Interview with #p2p16 editor Lara Willard @laraedits

Hi there,

So #p2p16 is right around the corner and today I have a super-awesome, super-timely interview. I managed to talk Pitch-to-Publication editor Lara Willard into giving us some of her time. No small feat, given the number of hats she wears – huge thanks for stopping by Lara!

Lara: Honored you asked me to come over! Next time, I expect snacks.

Yikes! I can’t believe I forgot the snacks! *** flings open pantry doors and stares at empty shelf where chips should be *** Oh that’s right. I’ve been binge watching old Godzilla movies.

editorIn last summer’s P2P contest, I was fortunate to be one of two writers Lara took on for a month of heavy duty revising. Rather than go on and on about how great she is, I thought it would be interesting to get her take on how she works with writers (like me) when she’s editing their manuscript. Kind of a peek inside the writer-to-editor  relationship – from the editor’s viewpoint.

Of course Lara is going to be an editor in the upcoming #p2p16, and you can learn more about her MSWL by reading her profile on the #p2p16 website here.

Now I’ve already survived had the privilege of going through one of Lara’s extensive editing sessions. If you happen to be the next victim  lucky person she picks in #p2p16, then read on for a taste of what it will be like to work with her!

(Sorry, can’t help it. I’ve got a brag a little on Lara – both of her writers from P2P found an agent.   So yeah, it can be a bit daunting when the red ink starts to fly, but it’s hard to argue the results.)

Question 1 is easy. Do you have a website where we can go find out all about your crazy mad editing skills?

Lara: Aww, thanks! is my blog, but my site devoted to editing is I’ve got a list of seven reasons why potential clients should hire me (or in the case of P2P, submit their manuscripts to me) Click here. Number Seven gives some testimonies of my editing.

Question 2 is tougher (yes, this is a test): What is wrong with this statement?

Lara: You are such a trickster! You outfoxed me there.

(scroll to the bottom for the answer)

Question 3: If a writer is lucky enough to be picked by you, what should they immediately start to do? (I mean besides hyperventilate).

Lara: Celebrate these small victories! I’d say watch a movie, because the next day, you’ll be put to work. But until you get that first assignment from me, spend time with family and friends, either virtually or physically.

I like to give agents the cleanest, best manuscript possible. JD might tell you that Pitch to Publication with me is like boot camp. I’m no drill sergeant, but my goal is to get your manuscript into better shape for—to stretch the metaphor—your “orders” with an agent and your assignment to a publishing “unit.”

Question 4: In the month you have to work with the writer, where do you focus most of your effort? Are you looking at broad strokes over the course of the manuscript, or will you hone in on making those first few chapters absolutely perfect?

Lara: I’m going to start with a story consultation to make sure we’re starting in the right spot and don’t have any major plot issues. That means that I will likely require a synopsis. I know, I know, synopses are terrifying beasts, but I’m not looking for something pretty. I’ll be fine with a long-winded, casual email detailing the story’s plot points. If the writer would rather talk via Skype or Google Hangout, I’d arrange that.

Then I’ll do a line edit of the first 10 pages. I’ll want the writer to take the notes I give during that line edit and use it to revise the full manuscript.

While the writer’s reading over those notes, I’ll critique the full manuscript. I’ll point out problem parts, continuity issues, plot holes, reader questions, and repeated words. If I have time, I’ll highlight wordy sentences or do some light copyediting.

Throughout the month, I’ll be answering any questions the writer has about my notes and revising that manuscript. After I hand the manuscript over, I’ll still coach the writer when he or she is submitting to agents.

Question 5: If personalities were animals, what kind of personality would you like to see in the writer you’re working with: a rabbit, a turtle, a horse, a peacock or a dung beetle?

Lara: That…is officially the weirdest question I’ve ever been asked, so points to you!

I’ll say a horse. A rabbit is too quick, rushing through edits and chasing plot bunnies. I’d recommend a story consultation to slow down and think about which direction the manuscript needs to go in. A turtle is too slow for a contest like this, in which time is very limited, but I love doing copy edits for people who take their time scrutinizing every detail. A peacock struts around preening and worrying about ego. This kind of writer wants a proofread when he really needs a substantive edit. A dung beetle is still rolling around in the first draft excrement and needs to get some critique partners before coming to an editor. Otherwise how will she get a second opinion when I suggest changes she’s unsure about?

A domesticated horse is willing to work hard and work collaboratively. That’s what every agent and editor is looking for in a writer. Besides being able to tell a great story, of course.

Question 6: After the month is up and the pitch to publication contest moves to the agent round, do you work with the writer on fine tuning their query as well?

Lara: All P2P editors will be getting their writers’ submissions ready before the agent round. But if my writer has more questions after that, of course. Once I work with a writer on a query for a manuscript, that writer can always come back to me for help querying that same manuscript. I do unlimited passes per MS.

Question 7: If you come across a serious issue in the manuscript, how do you break the news to the writer: a quick jerk of the band aid, or a spoonful of sugar before the medicine?

Lara: Depends on the writer. Some want me to go really easy on them, others prefer me to be a hard-ass. I usually err on the side of being straightforward, because I think it’s better to hear it from me than to receive a hundred rejections and not know why you’re getting them. If a writer needs encouragement, though, I lay it on thick. Tonsillectomy first, then all the ice cream you can eat.

Question 8: How do you see the editor-to-writer relationship developing? Is it like a trickle (specific editor feedback – writer revises – editor reviews revision – repeat process as needed) or is it more of a waterfall (editor provides major feedback packet – writer completes major revisions – editor moves on to the next major step in the waterfall)?

Lara: It really depends on what the writer and the manuscript need. That’s why I always want to see a sample first, so I know what I’m getting into. I’ve said it before, but selling a novel is like selling a house. Some houses need heavy remodeling before they can sell (developmental editing), some need an interior designer to rework some things (substantive editing), and some just need an inspection (copy editing). I ask questions so I can give an appraisal. Then we start with any big, foundational issues and work our way to the more decorative stuff.

Sometimes unexpected issues will pop up, which you’ll know if you ever watch remodeling shows on TV, but we work around those things when we come to them.

Question 9: For the writer you select, what’s the single most important thing they should know about working with you?

Lara: Ask questions! Especially in this digital age, lots can be lost in translation. I probably sign 99.8% of my emails with “Let me know if you have any questions,” and that isn’t a formality—I’m a coach. Also, please don’t hesitate to ask for encouragement or clarification if you need it. Sometimes for lack of time, I focus on what needs to be fixed, but if you’re ever feeling discouraged, I am a fountain of encouragement. You just need to turn the faucet on, my friends.

Question 10: Think quick: You’re in a sinking ship and you have to throw something overboard to keep from going under. What gets tossed: signed copy of Oscar Wilde’s first play, your iphone, the magic red editing pen that makes you a literary superhero, the last basket of deep fried cheese curds on the planet, or Leonardo DiCaprio?

Lara: You delved into the deep parts of my soul for those first three, didn’t you? I love cheese but not cheese curds, so that’s the easy one for me.

(I’d rather toss Kurt Russell Overboard than Leo.)


Answer to Question 2: “What is wrong with this statement?” It’s not a statement. It’s a question.
Bonus question: I stole that tricky little question from a middle grade book that was published about 10 years ago. Anyone care to guess the name of the book?

Thanks again for stopping by Lara and providing such great insights!

Wishing everyone the very best in #p2p16!



4 thoughts on “Interview with #p2p16 editor Lara Willard @laraedits

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