#234 – Editing 101 with Kristina Stanley, JoEllen Nordstrom, and Lisa Lepki

We are joined by three editing professionals on the podcast this week: Kristina Stanley, the creator of Fictionary, JoEllen Nordstrom, the founder of First Editing, and Lisa Lepki, head of marketing for ProWritingAid. Kristina, JoEllen, and Lisa walk us through the editing process, from story editing to proofreading, and discuss everything an author needs to know to make their book the best it can be before publishing.

We are joined by three editing professionals on the podcast this week: Kristina Stanley, the creator of Fictionary, JoEllen Nordstrom, the founder of First Editing, and Lisa Lepki, head of marketing for ProWritingAid. Kristina, JoEllen, and Lisa walk us through the editing process, from story editing to proofreading, and discuss everything an author needs to know to make their book the best it can be before publishing. They also give some great advice on how to find the right editor for your work, and they discuss the use of AI and technology in the editing process.

  • Kristina, JoEllen, and Lisa tell us how they got their start in editing, what their platforms offer writers, and how they came to work together
  • They explain why authors should edit their own work before handing it off to a professional, and they explain why self-editing will make authors not only better writers but also better equipped to work successfully with professional editors 
  • They give us a breakdown of the different levels of editing –– story/substantive editing, line editing, and copy editing –– what authors should expect from each level, and why starting big picture and working your way to more specific edits is the best way to tackle the editorial process
  • Kristina, JoEllen, and Lisa give us some great advice on finding the right editor for your project, including how to get a sample from a potential editor, what questions to ask during the searching process, and why you should consider what you might need after the edits have been made
  • They discuss the emergence of technology in both writing and editing, how to strike a balance between using software and using a professional for editing, and they explain that while there are errors that technology is more equipped to discover, the human touch will always be necessary
  • They tell us what mistakes they see most often when editing, from trouble starting and ending scenes to the overuse of the passive voice to authors incorrectly believing they’re done with the editorial process
  • Lisa, JoEllen, and Kristina explain why authors shouldn’t be afraid of the editorial process, and how it can actually be just as creative as the writing process

Use this code to receive 20% off from Fictionary, First Editing, and ProWritingAid


  • 20% off both the Fictionary StoryTeller Monthly and Annual subscriptions including a 2-week free trial. That’s a $40 savings on the annual plan.
  • 20% off both the Fictionary StoryCoach Monthly and Annual subscriptions including a 1-month free trial That’s a $93 savings on the annual plan.

First Editing:

  • 20% discount on professional services

Pro Writing Aid:

  • 20% discount
  • The discount will mean that an annual ProWritingAid Premium subscription will be $63.20 (Reg $79) and a lifetime subscription will be $319 (Reg. $399). 

Useful links

First Editing
Your Editing Journey
Publishing Power Podcast
The House in the Cerulean Sea

A headshot of Kristina Stanley.

Combining her degree in computer mathematics with her success as a best-selling author and fiction editor, Kristina is the creator and driving force behind Fictionary

A headshot of JoEllen Nordstrom.

JoEllen Nordstrom is the founder of FirstEditing.com which has helped over 50,000 authors. They boast of successfully published authors, bestsellers, and research publications. First Editing assists fiction, nonfiction, academic research, and business authorities with editing for traditional, independent, and hybrid publishing.

A headshot of Lisa Lepki.

Lisa is a serious word nerd moonlighting as our marketing guru and editor of the ProWritingAid blog. With over 15 years’ experience in writing, marketing, PR, and producing, she secretly loves the technical elements of writing more than the writing itself (although she won’t admit it). Lisa is the co-author of The Novel-Writing Training Plan and 20 Editing Tips from Professional Writers, and is currently working on her first novel. Her writing can also be found on Writer’s Digest, bookbaby.com, The Write Life, and DIYAuthor.

Episode Transcript

Transcription provided by SpeechPad

Stephanie: Hey, writers, you’re listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast,” where we bring you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts. I’m Stephanie.

Tara: And I’m Tara.

Stephanie: So, in this week’s episode, we are talking to three editing pros, Kristina Stanley, the author and creator of Fictionary, JoEllen Nordström, the founder of First Editing, and Lisa Luckey, head of marketing for ProWritingAid. And these three women talk us through editing 101 and the best ways to edit a work from start to finish.

Tara: Yeah. They’re a wealth of knowledge on all things editing. And I was really thankful to be able to connect with these women, with Kristina, JoEllen, and Lisa, and myself. We’re kind of referring to ourselves as the Quartet because, you know, there’s four of us, but also because we’re trying to kind of cover everything that an author would need in terms of editing, getting their book kind of the best product that it can be, and then to publishing it directly on Kobo Writing Life. So, yeah, it’s kind of a well-rounded process. And if you, as a listener, are interested in diving into any of the products that we talked about, each one of these wonderful women is offering 20% off and you can read more about this in our blog post.

Stephanie: Yeah. The tools that they talk about are really, really interesting. And when they were talking about it, I was getting really excited and I was like, “You know what? You need to start writing something to edit.”

Tara: And I gotta say, having five people on the podcast, we thought it would be a jumbled mess. Yeah. I think Steph and I learned a lot about professional speaking from these ladies.

Stephanie: Yes, very eloquent. So, we’re gonna stop talking, and here’s the rest of the interview.

Tara: We have a full house with the podcast this week. I’m really happy to have the editing experts from all over the world. We have Kristina Stanley, who is an author and the creator of Fictionary, JoEllen Nordström, who is the founder of First Editing, and Lisa Lepki, who is the head of marketing for ProWritingAid. Ladies, thanks for joining us.

Lisa: Thanks.

Kristina: Thanks for being here. Thanks.

Tara: So, maybe let’s go around the table and kind of give one another an introduction. So, can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and how you got into editing and this wonderful world of working with independent authors and publishers? So, JoEllen, you’re top of the screen. How about you go first?

JoEllen: Well, it’s very fun that I’m in… At First Editing, we do professional online editing services. So, I’ve been doing that for over a decade, actually, a decade and a half now. But we have over 50,000 authors we’ve been working with and who’ve come in and get anywhere from a sample to order to returning clients, etc. And I started a podcast called “Publishing Power.” And that’s kind of funny. That’s how I originally met both Kristina and Lisa through that, and we’ve been working together to promote editing from start to finish because there’s a lot of different levels and a lot of different techniques and details. So, we wanna make sure everyone knows that from self-editing on down to self-publishing, basically.

Tara: And make us jealous. Tell us where you are.

JoEllen: I am sitting in Tenerife, which is in the Canary Islands just off the west coast of Africa. So, we’re just hiding away from COVID and all the fun stuff in the world.

Tara: Sounds like a wonderful place to be hiding.

JoEllen: It was nice.

Tara: When it’s snowing, I’ll be longing for some island, I think. How about we go to Lisa next?

Lisa: Sure. I’m Lisa. I’ve always been a bit of a writer. I was one of those people that always had a journal on the go and I’ve got a stack of about 20 journals in my closet that I can’t quite face going back to my teenage self and all my angst. As a career, I ended up working in marketing and PR mostly for arts companies. So, I did a lot of communications for theater and dance and, you know, places like the Royal Albert Hall and things like that as part of an agency. And then a friend of mine started pro-writing aid and asked if I could help him out for a couple of weeks with this new company that he was starting. And that was in 2015. And now we’ve grown our little company to about 1.5 million users. And in the beginning, it was just me writing all the blogs. And I think as part of that process, I learned that I could write. I always thought that in order to be a writer, you had to be Margaret Atwood and you had to be able to write all of this incredible literature. But actually, I’ve really loved writing and I’ve become much more of a writer now than I used to be. And now we’ve got a team of freelance writers that we work with, and so I do a lot of editing and a lot of that sort of side of things as well. So, that’s sort of how I ended up here.

Tara: Thanks. And you’re on JoEllen’s same time zone. You’re based in the UK.

Lisa: I’m based in the UK. I’m on the beach as well. It’s just a cold, gloomy, rainy pebble beach in Brighton, which is about an hour south of London.

Tara: Nice. And Kristina on Stephanie and I’s time zone. Let’s go to you. You’re just down the street in Kingston. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your writing, and Fictionary?

Kristina: I would love to, of course. Hi, I’m Kristina. I started my editing career as a writer. And I was lucky enough that I had a publisher and so I worked with editors and I got very interested in editing. And funny enough, just discovered, it’s more of a passion of mine than writing stories. And so I created Fictionary. And Fictionary is online software for writers and editors. And so our storyteller product is designed to help writers tell a better story and learn how to write from a high-level story perspective. And our story coach product is to really help editors become exceptional at story editing. And we did that because we found that there are a lot of writers out there who are looking for great editors and don’t know how to find them and don’t know what they actually need from a story edit. And there’s lots of editors out there who are looking for training on how to become a great editor when it comes to telling a powerful story. And that wasn’t available either. And so we put the two things together. A long time ago I got my degree in computer mathematics, and so I was able to take that and partner it with the artistic side of writing and using AI technology developed both storyteller and story coach. And our real mission goal is to just help writers and editors be better at what they do.

Stephanie: So, I guess this comes to our first question, which I think I know what your answer is. But can an author successfully edit their own work?

Kristina: So, I’ll answer that one. I believe absolutely, yes, they can. So, it depends on the writer. Some writers have no interest, don’t wanna spend the time, or have great difficulty. And those writers should absolutely use a professional editor. And I professionally edit, and so does JoEllen, and I’m a big fan of it. So, having said that, I also believe that learning how to self-edit your own story from both a high-level story-editing perspective and from a copy-editing perspective is really important for a writer to become good at what they do. And it’s learning the craft behind the artistry of writing. And it can be super creative and really fun. And I think it helps the writer just develop better skills and also a better book.

Tara: I didn’t think that you were gonna say an author could edit their own work. I thought you would be of the mind that a lot of people are that they’re like, “Leave it to the pros.”

Kristina: Well, the thing is, what we found with our writers at Fictionary is that when they edit their own work and they have a tool that shows them how to edit a story, so how to do point of view, and how to enter and exit a scene, it makes them think about it. And it does two things. It sparks creativity because they go, “Oh, I can have a way better entry. I’m gonna rewrite the entry to this scene.” And then it teaches them these things are important to the aspect of storytelling, and it shows them how to look at their own story. And then the next book they write is easier because that’s in their head. Now they’ve learned that. And also, if they choose to go on to a professional editor, they are at a much better place to understand what that editor is recommending to them and make a choice on whether they wanna accept it or reject it. So, I really, really strongly believe that a writer can and should edit their own story all the way through, and then choose for themselves if they need professional help.

Lisa: Yeah. I think it’s two different levels of the same process. I really think that if you’re gonna get the most out of your editor, editors only have limited amounts of time, limited amounts of energy, and focus. And so if you give them something that is as good as you can make it and you’ve really put the time in to try and improve it, then they are gonna really be able to shine it. They’re not gonna, you know, spend their time fixing basic amateur mistakes, which then if you haven’t put the time in learning what those mistakes are, you’re just gonna make them again on your next book and you’re just gonna be back at the same place that you started. I think if you put the time in to do a really good edit, then you grow as a writer. And then when you do get that fresh pair of professional editor eyes on your book, it’s already gonna be so much further down that editing process and closer to being exceptional.

JoEllen: Right. And I think as professional editors, we like it when you know how to self-edit because you come in knowledgeable, you can challenge us, you can actually tell us what your weaknesses are. So, we can dig deeper without worrying about, you know, all the basics. So, that’s why we’ve become certified as story coach editors and we’re working along with Kristina at Fictionary because it’s really something that is complementary and not in any way opposing one another. And the good thing is, you know, editing can be learned. It is a skill. It just takes time. And, of course, you know, like Kristina said, you can learn it, absolutely, but you do need the time, and there’s a learning curve. So, these tools and these softwares that are online, they can help you do that, but meanwhile, you know, you’ve always got good backup and you should always, always, you know, at least do your final edit with a professional, somebody who’s neutral who can catch all the small details that you just can’t see or you’re so far in the woods, you don’t see the trees anymore. But other than that, you know, yeah, you can definitely learn over time. You just take your time and understand that editing is just like writing. It’s a lifelong learning process.

Lisa: And that’s probably not the answer that a lot of people want. I think a lot of writers find the whole editing process kind of scary and they would rather that we said, “No, actually, you can’t self-edit your own work. You write your first draft, and then you send it off to someone else, and they’ll fix it all up, and they’ll do all that hard work.” But actually, I just don’t think that that’s the right thing to do. I feel like if you are creating a piece of art, a piece of literature that you need to be able to feel confident in everything that you’ve written and it’s worth putting the time in, otherwise, what’s the point?

JoEllen: Right. And I mean, there is always the Hail Mary, you can call us and say, “Look, I just opened up story coach and I’m a storyteller and I’m looking at it and there’s so much to fill in. I filled in this much and now I’m tired. And that’s okay. You gave it your best shot. So, now we can go ahead and… It can be a do it yourself or it can be, you know, not completely, but we can do a lot for you, and that at least gets you to the next point. And it gives you a little downtime, which is part of the self-editing process, anyhow. You do need to take that downtime.

Tara: So, there’s kind of… You all have touched on, like, different aspects of editing. And I think sometimes authors may think of just, you know, a one-edit or a two-edit and not actually go down into, like, the different nuances. So, you’ve kind of mentioned the story edit. So, could you maybe define that for somebody that’s not that familiar with it? And can you tell us about why that’s an important place to start?

Kristina: Sure. So, this is Kristina. I’m the one who loves to talk about story editing. So, story editing comes into play once you have a draft. And it doesn’t have to be like 100% draft. As long as you have the general story there, that’s when you wanna start doing it. And what you’re looking for when you’re doing a story edit is to make sure that you’ve got your structure right, so right from chapter to scene level, all the way up to the story arc. You’re looking… You’ve done the best you can with your characters and the character arc and their growth. You’re looking at plot and making sure you don’t have plot holes. You’re looking at, did you utilize each setting within the story to its maximum effect? And so I like to recommend that before going on to copy editing, whether you copy edit yourself or hire somebody. It’s great to have your story set. And the reason I say this is that when you do an edit, you’ll make a lot of changes. And you’ll move scenes, and you’ll cut scenes, and add characters, and cut characters, and combine characters, and rewrite. And so if you spend a whole bunch of time copy-editing that to perfection, and then cut it, it’s really hard to do that. And there’s resistance to go, “I don’t wanna cut it. I’ve just made this scene perfect except it’s not really related to the plot, so it must be cut.” And so it’s okay to do a little bit of copy-editing as you go. And everybody does that, of course, because you see things you wanna fix it, you can write a sentence better. And sometimes you break from story editing. That’s fine. But I think it’s better use of a writer’s time to focus on getting their story set, and then moving on to the copy-editing side.

Stephanie: I just have a question that some people might be confused about, is the difference between a line edit and a copy edit.

JoEllen: This is JoEllen with First Editing. We do… Basically, I have… To help people go through, I think I spend most of my time explaining the different levels of editing. And a story edit is at the top. It’s like the content. It’s basically your structural-developmental edit. It happens once you’ve got the full outline when you think you’ve got your first round of revisions and you’re going into editing. And that’s why you’re doing so much there and that can be multiple revisions at that level. So, you can keep doing that. Then after you have the content edit, once you really got to a structural-development, you’ve got your story arc, and again, if we’re talking about fiction, then if you’re doing the story arc and you’ve got your conflict resolutions and you’ve got your characters fully developed, then you move on from that story edit onto a line edit. But in content editing, you can also have that for a nonfiction and academic writing, which just means that you’re supporting all of your proposals, you’re making sure that is fulfilled and all of it is substantive. It’s that substantive amount of content that you need to proceed with your general idea, and also to always remember your audience. Are you actually keeping them engaged? Are you fulfilling your promise to them so that they don’t put the book down? So, once you’ve fulfilled that portion of the content, developmental structural edit, then you move on to the line editing. And line editing is basically what the name is, is a line by line edit. And the difference between that is that now you’re starting to look from paragraph to paragraph from page to page. Is the flow working? Do we have support of the transitions? And do you have your voice? Is it consistent? Are you overlooking any little thing? So, that it gives you a professional, competent point of edits so that you can present it to your public. And you really need line editing before you put it anywhere in the public, before you share it, before you distribute it, before… I mean, even before your beta readers and things like that. You really wanna be careful because in today’s world, there’s just simply too much competition for people to not just disregard that. It’s your first impression. So, line editing is really what you need before you do that.

Once you’ve done your line editing, which means you’ve had the professional editor come in there at the minimum. And again, that can be academic before you send it in for a peer review, before you send it to your committee that’s gonna be reviewing that, before you take it into your peers if you’re doing nonfiction, and they’re gonna start telling you what you do and you don’t know as your marketing, you wanna have that line edit. Once you finish the line editing, then you should be… You go into the copy-edit. And the copy-edit is basically you have completed all of your revisions. You’re no longer changing your words, you’re no longer changing your ideas, you’re no longer changing your structure, your presentation. It’s all tight. And then you just have that last person come in as the copy edit to say, “Okay. Grammar, spelling, punctuation is all there. You are good to go for formatting.” And then after formatting, of course, there’s that other round of proofreading, which is to make sure that once you put it into the magical button, it didn’t mess up all of your structure and your… And I don’t mean structure of your story, but rather, the layout. How does it look and how does it feel in whatever media and presentation you’re giving?

Tara: Do you think it’s important to have a proofreader and a beta reader? Do those serve different purposes or would one do rather than the other?

JoEllen: Well, anytime you’re talking about editors and, you know, you have the content, the line, and the copy edits, they’re all specially trained. If you’re hiring anybody to touch your book, in that sense, you need to make sure that they’re specially trained, and they should have a lot of experience either in the publishing world, on the editing world. Just because you’re a writer, there are writers who can edit, but doesn’t necessarily mean that a writer is an editor because you’re specially trained to look at the book from a different angle. And every level of editing, the content editing, the line editing, the copy editing, each of those editors is specially trained in focusing specifically in that manner. So, if somebody says to me, “Okay. I wanna copy-edit,” that’s a much different approach than, say, if I was hired for a content edit. So, you wanna make sure you’re adjusting that. So, yeah, you definitely want to have them separate. And beta readers, you know, they’re doing a totally different purpose. They’re giving you feedback on the story and their ideas and things like that. And, of course, the proofreader is somebody who’s looking at grammar, spelling, punctuation. They’re not really going beyond that. It’s just to make sure that there’s none of those annoying little typos as you’re reading the book that just make us all crazy.

Stephanie: I just have a question that just came to me. When someone, let’s say, they sell their book, how can they ensure that they pick the right editor? Is there questions they should be asking them about their working relationship, things people don’t think about? And then when you have an editor, you’re like, “Oh, this isn’t gonna work for me.” Is there any tips that you guys have for that kind of…

JoEllen: Yeah. It’s like a marriage. It’s dating. I mean, it really is. And you don’t just… Just because they’re qualified doesn’t mean that you necessarily wanna live with them forever. And that’s basically what you’re doing. You’re creating a baby together, like it or lump it. And so you really need to make sure it matters. I wouldn’t say all of my editors match all of my writers. So, there are times when, you know, it just doesn’t click for whatever. And it is a relationship. The best editors, you’re going to have a relationship whether you’re going to have some communication, you’re gonna have some feedback back and forth, be it electronically, on the phone, or whatever method you choose. But definitely, in your feedback and your advice that you get inside the document, inside the notes and the comments, you wanna know and understand what they’re doing. And that’s why when you’re familiar with these other tools, when you’re already using ProWritingAid, and it’s constantly reminding you of sticky words that you’re using, again, again, and again, you’ve got a little glue here and you’re not doing that right, that you understand what they’re referring to. And that helps you make better decisions because you’re knowledgeable and you’re educated. So, that’s a very, very important thing to do.

So, yeah. The best thing I can recommend is to submit your document to an editor. And we provide free samples. So, you send it in to us. We look at it. And we only look at three phases of it. Where are you in the writing process? Are you at the outline phase? Have you done a lot of revisions and you’re really done? Or have you… Do you think you’re 100% complete? And once we know which phase you’re in, that helps us determine which level of editing, what you want. Even though you may have done all the revisions, but you really wanna know if it’s okay, you can still go back to content. And it’s not a linear path. It’s a web-like path. And on the same way with line editing, you may come in and say, “Oh, I’m done. I just wanna copy-edit and I’m gonna get out of here.” Well, if the editor looks at it and says, “You know what? You’re not ready for that,” then a good editor isn’t going to give you that level of editing. They’re gonna demand that you have to get what serves you best and to serve them best because it makes them look bad as an editor to give you anything less than what you need. So, yeah, you should ask for a sample, ask to see their success stories, to see what genre they’ve worked in, to… When you deal with freelancers, you’re dealing with independent schedules and problems in life that can interrupt delivery times. So, that’s one of the reasons I got into editing is that as a team, we can guarantee the turnaround time. So, if something happens with one editor, we can find another person in our team that can pick it up and take it to the finish line for you so that you’re not lost if that is a demanding deadline for you. So, that’s the things look for. And of course, you know, any reviews are always important online and that too. But take it with a bit of salt. Talk to them. Find out their knowledge. Ask questions.

Tara: It seems very similar to the process of, like, trying to find your narrator for your audiobook. So, you kind of have to look at it in the same way because it is kind of helping your voice.

JoEllen: Yeah, absolutely.

Kristina: This is Kristina. I wanted to add to what JoEllen had to say. I get asked this question a lot from the writers who use Fictionary. And there’s a few things that I always like to recommend. And one is, first, know what you want from an editor. Decide that ahead of time so that when you’re searching for an editor, you’re searching for the right thing. And then when you talk to an editor, be very specific and ask them, what do they deliver? Do you get a summary letter? How long are their typical summary letters? Do you get a review of your story arc? And will they point out things like where is the inciting incident or lack of one? Be hard on your question so that you can assess a story editor, in particular, by how they answer the questions on what will they deliver. And then once you’ve gotten past that, you wanna ask questions like, can you talk to the editor after the editor is finished if that’s important to you? Some editors don’t. All of their comments are written and that’s fine. That’s a great process that works. Some writers learn better through audio. And sometimes with the writer, I will do a phone call afterwards and record it. They get to keep that recording because they need to go and listen to what the advice is and they wanna talk about their story. And so not just receiving it, but what happens after the edit. Does the editor respond to emails? Is it phone calls? Is it video calls? So, you wanna do kind of an overall interview of your editor beyond, you know, just finding someone that you kind of like. Right? You have to work with this person. They’re gonna spend hours and hours and hours with your book, and so you wanna make sure that they’re interested in your book, that is their genre they cover, like JoEllen said, and that you think you’re gonna be happy working with them because you do pay a lot of money for it and you should be happy with it when you get it.

Stephanie: That’s great advice. I guess, the second question I have for you is kind of along that lines. How do you balance software and then having an editor come in on your project? Is there a balance to it or how do you think authors should approach that?

Lisa: Like I said before, I don’t feel like they’re two different things. I think they’re two sides of the same coin. And I think there’s a lot of things that software can do that a human professional editor can’t do, and there’s a lot of things that a professional human editor can do that software can’t do. And so I think it’s important to look at what those things are. Like a computer software is gonna struggle to find your plot holes or your character inconsistencies and those sorts of things. You need a human to find those sorts of things. But computers are really good at comparing your writing to… At ProWritingAid, we have a corpus of a database, essentially, of millions of books and texts and articles. And so we can look at all the statistics of published writing and we can compare it to your writing. So, if it turns out that you’re using adverbs at, you know, five times the rate of most published authors, then probably you should go back and look at that. If you’re starting your sentences with ING verbs like running down the street, he ran into Sarah, and you’re using that way more than published writing, then that’s probably a crutch for you. And so you can go back and look at it. Similarly, to finding repetition in your book. Everyone has those crutch phrases that they use over and over again without even realizing that you’re using it. And so if you run your whole book through a software and realize that you’ve said, “It turns out unexpectedly, blah, blah, blah,” or whatever your phrases that you use all the time, it’s harder for a professional editor to spot that because they’re looking at big chunks of text at the same time, but for a computer, you know, one scan and it can pull up all of those things. And so those sorts of big picture metrics-based feedback, I think, is the best way to say, can be really useful and are things that sometimes the professional editors won’t be able to give you the same overhead look at.

JoEllen: Right. And I think it’s important to mention, Lisa, ProWritingAid, and I, we’re working together on a self-editing school which we do the third Thursday of every month. And part of that idea that concept comes from, you know, we’re using their tool behind the scenes. That’s a professional editing tool that the professional editors are using. We’re using Fictionary behind the scenes because it makes sure that we as humans don’t get tired and overlook a small detail when we’re looking at 38 story elements that are going again and again and again. So, we’ve been covering that with Kristina in a weekly podcast and YouTube series on how to find those 38 story elements. So, I always recommend, you know, these are the tools that we’re using. And it helps us communicate, again, much, much better. One of the things that you get from using a software that you do not get from a human that is very helpful is that you kind of have this intelligent assistant who’s there the whole time when you’re going through your revisions. And if you don’t understand what the editor has referred to, if you don’t understand why they’re telling you to change something and maybe you don’t clearly agree, for whatever reason, then it allows you to click on a button and to see the rules, to see the guidelines that are normal and understand that better. And once you are knowledgeable and informed you have a much better platform from which to create and to develop your writing to develop your…become that wordsmith and to master your craft, which is what writers are interested in. I know editing is part of it, but it’s not necessarily mandatory. What is mandatory is that you understand how to best use your time and energy because, again, editing, professional editors, is one of the largest investments you’re gonna make during the writing process. It’s not cheap. It’s hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending upon what you need, what you want, and what your manuscript requires. So, those are important things and where you are in the process. So, using these softwares, using online tools, using them day in and day out only makes you stronger and better as a writer. It allows you to come in and get the full value out of your editor and challenge us, which is way more fun. And you can develop your next book, hopefully, in a large, long series of books and success because you’ll get better and better and better. It won’t happen overnight. It happens over the years.

Lisa: What I think authors often find really useful about using software is it gives them a bit of a roadmap because when you finish your first draft and you suddenly have, you know, 80,000 words or whatever it is, and your job is to go back and fix it and make it better, that’s really daunting. And so I think what a lot of authors find appealing about both Fictionary and ProWritingAid is that it gives you a place to start and it sort of shows you where to begin. So, if you run a report in ProWritingAid and it’s that day your focus is all on improving the readability of your sentences, and so you find you get ProWritingAid to flag all of those sentences that are long and complex and wobble around all over the place and it flags them and you spend your whole day doing that, at the end of the day, you feel like you’ve been productive, you’ve had, like, a clear goal that you’ve wanted to meet and there’s something that you can take off your editing list. And I think Fictionary is the same thing. If you’ve go one day when you’re just looking at all your characters and you’ve got all the questions in there that helps you really flesh them out, that gives you a place to start because, otherwise, editing… I mean, I know when I wrote my first book, I came to the end of the first draft and it’s really still in the same state as it was then because I just didn’t know where to begin. This is 15 years ago and I didn’t know any of these things and I just… It just went in my drawer because I just didn’t know where to start with it. So, I think ProWritingAid if you run a summary report, it’ll give you a list of sort of the things that you’re doing really well and it’ll give you a list of the key things that should make the biggest impact on your documents. So, it lets you know where to start. And once you know where to start and you know where to begin, then it’s much easier to sort of carry on.

JoEllen: And you know when you’re finished to a degree. I mean, nothing’s ever finished. You write, rewrite and revise, revise. But you do know when you’ve done everything that you’re supposed to do. The same reason the editor uses these softwares and these tools behind the scenes is because it lets us know that, “Okay. We didn’t leave any stone unturned. We’ve covered all this. Now we can go back to the writer and address their unique questions and unique problems with this unique manuscript.”

Tara: I like the balance of using the algorithms and AI software as a tool with the human touch on top. It’s not dissimilar to how Kobo Store kind of works in general, actually, is that, you know, we do have our big data team that kind of tries to put the best book with that customer, but then we also have a team of merchandisers because we just find that you really want that human touch and to be able to have different storefronts in each country because, you know, books are so kind of nuanced that that’s required. But I like kind of learning about how the AI stuff is improving and getting better each year, which no doubt it is. And you were talking about kind of using it to spot issues… Well, issues is just the wrong term. But like, you know, repetitiveness in a book or anything like that. Does it help with the flow or, like, can it help with the tone? I’m just curious about how a machine can pick up the tone of a scene or something like that.

Kristina: So, from a flow perspective, how AI software is helping, so, I’ll give you an example from Fictionary. So, when a writer inputs their manuscript, it gets analyzed, and within 30 seconds, it draws the story arc and it compares it to commercially successful fiction. So, a writer can see how their story is playing out from the inciting incident plot point one, midpoint, plot point two, and the climax. And they can see their starting point. And then as they revise, the story arc will redraw and show them what it looks like if they decide the scene is not the inciting incident somewhere else, it will redraw for that. And the writer then gets a form that they can follow. And I say form very specifically because it is not a formula. It’s a guideline. And as the writer, you get to choose what you wanna do. But at least if you’re aware of how the human brain likes to experience stories, whether it’s reading, audio, movies, whatever, it’s all the same story arc. And so what you’re doing is in your story, and the AI is all the work behind the scenes, in the form of a story arc. And instead of… We used to have to go and draw that on our dining room table and it takes two weeks and it’s almost impossible. And it’s really hard, where it just shows up. And as you continually edit, it continually draws for you. And so that’s one example of how AI technology can help the writer without forcing specific rules on the writer.

Lisa: Yeah. And then on a sentence-level, you know, we often get people who will send a message into our support team saying, “Why don’t you just have an Accept All button? I just wanna make all these changes. Just accept all.” But that’s not what we’re about. I always think of ProWritingAid as being, you know, like a kindly editor sitting behind me saying, “Excuse me. Just have a look at this sentence. It’s written in passive voice. Sometimes that’s problematic. Just have a look and see if there’s a way you can improve it. Oh, excuse me. Sorry. You’ve got a lot of glue words. We’ve said that this is a sticky sentence. Why don’t you rewrite that, see if you can improve it?” I mean, there’s spelling errors, which will give you a free… You can just accept that and grammar mistakes where things are right or wrong. But when you’re writing your book, you’re the author, and sometimes you want to have a sentence written in passive voice. And that’s okay. And sometimes you wanna use a really flowery adverb. And that’s okay. As long as you don’t do it too often, that’s okay. And so I think there’s never really a worry of an author losing their voice or losing their tone because every suggestion requires you to say, “Yes, I think that’s right in this situation,” or, “No, that isn’t right in this situation.” And, you know, I write all the time, Kristina writes all the time, JoEllen writes all the time, and we still make a lot of the same mistakes. Especially if you’re writing fiction or a long-form text document of some kind, once you get into a flow, you don’t wanna stop and have to fix every sentence and try and make sure that every metaphor is shining and beautiful. Sometimes you just wanna drop a cliché in there and then move on. And then, to the software at the end is to help you go back and try and find those areas that maybe can be improved. And it helps you look at your sentences from a reader’s perspective because when you’re writing and you’re trying to get your ideas out, that’s a different perspective from when you’re editing and you’re trying to look at what you’ve written from a reader’s perspective. And I always think if you ever have to…every time your reader stops and says, “Wait. What? What did she mean?” and has to go back and try and figure out what your point is or reread your sentence because they didn’t get it, they’ve come out of your world, they’ve come out of your story or your idea for a minute and you’ve lost them, then I just think it’s so important to try and make your writing almost invisible, which doesn’t mean dumbing it down. That doesn’t mean making it, you know, really basic. It just means making it clear so that the flow from your brain into your reader’s brain is really smooth.

And so there’s tons of things that ProWritingAid will flag, you know, passive voices when overuse of adverbs is another, sticky sentences is another, but then there’s really basic ones like instead of saying, “JoEllen is able to edit your manuscript,” you can just say, “JoEllen can edit your manuscript.” And that’s three words compared to one word, they mean the same thing, and it’s just cleaner. And there’s a million different things like that that have been inputted by our team of… We’ve got a bunch of copy editors who as they’re editing actual work, go, “Oh, yeah, I see that all the time. Somebody has turned their verb into a noun.” Instead of saying they decided something, they’ve said they made a decision, which is just clunkier. And so all of those sorts of things can be flagged. Just to say, do you think you could say this in a better way? And if you can, great. When I try and rewrite sent… I always try and rewrite sentences three times if they get flagged. And almost always I can do a better sentence, like, one of my rewrites will be better than my original, but not always. And if I can’t make it better and I think it’s right the way it is, then stick with it. That’s what you’re trying to say.

Stephanie: This is a kind of question for everyone. Do you have any common mistakes that you’d like them to never see again, basically, or things you see coming up and you’re like, “Authors should be avoiding this. They need to know about this.”?

Kristina: I’ll add to that first from a story perspective. And my answer is no. So, the reason it’s no is every author has different strengths, and so then different errors to the table. And from a story perspective, the errors come across as repetitive from an editor point of view because it’s within that unique story. And you have to figure out as an editor, how can you help that person fix that issue? The most common problem I see… Well, there’s two. The most common problem is newer writers have trouble figuring out when to start and end scenes and how to break their novel up into scenes. And so I do a lot of work helping writers figure out that portion because that’s key to telling a powerful story. And then the second struggle I see is with point of view and too much head-hopping between one character and another and making the scene confusing because you don’t really know whose thought it was, or who saw it, or who felt it. And that’s an area that can quite often be tightened up. But typically, what I see, if the writer, say, has that problem, they might be spectacular at description. And so there’s always a balance in every single story. And in every story, you can find what’s great about it and where the writer needs to work on it.

Tara: Lisa, do you wanna give us your avoidance or are you gonna be as nice as Kristina here is saying, “No, authors are great.”

Lisa: No, I’m not nearly as nice as her generally, and when it comes to editing. I keep going on about passive voice because I think that’s one of the things that really it drives me a bit crazy. And people who have taken, you know, basic writing course one of the first things you learn is passive voice. And for anybody that’s listening that doesn’t know what passive voice is, it just means you’re putting the subject of your sentence so that whoever’s doing the sentence at the back of your sentence. And so if you imagine, as a writer, you’re trying to paint a picture in your reader’s mind with every sentence. So, I have an example that I was using yesterday. If you say… If you’re writing a book and someone goes up and knocks on the door, and then you say, “The door was yanked open by Nick,” then the first thing that your reader will see in their mind is a door. Whereas if you say, “Nick yanked open the door,” the first thing you see in your mind is Nick. And Nick yanking something is much more interesting than just a door. And so as much as possible, you wanna put the interesting bits of your sentence, the person who’s doing it, and the verb, what they’re doing right upfront so that your readers can immediately get the movie going in their head of what you’re trying to tell them.

And passive voice is one of those things that I didn’t really understand for a long time. Actually, in university, I can remember one of my professors circled every instance of passive voice in one of my essays because it was driving her so crazy, and I still didn’t really understand it because when you just get your marks back in university, you know, you never really go and try and learn these things because you wrote the essay and it’s gone and it’s done, which is one of the things we hear a lot about ProWritingAid is that they write something, they get the feedback immediately as they’re doing it, then you go, “What? What’s passive voice?” And then you click a little button and there’s a video and there’s an explanation and you click more, through more for examples and will tell you different ways that you can try and improve your sentences and make them better. And so now whenever I see passive voice, it drives me crazy and I feel like I’m like that professor back in university that was circling everything on my essay. And I think it’s one of those things that really irritates editors, really irritates anybody who has a lot of skills writing. And so even if it feels like it’s right, there’s a possibility that it might irritate someone, so you’re always better just to swap it around.

JoEllen: Great. From First Editing over here, I think, you know, we wanna remark in terms of the software is very good at following and finding all of those things, reminding you and giving you that intelligent assistance and giving you a huge amount of resources and a huge amount of education, a huge amount of training and mentoring and, you know, coaching along the way. So, that’s all super great because even as an editor, we use that again and again day to day. So, the mistakes that you see the authors should be aware of they’re being pointed out to you day by day and they can be unique to the manuscript when you’re looking at a content editor of a unique manuscript. But one of the cool things is like ProWritingAid is also inside your email, it’s inside your Word Doc, it’s inside all of my marketing, everything I’m typing. If I’m putting a form or I’m filling out a Google review online, it’s saving my reputation so I don’t look like a fool when I misspell something and I’m an editor because I’m still human. So, it’s very important to have that there.

I think, for us, a top issue that we see when authors come in would be that they think they’re done and you’re just not. You’ve just opened the door to the next chapter and you’re coming in here, and it really is a process. And it’s something that, again, it’s not linear, you don’t do copy editing or content editing, and then proceed to line editing, and then proceed to copy editing and you’re done. You’re doing a little bit of copy editing just as you’re typing every day on that book. So, that’s helping you work along there. You’re looking at the structural, you’re looking at the developmental, you’re looking at all of that. And then when you finally get into, you know, “Okay. Am I gonna use a professional content editor? Am I gonna do this all myself and then move on to line editor?” Either way, you’re still not done. You’ve got revision, revision, revision. And one of the interesting things is you need to enjoy the journey. Funny I say that because the three of us, we actually put together a book called “Your Editing Journey.” And ironically, it’s on Kobo. So, you can go ahead and take a look at that. But it kind of walks you through this whole process, which, you know, it takes a long time to understand. And if you’re not writing and editing every day and you’re just trying to get through this one particular challenge in life, you know, to have your first book or your series or whatever it may be written, it’s really helpful to have these references, be it online with the helpfulness that you get when you’re using a software and you’re learning about it or having an extension or a plugin on your browser there that helps you with your day to day writing, and then having an e-book there to come back to.

And then of course, you know, when you’re actually tackling that particular manuscript and you come to the editor, you’re using the same words, the same terminology, you’re on the same page. So, you’re not sitting there confused because visiting an editor can be like going into a doctor and you’ve suddenly got some new diagnosis and you know your symptoms, but you definitely don’t know what this diagnosis is. So much helpful if you have a medical book or Google to at least let you respond and do what’s appropriate to solve the problem that you’re facing in this particular moment. So, I think it’s very, very helpful. So, just understand it is a process and it’s a learning process, it’s a growth process, and it’s never-ending, but enjoy the journey on the way because it is an editing journey, it is part of the writing and the publishing journey that you’re gonna enjoy. And enjoy it.

Lisa: And it’s being creative. That’s the thing that I’ve learned over the last few years. I just thought editing was the slog bit of it, you know, the writing was the joyful creation side, and then editing was like that’s what you have to do, that’s cleaning up after you have a party. But actually, the editing side can be really creative. When you go back into a certain scene and you just wanna add fire to it and you wanna add a metaphor, and you want to make it so it really resonates and figuring out the language for that and the imagery and how are you gonna paint the picture in the most specific way so that your reader really understands it and is really moved by it in the most way, it’s really creative, and it’s really exciting. And it’s how your book goes from, you know, being good to being really having a real impact. And so, don’t be afraid of the editing process like I used to be. It’s a magical creative time and it’s where a lot of the best…a lot of your best work will happen because you’re not just trying to slog and get through everything. You get to go back and this is where, you know, you’re shining up some of the best bits. So, don’t be afraid.

Tara: And to echo what JoEllen said there as well about that book being so helpful. I read it the other day. And it’s for free on Kobo, I believe, which I think would be a really wonderful companion piece to this podcast, if anyone is interested in learning a bit more, you really define, like, the process and everything and it makes it super clear. I have one last editing question for you guys. Just because we get a lot of authors that dictate to save time or, you know, just to not be in front of a computer typing all day long. Does this make the editing easier or does it make it more challenging? Do you deal with authors that dictate? How does that work for you guys?

Lisa: Yeah. I feel like more and more writers are doing dictation. When my kids were really little and I had to go and walk around parks for hours a day pushing, you know, strollers and that sort of thing, I started doing some dictation then. It does make your edit a bit harder because there’s a lot that can go wrong, you know, just it’ll pull the wrong word, and so you have to be really careful when you go through to make sure that they, I don’t know, haven’t just got the homonym wrong or something along those lines. But I think it’s great. It’s a great way to get things out there. And like I said, when you’re just on the… When you’re just trying to get everything out and get your ideas down on page, it’s a really great way to do it.

JoEllen: I agree. It’s a good thing, but you definitely can’t skip editing. And when you’re doing any kind of dictation, that’s just…you’ve increased the need for that. And so you need to use the softwares, you need to use the tools, and you can never ever accept or just accept even what the computer is telling you because it may be a word that would work there, but it may not mean what you think it means. It’s the same when we see these transcriptions on videos and editing or videos and YouTubes and things like that. I love transcription because I like to read as opposed to listen sometimes when I’m doing things I shouldn’t be doing on the computer. And nobody knows. So, the fun thing is that, you know, you have this transcription up there and if it’s not edited, it just be like, “Really? Did they say that?” And it just doesn’t hear as clearly. And Google is getting very good about listening in. And the technology, I’m sure, in the next couple of years will be super amazing the same as it has been for translation, but we’re not there yet, and that’s only in the romantic languages it’s capable of now, you know, as it goes into other languages which have other, you know, the Cyrillic alphabet, the Asian alphabets. It’s even more complicated. So, it will take a long time for that process to evolve.

Stephanie: We’ve come to my final question. And my most fun question. I’m gonna give you guys two options. So, you can tell me what you’ve been loving lately or you can tell me which genre do you love working on the best and why? Or you can answer both here for either.

Lisa: I was just gonna say, this is a really easy question for me because me and my whole family are really obsessed with the book right now. And every time we’ve finished homeschooling and finished everything else, we go to it. And it’s called “The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune. And it’s just magical. And I’m reading it with my kids. I read out loud to my kids when it’s a book where I feel the subject matter is potentially above what they can understand. They’re 8 and 10. But my mom read it and she’s 75, and she loved it just as much. And it’s this amazing adventure and amazing characters and beautiful sets. And I think it’s such a perfect book. So, that’s what I’m loving at the moment.

Kristina: Nice. I love that you’re reading out loud to your kids. That’s fantastic.

Lisa: I mean, they’re obsessed. Every night we get to the end and I tell them to go to bed and they’re like, “No. Mommy more. Read some more.” Great.

Kristina: Fantastic. So, my thing I love outside of editing, I train my dog puppies. And what that means is we get an eight-week-old puppy in our house for a year to 18 months depending on the schedule and we train them 24/7. So, all day, every day that puppy is with you. And then they go off to guide dog land and we get another one. So, I’m in between dogs right now and I’m just craving the time when the next one is coming but of course it has to be born first. So, there is a bit of a cycle there. But it’s my absolute love passion that it adds so much joy to my life every single day, even though it’s sad when you say bye.

Stephanie: Must be fun seeing puppies all the time. I haven’t seen a puppy in so long.

Kristina: I know. There’s nothing better than a puppy hug.

Stephanie: My friend is getting a dog and I can’t see it, but I’m gonna try.

JoEllen: That’s so great. And those are the things that are really helping us get through all of this crazy life that we’re in right now. And I think one of the things I’m loving is that we’re actually seeing a little bit of hope out there. It’s a little bit of good things that are happening. We have the vaccinations coming. We have… And it depends. It’s a process, up and down, back and forth, we go forward, then we regress, but we’re starting to see that we can, you know, stick together and get through this. And so that’s a really fun thing. Part of that, for me, what I’m loving individually is that right now I’m about to take off for three weeks of yoga training and I think that I’m just gonna be able to dig in and step out, not be locked down, but to rather lock out my other stresses of the world and just be physical, just be present, just eat, drink, sleep, and do the yoga for this time. So, I’m really looking forward to that. So, that’s my love passion. And we’ll see where that evolves because anytime you do something new, it seems to come out in other creative areas, which we know. If you’re reading a book, then you’re enjoying it with your children, and then suddenly sparks a new idea. Dogs, I know they happen to be inside of Kristina’s stories. And yoga, we’ll see where it plays in there, but I think it gives me a little bit more time to reflect on everything that’s been happening in the last year. And I’m not referring to COVID, but rather this trio of editing that we’ve been doing and now coming in with Kobo. It’s really cool and it feels like a good time to just reflect.

Tara: I think we should all get together and do yoga, puppy yoga, while Lisa narrates a book to us, and then we can have everything we love in one place.

Lisa: I mean, that’s all the best things together. Except I wanna do the yoga too and even get my kids to read and we can all do yoga.

JoEllen: Yeah, perfect. Perfect.

Stephanie: Before we go, can you just tell our listeners where they can find your programs online in case they didn’t catch it before?

Kristina: Sure. So, Fictionary is fictionary.co, not com. It’s fictionary.co.

Lisa: ProWritingAid is just P-R-O-W-R-I-T-I-N-G-A-I-D, prowritingaid.com. Yeah. That’s where we are.

JoEllen: And we are professional editing services at First Editing, that’s firstediting.com. And again, that’s because you have First Editing and then Publishing.

Stephanie: Perfect. Thank you, guys, for joining us today. It’s been lovely chatting to you.th

Lisa: Thanks for having us.

Kristina: Yeah, that was really fun.

JoEllen: Thank you.

Tara: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast.” If you’re interested in using the tools that Kristina, JoEllen, and Lisa mentioned in this episode, be sure to go to our blog at kobowritinglife.com and learn more about the tools but also receive a 20% discount on their offering. And you can get your 20% discount by using the code QUARTET20. And if you’re interested in learning more about how to grow your sales on Kobo, be sure to subscribe to our blog and get updates because we have lots and lots of good information there.

Stephanie: This episode was produced by Tara Cremin and Stephanie McGrath. This episode was edited by Kelly Rowbotham. Music was provided by Tear Jerker. Production assistance provided by Rachel Wharton. And special thanks to Kristina, JoEllen, and Lisa for being our guest on our episode. If you’re ready to start your self-publishing journey today, sign up for free at kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.

Tara: And editing.

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