As a kid, I liked doing things all other kids liked doing – stopping my parents from finding things out – until I discovered books. After that, I was gone, lost in universes those books opened for me and dreaming of writing my own novel. I had a great time at school, even though English and its convoluted grammar rules did give me some trouble, but those rules gave me a grounding how to write. My first effort was pretty awful and I am glad it will never see the light of day. The thing went through two rewrites, but it still isn’t something I want to share. Call it my training wheels.
My first successful book, although not perfect, a science fiction work, was presentable enough to win an award, and I tried for a long time to break into the traditional publishing market while holding down a demanding job in the IT industry. But writing has always been a passion and a drive, and I kept at it in my spare time. When e-book publishing took off, I had a chance to get my books to readers. These days, I am no longer in the IT industry and I spend my time writing, reviewing and being a hardnosed editor. It hasn’t been a bad journey, enabling me to produce eight sci-fi books and five political drama/thriller novels. As long as that fire of creation burns within me, I will keep writing.
My metamorphosis into a book editor evolved from a stark necessity to edit my own work. After sending material to so-called professional editors – and paying them for their work – only to find lots of unresolved bloopers, it became obvious that I needed to learn the trade myself. I read somewhere that every writer must learn to become his own worst editor, and I firmly believe in that maxim. The golden days of publishing where an author can expect the publishing house to do all the editing are long gone. Today, publishers and readers expect perfection, and rightly so! Unfortunately, with the advent of easy self-publishing options, I have seen lots of books that should never have seen the light of day. Building on my own experience, I compiled a book of essays which I hope will help fellow writers overcome some of the problems I went through.
2. WERE YOU A GOOD READER AS A KID?
I was an avid reader. I remember picking up an illustrated copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. When I discovered a city library on the corner from my primary school, I was hooked. I used to bring books home and read – at the expense of doing my homework, which didn’t go down well with my mother, who had to give me physical stimulation to get me focused on schoolwork. I read across many genres, and much of what I read has stuck with me today, enriching me and showing me a world beyond my immediate neighbourhood I never knew existed. That passion to read has never left me, and I hope it never will.
3. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A BOOK EDITOR?
After I thought I had the basic editing craft mastered fairly well – there is always room for improvement – I approached my first e-book publisher offering to be a submissions editor. That meant reading a book and providing feedback on its suitability for publishing. That led to actually edit accepted manuscripts. As I changed my publishers, I made the same offer, expanding my skills all the time. At some point, I decided to branch out, offering my services directly to writers, using social media outlets to promote myself. As expected, some books are very well written and my editing relatively stress free, but too often, manuscripts need a lot of work to bend them into shape suitable to unleash on unsuspecting readers. However, that’s part of being a professional editor. If an author wishes his or her book edited and is happy for me to do the work, I always give them my unreserved best.
4. WHY A BOOK EDITOR?
I guess it was a natural evolution. I had to learn the editing craft to edit my own books, which led to the desire to offer my skills to other writers who may not have fully developed their editing skills. After going over some of my early novels, I am still finding bloopers I left behind, or past editors left behind. As I have found, a book is never fully edited. However, a point of diminishing returns is reached when polishing the book further simply isn’t worth the effort.
Even though I consider myself a fairly good editor, when I finish a book to a point where I think it is ready for publication, I always send it to another editor to proofread, not edit. After staring at the damned manuscript for perhaps nine months or so, it is amazing how the brain can trick you, inserting automatic corrections. That is why it is important to have someone else look at my book – and so should every writer.
5. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING AN EDITOR?
Apart from being exposed to a new story, a new adventure, or explore a non-fiction work that gives me information I may not have had, I guess the most enjoyable part of being an editor is the satisfaction of knowing the author will have a better product to present to his or her readers as a result of what I do to their manuscript. As part of the editing process, I not only provide obvious mechanical corrections to grammar and syntax covered by the editing agreement, I also include comments on story structure, plotting, characterization, and suggestions for the author to consider. I never rewrite passages, although I do so for sentences. I am a firm believer that the manuscript is the product of the writer, and it is not up to me to force my own style or point of view on the manuscript. I may not necessarily like what the author has written, but that does not interfere with my effort to provide the author with a professional service.
6. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT YOUR JOB?
The difficulty being an editor is telling an author the manuscript cannot be salvaged without extensive rewriting. I hate doing that, knowing what effort every writer puts into his or her creation – having gone through that myself. When I encounter such a manuscript, I don’t have to edit the whole thing to know it needs extensive rework to make it suitable for publication. I can tell within the first five to ten pages, and that is how I price my work. Some manuscripts I accepted were tough and required a lot of work on my part, but that is what I signed up for. During the editing process, I involve the author, requiring him or her to participate, the experience hopefully developing the author’s writing and self-editing skills.
7. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME AN EDITOR?
Hah, that’s easy! I was a writer, of course, and still am, having produced eight hard science fiction novels and five contemporary political drama books, most of them winning awards. Ever since I started reading, I wanted to write. It didn’t seem all that hard…until I tried it myself. I wrote a number of short stories before tackling a full length novel, those stories acting as my training ground – as did that first novel.
But I didn’t start writing seriously until I finished university. Even then, I had to take snatches of time to write, having to hold down a job in the IT industry that provided me the means to live. During my professional working career, I managed to produce seven sci-fi books in the Shadow Gods Saga series. However, the passion to write never left me, and as that passion grew, I reached a point where I could retire from full-time work and devote all my time to writing, editing, and book reviewing.
8. WHAT GENRE’ DO YOU PREFER TO EDIT? WHY?
With the exception of romance and children’s books, I am prepared to edit a work in any genre. I don’t specialize, believing that exposure to a broad range of books will expand my experience and knowledge, which I found comes handy writing my own books. Of course, editing a non-fiction work can be tough and takes a different approach when editing fiction. In non-fiction, whatever ‘facts’ the author presents need to be verified, and it is surprising how many times writers don’t do their research, making me wince at an obvious error. Still, that’s how things go.
9. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
If there is one thing I learned over the years as a writer, if anyone is contemplating taking this on seriously, he or she should be prepared to spend many lonely hours with a pencil and paper, and sitting behind a computer screen. There will be disappointments, frustration, angst…and moments of sheer exhilaration and satisfaction when the words flow and the creative process produces something wonderful. Writing is a gift, but it can also be a curse. But once bitten with the urge to create, there is no cure.
Of course, there is always the challenge to master the technical basics of writing, something that many self-published writers have ignored. In my view, it is a matter of taking professional pride in producing the best novel an author can deliver, while employing a disciplined approach to writing. An engineer uses a set of tools in his profession to perform his work. A writer also has a set of tools: the English language. That tool must be mastered if an author wishes to consider himself or herself a professional. Anything less, in my opinion, is letting down the readers.
10. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED TIME TO EDIT?
It all depends on what I am engaged in. At times my own writing will keep me fairly busy, not giving me an opportunity to edit someone else’s book. However, there are times when I need a break from my writing and am happy to tackle an editing assignment. Once I do get an editing job, I devote all the time necessary to complete it within the agreed timeframe – or sooner. I am fastidious about this. Having had editors procrastinate on my books is frustrating, and is something I never put my clients through. As to when I edit? It can be any time of the day. It all depends on what commitments I have on that day. Generally, though, I prefer to work in the morning. I try to avoid editing in the afternoon and at night after having had a full day. It is not a hard rule, and I do edit at night sometimes.
11. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A WRITER?
Not all comments I received were complimentary! However, when an author tells me what I have done to the manuscript really made it more presentable, and my comments helped to address a particular problem or problems; that is satisfying. It is an acknowledgment that what I am doing does make a difference, which is one of the objectives of being an editor.
12. DO SOME OF YOUR CLIENTS FRUSTRATE YOU?
Of course, there is always an author who thinks the book ‘only needs a quick proofread’, unaware of the minefield awaiting his or her innocent reader. Pointing out what are sometimes obvious grammar and punctuation errors comes as a rude shock to the author, and not always appreciated. Problems usually surface with writers who are too attached to their work, believing the book is perfect. When problems are pointed out, some react negatively, denying there are problems, insisting I am forcing my own style on their precious book. When that happens, I don’t take it personally. I give every author my professional output. It is up to him or her to accept or reject what I have done.
13. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU AS AN EDITOR?
Every individual is a tapestry of experiences and knowledge accumulated over a lifetime, whether short or long. These cannot help but influence an individual’s behaviour and approach to any task. However, when I put on my editor hat, I use my accumulated experience to do the best editing job I can for the author. They deserve nothing else from me. The principle I work with when editing is that I am completely impartial. I am an editor, a second pair of eyes for the author helping to polish a book. Whatever personal views I might have are provided as comments for the author to apply or reject as he or she sees fit.
14. OTHER THAN EDITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Well, when not writing, I do book reviews. That can be an exercise in frustration, as many books out there, especially those self-published, should never have surfaced. But when I come across a well written novel with a great plot and characterization, it makes up for all those others. I play golf, still mastering the art of making that little white sucker go where I want it to, but I am getting better at it. Of course, when I am not doing anything else, I like to read or watch a good movie.
15. ARE SOME MANUSCRIPTS DIFFICULT TO REVIEW? WHY?
Some manuscripts are difficult to proofread or edit. An author may want me to only proofread a manuscript, which I am happy to do. However, with some of those, I identify enough grammar, plot, characterization, or other problems, that I am forced to recommend to the author to have the manuscript fully edited. I hate doing that, as the author may suspect I am doing this simply to get more money out of him or her. That can happen with some editors, of course. It happened to me more than once. However, when I make such a recommendation, I provide direct evidence to the author why a full edit would benefit the work, then leave the final decision to the author. As I mentioned before, I can tell within the first five or ten pages the degree of work involved editing a particular manuscript, and I provide a sample edit to back up my quote. I don’t shy away from tackling a difficult – not well written – manuscript. However, the quote I provide to the author reflects the degree of that difficulty. It is up to the author to accept or reject my quote. Of course, after progressing through a manuscript, I might find problems that make the editing job much more challenging. When that happens, I always comment to the author, giving him or her options how that problem or problems could be resolved. I don’t rewrite, something that is always outside the scope of being an editor.
See the Services page of my website for further information.
Clancy Tucker is an award-winning writer with three awards in the Australian National Literary Awards. He writes young adult fiction for reluctant readers, and has also achieved success as a poet and photographer. Clancy has lived in four countries, speaks three languages, has photography accepted and published in books in the USA, photos used as covers for magazines, has work registered with the International Library of Photography, been published in literary magazines, and he’s written more than 146 short stories. Clancy has been short-listed, ‘Commended’ and ‘Highly Commended’ in writing contests: 2006, 2007& 2011 Australian National Literary Awards, Raspberry & Vine (twice), Positive words, Australian Writers On-Line, Shaggy Sheep Tale, The Cancer Council Arts Awards (2005 & 2008), The Dusty Swag Awards (2010) and had twelve short stories published in literary magazines (Page Seventeen, Branching Out, Positive Words and The Australian Writer), newspapers (The Standard, Mountain Views & The Advocate), written articles for Kid Magazine in the USA and won a poetry prize to name a life-size statue designed by renowned Belgian sculptor, Bruno Torfs. He was a guest on dozens of blogs, writes a monthly editorial for a newspaper, lectures to members of the University of The Third Age, contributes articles for literary magazines, and mentors young writers. Clancy has also been a contributing guest editor for the Australian Prostate Magazine.