The Importance of Being Edited

editing-188x250 copyWhen you are writing a memoir that is focused on how you came to be a travel editor and writer, your book had better be as damn near close to error-free as you can get it. Ditto when you’re on a mission to prove that self-published books can be as good as — or better than — traditionally published ones. Since I am guilty on both counts, I might have gone a little overboard in the number of eyeballs I had looking at my manuscript. Better too many than too few I say — IF you can separate the editing wheat from the chaff. I’ll get to that.

Editing 101

When I said in my last post that I sent my book to be copy-edited, many people took that to mean — correctly — that the end was nigh. But definitions of the term “copy-editing” vary, and my book went through several other editing phases before that.

Macro: Developmental editing

Coaching (sports or birth), cheerleading, tough loving — I’ve seen all these metaphors applied to this initial stage when someone looks at your manuscript or book proposal/sample chapters and gives you big picture advice. Developmental editing does not delve into individual sentences or style issues, except to enumerate patterns that the author might need to pay attention to.

Who needs it and when?

Fiction writers, nonfiction writers… pretty much everyone who isn’t writing a book that has a strict format to follow needs developmental editing. Am I Boring My Dog: And 99 Things Every Dog Wishes You Knew, which was organized around 100 questions, was a typical exception. Most nonfiction — and perhaps especially memoir — needs shaping.

I was appalled to find the following statement on a blog post discussing the costs of self-publishing a nonfiction book:

“I felt developmental editing wasn’t worth it (the events really happened, so I thought I was safe enough relaying real events while leaving out the boring bits!)”

Anyone who has ever been cornered at a cocktail party knows that very few people can judge whether or not they are being boring. I find pretty much every aspect of my life riveting. Others don’t always agree.

Getting Naked for Money went through several rounds of developmental editing:

  • When I was looking for an agent, many years ago, I had an editor cast a cold eye on my sample chapters and proposal.
  • After finishing the Kickstarter campaign, I hired an editor to review a manuscript that was about half-way completed.
  • Most recently, before I sent the finished and revised manuscript to copy-editing, I had it read for consistency and pacing.

I also had beta readers — a.k.a. friends — look at chapters along the way. Although they gave invaluable advice and, especially, support, I also wanted the opinion of experts. No doubt being a professional editor myself makes me funny that way.

Perhaps the need for developmental editing is more obvious in fiction because authors don’t usually have facts as a safety net to fall back on. A good editor will tell you if your plot makes sense, if characters disappear for no reason or say or do say things you wouldn’t expect them to do or say based on earlier descriptions — to cite just a few things.

Micro: Line editing, copy-editing, and proofreading

These three types of editing–it’s arguable if proofreading really belongs in this category–are more difficult to distinguish from one another and they’re sometimes conflated in editing packages (see next section). When I was looking for a copy-editor, I found a wild variation in the level of changes made in the samples I asked for.

In general, line editing looks at things like sentence structure, wordiness, use of passive voice, and transitions between sentences and paragraphs. A heavy line editing can improve a manuscript dramatically.

Copy-editing changes are usually more superficial. Using a guide such as The Chicago Style Manual as a reference, a copy-editor will provide consistency for details such as book titles and film titles, punctuation (hoorah for the Oxford comma), and spelling. Copy-editing should also correct basic grammatical errors.

In theory, proofreading just makes sure that the changes made in line editing and copy-editing have been implemented correctly. Some proofreaders, however, suggest corrections that go beyond that mandate. More power to them, I say!

A la Carte vs Prix-Fixe Editing for Self-Publishers

I vetted and chose different editors for each phase of the process and consider the freedom to select an editor and to take or leave suggested changes to be one of the prime advantages of self-publishing. Traditional publishers have become notoriously lax about developmental and line editing while, at the same time, remaining inflexible bout imposing copy-editing strictures.

Stories of authors having to wrestle stick-in-the-mud copy-editors to the ground to get them to accept their preferences are legion. The copy-editor for Am I Boring My Dog decided that every “like” in my book — when used to express “for example”  — needed to be changed to “such as.” I’m as fond of a well-placed “such as” as the next girl but “like” is more colloquial and fit the voice of my book far better. I won that battle, but it shouldn’t have been a struggle to begin with.

My control–some might say control freakishness–over the editing process was both labor intensive and fairly expensive; that’s why I raised Kickstarter money. Many self-publishing authors opt for editing packages like the popular one offered by Amazon’s CreateSpace.  [UPDATE: This service is no longer available. Which is fine. If you read further, you’ll see that I don’t especially recommend it] The basic one provides one round of developmental editing and one of line editing/copyediting. The Editing Plus package provides two rounds of developmental editing.

I’m sure there are very good editors who work for CreateSpace but I wasn’t impressed with what I saw in the case of a professor friend who had published several nonfiction books through university presses and decided to self-publish a mystery/thriller on this program.  The book spent way too much time in the mind of a very unlikeable character, a serial killer, and dispatched the very appealing narrator, thus assuring that it could never be made into a series. That’s pretty basic stuff that any regular reader of the genre could have told my friend; it should have been job one for a professional editor. In addition, there were spelling errors, typos, and inconsistencies in the style of the dialogue.

All in all, it looked amateurish. Because I only saw the book when it was already in print, it was too late to say anything.

How do you find a good editor? What should you expect to pay? Stay tuned…

Tags: , , , ,

About the Author

Edie Jarolim is a writer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. Sign up on this blog to get updates about her humorous tell-all/memoir, GETTING NAKED FOR MONEY: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All.

3 Enlightened Replies

Trackback  •  Comments RSS

  1. Great blog post! I may have to read it several times. And now I feel funny I asked you to look at some very premature essays. Oops.

  2. David B. Crawford says:

    That sounds like an expensive ordeal.

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *