I thought it might be fun for us all to get to know the editors who help us every week. We'll start with Angela Eschler, our editor extraordinaire from Eschler Editing.
Angela, how did you get into editing? Did it always come naturally to you?
I’ve always loved reading and writing, and I was very fortunate to discover an Editing for Publication class in college the semester before I graduated or I might be on the street begging even now; I had no plans for a career before that point. I guess I just hoped I could find a job where I got paid to use my reading or writing skills. It sounds crazy, but I honestly had never even thought of what editors do or if I could get a job like that. I just wanted to read or write. All of my jobs in college (once I got out of washing dishes for the dorms) were in the writing lab, or as a TA grading papers, or working as a researcher for novelists. My dad kept warning me that I’d never get a real job as an English major, but there was nothing else I ever wanted to do besides read and analyze books and write about them. Even in high school it was my favorite thing to do. In fact, even before high school that’s all I wanted to do when I grew up—read and tell stories. When I was in fourth grade I wrote a novel about a girl from Wales who got kidnapped and time-traveled into ancient Egypt. I knew nothing about either of those places. I just knew I loved the adventure of finding out things about the unknown world. The Chronicles of Narnia, I think, are what put me on the path to being an English major. My parents read those to my siblings and me over and over and then I read them myself a few times. I just knew I was destined to spend my life with books from that point on. After college it was just a matter of finding editing jobs until I was able to finagle my way into book editing.
Do you have any funny editing/author stories you could share?
Many hilarious and unspeakable things happened to me and my coworkers when I worked in- house for a publisher, but I’m not sure they are for public consumption. I guess I can tell one of the more mild and nameless ones: Sometimes authors take rejections very personally when it’s just business—their book doesn’t fit the publisher’s needs, even if we agree their book was a worthy project. One day an author sent in a manuscript about the Deseret Alphabet, which (summarizing history very badly here) was a curious thing early Mormon pioneers came up with for several reasons: so all those foreign converts living together in the valley could learn to speak/write English more easily, to hide secrets from the enemies of the Church, to keep the enclave of Mormonism exclusive from the world, etc. (It had thirty-eight characters that matched the basic number of sounds in the English language.) Anyway, an author sent in a little book on the topic, and while it is a very interesting subject, it’s an extremely niche topic and the publisher didn’t think we could sell enough copies of the book to make up for production costs. The author received a rejection to this effect, and I guess was either really mad about it, or was playing a prank on us, but they replied to the rejection with a threat—written in the Deseret Alphabet. Though we were all working insane hours and had deadlines coming out our ears, we couldn’t let the thing go. So we went to the effort to find an expert in the Deseret Alphabet and had the letter interpreted and everything. I don’t even remember what the threat said—something about ruing the day we’d rejected the manuscript probably (that’s usually what authors said when we got responses to rejections). But it was a pretty funny way to get revenge, as I’m sure the budget hours we didn’t spend producing the book went into trying to translate the threat! (If the publisher is reading this, I’m sure we followed up on this during our lunch breaks…)
You also write books. Can you tell us about your projects and what you're currently working on now?
So far I’ve written nonfiction gift books, mostly for the women’s inspirational category for the LDS market. I did write a nonfiction book on building a “green” home several years ago (sort of a group project), but it was being typeset right when the economy crashed and many publishers stopped all production or went out of business at that time. So it never made it to production. My current books on the market are Love Letters of Joseph and Emma, and Christ’s Gifts to Women. Both are coffee table art books with inspirational prose. The talented Heather Moore is my co-author on Christ’s Gifts to Women, and you can listen to us talking about the project on various sites. Click here to watch the video. In it we look at the women who were friends and associates of Christ during the Meridian of time, and what He taught them personally about their worth and potential and of His love and mercy for them; and then it compares those experiences to the same personalized messages Christ is trying to give us today if we will slow down enough to listen. It’s a very meaningful book for me personally, as the study that went into the project really helped me work through some difficult and ever ongoing trials and helped me come to terms with some damaging lies I believed about myself and my mistakes and potential.
After this project I want to do a book about money as a spiritual principle, and then a book I’ve half finished on how women can relax, laugh more, and find peace through daily mini vacations. Then maybe I’ll tackle weight loss (I’ll leave you hanging as to whether I mean literally or literarily).
What would your top three pieces of advice be for a writer?
--Research and understand the publishing business and the market you are writing for well before finishing your book (if your goal is to be traditionally published or sell your work).
--Be ready to put in some serious hours learning how to write and studying the craft of writing and how to appeal to particular markets with your writing—I’m talking hundreds and hundreds of hours, sort of like getting a degree in a topic when you go to college (and you better love writing and not just be in it to make money, because it usually takes years to be a good enough writer that you make sufficient money to justify your time investment).
--Be patient. Writing and being published are definitely things God put on the earth to force us to learn patience and appreciate the process of time, and through which to learn that you can’t run faster than you have strength or means. You have to get through this career the same way you have to get through everything in life that doesn’t just fall prettily into your lap ready to make you a millionaire.
It’s like I said—you have to love it. If you can do those things above, and just love the growing process and the field, you’ll eventually be published and have a part-time career or hobby that’s lots of fun and that brings in new friends and adventures (and tax writeoffs).
Is there something you think writers should always avoid in their work?
Lots of exclamation points. A couple per chapter might be the max. It has the unfortunate effect of making characters (or the author) seem like they are yelling at each other and at the reader.
Other than that, you can easily Google articles editors and agents have written on this topic—many will agree never to start your story with a dream, an alarm going off, etc. (Writer’s Digest magazine has several of these articles available.) I don’t personally believe in rules, I just believe in principles of good writing and understanding good writing and your market—understanding why these gatekeepers don’t want to read another story that starts with those things.
You can break any rule if you know what you’re doing and why. The key is to knowing those two things. The problem with many writers that can’t seem to get a break is that they don’t know things they should—information on their genre or the agent they’ve submitted to (or whatnot) that is readily available via a simple Internet search or by reading a few good books on their topic and/or going to writing conferences and reading blogs, etc.
Mistakes relating to the craft of writing can be avoided only by doing LOTS of writing within the context of studying good writing and WHY it is good writing. Please get involved in the writing community via conferences, the blogosphere, writing groups, classes, etc., and read books on good writing by authors/editors who have been in the business for a long time. If you don’t know where to start, there are a ton of good resources for all of those areas on my website—available for free and at the click of your mouse. (BookEditingAndMore.com)
If you weren't a writer or an editor, what would you be?
Personality profiling says I could be a psychologist/therapist. But I have a lot of friends who are therapists, and I think that would burn me out after a while. I don’t know—over the years it gets harder and harder to hear all the sad, tough things in life. I want to move to Disneyland or something. Maybe that’s why I like escaping into books.
Other jobs might have come from other passions, some of which are body/brain science, exercise and the outdoors, holistic health, interior/exterior design, art history, psychology/behavioral economics, and adventures in child-rearing—though this last one might do me in before I make it to that great Disneyland in the sky.
What book is on your nightstand right now? Are you an avid reader? What's your favorite genre?
I never go anywhere without a book. I walked my dog, and now my dog and baby, with a book in hand (I tie the dog’s leash to my waist and try not to run into trees). When I can convince my husband to put something on the iPod for me (I’m technologically challenged), I’m less likely to come home with injuries.
On my nightstand/kitchen table/pantry/bathtub/office/car right now are: Night Circus (great fantastical/fantasy/speculative fiction), South of Superior (lovely literary fiction), How to Debt Proof Your Marriage (practical nonfiction), Nourishing Traditions (a cookbook on the health benefits of ancient food preparations), several raw food “cook”books, several books on the history or doctrine of the LDS church or the gospel of Christ, some books on yoga/meditation/the chakras, Daughter of Smoke and Bone (epic-battle Romeo and Juliet speculative fiction with scrumptious writing), several books on behavioral economics, some on brain or body science, Tuesdays at the Castle (great middle grade fiction by our talented and local Jessica Day George), The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (a delightful historical mystery from the viewpoint of an 11-yr-old chemistry genius/sleuth), multiple offerings from the talented LDS authors in our area, and several fantastic manuscripts I’m editing for clients whose names will someday be up in lights!
Lastly, the genre question is REALLY hard for me. I love zillions of topics and writing styles. I really do love speculative fiction though—that visiting-other-worlds thing. I’d be reading my own published novel if only agents were looking for a book on Wales and ancient Egypt by a fourth-grade debut novelist….
Thanks so much, Angela! It's fun to see another side of you. We'll see you all next week when we wade back into the critiques.