Sunday, October 6, 2019

Writing Insights from Senior Editor David Brown of Darling Axe

David G. Brown
When I was first starting out as a writer in the early 80s, we didn't have email so that all query letters to editors were sent through the mail. (To the uninitiated, a query letter is how writers would pitch an article idea to a publication, or book idea to a publisher.) The first replies that I received were all form letters. I began to wonder if editors were even human, until one day an editor wrote a handwritten note on one of my rejection letters. "You're getting close."

As it turns out, editors are more than gatekeepers. Running a magazine or getting a newspaper assembled and out the door is only one kind of editorial role. In the writing field, many editors work much the same way bridal gown and tuxedo shops do, except that instead of helping you look your best on your wedding day, they work to make your prose look its best before it gets strutted out on the bigger stage.

This past year I began blogging on Medium,  a relatively new blogging platform started by Ev Williams, co-founder of both Blogger and Twitter. It's become a fairly good-sized community of writers and readers, and massive quantities of good content. I've noted a number of editors write on Medium, one of these being David Brown of the editing team Darling Axe.

David is an award-winning short fiction writer with two debut novels represented by the Donaghy Literary Group. He's published poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in magazines and literary journals, and he volunteers for the Malahat Review where he interviews writing judges and screens contest entries. He holds a BA in anthropology (UVic) and an MFA in creative writing (UBC). As a senior editor at, he pays special attention to structure, relationship arcs, and voice.

EN: What are the primary reasons people hire an editor?

David Brown: Our most popular service is developmental editing, which is a thorough structural critique with scene-by-scene feedback. I would say this is also the most important service in terms of crafting an immersive and engaging narrative, whether for indie authors or authors seeking traditional publishing. In other words, it doesn’t matter how polished a novel’s prose if the story isn’t structurally sound.

Our second most popular service is line editing. This is much more than proofreading for errors. A line edit is a prose overhaul, with special attention to grammar, style, clarity, repetition, and word choice. This might involve reordering paragraphs and rewriting sentences, as well as trimming and cutting as required. This service is particularly important for self-publishing authors, as they do not have the support of an agent and publisher team.

Other than that, clients come to us for proofreading, query letter support, and hook assessments.

EN: What was your path from writer to editing for pay?

DB: I’ve always done a bit of both. One of my first jobs out of high school was as a copy editor for a university newspaper. A few years later I started freelance editing, everything from undergraduate essays to magazine articles and graduate theses. Meanwhile, I wrote a lot of poetry and short fiction, often publishing zines with friends, and occasionally getting legitimately published. Once I had enough of a portfolio, I applied for the MFA program in creative writing at UBC, and I was very excited to be accepted. Graduates from this program account for ten percent of all novels published in Canada. That’s where I gained a solid basis in writing and workshopping fiction—everything from short stories to novels to screenplays. From that point, it was a natural transition into editing fiction full time.

EN: I assume editing includes books, data sheets, articles. Can you enumerate and elaborate?

DB: At, we focus primarily on novels, though we do also take on occasional short fiction projects, plays, screenplays, picture books, and even poetry. I also still have a few academic clients from my years freelancing, so I also work on some nonfiction projects.

EN: What’s the most interesting or unusual project you’ve worked on?

DB: That’s a very difficult question! I have had so many interesting projects this year. One of my favorites, though, was Dead by Sunrise by Richard Ryker. I love a good murder mystery, and Ryker has done an excellent job with this new release. The story is set in Forks, Washington, which is the same setting as Twilight, and he teases that connection in a way that adds a bit of humor into an otherwise suspenseful detective story.

EN: With the advent of self-publishing there’s been a massive quantity of badly edited books produced. Care to comment on this?

DB: Writing a full-length manuscript is a huge accomplishment, and I really can’t fault writers who are excited to get their creation in front of readers. However, it’s easy to love your own work too much, and thereby not see that revisions are still required to move from a draft to a masterpiece. It’s true that writers are very often hasty and rush into self-publishing before their manuscript is ready. In many of these cases, their book doesn’t do well as a result. There are, however, many amazing indie writers out there who know what they are doing, and who hire a professional to help make sure their manuscript is the best it can be before setting it loose on the world.

EN: That's good advice, especially since you only have one chance to make a first impression. What is your sales pitch or elevator speech to writers who need an editor?

DB: At, we are professional editors as well as award-winning writers. We understand the intense effort and emotional investment you have poured into your work. It's our job to help you realize your vision and take your manuscript to the next level.

EN: A few quick responses here if you don't mind. How long should a blog post be?

DB: That depends on the topic, but this is the internet we’re talking about, so short and sweet is best. Ideally, blog posts are very specific so as to best answer a search query. For many writing topics, 500-1000 words seems to be a good target.

EN: Who has been your biggest influence?

DB: Ursula Le Guin and Raymond Chandler. I love that they both write exciting “genre” fiction with a literary voice.

EN: What have you been reading this year for personal enjoyment or enrichment?

DB: Best book I’ve read this year: Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer (The Terra Ignota series). Very excited for book four to come out next February!

EN: Where did the name Darling Axe come from?

DB: The Darling Axe comes from a bit of universal writing advice: kill your darlings. This is a reference to sentences, characters, or entire sections of a manuscript that are dear to a writer, but that are not actually serving the story. The narrative must come first! You sometimes need to let go, kill your darlings, and get tough with yourself for the next revision. Our axe is well honed, so we’re happy to assist authors who need a bit of guidance in setting their darlings free.

EN: Ah! Got it. Thanks for all the good advice.

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