Employed as a major literary consultancy’s senior book doctor for over 15 years, and teaching creative writing masterclasses for The Guardian newspaper, she has a wealth of editorial skill. Her Nail Your Novel series is highly regarded.It doesn’t stop there. As a best-selling ghost-writer, 4 million of her books have passed through readers’ hands. Her own fiction work—My Memories of a Future Life and Lifeform Three—proves she has a visceral understanding of story.
Settled into a café table on a busy London street, we talk about her views on the rise of the indie author and its effect on the role of editors.
“Self-publishing is a mixed blessing. It’s highly competitive, and not just for authors.
“Lots of people are coming onto the market and setting themselves up as editors with very little, if any, qualifications or experience. They’ll undercut everyone else, usually to get the work, or maybe because they know they can’t justify the rates of an experienced editor. But are they doing a proper job? They may not be. It’s not enough to just be nice and friendly. You have to know what you’re doing.”
During our conversation, we discover that we both worked on the same manuscript: The Village: A Year in Twelve Tales by J.J. Anderson. I completed the developmental edit under the watchful eye of Victoria Mixon, and Roz—in a separate contract—completed the copy edit.
I ask how challenging it is to go into a developmental edit with an indie new to the editing experience.
“I was talking to Victoria about this the other day. An editor should never underestimate how demanding the work is. We have to be very sensitive to the author. It can be exhausting.
“Copy editing is less onerous, actually. It’s easier to set a proper rate and charge by the hour. With developmental editing, you don’t truly know how long a book will take until you see it.”
Are indies more impatient than those on the traditional path?
“They are, although they don’t realise they’re being impatient. If an author hasn’t been through the publishing process before, they have no idea how long the processes take. Some indies contact me for a developmental edit, wanting to publish by the end of the month. They don’t realise they’re likely to get reams of notes that may take them many months to address. One asked me to do a ‘light’ proof read, possibly because they imagine they’ll save time, but there’s no such thing.”
And how has traditional publishing changed from an editor’s perspective?
“I think traditional publishing has lost its focus on developing authors. There’s not as much nurturing. Publishers used to spend a lot on that aspect, but not so much now.
“A few one-stop shops have appeared offering a range of publishing services. Some even claim to be publishing deals. It really is a case of buyer beware and there are few ways for them to judge if the service is worth the money.
And it’s not just indie editors that authors should be wary of.
“We’re going back a few years, but I once worked for a literary consultancy that charged authors £4 per one thousand words for a developmental edit and paid the editor just one third of that. Certainly they needed to cover their costs, because they were finding clients and filtering them, but the rate of pay for the editors wasn’t good.
“Also, some of their editors weren’t sufficiently experienced. If an author had a previous report from that consultancy, I’d always ask to see it. It was appalling to see that some of these editors couldn’t explain craft concepts like ‘show not tell’. And that was from a consultancy. Personally, my first edits with an author are more like in-depth writing tutorials than ‘just’ an edit.”
So how can indie authors and editors choose the right partner?
“As an editor, I’ve learned to pick projects carefully so I’m in tune with the author and not tied to an agent’s or publisher’s agenda. I’m interested in working with authors who are committed to developing their writing.”
And are indies more or less motivated than other authors?
“I tend to find that the authors who attend my Guardian Masterclasses are highly engaged, committed, and willing to be told to be patient. And many are still looking to be traditionally published.
“Some marketers advise indies to focus on getting a lot of books out. That’s certainly a sound model. But there are also indies who are taking their time to produce quality books. They are creating our future publishing legacy. They understand it’s an art and they’re committed to quality and originality. And that’s the beauty of self-publishing because traditional publishing can’t always take a risk, which is a shame because the books that people cherish are the ones that are well crafted and unique.”