Before You Hit Send with Angela James

Angela James presented her workshop Before You Hit Send in New Hampshire last month. James is an engaging and lively presenter, even when she’s talking about something as dry as the direct address comma. Her presentation style is conversational and witty, and never condescending. This is good for someone like me who has strong storytelling skills, but is weak with grammar. Don’t get me wrong, I still need an editor, but I’d prefer to eliminate as many of the potential errors in advance to make the process as expedient and efficient as possible. Angela delivered real world strategies that made me feel like I will deliver a more polished manuscript.

Author Claire Brett introduces Carina Press Executive Editor, Angela James

Author Claire Brett Introduces Carina Press Executive Editor, Angela James

Before You Hit Send is offered online as a multi-week course; the day-long workshop is a pared-down version of that course and it is still bursting at the seams with information. We had handouts with the PowerPoint slides and I still took close to 40 pages of notes. I can summarize the headlines here, but the value in this workshop comes from the examples Angela offers to demonstrate her points.

My personal highlights

Use descriptive words, but be careful of overwriting. A little subtlety can add polish to a story. She provided multiple powerful examples here.

Read your story out loud or use voice to text to read it to you. This will allow you to hear things you might otherwise miss.

  • Where your dialogue sounds unnatural.
  • Is the story boring?
  • Did you leave out a key piece of description (e.g., your character moving to another room).
  • Notice where your attention drifts from the story.

DO NOT edit as you listen – take notes or add comments to a Word or Kindle document.

Don’t overlook the basics such as formatting and spellcheck (even if Word does check your spelling as you type). She also offered tips on how to use MS Word’s Find and Replace function like a boss. I learned how to make paragraph marks appear in MS Office 365! This will mean nothing to 90% of the readers, but it was huge to me.

“Punctuation is there as support, not to carry the load.” Pare down your exclamation points. If you need to show excitement or extreme emotion of any kind, use words, not !!!!

Eliminate garbage words from your expository writing, but remember the rules are a little more lenient for dialogue.

Garbage words:

  • Really
  • So
  • That
  • Well
  • Very
  • Totally
  • Just
  • Quite
  • Good/Great

James asks her editors to ensure that something is grammatically correct for the story being told. This is especially in true dialogue. It’s unlikely you’ll find “coulda” in Victorian England, but you might find it in modern conversation.

Don’t use dialogue to convey information that the character already knows just so you can educate the reader: “As you know Bob, …”

Engage all five senses, BUT NOT ALL IN ONE PARAGRAPH!

Don’t tell the story in backstory. Your characters need to interact on the page. It’s their actions and dialogue that convey the story to the reader successfully.

Photo of a jagged mountain with the text "Commas are not the hill you want to die on." - Angela James

The Editorial Relationship

When I interviewed her prior to the workshop, Angela talked about how the editorial relationship should be a partnership. In the workshop, she offered some concrete examples.

  • When you selected a publisher, you also selected an editor and a certain editing ideology.
  • Every editorial relationship is different. She maintains a professional relationship with all of her writers, but she has become good friends with some of them.
  • The editorial relationship will evolve. There is more explanation earlier in the relationship, but you do develop a shorthand and a better understanding of expectations the more you work together.
  • Your editor is your best line of defense against a negative review. That doesn’t mean hiring a good editor will eliminate ALL negative reviews, but they understand readers and what the market wants.

When working with an editor, you want to balance the edits with author voice. “Commas are not the hill you want to die on.” An editor should NOT eliminate your voice.  An editor should:

  • Make suggestions,
  • Show by example, but NOT rewriting entire paragraphs. Rewriting is the key word in that statement, changing the order of the text is not the same thing.
  • You are allowed to say “I don’t agree with this, can you explain your thinking here?”
  • You can’t reject every comment.
  • Read the editorial letter and then walk away to give the comments time to percolate.
  • When you are reviewing a contract with either an agent or a publisher, it is acceptable to ask how the editing process is handled.
  • Questions to ask your editor
    • Do you read for pleasure? What?
    • Do you use Track Changes?
    • Do you offer an editorial letter?

When to stop editing.

6 years is too long.   If you are unsure if you are done, set the story aside and come back to it with fresh eyes.

By the end of the day my head was ready to explode, but in a good way. The downside of learning all these polishing tips is that when you see a lack of sophistication in a story, you can’t un-see it.

The online course is offered two times a year and will be offered again in September. Registration is now open. For more information, visit http://nicemommy-evileditor.com/before-you-hit-send/. You can also read my posts to learn more about Angela and her thoughts on publishing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day and I’m excited to implement my new skills on my work in progress. I’m hoping my schedule will allow me to take the class in September, but if not, I will definitely be signing up for the early 2017 offering.


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.

What Angela James Wishes Writers Knew About the Editing process

On Saturday, May 21, 2016, the New Hampshire chapter of Romance Writers of America is welcoming Angela James to present her workshop Before You Hit Send. In previous blog posts we’ve talked about the workshop, and we’ve talked about Angela’s career as an editor. Today we’ll get to know the personal side of Angela James, and Angela will share with us what she wishes authors (and editors) knew about the editing process.

The Personal Side of Angela James

Favorite Childhood Book (she couldn’t pick one):

  • Nancy Drew mysteries – Carolyn Keene
  • Trixie Belden mysteries – Julie Campbell
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dell
  • The Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles – Julie Andrews

Relaxation and Recreation

  • james_pixIf you follow Angela on Twitter, you know her bad travel karma is epic! Despite that, she still enjoys traveling. Tops on her bucket list for travel is a European train trip. She hopes to visit Italy, France, Spain and Switzerland for a few weeks with her family when her daughter graduates from high school.
  • Angela is a huge sports fan. Football and hockey are her favorites, but in the summer she follows NASCAR and Major League Soccer as well as European football. She doesn’t watch much dramatic TV, but she’ll binge watch when she travels or use it as a distraction when she’s stressed.
  • Although she loves sports, her preferred workout is boot camp.
  • Her perfect day off involves never leaving her couch. She can read all day and someone else can do the cooking, etc.

Gastronomical Pleasures

  • Her favorite beverage is water, but she’s been known to enjoy a glass of wine or beer here and there, too.
  • She loves to make multi-step recipes like homemade spaghetti sauce from scratch.
  • Her favorite food to have prepared for her is Indian curry. No one else in her family likes it, so she only gets to order it when she’s eating out.

 What Angela James Wishes Every Author (and Editor) Knew About the Editing Process

  • Angela James holding an e book readerA good editor is not just going to fix your grammar. A good editor will help you enhance your story, your plot and your characters.
  •  A good editor can make all the difference between a reader liking your book and a reader loving your book.
  • The editor and the author work together in partnership. It’s not that either has final say; it’s that they are collaborating on the book.
  • Ego can be the one thing that really interferes with the editing process. If you go into edits full of ego, i.e. thinking “this is MY book” or “I’m the editor and *I* know best,” the editorial process is doomed to failure. Everyone involved has to go into the process with an open mind.

I hope you have enjoyed this opportunity to get to know Angela James, Executive Editor of Carina Press, and I hope you will join us Saturday May 21 at the Crowne Plaza Nashua for Before You Hit Send. Register before May 1 for a discounted rate.

I encourage you to visit one of Angela’s many spaces on the web.


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.

Angela James on Publishing

On May 21, 2016, the New Hampshire chapter of Romance Writers of America will be presenting Before You Hit Send, a workshop on self-editing created and presented by Angela James, the Editorial Director at Carina Press (the digital-first imprint of Harlequin). Last month Angela took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with me about herself, the workshop, and publishing. Workshop details can be found in my earlier post; today, we’ll talk about publishing.

When you think of the background and experience necessary to succeed in publishing, you probably think about a degree in English or maybe business, and maybe an internship at a New York publishing house. That path has certainly worked for many successful people, but Angela James would tell you the most important thing you need to be successful in publishing is a deep love of books and all things related to books, including authors and the editorial process.

Angela’s path to becoming the Editorial Director of Carina Press was not the traditional publishing career path. She grew up in North Dakota, where she learned to hate snow and love hockey, then went to college at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences where earned a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy.

She paid her dues in that field and eventually landed her dream occupational therapy job working on the East Coast at a state psychiatric facility. A lifelong lover of books and avid reader, she took on side work as a proofreader and copyeditor “just for fun.”

When she gave birth to her daughter, she left OT to be a stay at home mom, but quickly discovered she needed more interaction so she stepped up her freelance editing. By then she was working with authors like Jaci Burton and Mandy Roth. When Samhain Publishing opened its doors, Angela was recommended for an editor position.  While at Samhain, she moved up the ranks to Executive Editor, but she kept up her certifications and training credits because even then, she thought she’d go back to the occupational therapy field. Then Harlequin came knocking with their newly-minted Carina Press and Angela’s place in publishing was cemented.

It’s about the book and the reading experience. It’s about giving readers an amazing experience because books are awesome - Angela James with an ocean background

Angela loves new ideas and being able to make plans and take action on those new ideas. The constant change of the industry inspires her to continually develop ways to find new authors, improve things for their current authors, and grow the business.

Without that steady diet of change, Angela fears she’d lose her passion for the job and grow bored. Along with her management duties, James still carries a full editing schedule. She’s on track to edit 15 titles this year alone.

However, being responsible for the business success of Carina is equal parts blessing and burden. As much as she’d like to, she can’t just publish a book because she loves it. “When we say no to a book, it’s not always because we don’t think it’s good, or we don’t love it.” There are a multitude of authors the Carina team loves, or would love to work with, but much to her dismay she doesn’t have the luxury of publishing just to publish. It’s her job to publish books that ensure Carina’s continued growth and success. Sometimes that makes for hard choices. In a perfect world Angela wouldn’t have to worry about whether a book would be a moneymaker or grow the business.

Angela James on the future of publishing

I asked for her prediction about where publishing would be five years from now. On the outside she was polite, but on the inside, I had a sense she was groaning. “It’s hard to say where publishing will be one year from now, never mind five.” Her personal desire would be that in five years we will have long moved past the “us versus them” mentality that has taken hold, the idea that traditional publishers (which digital-first is now lumped with) are the enemy. In her experience, there are many people who work in publishing purely for the love of books, and who work hard to get good books in front of as many readers as possible. “It’s about the book and the reading experience. It’s about giving readers an amazing experience because books are awesome.”

This isn’t just talk. Angela tracked her personal reading on Good Reads last year and she read approximately 650 books. Stop for a minute and process that: six hundred and fifty books! This is in addition to the books she read for work. 650 books just for pleasure reading. Yes, she is a speed reader, and to be fair, some of the books were novella length or serializations, but she calculated it, and it worked out to be about 48 million words. That’s lots and lots and LOTS of words. Clearly, this is a woman who loves books; I guess she found her way to the right field after all.

Next time, I’ll share some of the personal side of Angela James, including what she wishes every author knew about publishing.


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.