Posts Tagged ‘crime fiction editing’

Editor Jean Jenkins, with a Crime Fiction Affinity, Q & A

July 26, 2016

Jean Jenkins is a freelance editor par excellence. Her efforts have improved the works of many talented and successful writers. Her input can be invaluable for authors who intend to produce superior product. She’s agreed to answer some questions that should prove helpful for writers who are trying to break into the industry. This is the first of a two part Q&A interview.

Q.  Your email contact information has the number 187 in it, the California penal code section for murder. Does that imply a preference for working with writers who produce crime fiction in its various forms?

A.   Mystery/thriller/procedural/crime fiction has always been my favorite genre to read and to work with as an editor. With a medical background and a fair number of forensics classes under my belt, as well as 25-plus years of editing for members of the law enforcement community, I have a good understanding of their world, the policies and procedures and codes, and what restraints and talents LEOs bring to the table. My email handle, 187writer, says exactly who I am—a writer/editor with a particular interest in the genre. And although I read and edit almost all genres, from biography to romance to young adult, crime fiction in all its forms remains my favorite to work with.

 

Q.   You’re active working with the Southern California Writers Conference which helps you keep up on current publishing trends. Do you encourage your clients to go the traditional route of trying to secure an agent who will shop their work to a major New York publisher, or do you guide them more toward smaller publishers or publishing themselves?

A.   There are myriad ways writers can go these days, and all have their good and not-so-good points. For the most part, I think story and talent are huge factors in choosing the publishing path a writer should take. These days, the Big Five (major publishers) and smaller publishers are not far apart in what they can offer a writer’s career. Granted, the larger publishers may pay a bigger advance and have a bit more bucks to add to a publicity campaign, but the days of big advances and whole-page ads for a book are pretty much gone. In fact, a writer may get more attention and care from a smaller publisher than from one of the bigs. I try to encourage all writers to work with an agent because that’s their voice into the industry. A good agent will fight your battles, raise necessary questions, and work hard to reserve (or sell) foreign and film rights when appropriate. Most writers know little if anything about various rights, and huge mistakes are sometimes made with one stroke of the pen. As for self-publishing, I have seen writers with limited talent and small stories who are right to make the choice to self-publish. But all too often, I see writers who sell themselves short by self-pubbing and taking on all the effort of marketing when their writing/story is by far good enough to stand up to a publishers’ requirements. One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is typing ‘the end’ then deciding that their story has to get out immediately so they self-publish. We’re hearing outcries about typos and story problems with self-published books and those happen because the writer was in a hurry. Remember, your name is on that book; you want to be proud of it.

 

Q.   Burgeoning writers are constantly encouraged to grab the reader’s attention with the first line, paragraph and page. It’s logical from there to have a solid grasp on their prospective climax. My experience is that maintaining the reader’s interest throughout the seemingly interminable bridge that takes you from one end to the other is a lot more difficult. Do you have any advice for holding the thread together throughout the book?

A.   Two words that the writer should keep top-of-mind are Focus and Motivation. A character is the sum total of his life experience that he brings to the scene. He or she will act and react based upon training, yes, but will also reason and react based upon prior situations, knowledge and experiences. That’s a nuanced character, someone who comes alive on the page. A character who reaches out and grabs the reader. What motivates this character to take the next logical step will lie in his training and/or background. That’s why Motivation is so important. Without it, a character just moves around the page doing things the writer thinks up; he’s not acting logically. And when that happens, the story falters. As for Focus, the main character starts with a goal—find the kid, recover the money, uncover the corruption, loose the gang’s stranglehold on a neighborhood—and every move he makes (if his motivation is true) brings him closer to that goal. Motivation keeps your character taking the next logical step, and Focus keeps you, the writer, centered on the crux of the story—what your main character is trying to achieve. It’s also important to remember that no one exists or operates in a bubble, so everyone your main character comes in contact with is a potential mini-story or relationship or pithy scene that brings heart to the overall story and adds dimension to your main character. As long as you, the writer, focus on the story while your characters are driven with honest Motivation, you’ll be fine.

 

 Q.   Is it safe to assume that you have more prospective clients than you’re actually able to accommodate? If so, what do you look for to decide who has the goods to make it worth the time and effort?

 A.   An editor’s schedule is always a bit of feast or famine. At times there is more work than you can do, and at other times, while writers begin new projects or their work goes more slowly than expected, gaps appear in the editor’s calendar. I delight in finding a writer who’s almost ready to publish and lifting their product, and their skills, to the next level. I never consider if a project is worth my time and effort because this is someone’s dream, and I never want to take away a dream. I approach it more from a ‘how can I help’ perspective. Sometimes I’ll suggest a writer slow down and find a weekly or bi-weekly workshop where they can get hands-on help from other writers for a while. But most of the time, writers are able to take the notes I give them (length varies from a few pages to a 50-page editorial letter) and work from those notes to transform their story from second draft to commercially marketable. It’s the writer’s job to make their story the very best it can be, then it’s my job to show them how to make it better. Remember, as so many have said, good writing is rewriting and more rewriting, then knowing when to let go.

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