Morgen: Hello, Hayley. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be an editor.
Hayley: I have always been the editing go-to girl, ever since I was at school and the other kids were stressing about their English homework. This led to an early career as an English teacher, moonlighting as a freelance writer. It was actually a prolonged period of illness that steered me in the direction of retraining as an editor – something I could do from home. When I recovered I realised that I enjoyed dealing with authors much more than facing hundreds of screaming teenagers every day. I now freelance for a range of publishers and run a consultancy for independent writers, offering editorial and creative support. I am obsessed with books, whether writing, reading or editing them.
Morgen: I must admit I’d prefer teach writers than teenagers, especially screaming ones, although I have had teenagers in my writing groups and they’ve been great, although they’ve wanted to be there which makes all the difference. Is there a format (novels, non-fiction…) / genre that you generally edit?
Hayley: I love it when I get high-quality fiction in any genre. Equally, when I am working with a writer who needs more support it makes for a project that I can really get my teeth into. Non-fiction presents different challenges, but I always encourage authors to inject as much of their personalities into their books as possible to create a unique reading experience. There is no area that I rule out and I have extensive experience in both fiction and non-fiction. The only type of author that I tend to turn down is the lazy author. Writers who send a first draft and expect it to come back as a best-seller are not generally welcome.
Morgen: Although you’re doing the editing, it should be a complete and almost ready-to-go document so you get to do the almost-final edits not the first. An author’s got to generally be happy with it before an editor gets involved otherwise he / she is wasting both of their time if too much has to be changed. A rather global question, but are there common mistakes an author can make?
Hayley: Telling the story rather than showing it; dragging undernourished characters behind their plot; forgetting that the reader is not a mind reader; imitating their favourite authors; clichés; following current trends badly; not pushing their characters or plot to their potential. A missing apostrophe is not worth worrying about; it can be easily mended. My main focus is to encourage writers to produce the very best.
Morgen: Ah yes, the old show don’t tell. I talk about that on my blog’s Writing 101 page (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/writing-101). 🙂 Do editors generally charge by the word or the hour?
Hayley: I charge per 1,000 words. It makes it easier for authors to know exactly what they will be paying when the work starts.
Morgen: It does. That’s the arrangement I have with mine, and it works really well. You can never tell with someone who charges by the hour how long it will take, even if they give an estimate, and as long as both sides are happy with the rate it’s unlikely to deviate too much. How much notice do you get (would you like / need) for editing a project?
Hayley: It really depends on how busy I am at the time.
Morgen: Do you have much dealing with publishers?
Hayley: I freelance for The Book Guild, Hesperus Press, Hay House and The History Press.
Morgen: I’ve heard numerous authors say they can self-publish without an editor – what would you say to that?
Hayley: I would say that it’s a risk. I’m a professional editor, but I always use another editor to correct my own writing. It’s so easy to miss the minor errors in work that you have spent so much personal time with. Aside from the minor errors, it’s always a good idea to have someone (not a friend or family member) read through the book to give some feedback. The bottom line is that if you want to get a good reputation and sell books you need to make sure that you are producing a great product.
Morgen: It is, absolutely. Rachel comes up with some great suggestions, as do my writing groups, and writer-dog-walking friends. 🙂 How do you edit – on screen or on paper?
Hayley: On screen. When editing I always provide one marked copy, so that all of the changes can be seen, and one unmarked copy.
Morgen: That’s useful. I don’t, as yet, do much editing for other people (just the red pen podcast sessions, which I’ve decided to stop but am doing them on the blog instead: http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/red-pen-critique). Do you write? If so, please tell us about that and does being a writer as well influence your editing at all?
Hayley: Writing and editing affect each other. I don’t think I’d be a good editor if I didn’t have a grounding in writing (I wrote on many subjects as a freelance writer, have had numerous short stories published and have decided to self-publish my first novel at the end of the year). Equally, working on hundreds of writers’ projects has definitely strengthened my skills as a writer, so it works both ways.
Morgen: It’s all about practice, like anything. If someone wanted to become an editor, how would they go about it? Are there qualifications they can gain? Would they need them? Is there much competition to be an editor?
Hayley: Personally, I have a degree in English, a teaching qualification, a diploma in proofreading and copy-editing and I’m partway through an MA in creative writing. These are the things that look great on paper and are going to encourage publishers / authors to trust your skills. When I was starting out, however, it was perseverance that got me off the ground. With no actual experience, I started contacting publishers for work and was laughed away. I ended up getting a break with O-Books who paid modest fees, but gave me my first fifty or so books. After that, I was much more marketable. Experience is invaluable, so even if you have to work for free it’s worth doing it. There is competition, but in this era of self-publishing there is more than enough work to go around if you’re good at the job.
Morgen: There is. 🙂 It’s a well-known fact that authors can win prizes / competitions – are there equivalent for editors?
Hayley: I’m not sure. This is something that I should definitely look into.
Morgen: These days an editor and agent are the key people in a writer’s life, do you think agents are vital to an author’s success?
Hayley: If an author wants to take the traditional publishing route then an agent is essential. Most publishers won’t even open a proposal if it doesn’t have an agent’s stamp of approval on the envelope. Agents are almost as hard to get as publishers, so I don’t think that writers should get disheartened if they are being left out in the cold. We live in an age where there are endless opportunities for writers to get their work out there. It’s all about being proactive.
Morgen: I’ve heard agents are more difficult to get, certainly than small presses, but then they prefer to deal directly with the author anyway. What do you think of eBooks? Do you read them or is it paper all the way?
Hayley: I love my Kindle. I know that many people are puritanical about saving books, but I’ve got so much more room in my flat now, and I’ve been introduced to some great new writers. I’m a great supporter of self-published authors and I’m excited by the way that the industry is developing.
Morgen: Oh me too. I think it’s the best time to be an author; we have much more ‘power’ than before, and are taken more seriously… if we put our best work out there. Are you involved in any of the marketing for your clients?
Hayley: I want my clients to be as successful as possible and tend to point them in the right direction rather than actively getting involved in the marketing. Many authors make the mistake of thinking that their job ends when the book is written. In reality that is where the real work begins. I am in the process of putting a marketing guide together for new writers and currently refer my clients to websites and books that offer constructive information.
Morgen: A marketing guide would be useful… marketing’s most of my interviewees least favourite aspect of writing, mostly because it’s so time-consuming. Are there any books that you’ve edited that you remember for all the right / wrong reasons?
Hayley: It would be unfair on the authors involved to say!
Morgen: 🙂 How important do you think title / covers are?
Hayley: Terrible books have sold because of their wonderful titles and vice versa, but gimmicks don’t make for longevity. Ultimately, a book is only as good as its contents, but people do judge…
Morgen: and review. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Hayley: I’m copy-editing a spy thriller at the moment. I am also self-publishing five books this year, mostly writing reference books, and this is keeping me busy.
Morgen: Wow. I’ve just released my debut novel and plan another one this month (hopefully) and four collections of flash fiction / short stories, all are pretty much ready (written, edited, edited some more, red penned, now just need final edits)… and cover design, one of my favourite aspects of eBooking. Do you work every day? If there is such a thing, do you ever suffer from editor’s block?
Hayley: Editor’s block strikes when I am editing books that show very little imagination. Most people can stop reading a book that they’re not enjoying. I have no choice but to keep going even if I feel like throwing my laptop out of the window.
Morgen: Oh dear, but all the more reason to tell the author where they’re going wrong, in the hope they can fix it. There’s so much choice these days that a reader is going to feel less inclined to battle on. Do you have to do much research for your job?
Hayley: I fact-check rather than research to make sure that there are no errors. If I have to do major research to understand a book (unless it is written for a specialist market) then the author has misjudged their audience and this is something that I will address.
Morgen: That’s true. There’s nothing more annoying that getting bogged down in the author showing off that they know far more than you do and you have to Google every other word. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your editing life? Has anything surprised you?
Hayley: Working when I want, in my pyjamas with endless cups of tea and snacks, is a plus. I have already touched on working on books that I wouldn’t choose to read as a negative point, but my job has also introduced me to subjects that I wouldn’t have considered reading and have loved.
Morgen: I’ve just joined a book group to get me reading more and although the first book is my choice (Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader, popular I think because it’s nice and small for a busy month, and very funny – I can’t wait to read it again), I know there will be books that I wouldn’t have otherwise read. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Hayley: Just write!
Morgen: We are writers after all. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Hayley: Kurt Vonnegut, Oscar Wilde and Hugh Laurie (huge House Fan). We’d probably have to go out somewhere nice if Oscar is coming.
Morgen: I’ve never watched House. I have series four (I think) on box set (a random car boot sale buy) and like Downton Abbey (which I love) I never started watching it until late in (although only series two with DA). Are you involved in anything else writing-related?
Hayley: Aside from the ebooks I have mentioned, I also run a monthly short story competition. The winners are published on my website. All entries are considered for publication in The New Short Story Annual 2013 at the end of the year.
Morgen: Oh great. I’ve added you to my http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/competitions-calendar page. What do you do when you’re not working? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Hayley: Strangely, I love to read when I’m not working. It’s nice to be able to do it at full speed rather than with my editor’s hat on. Other than that I’m a bit of a social butterfly, but really shouldn’t share my party tricks.
Morgen: 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work? Do you take enquiries from authors directly?
Morgen: Thank you, Hayley.
Hayley Sherman is an editor and creative writing consultant who has worked with authors around the world to enhance the quality and clarity of their vision. Her literary repertoire includes proofreading, copy-editing, critiquing/manuscript analysis, mentoring, synopsis-writing and generally making books behave. She likes cake, dislikes celery and often dreams of a world with no apostrophes.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on the main blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have this blog, https://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com, on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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As I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t unfortunately review books but I have a list of those who do. I welcome items for critique for the online writing groups, and their associated Facebook groups, listed below:
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