Editors can sometimes get a bad rap among writers. After all, no writer wants to be told their precious book baby needs work!
But working with an editor can be an educational experience, so I asked my own editor, the wonderful Nerine Dorman, a few questions! Find out how writers can get the most out of the editing process – and why you need one.
1) As an editor, what is the ONE thing you wish writers would stop doing?
The one thing? There are many, but if there’s one thing that drives me absolutely buggy, it’s laziness. I really enjoy developmental editing. That means I’ll start by assessing a manuscript. I’ll copy edit the first few pages to give an idea of technical improvements.
But I’ll usually write a rather comprehensive editor letter with many suggestions for what can be done to improve the manuscript. Sometimes this requires an author to unravel a story quite comprehensively.
Now the problem with freelance editing is that you don’t always have a publishing company standing behind you to lend authority to your suggestions. In fact, if a manuscript needs a lot of work, a publisher usually won’t pick it up. Which means that editors very rarely have to do heavy lifting.
However, if you’re working with many pre-published authors as I do, things get interesting. All I’ll say is don’t be afraid to pull out the threads and start knitting again. You still have the yarn (the story) but you’re just going to be putting it together better (without the holes) and using a better pattern.
2) Do you believe writers can edit their own work, or do they still need an editor after the beta-reading stage?
Self-editing can only get you so far. As an author, you’re often too close to the work to see the bigger picture, though if you’re an editor, your document may very well be in better shape than could be expected.
However, with being an editor-author, there’s also the danger of arrogance if you fool yourself into thinking that you know what’s best. I’ve recently had the privilege to begin work on one of my novels with an editor whose opinion I value most highly. Now I have a seven-page document of editor notes to work through.
It’s frightening but also exhilarating because a gifted editor will see things you’ve missed, and will help you draw out more nuance and a better story. Just don’t be afraid to unravel (as stated earlier).
3) What is one thing that a writer can do right now to improve their work?
If you’re relatively new to writing, my advice is to read, read, read. Find books outside your genre. Find books that inspired your favourite authors. Analyse these works. Read literary critique about their work. Talk to other authors about their favourite books and why they like them.
Then, find other authors or writers’ groups that resonate with you, and get critiquing/beta-reading for other authors. Often you learn the most from seeing the mistakes of others.
Remember also that it’s not an overnight process. I also suggest following the social media accounts of your favourite authors and editors, especially if they regularly share writing tips. Educate yourself. There are hundreds of courses out there that will fleece you for money when most of the information is already freely available online.
Don’t wait to be spoonfed. If half the resources that are available now had been there when I first started, I wouldn’t have made half the mistakes I did.
4) How do you recommend writers go about finding editors?
Editors are queer beasts and need to be hunted carefully if you’re stalking them on Google. If you get your novel picked up by a publisher, they should provide you with an editor (which is part of how I learnt my craft).
However, if you’ve the money to spend on a freelance editor, I would suggest first seeing whether they edit the kinds of stories that you write. Don’t go to a romance editor with your military SF novel, IOW. Then there’s a warning, there are unfortunately some editors out there who’ll take your money without doing much work.
Sadly I’ve had a bunch of my clients come to me with sorrowful tales like that. So do your homework. Ask to speak to your potential editor’s previous clients – if she’s legit, she’ll have happy clients. See if your potential editor shows up on sites like Writer Beware or Preditors and Editors or run a search on the Absolute Write forums.
Also, editing is not cheap. Bear that in mind. It takes time and concentration for someone to invest in your manuscript and help you improve it. Different editors will also charge different rates for the work they do. Developmental editing may cost more than proofing, for instance, and usually spans two editing passes.
5) Some writers think editors just fix wonky grammar. How do you describe the work of editors?
There are different kinds of editing, for sure. Developmental editing is when the editor makes an assessment of a manuscript. Sometimes all that is required is a read through and a document of editor notes, which is relatively quick as there is usually no in-text commentary.
The editor will look at world building, pacing, characterisation, narrative development and make suggestions for improvement. She will also make a few general suggestions about the technical aspects of writing. For instance, if the punctuation around dialogue needs attention, or if there are regular jumps in tense that need fixing.
After assessment, there’s developmental editing where the editor goes into the MS for one or two rounds of edits. That’s where the aforementioned assessments are applied in text, often with commentary on grammar.
Then with copy edits or line edit rounds, there is more focus on grammar and syntax. That’s looking out for dropped words, run-on sentences, inconsistencies (red dresses that become blue dresses). After that, I always recommend that an author gets someone with a fresh pair of eyes to proofread their final document once it has been formatted.
I can’t stress this enough – if you’re self-publishing you need more than one pass of editing. You need at least 2-3 pairs of eyes other than your own to go over a document before it goes out there. At the very minimum. If you’re signed to a publisher, these are services they should be providing.
Finally, no matter how much you proofread, there are always one or two mistakes that creep through in the final document. No matter how hard you try. And you will see it the day you pick up the final product and turn to a random page!
Any last words?
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