Are we there yet? Knowing when to edit.

013zBelieve me, the quickest way to a bad editing experience is to have your manuscript edited too soon. There is no point wasting money on a copy-edit (that is, one that deals with spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency, and so on) until the structure and the story are completely sorted, because even the slightest redraft can result in most of the copy-edit, and the money you spent on it, vanishing into the Recycle Bin before your very eyes.

The key to a good edit is to know your manuscript and to choose the right type of edit at the right time.

Let’s imagine you have reached the end of your first draft. So, the next step is to send the manuscript to an editor? Actually, no. The next step is to give yourself a well-earned pat on the back for finishing the draft in the first place. Then shove the entire manuscript in a drawer (or the computer equivalent of a drawer) for a period of time and forget about it. Most people recommend two weeks proving time, I personally would suggest a month, or longer, if you can manage it. Go and write something else – a short story, a poem or flash fiction, assuming you aren’t already diving into your next novel.

DSC00072When you are ready, take out your novel and read it straight through, just as you would any other book.  This should give you a clear idea as to which parts of the story are working, which parts aren’t, and what, and where, the main problems are. Time for draft two, and, perhaps, even draft three or four, who knows? Repeat the process for each draft, and when you have the manuscript as good as you can get it, structurally-speaking, you can edit it yourself, checking in particular for obvious typos and spelling mistakes. Then send it to your beta readers: fellow writers, friends and family whose judgement you trust and who will be honest with you. Once you have all the comments back from your readers, proceed to draft and self-edit number whatever we’re at.

Now your manuscript is ready for a substantive edit.

Heart writing 001Many writers are sorely tempted to skip this step mainly due to the expense of hiring a substantive editor. But you should remember that the story is one of the most important elements of your novel (character being another). Forgive the bluntness, but there is enough evidence out there in the marketplace to show that a rattling good story will sell a book, even when the prose is fairly pedestrian. Hiring a substantive editor to help you get the story right could be the best investment you make. If you really can’t stretch to a full substantive edit, at the very least, have it professionally critiqued, so that you are sure there are no major plot, character or pacing difficulties lurking in the manuscript just waiting to pop out and infuriate your readers.

Now, fast-forward another draft or three to the point where you are absolutely certain there will be no further amendments to the story or structure. Congratulations, you’ve made it! It’s time for a copy-edit.

For more details on substantive (structural) editing, copy-editing and manuscript critiques, check out Book Nanny’s website at www.booknannyfictioneditor.com.

Let the right one in: choosing an editor

DCFN0008.JPGYou’ve made the decision that your book needs editing, but how do you go about hiring an editor? A good working relationship with an editor can be of tremendous value to an author – a bad one can leave an author demoralised and upset. As with any other business relationship, putting a little effort into finding the right editor in the first instance can save you a lot of heartache at a later stage.

Here are 5 tips to help you make a choice:

  1. Be clear about what you want, what your book needs and what editing stage it is at.  Don’t waste your money hiring someone to copy-edit text that is likely to be removed in the next draft. If you are still working on your story or structure, hire a substantive editor instead.
  2. Word-of-mouth recommendation. Ask your writer friends, their friends and their friends’ friends about their editors. If they are happy to recommend an editor to you, you are already off to a good start. If none of your friends write, this may be a good time to join a writers’ group and link up with like-minded folks at writing workshops, seminars and on social networking sites. Ask questions, find out what’s good and what is to be avoided.
  3. Picture3BAsk for a sample of the editor’s work and/or client testimonials. Most editors will be happy to provide these for you. They’ll often ask for a sample of your manuscript in any event, so that they can judge the editing work involved. An editing sample gives you a chance to see how the editor treats your text and how you respond to editorial criticism and amendments.
  4. Shop around – don’t feel obliged to plump for the first recommendation. You may have a glowing editor recommendation from your five best writing pals, but if they are all writing romantic comedy and your book is a gritty, intrigue-laden fantasy epic, the editor may not be the one you are looking for. Use your instinct – if the editing sample and other testimonials feel right to you, then go for it. If not, make further inquiries.
  5. Be reasonable with your editing budget – remember, if you’re looking to pay peanuts, you risk attracting monkeys. When properly done, editing is a skilled and time-consuming process. Heart writing 001For that reason it is also expensive. Also, most good editors will be busy and you may need to book an editing slot with them beforehand to ensure they are available when your manuscript is ready for editing. So plan your budget and your publishing deadlines well in advance.

For more details on substantive (structural) editing, copy-editing and manuscript critiques, check out Book Nanny’s website at www.booknannyfictioneditor.com.

This wood’d be great if it weren’t for those pesky trees: Critique v Edit

Immersing yourself wholly in your story and characters is one of the true pleasures of writing, but stepping away from the world of your book to find the objectivity you need to move it on to the next stage can be more difficult. If you do find yourself caught in this ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ situation, having your manuscript critiqued or edited can be of tremendous benefit.

There are many different types of critiques and assessments on offer from established authors, literary agents and editors. Some offer straightforward critiques, while others offer manuscript assessments which are substantive edits in all but name, so you will need to consider each service carefully before deciding which one is right for you.

Straightforward critiques can be very useful in giving an author an excellent general overview of what is working or not working in their manuscript and they are usually cheaper than a full substantive edit. However, this type of review doesn’t suit everyone.  For many, it simply increases the frustration. As one writer put it ‘Now I know exactly what the problems are, but I still don’t know how to fix them. Let’s face it, if I knew that already, they wouldn’t have been there in the first place!’

So, if  you are trying to decide between a critique or substantive edit, it is probably worth looking at the sort of comments you’ve been getting from friends or writing group colleagues so far. Are there recurring patterns of problems cropping up? Are the comments hinting at a major problem (say, for example, your main character is not working) and you have no idea how to sort it out?

Heart writing 001If you do find yourself in this distressing position, then a full substantive edit could well be the way forward, and though more expensive in the short-term, it could prove much better value for money in the long-term, if it helps you avoid some of those irritating manuscript problems in the future.

For more details on substantive (structural) editing, copy-editing and manuscript critiques, check out Book Nanny’s website at www.booknannyfictioneditor.com.

Substantive Edits: The Heart of the Matter

DSC00093‘Substance’ is defined as the most important part or the real or essential meaning of something, which, in my opinion, pretty much sums up the essence of a substantive edit. (Just to muddy the waters, for some editors, substantive editing is similar to copy-editing, but for me, it is a synonym for structural or content editing.) It deals with a book’s characters, plot, themes, structure, pace and meaning. It deals with all those things an author knows instinctively are not working as well as they should be, but can’t quite put their finger on, and it deals with some of the things that authors feel are working wonderfully, but which are not being communicated properly to a reader.

Why and what if 001In the first instance, a substantive editor will use their professional skills to identify and articulate any problems with the content, substance or structure of your manuscript. Are the characters believable? Why did a character do x instead of y? Why didn’t they do z? Why does that plot twist feel contrived? Is the pace too slow, too fast or just right? Is the structure of the book enhancing or hindering the storytelling? Is the narrative holding the reader’s interest through to the end? Is your thriller thrilling? Is your fantasy fantastic? Does your romance sparkle?

Which leads us to the other essential function of a substantive editor: not simply to critique or review a manuscript, but to assist an author to resolve any problems arising from the review. By asking pertinent questions, challenging assumptions and using their skills and experience to suggest possible solutions, a substantive editor can open the discussion for a writer. The right comment can illuminate blind spots and send an author along a fresh path of discovery, revealing new and exciting possibilities for a novel or short story.

Heart writing 001In summary, a good substantive editor can be a wonderful resource. She or he can help you to a better understanding of exactly how your book is communicating with readers (which is often not the way you think it is!). Of course, you are at liberty to accept or reject editorial suggestions or comments at all times, but you should remember that your editor is on your side. If he or she challenges you as a writer, it is only to inspire you to find the best solutions to your manuscript problems.

For more details on substantive (structural) editing, copy-editing and manuscript critiques, check out Book Nanny’s website at www.booknannyfictioneditor.com.

Editors: animal, vegetable or mineral?

Of course, I’m not actually suggesting that editors are anything less than human, but authors are often confused by the various types of editors and edits available.

Editing phases 0031I don’t think anyone (including myself) can guarantee you a definitive answer, given that in practice there is a considerable amount of overlap between the types of editors and the work they do. However, as a general overview, I’ve broadly divided the traditional editorial process into three phases:

1. The ‘big picture’ stage:  this is where you will meet commissioning (or acquiring), developmental editors and content (structural or substantive) editors. Commissioning and developmental editors buy or commission books for their publishing house and assist an author with the overall vision for a book (including marketing). Content editors work with an author on the substance and structure – for fiction, this would include areas such as character, themes, plot and pacing.

2. Editing phases 0051The ‘nuts and bolts’ stage: once the content of a book has been more or less copper-fastened, the copy or line editors take over. The scope of these editorial roles can vary and the two roles are often combined, but, essentially, both types of editors work through the actual text of a manuscript at paragraph and sentence level. Their basic function is to ensure clarity and consistency of style and format; they will check grammar, spelling and punctuation, suggest revisions or rewrites and mark up the text for the typesetters.

3. The ‘minutiae’ stage: this is the proofreading stage.

Picture3BTraditionally a proofreader’s job is to compare a typeset copy of the manuscript (one that has been formatted for printing) with the final edit copy (basically the instructions to the typesetters) to ensure no errors have slipped in during the typesetting process. However, the term ‘proofreading’ is often used to describe work which is, in fact, nearer to copy-editing.

We’ll look at some of the different types of edits in more detail later on, but hopefully this clears up some of the confusion!

For more details on substantive (structural) editing, copy-editing and manuscript critiques, check out Book Nanny’s website at www.booknannyfictioneditor.com.