26 September 2011

A Chat with Jay

My latest release, Seeker, is with Devine Destinies/eXtasy books. I managed to snag Jay Austin, their Editor-In-Chief, for an interview today. Not only does she assign manuscripts to her army of "Track Change"-wielding editors, but she supports her authors with solid advice. She's also a strong believer that readers are intelligent people who should be entertained…emphasis on the entertaining part. That includes enjoying an error-free read and not using a thesaurus every few minutes.
Please join us.
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Su: Jay, thank you for accepting to sit for this interview. Please have a seat and tell us a bit about yourself. For example, does the "J" stand for anything or is it just "Jay"? (Yes, I've been dying to know the answer to this one)
Jay: I could tell you the J stands for a misprinted smiley face in an email and is something I adopted on a spur of the moment, that it has been my mark ever since, but would you believe me? Jay Austin is real, the name, the person, the experience, all of it, and I’m just Jay. Do I hide behind an alias? Most in the writing field do for various reasons and there’s nothing wrong with that. I sidestepped that question because I want to leave at least one secret behind this Mystery Meat. ;)

Experience? It’s been said one needs this degree or that degree to be a good editor. Truth is, you don’t need any degree, but journalism experience is a huge benefit. There’s far more to editing than just mechanics and grammar. A good editor excels at communication, at working with and encouraging authors, at teaching, at explaining the why behind the reason, at researching and always keeping up-to-date and in practice on the rules.

I did a few years of journalism, do a lot of researching of language do’s and don’ts on a daily basis, accept that all characters do not speak proper grammar and work with my authors and editors as needed, even one-on-one. I may have the last say about what does and doesn’t get put in a published book, but if an author understands why something is and not just that it is, the author is more likely to learn, understand, accept and avoid repeated mistakes.

Su: If we take a glance through your bookshelf, what types of books will we see?
Jay: The electronic shelf contains every ebook by eXtasy and Devine and it is from there I select for reading pleasure. The physical shelf contains a variety of genres and treasured gems. On one shelf is a collection of Reader’s Digest hardbound books, on another is a group of nonfiction, on a third is a series of romance novels from infamous bodice rippers to today’s erotica and on yet another are age-old books dating back over a century—I even have a 1910 novel and 1870 grammar book, revised edition. Some books are perfectly intact, some have the covers worn off them, all are valued.

My work books—Little Brown Brief, Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk & White: Elements of Style—those are on a bookshelf at my fingertips.

Su: What's your editing style?
Jay: Up front and honest. I correct errors, but also tell when I laugh. I do what I can to make a book the best possible before it sees the world. Reviews affect us all, one way or another, but I am right there with each author when a review appears.

While all editors try, not one can catch every mistake—it’s impossible for any human and there is not a single editing program that can come close to spotting a head hop and many other issues.

Please note, we do not un-language our authors and this means our authors use their native spelling—Australian writers use Australian, Canadian writers use Canadian, British writers use British and American writers use American. Depending on the author’s home, flavour and flavor, neighbour and neighbor, colour and color, etc. are correct.

Su: What do you look for in an editor when hiring one?
Jay: An editor needs to spot errors ranging from POV’s/head hops, needed rewrites, grammar and mechanical issues, word misuse, passive instead of active, telling instead of showing, loose writing, misplaced modifiers and hyphens, misused punctuation, ellipses, em dashes and commas, use of semicolons, colons and parentheses, plot holes, story flow, consistency, etc.

While experience is a nice benefit, it is never a prerequisite. No one knows it all so the ability to learn is vital. Most of the above I can teach, but some is more experience, more familiarity than trained knowledge, like head hopping, telling instead of showing and story flow.

I look for someone who enjoys reading, hates mistakes, is willing to learn, is willing to research language on a daily basis, is communicative and is willing to mentor. Reviewers tend to spot flow and consistency very well in addition to so much more.

Su: What makes eXtasy and Devine Destinies different from other publishing houses?
Jay: Not sure, but I know what makes us who we are. We’re very upfront with our authors in the business sense. We have a House Style PDF along with ten Tips & Tricks Guides available to every author and editor in the company via the company loops. The editing team edits the same way I do, so authors know what to expect and there are no surprises. Communication is always open and Tina (founder/owner) and I do our utmost to answer within twenty-four hours. We work with our authors. We consider quality and honesty highly valued because reputation and honor matter.

We have recently acquired a brand new website that is much faster. The lines are cleaner and crisper, and the shopping cart works better than ever. The links are more precise and we’ve added a wish list.

We’re now doing a 5% cash-back reward—solely at company expense—for all customers. New customers receive $5.00 toward a first purchase of $20.00 or more after creating a new account.

Su: What genres do you accept in eXtasy and Devine Destinies? What genres you do not accept?
Jay: Any on the front page of the site at http://extasybooks.com but here’s a short list of accepted genres:
Action, Adventure, BDSM, Chick Lit, Contemporary, Erotica, Fantasy, Futuristic, GLBT, Historical, Horror, Humor, Interracial, Mainstream, Mystery, Paranormal, Romance, Science Fiction, Suspense, Thriller, Western. Devine also accepts Juvenile and Young Adult. I’m unaware of a genre we do not accept, but there is a list of unacceptable material quoted in our submission guidelines at http://www.extasybooks.com/index.php?route=information/information&information_id=9

Su: Give us a glimpse of a typical day in your life as an editor?
Jay: Something most often forgotten is editors have simple, common human needs—family, food, sleep. Here’s the simple routine process for us:
·       Acceptance and into editing queue where wait time depends on several factors: company process, available editor and more.
·       Manuscript to editor where time depends on how many corrections are needed or if a manuscript is ninth on an editor’s desk.
·       Manuscript to writer is a process lasts as long as the author and editor feel it should.
·       Second round manuscript to writer after a second pass by editor.
·       Manuscript to EIC where I read and double-check every book possible and that’s usually all, even going back to the author if needed. The end of this process is formatting books to house standard.
·       Manuscript to galley is where the manuscript becomes a PDF.
·       Galley to writer is the last and final chance to read and find any and all errors that might have been missed in grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc before publication. The author controls the amount of time this takes to get back to the EIC.
·       Final galley back to the EIC is where the ISBN is added, then each book is made into the ten formats we have available for the buyer.
·       Release day is decided after a galley is finished.

This is how we work at eXtasy and Devine, but the process can vary from company to company. I usually take the first and fifteenth off because I spend two to three days before releases doing a final prep of all new books. When someone points out an error, I fix the book, re-make all ten formats and re-upload the corrected version.

Su: I know from personal experience that you have cool tricks to avoid confusing issues in writing. My "Confused Manual" is built on your tricks. Can you share a couple with us here for common mistakes writers make?
Jay: Word confusion is a major one. I use a general rule of thumb: when in doubt, look it up. Some of the most common are:
·       Who’s (who is)/whose (belonging to someone)
·       It’s (it is)/ its (owner)
·       Lie (recline, done by noun)/lay (place, done to subject)
·       Site (location)/sight (see)
·       Loose (not tight)/lose (can be removed or misplaced)
·       Their (pronoun-possession of more than one)/there (location)/they’re (they are)
·       Except (preposition, conjunction-not included)/accept (verb-receive, give approval)
·       Effect (noun-result)/affect (verb-impact)
·       You’re (you are)/your (belongs to you)
·       Then (time)/than (comparison) (hint: leave off then when if starts the sentence)
·       Lead (noun-soft gray metal, verb-guide)/led (verb-past tense of verb lead)
·       Reign (control, influence)/rein (guides a mount)/rain (water from the sky)
·       Past (far side, later, beyond amount, previously)/passed (move, overtake, give, transfer)
·       Worse (adjective-less good than something else, more severe, adverb-worse degree, noun-something worse)/worst (adverb-least good or well, noun-least good thing, verb-defeat somebody)
·       Could or would of is always incorrect and should be could or would have
The absolute worst I encounter is head hopping/POV jumping. It’s the hardest one as it requires re-writes to fix. Head hops are both difficult to explain and avoid, but devastating to story flow and reader attention. Head hopping is shifting perspective from one character viewpoint to another while in a scene.

My pet peeve it the disappearing, the forgotten, the lacking use of the Direct Address Comma. It has a specific name because it has a specific purpose. The use or lack of makes the difference in a character saying:
Don’t eat that Aunt Martha -vs- Don’t eat that, Aunt Martha
…or this one…
I have to help my uncle Jack off the horse -vs- I have to help my uncle, Jack, off the horse.

Su: On average, how many books go under your microscope per month? Do you take an active role in editing some of them?
Jay: Twenty-eight every month—twenty at eXtasy, six at Devine and two at Trapezium. How many do I read? I do my best to read every book before it is released, but I am human and am not perfect. This means that one might be a scan rather than an intense read. I do familiarize myself with each author and do focus on each individual weakness.

For fun, I checked the last six months and my average word count per release day was 387,983, which breaks into an average of 27,500 words a day—and I do occasionally have a day off. Oh, and contrary to popular belief, I actually do sleep—sometimes.

Su: Jay, what advice would you give to writers? Do you have anything to say to readers?
Jay: Writers, if you feel the need take any courses, take a journalism course as it’ll teach you more about writing fiction than any other instructional course out there. Research the spelling and correct use of a word as well as the correct use of punctuation. Nothing will get you rejected faster than for an editor/publisher to open a manuscript only to see it riddled with misspellings. Research the genres of the publisher to whom you wish to submit. Submitting erotic romance to a YA publisher indicates you failed to research. Follow the publisher’s submission guidelines because sending content to a publisher who doesn’t accept such indicates you failed to read the submission guidelines. Research the publisher you wish to submit to, poll their authors even, but make sure you select the right publisher for you and one that has a strong background. Do not add weird formatting, pretty fonts, graphics and other little things to make the story look great as the story content is what will earn acceptance, not the fancy things you do to it. Read your manuscript aloud to help eliminate errors. There are programs that can do this for you and it’s the best thing any author can do before submission. There are several free reader programs out there. The human eyes and mind have the ability to see and translate misspelled words and typos when you are reading and you never even realize it. I’m sure all of you have seen the misspelled paragraph floating around the internet. It’s not a joke—it’s the mind’s ability to translate. Don’t rely on the opinion of family and friends concerning your story as family members and friends may be afraid of hurting your feelings and will tell you what they think you want to hear. Seek out someone not close.

Readers, please remember, editors and authors are human and do make mistakes. This EIC is more than happy to fix any mistakes you find in our books. All you have to do is send an email to jmmeditor@gmail.com and in the subject line please put error found. Tell me the book title, the flawed sentence and the specific flaw. I will happily fix any discovered error and re-upload the corrected version as well.

And thank you for purchasing, for reading and for being what authors and editors treasure because it’s for you, the reader, that we do what we do.

About Jay Austin:
Jay is closing the gap on fifty fast and lives in Tennessee with her husband of almost thirty years. She enjoys occasionally reading, loves editing and happily works for eXtasy Books and Devine Destinies at http://extasybooks.com/ .


Jay, thank you for taking the time to visit Vivid Sentiments.