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Taking On The Undead With A Pen: Felicia A Sullivan, Editor [Interview]

The Pen IS Mightier Than The Sword!

This past year, we began featuring the illustrators who bring you the great cover art on your favorite zombie books…particularly the artists that are used repeatedly by many different authors. I’ve been noticing another name showing up in a lot of the zombie novels I’ve been reviewing this past year, but it is not the name of an artist. Felicia A. Sullivan is an editor who has worked with many authors and publishers in the zombie genre.

Some of Sullivan’s work can be found in the titles that we’ve reviewed here at The Zombiephiles: Faville’s Avery Nolan, Monchinski’s Eden and Schubert’s Infection, just to name a few. If you look here, I’m sure you would recognize many more of the title that Sullivan has edited. As much as I would like to say that I simply wanted to interview an editor who is also a zombiephile, I had an ulterior motive as well.

With the ever-increasing number of self-published stories, there has been an avalanche of poorly edited material. I’m not just talking about the occasional typos – I’m talking about the stories that are written so badly, you begin to wonder if the author even bothered to use spell-check, or if English is their second language. As a reviewer, I try to focus on the entertainment value of a story & not the technical issues, but more than once I’ve had to hold back a star because of the poor editing, or the lack of editing. So, I really hope authors and future writers pay close attention to this interview with the editor of the undead…

How did you get into editing? What kind of preparation/training did you go through, and how did you go about building your experience?

I actually have been editing on some level for the last 25 years or so. I worked for law firms for quite some time, until I quit back in April 2011 to freelance edit full time, and during the course of that work, I have edited various documents, including legal briefs, memoranda, correspondence, articles, and books. In addition to that, one job I had was working for a lawyer/literary agent. Part of my job was to vet unsolicited manuscripts, and for the ones that were accepted for representation, to get them “shop ready”, meaning, clean them up as much as possible before they were shopped to publishers.

And I really need to give props here to Rhiannon Frater as far as a lot of the stuff I am currently editing. Though I have been editing for years, it was one of Rhiannon’s initially self-pubbed books that really got me noticed. She took a chance on me, was happy with my work and passed my name around. People starting contacting me through her recommendation, and it took off from there. Also thanks to Jacob at Permuted Press, and Doc Pus at Twisted Library Press, who also took a chance on me based on Rhiannon’s encouragement.

What exactly do you do as an editor?

Ah…so many things. Depends on the author, the level of edit, and the amount of work needed. Different authors have different needs, and indie authors (the bulk of my clients) often need everything.

Typically, I read a book looking for tone, good flow, continuity, consistency, factual information, story believability, consistent points of view, and such. I often have to do research to make sure the author’s information on certain subjects is correct, or believable if it’s fantasy. I make sure the blue eyed/brown haired character in chapter 6 does not become a green eyed blonde in chapter 16 (happens more often than you would think!). And I make sure that terrified survivors are not being pursued by a “hoard” of flesh-craving zombies.

I check grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, spelling, syntax, word choices, voice, and I proofread. I make sure that, even if the author has strong unpopular opinions on a particular subject, I point out which groups of people he/she could potentially alienate by espousing them, resulting in damaging reviews. I fact-check, spell check, and myth check. I make sure there are no glaring plot holes or unresolved storylines, and that (this just happened in a book) if someone dies in the story, they do not have activities in later chapters, LOL.

You seem to be a popular choice among the zombie authors that we’ve featured here. What do you think of the zombie genre? Do you consider yourself a zombiephile at all or a fan of horror in general?

I am?? I didn’t know that. Super cool.

Zombies are the shizznit. Yes, I would totally consider myself a zombiephile. My absolute favorite genre to read or edit is post-apocalyptic fiction in general, but zombies definitely run neck and neck with that. I think as a kid, it was more about straight horror, but once I discovered zombies, that was all over. Random serial killers and succubae just don’t do it for me anymore. Zombies have SO much appeal.

What would you say is the most challenging part of your job? What is something you enjoy the most about your work?

The most challenging part of my job….probably convincing someone that their story is really just not that great, and that massive work needs to be done to improve it. It is also difficult when I have an author who uses really big words that they really don’t know the proper meaning of out of context and think that the longer a sentence is the more points you can get across in one sentence is a good thing and a lot of that is because word count is really important to authors but I don’t know why because to me if a story is good it is good and you don’t need to add a lot of flowery prose and imagery and extra stuff just to make people see your point. <–And fixing the work of people who write entire books like that last sentence is written.

Addishionally, when eye hav arthurs whose can tale a hell of a store, but rite lik thy dnt have a basick understood of thee English langage, eye am totlly exaustid bye the time I getto the end of there books.

It’s also a challenge, though, to have someone hand over their baby, and trust ME to polish it. I’m always a little nervous about it, and really want to make sure I do the best job that I can. After all, my name and reputation is on the line just as much as theirs.

What I enjoy? Taking a well written book and making it be the best it can be, and then reading glowing reviews of it that say how well written it is, how great the characters are, how well the story flows, and never mention editing issues, LOL. I know the author is the one who gets the credit, and they are the one who conceptualized the whole thing, but knowing that I actually had something to do with how well it is received is pretty satisfying.

Now that e-publishing is growing in popularity, there has been an influx of badly edited stories. Do think everyone should invest in an editor? What if someone can’t afford the extra expense, or they don’t want to get an editor for a short story or piece of flash fiction?

Without a doubt, EVERYONE should invest in an editor. No exceptions. Even if I wrote a book, *I* would hire someone to edit it. When you write a book, and you know what you are trying to say, you see it that way, whether or not that’s what you have written. And when you’ve been over the book, like, thirty times, you don’t see the mistakes and problems that need fixing, but an editor is a fresh set of eyes and is actually LOOKING FOR potential problems.

If an author is planning to sell a book, they are shortchanging their readers and risking bad reviews if they throw their book out there without editing. Even if the author is giving the book away for free, it still should not be made publicly available if it’s not in its best condition. An author’s reputation is everything, and if they become known for bad writing or poorly edited work, readers are unlikely to take a chance on additional works.

If the author cannot afford the expense, they should find a way. Editing is everything. At the very least, find a really smart friend (who is no substitute for a good editor, but is better than nothing) to read it, and definitely find beta readers, who can often point out potential problems. You can trade or barter some other thing for editing services as well. But EVERYONE needs an editor. Even Stephen King has an editor.

Many authors are afraid an editor will ruin the writer’s perspective – completely changing their work. What would you like to say to encourage the use of professional editing?

Honestly, I think that IS a problem. I have heard that from a lot of my clients who find me after bad experiences with other editors. But one of the things I pride myself on is taking the story that I am given and making it be the best it can be, with the AUTHOR’S voice intact. After I get the flow and feel of a story, and find something that needs to be changed, I am pretty good at doing that in an author’s voice, and not my own. Many of my clients have commented on that as well. I never change anything significant about a story, and if a plot line needs connecting or a story arc needs more explanation, etc., I just point out what needs to be done, and let the author fix it as they decide – I don’t ever change it myself.

I want to reiterate that EVERYONE needs an editor. I think authors are doing themselves and their work a disservice when they think their words are sacred and need no changes, or worse – just want to throw a book out there to make money, and don’t care if it’s good or not….there’s a lot of that out there.

I do strongly encourage the use of professional editing, and it may take some time to find someone who ‘gets’ you. But don’t despair! For sure don’t hire someone without checking out reviews of books they have edited, don’t hire someone who will not provide you a sample edit, and don’t hire someone who does not have credible references. Do your due diligence when searching for the right editor for you.

For instance, I personally CAN edit anything, but I am probably not the best match for someone who is writing a historical book on the civil war, or a bodice ripper romance. But if someone is killing off the world’s population with comets, solar flares, viruses, nuclear warfare, pandemics, earthquakes, tsunamis, global warming, vampires, zombies, cthulhus, demons, spirits, giant mutant spiders-rats-ants-crickets-snakes-alligators-cockroaches and the like, biological warfare, the collapsing of the bee colonies, aliens, water shortages, food shortages, new ice ages, Jesus coming back, Armageddon, or burning the globe in a fiery demise – I’m in.

Have you ever written your own story? Are you working on any zombie books presently? Where can folks find out more about you?

No, I haven’t. Well, that’s not entirely true. When I was 8, I wrote a story based on William Cullen Bryant’s Thanatopsis. In pencil, on yellow legal sized tablet paper, no less. I naively sent it to no one in particular at Dell Publishing Company to the address inside one of their books. I did, in fact, receive a rejection letter, but the saintly person who wrote it sent me a copy of a “how to write” textbook, praised me for my ideas, and encouraged me to keep at it. I did, over the years, but I think I am much better suited as an editor than a writer.

I am currently working on 10 (actually 15-see below) different books; four of them are zombie books, one is a vampire book, one is a middle grade horror story, one is science (space) fiction, one is a serial killer/missing child/ghost-ish story, one is a story set in feudal England, with heavy religious overtones (abusive monks!), and one is a 5-book Hollywood/beautiful people series.

I do tend to keep a low profile, but I have a website.

Thanks so much, AstraDaemon, this has been super fun.

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