Monday, May 7, 2018

MEET THE EDITOR: Advice from the Red Pen (With Elzevera Koenderink)

I'm very excited to be interviewing a couple of editors this May at Writing Belle. As a professional writer, editing is something that I can do myself. However, as any author knows, you need more than one set of eyes on a novel. Editors are there to make our work shine, sparkle, and sing. Different editors may look for different elements or errors. Each editor brings their own unique expertise and experience to the table. Today, we're visiting with Elzevera Koenderink, owner of Willow Editing. If you're a writer or an aspiring editor, maybe you'll find the information here useful! 

Interview with Ms. Koenderink

They say that most of writing is actually editing. Do you think that's true? 
I’d actually say it’s the other way around. As far as I’m concerned, writing and editing are definitely both part of the same process, which I refer to as the writing process.
The editing process happens within the writing process, but within the editing process there is writing. Let me explain.

If ‘writing a book’ didn’t require editing, we’d write a first draft and be done with it. As we all know, that’s not how it works. Many people I meet see editing as something separate from writing. The next step, as it were. But the way I see it, writing and editing interact with each other as steps within the writing process. You write, you edit, you rewrite, you re-edit and so on until you’re happy with the result.

I’ve come to realise that many writers consider editing as a sort of necessary evil, because they’re told editing is needed to improve the quality of their writing, but apart from correcting spelling and grammar mistakes, they don’t see the upside of it.

Part of the reason I believe writers feel this way is they think they’re done writing once they start editing. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you ask me, the real writing starts after the first draft. It starts with editing. You take the time to get to know your characters, your world, your plot… you gather knowledge to improve the bare bones you wrote in the first draft. You add scenes, you add richness in details… This allows you to make your novel or story come alive in a way you wouldn’t have been able to when you first wrote it. There is plenty of room for creativity and coming up with new material in the editing process.

So, to get back to the question: I believe writing and editing are both steps within the writing process that are quite intertwined. Writing is as much a part of editing as editing is a part of writing.

As an editor, what do you think are the hallmarks of a good or high-quality manuscript? 
Every manuscript is different, and what makes each manuscript good or high-quality will be different as well. Something that will help a manuscript shine and set it apart from others, however, is whether or not it’s been self-edited. A self-edited manuscript will come across much stronger than a first draft. It will show the editor, be it an editor that you hired or an editor at a publisher, that you care enough about your writing to put in the time to polish it to the best of your ability.

How many times do you think a book should be edited before it's published? 
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no maximum to the amount of drafts your book should go through before publication. In order to make your novel the best it can be, I would suggest several self-editing rounds:
-         The big picture. Focus on plot/three-dimensional characters/worldbuilding/pacing and make sure to ask the help of beta readers once you’ve edited as much as you can by yourself.
-         Line editing. Go into detail with your characters, your world and your writing style. Again, ask the help of beta readers once you’ve exhausted your own resources.
-         Proofreading. Writing communities like Scribophile are great places to find help with spelling and grammar if that’s something you struggle with.
After these rounds of self-editing, you should have a manuscript that’s quite polished. All for free, I’d like to add! Yes, it takes time, but we write because it’s something we love to do, right? No need to rush.

Once you’re done with self-editing, I’d say your next step depends on your plans. If you want to self-publish, I highly recommend you hire a professional editor at this stage. Because you’ve spent time polishing your manuscript, you’ll be paying for someone who knows what they’re doing to help you take your novel to the next level. I like to compare editing to tending a garden. Say you have an overgrown garden (your first draft). You can pay a professional gardener to pull out the weeds, but that’s something you can do yourself as well. If you pull out the weeds yourself and then hire a professional gardener, he can help you with details that will make your garden extraordinary. That is the added value of self-editing.

If you want to publish the traditional way, I’d recommend not hiring a professional editor. Spend time on creating kick-butt queries, synopses and cover letters and maybe even pay someone to help you create those, but don’t spend money on a professional editor just yet. If you get a book deal, professional editing should be included.

What type of errors do look for when you are editing?
I like to think of editing as more than simply looking for errors. As I mentioned in the previous question, I like to compare editing to tending a garden. Yes, you look for weeds and stones to remove, but you also look for things to add that will enhance and enrich the garden. You look for elements to move: a specific plant may do better in the shadow than in the sun, for example.

What I look for depends on the kind of editing I’m doing. When I do a developmental or a structural edit, I look for the big things: plot and character inconsistencies, pacing… When I do a line edit, I look more for ways to make the writing stronger. Fix spelling and grammar mistakes, note places where a character’s voice could be made stronger, remove unnecessary words, avoid repetition… When I proofread, I only look for actual mistakes: typos, grammatical errors, punctuation errors...

What are your tips for writers who are learning how to self-edit their work? I know everybody has a different method, and of course all books should be professionally edited before publication. But how can writers learn to avoid making the same errors over and over again?
As you’ve probably gathered by now, I am a huge self-editing advocate. Many writers seem unaware of how much they can improve the quality of their writing before hiring a professional editor. I’m currently developing an online course that takes the writer through every step of the self-editing process because I think it’s important writers learn to see their own worth and to see that editing doesn’t have to be a chore. That would be my first tip: Look at self-editing as writing.

Another important tip is to separate the different steps. Many writers have negative feelings toward self-editing because they feel they have to do the same thing over and over again, which makes them get sick of their story. Bringing back the garden analogy: If you start working in the garden without a clear idea of what you’re going to do, you’ll get overwhelmed really fast. There’s just so much work, and pulling some weeds here and there isn’t making much of a difference, so what’s the point? You start doubting yourself. Why did you ever think you could do this? Stupid garden.

If you outline several steps for yourself and follow them, you’ll see improvement much faster. First get rid of all the rocks, then all the weeds. Check which plants you want to keep and which ones you should buy. Plant the new plants, maybe move existing ones. Add some finishing touches. Every step has a clear purpose. After finishing every step, you feel good about yourself. You see improvement.

Something I want to emphasize when it comes to the different editing stages is the importance of following them in order. You can spend hours on end fixing spelling and grammar in your first draft, but when the time comes to look at the plot you may decide some scenes need to go. Not only will you feel frustrated at the amount of time, you’ll also have a much harder time actually deleting the scene in question because you put so much time into it. My advice: work from big to small. Don’t start line editing until you’ve fixed the plot, and don’t start proofreading until everything else is done. This will save you a lot of time in the end. Plus, it’ll combat those feelings of overwhelm and self-doubt I mentioned before.

Are you currently available as an editor? If so, how can writers/authors get in touch with you? 
Yes, I am currently available! I edit both fiction and non-fiction. Writers/authors can email me at or use the contact form at Willow Editing can also be found on Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t hesitate to contact me with questions, to request a free sample edit (up to 1500 words) or simply to say hi :)

What is your favorite part about the editing process? 
My favourite part about editing is making the characters and the story come alive. I strongly believe character development and world building are crucial to the editing process, and I enjoy both of those very much. I love looking for the right turns of phrase and editing the same passage several times, making it a little better each time. What I also really like about the editing process is that it takes time to get to the end result. Taking things one step at a time is an inherent part of the process. I believe editing helps you grow as a person. You learn to give yourself time.

Thank you for visiting with us today. Happy editing!
Thank you for this opportunity, you asked some great questions!

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Get fictional - it's fun! Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you again soon!