writing contest and all you’ve ever wanted to ask an editor but didn’t.

Happy Friday everyone. Today I’d like to introduce you to Carin Siegfried editor extraordinaire. This woman knows her stuff. She is a complete editing and publishing resource.

According to Carin, the world of publishing is certainly in flux these days, and it’s always helpful to have a knowledgeable guide to lead the way. A former book editor at St. Martin’s Press, she is able to provide assistance to writers on a number of levels. No matter where you are in the publishing process, and no matter where you want to go, from consulting, editing, copyediting, and proofreading, Carin Siegfried Editorial is a full-service independent editorial boutique to help you make your book the very best.

I had very selfish reasons for interviewing Carin. I am at that stage of the novel writing game where I need editorial help. And I know my grammar isn’t the best, and I know my book could use a professional once over and I know I like writing lists of three and they may get annoying to read chapter after chapter hence the need for editorial assistance. But what kind? I wasn’t sure what questions to ask an editor when interviewing them to help me. So I went to a trusted source. I just so happen to be the new Secretary for the Charlotte Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. Carin is a past President. Talk about Kismet.

I tucked away any embarrassment I had about being ignorant about editing and asked her if she was interested in being interviewed. She said, “Yes!” Don’t we all wish we would hear yes more often?

So here you go.  A little background information about Carin Siegfried. For more detailed information please visit her site at www.cseditorial.com. 

1. Have you always loved books? What was your first favorite? Has it stood the test of time?

Yes, I’ve always loved books. I taught myself to read when I was about 3, and haven’t stopped since. I remember once as a child sitting outside in the yard reading (Mom could make me go outside but she couldn’t make me play!) and I was so enraptured by my book that I didn’t notice I got 3 bee stings (I apparently sat in the middle of a large clump of clover) until I went back inside when I was done reading.

Hm, my memory doesn’t quite go back far enough to say what was my first favorite, so I’d probably have to go with the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My parents were reading the books to me and my younger sister when our baby sister was born (name: Laura!) and I read them all over and over again. As an adult I usually reread only the last 4 but a couple of years ago, thanks to Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick, I was inspired to reread all of them, including Farmer Boy, which I am not sure that I ever reread. These books are all totally still amazing.

2. Tell us about the WNBA.

I first joined the Nashville chapter about 14 years ago when I worked at Ingram, and then I was a member of the New York chapter when I worked at St. Martin’s Press.  When I moved to Charlotte, there was no chapter here, and aside from at work, I was having a lot of trouble meeting fellow bookish people, so I decided to form a chapter here, too, which was founded in 2009.  The Women’s National Book Association has been around for 95 years now, and my favorite thing about it is that it’s a big umbrella group. Yes, there are groups for authors and publicists and even editors. In places like New York, there are even more specialized groups, such as for book production and copyeditors and the like. Librarians have their own groups, and children’s writers and illustrators.  But the WNBA is here for all!  In fact, you don’t even have to fit into any of these categories – it is not limited to people who work in the book world professionally. The only qualification is that you have to love books. (You don’t even need to be a woman.) Because of this, there’s a great diversity of backgrounds and interests which I think is great. I’ve always been very interested in learning new things and looking at things from new angles, and having everyone, from teachers to agents to readers, all together opens my eyes to new topics, new issues, and new ways of seeing the world of books. There are 10 chapters around the country so there’s probably one near you, but if there isn’t, you can start your own chapter too!  Just contact me and I can help.

women's national book association

3. Do you enjoy being an editor more than writing?

Oh yes. I haven’t written anything since college and looking back, it was all dreck. In fact, I’m afraid to look at it. Once big reason I decided to be an editor instead is that my writing wasn’t up to my own standards. Also when I took a college creative writing class, my classmates were much, much more enthusiastic about my editing skills than my writing skills, and in fact that didn’t mention anyone else’s editing skills at all. I have always had a very critical and analytical mind, and luckily I was raised to believe that you’re not allowed to complain about something without being willing to do something to fix it. That means my criticism is very constructive. I try to suggest a solution, not just point out a problem. 

4. What is your relationship like with publishing houses now? 

Since leaving New York, I switched to the sales side of the business, so while I do know a lot of people at publishing houses, they’re mostly in the Sales Departments these days, not so many in Editorial anymore. But the work I do doesn’t require publishing contacts so it’s just as well. I do sometimes help authors with submitting their manuscripts, but that’s a matter of researching literary agents – the agents are the ones who know the editors who are acquiring. That said, if there’s a new book coming out I’m desperate to get and don’t want to pay for it, I usually still have someone I can call for a comp copy, but I don’t do that often. I usually buy them retail these days!

5. Do you believe your experiences with publishers helps you work with writers? Can you help a writer target their book to a specific publisher?

It does help incredibly as I know what an acquiring editor is looking for. I know that how you present your work counts, that your potential marketing and publicity plans are important, that a prestigious agent, while not a must, can be helpful. I can explain to a client the time frame of publishing and why everything takes so long. I can explain about a publishing contract and how agents and editors work together. I am a big proponent of agents, so I generally wouldn’t help craft a book to a publisher, but a query letter should always be tweaked to appeal to a particular agent, once you’re done your homework. Not to mention, while a query or a proposal can be targeted, I don’t think a book should be. I think an author should write the book that is in them, and the right agent/editor/publishing house will come along. Yes, it’s rarely right away – just like with dating it takes time and kissing a lot of frogs, but it’s worth it to find The One.

 6. What’s your take on the state of books?

Books are doing great. If it’s more publishing you mean, well it’s in flux, but it always is.  The end of “publishing as we know it” has been heralded scores of times, from the advent of mass markets to audios to paperbacks to CD-roms (yes, really), and yet they all (except CD-roms) co-exist happily. I think the same will be true for ebooks. (To read a funny history of “the end of publishing”, check out Shelf Awareness, “Deeper Understanding” from Jan 8, 2010: http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ar/theshelf/2010-01-08/robert_gray_publishing_trends_of_futures_past.html) It will take a while to shake down, 20 years or more (this is not an industry known to quickly embrace new technology), and yes I think traditional publishing might end up being smaller, but the audience will have realized in the meantime that many of the services traditional publishing provides (editing, copyediting, proofreading, design, marketing, promotion) are difficult to forgo, and good books will be harder to find, harder to read, and harder to hear about. Yes, they do currently serve as gatekeepers, but there are over 250,000 books published each year by traditional publishers, so the majority of those not published aren’t overlooked gems. Meanwhile, some self-publishing authors are being smart and are actually getting their own editors, copyeditor, proofreaders, designers, and so on. Thanks to them, I am keeping very busy, and I think the world of self-publishing will stay strong and find more success. I don’t know that it will go back to its heyday, when Dickens and so many other classic authors self-published, but it’s out of the doldrums of the 1980’s vanity publishing fraudsters.

7. Please help us new writers understand the various editorial services at our disposal. 

What do these mean: 

            Consultation

Primarily this is query letter or book proposal preparation.  I provide assistance with submitting to appropriate agents and/or publishers, including answering questions such as: What do agents and publishing house editors look for in a manuscript? I will lay out the entire editorial process to prepare the writer for the many steps, including potential pitfalls to avoid. I bring a knowledge of what sells, how to find your niche, what genres are popular, and so on. I also assist with self-publishing, including finding designers and other professionals to create a finished book or eBook, getting an ISBN, and registering copyright.

   developmental edit

Looking at the big picture, at problems with plot, character, pacing, point of view, and endings. So I would address issues such as character motivation, making sure all major characters are fully fleshed out, watching for plot holes, and being sure all threads are wrapped up in the end. For nonfiction, this involves fleshing out the idea, outlining, research, and competitive analysis.

   line edit

Working on the nuts and bolts of the book including dialogue, word choice, flow, and language. This would include things like fixing passive verbs, cutting down on adverb usage, being sure verb tense is correct and consistent throughout, and improving clarity. Frequently I will do a combo of developmental and line editing together.

        copy edit

Create a style guide, which is a listing of all words that might be tricky, including all proper nouns and compound words, and I check proper nouns for accuracy, particularly when it comes to trademarks. Copyediting catches spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors; cleans-up complicated writing; ensures consistency and accuracy, all according to the Chicago Manual of Style.

    proof read

Catch last minute typos and errors, so you put out a flawless product. For proofreading, a manuscript should have already been copyedited and formatted. New errors can appear in the formatting process so it’s important that the proof read come at the very end.

and how does one determine what they need?

Well the descriptions above should help – the last two are very different so those are easy to pin down. The first two overlap quite a bit, which is a reason I frequently do them simultaneously. If you’ve done a lot of editing, a lot of workshopping, have had a lot of critical reads – and I mean critical – and are very sure of the story, you can probably skip the developmental edit. Although it still can’t hurt to have a professional look at it, and if your manuscript is very clean, it won’t cost much as the charge is hourly.  If you just finished writing and hardly anyone has looked at it, and those who did only gave praise, a developmental edit is where I would begin. Copyediting is for when you’re ready to publish, and so that’s only if you’re going the self-publishing route. Otherwise a traditional publisher has your book copyedited, and proofread themselves (at their expense.)

Submit your work to the 1st Annual WNBA Writing Contest!

Submissions open from May 1st to November 1st. Fiction entries judged by Valerie Martin award-winning author of 9 novels, 3 short story collections, and one biography. Poetry entries judged by Julie Kane, Poet Laureate of Louisiana.

Check out the guidelines and prizes at www.wnba-books.org/contest

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