Most readers love a good mystery. And one of the biggest mysteries about books has always been editing?that vital yet shadowy bridge between author inspiration and finished book. It’s taken the e-book and indie revolution to ignite a debate about this unseen realm, a realm where well-intentioned authors often stumble around in the dark.
It used to be that writers didn’t have to worry about finding an editor. That expertise was supplied by the publishing house. And few readers, when they browsed the shelves at their favourite bookstores, thought to question whether any type of editing had been done.
All That’s changed now, with the mainstream arrival of e-books and self-publishing. Suddenly, readers are questioning whether a book has been shaped by an editor’s hand?a good question when You’re thinking of spending your time and money on an unknown quantity. But It’s an even more important one if You’re a writer trying to give readers a polished, professional book.
The bad news is that just about anyone can hang out a shingle and call himself an editor. In fact, using the word ?editor? as a catch-all for the job’s many facets is about as useful as looking under ?mechanic? when you want someone who specializes in pre-war Bentleys.
So how is a writer supposed to find the right kind of editor for the job, or even to sort through the misconceptions about what an editor does?
The good news is that many reputable sources can fill in those blanks. The Editors? Association of Canada has a great resource that explains the different types of manuscript editing that exist. If you don’t know the differences among substantive editing, copy editing, and proofreading, It’s well worth checking out.
And a look at the Editorial Freelancers Association’s search page shows that there’s virtually no end to the areas editors specialize in. Click on the Specialty field and you’ll find that the list goes well beyond fiction and non-fiction to include advertising, aerospace, comics, and even obituaries.
Worried about whether an editor knows her stuff? There are testimonials, of course, and editors often highlight a list of completed work on their websites. But education is often a customer’s best protection, and that applies to hiring editors as well.
Substantive editing requires an eye for broad elements like sense and structure, and there are plenty of books on composition to help hone your skills (if You’re a student, even rereading those tips on essay writing could come in handy).
If You’re shopping around for a copy editor, brush up on your grammar and punctuation. Subscribe to blogs that highlight common writing and editing mistakes. The popular After Deadline blog at The New York Times gives bite-sized examples and explanations of errors that made it into print.
In short, have at least a rudimentary sense of what to look for (something that should be a basic skill for writers anyway). If your potential editor provides some sample pages and they are returned to you with glaring errors, it might be best to move on. Just remember that, when it comes to language, many of the so-called rules are fluid. What one person considers an error may simply be an established variation in spelling or style, so there might be a very good reason for a change you disagree with. Query the editor before you make a choice.
Whether You’re a reader or writer, a fan of biographies or thrillers, there’s an exciting variety of choices available today thanks to self-publishing. Together, as book lovers who want to keep the quality of those books high, we can’t afford to let editing do a vanishing act.
S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).