RICHARD FINNEY: Many people assume editors are the ones we all knew in school who were the best spellers and from the earliest age knew their participles from their modifiers. Have you always been excited about the craft of writing?
KATY SOZAEVA: Perhaps it is sad, but I was the best speller in my class. Both of my 5th and 6th grade teachers set up an “accelerated” reading/spelling program for me and a few others in my class. I have always been a lover of words – I started writing short stories in 2nd grade, and for a long time I spent hours every day writing. I have long since decided that writing is not my strong point, but I noticed over the years, in my obsessive reading, that I could always pick out problems in the books. I thought to myself, “It would be really neat to edit books,” but had no idea how to break into the business.
RF: Eventually you did start editing books. How did you go about getting your first job?
KATY SOZAEVA: I mentioned in a review I was writing for an author that I had spotted some issues and he wrote me back and asked me to go over the book again and send him back any specific changes I might suggest. He was happy with my suggestions, and referred me to another author he knew. Things just steamrolled from there. I eventually had to set a limit to the number of books I would accept in a given month because I ended up having to do so many so quickly.
RF: Do you have a system worked out when you begin editing a book?
KATY SOZAEVA: Not as such – I usually just dive in and start reading. I keep my Chicago manual nearby, and the on-line version of Merriam-Webster dictionary (Chicago-style approved), as well as a search engine, and if I’m ever unsure about anything, I just run a search. I also warn people I might contact them if I run across something I need their input about, like a name that changes or if I need clarification on a story point. Different authors have slightly different needs and styles – most like me to track my changes, but I have a couple who actually want me to just run with their manuscript.
RF: What do you think is the biggest mistake beginning writers make? What do you think is the most common mistake even veteran writers make?
KATY SOZAEVA: Dialogue tags are often a problem. Beginning writers tend to overuse them, and even veteran writers overuse “he/she said” rather than mixing it up. Or even worse, they become too clever and use things that just feel unnatural.
RF: I’m totally guilty of both of those problems. Now, I have to admit, I was a little reluctant to approach you to edit some of my books because our relationship started with you as a fan of my writing. So asking you to come in and edit one of my books felt like asking someone to arrive several hours before the curtain rises and see the chaos back stage. Please tell readers out there that when they read a book they are seeing the end result of a small team of people helping the author pull off a magic trick...
KATY SOZAEVA: I have a drama background, so I’ve seen the best and worst a production has to offer – it really does give a person a distinct perspective on life! And from my own background in journalism, I’m well aware that things don’t start out perfect. Using a team of people – like beta readers, content editors, line editors, and proofreaders – will help a book to reach the highest quality level to be released “into the wild”. Publishing a book is a lot of work. I think a lot of people who haven’t really put themselves out there as writers don’t realize that. Those of us “behind the scenes” do our best to help the author say what they meant to say. Hopefully anyone reading the book will “get it” and enjoy the story without having to stop and say to themselves, “What am I reading, what does this even mean?” It’s a wonderful feeling to see a book I’ve had a hand in get good reviews.
RF: What’s the kind of mistake that an editor might miss, even after a couple times going through the material?
KATY SOZAEVA: Missing words are really hard to catch, despite how they snag a reader’s eye. This is one of the reasons I recommend multiple people look at any manuscript – the reader’s brain will tend to see what it expects to see. Recently, while reading a book that I knew had been through at least five different editors, plus beta reading, and which I had actually read once before myself, I noticed a missing word, and mentioned it to the author. The author wrote back, providing the sentence verbatim, missing word and all, and said, “I don’t see anything wrong with the sentence.” Of course, once I pointed it out, it was obvious – but the those sorts of things are so easy to miss, especially for the author – who knows what she/he planned to say – or someone who has already been over the text a time or two. I usually recommend the author goes through a beta read, a content edit, a line edit and a final proofread – preferably with a different person at each level – to minimize these sorts of things.
RF: There is a balancing act you must perform while working with writers. Some are comfortable with suggestions about how to write something better. Others can be threatened that you’re trying to crush their “voice.” How difficult is this aspect of your job?
KATY SOZAEVA: Well, I do my best to make it clear that any suggestions I’m making are only to help improve the flow of the sentence structure, and if I do provide specific suggestions, I try to provide at least two or three and keep them as close to the original sentence as possible. Honestly, I haven’t yet had an author become upset by any of my suggestions.
RF: Do you do your best work when you are fully engaged with the story and characters of a novel, or is being detached from the work a better way to approach your job?
KATY SOZAEVA: That’s a tough question. I could make a case either way – on the one hand, if I’m really enjoying the story, sometimes I’ll forget I’m supposed to be editing it and have to go back and look things over again, but I’m enjoying every minute. On the other hand, I have had to edit books from genres of which I’m not terribly fond and it is sometimes difficult to maintain focus. However, I take pride in helping the authors with whom I work put out their very best product, so if I feel I’m not “giving it 100 percent”, I’ll take a break and come back at it fresh.
RF: Okay, I’m going to assume, for the sake of my ego, that you had to constantly “go back and look things over again.”
KATY SOZAEVA: Yes, Richard, I had to do that several times in editing your material!
RF: Thank you for that! With self-publishing, or indie publishing taking off in a big way, can you make the case that good editing is more important than ever before?
KATY SOZAEVA: Absolutely! I see so many people who have decided that all “indie” books are terrible because they’ve had the misfortune to read one that is poorly edited. I can really empathize with independent authors, who often feel they can’t afford to hire an editor to work on their book, but who feel they have a story they need to tell. This is the reason I’ve set my fees so low, and offer a barter option – it is in the best interests of every author to know they’re putting out a work they can look at with pride.
RF: I know you are a voracious reader. Are you able to turn off the “editor” switch and just sit back and lose yourself in a good story?
KATY SOZAEVA: Umm, not always. Even if I’m really enjoying a story, I always notice the misused words, bad grammar, the wrong homonyms, etc. being used in the book. However, if the book has really dragged me in, those issues are much less intrusive. Of course, I think that’s a good thing – it helps me to stay sharp.
RF: Okay, so give me the vibe when you’re doing your work -- I’m seeing a person standing in a stream with a spear and when you see a mistake, you spear it and say, “gotcha.”
KATY SOZAEVA: Oh, dear, no. I’m more the type to sit back with a pole and drowse. While editing I actually envision myself with a pair of scissors, excising that which does not belong and “gluing” in what might work better (with comments). There are days I certainly rue the loss of paper and red pencils.