Story and interview by International Bestselling Mystery Author, C. T. Mitchell. Re-printed here with permission.
“The holder of the red pen is in charge” – an anonymous editor
The red pen gives me anxiety. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over it but I’m trying to reduce its usage in my work or should that be ‘on my work’. You see how paranoid I’ve become.
When I first started writing in 2015 I had no relationship with red pens. Well not since I was twelve when I last used a red colouring pencil to complete a Christmas competition for the local newspaper. I didn’t win and maybe this is when my hatred for the red pen began. (note to therapist)
My first book, Revenge, was published without an editor. As a B+ English student, I was convinced that my quick read-through of my ‘masterpiece’ would be sufficient to flesh out any errors.
Boy was I wrong.
While the work got thousands of downloads, the grammar detectives caned me with a flood of one star reviews!
Initially I put on my tough ‘I come from real estate’ face and brushed the criticism off with disdain. But as the bad reviews piled up on my Amazon page publicly berating me with seemed delight, I realised I should have used and editor.
I never made that mistake again.
An editor’s craft still marvels me. I often wonder how they became so good at their work. Were they big readers as children? Did they go to editing school and get a degree in mastering the usage of the red pen?
The questions have baffled me for years, so I recently sat down with renowned Australian editor, Carolyn Martinez to ask her what makes an editor tick. This is what she had to say.
Martinez has a European flare. Where are you from?
Redcliffe. My hubby came with the Spanish surname. (hmmm no red pen opportunities there)
As a child did you did you read a lot? Were you referred to as a book nerd/worm?
Every night. Particular favourites were the Trixie Beldon and Nancy Drew mystery series.
Did your parents influence your reading? Were they big readers?
Dad read to me every night when I was little and he made it great fun.
How did you go at English at school? Got through, above-average or smashed it?
In grade 8 we had to write a story as though we were affected by the Hiroshima bomb. Mine was read throughout the school as an exemplar. I made my main character a teenage girl who was one of the few survivors and told her story in the immediate aftermath, and then ten years later. Funny story, in grade 4 Dad said I could have $5 for every High Distinction I got on my report card. I got 9. He paid up, but never offered again.
Where to after school? Work or Uni? If so what did you study?
My parents didn’t believe in tertiary education, they steered me into a safe government secretarial job. I studied senior at night school and then got my degrees studying after work. Ironically, Dad was proud as punch sitting in the audience at QUT for my first graduation ceremony.
What jobs did you do before becoming an editor?
Administration assistant, Administration Supervisor, and Project Manager.
Were you ever an editor for a company before you started your editing business?
In 2000 my older sister died. She was only 36. I realised if we really want to do something we shouldn’t wait – we might not have forever. In 2002 I left my safe government job and bought a local community newspaper.
Can you remember your first client as a business owner? How was that experience?
That’s a surprisingly good question to ask. The Manager at the local Ford dealership was a hard nut. I went in and he bought our premium advertising for a year – inside colour spread. It reinforced that I’d made the right decision leaving my safe job. I believed in the importance of quality news reporting to the community and my advertising clients supported that.
What style of editor are you? Proofreader, structural…?
I work writers hard. I expect news articles and books to be exemplary. The Hawkeye brand stands for a keen eye on detail.
What customers do you mostly have? Authors, journalists, magazine writers?
Hawkeye was a newspaper publisher, but now we’re a book publisher. We’re currently open for submissions, particularly on the lookout for topical non-fiction, series YA, and potential bestselling women’s, crime, or romance.
When you receive an author’s work can you tell if the book will be a hit?
Yes, on the proviso that the author continues to work with us after the book’s release. Books don’t sell themselves. Public relations is just as time-consuming as writing a book. Authors who enjoy public relationships have better book sales success.
Have you ever refused to work with a client? Why?
Regularly. They haven’t done their groundwork and their writing isn’t ready for publication. All books that come our way need some work – all our authors go through structural edits and line edits prior to publication – but we won’t work on sub-par writing. We have a guide called Winning Short Story Competitions. Even though the title focuses on short story competitions – it’s an essential tool for good writing. All writers submitting to publishing houses should have mastered everything in that guide. Judges L. E. Daniels and C. Sawyer spill on what makes the winners stand out from the vast majority of good writers who enter competitions.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever got about editing?
It always takes longer than you think it will.
What advice would you give a young editor starting out?
Seek out internships with experienced editors to learn about commercial viability.
Finally, you are the creator of the Sydney Hammond Short Story Award. Is there a connection for you? Who is the Award for? What do they win?
It’s in honour of my Dad. He was the best, and the biggest early influence on the person I am today. The winner gets $250 and the front cover design is based on their story. The top 40 stories are published, and all published entries receive a free copy of the book. We also announce Short and Long Listed. Short and Long Listed credits are just as beneficial to a writer’s career as competition wins.
Even though I had wished for opportunities for myself to wield the red pen, I came up short. I guess that’s the beauty of dealing with a professional editor.
If you are in need of professional editing or perhaps you are thinking of launching your own book and need a publisher, contact Carolyn Martinez, Hawkeye Publishing for a chat. You’ll be glad you did.