Why do you need an editor? Kelly Notaras of KN Literary Arts joined me on Literary Speaking to talk about the in’s and out’s of editing and getting your book prepared for querying. 

During our conversation we discussed why you need an editor and what they can do to help your book become published. KN Literary Arts is a full service book agency offering everything from ghost writing, to editing and critiquing services.

Kelly Notaras has over 15-years of experience as a publishing veteran and the owner of KN Literary Arts, a full service book agency. She’s worked as an editor for HarperCollins, Penguin USA and Hyperion Books. Also she served as the VP and Editorial Director at Sounds True. You can check out our After The Show Blog below as well as our full interview at the bottom of this post.


What books do you recommend for writers that help them hone their editing skills?

You’d think I’d have recommendations aplenty, wouldn’t you? But in fact, I have never read a single book on how to edit! I learned how to edit apprenticeship-style, from my bosses early in my career. And as a writer myself, I have to say I think it’s rather difficult to edit one’s own work—the gift of a good editor is that they have fresh eyes for your book, and can see what you cannot. That said, if you’re writing fiction or memoir, it can be helpful to learn about art of creating a satisfying narrative arc. Story by Robert McKee is a classic. It’s written for screenwriters, but the principles transfer well to novels and memoir.

Story by Robert McKee - Why You Need An Editor with Kelly Notaras
Story by Robert McKee

Is there a website that writers can consult to check the credentials of freelance editors?

I’m not aware of a website that reviews or offers credentials for book editors—it’s mostly an unregulated business. That said, PublishersMarketplace.com is a great resource for finding book editors who have ties to the traditional book publishing industry. Your best bet for finding an editor who will do right by you is to get several references, or to go through a reputable referral agency like my own book studio, kn literary arts. When you go through an agency, you’ve got a whole team on your side. If you are unsure of the quality of your editor’s work, you can always check in with your other contacts there. For example, our editorial matchmakers are happy to review the work and give you (and your editor) our thoughts. We do everything we can to make sure our clients are happy with the work we’ve completed for them.

What is the best advice you have about editing down a memoir?

I was just talking with my dear friend Mirabai Starr about her gorgeous memoir Caravan of No Despair which just published from Sounds True. She told me that after many drafts, she turned in her “final” manuscript to the publisher—only to hear that she needed to cut it down by another 50 pages! She was shocked, but somehow she managed to do it. The result is a book that is incredibly fast-paced and readable. As hard as it was, cutting those 50 pages was the key to the book’s success.

The trick is to look at the book as a series of scenes. Every scene must carry the reader another step along the path of the story. Leave out absolutely any and every scene that is not critical to the reader’s understanding. By “critical” I mean that if you took it out the book wouldn’t make sense anymore. If a scene merely enhances the reader’s understanding, it goes on the chopping block. As Mirabai said, “Just because it happened doesn’t mean it has to be in the book.” The idea is not to recount every single second of your life—it’s to tell a great story. Again I suggest reading Story by Robert McKee to educate yourself on what elements are required in a great story. Anything else can be left on the cutting room floor, so to speak.

What’s your favourite part about editing books?

I love working with authors whose work I admire, helping clarify their message so it reaches the widest possible audience. If I do a good job editing a book, it means the end user will be able to digest the content more easily. Since I focus primarily on editing life-changing books (self-help, personal growth and spirituality), that means my editing is helping someone live a more fulfilling life. That sense of purpose is what drives me forward on any book I’m working on.

Listen to the full interview below: