“Authors Talk Editing” with Ying S. Lee

Our meeting on Tuesday, November 16 featured Kingston author Ying Lee.

About Ying

Ying was born in Singapore, raised in Vancouver and Toronto, and lived for a spell in England. As she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she began to research a story about a girl detective in 1850s London. The result was her debut novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House, which won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011.

The Agency quartet continued with The Body at the Tower, The Traitor and the Tunnel, both of which were nominated for awards, and Rivals in the City. The novels were published by Candlewick Press (US, Canada) and Walker Books (UK, Australia) and have been translated into French, German, Spanish, Italian, Korean, and Turkish.

In her previous life as an academic, Ying wrote Masculinity and the English Working Class (published by Routledge). She now lives in Kingston. Visit her website at https://yslee.com/the-author/.

First Experience of Being Edited

When Ying was working on her PhD thesis, her two supervisors were excellent substantive editors: they engaged with it deeply and asked the right questions at the right time. That was crucial for her: it attuned her to things that she couldn’t see because she was too far inside the work to see the broader context.

As a result of this early positive experience, she learned to love being edited. While she was the content expert in this one small area, she could learn a lot from her editors; they could all work together to make her thesis a stronger project. When an academic press offered to publish her thesis, she was surprised and disappointed that it wasn’t edited at all. She had been hoping for someone to help make it better.

She was interested in writing at the time and wrote two textbook-like graphic novels for Rubicon Press’s Timeline series, Olympic Gold and Boxcar Riders. Such books are now called “high-low novels” because they have relatively sophisticated subject matter, but use a fairly limited vocabulary. They’re geared to students in Grades 6 to 8 or Grades 5 to 7 who are reading with a Grade 3 vocabulary. The books seek to engage these readers without being condescending and to allow them to read independently.

This was a massive learning experience. She learned how to write a script for a graphic novel and how not to offer much stage direction to the illustrator. She also learned to write in a controlled fashion with a limited word count and careful vocabulary. It was also good fun – she got to do research into history, which she loves, and it was good training in focused writing. This second foray into academic publishing was more positive than the first.

The Agency Series

Ying was also, at the time, finishing a historical detective novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House, which was a conventional historical mystery novel for adults. She sent it to her agent, who said, “You do realize this is a coming-of-age story?” and recommended that Ying rewrite it as a young adult (YA) novel.

This was in 2006, when the Twilight series (of vampire romance novels written by Stephenie Myer) was really taking off, and while those novels have come under much criticism, they opened up an entire space in publishing, creating a niche that hadn’t existed before. Everyone who works in YA now owes a small debt to Stephenie Meyer. YA is still a genre with a wide readership, and it’s still commercially successful, although no longer for historical novels.

Ying didn’t know anything about YA, so how to rewrite her novel for that genre? She decided to do so by creating one that she would have wanted to read as a young adult. And her agent sold it to Walker Books in the UK. The Agency: A Spy in the House was published in 2008 in the UK and later by Walker’s sister press in Massachusetts, Candlewick Press.

So the book was acquired and edited in London and Americanized for the US market. Ying received two sets of editorial feedback, one more substantial than the other because the two editions couldn’t be far apart. The American editor would ask the copy editor for a very light Americanization, and it would come back totally Americanized. Ying would then go through and stet three-quarters of the copy editing, an approach that the editor wholeheartedly endorsed because she agreed that the novel would otherwise lose a lot of its flavour.

Ying met her UK editor a few times but otherwise worked with both editors remotely, and the process worked really well. Her advice to aspiring editors of fiction would be to communicate clearly, assume the best of people’s intentions, be timely, and be respectful of other people’s opinions while being respectful of your own boundaries.

Ying had written the first half of the second novel, The Body at the Tower, when she gave birth to her first child, and she was so tired all the time that writing the second half was difficult. Thus, the editorial work focused on making sure that the two halves were balanced. Her UK editor helped, for example, by saying, “This scene is far too long; you need to cut three pages” or advising Ying to choose between two conflicting plot threads.

The Traitor in the Tunnel was fun to write. It’s about Buckingham Palace and the royal family, and because Ying is fundamentally republican, it resulted in a lot of collaboration between Ying and her UK editor. The Agency series was originally pitched as a trilogy, but Ying wanted to write a fourth book because she’d run out of space for her ideas and she realized that the threads of the relationship between the protagonist and her love interest needed to be drawn together. Her editors were enthusiastic, and Rivals in the City was written.

“Ahistorical Fiction”

Ying has coined this term, which she defines as fiction that stands slightly outside; it’s not counter-historical but, rather, interested in what happens in the shadows. It pushes the entire premise of the Agency series: a 19th-century woman’s detective agency. But there is precedent: Alpha Behn, the 18th-century playwright and courtier, was also a spy. Also, the 1840s and 1850s saw the rise of women’s education, including higher education. Taking these facts together, one could make a theoretical case for a woman’s detective agency in 1858 London. Both editors encouraged this approach, pushing these boundaries, although historians were unhappy with it. Consider Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and other books about the rise of Thomas Cromwell; she does a lot of research but receives a lot of criticism from historians.

As far as editing goes, there was some fact checking. Neither the UK nor the US editor queried the historical references or facts too much but relied on Ying’s presentation and judgment. Ying wanted to preserve historical facts (such as what day of the week a date fell on) but also used a little leeway in her plots. Most historical romance novels focus on the upper class, but there isn’t very much about ordinary working people, and she wanted to upend that approach. Both editors were on board with that.

Short Stories

Ying has written three short stories to date. One is about the Kingston Penitentiary for Women for the teen anthology Life Is Short and Then You Die, published by Macmillan for the Mystery Writers of America. The editor, Kelley Armstrong, was involved in the substantive editing, and an independent editor did more substantive and copy editing. The Macmillan editor checked for house style; she was fierce, and Ying had a lot of respect for that approach because it ensured that the story was as good as it could be.

She contributed a historical short story to A Tyranny of Petticoats, edited by US YA novelist Jessica Spotswood and published by Candlewick Press. There were two layers of editing, but all Ying’s interaction was with Jessica, who had some good concerns and a real eye for things like length of scenes, etc. This was Ying’s first experience of being edited by someone who was also working in YA fiction.

The third short story was her first foray into independent publishing, a contribution to Underwater Ballroom Society, a collection of fantasy and science fiction stories edited by Stephanie Burgis and Tiffany Trent. It was Ying’s first fantasy short story, and she’s grateful for that editorial nudge to expand the boundaries of her writing.

Current Projects

Ying’s first picture book is coming out with Groundwood in 2023. The editorial process was bumpy. The first readers were friends, and the first draft was about 900 words. Ying sent it to her UK editor, who advised that most picture books are in the 400-word range. So Ying had to take out more than half the words, which was initially daunting; but she winnowed the draft down to 470 words. This editorial advice was much more helpful than any generic comments one can find on the Internet. The story has now been through a substantive edit. It took only half an hour on the phone, the fastest revision process of Ying’s career. But the story would never have got to that point without all the previous rounds of comments and all the fresh eyes.

Ying has also been writing poetry since the start of the pandemic. She’s a member of a workshop, which meets most weeks to critique each other’s fresh material. She dislikes creating a first draft but loves revising – paring down and moving things around.

The Experience of Being Edited

Ying enjoys the editorial process and is grateful for all the excellent editors she’s worked with. They’ve brought so much to her books but don’t get a lot of credit. By the time an author gets to the point of working with a professional editor, they’ll hopefully approach editing as a learning process and be willing to accept an editor’s contribution as improving the original text.

Coming Up

Our December social will take place on Monday, December 13. We’ve booked a table at Tir Nan Og in downtown Kingston but are watching the number of COVID-19 numbers closely. If we don’t meet in person, we’ll hold a virtual social. Hope to see you on the 13th!

Issues for New Editors

The topic of the Editors Kingston meeting on Tuesday, October 19 was “Issues for New Editors.” Five new people attended the event, all of whom were either new or aspiring editors. The event was split into three general topics: different types of editing, how to get freelance work, and pricing and contracts. The speakers’ bios appear at the end of this post.

Different Types of Editing

The first speaker was Kristina Stanley, CEO of Fictionary. Kristina explained that the different types of editing are blurred, so it is not always easy to determine the type of editing required for each project. This is particularly true when the client is not sure what type of editing their manuscript requires.

Kristina explained that there are four “levels” of editing:

  1. High-level editing: a high-level edit requires the editor to determine whether the book flows and makes sense to the reader.
  2. Line editing: this level of editing is at the paragraph level. This involves editing for flow and moving paragraphs and sentences around.
  3. Copy editing: this involves editing for grammar and punctuation.
  4. Proofreading: this is the final check before the manuscript is complete. It involves checking for formatting errors and typos.

Kristina recommended that editors try to focus on the type of editing that they have been hired to do. However, they can highlight consistent errors that are being made at a different level; for example, an editor carrying out a line edit can highlight consistent copy editing errors or rules in their feedback letter. Likewise, a copy editor can mention structural issues to the author without focusing on them.

As many new authors do not know what type of editing their manuscript needs, there is some responsibility on the part of the editor to let the author know what it requires. The best way to determine this is to request a sample of the writing – bearing in mind that an author may send their best chapter as a sample, so it may not accurately reflect the work that is required!

To encourage more fiction writers to return for editing services, Kristina recommends hosting webinars through Eventbrite or StreamYard. Webinars are a great way of demonstrating your skills and the value you can bring to a project, talking directly with your clients, and getting your name out there.

How to Get Freelance Work

The second speaker was Stephanie Stone, editor and co-coordinator of Editors Kingston. Stephanie suggested that one good way to get work is to go where your clients are. This may mean joining a writers’ group to network with people who are currently writing and perhaps looking for an editor. You could also attend conferences for writers (e.g., conferences for fiction writers).

Stephanie also recommended investing in professional development. One way of doing this is by joining Editors Canada; it provides legitimacy in the eyes of potential employees or clients, immediate access to the National Job Board, and access to a local branch or twig. You can also attend other twigs’ meetings or seminars. Furthermore, after registering, you are able to create a profile in the Editors Canada Online Directory so people can search for you and see your skills and areas of expertise.

Other ways to invest in professional development include taking courses, reading books, visiting websites (e.g., ACES, the American Copy Editors Society; Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, CIEP, in the UK), joining social media groups, and posting information online to get your name out there. This can also be achieved by telling friends, family, and people in your professional network that you are looking for editing work. Volunteering can also be helpful, or even working for free to build up experience for your résumé. Creating a strong CV is also really important; a skills-based CV will highlight what you have to offer than one that itemizes your work history.

Creating a website can be a useful way to get your name out there while demonstrating your portfolio. However, a website is not always necessary. LinkedIn can provide you with a platform to demonstrate your experience, and you can even include testimonials from clients. Ensure that you follow up with clients for referrals and testimonials.

PubLaunch is a freelance marketing website where freelancers can find work. The platform takes a cut of the earnings, but you get to set your own rates.

Pricing and Contracts

The final speaker was Elizabeth d’Anjou.

Pricing

Elizabeth explained that there is no one standard rate that a freelance editor has to charge; professional editors are able to set their own rates. Higher rates may depend on the type of work or client you are working with and how good a businessperson you are.

Being a freelance editor is like running your own business, so you can charge as much as clients are willing to pay. The median rate for copy editing in Canada is $25–$65 an hour. Rates are not necessarily going up, but they are not coming down, either. It is also important to consider non-billable hours: the hours that are not spent copy editing but carrying out other work-related tasks. A full-time editing job will consist of around 25 hours of actual editing, with a 2:1 ratio of working to doing other business-related activities. In addition, when thinking about quotes, it is important to factor in overhead costs, such as computer, Wi-Fi, webinars, books, etc. For a rough estimate of your annual salary, you can take your hourly rate and multiply it by 1,000.

In order to determine an appropriate quote for a job, it is important to find out as much as possible about the job. If the quote is too high, it will put the client off. If the quote is too low, it can also put a client off as it may seem as though you are not serious or qualified enough. Do not be afraid to ask the client for their budget, especially when the client has worked with an editor before.

When preparing an estimate, do not underestimate how long a project will take. Remember that a project will take multiple passes. Depending on the type of project, consider that tables, reference lists, etc. can take longer to edit. New editors may not get it right the first time, but they will get better with experience. Elizabeth also recommended building in three hours of face-to-face time with the client for consultation: one each at the start, in the middle, and towards the end.

Asking for a sample of the manuscript can help provide an estimate. A sample will help you determine the type of editing and the amount of work required. An estimate can be per word or per page; a page is 250 words, on average.

Contracts

A contract between an editor and a client does not replace a good relationship. A contract makes sure that everyone understands each other and what is expected from a project, so it is clear what editing means. A contract should include clear descriptions of what the project is, clear timelines, and an outline of the process; this helps to determine how long the project will take. Editors Canada has developed a sample contract that can be adapted by freelance editors.

Other useful resources for contracts are

  • The book The Paper It’s Written On: Defining Your Relationship with an Editing Client by Karin Cather and Dick Margulis.
  • The Queen’s University legal team, which provides free legal service and can review contracts.

It is not, however, necessary to have a contract. Ensuring that any phone conversations are written up in an email afterwards will help to develop a mutual understanding between the editor and the client, and sometimes this correspondence can replace a contract.

About Kristina Stanley

Combining her degree in computer mathematics with her success as a bestselling, award-winning author and fiction editor, Kristina is the creator and CEO of Fictionary. She is the founder of the Fictionary StoryCoach certification program and teaches editors worldwide how to perform a structural edit on long-form fiction. She is the story-editing adviser to the Alliance of Independent Authors and was on the Board of Directors of the Story Studio Writing Society. Her dream is to combine people and technology to help writers and editors turn words into great stories.

About Stephanie Stone

Stephanie began copy editing in the early 1980s with a textbook publisher in Toronto, then moved to a trade publisher to work as a production editor – not just copy editing but also laying out and proofreading the typeset pages, sometimes indexing, and working closely with the editors, authors, designers, typesetters, and printers. She learned on the job but gained most of her editing skills by taking courses through the Freelance Editors Association of Canada, the forerunner of Editors Canada.

In 1987, she moved to Kingston to work as a technical writer and trainer with a local software consulting company; she also copy edited the work of the other technical writers and developed in-house style guides. In 2001, she started her own company, which had a few years of ups and downs but finally landed on its feet with three anchor clients. Some of that success was due to a referral from a member of Editors Kingston. She now retains one client and is one of the coordinators of Editors Kingston.

About Elizabeth d’Anjou

Elizabeth has been an editor for 30 years, most of them as a freelancer with a diverse client base. Typical editing projects in recent years have included research grant applications, educational materials for non-profits, and specialty books by entrepreneurs. She also teaches courses in grammar and copy editing in the Ryerson University Publishing program and is in demand as a workshop presenter on various aspects of editing. She lives in Picton and is a former coordinator of Editors Kingston.

Coming Up

Tuesday, November 16, 7:00–8:30 on Zoom – “Authors Talk Editing” with Kingston author Ying Lee. Ying is enjoying considerable success with the four books in her young adult mystery series, The Agency. Come and listen to her speak about her books and her experience of being edited. http://yslee.com/

December – We hope to have an in-person social. Date and details to be announced.