Zombie Book Editor Monique Happy Talks About Her Process
Aspiring authors, take heed: behind every great writer there is a great editor, and as far as the zombie genre goes, there are certainly none more multifarious or prolific than Monique Happy, who has done work for Shawn Chesser, Sean Liebling, Mark Tufo and G.R. Mountjoy to name only a few. Monique took the time to take some of my questions and her answers are sure to be of interest to anyone salivating at the proposition of preparing a novel for publication.
Bryan Way: I understand you were a legal secretary for over 26 years. Has anything about that type of work carried over into editing novels and short stories?
Monique Happy: Yes! I gained an invaluable, hands-on education during my years in the law offices of Southern California. A legal secretary must maintain meticulous attention to detail and be able to keep cool under the pressure of a deadline. These skills hold me in good stead when working with my authors. I also honed my editing and proofreading skills on legal briefs of all descriptions. At the same time, I authored dozens of legal documents, which of course the attorneys took full credit for, and rightly so – just like my author clients do, and should.
I could have been a paralegal, but I enjoyed working a busy litigation desk and making everything picture perfect before it left the office. Taking a document or manuscript and tweaking it until it is at its finest is like working a puzzle to me: I get in the zone and can spend hours fine tuning it until it shines. I get a great deal of satisfaction from what I do.
BW: Editing and proofreading are, of course, part of any writing process. Do you have any good examples of what you bring to the table as an editor?
MH: Well, as I said above, I am meticulous in detail. I have stellar English skills and I enjoy what I do. I also maintain constant communication with my clients, and keep them involved. I also network heavily with other authors, editors, bloggers, reviewers and fans, and spend a lot of time promoting my authors.
BW: Is there anything you find that plagues first-time writers the most?
MH: I think that first-time writers are often in a hurry to publish. They are excited about their story, and they rely upon their beta readers for advice, and their friends and family to help them edit their manuscripts. Then they rush to publish. There is absolutely nothing wrong with their enthusiasm, and beta readers are invaluable; however, the writer often skips the next crucial step: procuring the services of a professional editor.
I cannot tell you how many of my clients have self-published before having that professional editing done, and they then get crucified in the reviews. It’s an unfortunate fact that those reviews can haunt an author for a long time to come. There’s no way to delete them! I only wish there was. I could offer that as part of my services! Then they hire me, and I make sure their manuscript is tight and well-finished before they re-release it. Their reviews generally climb up into the 5-star range. I do not say that in an attempt to brag. These stories are great on their own; they just need polishing.
BW: I recently interviewed Shawn Chesser, who could not speak more highly of you. Could you tell us about how the two of you got together?
MH: Actually, Shawn was introduced to me by another client of mine, G.R. Mountjoy, author of the 3 Years After militaristic post-apocalyptic series. Shawn is a great guy, and a real pleasure to work with. I’ve had the privilege of watching him grow as an author, as I’ve edited all five of his books in the Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse series. His last one really blew me away! I just kept shaking my head as I edited it. It’s truly a joy to be Shawn’s editor.
BW: You seem to have made your name editing the writing of authors who work in the zombie genre, so I have to ask, is there anything specific to the genre that comes up frequently in editing?
MH: A surprising number of readers in this genre are in the armed forces or retired military. There are also law enforcement officers and gun nuts. (I say that with all due respect, being quite the gun nut myself.) And we definitely have the preppers reading too! Therefore, close attention to detail is crucial when it comes to describing tactical situations, weaponry and armament. Nothing drives the readers crazier than describing a weapon or a take-down situation incorrectly. They WILL call you on it! I’m not an expert in military terminology or weaponry, but I am learning. Plus, if there are any questionable areas I will research them, and I will point them out to the author to make sure what they’ve written is correct.
BW: Are you drawn specifically to editing writing on the undead, or did this development grow out of a tangential progression?
MH: It was definitely a progression. I had the good fortune of being Mark Tufo’s first editor. Mark and I began our friendship when I contacted him on his blog after falling in love with his Zombie Fallout series. He asked me to edit one of his books. He was so impressed with my work that he then contracted me to edit several others. My business has grown since then simply by word of mouth. It’s been a hell of a ride, and I’ve made many lifelong friends.
BW: Rumor has it you’re toying with the idea of a zombie novel of your own. Would you mind telling us a little bit about it?
MH: My novel, which is very rough at this point, revolves around the post-apocalyptic adventures of a group of kids, struggling to survive. It’s definitely not a YA book. Think Lord of the Flies. But more graphic.
BW: When working on your own writing, do you tend to meticulously craft sentences, or do you wait until you’ve finished to edit your work?
MH: Oh, I’m a meticulous crafter all right. It actually slows me down but I can’t seem to move on until the paragraph feels right. I can’t turn off that editing portion of my brain. It’s OK though. It works for me.
BW: Do you have any tips for first-time writers?
MH: I sure do! They’re all pretty common sense tips. Write every day. Make it your priority. Don’t ever give up. Get a good group of beta readers and listen to what they say. More importantly, listen to your gut. When your writing feels good, it usually IS good. You know that feeling; I’m sure you do. And then, of course, get a good editor and a cover artist. Make sure your book is at its best before sending it out there to the masses. And then keep writing!!
BW: Thanks so much for taking the time for an interview!
MH: Thank you very much for having me. It’s been a blast.
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