Ask the Editor: Narielle Living

Edith: Writing furiously on a rainy fall day

I’m so pleased to welcome Narielle Living for our next Ask the Editor spotlight. Narielle edited my second Lauren Rousseau mystery, Bluffing is Murder (out November 11!) for Profile PictureBarking Rain Press, and I thought she did a careful, thoughtful job with it – no gratuitous changes, but a number of comments and questions that definitely improved the book.

What I didn’t realize until I invited her over is that Narielle is also a mystery author, and a member of Sisters in Crime! More on that at the end. Now talk to us about editing, Narielle

Area of Expertise: Fiction Editing

I would like to thank Edith Maxwell for the opportunity to guest on Wicked Cozy Authors today. I am honored to answer some questions and participate in this very fun blog.

How did you get started in this business?

I am currently an editor for three different traditional publishers, and I love my work. Each publisher that I work with is unique, but they all share one common element: fantastic writers. I love working on mysteries the most, but I also work with other genres.

My career began as a writer. I always felt it was important to know the rules of grammar and fully understand things like when to use a comma and when to use a semicolon. After all, if I wanted to break the rules I had to know them first, right? After the release of my second book I decided I wanted to be on the editing side of publishing as well. So, I enrolled in specific editing classes and earned a certificate in editing. However, I believe that education is an ongoing, lifelong process, and I continue to take at least four to five classes a year related to editing.

I strongly urge writers to take editing classes. This removes some of the mystery of the process and helps familiarize you with things like Chicago style versus AP style.

What are three things we should know about your area of expertise?

One thing that I want all writers to know about editors is this very simple fact: we love books. We love reading. We wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves if we couldn’t read (I shudder to even type those words, as I believe the Universe would end if I could not read a book). Because of that, when I am given a manuscript to edit, my goal is to polish it and make it shine. I want the book to be the best it can be. Too often I think writers have this idea that all editors want to change your work and make it their own. My goal is to intrude as little as possible into an author’s work and offer suggestions that make the manuscript better.

The next thing writers should realize is that there are different types of editing, including developmental editing, which addresses the big picture, copy editing, and proofreading. Each approach is different, so if you hire someone to proofread it’s important to know that a proofreader will not offer input about plot inconsistencies.

And finally, remember that it is okay to debate a point with your editor and offer up your opinion. In fact, we encourage that kind of discourse as long as the conversation remains respectful. Telling your editor that she is full of chop suey and clearly does not understand your vision tends to undermine a good working relationship. This is related to my first point: we want the same thing, and that is for your book to be as good as it can be.

What are the top five errors you see?

I definitely see some mistakes repeated in many manuscripts that come across my computer screen. Easily fixable, but common mistakes, so well worth pointing out.

First and foremost, please do not format your manuscript in anything other than Times timesnewromanNew Roman twelve point font. Do not put pictures in the manuscript. Do not use a hard return at the end of each line (we no longer rely on typewriters, remember?) and do not use the tab key for every single indent. If you don’t know how to format your manuscript then do some research or pay someone to help you. Something that simple could mean the difference between getting published or not getting published.

Many writers have a habit of “filtering” their writing. Simply put, filtering is a technique where the writing filters the action for the reader, removing the reader from any sense of immediacy. For example, a filtered sentence might look like this: She felt like she could cry. This sentence tells the reader what the character feels like, but does not put the reader in the midst of the action. A different way of writing this could be: Her throat tightened and tears threatened to spill. The second sentence puts the reader directly into the mind and heart of the character.

A writer's dreaded but often needed imperative: kill your darlings
A writer’s dreaded but often needed imperative: kill your darlings

The next issue I often see is that of extra characters who are introduced but serve no purpose. If little Sally Sue has no reason to be in the story other than a cuteness factor, get rid of her. Or kill her off. Your readers will have a better story without extraneous people clogging up the flow.

In a similar vein, all dialogue and action must serve to move the story forward or create tension. I know that is a tall order, but paragraphs without purpose are incredibly boring to read and could cause your reader to abandon your book.

And finally, the one thing every writer has had to deal with: plot holes and inconsistencies. When you write a story it becomes so much a part of you that you sometimes forget to relate the entire story. Writers lose perspective and cannot always see the plot holes. Because of that, it’s a great idea to write the entire manuscript—don’t edit the first draft—put it away for a couple of weeks, then go back to page one and do a read-through. You’ll notice things you hadn’t seen before.

Final thoughts…

I don’t have any great ideas, but I would like to share some tips that have helped me through my career:

  • Stay true to your story but don’t be afraid to change it, either.
  • You do not have to do everything your critique group tells you to do with your manuscript.
  • Read as much as possible.
  • Write as much as possible.
  • Have fun as much as possible. You never know when the ride will come to an end.

Readers: Stop by the blog today and ask Narielle a question! And remember, today is the last day for your comment to enter you in the “Come to Crime Bake on a Stick” contest.

signs of the southNarielle Living is a freelance writer and editor based out of the tidewater area of Virginia. She is a regular contributor for the Williamsburg magazine Next Door Neighbors, and has written hundreds of do-it-yourself articles for online magazines. She is the author of the mysteries Signs of the South and Revenge of the Past, and co-authored Chesapeake Bay Karma—The Amulet. Her fiction also appears in the anthologies Chesapeake Bay Christmas Volume I, Chesapeake Bay Christmas Volume II, and Harboring Secrets. She edits both fiction and non-fiction, and loves helping other writers achieve their goals. A former massage therapist and healing arts educator, she studied Philosophy and Religion at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT. Narielle is a member of the Chesapeake Bay Writers and Sisters in Crime, and when she is not editing she is working on writing more books. For information about her books or workshops, visit

18 Thoughts

  1. Interesting…thanks for this. I always love to hear what goes on “backstage”. 🙂

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this morning’s post. I don’t have any questions because all the information I needed was present. My typing skills are horrible and that is something I always fret over. It seems spacing is one of my biggest problems. I’m keeping this post for future reference. Thanks Narielle!

  3. I particularly like the “have as much fun as possible” – so true! And your attitude about both the writer and the editor wanting the same thing: to improve the book. A good thing to keep in mind.

    1. I think it’s easy to forget that one point (we want the same thing) because it can be difficult for someone to look at your work with a critical eye. But working as an editor has helped me understand that better as a writer.

  4. Welcome! You make some excellent points (and you clearly love your job!). My question: have you ever encountered a case in which what the writer thinks she is conveying, and what you’re seeing on the page, seem radically different to you? How did you resolve it?

    1. Hi Sheila!
      Yes, that happens. Ultimately, if it is not an issue of grammar or style guides, it is the writer’s choice. Once I explain my point, the writer can then choose what she wants to do with her work. This can be tricky, because the editor doesn’t want the writer to have a finished product that doesn’t quite work, but in the end it is the writer’s choice. And sometimes the writer is correct, things need to stay the way they are. It really depends on the level of writing and editing skill on both sides.

      I know the answer is somewhat vague, but hopefully I’ve helped. Good luck!

  5. Hi, Narielle,

    You mentioned the importance of authors taking editing classes. Are there specific classes, or is there a specific online learning institution you can recommend?

    Thank you. 🙂

    1. Sorry for the delayed response, my life got a bit, shall we say, over-scheduled? Anyway, I have found that Poynters News University has wonderful online classes. Some have a fee, some do not, and many of them are in conjunction with ACES (American Copy Editors Society). Have fun!

  6. I love mystery writing but it’s so challenging to plot. My biggest difficulty is character emotions. I struggle with that a lot. Great interview and I’m also curious about the classes.

    1. Hi Kimberly,
      Again, sorry for the delayed response. As I mentioned above, Poynters News University has some great classes. As for character emotions, it sometimes helps to put yourself in the role of your character (as if you were an actress). Then you get a different perspective on your character. Once I had to write a scene that was an argument between two sisters. Well, I’d never had a sister, so I asked one of my friends to role play with me – of course it helped that my friend is a writer as well; she didn’t think it was too strange.
      Happy writing!

  7. Enjoyed reading the editing comments and also the notes on the “Wicked” gals. Well done.

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