Author/Editor Interview: Tammy Salyer

Salyer Image smI’ve discussed basically all of the other members of my “team” that I’ve established over the course of the last year or so. You’ve heard about my few different book designers and how I write and edit my books. I’ve also invited others to talk about their styles with short story fiction and science fiction. Since I started this blog, I’ve been wanting to talk about the copyeditor I used on The Blood Moon. She’s been a tremendous help and, as I’ve said before, The Blood Moon has been a work in progress for nine years and went through many, many, many (many, many, many, many, many…) rounds of editing before I presented it to my editor.

When I first started looking for an editor, I really only started looking on KBoards, which…isn’t always as helpful as it could be. As I’ve said before, a lot of authors post to the site about things that work for them, and the quality of editing that they are comfortable with. None of that means that I had the same comfort level as them. While some authors are happy with cheap editors with quick turnaround times, I wanted someone with a proven track record of editing and someone who could do a good job. Not only that, I wanted someone who could edit my genre and actually like it too.

I scoured through the Editorial Freelancers Association website for a few reasons:
1.) They were a credible group who did part of the research for me by finding authors who were actual professional editors and not a retired English teacher looking to make some fast cash. The EFA provides a list of publishing professional who have experience in the field.
2.) I could refine my search to a niche in the internet. Instead of blindly googling “freelance copyeditors,” I was presented a list of names that could be narrowed by location, skills, hardware, specialties, and software.

Eventually, I decided on Tammy Salyer of Inspired Ink Editing to copyedit The Blood Moon. Not only did she have over 12 years of editing experience, but she worked in science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, and magical realism — all genres I could see myself writing in someday, including urban fantasy, which is what The Blood Moon is.

Working with Tammy couldn’t have been easier. Even though we had a few issues as far as me making the payment (which was entirely my fault because my bank didn’t cooperate with her billing software), she was very flexible and I sent her a physical check instead. She gave me a sample edit before agreeing to edit my book and even gave me a 10% discount for waiting until the end of the year for her to edit my book. I was lucky enough that she started my project almost a week early and so delivered the project a week early. She emailed me throughout the process, asking style questions and giving me updates, and was quick in responding to follow-up questions I had once I started applying the suggested edits.

My experience with Tammy was very positive and she’s set to begin work on my second book in a couple weeks. I look forward to working with her on future projects. But, not only is she an excellent editor, she’s a successful author as well with several books and short stories under her belt. Below I’ve included an interview with her about her career as an editor and an author and how she balances both.

The Independent Author: How did you first get involved with editing? Self-publishing?
Tammy Salyer: For me, editing started when I graduated college and started working in research science. My former company did behavioral science funded mostly through the National Institutes of Health and created real-world interventions for everyday people dealing with any number of behavioral and health issues, from quitting smoking to providing care for a dying loved one. In that role, I helped write and edit many materials, covering everything from grant proposals to intervention scripts for video-based training. It was an excellent jumping-off point for the type of detail-focused work editing, and particularly copyediting, require.

But my first passion has always been writing, and the two skills intertwined perfectly when I opened the doors to my business, Inspired Ink Editing, in 2012. My first novel, Contract of Defiance, was the winner in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold contest for best action/thriller in 2010, and after numerous revisions, and lots of research into how to self-publish ebooks through the Amazon, et al, I realized it was the right time to jump onto the publishing bandwagon.

The intersection of those experiences has led me to where I am today, doing what I enjoy most in the world.

The Independent Author: Describe your editing process.
Tammy Salyer: Hmmm, that’s a question that could have a long-winded answer, but I’ll slim it down. I’d say my editing process depends on two big things: what type of editing a person wants (substantive vs. copyediting vs. a manuscript evaluation) and, more importantly, what type of process a person prefers. I work with a number of different types of clients. Some people like one-on-one conversations via telephone or Skype, others prefer a more hands-off process. I’ve worked on novels where I’ve only exchanged emails with people, and then only a couple.

Everyone takes in and processes information in their own way, so I see my job as an editor as being able to be flexible to accommodate many different styles. We’re all in the business of communicating, so I tend to tailor what I do to the style of communication that works best for whom I’m working with. The nuts and bolts of editing itself is pretty basic: sit at the computer and analyze writing to discover what can be/needs to be fixed. From there, everything depends on an individual’s creative personality.

The Independent Author: What are some of the most common mistakes you see when editing?
Tammy Salyer: This varies widely, but a few of the things I always keep on the lookout for specifically when copyediting are:

– Misused homophones
– Misplaced modifiers and dangling participles (a big one!)
– Inconsistency in details, from character traits to chronology
– Misstated facts (especially with novels that reference real events or places)
– Subject/verb agreement issues
– Intermixing British English and American English (for instance, using the word “flavor” but also “colour”)
– Intermixing British punctuation with American punctuation styles (for instance, single quotes and double quotes used backward)

And others. Every author seems to have their own quirk that pops up consistently in their writing. For me, I dangle modifiers like they’re going out of style, but they always get cleaned up in the editing process.

One of the most important things I try to convey to my clients is that no “rule” in any given style guide is immutable, though most are best followed for the simple reason of custom. Readers are used to seeing things done a certain way, and varying too much, especially with long-standing language observances like grammar rules, can make any well-intentioned prose hard to ingest. We have language conventions to aid in communication, but sometimes, particularly as word crafters, we make our mark by tweaking convention and hopefully creating something unique and beautiful—yet, importantly, still comprehensible.

The Independent Author: How do you determine your rates for editing?
Tammy Salyer: I’m a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, a US-based professional organization comprising a wide range of publishing professionals. Basically a melting pot of editors with oceans of accumulated knowledge and skill in editing. My rates are based on a number of factors, including the EFA’s suggested rate chart, my experience in the field, and a desire to keep my services accessible to my primary clientele, namely indies.

The Independent Author: What kind of editing do you enjoy the most?
Tammy Salyer: Editing for me is a joy. And like with any job, some days I like certain aspects of the process more or and less than others. I usually try to stagger the types of projects I do, and schedule a longer copyediting project after a substantive editing project and vice versa in order to keep my brain stimulated by the significantly different approaches each requires. The wonderful thing about editing is that every single book is different, so even if the steps for getting a book ready for publishing or submitting to an agent, acquiring editor, or publishing house are similar, the story will be new every time (which, for someone like me, is endlessly exciting).

The Independent Author: What do you think is essential for a story to be successful?
Tammy Salyer: We all know there is no secret formula that if followed to the letter will make a book a success, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t particular elements, features, and novelties of craft that every book needs some combination of to make it resonate with a wide number of readers. But first, we have to define success, and that can mean different things to different writers. Success for some is simply having completed a novel-length piece of writing, and that in and of itself is an act of magic. For others, and I think what was intended by this question, success means what I mentioned: a novel that is read and enjoyed by many readers.

So what are some of the commonalities that if mixed together, stirred vigorously, and given just the right dash of style, make a good novel?

Originality of plot and premise are the first that come to mind. People treat reading, particularly fiction, like an adventure. And almost by definition, adventures are exciting because they’re new and unexpected, so that’s what a novel must be.

Also, there needs to be harmony between the subject matter and the tone. Humorous moments are key for almost any novel, but you wouldn’t want to read a book where characters or the author herself invariably reacts to something like a world-ending plague or war with consistent lighthearted jokes and ribaldry—unless you’re writing a dark comedy with an intent of being off-color. Obviously, this takes skilled and delicate crafting.

Some other quick things are:

– Don’t solve your plot’s or characters’ problems through lucky coincidences.
– Keep your promises to readers (aka Chekhov’s gun).
– Use dialogue to advance the plot, not fill up pages.
– Understand and make clear to readers the goals, stakes, and consequences for every character.

The Independent Author: How do you balance your writer persona from your editor persona? Is it difficult to switch back and forth?
Tammy Salyer: Well, not really. I am a structured person by definition and dedicate certain times of day to each. I write in the morning, quit around 9 a.m., and “go to work” on my current editing project soon after. It’s about the same for any writer with a day job.

The Independent Author: How do you keep your ideas and the ideas from the books you’re editing separate?
Tammy Salyer: This is actually less of a dilemma than one might think. An editor’s job isn’t to interject their own ideas into their clients’ novels, but rather to help writers develop their own ideas more completely. Teasing out the difference between an editor’s preferences (in terms of story theme, premise, genre, etc.) and the writer’s preferences can be a bit more of a pickle, but this is why most editors choose to work on novels that are already in their preferred genre/focus.

The Independent Author: How hard is it to avoid editing things to your own writing style?
Tammy Salyer: Great question! Another of the hallmarks of editing is being a good mimic and adept at pattern recognition. Every author has a style all their own, so I spend a great deal of time checking in with new clients when I’m first diving into their project to get a sense of what they consider a preferred style, and what they just aren’t sure is right or wrong and would like me to fix to some kind of external standard, like the Chicago Manual of Style or APA. Once I feel like I have a handle on a writer’s style, it is generally not hard to ensure fidelity to it.

The Independent Author: Do you ever read a book you’ve worked on after it’s been published? What do you do if the author hasn’t made a change you think they really should have made?
Tammy Salyer: There are so many books I wish I could reread after my client’s have published them, but there is never enough time! With my indie clients, it’s certainly a different publishing process and writers themselves are the ultimate decision maker of what to include and discard when it comes to their editor’s suggestions. I just do my best to explain why I think certain changes should be made and feel completely comfortable knowing that authors are going to make choices that are best for their books. If they didn’t think an editor’s advice was worth taking, they probably wouldn’t have hired an editor to begin with. And, theoretically, if an editor does their best and an author publishes their novel without taking the editor’s advice, the public will ultimately give the author feedback that might persuade them to rethink their choices.

The Independent Author: When do you think authors should approach editors for help with their work?
Tammy Salyer: This will vary for different authors. It depends on so many factors, from experience writing, to the amount of writing they do, to the feedback they’ve already received, to the level of their willingness to revise, to the resources they have to put toward editing. Of course, I think every author should at least have a professional evaluate a finished novel, but at the very minimum, I firmly believe no novel should ever be published without professional copyediting and proofreading.

The Independent Author: Do you have any advice for authors from an editing standpoint?
Tammy Salyer: Develop a relationship with your editor, and if you like each other, stay together. Most editors get better and more efficient with clients with whom they work on multiple projects, which benefits both the writer and the editor. It makes the whole process much more relaxing and removes some of the “what if” type of questions, like “what if the editor isn’t any good?” or “what if the editor doesn’t have good time management and misses our deadlines?” Having a strong working relationship based on mutual appreciation and trust goes a long way toward taking some of the sting out of editorial feedback and gives writers one less thing to hand-wring about during the many-layered process of publishing.

Also, start looking for an editor at least three months in advance of when you expect to need them. Many, especially those who have good reputations and have been editing for a while, have projects scheduled a long way out. And there are only so many hours in a day, so most editors don’t have a lot of wiggle room for unexpected projects.

Lastly, don’t be shy about asking your editor questions or requesting clarification. Most editors care about your book nearly as much as you do, and most editors, especially those who also write, deeply appreciate how much energy and work you’ve put into your project. We know you want it to be the best you can make it, and we want to help you do that.

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Tammy is a freelance substantive and copy editor, manuscript evaluator, and proofreader. With twelve years of experience writing and editing everything from novels and short stories, to grant and research materials, to corporate and private content and blogs, she is proficient with many style guides and has been privileged to work with several bestselling independent and traditionally published authors.

Tammy specializes in many fiction genres, including those in the speculative fiction spectrum (science fiction/fantasy, paranormal, horror, and more), action-adventure, and suspense/thriller, as well as literary fiction, and she will happily consider any type of enterprise. She can also assist you in reaching your publishing goals by evaluating your manuscript synopsis, book jacket blurb/description, query letter, and pitch.

Also a novelist, Tammy has a number of published books and short stories. Her military science fiction Spectras Arise Trilogy: Omnibus Edition recently reached #1 in the Amazon Galactic Empire Science Fiction category.

She can be found online at Inspired Ink Editing | www.inspiredinkediting.com

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