Dr Niamh's Children's Books

Childhood Imagination Sows Seeds of Future Brilliance

Plum Tree Books Features: Shawn MacKenzie…Editor Extraordinaire!

For many years, I was a singer. I sang with famous people, performed in my own right, toured with bands and recorded.

In the studio, a producer is the one who holds the overall vision for the track/album, tweaks performance, helps interpretation, brings out the best in you, adds the magic sparkle.

Finding a great editor is a bit like that. S/he must be literate and broadly educated enough to understand voice, background, rhythm, nuance and composition, apart from knowing grammar. S/he must also know the ways in which we colloquialise language or allow sluggish habits to creep into ordinary, daily speech. In a narrative voice, these should not appear on our pages (unless specific for certain dialogue).

orange_rose1.pThe relationship with an editor is delicate, intimate, trusting. Your creation is, after all, intensely personal until such time as it is fledged. I am careful whom I trust with my works of heart and soul. 

I am lucky enough to have found my editor-of-choice. Shawn Mackenzie is a wonderful writer in her own right. She is editing the follow-up to my book: Orange Petals In A Storm. Exaltation Of A Rose will be released towards the end of the year.

I wanted to introduce Shawn to you, as I think I have found a treasure. I asked her to illustrate her approach to editing by asking her the following:

1.Why is having an editor so important apart from the obvious: finding typos.

Personally, I believe every writer – even the best of us – benefits from a good editor. After weeks, months, years of crafting our novels or volumes of poetry, we become so close to them that we can no longer distinguish the highs from the lows. Either every wordshawn seems a gem from the lips of the Muses or a great brown slug leaving nothing but a trail of slime through our once beautiful garden. An editor gives us the perspective of fresh eyes. And this is not the same as showing your work to Grandma Esther who will love every word because that’s her job. She’s family. An editor is a professional. Her job is not to coddle; it is to make your work the best it can be. If our manuscripts are our children about to have their debut, then editors are their finishing school, there to make sure they put their best foot forward and don’t get laughed at for using the wrong fork or drinking from the finger bowl.

As for typos – while a line edit or solid proofing will pick them up, it is a waste of your hard earned cash to have your editor mired in a slew of sloppy errors. Not to mention it tends to piss an editor off no end. Before getting to the point of seeking outside eyes, take assiduous advantage of spellcheck and a good dictionary. These are the tools of our craft and should be used well.

2) What, in your opinion, defines a great editor?

To answer this question, let me slip on my writer’s hat. As a writer, I want an editor who works with me, not against me. Someone who does not pull punches, even to the point of saying, flat out, this just doesn’t work. I don’t need pats on the back; I need a clear eye and fresh ear. (That said, it helps to have someone who knows how to critique without crushing the spirit.) I look for an editor who can tell me where I stray from my tale, lose the authenticity of my characters, the humanity of my story, or simply get too caught up in the sound of my own words. I look for an editor who respects my voice, who helps me enhance and refine it, make it sing, not someone who wants to impose their own voice on my writing. A great editor is detailed, meticulous, knows their stuff, but can also think outside of the box. They see the forest as well as each knot on each bole of each individual tree. That is the sort of editor I strive to be.

Remember that the relationship between writer and editor is like that between dance partners. Not everyone moves to the same rhythm. Find someone who gets you, and vice versa. Many editors – myself included – will offer a trial edit of 3-5 pages – a spin around the proverbial dance floor – just so you know the fit is right.

3) How would you define the editing process? Does it have stages?

The editing process depends a lot on the condition of a manuscript and what the author wants/needs. In the early stages, you might want a structural edit or beta read. This is a general read-though and critique of plot, character, dialogue, etc. It is designed to give the author a sense of whether or not they are on the right track.

When you feel your manuscript is just about ready for its public unveiling – be it going to agents or publishers or onto the e-book market – then you’d be looking for a detailed line-edit. As it sounds, this is when the editor goes line by line, word by word. They pick off the small as well as the big: the clunky phrase, the misplaced comma, as well as that big oops in temporal continuity or character development that slipped past.Understandably, a beta read is much cheaper than a line edit. Either way, you don’t want to waste your money and an editor’s time with a first draft. Before going the professional route, write and rewrite, self-edit, take your work to your writers’ group if you’re fortunate enough to have one. Use these resources. They are invaluable. And then, when you are ready, find the editor who fits.

4) Where can people find you?

dragon heeperFor anyone wishing to see a sample of my work, I have two books out from Llewellyn Worldwide: The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook and Dragons for Beginners, both of which can be explored on Amazon.dragon
My work can also be found at my web site,

http://mackenziesdragonsnest.com and my blog, http://mackenziesdragonsnest.wordpress.com, including a couple of my short stories.

For editing terms and rates, I can be reached via e-mail at boon17@comcast.net. All work is strictly confidential.


About Dr Niamh

When I was a little girl (a very, very long time ago), I used to love learning new, really big words like ‘discombobulate’. As I grew, my love of words grew too, until I loved them so much, I could not stop writing them down. One day, as I was scribbling a particular word, a very peculiar thing happened. The word shouted at me, “Stop! Don’t put me there!” As you can imagine, I was shocked and nearly fell off my chair. When I recovered somewhat, I said to the word, “Could you stop shouting, please? I am not used to it.” Can you guess what happened next? No! I thought not. The word said, “I might be small, but I will misbehave if you do not use me properly. I will not tell the story you would like me to tell. I will say something entirely different!” I dropped my pen. I hoped that by dropping my pen, the word would stop talking. Alas! It did not. It carried on chitterchobbling, even after the ink had dried. I was in a pickle. I could not allow my words to run away with my story, now could I? I don’t know about you, but when this sort of thing happens, there is only one thing left to do if you prefer not to spend your time arguing. “Very well,” said I. “I will do as you ask if you will just be quiet and allow me to concentrate.” Since that day, I have been paying special attention to every word I invite into my stories. After all, a story should say exactly what it means to say and not be led astray. With love from Dr. Niamh, Ph.D in Learning Through The Imagination and Founder of Dr Niamh Children's Books. www.drniamhchildrensbooks.com

13 comments on “Plum Tree Books Features: Shawn MacKenzie…Editor Extraordinaire!

  1. the secret keeper
    March 10, 2013

    Wonderful & intelligent post. It did quite well defining what an editor extraordinaire actually does. It gives a great perspective into the multiple dimensions of what one can expect & the choices one has to make in deciding exactly what you are looking for and when in your writing process you should be consulting with and then working with an editor for your book(s) whether poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction, what-ever your book may be. I trust both of these women’s opinions. Niamh Clune & Shawn MacKenzie are both brilliant writers within whatever form they choose to write. I can speak directly to Shawn’s editing ability and support wholeheartedly what Niamh Clune has spoken about her. I can personally state that Shawn is a fabulous & brilliant editor. And we both can attest, also to her brilliant quality as a writer. She is pretty damned remarkable. I love your post Niamh. It is quite amazing & was very helpful in understanding what until now I did not quite get about an editor and exactly how the writer should feel about what they are doing. A writer being overly sensitive can complicate the relationship unless they understand that the editor is trying to make what you have written the best that it can be. That is a great point to read for me and to take to heart. And not be so stubborn about making those instructed changes that are necessary to improve and change to the good what has been written and still needs to be written. I needed to read this post and thank you for creating it. Thank you Niamh. Great answers to all the questions, Shawn. Very insightful. jk jennifer


    • ontheplumtree
      March 10, 2013

      Brilliant comment. Thank you, Jennifer.


    • ontheplumtree
      March 10, 2013

      Thank you Secret Keeper. The thing is, when you are a good writer in the first place, you know how to work best with your editor. There will always be things up for discussion, but this only happens when both editor and writer know their stuff.


  2. Shawn MacKENZIE
    March 10, 2013

    Thank you, Niamh, for the opportunity to introduce myself & talk a bit about editing. Yet another essentil tool of our craft. Of course, in the end an editor can only suggest. The final choices are up to us writers.


    • ontheplumtree
      March 10, 2013

      And we look forward, Shawn, to your Editor’s Prompts on the Plum Tree page!


  3. DiAnne Ebejer
    March 10, 2013

    Great interview Niamh and very wise advise Shawn, although I must admit that it would be terrifying handing Shawn something to edit! Ha! Had to get that joke in! Can’t wait for Exaltation!


    • ontheplumtree
      March 10, 2013

      I know, it can be daunting, but it a fresh pair of eyes. Personally, I welcome the opportunity!


  4. Shawn MacKENZIE
    March 10, 2013

    Reblogged this on MacKENZIE's Dragonsnest.


  5. edevine
    March 10, 2013

    Niamh, having been on the critiqued side of Shawn’s vision, I can attest to her ability to live up to the standards of an editor she details. You’ve picked someone with a brilliant mind and keen insight. Good luck to you both.


  6. patriciasands
    March 10, 2013

    What a brilliant post and one that needs to be shared. I’m off to blast it into the twitterverse! Thank you both for this.


  7. Patricia Tilton
    March 11, 2013

    Niamh, interesting interview with Shawn. I enjoyed her comment. I always use an editor. I can edit other’s people work, but not my own. Too close to the material.


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