5 Things Writers-of-Color Should Look For In Their Book Editor

I recently attended a Northwest Editor’s Guild event called “Authors on Editing,” during which three writers spoke about their experiences working with editors. I gleaned a lot of useful information from the panel discussion, and it’s always great to meet other editors. But as great as the event was, I couldn’t help noticing what was not said, and the editors and writers who were not there.

If you’re a writer of color, you know what I mean.

That’s right. This room was almost entirely white — except for me and, even though I’m a Latina, I look white — and there was not a single mention of race, class, diversity or inclusion the whole time.

This doesn’t mean that the editors and writers present weren’t compassionate or skilled, or that they didn’t have contributions to make. It just means that some very important things were not addressed during the panel discussion and Q&A.

Namely — how much of a difference it makes to have an editor who not only gets your writing, but gets YOU. And one thing white people consistently miss is that race and ethnicity — i.e. not being white — do make a difference in who we are and what we have to say. As writers, they give us our histories, our perspectives, and our voices, and editors can miss certain nuances in our work when they don’t share those things with us.

Now, as you already know, publishing IS so white, and it can be hard to find an editor who exactly matches you in terms of racial/ethnic profile. But the first tip I’d give for seeking out an editor is to try to find an editor of color. There’s not many of us, but we are out there.

As for the other things your editor should provide, here are five you should seek out to make your partnership the best it can be:

  1. Face to face communication – Emails and notes are just the beginning. Telephone calls are OK. But eyeball to eyeball is best, whether you’re lucky enough to meet in person, or can jump on Skype or Zoom.  Writers and editors are on the same team, and face to face conversations can make your relationship feel much more like a partnership.
  2. Generosity –  Make sure your editor cares. The editing process is intensely personal, for both the writer and the editor, and if your editor doesn’t care about your project from the start, their feedback is going to reflect their indifference and you’re not going to feel the love you need.
  3. Egolessness – It’s not your editor’s book, it’s yours. When an editor can’t separate themselves and their opinions from YOUR work, it’s going to be a battle of wills. But, that said, an editor should be able to take a stand for the reader, and choose their battles wisely. So you want them to be generous, but also strong.
  4. Inquisitiveness – Editors have a reputation for being didactic. But rather than constantly telling you what to do, an editor who asks the right questions can open you up to ideas and inspirations you never imagined. The ability to ask the right questions can distinguish a good editor from a great one who helps the work evolve from good to great.
  5. A spirit of collaboration – Make sure your editor takes time to agree on a set of goals with you. What is this project about? Who are its readers? Where and how will it be published? What is this round of editing about? As simple as it may seem, getting clear on what you will accomplish, and by when, will prevent unnecessary confusion and disappointment.

If you’ve got further suggestions for what makes a great editor, add it in the comments. And if you’d like to have a conversation about an upcoming project or completed manuscript, I offer an initial 30-minute consultation, free of charge.  

Eliminating the Headache of Writing Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) Manuals

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are step-by-step instructions that act as guidelines for employee work processes. Whether written up in numbered steps or formatted as flow charts, effective SOPs are complete, clearly written, and based on input from the workers who do the job. When employees follow the SOP for a particular job, they produce a product that is consistent and predictable.

If creativity is key to your business functions, SOPs may not work for you. Strict adherence to standardized rules can restrict creative flow. However, if your goal is to produce the same product over the long term and increase your business productivity, the implementation of SOPs can have many benefits*.

Unfortunately, creating Standard Operating Procedures costs time and energy that an already busy and growing business often can’t afford.  While there are templates available online, the truth is that someone still has to collect the information that goes in them.

Nevertheless, if your business has plans for expansion, or government contracts, or even if you don’t want to keep recreating the wheel every time you hire a new person,  Standard Operating Procedures are not optional.

That’s where I come in.

From my experience as a documentary filmmaker, I know how to skillfully conduct and transcribe interviews with owners and employees that I can then translate into clear and comprehensible procedure manuals. And my experience as a writer and editor assures that the manuals are written and formatted with excellence.

While creating a manual can feel like a drag on company resources, I’m just geeky enough, and methodical enough, to find the process a genuine joy. It’s that strange niche we all hope to find, that thing that we’re good at, that people need, and that we enjoy. So if you, or your company, knows you’ve been needing Standard Operating Procedures, but just haven’t gotten around to creating them, get in touch and let’s talk about making it happen.

Email HanleyVega@gmail.com and let’s have a conversation.

On The Necessity of Turning Oneself into a Character

A few weeks ago, I reread a series of online newspaper columns I’d written in 2011. The writing was clear, informative and grammatically sound, but it was also …boring. 

Around the same time, I picked up a copy of “To Show and To Tell” by Phillip Lopate*. In this book, dedicated to the craft of “literary nonfiction,” Lopate writes that nonfiction authors must not shy away from revealing their authentic selves, regardless of how flawed, weird, or even dull, they believe themselves to be. Ultimately, he writes, even when the subject is not memoir, it’s the writer’s unique perspective, their “character,” that makes their work engaging.

Lopate had me see that, in too completely concealing my origins and point of view — a Puerto Rican Jew from the Bronx, a person-of-color passing as white, perpetually angry about abuses of power, and equally passionate about the possibility of a just world — I’d omitted aspects of myself that might have made my articles compelling, rather than just informative.

In contrast, in “Between The World and Me,**”  Ta-Nahesi Coates’ anger, defiant atheism, confusion and despair inform every page, as do his tender love for his son and his grief for an old friend. He is frank about childhood fears, his inability to master the streets, and the fact that he cannot identify the answer to racism in the United States, only the problem, and the tragedy, that it is.

But through a lens of what might be regarded as imperfection, an intellectually persuasive and emotionally forceful human being emerges. It is no accident that the book has become a phenomenon and that, despite insisting on his own limitations, Coates — or rather, the narrative “character” he created – has become a prophet to many.

This is why editing is about so much more than just debugging and polishing your grammar, syntax and structure. It’s also about enhancing your voice so that readers not only acquire a new understanding of your subject, but also gain a greater understanding of who you are, as a writer and a human being.

*Lopate, Phillip. “On The Necessity of Turning Oneself Into a Character.” To Show and To Tell, The Craft of Literary Nonfiction. New York: Free Press, 2013.

** Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. First edition. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015. (edited by Christopher Jackson, yay!)

Facing The Monster

Writers, Editors, Collaboration
A Good Editor is A Writer’s Best Ally

If you are not discouraged about your writing on a regular basis, you may not be trying hard enough. Any challenging pursuit will encounter frequent patches of frustration. Writing is nothing if not challenging. – Maxwell Perkins

Whether we’re seasoned writers or inexperienced newbies, there’s no question that facing the blank page, or even a page we’ve already written, can feel like facing down a monster.

Creativity is a major area of stress for most, if not all, human beings and few things are as sensitive as offering up our creative babies for feedback. At times, it may feel like our very existence is being judged and measured for worthiness, and when a project is particularly close to our hearts, even the smallest critique can sting.

People write because they have something inside which they feel compelled to get out. It can be an experience, an observation, an idea, or a dream, but, whatever it is, it can feel like so much is at stake when we offer it to another set of eyes.

Is it good? Does it make sense? Have I revealed too much? Should I give up?

Questions like these flood every writer’s mind once they’ve handed off their pages, and that’s why a good editor must be as gifted with psychology as she is with words. While I’m here to assure that your work makes sense, flows cleanly, and communicates a powerful message, I’m also here to hold your hand as you face the monsters at every stage of your project. I’m your collaborator, your coach and your ally.

Editing Brings Out Your Writing’s Clarity and Power

I’ve always loved exploring the deeper meanings hidden in art, movies and books. Themes pop out, patterns emerge, and I find connections that elude other people. I first used this gift as a film student, and then as a screenwriter, helping peers discover what they were trying to say with their scripts.

Later, this gift also made me good at reading tarot cards. Without even thinking, I could fill in the blanks, and tease someone’s life story out of a series of seemingly unrelated symbols and images.

I love stories, I love language…

And I love editing.

Editing calls on this gift for seeing the truths beneath the surface, while also offering the opportunity to support visionary professionals and entrepreneurs who inspire me. I’m particularly passionate about working with seasoned professionals who don’t consider themselves writers, but have a story to tell and wisdom to share.

So whether you’re an experienced writer or a beginner, a seasoned organization or a startup, I can help you refine ideas, polish language, and get your message across as clearly and powerfully as possible.

Making Connections To Tell Great Stories

montana roadI’ve always loved exploring the deeper meanings hidden in art, movies and books. Themes pop out, patterns emerge, and I find connections that elude other people.

I first used this gift as a film student, and then as a screenwriter, helping my peers discover what they were trying to say when they felt stuck with a script or scene. Rather than magic, this gift is also what makes me so good at reading people’s cards. Without even thinking, I can fill in the blanks and tease someone’s life story out of a series of seemingly unrelated symbols and images.

I love stories, I love language…

And I love editing.

Editing calls on this gift for seeing the truths beneath the surface, while also offering me the opportunity to creatively support the visionary professionals and entrepreneurs who inspire me. And while I love writers, I’m particularly passionate about providing support to seasoned professionals who don’t consider themselves writers, but have a story to tell and wisdom to share.

So whether you’re an experienced writer, or a beginner, a seasoned organization or a startup, I’m here to help you refine your ideas, polish your language, and get your message across as clearly and powerfully as possible.