Professional editing as a transferable skill… interested?

A few years ago, I had a great idea…well, I thought it was.  Why not set up a local group to help writers become self-published; offering advice on the creative writing process, the editing process, and the publishing process?  I went through the motions of advertising, finding a venue, and paying for it. I had received enough enquiries from interested parties to make it worth my while, and so I prepared everything for the first session.

The day arrived.  I took myself off to the venue, set myself up, and waited in anticipation for my ten students to present themselves… Only two people turned up. To say that I was disappointed was an understatement. Also, the community building where I had booked the room had a rumba class in the adjoining main hall, which for the first half-hour of my two-hour session was somewhat distracting. All that the three of us could hear was loud distorted music and the yells from the tutor; not to mention the boom-boom that vibrated through us.  It was not ideal, and given that the two people who kindly turned up were not even on my original list, I decided not to continue with the group at the time.

I still believe that there is a demand for this service, because many writers who wish to self-publish do not understand what editing for publication is all about, although many are coming to realise what it means, and how much work is involved. It doesn’t matter what anyone says; a writer cannot truly edit their own work. Having made the transition from writer to editor and having undergone the necessary training to carry out that task, the reasons why are obvious, but these are not always apparent to the independent writer.

It is a universal truth that nobody has to read a novel.  Just because a writer spends four years, or four weeks, writing a story, it doesn’t mean that a prospective customer is going to like it enough to spend money on it, especially if it hasn’t been edited or typeset professionally. But, in order to be able to use that service, the independent writer has to invest hundreds of pounds in preparing their work for publication, with no guarantee that they will recoup the outlay from sales of their books. It’s a risk; a gamble, but has far better odds than simply publishing their raw text – which without professional editing, their hard work will always be…

Hence the reason for my desire to set up a local group.  I would still like to be able to share what I have learned about the editing process with independent writers, face-to-face, so they can enter into self-publishing with a complete understanding of what editing for publication is all about. If nothing else, passing on some of the transferable skills to the writer will certainly make my job easier (maybe even cheaper!). However, as I have mentioned previously, an ongoing family illness prevents me from having much time to pursue this, unless I change the way I carry out my day-to-day editing, which is also on the cards at the moment.

Watch this space. 🙂

How long will it take to edit my novel?

This is a question that I am often asked by independent authors, and one of the reasons why I, sadly, turn prospective clients away. Some have unrealistic timescales, but this is usually because they don’t understand the editing process. They haven’t carried out any research (or bothered to read the information on my website!). Understandably, they are keen to submit their typescript to a literary agency or get on with the task of self-publishing, so want editing to be completed as soon as possible. Some also think that the more time editing takes, the higher the fee, but this is not necessarily the case.

To provide a realistic answer to the question, one needs to be aware of the traditional publisher’s schedule.  It can take nine months for a book to reach actual publication, with copy-editing taking 6 weeks, first page proofs taking 3 weeks, and revised proofs taking a week.* That’s almost 3 months taken up with editing alone.

The work that an experienced, and qualified, freelance editor or proofreader carries out should be no different to that carried out by in-house staff, except perhaps the hours they work. Although, due to increasing workloads and financial restraints, publishers now often outsource editorial staff.

Until a freelance editor has built up a reasonable amount of experience, it may be difficult to determine how long it will take to edit a novel. Word count is a factor, as is the level of editing involved, and the number of hours that an editor can commit to in any one week.

So, to answer the initial question, I would suggest that an independent author be prepared to wait at least 6 weeks for their typescript to be copy-edited. If it’s sooner, then that’s a bonus. If they are serious about having their work professionally prepared for publishing, the wait will be worth it.

It’s also worth mentioning that traditional publishing companies usually set their publishing date at the outset and work towards it. For independent authors who wish to self-publish, this may be a useful working practice to acquire, as timing is important from a marketing point of view. 🙂

*Giles Clark and Angus Phillips, Inside Book Publishing (fifth edition), Routledge, 2014.

On a personal note…

It’s been a while since my last post, and that’s mainly due to family illness.  My elderly mother, a widow of three years, was recently diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. As the only child, any duty of care falls on my shoulders, but I have a family of my own, with the responsibilities that go with it, as well as some minor health issues, so there is only so much I can do.  However, I have made the decision to put my editing work on hold, and am not taking any new bookings at the current time.  This is the second occasion that I have done this.  In 2013, it happened because my father became unwell and my mother found it difficult to cope. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in the April, and he passed away at the end of August the same year.  It was very quick, and stressful for all concerned. In fact, over the past few years, I’ve had a bit of a time of it with family members and friends becoming unwell and passing away!

I am fortunate in that I do not have to work for a living, and I am grateful for that because if I did go out to work, I would not have been able to help my mother as much as I have.  However, I enjoy being a freelance editor.  I enjoy helping fiction writers to achieve their dreams of becoming authors, whether self-published or trying to become traditionally published, and the extra pennies always come in handy.  I have a contract to fulfil with my clients, as they are paying me for a professional service, so I am still in the process of trying to work out how to strike a balance between my mother’s care and existing work commitments.

The nature of editing work means that I need peace and quiet, and the ability to concentrate and focus. Well, my concentration has flown out of the window, and my focus is currently on my mother.  Any peace and quiet I have, I use to recharge my batteries. So I have not even been trying to edit, but I will be keeping my hand in with regards to editing-related topics; this blog being one of them. I have also returned to my next passion, creative writing. Certainly, I have created all sorts of rubbish these last few weeks, including entering a fiction competition, hopefully not with rubbish!

After a four-week stay in hospital, my mother is now at home, with carers visiting three times a day. With this care in place, I am hoping that I can find the time to finish off my existing editing project. I am planning to return to a more normal editing service in the New Year, but this will depend on circumstances.

The Importance of Being Edited

If you had asked me ten years ago (when I first took up creative writing) what an editor did, I probably would have said, ‘Someone who helps to publish books’. Such was my ignorance at the time.

If you had asked me three years ago whether my self-published book of short stories had been copy-edited, or not, I probably would have said, ‘No, why should it?’. Such was my ignorance and arrogance at the time.

If you were to ask me today, when I say that I am about to self-publish my first novel (actually, I’m not quite there yet), had it gone through a proper editing process, I would reply, ‘Of course! Why wouldn’t it?’.

So, what changed? Well, four years of studying, courses, experience, observations, research…an accumulation of knowledge; that’s what.

Before the days of self-publication, the editing process was generally something that only happened within the confines of a publishing house. We weren’t quite sure what it was, or how it happened, but within their hallowed halls the transformation of raw manuscript to printed book took place.

With the ability to self-publish, all kinds of new terminology has surfaced. Some are still not quite sure what it all means: proofreading, copyediting, lineediting, developmental editing, structural editing, typesetting, formatting…except that having it done might make their work more sellable, so it must be a good thing.

It seems that self-publishing is here to stay, and I’m all for it. Not least because the modus operandi of conventional publishers means that many promising manuscripts never see the light of day as a printed book. Self-publishing allows those slush-pile stories to break free, but the downside is that the independent author is simply not able to prepare their own work for publication in the same way that a dedicated (read as both ‘devoted’ and ‘exclusively allocated’) editor would be. Why?  Not editorially qualified, and too close to their own work, means it is impossible for a writer to self-edit properly. Sadly, this means that a large proportion of self-published books do not meet professional standards, and invariably fall by the wayside. What a waste! What a shame!

It makes no logical sense for a writer to invest time and energy into producing their novel, but not invest time and money in having it professionally edited. They are doing themselves, and independent publishing, a great disservice. After all, nobody has to read a novel. So, if yours isn’t enjoyable, page-turning, fit for purpose, then you may just get 5-star reviews from friends and family who feel obliged to say that it’s wonderful, and then, ultimately, no more sales. Why would you want that? You deserve more!

As a creative writer, I can relate to why self-publishers may not want to have their work professionally edited, but believe me, if you are serious about trying to make money out of your writing, and you want recognition for all your hard work, be prepared to put it through a professional editing process. It is important, and what you learn from the experience should help you (and any subsequent editor) enormously, when you come to work on your next novel.

Happy writing! 🙂


Research, Research, Research

Surprising as it may seem, it is not a copy-editor’s job to spend their time checking that an author has their facts right.  It is the author’s job to check that any factual information in their work is correct. Research, on the author’s part, is paramount.  With the availability of the Internet and other computer resources, there is really no excuse for getting facts wrong.  Of course, everybody makes mistakes, but careless detail will bring an author’s credibility crashing to the ground.  This applies to fiction, as well as non-fiction.

A copy-editor cannot be expected to have in-depth knowledge of the subject of a book, however, if the author has been careless, then a little research by the copy-editor is acceptable, but not beyond basic fact checking. Generally, the copy-editor should assume that the author has done his – or her – own checking. But what if they have not?

In mainstream publishing, by the time a copy-editor is given a typescript to work on, it has already been past the commissioning or developmental editor. However, as a freelance copy-editor, working directly with clients, I can be faced with a large amount of incorrect factual information.  This can result in blurred boundaries between what is a generous copy-edit and a developmental edit, and I believe, in this situation, it is reasonable to offer to carry out the research for an additional fee.

The most common errors of fact, I have come across, occur in the use of:

  • Dates
  • Events (historical and recent)
  • Quotations (misquotes, and incorrect attribution)
  • Timelines (the order in which things happened)
  • Ranks, titles, and forms of address
  • Foreign words and phrases
  • Word origin and use
  • Claims based on myth and misconception

Most of the above can be checked online, but it is always a good idea to make use of reference books.

Of course, in fiction, a writer can claim that the Loch Ness monster crawled out of the murky waters to lay an egg, which hatched and grew into a forty-foot Tyrannosaurus that ate all the local inhabitants… but to then state that Loch Ness is a tidal sea estuary will destroy all of the story’s credibility!

However good the idea behind a story, having to continuously check an author’s facts can make a copy-editor’s job heavy going.  A good copy-editor should draw to the author’s attention anything that appears suspect.

Copy-editing versus Proofreading

Copy-editing and proofreading are two separate functions, and it is quite common for people to confuse the two. ‘Proofreading’ tends to be used as a generic term. Some say that they want their work proofread, when they actually mean copy-edited. Others say that they have proofread their own work, when they actually mean that they have just checked it through for spelling mistakes and typos.

Simply put, a copy-editor prepares work for publishing, by checking its consistency and accuracy; a proofreader reads proofs and marks any errors. A copy-editor has more involvement with a typescript than a proofreader has, but both functions are just as important. Here are some differences between the two:

  • A copy-editor may make small changes to a typescript, suggest improvements, and raise queries for the author. A proofreader only looks for typographical and other obvious errors; makes changes and raises queries only when necessary.
  • A copy-editor may be creative, but is cautious about altering the author’s style, or rewriting, unless asked to do so. A proofreader is never creative, never alters style, and never rewrites.

Because these terms are associated with publishing, they can be perceived as a ‘before and after’ procedure: copy-editing is carried out before typesetting (the production of the typescript in book form, known as a ‘proof’). Proofreading is carried out after typesetting.

There is another stage of editing that is carried out before copy-editing begins: a more substantive procedure known as developmental editing, which looks at the fundamental organisation and content of the work. A developmental editor is likely to suggest improvements for the author to make, including rewrites and restructuring, as well as checking whether there are any legal problems, such as libel or plagiarism. (This is not the same thing as a critique.)

For the most part, I only offer copy-editing and proofreading services, and will recommend that a novel be referred to a development editor if I believe it requires more substantial editing. Occasionally, there is an overlap, and I will carry out some developmental editing if required.

If you are considering the self-publishing route, it is important to have your work copy-edited prior to formatting (the self-publishing equivalent of typesetting), and then ideally, to have it proofread prior to submitting it for self-publishing.

I have been asked, “Why is ‘copy-editing’ hyphenated, whilst ‘proofreading’ is not?”

As both words are verbs, my best guess is that it has something to do with ‘copy’ (meaning printed matter) being a mass noun, whereas ‘proof’ is a regular noun. Therefore, ‘copy-edit’ becomes a hyphenated word because it is not possible to apply the verb ‘edit’ to a mass noun, but it is possible to apply a verb to a regular noun, which is why ‘proofread’ is one word. The only other evidence I can find, at the moment, is the verb ‘people-watch’. Again, it is a mass noun accompanied by a verb, and it is hyphenated.

Other than that, who knows? Answers on a postcard, please.

Nobody’s Perfect

Previously, I suggested, with tongue in cheek, using the abbreviation ‘E. & O. E.’ as a disclaimer against any errors made in your self-published novel, to protect yourself from buyers’ bad reviews, but the truth is, nobody is perfect, and although we should perhaps aim to be perfect, making errors is a part of being human.

A couple of years ago, I was approached by a previously published author, who wanted her paperback novel prepared and self-published for the Kindle platform. Because she did not have an electronic version of the typescript, I painstakingly scanned – using my trusty ‘Deskjet’ printer and OCR software – every paper page of the novel, proofreading it as I went, to ensure it was as error-free as possible before publication.

Within the 426-page novel, I flagged up forty errors: an assortment of incorrect spellings, punctuation mistakes, inconsistencies, and an incorrect quotation. This book had been copy-edited, proofread and printed via a well-known publishing company who are still in business today. When I have mentioned, to friends and colleagues, the mistakes I have spotted in books printed by mainstream publishers, they have invariably come back with, ‘I agree; I’m always spotting them.’ It seems to be a fact of life.

Clearly, it is important to get things right when planning to self-publish, but it’s probably not enough to get things as right as possible. A publication has to be as perfect as it can be, particularly so with non-fiction. I’m not just talking about spelling, punctuation, and grammar, either, but getting the facts right, being consistent, and making sure the typography is correct. These things are equally important.

However, as rigorous as we might think we are, we all make mistakes: the writer, the copy-editor, the typographer, the proofreader…we all do it – and that includes me!

The fortunate thing about self-publishing, is that it is a simple enough procedure to update and re-publish a novel, but this may only happen when Joe Public has already bought the book and has kindly brought the error to the world’s attention in their review…as I once discovered, much to my embarrassment:

“There was no doubting whose father Edith was.”

Oops! Not my mistake, but one I did not spot the first time round.

So if you do find an error among these blog entries, remember ‘nobody’s perfect’, although I do try my best to be. Some days are just better than others.

E & O E