Editor Interview: Jessica Barnes

Pen-Friends 🙂 Today’s feature is a professional editor sharing her insight of self editing and the publishing industry.


Welcome Jessica Barnes!

SP: Please tell us more about you? 

I’m a small-town girl from Kansas who was lucky enough to get an editorial assistant position at a publishing house shortly after graduation. The fiction editor there took me under her wing and taught me how to edit novels, and I’ve been doing it ever since. Going on 12 years in the industry now!

SP: What do you like about being an editor?

I like collaborating with authors to make their story as good as it can be. Sometimes it’s just a matter of polishing things up, but sometimes there’s a problem-solving aspect, where an element of the plot just isn’t working, and the author and I have to put our heads together and brainstorm a way out of the situation.

SP: As an editor what do you wish you could tell writers?

Don’t take it personally! Some authors – understandably – are very tied to their work and can’t help taking editorial suggestions personally. Some of them get offended, but most often they just get very distraught or defensive. Writing is extremely personal, so I absolutely get it, but the editing process is most productive if you can fully embrace the fact that your editor is not attacking you or your writing. They’re just trying to help, and even if your knee-jerk reaction to their words is negative, take some time to really think about what they said and the reasons behind it. Editors are a stand-in for your audience – if they think something isn’t working or doesn’t make sense, lots of readers out there (readers with money!) will think the same thing. The editor is the Every Reader, here to help you craft the best possible reading experience for your future audience.

SP: When you first start editing a project what are you looking for in the first chapter?

This is hard to answer because it’s impossible to quantify. All you can do is say vague phrases like, “It catches my attention,” or “it’s engaging” or “I want to know what happens next.” Writing is very subjective, and the difference between a flat, boring piece of writing and writing that leaps off the page and takes hold of your imagination is, if you were to break it down into some sort of chart analyzing word choice, probably tiny. When writing is alive, you just know it; it’s impossible to explain or give someone step-by-step instructions on how to make it happen. This is why writing is an art – there is this inexplicable spirit to it that can’t be defined, only recognized.

SP: What are some common mistakes young writers make?
I think writers hear a lot about making flawed main characters, and that’s great and important, but if you have a villain, give them some layers too – insecurities, someone they love, a redeeming quality, guilt, convictions. If they’re just twirling their mustache and cackling, they’re not terribly interesting.
One of my editorial pet peeves is characters who fall in love in, like, two days. Attraction, infatuation, lust? Sure! Knock yourselves out. But confessing “I love you” and planning a future? No. (Another pet peeve: comas. Just don’t. Please. 😉 )

SP: After more than ten years of working in publishing, what have you learned? Can you tell us something we should know about the publishing industry?
It’s a business, and publishers are just trying to make money, same as any other company. This, unfortunately, means they don’t necessarily care about you. If they think your project will make money, they will buy it, but they can’t be swayed by your passion or how many years you’ve put into the book or how truly dedicated you are to self-marketing, etc. It comes down to the product. So you need to have the best product – or at least most commercial – product. But don’t worry – people in the publishing company will care about you! You will have a great relationship with your editor, and probably your publicist and your marketing contact. Individual people in publishing houses are great, funny, awesome people who love books and love your book. But publishing companies as complete entities care about their bottom line.

SP:Where can we find you?
My freelance editorial website is Story Driven Editorial , where you can learn more about my services and books I’ve worked on in the past.

SP: If you could teach one lesson on how to self edit, what would it be? 
Be aware of repetition and vicious when it comes to cutting it – if you’ve already said something once, you probably don’t need to say it again. Trust your reader. There are exceptions – if your main character’s elderly neighbor appears for one page in chapter 2 and then isn’t mentioned again until chapter 32, remind us who she is. But you don’t need to reiterate in each chapter that Tony’s driving motivation is avenging his murdered goldfish. We know. Or that Mabel is tall and willowy with shining red hair. We know.

SP: Thanks for your time, Jessica!

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