Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Sher A. Hart - Speculative Fiction Writer

I'm delighted to be interviewing writer and editor Sher A. Hart as this week's Speculative Fiction Writer. Her keen insight and developmental editing helped me turn Passing Time into something far greater than I could ever have imagined.

Over to you, Sher. 

Q:  Please tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from, and what do you do when you're not writing or editing? 

Although I was born in Utah, I’ve lived for many years in Panhandle Florida with easy access to white sandy beaches. But instead of going to the beach, I walk around the block with a book. Reading beat art in high school when I wanted to be a dress designer. Reading even beat microbiology and computer programming in college. Much later, the prospect of winning an original Star Trek cast autographed poster made me quit reading long enough to make the costumes pictured on myself, hubby, and my oldest two sons. Yes, I’m that geeky. We won first through third places and tied for fourth. I still have the poster. 

It broke my heart when I found out I had osteoporosis after my fourth on was born, but I (mostly) dropped reading in favor of gardening in order to get enough weight-bearing exercise. Eventually, gardening became too painful, and in desperation I tried reading while walking. It worked! I even write and edit while standing up. Now that my boys are all grown, I’m not involved with Boy Scouts or school as much as before. But I still enjoy singing harmony and started composing music last year. I’m the choir director at church. Garage sailing (sailing from garage sale to garage sale) is another favorite hobby. 

Q:  On your blog you describe your early passion for reading science fiction and fantasy. Which author would you say has been the biggest inspiration to you? 

I can’t possibly choose one. How about four? Giving credit where credit is due, Dr. Seuss taught me how to read, and I still love his books for both the vivid imagination and the rhyme. But J.R.R. Tolkien started my fantasy obsession with The Lord of the Rings. At age 9, I hid under my bed when the ring wraiths rode by. Then I fell in puppy love with R. Daneel Olivaw when I read Isaac Asimov’s I Robot. I triumphed over the school librarian to check that out from the adult section in sixth grade. Later I discovered Andre Norton and Anne McCaffrey. It’s a close contest, because both pioneered as females in the SF field, but Anne wins. 

Q: What is Earth One? 

Since the first time I read about parallel worlds, I decided there had to be one Earth that came first—a powerful Earth made to last as a pattern for all the others. It might even be in the same universe. Then I figured the first Earth had enough time to develop sentience and learn to communicate with its inhabitants, recruiting some as caretakers to act as appendages the planet didn’t have. But it would be very old by now, past the peak of civilization, war-torn, and with depleted resources. If its caretakers were killed or displaced, Earth One might seek new helpers on a younger Earth. Boy Scouts seemed a good fit for a middle grade book. 

Q:  I noticed the header ‘Create wondrous worlds in words’ on your blog. What worlds are you currently creating? 

I know someone who is very accident prone but not stupid. And there’s a reason besides clumsiness that some people sail through life while others have trouble walking out the front door without getting hurt or breaking something. I think that’s just vague enough that somebody won’t write the same book. 

Q:  You were brave enough to offer me developmental editing for my first short story collection earlier this year. What does developmental editing mean? 

Any given story could go a number of different ways, but all are not equal when it comes to creating excitement, mystery, tension, and inability to put the book down until the story is finished. Given a story that doesn’t take off, a developmental editor seeks to make the plot, pacing, characterization, and everything else work together. It might take rearrangement or adding elements to design a story structure that zooms along like a spaceship through uncharted and dangerous territory. You might scream the whole way. But you land out of breath and anxious to take another ride. Even if I come into the book in the copy editing phase, I may offer some key developmental suggestions. Sometimes small changes in plot or structure (moving where an incident or revelation falls within the story) can make a huge difference in reader satisfaction. Some authors take the suggestions, others don’t. I loved working with you because you did. 

Q: What services as an editor do you offer? 

I’m explaining because definitions vary. And I'm going backwards, from details to big picture, because many writers hire me at the last minute before publishing. It’s late, but I do my best to make up for all the editing stages they missed. 

Proofreading: Many writers think they need nothing more than fixing typos. My ability to spot errors of all kinds finally made me realize I should share that talent. This includes spacing, fonts, missing italics, etc. in the print galley or eBook. A once over by anyone won’t catch every error, so I read at least twice. With indies, I don’t usually get the chance to proof after typesetting, which is when proofing should be done to catch any errors missed during copy editing along with errors made during the book design. I always hope writers make every correction I suggest and that the designer corrects any conversion problems. My rates are very low, but I charge more per word for proofreading if I wasn’t hired for editing earlier. That's because I have to correct more things which should have been done during copy and line editing. I often find problems that go deeper than either can fix. If I’m proofing an ebook that needs substantial changes, I’ll suggest going back to the text document to make them. Those who hire a book designer should make sure to get both an eBook formatted text document and a print formatted text document. PDF is not easy to change. 

Copy editing: This is where I check the document to make sure it follows the rules. I look for spelling, grammar, syntax, and…what did I miss? Oh, yes, punctuation! Lack of “comma sense” is the bane of most writers. Few can tell the difference between subordinating conjunctions (don't need commas) and coordinating conjunctions (need commas only if the following coordinate clause is independent). The exception is for clarity. Style rules count as well. I use the Chicago Manual of Style as well as the dictionary. I use track changes, make comments the first time I see a particular mistake, and if I see problem areas, I send links to the rules. They are different for American and British writers, most notably for spelling and single vs. double quotes and placement of punctuation marks for quoted material. Checking for consistency is also part of copy editing. 

Line editing: Many editors don’t differentiate between copy and line editing. They’re hard to separate because they’re both detail oriented. But line editing goes deeper into style and clarity, things that make your writing flow and make sense. All of the copy editing rules can be right, yet repetition, unclear wording, telling versus showing, head-hopping (POV slips), and poor ordering can make reading difficult. I charge the same hourly rate for line editing as copy editing, and I do both at once if a writer comes to me for copy editing. It may take more than one back and forth to correct everything. Again, I often find problems that require substantive line editing, which can be the same as developmental editing. See below. 

Content/Developmental editing/Substantive Line Editing: Some editors separate these, but I don’t. Book failures can happen when writers skip this phase. The main character needs a goal and problem with both internal and external conflict keeping the goal out of reach. Saggy middle is another problem. Story structure is important. Incomplete plot arc is a common mistake—authors leave too many loose ends, especially in series books. When you’re comparing editors, make sure whether you'll receive notes within the text (if it’s called substantive line editing, you’ll get notes within the text) or just an editorial letter. There’s a big difference between somebody pointing out a hole in a sweater and somebody who helps you thread the needle and guides your hands until you get the hang of it. I try to keep my costs low, so if there’s time, I make a suggestion in a specific spot and let the author try to fix the problem. When I reword, I try to keep the author’s voice and tone. Some writers use a good critique group or beta reader as content editor. Both would be better. I’ll find far fewer problems and charge less than otherwise. 

Q: You taught me an incredible amount. What would be the key piece of advice you would offer someone before they submitted their work for publication? 

Thanks! Please, please, don’t think your significant others, friends, co-workers, or anyone with whom you have a personal relationship can distance themselves enough to give an honest opinion of your writing (even if they hate you) or that they have the skill necessary to find and fix the problems a trained editor can. You can’t afford not to use a professional editor if you want your book to garner high reviews and sell well. 

Q:  Now for the compulsory random question: if you could meet any science fiction writer, living or dead, which would it be and why? 

My answer might be different next week, but today I pick Orson Scott Card. His imagination is great. He gets into the alien mind and human character better than most. And he had the courage to rewrite Ender’s Game to fit a changed world. I hope the movie does it justice.

Thanks for inviting me to do this interview. I hope it sways a few more writers to use an editor. Believe me, your readers will notice. My contact info is on my card below.

If you'd rather use my contact form than phone, it's on my website
I do free author hosting on my book blog (limited to kidlit up through YA).
I'd be honored to follow you back on twitter as @sherahart.
I'd love to have you like my Sher A Hart page on Facebook.
On Google+, I will circle writers back as Sher A Hart.

Thank you, Sher. After reading your answers to my questions, I really feel like I've met a kindred spirit. Though we're thousands of miles apart, and our lives are very different, we also share a lot in common. The love of reading, Star Trek (what an awesome family photograph), writing - the list could go on. As for that wondrous world you're creating; if you need any technical advice, I'm one of the most accident prone and clumsy people you could meet!

I'll be back on Friday to tell you about my joining Untethered Realms and sharing Science Fiction writer, Christine Rains latest release.


  1. I'm amazed that you can walk and read/edit at the same time, Sher! I love how you've championed over your obstacles.

    Thanks for sharing more of yourself with us!

  2. Sheri,

    I'm walking on my treadmill as I write this. The only thing I have trouble with is the mouse, sometimes. lol

    Love the ST picture! And the premise of your book. I want to read it.

    1. What a coincidence! I heard about those writing desks combined with treadmills on my way home from critique group. Thanks for the compliments. I will be happy to oblige when the time comes.

  3. She offers extensive editing services!
    Yes, very geeky about the costumes, but it's also very cool.

  4. Good to meet you Sher. I love the Star Trek costumes. Thanks for an interesting and informative post.

  5. I love the premise of Sher's book also. Is it out yet?

  6. Great interview! I appreciate the explanations of the different editing services. Yay for geeks! :)

    Ellie, I gave Passing Time a shout-out today on my blog.

  7. Thanks so much for having me, Ellie. As fate would have it, I've unintentially proved once again why writers need editors via the missing "s" on "son."
    And thanks to everyone for the compliments. I'm really glad to hear the interest in my world. As for publishing, my book is in the fifth major rewrite. Sad to say, the first two plots were both too complicated to contain within one YA novel. Then I got the news that books about Boy Scouts had to be middle grade. Rewrite three. The fourth time, one character tried to take over so I booted him. The world is worth all the effort. Given my quarter time writer/half time editor status and other responsibilities like choir, I'll be happy to finish by next year. Then I'll be searching for beta readers. Don't be surprised if I ask you!

  8. I think content/development editing is so important. Certainly makes a story flow and keeps the reader's head in the story rather than their *to do* list. I have great respect for editors who do this. You can find lots of good proofreaders, grammar queens, but you don't find many skilled story content editors.

    Enjoyed the interview!


  9. I'm fascinated by the plot. Thanks for introducing me to Sher, Ellie. :)

  10. A talented blogger/author/editor. The developmental editing is a valuable service - hard to know when my own story sags. And I'm horrible at punctuation; I hated learning all those rules in English lit classes.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise Sher :)

    Ellie: Sher did a great job editing Passing Time. It was easy to ready. I posted a review for you - sorry it took so long to write but is so short in content.

    Have a good week ladies.


  11. Hi Sher! I loved the interview. Those costumes are spectacular and must have taken you some time (I used to make medieval costumes for fairs, so I know). I adore Anne McCaffrey and all her Pern novels. Continue to create your wonderful worlds with words! :-)

  12. Orson Scott Card, eh? I had the pleasure of meeting him last year. It was a treat!


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