Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thursday with an Editor - Rhonda Helms

Please welcome the lovely and talented Rhonda Helms to Thursday with an Editor. Thanks so much for stopping by, Rhonda!

Writing and Editing--Living on Both Sides of the Desk

by Rhonda (Stapleton) Helms

I started in publishing as a writer, snagging an agent and finally selling a teen romance trilogy to Simon and Schuster. But somewhere along the way I also discovered and cultivated my love of editing. Now I'm fortunate enough to write fiction and work as a freelance acquisitions/developmental editor. 

Editing isn't for everyone. Writing isn't for everyone either, come to think of it. But these two aspects of publishing both appeal to me in different ways, and each has helped strengthen the other.


The writerly side of me has benefited from my editing job because I've learned a lot about craft, the industry, and the like. I've read a LOT of manuscripts--hundreds of them--and have learned how to quickly evaluate a manuscript for its potential, analyze the plot, characters, pacing, setting to see if they intrigue me, if they feel realistic and yet compelling, if the writing is sophisticated and interesting. The first five pages hook me into a story. 

So as a writer, I know I need to make the first few pages of my story shine. But not only that, I've read manuscripts in an editorial capacity where the first 3 chapters are amazing--polished, well-plotted, fascinating characters--but the story falls apart after that. If I can't keep that sparkle going throughout the whole manuscript I know my story will be rejected. It happens ALL the time.


The editor side of me has benefited from being a writer too. I know how nervous writers get (especially new authors); they need to be kept in the loop on how the process is going to go, what to expect, how I work, what I need from them, etc. I try to explain the whole process to my authors so we're all on the same page. I offer comments in the manuscript--both positive and constructive--so they see what they're doing right and what can be strengthened. I reply to emails as quickly as I can, usually within 24 hours. I'm honest and open and professional and fun because the point is to create a collaborative environment that encourages and fosters a healthy working relationship. 

As an editor, I know the anxieties my authors face. I know how they worry about sales, promotion, craft, and so on. I try my best to be transparent and answer questions so they feel a little less lost in this massive industry.


I know a number of editors who are also writers. But guess what? You can do this's not just for people who work for a publisher. Authors can develop their inner editors. Here are a few tips/thoughts on that:

1--learn how to read analytically. When I read a novel, I have a hard time shoving that inner editor aside. But that's not a bad thing. Yes, I read for leisure, but I also read to analyze how an author's craft works and doesn't work. I read published novels to learn how author A makes her characters resonate, how author B weaves intricate pacing that makes me turn the pages, how author C makes setting feel alive. Pick up novels in the genre you're writing. Pick those books apart--what works for you? WHY? And what doesn't work--what would you do differently?

2--learn how to critique. Man, I could write a whole book on this art, haha. Critiquing not only benefits the author whose manuscript you're evaluating, it also benefits you. With novels, you're reading stuff that's already been polished and through editing. Here you can see the story in its most raw form--the SAME way you draft. You'd be surprised how much you learn by reading manuscripts in volume. So branch out and find critique partners. Ask that person what his/her strengths and weaknesses are. Learn how to not only do a general crit, but how to read for characterization. For plot. For pacing. For setting. For subplot. For sophisticated prose.

3--talk, talk, talk to other industry pros. Most editors, agents, writers are happy to answer questions. Check out their blogs, their websites, their twitter feeds, their Facebook and Google+ pages. We're giving you information on what we see, and it's all free. So take it! Editing isn't just about picking a manuscript apart. It's also the art of relationships, of communication. As an editor I interact with industry pros every day. I build those relationships. You should be doing the same.

Any questions? Ask away, and thanks for tuning in! 

Rhonda Stapleton Helms is experienced on both sides of the editorial desk. She's a published author with Simon and Schuster's young adult imprint, Simon Pulse--visit her website at to learn more about her as an author. Rhonda is an acquisitions/developmental editor for Carina Press, and she also freelance edits manuscripts--check out for services, rates and testimonials. 


Taryn Kincaid said...

Great insight and tips. Wonderful interview.

Wynter Daniels said...

I always pick apart both novels and movies now, looking for the framework of structure and the things they do to build conflict and character. I would think being an editor, a pro at that, would only make someone a better writer. Thanks for all your insights.

Liz Fichera said...

Writer Rhonda and Editor Rhonda rocks the house!

Chudney Thomas said...

Timely advice. Thank you.

Shawna Thomas said...

Okay hopefully this comment doesn't post twice. Silly Google.

These are some of the reasons writers love Rhonda.

A good editor is worth his or her weight in gold, and Rhonda is a good editor!

This is great advice!

Kaylea Cross said...

Rhonda, you forgot to tell everyone that you're the freaking Flash Gordon of the editing world, lol. And I love, love, love that you've been on both sides of the writing desk. Makes it so much easier to receive criticism from someone like you :)

Great series of posts, Wynter!

Rhonda Stapleton said...

Thank you guys so much for all the sweet words! *slips you each a twenty* lol

Cassandra said...

Thank you Rhonda, for the awesome insights and advice.

Questions: Does someone need a college degree to become an editor?

Does it help if you do have a degree?

What degree/major would be most beneficial to someone thinking of becoming an editor?

Thank you,

Anonymous said...

great morning read, Rhonda! thanks for sharing your insight. No questions right now...

Rhonda Stapleton said...

CC, that's such a good question. Is a degree necessary? Likely not. But it does help. I have a degree in English (actually, bachelor's and master's). I think learning analytical skills and honing my eagle eye in undergrad and grad school vastly helped me in this field, though my studies didn't apply to fiction. That came through experience working at publishers. :D

Larry Benjamin said...

Great post. I have to tell you your comments in your edits were super helpful. Not only did you tell me what I needed to work on but you told me what I got right. I'll never be an editor but I'm so glad you are.

Cathy in AK said...

I'm definitely on the "I Lurve Rhonda" train here. Due to certain circumstances, she had to come in at the last minute on my book but gave it all the loving attention as if it had been her acquisition. And fun to work with? OMG, what a blast : )

So thanks to Editor Rhonda for doing what you do so dang well. And woo hoo to Writer Rhonda on your latest and greatest : )

Rhonda Stapleton said...

Wow. *sniffle* thank you guys so much. This totally made my day. My week, even. <3 <3 <3 three butts on a cone, just for you! lol

Betsy Horvath said...

Wonderful post, Rhonda! I can definitely see how your writer side and editor side work together to make you just terrific at what you do. Now as I work on a new book, I hear my internal Rhonda talking to me "show me what you mean!" and "no talking heads!" and "put the dialogue tags in the right place!" LOL Maybe you should record a few soundbites. :D

Thank you for everything you've done. And I am always astounded at how quickly you respond to my (frantic) emails.

Be a Winner!

I love to win stuff. In fact, the only thing I enjoy more is giving stuff away! So enter my Rafflecopter, make me happy. And win a gift car...