From the Mind of Master Imaginationist Crystal Connor ~"A Trusted Name in Terror."

The Darkness, Artificial Light, In The Valley of Shadows

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Let's ask the Editor!

Today's interview is with Celeste Bennett of Bennett & Hastings Publishing

Celeste Bennett is an avid reader who began professionally editing books in 1987, before completing her B.A. in English. After twelve years in corporate environments, she opened Bennett & Hastings Publishing.

Celeste is my editor for The Darkness and the 4th person I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing, but I have to tell you I had an ulterior motive for asking her for this interview. I wanted to get a better understanding of this whole reworking process. We were only about a 3rd of the way through the reworking process before I wasn’t having fun anymore.

I think the biggest reason why we were struggling is because, as all of you know The Darkness is my 1st book, and though I had been warned about the reworking process I was completely unprepared and to make things worse I really didn't understand why things were being done the way they were being done. I was once told that writing the book is the easy part, preparing the book for the bookshelves is the hard part...I had no idea how true that turned out to be.

I 1st asked my editor to grant me an interview, she offered that she was too busy…and I was really bummed out about because I thought she was finding a nice way to say no. We were butting heads because I fiercely defended the way I wanted the finished Darkness to look. So to say she was frustrated with me is an understatement because I was really giving her a hard time.

I am glad that I stood my ground and got thru, because for one we are back on even keel Thank God! And The Darkness is exactly what I hoped it would be. I was super surprised and elated when she agreed to the interview
So without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen...Celest Bennett

In your opinion, what makes a good story? Compelling characters whose motives and thought processes show in their actions. Personally, I like character-driven fiction.

What was your goal when founding your publishing firm Bennett & Hastings? Establishing a place where the less powerful can go to get their work published in a professional fashion. We knew writers who had lost control of their writing when they went to large houses, and we knew writers who had poor quality work produced when they went to traditional self-publishers. We set out to start a company that would provide professional editing and design while allowing the author to retain rights to the work.

What is a typical work day/schedule for you? How many projects do you juggle at once? I start work around 8:00 a.m. and wrap up whenever projects allow, sometimes at 2:00 p.m. and sometimes at 2:00 a.m. The number of projects varies depending on the demand of each. I've never had fewer than three.

Why did you choose to become an editor verses becoming a writer? My skills are stronger in editing, although that (to quote Jane Austen) is because I have not taken the time to practice.

How do you decide which author’s you work will with? I run the manuscript past anyone who will be working with it - the editor, the designer - and get input from each. I look at our schedule and our budget. We choose manuscripts that excite us in terms of writing style or message, or we choose writers who are passionate about their work and willing to invest their own resources.

Can you please tell us the differences between proof reading, copyediting and substantive editing? Proofreading covers spelling, punctuation, and consistency in the use of a style guide. Editing involves looking at the manuscript's structure and involving the writer in corrections. We don't differentiate editorial work, so I wouldn't have anything but the generic to offer in terms of copyediting.

How do you deal with a writer, such as myself, who until they start working with an editor doesn’t understand how editing process works and questions what your telling them? Since the writer retains the rights to their work (which makes B&H unique) we won't publish something the author does not accept. We present our recommendations, but if the writer objects we accept their objections.

Have you ever worked with an author who refused to take your advice or ignored your suggestions? If so, do continue working with the author or do you terminate the relationship? We have, as you well know! If we don't have confidence in the author's decision, we will offer to withdraw. I can think of two instances when we offered to withdraw, but neither offer was accepted.

A few years ago there was a general feeling that self-published authors would not enjoy the same success of author’s who are published traditionally and that a reputable bookstore would never line their shelves with self published books.

With self-published titles such as “50 Simple Things You Can Do Save The Earth” spending 10 weeks on #1 spot on the bestseller list, and authors like Boyd Morrison’s The Ark going from self-published to signing a two book deal contract, what do you think has changed and why do you think so many authors are choosing to self publish?

Technology has changed everything, especially in terms of affordability and reach. Publishing companies are businesses, and companies are under tremendous pressure to return value to their investors. Nothing has changed in terms of publishers' risk management. If a writer can prove they have a loyal readership, a publisher is taking a smaller risk by offering them a contract. Self-publishing allows a writer to establish their readership. It also gives them greater control and shortens the time to market. The business models are apples and oranges. Readers are much more liberal, but S-P still carries a stigma among publishers and critics simply because there is a risk that no quality control has been implemented. Regardless, it has given writers more tools with which to prove their skills.

To date, which of your authors has had the greatest success, and besides writing a really good book, what did they do in terms of marketing and promoting that lead to them accomplishing their literary dreams? Clay Moyle has had the greatest success in terms of reach. His biography of Sam Langford was adopted by the Department of Education in Nova Scotia, and Clay has done a laudable job of getting word out through radio interviews and personal appearances. Non-fiction is always easier to target market, but it's been the author's initiative that has made the difference. The book has been reviewed on several continents and continues to sell well, two years after its initial publication. We're preparing to take it into a third printing.

What is the difference between Self Publishing and Vanity Publishing firms and what advice would you give an aspiring writer to help prevent them from falling victim to literary scams and schemes? The two terms overlap now. Vanity publishing used to mean self-financed publishing. That was in the day when the tools to publish weren't in the hands of everyday people. Now, the two terms are essentially synonymous.

I advise writers to read contracts, be clear about expectations, ask questions and look for testimonials or references. There are a lot of variables in book publishing and selling. The best investments will improve the quality of the product (i.e. design and editorial work). The greatest unknowns, and therefore the greatest risks, are in promotions. If you're paying to have your book entered in a contest, research the value of an award: have past award recipients seen a boost in their sales after receiving the award?

Before investing in any aspect of publication, it's a good idea to create a spreadsheet to forecast costs and profits. Some investments will be valuable and others won't. Not all authors are after a profit. I've been impressed by the number of writers I've met who simply want to promote their stories regardless of financial return. Regardless, I recommend a spreadsheet, to help you visualize where your investment's energy is being directed.

If you think you've truly been caught in a scam (i.e. have paid for a service that never was capable of delivering what they promised) report it to law enforcement.

You’re now living sunny California on a beautiful boat, is it everything you expected how long did it take you to adjust to life on the open seas? George and I moved aboard Nereid three years ago and set sale last August, so we've just celebrated our first anniversary of nomadic life. We love living in a small space with a small footprint, but we can hardly call it life on the open seas! Common wisdom says that cruising is the art of traveling to exotic lands so you can repair your boat there. We've spent most of our time in port. Still, we love the people that this lifestyle allows us to meet, as we love the exposure to fresh air and nature. In two weeks, we will be taking the boat into Mexico; our second international excursion!

In closing is there anything you’d like to say to aspiring or even seasoned authors? First, I commend you for writing! Second, as Garrison Keillor says on The Writer's Almanac, "Do good work." Ask yourself questions about your writing. Invite input from people whose opinions you respect. Third, heed the words of the temple at Delphi and know thyself. If you're setting out to publish your work, be clear about your expectations. Do your research, and be as realistic as you can in assessing whether your plans will get you to your goals. Fourth, I hope the journey is rewarding. Be well.


  1. This is a really good post, the editor I'm working with is condescending and pompous.

    He has basically rewrote my entire story and now it sucks and I don’t want to publish it. This has been such a stupid nightmare. I am glad you and your editor worked it out. Wish I could say the same thing ='(

  2. Ok.
    1st off STOP working with this editor. Take a few off from your publishing product and start researching the best editor for you.

    There were three conflict points with reguards to working with my editor. The 1st was I didn't understand the type of editing that I needed, so I was unable to explain to Celeste want I needed from her.

    The 2nd is that I didn't start researching the type of help I needed until the editing process started. After a quick google search I knew the type of editing was proof reading and light copyediting, what I DIDN'T need is substantive editing which is ghost writing but as Celeste says in her interview "We don't differentiate editorial work..." but like she also said "we won't publish something the author does not accept." So I was able to take ownership over The Darkness.

    And that's why I was so stressed at 1st, she was working away and I was terrified to tell her that I wanted to go in a different direction but at the same time I wasn't happy with the project.

    It was really hard to to express my concerns because I didn't want to hurt her feelings but I am glad that I was able to tell her because The Darkness is EXACTLY the way I hoped it would turned out.

    I think the 3rd thing that caused us problems (and I can be wrong) but it doesn't seem like my editor likes the genre I write in, and I only say that because of the suggestions and changes that she wanted to make and when I took the unedited sections to another editor (he edits my short stories) he was not making the same suggestions, or asking for the same clarifications...

    So DO NOT CHANGE YOUR STORY. Find out what type of editing you need proof reading, copyediting or substantive and find an editor that understands and enjoys your writing style and the genre you write in.

    Good luck to you and don't stop writing!