Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cleaning up your copy

This post originally appeared on Blood-Red Pencil in November 2008.
One of the best things you can do to make the most of your editor's time is to ensure that you proofread your manuscript as thoroughly as you can beforehand. Does this seem like a bizarre statement to you? After all, the job of the editor is to edit and/or proofread, isn't it?

But consider the issue more carefully. Many editors work on an hourly rate even if they charge per project. A good editor knows approximately how long it will take her to work on a manuscript of a certain length, and she factors this into her rates.

Is the manuscript you send to your editor filled with extra spaces where you hit the spacebar too hard, rogue punctuation that has been left over from odd sentences you deleted, inconsistent use of quotation marks, characters' names in lower case because you forgot to press "Shift", simple spelling and grammar errors, and typos that are due to your fingers accidentally hitting two keys at once? If so, you're wasting your money while your editor wades through all these unnecessary corrections before she can spend the rest of the allotted time on your actual story.

I've known some writers who feel they need to test their editor by deliberately including errors in their text. No editor is infallible, but many editors pride themselves on a very high catch rate. By all means, feel free to play games with your editor, but remember that it is your money that you are wasting. Or, if your publisher is footing the editorial bill, bear in mind that you could be setting yourself up to be labelled a high maintenance writer, in which case your book had better be worth the hassle.

The type of edit may also depend on the stage of the project you are working on - an editor checking the characterisation and plotting of a first draft may decide to note a particular typo or spelling error only once in order to focus on more important aspects of the edit. He may simply state that the text has, for example, "excessive use of participle clauses" and leave you to do your own search and rewrite. Different editors have different styles, and you may, or may not, be the type of writer who needs an editor to point out each participle clause. If you can choose your editor, bear this in mind when you're drawing up your criteria.

Clean copy is a pleasure for an editor to work with, and the writer who produces clean copy can easily win the editor's respect. A manuscript with limited errors is also less distracting to read, and the editor can focus more deeply on the narrative and construction elements.

Remember that your editor is there to help you create a better book. Meet him as far across the half-way mark as you can, for the sake of your story, and your wallet.

Elsa Neal Elsa Neal is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. In her experience with reading and critiquing manuscripts, she's picked up the most common errors that many writers seem to make. Read her list of the Top Ten Mistakes Writers Make at her website. Stay and browse through her resources for writers or follow her writing insights at her Fictional Life Blog.
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  1. Thank you. Although we do get paid for our time, a writer who makes the effort to make our jobs a bit less tedious is a joy to work with. There are plenty of tools in Word that will eliminate many of the tiny errors that bring us to an abrupt halt.

    Many people who write claim to be avid readers; why not read your own manuscript first before sending it out?

  2. Indeed. I find I start a critique with a lot more interest when I can see that the copy is reasonably clean and I can settle in and read it properly. Having to tidy it up first takes the shine off the project. You don't want a grumpy editor reading your work.

    I know a freelance editor who states upfront that he will send a manuscript back, unedited, with a "Proofread this first" note if he finds too many errors. He's a very popular editor despite that.

  3. Bravo! I try hard to give my editor clean copy and you have given me her perspective here. That gives her the time and latitude to give me more substantive comments, which are the most valuable.

  4. Attention to detail makes the difference between high quality work and a half way job. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Exactly - and editors appreciate the efforts that writers put in to producing clean copy. It's the really unnecessary typos that disappoint the most, especially when the writer doesn't even notice that they've typed an "8" in the middle of a character's name.

  6. Very good post, Elle. It's things like extra spaces between words that seem to take the longest to correct.

  7. Gott it ... I'll try too do a bettar job of proufing my stuff in the fucher.

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