Highlights

  • Starting a book at the right point in the story is essential.
  • Tips on managing social media.
  • How “fluff” can reduce the effectiveness of our prose.

My writing and editing crafts overlap and inform each other.

Welcome to the forty-sixth episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft. In this episode, I chat with writer and editor Victoria Griffin.

Arthur: Tell me about your editing journey. How did you start? What is your experience and how do you continue to develop your editing craft?

Victoria: My senior year as a college softball player, I sustained a brain injury that affected the conditions under which I could work. Since I needed complete control of my work setting and schedule, I began to take on small editing projects. While I’ve always enjoyed editing my own work, I soon realized how rewarding it is to help a fellow writer with that part of the process and decided to make freelance editing my permanent career. I learn from each manuscript I work with, and I’m continually working to enhance my knowledge of style and developmental aspects. Every book I read for pleasure, I think of how I can apply the tools and techniques the author used to help my clients. And of course, my writing and editing crafts overlap and inform each other.

Arthur: What are the top three problems you see when editing a book? What are your suggestions for fixing them?

Victoria: One of the most common issues I see, from a developmental perspective, is the story beginning in the wrong place, generally too early. The fix for this can be painful: cutting or condensing large sections of the manuscript. I also see lots of manuscripts that lack clear stakes. I find this to be especially common in genres like fantasy, when the stakes are often far-reaching—“the world will descend into chaos.” It’s crucial to clarify what’s specifically at stake for the main character, and correcting this issue involves going back to the drawing board, possibly making plot changes or further developing characters. Lastly, most manuscripts I work with have extraneous material. There may be unnecessary chapters that don’t move the story forward or superfluous sentences. It’s nearly impossible to eliminate this entirely. The writer is often too close to the work to recognize all the areas that need cutting, which is why hiring a third-party professional is a good idea. However, being a ruthless self-editor can significantly reduce the dead weight in a manuscript.

Being a ruthless self-editor can significantly reduce the dead weight in a manuscript.

Arthur: How do you market your services? What method has had the best return on your time?

Victoria: I spend most of my marketing hours on Twitter. I have found that the most effective—and fun—way to market my editing business is by simply getting to know writers. I try to spend less time selling and more time jumping into conversations on Twitter and connecting with other writers. I also post YouTube videos about writing and editing topics. While finding new clients is important to my business, I also want to take every opportunity to give back to the writing community that supports me. For me, that means providing tools and information and fostering positivity in all my interactions.

Arthur: As an editor, what do you look for in the first sentence of a book? What makes a good first sentence, first paragraph, and first chapter?

Victoria: The first sentence should hook the reader. The perfect first sentence makes a reader want to know more, whether that means introducing an intriguing character or situation, hinting at a conflict, or twisting reader expectations. The first chapter has the same job, on a larger scale. When I’m reading a first chapter, I’m looking for conflict and asking whether the story begins in the right place. More often than not, the story begins too soon. We don’t want first chapters full of exposition or that describe mundane routines. Stories should begin in medias res, in the middle of the action.

Stories should be in the middle of the action.

Arthur: What do you find most engaging about a good book? The prose? The story? Tension? How does a writer improve their ability to create tension in a story?

Victoria: All of the above. As a reader, I really enjoy upmarket novels that blend genre plots with literary aspects; I’m equally drawn in by a solid story and artful prose. Maintaining tension in a story can feel like trying to cage wind, but when you break it down, it’s really a simple element. Tension happens when we have maintained conflict and high stakes. A character wants something, and something else is in the way. And if the character fails, the consequences are significant. The trick is understanding clearly how these elements relate to your story and carrying them through from beginning to end.

Arthur: What do you think, as an editor having seen many stories, makes for good prose?

Victoria: From a strictly objective standpoint, good prose needs to be concise. That doesn’t mean it uses short, choppy sentences, only that the writer uses the number of words needed to convey the meaning and no more. While line editing, the most common issue I see is redundancy. This “fluff” reduces the impact of the prose. Another crucial element—and likely the most difficult to teach—is voice. A unique voice is what separates an author’s work from every other book out there.

Good prose needs to be concise.

Arthur: You have a great article on your website on the use of Twitter. A few of my recent interviews find that some free social media tools may be losing their effectiveness. Is this true? If so, what can we start doing instead?

Victoria: I wouldn’t say they’re losing their effectiveness. I do think we need to manage social media differently now that the sphere has grown so much. The days of maintaining an active presence on all social media outlets are gone. That requires a massive time commitment that small business owners (e.g. writers and editors) just don’t have. Instead, we’re better off focusing on a few social media platforms and engaging with our followers. And yes, paid tools that post automatically can be extremely valuable, especially when social media begins to cut into our writing time.

Arthur: As an editor, do you monitor successful trends in the book market? How do you do know if one story will be more successful over another?

Victoria: I do stay up to date on industry trends, but I don’t worry about what’s “hot.” Trying to jump on the bandwagon for the type of story that’s selling at the moment is a recipe for disaster. Because of the slow pace at which the publishing industry moves, these “trendy” stories will enter the market long after the hype as died down, and likely alongside a hoard of similar stories by authors who had the same idea. When I’m evaluating a manuscript, I focus on the objective elements that make a good story, as do most agents and acquiring editors. I will say, however, that I do consider changes in the industry which are not trends but shifts that are likely to be permanent, such as the recent push for diversity in literature.

A unique voice is what separates an author’s work from every other book out there.

Arthur: Christopher Ryan, in my interview with him, talks about our writing living forever. What does it mean for us as writers to leave behind a legacy? What kind of legacy do you hope to leave behind not just in your writing, but in your life?

Victoria: To me, a writer’s legacy is less in the bound pages and more in the readers their words impact. Whether they want to scare someone, touch someone, make someone cry, and make someone think, writers have the opportunity to impact other people in a very intimate way. And the beauty of our work is that there is no limit to that legacy. As long as our work is being read, we are connecting with others. Storytelling is universal because we all have the desire to connect and empathize with other human beings. The ability of books to help people do that is what makes them so necessary and so powerful. Once a person has stepped into another’s life and understood—even for a moment—what the world looks like through their eyes, that person is changed. And I believe wholeheartedly that if we could all do that a bit more often, the world would become a kinder, more accepting place. The strongest legacy I could leave behind is to help someone better understand their neighbor, even if that understanding only leads to one moment of kindness or one harsh word left unsaid.