By Jennifer Jett Prezkop
As the managing editor of a magazine, I deal with a lot of writers and assignments. Too many times people have sent me what they considered impeccable editorial I could not use. I spend a great deal of my workweek critiquing stories and ghost writing to help them revise their drafts into something usable. The biggest problems I come across are people who are too close to the material to recognize a problem, don’t proof their own work, and don’t consult a style guide. Much like freelancers pitching stories for magazines, as an author, your credibility is based on the quality of your work. You might have the next Harry Potter novel in you, but if there are structural problems or typos that distract the reader, you will have hard time selling copies or building a fan base. Editing is vital to publishing success.
As a writer, I know how much time, effort, and passion goes into a manuscript. It took me a long time to develop a thick skin for critiques, and it took me even longer to get in the habit of asking beta readers and editors to rip my manuscript apart. I don’t want praise. I want them to tell me what is wrong so I can get closer to a perfect manuscript.
No matter who you are or how long you’ve been writing or what you think you know, you need two things before you self-publish: a professional editor and a marketing plan. You might have a degree in creative writing and you might be a pro at formatting and you may have the style guide memorized, but as the author, you cannot be trusted to read all the words on the page and catch all the mistakes. You're simply too close to it. I thought my manuscript was ready for print. Then I paid a professional editor to review it, and surprise, surprise: it has structural issues that must be addressed. Why? Because once it prints, it’s forever.
A few weeks ago, I shared a list of 10 steps on how to successfully self-publish in 2017, and in the weeks since, I have been breaking down those steps one by one to better help you on your way. Before we move on, though, I think it’s imperative that we discuss editing, and I can think of no one better to help me with that than Sandy Tritt, the CEO and founder of Inspiration for Writers. In this Q&A, Sandy provides a wealth of knowledge from her years in the industry. Next week, we’ll look at how to edit your own work, but this week Sandy is helping me get the basics out of the way, like defining the different types of editing (yes, there are many!), explaining the importance of a style guide, and discussing why editing your own work is not enough.
Q: Tell us about the different kinds of editing.
ST: There are about as many different kinds of editing as there are editors.
Copyediting generally refers to checking the basics—spelling, punctuation, word choice, and grammar. Sometimes editors do more than a basic copyedit and also edit for paragraph and sentence structure as well as word-level edits.
Line editing is looking at how the words fit together—sentence flow, paragraph flow, readability, and, most important, the author’s voice.
Content editing is looking more at the big picture. Are the facts correct? Are there inconsistencies? When it comes to fiction, this includes looking at plot development, point of view, character development, and so forth.
Developmental editing is actually getting involved with the creation of the story—assisting in plot or character development, advising on sequencing, suggesting scenes to add or cut.
Proofreading, of course, is the final stage, in which a careful eye goes through the entire manuscript looking for typos.
Copyediting, line editing, and content editing are all critical to the success of a story, and every writer needs to have each of these edits performed. Most editors sell their services by these differentiations—you pay X cents per word for a copyedit, Y cents per word for a line edit, and Z cents per word for a content edit. At Inspiration For Writers (IFW), all of our editing packages (except for proofreading) include ALL of these types of editing. Since some writers need more work done than others, we charge according to the amount of work that needs done to make a story both technically and artistically the best it can be. We estimate this during our free sample edit.
Q: Speaking of sample edits, what should authors know about these?
ST: It’s critical to get a sample edit from each editor you consider hiring so you can compare the editors’ styles and what is included and isn’t included in their packages. IFW offers a 500-word sample edit so the editor you would be working with can get a feel for the types of issues in your manuscript and help you better determine the type of edit you need.
Q: What can you tell us about style guides and the importance of knowing which style guide an author needs to use for their project?
ST: A style guide is the set of “rules” that will be followed in editing a document. Each major industry has its own style guide. For example, journalists use the AP style guide. This ensures consistency in capitalization, hyphenation, punctuation, spellings, et cetera, throughout a paper or magazine. The AMA style guide is used for papers or articles published in the medical field. The Chicago Manual of Style is followed for fiction and informal writing like memoirs. It’s important to follow the appropriate style guide when editing your manuscript. You can find a list of style guides at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_style_guides.
Q: Why is it important to use a professional editor instead of doing all the editing yourself?
ST: It’s really hard to see your own work as others see it. We are writers because we love words—especially those we’ve created, spending hours and days and weeks to nurture and grow from infancy to adulthood. We know what we mean—we know all the backstory. So when we read our manuscript, everything makes sense to us.
Most people think it’s easy to write a book. You just sit down and write. But writing a book is like building a house. There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Yes, you can make a playhouse by nailing a few planks of wood together. But if you want to build a real house, you need to understand infrastructure and weight-bearing walls. You need to know about crawl space, basements, kitchens, bathrooms, attics and maybe fireplaces. You need to know how to install electricity and plumbing. You need to add insulation. You have to cut out windows and doors—and do so in places that not only make sense from the interior, but that also make for an attractive package from the outside. You need to know how to install a roof. Then you need to finish both the inside and the outside, do some carpentry and painting, and maybe even hang drapery. There’s a lot more to it than you might guess.
It takes a lot of time, study and experience to become a good housebuilder. It takes even more time, study and experience to become a good writer. We need to understand the infrastructure of a story—how point of view, tense, and voice work together. We need to create a solid plot to bear the weight of the characters. We need to install settings that have just the right amount of description to take us where we need to be—but sprinkled throughout. We need to understand how to build suspense and how to write effective dialogue. Then there’s pacing—we need to make sure the story doesn’t move too fast or too slow.
If you don’t have time to study the craft of writing for 8-10 years, you probably need to hire an experienced professional who has completed that study and who can guide you through the blueprints. You need a mentor.
So, there you have it—everything you need to know about editing. Except, of course, how to do it. Be sure to watch for our blog next week when we discuss just that—self-editing.