Stacy Ennis is a book and magazine editor, writer, book coach, and speaker, as well as the author of The Editor’s Eye: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Book from Good to Great. Stacy was the founding managing editor of a lifestyle magazine and later became the executive editor of Healthy Living Made Simple, a Sam’s Club magazine that reaches over 8 million readers. Her role at the publication involved writing around 50 percent of the magazine’s content, including a cover feature on Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra. She now works with a wide range of clients, from celebrities and corporate clients to independent authors and small book presses and also ghostwrites magazine articles, web content, and books, often reaching national and international audiences.
Interview with Stacy Ennis, author of The Editor’s Eye
What inspired you to write The Editor’s Eye?
A couple of years ago, I did a workshop for a regional publishing event in Boise, Idaho, on the writing and editing process while writing a book. The workshop went so well—and I had such a great reaction from attendees—that I realized there is a huge need for author education surrounding the topic of editing.
Around the same time, I began noticing that most of my new editing clients entered the book-editing process with fear of the unknown. They were legitimately scared to work with me because they had no idea what to expect. Many felt as though writing and editing a book was equivalent to groping one’s way through the dark for 50 miles!
I looked for a resource to help them but couldn’t find anything. Because of this, I decided to write a book to help aspiring and established authors better understand how to navigate the writing and editing process. The reaction so far has been tremendous, and I’m so grateful to be able to help the writing community.
What should an author look for when hiring an editor, and what’s the best way to find the right one?
This is one of the most frequent questions I get when I teach classes or workshops. Unfortunately, the answer is too long answer fully here. (I offer detailed information in The Editor’s Eye.) But here are my top three recommendations when searching out and evaluating a potential book editor:
1. Look in the right places. When looking for an editor, don’t start with a site like Craigslist.org, which doesn’t have any sort of vetting process. Instead, start by asking for referrals from authors you know. You can also call a local or regional publishing house that publishes in your genre and ask for a referral. Another great resource is the Acknowledgements section in the back of published books, which usually lists the book’s primary editor. Finally, online sources like The Editorial Freelancer’s Association (the-efa.org), PublishersMarketplace (publishersmarketplace.com), the Editors’ Association of Canada (editors.ca), Editcetera (editcetera.com), or BiblioCrunch (bibliocrunch.com) may be good options. Most cities have a local writers’ or editors’ guild that can provide referrals, too.
2. Search for the right editor, not just a good one. Most editors will have a degree in editing, writing, journalism, or even English education. Relevant experience as a book editor is a given, but there’s another layer to that: Look for someone with experience in your genre. A person might be a skilled, sought-after editor of nonfiction business books, but that doesn’t make her the right fit for your sci-fi novel.
There also needs to be a great connection between the author and editor. An editor who doesn’t “click” with you or your book won’t have the passion, drive, and connection to your writing needed to transform your book from good to great. But how can you make sure he or she is the right fit? See point number 3.
3. Look early and ask a lot of questions. Searching for an editor shouldn’t be a rushed process. You’re about to spend a substantial amount of money to hire someone who (hopefully) has the skills to transform your book from good to great. Begin looking early—around three to five months before your book will be ready for editing. When you find potential editors, don’t be afraid to interview them. The Editor’s Eye includes a detailed list of questions for both potential editors and clients of potential editors. This interview process is critical, so don’t skip it.
Consider it this way: When you need a great outfit for an important event, how many stores do you go to? How many racks of clothes do look through? And how many pieces of clothing do you try on before finding just the right shirt and slacks? It can take hours to find a simple outfit that might cost around $200. Yet, many authors only spend a fraction of that time looking for and evaluating an editor…and the investment (both personally and financially) is much greater.
A lot of people want to write books, but not everyone realizes that dream. What do you suggest to aspiring authors?
Writing isn’t much different than any other endeavor in life. To be successful as a writer, you have to stick with it. And what’s the best way to maintain focus, motivation, and enthusiasm throughout the process? Setting goals.
Let me put it this way: I’m a runner. I’ve found that the easiest way to quickly lose motivation is by not challenging myself with goals. So, I train for something like a half marathon and follow a plan. The plan is built to help me reach little accomplishments along the way—a faster mile time, a longer distance—while building up to the big 13.1-mile event at the end.
Writing a book is similar. You have a “big event” you’re working toward in the form of publication, whether you try for the traditional route or opt to self-pub. And, just like running, setting goals and following a plan, even if it’s just a general roadmap, can increase the chance of success.
As a writer yourself, you’ve lived in two developing countries—the Dominican Republic and Vietnam. Why do you recommend travel to other writers?
Living abroad changed me. I used to be a very timid person who was afraid to take risks and stretch herself. I surrounded myself with people who were mostly like me and didn’t make an effort to get to know individuals who challenged my views and conventions.
Just before moving, I specifically remember being downtown in Boise, Idaho (my hometown). My husband (then boyfriend) and I needed to cross a major one-way street to get to our parked car. There were no cars in sight, and yet I insisted on waiting for the bright white walk symbol to light up before crossing. Then, we moved abroad. It wasn’t long before I was dashing across busy intersections in the Dominican Republic—the country with the highest mortality rate in the world, according to a recent World Health Organization report—and, later, playing my own perilous version of Frogger on the streets of Vietnam.
My point is that travel brings out a side of us as writers that nothing else can. Bravery, passion, an ability to understand others—all of that comes from travel. Plus, interesting travel destinations and the quirky people you meet along the way provide great content for writing.
Do you have any editing tips and strategies for self-publishing authors?
The most important decision a self-published author will make is in hiring an editor. Aside from that, here are a few suggestions:
1. Write without editing. Whenever you’re writing new content, do your best to just let yourself write. This allows you to get those initial words on the page, which is a critical step in finishing your book. Then, you can go back later and edit.
2. Let your draft sit. After you’ve written the first draft, let your manuscript sit for a minimum of two weeks. This helps you re-approach your book with an editor’s eye.
3. Be objective. It’s hard to look at your own work objectively, but try. Attempt to put yourself in your reader’s shoes to identify places in your book that need specific attention.
4. Get outside opinions. Sending your manuscript out to “beta readers”—people who read your book and offer critique before it’s published—can help you see areas that need work.
5. Read it aloud. Once you have thoroughly revised your draft and are ready to refine it at the sentence level, print it out and read it aloud. This will help you note awkward wording and catch any lingering errors.
6. Do the work. The editing process is long (often longer than the time it takes to write a first draft!), but don’t give up. Too many authors push their books through the self-publishing process without great editing and thorough revision. Put in the time to produce the best book possible. You’ll be glad you did!
The Editor’s Eye: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Book from Good to Great