Q and A with an Editor – Susan Hughes

Susan Hughes

Susan with her husband Billie

Susan Hughes began her career as a freelance editor after spending 29 years as a public school educator. She is the editor of a wide array of genres including Richard Stephenson’s dystopian thriller, Collapse, which was honored as a finalist in the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.  Most recently, Susan completed an edit of Taylor Fulks’ gripping novel, My Prison Without Bars, a Readers’ Choice Gold Medal Award winning account of the author’s abusive childhood and its aftermath.  Susan has also edited for Charles P. Garcia, whose op-ed pieces can be found in the Huffington Post and on Fox News.  She has a BA in English Literature and is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association.  In her spare time, Susan enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her grandsons and 4 Yorkshire terriers.

Q – I see editing as an art. Why are you an editor and not another form of artist?

A – I actually see editing as a structured process rather than an art form. I consider myself to be rather artistically impaired, which is why I play with the words of others. I leave the art to them.

Q – Is editing the most important thing in your life?

A – No, editing is not my life. My life is 100% my faith, family, and friends. As long as I have those things, everything else is just icing on the cake. Editing is my job…and it funds my travel budget!

Q – Writers get writers block. Do editors get editors block? If so how do you overcome it?

A – I definitely stumble and get stuck from time to time. For me, the best thing to do is just put the edit aside for a bit and step away from the computer. It might not stop my mind from rehashing the problem, but it makes me focus elsewhere for a while.

Q – If you’re confused about a piece of writing, how do you get the real meaning out of the writer?

A – I write notes to the author and post them on the side of the document. I ask a lot of questions. I also communicate frequently via email if clarification is needed.

Q – If you had to give up editing today, what would you do tomorrow?

A – Good question! I believe God opens doors for us when we need Him to do so. But if there was nothing else on the horizon, I would definitely consider returning to the non-profit where I worked most recently, providing services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Q – Do you have restrictions on the type of manuscript you will edit? Will you edit books about sex, drug use or homosexuality?

A – I am a very open-minded person. The things you’ve asked about in this question are all part of life. I pride myself on being unbiased—both personally and professionally. I have never turned down an editing request based on the topic of the book.

Q – Have you ever refused to edit a manuscript because it was so poorly written?

A – I require all writers to submit a 1000 word sample before offering a quote for editing. This gives the writer a chance to see how my editing works and gives me a look at the author’s writing skills. I don’t offer a quote to a writer if the sample is so poorly written that I’ll basically have to rewrite the entire manuscript. I always email the writer when I return the sample edit and offer suggestions. Sometimes a quote for my services is included; sometimes I suggest the writer take a writing course or do a thorough self-edit before moving forward. I encourage the writer to take the suggestions in my edit and apply them to the entire manuscript, if necessary.

Q – What editing tools do you use? And what is the best book on editing you have ever read?

A – I edit using MS Word Track Changes. I like it because it enables the writer to review each change and suggestion I make and then accept or reject it. Some of the writers I work with prefer that I just make the changes directly to the document, eliminating the need for them to do that extra editing. In that case, I still use Track Changes, but I send the writer the clean edit with all changes already made.

I follow the Chicago Manual of Style as my guide for editing. I use both the online version and a hard copy.

I can’t recommend a particular book on editing. I don’t feel it’s something you can truly learn from a book. Editing is a skill, a talent. Like anything else, to be good at it you have to enjoy it and work hard at it. Practice makes perfect—no matter what game you’re playing.

Q – As an editor, how do you handle different styles of writing? Is there a certain process you go through to edit fiction compared to non-fiction?

A – As an editor, I prefer not to restrict myself to just one form of writing. Like most writers, I do have a preference; for me, that’s editing works of fiction. It’s my comfort zone, which makes it an easier edit for me in some ways. I’ve edited poetry, but those edits have been primarily for grammatical errors. Poetry doesn’t follow the same rules as fiction and non-fiction, so it’s a little trickier. The non-fiction edit sometimes requires fact checking, which I find a bit tedious. An editor also has to tread more carefully when altering sentences or wording if the manuscript contains factual material.  That can be somewhat restrictive, and it lends itself to fewer creative options for the editor. The bottom line is, an editor has to be able to adjust to the piece. Every editing job is different. It’s my goal to polish and perfect whatever form of writing I’m hired to edit without altering the writer’s voice or intent.

Q – What question about editing have you always wanted to be asked?

A – I would like to be asked about how I got into editing after spending 29 years teaching high school and 2 years working with victims of domestic violence. It’s a pretty interesting story, having to do with reading a sneak-peek of a debut novel on Amazon. It was written by an acquaintance, and it had so many little errors in it that it drove me nuts! I emailed him and offered to proofread for him…just for fun. He took down the sneak-peek and took me up on my offer. I edited his first novel free of charge. He paid me to edit the sequel and encouraged me to offer my editing services to others – I haven’t looked back since.


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  1. #1 by Susan Hughes on October 8, 2013 - 10:45 am

    Thanks, Rob, for giving me the opportunity to share a little bit about myself with your readers. I’m humbled and grateful.


    • #2 by kenrob2037 on October 8, 2013 - 3:15 pm

      Thank you Susan for your insightful thoughts about editing.

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