Sunday, May 22, 2016

Tips from an Editor and an Editor’s Authors

The following notes are from a talk I gave to a writers’ group a few months ago about the editing process for those writers who have never worked with an editor before.

What you need to know about...

Manuscripts: The rules for writing manuscripts for publication are the same as the rules for writing a resume. Don’t use flashy fonts, multiple fonts, varying sizes of fonts, or an alarming amount of bolds and italics. If you feel you need visual acrobatics to draw attention to your story, you probably have a weak story.

Formatting: All an editor wants is a double-spaced 12-pt font document for easy reading. Don’t format your manuscript. The publishing house has a formatting team to handle that. Paragraphs are nice, of course, but putting in your own style is a waste of time. Adding page numbers to a manuscript created in a word processing program is unnecessary and may cause problems if your page numbers differ from the word processing system’s automatic page numbers. Your table of contents doesn’t need page numbers yet, but if you want to hold their places with XX, you can do that.

NOTE: If you are self-publishing, you may have to do your own formatting. However, this should occur *after* editing rather than before.

Punctuation: If you aren’t sure you know the rules for using colons and semi-colons, don’t use them. It’s easier for an editor to insert them than it is for that same editor to have to keep moving, deleting, or correcting them.

There is rarely a reason to use single quotation marks. Don’t use them unless you have dialogue that includes a quote within a quote.

If you struggle with comma usage, it may be because there are 50 comma rules, according to the Pocket Guide to Punctuation by Merriam-Webster! Brush up on the main rules, but otherwise don’t sweat it. Your editor should be able to correct any comma or missing-comma mistakes you make. Just don’t sprinkle them liberally like pepper on a salad!

Never use more than one exclamation point at the end of a sentence. I mean it!

Public Domain: Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s free. Just because you credit the author of, for example, a poem, doesn’t mean it’s okay to use. You must have permission to publish anything that you can’t confirm is in the public domain, and if it is in the public domain, you still need to credit the author if the author is known. Works published before 1923 are in the public domain. Many authors want to quote popular lyrics in their novels but still need permission, even to quote just one short verse, and it will likely come with a fee.

Editing Help: Before submitting your manuscript to an editor, run it through spellcheck, and consider each change carefully. Don’t assume the editing program is correct in all instances! For more advanced editing help, I recommend PerfectIt’s proofreading software. They are based out of the UK, but they have a variety of styles, including American English, within the program. PerfectIt checks for inconsistencies, which is different from Spellcheck.

Misc. Notes: If you can’t handle anyone criticizing or making changes to your work, you aren’t ready to be published. A publishing house editor can have the power to stop you from being considered for future publication. Your reputation for being difficult will hurt you.

While there are obnoxious editors out there, most consider your working relationship as teamwork, not as adversaries.

Tips from Some of My Authors on Working with an Editor

Carrie Daws:  The one thing that I think helps me the most is this: before I even open the edited file, I remind myself that my editor and I are on the same team. She (or the occasional he) wants my book to succeed, wants it to be its best. Once that is firmly planted in my heart and mind, it’s much easier to open the file and read all the changes and comments without it hurting my feelings.

Daphne Self (DM Webb): Editors help make the book stronger, help catch things you miss (such as a complete scene that was forgotten), and are honest about your work and only want the best for the author. Finally and most importantly, an editor can be your friend.

Joanie Bruce: I would also add that editors are usually right about changes they think might make the book better. What I like about having Brenda edit my work, is that she is totally impartial....She sees the mistakes and doesn’t mind having me correct them, because she is unbiased and only wants what’s best for the book.

Lindon and Sherry Gareis: Okay, of course I agree with all of the lovely ladies who have commented, but I'll add another twist. Don't be afraid to speak up. If your editor is all he/she is supposed to be, your concern(s)/question(s) will be respectfully considered. If the editor overrides, of course best to deflect to their expertise, but don't hesitate to at least open a discussion. Take a respectful, no regrets approach.


Kathy Miller Howard: Since I have the experience of working with only one professional editor, my well of knowledge on the subject is limited. However, if it’s up to me, she’d be a keeper! Brenda taught me to trust her expertise, to ask questions, and to view her and her comments as allies. 

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