Posts Tagged copy editing

Editing seminar snapshots: negative criticism and author control

image_00006smlThis week I’m running a series of the best discussion points from my talk at the Writers & Artists selfpublishing event. So far I’ve covered how producing a good book requires an editorial team and how authors need to allow enough time to use their feedback properly. Today, it’s how to cope with criticism.

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Editing – an ordeal or not?

Henry Hyde (who took the pic of me!) asked the very good question of how writers respond when they receive a report. He’s the editor of a magazine, and said that contributors are often aghast when their work is red-penned. So what the blazes does a writer make of a 40-page document of major changes (as I described in my previous post)?

Well, I try to be gentle. I also encourage the author to see the report as criticism of the work, not them – although it’s often hard for them to see that. The more writing you do in a professional environment, the thicker your soles become and the more you’re able to see a manuscript as a work for others to help you with, rather than a bundle of your most tender nerve-endings.

It helps to have sensitive criticism, though. In traditional publishing, I’ve had savage editors who seemed to relish their chance to tear an author down – and generous souls who make it clear they are working for a book they already believe in. I hope I’ve learned from them how to be the latter.

The author has control

One author brought up an interesting point about a copy editor who had rewritten her dialogue, converting it unsuitably from period to a modern voice. With hindsight it was clear that the editor was probably working in an area outside her experience and thought all books should be edited the same way – a salutary warning to choose your team carefully. And several authors asked: ‘what if the author disagrees with the editor’?

A good question. It is, of course, entirely up to you what you do with a proof-reader’s tweaks or an editor’s recommendations. You are in control. Burn the report if you like, we’ll never know – but we’d prefer to think we’d been useful. I’m careful to make suggestions rather than must-dos, and to encourage an author to explore what they’re aiming for.

A good editor will also try to ensure they’re in tune with the author before any precious words change hands (let alone precious $$$). (Here’s my post on how a good editor helps you be yourself.  I’m not tooting my own trumpet here – for most of you who are reading this, it’s likely I won’t be the right editor. Be highly wary of anyone who says they can developmentally edit absolutely anything.)

Let me reiterate: it’s your book. YOUR book. The editor, copy editor and proof reader make suggestions, not commands. (The same applies in a traditional publishing contract, provided you haven’t assigned moral rights – which isn’t usual.)
Use this power wisely. (And, to return to Messrs Jon Fine and Joe Konrath , don’t publish shit.)

Thanks Toni Holopainen for the pic of the man undergoing a thorough edit
Next (and finally): self-editing to self-censorship
If you’ve worked with editors, how did you feel about their criticisms? If you’ve been through this process several times, have you toughened up? Have you disagreed with an editor’s suggestions, and what came of it? Have you ever paid for an editorial service and concluded it was a waste of time and money? Let’s discuss!

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Editing seminar snapshots – how long to allow for rewrites

w&alogoThis week I’m running a series of the best discussion points from my talk at the Writers & Artists selfpublishing event. Yesterday I covered how producing a good book requires an editorial team. Today, it’s about allowing enough time to use their feedback properly.image_00007sml

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Editing – will it derail your schedule?

One of the points I made was how long to allow for rewrites after the editor has done their worst – er, best. (Here’s my post on a publishing schedule for indie authors. )

I get a lot of enquiries from first-time authors who have already set a publication date and allowed a nominal fortnight or so to sort out the book after my report. They have no idea how deep a developmental edit might go. Especially for a first novel, or a first leap into an unfamiliar genre, you might need a few months to tune the book up. I know some writers who’ve taken a year on a rewrite, and I recently wrote a document of 20,000 words on a book of 100,000. Equally, other authors don’t need as much reworking and should have a usable manuscript inside a month.

But don’t make a schedule until your editor delivers their verdict – er, worst.

Thanks, Henry Hyde, for the pic of me :)
Next (after a brief sojourn at The Undercover Soundtrack): negative criticism
Have you had editorial feedback (whether from an editor or critique partners) that required major rewrites? How long did it take you to knock the manuscript into its new shape? Were you surprised?

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Editing seminar snapshots – from Writers & Artists self-publishing day

w&alogoimage_00007smlAs you might have seen from various flurries on Facebook and Twitter, last weekend I gave a talk at the Writers & Artists selfpublishing event in London. There are some interesting discussion points I want to share, and some of you will have crawled out of Nanowrimo and won’t be in the mood for a giant reading task, so I’ll be posting them in short bites over the next 6 days.

Editing – many minds make your book better

My task at the event was to explain the various steps of editing and why they were important – developmental editing, copy editing and proof reading (here’s my post on a publishing schedule for indie authors ).

This care with the book content was an absolute gold standard for the day, and was stressed over and again – guided rewriting with expert help, and attention to detail.

JJ Marsh of Triskele Books  in her talk on how their collective works, said that the combined critical talents of her fellow authors had made her books far better than she could have made them on her own. Psychological thriller writer Mark Edwards, women’s fiction author Talli Roland all talked about the people who helped shoulder the responsibility of getting the book to a publishable standard. Jon Fine, director of author and publisher relations at Amazon, cut to the chase by quoting thriller selfpublishing phenomenon Joe Konrath : ‘Don’t publish shit.’ (Next time I’ll just say that.)

Some of the delegates didn’t need to be told anyway. From a show of hands, roughly a fifth of them had already been working with editors, in thriving professional relationships where their limits were being pushed and they were being challenged to raise their game. If there’s one advantage selfpublishing can give us, it’s the control over our destiny and artistic output, and many of these writers were committed to making books they could be proud of.

Eek, the cost!

True, good editing comes at a cost. Jeremy Thompson of the Matador selfpublishing imprint gave grim warnings about companies that advertise editing services for just $99. And it probably seems unjust that a pastime that should be so cheap has such a steep price tag. Writing is free as air, after all. But publishing isn’t. It never has been. No manuscript ever arrived at a publisher and went straight onto the presses. It went through careful stages of professional refinement – which takes time and money.

That said, there are ways to get useful developmental help without breaking the bank – here’s my post on 4 low-cost ways to get writing tuition if you can’t afford an editor.

Thanks for the picture, Henry Hyde

Tomorrow: how long to allow for rewrites
Have you worked with an editor or critique partner who helped you improve your book? Or perhaps the opposite….? Let’s discuss!

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Publishing schedule for indie writers – who to hire and when

I had an email the other day from a writer who wanted to hire me to critique his novel, and said he’d already had it proof-read and copy edited at considerable expense. He wasn’t pleased when I pointed out that his money had probably been wasted.

Most professional critiques will raise enough points for a major rewrite, so you need to be prepared for that. Paying to get your manuscript copy-edited and proofed before this is not terribly sensible.

But if you’ve never been through the publishing process before, how do you know when to hire what help?

Here’s a critical path.

1. Write, revise etc. Send to beta-readers. Do you need to have the manuscript proof-read for them? No. Just try to make it as clear of errors as you can. There may be a lot of changes to come. When they give you feedback, revise as necessary.

2. When the book is the best you can make it, hire a professional editor.

3. When you get the report back, allow plenty of time for an in-depth rewrite. You may not need this, of course, but too many first-time writers tell me they’ve allowed just two weeks to whack through points raised in my notes. But what if I said a couple of characters needed to be spliced together, a sub-plot needed to be strengthened, your novel’s middle had a sludgy bit where nothing happened, the relationship between a pair of characters needed more complexity, your dialogue needed more spice? Any one of those points would probably take you more than a few weeks to sort but these are typical problem areas. Even seasoned novelists might find a critique throws up a fundamental problem – and so they know to allow plenty of time for this phase.

Why couldn’t these problems be spotted by beta readers? Obviously it depends who your beta readers are, but they tend not to have the book doctor’s eye. They’ll react like laypeople and fans of the genre. They’re extremely good for highlighting places they’re confused, losing interest, don’t believe what’s happening and characters they like and don’t like. But not for the real diagnosis and surgery.

4 Once you’ve rewritten – and preferably run the new version past some more readers, you’re ready for copy-editing.

What’s copy-editing? It’s checking the niggly details. Does Fenella always have blue eyes? Have you got a consistent style for spellings and hyphenation? Are the facts straight, as far as facts are relevant? Does the timeline work? Do any characters accidentally disappear? Are passages repeated from the inevitable cutting and pasting that went on in all the editing phases? As you can see, there will be a lot more changes from this stage. So sort all these questions out and only then…

5 …. proof-read or hire someone to do this. Proof-reading is for the final text, when you are ready to publish.

Covers

Another big mistake authors make is to get their cover designed too early. Yes, it’s so exciting to have a cover; believe me, I know. It means you’re Really Going To Publish It. But your cover must reflect the emotional promise of the book.

With some genres that will be easy because the story elements won’t change, but if your thematic emphasis might, you might not be fit to discuss covers until you’ve done your post-critique rewrite.

Don’t get your cover designed until you’ve made a final decision about the title. The title is part of the visual design, and a designer will position pictures, textures and so on so that they fit with the shape and size of the words. The images might have been chosen to go with the words too. If you change the title, chaos beckons (and probably more expense).

Once you’ve made the decision to self-publish and do it properly, it’s easy to panic about things being rough. But don’t rush to complete too quickly. Use my schedule to make sure you’re not putting the cart before the horse.

Thanks for the pics John Kannenberg and Ron Dough

Do you have any advice to add? What mistakes do you see writers making when they hire professional help? Have you had to learn the hard way yourself?

You can find tips for researching, outlining and what makes a robust story in my book, Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence. Available on Kindle and in print. You also might like my multimedia course with Joanna Penn – more than 4 hours of audio and slides with an 86-page transcription – find it here.

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Where will self-publishing get quality control?

Last week I posted on Terri Giuliano Long’s site The Art and Craft of Writing Creatively and in the comments got into discussions about where indie publishing is heading. One of the commenters was Daniel Marvello, who afterwards sent me this email …

You said, ‘2012 will be the year we organise ourselves with quality control’. I love that! And I’d love to know what was in the back of your mind when you wrote it. What do you see changing in 2012?

(As you see from Daniel’s picture, he’s fond of the crystal ball.)

What was in the back of my mind? No big plan, unfortunately. I can see this is what we need, but I haven’t a grand solution. But there’s no better place to talk about it than on my blog with you guys.

For those of you who’ve sat down late, 2011 was the year when many high-profile fiction writers with respected followings went indie, and gave good reasons for doing so. Before then, if you self-published fiction you risked nuking your credibility. But it’s also led to a rash of people uploading to Kindle or CreateSpace or Smashwords but not taking care about quality. Result? It’s raining slush and nonsense. Readers who’ve bought unreadable books are muttering ‘vanity press’ all over again.

Not good.

Where does quality control come from in traditional publishing? From skilled professionals. Authors don’t do it on their own. Here’s Daniel again:

Most authors ignore advice to get an editor now. What might change that? What will prompt authors to let another set of eyes look at their manuscripts before they click “save and publish”? Can something be done to make such resources more appealing or easy to acquire and use?

The way I see it, there are two issues to address with quality control:

  • production – putting out a book with no grammar howlers, formatting glitches, funny typesetting or misprunts
  • whether the content is good enough.

One problem is very much easier to solve than the other, but let’s eat this elephant one bite at a time.

Production quality

Why do indie books fall down on production quality? Several reasons.

1 – Indie authors may not know what’s done to a book in traditional publishing.  They might have heard about the artistic side of editing – the developmental work to strengthen the story and literary quality. But they frequently don’t know about all the other trades who wade in once the words are right – copy editing, proof reading, text design, cover design, ebook formatting. Take any debut author who blogs and at some stage they’ll pen a gobsmacked post about how much checking and polishing goes on.
What might change this? We tell people, as often as possible, how much work goes into a published book. You don’t always need separate experts, but these jobs all need to be done. They’re not an optional extra.

2 These services cost money. Personally if I was new to publishing and someone told me I needed to pay for all that my reaction would be ‘pull the other one’ – especially as publishing on Kindle and Smashwords is free. But even when you do decide you’re going to invest, how do you find a reputable pro? Authors have always been easy targets for scammers. Not only that, there are hordes of people setting themselves up as editors when they haven’t the experience.
What might change this? Writers need to find out where the professionals go. A good start might be author groups – for instance, at Authors Electric we’re setting up a list of people we’ve used and would happily use again.

3 Some people simply refuse to be told. If I go into the reasons we’ll be here all day, but there are a lot of those. (You, my friends, are not, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog.)
What might change this? Confiscating their laptops, probably

Now that last remark may seem facetious and unnecessary, but it underlines a point. As indie authors we have to do everything we can to rise above the trigger-happy Kindlers, because they make it hard for the rest of us to be taken seriously.

Not just presentation

So we can lick production quality. That, as I said above, is the easy part. What about the content, the artistic merit? In traditional publishing, the lame books are rejected and the good ones go through a developmental stage. (Yes terrific books are rejected too, but the author is usually made well aware that they were good.) This brings me to another interesting question that Daniel raised.

If people won’t use editors, can we realistically replace them with critique groups and beta readers?

ie, is it possible to get all this input free?

Sorry, guys, I don’t think it is. In the real world that doesn’t come free. Agents and publishers do it as part of their job. Critical feedback of that type takes experience and judgement.

Critique groups and beta readers will give very valuable input, and should definitely be used as well. But they aren’t a substitute for professional critical help – they cannot give your book close, considered attention. I’m not advertising myself here, but when I critique a manuscript the work takes two concentrated weeks at least, with plenty of time taken to consider what the writer wants to do and how I’ll teach them what they need. (In fact, if you imagine your normal rate of pay for two weeks’ work, an editor’s fees start to look cheap. And it’s also why you can’t expect anyone to do it ‘on the side’.)

And another thing

There’s another issue we need to address with quality control. It’s letting good work rise on merit.

If you can have buyers’ markets and sellers’ markets, indie publishing is a marketers’ market. If you’re good at marketing, your book rises higher. But a lot of cool, exciting and original books aren’t getting the exposure they deserve.

Indies are starting to tackle this in author collectives – groups to curate the good authors. And proper, critical review sites where indie books are expected to be as good as anything traditionally published. Authors are already taking this into their own hands – Tahlia Newland with Awesome Indies, Authors Electric with Indie ebook Review, Multi-Story, Underground Book Reviews, The Kindle Book Review.

But each group or review site is only as good as its critical scruples.

Does this look familiar? It’s a system of gatekeepers. But hopefully, ones motivated by editorial integrity.

Here’s what we really need to do. Ultimately we need to reach readers way beyond our own little blogosphere of indie publishing. We need to win the respect of the major book reviewers, because right now we’re preaching to the choir, and this is not sustainable.

Thanks, Daniel, for kicking off a great discussion. Pic credits to Zeptonn & Troy J Morris (no relation). Guys, what do you reckon? Share in the comments!

It seems a natural moment to mention that my novel is up for the Summer Reads awards at Underground Book Reviews. The winner is decided on a vote, so if you’d like to tip the balance in my direction I’d be very grateful.

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Love writing? Love the tools of the language

Nothing unnatural except for an apostrophe

Here are some terms we must stop using. ‘Grammar Nazi.’ ‘Punctuation police.’ ‘Spelling snob.’

When did we start forgiving sloppiness and sneering at correctness? If you have a genuine love of the writing craft, isn’t it a point of pride to get these things right?

We are writers. Our prose is our instrument. These are not stuffy, irrelevant rules. They are essential technical skills for communication.

When we get them wrong, we trip up the reader. Or we mislead, or undermine ourselves (and here let me metaphorically wave a copy of Lynne Truss’s Eats Shoots and Leaves).

Yes, the reader might be able to guess what we really mean, or mentally correct it for themselves. But we shouldn’t do that to them. And for every reader who shrugs off a wrong apostrophe, there’s another who sees it as slovenly ignorance. (That’s me, by the way. Unnecessary apostrophes make me apoplectic.)

Forgive the missing 'c'...

But good grammar, spelling and punctuation go unnoticed. They aid invisibly and discreetly, like an exquisitely trained butler. They let your content speak and breathe for itself. They give your writing poise and control. Doesn’t every writer want that?

I appreciate that if you don’t know about it, it’s daunting. But make it part of your job to find out. If schoolish tomes put you off, there are plenty of more palatable books. If you really struggle, find a beta reader who can salvage your language for you.

To turn to publishing, let’s look at what happens when we don’t take enough care. You may already have seen this post by British writer Anthony Horowitz in the books blog of the Guardian newspaper. Look at the comments. Look at the bile heaped on books with bad grammar, spelling and punctuation (and particularly how the commenters feel this defines self-published books). If you needed proof that writers are judged on these things, look no further.

So please – no more of the N word, the P word or the S word.

My pet hates – what are yours?

Its and it’s are confused

Its means ‘belonging to it’.

It’s is short for ‘it is’.

If you’re still confused, ask yourself if you mean ‘it is’. If you don’t, it’s probably the other one. See how easy it’s?

There and their

If what you mean is ‘where’, the word you want is ‘there’. You may also use it without any meaning of its own in a sentence such as ‘if I see this mistake again there will be blood’.

If you mean ‘belonging to them’, you need ‘their’.

So there.

Reigns and reins

A horse has reins.

A monarch reigns.

You can have a reign of terror, but on a daily basis I see: ‘so-and-so took over the reigns of power’. This is wrong. They are speaking figuratively of leather straps that steer – and so the correct word is ‘reins’.

I also see ‘we had to reign in our spending’. That refers to an act of braking – which is done with a rein.

Nay, nay, nay.

Tell me yours in the comments! And recommend good books on the topic…Thanks for the pics Electricnerve and Jimmiehomeschoolmom

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