Interview | Kate Brauning
I can speak from personal experience that Kate is great. Amazing. Wonderful. I heard about her through Twitter via one of my favorite authors who had used Kate’s editorial services. So I checked out her website and was basically blown away! From her bio: “As an associate editor with a publishing house, I bring to my critiques my knowledge of the market, comparison titles, and genre trends, and my knowledge of story structure, voice, grammar, sentence structure, plot arcs, and character development. Having interned at both a literary agency and Entangled Publishing, I’ve had significant experience working all kinds of books, from prescriptive nonfiction to YA contemporary and adult romance. As a teacher, I bring my knowledge of explaining concepts, showing strengths and weaknesses, and finding talent in many areas. Finally, as a writer, I bring my own experience working in the query trenches, writing synopses, queries, and pitches, as well as my enthusiasm for writing itself. Most importantly, I’m a close reader and a new pair of eyes on your writing.”
Yes. You were blown away too. Now pat your hair down and let’s continue. So…I used Kate’s editorial services! She critiqued a problem chapter for me (one I had been struggling with for weeks) and she was prompt, professional and had comments that opened my eyes. And that’s when I knew I HAD to interview her for the site!
1. Hey Kate! Thanks so much for agreeing to chat today. I first became aware of you a couple weeks ago via a self-publishing author who sang praises about your editing work! Can you tell me a bit about your freelance editing career and how that started?
Absolutely- thank you so much for having me! I freelance edit for agented and unagented authors who want to self-publish, as well as writers who want to improve their skills and prepare their manuscripts and submission materials for traditional publication. I used to teach high school English before I started working in publishing, and I think some of that has followed me. I love seeing people who are passionate about writing, and I’m thrilled if I can help a writer sharpen the story and get it to be what he or she envisioned. I started freelance editing during my internship with the Carol Mann Agency and Entangled Publishing, and I kept doing it when I moved to editing with Month9Books because I love helping authors that way.
2. As an associate editor with a publishing house, you must see manuscripts of all genres and length. Can you tell us a bit about what makes a manuscript really stand out to you?
A unique concept will always make a story stand out to me. When I was interning, so many of the stories I saw in the slush pile were versions of the same ten concepts, which makes it difficult for a manuscript to stand out. So I love seeing authors really push themselves to go beyond what’s already been done and find something fresh. Voice, of course, is also a common answer to this question, I think, because it’s so true. When an author nails the voice in the MS, I sit straight up. Voice can make me instantly connect to a character and be willing to follow him wherever he goes. A final element that just thrills me to find in a MS is insightful prose. Gorgeous writing with knife-sharp turns of phrase will get my attention every time, but it’s hard to do without crossing over into wordiness or purple prose. When I see it, though, I love it.
3. Conversely, what are some writer mistakes you see over and over again in manuscripts that really can drag it down and ultimately, end up in rejection?
Besides the basics like knowing the expected length for your genre and having a good grasp of grammar and sentence structure, lack of something new is a big one. Even if the writing is solid, if the story doesn’t stand out, that’s a problem. Mostly, though, what kills a MS for me are execution issues. The romance feels contrived. The author tried for tension in a certain moment, but it didn’t come across. The action is told in moments where it needed shown. Good writing is composed of a million different skills. The best things writers can do to improve their execution is to read the work of authors who do those things well, and then practice doing those things themselves. Get feedback to see if you created a genuinely tense moment, revise, try again, and revise.
4. To keep in line with editing a bit longer, what advice do you have for writers who are at the editing stage of their manuscript? The first draft is done and now it’s time to get the story really into shape!
I’ve seen so many manuscripts with genuine potential from writers I’m convinced have talent, but they stopped working on the book too soon. It lacks the depth or characterization or stakes that it needs. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass is my favorite tool for revising. It shows so well how writers can open up the potential of their stories and add that depth. Plus, it’s fun. Many of the questions are once I wouldn’t have thought to ask about the plot and characters, and it forces writers to think outside the box for ways to raise stakes and deepen characters. I definitely recommend writers get that book and use it thoroughly.
I also can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get feedback from people who know what they’re doing. Writing communities, especially Twitter, are full of talented, helpful people who will beta read for writers who have taken the time to invest and interact in the community. Writers who want to take their work to the next level should get feedback from other skilled writers and editors to see if the story in their heads made its way to the page. That, really, can be a big problem—for example, the writer intended the main character to be snarky, and in the author’s head, she is. But in what actually made it to the page, she comes across as bitter and whiny. Good feedback will help writers see how much of their story actually made it to the page, and how to draw out the potential their concept has.
That said, poor feedback may harm more than anything else, which is why it’s important to get feedback from skilled people who know what they’re doing.
5. And one last question about editing, how can a person get in contact with you if they’d like to hire you as an editor?
My website has a tab about my editing services where writers can see a bit more about the services I offer. I can be reached for quotes or questions at katebrauning(at)gmail(dot)com. I love connecting with writers, so email me or come find me on Twitter, and say hi!
6. Alright, let’s switch gears just a bit. You’re also a writer of adult and YA stories! You have a great link on your site that showcases a few of those stories you’ve completed. Can you tell us a bit about your evolution as a writer?
Absolutely! I write adult and YA suspense. I started writing novels in high school, but I sincerely hope nothing I wrote back then ever sees the light of day. I started out writing westerns and fantasy that were sort of adult and sort of YA. Most of what I read in high school and college was older classics, and even though I still believe many of them are masterpieces, I needed to read modern fiction to really find my voice. I didn’t truly figure out what I wanted to write until after college, when I started reading tons of recently published fiction and figuring out what was actually being written and published in the current market.
Working in the publishing industry made so much about writing start to make sense to me, and I’ve also been a bit of a junkie for books on the craft of writing. They taught me there was a whole lot about writing I didn’t even realize I needed to know. (My website also has a tab with books on writing I recommend, so for anyone interested to see what I liked, definitely give those ones a read. They’re gold.)
Through writing all sorts of things and discovering what I didn’t want to write, I finally figured out I wanted to write suspense and thrillers. They lend themselves to high stakes, character-driven stories, which is what I love. Now that I know this, I can focus my reading in those areas more, and work on the specific skills those genres require.
7. Are these stories being shopped around, will they be self-published? Will they be available soon? They all sound so fantastic! Can you tell us a bit about your journey so far in regards to being a published author?
Right now I’m looking for a literary agent. I’m querying a YA contemporary and putting the final polish on a thriller that really has turned into my passion project. It’s been a joy to write and I’m looking forward to readers seeing it someday. It’s my goal to be published traditionally, but I’m a definite supporter of informed self-publishing. Several of my clients are self-publishing, and who knows- I may have a project I want to self-publish someday.
8. Do you ever worry that your critiquing services might conflict with your writing life? So many authors must politely decline requests to edit and/or evaluate unpublished works.
I stopped worrying about it once I set boundaries for myself. I have editing time and writing time, and neither infringes on the other unless I have an unusual deadline. Sticking to that can be difficult, but it works well for me.
Editing can be quite a bit different from writing, which is most likely part of why a lot of people don’t want to do both. That, and time. Time I spend editing is time I’m not spending writing—but I love both, so I find time for both. Plus, for me, writing develops my editing skills and editing sharpens my writing. And of course, I can’t write all day every day, or I’ll burn out.
Editing can be a weighty thing. Telling people what they should do or not do with their own story or character or paragraph is tough and sometimes nerve-wracking. But as a writer, it can be frustrating and difficult to tell if what I want my story to be is actually making it down into the words. It can be hard for me to think outside the box I originally created for a story to see what could take a certain element to the next level. When I find someone who really gets what I’m trying to do with the story and can give me a fresh perspective and help me problem-solve, I’m overjoyed. The story is better for it, and it’s more fully what I wanted it to be. The chance to be that person for another writer, to help sharpen incredible stories, is why I love editing.
9. And my last question is two-fold: first, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given about writing? And what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given about editing?
The best piece of advice I’ve received about editing is this: we’re not here to turn the story into our own book, we’re here to make the author’s vision come through the pages in the strongest way possible. Yes, my preferences affect my comments, but most writers won’t have my preferences, style, or voice. Editing isn’t about taking raw material and making it sound like something I would have written. It’s about sharpening the author’s voice and helping his or her story to develop in the strongest way possible.
As for writing, the best advice I’ve ever been given is that if I want it to be a career, I have to treat it like a career. When other people are starting out on a career path, especially in a competitive field, they spend 4-6 years studying it through college, advanced degrees, or apprenticeship. They start at entry-level positions and expect to put in a few years of diligent, daily work before advancing. So writers shouldn’t be discouraged when two years pass and they don’t have anything published yet or haven’t signed with an agent. It doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. It means writing is a complicated, difficult thing, and it takes a long time to become good—just like in most other careers.
Of course, writing is also incredibly fulfilling and fun. Who else gets to read Gone Girl or Revolution as professional development? To me, treating writing like a career means we need to settle in for the long haul, study the craft, make it a daily part of a balanced life, and enjoy it. Because even though I might want my career to go a certain way, might be working toward milestones and goals, it’s all about how much we love creating a story. And that’s something we can do right now, regardless of where we are in our careers.