“The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile.”
So, why do we (writers) actually need editing and editors at all? I mean, we’re all pretty good aren’t we? We’ve studied and worked at it. We know our stuff. But we’re not perfect. No matter how many times we review our work, not matter how many different media we use (screen, tablet, paper etc) we’re always going to miss something.
What if your readers can spot grammatical errors that you didn't know were there? What if they see holes in your logic? Or loose ends you forgot to tie up? What if you’re blind to your reoccurring errors, like ‘they’re/their/there’, ‘it’s/its’ or the reoccurring horror of the incorrect inverted comma.
Every mistake in grammar, spelling, sentence structure, and overall organization; in fact anything that trips up the smooth flow of ideas from your mind to the readers is a potential showstopper. Enough errors can mean complete failure.
Before you publish your work, you need an expert pair of eyes to review it for errors, continuity, story arc, grammar, and punctuation.
Which brings me onto the question of what exactly is editing anyway? Technically, editing is the process of selecting and preparing writing through the processes of correction, condensation, organization, and other modifications performed with the intention of producing a correct, consistent, accurate, and complete work.
In general, when you edit you’re taking a piece of writing and (hopefully) making it better.
Let’s break it down further into the actual types of editing. I believe that there’s four main types:
1. Copyediting or copy editing – both spellings are correct. This is usually the final editing a manuscript goes through before publishing. It requires someone who has patience, an eye for detail and a thorough understanding of the rules of grammar, plus a good sense of when to use them. Also called line editing. Copy editors are primarily concerned with the nuts and bolts of a piece; grammar, word choice, punctuation, and spelling.
2. Proofreading - similar to copyediting. The term comes from the idea of ‘proving’ or correcting a manuscript. Normally associated more with shorter manuscripts. Also refers to proofreader’s marks recognized by publishers. Proofreading marks are not used as much today because so much editing happens on the computer without paper. This is the simplest form of editing and is also usually the cheapest. Proofreading is for writers who don't need help with sentence structure or the content of the book itself, but need someone to simply go over the text for basic grammatical and spelling errors.
3. Rewrite, substantive, or substantial editing – I’m not sure why we call rewriting editing, except it has to do with fixing an existing manuscript. Rewriting is just that and it can be as difficult or even more challenging than starting from scratch. Like copyediting, rewriting is a specialized skill. Often good re-writers are not good copyeditors and vice versa – the skills are distinct. In fiction editing, the substantive editor examines plot flow, themes, and character development.
4. Developmental editing – here the editor works with the client right from the beginning, helping the author develop the concept from start to finish. Usually associated with books and screenwriting. The developmental edit is a huge process sometimes involving ghostwriting. The developmental editor may rewrite sections where the author is stuck. He or she may give ideas on how the story could move forward, or suggest a new avenue or a new character to be introduced or removed.
You may see variations on the above terms, but generally even those will fall somewhere within these definitions.
Here’s a personal tip from me. I use a website that wasn’t originally developed for editing, but is very useful anyway – the Wordle website at http://www.wordle.net/
Wordle is used to create 'beautiful word clouds', but this handy tool also highlights in big bold print all of the words you overused. The more you use them the bigger and bolder they are in the word cloud. I use it to ensure that I’m not overusing a particular word. Once recognised, I use the 'find' function in my word processor to remove or replace them.
As an examples, here's the word cloud for this blog post...
So, what will editing cost?
When I was searching for an editor I was contacted, via a ‘hashtagged’ twitter request, by the below person who seems knowledgeable, experienced and has some very good testimonials. A quick trawl of her website found the below indicative pricing:
£200 / $300 per 20,000 words
£160 / $250 per 20,000 words
£260 / $400 per 20,000 words
£1,600 / $2,500 per 5,000 words.
Source: The Word Queen http://thewordqueen.com/
The UK Society for Editors and Proofreaders publishes suggested minimum freelance rates here:
In the US, the Editorial Freelancers Association publishes a similar range of fees here:
So, how do you find an editor and what should you look for? The first thing I would look for is training or qualifications. These could be specialist editorial courses, but the minimum I would look for is a degree in English. Next, I would look for experience, preferably experience in the area of editing that you’re looking for. Their website should highlight their experience, and hopefully testimonials and recommendations from delighted former clients. If they’re new to editing then I would look for a career in professional writing, something like journalism, publishing, or even PR.
Then I would look for someone with similar interests to your subject area. For me it was someone who edits science fiction and supernatural fiction. There’s very little point in asking someone who edits only romance novels to edit your latest fantasy epic. Similarly, your editor may require specialist knowledge if you’re writing is aimed at professionals in a given area, or contains details that you may need checking. Something that comes to mind is if you’ve written a police procedural work or something containing military details. Of course, an editor is no substitute for research!
I would also want someone with good communications skills, primarily so they can explain why I need to delete my cherished prose. Obviously, they should display good judgement when suggesting changes. They should also work efficiently, especially if charging by the hour, and keep deadlines. Few things in life are worse than waiting expectantly for your polished masterpiece to be returned to you.
Finally, I would want someone who ferociously reads a wide variety of genres and styles.
My recommendation for finding an editor would be by personal recommendation. If you’ve got no one to recommend someone then search online and use testimonials or examples of work. There are also directories and organisations who can put you in contact with editors, such as the UK Society for Editors and Proofreaders, or the American Editorial Freelancers Association. I also asked for help via a hashtagged request on Twitter. The Proof Professor at http://www.proofprofessor.com/ answered.
In case you’re interested, I chose a new editor with no experience, who has an English degree, has worked in PR, reads constantly and dislikes sci-fi intensively, with the exception of Margaret Atwood. Go figure.
Killing your favourite children – how it feels to be edited:
No matter how objective you are, how much you understand intellectually that the editor will improve your work, being edited can still feel like removing your own genitals with rusty nail clippers. Your magnus opus is covered in red pen and you’re advised, nay expected, to rip out its’ guts and make the demanded changes.
Actually, in reality, in most cases they’re simple, straight forward spelling, punctuation and grammar changes that improve the work. Sometimes, they’re suggestions to change sentence structure or lose words that improve the writing. Occasionally, just occasionally, they’re proposals that lift the work to a whole new level.
So is it worth the heartache and money? At the end of the process, you’ll have a well written piece, that scans well, is efficient, to the point and a whole lot better than your original work. And you’ll be thrilled with it.
Let me give you an example from my own work. Below is the before and after text of an excerpt from my short story “Hope”.
My original text, pre-editing:
The thought concerned how majestic he had once thought the world beneath him to be, how pure from human faults it had seemed, how almost divine it had once appeared.
Edited text, post editor’s suggestions:
How majestic the world beneath him had seemed; how pure from human faults, how almost divine in nature.
Which one do you prefer?
Hopefully, I’ve demonstrated why you need editing, what it is, how much it will cost, where you will get it from, how to choose an editor, how it feels to be edited and the undeniable value of being edited.
It may seem a little strange that my first non-diary blog was about one of the end processes. But I guess that’s just because I’m at the editing stage right now (early March) in the process of creating my own first ebook (an anthology of sci-fi short stories called “Memes of Loss and Devotion”). My coming blogs will be more about the processes and disciplines when the page is blank. More about my tips and techniques of getting to the editing stage.
I’ve got loads of ideas for future blogs. It’s time to write them that I’m short of. If there’s anything in particular you want me to write about then just let me know. I’ll be only too willing to offer advice if I can.
In the meantime, check out my news page to stay in the loop. My first ebook is coming as fast as I can possibly get it to you.