Interview: Victoria Mixon, Independent Editor

What are your views on the rise of the indie author and its effect on the role of editors?
I began indie editing six years ago because I saw the need on the horizon: if people are going to become professional self-publishers (and a profession is what it is), they need professional guidance them in learning how to do this work.

I’ve done extremely well as an editor. It’s been a very exciting time to be in the industry. Last year was a boom year.

We indie editors have spent many years proving ourselves. When I began, the advice to writers from a then-popular online agent was, “You don’t need an editor.” This was followed over the years by other agents with the advice, “Get your book edited, but don’t tell us.” Then last year a top online agent eventually said, “If you’ve had your book independently edited, tell us in your query.”

Finally–validation of our work from the voices that aspiring writers listen to!

However, I get more queries than ever from aspiring writers who have either paid outrageous sums to famous indie editors for simple feedback that you can pick up on the blogophere or paid bottom-of-the-barrel rates to false ‘copy-editors’ who have actually added grammatical and punctuation errors to their manuscripts. They show me the emails and the errors. They would make you weep.

Now, more than ever, it is essential for aspiring writers to do their due diligence and hire only those indie editors who can prove their skills. Better not to spend your money at all than to waste what little you have on a charlatan.

How challenging it is to go into a developmental edit with an indie new to the editing experience?

It depends entirely upon the writer.

With you, for example: you were so incredibly dedicated to the craft, to your characters, to your fictional world, to the stories that you wanted to create, that you and I had one of the best times I’ve ever had as an editor, working on your novel together–the perfect combination of joy in the work and serious commitment!

I always begin with a personal relationship with the writer. I used to respond to every single query, asking the writer about themself and their goals for their story. Then I began getting so many queries that I put a notice on my Editing page asking querents to please check out my blog first and let me know in their query why they think I’d be the best editor for their work. I have years of writing advice on my blog and advice column. If that’s the kind of in-depth work you want to do, then let’s do it.

Once the writer and I have a personal relationship, they begin to trust me, and with trust they’re willing to listen to me as I help them design their stories. And that’s when the real work begins. That’s when we can take writing of great promise and turn it into a great fiction.

Are indies more impatient than those on the traditional path?

I think so. I have many clients who very, very much wanted to go the traditional route. They’re willing to take a great deal of time to make their novels the best they can possibly be before trying to sell them, because they know that agents reject most work. So they know that that bar of quality is there. They know they have to be good enough to get over it.

Most self-publishers choose the other route because they don’t want to invest the time it takes to get an agent and then wait through the one- or two-year cycle of traditional publishing. And this is a perfectly valid concern. . .assuming that they have invested the time and money to learn their craft. Spending ten or twenty or thirty years and significant financial outlay on your craft only to be held up by a wait of four or five years because those on the publishing end aren’t paying attention is pretty insulting professionally.

And, unfortunately, the gates of traditionally publishing are closing more every day to new writers. Even good novels are being rejected if they don’t come with famous names or sophisticated marketing plans. So that traditional bar of quality is losing its effectiveness. If you reject even those who are good enough to get over the bar, aspiring writers will stop trying to get over it.

On top of this, the bar itself has lowered as traditional publishers have stopped editing, so those famous enough or with sophisticated-enough marketing plans are being traditionally published without their fiction being professionally editing. Aspiring writers read it and say to themselves, “I can do better than that!”

Of course they can. If they learn the craft. Any of us can. If we learn the craft.

So take your time.

If you want to be a writer, learn how to write.

How has traditional publishing changed from an editor’s perspective?

You mean aside from Black Wednesday in December 2008, when many of the top publishers in New York laid off a bunch of their most experienced editors all at once?

That was a turning-point: publishers ruthlessly dismissed their responsibility for the quality of their product in order to try desperately to maintain their enormous profits from it. They turned a long-respected industry devoted to the most wonderful art in the world into a money-churning financial grind.

And there has been no going back. Now very young editors are hired fresh out of college with their English Degrees clutched in their eager little hands and set to work—not editing—but learning the business of acquisitions and ruthless negotiation. They’re paid ridiculously low wages to live in two of the most expensive cities in the world, London and New York. And if they truly love fiction (as English Majors tend to), they’re forced to edit on their own time evenings and weekends.

Has editor turnover reached an all-time high among the traditional publishers? It certainly has.

Over the past six years, this loss of editing and author-editor-publisher loyalty has forced writers to go to, first, their agents for editorial help and then to professional indie editors. So Black Wednesday turned out to be good business for me, although incredibly disheartening for friends who were at the time publishing authors and expected their publishers to honor the responsibility to edit.

It’s reported now that traditional midlist author earnings—terrifyingly small to begin with—have dropped 25% in the past five years. The traditional industry is clearly imploding under the weight of its own greed. I used to be cautious about making such sweeping statements, but after six years of following the industry and listening to insiders I respect, I can say it now.

So genre writers are turning to self-publishing. This is a good thing: it puts control over a writer’s career back into the hands of the writer. However, many self-publishers making a living at the moment are much better at marketing than they are at creating great fiction. It’s excellent that certain savvy marketers have taught themselves how to make a good living this way. But they don’t always know fiction, so they don’t budget much for indie editing—barely enough to hire a competent copy-editor to fix their grammatical and punctuation errors. They don’t usually budget for developmental editing—they don’t necessarily know that there’s anything to learn. Certainly they don’t budget for line editing, which can be expensive and which marks the difference between a great story memorably-told and a great story told about as well as any other story.

The traditional industry, for all the havoc they’re wreaking, are still pushing us as writers toward a fabulous literary renaissance. . .just not to their own profit.

How can indie authors and editors choose the right partner?

You mean like you and me? 🙂

Indie authors have budgets to work within. This is a reality. Most indie authors don’t make much. And proper editing is expensive. It’s easier to believe that we can simply love our novels into professional quality (and look to marketing for the validation of sales) than it is to do the long, hard work of either unpaid (or costly) apprenticeship to this craft or earning enough money to hire a really great editor who already has.

I believe the self-publishing industry will continue to move toward making itself increasingly viable to those professionals who have always been essential to the publishing industry: authors, editors, cover artists, book designers, marketers, and promoters. It takes a village to create an industry.

Right now many self-publishers are struggling to do it all alone. It is an insane amount of work, and it’s not the best use of each individual’s natural skills and inclinations.

So I think the next step will be small cooperatives: one or more each of highly-skilled authors, editors, cover artists, book designers, marketers, and promoters banding together to create higher-quality indie fiction and sell it more effectively.

How can we find each other?

Networking.

A lot of people find me by simply searching online for “independent editor.” I have excellent SEO. Others find me through recommendations on the blogs of my friends in the online writing community. And some find me through my most popular blog posts, which still circulate the blogosphere. So this is how I get clients: I’ve put a lot of my expertise out there and made it available to anyone looking for it.

On the other end, indie authors must satisfy themselves that the editors they find are truly qualified. This means researching the editors’ freely-offered expertise—if they have blogs—and cheap proof of expertise—if they’ve published books on writing. It means looking for great testimonials and credentials and researching those writers.

It means treating the relationship as a professional partnership. You’re creating something worth your readers’ money. This is a profession.

And are indies more or less motivated than other authors?

I wouldn’t say that they’re more or less motivated as a group.

I would say that aspiring writers still seeking traditional publishing will drop out of the race pretty quickly without a passionate lifelong dedication to craft, when it turns out that mass-querying hundreds of agents with a manuscript anything less than both topical and stellar does not garner a contract. So aspiring writers interested in traditional publishing are often extremely hard workers.

Meanwhile, aspiring writers who go indie often work outrageously long hours learning and implementing the marketing necessary to make their novels visible to readers, even when marketing is not their strength and the effort takes time away from their craft. If they don’t put this huge work into marketing, no matter how good their work is it tends to be invisible in the crowd.

Right now, it’s those who are working incredibly long hours and throwing their whole hearts into earning a living as authors who are getting there. It’s been this way for as long as I’ve been an indie editor.

The indie industry is still very young. We have a long way to go.

What’s thrilling is that we’re getting there!

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Author: Stuart Wakefield

I want to live in a world where toys are free, washing machines never break down, and everybody gets a happy ending. As an author, I’ve written a Kindle best seller, been nominated for the Polari First Book Prize and People’s Book Prize, and experienced the all-consuming fear of reading my work at London’s Southbank Centre. When I’m not writing, you can find me working with other authors as a Developmental Editor.

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