I am very pleased to welcome Tara Shaner, of Shaner Media Creations, to the page today. Shaner is a creativity and content editor, who focuses on taking the author’s words and intent, and making them brighter. She is also my editor, and through her guidance, my writing and delivery has improved considerably.
Please read on to learn more about Tara’s insights, experiences, and advice.
It wasn’t a choice I made intellectually; like many who struggle with insecurity, if I get my brain involved I too-frequently talk myself out of good ideas. Language has always been a strength for me; I’ve Wordsmithed throughout my professional career, and helped countless people with a range of resumes.
Being the type who will try anything once, middle of last year I was invited to beta an author’s book. The experience blossomed into a much larger experience and was hugely positive on many fronts. Thinking it a fluke, I experimented with several more authors, with the same surprising results. I loved feeling useful, and knowing I was helping to make an already good book, better. My goal has never been to turn manuscripts and make money. I am a Wordsmith who is happiest when fully invested in my client.
Tell me a bit about your editing style, and what differentiates you from other editors.
I’ve come to the realization picking an editor is very much like choosing a spouse. It is a partnership in which you need to be challenged, but at the end of the day still feel safe and respected. If you have an editor who meets this range of needs, you are exactly where you should be! There are many fantastic, caring editors out there who do a great job and I’m honored to be one of them. That established, how is the Wordsmith Edit different?
- Most who give my Introductory Edit a try are shocked at the number of changes I suggest. My edits are extremely comprehensive and include line edits for grammar/punctuation, plot cohesion, and character consistency. It is closest to what is commonly referred to as a Developmental Edit. My brain simply won’t do half-way; it’s all or nuthin’!
- My “editing” is actually a combination of coaching and editing. More than simply “this is wrong,” my communication also includes why, and suggested fixes.
- I edit (primarily) in three colors, and therefore don’t use the Track Changes feature (because it provides no means for indicating a suggestion versus necessary fix). Your manuscript comes back telling you what parts I liked, what parts definitely need a fix, and where I see opportunity for brightening the story.
You’ve edited a mix of genres in your portfolio. What genre(s) do you prefer to edit? Are there any which are off limits?
Yes! And honestly, I love the variety; it makes my job more interesting. So really no genre preference, other than to say I crave a range of styles and topics to keep my interest. It is fun for me to learn each writer’s style and world, and adapt my suggestions to their unique voice.
Off limits is a short list:
- For non-fiction, I can help with readability and ease of understanding, but it is not a good use of your resources to have me fact check.
- As a mother and animal lover, I will not edit extended scenes involving detailed abuse of animals or children. Short high-level scenes and flashbacks are okay. If there is any question about my tolerance for the content in your book, then probably best to assume I’d rather not.
You do a free introductory edit for all new prospective clients. Tell us a little about your editing intake process, and what a prospective client can expect.
Editing has a bad reputation, but honestly, these are fun! You didn’t ask, but I’d like to start with WHY I do them.
I know many writers cannot afford a professional edit when they are starting out. My goal has always been creating better books. First chapters are SO difficult, getting your world set up, avoiding character soup, and hooking the reader’s interest. By editing the first chapter (up to 3K words), I’m helping a writer with what is often the most difficult chapter of their book. Also, sometimes I can pick out patterns which the author can then apply when self-editing the balance of their manuscript (overused words, for example). Beyond being a sample of my work, the Introductory Edit is a completely no-pressure opportunity designed to be a gift, without any strings or conditions attached.
What to expect?
- I work Introductory Edits in between scheduled projects, first in/first out, as my time permits. That means sometimes I will turn your edit around quickly (less than a day) and other times it might take me two weeks.
- I prefer to go into an IE with a minimum of discussion about the book, letting your story speak for itself. Generally all I will ask is what genre you are aiming for, then go about discovering your world as a reader would.
- Affirmation on what you do well! So many times editors emphasize what is wrong—sadly, it is a part of our job. I want every writer, whether they choose to be a client of mine or not, to also know what they do well. When you focus on the positive, the other not-so-good parts will naturally fall aside.
- A summary list on self-editing suggestions. Patterns or opportunities I saw which the author can then self-apply to the balance of their story.
One thing you WON’T get? A sales pitch. Never. Not ever. I will only provide a quote for the balance of the project if specifically asked, and if we agree your book is ready for professional editing.
All editors have their pet peeves. What are some of yours?
Repeated words bug me. A lot. Not only are they dull, but they are a missed opportunity for additional color and brightness (or darkness) in the story. Overall, especially “that” and “just,” but even repeated nouns/verbs cause me to *twitch.* (My clients all tease me, voraciously, about my *twitching.*)
Adjective soup. Also known as multiple (unnecessary) adjectives. While not a hard and fast rule, I tend to notice and suggest amending anytime I see more than two adjectives on a single noun. If you are using 3+ flat adjectives in a sentence to describe a single noun I will suggest removing or changing one to be more specific. Sometimes I find a place to re-purpose a dropped adjective later. For me to leave 3+ adjectives? They had all better be strong, specific, and necessary.
Character soup. I LOVE large character casts in a story, but for goodness sakes don’t give me eight names in a single page. Like most people, I have a heck of a time remembering who is who. So, pace it out, and introduce characters in context so my mind can place them. Related, is hard-to-pronounce names, as I often will shorten them in my head to A-girl and G-dude. Even in a created fantasy world, with an invented language, make the pronunciation of your names simple because that makes it easier for your reader to remember and identify with the personalities.
What’s a common mistake you see even experienced authors make?
Overuse of “that.” Either used when not needed, or used when “who” or “which” would be more appropriate. I see it everywhere, even in big-published (and otherwise well-edited) books.
From an editor’s perspective, what makes a good writer?
Someone who takes time to create dimensional people in a tangible world. A one-page 500 word character profile is a good start, but a person—like you or I— is so much more. Spend time thinking about what motivates, what inspires, what they fear, who or what they love, and how much they are willing to risk for what matters. To me, this emotional depth is what makes a writer stand out.
What is one mistake you made that aspiring editors could learn and benefit from?
Pick a single verified resource and invest in it, both financially (buying it) and learning how to use it. With a few personal exceptions (see my “that” rant above), I edit to Chicago Manual of Style with strong influence from “The Elements of Style.” When an author and I have a debate (which I love those discussions by the way, because I always learn something) those resources are the final say. We might agree to break the rule, but at least we do so knowing what the standard is, and why.
Searching random internet opinions and blogs, even from academic sources, is at best, a waste of time; at worst, inaccurate; often, both.
What is one thing you wish all aspiring writers knew?
You are worthy. Write the story, even if you never plan on showing it to anyone.
Aiming for continuous improvement is actually the answer to both. I purposefully challenge my clients, and myself, to improve with every manuscript. Status quo is not where I live. I want to do better, and I expect my authors to do better with me. For some it’s frustrating… for me it is absolutely invigorating to know I did a better job on last week’s book than I did on the one 6 months ago. Not every writer is comfortable with the bar steadily being raised.
Any funny editing mishap stories you can share?
*smiles* What consistently makes me laugh is when my clients find a mistake I’ve made. Probably shouldn’t admit that here, but… yes, I’m human. I make mistakes. Anyway, I’m exacting with clients (because I see their potential) which I think is why they get an almost gleeful excitement when I’ve botched something. Maybe created a repeated word situation, for example. It is stress relief to be able to chuckle about it, admit they are 100% right, and be reminded how beautiful a safe partnership can be.
When you’re not reading for business, what do you read for pleasure? And do you prefer paperbacks or electronic?
I do not own an eReader, and have no plans to acquire one. I love the tactile sensation of reading from paper.
My personal/pleasure reading is very diverse. On Facebook I have posted a picture of my extensive library (several hundred books) and listed primary authors I enjoy. Top of the genre list: speculative Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Steampunk, and Christian Romance.
If you could work with any author in the world, who would it be and why?
This is a tough one. Understanding the intent of your question, I immediately thought of several well-known authors, for which it would be an honor to participate in their projects.
Upon reflection though, they aren’t where my heart lives. Who do I want to work with? Someone undiscovered, with a great story idea, who is committed to improving. The big names? Well, that’d be fun and all, but it isn’t why I’m here. I edit because I love a good book. I Wordsmith because I see the author’s potential. I give of myself because the author first invested the courage to write.
So, any author in the world? I want to work with the author who hasn’t published yet. Selfish, but I crave the thrill of joining them on the journey to discover what they do best.
Finally, where can folks connect with you online?
Best way to keep track of me, and my projects, is my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/shanermedia
I have Note resources I really hope people will find useful. We are currently compiling a list of Not-Said alternates around a contest to win a free Wordsmith Edit. I also have a great Do/Do-Not list for those who might be working on their resume.
I am on Linked In at www.linkedin.com/in/shanermedia/
and you can find some great sample resume formats there.
Finally, you can feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you, Sarah 🙂 This has been a lot of fun, and a great introspective calibration. Reminding me what I do, and why I do it: Because you are worthy, and for the love of a good story.