How does one train to be a fiction editor?


edit fiction red pen
Photo by Jan Verbist

When I guest blogged at Random Writing Rants the other day, a commenter asked about how one gets trained as a fiction editor. Here’s an expanded version of my answer.

I belong to two professional associations, both of which provide editor training:

The EFA’s Developmental Editing course is a four-week course covering the major aspects of book-length works in both fiction and nonfiction. From the course description:

Participants will gain a general understanding of relevant editorial topics and necessary skills, including the basics of looking at the big-picture elements of a manuscript and communicating editorial suggestions to authors. The course will also cover how to establish an efficient developmental editing process and run a developmental editing business.

This course hasn’t been offered since Spring 2012, and is not on the Spring 2013 course list, but this or a similar course will probably be offered again in the future.

The PEN course is 20 weeks and covers every aspect of novel writing and editing. If you’re interested in fiction editing, I highly recommend the PEN fiction editing course, even if you don’t write for the Christian submarket. Excerpts from the course description:

Through concise lessons with lots of examples, the participants will plunge into the elements that are essential for helping writers reach write award-winning fiction… Opening hooks and chapter ending hooks…Proper use of flashbacks or back story…Deep Point of View…

And, as the infomercials say, much, much, more. Jeanne Marie Leach, who teaches the PEN course, is very thorough and precise.

Another source for editorial training is Author-Editor Clinic. I haven’t taken any of their courses directly, but the instructor for my EFA course was trained there.

Editing fiction isn’t just about grammar and sentence structure, although those are important skills for an editor to have. Fiction editors need to be able to put themselves in the reader’s seat, examining the text as a reader would. Every editorial decision made must serve the reader. The reader, not arbitrary style rules or personal preferences.

The editor must also have a desire to help writers achieve their best possible results. You also need self-restraint, to avoid imposing your own personality on someone else’s work. Good editors help writers shine, while remaining invisible themselves.

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