 3 chapters attached as documents so I can assess whether or not it’s a project for me.
While I don’t think that an editor has be an author in order to do a fine job, I also think my experience in writing four novels helps me to understand the needs of the writer and the story better, and it enables me to make suggestions in “thoughtstarters” to solve problems that come up.
So, number one, research and review editors’ websites. The good ones offer plenty of information and are transparent about process, deliverables, etc.
Number two, get a sample edit.
Optional number three, references: it makes sense to me to ask an editor for references, but that has happened only once with me. If you look through my website you’ll find testimonials and copious information on what I do, the fees, the deliverables, et cetera. For me, the sample edit and the website seem to be enough for my clients. Since a number of strong writers have become repeat customers, I think it’s working pretty well.
Number four: do a search for the editor’s name to see what you can find. If you Google “Ray Rhamey” there are about 55,000 results. So you can certainly check me out at many sources.
As to what questions to ask… find out the deliverables, what will I receive, and in what form? I think most editors now use Microsoft Word and its mark-up features, and you will need to be able to see them. I believe the Open Office word processing program is compatible with such Word documents. But recently I came across an editor who only works on hard copy and sends the marked-up print-out to the writer.
If time is an issue, ask about how long it will take. I usually leave my edits open-ended so I can take all the time it needs, but I will also establish and work with a deadline.
Obviously, fees and how they are to be paid is worthy of a question.
AutoCrit: Any final comments or words of wisdom for our audience?
Ray Rhamey: First thing: teach yourself. It has helped me as a storyteller and an editor to devour as many books on the craft of fiction writing as possible. Some advice is useless to me, other advice has led to insights that helped my work. Dig into books that help with self-editing. I recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, and my own book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. I think that if you read the reviews for those and similar books on Amazon you can get an idea as to whether or not they will be helpful to you.
Second thing: read fiction. A lot of fiction.
Third thing: keep writing. Persevere. You may not still achieve a publishable novel, but if you don’t stay with it, it’s a sure thing that you never will.
That’s it for this entry of Ask the Editor. Many thanks to Ray for taking the time to chat with us, and don’t forget to check out his expertise at Flogging the Quill.
Do you have a question for Ray, or something you’d like to see answered by a professional editor in a later episode? Just drop it in the comments below or click here to send us an email!