A. Victoria Mixon, Editor
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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar for them, 'Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction.'

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.
  • By Victoria Mixon

    I’m doing something a little different today. I was contacted by a high school student interested in becoming a freelance independent editor. She sent me a list of interview questions for a presentation she’s doing on careers, and with her permission I’m going to answer them here, for the benefit of all readers young and old:

    1. When did you realize that you want to be an editor and how did it come to be?

    I’ve been editing since I was in high school in the 1970s. I was recruited by my teacher out of her Creative Writing class and became editor of my school newspaper after, I think, the first quarter. I kept that job for the rest of my high school education. So I was taught to edit others’ copy pretty young and as a matter-of-course rather than because I went after the job.

    It was a terrific education, and I still use it today.

    2. Can you list a few obstacles that you have overcome during your career?

    I became a freelance independent editor when the telecommuting industry in Silicon Valley collapsed in 2008 during the economic crash. I lost my job, my income, my entire career.

    My husband encouraged me to start a blog on fiction, because I talked about nothing else. I gave myself a formal, very intensive education in the proper development of character and plot by analyzing hundreds of novels, studying every single night. I blogged about aspects of writing fiction that I didn’t see anyone else blogging about. (At this point, my most-viewed post has over 100,000 views.)

    And I charged very low rates when I began freelance independent editing, always working longer hours than I billed.

    At the same time, I was working these 10-hour days five days a week, building my online presence and writing my books: The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual and The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual.

    Perhaps the hardest part is that I always spend a little time with potential new clients trading emails so they can get to know me a bit before they hire me. They’re human beings, and they deserve to be treated like humans. However, I’ve been burned once or twice by despairing writers whose morale I restored, who then changed their minds about hiring me as soon as they felt better, and they simply disappeared. My calendar is always packed, so that’s time wasted that I could have spent with my clients. I just have to write it off to paying it forward.

    3. What is your greatest failure and how did you deal with it?

    For many years, I was a technical writer and editor for computer companies in Silicon Valley. It was good money. . .but you have to like computer technology.

    I had majored in Computer Science in college, intending to become an engineer. But after the third year, I lost control of myself—stopped doing homework, stopped studying for exams, just spent my days sneaking into my local used-book store to open books and smell the wonderful, dry smell of old literature. I barely got out of college with an English Degree, my three years of computer study three years down the drain (and three more years’ student loans to pay back).

    I never loved working in the tech industry. I always complained. If I’d been able to reconcile myself to Silicon Valley, I’d be making a much better living today.

    But my heart is in fiction.

    4. Tell me about your proudest achievement.

    I built myself a new career in fiction as a freelance independent editor at a time when industry insiders were still telling aspiring writers, “You don’t need to hire an editor.” Now I see literary agents telling aspiring writers, “If you’ve hired an editor, tell us in your query.” It’s been a heck of a climb.

    I keep at it, in spite of the obstacles, because I believe that storytelling keeps us sane. I started this work for the love of it, and I continue for the love of it. I’ve put out a ton of my knowledge on my blog and advice column free to anyone who needs it. I’m proud of that. And now I have clients whose novels have gone on to win critical acclaim and even become bestsellers. (You can find them in my sidebar.) That is a source of great pride for me. I feel like their mother.

    5. What interests you the most about editing?

    The writers. I identify very strongly with them, you know. I was for decades an unknown aspiring writer, so stone-broke that I couldn’t afford classes or conferences, writing alone and on my own for much of that time because we didn’t yet have the Internet and the plethora of writing forums that we have today. For decades.

    So I have a deep emotional investment in seeing my clients succeed at their dreams. These people become my friends. Their novels become my own projects. As the writers learn and expand and deepen their understanding of this art and craft, I feel enormous satisfaction in their progress.

    I never tire of the wonder of this accomplishment.

    6. What would you say is your average workload?

    It varies quite a lot. Last year I worked fulltime, 40 hours a week, and still had more business than I could handle. In the years before that, I averaged around 25-30 hours a week. This year has been an odd one. My workload fluctuates wildly right now from month to month. The industry is changing—the freelance independent editing industry is changing.

    7. Do you work independently or in a group?

    I’m an independent. I always have been as a fiction editor. I have trained a junior editor to take on developmental editing jobs I don’t have time for, I love him, and he does a wonderful job. However, it’s my business.

    What you see in my blog and books is what you get.



    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories

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MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .

BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by PanMacmillan. Read more. . .

LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .

SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .

STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .

ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .

TERISA GREEN, represented by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .

GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans' fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .

SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, forthcoming from Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I'm working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .

LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez' debut novel, The Shoebox, and her up-coming The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .

JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .

LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star, which agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .

JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff's abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .

In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.