Saturday, October 26, 2013

Industry Insider: Emily Rushton of Rushton Hutton on Voice

The Pink Heart Society is delighted to welcome Emily Rushton, a former Harlequin editor who now runs a boutique editorial service along with Jenny Hutton, another former Harlequin eidtor. Both were very highly regarded by their authors when they worked for Harlequin.

I read a lot.  I read books from all genres, from the classics to my kids - The Very Hungry Caterpillar (awesome) to books that have changed the face of publishing and reignited a genre - Fifty Shades of Grey (I’m a sucker for romance in all its guises) to Kindle best-seller - No One Ever Has Sex on a Tuesday (never has a title hooked me more!). 

As an editor I like to keep my finger on the pulse, so I also read a lot of internet articles, blogs, news  and follow a number of great people on Twitter and Facebook.  If someone shares or recommends an article, I'll read it!  So I wanted to share with you something that happened recently that really made me think.

First, I stumbled across a simply amazing article that talked about an author's voice - how elusive such a thing is, but also how incredibly important.  Voice is the thing that all writers dream of having - the thing that sets you apart from everyone else.  It cannot be learnt, but it can be developed, nurtured and grown.  In simple terms,  it is gold dust.

This article made me feel nice and warm inside, a bit like when we see The Very Hungry Caterpillar transform into a  bee-yoot-iful butterfly!  Or when a Lynne Graham hero finally comes to his senses and realises that the waif on his doorstep is the woman of his dreams! Happy sigh.

Then I read an article about switching off the 'internal editor'.  Now, let me tell you, switching off  my internal editor is something I struggle with DAILY!  I love my job, but sometimes I just like to get consumed by a story and not think - "Oh, I'm not sure that character would have done THAT!".  This article focussed on the nitty-gritty of writing and editing. How using the wrong word might anger a reader or editor.  How a manuscript might be ruined simply by changing the heroine's shirt colour from red to green.  And more importantly, how the possibility of a publishing deal or self-publishing success might be affected by this.   

And I found myself wondering - is this true?  I can't speak for all editors, but in my many years of editing I would have bypassed many a gem had I taken too much notice of spelling mistakes or shirt colours!  A good editor will be able to spot a good voice regardless, so I wanted to take this opportunity to give another side to the argument.  To make sure that all authors, be them established with a strong brand behind them or new and just starting out in the wonderful world of writing…don’t get scared away.     

Because the very best stories are told in the most unique way, with the most unique voice.  Our job, as Editors, is to look past the little technical glitches and see the characters and story beneath and if this has even a glimmer of potential we will seize on it!

The focus shouldn’t be on whether the heroine's hair goes from long to short without a trip to the salon, or you describe the hero as a tee-total, only to see him chugging back a beer in the next scene - because these are the little things that we will work with you on as you come to revise. There are plenty more drafts up your sleeve! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating sloppy, lazy writing but I’m saying that writers should concentrate on the flow of their natural voice. If your story grips your editor  and moves them emotionally and, as readers, is something they can connect to, you are onto a winner!

Ditto goes for self-publishing.  An eye-catching cover, clever title and cheap price point will certainly attract readers, but it’s the story inside that counts. Strong characters, a tight, engaging plot and making the best of your distinctive voice are the factors that will bring those readers back for more. Get the expert editing and copy-editing help so you can concentrate on being creative and letting your magical voice shine through!

Let me give you an example...

Recently Ruston Hutton were approached by a major publishing house to read a bulk of slush manuscripts - in fact over 100 submissions.  From these submissions we were asked to find as many as we could that, with some further work, would be suitable for publication. 

We all know about finding the diamond in the slush and polishing it, but could this be done en masse?  The simple answer is yes, it can.  Because we did it. Jenny and I scoured those 100 manuscripts and we found ten (yes TEN!) potential authors that we recommended the publisher buy.  Just.  Like. That. 

So what were we looking for? Exactly what I said above.  We were searching for the voices that hooked us and our imaginations.

Were they all perfect manuscripts ready to go?  Did they all have a strong emotional conflict and a likeable hero and heroine? No, but they had the promise of these things. They had an understanding of the genre they were aiming for and characters that leapt off the page and stayed with us.

Many of the submissions were very raw indeed.  There were spelling mistakes, confusing paragraphs and the manuscripts were not double lined-spaced!!  Can you imagine?  We LOVED at least two of these. We were looking for promise. For people who would work hard and craft their voice and story idea into a book that was already starting to take shape on the page in front of us.   We could see the potential.  And now the hard but fun work begins!

I am an editor, but I am also a reader.  And if a manuscript lands on my desk polished to perfection then there’s a big chance the life and raw individuality of the author's voice has been strangled out of it.

Your voice is your gift - have the courage to show it to us in all its unique glory!

Ruston Hutton is a boutique editing service owned by Emily Ruston and Jenny Hutton. Our passion lies in getting the very best out of your talent.  Email or tweet us and we can have an informal chat about your ideas, our fees and how you’d like to proceed. There’s no pressure. It’s that easy. 

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