Happy Indie Story, Part Three: Smells Like Team Spirit


Jennie’s editing tools: Cheerwine, hard copies of the manuscript, Lorde, cover art — and Tara Parks’s beloved pink picks.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about teams. This is partly because Lorde’s song “Team” has been on repeat in my head. But it’s also because I was recently asked why I chose to work with an editor before sending A Boy Like Me (ABLM) into the world. After all, the friend pointed out, my job title at infoplease.com is assistant editor so shouldn’t I be able to edit my own novel?

Absolutely not. Because it is my own work.

There’s also the stigma attached with going an alternate publishing route. That stigma is there because some authors choose to put their books for sale online as soon as they’re done writing them without any kind of editing. Not only is this a disservice to the reader as well as the story and characters, but it is also a disservice to fellow writers because aren’t we, as Lorde sings, “on each other’s team?” Don’t we all work tirelessly toward the same thing – creating stories and characters that move and entertain? Shouldn’t we all want to put the best book we can out into the world so it upholds a certain standard?

Because of this stigma and because it’s a project that I’m very close to, I chose to work with not one, but two editors in preparing ABLM for publication. First up, I worked with Kelly Ford on some lengthy developmental edits. A brilliant writer and freelance editor, Kelly was already familiar with ABLM because we were in Grub Street’s Novel Incubator together where she’d read early drafts. When asked why writers should consider an editor, she said, “Books allow writers to become immortal, in a way. When we die, our words carry on (barring acts of nature and assorted villains in a post-apocalyptic future). As an editor, I’d like to help prevent an eternity of regret for everyone involved.”

Kelly had also edited shorter projects of mine, which is a great way to find out if you like the way an editor works. In fact, when I asked author Lisa Borders how one should go about finding a good editor, she advised, “If there’s a way to work with the editor first in a more limited (and less expensive) context – say, on a short story – that might help the writer to get a feel for the editor’s approach.”

About her experience with various editors, Lisa said, “My editor for Cloud Cuckoo Land, my first novel, was very hands off. I know some novelists would think that ideal; I did, at the time. But in retrospect, I think more stringent editing could have helped me to tighten that book up. Victoria Barrett, my editor for The Fifty-First State, was the opposite; she sent me a hard copy manuscript, marked up in detail. Although we’d had a general discussion about the edits, I was a little daunted at first glance, until I started reading. Her edits were nothing short of brilliant. I have a tendency to let most scenes go on a tick too long, and she really honed in on that – tightening everything up, bringing the book into focus without losing a thing.”

Like Lisa, I prefer a hands-on approach to editing, which made Kelly a perfect match for the heavy lifting that still needed to be done with ABLM. Since Novel Incubator, I’d completed two revisions on ABLM with my agent, changing the time period and making the main characters slightly older. Kelly took on the huge task of helping me make sure the character’s actions and dialogue were consistent with their new age as well as getting all the settings, details, and technology to match the current time period. We also worked on character consistency and intention which can get muddled or even lost after many changes and revisions.

Next up, I worked with 215 Ink’s editor Mike Perkins. Writer of the fantastic series Beware, Mike edited my graphic novel, Flutter, last year before it went to print. Mike came to ALBM cold, not having read any of the earlier drafts, which was a good thing. He came to the project with fresh eyes and distance yet he was familiar with my work and publishing goals. He also understood Peyton’s minimalist voice and the book’s genre.

When asked what a writer should look for in an editor, Mike said, “It doesn’t matter how good your stuff is, if the editor isn’t a fan of the genre, it’s not gonna be a good fit. Editing a book is a long and personal process. If you don’t respect one another, you’re gonna have a bad time.”

Another advantage to working with Mike was that he’s part of 215 Ink, ABLM’s publisher. Lisa Borders had a similar experience working with her editor for The Fifty-First State. “One of the great things about the Engine Books experience was that Victoria is both editor and publisher. I felt this gave me more of a direct line in terms of marketing; the publisher knew my book as intimately as I did, since she edited it,” Lisa said.

Getting to work with both Kelly and Mike on this project was nothing short of a dream come true. Both amazing editors, they gave this project their all and made A Boy Like Me a better book. I also learned a ton from working with them.

No matter what publishing route you take – traditional, indie, or self – you owe it to yourself, your book, your readers, and your fellow writers to work closely with an editor or two. In the case of traditional publishing and a lot of small presses, you’ll be given an editor to work with, which is why hiring an editor if you’re going another route is so important. You want your book to be on the same level. Don’t perpetuate the stigma by editing out the editing process. It does a disservice to your novel, your readers, and your fellow writers. After all, we’re on each other’s team.


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