Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Author, Editor, and Writing Coach Shonell Bacon. Who also happens to be my editor and best friend!
How did you get started in the publishing world?
Wow. Feels like a million years ago. LOL It was probably the early 90s when I decided I wanted to try to get my stories published. I read up on everything and anything I could get my hand on – magazines and books on the publishing world so that I could find agents and publishing houses that might be interested in my work. In those early years, I received enough rejection letters to wallpaper a nice-sized house. I can laugh about it now, but back then, there was nothing but tears and heartache. After almost ten years, I got an agent, but no matter how hard she worked to get my stories into others’ hands, there was no positive ending there. Some said I didn’t write black enough, and others wanted me to change my characters from black to white. After much frustration, I found a small press interested in publishing my first mystery novel, and then I began self-publishing and finding ventures where I could get my short stories published.
What do you enjoy most about being an editor?
The second story received from a return client. When I can see that their writing has grown because the lessons learned in the first edit made them a stronger writer. That’s what it’s all about. Not just cleaning up a story but making a writer better.
How important is it for an author to have an authentic voice?
Extraordinarily important. I was just having a conversation about this topic with a student who is a graphic artist. We were talking about voice, style, and he was telling me how he was still developing his, and I told him that it was important to build confidence in his art, in what he brings to the art world, and from that foundation, he could learn other techniques and styles while still maintaining his own style, voice. It’s the same for any artist, to include writers. We must develop and know our style and learn how to build upon it with new techniques.
What is the biggest no-no in your opinion?
Hmm. Tough question. I would have to say that the biggest no-no is not studying your craft. If you are a writer, then you should be reading other books, reading about the craft. You should know some of the basics just because you are a learner. When I, for example, see a manuscript that is not properly formatted with double-spacing, paragraph indentations, quotation marks around dialogue, etc., I loose a large chunk of my mind because there are way too many free resources—online and off—that provide this basic information to writers.
Do you prefer editing with music, favorite food? What is your editing process?
When I edit, I either do it in silence or I have a TV show on in the background. Typically Investigation Discovery or one of my fave documentaries on Netflix, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.”
As for my process, I typically edit first for story content. It doesn’t matter how many errors you have in your writing if there is not a strong story on the page. I edit for typical story components: character development, strong beginning, plot, exposition vs. action, dialogue, scene development, conflict, and ending. Once story editing is complete, I move into the smaller details, such as grammar, mechanics, sentence development, etc.
Can you describe what it’s like to be a writing coach? And how does it differ from your editing job?
Though there might be a specific project involved with coaching a writer, there doesn’t have to be.
Editing for me is about the story and the author’s intentions for the story and making sure the story is as clean as possible and makes sense when put up against the author’s intentions for the story. In the end, an author not only has a clean story, but also a better understanding of issues in their writing and better ways to correct those issues in future writing endeavors.
Coaching is about being a cheerleader, being a calendar, being an accountability partner. A client will have a need, and my goal is to pick a part that need. What are the small steps (goals) that lead to the fulfillment of the overall need? What’s the timeline and how can we accomplish each step within that timeline? How, when will we come together to assess what’s working and what’s not working so that forward movement can be achieved?
If you weren’t an editor, what would you be?
Something artsy. Still a writer, but probably also more advanced in other arts, such as photography and drawing.
What kind of characters are you most attracted to? And do you often see yourself in the books you read?
I am very connected to vulnerable, yet strong women characters. I love reading stories about these types of women because they are very real to me; they ARE me.
What words of advice do you have for new writers?
Study the craft. Become friends with Writer’s Digest and other writing-related magazines, books, and websites. Read. Read books within the genres you write in and genres you are interested in writing in. Write. And write some more.
How do you think Internet sites such as Amazon.com changed the publishing industry?
Well, I think sites like CreateSpace, for example, enable writers to have voices and the ability to publish their works without facing rejection from the very few traditional publishing houses that currently exist. With sites like Amazon, we are able to not only see a proliferation of works, which means more people are able to publish, but we are also able to buy books quickly. There are ups and downs to this, mind you. If everyone can publish, for example, we run the risk of flooding an already flooded book landscape with some books that aren’t good. If you’re like me, for example, in regards to being a book buyer, you have easily and quickly bought hundreds of books from Amazon digitally, and they are all sitting quietly in your Kindle app, waiting to be read!
Describe a typical day at work. Be specific!
Well, my full-time job is mass communication instructor at a university in Louisiana, so my day looks like this:
· Arrive, say my hellos, get my coffee, and check emails. It’s amazing how many emails I’ll receive from students after midnight in regards to a project or a grade. Checking and responding to emails take up a great bit of time, depending on the time in the semester. Like now, we have a few weeks of school left, so I’m receiving a lot of emails wanting to know how to bring grades up, if they can turn in very late assignments, etc.
· After checking emails, I’m organizing the day. I already have a sketch of what the day will bring, but I use a daily calendar to structure what needs to be graded that day, what tests need to be developed and ready for class, what lectures need to be prepped, what assignments need to be created, etc. The organizing part is rather short, and it leads to the biggest part of the day: GRADING.
· I spend several hours every day, on campus and off, grading—news articles, feature stories, press releases, term papers, opinion pieces, websites, etc.
· The next biggest chunk of my day consists of TEACHING. Depending on the day, I am typically teaching two to four classes a day, and on Tuesdays, I’m on campus from 10 a.m. to almost 9 p.m.
· If there are editing projects, those are worked on after teaching hours and on the weekends.
What advice do you have for new authors?
Understand that you are an author… and a promoter. As you are studying the writing craft, you should also be studying what it means to be an author in 2016, in the digital age. What is your brand? What is your mission as an author? What digital platforms do you need to help build that brand, and how will you use those platforms?
What kinds of books do you like to work on?
I don’t have a particular kind that I’m fond of. I have edited street and Christian, romance and mystery, erotica and paranormal, and many genres in between. I just love working on stories with good characters, a thrumming plot, and a satisfying ending.
Is it true that editors are looking for manuscripts that are more “finished”?
If editors like me, those who polish manuscripts, we’re not looking for “more finished” manuscripts. Just manuscripts that have the basic tenets of formatting and that the writer puts forward an effort of submitting the best work they can for editing.
If editors in publishing houses, I would say they are probably looking for more finished work. And I think a better word would be “polished”; they are looking for polished work. They want a great story by a writer who obviously cares tremendously about writing and developing a strong story and has done his or her due diligence in getting their story edited and ready for them.