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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Interview of Freelance Book Editor, Helen Woodall

Today I’m pleased to present an interview of Helen Woodall, independent freelance book editor. Helen was my editor for many years, and I can’t find enough words to express my gratitude for all her help with my books. An excellent editor, she’s now freelancing and looking for clients who are dedicated writers/authors; professional in their approach to writing and knowledge of guidelines.

Weekly updates with writing tips.
Email address:
Price is between four and six cents per word depending on how much work is involved.

Helen has been editing professionally and full-time for over twenty years, first for an Australian company with newspapers, magazines and books in their stable; then for an Australia-wide newspaper; and finally for Ellora’s Cave from 2006 until October 2011.
She is now a freelance editor of both fiction, and non-fiction, using US English or Australian English.

Q: What motivated you to get involved in the romance industry?
A: I have always loved reading romance. After years of editing often boring documents, to be paid to read romance novels was a dream come true.

Q: What's one important thing you've learned about the romance industry?
A: If you want to succeed in romance writing you have to treat it professionally, as a business. Your facts and choreography must be accurate, just as your spelling and grammar should be. Several years ago in Australia a fiction book won a bunch of awards...until some readers realized that the two countries where the heroine supposedly walked across the border from one to the other do not share a border. Do your research and get it right. And yes, the awards were taken away from the book and the author and publishing house were castigated for their unprofessionalism.

Q: What does a freelance editor do?
A: That depends on each editor. A freelancer can choose how much input she’s prepared to give. I do not rewrite anything, nor do I go researching your book for you. I will indicate where your spelling, grammar, POV etc are wrong, telling you what CMOS/common practice would use, and/or with suggestions to fix your problems. I’ll suggest you check historical and geographical facts if they seem inaccurate or messy to me. I’ll point out where I think there are plot holes and loose threads. But it is the author’s choice whether or not they accept my suggestions. This is very different from publishing houses which have strict rules to be followed and where the author is often bound by her contract to follow house style.

If your book is being written for a specific publisher, I’ll check you’re following their submission guidelines, formatting and style.

Q: Tell us what type of client you are looking for. How important is it for a writer to have a firm grasp of grammar/industry guidelines before approaching you?
A: Books should have been proofread by a critique partner with a good eye for grammar before being sent to me. Most publishing houses will not read a book with more than a very few errors in the first ten pages. If your opening chapter is littered with typos and grammatical errors what you have produced is a first draft. That is an excellent beginning but you aren’t ready for an editor yet. First get it proofread and critiqued. Then, when it’s cleaned up, submit it for editing.

As an author, you are paying for professional editing. To get the best value for your money send in as clean a book as you can so the editor can concentrate on polishing it, not be distracted by the heroine whose eye color and hair color change mid-book, and a hero who drives a different car in every chapter – unless he’s a race car driver of course.

Q: What do you expect from a prospective client?
A: A professional attitude to producing the best book she can. We can work together to achieve this.

Q: What can a client expect from you?
A: Sound advice on what a publisher will and will not accept. There are publishers that stop reading a submission if they find even one single error! A thorough grasp of CMOS – even those silly, confusing rules other people hate. Patience and a listening ear. I know this is your baby and you love her dearly. I’m not going to change your voice, just polish her up to look pretty.

Q: What type of ebook reader do you have? Favorite genres?
A: Ebook readers are much more expensive in Australia than the US. Mostly I read on my desktop and laptop.

Re genres, I love all types of romance, historicals, mysteries, pretty much anything from the ultra-sweet to the very kinky.

Q: What are your guidelines for someone requesting your services?
A: This is a business relationship, it’s not personal. I will offer advice that is soundly grounded in what is expected by publishing houses and which will help you sell your book. You pay me. It’s up to you whether you accept my advice or not.

Having said that, may I reiterate that the book should be carefully proofread and critiqued before you send it to me.

Please add anything else you feel is important.
Fiction writing is a tough business world. Readers are picky and want a good book. That is, they want a clean manuscript, and a solid story without plot holes and inconsistencies. If it’s an erotic romance they want hot sex and a genuine connection between the characters too. If you give them that they will be faithful and come back and buy all your books, and tell their friends about how wonderful your books are.


Helen Woodall: Freelance Editing said...

Thanks for interviewing me Marianne. If anyone has any questions I'm happy to answer them

Jacquie Rogers said...

Other than grammatical and syntax errors, what are the most common problems you see? And how quickly can you detect an amateur writer? What tips you off?

Helen Woodall: Freelance Editing said...

Hi Jacquie,
One of the most common problems is POV shifts. The paragraph begins in the point of view of one character and drifts into the POV of another character, detailing things the original person doesn't know, or can't see, or wouldn't say.
Almost no one stands in front of a mirror and thinks, "Look at my long, shiny, golden ringlets". Yet many beginning writers use that sort of scenario to describe their heroine/hero.
Another tip-off is a stunningly good first chapter, which has obviously been polished to enter competitions etc, then a mediocre rest of the book. You need to polish everything.

Paris said...

Just wanted to pop in and say hello and thank you for making my very first experience with an editor so rewarding. You were truly a joy to work with!

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

Another former editee of Helen's popping in to say hello and adding my recommendation. Helen's editing skills played a big part in getting me started in this business.

Adele Dubois said...

A good editor is worth her weight in gold. I wish you great success with your freelance editing service, Helen.


Amber Skyze said...

Hi Helen! Popping in to say thank you for all you've done over the years. I'm truly blessed to have had you as an editor when I was starting out. I miss you and will likely be contacting you for some self-publishing work. :)

Cara Marsi said...

Helen, I really enjoyed your interview. Very insightful. I agree with Adele that a good editor is worth her weight in gold.

Regina Carlysle said...

Hi Helen! Popping in to wish you the best of luck with the editing service. A writer is in good hands with you and I loved working with you.

Ashlyn Chase said...

Helen, I miss you!!!

You "got me" and appreciated my off-the-wall humor. I may well hire you in the future and will recommend you to friends looking for a good editor who allows them to keep their voice.

So far I've shied away from self-publishing because I know I need the expertise of a professional editor and can't afford a pricey one. (Any discount for former clients?)

Liz said...

this is a GREAT post, thanks Helen! I had a close call with a "larger publisher" last month--got a request for a full and a 24 hour turnaround...Rejection. The editor there was honest about and said that she didn't recommend an R&R mainly because the story was great but there was as strong female antagonist they couldn't "get past". But she knew changing it or taking it out would require a massive restructuring of the whole story. She encouraged me to send it elsewhere, I have and it has been picked up.
She then said for me to sub anything else directly to her as she liked my style. I'm wondering how seriously to take this...
thanks again for all your time and great advice (admiring my thick, chestnut ringlets as we speak)

Katalina Leon said...

Hi Helen! You were my first editor and I will always love you for being gentle yet very professional.
I hope we cross paths again.

Marianne Stephens said...

It's great having you here today! You've given so much information and I'm proud to say "I've been edited by Helen Woodall"!

jean hart stewart said...

Hi, Helen!! Another of your grateful recipients of your editing skills. I count it a privilege and asset to have been edited by you when I started being pubbed. Lots of luck...Jean

Molly Daniels said...

Hi Helen:) I've read many of the books edited by you! Great info to pass on to aspiring writers!

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

I'm here to say hello to Helen, my very first editor. You are a wonder. I've missed you and I will be forever grateful for your help and support.
Writers - you cannot go wrong with Helen.

Sandy said...

What great praise, Helen. I'll keep you in mind in case I decide to self-publish.

Cathleen Ross said...

Hi Helen
I did an ARRA panel with you some years ago so popping in to say hi. Great interview with good tips.
Cathleen Ross

anny cook said...

Howdy, Helen! You know, I sure miss you! You've been a wonder and offered me sound advice many times. I've never gone wrong when I listened... :-)

Helen Woodall: Freelance Editing said...

Hello to so many people I've worked with in the past. It's great to see you all again.
Liz: different publishers are looking for different things. If an editor tells you to sub directly to her instead of the slush pile that's a huge compliment. Read the house style rules carefully and if you have a book that fits, polish it up all shiny and nice, then send it in.
Good luck to all of you.

Nina Pierce said...

Another former editee of Helen's waving "hello". Wishing you all the best in your new venture!

Donna Coe-Velleman said...

Thanks Marianne for bringing Helen to our attention. I'm not quite there yet in my ms but it's always good to have that type of info on hand.

Amarinda Jones said...

I worked with you at EC and I work with you now. You're still the best editor...comma splice

Helen Woodall: Freelance Editing said...

Thank you to those who have visited since last I replied. Happy writing to all of you.

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