This is the first of a series of dives into the minds of some of Ireland’s hardworking editors by the AFEPI Ireland blog editors. Today Máire O’Dwyer talks to Richard Bradburn, an editor and writer based in West Cork. Richard, a member of AFEPI Ireland, offers his thoughts on writing, loving books, and his work ‘untangling’ text to find the hidden treasure.
Richard, can you briefly describe your background before you became an editor.
A life of two halves. I had a previous career in finance in London, but felt myself slowly dying inside. A (very) close encounter with a terrorist bomb really put life’s priorities into focus and pushed me to take a risk, so I quit, sold everything and moved to Ireland with my young family to do something more interesting. We bought a semi-derelict farmhouse in West Cork with vague ideas of being self-sufficient, bought some chickens and I sat down to write the novel of the century.
How did you start in fiction editing?
The novel of the century seemed to have temporarily escaped me (it will come eventually, I know). I joined some online writer’s groups in search of support and inspiration and found myself doing a lot of critiquing other people’s work (I could see the problems in their writing far easier than I could see the problems in my own, it appeared). I got a reputation for insightful, helpful comments, and writers began to ask me if I would look at their whole work (we only critiqued a few chapters at a time), and that they would pay me. When I worked out that I had a few months paid work if I wanted it, I realised this was perhaps the new career I’d been looking for.
What skills are needed to work in this field?
I was aware that to edit professionally, and to critique casually, unpaid, as a fellow writer, are entirely different beasts. I’d read horror stories from my writer colleagues of unqualified editors creating havoc and wasting clients’ money, so I was determined not to be one of those editors. I joined the then Society for Editors and Proofreaders and took some of their training courses. It was an eye-opener what I didn’t know I didn’t know about grammar, sentence structure and punctuation. I invested in a lot of professional development in proofreading, copyediting and various professional courses relating to the tools I would need as an editor. I already knew a lot about book structure and story theory from my writing. I’d say to add to that you need to be empathetic, a good communicator, have a sense of humour and (obviously) absolutely love books.
Please describe the editorial services you offer, both in this specialism and generally.
I still specialise in developmental editing, which is the more fundamental, big-picture look at fiction, analysing character arcs and their development, plots and their resolution, pacing, voice, language and all the rest. But to be of most use to clients I need to offer other services as well, so editorial.ie is a full-service literary consultancy offering everything from a quick look at the opening chapters of a rough draft right through to formatting for upload to Amazon.
What have been your most exciting/interesting projects?
I did some major developmental work on two books with one of my very first clients. One of the titles was long-listed for a major award (the Bath Novel Award) and the other was subsequently picked up by Hachette Australia and eventually published (three years ago now). I didn’t quite realise how rare that success was, but at least it got me off to an encouraging start. As an editor, you vicariously get to enjoy the success of your author clients when they have a success.
What issues do you commonly see when you edit this type of work?
Few authors really understand how high the bar is set by traditional publishers, and are rather naïve about the appeal of their draft novel which, as far as they’re concerned, only needs a ‘quick proofread for typos’ when it really might have some significant structural problems.
Few authors also realise that writing is actually a collaborative effort. Every famous author you’ve ever heard of had an editor, and it would be a very rare first-time novelist who wrote a book that didn’t need quite a bit of editing.
What advice would you give to people writing in this field?
But that’s no reason not to try! Every massively successful and acclaimed writer you’ve ever heard of also has a desk drawer full of rejection letters from agents and publishers who weren’t sufficiently intuitive to recognise their genius. Sometimes those authors get them out and read them, laughing sardonically while sipping a large brandy.
Any last thoughts to share?
I love the quote that I use on my website on the fiction page: ‘Editing fiction is like using your fingers to untangle the hair of someone you love.‘ Stephanie Roberts.
AFEPI Ireland would like to thank Richard Bradburn for sharing his thoughts on fiction editing. See his bio below.
Richard Bradburn is a writer (his comprehensive guide to self-editing, Self-Editing for Self-Publishers, launched in April 2020 and is available online), journalist (frequent contributor to the Irish Times, as well as local press) and independent professional editor. He specialises in developmental editing of novels, with a particular love of YA, historical fiction, thrillers, romance and literary fiction. He also copyedits, proofreads, formats for Kindle, coaches, beta-reads, ghostwrites and makes a fantastic lemon meringue pie.
In addition to membership of AFEPI Ireland, he’s a Professional Member of the CIEP, Partner member of ALLi, an affiliate editor of writing.ie, and Approved Supplier to Publaunch, as well as helping moderate the popular writing and editing groups Fiction Writers and Editors and Ask A Book Editor on Facebook.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of AFEPI Ireland.