Thursday, January 13, 2011

What Are Editors For?

You may have an editor at a publishing house, large or independent. You may have dedicated readers who edit for you. You may have a critique group who gives you advice. You may be a loner on a mountain top with no one to turn to for help. No matter what your situation, you have to edit what you write.

We all do. Even editors must edit their own work. Sure, you’re still going to turn to those trusted readers or a professional editor, but before (and after) you do, you need to do some self-editing. Find the mistakes that you can – the left out words, the plot strings that you totally forgot to tie up, the words that on second look don’t make sense, the additions that you put in then forgot to change in already written material and thus the best friend is killed off only to reappear alive in a later chapter, and other things. Find all the errors you can before you send it to me or some other editor. It’ll save you money, for one thing.

Here are some suggestions:
1. When you’re ready to start editing, read the full manuscript. Do not stop to make the edits right then. Mark the section in the margin and make a quick note to yourself with a red pen or the Comment tool so you can go back to it.

2. After that read-through, go back to your margin notes and begin making corrections. Some of them may require big re-writes. Some may mean you’ll have to come up with alternates to the passive “to be” verb. You may have to combine two characters into one. And so on.

3. Set aside the re-worked manuscript for as long as you can (for some that’s easy; but for others it can be like neglecting a baby). Then edit again.

4. If you always edit on the computer, print it out and edit with a pen.

5. Another idea is to record yourself reading your manuscript then listen to it. You’ll catch things that you didn’t see when reading on paper.

Here’s something I don’t advise:
I hear some people telling writers to read their work backward, word by word. I say, Don’t do that. That would be like reading gibberish.

Why torture yourself? That’s what editors are for.
Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, freelance editor and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its twelfth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn – or catch her April 30, 2011 at Books 'n Authors 'n All That Jazz in Weatherford, Texas, where she and Sylvia Dickey Smith will be talking about “Jazzing Up Your Characters.”

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  1. Great advice as always Helen. Oh, and the reading backwards thing does help for small business letters, memos and the like...but not for content, just to catch typos.

  2. I could see doing it on a business letter, but an entire book? Exhausting and not useful. And yet I've seen where people have recommended it for books. Thanks Liza for pointing that out.

  3. Great advice, Helen. I always print my work out after the first draft so I can write all over it.

  4. Susan, I do that too, although sometimes it's after the fifth or sixth editing pass-through.

  5. Good advice.
    I agree with Liza about backward reading being useful for business letters or short passages. But I can't imagine reading an entire manuscript backwards.
    Donna V.

  6. It is rather mind boggling, isn't it, Donna!

  7. Great advice, Helen!
    I had a lady read tarot cards once. I could barely stop giggling and felt it was a bunch of gibberish!
    DL Larson

  8. Until I started my bookish blog (shameless plug: I never realized just how important editors are.

    One bad experience with an independent author showed me just how important an editor is.

  9. Lessons learned without pain are the best, I think, although a painful experience usually does hurt. I tend to learn the most from those, though, because I don't forget them.

  10. Excellent advice as usual, Helen. I can't imagine trying to read a manuscript backwards; I understand its usefulness for finding hidden typos, but I'm sure it would make my eyes cross!

  11. Great advice. It's always best to have another set of eyes. Even if you have to give them back.

  12. Cute, Karen.

    I'm so used to reading front to back, if I switched I'd be so frustrated trying to make sense of it, even though I knew I couldn't.

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  14. I just blogged about editing @ I love this site, I always find great editing tips and it's refreshing to know that the tips I've picked up are on par with the editors at The Blood-Red Pencil. Editing can be a daunting task but when you have a list of things to look for in one concise location it can be easier. It's always preferable to get right to your destination rather than stumble around in the dark!

  15. Very helpful advice, Helen. Thanks. Reading backwards to catch typos is a trick a publisher taught me a long time ago when I was editing a magazine. He recommended putting a blank piece of paper over a page of copy and going down line by line, reading from right to left.

    Granted, that would be tedious for an entire book, but it does help keep a focus on looking for simple mistakes and not getting caught up in content again.

  16. I love editors. They are gods and goddesses.

    As for setting manuscripts aside, I do that and let them sit a long time. When I finally start revisions, I'm amazed at how much of the story I don't even remember writing at all.

  17. That happens to me, too, Patricia. I love it!

    Maryann, slowing down when you're in the editing phase is definitely helpful. Otherwise we read what's in our head, not necessarily what's on the page.

    Hi Dawn. Sometimes my edits on my own work turn into almost full rewrites!

  18. Okay, Helen, did that last sentence mean that editors are there to torture writers?
    Actually, as a proofreader, I do read shorter documents backwards. And sometimes even the long ones, which isn't fun.
    Good post, as usual.

  19. The last sentence did mean that, but I was joking.

    Kathy, I can see that reading something backward would force you to look closely at each word, but that would drive me nuts, unless the piece is short.

  20. I don't print much out anymore being an avowed nazi environmentalist ;), but I do change screens, fonts, and read aloud. Sometimes, just waiting a day between edits does the trick, too.

  21. Being the ancient person that I am, I remember the days before computers. Back then, I printed out a manuscript more than once as I did edits. Now I might do it once, since I see things on paper than I miss on the computer. When I'm reading print, I slow down.

  22. Great advice, Helen. And don't forget that there are a lot of freelance manuscript editors like me out there! Get them to do a sample edit of your work first. I always do a sample edit of the first 6-12 pages or so, so the author can see how I'd handle their work.

    Instead of reading backwards, I just make the page bigger by clicking on the "+" sign in the bottom right corner until it's 120% to 150%. Then it's REALLY hard to miss the mistakes! (Some people even go bigger.)

  23. A good editor is worth gold! Before I published my debut novel, I had the presence of mind of showing my manuscript (which I thought was pretty much finished) to a professional editor. I'm sure glad I did. It meant rewriting parts of the novel, but it was worth it. Scott Nicholson, who is part of the editing team on The Blood-Red Pencil, saved "Love of a Stonemason" from being a flop and helped me make it into a book I am proud of.
    Thank you, editors!

  24. Lots of great advice, Helen. I've found another great editing method ... If it's a smaller essay type of writing, or just a section of a manuscript, I've found that actually retyping it into word always works to clean up the piece. Something about that typing process brings flaws to light.

  25. I recently did a course on Basic Proofreading and Editing - my motive was that hopefully I can get a pretty clean ms to an external editor. I'm glad I did it, but phew. I'll happily pay for a professional editor because it takes incredible discipline and focus to proof read and edit.
    Judy (South Africa)

  26. Great advice, especially the last line! Every writer I know needs a good editor, including the very best ones.

    One thing that might be helpful to writers trying to figure out what they need in the way of help, and how much it would cost to get a professional editor, is this essay I wrote with colleagues:

  27. Great advice, Helen.

    I edit as best I can on the computer - and then I print the work out and go over it with a pen. As you might imagine, I am stunned at what I missed on the screen.

    I frequently read the close-to-final version aloud - it helps rhythm, and points out awkward passages that just reading itself doesn't show up.


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