It’s my honor to introduce Lourdes Venard. I have worked with Lourdes during pre-publication of The Hanged Man’s Noose, as well as in her role as Editor, First Draft, a newsletter for more than 600 members of Sisters in Crime, Guppy Chapter.
Lourdes is the founder of Comma Sense Editing, LLC, which provides services to individual authors, magazines, and other clients. Before founding Comma Sense, she was a writer and editor at major American newspapers, including Newsday, The Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and The Washington Post. In addition to her other duties, Lourdes teaches copyediting through online courses at the University of California, San Diego, and through the Editorial Freelancers Association.
Judy: What steps should a writer take before hiring an editor, and is hiring an editor really necessary?
Lourdes: Whether you are looking for an agent or self-publishing, you need to present your best writing. But before hiring an editor, here are five steps I recommend you take:
1) Don’t hire an editor the day after you’ve typed “The End.” Put your manuscript in the drawer, figuratively speaking. Stephen King waits six weeks between the first and second drafts. Others recommend two to three weeks.
2) During those weeks, read books on the craft of writing, especially on dialogue, pacing, and tension. You may have already read dozens of books, but it never hurts to read a few more or to refresh yourself with books you’ve already read. I recommend Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell. Read other books in your genre to see what they do well.
3) Now, with the detachment you’ve gained from having your manuscript in the drawer and with the knowledge you’ve gained (or have been reminded of), pull your manuscript out again. Read through once, making a list of issues that need to be addressed—scenes that don’t work, weak characters, and plot holes, for instance.
4) If you haven’t joined a writing group yet, do so. Get critiques from writing partners or trusted beta readers. If several readers point to the same problems, take note.
5) Revise again. How many drafts is enough? This is different for every writer, but even seasoned writers like King complete three drafts. Others, even best-selling authors, craft 12 or more drafts before the manuscript is ready.
By this time, you may be so enmeshed in the manuscript that you lack the distance that is needed to look at it with a more critical eye. This is when you turn to a professional editor, who will guide you through any additional changes that the manuscript needs.
Judy: You do copyediting and content (developmental) editing. Can you explain the difference?
Lourdes: This is a good question, as many beginning writers don’t know the difference. Copyediting is mostly a look at grammar and spelling, as well as inconsistencies, factual errors, and large plot holes. This should be the second step of the editing process. The first step should be content or developmental editing—a thorough edit that looks at characterization, point of view, tone, pacing, dialogue, and the overall structure of the book. Most editors provide a critique, or editorial letter, in their developmental edit.
Judy: I often hear writers say that they can’t afford to hire a professional editor, that they have a critique group/partner to help them. What are your thoughts on this?
Lourdes: Critique groups and beta reader are good places to start, and I recommend them. But they shouldn’t replace an experienced editor who has knowledge of the business and knows what acquiring editors and publishers want. Also, some critique partners hesitate to point out all the flaws, or may be too busy with their own work to give the deep look that an editor does. As a developmental editor, I may spend months with an author in a collaborative process that goes back and forth. My intent is not to change an author’s voice, but to enhance and polish their manuscript so that it’s marketable.
Judy: You also offer other services, such as help with synopsis, author bios, agent and publisher query letters, and critiquing. In your experience, which of these services has the greatest demand?
Lourdes: Most of my clients also ask for help with synopses and query letters. I come from a journalism background, where we write to fit a certain space, so I enjoy crafting a one-page synopsis! Query letters are also essential and I work closely with authors to tailor something that will catch an agent’s eye.
Judy: You’ve worked with a lot of beginning writers, myself included. Are there common errors/mistakes that most beginners make?
Lourdes: Yes, I and other editors see the same errors. It’s not surprising, as crafting a book is something one learns with practice. The most common errors are wordiness and including unneeded information, stilted dialogue, head-hopping (suddenly shifting from one point of view to another), telling rather than showing, inconsistencies, narrative issues (from lack of tension to dumping too much backstory), misplaced modifiers, and a manuscript that is either too long or too short. Another very common error is not beginning the story in the right place; writers often want to “set up” the story. But an author only has five pages—and sometimes fewer than that—to grab the eye of an agent or publisher.
Judy: You published a novel, Publishing for Beginners: What First-Time Authors Need to Know, in October 2014. What prompted you to write it, and what sort of information can readers expect to find in it?
Lourdes: This grew out of questions I kept getting from clients—questions that went beyond editing. Many of them had written good books and self-published, only to see small sales. Others were hoping to publish traditionally and wanted to know how to find an agent. Others were conflicted about which route to take: traditional publishing or indie publishing. So my book covers the differences in publishing routes, as well as querying, editing, marketing, and even financial matters (a chapter written by my husband, an accountant).
Judy: You also edited an anthology of short crime fiction, Mystery in Paradise: 13 Tales of Suspense. How does that process differ from editing a novel?
Lourdes: I’ve edited several collections of short stories, and I love working with shorter fiction. In some ways, writing short is even harder than a novel. You need to create full characters that grab the reader immediately, you need to hide your clues in far fewer words, and your story needs to pack a punch at the end. I love “gotcha” stories that surprise me with their endings. As an editor, I’m working with the author to make sure those elements are in place.
Judy: What’s next for Lourdes Venard?
Lourdes: Because I mostly edit mysteries and crime thrillers, I’m looking to expand Publishing for Beginners, with a focus toward crime fiction authors.
Thank you, Lourdes.
Find Lourdes on:
Find out what I’ve been up to (when I’m not writing books and blogs) and sign up for my newsletter. The next newsletter is planned for March 2016. Here’s the link.