9 Ways Editors Can Make You Look Good…and 7 Ways They Can Make You Miserable
by Ruth Harris
As a former editor, I’m biased but, as a writer, I’ve learned that for me (and for just about every writer I know), editing is the most productive and transformative part of writing a book. Whether you hire a pro, rely on a crit partner, or DIY with or without input from beta readers, editing can take longer than writing and can turn an OMG-did-I-write-that? draft into a book you can be proud of.
More on the downside later, but to begin on the bright side: If you are a beginning writer your editors are your teachers and mentors and will rescue you from the sh*tty first draft. If you’re an experienced writer, your editor can be the invaluable second pair of eyes.
9 ways your editor can help.
- Editing is your opportunity to figure out what you really mean to say and how best to say it.
- Editing will save you from yourself and your worst tendencies.
- Editing gives you the chance to come up with the killer line of dialogue, the mot juste, the cliffhanger that keeps the pages turning.
- Editing is the stage at which you cut the bloat or expand and amplify when you’ve gone too bare bones.
- Editing can shore up a blah plot, identify, fill and fix plot holes, and turn wooden characters into living, breathing, believable people.
- Editing gives you a chance to pick up the pace when the story lags and slow it down when you need to give the reader a chance to breathe.
- Editors are partners, coaches, shrinks, cops and cheerleaders—sometimes all at the same time. They dispense tough love when needed and gold stars when earned.
- Your editor will help you polish your strengths and turn OK narrative into compelling storytelling, good dialogue to great, plot-twists-that-fizzle into a breath-taking, never-saw-it-coming shocks.
- Editing will bring you face to face with your worst habits. To be specific:
- passive characters and/or passive verbs
- adjective overkill
- adverb and/or pronoun abuse
- dangling participles
- untethered plot points
- run-on sentences
- clutter words and crutch words
- the dreaded wandering POV
How to choose an editor.
Define what kind of editing you’re looking for.
Valerie Comer wrote a succinct analysis of the differences between a rewrite, revision and editing that will help clarify your thinking.
Where to start looking for an editor:
Elisabeth Kauffman lists professional associations and sources and dispenses solid advice about what questions to ask as you search for your perfect editor.
Network with other writers in your genre.
They will be able to suggest editors who know what they’re doing and warn you away from those who don’t.
Writers’ Cafe has yellow-page lists of editors and informative threads about editors and editing pop up regularly.
Understand the differences between developmental or content editing and copyediting.
A developmental/content editor’s contributions involve a broad overview of the manuscript, its structure, scene and chapter placement or rearrangement, even the basics of plot and character. A developmental/content editor (sometimes called a book doctor) can answer an SOS when a manuscript is on life support and needs rescue.
Joanna Penn describes the functions of different kinds of editors and offers guidance about how to find the right editor.
Victoria Mixon offers samples of line editing and copy editing plus a sample developmental editing letter and explains how the editing process works between writer and editor.
Editor Belinda Pollard warns writers not to depend on editorial labels but to find out exactly what to expect from different kinds of editors no matter what they’re called. She also reminds us that “the right feedback at the right time is the secret weapon of every successful author.”
Choose an editor who’s an expert in your genre.
S/he will be knowledgable about current trends, best practices and no-nos. A sci-fi specialist will not be up to date on the latest in romance. And vice versa.
Your editor is your partner and guide—not your overlord.
Feel free to disagree with suggestions but be sure you have a good reason for your choices. Sometimes a brief discussion will lead to a third solution that’s even better.
Editor Derek Murphy discusses the importance of story and why fixing the writing won’t improve the story. He also explores common conflict issues between writer and editor.
Even billionaires need editors.
Warren Buffett’s long-time editor at Fortune, Carol Loomis, spills the beans.
Copyediting and proofreading. They’re different.
Copyediting takes place when all the nuts and bolts of a story are in place. The copyeditor is concerned with clarity, clarity, cohesion, consistency, and correctness (the “4 Cs”) according to Amy Einsohn’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook.
Proofreading is yet another stage in the editorial process and comes last of all, just before you send your book out into the world. The proofreader is über detail-oriented, on the look out for typos, typographical glitches and lapses in spelling and punctuation.
Please note that a grammar geek or high school English teacher might make an OK proofreader or even copy editor, but, unless they have extensive professional fiction editing experience, they’re unlikely to know much about plot structure and character development.
Editor and proofer, Emily Hetherington, talks about how she spots spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, typos and the use of slang and colloquialisms.
The Writers Center shares a useful article that covers the art and craft of proofreading.
The Chicago Manual of Style offers a Rosetta Stone to proofreader’s marks and squiggles.
How to prepare your manuscript for editing.
Some advance clean-up will save your editor time and save you money.
- Create a style sheet as you write. It’s not hard and it is invaluable for you and for your editor. I’ve written before about the importance of style sheets.
- Perform a basic spell check and watch out for homonyms and homophones—words that sound alike but have different meanings. They will pass a spell check but you must actually read the sentence in context to ensure the word you used is the word you mean. Examples: through/threw; there/their/they’re, here/hear, by/bye/buy, to/two/too.
- Run a grammar program. Most word processors have one and will root out common errors that guarantee rejection and/or bad reviews.
- Review your dialogue tags. They can often be pruned or even deleted.
- The cliché finder will hunt down, uh, clichés.
- The Passivator will highlight passive verbs and adverbs.
If you decide to self-edit.
Be on the lookout for:
- Flabby language.
- Trite and/or do-nothing-go-nowhere dialogue.
- A saggy middle.
- A blah (or confused) ending.
- Info dumps.
- Boring backstory.
- Good guys who are too good and bad guys who are too bad. Characters require shades of grey to be believable.
- Too many sub-plots or sub-plots that fizzle or wander off never to be heard from again. Decide if they should be combined and streamlined or simply done away with.
- Too many characters? Do they get in each other’s way? Do they perform the same function? The solution is cut and combine.
More helpful advice on self-editing.
- Deborah Rains Dixon addresses story structure, why it’s crucial and includes different examples of structure.
- In Self-Editing For Fiction Writers, two professional editors cover basic elements of fiction like dialogue, exposition, point of view and interior monologue.
- Kristen Lamb lists six ways to self-edit your book.
- Here’s a guide to writing an exciting action scene with the before and after edits. (The principles demonstrated here can be widely applied.)
- If you’re writing romance, here are 20 steps to a great love scene.
- How to write horror with advice from Stephen King.
Mismatch: when editing goes wrong.
- You’re writing Regency romance, your editor is thinking Space Opera. Need I say more?
- Your editor’s negative comments—“dated,” “nobody cares about xyz,” “I hate your MC,” “change the setting from New England to Naples”—are getting in your head and stopping you from writing.
- The 5 tip-offs of a bad editor.
- How to tell good editors from bad.
- Writer beware: 10 things your freelance editor might not tell you but should.
- George RR Martin considers editors a writer’s natural enemy.
- Julian Barnes, UK author and winner of the Man Booker Prize, overrules his US editor like this: FOYB (F*** Off, Yankee Bastard)
If you think all this sounds too picky and painful not to mention too time-consuming and expensive to bother with, think again. As someone who served time in the slush pile, I guarantee: an unedited manuscript is the mark of the amateur, the bane of the pro, the kiss of death, a sure-fire route to nowheresville.
Whether you hire an editor or DIY, it’s your book. You decide.
by Ruth Harris (@RuthHarrisBooks) May 29, 2016
What about you, Scriveners? Do you use an editor? Have you had a bad experience with an editor? What do you look for in editors?
Anne is still having fun with poisons on her book blog. This week she talks about the pretty but highly toxic flowering shrub, oleander.
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