This month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Klein, freelance editor extraordinaire. Julie and I met in 2015 through the Northwest Editors Guild when I was searching for an editor for my middle-grade novel, THE CONTENDERS. I emailed three editors that I found through the guild and received sample edits and estimates from two out of three (the third did not do sample edits). Julie’s meticulous sample edit of four pages (1,000 words) of my manuscript blew me away! Her fees were on par with my budget so I hired her right off. Not only did she help me take my novel to a higher level, she also laid out the paperback for print-on-demand publication. In 2018, I hired Julie again—this time to line-edit my suspense novel—and again, she helped me make my manuscript more clear and engaging. It’s my distinct pleasure to share with you how Julie got started in editing, where her eagle-eyed skills come from, and what she recommends to writers looking for editorial help.
Peg: When and how did you know you wanted to be an editor?
Julie: It was a question of necessity. Shortly after the 2008 Great Recession began, there were threats of budget cutbacks at the federal agency where I worked. No one knew who might be laid off, so I started looking around at what else I could do that might help me land on my feet if I suddenly became unemployed.
Back before everyone had their own computer, I ran a typing and word processing service. Part of my process was to edit as I worked; I have a knack for grammar, punctuation, and spelling, so it was a value-added kind of thing. It seemed like something I could build on, a natural transition from “correcting” to full-on editing.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that the days of simply hanging out a shingle were gone. I needed credentials! So I enrolled in the University of Washington Certificate in Editing program. I quickly learned that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Editing is so much more than correcting, and there are so many aspects to the field. I really had no idea.
P: When was the first time you edited a piece of writing that wasn’t your own? What was it like?
J: The last quarter of the certificate program included a practicum. Part of the process was learning how to engage with a real person for whom you are doing the work. My day job at the time was working in a probation office. An officer I worked with, whom I knew had written papers on leadership, agreed to let me edit one of her pieces. Bless her heart! She had no idea what she was in for.
I worked on that piece extensively, marking it up with Track Changes in Microsoft Word. It was a good paper and I thought I was making it better by cleaning up repetitions, making her sentences more concise, the whole kit and kaboodle. The next day, she walked into my office and said, “I just wanted to see if you had maybe cut off your arm, because you bled all over my paper!”
It was quite a lesson in managing expectations and being judicious in offering feedback. Every writer pours their heart and soul into their work, and they want to hear what’s good before they will listen to how it can be better.
P: That’s a great story and it’s so true. Every writer wants to hear what’s good before they hear what needs to change. How did you balance being a freelance editor while working full time?
J: Thankfully, I never did get laid off from my job! I started freelancing as soon as I finished the certificate program, and for six years, edited part time in the evenings and weekends. I was learning so much, getting little jobs here and there, even landing some manuscripts—one of which was THE CONTENDERS! It’s still one of the projects I’m most proud of, too. The other big win was making a connection with a lesbian author who writes prolifically. My first few projects with her were through a small press, but when she left to strike out on her own, she took me with her. I’ve worked on a total of five books of hers. Last summer I transitioned to being a full-time editor.
J: It seems every job I’ve ever had has involved editing and writing in some way. First was the typing and word processing service. Years later, I ran a small business with over 40 employees. Because it was a mobile service in five different cities, employee meetings were infrequent. So I wrote a monthly newsletter to pass along news of the company, policy changes, employee recognition. I also wrote and edited our office procedures manual. Later, when I worked in the probation office, I developed a reputation as the person to go to for grammar, punctuation, and spelling, even more so after I completed the certificate program.
P: What kind of writing do you most enjoy editing?
J: Anything with a solid premise, fiction or nonfiction. I enjoy helping writers strengthen their voice and clarify their thoughts.
P: You offer different kinds of editing for different stages of the writing process: manuscript evaluation, line editing, copy editing, proofreading. How can a writer discover which stage their manuscript is at and how can they best choose the type of editing they most need?
J: Great question! Someone who has written a manuscript in isolation—meaning no feedback other than from family members, no interaction with a writers’ group, no studying of craft—is probably not ready for “just proofreading.” I like to schedule a 20- to 30-minute conversation with the writer to find out more about their story and their process. If they are presenting something right out of the box, I’ll often recommend a manuscript evaluation to provide feedback about plot, character development, pacing, craft issues, and so on. Some writers may need more in-depth developmental help or a writing coach. I also often suggest reading more books on storytelling and writing craft (see Additional Assets on my website).
Once the writer has worked through the manuscript, the next step is content or line editing. This phase of editing addresses syntax, transitions, wordiness, redundancy, and word choice. Depending on the skill level of the writer, a lighter copyedit may suffice. At this point, I’ll ask to see the manuscript and provide a sample edit before I make a proposal.
P: What is the biggest mistake most writers make?
J: The biggest mistake a writer makes is being in too much of a hurry.
It’s a heady experience to finish a manuscript! Many writers want to believe that their story is perfect just as it is, ready for an agent or self-publishing, but it’s a rare person who spills gold from their pen in the first draft. A writer who puts out a first draft is heading for heartache, either in the form of rejection letters or responses from readers, who can be brutal in their criticism.
Getting a book ready to send out in the world is a process, as you know. At the ground level, I recommend working with critique partners so you can develop the craft of writing. As you learn craft and develop your writing skills, apply what you’ve learned as you revise your manuscript.
Revise it again. And again. And again, until you can’t look at it anymore. Then put it away for a while and work on something else. When you’ve had a break, pick it up again. Look at it with fresh eyes. Keep revising and rewriting. This stage of the process would be a good time to read and study Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.
After you’ve worked through several drafts, look for at least three beta readers. Some people offer beta reading for free; others charge. Keep in mind that you may be asked to read for them in return.
So far your main investment has been time: time spent writing and revising, time spent working with your critique group, time spent finding beta readers and waiting for their feedback. Now it’s time to find a professional editor.
P: Looking back, what’s the biggest mistake or lesson you learned in your early years of editing?
J: Every project teaches me something, but the first lesson—editing the officer’s paper—was probably the most valuable.
P: What kinds of books do you like to read for pleasure?
J: It might be easier to say what I don’t read! I tend most toward literary fiction, historical fiction, mysteries, history, biographies, memoirs—anything that’s well written and keeps me engaged. Most recently I read Educated by Tara Westover. Now, I’m reading Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French.
P: You’re currently working on a book based on your mother’s memories of her time in England. Can you tell us more about it?
J: I used to love hearing my mother tell stories about living in England. Some years ago, when my mother was still living, I asked her to write them down for me. She did, I typed them up, boxed up her writing and photos after she passed, and didn’t think about it again until I got settled into my new home in Albuquerque.
Now, I’m not the kind of person who can look at a blank canvas and see what needs to be painted on it. In other words, I don’t really know how to make up a story. But I knew I had my mother’s manuscript, and I thought I might be able to do something with it. It helped that she had an interesting life: she was born in England right at the end of World War I, she lived through the Depression and World War II, and she married five times in an age when women just didn’t do that.
During a 6-week course in writing memoir and memoir-based fiction, I wrote a few pieces based loosely on her stories, and now I’m working on a short story combining those pieces that I plan to submit for a writing contest.
P: That’s great that you’re putting your mother’s stories into a short story. I can’t wait to read it someday. What’s it like being the writer instead of the editor?
J: Being a writer instead of an editor is giving me an entirely new perspective. I’m going through the process that my clients go through: writing, getting feedback, rewriting, submitting, and probably getting rejected. If I don’t make the cut for the contest, that will give me even more empathy for the writer’s process—which I hope will make me a better editor.
P: I know it will. Thank you so much, Julie, for taking the time to answer my questions, and for being open and honest with your experiences as an editor. I appreciate all your great tips and advice. Looking forward to working with you again in the future!
Julie Klein offers a range of editorial services: manuscript evaluation, substantive editing, content and line editing, copyediting, proofreading, and formatting for submission to agents or publishers. Whether you write fiction, memoir, creative nonfiction, or family history, you deserve to work with a skilled and professional editor who understands what you need on your journey to publication. To learn more about Julie and her fantastic services, visit her site and follow her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Peg Cheng is the author of The Contenders, a middle-grade novel that asks, can enemies become friends? She is currently querying a novel that is a re-imagining of the Snow White fairy tale set in 1980s Seattle. Peg is also the creator of Fear & Writing, a workshop for procrastinating writers from all walks of life.