This week, I present part one of an interview I did with Kat Thompson, former senior editor at Echelon Press. Although since she first sent me the email leting me know Echelon had accepted two of my novels for publication, and since she graciously agreed to an interview, she has stepped back from major editing duties. However, as a guide and advisor, she possesses skills and talents from which all writers may benefit.
1. Who is Kat Thompson? Tell me a little about yourself. What one thing about you would surprise most people?
I am a retired computer systems security geek. Have been married to my best friend for over 30 years. I am a voracious reader, like to garden, do needlework and bake. I occasionally write extremely bad poetry - something few have seen. I started proof-reading when I was 10 years old - for a newsletter my mother published. Since then I've proofed, been a reviewer, I do cold reads, advise on cover art, and edit both fiction and non-fiction. I've been known to write the occasional non-fiction article, but for the most part I do not write...and have no desire to do so.
2. What brought you to Echelon Press? How long have you been with the company? What's your title and duties?
I started with Karen about 2004, as an editor. I'd heard she was looking for editors and had just survived the implosion of NBI. After working for Karen for a few months, she offered me the Executive Editor position. Talked if over with my husband, agonized about it for a few days and, with great trepidation, accepted her offer. At that point, my life got a bit interesting (sort of like a Chinese curse).
I am the Executive Editor, responsible for herding cats (our editors) and making sure manuscripts receive quality edits we and our authors can be proud of. I am the final decision maker when there are issues concerning editing, and I act as a sounding board for the other editors when they have questions specific to manuscripts.
3. What's the lure of being an editor? What do you find satisfying about the job?
I have always loved the English language, and editing seems to come from that. I enjoy reading new stories and helping the author make the story the best if can be. I've had a lot of satisfaction in being involved in helping authors polish their stories.
4. Okay, I have what I think is a great story and I write it. I've gone over and over it. I've gotten critiques from other writers and I've rewritten until I can't improve it any further. My part is done, correct? Why not?
Nope. You still need to work with your editor. There is no such animal as a perfect story - someone will always find an error in it (even Eats Shoots and Leaves has at least one!). With a good editor, one who can look not only at the language, grammar, and punctuation, but the content, you can take your story from a really good one, to a truly great story. Your editor cannot do that without your assistance, because it is YOUR story after all. How important is the editor - think about this: how many books have acknowledgments or dedications to an editor? That gives you an idea how important that relationship is.
5. Do you ever run into writers who have the following attitudes: A. "Well, I've paid a professional editor, why do I need a publisher's editor? B. Well, you editors are all a bunch of sharks. You're just wanting to mark up my manuscript." C. "It's my story, leave it alone." How do you handle these?
A. Oh yes, and way too often. The thing is, a professional editor can do a good job, no question, but a publisher will soon lose the business if he or she depends on editors who know nothing about the publishing house and the needs and wants of the publisher. The publisher's editor knows what the publisher likes, what buttons (grammatical) he/she has, and the styles the publisher needs. Each publishing house has a personality and style that comes from the publisher through the editors. It gives the books published there a sort of flavor that is unique to each publishing house - subtle, but there.
B. True - for some editors. Too often authors are hijacked by editors who take ownership of the author's story. It takes a truly talented editor to work closely with the author, yet not force his/her own style, feeling, impressions into the author's story. An editor must keep in mind that the story belongs to the author and it is the editor's goal to help make that story the best it can be without losing the author's voice. And yes, we DO want to mark up your manuscript - but only to improve it.
C. Sometimes you can convince the author in these situations that you're there to help make the story the best it can be. Sometimes, all too often, unfortunately, you have the publisher hand back the rights and tell the author good luck. Thankfully, this attitude does not seem to survive too many rejections - or else they simply go off and self-publish. The sad thing is, someone will read the story - whether it's good or bad.
6. So, what rules should all writers be expected to know and what guidelines should all writers follow?
Writers, first and foremost, need to understand the general rules of English. A good guide for writing is Strunk & White Elements of Style. Other than that, a writer just needs to keep writing, pay attention to what your editor says and learn from it.
7. If a writer knows the rules, has repeatedly re-read the manuscript, why do they miss obvious errors an editor later catches?
Because he or she has re-read the story so often he/she no longer sees every word. One way to help this is to read it out loud, but even that can miss things. It normally takes at least 2 people to catch most of the errors. Even then, we'll find an error just as a book is about to be released, or a couple weeks after release. It happens.
Check in next week for Part 2.