SPS-302: How to Train Your Editor Brain – with Tiffany Yates Martin
Tiffany Yates Martin began proofreading for the Big Six as a way to support her acting career. Now she writes books for authors learning to edit their work, and guides them toward understanding what will make a compelling story that has readers turning pages.
- An update on James and Mark’s works-in-progress
- Definitions of a copyeditor, proofreader and developmental editor
- The creative and practical sides to editing
- Getting started working with the Big Six as a proofreader and editor
- How writing, and therefore editing, must evolve
- Why good writing is like set decorating
- Top three tips for fixing problems in a book
- The importance of being kind and encouraging to yourself as a creative
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-302: How to Train Your Editor Brain - with Tiffany Yates Martin
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Tiffany Yates Martin: It's an onerous work. To me, it's the delight of taking this mine that you've created, and then digging out more gold and polishing all the facets into it that you can.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing, no more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join indie bestseller, Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch, as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It is The Self-Publishing Show. I'm James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And I'm Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Episode 302, Mark, now we know our episode numbers. Lots of podcast people do do their episode numbers at the beginning, don't they, say that? But we're more of a chapter.
Mark Dawson: No. I think as journalists we are just not organised.
James Blatch: Shut up. Now, I've got a question for you on chapters, before we do our Patreon supporters, thank you very much indeed. We're going to welcome you personally in a moment. I do quite a lot of book formatting these days, and I was reading a blog post actually, on whether you should use chapter titles not in your contents. Do you use chapter titles in your contents or not? Because you can tick a box in Vellum and I'm sure other formatting software.
Mark Dawson: How do mean? Give the chapter a title?
James Blatch: Yeah. So, basically you give the chapter a title, or if you tick the box in Vellum. If you've got anything above the line of the first paragraph. So, you might have the date or something like that, depending on how you've written your book. I prefer just seeing chapter, because I don't know how many people use a chapter list in reality anyway. But it looks messy and clumsy to me to have all the chapter names there, but some people seem to think it's a better thing to do.
Mark Dawson: That's a different question there. So, you were talking about do you use chapter headings or chapter names? No, I do not. Not that many writers do these days-
James Blatch: So, not relevant.
Mark Dawson: You could have chapter one, James Goes to the Shops. Chapter two, James Walks the Dog.
James Blatch: That's a good book.
Mark Dawson: Which sounds like a very exciting book, but yeah. You could have that as your headings in your contents page, but that's a fairly old fashioned way of doing things. You don't see it often in the books that I read and write.
James Blatch: I think I may have done it in my book, because my book is chronological. Every day, you don't miss a day in my book.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. I mean, I do that too. I mean, most of my Milton books take place sequentially over the course of seven or eight days, and I do it by parts. So, part one, Monday. Part two, Tuesday, and then the chapters are just chapter one, two, three, four, five, whatever. I don't give them any more detail.
And the book I'm writing now, Wormwood, given that it's set in '86, around the general disaster, what I'm probably going to do is a reverse chronology, so its style starts, April the 20th, Six Days Before the Explosion. Because anyone who's reading it will know that obviously it's going to explode. You won't be surprised when the nuclear power station is probably going to have an accident.
James Blatch: Like writing a book set on the Titanic.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, exactly. Two days from iceberg. And that works quite well because I think doing it that way will crank up the tension, because you know something that will be quite exciting to read is coming up. And so, that's the ticking time bomb, if you like. But I won't, beyond the parts being Six Days Before the Explosion, the chapters won't have anything, any more detail than that.
James Blatch: All right. Well, I thought I'd asked that while suddenly it was on my mind, and I thought I might forget. But now we can formally start by welcoming our new Patrion supporters. Would you like to do that, Mark Dawson?
Mark Dawson: Yes. I will, James Blatch.
Hello to Peter Doyle from Dublin, and Damian Vargas from Malaga in Spain, so thank you very much to Peter and Damien for joining several hundred others on Patreon who make it a lot easier for us to put this slick podcast together, where we don't even know the numbers of our podcast episodes.
James Blatch: 302.
Mark Dawson: 302. Yes, that's right. So, thank you very much to Peter and Damian.
James Blatch: You're going to talk about your book, not Wormwood, which makes me think of Wormwood Scrubs, the title.
Mark Dawson: Well, I've told you before what Wormwood means, haven't I? I'm sure I've mentioned it on the podcast. Wormwood, Chernobyl in Ukrainian, translates as Wormwood, meaning the plant. But also, and Ronald Reagan picked up on this back in the eighties, the Book of Revelations contains reference to the meteor that heralds the beginning of the apocalypse, and that's called Wormwood. So, his opinion was that Chernobyl had been ordained in the Bible as something that was going to happen.
James Blatch: Wow. I did not know that.
Mark Dawson: No. It was one of those moments, when I read that, I was like, yep. That's the title of my book. That's been the title for about two years. So, here comes my dog. Apologies listeners, if you hear woofing, it will be our Scout looking out the window.
James Blatch: I did want to ask you about your launch, how that's gone, and also a little bit about the writing that I know you're getting into now. So, the launch has gone, I think, pretty well, looking at the charts.
Mark Dawson: Yes. The launch has been really great. It had, I think, 12,000 full price pre-orders, something along those lines, which obviously is wonderful. But what usually happens is that it will launch reasonably successfully, because not everyone likes to pre-order. So, you'll have maybe two or 3000 who will go and buy it on the day it comes out, and then it will slowly drift out of the charts. But this one hasn't done that.
So, it's eight days and it's been in the top 100 for eight days now at full price, which is really great. That's in the UK, doing pretty well in the US, top 500 I think, and seems quite sticky so I'm really pleased with how that's gone. I'm not entirely sure why. It may be that it's appealing to people beyond the series, and it's quite visible so people are taking a chance who haven't read Milton before perhaps. So, that's great because if it is doing that, then obviously it's introducing the character, my writing to new readers.
James Blatch: Yeah. But it could be the knock on effect also of being visible in shops in the UK, because there's an audience there who would be introduced to you.
Mark Dawson: That's possible.
James Blatch: People who read Peter James and the usual stuff people sit on their shelves all the time. And have read just one book a year, I think, now they've moved on to you because you were there, and now you've released a new one. You might be picking up new audience that way. Which just goes to show when you're signing that deal, and I don't know the ins and outs of that deal, but being a trad deal is probably not as lucrative as you uploading and selling your own book. But there's hidden benefits, and this is one of them, isn't it? That visibility.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. It's an unusual deal and it's a hybrid joint venture between me and another company, so it's nothing like a traditional publishing deal at all. But, yeah. Absolutely. It is definitely getting me into bookstores. It's in lots and lots of bookstores now.
I had an email from Jasper Joffe actually the other day asking how I'd got the book into the WHSmith at Heathrow. I think he knew how I had done it, but that's just a good indication that it is getting into lots and lots of different places. Which does introduce me to new readers who probably don't buy on Kindle. Or they might buy on Kindle. It's all good publicity for the books.
James Blatch: Yeah. And you're cracking on with the next Milton, which as you said, is called Wormwood, and... Oh no, it's not Milton.
Mark Dawson: No, that's not Milton. Milton would have to go back in time to be in that one. So, no. This is a standalone in the same world, so there's a couple of characters that readers will recognise. But it's one of those moments, it's been really good writing, probably the best week I've had for getting words down in a couple of years. I've probably done 25,000 words this week.
James Blatch: Great.
Mark Dawson: Really, really good for me. It's 20, 25,000, so that's exceptional. And the reason is just because I'm very enthusiastic about it. The research is fun, I've rewatched the Chernobyl series, the HBO show, which is just ridiculously good. Reading some really good nonfiction, narrative nonfiction stories on what happened maybe 10 years before, and then in the immediate aftermath, so I've got loads and loads of material that I'm able to refer to.
And characters are good, and it's fun to write about. It's a fairly scary event for those who are old enough to remember it, but it is also fun to learn what happened, and to twist it taking a slightly different direction. The tagline will be, what if it wasn't an accident? How could I sabotage a nuclear reactor?
James Blatch: Hmm. Interesting. Well, it's good. And funnily enough, I've had a good writing week as well. Not as good as yours, but a good one, on the back of a conversation we had in London last weekend, when I told you I was a bit stuck and finding myself not going back to the writing, because I knew I'd got to a point where I wasn't sure how to do the next bit.
You said, just jump ahead, which was such an easy piece of advice, and a bit of advice I would give somebody who asked me, but hadn't properly occurred to me. And so, I jumped ahead and started writing the last third of the book, which I love, and immediately had two 1000 word days in a row, which was brilliant, the Monday and Tuesday.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. That's a good, good tip. If you get stuck with something then just, and there's something you want to get to, just go and write it, and then come back.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: I often find that that gets... I get bits. I might get stuck on a slight plot point, doesn't feel authentic or there's something that I'm not quite happy with, so I'll go forward, write something else, and then in the meantime, I'm always thinking about fixing the problem that I've had. And by the time I finish the bit that I jumped ahead to, I've usually solved the problem that was giving me issues before.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: Sequentially, not a good idea sometimes.
James Blatch: It's good for me because I need, in this particular story unlike my last book really, the relationships and the characters need to be in a certain place in the last third, a certain point of desperation or love or whatever it is, a bit of that going on in my book. When you're writing the story, the story and the character development get in the way of each other sometimes, and the story has to be the drive of the character, and the character has to be the main thing.
But you're still writing the story and things are happening, and it's quite difficult sometimes I think, to remember where you need to end up. So, writing where you need to end up, having that down, focuses my mind a bit more, and when I go back I think it doesn't really matter about X, Y, and Z. What matters is this conversation and this moment in their development.
I think it is going to work for me. I was aiming to hand over the completed first draft at the end of this month. I've agreed with my editor that he's going to get probably about 60,000 words of it, but in fact, as it turns out, he'll get 60,000 at the beginning, and 25,000 at the end, which is going to be good. So, he'll be able to give me good developmental feedback on that. Good. And then I will be finishing the draft and into the revision stage.
Which funnily enough, in a lovely segue, brings us onto today's interview, which is with Tiffany Yates Martin, somebody very experienced from the older days of the big... What was it? Big six traditional publishers in the old days, through to today, where she works with lots of indie authors as well, and she is a bit like Jenny Nash, our resident editor. We might want to call her.
Tiffany has a vast wealth of experience in particularly developmental editing and revision, and she has lots of tips and advice for how you can get yourself into the correct frame of mind, with the correct methodology to revise your manuscript effectively. But also she talks a bit about how to hire an editor, some steps you can take to make sure you are getting the right match of an editor. So, let's hear from Tiffany Yates Martin.
Tiffany Yates Martin, welcome to The Self-Publishing Show. Lovely to have you here. You're looking very bright and breezy. In fact, I don't even know where you are, except I know what time zone you're in. You're in central.
Tiffany Yates Martin: I am.
James Blatch: Colorado?
Tiffany Yates Martin: It's six hours earlier. It's broad daylight at 1:00 PM, and I'm in Austin, Texas.
James Blatch: Ah, you're in Austin.
Tiffany Yates Martin: And thank you for having me.
James Blatch: You're very welcome. Is it 1:00 PM? Because I thought it was 3:00 PM. I've got that time wrong, but you knew.
Tiffany Yates Martin: Yeah. You said that and I got super confused and I literally had to look it up to make sure I had the time right.
James Blatch: Wow. I'm pleased you did and didn't listen to me, which is a good tip in life. Okay. Look, here we go. We're going to talk about editing, Tiffany. Let's start, as I always like to with these interviews, so we can learn a bit about you.
Better tell us how you got to where you are today, in terms of publishing, Tiffany.
Tiffany Yates Martin: Well, I started a long time ago in 19... Gosh. The early nineties. I was an actor at the time. Actually I was an English major, for no reason except I had a lot of English credits, and so I thought, well, this'll get me out soon. But I always thought I would be an actor, moved to New York and I was doing that.
Actors are mostly waiters, which I was, and we mostly don't make a tonne of money, which I wasn't. And so, when I was doing a lot of regional theatre I was looking for something I could do, we didn't call it this then, but my side hustle. In the newspaper I saw an ad that said, get paid for reading books, in the classified section of The New York Times. And I thought, I'm sure this is a scam.
I was a starving artist. It was $25 that I ill had to afford, but I took a chance on it, and darned if it didn't tell you how to go about becoming a freelance copy editor or proofreader. So, that's how I started, and I worked with most of the big six at the time, I started as a proofreader, I moved into copy editing. I did that for maybe 12 or, I guess, 15 years.
And then about a dozen years ago, I moved into developmental editing, which is what I do now, and I work with major publishers. I work directly with authors. I work with everyone from multi published bestselling authors to newer authors, and classes, online courses, webinars, that kind of thing.
James Blatch: Great. So, you learned the trade on the job really, reading book after book after book. Mark and I, and John, watched films for a living for seven years, classifying them in the UK. I've never been to film school or done a film course, but I'm pretty film literate, because I watched five and a half hours of films, five days a week, for seven years, and I can tell you straight away whether a film works or doesn't work, and what they've done to get it right or wrong.
I guess you learnt the ins and outs of novels just by reading them.
Tiffany Yates Martin: It's funny you say that. One of the things I talk about and teach a lot is how to, I call it how to train your editor brain, and the best way to do that is by taking in other people's stories, because you're objective. You have that built-in editor brain where you don't have that in your own work, that's the hardest thing about editing your own work, is you're filling in all the blanks.
So, watching other people's stories, reading other people's stories, but not just passively the way we do when we're couch surfing, but like you described. Watching it and analysing it, dissecting it, breaking apart the story.
Why does it work? What's effective? What makes it effective? Why am I reacting the way I'm reacting?
James Blatch: And in those early days in New York, when you were reading, proofreading, did you start to get to a stage where you wanted to say, oh, I wish they hadn't done this with the hero? Because the proof readers job is fairly... In fact, we should define the editing roles, let's do that at this stage.
People are confused about development and a copy editor, and a proof editor. Can you get just quickly give us the brief of who does what?
Tiffany Yates Martin: Excellent question. Yes. And the frustrating thing is that a lot of these are fluid definitions and not everybody uses all the exact same definitions. But as I understand it, as I have been in the business as long as I've been in the business, developmental editing is like the big picture, high level, absolutely everything. It looks at structure, plot, characterization. It looks at how effective the story is on the page. It looks at suspense intention, is point of view solid, how's the momentum?
Every single element of story, and it helps the author, basically I always say, it holds up a mirror for the author to see what they actually have. That's what a good edit should do. And you're so right about learning to do it from other people's work, because there's so many people right now who have started editing because it seems like a great fit if you love books or you're a writer, but you do have to learn on the job. So, that was great training for that.
And then copy editing is... Let's just put it in the scheme of things when you're writing. You'll finish your draft to the best of your abilities, and then probably the first place that will go will be a developmental editor, and that's what I just described. And then hopefully when you get published or you're publishing yourself, you will have it copy edited after that. And that's the nuts and bolts. That's the punctuation, spelling, grammar, fact checking, consistency, a little bit of word usage, echoed words, stuff like that. Any of the technical stuff.
But also a little bit of, which I'll go into next, line editing, which is, have you said what you are saying in the most effective way? And have you said exactly what you think you're saying? Because sometimes we have it like with, I don't know, dangling modifiers or just a near miss of a word choice, you're not quite expressing the thought you think you're expressing, and a good copy editor will spot that.
A line editor will spot that sort of thing, but they'll also work on more of a creative level with you, where they're just looking at the prose itself, and they're helping you make sure that you are expressing your thoughts as concisely, effectively, lean, clean, precise as possible.
And then, a proofreader is after that. Back in the day, when I used to do this at first, proofreading was when copy edits would get typeset onto galley pages, and then you would painstakingly compare the galley pages to the author's manuscript, and literally word by word, punctuation by punctuation, make sure everything got transferred.
With electronic files now, I don't think it probably operates that way. My assumption now, and I haven't done it in a long time is, and you can probably tell me better than I can because you just did this so recently, proofreading, I think now, is just that final pass to make sure everything got incorporated, and there's no typos, nothing got left out.
James Blatch: Yeah. That pretty much describes the process that I went through. Proofreading was getting the commas in the right place. It was the last fix on things like speech. That bit where you introduce a speech with a comma or a full stop, which I still get confused about fixing that. The copy edit one was the interesting one.
Development editing, from my experience of doing exactly that, you described it very accurately. So, development editing was that. This is what I think works, this is what I think doesn't work. So, I think the story, the characters, internal, external, all that stuff gets done then. Then you basically rewrite the novel effectively after that discussion. That's what I do anyway.
The copy editing I thought was really interesting, because it's quite a wide ranging brief. You end up doing some of that proof stuff, because the copy editor is not going to ignore an incorrect speech, even if that's not really what their main thing is. But they'll say things like, "That didn't make sense to me. I don't know what you mean here." Which is a great note for a writer, because you think you've expressed your thoughts clearly, and they're saying, "I don't really know what you mean here."
Then they'll say, "Do you mean this character rather than that character," or you've made mistakes. But they'll also do some brilliant little, "You said on page 12, this was on that document at the top. But now you're saying this is on that document at the top." I found that a really, really useful service on my manuscript.
The copy editing I think, was the most fun bit for me and most useful bit.
Tiffany Yates Martin: I think it is. Well, I found it fun to do because I'm a little bit left-brained and OCD, which are great traits to have for a copy editor. But I also think it's fun to have done. I also write under a pen name and I just finished the copy edit stage, and you're right.
It is fun, because first of all you get to correct all the little things that every reader would have written in, to tell you you got wrong, and it's stuff you would never think about. Like this song, you have it coming out in the summer of their senior year. Well, it didn't get released until the year after that. Or, as you said, stuff from 100 pages ago that they remember and call out that saves you from inconsistencies.
James Blatch: Yeah. And we should also say, whether you work for Stoddart or Penguin or yourself, you won't get everything.
Tiffany Yates Martin: You won't. I don't get everything and I did it for 15 years. I have to have a copy editor.
James Blatch: And what I'm saying is, even through this process, you won't get everything.
Tiffany Yates Martin: Yeah. It amazes me.
James Blatch: Readers will still find stuff, and it's infuriating but I don't care if you are published a big six or whatever it is now, big four author, or self-published and you've worked really hard on this stage.
It's a funny thing, but some stuff just gets through, doesn't it?
Tiffany Yates Martin: Not just that, but all the job descriptions I just mentioned, all those people look at a manuscript before it's published if you're getting traditionally published. If you're getting this done for yourself, you're at the very least, probably, hopefully, getting a copy editor, I would say that's indispensable for self-publishing. Who knows how many of your friends have read it? Who knows how many other editing services you hire? But especially in a publishing house, the number of eyeballs on this thing, the fact that anything gets through has always amazed me. But that's just, I guess, human error.
James Blatch: I spot typos in traditionally published books reasonably often. And I suppose that leads us onto why this is so important. And it's so important not to think that you can do this yourself, because some errors are really hard to spot, and your brain works very cleverly.
It's like, you occasionally see these sentences that are deliberately wrong, but you can't see them, because it's in those two places. Your brain, all day your brain is making sense of what it sees and trying to order it so that it makes sense of things. And of course, it's trying to correct things before you even notice, that's its job, which is why you can't see your own errors a lot. So, I completely agree. Copy editing as a minimum.
Would you say proof editing is compulsory really for even self-published authors as well?
Tiffany Yates Martin: I always hesitate to say anything is compulsory, because I hate to put up a financial barrier for people who want to get their work out there. But I would say, if you're going to save your pennies for anything, copy editing will be money incredibly well spent. A proof would also.
You're competing with every other published work out there, from every other company that will be very polished, and look good, and not have errors in it. And readers can be pretty unforgiving. You can have a fantastic story but if it's riddled with typos or you're missing big chunks of texts, or you've got word usage wrong, it can put somebody off your story. They won't get far enough in to stay hooked, because it makes us aware of what we're reading and we disengage. So, yeah. I would say, if at all possible.
I often think that proofreading can be done by the author, but that could be me saying that because that's what I used to do, and I have a pretty sharp eye for it. So, I don't know. I don't know about that one.
James Blatch: It's difficult. I think it's difficult to proofread your own work.
Tiffany Yates Martin: You are filling everything in, as you said.
James Blatch: Yeah. You're working against that instinct for your brain to cover things up for you. Well, that's certainly my view, is where I am at the moment, development editing is compulsory as well, because I'm still at that stage of learning how to tell stories. And I want to talk to you a bit about that. We'll perhaps come back to copy and proof towards the end of the interview.
Developmental editing is almost a size apart from those other two. It's a different beast altogether, and you must have discovered that, moving from the more technical editing to this artistic editing, would you call it? It's a more holistic editing.
Tiffany Yates Martin: I do. It's funny. I have a book, Intuitive Editing, and the subtitle is, A Creative and Practical Guide to Revising Your Writing, and that is exactly how I think of editing. It's both creative and very practical.
And you can also learn some of the skills yourself, to get very good at editing your own work, it's still hard to see it really clearly. But it uses both sides of your brain, so I do think it's creative.
James Blatch: How did you find your first development edit? And when did you feel you were qualified to do it? What point did you think, I can talk to authors about structure and so on?
Tiffany Yates Martin: The cool thing about doing copy editing for that long, as you said, is that when it got to me, this was back in the day before electronic everything, so I got gallery pages with red pencil on them and post-it notes. And so, I got to see every single thing that had been done to a story, prior to my getting it. All the edit passes, all the changes authors had made. It was an incredible learning experience. So, that helped.
But the thing that really told me I probably was going to be able to do a decent job at it was, I joined a writer's group, and I learned as much from editing other people's work and assessing whether it was working, and helping them figure out where it might not be as effective as it could be, and realised that was a way my brain worked.
That's another reason I say, the more you can do that, not just by analysing another story, but if you can put yourself in a position where you're actually giving people feedback on their work, whether that's a critique group, or a writer's group, or a critique partner. Back in the day before COVID, when we would go to conferences and they'd do R&Cs... Oh my God. Now I'm blanking on what R&C stands for.
James Blatch: Research or something-
Tiffany Yates Martin: Review and critique. No, it's not, it's not coming to me. But anyway, it's when agents or editors will live take pages from attendees and read through them, and then go through and say what's working, what's not working, what caught their attention, when they disengaged. It's really harsh, reading critique. I knew it would come to me.
James Blatch: Reading critique, there you go.
Tiffany Yates Martin: It's really harsh, especially if it's your work, but they often let you sit in on a bunch of people's work and it's basically anonymous. And you get to hear what these professionals, what their impressions of the writing are, and what works for them, and what makes them put it down. That's incredibly helpful. Getting to do all that was fantastic training ground.
And then, the way I first started doing it, I'm a scrappy little thing, so as I said, I came in the back door with copy editing and proofreading with my little pamphlet. And then when I decided to start dev editing and thought I might be good at it, I didn't have any credits, I didn't have any experience. I didn't want to say to somebody, give me thousands of dollars, which as you know, is what an edit will cost for me to edit for you. I knew a lot of authors from being in the business so long, having worked with them as their copy editor.
One author was from Austin, and I had just moved here and I had befriended her, and I thought, you know what? I'm just going to ask her. She had a new book out or a new manuscript she was working on and she had been talking about it. I said, "I will dev edit this for free for you." She had nothing to lose. Like it could have been terrible, and then she could just throw it away.
So, I did it and it turned out very well. She was incredibly pleased. She told everybody she knew, and that just snowballed. And then little by little, this was all during the time when publishing was changing more than I've seen it in my entire time in the business. And you had all these smaller publishers, and then you had Amazon and everything was different.
Little by little, I started moving into working with publishers, and then agents get to know you, and they'll pass your name along to clients. So, yeah. Again, I came in the back door with that. But with tonnes of experience, which is so helpful. There's no way to learn except by doing it.
James Blatch: Sounds like perfect timing, because as you say, the publishing world has suddenly exploded actually from then. I guess there were freelancers working in editing and so on in the old days, but now it's a huge industry around self publishing and small hybrid publishers.
Tiffany Yates Martin: I don't remember it being like it is now. It's a whole industry now that I don't ever remember existing before. I don't know that I could have created this career the way I've created it 20 years ago. But I also don't know that I could have taken it to where I've taken it now, without having had... I didn't come up within the publishing industry because I never worked at a publishing house, but I've worked with them for all this time. And you get to see how the process works, and get so much experience and credits. That was a huge help too.
I got really lucky as a copy editor, I was working with Walter Mosley and Pat Conroy. I say, working with, that's very grandiose. I was copy editing them, which basically means don't change a whole bunch because it's Walter Mosley, or whoever. But still, it was like, this stuff goes on your resume and suddenly you have instant credibility, even though it's an adjacent skill, it's helpful. It's helpful for when people see, oh, okay. She's actually done this kind of work with these people, so there's some measure of professionalism and experience there, which is something I always encourage authors to look for when they're hiring people.
James Blatch: In terms of the business side of things now, I mean, how busy are you? I often think it's one of those jobs where there's a finite amount of time that you've got. So, you either put your prices up, I guess, you can't clone yourself in terms of expanding.
Tiffany Yates Martin: It was funny, right at the beginning of the pandemic my book came out, and I stayed very busy and I like to stay very busy. I'm working with publishers who are giving me projects, but I also try to work directly with authors. And then I always want to try to keep spaces to work with authors I've worked with before, who may suddenly go, "Hey, I've got a title."
So, that always stayed very busy, but then the book came out and it went next level, which I hadn't expected. And overnight I had to redefine what my business was. I'd always done conferences and workshops and that sort of thing, and I love it. So, I started doing a lot more of that kind of thing, especially in the pandemic, when everybody was stuck at home.
First thing I did was create a big free webinar, and I contacted every conference I had worked with and said, "This is a terrifying time, and a lot of people aren't able to write right now," but there's stuff you can do for your career that doesn't involve writing, it involves doing what you're doing.
You remember at the beginning of the pandemic, where we all freaked out and sat around and watched every single thing on Netflix? That's learning experience, as you said. And so, I created this course to help show people how you can learn to dissect and analyse and use that for your writing, even if, what I heard from a lot of writers at the beginning of this, with kids at home and people at home and everything shaken up, and all the uncertainty we were feeling, was a lot of people weren't able to write. So, that kick-started this whole new avenue that's been going really well.
Now I'm working on a second book for editing. I'm still doing the editing work, but I find I'm dividing up my day a bit more. So, the mornings tend to be toward developing content for that sort of thing. And then in the afternoons, I'll work on actual projects. But I think they're essential, hand in hand.
I talked to some people who have stopped doing the hands-on editing as their business changed, and to me, as long as I've been doing this, I learn something new constantly. I'm constantly expanding my ideas and my theories about how to do this.
I've been working with a couple of authors recently, where we're working very intensely and closely, which is unusual, and going through almost scene by scene. And as we're doing it, I realised this whole huge thing about how to help authors analyse their plot and structure, and make it work with strong momentum, that I don't think you can learn any other way but by being hands-on. So, I relish doing both.
James Blatch: And writing evolves, right?
Tiffany Yates Martin: Oh gosh. Yeah.
James Blatch: So, if you do stop editing, you're in danger of falling out of... I mean, if you read a book, I read a review actually. Someone reviewed my book and I looked at it, he was a big reviewer, got an Amazon tick. And I looked at his previous reviews and he picked up a John Le Carre, which you reviewed last year, and said how dated it was, and how boring he found it, compared to how books are written. That's the great John Le Carre.
Writing evolves, editing must evolve alongside it. I think you're right to want to keep your hand in.
Tiffany Yates Martin: And that's another skill. Hopefully when you hire a good developmental editor, not only do they have all the craft skills and the storytelling skills, you also want them to have marketing knowledge, as you said. What's selling? What's out there right now? And it does, it changes so fast.
If nothing else, our attention spans, I think, are getting shorter and shorter, which is changing so much for everything from chapter length. There used to be really a lot of internality, internalism I guess, in novels. I think readers check out now, if you do that too much.
James Blatch: Self-indulgent. It's got to be what's on the next page.
Tiffany Yates Martin: It didn't used to be considered self-indulgent, but now in the era of the selfie, it's considered self-indulgent.
James Blatch: Look at some of the biggest selling authors, the James Pattersons and Dan Browns, there's not a lot of fat in their writing is there?
Tiffany Yates Martin: No.
James Blatch: It's just a skinny story to get you to turn the page. Okay. So, let's talk about the book then, Tiffany.
What prompted you to write the book?
Tiffany Yates Martin: I love craft books, like most of us do. You can see, I have a whole shelf full of them back here.
So, two things. I would hear authors say to me a lot, they would turn in a manuscript or contact me and say, "I'm having trouble, but I religiously did..." Whatever. Save the Cat or the hero's journey, or fill in the blank of all the different craft techniques that are out there. And over and over, I would see that it homogenised the writing.
That isn't to say those aren't incredibly valuable tools, but each of them as a tool in your toolkit, it would be like having a buzzsaw and then going around sawing everything. You want a bunch of different things to draw from, and I think if you try to rigidly adhere to some system like that, it's almost writing from the outside in, instead of from the inside out.
The way I work as an editor is that we're not trying to make your story adhere to any kind of structure, or thing that we think it should be. We're trying to get to the nut, the seed of the story, and your vision, and then put that on the page as clearly and effectively and impactfully as possible. So, that was part of it.
The other part is that as many craft books as there are out there, it's all writing directed. I hear authors all the time say that they're intimidated by editing, they're overwhelmed by editing. Sometimes they don't even know what editing involves. They'll finish writing and then they'll start, from page one they'll go start polishing the prose, which is great. I call that the sexy part of editing, because that's the fun part. But it's like the HGTV reveal part, where you're set dressing, it's not the structural stuff that needs to get done before that.
And that's what I think we don't really learn how to do that. We're taught writing like all these craft skills, and all the things we learn about storytelling are designed for the drafting stage of writing and that's it. And then this editing becomes this necessary evil thing you have to do before you can get your book out. But to me, that is what writing is.
It's the whole process. And the bulk of it, honestly, I think is the editing and revising, which I differentiate between also. And I think if we could approach it that way more, I think a lot of authors get discouraged. Because writing is hard, and it takes a lot to get not only a first draft, but then to polish it into something that you think is pretty good and ready for other eyes. And then often the journey's not over. That's the first base camp on Everest.
You've still got a long way to go, but I don't think it's onerous work. To me, it's the delight of taking this mine that you've created, and then digging out more gold, and polishing all the, mixed metaphors, polishing all the facets into it that you can. So, I wanted to simplify that process. I wanted to make it seem not intimidating and say, this is just another part of your creative process of creating a story.
It can be the part where you really find the story you wanted to tell in the first place. Just to give you and your listeners an idea of how much the editing process factors in. If I'm working with a published publisher who gives me a project, by the time... So, when your book is ready for publishing or if you've ever submitted, by the time you get it ready to submit to an agent or a publisher, or to publish yourself, you have gone through this thing like crazy. Who knows, how many drafts did you do on yours?
James Blatch: At least three full drafts and then-
Tiffany Yates Martin: Before you sent it to your editor?
James Blatch: Yeah. I worked with a development editor redrafting.
Tiffany Yates Martin: Okay. So, you've gone through however many passes on your own to get it to where it's even ready to go to a professional or to be published. And then, let's say you do go with a traditional publisher. When I work with publishers, they hire me for at least three more passes.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Tiffany Yates Martin: Full passes. So, you've got really three really intense passes more. And then I have worked with authors where we've done up to six more passes. So, to me that's perfectly normal, and that is the process. But I don't think we prepare writers for that, so it becomes this big wall in front of you when you thought you were finished.
James Blatch: Yeah. That's a really good mental state to be in, is to see that first big edit, the development edit, the revision, as an integral part of the process and not a chore. And it's something human nature doesn't want to hear about those problems, because they can involve a lot of hard work to fix. Being told there's some commas in the wrong place is one thing. Being told the middle third runs out of steam, that's a big rewrite. Well, so be it. But that's why I wonder how good we are at doing that to our own manuscripts. That's a challenge, isn't it?
Tiffany Yates Martin: I think it is.
James Blatch: You don't want to see those problems. You want to convince yourself it all works.
Tiffany Yates Martin: Right. I think it's probably the biggest challenge. That's why I differentiate between editing and revising, because revising is the part that we're good at as writers. That's just more of your writing skill. That's the stuff you already know how to do. You know how to create a character, you know how to develop a plot, you know how to create suspense intention.
But to the revising part, you have to do the editing part. I always say editing is assessing. Revising is addressing. So, editing is the stuff you've got to learn how to get that objectivity as much as possible on your own work, so that you can take the step back, look at it and say, what's working? Where is it not working? Where's my vision not on the page? I do think that authors can learn to do that to a much greater degree.
I will tell you that I need feedback. I'm an editor. And when I'm writing, I need feedback. I need somebody to say, what did I miss? How's this coming across? So, it's incredibly helpful. But I also, again, I hate to say, if you don't have several thousand dollars to hire a developmental editor than just throw in the towel, you can't have a career, because I do think there's other ways you can get that kind of feedback. It may not be as intensive, it may not be the expertise that you're looking for, but it shouldn't keep you from being able to enter that marketplace if you want to.
James Blatch: Yeah. When I said I worked alongside a development editor, more strictly speaking it was a book coach, which is a slightly different thing.
Tiffany Yates Martin: Like, add that to all those different definitions we gave.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Tiffany Yates Martin: That's confusing.
James Blatch: A book coach is a more modern thing. I think it's used more by independent authors than others, to help you. I had written a draft when I first went to the book coach, but they didn't read the draft. They wanted to know the outline and the theme, and then we discussed the structure and plot, and then I redrafted. And I found that very, very useful. In fact, it fundamentally changed the starting point of the novel and changed the way the novel worked really.
Tiffany Yates Martin: That's helpful. That would be like a story consultant in film, right?
James Blatch: Yeah. Exactly that. And Hollywood know what they're doing, they don't want stuff to get to the extreme with all that money that doesn't quite work. Although I think that still does happen. But it depends how untouchable the director is, as to how much work can go on in that story.
Tiffany Yates Martin: I think every author is different. I used to be in a critique group where we would turn in chapter by chapter. And after a while I realised it was shutting me down, this is another thing I talk about all the time. When you're writing, you need to be in the writer brain. When you're editing, be an editor brain.
If you try to mix those two up, it's basically, if you're writing and the editor is looking over your shoulder, it's the equivalent of having someone flogging you the whole time going, "Don't you think that sucks? Is that really what you wanted to say? Oh my God, what a stupid sentence that is."
Creativity does not respond to the stick, it only responds to the carrot. At least for me, and for most authors I know. So, if I'm sitting there trying to create something while I am badgering myself the whole time about how crappy it is, I'm not going to be able to go any further. I'm going to second guess everything.
I was getting this feedback from people where everybody's got an opinion and good, I welcome those when I'm finished so that I can take it in. What is it Neil Gaiman says? The people who tell you something's not working, I'm paraphrasing horribly, something's not working in your story, they're usually right. But if they try to tell you what it is and how to fix it, they're usually wrong. So, you have all these voices in a critique group telling you what's wrong with your story and how you should fix it, and I would lose my focus on the story I was trying to tell.
But I know a lot of authors, that's incredibly helpful. A book coach can keep you on track, they can get you doing your word count. They can consult with you, like you said, when you may be going down a dead end or off the track of the story, they can bring you back. They can help you consider things before you go down the rabbit hole. So, I think it depends on what works for each author.
James Blatch: I think that's a really good point, because writing, you're right, is a different thing from editing. Writings almost risk-taking, giving yourself the freedom to fail, and explore and go mad. Editing is much less that, and much more.
Tiffany Yates Martin: I always joke that you should write like a dog, and edit like a cat.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Tiffany Yates Martin: Which means, get all bleugh, slobbery and excited and don't second guess yourself while you're writing, just vomit it all up. That's the Id and then bring the super ego in. But leave the ego out of all of it.
James Blatch: I think it was Hemingway who said, write drunk, edit sober?
Tiffany Yates Martin: Yeah. Same thing.
James Blatch: It's the same thing. The dog and cat. So, the book, what's the book called again, Tiffany?
Tiffany Yates Martin: Intuitive Editing. The subtitle is, A Creative and Practical Guide to Revising Your Writing.
James Blatch: And you're giving workshops and courses now as well. Where can people find you?
Tiffany Yates Martin: Oh, they can find me, probably the easiest place is on my website. I've got a tab for online courses and I've got, on the homepage, a list of where I'm doing presentations. I do with Jane Friedman, and I'll do a lot of writer's conferences, virtual right now, but generally in-person sometime. And that's always listed on there too.
I've got a tonne of resources for the authors on there too, most of them free, that will help you with craft books that can help you, with podcasts that will help. Great writers, publications, where you can find information that's useful. I also do, every time I say this I feel ridiculous at my age, but I have a YouTube channel called, Editing Quick Tips, where I just offer these little nuggets of things that you could incorporate into your writing that are just quick, easy ways. Things to keep in mind to help strengthen your writing.
James Blatch: Well, I'm thinking we might talk to you about a webinar for our community. We've got 130,000 indie authors who have probably very much benefit. Particularly, I think you're right to pick out the fact that not everybody has, particularly at the beginning their career, thousands to spend on book coaches and development editors. And the more that we can approach that from a structured way, from being the cat, not the dog at that stage, which is something I think you probably have to train yourself to be.
Tiffany Yates Martin: You do.
James Blatch: Some tips to do that. So, if you were going to give some of those top tips to people who are maybe in their first draft at the moment... This is towards the end of the interview so we haven't got another hour for this bit, but I know you could talk for an hour here.
Tiffany Yates Martin: Did you see me light up?
James Blatch: What are the top tips about approaching that, about fixing problems?
Tiffany Yates Martin: I'll try to give you the quick and dirties. If you asked me like the top, maybe let's say three things, I call it the Holy Trinity, which is character, stakes and plot.
With character, readers do not care what's happening, unless we care who it's happening to. So, it's really important that you create fully fleshed, believable, three-dimensional characters, who desperately want something, who have formidable obstacles in their way, who will fight like hell to get that thing.
And then that brings us to stakes. If they don't care profoundly about whatever it is they're trying to get or avoid, readers do not care. So, make sure you keep stakes high and you build them throughout the story.
And then plot, if you have a fantastic character and huge stakes, but they just spin their wheels, you have to take us on a journey. Otherwise it's like getting on a plane and going on a flight, and then getting off in the same town where you bought in. You've got to take the reader somewhere, and plot is the vehicle to do that. And your character has to change as a direct result of the plot, of what they go through over the course of the story. Those are my quick and dirties.
James Blatch: Fantastic. That's a really good summary. I'm sure I'm doing the same as everybody else and going over my current work in progress thinking, yes. Am I doing that?
Tiffany Yates Martin: And the one more thing that's not craft related necessarily, but I say this all the time. Be kind and gentle with yourself. I truly don't think you can berate or flog or criticise yourself into a great story. It gets there the way it gets there, that's part of the process. Nobody has to see it until it's where you want it. And it takes time and effort and work, and you have to really stink it up before it gets really good. But you can't fix a blank page, to be a big fat cliche. So, just don't judge yourself, go easy on yourself, know that it's a process, and you'll get there.
James Blatch: That's great. Encourage yourself. Be kind to yourself.
Tiffany Yates Martin: Yeah. You're your own biggest champion. You're the only one you've got in this business.
James Blatch: I think for a lot of authors, and I probably include myself there, that's not something we naturally are good at. We're much better at feeling guilty about not doing things, or guilty about getting it wrong, and feeling like there's a black cloud there that we haven't fixed. Rather than thinking, you know what? A lot of what you've done is really good and is going to be getting you to where you need to be. So, another good tip. And yeah, first drafts, again, probably Hemingway said everyone's first draught is shit.
Tiffany Yates Martin: Yes. He did.
James Blatch: And there's one of the great writers of the American novel. So, fantastic. Well, Tiffany, it's been brilliant, absorbing to talk to you.
Tiffany Yates Martin: Thanks.
James Blatch: I really feel that we've barely scratched the surface on this subject, and let's have a chat off-air about potentially bringing you to do a 45 minute, one hour webinar with our folks.
Tiffany Yates Martin: I'd love that.
James Blatch: A structured approach to the revision process in particular. We've got Jenny Nash who does that brilliantly as well.
Tiffany Yates Martin: Yes, she does.
James Blatch: We'll always benefit from more advice and help in that area. So, let's see if we can sort that out for the future.
Tiffany Yates Martin: Great. Thanks so much for having me on. I love the show. I love getting to finally be a guest on it.
James Blatch: Hey, Tiffany, it's been our pleasure. Thank you so much.
Tiffany Yates Martin: Take care of yourself, James.
James Blatch: There you go. Thank you to our guest, Tiffany Yates Martin. Such an important part of the drafting, the composition of your book. For me, probably more than you, Mark, I think you're pretty old hand at this by now, but for someone like me and lots of people, I think, listening to this podcast, that's really where the juice is, that revision stage. Where you turn your first drafht from a rough and ready state, to a polished, hopefully polished manuscript, and that process you can't skimp on.
It's part of the learning process, and certainly in my case, it has helped me write my next drafht much better than the first drafht of my first book, going through that process. I think we've had this conversation before. You don't use development editors anymore, but you obviously do go through some sort of process.
Mark Dawson: I don't use developmental editors, but yeah. As I was getting to the end of Wormwood, so coming to the, I suppose, two-thirds through it now so I've got all the conclusion to write. Because I'm going away next week and I won't have my usual setup, so I write with multiple screens, and I have a standing desk and all that, which is very useful for me if I'm going to be spending five hours at a desk.
What I will probably do next week is go back to the start, and I'll just have my laptop and a keyboard, and I'll just start to work on the stuff that I've got before. Which has always been my favourite bit. I did a bit yesterday and there was one of the characters used to work in the Soviet Nuclear Weapons Programme, but I've moved him into a slightly different programme, which makes more sense what comes later.
I only knew to do that because I've written the bit that comes later. So, now I can go back and names will change, relationships will change. Things that may have happened will change, because I know what I've got to aim at, at the end now. I have to get everything to be consistent. So, now that I have that knowledge of what needs to be done, this bit is quite fun. So, just going back through it and tightening it up, correcting errors, bit of research. This is one of the best bits for me.
James Blatch: When are you slating that?
Mark Dawson: I'm away next week, so I won't do much fresh writing. And then we're off to Vegas, touch wood, in two weeks time. I don't think I'll do that much more heavy work on it. So, probably, I think it will be out by Christmas. It might be out very late November, early December, would be my guess at the moment.
James Blatch: And it won't go into a series on Amazon? Your John Milton is a distinct series. For people who don't write in series, you can create them on your bookshelf so that readers on Amazon can see the series, the rest of it. This will be a standalone.
Mark Dawson: This will, yeah. It's in the world. There's the group of 15 books. There's another one I did sat around a heist in East Berlin called, The Vault, which again, it's in the world. There's quite an important character appears in that book, that then becomes a character in the Milton series. So, this is just like that, but it won't be in the Milton series officially, but it's definitely cannon. So, readers who like it will go and buy both.
James Blatch: You can add a title as not main content to a series.
Mark Dawson: You can. Yeah. I've never used that before. I might have to look into exactly what that-
James Blatch: I don't know whether that's behind the scenes or would be a book that fits this description, it's in the universe. But, yes. That's a box you can tick when you're creating your series. Is it main content? IE, this is booked two, three, four, five, six?
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: Or is it an additional in the series without a number? Okay, good. Excellent. Thank you very much. You can tell I've been head down in Fuse books for much of this week in my KDP dashboard. I've quite enjoyed bringing some new series out, and we can talk about that.
Perhaps we should do an episode because we've been busy on Fuse. We can talk about the process of bringing those books to market. And welcoming in W. Sainsbury's books, which are now live, both in print and ebook form. His Jimmy Blue series, gone through a bit of a transformation since he joined Fuse, but it's the Jimmy Blue series. And we'll properly launch that with a marketing effort next week, so I'm looking forward to it.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, absolutely. And then I have another author ready to join as well. So, we're slowly adding to the stable.
James Blatch: We are.
Mark Dawson: Hopefully selling lots more books.
James Blatch: Yeah. Looking forward to that. Okay. Thank you very much indeed to our guests, Tiffany Yates Martin in Austin, Texas. And thank you to Mark Dawson in Salisbury, Wilts. Does it? Yes, it does. And James Blatch. All that remains for me to say, is this is a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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