Monday, October 27, 2008

Meet the Editors: Meghan

Meghan Conrad

What is your background and experience in editing?
I've been at Ellora's Cave for about a year and a half, and I'm quite happy here. Prior to that, I did a lot of academic and freelance editing, and supplemented that income working as a pre-reader for Tor Books.

How would you describe your editing style?
It varies from person to person, honestly. My standards for what's acceptable remain the same, but some authors respond better to velvet gloves patting them on the head than they do to steel-toed boots kicking them in the ass. (I have to say, however, that I feel like I look better in boots than I do in gloves.)

Motivational techniques aside, I can be quite harsh if I feel that a character isn't behaving realistically, or it seems to me that an aspect of the plot is improbable. I really want good, believable stories, and don't hesitate to point it out if people are missing the mark. I also try to point out the things that really work about a story, even if it's in something that I ultimately pass on.

I can also be difficult to please--if you're making the same mistake over and over, you need to know that you'll get your manuscript back over and over until it's fixed. I expect people to learn from their mistakes, and get frustrated when authors feel that they should prioritize quantity over quality.

What is your favorite thing about editing?
Well, I do pretty much get paid to read all day, which I think we can all agree is fantastic.

More seriously, I find it very satisfying to help an author hone their skills, to write the very best book that they can.

What are your pet peeves in books or submissions?
The easiest way to irritate me is by sending in something that's poorly punctuated, full of word choice errors (homophones are especially problematic), and populated with misspellings. There's no excuse for it. Every author should have, at the very least, a friend who's good with grammar going over their submissions before they send them in. If you don't have that friend, or if you're really abysmal with spelling, hire a proofreader. They're a dime a dozen on Craigslist and on university message boards, and using them ensures that you’re not rejected out of hand.

There are, of course, other little things that get me. Using male and man interchangeably will always drive me crazy--there's no reason that a human woman would be looking across the room at "the male by the punch bowl". (If she's a werewolf, it makes a lot more sense.) I also hate backstories of the sort where the hero's parents were killed when he was little and he grew up a homeless orphan, then he watched his wife and child get killed at the hands of terrorists who then tortured him for three years, he finally comes home and finds out that his company has gone bankrupt... I feel like they're an attempt at making a character sympathetic, but the author was too lazy to actually write a sympathetic character.

Also, I hate coincidence-based plots. You know what I mean: the ones where the gardener is also her uncle, and she just happened to be in the same bar as the murderers, and the DNA tests happened to come back the one day that she called in sick to work and picked up the mail herself instead of letting the help get it, and... It drives me crazy. I can buy one major coincidence in a story, and I feel like even that is being pretty generous.

For personal reading, what are your favorite genres and all-time favorite books?
Like others, possibly it would be more appropriate to list what I don't read. If I'm desperate, I'll happily read the back of a cereal box or the care labels on clothing.

I'm especially fond of science fiction, noir, dystopias of any sort, YA literature, and urban fantasies. I also read a fair amount of nonfiction.

On my nightstand right now, I have The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, and Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson.

All-time favorites--and the list is frequently changing--include The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund, Sacred Country by Rose Tremain, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin, Stardust and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.


Kate Willoughby said...

Oh, I'd be interested to see what you thought of the Mysterious Benedict Society. I never did get through it. I thought it started otu strong, but petered out in the middle.

ECPI Editors said...

Kate, I ended up pretty meh on it. I thought that it had a fabulous start and, as you said, began to lose track of itself in the middle, but the worst for me was the ending! Everything got resolved, very neatly and with not a single loose end, and it almost all happened because of incredibly happy coincidence. Oh, isn't it fortunate that this person is actually also this person but had amnesia and didn't know about it until right at this very crucial moment? Isn't it lucky that my brain was so like my brother's brain and I was able to fool the computer into thinking I was him? What a fortuitous event that these unrelated things all happened at exactly the same time, allowing us to escape!

Its ending was almost sickly sweet, and the latter two thirds of the book didn't live up to the first third. All things said, I was quite disappointed.

K. Z. Snow said...

My dumb ass for not having read this, Meghan, before I bothered you with stupid quesions!

ECPI Editors said...

Don't be silly, K.Z. There's no reason for you to have to read all the blog all of the time--god knows that I can't keep up with all of the blogs I'd like to read!