I’ve had the pleasure of working with Ramona Long as an editor for many years. My experience with her editing includes:
· Hiring Ramona to edit short stories I’ve published here at WWK during the holidays
· Having my short story edited in Fish Nets, the second Guppy anthology, for which Ramona served as editor
· Submitting my first act of a new novel for her conceptual assessment service
· Hiring her to assess my full manuscript
· Taking classes with Ramona online (to sell my novel).
In April, Wildside Press released the third Guppy anthology, Fish or Cut Bait. Ramona served as editor on this volume. I wanted to interview her about it and how she works with clients.
Please welcome Ramona Long back to WWK. E. B. Davis
Is it easier or harder to work with multiple authors, such as in an anthology, than to work with one author on a longer project?
Yes and no. In an anthology, each story is an individual work, and I regard each one that way when I am reading and editing. I am in the habit of mentally closing one story before beginning the next, so there’s no problem with keeping the stories straight in my own head. An anthology does require more effort in some ways: the stories must be identical in format; an order must be selected; biographies and an introduction are required; stories may adhere to a theme, etc. These “extras” take extra time, but the most challenging part of an anthology is the herding cats aspect—the reception and return of stories at various points in the editing process. For this reason, I’m grateful when a group selects a coordinator, aka story wrangler.
Do you accept rebuttal?
Yes and no—again. I like the word “rebuttal” because many times, in my edits, I ask questions or I relay what a certain action tells me about a character. If that impression is not what the author intends, we may have a discussion on how to clear it up.
If an author disagrees with a comment and/or chooses to ignore a suggestion, there is no case for rebuttal. I can’t force an author to make a change I suggest. To be honest, it makes me a little nervous when an author says “I made every change you noted!” I am a writer too, and if I feel strongly about a line or a scene that rubs a critique partner the wrong way, I may stick to my instinct. Ultimately, though I love the collaborative effort, it’s the author’s name in the byline, not mine.
The only exception is a factual or procedural error in an anthology. If an author doesn’t fact check, or disagrees with a comment such as “by doing XYZ, your cop hero just committed a felony” in a single work, the only person affected is that author. If an author writes an error in a group anthology, that mistake affects the entire project, and his/her fellow authors by extension. Part of my job as editor is to help create a product that reflects positively on the entire group.
Is editing short stories different from editing novels?
Only in the amount of time spent. With both short stories and novels, I do a quick read-through first, think about the story for a bit, and then begin a page by page edit. With a novel, I put together a list of characters and their connections to other characters and the plot. With a short story, I may not need to create such a list. Overall, with both a short story and a novel, I’m looking for the same points: a logical and pleasing story that intrigues me in the beginning, holds my interest through the middle, and satisfies me in the end.
Is editing while maintaining an author’s style hard?
No, and this is where being a writer myself is a plus. Just like all of the authors reading this, I have my own voice and writing style, which I am certain no one in the universe can possibly emulate because it is so uniquely mine, all mine. [smile]
I read a lot of manuscripts, and I see a lot of different styles. That’s a real perk to the job. Some authors like long rambling sentences. Some are direct and pithy. Some writers will present a manuscript that is strictly by the book, grammatically; others experiment with fragments, run-ons, and so on. As long as it works, makes sense, and gives the storytelling an interesting edge, I am game for any type of writing style.
The only time I’d protest or question an author’s style is if there’s a readability issue. If your writing is so pithy that it’s choppy, or so rambling that I can’t process all of the information in a single sentence, that could pose a problem with readers.
As long as punctuation and grammar are correct, anything goes in fiction, right?
Not exactly, but I think you know that. You can write a series of grammatically correct and properly punctuated sentences that put me to sleep. You can use passive voice or weak verbs, and while the punctuation and grammar are spot on, your writing could be more appealing with better word choices.
We have a wonderfully complex language that is bound by rules on the one hand, but offers infinite possibilities on the other. I don’t think writers should be corralled by rules of grammar and punctuation as long as the breaking of the rules is by choice. If an author wants to experiment with structure and syntax because she believes the story would be better told that way, go for it. If an author wants to challenge her readers, that is great. As long as it’s appealing and readable, you have my full support.
What are your editing pet peeves?
The nitpicky part of me says semi-colons, because they are so often misused. It’s something I notice, because I notice. For mystery authors, I would say my pet peeve is forcing the mystery. That means trying to create tension where no tension exists, or making characters act like puppets instead of people. Example:
Husband walks into the kitchen and sees Wife.
Husband: “Did you hear? Walter down the street died.”
Wife: “Was he murdered?”
In real life, Wife would say, “Oh my gosh, what happened?” because that’s how non-mystery sleuths react, since Walter down the street probably died of a heart attack in his bed. However, that’s boring for a mystery writer, who has heard “Get the mystery going on page 1!” so many times, she’s in a panic to get the mystery going—sometimes a little too quickly to be believed. Reality can be dramatic, too. Wife can ask what happened, and Husband can respond that he doesn’t know, but there are four cop cars, an ambulance, and a SWAT bus down the street, so they rush off to check it out. Now the mystery is going without Wife forcing it. Make your characters act like people, and your story will be more realistic.
Are newbie writers harder to deal with than masters?
No. To be honest, I rarely have trouble with clients. If they don’t like my work or suggestions, they don’t come back, and that’s that. I should note that I have a weeding process. Most of my clients are repeats, and I only take new clients via a recommendation or word of mouth, or a class or workshop. When I receive a new inquiry, I ask a few questions to make sure it’s a project I could edit effectively. That’s to protect both the writer and me and to save us time.
In the last Guppy anthology, Fish Nets, you teamed with a police procedure specialist. Did you team up again for Fish or Cut Bait?
Yes. I always have back-up. Although I’m careful to note that the responsibility for fact-checking is the author’s, not mine, I’ll question a point if I think it’s in error. Like authors who do research, I have gathered some experts in various areas who help me out when I have a question beyond the scope of my knowledge as a layperson. In my professional contacts, I have a city cop and a former state trooper, an ICU nurse, a lawyer, a reporter, a therapist, a Rieki master, a former Marine, a fisherman….
Do you ask writers for references or refer potential clients to old clients for recommendations?
Most of the time, when someone sends an inquiry, they’ll note why they contacted me—I took your course, I was in a SinC anthology, your client ABC recommended you. If they don’t, I ask—politely—how they came across my name. I provide references when that’s requested.
What I’ve found to be most useful when working with new people is to suggest we do a partial before the commitment of a full novel. A 50-page edit is not a huge investment of money for the client, or time for me, and it will let both of us know if we can work well together.
What are your top five guidelines to mystery writers?
Don’t force the mystery. As much as possible, allow your characters to act and react as living people would act and react. If you think about how real people would behave, logical writing follows.
Remember that murder is an unnatural event and that the victim was a person, with a past and now a future that has been cut short. Everyone has a mother, and it makes a story richer if someone in it grieves for the victim, even if that victim was a scumbag. A murder should shake up the entire community of the story.
Give a valid reason why the crime can’t be solved right away and why an amateur sleuth must solve it, if that applies. “Cops are dumb” is not a valid reason. I call this the VGR—the Very Good Reason a layperson is willing to put him/herself in danger to solve the puzzle of the crime.
Give characters, especially your protagonist, a rich full life with talents and skills. A person will have family, friends, and lovers; a job and hobbies; hurts, desires, and ambitions; bills to pay, a lawn to mow, and a dog to feed. So should characters. A character who possesses a particular talent—even as minor as the ability to chit chat with people—can use that as a skill in the story.
Create an interesting story world and send your characters out into a variety of places and
locations within it. Get out of the kitchen! You are taking the reader on a journey. Give them some landscape to admire.
What do your services cost, and how do you accept payment?
For a short story, my fee is $50 for a story up to 20 pages, then $1/page beyond that.
For novels or longer works, my fee is $2.50-$3.00 per manuscript page (250 words per page.) It works out to about a penny per word.
I work primarily as a developmental editor. I don’t do strict copyediting or proofreading.
I ask for ½ fee up front and the final ½ when the edited manuscript is returned. I use PayPal for invoices and payment.
What are you currently writing?
After three years, I’ve completed a contemporary novel for women. It is currently with a proofreader before being sent to an interested agent. My next writing project is a collection of stories about Acadian women at various points in history. It will be a personal as well as professional exploration. Last year, I had the honor of being asked to contribute to a book called Extraordinary Gifts: Remarkable Women of the Delaware Valley. It made me want to write about women from my own cultural heritage.
You are on vacation, Ramona, do you read? If so, what? Do you always mentally edit? And what location would be your favorite?
Of course I read, and in my dreams, I’m always reading under an umbrella at the beach! This summer, I’ve decided to read Ruth Rendell’s last few novels as Barbara Vine. She passed away recently, so this is my homage to a favorite author who left behind a phenomenal body of work.
Do I mentally edit? No--I’m on vacation!
Ramona DeFelice Long writes fiction and non-fiction for children and adults and everyone in between. Her personal writing has appeared in literary, juvenile and regional magazines and publications.
Ramona has received support and acknowledgment from the artistic community, most recently a Fellowship from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation and a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. In 2013, she was awarded a literary fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts as an Established Artist in Literature-Creative Nonfiction. In 2009, she received an equivalent award from the DDOA as an Established Artist in Fiction.
Ramona has collaborated with Sisters in Crime’s largest chapter, the Guppies, to edit three anthologies of mystery and crime stories: Fish and Cut Bait, Fish Nets, and Fish Tales. She also co-edited a collection of stories from Delaware authors, Tales from the Ink Slingers, with Wilmington writer JM Reinbold, in addition to several short story anthologies for writing groups.