What to do if you're not Mary Berry, you don't have a big publisher/telly show to promote your collection of classic yet still current recipes, but you're still determined to make your book a success?
A good editor is essential to the success of any book. So this week I interviewed Sarah Vincent, author and editor of ten years with Cornerstones, one of the UK's leading Literary Consultancies.
Can you sum up your job as an editor?
The team at Cornerstones know my preferences, which tend towards contemporary/literary but also historical, and anything with a weird or supernatural twist. If I take on a manuscript, I'll read right through, before doing a structural edit. There's a common misconception that an editor is a glorified proof-reader, correcting punctuation and highlighting typos. Not so! My focus is on whether the story reads well. After reading, I write up a report highlighting strengths and weaknesses and suggesting revisions. Clients have a choice of reports. With a consultancy, there is a follow-up phone call or meeting to discuss further.
What are the main areas in which you can help authors?
That depends on the author and what stage of the writing journey they're at. For complete beginners, the emphasis is on acquiring the tricks and techniques of the craft: concepts like Show Not Tell, Narrative Drive, Point of View and so on. With more advanced authors there may be some central flaw that is undermining the potential of an otherwise excellent novel. Once recognized, it can be a green light moment for the author and transform the entire book. Really it's all about tuning in to individual strengths and working with them to get the very best out of that author.
What makes your heart sing when you start to read a manuscript?
Ah, I love that moment! A manuscript may be technically flawed; riddled with faults and pot-holes, yet still have that pulse and energy that makes the heart jump. An acutely observed main character who leaps to life as a real person, someone I can engage with and care about, is foremost. But also, a fresh use of language, building atmosphere and tension, quirky subject matter and a readiness to take risks.
What makes your heart sink a little?
Plot-driven stories with multiple viewpoints and a cast of thousands, distinguishable only by their Christian names. These are not only hard to engage with, but trying to work out who is who can be confusing. Then there are multi-stranded plots which lead nowhere. It's my habit to leave the synopsis until I've finished reading. If I have to turn to the synopsis midway through, then I know there's a problem.
What is your advice to authors before they submit their work, to make your job easier?
It makes sense to check basics like presentation, spelling, and grammar and to make sure the pages are numbered before sending.
How has editing other people's manuscripts helped with your own writing?
It hasn't if I'm honest! I was getting work published (under my own name) long before the days of literary consultancies. I'm aware of the pitfalls, but for first drafts at least, I try to quieten the inner-critic and tune into the unconscious. Writing fiction is a mysterious business. Better not to analyse too much. That can come later in the edits.
Catch up on the previous self-publishing blogs in Huffington Post.
For more advice on Getting Published, go to www.hattieholdenedmonds.com
Hattie's debut novel Cinema Lumière is out now and available on Amazon and at all good bookshops.