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Write and publish with love and fury.

Editing Part III: The joy of editing

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, 3rd...

I just received the gift of a book in the mail. I had already read this book but I was very pleased to receive it. In fact, I’d gone through this particular book in meticulous detail. The author signed the title page for me and graciously thanked me for my advice. The book in hand was a bonus for editing the work.

Editing is such picky work. I zip into and out of the on-line Chicago Manual of Style a lot. I tweak here and economize there. No matter the level of the edit, the key to good editing is asking the right questions.

Here’s a sample of the sorts of questions that run through my mind as I work:

Should that be 18th Century or Eighteenth century? Should I leave a quirky passage alone to keep the author’s voice or is the joke too much of a reach? Should I suggest new elements? Does the material make more sense if it is reorganized? Does this follow logically from that? Is that assertion a fact? Is that translation correct? What design elements could I suggest to make the book pop? What elements could I suggest that would convert a browser into a buyer? Is there an opportunity missed here? What marketing strategy could I suggest to make this a book with real long-tail potential? What’s missing? (That last one can take the work to a new level.)

In short, a good editor or proofreader will question everything.

An experienced editor will pick up on what’s on the page and what’s not there that’s hurting the book.

In the end, I let it go back to the author to decide which of my suggestions to act upon. When it’s done, the author’s name is on the front cover. I always say some variation of: “She’s still your baby. She’s healthy and you’ll recognize her. She wasn’t sick but she’s feeling even better now.” The reader will never know how much or how little I did. The job is to make the author look good. (And sell more books.)

And you know what? It’s fun. I’m not gleeful about it in the way I know some editors are. When I was in journalism school and when I worked for a daily newspaper, I ran into editors who were looking for stuff so they could catch you out. It was a game for them and they acted like it was the only way they could find to feel good about themselves. When they caught something—anything—writers got snarky remarks and not just a little passive aggressive indignation. Editors like that are sad and make me tired.

I find editing fun because it’s an intellectual challenge and the collaborative process makes the book better than it otherwise would have been. Higher quality editorial work translates to more authority to the author, more sales for the current book and more sales for the author’s next book. A helpful edit can morph an experiment that didn’t quite come together into a legacy book that will delight, distract, elevate, educate, provoke, redeem and earn for years to come.

A good edit will pay for itself.

And generally? No, an unedited book doesn’t stand a chance.

Filed under: authors, Books, ebooks, Editing, Editors, grammar, publishing, self-publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Editing Tips Part 1: Story bible

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Since I’m in heavy edit mode this week, it’s going to be all about editing all week. You asked. I give. And so:

A story bible is a document beside your manuscript where you keep track of characters’ names, ages and details. It will keep you from screwing up too much and make your revision process go faster. It’s very frustrating, for instance, to go through a 450-page manuscript looking for the hero’s little sister’s eye color page by page. It’s the equivalent of losing a productive hour to search the house for a misplaced checkbook.

Keep your story bible close so you can add to it without interrupting your writing flow. I use a yellow legal pad though if you have the document on-screen you could search it, I suppose. (A bible that is too long goes unread but is an excellent device to keep you procrastinating instead of writing and revising.)

Even if you’re less of a planner (the seat-of-the-pants writer) it helps to have some minimal plan or a story bible so you can keep track of characters and key details. It’s better than losing a character along the way. It is embarrassing to write an entire novel and think you’re done only to have one of your beta readers ask, “What happened to Mrs. Haversham? Did she survive the fall to the bottom of the stairs on page 139? And what happened to the alien prostitute who got locked in the truck?”

It’s a huge problem in self-publishing because there aren’t teams of editors and proofreaders combing manuscripts. It happens with traditional publishers, too (and will increase becaus of cutbacks.) For instance, in Lucifer’s Hammer, an astronaut is described as short, but by the end of the book he’s standing tall and commanding in the bow of a boat. In Under the Dome,  Stephen King introduces a supernatural element on the good guy’s side that is never explained and seems forgotten, as if the angels whispered in the hero’s ear and then got distracted and wandered away. (When you write a book that big, it’s easy to lose threads and drop stitches.)

As you edit, things will crop up and it will help you to add edit points to your bible. Edit points are policy issues. It saves you a lot of time, and money, to have a clean manuscript. Decide up front, are you basically going with the Chicago Manual of Style? AP Style? Canadian or American spelling? Serial commas or no?

By keeping a list, you’ll discover some idiosyncrasies will crop up and it may grow to a long list. For one instance, you might type gray when you mean to write grey. In your bible under a heading that reads Editing Points, write in bold GReY NOT GRaY!

When you think you’re done your manuscript, drag out your list of troublesome words.

Use the Search and Replace tool.

You thought you got them all.

You didn’t.

Nobody does.

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Filed under: Books, Editing, Editors, getting it done, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

Writers: Five editing tricks and tips (plus editing marks)

 

1. Editing onscreen is more difficult and less accurate than printing out your manuscript and attacking it with a pencil. Unless you’re well-practiced at editing pixels, print it out.

2. As you read your manuscript, read aloud. You will pick up more problems that way and if you run out of breath, it’s probably a run-on sentence.

3. Some experts tell you to read your manuscript backwards, one word at a time, to catch more typos. Though it is true this technique works, you must have a form of OCD to act on it. This is advice editors give, but never do themselves. If you don’t believe me, try it with any book-sized manuscript. (Wait! First make sure there are no sharp objects or firearms nearby!)

4. As you edit, read slowly. Your brain is wired to skip over mistakes when you read quickly.

5. Farm it out. You need someone else’s fresh eyes on your manuscript to see the thing you are missing. Hire editors. (Here’s one!)

Filed under: authors, Books, Editing, Editors, getting it done, publishing, rules of writing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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