Monday, February 20, 2012

What You Should Know Before Considering a Career as a Freelance Editor - and Other Questions Answered

My acquaintance with author, editor, blogging maestro, and insanely entertaining wit Victoria Mixon began when both of our blogs were named in last year’s Top 10 Blogs for Writers award on Write to Done. Today, I’m pleased to introduce her to you as well! She has been a professional writer and editor for thirty years and now works as an independent editor through her blog at A. Victoria Mixon, Editor. She is the author of the delightfully engaging and impressively instructive The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual and The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual, as well as the co-author of Children and the Internet: A Zen Guide for Parents and Educators, for which she is listed in the Who’s Who of America. Victoria can be found on Google+ and Twitter.

What inspired you to seek out a creative lifestyle writing fiction?

You know, I operate on a very old-fashioned concept of what fiction is: magic created through the written word. Really—a very fundamental idea.

No matter what changes the publishing industry has gone through, no matter what jobs I’ve worked in nonfiction, no matter how much we hear in recent years about the author as self-marketer, that’s what my love of fiction has always been about. The magic of the written word.

I’ve been doing this work all my life. I love the zillions of tricks of the trade, the myriad techniques of the craft of writing. They’re almost intangible if they’re done right, but they’re there. Mostly I love the art of it—that a beautifully conceived and written story can change someone’s life. That’s a magic worth living for!

You’re a successful freelance editor. How did you get started in that business and would you recommend it as a worthwhile profession for others?

It’s been a slow, steady climb. The first thing I did was get thirty years’ professional experience as a writer and editor. I worked jobs in line editing and book organization for a really long time. During those years, I was also studying canonical fiction in detail, learning from the greats, searching for epiphanies about how stories are written. Devoting my life to writing. And then practicing that.

It was only after all those years that I finally started a blog and began acquiring independent clients.

It takes so long to get enough practice at this work to take money from writers. New aspiring editors don’t necessarily understand this, but the long-term professionals know exactly what I mean. There is a huge abyss between being a star grammarian in college and perhaps being good at giving peer critiques, and becoming a professional editor.

We all hear the horror stories from writers and industry professionals about aspiring editors or even published writers charging for editing that is not real editing. People who don’t really know what they’re doing. And it gets worse every day.

So if someone is recently out of college, if they’re relying on mentors and writing books for their knowledge, if they just see themselves making a fabulous living as an authority on fiction while staying home in their jammies all day, then, I’m sorry—they’re not ready. They should look for a job working for an established editor or publishing house, apprentice themselves to the craft.

But if they have put in those years of dedication as a professional writer and editor, if they have a reputation among professionals, and if they either live very cheaply or have a secondary source of income (I do), then, yes, I do recommend it. It’s intensely hard work, and no one’s getting rich on it—but I’m happy!

How do you balance your editing with your own writing?

I have to be extremely disciplined. I edit and manage my business—including social media—during regular weekday hours, spend evenings and weekends with my family, and sometimes I get a half day on the weekend to work on my current novel. Every year in November I write a children’s book for my son really fast, so that keeps me limber, but otherwise my fiction these days goes really slowly. I’m busy working on other writers’ stuff.

So much to write, so little time!

You’ve written two books on the writing craft. Will you tell us about those and what inspired you to write them?

Oh, thank you for asking. Yes, I have two books on writing craft right now: The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual and The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual.

And this year I’m writing The Art & Craft of Prose: 3rd Practitioner’s Manual.

I wrote the first one because I couldn’t get everything I wanted to say onto my blog. I found myself teaching my editing clients the same basics over and over again, and, really, there’s no reason for me to charge aspiring writers by the hour to tell them something they could get for twenty bucks in a book. So I wrote the book.

Even as I was writing Fiction, though, I realized I’d only have room for the bare bones, just an overview of developmental and line issues to get writers started. I wanted to cover copy issues, as well, and of course living as a writer, surviving the despair of writing. All that came to almost 400 pages. The book was packed.

So as soon as I was done with Fiction, I began planning the two books that would explore those two basic aspects of fiction in depth. One book, Story, would focus upon the developmental issues of plot and character. The other, Prose, would focus upon the line issues of scene and exposition.

And the feedback has been so rewarding! Wow. Writers are amazing readers.

Both of your books are published under your own independent publishing company. Why did you decide to take that route? Would you have made the same choice had your books been fiction?

Yes, La Favorita Press. My baby.

You know, I’ve always thought of my books as my own. When I was a typesetter, I designed the interiors of the novels I was writing. When I worked in graphics, I designed the covers.

Then when I was published by Prentice-Hall in 1996, I learned what the traditional process can be like from the inside. There were terrible problems with the editing process—my book wasn’t even proofread for typos. There were problems with the promotions department that would raise the eyebrows of the most jaded industry insider. Then I wasn’t sent my galleys—talk about raising eyebrows!—and I didn’t see my cover until I received my published copies. It wasn’t the money, although I’ve made more money with my self-published books than I did with that one. It simply wasn’t fun.

These days I know how to bring a book up to publishable quality myself, plus I have friends who are professional writers and editors who are very kind to me. My husband is a computer wizard who handles the formatting, covers, and e-books and deals with the printers. I also have a platform for my writing books in my editing business. So I’m having fun! I’m incredibly lucky.

However, fiction is in its infancy in the self-publishing realm. It’s hard to become a known expert as a fiction author when everyone else is also writing a blog about their fiction. It will shake down over the next five or ten years, as readers choose their own gatekeepers in the form of favorite reviewers or micro-publishers or—as they do now—authors. It’s going to be phenomenal, and we will all come out of it with vastly more freedom to read and write what we love than we’ve had since the 1970s.

Truly, it’s a wonderful moment in history. After decades of stagnation, we’re entering a new golden age of literature!
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9 comments:

  1. Lovely to see Victoria interviewed here. That's a terrific phrase, 'magic created through the written word'.
    Speaking as a writer-blogger, I agree we're seeing a really exciting time, and the coming years will see some interesting evolutions, not least in writing blogs.
    And speaking as another editor and lifelong book professional I shuddered at Victoria's account of her Prentice-Hall experience. It's not untypical, unfortunately, though I hesitate to condemn the publishing industry as it still has a lot to offer. But this debacle just shows that if authors do go for traditional publication they need to be as informed and (professionally) proactive as possible so that they don't have a bad experience. Publishers, agents et al aren't your bosses. They're your partners.

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    1. Hi, Roz! Had I never told you about publishing with Prentice Hall? Yes, our editor on that book was a piece of work.

      This is not to say that all publishers editors are, by any means. The world is full of wonderful acquisitions editors working as hard as they can for the benefit of their authors, their publishers, and the world of literature.

      As in every other industry, we're dealing in publishing with human beings, not devils or angels.

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    2. I love what you said here: "Publishers, agents et al aren't your bosses. They're your partners." I hope more of us begin to think this way.

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  2. Victoria, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share your wisdom and with with us!

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    1. Thank you for inviting me, Katie! It's lovely to meet your readers.

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  3. Fascinating interview. Thanks Victoria. I'm looking forward to reading your second and third manuals.

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    1. Thank you, Linda! I am hustling on the third even as we speak! :)

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  4. Lovely article with great insights. Thank you, Victoria!

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