One of the best parts of working in book publishing is that some of the most gifted, talented, fun and just generally great people form the majority of the workforce. We are all united by the love of the written word, but each person has such a wide variety of skills and knowledge that even if you’ve worked with someone for years, they’ll still surprise you with a little nugget of wisdom when you least expect it.
However, now that I’m freelance, my nearest physical college is Sammy the Editorial Assistant cat (who is currently snoring away by my desk). And now that the whole word has effectively moved to working from home – look at you all, jumping on the bandwagon! – I thought it would be lovely to reach out to the publishing community and get to know some of my colleagues in the industry a little more – albeit over a Zoom chat, rather than the lunches and coffees that publishing professionals are known for.
Interview with Isobelle Lans from Inspired Lines Editing
Isobelle Lans is a UK-based author and freelance fiction editor at Inspired Lines Editing. In 2019, she left her in-house editing job to start her freelance business, and since then has been helping fiction writers to refine their manuscripts and hone their writing skills. Isobelle works on a range of fiction, including fantasy, crime, romance, and historical fiction. If you’ve got a manuscript or story idea you think would benefit from a professional eye, get in touch to ask her how she can help you or what advice she can offer! You can connect with her on Instagram, where she shares insights, tips and encouragement for other writers.
Hi, Isobelle. So tell me a little about yourself and your journey to becoming a book editor?
Hi! Thanks so much for having me on your blog! I’m Isobelle Lans, a fiction editor from Australia who now lives in England. My favourite genres to edit are fantasy, romance, crime, and historical fiction.
I suppose like many editors, my assent into going freelance was quite slow. Editing was a skill I realised I had (and something I realised I enjoyed doing), so I decided to look into it as a career. I did an online training course in Australia and, from there, reached out to a few freelance editors to see if they had any mentorship programmes available. I got lucky and worked on a few projects under the guidance of an experienced fiction editor. That really sold it to me. I knew this was what I wanted to do. I then managed to get a few more freelance projects by simply cold calling other editors, or small businesses that I thought would benefit from a proofread.
After I moved to England I completed training with the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and became a member. I got a few freelance jobs through them in the beginning. I then also took a course on developmental editing and the skills required for this in-depth edit. That was an amazing course, and I fell in love with developmental editing. During all my training I kept working on freelance projects. I then got a job at an indie publisher in London. My boss there was so incredibly knowledgeable and working alongside her definitely taught me a lot about what it takes to work with writers. I originally planned to stay working in-house in London, but I realised it just wasn’t for me. I went to interview at one of the big publishing houses down there and thought ‘I don’t actually want to work a 9-5 job and commute in London!’ So, I decided to go freelance instead, and Inspired Lines Editing was born!
So, have you always known you wanted to be an editor?
Honestly, no. But that’s only because I didn’t know it was even an option! From a young age I loved writing, so I always wanted a career in writing. My dad used to tell my sister and me bedtime stories about a gecko who went on amazing adventures! I think storytelling was always a big part of my life. My dad was a screenwriter who became a novelist, and when he made the transition to books I used to edit them for him, along with the books of his writing friends. One day he told me, ‘You’re really good at this, you should think about it as a career.’ And I did! Editing is definitely what makes me happy, and I love everything about this job.
What is it about being an editor that you love?
I love the fact that I get to read amazing books before anyone else does. It is such an exciting moment when you discover new talent and think, ‘Hey, this writer has really got something.’ Being freelance, I love that I have so much more control over the projects I take on and the clients I work with. Not only that, I get to know my writers so much better. I come to think of them as friends. I also love the obvious things, of course – no commute, I make my own hours, and I can work from my bed if I want to!
Are there any downsides to the job?
Oh, definitely. The cons don’t outweigh the pros, but they do exist. The financial instability is a big one. My work seems to come in peaks and troughs – a few months of drought, and then suddenly everyone wants an edit all at once and I’m fighting to fit them in. Now that I know that’s the reality, it makes it easier to budget for.
There’s also the mental and emotional side of things too. Because your business is your whole life – your whole livelihood – it’s hard to switch off from it. Every other job gives you a few days off in the week that you cherish. But in the beginning, when I wasn’t working – either on projects or on other things for my business – I felt like I was wasting time. I felt guilty if I didn’t do work each day. So then I’d get burnt out and stressed and overwhelmed. It’s also hard in the times when you don’t have a new project on the go, because you start to worry about when the next one will be. It’s tough, but ultimately, it’s worth it.
Do you have any advice you’d give to other aspiring fiction editors?
Oh, yeah, definitely. For any editor I recommend reading as much as you can. You’re probably a bookworm anyway, but try to read genres that you normally wouldn’t gravitate towards. There aren’t many genres that I won’t read now. Also, know which genres you want to specialise in and understand the fundamentals of them so you can better help your authors.
If you’re going freelance, I recommend you:
- Train and study. Invest in yourself and your education. You want to be as good an editor as you can be, so don’t skimp on the training and practical education.
- Have some backup funds when you go freelance. It may take a while for your business to get off the ground, and you still need to survive when that happens. Just remember, building a successful business for yourself takes time above all else. Don’t sweat it.
- Don’t try to do too much at once. Focus on the things you’re good at and are capable of taking on, and then gradually, over time, expand what you offer and who you cater to. I made the mistake of trying to do too much and be too many things, and it didn’t work.
Do you specialise in any genres? Why?
I’d say I specialise in fantasy and most of its subgenres. I’m also incredibly fond of crime, historical fiction, and romance. Pretty much any form of fiction floats my boat. They’re all genres I have experience editing, all genres that I read, and all ones that I certainly enjoy working on.
The majority of my projects are fantasy because it is a genre I know a lot about and one that I have written myself. Like a said before, get to know your genre strengths and understand the fundamentals. That’s exactly what I did. I understand fantasy and its foundations incredibly well now.
Fantasy is all about worldbuilding. What tips do you have for authors struggling to create their own fantasy worlds?
That’s a really good question. I have a few tips for this.
My biggest piece of advice is to understand your world completely. You need to know the foundations of the place to be able to build on it. Understand the origins of your world (whether it’s Medieval Europe or Tzarist Russia). Understand how magic works within society. Know the laws, politics and social classes of your world. Know how the world influences your plot. There is so much to think about to create a vivid and realistic backdrop to your story. It’s so important to know your world inside-out before you begin writing. Compare your world to the real world and consider if you’ve addressed everything – politics, housing, transport, money, tax, cuisine, landscape.
Following on from that, I’d say it’s important to understand how magical your world is. Is it low fantasy or high fantasy – i.e.: is there lots of magic and mythical beings or none whatsoever. Make sure you stay consistent with this and understand the role magic plays in your world (if any).
What are some of your favourite things to see in the novels you edit?
I love well-developed characters. I don’t really mind who the character is or what they do in the book, but I want to be invested in them and feel like I really know them. Without that connection, it’s going to be hard to care about their story – especially if they’re the protagonist. Humans are complex beings and I love a book that exposes the truths of our actions and thoughts, showing me why they are the way that they are. Your characters need to be strong enough to carry your story and keep the reader invested.
What are the biggest mistakes you often see new writers make? What advice would you give them?
Something I do see often from new writers is overusing similes. We are told in school that similes and metaphors make for good writing, but that’s only true to a certain extent. Try not to overdo similes, because if you include too many they become jarring to read and can start to annoy the reader and interrupt the flow of the prose.
Another common mistake is the infamous telling instead of showing. This can really trip a lot of writers up because they don’t necessarily understand the concept and know exactly how to portray what they mean without telling. We read to experience the events of the book and become lost within the plot. This is hard to do when you’re being told everything instead of shown the world and immersed in it. It’s all about creating that vivid image for readers so they can feel what you want them to feel and experience what the characters experience.
You are also a writer. Is it hard to differentiate between being a writer and being an editor?
It is! I hate to admit it, but I do struggle with this. I think I struggle to finish my writing projects because I look at them like an editor. I think a part of me is also worried that if I published a book and people knew I was an editor, they’d be much harsher on it and maybe even judge my ability as an editor by the way I write. So, I feel this kind of pressure that whatever I write has to be really good otherwise I might make myself look bad. It’s probably all in my head, but it is something I do worry about because I never want to lose credibility as an editor based on my writing. I do think I’m a better editor than I am writer, but I’ll never stop writing.
Fantasy, and all its sub-genres, is widely popular. What do you think it takes to stand out amongst the likes of Rowling and Martin?
It can be tough nowadays for new writers because there’s this belief that everything has been done before, that there are no new ideas. In a way that’s kind of true, but only because there are seven basic plot archetypes – or nine, depending who you ask. But it’s what you do with this story that counts.
My advice for fantasy writers – or any writer really – would be:
- Create an immersive world. It’s OK if it’s kind of similar to Westeros or there are elements of Harry Potter in it, just make it a world that people can care about and invest in. People read books to escape the world they already know, so give them a new world to care about.
- Create a dynamic and diverse cast of characters. If all your characters are kind of the same and feel like cardboard cut outs of a stereotype, no one’s really going to relate to that. You want people to read your book and understand these characters like they’re their friend. Real characters with real flaws and weaknesses and insecurities. Good characters can carry even the most basic plot lines.
And lasty, if there is one thing you could ask of perspective authors before they submitted their work to you, what would it be?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. I suppose it would be this: are you serious about your book? Are you fully committed to making it the best it can be? Are you prepared to go all out and give it everything you’ve got because you know that you couldn’t rest until you accomplished what you set out to do?
If the answer is yes, then you’re the kind of writer I’d want to work with. It can be hard as a writer to give your book to another for critiques, but the author needs to be able to trust that the editor has their best interests at heart. If you’re serious about your book, then you need to be prepared to make changes to improve what you’ve got.
Also, it’s important to understand that publishing – traditional publishing anyway – is not a quick process. Editors can be booked out months in advance, so it’s important to note that if you want an edit, then reach out to us once you’ve finished your first draft so you can try to get a place in our schedule as soon as possible. Editing takes time, then you need to review our suggestions and maybe return the manuscript for another readthrough. You might need a second edit. Then you’ll query and that will take time. Then you’ll get accepted and the whole process between getting accepted for publication and actually publishing could take a year. Publishers have a busy catalogue and they’ve schedule books for print and release a long way in advance, so you’ll need to be prepared to wait if you want to see your book on a bookstore shelf.
Also, something else to note when working with an editor, be open with us. If you’re not sure about something or you’ve got questions or you want to query our suggestions, just talk to us. We’re people too, we understand what a big deal this is for you to hire an editor. If you have any concerns just talk to us about it. We’re there to help you, and that means being a support as much as being an editor. It’s better to say what you need to and get answers. We’re always going to be there to help.