Editor Interview: Jamie Chavez

Posted January 19, 2017 by meezcarrie in Author Interview, Christian, Jamie Chavez / 31 Comments

Author Interview RIMSP

Yay!! Ever since I met Jamie Chavez in Nashville in August (introduction courtesy of the ever-awesome Cynthia Ruchti), I knew I wanted to chat with her more! Today, you get to join us 🙂

Jamie Chavez worked for more than ten years in the publishing industry (and more than twenty as a professional copywriter) before striking out on her own as a freelance writer and editor in 2004, working from the swanky second-floor office in the pink house with the green door. She counts many national publishing houses as clients, many authors as friends, and spends her days making good books better. You can read more about her—including her blog about writing & editing, books & authors, words & language, and the publishing industry—at www.jamiechavez.com.

You can also connect with Jamie at her professional blog and her personal blog.

Yaaaaay!!! I’m so delighted to be chatting with you today! I start all of my guests out with a fast four:

apples or oranges

Jamie: This is just soooo interesting. 🙂 I’m going to say oranges, because I grew up in California, where we had lots of them.

Carrie: Oranges are creeping up on apples’ lead here lately!

winter or summer

Jamie: Oh, summer. I love gardening.

Carrie: Gardening does not love me…

dogs or cats

Jamie: Hard one! I grew up with both. But for 25 of the last 26 years, I’ve had only cats (single mom; easier). When I met the Irishman, he kept telling my felines he was a dog man, but that didn’t stop them from loving him. When we got married, though, he had to leave his dog behind—so now we are both a dog and cat family. No, really. It’s a little miracle.

Carrie: I wish Zuzu could coexist with cats … but to her they are demons which must be vanquished. And Suzy!!! Oh my heart. Y’all make sure you click on that hyperlink and read Jamie’s blog post about Suzy.

coffee or tea

Jamie: Tea! Initially because a doctor made me give up coffee about 15 years ago. I’m now a total convert. A hot cup of tea can cure pretty much anything that ails you, for real. 🙂

Carrie: One of these days maybe I’ll like tea… or coffee… lol.

Around here I like to say that reading is my superpower. If YOU had a superpower, what would it be?

Jamie: I do have a superpower. I’m an encourager. 🙂

Carrie: Yes!! A very important superpower for an editor to have, too 🙂

Tell me some good books you’ve read recently.

Jamie: I love talking about books I’ve read that I loved! I keep a list, year by year, and I publish it in my blog (you can also search for #MyReadingYear). And since it’s January, I guess it would be appropriate for me to talk about my 2016 list, yes? (This isn’t my complete list, of course.)

I read Helen Simonson’s two books—Major Pettigrew’s last Stand and The Summer Before the War—and I just love her voice. Very Jane Austen-ish. I actually read Summer first (and blogged about it) and I loved it so much I immediately read Pettigrew. The former is a more accomplished book, really, which you would expect, since writers tend to get better as they go along, but I loved the latter with a love pure and true. (I’ve blogged about it too.)

I laughed my way through Richard Russo’s “Fool” books (Nobody’s and Everybody’s). He’s just brilliant in every way. Pulitzer Prize winner. So is Marilynne Robinson, and I finished her Gilead trilogy this year by reading Home, the middle of the three. (Order isn’t important.) And Donal Ryan, oh goodness. Read him. Do it.

Fiction’s always my first love but I make a conscientious effort to include a healthy helping of nonfic in my reading year. I know you can google so I’ll just say these were fantastic:

  • The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End (Katie Roiphe)
  • So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (Jon Ronson)
  • When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi)
  • The Pug List (Alison Hodgson)
  • Lab Girl (Hope Jahren)

Oh, I could just go on and on. This is the topic on which I cannot shut up. 🙂 Final word? Buy books. Read them. Buy more. 🙂

Carrie: a thousand amens! I can’t shut up about that topic either … which is why my Top Ten Tuesday posts are really more like “Top 20+” posts lol.

I have to ask – What does a developmental editor do? I’m assuming your job involves more than slashing at pages with a red pen 😉 And yes I totally added that last comment just to make you twitchy!

Jamie: Hahahahaha. There’s no part of my job that involves a red pen. (It’s all electronic now.) Or slashing. 🙂 Different publishers have different terms for this job: substantive editing, developmental editing, macro editing, big-picture editing. But substitute CONTENT for “developmental,” and it might make more sense.

I look at the content of a manuscript—plot, style, voice, characterization, setting/milieu, dialogue, structure, pacing, even the writing itself … really, everything that makes it a story—and make suggestions for how to improve it. Also, of course, I’m the first reader, and I’m an experienced reader. 🙂 For me, it’s like solving a puzzle, which is something I’ve always loved to do.

You should note that none of what I’ve listed has to do with correcting grammar. That’s up to the copyeditor, whose work follows the developmental editor. (And which I am often hired to do too. I’m working on copyediting projects right now.)

Carrie: So you edit the stuff I comment on in my reviews 😉 Also… ‘milieu’ is such a fun word to say.

This seems like a silly question after you told me the books you’ve loved recently – but – Do you get to read for pleasure? If/When you do read just for fun, how do you shut off your inner editor?

Jamie: Yes I read for pleasure! Honey, I read in order to LIVE. Every day. It’s interesting that you ask this, though, because I have some friends who seem to be intimidated because they know I am an editor and they think I’m mentally going over their Facebook posts or e-mails, judging. But really I’m not even paying attention to that stuff. There’s just not enough time left in my precious life for it. Work is work, and I enjoy it, I do, but when I’m not working, I am, you know … Not. Working.

I know you’re asking how I do that, and the only thing I know to tell you is this. First, I’ve been reading for pleasure a lot longer than I’ve been reading to critique. So there’s a muscle memory thing that kicks in, I think, when I “assume the position” related to pleasure reading—in bed, in my red reading chair, or at the kitchen table with a cup of tea. Note that none of those are “upstairs in my office.” Second, and most simply, getting paid to do a thing has a way of really concentrating the mind. So it’s less a case of turning something off than turning it on. 🙂

Carrie: I’m so glad you’re still able to read for fun!! It would be really sad if you couldn’t… reading is vital, isn’t it? And I love how you’re able to segment those two aspects of your reading so clearly – work and not work.

This next question is connected to the previous one. I think most reviewers understand there will be errors in the uncorrected proofs we receive. However, there are some finished books I’ve read that leave me asking, “HOW did this book get published?!?”  And I’m not even talking about grammar/spelling stuff. What are some of the most entertaining/worst editing messes you’ve found in published works?

Jamie: Funny you should ask this! Or let me start here: Mostly I’m not very judgmental. I love to read, and I’m pretty good, now, at choosing books that I’ll like, but if I happen to find myself reading something I don’t like, I just stop and say “That book’s not for me.” (Again, not enough time left in my life: I’ve done the math.)

THAT SAID, A few years ago, I DID start reading a book that was so completely awful—when I can find continuity issues in the first five pages, we’re in trouble, kids—that I quit reading and turned out the light. That book’s just not for me. And then … I had a brain fart. So I decided I’d read it and give it the editorial critique it should have had. I’d mark it up, and then I’d blog about it. And I did. It took me seven articles to get it all in, and if you’re interested, here they are:

Bottom line still is this: not every book is for every reader. And that’s OK. I don’t judge anyone’s reading choices, honest. What’s most important—and I am on record with this—is I don’t care WHAT you read, I care THAT you read. So go find your book.

Carrie: “Go find your book” YES! And I have to say – my husband and I read that blog series and were literally crying with laughter on more than one occasion. One of the worst I’ve personally seen is a book I read several years ago, one in a long-running series, and in this particular book, one character’s last name was suddenly his first name and a group of brothers had all (unintentionally) swapped wives. I don’t get really irritated by much in books, but this one … I was tempted to send the publisher a flow chart. lol.

What do you most want authors to know about your job?


  • An editor is essential to the writer. And it’s dismaying to correspond with someone who thinks (first) what an editor does is [only] fix grammar and punctuation, and (second) that’s all they need. Authors need to learn about developmental editing (it’s fun!), and remember that no traditionally published book goes to press without it.
  • OK, it’s fun for me. 🙂 I understand how difficult it is to listen to someone point out little problems in something you’ve worked on for months or years. But an editor never wants to have an adversarial relationship with the author she’s been hired to work with. I’m always shocked when I hear mean-editor stories! Editing is a collaborative art; we’re on the same team.
  • I love what I do. I think relationship is the single most important part of the author/editor collaboration. When we’re done, I hope we’re friends. 🙂

Jamie, thank you so very much for taking time to talk with me! I always love chatting with you 🙂

Authors! Jamie keeps a list of articles that you might useful:  http://www.jamiechavez.com/for-writers.php

What about you? Do you have any questions for Jamie? I think her job is so fascinating!


31 responses to “Editor Interview: Jamie Chavez

  1. Glad I’m not the only one who occasionally picks up a book, peruses the reviews and is left stumped. How? Why? What were they thinking?

    Luckily, those books are few and far between for me lately.

    Interesting interview!

  2. Jamie is also a FUN editor to work with–I look forward to the back and forth conversation in the track changes aisle!

    The work of an editor, the ministry, really, cannot be overlooked. My books would not fare anywhere near as well without her careful eye and hand guiding, clarifying, reworking and encouraging.

    She definitely is a wonderful encourager!

  3. Karen Clark

    What a delightful interview. I’ve come to know Jamie over the last year as I get my book ready to publish. I read her blog and hear her voice in my head as I work on my final polish. I look forward to working with her and someday sit at her table with a cuppa.

  4. ” . . . and spends her days making books better.” Does it get any better than that? LOVE that description. Thank you, Carrie and Jamie, for this interview. It’s one of the most interesting interviews of an editor I have come across. I especially liked learning that ” . . . it’s less a case of turning something off than turning it on.” It’s something I’ve often wondered about. I’m looking forward to exploring the links shared within the interview as well. 🙂

  5. Stacey Cochran

    Loved this interview! I always said that my dream job would be an editor of any kind, and the way that Jamie talks about it makes me dream even more!

    Also, I just discovered you last week, and I am really enjoying your blog.

  6. Jeanne Bishop

    Editors — God Bless you! I read a book recently and really enjoyed it, but there were so many grammer and spelling errors it began to get in the way of the story.

  7. What a great article! I’m definitely going to check out the “how did this get published” series of posts. I’m sure it’s very enlightening. (And entertaining.)

    And, yes, editors are our friends. I can never see any of my books with the fresh eyes they need. My editor always makes my books shine, and I’m forever grateful . . . even today when I have edits to do on Drew Six. O.o

  8. Andrea Stephens

    Great interview! As a reader, I thank God for good editors! I’ve read a more than a few stinkers that left me wondering if anyone read the pages before they clicked “publish.”
    I loved reading the “How did this get published” links.
    And I love, love, love Suzy’s story!

  9. Jamie is an encourager and I’ve learned very much about the craft of writing by studying her notes and following her blog. I know her suggestions for improvement will make my the story better. Working with her is a collaboration and I feel blessed to have her fingerprints on my manuscript.

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