In Defense of Editing
Hi, this is Sarah and I think I’ve covered the topic of editing before. However, Charlie suggested it’s time to hit it again, and he’s probably right. I know I’ve hit the topic of covers a million times give or take ten thousand, and still people who are contemplating going indie tell me they could never afford it because covers are so expensive. The short answer to that, again, is here.
The other point is editing, as in “I can’t afford to pay an editor, and editing is so important.” Then you talk to them and you find out what they really mean is copy editing, which, yes, is important, but it’s also cheap and that they have no clue what other kinds of editing there could be or why it’s important.
And no matter how many times I explain, they come back to the same.
I think it’s because indie publishing is so new that it’s getting infusions of new blood all the time, so that, like Young Adult literature it needs to repeat itself because no matter how often you’ve said it, it’s always brand new for a significant number of newly-interested people.
So for those who are newcomers to the field, I will explain editing once again.
First of all, the first editing, that must happen, is your own. Yes, you’ll sometimes hear of writers who publish their first drafts. If their books are worth spit one of two things is happening: either they are lying (not necessarily on purpose. What I consider first draft has undergone significant editing because I back-edit while writing, even though I know I shouldn’t), or they are so experienced that the writing is almost flawless outright.
Even so, I guarantee no one publishes first drafts without copy-editing. What is copyediting?
This is where you go in and fix words and punctuation. Most of the time it means catching typos your spellchecker won’t catch. "Ours" for "hours," for instance. Ears for years. But it also means catching the “word of the day” (everyone has one. Some days you repeat a word without noticing. Could be something simple like "extraordinary," or a really odd one like "counterproductive." But your brain becomes enamored of the word and goes to it by preference if even remotely applicable. When you’re copy-editing, you’ll find these patches, and you should fix them.
So copy-editing is the minimum level of editing you should have done. You can do it, but if you do it you have to find a way to break the eye-glaze that comes with editing your own stuff. Reading aloud or reading backward work for some people. [Like me. Nothing better for technical writing.--Charlie] I can’t do reading aloud, because my training was in poetry, and I become obsessed by the sound of the words, and edit in such a way that the books read artificial, as though you should be declaiming.
However, I recommend you have someone else copy-edit your manuscript. This should be someone you know has a grasp on basic grammar and preferably on the lingo of the time-period you’re writing in. (I had a lot of readers send me in “typos” in Witchfinder, that were actually Regency lingo.)
Now copyedits are the cheapest form of editing too. I’ve paid $10 for 10k words for it, though I suspect I got a discount. It’s still not prohibitive.
You can also swap with another writer. We have a group of us who does that.
Next level up from copy-editing, sometimes included in it but often not, is “Continuity and fact-checking editing.” This is where your copyeditor verifies that Henry the VIII really did have six wives. Or that your character only has two arms in that action scene, not seven. Good ones go further than that and will verify minutia in your books. My favorite editor whom I used for my indie novel once got up on my case because I had the wrong kind of taper in an Elizabethan tavern scene. He’s expensive and worth every penny. (And the publishing houses are bad at this, particularly for historical, because their copyeditors think they should do this and lack the ability. This is how I had a copy editor tell me to capitalize Terra Firma because it was a country.)
For this, expect to pay more like $40 for 10k words. Or find your most obsessive friend and rope him into doing it. (Or my older son. No, seriously. He chases every rabbit down the hole and all the way to China.)
The highest level of editing is structural editing and it is almost book doctoring. The line between the two blurs. Here the editor will tell you that your story lacks a climax. That you need to rewrite the ending. That your male character should be female to enhance the impact of chapter 27.
Most of the time my advice on that level of editing is “don’t. Just don’t.”
Why do I say that? Is it because I think it’s not necessary? Oh, heck no. At least once that type of editing – from Baen – saved the book. I had two climaxes of equal weight in the same book, and so it left you feeling strangely like it hadn’t ended.
Now, for those keeping score at home that was my 22nd published book, my thirtieth written book. Which means you can make these mistakes even with a ton of experience, and that editing absolutely saved my sorry behind. So… why do I say don’t have it done?
Because it’s a d*mn difficult skill, an art really, and most of the people willing/offering to do this aren’t any better at it than you are and might be markedly worse. I’ve seen enough books botched by this type of edit, and the poor writer paying a mint for the privilege, to say “better not do it.”
If you absolutely must do it:
Make sure the editor is someone whose work you know and admire. Whether that work is writing or editing. If it’s editing, not only talk to the client and ask what the editor had them change, but read the book with an eye for how it worked.
Make sure the editor works in your genre/subgenre. As with covers, if they don’t, they’re likely to give you something that won’t work at all. For instance, having a Romance editor do SF or vice versa will mess up the book.
Make sure the editor is experienced. Yeah, I know. It’s unfair. But editing is like writing something you learn b doing. Not enough experience means bad, no matter how much book learning you have.
Make sure your personalities are compatible. My indie editor has a snide, acerbic sense of humor. Before I got used to it, I thought he hated my work. (And no, Mister, if you read this, you shall never be forgiven for that cat picture. ;))
The reason it’s so important to make sure you get what you pay for, is that Structural editing is expensive. I would expect to pay somewhere North of 1k for a normal size novel, supposing you don’t get special-friend discounts.
However, finding a good Structural editor is almost as hard as finding a good artist. In the meantime, you can sort of roll your own with Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. I recommend it in any case if you write novels. It helped me get fluent in novel writing.
And whatever you choose to do, good luck. Remember the goal is to create the best product you can, not to make it perfect. It will never be perfect. If you read traditionally published books, you’ll find some glitches too. Your goal is for your indie work to be no worse.
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