Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you all to a friend and a wonderful publishing professional — Anita Mumm! She’s a freelance editor based in Denver, Colorado, and before starting her editing business, Mumm’s the Word (LOVE that name!), she worked in submissions and foreign rights at Nelson Literary Agency. I had the pleasure of meeting her for the first time in New York City at the RWA National Conference in 2011, and have always enjoyed our email correspondences, no matter where in the world she may be. (Read below about her recent trip to India!!)
She’s a passionate author advocate and draws from her years of experience in publishing and education to help writers attain their best work and achieve their traditional or self-publishing goals. You can read more about her work and find advice and tips for writers on her blog, Word Café.
WELCOME to Magical Musings, Anita!!
Thank you for having me, Marilyn! Your visit to my blog last year was such a treat and I’ve learned so much about what it takes for authors to succeed by following your versatile career. It’s an honor for me to be here.
It’s a pleasure to have you as our guest!! So, please tell us, what are the best, and worst, things about being an editor?
There are so many things I love about this job: working with talented writers, applying what I’ve learned about the publishing industry in a meaningful way, and getting to use my creative and problem-solving skills. Reading has always been one of my favorite activities, so I still have to pinch myself sometimes—do I really get to do this for a living? I also love the flexibility; I set my own schedule so I rarely have to say no to activities with family and friends. And I can’t complain about the commute—down the stairs to my home office in my “uniform” (aka bathrobe).
The only not-so-great part is that if I want time off, or want to take a holiday, I have to make it happen—my office doesn’t automatically close! I love the kind of flexibility that allows me to travel, spend time with family, and show friends the best of Denver when they visit. But sometimes I’m not so great at shutting my computer down at a decent hour, or taking weekends off. Balance is something I definitely have to strive for.
What do you see as the role of freelance editors in today’s publishing landscape? And what types of perspective did working at a literary agency bring to your editing work?
I think freelancers have an increasingly important role, as self-publishing continues to grow and refine itself. It’s really an exciting time for this profession. You can see the evidence in how many editors have left their jobs at major publishing houses in the past couple of years to pursue a freelance career. With the self-publishing boom, they’ve recognized the need for their skills on the ground floor. Some of today’s freelancers contract for publishers, some focus on indie authors, and many do both.
The goal we should all have in common is that we try to bring out the very best in a writer’s work. We can’t guarantee a client will end up with a major publishing deal or land on the bestseller lists. We do our darnedest to get their work to that level, but if you’re hiring an editor with that expectation, you are risking major disappointment. What a freelance editor can do is spot the strengths and weaknesses in your writing, then give you specific guidelines for refining the former and smoothing out the latter. We can’t rewrite the book for you—and you wouldn’t want us to because it would no longer be your voice and vision. We can give you scene-by-scene guidance for the overhaul, and help you learn techniques for improving your writing for the life of your career.
Each writer has a different goal in mind, but most of my clients either want to attract an agent and get a deal with a traditional publisher, or successfully self-publish. Working closely with agents for nearly four years taught me exactly what does or doesn’t impress them in a manuscript, how to stay current with news and trends in the industry, and how to work with authors in a way that incorporates a good balance of criticism and support. I saw what a healthy agent-author relationship looks like, it’s that kind of relationship I strive for in my work. There should be open communication, mutual respect, and a genuine desire for the author to succeed.
You’ve seen a mind-boggling number of query letters over the years, first at Nelson Literary Agency and now through your critique work. What was it like to read thousands of queries a month in the slush pile? Any advice to authors, in a nutshell?
Yes, I definitely saw my fair share of queries—over 30,000 a year while I was working at NLA! Believe it or not, I never got tired of reading them. Every time I thought I’d seen it all, something fresh and exciting would show up in the slush pile. Admittedly, there was also a big helping of the bizarre and creepy. But it all added up to an interesting workday, no doubt about it!
I wish I could boil my advice down to a couple of paragraphs, but every query has its unique strengths and weaknesses. I’ve come up with quite a few general tips I hope are helpful in the query workshops on my blog, and I often recommend sites like Agentquery.com and Query Shark. My single best piece of advice is this: focus on crafting a strong hook, let your writing voice shine through, and keep it professional. While the really quirky queries caught my attention and made my job interesting, they rarely gained any real points for the writer. A certain level of professionalism is essential, and it doesn’t have to stifle your writer’s voice. Make sure you’re grabbing attention for the right reasons—your good writing and intriguing story. Any other kind of attention is useless—unless you enjoy being “that query” that agents giggle about at conferences while hoping not to bump into you. Doh!
What kinds of books do you hope to see more of in your work, and on the market?
Love this question! Another fun thing about my job is that I get to work in a variety of genres, which I choose to do because I enjoy reading widely. Currently I’m getting a lot of clients in YA and women’s fiction, both of which I adore. I’d love to see more literary and commercial fiction, middle grade, and sci fi/fantasy. I’m also starting to see more requests for short story editing—love that medium and would be thrilled to see more!
I’d also like to see more multicultural projects—stories set in other cultures, stories about minorities, immigrants, refugees, and expats. Stories of people coming into contact with things that are foreign to them and growing from that. A client of mine just approached me with a new project, set in Somalia, and I’m really excited about the opportunity to learn from her experiences while sharing my editing skills. That’s something I should have mentioned in the perks of being an editor—constantly learning and gaining new insights from the material I read. There is so much truth in fiction.
You have a background in ESL instruction and just returned from spending the fall in Dharamsala, India, where you volunteered to teach English at a school for refugees. I know this was an amazing adventure! Can you tell us just 2 or 3 new experiences you had while you were abroad? Do you have any other major trips that you’d like to take?
That’s right—I got to spend September through December of last year at Kunpan Cultural School, a wonderful nonprofit focused on educational opportunities for Tibetan refugees in India. It was intense, rewarding work and truly one of the best experiences of my life. The students and other refugees I got to know were among the bravest, most openhearted and resilient people I’ve met. I hope to return within the next couple of years to help out at the school again.
After I finished my teaching project, I got to travel a bit with three wonderful Indian friends I had met during my time in Dharamsala. My new favorite place to sleep? On a train in India! You fall asleep and wake up in intoxicating places like Udaipur, city of lakes and forts…and camels! We also visited Agra and the Taj Mahal, which was shrouded in fog that day, making it even more magical.
Now I’m enjoying settling back into life in the States, but one of the major reasons I decided to start my own editing business is that it gives me so much flexibility in terms of location, and it allows me to continue teaching ESL part-time, which I love. When I go abroad again, I won’t have to miss a beat with my editing work, but I’ll also be able to contribute to projects like Kunpan School and other projects I care about. As for other big trips, in the not too distant future I’d love to visit Turkey and Tibet, brush up on my French in Morocco or France, or return to Brazil, one of my favorite places. That’s where my beau is from, so there’s a good chance we’ll be heading south in the near future.
And, finally, you live in the beautiful state of Colorado. When you find yourself with a little free time, what types of activities (aside from reading, writing, editing, etc., which I know you’re doing often!) do you enjoy? Do you have a favorite sport? A place you like to hang out with friends?
Colorado is a great place for those who love the outdoors, so I try to really take advantage of that. In the summer, there’s hiking in the mountains, river rafting, and the miles and miles of bike paths that crisscross Denver. In the winter, I take advantage of winter sports at ski hubs like Keystone and Monarch (that one’s my favorite because it’s low-key and Salida, the neighboring town, is a gem). A lot of my friends and relatives are amazing skiers or snowboarders, and while I do both of those, let’s just say I have nothing to brag about! But just being in that invigorating mountain air is enough. Also, I recently discovered snowshoeing. It’s great exercise and takes a little less athletic ability—perfect for me! It’s a nice opportunity to observe wildlife like moose, elk, and foxes up close.
As for favorite hangouts in Denver, coffee houses top my list because they serve as both a work environment, where I can do editing and meet with local clients, and a place to meet friends. Stella’s is one of my favorites—it’s kind of a Denver icon. And in warm weather I love hanging out in the many wonderful parks in the city. We’re really blessed with outdoor opportunities, even within the city itself. It’s a great place to visit (hint, hint)!
Thank you so much, Anita!! (And you don’t have to twist my arm to visit Denver…I love that city! )
To our Magical Musings visitors — a question: Is there a place somewhere in the world that you’ve never seen in person but are longing to travel to someday? And what’s one place you have visited that you particularly loved? For me, Moscow is one place I’d love to see, and Venice will always be one of my personal favorites. You?!