Emma O’Connell graduated with a First Class Degree in English Literature and Italian Language; she has been editing professionally since 2016, and informally long before then. She has worked on a wide variety of media and genres, from her husband’s PhD thesis in High Performance Computing to children’s picture books, but her first love is fantasy. Emma enjoys reading – her favourite authors include J.R.R. Tolkien, Brandon Sanderson and Anne McCaffrey – and runs an online writing group. She does her freelancing alongside helping manage her household, which currently consists of her husband and one-year-old son.
What do you do when you’re not editing?
Aside from frantically trying to keep up with my son – who has just learned to walk this week – and catching up on the housework, I love baking, cooking, reading, singing, eating copious amounts of chocolate, watching TV shows, obsessively reading reviews/tropes of said TV shows, drinking good tea and coffee, and… oh yeah – writing! That last one tends to get the least amount of time, but I try to keep at it.
When did you first realise editing was something you wanted to do?
I’ve always been one of those annoying people who corrects other people’s grammar, but the first time I realised I might actually be good at this was when I was, ahem, writing fanfiction regularly at school. I had made a friend online who was in my fandom and lived in Australia, and she was writing a multi-chapter story. I can’t quite remember how it came about – she may have asked me to do it, or (more likely) I may have asked her if I could do it! – but I ended up becoming her ‘Beta’. This meant that she would send me each chapter of the fic before she posted it, and I would correct and comment on it. I enjoyed this far more than I had realised I would, and not just because it appeased the part of me that dies a little bit every time it sees a typo or spelling error. (If you ever want to torture me, seriously, just show me a series of business logos or names that have incorrect apostrophes in… I can feel the rage starting just thinking about it.) I realised that I loved making this fun. Rather than just correcting my friend’s mistakes, I would try and find funny ways to help her remember how to avoid them in future; rather than just fixing the grammar, I commented on the plot twists and how good her characterisation was. My friend said she actually looked forward to getting my edited chapters, which surprised and gratified me. From then on, I was hooked!
What makes you different from other editors?
I like to think it’s my tone and approach! Here’s a confession that’s a little bit hypocritical: I am TERRIBLE at receiving constructive criticism. I know, I know, it’s ridiculous, especially given how easily (and how frequently!) I dish it out. But the good thing about this flaw is that it helps me stand in the author’s shoes while I’m editing. I know how hard it is to have someone bulldoze all over your work. Writing is such a deeply personal process; most authors I know tend to pour their heart and soul into their work. To have a faceless editor butcher it without explanation and inform them that they’re wrong is actually very painful! It’s easy to dismiss that if you’re someone who views authors as clients just to make them money; that’s why I like to try to get to know my authors a bit: find out what makes them tick, what they find funny, their motivations for writing, their fears and aspirations. When I know you, I can work with you rather than against you. Editing goes from “You should correct this” to “How shall we make this better together?”. I like to make suggestions rather than give orders, give you an idea of how your audience will respond to your book, and explain my reasons for giving changes so that in future you’ll remember how to avoid common mistakes.
What are your top three tips for aspiring writers?
These are all going to sound like they’ve been ripped straight from a book of inspirational quotes, but here goes…
- Believe in yourself – don’t give in to those moments of self-doubt and fear. You are good enough, you will get there, and your writing is worth-while. You need confidence to be able to cope with the editing and publishing process, and if you don’t believe in your writing, no one else will either!
- Write what you enjoy! I’ve written much better and more interesting novel-length fanfictions than I have actual original works, because I was just enjoying myself and not overthinking the writing process. Sure, they were full of pacing issues and glaring plot holes, but people loved reading them, and so did I! If I ever write that fantasy novel that I swear is in me somewhere, I’m going to try to follow this advice.
- Read!!! If you never read any current literature, you’ll end up having no idea of what your audience appreciates and expects in a book (or even how to subvert those expectations and provide them with something new). If you write in a particular genre, read as much as you can of it. The better you know the tropes, the better you can use them skilfully.
What makes a good editor?
In my opinion, the answer to this is simple: the ability to acknowledge that you don’t know everything. I spend a lot of my time looking grammar rules up to ensure I’m right about them, to be able to explain them simply to other people, or just because I plain ol’ don’t know the answer! There’s no point being cocky about how good my English is when language is something that changes and grows every single day, and I don’t know what I don’t know – so I have to be ready to find out.