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 (an upstairs room in a community hall), 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, adjoining the room was the main hall, in which a rumba class took place.  Distracting, to say the least! 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. 🙂

Expressing thoughts and imagined dialogue

There are no hard and fast rules about displaying a character’s thoughts. It tends to be dictated by trends of the moment or personal preference. The one rule is that once you have chosen a style, be consistent in the use of it.

Below are a set of published conventions for the expression of thoughts.

Thought and imagined dialogue may be placed in quotation marks or not, so long as similar instances are treated consistently within a single work.
Oxford Style Manual, Oxford University Press, 2003

…Italics are also used for emphasis…In fictional works italics may be used more creatively, for example, to convey unspoken thoughts.
Mitchell & Wightman, Book Typography, A Designer’s Manual, Libanus Press, 2005

(It is worth noting here that there are conventional editorial rules for the use of italics, and I shall cover these in a future post.)

Some authors have their own system of quotation marks, which they are anxious to retain: for example, double quotes for speech and single for thoughts…Try to persuade your author not to do this, as it can be more confusing than helpful.
Butcher, Judith, Butcher’s Copy-editing, The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders, 4th edn, Cambridge University Press, 2006

Placing quotes around direct thoughts is now deemed old-fashioned. Modern convention is to display them without quotes. Italics can be irritating for the reader, especially if used a lot. It’s worth researching traditionally published novels to see how thoughts are displayed. Here are a few examples:

‘Wish they could see famous Harry Potter now,’ he thought savagely, as he spread manure on the flowerbeds, his back aching, sweat running down his face.
Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998

She looked up from her desk and glanced at Mma Makutsi, who was busying herself with the typing of a letter which Mma Ramotswe had drafted, in pencil, earlier on. We must try to help her, she thought. We must try to persuade her to value herself more than she does at present.
Smith, Alexander McCall, The Kalahari Typing School for Men (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), Abacus, 2004

So then I went back to the clearing he still wasn’t there and I thought Well, I guess he just made up he was coming and he didn’t want pants so bad after all.
Niffenegger, Audrey, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Vintage, 2005

(It is also worth noting that the first two are written in third person, and the third is written in first person.)

My personal preference is to use italics to display thoughts and imagined dialogue, but this will depend on the context, and how much text has already been italicized. 🙂

The Importance of Being Edited

If you had asked me in 2003 (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, ten years later, whether my self-published book of short stories had been copy-edited, 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 whether I would have my own work published, I would reply with, ‘Of course! It would be self-defeating not to!’

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 saleable, 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 traditional 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?  For a writer, not being 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 if you are serious about making (some) money from 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! 🙂

 

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, in order to protect yourself from buyers’ bad reviews, but the truth is that nobody is perfect, and making errors is part of being human.

A couple of years ago, I was approached by a previously published author who wanted her paperback novel self-published for the Kindle platform. She did not have an electronic version of the typescript, so I painstakingly scanned – using my trusty ‘Deskjet’ printer and OCR software – every paper page of the novel, and 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, textual 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. When I have mentioned, to friends and colleagues, the mistakes I have spotted in books printed by mainstream publishers, they have invariably tell me that they are 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 simple enough to update and re-publish a novel; required when the customer has bought the book and published an error 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. It’s correct now.

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

🙂