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Ask the Editor AMA

Anyone else ready for fall to hit so this blasted heat goes away? I’ve been sick of it since June and that’s only gotten worse now that we’ve hit September. But the end is nigh, and with it, all of the fun that comes with fall as a season, both aesthetically and projectwise!

Quick updates: I’m recently back from Indy Popcon and man, for a convention that isn’t exactly my demographic, I seem to find my fan base regardless. It was so lovely to see some of you who found my work in 2021 come back for more, and to all the new readers out there, welcome! I hope you’re enjoying your new reads and are eager for more. As always, the best way you can help me out after purchasing a book is to leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I know I say this at least every other month, but it really is such a godsend in terms of furthering my reach and helping others find my work. If you aren’t much of a writer or commenter, leaving a simple numeric rating helps just as well as a long review might, and did you know that Amazon now lets you leave video reviews on things? If you aren’t a writer but enjoy making tik toks… I’m just saying, the option is there.

Every little bit helps more than you know, so take a moment to think back on if you’ve left a review for the books you’ve read. If not, make it an activity for the evening! Just a few words, or even just a star rating, does more good than you’d think!

For those who missed me at Popcon, make sure you add Youmacon to your calendar next. This is one of my regular conventions that I attend regardless of if I’m tabling or not (just like Colossalcon). Still no news on the artist alley—legit this con is going to be a fucking shitshow this year at this rate—but my hotel is non-refundable so I will be attending no matter what happens, or at least will be in Detroit that weekend either way. If the con happens, I’ll host a meet and greet if I’m not in the AA. If there is an AA and I’m able to get in, you’ll be able to get face time with me there. Cross your fingers something happens on that front, because we’re getting down to the wire and I’m not looking forward to rushing a book order 3 weeks before the fucking convention date.

The topic for this month is in a similar vein from last month’s since I’m still playing catch up in terms of my usual work. Instead of another deep dive, IP teaser, or project breakdown, I figured we’d take a look at another aspect of the writing process that a lot of people are curious about but never get to delve into without writing a book themselves: editing with editors and graphic designing with artists. These are the two single-most important components to producing a successful novel, in my opinion, and without these core roles you are heaping additional stress on your own shoulders that you may or may not be equipped to handle. This month’s blog will be an interview blog, and the stars will be my own personal editor, NIL. Next month we’ll meet with Sun for her side of things.

All of these questions come from myself, largely, to keep things centered on the important facets of the book creation process with additional questions pulled from curious readers from Twitter, Instagram, and personal messages. If there are more questions that arise from this, feel free to leave them in the comments below. I’ll pass them along and update your comment with their replies, their time permitting!

Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been involved in professional editing and what initially drew you to the work?

Hey, all. My name is— well, I guess that just depends where you know me from. NIL, Exo, Bastard-man, some other thing. I respond to pretty much whatever. I always describe myself as “a nasty little they/them”, and that’s partially true. (About… 90%.) I’ve been an editor for sixteen years on and off, and I fell into it sort of by accident. In the very, very beginning of my journey, I used to be a journalist, but as I started to phase out of that, one of the two career paths I ended up taking involved me reading and reviewing a lot of people’s work. I always wanted to work with books, and since I couldn’t become a librarian, I ended up falling headlong into this.

What else— Despite me doing so much, I actually have nothing to say about myself. Oh, I’m the proud cat-dami of a nine year old pain in the ass named Orpheus. She’s my pride and joy and about 60% of my personality (with the rest being food, Regis, and various Final Fantasy lore). She learned how to say two words, which are “No” and “Hello?”, and it haunts me everyday of my goddamn life, hahaha.

What is your process for editing a book?

Depending on what book I’m working on, the process changes very slightly, but it’s more or less the same. I hate doing direct edits onto things like Google Docs the first time around. I couldn’t tell you why; it’s a mental thing. I have to download the file before doing my changes.

The longest part for me is always the beginning: just reading the book. I like to take my time. Sometimes, I can read it all in one sitting; other times, it takes me about a week. I try to dedicate about four to five days to only reading, if nothing interrupts me. Any book that has taken me longer than ten days to just read has been automatically written off as a chore, so that makes it difficult to want to work more on the project.

I usually have a running commentary in my head, and I’ll try not to make notes. But if something really stands out, I’ll make a note at the time of so that I can come back to it later and see if it holds up. I try to keep my commentary to myself during a first read as there’s a chance something I notice or have an issue with gets addressed somewhere throughout the story.

Then come the edits. I’m a developmental editor by trade, so that means I’ll end up making some pretty substantial changes to a story. If I can help it, I try not to change things like sentence structures too much, but when it gets hard to describe to someone why something “sounds off” or if I run into a lot of slightly-to-the-left narrative flow, I’ll really roll up my sleeves and start making big changes. It can be tricky to pull off because you really have to know an author’s tone of voice before you can do something like that. This stage also counts as my second and third reading, albeit a lot faster. So, chances are a lot of changes I make won’t end up going forward once I skim over it again.

Little changes to my process depend on how long or show the project is. Naturally, a 400 page book will take more time than a 120 page one, but I’m pretty firm about how long I want to spend just reading. If something is particularly dense with a lot of plot points to keep track of, I’ll usually abandon my pure read a third of the way through and start on notations and light edits.

There are times when I’ll completely zone out through a project and get edits done for a 300 page book in one sitting, hahaha.

(T.D.: The number of times I’ve gone to bed with them telling me “I’ll look over the first chapter tonight” and woken up to 500 edits in my email because, surprise surprise, they did NOT stop at the first chapter is frankly astonishing.)

What’s it like working with T.D.? How did you meet? Which project of hers was your favorite to work on and why? (Also tell them why I’m your most favorite client in the whole wide world and I can never do wrong in your eyes *bats lashes*)

It’s been a joy, haha. It really has. I can’t really remember how we met– I just remember it was on tumblr. After that, you’ve been in my DMs for the past, like, ten years. I’ve always been bad at things like that. I only remember how I met 3% of people, and even then, I still forget most of the details unless something really stands out to me. As far as what project of mine is a favourite, I think it depends on context.

Kinda for memories alone, the Tempest Series. There’s a lot of madness that ended up coming out of that that, of course, no one will ever see, but that was just a fun start of what would become a lifelong partnership, I’m pretty sure.

As far as things I’ve worked on technically, I’m torn because there’s a couple of projects I’ve worked on that I really liked that won’t be released for a while. I will say that Apotheosis (title pending) is probably my favourite so far. I really love Elijah, but the world we’ve built underneath all of that is really thick and rich with complexities. The characters are so entangled with each other and in more than just “vampire politics”. There are a lot of interesting themes and scenarios ranging from, “what if your worst enemy was also your Sire” to just “Generational Trauma But Vampires”. There are so many nuanced things that I really like to think about.

For the Dark Vagaries series, we really ended up creating a lot of fun and unhealthy dynamics that I hope people will tackle with an open mind because no one is perfect. And if someone does come off as perfect, you should read deeper to challenge first impressions. There are a lot of crumbs with pay-offs that reward pretty attentive readers.

(T.D.: This is Ricca erasure, he is absolutely perfect. | N: I’m going to bite him and [loud censor noise that goes on for ten minutes]. | T.D.: Jericho is perfect too. | N: He sure is Jericho, alright.)

Also, you’re Orpheus’ favourite, so by extension, you have to be mine. Otherwise, you’re (just even more) insufferable. 🎔

(T.D.: I didn’t forget!!! We met on HxH tumblr. The first interaction I recall having happened at like 2am my time because this maniac reblogged some dumb hisokuro vampire fic I wrote with the most poetic tags beneath it imaginable and it made me cry. At 2am. Like, I can’t even tell you how insanely kind and beautiful their comments were. It was so gobsmacking that I called my mom to leave her a voicemail about it. We’ve been causing shared brain damage between each other ever since.)

What are the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing?

Unfortunately, I can go on about this forever, haha. This is a multi-pronged question with a tonne of different ways to answer. I’ve grown to sort of resent traditional publishing because the history of it and the day-to-day behind the scenes can get really… infuriating. And this isn’t just a single publishing house problem. There are industry-wide failings. It’s also one of those things where the Big Five—maybe Four at this point, who knows—have changed the very foundations of traditional publishing forever. But that gets into a larger, global argument that I don’t even have the time, space, or brainpower to dedicate to. I’ll try to hit some of the highlights, though.

Okay! Pros of traditional, or “trade”, publishing. It gives you reach and access to resources and audiences that you won’t have access to when you do things on your own. Period. Even if you can reach certain regions or demographics or media outlets, you’ll do it at an infinitesimal scale compared to the doors that traditional publishing opens for you. Also, for better or for worse, traditional publishing sets trends. This does allow smaller publishing houses to clone these trends on a more accessible level. Whatever doesn’t work for them might work for smaller and independent players. Once you see how something is supposed to go, it’s easier to just recreate the steps.

Also, with traditional publishing, they’ll take care of a lot of the logistics for you, such as cover art, finances, book tours, international sales, and things like that. They do a lot of the heavy lifting so that you can focus on getting your writing done. Of course, these perks and responsibilities depend on the size of the house you sign with.

With self-publishing, you get to reach your audience directly. You’re mostly in control of where, when, and how you sell your works. You can create your own website, throw it up on a site like Lulu and let them take care of publishing, or you can just do physical sales. T.D. does a pretty healthy mixture of them all, but it’s a lot of work. You can also go pretty hog wild when you self-publish and just throw convention entirely out of the window. So, if you don’t want to compromise your writing style or if you’re trying to publish the second coming of House of Leaves, you’re free to do that. You don’t have to justify it to anyone, and you can also publish as quickly or as slowly as you want.

Outside of the dazzle, traditional publishing does come with a long list of cons. The bigger the publishing house you sign with is, the more you should learn about your rights as an author, especially when it comes to media adaptations, translations, etc. There’s a lot, and it can be overwhelming. Also, certain financial perks are basically non-existent these days. Part of that is due to the cost of doing business, but there’s also the issue with how often payments are distributed, what you’re promised, etc. Some publishers have also completely changed the way that their authors receive cuts from their initial book sales. It’s… a big ol’ mess.

I won’t go on about finances to authors too, too much though. Even though a lot of the issues around this haven’t changed while I was gone (and have actually gotten worse), I really only started floating back into traditional publishing about five or six years ago for a variety of reasons. If you go searching (and I definitely think you should), there are authors and industry employees who share their highs and lows, there’s always news about something big going on, and I really think you should hear it from all sides. I’m an old veteran in the field, but Xiran Jay Zhao is an active writer in the scene. They have a great video about their publishing journey that people should really give a watch.

Of course, none of this covers the hurdle of having to look for an agent, especially if it’s your first time out—yadda yadda.

Self-publishing isn’t without its flaws, of course. The most common is that you have to do everything on your own. And with the way algorithms have been crushing independent creators lately, it can feel like less of an uphill battle and more of a free-climb up a steep cliff. When you self-publish, you have to get your own ISBNs, which can cost an arm and a leg in the States.

The price changes depending on where you are in the world, but here, it’s such a protected, almost exclusive thing when it doesn’t have to be. There’s already a process that has to be followed with ISBNs, so having this $125 price tag is outrageous. And it just gets worse if you try to bulk in bulk. If I remember, Australia’s cost is around $30. Somewhere in that family. So, you can see how it’s very much a manufactured issue here. There are, of course, services that can help you get around that, but the crux of the issue lies with how difficult it is to buy directly.

Self-publishing can also be very expensive, and you have to build your creative resources and/or team from the ground up. Because of this, it’s pretty understandable why people want to protect their processes as much as possible. And of course, you have to worry about protecting your work, building traffic, getting it translated, etc. All of the logistics fall onto you depending on how much you want to spread your work around. And just getting your work in front of people is stressful enough.

Do you prefer one over the other in terms of the stories that come from each avenue? What would you recommend an author pursue, and would your answer change depending on the author in question?

For me, personally, I don’t have a preference. I was raised off books that came from traditional publishing. I walked to libraries and bought my old paperbacks for $1.25 when I was younger; I found my secret favourites from local bookstores. You can’t get that without the fundamental network of traditional publishing.

Self-publishing, however, I’ve found authors I can get to know and talk to and help and learn from. Self-publishing gave me peers and friends. It made the dream more accessible. It is the heart of writing. You don’t get the community to even make it to traditional publishing without the blood, sweat, tears, and heartache of authors and their small scale publishing efforts. Hell, the online fan zines would be nowhere with the actual ink and paper, crappily folded zines we have now.

Now, as far as what I recommend, that absolutely depends. I can’t say that one is better than the other.

Publishing, no matter what side you take, is incredibly competitive, so you’re meant to fight against the tide. You should do your part to stand out or to game the system in a way that gets you seen by the people you want to be seen by. You will have to find, curate, and maintain your audience more actively now, but we’re also living in an age with some pretty unique and manufactured obstacles. Social media sites are going down or changing their algorithms entirely; this new revival of media cleansing is a special type of pain in the ass. There’s a lot.

Whatever you do, I implore you to explore your options thoroughly. As much as I can campaign against traditional publishing, my biggest piece of advice is to follow your dreams and do what you want to do. I don’t want to dissuade anyone; I’m just offering a perspective. Get as many opinions as you can; learn what the industry is doing. Learn what communities are out there and what they’re doing (RIP, Pit Mad; hello, Get Your Words Out). Don’t box yourself in. Stick by your guns, learn and do what you can, and have fun. Oh— it’s so important to have fun and find joy in what you do. You have no idea. That’s what’s really gonna take you far no matter what you do.

Do you got Yugioh cards?

I do. I have a lot of first gen YGO. My favourite is my holographic Red Eyes Black Dragon.

What’s your favorite kind of story to edit? Is there a genre you prefer or a trope you have a lot of fun with when it comes across your table?

That’s…. Hm. If we’re talking in the case of categorical books, I think novellas and short stories are my favourites, somewhere abouts. I’ve found a nice sweet spot with editing them, and that’s where a lot of my process was sort of solidified. But when it comes to genres, it’s hard to say because, even in the things I enjoy, people end up writing things so differently.

I’m a big fan of science fiction/futuristic/high tech stories, for example , and so I’ve gotten books that’ve ranged between Warhammer 40k to hard science speculative fiction. If I narrow it down to my preferred niche, which is mecha, I’ve read more things I personally didn’t like than I did—on an objective technical level as well as on a personal interest level. When it comes to my editing, I’ve learned that what can ultimately win me over—or at least get me through anything—are my client’s vision and their enthusiasm for their work on top of their technical capability.

Here’s a secret: I don’t like romance, not as a core genre—barely even as an aside sometimes, honestly. I have some very, very specific demands if I’m to read romance personally or for work because it’s not my wheelhouse (and my work in a mid-sized pub house actually made me like it less). However, the reason I look forward to T. D.’s works is for a couple of reasons.

As an editor, I can help her avoid certain pitfalls of her genre or (try to) talk her out of certain tropes that just won’t fit the work at hand. Even if there are things that I want to see in there (bad influence that I can be sometimes), if it doesn’t fit the work, it doesn’t fit. So, being there to avoid certain frustrating plot points indicative to certain genres definitely helps. (We just replace them with Situations™️).

As a reader, it’s not about the romance itself. It’s about the circumstances the characters are in, their setting; it’s about the way that they interact and the way that they build up to that romance that makes it worthwhile to me. For me, the plot has to do a lot of the work to make me forget that romance is the central focus of a book and/or just naturally integrates it in there. I’ve to be really absorbed because if I get a whiff of something lovey-dovey without proper immersion, I am pretty likely to just put a book down. (Unless I’m working, then I just power through it.)

That being said, there’s no bias here. T. D. does have a series of books I very much don’t like, haha. (T.D.: It’s okay, I don’t like them much either these days XD) In the end, no one’s really immune to my dislike of romance and my high threshold for it.

So, unfortunately, I don’t have a clean way to answer this! I suppose being able to get to know an author and the story that they’re trying to tell is what makes me more likely to just read a book versus what genre it’s in. Romance and, maybe, a couple of other genres are the only things that don’t get an easy pass. Not without an eye roll or two at least.

…I do like a good romp though. Love me a cheeky little romp.

Are you taking on more clients? If so, where can we find you and your work online?

I’m always taking new clients. I do try to take one free or discounted project every six months or so. I had a whole thread about that online, but that’s buried somewhere deep in my timeline, haha. If there’s an interest, I’ll make time to post new requirements. (T.D.: When that goes up I’ll be sure to plug it on all my socials!)

I keep moving around, but right now, the most likely place to find me is on my own blog. There, you can find my Linktree and all that jazz as well as some causes I support. (Check the left hand side!)

Outside of editing, I’m always working on something— always, always. I’m trying to get back into voice acting, so I’ve started some small projects to find my groove again. (This SCP one is kicking me in the chest real bad.) I also put out a novella/anthology/collection called Feathertouch Impact, which is my original idol erotica. There’s a sequel coming for that, and both of these so hilariously demure compared to things I plan on putting out in the future. (I actually consider this a warm-up project to some other stuff.)

(T.D.: Feathertouch Impact is balls-to-the-walls awesome and if you have even a passing interest in idols sucking face outside of the public’s view, or even just insane sexcapades between two crazy-for-each-other boys, you’ll definitely want to pick this up. It’s not even $10!)

Anything else you’d like to add or would like T.D.’s readers to know?

I have to stand on my soapbox real quick, so bear with me. It’s very, very important that we support writers and promote reading of every kind. When it comes to communities online, the amount of support I’ve seen for original writers has been rapidly dwindling over the years. It’s gotten to a point that you’ll see the same group of people cycling the same four books around to get seen.

People will say, “Oh, I see support for writers all the time.” It’s something you have to see from the outside to really understand. When you dive into the hashtags or when you try to go to different creative communities, writing is very, very hard to get passed around.

It’s bad enough for creators of all kinds trying to find and build their audiences, but I want to emphasise that we are currently facing a media literacy crisis in the U.S. I honestly never thought I’d live to see the day… When they taught us that reading is fundamental, it’s serious business! Reading passively teaches you critical life skills that are sorely missing these days.

Part of supporting authors specifically is spreading our books around, especially with these various crackdowns that are happening. Let people borrow our books; tell them where we are. Show them the lines that drive you wild and make you passionate about our writing. You’ll find people like T.D., or myself, or someone like Johannes T. Evans post our work where you can just read and enjoy them.

It’s rough out here for all of us financially, so don’t feel bad if you can’t buy someone’s stuff. Hell, if someone wants to read Feathertouch but doesn’t have $8 to spare, I get it! I’ve been there! E-mail me, and I’ll chuck it at you happily. But in exchange, this is all I ask for: stand up for us. Be loud and proud about the things you love. Build communities and reading groups around the people who create the things you want to see. I love bonding over a good-bad book, but when it comes to people who make things I like, I always stand by them. I become so deeply and terribly insufferable with their work (I think and talk about Ravel obsessively), and that’s how it should be.

Put the things you like center stage. Be vocal where other people can see them! Sometimes, it feels like people are ashamed to be caught reading. Word of mouth is such a powerful tool; it makes all of the difference.

This kind of support allows us to be unerringly ourselves, and we can continue to make and share things for the people who want to see them. Granted, I won’t change myself or the things I’m interested in for anyone, but actively having a visible community that cares about my writing doesn’t go without notice. My emotional capacity can be at zero sometimes, but this makes my kokoro doki-doki so hard, I want to scream. It makes me want to torture— I mean, feed my readers well with everything I have coming down the pipeline.

Also, another way to support us is to use non-Amazon sites! I know: it’s hard. You have people you want to support on Amazon-backed sites like Goodreads, Audible and Abebooks, but Amazon started this war. It was built way back in the day to disrupt the book industry. And it did it. It’s done it to us, and it keeps growing and chewing up other industries in its wake. The convenience and affordability comes at the cost of being shady to its competitors. Of course they can sell books at cost or lower— it has $134 billion USD in revenue, and that’s only growing.

I’m not shaming any author who does use them for self-publishing because when you’re trying to get your work out there, Amazon takes care of the most important logistics: distribution and review aggregation. You have a storefront that you don’t need to maintain as in-depth as anything that’s self-hosted. But our societal and digital centralisation over the years has given that bastard company an even stronger foothold. Its marketed convenience worked. Its “““disruption””” of the book industry worked. Bookstores are in trouble; libraries are in trouble. Especially here in the U.S. Places that allow us to print books affordably have to drive up their costs because of industry demands. Because of the Big Four. Because of Amazon.

We all have to do what we do to survive, and it gets tiring to look over your shoulder and be the good person, but if you can diversify your spending, if you can diversify your distribution, please do. We need each other to keep this space fair and actually competitive. We can’t destroy monopolies without actual back-up from written legislation, but we can give the little guys a fighting chance and have them go down swinging. I’m trying to revive my Smashwords account. (I tried to take down my professional Goodreads profile, but it won’t let you do that, so fuck me, I guess!)

I can’t always get away from it. T.D. and other authors I like use Amazon; my friends stream full-time on Twitch. But I always do what I can where I can. I will rend the flesh from this demon to feed my people, bit by bit and bite by bite.

So, do good recklessly for yourselves and for others. Be good people, and thanks for having me around. Until next time.

T.D. again, taking back the reins. In addition to what NIL just said, I’d also like to remind all of you that if you can’t buy a book you see in a writer’s promotional tweet or ad, the library does in fact exist for a reason! I try to remind people of this every time I have a book release. If you want to read a book or just want a book available to more people at large, hit up your local library and put in a request for the book in question. The author still gets supported financially, and your local community will now have access to something queer, something indie, something bold, and something unique that the acquisitions librarians might not have had on their radar before. It’s a great way to support people when you feel you can’t do so financially.

But yes, that was a lot of really great information, wasn’t it? I really am so proud of the team I work with to bring my work to fruition, and as I state in all of my acknowledgement pages, it’s thanks to people like NIL that I’m able to do what I do at all. If you need an editor, you can find no one better than them for your own projects. They hinted at something that I find so important to me in our writer/editor relationship, and that’s their dedication to maintaining an author’s unique voice. I’ve had issues with other editors in the past changing my sentence structures to the point that it didn’t even feel like my own writing style once they were done with it. NIL is a great editor because they do what all good editors should do: distill what you want to say, respect how you want to say it, and help you put out the most polished version of all of that without compromising what makes the words uniquely yours.

If you have more questions for NIL or questions for my graphic designer Sun for the next blog, please leave them in the comments below. I’ll pass them along and update you with the answers as quickly as we’re able.

Until next time,

T.D. Cloud

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