Friday, September 16, 2011

Q&A with Toni Rakestraw from Unbridled Editor

 Aside from being a voracious reader, I'm also an author. The reason I started The One Hundred Romances Project was because (aside from thinking, "Yay! Lots of reads! Lots of reason for me to rave in blog posts!), in this new and crazy world of digital publishing, it seemed like a lot of great stories don't always get the attention they deserve. What we as small-press and indie digital authors need are people on our side-people willing to help, people willing to cheer us on, people willing to send up a big puffy smoke-signal when they find a fabulous read from an author in the trenches. 

When I first started out with my debut novel, Drew in Blue, I was fortunate to meet Toni and John Rakestraw online. Toni strokes my OCD perfectionist ways, through her services at Unbridled Editor, as I prepare to shop my second full-length novel, and John was kind enough to grant me my first in-person interview on his awesome weekly showcase of authors (on BlogTalkRadio) called The Platform

This lovely couple strives to support the little guy and bends over backwards to help aspiring and up-and-coming authors. It's not just business for them. For that reason, I'm very pleased to introduce you to Toni Rakestraw, from Unbridled Editor. Get your pens and notepads out, as Toni offers some great words of advice for us authors!


Toni, thanks for taking the time to let me pick your brain! Can you tell us a little about the services you offer through Unbridled Editor?

At Unbridled Editor, we offer basic services like proofreading and line editing. We also offer more indepth services like  substantive editing, which can actually lead to some rewriting. If you need your book formatted for ebook publication or to print, we can do that, too. My daughter does book covers, both for ebooks and print books. She's very talented, even if I do say so myself.

Why do you feel authors should work with an editor before they approach agents/publishers?

If you're going to self-publish or present your book to an agent or publisher, you want to present the best book you can. This means polishing it to be the best it can be. You wouldn't want to invite a celebrity to your home and serve leftovers, right? You want to make a good impression. Agents and publishers have more than enough reasons to throw manuscripts into the round file, don't give them more reasons to do so.  After you've written and revised your book numerous times, it is only natural for your brain to fill in what you know should be there; you don't really see it anymore. It happens to me, too. When I rework a book many times, I miss things because my brain fills in the gaps. This is why I like to put a manuscript in more than one form. If I edit in Word and then go through the manuscript as a pdf, it looks different and my brain will see mistakes I may have missed.

What are the most common mistakes you see in manuscripts?

Oh wow. Okay. The most common mistakes are simple ones like using commas when you really need a question mark in dialogue or mixing up commas and semi-colons. Other mistakes I see a lot include spelling errors, using lay instead of lie, and so on. More dramatic errors come from lack of structure to the story. Be sure you know your plot points and where they go in the story to keep things moving along.

If you go to any bookstore and check out the reference section, you’ll find countless books on writing. There are books on character development, story structure, dialogue, grammar, and on and on. Of all the choices floating out there on retail shelves, do you  have any style manuals you feel truly belong on an author’s desk?

Writing references I would recommend to any author include Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, Self-Editing for Writers by Browne & King, Showing & Telling by Laurie Alberts, Plot versus Character by Jeff Gerke, and one of the simplest ones to help you get a more active voice, How to Swat the Killer Bes Out of Your Writing, by Nancy Owens Barnes. If you're a punctuation geek like me, you'll get a kick out of Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.There are lots of other fun books on punctuation and grammar like The Transitive Vampire, Woe is I and Lapsing into a Comma.

Style manuals? Well, there is always the Chicago Manual of Style. Most book publishers use it. It can be daunting to look things up in it until you get used to it, though.

I know as an author I become blind to my own errors after repeated edits. Yet I can spot the teeniest mistake in other works and often find myself grumbling over something that really should have been caught in a blockbuster book. Ever find a glaring mistake in a story by a big name author that completely pulled you out of the read?

Sure. We read some books aloud at our house so the whole family can enjoy them. While the errors don't affect anyone else, since I'm the one reading, if I stumble across one, I can't help but point it out to everyone as I reread it a couple times to make sure I saw it correctly. I can forgive an error or two, but if I buy a book that is full of them, I will stop reading. It's too distracting for me. Even so, after I've read a book several times during the editing process, errors become harder to see. I like to put them in a different format to make the words new to my eyes.

The love of reading and the love of the writing craft itself is obvious in you. Is that a necessity to be a good editor? Do you think someone can actually be a good editor if they don’t have true love for the written word?

I think it is imperative to love words to be a good editor. A lot of editing is drudgery, so if you don't like words, what is in it for the editor? I certainly don't do it to lord it over writers; I see the writer/editor relationship as symbiotic. Each needs the other. We're no different from any other artistic medium, except we are crafting with words. The editor's job is just to point out where the writer needs more highlights, more shadows or more detail. Words are the paint; the medium.

Any published authors you’ve worked with that you’d like to mention?

One of my favorite authors that I've worked with is Morgan Gallagher. Her first book, Changeling, was a joy for me to work on. My daughter got to make her cover, too. Other authors I've been blessed with include Kevin McGill, author of Nikolas & Co., J. D. Gordon, author of Dartboard, B Throwsnaill, author of Hemlock and the Wizard Tower, and many more. Each book and author is special. I've also had the honor of working with some very talented short story authors, like Jennifer Snyder and Kelly Olmstead.

What piece of advice do you wish you could offer to authors who are just starting their first novel?

Don't forget the structure. Every story needs those bones to support it and carry it through. How you adorn those bones is up to you, but you can't do it without that foundation.
What links can we find you at?

You can find us at John is in the midst of building a new website that will encompass our editorial services, book formatting and design, my daughter's book cover design, a new writer's course, and John's popular radio show, The Platform. We'll be sure to update everyone when it's ready, but no matter what, you'll be able to find us at

Thanks again to Toni for chatting with me about the editorial process. Authors, please take a moment to check out the services Unbridled Editor offers. And authors and readers alike, hop on over to The Platform with John Rakestraw to check out upcoming interviews and dig through the archives to find fantastic interviews with fascinating authors. The discussions between John and his featured authors are always interesting and revealing. (And if you'd like, you can always listen to my petrified monotone as John coaxes me through my first interview here!)

On a personal note, a huge thank you to both Toni and John for their support, not just for me, but for all of us crazy people who have taken up the writing craft. 

Now pardon me while I go dive into the pile of new reads waiting to be devoured!

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