Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Editing – The Devil’s Bane Revisited

This post is a reprise of a blog from last year written while I was going through the editing of my novel Elk River. Currently, as you loyal readers know, I’m editing 12th Man for Death. I hope to release this latest Sharon O'Mara Chronicle by November 1. But something has changed! Note in the title I’ve dropped the 4 for for (this is not a baseball phrase). While cute and I have liked it on the covers, the use of the number 4 produced quite a few questions from readers, they were confused. And the covers, well, they just didn’t read well. So I changed them and now use the preposition for. Look for updates on the other Chronicles as well – if comments, let me know.

Now back to our thrilling blogs of yesteryear.

A published book must be 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 (insert here any current manuscript) professionally edited. But still, while going through the editor’s 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.

A copy 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.

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 comp’ed 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 (there are a few software programs that help such as SmartEdit). I do the same for punctuation. Keep a list; in fact start a manual to use for each edit. Do your reviews and checks 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 (or six or seven) 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.

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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