Editing an author calls for a blend of sharp-eyed clarity, cheerleading and hand-holding. What if the author is also an editor? As part of a series of blog posts featuring conversations between author-editors and their editors, The Editors’ Weekly asked two editors to reflect on their experience of working together.
Genevieve Clovis (Toronto, Ont.) is a speculative fiction novel editor and author. She specializes in developmental editing for indie authors. Genevieve’s debut novel, Tea and the Transcendent, is an urban fantasy novel in stories.
Brenna Bailey-Davies (Calgary, Alta.) was the manuscript evaluator for Tea and the Transcendent. Brenna is the owner and lead editor of Bookmarten Editorial, and she writes queer contemporary romance novels under the pen name Brenna Bailey.
Brenna Bailey-Davies: Genevieve and I had interacted online a few times before we worked together. I had also been following Genevieve on social media, and I had seen her give a presentation or two at Editors Canada conferences. I admired her as both an editor and bookstore owner, and I wanted to work on her book partially because of that.
The pitch she gave when she was looking for a manuscript evaluation had me the most excited, though. Tea and the Transcendent sounded like a fun, quirky fantasy novel, which is right in my wheelhouse!
Genevieve Clovis: I wouldn’t say that we knew each other, but we definitely knew of each other because we had both taken the same online course. When I put the call out for editors, I started with people who’d taken that course because it felt more manageable than posting in some of the bigger Facebook groups.
Brenna’s website really sold her for me because it showed me that we had similar values and made me trust that my story would be in good hands with her. It was also important to me to work within Canada as much as possible, so she got bonus points for being Canadian.
BBD: Having an editor for a client was a nice change of pace because I didn’t have to explain all my advice in the same way I would for an author newer to writing or unfamiliar with the editing process. It was a challenge at times as well — I wanted to be thorough, but I didn’t want to overexplain a concept Genevieve already knew. Overall, I was intimidated to work with an editor I admired, but I saw it as a learning process for both of us.
GC: I’m not sure I knew Brenna was an author when I hired her (she hadn’t published A Tale of Two Florists yet), but I know that understanding what it feels like to be edited does impact how we edit. Brenna was excellent at pointing out the things that made her laugh and the aspects of my story that resonated with her. I’ve certainly become more intentional about sharing praise like that with clients since going through the editing process myself.
Editing “a novel in stories”
BBD: I admittedly struggled with the “novel in stories” structure because I hadn’t worked with it before. I was used to working on books with clearly connected chapters, and I wasn’t entirely sure what Genevieve’s goal was for the story structure. Some of my feedback was likely not applicable because of that, but it was a valuable experience for me to work on something different — to learn from Genevieve’s writing and broaden my view of what makes a story successful.
GC: The structure was very important to me. I wrote this story for a friend who was in a reading slump, and that absolutely informed the structure. I felt sure that telling a story in small chunks with lots of opportunity to take breaks from it would pull her out of the slump (and it totally worked).
Brenna was very accommodating and didn’t tell me it was unheard of for an author to want their readers to take breaks. If the structure made the editing process more difficult for her, she didn’t let on, and her advice was very encouraging.
Lessons and surprises
BBD: Editing another editor’s work made me realize that I don’t need to be afraid to take chances, and that lesson was a surprise for me. As I worked on Genevieve’s story, I learned to be more adaptable with my feedback. Going forward, I started digging further into each author’s intentions, learning to tailor my feedback more closely to their goals rather than traditional (for lack of a better word) advice about story structure.
GC: I was surprised by how much my mental state had changed in the few months between hiring Brenna and getting the critique back. A lot of life can happen in a few months. By the time I got the critique back, I was not in the best headspace to take in Brenna’s very helpful advice.
If a writer’s life is feeling hectic and overwhelming, it really doesn’t matter how positively we’ve framed our advice. As an editor, this was a great lesson for me to learn. It reinforced the need to make sure my clients know they can take breaks and let the advice sink in before acting on it (one way or the other). Brenna includes a lovely reminder about this at the beginning of her report.
BBD: If you’re interested in learning more about how writing and being edited informs the process of editing for others, Genevieve and I will be joining author-editors Laura Bontje and Molly Rookwood in a panel presentation at the upcoming ACES virtual conference. If you’re attending VCON23, we invite you to tune in on Thursday, September 28 for “Both Sides of the Page: From Editor to Author and Back Again.”
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