So, You Want Someone to Edit Your Work?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Choose your editor--and your editing "weapon"--carefully.

So, you want someone to edit your fiction? Do you really?

For most writers submitting their work to a publisher or agent, having several people to read over their manuscript seems enough. Besides, they are over the red marks bleeding over the manuscript pages. Their book is in good shape now. After all, they've spent years crafting your manuscript with care. They've workshopped it and re-written the awkward bits and pieces.

Workshops and having friends read your work is great. Often other writers and your readers and friends will find that you've changed the spelling of Margo to Margot halfway through the book. They can look at the big picture and let you know that you killed off the antagonist in the fourth chapter...and, uh, again, in the seventh chapter.

Sometimes, however, they won't or can't.

Frequently a friend can read something and mark a problematic area with a question mark, but is unable to explain why the section seems wrong.

Those may be enough of a reason to hire a manuscript editor or an editing service, but there are others as well.

You may have read of the importance for your manuscript to be styled properly. A manuscript editor working with a fiction or nonfiction work should be familiar with and know how to edit using The Chicago Manual of Style, which is a publishing industry standard.

Whenever I mention style, writers often get nervous. As a writer, I understand that. I like my own writing style. However, the style guides are created to impose a uniformity and consistency to manuscripts, not kill the writer's voice. Which numbers are written out? Which ones aren't? The style manuals are not to squash a writer's unique style, but to make sure a reader is not distracted by inconsistent styles that bring a reader out of the web of intrigue the writer has created.

Once I was hired to clean up a manuscript just for styling and grammar errors--including the persnickety two spaces after a period. The writer's friends had read her manuscript, she assured me, and they all thought it was fine. But as I read along, there were conflicts throughout the story regarding the point of view. Even though it wasn't what I was hired to work with, I noted each instance of these jarring shifts that had brought me out of the narrative.

Now, true, you'll also encounter an editor who doesn't catch every grammatical error and may leave a number or two inconsistent. That happens. And you'll run across editors who differ in opinions moving a word here or --> there. But an editor works to make your prose better. She's not your high school English teacher who left you nervous each time you turned in a paper. Working with an editor is a collaborative relationship; she wants your work to look good so you can go forth and publish, sharing your unique voice and story with the world.

Have you ever hired an editor for your work? Would you do so again? Why or why not?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in Wilmington, NC. Her piece "Running on Heart" is in the September 2011 issue of
The Writer.


Anonymous said...

I've never worked for an editor. However, I would like to take some classes on editing. Any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

While knowing the small-picture detail of spaces after periods and such is important, it's also important to have an editor who understands the publishing market and can tell the difference between competent work that isn't publishable and work that's ready to shop around. I spent a lot of money on such an editor last spring, and it was worth every penny!

Anonymous said...

I don't know if there are classes on editing. You simply have to know your stuff. That's how I started, and I have a good client base.

Elizabeth King Humphrey said...

HelenQP, you are absolutely right. That is very important.

Benjity, there are lots of classes available at varying costs, as well as styles (online versus in-person). I suggest doing an Internet search and finding an option that works for you.

Thank you for writing in!

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