Editors: Do Indie Authors Need Them? Catherine Czerkawska
|The Amber Heart: eBook version.|
Because this was a novel which had started life as a series of plays, and was set on a remote Scottish island, I had a very precise idea of how my characters would speak, and what would work. This wasn't incomprehensible dialect. It was more to do with the rhythm and musicality of speech which is such a feature of the area. She had ironed out these differences. When, at a key point in the novel, my Hebridean hero says to the heroine, 'I think I will just have to keep you!', she twice changed it to, 'I think I'll keep you.'
It was then that the relationship broke down although, to be fair, this had been preceded by a number of insulting comments about my prose and (non-existent) anachronisms. And believe me, as a playwright, I'm no delicate flower. Most playwrights are quite comfortable with having their deathless dialogue questioned and questioned again!
Oddly enough, my best editorial experience was with the same publisher, and it was wonderful: a helpful, thoughtful, precise and astute young editor who spotted all my typos and inconsistencies, as well as those passages where you think you're being totally clear, but somebody coming cold to the text might find things puzzling. Above all, he seemed able to spot - and hone in on - those places where I myself was a little uncertain, but couldn't quite put my finger on what was wrong. We had a great many cheerful and businesslike email exchanges and the book was all the better for it.
All of which leads me to the conclusion that (a) a good editor is a pearl of great price and (b) indie authors most certainly need them.
The problem comes - of course - with finding that 'good editor'. Not many people know that there is a Society for Editors and Proof-readers, here in the UK. They have codes of practice (and making changes without highlighting them is definitely not recommended!) But not all editors are members of any professional organisation.
|My precious Kindle in its turquoise cover.|
With the advent of eBooks and indie publishing, we are seeing a lot of unedited work out there, and writers - particularly beginning writers - are doing themselves a disservice by making their mistakes so publicly. It's worth paying somebody to edit your manuscript: all part of treating yourself as a professional.
However - and it is a very big however - the rise of eBook publishing has resulted in the concomitant rise of the unpoliced indie-editor. Suddenly, all kinds of people are claiming to be able to tell you how to rewrite your novel and demanding payment for doing so.
There are two kinds of editing. There is the general editing, conventionally undertaken by a publisher's editor, the person who acquires your book, but increasingly by your literary agent. As an agent remarked to me, 'Publishers are looking for an oven ready product, these days.' He or she will look at overall structure, plot, character development and so on, and make helpful suggestions. Later, there is copy editing, which will look at the minutiae of your manuscript: typos, punctuation, spelling, etc.
The former kinds of editors are only useful when they are demonstrably experienced enough to know what they are talking about - and when they understand what you are trying to achieve. As a writer remarked to me recently, 'Why in God's name would you trust a recent media studies graduate, with almost no track record except a handful of essays, to be able to revamp the essence of your novel and get it right?'
Yet there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of highly prescriptive blogs and websites out there written by people who - with delusional self confidence, rather than any proven knowledge or experience - have set themselves up as founts of editorial wisdom.
We do need editors. We need them to look at early drafts and ask searching questions, which is so often what a good theatre director does. He or she never rewrites, but I've sometimes had two or three closely written pages of questions about a play, and in finding the answers to those questions, I've made the play infinitely better. This relationship must always involve mutual respect and a genuine interest in allowing the true voice of the writer to shine through.
A good copy editor is also essential. We need to bite the business bullet and pay the going rate. Even though an editor, an agent, and several readers had gone over the manuscript, I've just found two typos in my novel Bird of Passage, or rather had them pointed out to me by an eagle-eyed reader. Thankfully, with an eBook, I can make corrections!
But take nobody on trust. Go by personal or professional recommendation if you can. Communications from your editor should be stimulating, interesting and exciting. Your heart should not sink at the thought of how they are going to slag you and your work off. Above all, beware of the inexperienced editor who may be too over-confident to know how little he or she really knows.
If indie-authors need editors - and they surely do - who edits the editors?
BTW, love your turquoise kindle jacket! Mine flaunts itself in bright red.
more seriously, some editors change things to 'improve' your english or construction, et al - and often, as cally and dennis have illustrated, screw it up completely. i've had huge rows with harper collins editors in the past, because they've assumed i don't know proper grammar when i deliberately adapt it to what i want it to sound like in the context. it's a hell of an argument, and beyond the bleeding pale. on the other hand, the best editor i've ever had, tim waller, was a harper collins man.
the americans are worst, or at least totally impossible. they're comma crazy, change which to that and vice versa, and won't be argued with. i spent more money in transatlantic calls with one of my books than i earned from it! (mr needle, you're guilty of exaggeration, which, in america, is spelled with thre...etc etc)
copy editors yes - they can be brilliant. editors who change things because they know better need watching like the plague. (mr needle, you're mixing your meddafors again...)
get someone to do it if you must, but remember who the writer is. now i'd better go and have a lie down...
The best editor is time: leave your early draft for a year and work on something else. Then go back. There will be plenty of searching questions. Not to mention typos and inconsistencies.
But I certainly care about my readers, at least enough to want to share something with them, to communicate with them, as I want to communicate with an audience through the medium of theatre.
And just what is right? Now, that's a question...
Even at the literary agent stage, I've come across attempts to rewrite/edit the Highland Scottish lyrical musicality of speech. It's mistaken by some as the author not knowing how to write properly. Syntax also. The thing I learned to fear most was the "line edit", where a fait accompli is handed back to you, no document with tracking changes...just a "new" document, not just with cuts, but with new bits I had not written, and the choice proffered to take it or leave it. I had a story edited that way once, cut from 3600 to 2700 words, no consultation...I believe I was given 24 hours to decide whether I would accept the rewrite! Happy days!