Interview with Editor Ellen Brock

Hello my fantastic readers, I missed you last week! In my continuing effort to provide interviews that are both entertaining and educational, I am always on the search for new guests to interview. This search is slower some times and that means missing a week here and there. But not to worry, I will keep on searching just for you my wonderful readers. This week I am excited to be doing an interview with editor Ellen Brock. She isn’t an author but is still someone vital to the book publishing process. I won’t keep you waiting any longer, we’re just going to dive right into it!

Hey Ellen! Thanks again for doing this. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?

Ellen:
I’m Ellen Brock. I’m a freelance editor from Cincinnati, but I work with clients all around the world. I first started editing in 2008 and have been a full-time freelance editor since 2012.

The Writing Piazza:
I’m so excited to have you as a guest on my blog. You are the first guest I’ve interviewed that wasn’t an author. I’m looking forward to picking your brain! Can you tell us a little about what you do?

Ellen:
I help writers identify their strengths and weaknesses, both in the specific novel they’re working on and in their writing as a whole. I offer developmental and line editing services for completed novels, assistance with query letters and other marketing materials, and I also offer coaching/mentoring for authors and aspiring writers.

The Writing Piazza:
Wow, those are some great services! If you read the acknowledgements of some of your favorite authors you will see they thank their editors. A good editor is so important. But with the rise of the internet and social media you need to be cautious with who you entrust to edit your work. A good place to start when you begin looking for an editor is to ask how many manuscripts and other projects an editor has worked on.

Ellen, can you tell us many manuscripts have you worked on?

Ellen:
Oh geez, it’s hard to say! I probably edited about 30 full manuscripts last year, but that doesn’t include partial edits, query letters, mentoring, multiple rounds of editing on the same manuscript, etc. I typically work with over a hundred clients a year across all of my services.

The Writing Piazza:
That’s impressive! Sounds like you are in serious demand! This is a good sign of a competent editor. If they have a list of happy clients you know they’re doing it right.

I think the job of editing must be so interesting but I can’t say I ever contemplated being an editor. I’m always curious what sets someone on the path to editing. Ellen, what made you decide to go into this type of work?

Ellen:
I always loved reading, even when I was very young. Over time I became interested in how novels are created and how writers are able to transport readers to different worlds. In my teens I read just about everything I could find on writing (which wasn’t nearly as much information as is available today), and I just found it all very exciting and intriguing.

I started editing as a volunteer when I was probably fourteen, and I absolutely adored the experience from day one. To take a book that isn’t connecting with readers in the way the writer imagined and turn it into something as good as (or better than!) the author ever dreamed is an amazing experience.

The Writing Piazza:
Books are truly amazing aren’t they?! It’s such a great thing you do, helping writers really hone and polish their work. I really do believe it is such an important step in the publishing process. There are so many people self-publishing now and I’ve seen so many books out there in serious need of editing. If you are self-publishing this is definitely something you need to spend some resources on. One of authors I interviewed spoke about how hard it is for him to get his work taken seriously (as a self-publisher) because of the number of horrendous books that have been put out nowadays. I would even recommend working with an editor if you’re going the traditional route. Some publishers are no longer offering these services and will expect a manuscript to be ready to print so be sure to watch for that when you’re querying (especially if you query the publisher and forego signing with a literary agent.

Now Ellen, I have some readers who are thinking about careers as editors (I’m sure they have no issues with spellings or commas), what are some things they should be doing if they wish to pursue such a career?

Ellen:
Good editors need to be experts not just in storytelling and writing style, but also in the current expectations in the market and what agents and publishers are looking for. If you’re serious about becoming an editor, learn the craft of novel writing inside and out, then learn the specific requirements of each genre (they’re all very different), and read lots of current novels (not just the classics). From there, I would suggest volunteering or interning if possible to learn how to work with authors and (hopefully) to see how experienced editors work and make editorial decisions.

The Writing Piazza:
Those are all great and practical (which I absolutely love!) tips, thank you so much. I think the part about knowing current market expectations is enlightening to my writer’s view of this process. As an author, I’m more concerned about getting my story out and about character development and a thousand other things but I’m definitely not thinking about market expectations! There’s yet another good reason to find a good editor! There are just so many aspects that an editor considers that authors probably don’t even know exist. And of course, you get to read a lot. Being a voracious reader myself, that sounds like a sweet gig! Tell us some of the other things you like about being an editor?

Ellen:
I love helping writers reach their dreams. So many writers just need a bit of guidance with story structure or developing a strong voice. To be able to offer that help and see the results is amazing.

A recent client won a writing contest with a short story we worked on together and another was signed by her dream agent after we polished her first three chapters. It’s a great feeling to see my clients succeed. It’s also a great feeling when I get to help writers exceed their own expectations.

The Writing Piazza:
That’s so incredible! You get to be a part of not just one great story but so many! I like the idea about polishing the first few chapters. Being a new writer about to embark on querying for a literary agent I have contemplated editing my manuscript just to give me an edge but it’s not an inexpensive prospect. Or at least any editor worth their salt doesn’t come cheaply. Expertise deserves a high price indeed. But perhaps polishing the first three chapters would be something worth looking into. I know for sure I’ll be coming to you for help with my query letter, I will be seriously considering some other help now too!

Now for the not so fun part. No job is all cupcakes and bubblegum and I like to provide as much information to my readers as I can when I do these interviews. Tell us a bit about what you don’t like about what you do?

Ellen:
The hardest part of my job (by far!) is having to break bad news to clients. Most of the writers I work with will need to do major overhauls on their manuscript to get ready for publication, and this can often be extremely daunting. I try to balance honesty and gentleness as much as possible, but I know my clients need to hear some harsh truths if they’re going to succeed. Writers have big dreams of publishing success and I often have to be the bearer of the bad news that they probably have several more months of work before they’ll be ready.

The Writing Piazza:
Yikes! Yeah, that must be tough. Writers can be extremely emotional and somewhat temperamental (myself totally included!) so I can’t imagine it’s easy finding a way to break such news. I can’t think of any way someone could put it that wouldn’t have me down in the dumps but still I would rather hear it from an editor before my book was published when something could still be done, than hear it from the public after it’s too late to change anything. Kudos for your bravery!

You said the hardest part is giving bad news about major overhauls, what about other mistakes you see. Is there a common mistake you see authors make time and time again?

Ellen:
It’s so hard to pick just one because every writer is different, but one of the most common mistakes I see, especially in writers who are very close to ready for publication, is poorly defined character motivation. Whatever drives the character should be clear and should not change just because it’s convenient for the plot. If motivations don’t seem genuine, readers typically won’t stick around to find out what happens next.

The Writing Piazza:
That’s good, you know I’m now going to have to go through my MS searching out my characters’ motivations! That’s definitely something to watch out for, I’m sure I have fallen victim to that little flub myself on a number of occasions.

We’ve almost reached the end of our interview and I wanted to be sure to get this question in before we finish. My blog is a behind the scenes look at writing and publishing a novel series. It’s my hope that this blog will help other writers not only write their stories but also get their stories published, whether they go the traditional or self-published route. From an editor’s perspective, what advice would you give to writers who are writing and/or attempting to publish their work?

Ellen:
Remember that editing is your friend. I think a lot of writers hate revisions because they don’t know where to begin. Always start revisions with the big picture. Even if you hate outlining at the plotting stage, I recommend outlining your novel after it’s written. Editing from an outline can prevent you from wasting time correcting word choices or grammar in scenes that might be cut anyway. Use the outline to identify unnecessary scenes, plot holes, or poorly defined character motivations.

And of course, never give up! It takes a long time to write and revise a novel. Every writer gets to a point where they feel buried in revisions, but take it one thing at a time (and work big to small) and you’ll get there.

The Writing Piazza:
More superb advice! Big to small, that’s so, so useful! It also helps that it’s true! 🙂 I can’t tell you how much work it would have saved me to think that way. I did have a lot of stuff that I worked so hard on but then I ended up cutting it. I could have saved myself a lot of tension and heartache if I had worked big picture to small details first.

This has been truly informative, thank you so much for your time and for being my guest today!

Ellen:
Thanks for having me on your blog!

The Writing Piazza:
Do you have a way for my readers to reach you if they are looking for editing help on their projects?

Ellen:
Sure! A list of my services and my contact information can be found here: https://thewriteditor.wordpress.com/novel-editing-services/ 

For free writing and editing advice, visit my website: https://thewriteditor.wordpress.com/the-help-desk/

To be notified of my upcoming workshops (including my second annual Novel Boot Camp), follow my blog or sign up to the mailing list: http://eepurl.com/Sq4Aj

The Writing Piazza:
I will definitely be visiting your website and signing up to be notified of your upcoming workshops!

Thanks also to all my wonderful readers, for whom I would move heaven and earth (with my pen) if you asked. 🙂

Until we meet again!

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