Monday, July 27, 2009

The essense of editing--or why you need a good editor

Your manuscript is finally written. You breathe a great sigh of relief. But hold on; you aren't done yet. Use your spell-checker, grammar, and style checking program to catch obvious flaws and flag overly long sentences, for example.

You also may have learned to type on a typewriter and thus put two spaces at the end of a sentence. In the computer age one space is preferable. Otherwise, it looks awkward when typeset. No problem, though. Simply do a search and replace, and change the two spaces to one.
Even the best writers can benefit from good editors working behind them. Editing is a special skill the average author doesn't perform well. And since, in spite of their expertise, editors are notoriously poorly paid, the expense of getting professional help for your work won't normally be too large. By the way, please, please don't submit an e-book without editing. Most sites will simply take what you give them and put it up. If our industry is to prosper, every author must take personal responsibility for presenting a quality product.

A poorly edited book is harder to read, harder to believe, and less likely to be reviewed. It is shameful to see a good book cut to ribbons by a reviewer because of poor grammar or spelling. In a recent review, while the plot of a particular book was praised, the reviewer noted, "Unfortunately, the reader also has to detour around some disasters in editing and proofreading."

Because authors know their subjects so well, they are usually too close to their material; objectivity is lost. A professional editor can help detect passages that are unclear, poorly organized, or overwritten. This is called content or creative editing. During a second reading your editor will do copyediting, whisking out grammar, spelling, usage, and punctuation errors. The job of an editor is to hone and polish your manuscript to a fine edge, not to impose his or her style on it.

Where do you find such folks? There are several options. Look in Literary Market Place under ``Editorial Services,'' or contact the Editorial Freelancers Association at or (212) 929-5400.=. If you wish to hire help with editing—as well as retain complete services for design, production, and marketing for your book—you can also contact us at or (720) 344-4388. (Shameless self-plug, yes--but I would be remiss in not mentioning it!)

Be sure the person you hire has had experience editing books. An article or book writer is often not experienced or qualified in the editing process and typically has an editor going over his or her manuscript.

Short of hiring a pro, which is best, enlist the help of several literate friends or associates to go over your work. It's a good idea to give them some instructions. Ask that they underline any misspelled or questionable words, circle unclear passages, and note rough transitions with a question mark. Also recommend they jot any suggestions in the margins. Encourage them to be specific. Distinct constructive criticism is like surgery; it cuts out the malignancy and spares the rest of the body. Vague criticism is like chemotherapy; it causes the copy's hair to fall out and makes the whole thing look sick.

Even best-selling authors use others to refine their work. James Michener said, "I invite four outside experts—a subject-matter scholar, editor, style arbiter on words, and a final checker—to tear it apart . . .. Should you do any less?

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