PJ Interviews Editor Skyla Dawn Cameron

After a bit of a hiatus, we’ve got another editor interview. I love these insights into the editing world and want to thanks Skyla for giving her time to do this interview.

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Nicknamed “The Bitchstress Dreamkiller” by those who know (and sometimes fear) her, Skyla Dawn Cameron has been an acquiring editor for Mundania Press for four years and Senior Editor of Mundania’s imprints for three. She oversees the editing of science fiction, fantasy, horror, paranormal, romance, young adult, and erotica. Some hapless writers find her scary, but she suspects they lack a sense of humor.

She lives in cottage country Ontario (Canada), where sometimes she drinks Fireball Whiskey at work and sings The Stabby Song a lot.

Her oft-neglected editor Twitter account is www.twitter.com/EditorSkyla.

Mundania’s website is www.mundania.com and Skyla’s author site is www.skyladawncameron.com

PJ: What characteristics of a particular story make editing enjoyable for you?

SDC: Editing something requires rereading it. A lot. I have to read it before acceptance. I have to read it at least two to three more times during edits, catching plot holes, inconsistencies, wrong word usage, etc. So one of the most important qualities is that a book has to be one I *want* to reread. It has to be engaging even though I already know the twists and surprises.

I love a beautiful turn of phrase and vivid picture painted with words. I love humor (both in the manuscript and in the comments sent back and forth with an author)—making me chuckle even in a dark book is worth a lot. And obviously, the smoother the writing to begin with, the easier my job is. (Writers: REWRITE BEFORE SUBMITTING. A LOT.)

PJ: What things make an author hard to work with during the editing process? What things make an author a pleasure to work with during the editing process?

SDC: I thankfully haven’t experienced trouble with authors I work with, but I oversee the entire editing department and have worked with writers in many capacities, so have seen a lot of issues.

– Golden Word Syndrome: This is when the writing is so Preshus that the writer can’t contemplate changing ANYTHING. Now, if an editor has an issue and the author can back things up reasonably, most editors will accept that. But with GWS, the writer tends to grasp at straws with no explanation other than, “I don’t want to change it. I’m Speeeeshuuul”.

– Thinking “I Wrote the Book; My Work Here Is Done”: There are a lot of authors who think that first draft is all they have to do. It honestly baffles me; as a writer myself, I *enjoy* revision and editing and polishing the manuscript up. Some people will just put in the minimum amount of work after typing “The End.” I do not have very charitable thoughts about such people.

– Taking Editorial Comments Personally: Once in awhile, the editor *is* out of line, but ninety-nine percent of the time, edits aren’t personal. “I had trouble understanding Jane’s motivation when she hacked up Jack with an ax” does not equal “You suck as a writer, I wish you’d never been born, and you should just work at Wal-Mart for the rest of your miserable, sucktastic life. Also, you smell like moldy cauliflower, you gutter-twat.” What it actually means is that you need to look at how you set up Jane hacking up Jack with an ax and see if that area can be better developed.

– Treating the Staff Like The Help: No matter who is paying the editor—be it the publisher or the self-published author—there is no reason to talk down or belittle the editor. We’ve had an author lose it on an editor to the point the editor called the office in tears. I once had an author virtually dismiss me in email and say, “Just see that it’s done” (and just about lost my shit on her, let me tell you).

– Needing Hand Holding: I highly value communication (see below) but there are certain writers who are needy and seem to crave attention. Perhaps a fragile ego kind of issue? I don’t know. They can’t make a decision without sending three emails in an hour to the editor. They need to be reassured constantly. I think writers who have multiple MSS with multiple publishing houses aren’t as bad about this, though, and usually understand that the editor has several assignments she’s working on and can’t play Mommy. And building off of that…

– Not Understanding Editors Aren’t Editors 24/7: I take weekends off. Even if I work on a weekend editing, under no circumstances do I answer email unless I had to take a day off earlier in the week. I tweet. I socialize on Facebook. I blog. I write. I do a million things that aren’t editing—so do all editors. If writers can’t handle knowing their editor isn’t working constantly on their book and that everyone needs time to relax, they should probably not follow them on social networking sites or submit the work elsewhere in the first place.

– Can’t Meet a Deadline: I’m often woefully behind on things so I’m sympathetic, but disappearing off the face of the planet for several months—or over a year—is a problem. Yes, sometimes edits take a lot of work. Yes, often Life Happens. But these should be the exceptions to your ability to meet deadlines, not the rule. If you want a career as a writer, you need to learn to work through whatever’s coming at you and not pull your head up until you’re done what it is you’re trying to do. This tends to be more of a “new author” problem, from what I’ve seen, so my advice to new authors is to be prepared to work.

– Editors Have To Fix Everything: Editors, in fact, are humans. I mean, usually. Jury’s out on me. Anyway, editors catch as many errors as they can but even the strictest editors have something they miss. Having an editor does *not* negate the author’s responsibility to understand things like proper work usage, grammar, and spelling.

What do I love? Communication. If I’ve misinterpreted something while editing, tell me. If you were just hit by a bus and can’t work for a while, tell me. If you’re unsure of something, ask for clarification. Speak up if there’s a genuine issue.

I also love someone non-combative who understands we have the same goal: to make the story the best it can be. We’re both there in service of the story. All arguing with me is going to do is delay things. And make me twitchy (a twitchy editor is not a good editor).

I also think a writer needs a certain level of independence. I’m rather anal as an editor and nitpicky, but I’m also fairly hands off; I endeavor to explain where I have an issue, offer suggestions, but leave it up to the author to address, so I like someone who can take those kinds of cues and strengthen the story without handholding. I’m not going to rewrite anyone’s MS—not when I have six of my own here to be working on.

It’s also enjoyable if I’m sent vodka to assist the process.

PJ: Do you ever have to step away from a story for a bit and then come back to it?

SDC: Often by necessity. I oversee just about every other area of book production at work so if a crisis pops up, what I’m working on gets set aside. I also try to only edit twenty or thirty pages in one sitting, or I risk text blindness where I’ll miss typos. Just like a writer, the more time an editor reads a manuscript—and the faster she reads it—the more errors are likely to slip through. It’s a process that can’t be rushed.

PJ: Finally, what would you love to see pitched to you in the coming year and will you be attending any conventions or conferences in 2012?

SDC: We did just open for submissions May 15. Presently, we’re looking for unpublished genre work—science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, horror, urban fantasy. No young adult at this time as we have multiple manuscripts from in house authors for that age group. (Our erotica imprint is Phaze.com)

Specifically what I want/don’t want to see is diversity. I want to see non-white man characters. I want to see LGBT characters. (Note: Diversity does not mean adding a Sassy Black Friend or a Sassy Gay Friend.) I want to see non-European based magic systems. I don’t want to see Afro-Caribbean diasporic faiths and practices used as the default “evil” magic. I don’t want to see it treated as “romantic” when the male love interest stalks the heroine. I want to see things that are different from what’s on the market right now.

It’s not to say anything is wrong with stories that follow the same old tropes—there are many stories I love that do. But *most* of what I see in slush is a carbon copy of books we’ve read a thousand times, with the same gender stereotypes and same tired treatment of non-white/non-hetereo characters. I don’t want a book with a Very Important Message in place of story, but about a variety of people who interact and make mistakes and go on a compelling journey. With, like, monsters or aliens or something.

I also strongly value humor and I like stories that don’t pull any punches. Well-developed characters. Interesting premises. Dark is good. Excellent writing (of course), and beyond the mechanics, excellent storytelling: stories with consequences, conflict, and distinct voice.

Also, I’m a bit of a zombie fiend.

I have no immediate plans to attend any conferences. I live in Canada and travel is expensive (especially when you don’t drive). I’ve given some thought to attending World Fantasy Con in Toronto this year but I’m not sure it’s likely to happen.

Comments
  • Melissa (My World...in words and pages) September 13, 2012 at 9:05 am

    Sounds like some great advice entwined in here for new authors. ;) Wonderful post, and insight into the editing world. Thank you!

  • Mallory Braus September 13, 2012 at 11:58 am

    What a great interview! Skyla, you so eloquently brought to life a picture of the life of an editor! I was nodding my head along as I read! And, I totally agree about the vodka… :P

  • Liz Flaherty September 13, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Great interview and good things to know even for non-new authors. Especially the part about the vodka. :-)

  • Skyla Dawn Cameron September 13, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    IT’S ALL ABOUT THE VODKA. Not that I discriminate against tequila and whiskey, mind you… ;-)

  • Julie September 13, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Sadly, I’m not sure if I’ll be driving by on my next visit to Canada. I will have to bring you twice the vodka next time I do ;-)

    Great interview, and I’m so lucky to have you as an editor <3 (evil <3, of course)

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