We are, it seems, a popular topic of blog conversation.
Never a week goes by, without someone writing about us.
And of course, the old chestnut, you need three separate editors, developmental, copy and line, plus a final proofreader.
One post I read recently said that there were far too many unqualified people selling their services as editors and they were in danger of bringing the industry into disrepute.
Another person, who didn’t seem to have any relevant qualifications, just a natural feel for editing, cautioned against using an editor who had worked mainly in non-fiction rather than fiction. Hell, at least some of us have worked in it for 30+ years…
Yet another, said, always use someone who has worked for a traditional publishing house.
And if BS baffles brains, one blog post quoted intricate statistics about whether typos or poor plot put people off a book more.
If there are too many typos, I rarely notice the plot in my eager chase to find the next glaring error. And if spelling, punctuation, and capitalisation are wrong, there’s a good chance the plot won’t be the best either. But at least one can play chase the error. Or pick up another book.
But I think it is a bit rich for someone with a ‘feel’ for plots and books, who sets up as a developmental editor, to lay down the law.
The sad truth is, there is no law. And fiction, while operating to general rules, leaves an author the choice to decide how they want to write, whether to buck convention and accepted style, or lie down and do as they are told.
Our second truth is, that the responsibility lies with the author. The author needs to decide what level of service they want, how much they want to pay, and do their homework by reading and asking around.
An author is also responsible for checking the terms of the contract, if it isn’t in the contract, don’t expect extra work without incurring additional cost. An author is always responsible for signing off the final version of their book. Hiring an editor doesn’t absolve an author from responsibility. It is more likely to mean an author will get a barrage of emails saying ‘What on earth do you mean by this?’
Editors charge differently. Some charge an hourly rate, some charge by the word or the page, others (me) give a price for the job.
It’s not true that you need to pay a fortune. You can spend a lot of money and end up with errors of various types. As do famous authors using trad publishing houses. You can spend a minimum and end up with a well-edited book. Unless authors are selling a lot of books, their returns are low, and it simply isn’t cost-effective to have two or three editors and a proofreader.
Which is why authors need to decide whether they want:
And, is the author prepared for an editor to argue (nicely of course) with them?
Authors should ask for a sample of what the editor will do for you. If you want the full ‘rip the book to shreds, character assassination, this plot’s crap’ job, that’s slightly different, but otherwise any decent editor should provide you with a few chapters worth of suggested edits.
Don’t pay for an appraisal telling you what needs doing. Just. Don’t.
Why on earth, would anyone pay me to read their book, for me to write back and say, ‘It needs editing’. OK it might stretch to another couple of sentences, but still, it’s a waste of money.
References and word of mouth may be good, but an editor who suits one person may not suit another. Plus, authors have different requirements, hence, the need to know what you want from an editor.
What matters most is seeing an example of their work, because you are going to be paying at least 50% up front, if not 100%, and, deciding whether or not you think you can establish a working relationship with someone, because this is NOT your mate or your sister or your husband. This is someone working at it for a living (unless they are doing it for pin money because it’s ‘fun’) and they will be honest with you, which may well mean saying things you really don’t want to read. Oh and price. That matters too.
Now, onto three more of our favourite common errors
Remember the first three were:
- Missing full point
- Faulty punctuation in dialogue
So the next three are
This one is quite the nightmare. There are two categories of erroneous caps.
One is the creeping cap,
where it just appears within the text for No reason.
In the same vein, is the one that sneaks in during dialogue.
‘For example,’ He said.
Both of those examples are incorrect, there is no argument about it.
The second category is much more contentious. A debate over at Ark’s blog exemplifies it.
It’s all about when, or whether, you capitalise a noun that isn’t a proper noun because it is used as a substitute for a title.
Easy examples are, the Council, instead of Kirklees Council; the Government, instead of HM Government of Gibraltar; the Doctor, instead of Doctor Williams; etc etc
Usage varies within institutions. Civil servants and the legal profession tend to capitalise anything and everything. Text ends up looking like German with all nouns capitalised.
In journalism it was regarded as ‘the pompous capital’, ie basically elevating something to unmerited importance. It was also regarded as an excuse for sloppy writing. If it wasn’t clear what was meant, just slap a capital on the word.
Fiction however is different, and in particular, fantasy fiction. Look at the amount of capitals Tolkien throws around. In fantasy, authors often describe mythical beings with a capital, pretty much like saying someone is French or Australian (not suggesting either are mythical beings).
So despite my dislike of unnecessary caps, I think there is a case for judicious use of them. But overuse just diminishes the impact of the words that are capitalised. And, remember, too many caps also slows down the eye when reading text.
5. Factual errors
This can be anything. It can be an error in translating a foreign language, an inaccurate quotation from a published work, an error with date and timing, eg when Star Trek started, when pounds, shilling and pence were used rather than decimalisation, or even just a wrong street name.
This is a pretty broad category. But it basically means the story needs to flow, so any jarring inconsistencies stop that flow and leave the reader puzzling.
For example, in one (best selling) author’s book I’ve just read, he uses timescales to section his book, eg
Except he then followed it with
It had me tearing my hair out. A tiny slip that totally stopped my reading.
In another book, British crime writer, Lynda La Plante had a detective slashed in one thigh, and a few pages later it was the other leg. That sort of error has me going backwards and forwards thinking I’ve misread something.
Another classic is character names. Even one use of the wrong name stands out like
dogs… a sore thumb. When you’re editing with a lot of names, keeping tabs on them all is a tall order.
And, characters doing one thing one minute, and either repeating it later, or doing something totally different:
She picked up a glass of white wine…
Followed a few pars later by
She was enjoying the sharp flavour of the gin and tonic…
Sure, logic suggests she could have polished off the white wine and got another drink in the meantime, but it doesn’t signify that to the brain when we are reading.
Our brain says, ‘wait, she was drinking white wine, why is it now gin and tonic?’
With which, I will pour myself a lunchtime beer. Cheers!