Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Editing – The Devil’s Bane

Note the additions to the header above, first chapters are now available for the O’Mara Chronicles.

A published book must be edited, period. Well edited, period. No buts or excuses. Remarks such as: “No one will notice.” “It’s just a comma for Pete’s sake.” “It’s my book, I can do what I want. It’s my way if being independent.” are not acceptable (and I’m sure the punctuation is wrong, somewhere, for the previous phrasing). Baloney, you worked hard on the story, it must be presented in its best English, spelling and punctuation.

I am saying this after having my novel Elk River professionally edited. But still, while going through the galley proof, the errors I continue to find just make me shake my head. Not to blame the editor, but I, as the author, must review the book at every stage, checking for spelling, spell-check is great but it is dumber than a box of rocks, i.e. canvas and canvass are both correct, except when they are reversed in the story. Punctuation has rules, but it’s the typos that get lost, little things like the comma after a quote that is followed by an attribution, i.e. “She melted,” Dorothy said. If you place a period after melted the punctuation review in you MS Word won’t pick it up. Do a search and replace. And on and on and on. The axiom, “The devil’s in the details,” is truth.

An editor is critical; they are someone with the experience and single-minded purpose to eliminate errors and confusions. With Track Changes in Word, the author can follow the changes proposed, approve or reject them and then produce the final manuscript. But at the same time the author must not blithely okay them, look at the suggestions and understand the corrections before approving the final. Learn.

This has nothing to do with style or content. In this particular area of editing or more specifically copy-editing, it is form over substance. For some books both a content editor and a copy-editor are needed, and in fact demanded. And, even beyond that for non-fiction, a fact-checking and even data checking editor might be employed. The wrong address in a travel book can be messy, the wrong phone number is there until the next edition (and if for an inn you will never be comped a room). The responsibility is yours as the author.

I have started a list of phrases and misspellings that I commonly make, I do a search for each in a methodical way to find and change as needed. I do the same for punctuation, things like the above mentioned period instead of a comma. Keep a list, in fact start a manual to use for each edit. Do your reviews before you send the manuscript on to your underpaid editor. If they work hourly, you will save some time and money.

Get a good book or guide on writing that focuses on grammar, spelling (difficult words), style and punctuation. The rules (and they are rules) are simple and direct. One of the best guides is Lynne Truss’s book Eats, Shoots & Leaves. It’s humorous and stays with you. Also Grammar Girl is very good, but you can get lost or lose hours reading thru her subjects – but it’s worth it. (CLICK HERE)

We all try hard to present the best story. We fold time, kill off evil doers, invent fantastic machines, discover unknown countries, and tell simple stories of boy meets girl or boy meets alien mind-sucking zombies. Don’t mess it up with a poor presentation.

More later. . . .

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