Odyssey Reviews caught up with editor William Greenleaf. We asked him ten questions:
Odyssey Reviews: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background, and what compelled you to become an editor.
William: My career as an editor evolved from my career as a novelist. My first novel was published in 1980. When I started writing full time in 1987, I also began helping other writers through workshops. I discovered that I loved helping new writers break into print. I can think of nothing in life more satisfying than helping another writer bring out the best in his or her manuscript.
Odyssey Reviews: What type of book do you enjoy working with most?
William: I work primarily with novels (all genres) and story-oriented nonfiction such as memoirs and autobiographies.
Odyssey Reviews: What are the most common mistakes you find in the manuscripts you edit?
William: Many newer writers fail to employ writing techniques that pull the reader into the story and maintain a sense of anticipation. If the reader doesn’t care what happens next, he or she won’t keep turning pages. So I would have to say that the most common problem is lack of sufficient development in the central conflict. Viewpoint errors are also very common. Newer writers will be more successful at writing vivid, compelling scenes if they stick to the viewpoint of one character through each scene. When it comes to mechanics (grammar, punctuation, etc.), the most common error is in paragraph structure. Paragraph breaks can become dramatic spotlights when handled correctly. A good editor can often turn a confusing manuscript into a gripping story simply by combining and splitting paragraphs at the right points. Of course, a good editor must also fix other common mechanical problems such as misplaced commas, capitalization errors, and the overuse of passive voice.
Odyssey Reviews: In your opinion, what are the worst mistakes an author can make with a manuscript?
William: The worst mistakes are: 1) failing to spend enough time with the manuscript to make it as good as it can be, and 2) sending it to the publisher before it’s ready. If your story deserves to be told, it deserves to be told well so it will hold the reader’s interest from first page to last.
Odyssey Reviews: In your opinion, what are the most important qualities of a good, marketable manuscript?
William: It must appeal to a wide audience of readers, it must respect the reader’s intelligence by living up to the promises made in the cover blurbs, and it must build and maintain a sense of anticipation in the reader.
Odyssey Reviews: What is the oddest editing experience you’ve ever had?
William: I was once given the task of turning an academic treatise on chaos theory into a romance novel. It turned out to be easier than it sounds, and it launched my client’s novel writing career, which is still going strong.
Odyssey Reviews: What is the best way for an author to choose an editor?
William: Find an editor who has genuine credentials such as verifiable writing success and membership in professional organizations like the Authors Guild. Have a heart-to-heart talk with the editor and make sure he or she has a real interest in your book and feels positive about it. Make sure your editor is easily reachable via email and telephone.
Odyssey Reviews: Having a manuscript edited can be an expensive endeavor for some authors. Do you have any advice for authors on how to keep the cost down?
William: First of all, don’t spend money for something you don’t need. If you’ve decided to use a specific editor, look closely at the various literary services offered by the editor. After the editor has read your manuscript, ask for his or her advice about which services would be of most benefit for you. When I evaluate a manuscript, one of my goals is to determine how I can be of most help to my client. If the client is on a limited budget, then my decision becomes: How can I best serve this author within that budget?
If you can’t afford to hire a professional editor, take stock of your circle of friends and family members. Getting feedback from several avid readers can help, though it’s often difficult for friends and relatives to be objective. You may want to consider checking with your local college or university. Graduate students often moonlight as editors. If you do this, don’t assume that the person is qualified just because he or she is a graduate student in English or literature. Ask to see samples of the editor’s work. If you’ve written a novel, don’t hire someone who hasn’t had experience with novels. If you’ve written your memoirs, make sure the editor has experience with memoirs or autobiographies. In other words, no matter how much you spend, make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
Odyssey Reviews: What are the three most misused words you've noticed in your editing work?
William: Alright (not yet accepted, should be all right), misusing to and too, and misusing there and their.
Odyssey Reviews: Do you have any other special tips, anecdotes or advice for first time authors?
William: Take time to learn about the book publishing business. If you decide to self-publish your book, consider your options. Should you go with a print-on-demand publisher, or a traditional publisher? Will you retain the rights to your book? Be aware that printing your book is the easy part; selling it is quite another matter. What will the publisher do to promote your book? Does the publisher have a solid (and verifiable) track record for book sales? Take time to educate yourself before you sign on the dotted line.
Thank you Mr. Greenleaf; your insights are extremely valuable.
Here is William's website: http://www.williamgreenleaf.com/
Greenleaf Literary Services: http://greenleafliteraryservices.com/
2717 La Luz Circle NE
Rio Rancho, NM 87144
Our next interview: A book cover designer.