An American Editor

May 15, 2017

Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap I

by Carolyn Haley

I was thunderstruck when I read An American Editor’s The Business of Editing: The AAE Copyediting Roadmap I and saw the project scale he works on: 1,500 to 20,000 manuscript pages in a single project. Yikes! Translating that into word count comes to 375,000 to 5 million words. Per book.

In contrast, the novels I work on run 50,000 to 200,000 words. Only once has a manuscript come close to the low end of AAE’s projects; the common range is 70,000 to 120,000 words.

Yet for projects great or small, we different types of editors use the same skills and tools to edit our clients’ manuscripts. I need only a fraction of the electronic tools available, not having to deal with references and figures and tables and all, but as time goes by I increasingly use electronic tools. Learning from other editors’ tips, tricks, and processes helps me become more efficient and meet my business goal of doing the best-quality job in the least amount of time with the least expenditure of labor.

Tools also help compensate for a flaw in my reading skills. I’ve learned that once I’ve read something, I stop seeing individual words and punctuation if I read the material again soon after the first time. This means that reading a manuscript completely through before editing it can be counterproductive, so it’s better for me to skip that step and use tools to prevent and later catch errors and omissions. Although I find and address most everything needed during the editing pass, that single read-through isn’t good enough for a professional edit.

My mental blind spot goes away if I wait a few weeks or months between readings. However, my clientele aren’t willing to wait that long. Therefore, I concentrate my attention on where it’s needed most — editing — and use different software tools before and after editing to catch mechanical details my eyes might miss. I’ve settled on a four-stage work routine comprising preflight, formatting, editing, and cleanup. I adjust the routine according to each job’s parameters, using the full process for indie-author clients and reducing or adapting it for publisher clients, who usually provide specific instructions for a job and do some of the steps before submitting the manuscript.

The Four Stages

I work primarily with indie novelists, most of whom are first-time authors still finding their way. For these authors I offer substantive editing, often called line editing or developmental editing by other editors. Sometimes I offer a variant I call a teaching or mentoring edit. Such jobs require the detail precision of copyediting as well as heavy commentary and queries pertaining to content. To handle the dual role effectively, I need to encounter the story as a reader would, not knowing who’s who and what happens next. So I first use tools to make the manuscript clean and consistent, then I read until I stumble, edit accordingly, and continue, using tools to sweep up behind me when done.

This process serves for copyediting finished manuscripts, too. When I copyedit for publishers, there’s usually one or more people in line after me to review the book. For indie authors, however, I’m often the last eyes on novel before it goes out into the world. I counsel all clients to hire a proofreader before they release their work, but in many cases they choose not to, whether it’s because they’ve exhausted their budget on editing or just believe that editing plus their own tinkering and reviewing are adequate. I can’t control what they do after I’ve delivered the manuscript, so during the edit I cover as much ground as possible within the parameters of the job, relying on software tools to cover my back.

Stage 1: Preflight

“Preflight” is a term I picked up during my catalogue production days. Coworkers in my department and personnel at the print house used “preflight” to cover tasks specific to the phase between finishing a layout in InDesign and preparing the file for the printer. There’s also a Preflight function on a pulldown menu in InDesign. The combination embedded the term in my mind.

Now as an editor I use “preflight” for the work I perform on a Microsoft Word manuscript. Preflight in this context means preparing the file for the author’s production, which might be submission to an editor, an agent, or a contest, or releasing it through self-publishing.

My preflight involves two substages: document setup for the job, such as creating folders, working files, style sheets, and notes to myself to guide the edit; then mechanical tidying up of errors and inconsistencies. For the mechanical tasks I use a combination of editing software tools to tackle the nitpickery that would otherwise slow down the edit and distract me from the content elements no computer can address.

When a manuscript arrives, the first thing I do is make a new copy of the file and rename it to indicate it’s an edited version. The author’s original is never touched again, and always available in the event of a document or computer crash. Because Word is unpredictably quirky, and heavy use of track changes sometimes provokes problems, I keep making new, numbered copies of the file over the course of the job.

In case there’s a problem with a file I have open during a work session, I also allow Word’s automatic backup feature to run. The autobackup file is instantly available and contains the most recent edits, should I need to recover anything. At the end of the day’s work session, I copy all files used that day to a secure site provided by my ISP. That way, if my computer dies or house burns down, I can access a current version of the job from any computer anywhere with Internet access. At intervals I back up my whole system onto a removable hard drive that is stored a fire safe. I live in a rural area and have no secure or convenient location outside the house to keep spare copies.

Next I set up the style sheet for the job. If the author has provided a list of character and place names, and/or special vocabulary, I plug those in under the relevant headings. If not, then I fill the style sheet during the edit.

With my work setup in place, I move on to electronic grooming of the file. Before I learned about software editing tools, I compiled a list of things to search for and fix one at a time. As I found ways to automate some of these tasks, I began consolidating them into batches, and experimenting with alternative approaches. Some tools I find easier to learn and apply than others, which influences my choices. Once I find a tool that solves a particular problem, I add it to my kit and use it until a better way presents itself.

The smart plan would be to allot time for a compare-and-contrast of all features of all the editing tool packages available, but I have not yet invested that time. (If anyone does, I’ll eagerly buy your book!) For now I adopt tools according to need and opportunity. Electronic editing tools are similar to Word in a general sense, in that you’re given multiple ways to perform certain functions: You can use a pulldown menu, a keyboard command, assign hotkeys, or run built-in or customized macros. There is no right way; rather, there are alternative ways to accomplish the same task, to be used according to personal preference and appropriateness to the project.

Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap II will elaborate on the individual tools used in my preflight process.

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.com or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books.

January 11, 2017

Thinking Fiction: What Novels Do Fiction Editors Read?

by Carolyn Haley

In follow-up to my survey about what editors in general read for recreation (What Do Editors Read?, I invited fiction editors to share their Top 10 favorite novels, along with something about their background and experience.

Thirty-two editors responded, comprising freelancers plus one cluster of staff and contract editors for a single romance publisher. No one working for a Big 5 traditional publisher participated, giving unbalanced results. However, I wasn’t attempting a rigidly scientific survey of the total editorial population. As with my first survey, I just wanted to satisfy my curiosity about what other editors read, and to share their recommendations for our collective enjoyment. The complete list, owing to length, is posted separately from this essay on the file downloads page at wordsnSync as “What Fiction Editors Read: List of Titles”.

Note that not every responding editor answered every question in the survey; or sometimes they combined answers, or gave more or fewer titles when I asked for ten, and so forth. Thus in this essay I cannot always give “X out of 32” results for a given topic. Since I was looking for patterns rather than conducting a true statistical analysis, I took the liberty of rounding numbers up or down or otherwise generalizing in cases where deviations occurred.

Common denominators

It comes as no surprise to learn that fiction editors read a lot of fiction. What is surprising is how many novels they find time to read. While one editor reports only reading fiction for work, the rest read anywhere from two to sixty (!) novels per month for recreation. Most of them also read short fiction, poetry, blogs, magazines, news media, and nonfiction of all types.

Such heavy reading is somewhat understandable, in that almost half the responders work part time. For them, as with the two retirees, more opportunity for leisure reading is theoretically available. But we can’t draw a blanket conclusion from that, because in several cases the responders edit part time and do something else for the balance of full-time employment—and of course they have the obligations and complexities of a personal life (details of which were not addressed in the survey).

The survey asked broad questions about occupation, education, writing background, and reading habits, to see what other commonalities might exist. The primary criterion for participation was that at least two-thirds of their professional editing work be fiction. In this everyone qualified. There were no other 100% matches, though several predominant features emerged. For instance, all but one responder is female. Three-quarters of the responders are older than forty, and of these, most are in their fifties and sixties. The full age span is twenty-eight to seventy-eight.

Twenty-five responders come from the United States, five from Canada, and one each from the United Kingdom and Australia. Approximately two-thirds of the group have college degrees, of which twelve are in English or a closely related subject. Seven of the thirty-two have a certificate of some sort in editing.

In years of experience, approximately half the responders have been editing professionally for ten years or less and the other half for longer. Six have more than twenty years of experience, and one has more than forty. Most have worked in fiction the bulk of their careers, focusing on novels but also accepting novellas, short stories, and flash fiction (super-short stories), along with assorted nonfiction.

A majority of the responders work with indie authors as their main clients, with a few also working with publishers and packagers. All but one report that they offer multiple types of editing and associated services (the exception being a dedicated developmental editor). Twenty-six of the editors are writers themselves, and almost two-thirds of them have published. Only one-third, however, has published in fiction.

Reading tastes

As readers, the responding fiction editors like darn near everything, with literary, crime, and historical novels dominating. But many of the responding editors enjoy romance and young adult novels, as well as science fiction, fantasy, and eclectic other. The editors read in all formats, with almost two-thirds liking a mix of print, ebook, and audiobook compared to those who prefer print only. One editor has moved entirely away from print, preferring to get her stories via ebooks and audiobooks.

Series

Many of the editors favor series or complete bodies of work by a given author. These responses skewed the results, because among the total consolidated list of 263 novels, not all are unique titles but rather representative titles of a series, or just the series name, or “all works” by an individual. Ninety-four—just over one-third—of all editor responses mentioned part or all of a series. Frequently, responders listed single titles that are part of a series, but they didn’t list the entire series (the rest I uncovered during a title/author spelling check online). I suspect that in many of those cases the responder read all volumes in the series and simply didn’t say so.

Specifics of series titles are shown on the complete list. Below are the series names that came up, and the number of times beyond one that they were mentioned, followed by the shorter list of favorite bodies of work by a given author.

Favored series:

  • A Wrinkle in Time series (2), Madeleine L’Engle
  • Adam Dagliesh series, P. D. James
  • All Souls trilogy, Deborah Harkness
  • Amelia Peabody series, Elizabeth Peters
  • Anita Blank, Vampire Hunter series, Laurell K. Hamilton
  • Atticus Kodiak series, Greg Rucka
  • Austenland series, Shannon Hale
  • Cairo series, Naguib Mahfouz
  • Checquy Files series, Daniel O’Malley
  • Chicago Star series, Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  • Chronicles of Ixia, Maria V. Snyder
  • CIA Spies series, Linda Howard
  • Colorado Trust series, Stacey Joy Netzel
  • Cowboy-Fiancé series, Donna Michaels
  • Culture series, Iain M. Banks
  • Dempsey series, Jennifer Crusie
  • Detective Inspector Chen, Liz Williams
  • Discworld series (2), Terry Pratchett
  • Dragonriders of Pern series, Anne McCaffrey
  • Dresden Files series (2), Jim Butcher
  • Drumberley series, D. E. Stevenson
  • Ender series, Orson Scott Card
  • Fever series, Karen Marie Moning
  • Gallaghers of Ardmore series, Nora Roberts
  • Hainish Cycle series, Ursula K Le Guin
  • Haitian Revolutionary series, Madison Smartt Bell
  • Harry Potter series (4), J. K. Rowling
  • Hazelwood High series, Sharon M. Draper
  • Heartbreaker Bay series, Jill Shalvis
  • Heralds of Valdemar series (2), Mercedes Lackey
  • Hidden Wolves series, Kaje Harper
  • Immortals After Dark series, Kresley Cole
  • In Death series, J. D. Robb (Nora Roberts)
  • Irin Chronicles series, Elizabeth Hunter
  • Italy Intrigue series, Stacey Joy Netzel
  • I-Team series, Pamela Clare
  • Jack Reacher series, Lee Child
  • Juliette Chronicles, Tahereh Mafi
  • Kirsten Lavransdatter trilogy, Sigrid Undset
  • Law of Moses series, Amy Harmon
  • Leaphorn and Chee Navajo police series, Tony Hillerman
  • Life Lessons series, Kaje Harper
  • Little House series, Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Lives of the Mayfair Witches series, Anne Rice
  • Lizzy & Diesel series, Janet Evanovich
  • Logan Family Saga series, Mildred D. Taylor
  • Lord Peter Wimsey series, Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Lords of Misrule series, Andy Graham
  • Manawaka series, Margaret Laurence
  • Marrying Stone series, Pamela Morsi
  • Maze Runner series, James Dashner
  • Midnight in Austenland, Shannon Hale
  • Midwife Mystery series, Sam Thomas
  • Millennium series, Steig Larsson
  • Outlander series (3), Diana Gabaldon
  • Plainsong series, Kent Haruf
  • Regeneration series, Pat Barker
  • Riftwar series, Raymond Feist
  • Riyria Revelations series, Michael J. Sullivan
  • Shannara series, Terry Brooks
  • Silo series, Hugh Howey
  • Sinner’s Grove series, A. B. Michaels
  • Song of Ice and Fire series, George R. R. Martin
  • Species Imperative trilogy, Julie Czerneda
  • Starbridge series, Susan Howatch
  • Starcatchers series, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
  • Stephanie Plum series, Janet Evanovich
  • Sword of Truth series, Terry Goodkind
  • The Black Dagger Brotherhood series (2), J. R. Ward
  • The Black Stallion series, Walter Farley
  • The Bourne trilogy , Robert Ludlum
  • The Bronze Horseman series, Paullina Simons
  • The Cat Who series, Lillian Jackson Braun
  • The Chalion series, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis
  • The Deed of Paksennarion series, Elizabeth Moon
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide series (2), Douglas Adams
  • The Hunger Games series (2), Suzanne Collins
  • The Lace Reader series, Brunonia Barry
  • The Lord of the Rings series (2), J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Pillars of the Earth series, Ken Follett
  • The Raven Cycle series, Maggie Stiefvater
  • The Sandman series, Neil Gaiman
  • Thessaly series, Jo Walton
  • Tillerman Cycle series (2), Cynthia Voigt
  • Vampire Chronicles series, Anne Rice
  • Vorkosigan saga, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Wolf Hall series, Hilary Mantel

Favored author bodies of work:

  • Clive Cussler
  • Harlan Coben
  • John Grisham
  • Lawrence Block
  • Lee Child
  • Nora Roberts
  • Sandra Brown (mysteries only)

Works such as J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia were sometimes listed as standalone titles and other times as series. I’ve included them under the series listing because most people who read them read all volumes.

Duplicate titles

In the main, responders mentioned individual titles. The list below shows novels mentioned by two or more responders (with the number in parentheses indicating how many more than two).

  • Beloved, Toni Morrison
  • Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (3)
  • Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  • Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (6)
  • Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier
  • The Dispossessed, Ursula K Le Guin
  • The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin
  • The Living, Annie Dillard
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Duplicate authors

Individual authors were mentioned by multiple responders in conjunction with different titles. There were instances where a responder listed different titles by the same author on their own list, and also a few cases where one responder mentioned a specific title and a second responder mentioned “all works” by the same author or a series. The list below, however, only includes authors mentioned by different responders, specifying different titles.

  • Barbara Kingsolver
  • Charles Dickens
  • Cormac McCarthy
  • C. S. Lewis
  • Daphne Du Maurier
  • Haruki Murakami
  • Jane Austen
  • Jodi Picoult
  • John Steinbeck
  • J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Linda Howard
  • Madeleine L’Engle
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Toni Morrison
  • Ursula Le Guin
  • Virginia Woolf

Oddballs and exceptions

Not every responder understood the directions in the questionnaire, or else rushed through it and missed a request. For instance, I asked exclusively for novels, but two responders included memoirs and one included a nonfiction title. Although I’ve included these titles on the complete list, I do not include them in the full count.

Likewise, the request for “your favorite novelist” was commonly ignored, or people just couldn’t answer because they had so many (with one responder saying, “You’re kidding, right?”). Among those who did answer, or listed multiple authors, there was erratic correlation between favorite authors and those on the individual’s Top 10 list. Favorite authors mentioned are shown below (with the number in parentheses indicating how many times more than once their names came up).

  • Anne McCaffrey
  • Anne Rice
  • Bess Streeter Aldrich
  • Beverly Nault
  • Charles Dickens
  • Connie Willis
  • Cormac McCarthy
  • D. E. Stevenson
  • Dean Koontz
  • Diana Gabaldon (2)
  • Dick Francis
  • Donna Tartt
  • Dorothy Sayers
  • Douglas Adams
  • Drayton Mayrant
  • Eliot Baker
  • Elizabeth Cadell
  • Elizabeth Moon
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • George R. R. Martin
  • Georgette Heyer
  • Helen MacInnes
  • J. R. R. Tolkien
  • J. K. Rowling
  • James Patterson
  • Jane Austen (2)
  • Janet Evanovich
  • J. D. Ward
  • Jodi Picoult
  • Jonathan Franzen
  • Joseph C. Lincoln
  • Judy Ann Davis
  • Karen Marie Moning
  • Laurel Hamilton
  • Linda Howard
  • Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Louise Erdrich
  • Madeleine L’Engle
  • Maeve Binchy
  • Markus Zusak
  • Mary Balogh
  • Nevada Barr (2)
  • Nora Roberts (2)
  • P. D. James
  • Patricia Cornwall
  • Peter Carey
  • Peter Mayle
  • Rita Bay
  • Ruth Rendell
  • Sam Thomas
  • Sigrid Undset
  • Terry Brooks
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Tony Hillerman

Survey overlaps

While processing the fiction editors’ questionnaires, I looked for overlaps with my first survey, even though it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison. The first survey involved thirteen nonfiction-dominant editors, while this one involved thirty-two fiction-dominant editors. Nevertheless, their tastes crossed thirteen times for specific titles and seventeen times for authors (meaning, different books by the same author mentioned twice or more). Most of these titles and authors can be considered “literary” and/or “classic.”

Title overlaps:

  • The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis
  • Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • The Lord of the Rings series, J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Persuasion, Jane Austen
  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  • The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  • Discworld series, Terry Pratchett
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin

Author overlaps:

  • Jane Austen
  • Charles Dickens
  • Charlotte Brontë
  • Connie Willis
  • David Mitchell
  • Dick Francis
  • Edith Wharton
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Ian McEwan
  • John Fowles
  • J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Michael J. Sullivan
  • Sarah Waters
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Umberto Eco
  • Virginia Woolf

Conclusions

Putting it all together, I observed three superstars—Jane Austen, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis—whose names came up multiple times no matter what criterion I used to view and sort the reading lists of the fiction and nonfiction editors I surveyed, separately or combined. Another standout was Terry Pratchett, whose enormous Discworld series appealed to editors of both types.

While I was not surprised to see these and many other familiar names on so many people’s lists, I was surprised to see who didn’t appear. Agatha Christie, for example. She is considered one of — if not the — top-selling novelists of all time, yet none of the fiction responders in my survey mentioned her. She did, however, appear once on the nonfiction editors’ list (also on my own list, which was appended to that essay but not counted in the results).

Among the fiction editors, there seems to be a gap between classic and contemporary works that leaves many vintage mega-sellers behind, such as Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey, Jackie Collins and Barbara Cartland, Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon, Georges Simenon and Erle Stanley Gardner, and many others, all of whom were hugely popular in their day. Also notably absent is household name Stephen King (who did, unexpectedly, appear on one nonfiction editor’s literary-biased list). But J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame had a strong presence, even though that series was marketed for young adults, whereas Danielle Steele, still writing prolifically with an enormous fan base, wasn’t mentioned even by the editors who gobble up romance and women’s fiction.

What I found to be significant among all the editors surveyed was how widely their tastes range. See for yourself the complete fiction editors list here: “What Fiction Editors Read: List of Titles”.

Postscript: Apparently I’m not the only one doing this type of survey. For a literary take, see “The Most Important Books of the Last Twenty Years”. A handful of titles and authors on this list overlap both my surveys.

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.com or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books.

September 28, 2016

When Authors Look for Editors

I am certain that hundreds, if not thousands, of articles, books, and blog essays have been written to advise authors how to find the perfect editor. Even so, authors continue to ask about finding a good editor, especially if they have already had a bad experience, which tells me that the question of how to find the right editor remains unanswered.

The Plain-English List

There are several recurring problems. The first is that the searching author rarely knows what she wants or needs from an editor and so uses terms like “proofing,” “proofreading,” “light editing,” and “copyediting” with the expectation that the editor’s understanding will equate with the author’s meaning. The two rarely meet.

Rather than using terms like those, it would serve the author better to make a plain-English list of exactly what she wants an editor to do with her manuscript. As detailed a list as possible serves best. When the author gives that list to the editor, they can have a meaningful conversation.

The Editorial Budget

The second problem is deciding how much to pay for editing. Before searching for an editor, the author should decide on a budget. The budget should not be based on going rates or what the author thinks the editor’s services should be worth. The budget should be the maximum amount that the author is willing to spend on editorial help — a number calculated in the same manner the author would calculate the maximum amount she is willing to spend to buy a house or a car before actually shopping for the house or car. This number should be a gross amount; for example, it should be $5,000 and not $50 per hour.

The reason for the gross budget amount is that too often authors decide not to hire an editor they otherwise think is a good fit because they “feel” the cost is too high. An editor will quote a price of $50 an hour and immediately the author’s hackles rise, thinking that $50 is too much because she had budgeted for $20. Sometimes it is better to pay more per hour for fewer hours of work than to pay less per hour for more hours of work. Better editors, as with many things in life, also tend to be more experienced and efficient; thus the higher per-hour fee and the fewer hours needed. Having set a gross budget limit moves the focus of the discussion from the per-hour rate to whether what is wanted can be done within the budget.

The Evaluation Criteria

A third problem is that authors tend to use the wrong criteria to evaluate an editor. It is true that an author should carefully evaluate an editor, but not by applying criteria that do little to answer the questions of competence and fit.

Great editors do not have to be authors themselves, by which I mean writers of books or published in magazines or journals. But in today’s competitive internet world, the editor should be a blogger and a participant in public editorial forums.

If I were looking for an editor, I would begin my search at a place like LinkedIn. Not because LinkedIn is such a great website, but because it provides an opportunity to get a first look at a pool of editors — those who participate in the various editing and writing groups. The first information I would be looking for is the kinds of questions they ask and answers they give in editorial/writing-oriented groups. Editors whose contributions to LinkedIn conversations consist of “Joe is right,” or whose responses tend not to address where the conversation is currently, or whose answers are often not answers, just a lot of smoke, are editors I would avoid. I also would avoid those who need help with fundamentals such as the reasonableness of some request made by a client or what to charge (or what others are charging; while I would avoid someone who asks what is the going rate, I would consider someone who doesn’t want to know what others are charging but how to calculate what she should be charging). I would not want my book to be an editor’s learning experience at my expense.

The editors I would want to consider ask and discuss more “advanced” things, such as questions of ethics, grammar, underlying principles of editing, both as a business and as a craft, and the like. I want an editor who sees more than the surface of my manuscript. Every competent editor can find and correct misspellings or can understand what an orange is, but not every editor can grasp that a word has been deliberately misspelled or that what you really mean, based on the context, is not orange but tangelo. Editors give clues about themselves in the questions they ask and in the responses they write. One can determine with some accuracy an editor’s experience with certain areas of subject matter through their questions and answers.

Equally as revealing are an editor’s blog articles. Blogs are generally intended to sell the editors (bloggers) to their audience. When you look at editors’ blogs, who is the audience they are trying to sell to? What are they trying to sell that audience? If they address an issue, do they do so cursorily or in depth? Does their writing evoke a sense of editorial competence, or is it so casual that it is bothersome? Are there mistakes in their writing? (But be sure to consider “mistakes” in light of blogs’ tendency to be more casual, and remember that few people write perfectly.)

Questions, answers, and blog essays give an insight into an editor’s approach to business — and editing is a business. Note that I haven’t mentioned scrutinizing the editor’s website. The problem with using a website to form an opinion about an editor is that it is difficult to know who is responsible for the website’s content and design. I understand that the editor is ultimately responsible, but authors looking for an editor are looking for editorial skills, not for design skills, which is what the focus on a website is — design, not editing. One of the best editors I know has one of the worst websites to be found short of what pops up with a Not Found error from your ISP.

The Reliance on Recommendations

A fourth problem is that authors too often rely on recommendations — positive or negative —from fellow authors. The smart author avoids hiring or not hiring an editor solely because someone she knows recommended or dissed the editor. If the editor was recommended, the editor should be put on the author’s list of editors to check out. If the editor was dissed, the author needs to ask questions designed to elicit more in-depth detail about why the editor was dissed. It makes a difference, for example, if the dissing is the result of such things as these: editor incompetence; unreasonable author expectations that the editor did not, perhaps could not, fulfill; or a personality conflict between author and editor. Depending on the reason (e.g., personality conflict), the author might add the editor to her list. After all, each author is an individual and has different needs. Different authors have different personalities — some are easier to work with and some harder. Every author needs to find the editor with whom she can work successfully — even if that editor was fired by another author.

The Key to Finding the Right-Fit Editor

The key, I think, to an author’s finding the right-fit high-quality editor lies with the first-mentioned items: seeing the questions and answers the editor posts on editorial/writing forums and reading the editor’s blog. It is the culling done with the help of these items that will leave standing those editors the author should further interview using the first two items discussed in this essay — a description of what the author is looking for the editor to do and keeping within a preestablished budget. Once the author enters into a dialogue with the editor, the author can learn more about the editor’s skills and background in an attempt to find the perfect editor for the manuscript at hand.

Yet I offer one word of caution to authors: your budget can be a very limiting factor. Experienced, high-quality editors are in demand and rarely work on the cheap. Editing is their business, the source of their income, and thus the editor has to and does charge accordingly. If you are unrealistic in your budget, you will cripple your search for your perfect-fit high-quality editor by narrowing the pool of editors from which you can choose. This is why the discussion of money should not occur until you think you have found the editor you want.

Choosing editing for editing’s sake, by which I mean hiring an editor simply so you can say your book was edited, is not a worthwhile goal. Editing by a professional, highly skilled editor will enhance your manuscript and improve its likelihood for success. In contrast, hiring an editor largely because the editor fits within your budget is unlikely to advance your goals. Budgets do not have to be unlimited but they do have to be reasonable in relation to the work required from the editor.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 21, 2016

Congratulations to Carolyn Haley

Congratulations to our Thinking Fiction essayist, Carolyn Haley, for winning the Grand Prize in the 2015 Chanticleer Book Reviews awards for Paranormal/Supernatural Fiction with her title The Aurora Affair. Carolyn’s other novel, Into the Sunrise, was a finalist in the same competition in the Vintage Romance category. For those interested, the books are available from the following sources:

Well done, Carolyn!

Richard Adin, An American Editor

 

April 25, 2016

On the Basics: So You Want to be a Writer

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

My freelancing business has evolved over the years from all-writing to a mix of writing, editing, and proofreading, but writing is my first love and I think of myself as a writer first and foremost. Writing comes easily to me, at least most of the time. In some ways, writing is more fulfilling than editing or proofreading because it’s an act of creation. I enjoy making someone else’s writing more readable, but I love creating my own written work. Giving voice to my ideas, and to the ideas and achievements of other people, through my writing is a wonderful way to live and work.

Many subscribers to An American Editor see themselves as editors or proofreaders only, but others have ventured into writing as well. Since adding writing to your business services, or just writing something for your own sake, might be on your mind, I thought I’d write about writing this month.

It seems as if anyone and everyone nowadays wants to be a writer, or at least get published, although wanting to get published is nothing new. There have always been people with a yen to write who have scribbled away in their garrets or kitchens, and never been published or earned a penny for their efforts. Writing has always had a certain cachet; it’s always been an accomplishment that attracted wannabes (and I don’t mean any disrespect by that term). From what I see in social media, the writing-related publications I read, and the publishing or writing events I attend, the majority of today’s aspiring writers seem to want to write memoirs, with fiction coming in second.

Some aspiring writers may not want to be professional, full-time writers and go the traditional publishing route for books or the equally traditional route of working for a publication as a staff writer. You may have a single idea, passion, or mission, or had a single “extraordinary” experience that you want to write about. You can do that, and find an audience, more easily nowadays than any time in the past.

Others do want to write for newspapers or magazines, but have no training or experience in producing professional, publishable material. If that’s you, some basic journalism training is probably in order.

There’s also a subset of this community — the businessperson who’s been persuaded that writing a book about his or her business/profession/path to success is a great way to get more sales. This is often someone with good ideas but no writing experience or skills, at least in the kind of writing that makes a good book that would attract readers (and, thus, new customers for the business). This is someone who could be a great client for a substantive or developmental editor, or for someone interested in ghostwriting.

What’s different today, and it’s not always a good thing, is that almost anyone — heck, maybe anyone! — can and often does get published. It isn’t a good thing when the writing is sloppy, careless, disorganized, rife with errors, unoriginal, and otherwise of poor quality. It can be a good thing because voices that traditional publishers ignore now have ways to be heard and read. You only have to look at the hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs; the many self-published authors and businesses catering to them; and the people who seek advice about getting published to realize that the desire to write for publication is strong and flourishing, regardless of the quality being produced.

So what do you do if you want to be a writer? If you’re a successful, skilled editor, you already have a good sense of what makes a piece of writing “good,” so you’re one step ahead of many aspiring writers who have no idea of how to craft something that other people will enjoy reading. If you have something you want to say, you have a reason to write. Don’t let other people dictate what you say and how you say it (unless they’re your assigning editors, in which case, do what you’re told, but find ways to retain your voice in the process).

There’s plenty of good advice “out there” for aspiring writers. Among the respected writers providing such advice are William Zinsser, Anne Lamott, Stephen King, Annie Dillard, Paula LaRocque, Bill Bryson, Ray Bradbury, Roy Peter Clark, Marie Arana, and Dean Koontz, making advice easy to obtain from your local bookstore. What most of the advice boils down to is this:

  • Just write — write every day.
  • Write what you know (although some say to write whatever you want — after all, who really knows anything about zombies, wizards, and fictional science?) And you can research professions, places, and other topics that interest you even if you’ve never experienced them.
  • Read all the time — a variety of authors and genres. The more you read, the more you absorb the essentials of what makes something readable and the more your own writing will benefit. You’ll develop an instinct for what makes good writing to emulate and bad writing to avoid.
  • Budget for an editor for any long forms of writing you plan to do. As everyone who subscribes to An American Editor knows (or should know), a good editor is essential for making a piece of writing its best.

For encouragement, feedback, and resources, it can’t hurt to join a writers’ group; bookstores and libraries often host such groups. If there’s a literary center in your area, look into classes there; if not, see if area universities and colleges, libraries, or even continuing education programs from your local high school offer writing classes (you don’t have to undertake a degree to benefit from college or university classes). There’s something especially valuable about personal, in-person interaction with a teacher and other students that will help you hone your craft. I can’t vouch for online resources because I’ve never used them, but I have seen colleagues recommend joining online writers’ groups and taking online writing courses if you can’t find anything local or just feel more comfortable in the virtual world than the real one.

It also helps to subscribe to The Writer, Writer’s Digest, and Poets & Writers magazines, all of which provide insights on the writing process and how to get published. If your goal is to write for pay for magazines, you will also want to have Writer’s Market on hand.

It’s important to keep in mind is that writing is work. It’s hard work, although I’ve never found it to be the painful process that many other writers experience. For me, the hardest part is just starting a project; once I get those first few words out, it “Feels So Good,” as Chuck Mangione’s song says, and the rest tends to flow like the proverbial river.

Most writing projects require research, interviewing, and organizing before you sit down and write the first few words. Part of the writing commitment is being prepared to repeatedly edit and revise your work until it’s as good as you can possibly make it. Depending on the project, you then may have to deal with being edited by someone else, which is not always easy to handle, especially if it involves rewriting.

It often helps to create an outline or timeline for a piece of writing so your ideas are organized enough for readers to follow you along. That even helps you stay on track, especially with memoir and other types of nonfiction.

Writing is exciting, interesting, fulfilling work, but it is work. Writing well is even harder work than writing in and of itself. You might have to spend more time on revising what you write than on producing a first draft.

If readers of this blog want to become writers, I have only one suggestion: Do it. Just sit down and do it. You might not do it well, but if you are a writer, you will write. If you are a good writer, you will write well — and you will take advice and editing from colleagues who will make your work even better (many of whom you can find right here, among fellow subscribers).

Get those ideas and opinions out of your head and written down. Let the need to write flow from your brain to your hands to the keyboard. Only when you actually start to do the work of writing will you find out whether you really have something to say in a way that other people will understand and respond to, and maybe even purchase.

The saying that anyone has a book in them may well be true; the worlds of blogging and self-publishing certainly make it seem that way. I haven’t had the discipline or courage to test that theory yet. My book is still lurking in there somewhere, but my voice gets heard in other kinds of writing, and that’s enough for now.

Today, there are thousands of outlets for your writing. Beyond the traditional publishing houses and publications, there are more online outlets than can be counted, and there’s always the option of creating your own outlet. Some outlets have stringent submission requirements, some publish anything they receive, and your own blog or self-published book has no limits. There is no reason not to write, even if you aren’t sure that your writing is any good.

Show us what you can say!

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

November 4, 2015

Worth Celebrating: Carolyn Haley

Congratulations to our Thinking Fiction essayist, Carolyn Haley, for winning second place in the Contemporary Novel category in the International Digital Awards (IDA) contest sponsored by Oklahoma Romance Writers of America for her novel Into the Sunrise. For those interested, the book is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

July 15, 2015

On Today’s Bookshelf (XXII)

They say summer is the time for reading. I suppose that is based on the assumption that a person has more time to read while on vacation. Personally, I do not see any difference in my reading habits or the time I spend reading for pleasure (or work, for that matter). So, my acquisition of new titles to read never ends. Here is a list of some of the hardcovers and ebooks that I am reading or acquired and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post:

Nonfiction –

  • The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-71 by Alistair Horne
  • Napoleon’s Poisoned Chalice: The Emperor and His Doctors on St Helena by Martin Howard
  • A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain by Marc Morris
  • The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England’s Self-Made King by Ian Mortimer
  • The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England: 1327-1330 by Ian Mortimer
  • The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville by Clare Mulley
  • Treacherous Women: Sex, Temptation and Betrayal by Gordon Kerr
  • Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson
  • The Queen’s Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England by John Cooper
  • The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism by Deborah Baker
  • The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781-1997 by Piers Brendon
  • Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad That Crossed an Ocean by Les Standiford
  • The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg
  • Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott
  • Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James W. Loewen
  • Monster by Allan Hall
  • The Friar and the Cipher: Roger Bacon and the Unsolved Mystery of the Most Unusual Manuscript in the World by Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone
  • The Man Who Would Not Be Washington: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War and His Decision That Changed American History by Jonathan Horner
  • The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones by Thomas Asbridge
  • KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann
  • Lincoln and the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna & Benjamin Shapell
  • The Nuns of Sant’Ambrogio: The True Story of a Convent in Scandal by Hubert Wolf

Fiction –

  • The Darkest Hour by Tony Schumacher
  • Blood Song and Tower Lord by Ryan Anthony (2 books)
  • Critical Error by Murray McDonald
  • A Maiden’s Grave by Jeffrey Deaver
  • The Defenders of Shannara: The Darkling Child by Terry Brooks
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  • Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning

Nonfiction Books I’m Thinking About –

These books I am but a keyboard away from ordering. Some are from authors I have previously read, but others are just ones that keep drawing me back.

  • The Story of Science by Susan Wise Bauer
  • The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in Medieval Europe by E.M. Rose
  • The Paradox of Liberation by Michael Walzer
  • Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography by Sara Lipton
  • The Last Slave Market: Dr, John Kirk and the Struggle to End the African Slave Trade by Alastair Hazell
  • Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed

What are you reading this summer?

Rich Adin, An American Editor

May 4, 2015

Thinking Fiction: Where to Find Fiction Work

Where to Find Fiction Work

by Carolyn Haley

There’s no shortage of novels being written these days, along with a growing number of novellas and short stories for the ePub sector. So there’s no shortage of opportunity for fiction editors.

While staff editors in a publishing company receive work through established channels, independent editors must pursue it — especially when starting their careers. Happily, work comes from many places.

Most traditional publishers now contract out copyediting, proofreading, and production, and sometimes line and developmental editing. To get this work, freelance editors must either know somebody who can refer them to the appropriate staff editor, or locate and contact that editor and ask to be added to the freelancer list.

Either way, there are five possible outcomes: (1) Immediate success. (2) Your contact letter and résumé will be filed for future reference, and you’ll need to follow up regularly to ensure that it remains at the top of the pile. (3) The staff editor will send you a copyediting test, either in response to your inquiry or when the editor processes a batch of inquiries at her convenience. (4) Assuming you pass the test, you will either be filed for future reference or start receiving work in the next few days/weeks/months, depending on the company’s workload. (5) You will get no response, no matter how many times you follow up.

These options may occur with publishing companies large and small. It is much easier to get on the lists for smaller and newer companies, especially those that publish ebooks only. Likewise with author-services (aka “self-publishing”) companies. These put out many books rapidly and need a team of available editors capable of fast turnaround. All such companies can be found through Internet research.

Then there are independent authors, who surf the Net looking for independent editors. They find us through our websites or through organizations we’re affiliated with. First, they usually try word-of-mouth, which for editors is one of the most valuable means of obtaining clients. Satisfied authors refer their friends; overloaded colleagues, or those solicited for jobs outside their specialty, need someone to pass projects to, or to cover their workload while on vacation. The best way to build a network is to attend editorial conferences, such as the annual Communication Central event in Rochester, NY, and join e-mail lists and forums, such as Copyediting-L and the Editorial Freelancers Association. These organizations also post job opportunities.

As the world of solopreneurs expands and invents its own enterprises, packagers and private networks are increasingly common. Some offer full publishing services, others are editorial only, but both draw in work through a specific channel(s) then distribute it to a stable of associates or members. Entry into these groups is via networking or direct approach, as with publishers.

Even bookstores now offer editorial opportunities, through the Espresso Book Machine. Originally intended to provide print-on-demand books to customers, the Espresso system also allows independent authors to publish themselves. Espresso providers usually include related services, such as editorial and design, and maintain a database of local people who offer them.

Bidding sites like Elance abound with opportunities (though competition tends to focus on low prices and fast turnarounds). Publishing-industry job boards like Mediabistro post work opportunities for freelance as well as staff editors. Even some review organizations, such as Kirkus, have established editorial/publishing arms and periodically advertise for editors.

In every case, indie editors must make themselves known to the organization. Almost without exception, work does not magically arrive on one’s doorstep. The exceptions include random and serendipitous encounters through one’s personal activities that lead to paying work.

This sort of luck is facilitated by carrying business cards wherever one goes and handing them out liberally. Also from introducing one’s occupation in any conversational opening. The magic of networking is never knowing from whence a new connection might come.

Regardless of source, the indie editor must decide what to accept and how to handle it. When traditional publishers are the client, especially the “Big 5” houses, there is usually little choice about what reference works to use, what style or style sheet conventions to follow, and what pay rate and timetable are involved. In compensation, the manuscripts are usually well-groomed, enjoyable reads, and the work goes smoothly.

All bets are off when working for indie authors, but the compensation for the editor is that the editor is in control. You can set your rates and timetable, define your services, and establish the communication flow and conditions. No middleman between you and the author.

With so many channels to choose from, and the publishing industry going through so many changes so quickly, editors are challenged to find a single steady stream of well-paying work. As far as I can discern, the best-dollar option is developmental editing direct for serious indie authors with stout incomes. The lowest-dollar option seems to be copyediting and proofreading for e-only presses, author-services companies, and individuals found through bidding sites and general classified ads. But new freelance fiction editors have to gain experience somewhere (if they’re not top-tier pros who got laid off from a traditional publishing job), so the low end makes a great training ground.

For freelance editors, in general, the more people in the chain between you and the author, the more dollars that are dispersed to others before you. Conversely, the more channels you draw from, the more secure your workflow and income will be over time. Which you choose depends on what work you want to do, how much you need to earn, what you’re good at, and your marketing savvy. Self-employed editors have the advantage of being able to shift with the winds of fortune.

Those winds are gusty today, and likely to be more so tomorrow. The one thing that will never change is people wanting to tell and share their stories. Editors who can tap into that will always find work.

Carolyn Haley lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.com or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books.

March 3, 2015

Worth Noting: Meet New Authors at Smashwords Sale

Through March 7, Smashwords, the publisher/distributor of indie authors, is having a Read an eBook Week sale. Through this sale, you can buy ebooks for as little as “free” (using the RW100 coupon). This is the time to do some indie author shopping. I’ve already picked up 15 ebooks and plan to look for more.

To access the sale, on Smashwords’ homepage, click the Read an eBook Week title in the left column. To go directly to the sale, click this link:

Read an eBook Week

You can narrow your search based on how much of a discount you want and the approximate minimum length of book you like to read. I suggest only those narrowing terms, but you can also narrow by category.

Remember that when you click to buy the book, you also have to enter the discount coupon code and click apply coupon. When you do, the price will change to reflect the discounted price.

Enjoy new authors and find new favorites — visit the Read an eBook Week sale at Smashwords.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

(Disclaimer: I have no interest of any kind, except as a purchaser/reader of books, in Smashwords or in any book published or distributed by Smashwords.)

September 8, 2014

Thinking Fiction: An Overview of the World of Fiction Copyediting

Today’s essay introduces Amy Schneider and a new monthly series, “Thinking Fiction,” to An American Editor. Amy’s focus will be on fiction editing and writing. Please welcome Amy as a new columnist for An American Editor.

________________________

An Overview of the World of Fiction Copyediting

by Amy J. Schneider

When I mention that I spend a fair amount of my professional life copyediting fiction, colleagues (especially those who have edited only nonfiction) and laypeople alike are fascinated. Wow, so you earn your living by reading romances and thrillers? Neat! Well, as with all editing there’s a bit more to it than just reading. Nonfiction editors recognize this, but they worry about getting so caught up in the story that they forget to edit judiciously. Or they worry about sullying the author’s creative work. In my contributions to An American Editor, I hope to address some of these issues and share my approach to copyediting fiction.

What Fiction Copyediting Is Not

  • If you are an aspiring or actual novelist, this is not the time or place to try to take over the telling of the story or critique the work. Your job is mechanical only. You may certainly set your writer’s or critic’s hat off to the side and glance at it from time to time as you copyedit, but do not even think about putting it on. A common saying among editors is “It’s not my book,” and this certainly applies when we are copyediting fiction.
  • This is also not the place to apply your own moral code. Unlike in most nonfiction, you may encounter naughty words, unpleasant people and actions, blasphemy, and (gasp!) sex scenes. Your job is to copyedit the narrative and dialogue in all its unsavory glory. You may certainly choose not to accept projects in genres such as erotica or violent military or paranormal thrillers — but once you do, you’re duty bound to edit the text respectfully and keep it true to itself. (Is that term for a sexual act one word or two? Decide and put it on the style sheet. Not every style sheet is one that you would show to your mother.)
  • In fiction, grammar, punctuation, syntax, style, and the like are much more fluid. Fiction authors often use words to paint a picture, create a mood, wax poetic. Characters may or may not speak grammatical English, whether in dialogue or in first-person narrative. If you are a stickler for language perfection, you must retrain your brain a bit when copyediting fiction. Mind, it’s not a free-for-all, and when copyediting for a publisher you need to balance house style against the author’s voice, but you must also be aware of when it’s okay (or even necessary) to break the rules.

Making the Transition from Nonfiction Copyediting

When I started freelancing, my bread and butter was copyediting college textbooks. Very formulaic, strong adherence to rules. So when I started editing fiction, like my nonfiction editor colleagues mentioned earlier, I worried about interfering with the story or offending the author. But really, copyediting fiction is just wearing a different hat. Instead of keeping the text 100 percent in line with the real world, it is your job to ensure that the story is internally consistent within its own world, whether real or fictional. This means checking both real-world facts (are there mountains in Wisconsin?) and fictional ones (which colors of magic stones are sentient and which are not?); errors in either case may interfere with the reader’s enjoyment of the story (keeping in mind that authors sometimes deliberately fictionalize locations and other facts for various reasons). If the book is part of a series, ideally the same copyeditor will have handled the series from book one onward to ensure continuity across the entire story arc (I’ll talk about series copyediting in a future essay). Here are some of the things you’ll handle as you copyedit:

  • General style sheet: Every book needs one, and fiction is no exception. You need to track treatment of numbers (e.g., they are usually spelled out in dialogue, but not always). You need to keep a list of abbreviations for both real and fictional entities. How is dialogue punctuated? How are we treating internal thought, telepathic dialogue, remembered speech, handwriting, text messages, and so on? These need to be noted on the general style sheet. Which terms of address are capped (Officer, Detective) and which are not (ma’am, sweetheart)? The author may choose one style or another. Or the publisher may request that the author’s style be changed. Because these choices are so fluid in fiction, you need to note them for each book.
  • Characters: Some authors keep rigorous track of their characters’ attributes — but many do not. Or they make changes but don’t catch every instance. Marcel becomes Malcolm. Julie’s eyes change color from blue to green. Greg is left-handed but wears a golf glove on his left hand (oops — most golfers wear the glove on their nondominant hand). Lee is single and an only child — so how is it that she has a niece? Back when you edited book one in the series, you noted that Claude could read ancient Greek, but now in book three he has mysteriously lost that ability. Time to query!.
  • Locations: Again, you’ll track both real and fictional locations. Cathy’s bedroom is on the second floor, and the walls are painted blue. Sticksville is 25 miles from Cityscape. The tree on the west side of the park is a magnificent oak. And so on. So when Cathy walks in the front door of her bungalow and down the hall to her green bedroom, it’s time to query.
  • Timeline and plot: The level of detail here will vary. Some authors use only vague time markers (a few days later; by spring), if any. Others are more specific, mentioning dates, days of the week, and times of day. You need to note all references to time, whether vague or not: Carlos’s birthday is next month. The Friday night knitting club meets tomorrow (in which case today had better be Thursday). The last mention of time today was nine a.m.; has the action moved along sufficiently that it can now be midnight? I use a Word table that looks like a monthly calendar page to track time-related facts, because that’s how my brain works; it also helps me follow timelines that range over weeks or years, to make sure that six weeks isn’t really three or that it’s not snowing in Minnesota in what should be July.
  • Kid gloves: The most important part of your fiction copyeditor’s uniform is your kid gloves. As I alluded to earlier, a work of fiction is the author’s creative work — the author’s baby. Often there is no clear “right” or “wrong.” Query carefully and tactfully. If wording seems awkward enough to pull the reader out of the story, suggest a revision and explain the reason, rather than making the change outright. (Remember that it’s not your book.) I use the word perhaps a lot when querying: “Perhaps substitute [word or phrase] here, [give reason]?” Couch your queries in terms of what’s best for the story or for the reader’s enjoyment.

In future essays, I’ll discuss these and other topics in more depth. I look forward to engaging with you and getting down to the nuts and bolts of editing fiction.

(For another perspective on fiction editing, see Erin Brenner’s The Practical Editor: What You Need to Know to Edit Fiction — AAE)

Amy J. Schneider (amy@featherschneider.com), owner of Featherschneider Editorial Services, has been a freelance copyeditor and proofreader of fiction and nonfiction books since 1995. She has shared her insights on copyediting fiction as a speaker at the Communication Central conferences, in writing for the Copyediting newsletter, and in an audioconference for Copyediting.com. Amy can be reached at LinkedIn, via Twitter, and on Facebook.

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