In Good Hands
Insight into working with a professional editor.
An interview with Lorraine Fico-White, Senior Editor and Owner of Magnifico Manuscripts. The initial interview took place in 2013, not long after I started to work with Lorraine on my first books. It has been refreshed to the current version below.
MK: What set you on the path to become an editor?
LW: I have always been an avid reader and could easily find errors in punctuation, grammar, and plot/character development. I would take notes and create charts to ensure all issues were resolved in a novel “just for fun.” (Yes, I’m a book nerd!) While reading a book by a local author, I found so many errors that I contacted her. After reviewing my sample edit of her published book, she hired me, and my career as an editor began.
MK: Speaking to budding authors, why should they hire a professional editor rather than attempting it on their own? Don’t traditional publishers have editors?
LW: Agents and publishers are flooded with submissions on a daily basis. If they detect simple punctuation and grammar errors, they will reject a manuscript without reading it. Although traditional publishers have editors, an author needs the submission to be a clean, polished manuscript that will stand out from the rest.
It is almost impossible for authors to proofread their own work without error. Having friends and family edit a book or document is a great way to obtain multiple viewpoints. However, they often are not looking at the writing with an objective eye. A professional editor reviews work objectively without pre-conceived biases or ideas.
MK: Author personalities can be as varied as the genres in which they write. As an editor, do you find working with such a variety of personalities difficult or interesting? How do you work through the challenges?
LW: I enjoy the diversity of my clients. The editing process is detailed and meticulous, so working with various personalities keeps the work interesting and fun. Meeting new people takes me in different directions and broadens my life experiences.
MK: Stubbornness is one of my many charming qualities (smiling), and one which you handle surprisingly well. It can take me a little time to come around to an idea, but you show remarkable patience. Authors aren’t necessarily a patient lot—do you find it difficult, or is it just part of the job?
LW: Because I understand that it is sometimes difficult to hear constructive criticism, I give an author his/her space to think about a revision. Since a book is an extension of an author, I respect an author’s creativity and pride. As in all edits, the ultimate decision to make any changes is with the author.
MK: I’ve discovered that personality is only part of what matters. What else should an author look for in a long-term editor-author relationship? Do you look for certain qualities in an author before committing to work with them long-term?
LW: A strong and effective working relationship between an author and editor is critical to the success of any project. I will not change an author’s voice, style, or story. Instead, I offer an experienced perspective and respect an author’s work and decisions.
I don’t actively look for certain qualities in an author—it becomes evident as the editing progresses whether or not the partnership will be successful for future projects.
MK: What joys do you derive from working with authors?
LW: I enjoy the constant interaction with authors as we work on the edits together. The editing process is intense and tedious, but a sense of humor makes the process fun. I also find it satisfying to help authors improve their work.
I am genuinely excited when a book is published and am proud of an author’s success. Helping whenever I can with marketing and networking, I remain in contact with an author as his/her journey continues. The best part of my job is the friendships I make.
MK: You’re not just an editor of fiction. Tell us something about what else you’ve worked on. Do you find it difficult to move back and forth?
LW: Along with appreciating a diverse clientele, I enjoy editing different types of projects. In addition to fiction books, I’ve edited nonfiction books, memoirs, medical textbooks, children’s books, inspirational journals, and poetry. I also work with several local and national businesses in editing brochures, business correspondence, e-magazines, reports, and textbooks.
A variety of skillsets is needed for different projects—fiction editing requires some creativity, while nonfiction and business editing require discipline. However, all editing is basically the same—a detail-oriented, meticulous approach to eliminate errors and maintain consistency.
MK: I’ve learned through trial and error that a book isn’t ready to send to the editor just because the first draft is complete. What do you see as the most common thing authors forget to do before sending their manuscript to the editor?
LW: Many authors tend to use “being” verbs in their writing (am, is, are, was, and were). Although they are sometimes necessary (and can be used when writing dialogue), many being verbs should be replaced with action verbs to give a sentence energy and to create an active rather than passive voice.
MK: A good editor can proofread a manuscript to make sure there are no grammatical errors. A great editor does so much more. How involved do you become with your editing projects?
LW: I become totally immersed in every editing project I work on. An author and I decide which level of editing is appropriate for the manuscript. Proofreading identifies grammar, punctuation, spelling, and typographical errors, as well as formatting inconsistencies. Basic copyediting includes proofreading, but in addition, it covers content continuity, correct and effective word usage, and clarity of concepts. Heavier editing includes basic copyediting, as well as analyzing character and plot development, narrative flow, shifts in point of view, and organizational structure.
MK: I think an author likes to know what resources editors use. Do you have a specific editing style? Which resources are particularly helpful to your area of editing?
LW: Depending on an author’s genre, I reference a number of style guides including the Chicago Manual of Style, Associated Press Stylebook, and The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
I will also follow a personal or corporate style guide and dictionary, based on requests from an author or corporation.
MK: Even the greatest books, by the greatest authors, can be improved upon. The process would never end if we didn’t end it at some point. How do you know when to let a manuscript go back to the author for publication or submission to the publisher?
LW: For every editing pass made, there will always be something to fix. Usually, the author and I decide together that it’s time to “let it go.” When fewer and fewer errors are found after each editing pass, the mutual decision to stop becomes easier.
MK: You offer a sample edit (which is what hooked me). Will you tell us about that process?
LW: Authors can determine if I am the right editor for them when I edit something familiar—their own writing. It is a tough sell to convince authors that their “baby” can be improved and I’m not the enemy. The money invested in creating a professionally edited book will reap returns for the life of the book. My sample edits usually convince authors that I am working for them—the changes enhance the book and create a professionally-polished product that still reflects their voice and vision.
A free sample edit, which includes editing approximately two pages, helps me determine the level of editing required and establishes a basis for developing a price quote.
MK: Self-Published authors usually can’t set a firm release date until they hear back from an editor, which can be inconvenient. How long can an author expect the editing process to generally take?
LW: The editing process can take two weeks to several months, depending on the size and complexity of the book. Other considerations affecting a release date are the author’s availability to work on revisions, as well as the editor’s workload. With traditional publishers, the time period between editing and the release date is longer.
At Magnifico Manuscripts, we believe editing should be an interactive, collaborative process where writer and editor work as one. We’re dedicated to maintaining your style of writing and focusing on your goals, while assuring your work is polished and precise. You’ll find we work efficiently, provide thorough and detailed comments, and offer cost-effective pricing.
On a personal note . . . Lorraine has been my editor since the beginning of my career in 2012. She has been a wonderful teacher over the years, and I am grateful for her collaboration and tireless efforts on behalf of her authors. She doesn't hold back if she believes a story has flaws or a few changes here and there could improve it. She doesn't tell the author what to do, and instead guides them on their path to becoming a better writer. It is my hope, as a fellow author, that you learn something valuable from this interview.