Editor Spotlight – Shawn MacKENZIE

Writing and editing, the two endeavors are intrinsically entwined. Even the most experienced scribe can benefit from a good editor. (A couple of very famous authors come to mind—no I won’t name names—who’ve insisted, contractually, that they not be edited. Sadly, it shows in the work, proving that, as with lawyers, writers who edit themselves have fools for clients.) We don’t need someone to simply gush and insist every word is a gem plucked from the mouths of the divine literati. Grandma Esther does that. She’s family; it’s her job. An editor’s job is to be supportively ruthless as they make our work better.

I am a graduate of Bennington College, the author of The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2011), Dragons for Beginners (Llewellyn, 2012), and numerous short stories, published and not. And I have been a freelance editor for twenty years. While I can and will edit most anything, I prefer working on fiction, both short and long. A fantasy/sci-fi writer myself, as long as the words captivate, I will delve into any genre and edit with relish. My only hard and fast rule is that the work demeans no one regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or species.

As an editor, I bring fresh eyes to an author’s work, look for awkward passages, incongruities, weaknesses, even disasters waiting to happen. I help a writer strengthen their prose, and, honoring their voice, help them sing. Of course, an editor can only recommend; ultimately all choices are yours.

If I have a particular redactor’s bone to pick it would be with people who expect an editor to be a janitor cleaning up their sloppy writing. That’s your job, not ours. I am not a ghost writer, not even a major re-writer. One of the things I have noticed in much self-published work is what I would call an “anyone can write” mentality. And while this is true on a certain level, it leaves the field wide open for people with stories to tell but lacking the craft for the telling. A writer is first a craftsman—a wordsmith. Hone your craft if you want your work to soar. To that end, read great books and write, write, write. And before handing your hard-earned cash to an editor, polish your manuscript within an inch of its life. At the very least avail yourself of the tools of our trade, especially spelling and basic grammar checks. They’re not infallible, but they are a start.

I would also suggest using standard reference works. I have been a crossword-puzzle editor for years and so have a plenitude of dictionaries at my fingertips. That said, you can’t go wrong with Webster’s New World College Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary, and the OED (which is just a blast and a half to read!). I use Chicago Manual of Style as an editing baseline, but don’t consider it the Holy Grail. Strunk & White’s Elements of Style is also invaluable. I’m all for celebrating individual eccentricities if they are the result of deliberate, educated choices and not the by-product of lazy writing.

Read your work aloud. This is one of the clearest ways of finding cumbersome sentences or tinny dialogue. If your tongue trips over itself, something needs to be fixed. Remember: you are stepping up, striving to enter the big leagues, and should respect your work enough to make it as good as it can be before sending it out into the world—even to your editor. Just because you write at home in your teddy-bear slippers and pjs, doesn’t mean your work shouldn’t go forth in full-on Ascot and morning coat. This is your baby. Be proud of her.

Finally I’d say, as a writer, I look for an editor I can trust—who gets me—and who pulls no punches. As an editor, I look for work which, flaws aside, engages my mind and imagination. In the quest for such a proper fit, I believe the exchange of samples can be mutually beneficial. For a sense of my style, feel free to check out my blog or look inside my book, The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook. As for recommendations, I would direct you to Karen Elliott’s generous words:  I thought I was a freaky-good editor until I met Shawn.

I do both line and structural/developmental editing; proofreading, too, though as a stand-alone activity, it’s not my most favorite. If you are submitting your work to someone with specific guidelines/requirements let me know; I will gladly adjust. Rates on request.






I realize that not every editor/proofreader is perfect for every writer. This is why I am presenting the series, Editor Spotlight. If you know an editor or proofreader who would like to participate, ask them to contact me at karenselliott AT midco DOT net. The Editor Spotlight series will be presented throughout the next several months in between my regular blog posts and special theme weeks. – Karen S. Elliott


Filed under Editing & Proofreading, Editor Spotlight

24 responses to “Editor Spotlight – Shawn MacKENZIE

  1. Reblogged this on MacKENZIE's Dragonsnest and commented:
    Spreading the word,,,,

  2. Strong words and I wholeheartedly agree! I shall be reposting this and also quoting it, with full credit to Shawn. It is so refreshing not to feel I am singing a solo on this issue!

  3. Oh, how I do so agree with you, Shawn. Well put. Writers, take heed and ignore at your peril.

  4. Thanks for the shares. We appreciate it!

  5. ontheplumtree

    Thank you Karen for doing this and Shawn for reciting what I believe to be the bible. ‘Edit within an inch of its life before sending to an editor’ is my mantra! Editing plays a symbiotic part in my writing; so much so, that I could not say where writing and editing begins and ends. I learned how to write when I was a recording artist. I learned how to create musical space; how to allow breath, to establish melody; not to oversing or become a vocal acrobat; to make sure that every note is in tune and relevant; to add grace or blues notes for feeling, phrasing and dynamic, not to sing whole phrases in one-dimensional pitch; to add light, shade and counterpoint.

    Reading out loud is essential to hear whether sentences sing, are rhythmic, and compelling. That is how I ask my voice to sing from a page. I write to be read out loud. Why not? There is music in words with power enough to change atmospheres, inspire, truth-tell, heal, and liberate thought.

  6. I love this series. I agree with this: “If I have a particular redactor’s bone to pick it would be with people who expect an editor to be a janitor cleaning up their sloppy writing. That’s your job, not ours.” I do my best to put my manuscript through a checklist to spot problems before sharing it with a critique group. I don’t want to waste their time. And, I certainly don’t want to waste an editor’s time I’m paying for. Thanks Shawn and Karen.

  7. Agree with Shawn and Stacy! I have my own special check-list of bug-a-boos. I repeat, words like “like,” “just,” and starting sentences with And and But. Punctuation is also checked again and again, yet my editor (Shawn!) finds so much that needs work. I am also learning more about writing and editing thanks to Shawn.

  8. This Editor Spotlight series is such a great resource, and Shawn has given some terrific guidance to writers who might not have appreciated what the right editor can do for them.

  9. I sang Oh Happy Day when my publishers added another layer of editing/editor to our books at BB’s this year. Even though I polish my manuscripts to within an inch of their words and the editor edits, things still slip through. Now we have an editor and a proofer – yay!

    But, I do believe I made my editor’s life a lot easier by sending in a manuscript that is clean and organized and neat!

  10. PS – I agree self-published writers should seek out an editor to help them polish their work!

    • Kat – you are lucky you have a staff of editors! And they are good, because I don’t think I found any mistakes in your novels and the short story collection you are in (and you bet I keep an eye out). I think with self-published writers it is even more critical. Just because you have a few friends look at it and say it’s great – doesn’t mean they look at it with an editor’s mind or eye for details and consistency.

      • Yes! Having those “good eyes” helps us all – I’ve read some wonderful self-published books – some I’ve read I was happy at how clean they were – some I read that were good strong books but had a lot of errors they missed – how much stronger they’d have been proofed!

  11. Recently, there was a discussion on self-pubbed books (I think it was via Wendy Reis), if there are a lot of errors and typos – can you still recommend? Unfortunately for those writers, I cannot recommend that book.
    That is how important it is for me to see clean books. If I am distracted often, by typos, then no recommendation for the book.

    • So true Karen. If we as editors recommend books that are poorly edited we are conveying an alarming message about ourselves and our profession. Who will take quality seriously if we appear not to care?

  12. So was it your post, Wendy? If yes, please share the link here. I also do not feel comfortable recommending a book that has a problem…like the writer talking about a character having no car and then driving the kids to school the next day. Eek!

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