What an Editor Really Does — and Why You Need One

I first met Anita when she worked with my literary agent, Kristin Nelson. Anita is a freelance editor who helps writers bring out the very best in their novels. She was kind enough to share her editing insights, including why you should never let a rejection letter get you down, and why joining a critique group can not only improve your writing, but also save you money – and help you get published. Here’s Anita with all the insider info about editors. –L.


Anita, can you tell us what a developmental editor does, exactly?

Anita Mumm, founder of Mumm’s the Word Editing & Critique Services

Anita Mumm, founder of Mumm’s the Word Editing & Critique Services

The easiest way to describe a developmental editor’s work is that it focuses on the big picture: Does the plot work? Are the characters the kind of people readers want to spend an entire book with? Is the dialogue smooth or stilted? Is the voice appropriate to the genre and audience?

Developmental editing means making sure the foundation of the novel is sound, and that all of its parts come together in a meaningful whole.

Most developmental editors also offer line editing–smoothing out the prose on the paragraph and sentence level. Line editing involves things like word choice (would a different word here give a richer image?), syntax (is a particular sentence awkward or hard to follow?), and coherence (if you rearranged the order of the sentences in a paragraph, would the ideas be clearer?).

Line editing is not the same as copy editing, which focuses on mechanics and correcting errors in language usage. Though there is some overlap, copy editing is usually done in a separate step, just before final proofing.

What interests you most about story development?

I love the way every element of good fiction is intimately connected. In other words, characters, world-building, plot, voice, etc. are not pieces that you can tinker with separately–they’re all part of an indivisible whole.

For example, good world building is not only about the geography, politics, and culture of a fictional place. It’s also about how a focus character’s personality and biases shape what we see of that world, and how the world itself makes her who she is.

Character and setting are inseparable in a tightly written novel. I enjoy helping writers find ways to weave together each element of fiction into a cohesive tapestry.

What aspect of the editing process do writers often misunderstand?

It’s not necessarily a misunderstanding, but a lot of writers are surprised at how many steps are needed to take a manuscript from its initial form to a polished final draft.

Often, this involves one or more rounds of developmental editing, followed by line editing to smooth the prose, then copyediting, and finally, proofreading.

You can sometimes pare that process down a bit if you plan to traditionally publish; the story has to be solid and the writing superb, but a missing comma or two won’t make or break your submission to an agent.

However, if you intend to self-publish, you really need to go through all of the same steps publishing houses use. It’s expensive, but there’s just no way around it if you want a professional result.

Do you believe that good writers are born or made?

Both. I think a fair amount of innate talent is essential, but it’s also about hard work and purposeful study of writing craft.

There are very few careers where you can just walk in and be an expert; that’s why I find it disturbing when aspiring writers mention they don’t have time to read or take classes. No one expects to join the NBA without practicing basketball for years and years, right? :)

It’s also the reason I tell beginning writers not to give up–I have seen amazing levels of improvement over the course of as little as a year when there is hard work involved. My advice: never let a rejection letter make you feel you’re not a writer. You may not have a publishable novel yet–but there’s no telling where you’ll be in the future.

What one thing would you suggest unpublished writers do to improve their writing?

Join a critique group. Whether you intend to hire an editor or head directly into submissions, having fresh eyes on your manuscript is a must.

A critique group or set of beta readers can help you catch inconsistencies, confusing sentences, and embarrassing typos before an agent sees them.

It’s also helpful if you plan to hire an editor; the more polished the manuscript is going in, the fewer rounds of editing you’ll need, and that saves you money.

What kinds of novels are you interested in editing?

I work with all types of fiction except mysteries. (Don’t get me wrong, I love to read them for pleasure, but so far have not chosen to focus on them professionally.) I love novels with unforgettable characters that feel like real people–whether they inhabit Planet Earth or a distant galaxy!

I’m particularly interested in working with stories featuring diverse characters and cultures. I love that the publishing industry is now seeking out stories that reflect the multiculturalism of our country and world. Shout-out to the We Need Diverse Books Campaign!

About Anita

Anita Mumm is a freelance novel editor based in Denver, Colorado. Before starting Mumm’s the Word Editing & Critique Services, she worked in submissions and foreign rights at Nelson Literary Agency.

Her editing clients include traditionally published and indie authors at all levels of experience, from international bestsellers to first time novelists. In addition to her editing projects, Anita frequently teaches classes and workshops about writing and publishing, both online and in person.

Get your novel professionally edited and ready to publish at www.anitamumm.com >

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Coming in 2017: Dru Jasper Book 2

A Kiss Before Doomsday

Did you notice the red glowing tire tracks? Words can’t express how much I love this new cover.

So, this year I did something I’ve never done before. I wrote a sequel.

It was weird, because for the first time, I found myself writing a book with pre-established characters, relationships, settings, etc. Dru’s magic universe (or the “Druniverse” as I like to call it) was already firmly laid out in the first book.

If a story fact made things more complicated, it’s not like I could just change it. I had to work it out. For example, Opal doesn’t have magical powers, but now she’s caught in the midst of these epic magical struggles. What does that mean for her as a person? What does that mean for her friends?

We know from the first book that Rane broke up with her boyfriend Salem, who is possibly one of the most powerful sorcerers in the world. What happens if their ugly breakup gets in the way of fighting the bad guys? Will they become mortal enemies – or is there still a spark there?

Dru started off with minimal magical powers. Now she’s a full-fledged sorceress capable of opening a portal to the netherworld. How does that change her relationships with her friends? What does it mean for the rest of the sorcerers? Can she handle her new powers, or will she mess up?

So many questions. When I sat down to write this book, I no idea how they would all be answered.

(Actually, that’s not true. I had a bunch of ideas. I just wasn’t sure which ones would make the best story.)

To be honest, sitting down to write Book 2 was mighty strange. But it was a heck of a lot of fun to write, and I’m pretty sure you’re going to have a blast reading it.

I can’t reveal anything about A Kiss Before Doomsday just yet (especially the big question: what happened to Greyson?). But I want to express my endless gratitude and thanks to you and all of my faithful readers. I will drop as many hints and sneak previews as possible the closer we get to the release day. More to come!

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3 Authors Chat on Night Owl Reviews – Tonight!

Tonight at 6:00 PM MST, I’m doing an author chat with Night Owl Reviews.

Far as I can tell, it’s a text chat. So, apparently we’re going to party like it’s 1999. ;)

Night Owl Reviews author chat time zone map

Join me at 6:00 PM MST (or your local equivalent).

Join me, along with romance author Avery Flynn and mystery author Julia Buckley.

We’ll answer your questions, share excerpts and give away brand new books.

Since 2004, Night Owl Reviews has reviewed over 26,000 books. Here’s what they said about It Happened One Doomsday:

MacNaughton provides a smooth, action-packed read all the way to the end! This could be the start of a new series, and I’m already looking forward to the next one. The characters were great and believable. I loved the car scenes the best (too bad Hellbringer isn’t real!) … Very descriptive, and new takes on old stories had this reader staying up to finish it in one night!

Wow. Come see what all the excitement is about.

Click here to RSVP for the event.

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Beyond the Trope Podcast and Book Giveaway

Beyond the Trope podcast and book giveaway

Have you listened to Beyond the Trope yet? What are you waiting for?

Beyond the Trope is the most nerdly fun podcast you haven’t heard yet.

Click here to listen. >

By the way, not only is it oddly addictive, I also promised to give away a signed paperback copy of It Happened One Doomsday to one lucky listener.

On the latest episode, we chatted about all kinds of crazy stuff including, but not limited to:

* a Metallica mix tape that led indirectly to a book deal

* getting writing ideas at a party with Hugh Howey and Kristin Nelson

* what goes into a good book soundtrack, and that means the best Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight” cover you ever heard

* a guy named Mr. Angry (I’m not making that up) who built the car that inspired Hellbringer, the demon-possessed muscle car in my book.

Check out the Beyond the Trope podcast.

You can also listen on iTunes or get it on Stitcher.

More podcasts and giveaways on the horizon! Don’t miss it. Be sure to subscribe to my free author newsletter. >

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“A really great story!” –GeekyGodmother

Holy cow! I couldn’t be happier with this fabulous review from Canadian book site www.geekygodmother.ca:

“The characters are fantastic in what I’m hoping is only the first of a series. Dru doesn’t feel she has the great power of her heroes, but she uses all she has to help out those who do. She becomes the best backup she can possibly be. Her friend Rane, a very powerful sorceress, is outrageous, and hilarious. Same is true of Dru’s shop assistant Opal. She is all attitude, but she has Dru’s back. Greyson too is mighty fine, as Opal mentions many times. Even as he fights for his immortal soul, he is helpful, thoughtful and would love to be Dru’s other half… I really like this book and I highly recommend it. It Happened One Doomsday would make a great summer read.”

Read the whole review >

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I Should Be Writing podcast with Yours Truly

Mur Lafferty's, "I Should Be Writing: The Podcast for Wannabe Fiction Writers."Attention writers: You’re missing out.

If you aren’t already listening to Mur Lafferty’s, “I Should Be Writing: The Podcast for Wannabe Fiction Writers,” you need to drop what you’re doing and go listen.

In every episode, Mur talks about the writing process, problems every writer faces, and how to solve them.

The unstoppable Mur was gracious enough to invite me on her show to blab on endlessly about writing, crystals, muscle cars, and the original idea behind It Happened One Doomsday.

Listen to the show here.

Honestly, I think the best part of the conversation happened after we stopped recording:

We talked about how so many creative people get discouraged because they don’t realize that their struggles are universal. I told Mur that what she’s doing with her podcast is incredibly important. And that’s so true.

By the way, since this podcast came out, I’ve gotten plenty of questions about the MONSTER acronym I use to create monsters in my stories.

It’s a handy tool for thinking your monsters completely through. Here it is:

MONSTER — 7 keys to terrifying creatures

MIND: How smart is it? What senses does it possess?

ORIGIN: Where does it come from? What is it called?

NEED: What motivates it? What is it after?

SKETCH: What does it look like? How big is it? What color is it? How does it move?

TAKE ON: How can the heroes fight it? What hurts it? What scares it?

EAT: What does it eat? How does it eat?

RELATIONSHIPS: Loner or a pack? Belong to someone? Obey someone/thing? Rule someone/thing?

If you find that helpful, there’s more.

Get access to all of my free writing tips when you subscribe to my author newsletter. Click here. >

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How do I get inspired to write?

It Happened One Doomsday at Barnes & Noble

Hey, read any good books lately?

Everyone has a unique way of getting inspired. I spark ideas by doing tons of research. The world we live in is so weird, it’s impossible not to get inspired.

Before I wrote about the crystal magic in IT HAPPENED ONE DOOMSDAY, I went to plenty of lapidaries (rock shops), which are all over the place in Colorado.

I also attended quite a few gem and mineral shows, and visited metaphysical shops to talk to people who really believe in crystal healing. It was an eye-opening experience. I took some of those ideas and expanded them to a super-powered level to create the unique magic system in this book.

I also drew on my own experience working in an antiquarian bookstore, where we had boxes full of ancient books that were strangely worthless, because no one wanted to buy them. Some of them were centuries old, some of them in Latin, some even handwritten. Those inspired the magical books Dru studies.

Plus, I used to be a professional test driver. I tested dozens of prototype and experimental vehicles, sometimes in hairy conditions, so I had some real-life experience to draw on when writing the car chase scenes.

Somehow, all of that came together in this book. It was so much fun to write, and I’m deeply moved that so many people are enjoying reading it!

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“One hell of a ride!” –Foreword Reviews

Foreword Reviews

Seems like every reviewer has a different currency: five stars, five moons, five thumbs up (which for some reason makes me think of Sha Na Na).

Whatever they are, whenever there are FIVE of them, I sit up and take notice.

Which brings us to this exquisite “five heart” write-up from Foreword Reviews:

“The story unfolds in bold, cinematic strokes. Action sequences, particularly the final car chase, thrum with tension as Dru and her team streak through urban decay, mountains, high desert, and occult landscapes in sexy, demon-possessed muscle cars. Well-executed imagery and pacing make this a joyous thrill ride with a sense of peril.”

Plus, somewhere in there, they call Dru “adorkable.” Which is both funny and sweet. And so true.

Love it!

Haven’t read the book yet? Subscribe to my author newsletter and get a chance to win a signed paperback for free. >

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“Quite clever.” –Bookpushers

BookpushersHere’s another fantastic review, in case you’re wondering what all the buzz is about.

This particular review comes from the mysterious yet discerning E over at The Bookpushers:

“MacNaughton provided a very interesting twist on some myths about the world ending and the signs of the apocalypse. I really thought how he modernized some of them quite clever and loved the additional personality aspects, which went along with his modern twist.”

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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Muscle Cars

Hellbringer 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona

Don’t try this at home. Really.

True story: before I wrote this book, I was a professional prototype vehicle test driver.

So when I set out to write about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse tearing up the highways in Christine-ish muscle cars, you can bet I had fun with it.

Check out this interview on MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape where I not only talk about cars, I also go pretty deep into the cool quirks of my characters, and what exactly Dru’s universe (or the “Druniverse”) is really like.

Plus, I share some cool insights about the “magic” properties of crystals (including how the pharaohs of ancient Egypt used to protect themselves against the evil eye).

And the surprise fan favorite character that everyone is talking about. Hint: this particular character has four wheels. (!)

Check out the interview here on MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape.com >

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