6 Ways Copyeditors Make Your Book Better

by Joel Friedlander on May 25, 2012 · 72 comments

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By Linda Jay Geldens

Linda Jay is a very experienced book editor and member of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA). We’ve worked together on a number of book projects, and I asked Linda Jay if she would give readers some advice on one of the most important decisions a self-publisher makes: hiring a copyeditor. Here’s her reply.



Agreed.  You’ve spent months (or possibly years) writing the manuscript that will one day be your book. You’ve distilled all those handwritten notes from pages or scraps of paper, those often-incoherent e-mails to yourself, and those ideas racing around in your brain, and typed every one of them into the computer, in some loosely organized format that vaguely resembles a book. Then one day… hooray… it occurs to you that… you’re done!

Now you can’t wait to get your little gem “OUT THERE” for all the world to marvel at. You are indeed a writer (which nobody can deny, which nobody can deny)!

Oh, yes, you’ve given a sneak peek at your masterpiece to a few people whose opinion you trust—relatives, longtime friends, business colleagues. And, sure, they may have spotted a few misspellings, or a weird sentence construction here or there, but what the hey—everybody makes mistakes.

They’re just tickled that you’ve had the audacity, capacity and tenacity to write a book; a few glitches only show that you’re human. After all, who’s perfect?  It’s time to send your “baby” on its way to possible fame, and reap the glories of being a published author!

Are You Serious?

Oh, but wait… if you really want to be taken seriously as a writer, stop and listen to that little nagging voice in your head that keeps saying, “Shouldn’t you be running the manuscript past an experienced professional copyeditor before you send it out?” 

Yes, you’ve read that in order to make your book as good as it can possibly be, you must take that vital step of investing in the services of an editorial pro. And just think—in the twinkling of a well-trained eye, a topnotch editor could burnish your precious prose so it sparkles in the sunlight.

But if you submit (interesting, the ramifications of that word “submission” when it refers to sending in a manuscript, isn’t it?) your pages to the hyper-scrutiny of a nitpicky copyeditor, won’t your authentic voice be changed or deleted or mangled beyond recognition? 

The answer is… no, not if you properly vet the copyeditor to make sure you can work together well, and if the copyeditor stipulates that one of his or her goals is to make your manuscript publisher-ready… but not change your unique voice.

A good copyeditor will offer to edit a few pages of your work as a sample, to see if you two are, literally and figuratively, “on the same page.”  You can usually judge from his or her edits whether you would be able to work together happily or not. For example, if you question some of the edits and the editor responds in a haughty or rigid “only my way is right” tone, run as fast as you can toward another editor.

If your manuscript is about the life and times of the artist Edward Gorey, and the editor you’re considering has never heard of Edward Gorey and, furthermore, has no interest in learning anything about Edward Gorey, bid farewell and turn quickly on your heels.

6 Ways Copyeditors Make Your Book Better

A good copyeditor brings so much to the party. He or she can:

  1. go over grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure with a fine-tooth comb;
  2. check for consistency of verb tense, tone, and mood;
  3. find instances where sentences or paragraphs could be moved to make more logical sense;
  4. ask questions about clarity of idea, or accuracy of fact;
  5. call attention to parts of the text that could be tightened, expanded, livened up or deleted;
  6. make suggestions — synonyms for overused words, deletions of redundant words or phrases

With a good copyeditor on your team, misplaced modifiers, dangling participles, its/it’s, to/too and other hair-raising/hare-raising errors will melt away. Skilled editors say that mistakes “leap off the page” at them. And potential readers of your book will not be distracted by sloppy copy.

You can find professional book manuscript copyeditors through organizations such as BAIPA and the Bay Area Editors’ Forum (BAEF), through online editorial sites, through ads in magazines that are targeted toward writers, and through looking up “copyeditor” on search engines.

A good copyeditor can make your book’s message shipshape—and that’s not just editorial spin!

copyeditingLinda Jay Geldens is a longtime publishing professional who has edited over 60 book manuscripts in the past three years. She specializes in the genres of: business, novels, memoirs, spirituality, sci fi, academic topics and children’s. Linda is also a promotional copywriter.  Contact her at LindaJay@aol.com, visit her site at www.LindaJayGeldens.com, or connect on Twitter at @LindaJayGeldens.

Blog header photo by mpclemens

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    { 62 comments… read them below or add one }

    T Lulow May 25, 2012 at 4:32 am

    ‘And potential readers of your book will not be distracted by sloppy copy.’

    Didn’t get this bit.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 25, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Thanks for your comment, T Lulow. The sentence you refer to means, if you have your book manuscript professionally copyedited, there won’t be any sloppy copy that could distract a reader.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 25, 2012 at 9:56 am

    Or what one of my instructors used to call “sloppy copy poppycock.”

    Reply

    R. Harlan Smith May 26, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Ms. Lulow.
    I think it should read “won’t have to be”, or “won’t be”.
    This sentence threw me, too.
    R. Harlan Smith

    Reply

    R. Harlan Smith May 26, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Ms. Lulow,
    I think it should read, “won’t have to be”, or “won’t be”.
    That sentence threw me, too.
    rhs

    Reply

    R. Harlan Smith May 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Get it?

    Reply

    T Lulow May 27, 2012 at 3:32 am

    Got it.

    Reply

    R. Harlan Smith May 29, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    Ms. Lulow,
    If you have some literature that lists your fees, I would like to see it. I have some material I’d like to have edited. I have four books on the Amazon book store, but before I submit anything to a publisher or a magazine, I think maybe a professional eye should see it first.
    Thanx

    carol brill May 25, 2012 at 4:36 am

    Like many writers, I thought my novel was ready to self-pub, but hired an editor to make it super clean. Her feedback has amazed and humbled me. Who knew an en-dash is different from a hyphen and there is a right way to type an ellipses! Her insights about opportunities to round out characters, improve transitions, and clarify feelings/emotions absolutley make my MS more publishable.
    Editors clearly have different skills than writers and those skills are invaluable.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 25, 2012 at 8:59 am

    Right you are, Carol. I have to agree with you that a writer who finds a good editor is fortunate, indeed.

    Reply

    David Colin Carr May 25, 2012 at 8:39 am

    Clear picture of the copyediting process, Linda. And fun to read.

    One comment: If an editor is not interested in learning about your historical/psychological interest in Edward Gorey, yes run. But if s/he is simply unfamiliar with Gorey, that can work for your benefit. An editor who does know your subject is likely to insure that all the details needed to educate readers new to the material are included.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 25, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Thanks, David! Yes, an editor unfamiliar with the artist you mention might be able to research the topic and provide some little-known Gorey details.

    Reply

    Deb Atwood May 25, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Great article.

    We often hear that authors need separate copy and content editors, but it sounds like LInda does it all with aplomb. I’m curious about the cost of this type of inclusive service, say for a 100k ms. One editor I have used (whose skills fall more on the copy side) charges $110 per 10k words.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 25, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Deb, different editors perform very different functions in developing a book. For instance, what you’re calling a “content editor” I might refer to as a developmental editor, whose job is quite different from what a copyeditor does. For a more complete look at the editorial process, check out this post:

    What Every Self-Publisher Ought to Know About Editing

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 25, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Thanks for reading, Deb. I’ll e-mail you with typical rates for manuscripts.

    Reply

    Nancy Popovich May 25, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Good post. My first encounter with an editor was an enjoyable and rewarding experience. He did indeed polish my manuscript and challenge some ambiguities. My writing is better for it and I wouldn’t consider publishing now without his ‘polish’.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 25, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Hi, Nancy, Wonderful that you had a good experience the first time you worked with an editor. You are exactly right — that “polish,” even though it may be subtle, makes all the difference between a so-so read and an undeniably excellent read.

    Reply

    David Colin Carr May 25, 2012 at 9:55 am

    I’m always wary of the quality of work of someone who charges by the word. Every manuscript has unique challenges – which sometimes are not apparent early in the editing process. Each writer has distinctive patterns – and each piece hopefully has a distinctive voice. And then there is the issue of whether a work flows logically from beginning to end – which is impossible to evaluate sight unseen.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 25, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Thanks for these additional comments, David. I don’t know any editor who charges by the word.

    Reply

    Will Gibson May 25, 2012 at 10:33 am

    I’ve heard it said that a writer can’t edit one’s own work. And Linda’s article backs that up with sound advice about why that is basically true.

    I’ve spent the last year, after initial publication, using my POD books as ARC’s in order to get reader feedback. Even knowing that I needed an editor, I didn’t have the money to take that step so I patiently waited while people read the book and held off my marketing efforts.

    After a few months, I received comments and even one very well written ‘review’ of the book that I was able to use for a major revision. I then put out a few more books (mainly give aways, some sales) and completed another revision that focused on dialogue problems that kept being mentioned. I also spent the year cutting out too many ellipses, reducing repetitive words, correcting some dangling participles, finding continuity problems, etc, etc. In other words, doing what a good editor would have provided for me.

    I learned a lot about my writing but lost a year in marketing and sales. I plan on connecting with a compatible editor for my next book. A writer maybe can’t edit his or her own work but I tried.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 25, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Thanks for your comment, Will. You found out through a year’s trial by fire that a good editor really is vital to the success of your book.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 25, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Will, that’s a remarkable story. The impulse to “do it yourself” is incredibly strong in many people, and I have it also. But when you back up and get more of a perspective, and start thinking about how valuable your own time is, it looks different. This is a tough lesson for some people to learn. I wrote about some of my own struggles in this post: Frustrated Self-Publisher Escapes the DIY Trap

    Although I can’t claim to be completely free of this, I feel I’m much more productive, and doing things I’m better suited to, for having confronted the problem. Good luck with the book and thanks for taking the time to comment here.

    Reply

    jack lane May 25, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Great testimonial for copyediting when “rain of terror” made it through without a mark. Maybe she thinks “The reign in Spain stays mainly on the plain.”

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 25, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Jack, I don’t see the “rain of terror” you’re referring to, can you clarify? Thanks.

    Reply

    jack lane May 25, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    At the end of the page there is a “slideshow” with a full page and that is where “rain of terror” appears, free of restraint.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 25, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Jack, where is this “rain of terror” mentioned? Who is “she”?

    Reply

    jack lane May 25, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    At the end of the page there is a “slideshow” with a full page and that is where “rain of terror” appears, free of restraint. “She” I thought was you but I guess the page was taken from somewhere else. Sorry.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 25, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    One more time — at the end of what page is a “slideshow” with a full page? I really don’t know what you’re referring to.

    Reply

    jack lane May 26, 2012 at 5:31 am

    I’ll forward the column as I received it. Scroll to the very bottom and you’ll see a miniature of a page with the words “View Slideshow” beneath it. Tap on that and you’ll see it enlarged and “rain of terror” un-corrected. If there is further concern, contact me by email as I won’t be checking this page any more.

    bowerbird May 25, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    > and there is a right way to type an ellipses!

    “ellipses” is plural. “ellipsis” is singular.
    so it should be “an ellipsis”…

    ***

    > clarify feelings/emotions absolutley make my MS

    “absolutely”.

    ***

    > An editor who does know your subject is
    > likely to insure that all the details needed to
    > educate readers new to the material are included.

    unless a policy is involved, it should be “ensure”.

    and i suspect there’s a “not” missing between “does”
    and “know”, based on the argument being made…

    ***

    the bottom line is that some writers are capable
    of being editors too, while other writers are not…

    if you don’t know which category you fall into,
    the odds are that it is the latter one…

    -bowerbird

    p.s. is somebody gonna tell me that it should be
    “into which you fall”?

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 25, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Bowerbird, I wasn’t going to make editorial comments on the Comments! LOL

    Reply

    Carol Brill May 25, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    Ah, you and I proved my point:)

    Reply

    John Johnson May 25, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Where is the list, is it sorted by zip code, or what? Pricing, by word, by page, by chapter? Pricing, how much, by fiction, non-fiction, mystery, pornographic? Can it be done by Word 2010 or must it be printed on real paper? Is there dialog between the writer and editor – discussion ongoing? Do editor’s have resumes that show there published works, authors who used them, where they live? Does a California editor have differences that a New York editor might not share? So many questions revolving around the actual nuts and bolts, I don’t need any further persuasion!

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 25, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    John,
    Bay Area Editors’ Forum (BAEF) has a list of editors in various categories. See Joel’s response to Deb Atwood above, for a link to an informative article about editing. Pricing – go to Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) for a chart about pricing — although I doubt that “pornographic” would appear as a category! Can what be done by Word 2010 or printed on real paper? Is there dialog between the writer and editor — that’s the whole point of my article.
    Yes, editors have resumes. Differences between California and New York editors? Hard to say. As an author, you’ll have to do some research to find out some of these answers.

    Reply

    David Colin Carr May 25, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Hi John – Following up on Linda’s response to your comment:

    Experienced editors should be able to convert your document into a version they can edit with that will move back to you in a readable format. Some editors work on screen, some on hard copy (tho they can print it as easily as you can send it through the post). For some projects (most, in my experience) “Track Changes” creates an unreadable mess.

    I work on double-spaced hard copy and mark it up in pencil. Some writers want to input the changes themselves. This saves them money of course, and it also gives them a chance to evaluate whether they want to keep the suggested changes. (Ultimately, it is YOUR writing, so you have the last word, not your editor.) And I find that as they see your changes and work with them, they learn the craft of writing.

    As to New York vs. California – the first is often more expensive because the cost of living is. Different editors have different skills, no matter where they live, so prices can vary radically within an area.

    I wouldn’t work with an editor who isn’t in dialogue fairly constantly. And it doesn’t have to be face to face. Some writers feel the need to be face to face at least in the beginning of the relationship.

    One difference between editors in NY and CA – the former probably get to have less beach time …

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 25, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    Detailed answer, David! That’s three comments you’ve left here today. Most amazing!

    Reply

    carol brill May 26, 2012 at 2:59 am

    “And I find that as they see your changes and work with them, they learn the craft of writing.”
    as a writer currently working on an editor’s changes, I absolutely agree. It is a great way to deepen learning about the craft of writing

    Reply

    Pam May 25, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    I’m a brand new author. I never would have attempted my project without the help of a professional copyeditor. It just happened to be Linda Jay Geldens!

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 25, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    And what a great experience it’s been, for both of us, Pam! It’s very rare when a really terrific author/editor relationship comes along; this is one of those times.

    Reply

    Claude Nougat May 26, 2012 at 12:57 am

    This is a very welcome post and a much-needed reminder of the value of good copy-editing, something that alas is all too often overlooked by self-published authors. I’ve got some excellent Indie friends who send me their work (already published mind you) and ask me to write a review “if I want to” (meaning: please do it!). I’d love to write a review, especially a good one, and often the pieces show promise (the subject is interesting, maybe the opening is even good and grabs you) but then, things quickly fall apart because the work wasn’t properly copy-edited.

    How sad! And many of the worse offenders are when writers quote bits of phrases or proverbs from another language: invariably wrong! For example, in the case of French which happens to be my mother tongue, I rarely see a quote in French that doesn’t carry an obvious mistake!

    Of course, mistakes in English are worse. And often there are so many that I can’t possibly write a positive review…so, sadly, I write nothing even though the piece, if it were properly edited, would deserve praise.

    Any suggestions on how to get out of that situation? I’ve even had a friend who claimed his stuff had been fully edited (copy and substance) yet it was chock-full of mistakes. Obviously he had gotten hold of very bad editors…How do you get hold of good ones?

    That seems to be the real problem: how to identify copy-editors (and editors for substance and story development/structure) that are really effective and will improve your work. How do you do that? You suggest a list, but in that list how do you find the really good ones that will work for you?

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 26, 2012 at 8:24 am

    Hello, Claude,
    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. We are certainly in agreement about the importance of having your manuscript professionally copyedited BEFORE it is published — that is key. And yes, there are so many misquoted phrases (and even misheard cliches). I once caught this in a manuscript: “We will stand on the toes [should be shoulders] of those who have gone before us”! How to find a good copyeditor? As I say in my article, an author must vet a potential copyeditor, through a sample edit, through references, through enough conversations on e-mail or on the phone or in-person until there is enough evidence that the fit is good.

    Reply

    David Colin Carr May 26, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Sticky situation indeed, Claude. Above all, be honest. If a writer has the guts to put themselves out in public, they need to be ready for any feedback and commentary. If your friend’s book is already in print, it might be time for a second edition AFTER the corrections are made. Note to them what is valuable, then point out the problems – and having a solution to help will lighten the impact.

    Finding a good editor: check out websites and references. And ask for clips of projects they’ve worked on. Then have a phone conversation about the project. The connection will “click” or not. A good editor will be weeding out inappropriate clients at the same time – interviews go both ways.

    Reply

    Marla Markman May 28, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    I’ve been an editor for over 20 years, and I agree with David that the author/editor relationship is very important. You really do need to make sure you both “click,” as David points out. Authors and editors work very closely together, especially in a developmental edit, and outside of the straightforward correction of grammar and punctuation, editing can be quite subjective, so if you can, talk to the editor on the phone as well as getting a sample edit. Find out what the editor’s process is, his/her editing philosophy, and even whether you enjoy chatting with that person. You’re going to be spending a good deal of time together, so you want to make sure you’re a good fit.

    Reply

    Simon Townley May 26, 2012 at 2:40 am

    As someone who has worked for many years editing other people’s text, I know this is all good advice, but…
    There are lots of articles like this around these days, and the tone often comes across as very condescending. Presumably because these copy editors tend to come from the publishing business, where writers are regarded as pond scum. You seem to assume that all writers are illiterate idiots who can’t tell a comma from an apostrophe and know nothing about character development. While that’s true for some, it certainly isn’t the case for the majority. Unless you are yourself a novelist, most writers will know a lot more than any copy-editor about story development. It’s one of those things you can only really learn by doing.
    Personally, I would expect any copy editor I worked with to bring some humility and respect to the table. Not saying that you don’t. But it’s something to watch out for.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 26, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Thanks for your comment, Simon. I have worked for several major publishing houses, both as an advertising copywriter and as a copyeditor; nowadays, most of my clients prefer to self-publish. My opinion of writers is quite the opposite of what you describe. I admire writers’ gutsiness for exposing their deepest beliefs and passions, their confidence in being brutally honest, their willingness to put themselves into the (figurative) line of fire for their opinions.
    I have great respect for writers. I never, ever assume that writers are “illiterate idiots” — far from it! Perhaps you’ve met copyeditors who work on that assumption. What a shame, for them, and for the authors they work with! Of course a novelist knows more than a copyeditor about story development, Simon. A copyeditor’s role is to polish the manuscript, not to write the manuscript from scratch.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 26, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    With all due respect, Simon, I didn’t get any feeling of

    “You seem to assume that all writers are illiterate idiots,”

    even remotely, from Linda’s article. Rather, it seems an encouragement to writers who intend to publish to treat their manuscripts with the care and attention they deserve.

    Reply

    Barbara Bigelow May 29, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    As an editor with twenty-four years’ experience in publishing, I have to agree with you, Joel. Linda’s advice is right on target. I went back and reread her post, searching for something that might seem offensive; there’s no nastiness there. Trust me, I’ve worked with dozens of talented editors over the years–some more crotchety than others. I think editors are being wildly misjudged and pigeonholed as ruthless, vapid, red pen–wielding members of the “Grammar Police” even when their criticism is delivered with delicacy. It’s our job to find errors in a manuscript before the “real” readers do, right? Isn’t that why writers hire us?

    Please, Joel, point out to your audience that the copyeditor-writer relationship is something akin to the bond between a priest and a confessor or a defense attorney and a suspect without an alibi. (Okay, maybe that’s a little over the top, but I’m really passionate about this subject.) A copyeditor with integrity will never broadcast a client’s mistakes: Aside from being petty and mean, the regular use of such tactics would serve as nothing more than a surefire career killer. As Linda noted in her article, writers will be able to sense when they’ve found the right copyeditor. There should be an easiness about the connection that puts both parties at ease.

    Thanks, Joel, for giving me the chance to defend my profession. Perhaps I should start an “I ❤ editors” campaign!

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 29, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Hi, Barbara, from one longtime editor to another! I agree with all that you’ve said. Sometimes people read blog posts and see things that aren’t there — to say that editors from publishing houses “seem to assume that all writers are illiterate idiots”??? What a blanket statement of unadulterated untruth!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 29, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Barbara,

    My advice to writers mirrors yours, and I’ve spoken about it often. After assuring yourself that an editor is competent, what’s most important is the quality of communication and care between the two parts of the equation.

    And I’m all in favor of the “I ❤ editors” campaign. Editors, copyeditors, proofreaders all make us put our best face to the world, and look better than perhaps we ought to. Cheers!

    Reply

    Katie McAleece May 26, 2012 at 5:53 am

    I like the clear presentation of this article, and I like how it’s motivating yet honest. Writers in the early stages of their books need to read this. So, basically, I needed this. Thank you. (:

    Reply

    Bernadette Crespin May 26, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Linda Jay Geldens is a wonderful editor. She is very clear in her explanations and corrections. Happily I met her in 2008 and she is a wonderful and friendly lady. I highly recommend her to any writer. Thank you so much,Linda.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 26, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Hello, Bernadette, and thank you so much for your comments. I’m so glad we worked together closely on your manuscript. I know how much you wanted to get your imaginative, passionate ideas “out there.” And now your book is published!

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 26, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Thanks, Katie, for your comment. It’s great to know that the ideas in my article are reaching people like you who are starting to write their books. I just cannot emphasize enough the importance of running your completed manuscript past the eagle eyes of a professional copyeditor BEFORE it’s published.

    Reply

    Karen Inglis May 26, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Great article, Linda.

    I’ve self-published two children’s books in the last six months (they had sat on my hard drive for 10 years after I ran out of steam trying to sort out final remaining niggles and got sucked back into the day job!).

    I write professionally as well as for children – so considered myself perfectly capable of being my own editor and copyeditor. But it was only after a trusted colleague who is also a copywriter and editor (as well as an avid reader with a First Class Degree in English) commented on the books for me that I was able finally to complete them.

    In particular she made me realise through her questions and comments that I needed to drop or significantly change things I was trying to cling on to. I knew in my heat of hearts that those cuts and changes needed to happen but had somehow reached an impasse and/or was burying my head in the sand about them as I wasn’t sure I had the energy to deal with the potential knock-on for other chapters. Having the moral support of someone there was a real relief I must say – aproblem shared is a problem halved etc! And it was wonderful finally getting there and suddenly knowing that my books were complete.

    I also happen to have an 86-year-old mother who can spot typos and misrelated participles from the other end of the street, so had wonderful back up on the proofing and copy editing side.

    I’ve been extremely lucky to manage this informally (and I return the favour for my colleague who is writing children’s books too) – but it has taught me that I wouldn’t dream of going to press without the input of separate professional editor going forward. Both books have been doing really well by the way, which is wonderful!

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 26, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Karen. So interesting that your children’s books were waiting on your hard drive for ten years before they came to life after your trusted colleague reviewed them! How wonderful that you were able to respond to what you knew “in your heart of hearts” and make the necessary changes. And now the books are selling well. That’s just great.

    Reply

    David Colin Carr May 28, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Glad you spoke about clinging to parts that you know don’t belong, Karen. This is something that many of my clients say once I point out the elephant in their Eskimo story. And it’s true in my own writing as well. I’ve learned that if I sense it is off, just delete it without asking for anyone else’s opinion. Though it’s a good idea to paste it into a new file for later development. Even if you never get back to it, computers save us from leaving scraps of paper in piles in our offices, bedrooms, living rooms and garages.

    Reply

    Marla Markman May 28, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Linda,
    Excellent article. I especially like how you mentioned that a good editor does not change a writer’s style or voice. That is so important to note. I had to dispel that myth just this week with an author. An editor only serves to make a book better!

    David, your comments were right on as well. Thanks for chiming in.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens May 28, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Thanks, Marla. That is one of a writer’s biggest concerns (fears) — that an editor will, as I said in my article, change, delete, or mangle his or her authentic style. You are absolutely right — ideally, an editor will improve a book, without destroying the author’s voice.

    Reply

    Dianne Price May 29, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Many, many thanks for an excellent blog and all the comments. I too, thought I couldn’t afford an editor, but because of God’s grace, found one at the OCW writer’s conference. We bonded immediately, and she has become not only my editor, but a life-long friend. I have written a series of 12 books following the same family who live on a small island (made-up) in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. After sweating tears and blood over those few gems I knew I should omit, but hung onto because they were so good, Christina finally convinced me that the story would flow better without them. Because of her fine editing, I have just received an email from a publisher saying they love my first book and are sending me a contract! Books two through four are also ready to go and am rewriting the last two in the first six of the series. I live on a fixed income, but believe me, if you want to be published, get an editor! Not only do their changes make the manuscript saleable, but I have learned so much I can now take out a lot of my mistakes myself.

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    Linda Jay Geldens May 29, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Dianne, Your story is a real testament to the value of working with an editor! Thanks for sharing.

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    Dianne Price May 29, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Thank you, Linda. I meant to put my editor’s name before this group. It is: Christina Berry Tarabochia. Her own novel, “The Familiar Stranger,” was a finalist for the Christy award and won the coveted Carol award. I can never list all she has done for me–the list is too long!

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    Mary DeDanan May 30, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    “…the copyeditor-writer relationship is something akin to the bond between a priest and a confessor or a defense attorney and a suspect without an alibi.”

    Oh, so true.

    I’d add that an editor is your ally. Forget that image of the stern 6th grade English teacher, red pen in one hand, ruler in the other (“whap!”). Editors like and respect writers. We work hard to make you look good, to bring out your talents while preserving your unique voice. A good editor never forgets that it’s your book, your vision, your name on the cover. You get the final choice.

    I’m both a professional editor and a professional writer. I edit to make a living; I write to make a life. I can testify that self-editing is quite possible, but it takes time, practice, and memorization of occasionally obtuse rules. Even so, if I have an important project of my own, I always want another set of enlightened eyes.

    May I offer some tips for self-editing writers? 1) Don’t rush. Put away the first (or tenth) draft for as long as you can stand it, a month, say. 2) Pretend you’ve never seen this work before and question everything. Notice every single time that tiny voice within asks “is that right?” Flag it and look it up. (You will get some good reference books, of course, starting with the Chicago Manual.) Now you’re working as an editor.

    If you don’t have that kind of detachment and patience, you simply want to get on with the fun parts; you don’t notice a difference between “they’re,” “their,” and “there,” and semi-colons are a mystery to you—then you need a pro.

    To add to what others have said here, besides BAEF (http://www.editorsforum.org) and EFA (http://www.the-efa.org), there’s a large, international list of editors at Copyediting-L (http://www.copyediting-l.info). And ask around your writing circles and associations; most of my editing jobs come from referrals, not my listings.

    I agree that hourly rates are fairest to both writer and editor. Manuscripts vary so much that a flat rate has a cushion built in to protect the editor. If you start with the cleanest copy you can create, an hourly rate will work out better for you. I’m open to trade on occasion; other editors may be too. But please don’t ask us to wait for payment until your book is a bestseller—no real editor can do that.

    I hate to tell you this, but if you’re serious, your book will need two or three edits, just like the big leagues. The developmental edit comes first, if it’s needed (and many self-pubbers do). The absolutely essential copyedit is next. Then a clean-sweep proofread of your next-to-final proof, last chance to catch the hundreds of little errors that crept in while you were accepting changes and revising, laying out pages, adding art, sidebars, sub-heads, the index, appendices, notes, and such.

    Editing is not cheap. But you don’t want cheap, you want good. Your book is your precious, beloved child and needs the same care—and about the same budget.

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