Picking Their Brains: Editing Advice from Experienced Authors

I noticed a lot of editing discussions popping up recently, so for this month's edition of Picking Their Brains, I asked a few experienced indie authors for their best editing advice. I ended up with this great variety of tips, as well as details on the different kinds of editing services one might need. Many thanks to everyone who took the time to contribute their tips!

Do not, I repeat, do not, edit your piece on your own. You need fresh eyes on it, no matter how good you think you are. There will always be some missing comma, a letter your brain scanned over and filled in the missing puzzle piece. Always have a trusted person review your draft. —Matthew Johnson, Professor Grimdark

Keep a style sheet of proper names (people, places, and things) and all their iterations. For example, in my work, the name of the nation and people (the noun) is Caleisbahnin, but the descriptor (adjective) is Caleisbahn. Also other words unique to your world (eg, slotaen—an antibiotic and anesthetic ointment in my world) should go on the style sheet. Refer to this yourself as you're writing, and give it to your editor when he/she begins working.

Some buyer beware notes:

1. Don't pay the total fee up front. A portion at the start of work and the remainder when the job is finished is OK.
2. Be leery of editors who quote you a fee before seeing a sample of your work, unless it's for the most basic proofing job. A professional editor will want to see a portion of the raw manuscript before deciding how much to charge, because he/she should make an assessment of how much work needs to be done before quoting a fee. Anyone who gives you a quote sight-unseen is either really inexperienced or not interested in doing justice to your manuscript.
 —AM Justice, author of A Wizard's Forge

Here are a few no-brainers I wish I had learned earlier in my career:
- Never put complete faith in an editor or editing software.
- Be wary when using simple words with the Replace All function as any words that share the same series of letters within them will get changed also.
- Avoid head hopping by remembering that the "break" in "POV break" means using an actual paragraph break with a space or something in-between.
- A comma is not a fullstop, so always ask yourself when a sentence should end. Sometimes the best way to rewrite an awkward sentence is to simply break it in two.
- Avoid using sense verbs in relation to the POV's observation in the third person. "Ben saw Bob enter the room" is a lot less immersive than "Bob entered the room".

—Christopher Keene, author of Gods of the Mountain

Once you've finished the first draft, take a break, let the story slip out of your mind. A few weeks or months later, after having done/read/written other stuff, print out the manuscript with two pages to a sheet of paper, go to a place that is not your home/den/whatever and read it there as if it were another person's book.
—Ulff Lehmann, author of Light in the Dark series

I think the most useful thing I figured out was to read my book out loud before hitting publish. It’s funny how things can look fine on the page and then when you say it outloud you can suddenly hear how it’s wrong or at least how you could write it better. 
—Megan Mackie, author of The Finder of the Lucky Devil

Get as many informed opinions on your manuscript as you can manage. If one person picks up on a point that you don't immediately think "Aha, how did I miss that?" then it could be just them. If two or three raise the same point, then recognise you need to do something about it. It is interesting that Exile had a lot of beta reads
and a developmental edit, and no-one raised the point about Aron being too successful with the ladies, this point consistently comes up in the reviews I've received. Would have done something to alter it, if my beta readers had raised it. 
—Martin Owton, author of Exile

The big recommendation I have is get an editor recommended to you by a fellow author as a lot of editors don't know what the hell they're doing and screw up. I've had to deal with some really awful people. 

—CT Phipps, author of Straight Outta Fangton

When you find a typo that's not a misspelling (loose instead of lose, let's say), immediately search for that same spelling. You'll be surprised how many times it's already appeared that you didn't see. 
—MD Presley, author of The Woven Ring

More helpful editing tips and techniques from MD Presley: Editing Strategies

Many thanks to AM Justice for this breakdown of the different types of editing services:

Developmental editing ($$$$): A big picture assessment of the manuscript, which may include suggestions for cutting scenes and chapters, adding scenes or chapters (which you will write at the editor's recommendation), rearranging scenes/chapters. Developmental editors will be looking at the story/storytelling and whether it's successful. The DE may do some line editing, and they should be looking at continuity and consistency issues, but most of their work will appear as comments advising you to take certain actions to improve the manuscript. It will be up to you to decide whether to take the suggestions and do the work to implement them.

Line editing ($$$): A deep edit to improve the language with which the story is told. A line editor looks beyond basic spelling and grammar and helps hone your sentences by eliminating redundancy and verbosity, dangling modifiers, and problems with syntax and usage. The line editor should also be querying consistency and continuity errors. There is a lot of overlap between line and copyediting. A good copyeditor will do a low level line edit, and a line editor should be fixing spelling and grammar, as a matter of course.

Copyediting ($$): A basic edit to fix spelling and grammatical errors. The copyeditor may also prune verbosity and redundancy, and should be calling out dangling modifiers and syntax and usage errors, but the main focus is on fixing clear-cut mistakes.

Proofreading ($): A lot of people confuse proofreading and copyediting. Technically, proofreading is a word for word check of the laid out content (be it an ebook or the printing page proofs) against the manuscript, to ensure no errors crept in during the conversion from word-processed document to laid out book (and they do/can creep in). The proofreader should also fix any remaining spelling and grammar mistakes as part of this process. That said, editors may offer a "proofing" service in which they will do a very, very basic copyedit of the manuscript to fix spelling and simple grammatical errors (but don't expect them to touch more sophisticated or complex problems with sentence structure, meaning, etc).

The dollar signs are rough guides to the fees you should expect to pay. Different editors structure their fees differently; some do it by the word, some by a number of hours they estimate after seeing a sample of your work and what they're in for when they undertake an edit. (A cleaner, more polished manuscript will cost you less.) I'd say a rough guide is to expect to pay at least $50-70 per hour for a developmental edit and progressively less for the other types of editorial work. If all you can afford is the most basic copyedit, you should still scrape together the funds to get that done.


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