Thursday, September 5, 2013

An Editor Speaks

Today's post is part of a bit of cross-blogging I'm doing with some of the people I work with at one of my favorite publishers, Buzz Books. 

In the past, I've had two short stories published by Buzz Books, both in the Young Adult genre, which was  a sort of story I'd never written before finding Buzz. The first, "A Kiss on the Threshold," appeared in the anthology Prom Dates to Die For, and the second, "Spectral Media," was in a collection called Something Wicked. I had a blast working with Buzz Books on both stories, so when it was time to look for a publisher for my upcoming horror novel, Chicago Fell First, I contact them. They accepted the book and it's now in it's last phase of preparation for an October release.

One of my favorite parts of my Buzz Books experience is the time I spend working with Senior Editor Mari Farthing. Mari is an excellent editor with an eye for tiny details, both in grammar and plot, and a contagious enthusiasm that makes an author feel like his work has even more potential than he realized when writing it. Perhaps most importantly, Mari knows how to make the long, sometimes tedious process of preparing a book for publication fun. It's not just about finding and correcting typos and improving plot elements. It's about the joy of the creative process. That enthusiasm reminds a writer that creating a story is supposed to be a refreshing experience and not the heavy burden it can sometimes feel like.

Mari was kind enough to answer five questions about her experiences as both an editor and a writer. I'd like to share those answers now with the readers of this blog.

Aaron: You've worked as both a writer and an editor. I'm going to assume the desire to write came first, but please correct me if I'm wrong. If I'm right, how did writing lead to the decision to go into the editing side of the publishing business?

Mari: I’ve always been a writer. You’re right, there. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been writing things down. I first started with poetry, horrific, horribly bad poetry when I was a tween (though we didn’t have that word back then). Very sweet, emotional stuff—but my family realized that I was good with words, I was able to evoke feeling and emotion through words even at a young age. Loved creative writing classes in school, but never really considered how to make that my career. Meanwhile, in all my jobs I would find ways to inject technical writing wherever I could, which scratched that itch. I also discovered that I liked editing and I sort of followed myself down that path. I’ve had a varied career background (moved around a bit with a military husband) and I’m easily distracted, so writing and editing, jobs which are always focusing on something new, was a great discovery.
            Magazine work was a great push in this direction—I began as a freelance writer and was brought on as an assistant editor and refined my skills under my wonderful former editor, Denise. I knew I wanted to be an editor when I saw her fix a sentence that had given us fits for an hour or more, we just couldn’t get the sentence to sound right. It was an amazingly simple fix, but something that none of us had seen, and it just made all the difference. That little sentence changed my life—though I’m sure the reader never even noticed! How intriguing it is, that hidden world that the reader isn’t privy to, the realm of editing. Sometimes when I see someone reading something I’ve worked on, I can’t help but think “oh, you have no idea!”
            I spent five years as the editor myself before leaving the magazine to freelance—which is how my current writing and editing work is structured. For me, it’s ideal, as it leaves me time for family and my own writing projects.

Aaron: How did you come to be the editor for Buzz Books?

Mari: I’ve known Malena Lott, Executive Editor at Buzz for many years through our shared connections in local media. When I heard about her new venture with Buzz, I let her know that I would love to take on freelance editing if she was in need. She took it one step further and asked me to come on as her Senior Editor. We worked well together from the start, our divergent styles complement each other and Buzz is such a creative atmosphere, so open to brainstorming and originality.

Aaron: What aspects of editing do you enjoy most? What are the worst parts of the job?

Mari: I love making words behave. It’s immensely gratifying to find the proper way to say something that’s giving you fits. And when you find the right combination of words, it can be such a rush. It’s also extremely tedious. There have been times when I’ve had to read the same piece upwards of ten times and by the time you get there, you just want to start the whole thing over again and nothing sounds right. It’s a process that takes a lot of time and sometimes as long—or longer—as the writing itself.
            I love working with writers, meeting new people (even if it’s virtually done) and helping bring books to publication. The worst parts of the job are dealing with rejection—either from us, when we have to reject a work that isn’t quite right for us, or from the writer, when our offer isn’t accepted. Rejection is never easy but it’s an integral part of the process.
            I hate to hear criticism. And it’s amplified as an editor—anytime a book I’ve worked on gets a negative review, I take it as personally as the writer does, I invest a lot of myself into these projects and feel a responsibility to the writer. I want their books to succeed as much as they do! I did read one harsh criticism in the past that was aimed directly at me, the book’s editor, and that was hard to take. But it’s just like writing, you have to roll with it because it’s a part of it.

Aaron: How has your work as an editor affected your writing? Do you find you're harder on yourself as a writer because you've been on the other side of the process too, or has it made it easier?

Mari: I occasionally speak about writing and editing, and I try really hard to practice what I preach—write through your first draft, never mind the rules or format when you’re just trying to get your story out, write daily, take your characters on adventures if you find yourself at an impasse, and so forth. But I also let my audience know about the absolute worst writer I’ve ever worked with, the one who can’t take criticism, the one who constantly rewrites those first few paragraphs, the one who can’t keep all of those names and places in order… and of course, I’m referring to myself.
            So I guess the one thing I try to impress upon other writers is to give yourself a break and just get on with it, which is the advice that I most need. And that’s how I try to treat the writers I work with—how I would prefer to be treated. Perhaps that’s one thing that first being a writer has allowed me to bring to the editing process.
            As for being an editor, well, I’ve gotten to read outside of my own chosen genre a lot, which is great, and I’ve learned what my own writing foibles are (overuse of that, the inevitable verb agreement issues) and I’m working to overcome them. Editing is the art of taking an intensely personal thing and presenting it for public consumption. Working in editing has taught me to be more open to criticism (at least a little bit) and respect that process a bit more.

Aaron: What books or writers have influenced you as an author? And, here's something I've never thought about before, are there any notable editors who you consider influences or role models when it comes to that profession?

Mari: Influential books and writers? I’ve got lots. This is a curated list. If you ask me tomorrow, I could come up with a hundred more:
·         In high school, I read Ayn Rand’s Anthem and was amazed by what she was able to do in such a slim volume. I wrote several chapters that continued the story (fan fiction before there was such a thing?), I wish I knew where they were.
·         Walden (Henry David Thoreau) and To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) and most of both Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury’s titles are books in my recycle pile (meaning that I reread them every now and then and always learn something new). Anytime a book can do that, it’s amazing to me.
·         Stephen King. He’s absolutely brilliant. He creates worlds full of amazement that don’t challenge you to suspend belief—you just do. Those fantastic worlds become reality. I remember trying to explain to someone a King story I had read and the more I tried to explain it, the more confused the other person became. I couldn’t explain it. You can’t explain it better than he can. He elevates popular fiction to a new level.
·         Nora Roberts. Yes, she’s a romance writing machine who pumps out titles like a fast food restaurant pumps out cholesterol, but her books are smart and well-researched. She does her homework and if there is a cookie-cutter story (boy meets girl, sparks fly, a misunderstanding occurs, girl forgives boy, the end) in some stories, the details that are pumped into her narratives are rich and satisfying. Another example of a popular writer who takes fiction and elevates it.
Regarding influential editors… I don’t really know of any. But I think that’s the way it’s meant to be. Think of us as the nameless, faceless force, the quiet collaborators working behind the scenes like shoemaker’s elves. And that’s okay with me. The mark of a great editor is that you can’t see their mark on the projects they’ve worked on.

Sincere thanks to Mari for expressing her thoughts on the life of an editor and writer. Also today, on Mari's blog, which can be found at  are my answers to five questions Mari asked me, focusing on my work as a writer. I hope everyone will hop over there and read that next!

Chicago Fell First, my upcoming release from Buzz Books, will be available in October.