I followed Lorin on Facebook on her personal page and that of her editing company before I actually met her in person at LASCBWI, 2013. We bonded over chocolate courvoisier in the lobby, as one does! I have attended workshops she has taught and hold her in high esteem in our industry. She is a highly sought after editor and speaker (and I am sure now as an agent), as well as a truly compassionate and caring individual.
[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your career?
[LO] Born and raised in Stamford, Connecticut—just a hop, skip, and a short train ride into Manhattan. My mom and dad were both New Yorkers, and they took us into the city often for big doses of culture—theater, dance, museums, etc.
So, that shaped my appreciation of the arts in general and helped me to be broadminded about different kinds of storytelling. I also had a sense of New York as the place where books were made and always got a tingle of excitement when I passed by the buildings that housed the companies that made the books I loved.
[JM] Please tell us a little about your journey to becoming an editor, and now an agent.
[LO] Oh, gosh, that’s a long journey! Skipping through a childhood and adolescence filled with reading and writing and loving books, I’ll get to post-college when I worked for a couple of small presses in Florida, with a couple of detours into graphic design, to a writing workshop I took with the late Gary Provost, my first real fiction mentor.
Gary was this incredibly warm and accessible guy, and his approach to fiction felt the same. He provided me with so many basic tools to understand the nuts and bolts of storytelling, which helped provide me with a language for helping others. I was already editing, but with his help, I had a lamplight to follow to become a dedicated fiction and creative nonfiction specialist.
In 1995, I put out my shingle as an independent editor—at a time when there were very few people working in that field, and the profession’s reputation was roughly the same as that of carnival barker. Over the years (twenty-two of them, yikes!), that has changed significantly, which has been quite gratifying, though most gratifying of all has been the work itself.
In terms of adding agent to my workload, I really see this as an extension of the thing I consider one part of my “calling” (the other being writing): helping writers achieve success. With editing, I can help shepherd writers partway down the path, and they can—I hope–carry themselves the rest of the way. With agenting, it’s just a different part of the path, but sometimes it makes all the difference to a writer to have that one person believe in her and help carry her during that last leg. (Which isn’t really a last leg at all, but that’s another answer for another time!)
And for me, too, I like new challenges, like to acquire new skills, even if it’s in this one specific wheelhouse which I’ve made my professional home for two and a half decades!
[JM] How do you manage to juggle the diverse yet overlapping needs of being an editor, agent and author? Do you divide your days/weeks up strictly for different tasks?
[LO] People ask me all the time how I manage to do it all, and my answer is always: imperfectly. Some weeks, it’s just a lot of putting out of fires. Some weeks, I am on top of the workload, it all flows beautifully, and I even have time for things like, say, seeing friends or eating meals at a table (gasp!).
I do keep trying systems on for size, and right now I’m leaning toward a system wherein I divide work by both times of day and days of the week, so check back with me in a few months to see if I’ve implemented this, and how it’s going.
[JM] Where do you teach workshops? And what do you enjoy most from the many revision and other courses/retreats you offer each year?
[LO] I’m fortunate enough to be invited to teach workshops all over! I’ve taught quite a bit for SCBWI chapters, especially here in Florida but elsewhere as well. And for RWA—especially in Texas, for some reason. Truly, I go where I’m invited—as often as I’m able to, because I adore teaching.
I’ve also produced workshops for about sixteen years now, most notably with the brilliant Donald Maass, literary agent extraordinaire. We just concluded what might have been our SIXTIETH workshop together, and our “flagship” workshop, the Breakout Novel Intensive, just had its thirty-fifth or so session, I think. (It’s tough to keep a solid count!)
What do I most enjoy? Connecting with writers and helping writers connect with each other. I can’t even tell you how lovely it is to see students–especially those who work in relative isolation with little support from family or community–find members of their tribe, people who will become lifelong friends and more—creative and emotional lifelines. That is THE best.
A very close second to that it is offering intermediate, advanced, even multiply published writers a level of instruction and support that will help push them beyond their current capabilities.
It felt to me that there was a lot out there for beginning and intermediate writers but not enough substantive, deep education for writers who really want to be challenged and guided to greater heights. So, I try to provide that with my workshops.
Lastly, it’s so gratifying to help writers discover something that unlocks the door to success for them. It could be a straightforward concept, like scene structure, or it could be something specific and deep—like their protagonist’s true motivation and how that helps topple story dominoes in a way the writer hadn’t considered. (Pardon the mixed metaphors here.)
Whatever it is, I’ve had the pleasure—many times, over the years—of switching on a light that helped illuminate what had once been a murky passage, allowing a writer to move forward with confidence. THAT is an incredible honor.
[JM] What’s your take on the recent trend of using sensitivity readers? How does it differ from a critique partner or beta reader?
[LO] To answer the second question first, I guess where critique partners are reading for broader issues, sensitivity readers are reading for a very specific purpose: to make sure that characters who differ from the author in a specific area or areas (race, gender, sexual orientation, ableness, etc.) represent the “other” with nuance and authenticity.
As such, it feels to me that sensitivity readers could be used in much the same way a writer might enlist the help of an expert in a particular field. In other words, if I was writing about a Navy SEAL, I might run my manuscript by a couple of Navy SEALs to check for issues of authenticity. If I was writing about a young gay man, I might ask a couple of young gay men to give the manuscript a read to make sure that I captured their experiences with some level of verisimilitude.
Just writing that feels a little reductive, though, which might be one of the issues people have with sensitivity readers. Clearly, not all gay men or African American women or, say, vision-impaired people have identical life experiences. I think there’s a danger in treating people as monoliths, or in expecting to find our EXACT selves represented on a novel’s page. There’s just no way to provide for that, nor should there be, in my view.
But I do think if you’re writing about a culture of any kind that you have limited experience with that it’s to your benefit to seek out representatives of that culture and learn all you can from them, share your work, take in criticism, and then make the best decisions possible for your story.
[JM] What is the most recurring error you see authors making during the revision process?
[LO] Hands down, it’s wanting to tweak the prose or skim the narrative surface rather than really dig deep and tear apart scenes or chapters or whole 100-page chunks. Revision means to look again, to reimagine and reconstruct, as needed. It can be SUCH hard work, but without it, novels tend not to fully bloom.
[JM] Do you do all your editing online or do you print off manuscripts and handwrite notes?
[LO] Except for when I’m at workshops, I do all my editing in a document, using track changes, often accompanied by a very lengthy evaluation as well.
[JM] What are some of the essential qualities of a good editor?
[LO] A good ear for language helps. As does an intuitive ability to get on the page with the writer, to immerse oneself in the text, in its voice, and in what one understands to be the writer’s intentions for the piece.
As a writer, I’ve got my own stories to tell and my own voice for telling them. So, I’m not trying to impose those things on my clients’ work but help them develop THEIR stories and THEIR voices.
A good fiction editor should probably have read thousands of books across many genres and been educated in real world story craft. Good editing goes so far beyond the word and the line to character development, internal and external story arcs, motivation and stakes, scene structure, thematic development, and much, much more. So much more.
[JM] What are some of the most cringe-worthy overused words you encounter in manuscripts?
[LO] The usual “weasel words,” as David Michael Kaplan calls them: “very,” “suddenly,” always,” etc. Words that modify with little impact.
The other ones I’d look out for constitute redundancies in phrasing, such as “He sat DOWN on the couch,” which could be “He sat on the couch,” or “She shrugged HER SHOULDERS,” which could just be “She shrugged.”
Lastly, I see a lot of “phrases of discernment” or filtering phrases such as “BOB WATCHED AS Linda glided across the room.” If we’re in Bob’s intimate third person perspective, we know that we’re filtering things via his senses, so pointing out that he is watching someone’s actions adds unnecessary words and a layer of remove from the character. “Linda glided across the room” does the trick if you’ve fixed the reader’s position in Bob’s perspective.
[JM] What would you like aspiring writers to know about the publication process?
[LO] So many things, but I’ll offer two items: first, it’s often at the point when it all feels hopeless, when writers have gotten close many times, have gotten many “good rejections” and just feel at the end of their ropes that a breakthrough is near. If you feel like quitting, don’t. Go to a workshop. Get a fresh read. Read some craft books. Put your manuscript away for a month and then look at it again to see what you discover. Too many people quit when they’re a step away from breaking through.
Second, appreciate the joys of not having a deadline. Once you’re published and in the cycle (as long as you’re under contract), you’ll always have less time than you’d like to perfect your work. Don’t be in a hurry now, because you will always feel like you’re in a hurry when you have a deadline, especially when you have a deadline while you’re trying to promote another book and sell yet another. The pace of publishing seems slow (and certainly is in some ways), but it feels anything but when you’re on deadline.
Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What’s your favorite park (state, urban or national) in the world?
[LO] Probably the National Mall in Washington, DC, but if I ever get to do some real globetrotting that answer might change.
[JM] Cats or dogs?
[LO] Cats, though my dog nephews are much beloved. 🙂
[JM] What was the first book you ever bought with your own money?
[LO] Hmm. I think it was JT, by Jane Wagner—coincidentally about a boy and his cat.
[JM] First paid job after high school?
[LO] Market research by phone or picking strawberries. Both incredibly grueling for very different reasons.
[JM] Any more New Adult books in the works? (I loved the Boomerang trilogy!)
[LO] Not sure! Veronica and I loved working on those books (and thank you for the compliment), but we both have other books in other genres keeping us busy at present. So, I guess I’d just answer with never say never! 🙂
Thanks for the awesome interview!
I sure hope I get to work on one of my novels with you one day, Lorin.
Lorin is an agent with the Adams Literary Agency – adamsliterary.com
Before joining Adams Literary, Lorin Oberweger served as a highly sought-after independent book editor and ghostwriter for more than two decades, helping to shepherd hundreds of books—including many bestsellers—to publishing success. She is particularly known for her one-on-one story development and workshops for writers of all genres of fiction and creative non-fiction. Lorin is a popular speaker at conferences around the country, including many appearances at SCBWI events.
An award-winning author, Lorin has written for a wide variety of periodicals, and her ghostwritten books, commissioned by major publishers, have received glowing notices from the New York Times and Kirkus Reviews. Lorin is the co-author of BOOMERANG, REBOUND, and BOUNCE, under the pen name Noelle August.