Friday, May 31, 2013

What Makes Editing Professional

I love it when I hear from readers.

Coming back to the blog and going through the comments left here, I was gratified to see how many are actually not spam. Apparently, people actually read what I put on here. That feels good.

I especially liked the comment Skye Warren left on the post "On Paid Services for Indie Authors" on April 1st, because Skye really took the time to join the conversation. Her comment was practically a post in itself. Certainly was a lot longer than my May 26 post. She said:

One of the problems is the narrow defintion of "editing" to mean proofreading, when in publishing-speak it actually refers to content editing and line editing. Can an average person with an English degree and sharp eye for typos become a proficient proofreader? Maybe so. But can they come close to a professional editor in term of story structure, character development, deep POV, voice? No, that's really a professional editor. Not saying someone couldn't move up that way, but it takes all the experience and knowledge of any fully professional endeavor. And the people who can do it well are not only making a full time living this way, they are booked for months (sometimes years) out. So can you get them to work on your manuscript on a barter system? No. You can't. So implying that indies can achieve anywhere near a quality level that publishers do (even smaller publishers) through barter is misleading.

Now I'm not a stickler for editing as much as some. I put my first two books out on more of a whim, and though they'd been read by upwards of 10 critique partners/beta readers, I didn't have them professionally edited. But as soon as they sold even a few copies and I decided to continue on as a self pub author (a publisher, really) I put 100% of their sales into editing. But even then it was copy editing, or basically, proofreading to fix any errors. Now I've finally been able to move into content editing, line editing, and proofreading. Thank goodness! Because I know these are quality "minimums" for a publisher, which is what a self publisher really is. By minimums, I'm saying that it will, of course, happen that we'll publish without them. Our first books, we're just seeing how things go. But if we want to be taken seriously as a self published author, these are things we must do. They're not optional, and the only way to get professional services is to pay for them.

Skye brings up a couple of very good points. The word 'editing' is, indeed, often misunderstood. To be publishable, a novel needs four types of editing. Pavarti K. Tyler does a great job of explaining the first three:

→ The Content Editor
This is the professional eye which looks over your manuscript with a fine tooth comb. They will catch things like inconsistent character behavior/speech, style issues, thematic variances and readability. A content editor will be able to help you adjust your language by audience (lit fic vs. YA – there is a difference!), make sure everything makes sense, has believable dialogue and a plausible plotline. Many people skip this step, thinking their editor who fixes commas will do this as well. If you are lucky, they will, although the cost for editors who are that skilled is quite high and often times, even if the individual is capable, their attention to other issues in your manuscript might mean they miss something that could make the difference between an ok story and an epic novel.
→ The Copy Editor
In journalism, a copy editor is essentially a fact checker and someone who protects the publication from libel. For our purposes a Copy Editor is more like a professional proof-reader. Someone who performs this task usually does minimal rewriting for the sake of efficiency of prose as opposed to stylistic choices. They check the manuscript for clarity and flow. In my experiences most copy editors will also do line editing as the two are tied closely together and work well as a two part process.
→ The Line Editor
... The line editor generally isn’t there to discuss story arc or make sure you understand how to use a dialogue tag. Instead, they are there to make sure you are putting out the best quality product possible. Line editors will go over each sentence to make sure it is ready for publication. They check for grammar, punctuation, spelling, consistency and word usage (Is he your Principle or your PrinciPAL?) and can often assist with rewriting/rewording sections that need help.

And the final type of editing your book will need is proofreading (and proofreading, and proofreading again, so many times it will drive you crazy). Sometimes this is considered part of the line editing job, and sometimes it's mentioned separately, but no matter how you talk about it, the task is the same. Proofreading starts when your book appears to be ready to print (or upload, as the case may be), in other words, when you think all the errors have been corrected and the book is error-free. It's the step of catching all those misspellings, missing commas and homonym-substitutions ('slough' for 'slue') that somehow got through anyway. And it's not done until that wonderful final pass when not a single error is found in the whole book.

The second great point that Skye brings up is that for reasons I think I shall never understand, some indie writers actually think it's okay to skimp on quality. Of course, that gives the rest of us a bad name, so just like those first groups of black students in 'white' schools in the 60's, we really have to shine if we're going to challenge the stereotype.

Skye's third great point is one she demonstrates rather than talks about, because she's a victim of it.  I do freelance editing for online ad copy, so maybe I see it more blatantly than a lot of people. But do a little research and you'll find it's a common practice for people who make a living by providing a particular service to try to convince gullible members of the public that they are indispensable.

A related misconception is the idea that all qualified editors want to edit full-time for a living, and none of them choose to write books, except maybe books about editing. Real life, of course, is much more diverse than that, which is why there are plenty of 'real' editors out there willing to trade their services for something they need and either can't or don't want to do. 

A fact we tend to overlook - maybe because it's so obvious - is that editing skill doesn't come from money, it comes from training. And the level of editing required for book publishing can only be gotten by a combination of high-quality training and personal dedication to the craft.

Sometimes it's tempting to take the easy way out and say that money is the answer. For the lucky few with enough money, it means writing a check or setting up a funds transfer and going on in the blind faith that the book is now publishable. For most writers it's a convenient excuse to skip the editing process, as it's too expensive anyway.

But we're novelists. Creativity and clever solutions are our specialty. So we really can't get away with using the money excuse. We just have to work together and make it happen.

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