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Sunday, 6 October 2013

On Editing Or Not.... by Debbie Bennett

I’m watching a discussion in one of the many writers’ groups on facebook at the moment. The statement being debated is along the lines of if you don’t have your book professionally edited, it will be rubbish. But nobody has yet defined professional and rubbish, or even edited, and until the goalposts are set firmly on the pitch, it’s all rather meaningless in my opinion.

In this particular discussion, professional appears to mean "paying somebody", or indeed "paying anybody". I’ve noticed in my alternative online life (aka facebook…) that there are a lot of people who set themselves up as publishers and editors. Just recently I saw an advert for a "new" publisher – the website says As a principal [sic], and to help new authors … Now what self-respecting author is going to sign up with a publisher who doesn’t understand homophones? Answer: the ones who still think that any "publisher" is better than no publisher.

Editors too. They exist in abundance on facebook, lurking in groups full of wannabe writers and charging anywhere up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars/pounds to "edit" your book for you. But what qualifies them to do this to any better standard than you? Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there are a lot of professional and highly-competent people out there; I know of many freelance editors who come highly-rated with lots of satisfied clients, and the resultant books are much the better for their input. But I also know of a lot of authors who have paid out a great deal of money and their books are still riddled with typos, errors and other problems. There seems to be no standard to aspire to, no qualification to check - and the only way to be sure is to ask for references and maybe even a sample edit before you part with your money. No decent editor should refuse either of those reasonable requests.


So saying that your book will be rubbish if you haven't paid out money to have it edited, is a bit like saying if you haven't been on a cordon bleu cookery course, your dinners will be inedible. Clearly a writer needs to practise and learn their craft as does any other artist. But while there is no substitute for a fresh pair of eyes, you can learn to self-edit, if you're good at spelling and grammar and have an eye for that kind of thing. I've been lucky on my current book in that I have a fan/reader of my other books who has been going through this one with me - telling me honestly what works and what doesn't, pointing out the boring bits, the nonsensical bits and the just plain rubbish bits. He challenges me, argues with me and makes me justify (or not) what I've done. And I am so grateful for that level of input. And then I find out he used to work in publishing many years ago.

So let's rewind and rewrite to if you don’t edit your book, it may not be as good as it could be. Does that work better?


6 comments:

JO said...

In addition, I think there's a huge distinction between a editor who works on structure, plot, characterisation etc - the huge things - and a copy editor, who works at sentence level. Too many writers seem to confuse the two - an editor does not concern him/herself with typos, while a copy editor makes no comment about scene order or wobbly characters.

Debbie said...

Indeed, Jo. Maybe part of the problem is expectation - the writer thinks the editor will do one thing, while the editor does something else entirely...

Catherine Czerkawska said...

I couldn't agree more, Debbie. All kinds of people seem to be setting themselves up as editors. I sometimes think it's part of our insecurity as writers. We always think other people know better. We're too trusting. And I do think you can learn to self edit, if you read a lot, write a lot and leave plenty of time before you start editing a manuscript. I always print out at some point, because I notice not just typos but problems with the structure, pacing etc on paper more than on screen. Recently, I've started sending the MS to my Kindle as well, which gives me a whole other perspective.
Sometimes, when you know in your bones that something isn't working the way you want it to work, but you're too close to the wood to be able to see the trees, it can help to have somebody else look over it - so long as they are sympathetic to your style. It may only take a few astute observations. You know they've got it right because you agree with them but you couldn't see it till they pointed it out. On the other hand, a good, literate and hawk-eyed friend can check for typos and so on.

liebjabberings said...

Self-editing is always available, free except for your time (not a small cost) and the ONLY thing likely to lead to self-improvement.

Knowing that dealing with an editor's comments will also take up your time - and fighting with said editor over which changes are necessary (two distinct visions WILL clash somewhere) is another reason for learning to edit yourself.

Since I have added Autocrit to the mix (it points out things such as that you've used a four-word phrase 5 times in one scene), with its complete lack of ego, and the professional subscriptions capacity to include your own problem words if you want, the scenes that I am publishing on my blog are a LOT more ready for prime time: I am actually quite satisfied.

Knowing that I'm pretty picky with other people's work, and I don't want to duplicate any of the kinds of egregious errors I've seen (nor the more subtle ones, but that's harder), I continually educate myself.

I may not be some people's cup of hot chocolate, but I AM internally self-consistent: give me a couple of scenes and you will be comfortable with the way I do things, and will no longer notice them when I do them.

As much as legendary editors have been said to improve the products they've edited (almost to the point of getting credit as co-creators, if not co-authors), I'll pass, thank-you-very-much.

Self-editing CAN be learned. And who knows your story better than you do?

Alicia

Reb MacRath said...

I'd worked with some great editors and had come to pride myself on my meticulous proofing. But, recently, a colleague was kind enough to send me a short list of typos that had slipped by me in one book. And a new review of Southern Scotch made passing reference to typos--luckily, none bad enough to cause him to stop reading. The upshot for me: I'll continue to self-edit--for plotting, pacing, etc. But I will try to get someone to re-proof my 'final version'.

Reb MacRath said...

I'd worked with some great editors and had come to pride myself on my meticulous proofing. But, recently, a colleague was kind enough to send me a short list of typos that had slipped by me in one book. And a new review of Southern Scotch made passing reference to typos--luckily, none bad enough to cause him to stop reading. The upshot for me: I'll continue to self-edit--for plotting, pacing, etc. But I will try to get someone to re-proof my 'final version'.