Today I welcome Dale Cameron Lowry to the blog to share more author experiences with editing.
1) Tell us a bit about you and your writing
I write gay romance, erotica, and speculative fiction—sometimes all in the same story. Under other names, I write nonfiction, picture books, young adult fiction, FF romance, FF erotica, and FM erotica.
I got into writing as a kid. One of my classmates wouldn’t stop bragging about this amazing novel she was writing—we were eight, so in retrospect, I realize she was probably exaggerating. But at the time I believed her, and I wanted to be just as cool. So I went home and wrote a story about anthropomorphized stars and planets. I got hooked and continued writing fiction. In high school, I joined the staff of our literary magazine and started submitting stories to various publications, occasionally with success.
I did a lot of creative writing in college. An alumna became my mentor. She suggested expanding to nonfiction writing as a way to improve my skills—plus it generally earns more than fiction writing. I joined the college newspaper staff and got a job writing press releases for the admissions office. I was a journalist for my first decade out of college, then got a job as an editor in the non-profit sector. I continued writing fiction in the background but was able to move it to the front burner a few years ago.
I publish with presses of various sizes and self-publish. I’m also an editor; I’ve been editing professionally since 2004. I work with nonfiction of all kinds as well as fiction. Myths, Moons, and Mayhem, a collection of gay paranormal erotica from Sexy Little Pages, is one of the books I’ve edited.
2) What do you enjoy most about the editing process?
I’ve always enjoyed revising my work—it’s another chance to delve into the story—but didn’t become fond of the grainier levels of editing until my first newspaper editor handed me a copy of The Associated Press Stylebook and told me to read it from cover to cover.
That sounded about as fun as reading the dictionary in one sitting. But as I read through the entries, I started to understand that the consistent application of grammar, punctuation, and spelling mores was essential to good writing. It removes distractions so readers can lose themselves in a piece.
Today I use The Chicago Manual of Style more often than The Associated Press Stylebook, but the principle remains the same. I love the nitpicky stuff, examining things on a sentence-by-sentence level to make sure the story is being told with the right amount of emotional resonance and with as much clarity as possible.
That remains true whether I’m being edited or I’m editing someone else’s work, which I also do professionally. The job of editing is to help the words on the page match the story the writer wants to tell. It’s to make that story the best possible one it can be.
That process is intrinsically rewarding.
3) What do you find hardest about the editing process?
When editors try to turn a story into something they want to read instead of the story I want to tell. That doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s a sign that you and your editor need to get on the same page—or you need a new editor.
It’s also tough when a publisher doesn’t use a has a set style guide like The Chicago Manual of Style—or it does, but editors don’t use it. You end up arguing over things you shouldn’t have to argue over because the guidelines are right there in the book.
4) What are your general thoughts on editing as part of the overall publishing process?
It’s absolutely essential. I’ve read stories that I would have enjoyed if its hadn’t been for all the misspellings, homophones, misplaced modifiers, dangling thoughts, dropped plot lines, and/or sentences that don’t quite make sense. The more time I have to spend figuring out what the writer was trying to say, the less I’m going to enjoy the book.
I think that’s true for a lot of readers.
So go get yourself an editor, and make sure they’re a good one. After they’ve done their work, have a professional proofreader—or at the very least some friends—read over the final draft and point out remaining mistakes. A handful of mistakes isn’t a problem (no one’s perfect), but an error on every other page is.
5) What are your top editing-related tips for authors?
In no particular order:
- Read the punctuation section of The Chicago Manual of Style. Revisit it whenever you’re unsure where to put a comma or whether to hyphenate a compound modifier.
- Familiarize yourself with your publisher’s or editor’s in-house style guide, if they have one.
- There are many types of English with many types of rules. If you’re American and your editor keeps changing your “first floor” to “ground floor,” there are two main possibilities: they’re not American, and/or they’re intentionally editing your work to fit the standards of international/Commonwealth English. That’s fine if you’re trying to write in non-American English or your publisher requires international English. But if you’re writing about American characters for an American audience, it’s wrong. Don’t accept the edits. (Same principle if you’re British and your editor keeps changing “lorrie” to “truck.”)
- If you’re not sure about a grammar or punctuation rules, do not ask the internet. Sure, your Facebook friends and online writers’ group will have opinions, but those opinions are likely to contradict one another. Go to your style guide, ask your editor, or use a dependable resource like Grammar Girl, Chicago Manual of Style Q & A, University of Oxford Style Guide, The Guardian and Observer Style Guide, Merriam-Webster dictionary or Oxford Dictionaries. Make sure the guide you consult matches your story’s type of English (American, British, Canadian, etc.)
- Don’t take edits personally.
- Take breaks when going over edits—at a minimum once every hour, but preferably more often. Breaks keep your mind fresh and give you a chance to emotionally detach from the process.
- Understand that some edits are more subjective than others.
- Choose the solution that best serves your story. If your editor tells you to put a period at the end of a sentence, then 99.99% of the time, that’s what you should do. But if an editor asks you to delve deeper into a character’s emotions, you might use sentence tone and pacing to reflect a specific emotional state; reveal emotions through an action, statement, facial expression, or tone of voice; or add a new scene. You might even reject the advice, choosing not to delve into that character’s emotions because the character is tangential to the story.
- Stuck on an edit? Skip it and come back to it later.
- If making a suggested edit gives you a weird feeling in your stomach, it’s probably because that edit doesn’t fit your vision for that story. Go talk to your editor. Ask them why they wanted a change, explain why the suggested change doesn’t fit your vision for the story, and discuss alternative solutions.
About the Author
Dale Cameron Lowry’s number one goal in life is getting the cat to stop eating dish towels; number two is to write things that bring people joy. Most of Dale’s fiction focuses on characters navigating the tensions between multiple cultures—Queer Mormons, immigrants and emigrants, people with disabilities, multilingual folks. You can read some of that fiction in Falling Hard: Stories of Men in Love and a dozen other books, including the Lambda Literary Award-winning His Seed.
If you join Dale’s reader circle you’ll get free stories and probably learn a new thing or two about the world (like how to talk about love in three different sign languages).