Welcome back to Najla Qamber Designs! So far it's been our privilege to share peeks into the publishing journies of some of our favorite authors and we look forward to bringing you even more varied perspectives!
While authors, alongside publishers, are often the figureheads of the book industry, we can't forget the unsung heroes working behind the scenes. As book cover and interior designers, we know first-hand about all it takes to bring books to life. Yet for all our ability to draw an audience in with professional design, we can't control the story. And no one has more insight and experience with the crafting of a story than the book's editor.
NQD: We are excited to introduce everyone to the speculative fiction copy editor, Jessica Augustsson. Jessica has had extensive experience in the publishing industry over the past decade and now helps introduce new and aspiring authors to the world with her publishing company, JayHenge Publishing. Jessica, before we dive in, would you mind sharing with us how you came into your chosen profession? We’d love to hear your story!
JA: Oh gosh! I think this ends up being connected to my whole life story, and my job is to make stories shorter, not longer! :D
Well, let me see if I can summarize it quickly. I lived with my grandparents and mother as a kid, so I have memories of colorful words in magnet letters on our old coal-burning stove, and my grammy reading things like The Secret Garden and attempting a terrible English accent, but I loved it, and it instilled an appreciation of both words and stories. Later—much later—I moved to Sweden and was finishing my university studies, and wasn't really sure what I'd do, but I had an edge over most Swedes when it came to English skills, so I dove into that. After finishing my Master's in English Lit and Grammar, I worked for nearly ten years at a software company as a technical writer and editor, and when the company was bought by a larger one, and my husband had a work opportunity outside of Sweden, I took my skills freelance.
Building up a client base is definitely slow-going, but I've had the chance to work with some amazing writers, Jenn Silverwood included. I love my work now, and I hope to be able to do it for years to come.
NQD: We love how the love of reading almost always begins in early childhood. I know I (Jenn here) speak for the rest of us when I say we're so very grateful to your grandmother and her attempted English accents ;) What advice would you give authors on how to pick an editor?
JA: Oh, that's a tough one. I suppose I would say first that one should never be afraid of finding a freelance editor because there are some really passionate and skilled editors out there who will do a fantastic job. And while they're not cheap, the good ones are SO very worth it. (I speak from experience because I would never want to put out my own writing without having it looked at by a skilled editor first!)
I think something that's important is to be able to work well with the editor. To be able to mesh well. People convey and interpret ideas and suggestions in different ways, and getting those ideas across between author and editor is extremely important. And the best editors will make suggestions in such a way that they are not telling the author what to do, but rather let those suggestions be inspirational. I so enjoy working with authors who will take a question I asked—say, if a plot point was confusing—and run with it and really shape and develop that story point into something great that I hadn't even thought of.
I would say that if you can request a small sample of a page or two of an edit, that can be a good way to figure out what to expect from an editor. If they don't offer samples, but do offer references, and those references confirm the editor has helped them, it might be worth investing in having them edit a short story or a single chapter of a longer work to see if their methods fit well with yours.
NQD: So many excellent points! Are there any don’t's you want to share with working with an editor? Here's your chance to tell-all ;)
JA: After thinking about this, I can only think of one thing: Don't ask the editor if your writing was good or if they liked your story/work. If they did, they will likely already have told you, and their having done so will probably mean they felt your work was OUTSTANDING. But keep in mind that editors edit SO much material and often it's so diverse, from academic and scientific journal articles, to fiction and non-fiction of different genres, that when they're editing, they're generally not thinking of it as pleasurable. They're checking for clarity, coherence, correctness, and so on. And it's hard to turn off that editing brain. So if the writing is enjoyable too, that's absolutely a bonus! :)
NQD: What is your favorite genre or type of story?
JA: Speculative fiction, hands down. And so many editors don't consider spec fic as "real" literature, and I'm happy to debunk that. Look at the history of speculative fiction and how it has so often been used to discuss political issues, from Brave New World and 1984, to The Handmaid's Tale to even some YA fiction more recently like The Hunger Games. This genre is an important one and is just as valuable and valid as those considered "great literature".
NQD: Our team feels the same way about speculative fiction. Not only is it what we enjoy reading, but the majority of our clients write spec-fic as well. Now on to the fun questions ;) What would people be surprised to know about you?
JA: Hmm... I don't know. Maybe that my husband and I are eclipse chasers? (We've been to 14 now! It amazes even me!)
NQD: How fun that you and your husband share a love for something so unique. You're both like storm chasers, only much, much safer. Steering a bit back to a more bookish topic, what would you say has been the most rewarding project in your career?
JA: I think starting my own publishing company. It was completely scary and I felt like I was in over my head, but I'm grateful for the fact that Amazon and similar organizations exist so that I've been able to promote the great amateur writers I've encountered and get more eyes on their very deserving work!
NQD: We love that you've used your company to promote new authors to a broader audience. What is your favorite part of editing?
JA: When I get to do the second read-through of someone's work and they've taken a suggestion I made and expanded and expounded on it in a way that I hadn't even anticipated, and the story just comes together beautifully. I love that!
NQD: What's your process look like from book to book?
JA: I'm not sure I have any single process, but one thing that looks the same is that I always do a first read-through before learning too much about a story or book, because I find that that very first read always turns up the best questions and initial thoughts. This is important because very often, an author has a clear picture of the whole story/novel/etc., in their heads, but that doesn't always translate to "paper" in a way that their picture is conveyed to the reader in the way they'd like it to be. So that first "blind" read-through ensures that I don't have any preconceived ideas of what the story should be.
NQD: We saved the most important question for last: Who or what would you say your author avatar or spirit animal is?
JA: Hmm, this is something I've never thought of. Perhaps if I cast a patronus spell a la Harry Potter, I would conjure my pair of black sibling cats, Plantagenet and Beans. She's the sharp one with the royal name who learned to open doors before she'd turned a year old, but is terrified of the shower curtain, and he's the powerful and lovable, but slightly less bright one who dares venture into most any situation. I suppose I have a mix of both of them, but not always at the most opportune times. :D
NQD: Your cats sound like the perfect combination of trouble and fun, just like you ;) Jessica, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. We've loved picking apart your creative process and are so thankful for your time, today! We hope our readers and fellow creatives also enjoyed sharing in Jessica's journey. You can learn more about her and her company JayHenge Publishing below. Please don't hesitate to leave questions in the comments below!
Jessica Augustsson is a speculative fiction copy editor, grammar nerd, eclipse chaser, part-time writer, and has had a steampunk hat named after her. As a spec-fic copy editor, most of her writing can be found nestled among the words of other authors, but she can't help typing out a few of her own stories now and then. As for spec fic in her own life, she was voted by her Idaho high school class to be the most likely to go live on the moon; when she was 20, she moved to Sweden so she guesses that's pretty close.
Her company, JayHenge Publishing, was founded when Jessica had seen far too many good authors slipping through the cracks of today's publishing world. Readers are looking for great stuff to read and JayHenge Publishing wants to help provide it.
Feel free to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.