An Interview with Editor Robb Grindstaff

Thank you for sharing with us Robb. I, for one, look forward to working with you again someday.

Your Name:
Robb Grindstaff

Your contact information:
Robb’s website

Where do you live?
Arizona, USA

How long have you been an editor?
Besides 30+ years in the newspaper business and journalism, I have been editing books for five years now.

What made you decide to be an editor?
I’ve always been a writer. I went into journalism and the newspaper business as a career, but I continued writing fiction as my hobby/passion. About ten years ago, I became very serious about writing fiction, so I began reading and studying everything I could get my hands on. As I became more involved with in-person writers’ groups and online writer communities, I began critiquing and editing other writers. I found I had a knack for it. It combined my love of writing fiction, the study and research I had been doing on the craft of fiction, and my years in the newspaper world.
I edited a few books for friends for free. They began referring other writers to me, so I started a part-time business editing book manuscripts. Between a full-time job, a family, and my own writing, spare time was at a premium, but I found time to edit a few books a year. This continued to grow.
I left the newspaper business (or perhaps it left me) in 2010, so I faced a decision. Do I look for a new job in newspapers or some related field? Newspaper were (and still are) dying. I had a pretty nice side business editing, and I wanted to spend even more time pursuing my own writing goals. So we decided to give it a try. I officially became a full-time book editor and fiction writer in 2010, and for nearly three years now, editing has managed to support my writing habit.

Why should an author have their work professionally edited?
There are lots of different reasons, but the bottom line is professionalism and competition for readers.
If you’re looking to query agents, you should be aware that the average agent receives thousands of query letters every year, and may only take on one or two new authors. The competition to stand out among the slushpile is fierce. You need a great query letter to get the agent’s attention. If you’re fortunate enough to get that attention through an agent requesting your manuscript, it needs to be stellar to stand out among the hundreds of manuscripts the agent may look at. It needs to be a compelling story from the first sentence. It needs to have compelling characters from the first page. The writing needs to be smooth, clear, and with a unique and engaging narrative voice. And it needs to be as near-perfect mechanically as possible. Imagine getting through the thousands of query letters, getting your manuscript in front of an agent, and the agent tosses it aside on the first page because of a grammar error.
Instead of seeking an agent, you might go direct to small press publishers, but they are just as picky, if not even pickier, than agents.
On the other hand, if you’re planning to self-publish, you don’t have to go through all those hoops and gatekeepers to get the big publishing deal. You only have to please the readers, right? Especially those who review books on Amazon and other sites.
The problem here is that the competition just went up by a factor of 100 or more. Instead of competing against thousands, or tens of thousands, of query letters, you compete against millions of books on Amazon, Barnes and, Smashwords, and many other online booksellers. Promotion is obviously a key part of this, but the biggest marketing factor for any book is word-of-mouth from one reader to the next. If your story falters or the prose isn’t solid, the word-of-mouth you’ll get won’t drives sales. It will kill sales. It will generate one- and two-star reviews on Amazon. And it will kill sales of your next book before you’ve even written it.
Friends and family will tell you they love your book no matter what. A good writers’ critique group can point out a lot of areas where the story and writing can be improved, and you’ll get a more objective, honest appraisal. A professional editor can help take your book, and your writing for everything you write in the future, to the next level.

What is the most difficult part of editing someone’s work?
This differs from one writer to the next, but overall, one of the hardest parts of editing is to help a writer improve her writing without changing the her unique voice. I always want to keep the writing in the writer’s words. I don’t rewrite books for clients. I point out strengths, weaknesses, and I give suggestions for how to improve scenes or characters or plots, and I give very specific recommendations for improving prose such as sentence structure and word choice. But it’s always the writer’s choice to accept or reject a suggestion, or to rewrite something in her own words to accomplish the same goal. I try to get into the writer’s voice, cadence, and word choice, and then make edits and suggestions that stay in the voice.
The absolute hardest part of editing is when the writer hasn’t yet found her voice. Voice can’t be edited into the writing. Heavy-handed editing can edit the voice out of a story, but an editor can’t create voice where none exists.

If you are also an author, who edits your work?
I hired a professional editor on my first novel. He is a published author and a professor of literature and creative writing at a major university. No, he didn’t come cheap. But I got a great deal – he provided me with a master’s degree lesson in how to craft quality fiction. I’m not mentioning his name because I don’t believe he is taking on any new clients at this time. But he was phenomenal.
For my second novel and for most short stories I’ve written, I’ve hired other editors or worked out trades with other editors (I edited their work, they edited mine). I also use and recommend a group of valued and trusted ‘beta readers.’ Beta readers are other writers and very well-read non-writers who will read and critique my manuscripts and give me brutally honest, direct feedback.

What would you like authors who think they can edit their own work to know?
“A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” Does a neurosurgeon operate on his own brain? The bottom line for editing is to have an outside, objective professional provide you with feedback. No writer, me included, can see the words on the page objectively. I know what I intended to write, and so that is what my brain will see when I read my own work. I know what image is inside my head and I crafted words that I believe transmit that image to readers. But how can I know if it works or fails unless someone else reads it and tells me, and how can I find out how to do it better unless I’m working with someone who has the skills to help?

Do you offer any other services authors might be interested in? (Please elaborate as much as you like)
I offer three different types of edits. These are pretty standard among editors, but different editors in different parts of the country will use different terminology, or may use terms interchangeably. So always be sure to get a definition of terms when dealing with an editor just to make sure you understand what you’re getting.
— Analysis/critique (sometimes called a manuscript assessment or review). With an analysis/critique, I’ll read the full manuscript a couple of times, at least, and then write an overview report that highlights strengths and weaknesses. An analysis/critique looks primarily at ‘story’ issues such as plot, narrative arc, characterization, use of setting and description, and many other issues related to the overall story.
— Line edit (sometimes called a heavy copy edit). With a line edit, I read through the full manuscript and, with ‘track changes’ mode turned on in Microsoft Word, I will make suggestions in the prose to better tell the story, including sentence structure, word choice, reducing repetition, smoother dialogue and narrative, and many other writing issues. If you look at a novel as art and craft, the art is the story, and the craft is the writing. An analysis/critique looks primarily at the story, and a line edit looks primarily at the writing. There is some overlap between these two, as they cannot be completely separated, but each type of edit has a different primary focus.
— Proofread (sometimes called a copy edit or a light copy edit). A proofread is the final step in the process, once you’re completely happy with the story and the writing. Proofreading is designed to catch the vast majority of errors: punctuation, spelling, typos, grammar, formatting flaws, etc. No editor can ever guarantee 100 percent perfection, but the goal is to make it as technically and mechanically clean as humanly possible.
— I will also work with writers to improve query letters, synopses, and blurbs. I do work with non-fiction writers as well, which often includes preparing a book proposal for agents and publishers.

Do you have a website/blog you would like to share?
Robb’s website
Also, my ‘Ask the Editor’ blog provides writing tips and techniques, and answers questions from writers at: ask the editor

Is there anything else you would like my readers to know?
A few tips when hiring an editor:
— Always get references you know you can trust. Do you know writers who have used him and recommend him? Does the editor have clients you can speak with? Does he have a track record that includes published authors? If so, you can look at some of their books to see the quality for yourself. You’re likely to be paying at least half, or perhaps the full amount, in advance, so you want to know the editor can be fully trusted.
— Ask for a free, no-obligation sample edit of at least a few pages. Most editors will provide this. This sample edit will let you see how the editor works.
— Is the editor a good ‘fit’ for you and your book? Does the editor work frequently with your genre? If you write science-fiction, I’m probably not your best choice of editors.
— Give your editor time. If you’ve spent months, maybe years, writing your manuscript, don’t ask an editor if he can edit your book tomorrow or next week. It takes time to do it right. And if your editor is in demand, he may be booked up with clients weeks or months in advance.
— Pricing and budget. Costs for editing are all over the map. It depends on what type of editing you need, how much editing is involved, the rates an editor charges, and the length of the manuscript. To be on the safe side, budget between 1-2 cents per word.

Robb Grindstaff’s novel HANNAH’S VOICE launches January 15, 2013, with Evolved Publishing. You can find his short story collection SONORAN DREAMS on Amazon.


About creationsbycrouch

Author of bilingual children's books and artist.
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