Section: Q and A
Blogger: Joseph Clay
Clare Diston is located in Bristol, UK.
Clare offers a wide variety of services that include proofreading, editing and manuscript reviewing. In her last fiscal year Clare worked on over a million words, 32 blog posts and 12 complete books, while helping 14 students with essays, dissertations and personal statements/applications. On top of that work, she also reads 50 books a year and is an excellent blogger, touching on subject matter that helps authors, writing book reviews and more.
Q: Hello Clare, congratulations on achieving your goal and starting your own company. You have been in business a year now, is that correct?
“Thank you! Human Voices has been my full-time job for about 9 months now, but I’ve actually been in business since 2011. After graduating from university I went back to my hometown to work out what to do next. Whilst I was temping in the local council (and really not enjoying it!) I had the idea to start an editing and proofing business, so I launched Human Voices and started out helping friends and relatives with their writing. Then I landed a job as in digital marketing at an SEO company and I worked there for nearly four years, keeping my business going at evenings and weekends, until last year I decided to leave my job and just concentrate on Human Voices. I took my business full-time almost four years to the day after I first set it up, and I haven’t looked back since!”
Q: What if someone wanted to be an editor/proofreader? What are the qualifications and education requirements?
“I’m sure there are all sorts of routes for qualifying for this kind of work, and it might even be possible to set up a freelance business like mine without any official certificates. I went into this work with a BA in English Studies and an MA in Creative Writing (which has helped me to specialise in fiction), but I knew I needed some more specific industry qualifications so I did two distance learning courses in Proofreading and Copy-Editing from the Publishing Training Centre. Those courses taught me the practicalities of proofreading and editing, and I started picking up work while I was doing those courses, so I got a mixture of theory and practice at the same time, which was really helpful.
I think for anyone interested in this kind of work you really have to have an eye for detail and a love of language. I’ve always been the type to question how a particular element of language works, and to notice misplaced apostrophes and spelling mistakes. If you find you do this naturally, proofreading and editing could be perfect for you.”
Q: Do you think it helps in the editorial process if the writer and the editor have some sort of connection – a common goal or understanding, so to speak?
“Definitely – it really helps when a writer and editor can build a good working relationship. Editing a book is such a collaborative process, and you’re going to spend a lot of time talking to each other, so it certainly helps if you get on and understand that you are both trying to make the book as good as it can be.”
Q: As a new author I had no idea what the protocol was when it came to editing. There were so many terms: proofreading, manuscript review, editing, copyediting, etc. Could you explain the steps that you suggest a new author take to get a manuscript from its first draft to a book that can be published?
“Even amongst editors, people tend to use different terms – I’m not at all surprised that it gets confusing! I usually suggest that, once a writer has a draft that they’re happy to show other people, they get beta reader feedback or a manuscript review, or both. Beta readers will suggest improvements from a reader’s perspective; editors can give you feedback about the biggest changes that need to be made with a view to editing.
Once you’ve got some feedback, return to your book, do any necessary rewrites and then begin the editing process. This is when I recommend getting in a professional for a detailed edit, to really knock the book into shape, and then move onto the proofreading (checking spelling and grammar) at the end, once no more big changes need to be made.”
Q: Anyway, give us a breakdown of what each of those processes would cost, or is it done on an individual basis?
“The costs will really vary depending on word count – some editors charge by the hour and can give you an estimate when they start as to how long it will take. I tend to charge a fixed fee by word count, and I sometimes offer a free editing sample of 2,000 words so the writer can see how I work, and so I can see how much work needs to be done on the text. In general, a manuscript review will be done for a relatively affordable one-off fee, and editing will cost more than proofreading, because it is that much more in-depth.”
Q: Would you rather do a project from start to finish, or does it matter if someone else does the manuscript review and then you do the edits, or if everything is done by someone else and you are needed only to proofread?
“Working on a project together from start to finish is a great way for an editor and a writer to form a relationship and get used to each other’s ways of working, but it isn’t essential. I have stepped into projects halfway through before and, although there is a little catching up to do, it certainly doesn’t have to harm the project. Of course, a writer might be used to one editor’s style and maybe that won’t gel with the new editor, but ultimately the editor’s job is to understand and adapt to what the writer wants, whilst still offering professional and helpful advice.”
Q: There are a lot of genres, along with subcategories of each. Are there certain genres you will not edit? What about certain scenes inside a story, which may contain graphic violence, bloodshed, sex, profanity, etc? If you do agree to edit the above, do you charge extra because of the content, like some editors do?
“So far I haven’t come across any genres I won’t edit; even genres I tend not to read for pleasure I still find very interesting to work on. I’m also not fazed by editing violent or sexual material and I don’t charge extra for it – it’s not something that’s ever really bothered me, but I can certainly see that some editors would want to steer clear of it, and I know some make a point of avoiding that sort of material altogether. That’s fine, I’m sure if I had to edit really dark or explicit things all the time it might start to get a bit overwhelming, but since I always have a good mixture of projects I’ve never found it to be a problem.”
Q: When you do a manuscript review, do you know from the first ten pages, what an agent or publisher wants to see, and if the book is going to be a good read? If it’s awful do you keep that to yourself or tell the writer if they should do total re-write? How do you handle such a situation?
“This is the beauty of the manuscript review – at that stage you can bring up the book’s biggest problems and suggest rewrites of whole chapters, or even more. If the writer sees there’s a lot of work ahead and can’t bring themselves to sit down and do it, they likely won’t return for a full edit (and if they did, at that point I’d tell them they need to fix their big problems before we can work on the smaller ones). But if they are prepared to sit down and give their book an overhaul, then that paves the way for a strong edit.”
Q: What are some of the common mistakes a new writer makes besides spelling and grammar?
” There are some technical mistakes I notice that crop up again and again. For example, sometimes new writers don’t get the level of detail quite right – they might describe something unimportant in too much detail (eg: ‘He sat up, pulled back the blanket, twisted his hips, put his legs over the edge of the bed, lowered his feet to the floor and stood up’), and then later introduce something huge without giving it any context or background.
Another thing I notice is accidental switching of perspectives, which can be very tricky to control when you’re writing and just want to tell the story. So, if a chapter is told from one character’s point of view (that doesn’t have to mean it’s written in the first person) and then suddenly the narrative voice moves into another character’s head, that can be very jarring. I’ll try to give an example. In a story told from a woman’s point of view – in which we see everything through her eyes – something like this would work: ‘She felt upset by what he had said. When they looked at each other she could tell that he was upset too.’ But this sentence does not work: ‘She felt very upset by what he had said. When they looked at each other he felt very upset too.’ Although it says much the same thing, it’s confusing because we suddenly move into the male character’s head.”
Q: As a writer we like to think that we are the most important people on the planet and our project is the only one our editor has before them. However, I don’t think that is the case. How many projects on average do you work on at a time and how much time is devoted to each in a work day?
“I tend to focus on one large project at a time (although I have been known to have two on the go) because I don’t just do book editing, I do quite a few other things as well. So when I have a large project like a book edit to do, I tend to dedicate most of my day to that, but I might take an hour or two in the morning to proofread something short or write a blog post. That’s the great thing about this kind of work – you get to choose what you do every day, and you can mix it up if you want to.”
Q: No matter the genre, do you find that all good writers have some of the same qualities?
“Yes, a good writer can pace their story so the reader is always interested, show what their character is thinking or feeling rather than explicitly stating it, and also use occasional descriptions or turns of phrase that make me stop reading and say “NICE!” out loud at my desk!”
Q: What are the major differences between US writers and UK writers?
“I have worked with both and I can’t say that I’ve noticed significant differences between the two. I suppose the main thing I’ve come across would be cultural differences – I remember when I was editing your book, A Witch’s Dilemma, there was a moment where a character knew how another character was feeling by how they drove their car, and the logic of it didn’t fit for me, but then you explained about certain driving ‘etiquette’ in that part of America and suddenly it made sense! I suppose there are cultural things like that in UK writing which don’t stick out because they’re normal to me, whereas working with US writers and writers from other countries has taught me all sorts of new cultural and social factoids I never knew before!”
Q: Since you live over the Great Pond, as we call it here in the United States, is the 6 hour time difference an issue?
“I usually work with my clients over email, which is certainly easier than trying to schedule in phone calls between different countries. I’ve also worked with writers a couple of hours ahead in Europe, and even in Singapore and Australia – it just means that you have to raise queries sooner rather than later (and not too close to the deadline!), because there can be a day’s delay between emails.”
Q: Now Clare, it’s time to let your hair down as we move from the editorial services to more of a personal tone. To start with, can you tell us a little about yourself, something that is not common knowledge or can be found on your website?
“I don’t think it’s anywhere on my online profiles that I was an archer when I was at university. I joined the university archery society and won medals in a couple of competitions. I even own a recurve bow, but it’s under my bed now and I haven’t shot it in years – I’d really love to do that again!”
Q: Now be honest here, do you ever get aggravated reading a manuscript because it is done so poorly?
“I have read manuscripts for people (not in a business capacity) which were so filled with mistakes it would be difficult to know where to begin if I had to edit them – we’re talking characters changing their names two or three times within one chapter, that sort of thing – and it does really frustrate me when the writer can’t see any of their own flaws and won’t do anything to change them.
But when people approach me to work on a manuscript then I know they’re open to making changes, so I can just roll up my sleeves and get stuck in. And even if there are lots of mistakes to deal with, there’s usually a solid story in there and I love the process of drawing it out. It sort of feels like unravelling a knotted piece of string: the whole piece of string is there to begin with, it just needs smoothing out.”
Q: As a writer we are told to read. Tell us more about the reading goal you have set for yourself, 50 books a year, is that correct?
“Yes, that’s right! I started in 2012 because I saw a documentary that mentioned how many books the average person reads in their lifetime and the number seemed scarily small, so I decided to set a concrete goal to get myself to read more. I started my blog, 50ayear, at the same time, and that really helps me meet the goal every year. This is my fifth year of reading 50 books and I don’t find it too much of a challenge any more – in fact, I’ll probably blast past 50 this year because I’ve discovered the graphic novel section in my local library and I can get through one of those in an afternoon!”
Q: Have you read anything by Mark Twain?
“I’m ashamed to say I haven’t! I went through a real classics kick when I was a teenager, but in recent years I’ve concentrated more on contemporary literature. I should definitely go back and fill in the gaps in my knowledge though.”
Q: Who are your favorite authors, past and present?
“OK, I have lots! In terms of the past, I love Thomas Hardy, Isaac Asimov and F Scott Fitzgerald, and I used to be a bit obsessed with TS Eliot. As for more modern writers, I adore David Mitchell and Philip Pullman (the His Dark Materials trilogy has my heart), and Toni Morrison and Yoko Ogawa and… I’d better stop!”
Q: When you read do you use an e-reader or do you prefer physical books?
“I have an e-reader, which I think is a fantastic invention and I’ve read lots of books on it. But in general I prefer the feel of a physical book, so I can put my bookmark at the end of each chapter as I read, and flip the pages between my fingers when I need to stop for a moment and think.”
Q: That wraps it up, Clare. Once again, thank you for agreeing and taking your time to answer the questions. In closing, is there any advice, from an editor’s view that you would like to give to the upcoming author?
“As a new writer, excited by the whole process, it can be easy to write something, think it’s the best thing ever, and then get disillusioned when somebody picks it apart (believe me, I’ve felt that way too), but remember that editing is all about strengthening your writing. Remember that common goal: both you and the editor want to make your book the best it can be, so stick up for your style when you need to, but be open to criticism and changes as well.”
Q: In your answer above about giving new writers advice you alluded to the fact that you have felt that way before also. Does this mean you have written a book, and if so was it published?
“Good catch! I actually write short stories. At university I did an MA in Creative Writing and there was a lot of feedback and critiquing as part of that. In fact, one of the people I did that course with is now my writing buddy, and we still write stories and send them to each other for advice (funny how editors can find it difficult to turn the same critical eye on their own work). I’m sure I’ll publish some of them eventually!”
Connect with Clare Diston and Human Voices at any or all the links below.
[Bloggers note: This interview with Clare Diston was originally published on 7-5-16 on Joseph Clay – Author Official Blog. The interview was moved to this site 3-20-17.]
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