Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Editing – The Devil’s Bane

I’ve updated a post I made about two years ago regarding editing. I am currently into the final edits of two books that I hope to get to a publisher (for us writers hope is a very real state of mind). Editing is as much a part of the writing process as is the creation of the story, welcome it, enjoy the process, immerse yourself and get your fingers all pruney.

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 of being independent, showing my difference,” are not acceptable (and I’m sure the punctuation is wrong, somewhere, for the previous phrasing). Baloney, you worked hard on your story, you must present it as perfectly as possible. There are very good examples of going off the trail such as Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist (with not one attributed quote) but I warn you, that trail can be extremely difficult to take.

I am saying this after having six novels professionally edited. But still, while going through the galley/final proof, the errors I continue to find (post edit) 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. And we are all aware of to, too, and two. (BTW, what does to plus too equal?) 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 have the experience and single-minded purpose to eliminate errors and confusions. With Track Changes in Word, the author can follow the editors proposed changes, 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 survives until the next edition (and if for an B&B 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 (here and her are one of my faves). 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.

I offered blogs on SmartEdit during the past year, this is a good program. Learn it and use it. Find a good book or guide on writing that focuses on grammar, spelling (difficult words), style and punctuation (I have at least five on a shelf). 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 work very, very hard at presenting 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 prom queen who turns out to be an alien mind-sucking zombie who drives a BMW. Don’t mess it up with a poor presentation.

More later. . . .

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