On becoming an editor


The dull whine of the distant drop ship’s engines faded into the background noise of wind as the vapour trail edged ever onward towards the western horizon. It had been a setup.


Over the last two months, I have beta-read three stories, torn apart two and helped plan one. I email three people on a regular basis about writing (I offer an ass-kicking service on request), and I get the wonderful pleasure of reading some really funny blog posts from a friend who isn’t yet on Twitter – annoyingly, as I really want to promote her! I seem to have somehow become an editor as well as a writer…

My beta-reads include an absolutely beautiful and unusual Chinese/magic/fantasy by one Swindon friend, a thrilling sci-fi Western by @Nick_Hembery, and a magical fantasy (in installments). I’m also lined up to read an awesome story from @Figures. I spent three hours on Thursday morning going through plot, worldbuilding and characters for my cousin’s sprawling 3-series magical/sci-fi books which sound like a cross between Brandon Sanderson and Peter F. Hamilton, and at frequent points over the last few months I’ve been outlining, plotting, alpha-reading and shaking up a story from @O_T_Curtis. The quote at the start of this is from the opening chapter of his work – Requiem is my favourite character because he’s an absolute sarcastic bastard, and I’m really looking forward to reading the book!

I’ve also been reading and reviewing a lot. Over the past few weeks, I’ve read my way through a lot of the Grimbold Books back catalogue and reviewed several books, with several more to go…I stopped reading when I was doing my MSc (yay, dissertation) and never really got started again until now. Having a Kindle app on my phone has really helped with reading on the train, and I’m now starting to branch out into all of the stuff that’s on my to-read list!

I’m loving the chance to beta read other people’s work, and I think – I hope – I’m pretty good at it. I try to give an overview, general questions, my thoughts, enthusiasm and comments and wider questions. I try to think about what the work needs more of, what I’m missing and enjoying and thinking; if I’m asking the questions, so will the end reader, and I try to highlight general problems. I can do specific critique, and that’s one thing I think a beta-reader needs: you have to pay attention to what the author wants. It can sometimes be hard to rein in the editor, the proofreader or the snark or the “uh, I now have a list”…but if that’s not what has been asked for, don’t give it. I personally hate getting proofing comments when what I wanted was plot – if I’m going to rewrite, why are you telling me about spelling errors? Ragh.

I don’t like to be in isolation, though. I think most work needs several beta-readers (as @Figures pointed out, two of his original betas hated the work that he’s currently got extremely high hopes for) and you’ll get different comments from different readers. Everyone reads books differently, and particularly on a beta-read, you’ll get different ideas of characters; that’s partly why I try to give comment feedback, as how the plot and character comes out may not be how you intended. Did you mean for your heroine to be that unlikeable? (If yes, awesome!) Did you mean to share all of the background? Do we need quite that much info-dump now or is it going to be vitally important two paragraphs later? And why on earth did that person just do something they said they weren’t…ohhhh, someone’s pointing a gun at them. I missed that bit. Can you make that clearer?

So…I guess it feels weird to still be involved in writing, but not actually be writing. I haven’t done a lot of writing for myself, partly because I haven’t been in the mood and partly because I’ve been enjoying other things, but I do need to remember that editing and beta-reading do count as ‘writing work’! They’re both hard work too, and it does require a lot of concentration – and I have to be in the mood to do it (aka. have some brain power available). It’s usually anything between three to six hours to beta something properly, for anyone who thinks it’s easy! However, I love being able to read stories and make a difference on them, and if it’s a great read then all to the good.

@O_T_Curtis is impatiently waiting for me to praise his work, so I’ll publish this now – yes, Ollie, I like Requiem. Now get on with writing so I can read what happens next!

Ps. I’m also going to hawk @NickHembery‘s Red Pen For Hire service again – he betas and edits my work, and he’s excellent!

Author: kate

Kate Coe is an editor, book reviewer and writer of fiction & fantasy. She writes the sparkpunk GreenSky series and blogs at writingandcoe.co.uk. When she's not working, she fills her spare time in between writing with web design, gaming, geeky cross-stitch and DIY (which may or may not involve destroying things). She also reads far fewer books that she would like to, but possibly more than she really has time for.