Today I'm thrilled to have Lyla Lawless on the blog! Lyla is a writer, freelance editor at Lyla Edits, and editorial intern at Entangled Publishing. As a self-proclaimed 'Reaper of First Chapters', Lyla dishes up some killer writerly advice in this interview, so pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee now because you'll want to sit back and take notes. :)
Hi, Lyla! You intern for YA author and Editor, Kate Brauning, at Entangled Publishing. What made you seek out the position?
I found the position through Twitter (a great source for similar remote opportunities). I had worked a little bit with romance novels at my first agency internship with Dystel, Goderich and Bourret in Summer 2014. Since then I’d had another internship with PS Literary, but I was interested in seeing the editorial side of publishing as well. Kate and I like a lot of the same YA titles, which inspired me to apply.
What does your work entail? Are you focused on a specific type or stage of editing?
My work is so varied, which is what I love about the internship! Entangled is a small romance press (not part of any Big Five publisher), and they take unsolicited submissions. Much of what I do is similar to lit agent intern work—I write reader reports on manuscripts (agented and unagented) from our slush pile. Those reports summarize the project, evaluate craft and marketability, and provide my opinion on the submission.
I also shadow the editorial team on acquired titles. Kate’s team does a few rounds of edits: The first one or two rounds (ideally developmental, then scene edits) will result in an editorial letter from Kate to the author. Interns write up notes too, for practice, and we talk through our thoughts as a team. I’ve learned a ton from hearing what the “bosses” look for that I didn’t originally think about. When the big stuff is in good shape, the team does line edits, which improve scenes, paragraphs, sentences, and wording. Copy edits and proofreads are handled by another part of the house, but sometimes we get to help with that as well.
What has your experience been like as an intern? Has anything surprised you?
I’ve found the practical business-side experience SO valuable. This has been my first genre fiction-focused internship, and that’s given me a much clearer idea of what is commercial and marketable—which is important to any genre.
I’ve been particularly surprised by how little romance shies from tropes—originally, I thought those were the same as clichés *embarrassment*. In a way, romance readers are actually for the same story over and over again—they want that familiar enemies-to-lovers arc, or a sweet girl-next-door happily ever after. I’m sure you’ve heard about how there are only seven kinds of stories, or fifteen, or whatever—tropes are just specific versions of those familiar narrative arcs. What readers aren't asking for is clichés—flat stories that don’t add any originality, twists, or spark, that treat tropes as the body of their story rather than its skeleton.
"Before you stress out about commas, remember that editors are asking much broader questions." Lyla Lawless click to tweet
What are some of the most common weaknesses you see in manuscripts?
Every weakness is some form of submitting a project before it’s ready. But, I don’t mean that in a nitpicky way—rather, I think a lot of writers aren’t taking the time to master the art of storytelling (and telling before dropping their babies off in our inbox. You don’t necessarily need perfect grammar, flawless formatting, or soaring prose, though I would encourage all of those! Just, before you stress out about commas, remember that editors are asking much broader questions. Do I need to know what happens next? Am I excited about spending 300 pages with this voice? Am I invested in these characters? Is this high-concept enough that I could pitch it in a sentence, in a 150-word back cover copy? Does it have that ?
I doubt we’ve ever been pitched a perfect story (We build in time to edit, remember?) But, editors and agents will say they’re looking for the project that’s 90% there. Those months/a year of in-house edits don’t leave as much editorial time as you’d think. We turn down so much stuff that looked great in the query, and fell apart in the pages—be it poor pacing, underdeveloped characters, lack of tension, or bad representation—any number of problems that can’t be fixed in two rounds of developmental edits. So before you submit, make sure you’re telling this story as well as you possibly can. If your critique partners rave that they love your characters, are enthralled by your idea, can’t stop thinking about your world, and are swept away by your storytelling, then you have something—even if you missed a couple commas on page 152 and still have no clue what a misplaced modifier is, you’ll get help with that part.
What is your favorite part of the job?
I have two favorite parts! The first is the second round of in-house edits. Kate puts interns on book teams, meaning I’ll be with one title all the way through its editorial process. So, I see the original draft, but the moment when the revision comes back and I see how dramatically it’s improved? That’s magic. I love watching writers turn feedback into demonstrably stronger stories; it’s incredibly rewarding.
My second favorite part is book release day, when readers start reacting and you get to see how everyone else enjoys the story as much as you did. This month has been an especially great, because two books I got to help with—ISLAND OF EXILES by Erica Cameron (Kirkus-starred epic fantasy) and ANY BOY BUT YOU by Julie Hammerle (Pokemon Go-meets-You’ve Got Mail)—hit the shelves, and they’re doing so well. Go team!
What is your best piece of editorial advice?
Everything goes back to your characters. We fall in love with them first—not your worldbuilding, not your plot. Characters are the basis of fandoms and ships and cosplays and everything about being a reader. If you can create three-dimensional people, you can put them into whatever situation and it’ll be interesting—you’ll be writing about some small part of what it means to be human.
I struggle most with this part of storytelling (I’m very much a beat sheet reviser), but going back to my characters has been the key for breaking out of the worst revision dead ends. Plot, after all, stems from your characters’ goals and motivations, and I’m convinced they’re the key to developing that unidentifiable spark. Invest a lot of time in your imaginary people. They’ll pay you and your readers back!
In addition to working as an intern, you’re also a freelance editor and an aspiring author. Is there anything you can tell us about your current WIP?
Yes! I got into freelancing because of my great internships; I love working with authors hands-on, and wanted to keep doing that outside of work. I’m also revising a couple of YA fantasy projects. The one that’s farthest along is about an ordinary girl living on an Icelandic dragon preserve; she helps muck up the island magic that keeps everyone safe, and has to figure out how to fix it so her dragon rider best friend doesn’t die. It started as a for-fun project (Iceland and dragons are big favorites of mine), and I think I’ve finally hammered it into something intelligible. I’m having a blast!
I'd like to thank Lyla for taking the time to answer these questions, and for giving us some truly valuable #amwriting and #amquerying advice from an editorial intern's perspective! Also, she's super nice, so you should probably go and follow her on Twitter at @bookishlyla, and check out her website for even more writing advice and resources at: www.lylalawless.com/lylaedits/