If anyone had asked me years ago, when I got serious about publishing, that in addition to my writing books for Harlequin (their Heartwarming and Romantic Suspense lines) I would add freelance content editor to my resume, I would not have been able to keep a straight face. Editors are the guardians at the gate: they clean up the (sometimes) messy manuscripts and help tighten and strengthen and polish. They have infinite patience and love, love, love the written word with a passion few others possess. All that still holds true of course, even as I’ve donned the editor armor. I love my Harlequin editor; I’ve liked most of the editors I’ve worked with over the years. They’ve taught me more than I never realized I didn’t know. There are, however, different types of editors and it’s important for writers and authors to know exactly what they’re looking for and, more importantly for the indie authors out there, who they’re hiring.
I am a content editor. The easy description is I edit the story (and sometimes the writing itself). I LOVE story, character, plot, conflict…all those ingredients that make the best of fiction cake that land on e-readers and bookshelves. I am also well aware of my limitations. No one (I repeat no one) wants me telling them where a comma goes, what a split infinitive is, or if a semi-colon is appropriate. Just ask my own editor. And while I do have a special affinity for the Oxford comma, punctuation is not my forte (spot the run-on sentence above? Yeah…moving on). But story? Oh, story. There’s my happy place.
It was one of my critique partners, another Harlequin author, who suggested to supplement my writing income (because I needed to stay close to home to care for an aging parent), to try my hand at content editing. The more I explored the option, the more I realized that content editing was a kind of ramped up version of what we did as a critique group. I, like many other authors, had a knack for helping root out story issues in other people’s work far more easily than I could see it in my own. I also always pushed hard on conflict because without conflict, there truly is no story. Especially in a romance. And so…I dipped my toe in the content editing pool waters. In the few years since I’ve been working with authors, I’ve earned a number of return clients and have read and worked on some truly amazing stories, all of which, I believe, have since been published. It’s the best of both worlds for me, without a doubt. This feeds my creative side, allows me to work from home, and refills the creative well. It’s also a way for me to pay it forward in gratitude for all the authors and editors who have helped me on my own publishing journey.
So what exactly is it that I do? For want of a better term, I excavate. I go deep into characters’ thoughts, their motivations, and most importantly their conflicts. I have an entire check list of questions I keep nearby as I read through a story the second time (the first time I read, it’s straight through, just as a regular reader would). Conflict is not something that can be solved with a conversation; if people can talk out their “issues”, that’s a really quick book. We want them to earn their happily ever after; don’t just hand it to them. In romance especially, you need characters who grow, who change, and who (at least one of the main characters) makes a decision at the end of the book they wouldn’t have made at the beginning (something I learned from the fabulous Mary Buckham)
As a content editor, I’m also looking for consistency and therefore inconsistencies. Does everyone’s descriptions remain the same? Anyone changing eye color? Hair style? Did the author mention an event that collides with something else in the timeline? Do they say something that contradicts something they’ve stated or thought previously? Is their behavior consistent with how it was set up from page one? Are they behaving realistically, rationally, believably?
I’m a pretty tough sell on these three characteristics, so I will push the author to think deeper about how their characters are dealing with situations. All those little details that tend to slip out of our control while our fingers are flying—are they right? Do they remain the same throughout? I’m an extra pair of not only editor eyes, but author eyes as well. I’m also still learning. I go to and listen to workshops; I attend conferences. I always want to make myself better at my craft and sometimes I’m just flat out wrong. Which brings me to my main “commandment” if you will.
Whatever story I’m editing, I always, always tell the author that these are my suggestions; what I would do to make the story stronger (not hopefully better). This is their story, first and foremost. If you think I’m wrong? Then I’m wrong. Take what works and discard the rest. Only the author, when all is said and done, can decide what works best for the book and characters. I have no doubt I’ve scared some authors away because I go hard. I go hard because I would want an editor to do that to me (and my editors have, believe me). I want to give my readers the absolute best experience possible when they open one of my books and that’s what I want for my clients as well.
I also consider being asked to edit an author’s book a privilege. I know how hard it is to send your work out. I know how blindingly terrifying it can be to wait for what’s essentially someone’s judgment of your hard work and I never, ever, take that for granted. I can’t speak to other editors, but that’s the code I edit by. I’m probably not everyone’s cup of tea (cliché alert! I’d totally ding an author for that phrase, LOL), but I go into each project with the best of intentions and I hope, the best advice I can give.
Thank you again, Romancing the Genres, for the opportunity to talk to you all today. I’ve loved being here. If anyone has any questions, please post them in the comments below.
USA Today and national bestselling hybrid author Anna J. Stewart writes sweet to sexy romance for Harlequin's Heartwarming and Romantic Suspense lines. Early obsessions with Star Wars, Star Trek, and Wonder Woman set her on the path to creating fun, funny, and family-centric romances with happily ever afters for her independent heroines. A former RWA Golden Heart nominee and 2018 Daphne DuMaurier finalist, her Heartwarming book RECIPE FOR REDEMPTION was recently optioned for a TV Movie and will air on UPtv during the 2019 holiday season. Anna lives in Northern California where she deals with serious Supernatural, Sherlock, and Jason Momoa addictions and surrounds herself with friends and family. When she's not writing, you can find her at fan conventions, wrangling Rosie and Sherlock, her two cats, or building her client list for her content editing services (Content Editing by Anna J). You can read more about Anna and her books at www.authorannastewart.com.