Saturday, November 15, 2014

To Edit, or Not To Edit

That is the question, or at least it seems to be in some cases. In short, yes, you should. Have I? Yes, I have in all but two of my books. Those two, I edited myself. I didn't have the finances, but I did want to get them out there.

However, it has come to my attention that more than likely, the problem of whether to edit or not has been the same for a very long time. One of the books I'm reading at the moment was published back in 1847. Now it's not a book I would just pick up, mostly because I'm fairly certain I'd never run across it where I look for books, but I am enjoying it even though the writing style is drawn out and flowery, making some of the dialogue seem rather tedious. What I find odd about this book is the sprinkling of editorial mistakes I have occasionally noticed. Now, don't get me wrong, the spelling is European, but I'm familiar with most of those discrepancies. I'm about three-quarters of the way to the end and I've noticed a handful of dropped words as well as a few typos. Giving when the book was published, I have no idea what kind of editorial services were available back then, nor do I know if the book was published traditionally (or as traditionally as was possible back then), or if it made it to cover by some other means.

Now I know how hard it can be to hire an editor. I'm not rich; in fact I probably live well below the poverty level. It is my hope that one day my writing will help me do something about that. Until then, I'm comfortable enough, but it also means that my hiring an editor is directly linked to whatever work I can find where payments can be brought in through my PayPal account, be it the sale of a book or two during the summer, or paying for my help with your writing. I don't claim to be an expert because I did all my learning here on line rather than from some expert in some sort of school. I simply don't have the money to pay for the luxury of going back to school.

Editing though - who do you trust? That's a good question. With the advent of self publishing, independent editors abound, and I'm sure the field will continue to grow. With all these editors out there, the choice is incredibly hard. Trusting your manuscript to just anyone is also very risky, or it can be. While I run across more and more editors, I suppose it is fortunate that I have heard very little about pirating of manuscripts.

So how do you choose? For myself, you have my most solemn promise that I will treat your manuscript with the same care I would my own, and I believe in keeping promises. For all those others - do your homework. Look them up. See if there is anyone who has used them in the past and ask them for their opinion. Heck, if you can, use the 'Look Inside' feature (if there is one) and read something they've claimed to edit. Sometimes authors will list who edited the book and sometimes not. Reading is the ultimate test.

There are different kinds of editors too. There's the guy who does little more then run your manuscript through his grammar and spell-checker. I firmly believe my very first editor did something of the sort, though he may have done a little more than that. As a writer hungry to learn more about writing, I learned nothing from him. That's probably at the bottom end of the spectrum of editors though. Don't scoff at the spelling bee champion out there, there are so many screwy words in the english language.

There are three main kinds of editors out there:
  • The copy-editor, the guy who checks your spelling, sentence structure, and such, isn't the only kind of editor out there. 
  • There is also the content editor, the guy who goes to the next level by scrutinizing your paragraph structure and story flow. This person looks at the story as a whole. They look for loopholes and inconsistencies. They also might look for loose ends, I know I certainly try to. 
  • And then there's the proofreader. This guy reads through the work looking for whatever mistakes they might be able to find. 
I guess I try to do it all. I know when I'm reading through some book, any of these issues will jump out at me anymore - too much editing my own stuff, I guess. Even formatting will annoy me if it's just all over the place. Appearance is just as important to me and a misspelled word.

So, in case you haven't caught on yet, I'm trying to break into the field in a minor sort of way. I'll never claim to be an expert, because I consider an expert...well...just that, someone with far more education than I had in the field. However, I do think I've gotten pretty darn good at what I do. Be careful out there as you surf around looking for an editor. Thar's sharks in them thar waters.

Happy writing.



Crystal Schall said...

Honesty and truth in advertising. It's nice to read that for a change. And good information even if the reader isn't considering you as their editor. A wonderful post. I wish you all the luck in the world :-)

William Kendall said...

I've done some editing for other writers as well, a mix of all three elements, but particularly copy and content.

Barbara Gregory said...

I have journal editing in my background, and I published a book for our little town, for which I collected and edited personal narratives. I enjoy the editing process, and I am good at it, but I'd rather be writing.

Willow Drake said...

Before life got complicated, I was a voracious reader and reviewer. Although I am getting back into reading, I don't read the volume I once did. I could never be an editor because the grammar and spelling isn't what I notice in a story. It's the story itself, the characters and the flow that will win me or lose me.

I think a good editor is the second one you described but a great editor is all three with a compassionate heart for the author. Someone who understands the author's point of view and attachment to their work but who can guide them to make it better. I believe you embody this and would be an excellent editor for author.