editing

Writer’s Toolbox: Editor Types and Skills

In “10 Things Your Freelance Editor Might Not Tell You—But Should by Brian Klems, he advises:

You should avoid the temptation to hire someone to edit your first draft.

I know you’re really excited that you finally finished that book! I’m happy for you…you should be happy for you. Celebrate it! But don’t send it to an editor yet. Put it away for three weeks and then reread, making notes on its strengths and weaknesses, asking yourself what’s missing, and flagging places where you find yourself skimming. Then rewrite the manuscript at least once—twice is better. Don’t bring in a professional until you have made the book the best you possibly can on your own. At this stage, you are still best equipped to take your book to the next level. Only when you’ve taken it as far as you can on your own will you get the most for your money in hiring a freelance editor.

Once you have reworked your draft until there is no more room for you in it, then it is time to take it to a professional.

Writers in the Grove

Writers in the Grove workshops offer time for reading and review of written work. Items are to be no longer than 4 minutes read out loud, and at least 18 photocopies to share with the members to edit. Edits are limited to encouragement and suggestions at the development stage, not serious editing markup. The process usually takes about 5-10 minutes, and the writer receives their copies back with notes and some verbal advice. These are done on a first-come, first-serve basis based upon the limited amount of time available.

Most published writers go through various editors and editing steps before publishing. Each step in the process is critical to the success of the published work, though not all work goes through each of these editor types.

The job descriptions of these editors are:

  • Editor: The editor has many roles, and may work with an author to improve their manuscript and develop a style guide to ensure consistency throughout the manuscript. This process may involve rewriting and editing copy to improve readability through language, spelling, punctuation, and syntax, though these tasks are typically taken by other editor types. Some editors oversee the entire publication process and may work with marketing and the author to promote the book, but this is typically the responsibility of the publisher, which could be the author as self-publisher.
  • Copy Editor: Copy editors review copy for errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar, check for readability and style. They also fact-check and verify story details, date, facts, and statistics. It is highly recommended that everything you prepare for publishing go through through copy edits.
  • Development/Developmental Editor: The development or developmental editor examines the plots and arcs in the story, ensuring consistency in presentation, form, voice, and style. Their job is not to rewrite the story but make the story consistent with all the core elements a good story demands. Their expertise is on development, ensuring the story is stuffed with all the conflict, excitement, and drama necessary to make it compelling. Another type of development editor is called a substantive editor. This person helps the writer by focusing on story elements, plot, characterization, dialogue, point of view, settings, scene orders, word choices, sentence structure and syntax, and strengthening the manuscript writing.
  • Line Editor: The line editor is the final editor to tackle the manuscript before publishing, you hope, after its been through all the other editors. Their job is to not discuss plot and arc, character building or dialogue as that is the responsibility of the development editor. Their job is to go through every sentence, check every word, and make sure that the manuscript is ready for publishing by checking spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency, word usage, possibly some fact checking. While the copy editor does these things, too, it is the line editor that ensures each word works, and nothing will embarrass you after publishing.

Editors use a style guide or style sheet prepared by the author, sometimes in collaboration with an editor, on how the voice of the book is to be written and presented to maintain consistency.

The following is a breakdown of the specific tasks associated with each editor role. A professional editor may cover all these things, so I’ve not included them in this list. A reminder, these tend to be fluid descriptions as some editors specialize in one or more of these skills and roles.

Copy Editing

  1. Spelling and punctuation choices are consistent with the genre and style appropriate to the book’s setting and characters.
  2. Variant spellings, like anaesthesia or anesthesia, or colorful or colourful, or accent spellings for dialog/dialogue and writing style, are consistent throughout and in line with the book’s style guide, and included in the style guide for the manuscript.
  3. The manuscript is fact-checked, if applicable, to ensure that all historical, current events, names of people and places, weather, politics, and other references to real things are correct, or as right or close to the truth as possible. All quotes and references must also be verified.
  4. Chapter headings, subheads, parts, sections, quotes (blockquotes or pull-quotes), and other manuscript formatting areas are consistently styled throughout the document.
  5. All foreign words feature the correct accent marks, and are italicized if appropriate.

Development/Developmental Editing

  1. Plot and Arc
    • Does the story have a clear beginning, middle, and end?
    • Does the story start in the right place? Should it start earlier or later?
    • Does the plot have an arc? Is it clear? Are the significant turning points of the plot dramatized sufficiently to support the conflicts and resolution of the plot?
    • Does the manuscript offer consistent themes and motifs? Clearly defined? Define them.
    • Does the story follow a definable pattern of cause and effect, action and reaction?
    • Does every sentence have conflict? Does every paragraph have conflict? Does every page have conflict? Does ever scene have conflict? Does every chapter have conflict? Make sure they do.
    • How is foreshadowing used? Is each scene set up well and can the reader keep slightly ahead of the character, or slightly back so they are as surprised as the character?
  2. Characters
    • Does the protagonist have a clear arc, called a protagonist arc?
    • Does the protagonist face challenges and conflicts consist with character development and the plot arc?
    • Is all the background/exposition necessary to support the character and the plot included? Is there any backstory that can be cut or edited down?
    • Does the protagonist both win and lose something by the end of the story? Which is the greater win or loss? Should their be balance?
    • Are the other characters in the story deserving of their place? Do they all need names? Could they be consolidated? Minimized? Emphasized? Expanded?

Line Editing

  1. Language and Style
    • Check for redundancies and repetition. Eliminate repeated words or phrases that do not serve as an artistic effect. Look for clever phrases used repeatedly and cut them.
    • For fiction, cut all author intrusions in to the story, author commentary, editorializing, and pontificating. Let the characters tell the story.
    • Are the verbs and adjective details specific? Do they match the intention and intensity of each sentence and scene?
    • Cut out unnecessary words or sentences or filler dialogue? Ensure each one matters to the story.
    • Do paragraphs end on strong sentences, encouraging the reader to read the next paragraph and turn the page?
    • Are sentence and paragraph lengths varied throughout the manuscript?
    • Do the characters sound different from one other in thought and dialogue?
    • Is the narrator’s voice and diction consistent throughout the manuscript?
  2. Scenes
    • Is the setting clear and reflected in the details of the story, be it a place, time, culture, or age?
    • Are events narrated in real time and , whenever possible, in chronological order?
    • Do transitions between subjects, sections, and chapters move smoothly. Are they all necessary? How do transitions impact the pacing of the story? Are transitions across time and space clear to the reader?
    • Are the themes and motifs in the story obvious in the use of language, similes, and metaphors throughout the manuscript?

Where to Find Editors?

Finding and hiring an editor is no different from hiring an employee. You look for someone who has the right skill set, expertise, reputation, and experience, and interview them to ensure you and your written work is a good match for them.

Willamette Writers is a good source for finding editors, as is the agents and editors list from Pacific Northwest Writers Association, if you wish to keep your search local to the Pacific Northwest.

The Society for Editors and Proofreaders offers their Directory of Editorial Services, made up of their professional members. The Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders & Indexers also offers a list of their members who are professionally trained and experienced. The Editorial Freelancers Association is another member resource to highly skilled professionals.

There are many editors marketing themselves online. Search for them using keywords that describe your genre and writing style to narrow the results, and vet them thoroughly before trusting your precious work to their eyes and hands.

Here is some advice from a variety of experts about the editing process to help you along the path to publishing.

NaNoWriMo Tips: A Reminder – No Editing

The key to NaNoWriMo is the word count. Meeting the goal of 50,000 words. The best way to get there is to not edit, to not fix spellings or grammar, but to just keep the words coming.

There is another good reason not to edit. It is a distraction.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the wavy red line under a word and I’ve paused to fix it – after all, it’s just a right click and select the right word – and lost my train of thought. It can happen that fast.

The mistakes will still be there when you come back to edit. Just keep writing. The world will not come to an end because you mizpelled a word or messed up a tense. Keep going. You’re almost done. Stay on pace, stay on track, you can do it.

Note: According to Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo and author of many books including No Plot? No Problem! Revised and Expanded Edition: A Low-stress, High-velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, a good proportion of NaNoWriMo participants use procrastination to stall until the last four to six days of the month, then throw themselves into a frenzy to complete the 50K word count competition on overdrive. Even if you have been slacking, it is possible to write more than 10K words a day, if you stop editing and get out of your own way.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Embrace Tangents

During NaNoWriMo, the challenge of the word count hangs over us. Take advantage of it and wander down those tangents. Explore a tickle of an idea. Flesh it out. Does it work? If so, keep meandering. If not, that’s okay, you might be able to use this as a short story or as extras for your website during the promotion of your book later.

Maybe the off-beaten path you’ve just beaten is really your story, not the one you were writing. Or a sequel. You might not have considered this as a series, but it could be. Why not?

Tangents can also help you with back story, character descriptions and personalities, worldbuilding, opportunities to expand your story and your thoughts about the story. You can slice and dice in the editing process, but if the call to deviate pulls your fingers in that direction, go with it for a while and see what happens.

Keep an open mind and let your unconscious lead you in what might be the right direction.

If it isn’t, your mind will pull you back automatically, so don’t worry. Keep writing.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Don’t Censor Yourself

As you prepare and work through NaNoWriMo, don’t censor yourself. Write down all your ideas.

Sure, some of the ideas will be whoppers, out there, spinning around out of control, but one idea leads to another and another, and who knows where your thoughts will take you if you ignore your inner censor and editor and let your mind wander through the possibilities.

Write them all down. It might not make sense now, but in a few days or weeks, it might be THE idea that changes everything.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

Novel Writing: Storyboarding and the W Plot Chart

Mary Carroll Moore is a popular published author offering educational information on writing and publishing your novel. The following video covers creating a storyboard for your novel using a 3-act structure, specifically the W Plot Chart, helping you find the 5 most important points in your novel.

The following are articles and resources covering more about the W Plot Chart and 3-act structure.

Writing Tips: Don’t Write Chronologically

In an article on Writer’s Digest called “10 Tips for Writing” by Chuck Sambuchino, he offers two good tips we writers need to remember:

Don’t write linearly: Don’t set out to write something from beginning to end. A story is meant to be read from front to back, but not necessarily created that way. If you have an idea for writing the sixth chapter first, then start there. The epilogue can even be the first thing you put down on paper, then work your way back. Scattered chapters will eventually be filled in, and it will force you to look at the story from different angles, which may present different ideas or new approaches. You’d be surprised how well this works when a whole book starts coming together…

Ask for (and take lots of) punishment: It is well worth finding yourself a professional writer or editor and asking/paying them to look at your work. Tell them to give you highly critical feedback with no sugarcoating. Let them go so far as to be cruel too, just so you really get the point. There is a lot of rejection and criticism involved in the publishing industry. Getting accustomed to it sooner than later is advantageous. If you want to be serious about your writing, then you’ll need to know everything wrong with your writing. Accepting and understanding the harsh realities of your shortcomings is a most important step to getting better.

The first point is very important. Write what you know about what you want to say, then go back and fill in the rest of the story. Editing is part of the craft of writing, so let the story unfold as it comes into your mind, not on some chronological journey.

While Writers in the Grove doesn’t offer the harsh feedback noted in this article, such feedback maybe given one-on-one or in other groups designed for such feedback, focused on publishing. We also recommend the Willamette Writers Conference and their various groups and meetups. They offer a wide range of critique and feedback opportunities.

Writing Tips: Kill Your Darlings and Make Writing a Habit

Marelisa of Daring to Live Fully brought us “57 Tips For Writers, From Writers,” a fantastic series of tips from some of the most famous writers.

From Stephen King’s book, On Writing, she references this bit of wisdom for writers.

Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings)…I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: “Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.

From John Grisham, she shares this:

He goes on to say that at first you have to treat writing as a hobby; you write a page a day in your spare time. Grisham explains that he created spare time to write, although he had a full time job. He adds that he always tells young aspiring writers that if they’re not writing a page a day, then nothing is going to happen. But if they make sure to write a page a day it becomes a habit, and before long they have a lot of pages piled up.

For those of us considering writing full time, these are wise words.