In Defense of Editing

18 January 2015

From author Sarah Hoyt via PJ Media:

I think it’s because indie publishing is so new that it’s getting infusions of new blood all the time, so that, like Young Adult literature it needs to repeat itself because no matter how often you’ve said it, it’s always brand new for a significant number of newly-interested people.

So for those who are newcomers to the field, I will explain editing once again.

First of all, the first editing, that must happen, is your own.  Yes, you’ll sometimes hear of writers who publish their first drafts.  If their books are worth spit one of two things is happening: either they are lying (not necessarily on purpose.  What I consider first draft has undergone significant editing because I back-edit while writing, even though I know I shouldn’t), or they are so experienced that the writing is almost flawless outright.

Even so, I guarantee no one publishes first drafts without copy-editing. What is copyediting?

This is where you go in and fix words and punctuation.  Most of the time it means catching typos your spellchecker won’t catch. “Ours” for “hours,” for instance.  Ears for years. But it also means catching the “word of the day” (everyone has one.  Some days you repeat a word without noticing.  Could be something simple like “extraordinary,” or a really odd one like “counterproductive.” But your brain becomes enamored of the word and goes to it by preference if even remotely applicable.  When you’re copy-editing, you’ll find these patches, and you should fix them.

So copy-editing is the minimum level of editing you should have done.  You can do it, but if you do it you have to find a way to break the eye-glaze that comes with editing your own stuff.  Reading aloud or reading backward work for some people.  [Like me. Nothing better for technical writing.–Charlie] I can’t do reading aloud, because my training was in poetry, and I become obsessed by the sound of the words, and edit in such a way that the books read artificial, as though you should be declaiming.

. . . .

Next level up from copy-editing, sometimes included in it but often not, is “Continuity and fact-checking editing.”  This is where your copyeditor verifies that Henry the VIII really did have six wives.  Or that your character only has two arms in that action scene, not seven.  Good ones go further than that and will verify minutia in your books.  My favorite editor whom I used for my indie novel once got up on my case because I had the wrong kind of taper in an Elizabethan tavern scene.  He’s expensive and worth every penny. (And the publishing houses are bad at this, particularly for historical, because their copyeditors think they should do this and lack the ability.  This is how I had a copy editor tell me to capitalize Terra Firma because it was a country.)

For this, expect to pay more like $40 for 10k words.

. . . .

The highest level of editing is structural editing and it is almost book doctoring. The line between the two blurs. Here the editor will tell you that your story lacks a climax. That you need to rewrite the ending.  That your male character should be female to enhance the impact of chapter 27.

Most of the time my advice on that level of editing is “don’t. Just don’t.”

. . . .

Make sure the editor works in your genre/subgenre. As with covers, if they don’t, they’re likely to give you something that won’t work at all. For instance, having a Romance editor do SF or vice versa will mess up the book.

Link to the rest at PJ Media and thanks to Jaye for the tip.

Here’s a link to Sarah Hoyt’s books

Low-cost ebook conversions enabled massive growth of the market, but there were many errors

10 December 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

Publishers have converted a huge number of their books into ebooks over the past few years.

For these converted books, most publishers think, “we’re done.” I think they should be thinking, “we’re just getting started.”

That’s the way it is with a 1.0 release of software, and I think publishers should view ebooks as software.

Let’s back up a bit. Why did publishers convert at all? Here are some possible reasons.

  1. They believed that ebooks would be profitable, especially since low-quality conversion was so cheap.
  2. They were skeptical that ebooks would be profitable, but low-quality conversion was so cheap that it was worth hedging their bets.
  3. They feared Amazon’s reprisal against their paper sales if they failed to get on board with Kindle.

. . . .

What I want to emphasize is that low-quality conversion, because of its low cost, was a critical enabler for entry into the ebook market.

I used to rail against low-quality conversion, to whoever would listen. Then, I had a humbling realization. Publishers did exactly the right thing in opting for low-quality conversion, because it allowed them to enter a new market quickly and with low initial investment.

But I haven’t become too humble: I think they did the right thing for the wrong reason. They think they converted cheaply and now they’re done. I think they did the right thing to convert cheaply, but they should just view those conversions as version 1.0.

. . . .

Another way of putting this is that publishers need to start treating ebooks as software, since ebooks are software.

  1. Software has bugs that need to be fixed.
  2. Software needs to evolve as its environment changes.

To be fair, nothing in publishers’ previous, paper-based business would have prepared them to understand the dynamics of software.

. . . .

One might think that publishers’ quality process savvy would have ported well to the world of ebooks. Sadly, this could hardly be farther from the truth.

As far as I can tell, these time-honored quality control processes almost never happen to ebooks. This is especially puzzling in the case of bug fixes, since the ebook medium drastically lowers the cost of reporting and fixing typos.

Paper books don’t have a button allowing a reader to report a typo to the publisher. But, Kindle books might as well not have such a button, since, in my experience, publishers hardly ever act on Kindle typo reports. I made hundreds of such reports before realizing that it is virtually pointless to do so.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG says the 2.0 version of lousy ebook editions of backlist books won’t happen. Big Publishers regard ebook backlists as cash cows and you don’t put cash into cash cows.

Capitalized Clues to a Glitch

1 October 2014

From The New York Times Artsbeat blog:

Advance reading copies of books – uncorrected proofs distributed to booksellers, editors and other interested parties before publication – usually contain little mistakes: stray typos, misspelled words, oddly formatted paragraphs.

But the goings-on in the uncorrected edition of the thriller “Moriarty,” coming from Harper, are most unusual.

. . . .

In the reader’s edition, some copies of which were sent to The New York Times, “Moriarty’s” narrator, an American detective named Frederick Chase, is laying out the background to the story – how Holmes and Moriarty came to be at Reichenbach Falls and what is believed to have happened next. All of a sudden he switches to capitals. “NO NEED TO COMPLICATE THINGS HERE, I THINK,” the text announces. “WHAT I’VE WRITTEN IS BROADLY TRUE.”

Can the narrator be offering some meta-commentary on his own text? At first it seems so. But then it happens again. In a spot where Chase and a Scotland Yard inspector have found an important clue that seems to be an excerpt from a previous Holmes story written by Dr. Watson, things suddenly veer off-piste again. “IT MAKES NO SENSE FOR FREDERICK CHASE TO HAVE READ THE SIGN OF FOUR,” the text declares.

There are at least six of these capitalized interjections, and sadly, they turn out to have nothing to do with anything so exciting as postmodern cleverness. They are instead Mr. Horowitz’s notes to a copy editor or, as Mr. Horowitz’s agent in London, Jonathan Lloyd, said, some “mild author reaction to some copy-editing points.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Bill for the tip.

Crowdsourced editing: e-publishing’s next frontier

29 September 2014

From The Guardian:

Publishing is an increasingly crowded field. This summer Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake became the first crowdfunded book to make it, via Unbound, on to the Booker longlist. Some publishers are crowdsourcing their slush piles: Swoon Reads, a YA imprint, lets readers vote on which manuscripts should get book deals.

Now, a publishing startup has entered a new frontier: crowdsourced editing. Advance Editions aims to “make good books better” by drawing on the wisdom, knowledge and proofreading skills of readers around the world.

An Advance Editions title is professionally edited before being soft-launched as a low-cost ebook, with the first half available to download free. Readers are then invited to suggest ways the author could improve the book, before it is finally published a few months later in ebook and print versions.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

The Proof is in the Proofreading

1 September 2014

From TPV regular JW Manus:

My biggest gripe with ebooks is a lack of proofreading.

. . . .

When I produce an ebook I have two hard and fast rules, Number One: squeaky clean text going into production. Number Two: the ebook must be proofread post-production. I charge people to proofread their ebooks for them, and a lot of clients take me up on it, but I’m more than happy for the writer to do it him/herself or hire a third party.

. . . .

Even though proofreading is essential, some would like to argue that they can skip it. They’ve already polished the manuscript to a high gloss, even had a professional editor have a crack at it, and, in some cases I’m sure, they are sick to death of that particular project and want to get on to something else. I get that. Been there. Even so, it’s part of being a publisher and it must be done.

Before I continue, let me explain what proofreading is NOT:

  • It’s not copy-editing
  • It’s not line-editing
  • It’s not editing at all

What proofreading IS:

  • Format checking
  • Typo searching
  • Error seeking

Link to the rest at JW Manus

Against Editors

20 August 2014

From Gawker:

In the writing world, there is a hierarchy. The writers are on the bottom. Above them are editors, who tell the writers what to change. This is backwards. How many good writers has Big Edit destroyed?

“Pish posh,” you might say. “You’re one to talk. Your grammar is wronged, your metaphors are blunt bricks, and your similes are like a hot needle to the eyeball. Your infinitives are split, your participles are dangling, your spelling is eroneous, your cliches are old as time, your sentences are repetitive, and your sentences are repetitive. Your concepts appear to have been plucked from thin air with no foresight, hindsight, or insight. If anyone is in need of a good editor it is you. And you are ugly.”

Yes. I’ll grant you that. That is beside the point.

. . . .

[W]riting and editing are two completely different skills. There are good writers who are terrible editors. (Indeed, some of the worst editors are good writers!) There are good editors who lack the creativity and antisocial personality disorders that would make them great writers. This is okay. This is natural. It is thoroughly unremarkable for an industry to have different positions that require different skill sets. The problem in the writing world is that, in order to move up, the writer must stop doing what he did well in the first place and transition into an editing job that he may or may not have any aptitude for. It is impossible to count how many great writers have made the dutiful step up the career ladder to become an editor and forsaken years of great stories that could have been written had they remained writers. Journalism’s two-step career path is a tragedy, because it robs the world of many talented writers, who spend the latter half of their careers in the conceptual muddle of various editing positions.

. . . .

Go find a story published a few years ago in The New Yorker, perhaps America’s most tightly edited magazine. Give that story to an editor, and tell him it’s a draft. I guarantee you that that editor will take that story—well-polished diamond that it presumably is—and suggest a host of changes. Rewrite the story to the specifications of the new editor. Then take it to another editor, and repeat the process. You will find, once again, that the new editor has changes in mind. If you were a masochist, you could continue this process indefinitely. You would never find an editor who read the story, set down his pencil, and said, “Looks fine. This story is perfect.” This is because editing is an art, not a science. To imagine that more editors will produce a better story is akin to imagining that a song by your favorite band would be better if, after the band finished it, it was remixed by a succession of ten producers, one after the other. Would it be different? Yes. Would it be better? I doubt it. The only thing you can be sure of is that it would not be the song that the actual musicians wanted it to be.

When any industry fills itself with middle managers, those middle managers will quite naturally work to justify their own existence. The less their own existence is inherently necessary, the harder they will work to appear to be necessary. An editor who looks over a story and declares it to be fine is not demonstrating his own necessity. He is therefore placing himself in danger of being seen as unnecessary. Editors, therefore, tend to edit. Whether it is necessary or not.

Link to the rest at Gawker and thanks to Karen for the tip.

You and Editors

26 June 2014

From author David Farland:

I got an email the other day from an unhappy writer who said that editors aren’t really editors anymore. He said that they’re just “choosers,” picking stories that need the least amount of fixing. Nobody edits.

I certainly see his argument. There are some incompetent editors. For example, I recently got an email from an author whose novel was rejected by a young editor because it was written in third person. She said, “Young adult novels are written in first person, not third!” The same editor wrote another rejection letter to another author saying, “You have adverbs in your manuscript. I would never publish a book with adverbs in it.”

. . . .

Let’s face it: traditionally, say thirty years ago, many editors weren’t formally trained. They often rose up from the secretarial pools, where they worked as slush readers. They may have had no training at all as a creative writer, or editor.

What they did have going for them was “literary sensibilities.” In other words, when they saw a story that moved them and they knew that it would touch other people, they had the good sense to buy it. Their literary sensibilities might have been their best qualification. A good eye is a gift. It can’t be trained into a critic.

. . . .

[T]hough I have worked with dozens of editors over the years, I probably have had more training than any of them. Does that mean that they weren’t helpful?

Not at all! A good editor brings his or her literary sensibilities to the table, along with their experience, which may indeed by quite vast. My editor at Tor, for example, has more experience as a book editor than anyone else in his field.

. . . .

Sometimes I will get letters from people who desperately want me to write their stories for them, or to teach them everything that they need to know to become a writer. I will usually respond by saying, “I really can’t do that.” There are just too many people who want to become writers without doing the work. I’m not a ghost writer, and I don’t have the time to be anyone’s tutor.

Editors will often feel the same. It’s not their job to go in and “fix” every manuscript. Indeed, most manuscripts can’t be fixed. Too often the authors will tell stories that are stale, where the basic concepts to the story make it so that the tale isn’t worth telling.

Link to the rest at David Farland

How to Hire the Right Editor for Your Self-Published Book

4 April 2014

From PBS MediaShift:

The book publishing industry is going through a huge transition. It’s easier than ever to get a book out into the world. All the resources you need to publish a book are available you. You no longer need to go through the traditional gatekeepers (publishers) to publish a quality book.

Because it’s so easy to publish a book and get it out to market, authors sometimes skip the critical part of editing. No matter how good of a writer you are, you need to hire an editor. If a book has too many typos, readers typically stop reading. Not having an editor go through your work is like sending an untested drug out to market.

. . . .

A developmental editor will take your manuscript and work with the content itself. If needed, they might reshape your work and rearrange sentences to make the book flow together better. This type of editor helps an author find their voice and help refine their vision.

When looking for a developmental editor it’s important to choose one who has experience in your genre or specializes in your book topic. Don’t pick a travel editor for your romance book. If the editor has only edited magazine articles it might not make sense to have him or her do a developmental edit for your book. Working with an editor who you connect really well with is key.

. . . .

Copy editing is a crucial step in the publishing process. A copy editor goes through and catches spelling mistakes, adjusts for grammar, punctuation, capitalization and consistency. A copy editor will check your manuscript line by line to make sure your work is consistent and syntax error free.

. . . .

A proofreader makes a final check of the work before it gets published or goes live. They’ll catch any mistakes that a previous editor hasn’t caught yet: spelling mistakes, extra commas or spaces, and other minor errors.

Link to the rest at PBS MediaShift

Media Group Content Chief Institutes a Zero-Tolerance Policy for Typos

4 April 2014

From JimRomensko.com:

In January, St. Augustine Record’s publisher recruited readers to help accomplish her 2014 goal of eliminating typos and grammar mistakes.

“It seems to take an army to help turn this tide,” wrote publisher Delinda Fogel.

Northeast Ohio Media Group content chief Chris Quinn is similarly frustrated by what he and readers see on Cleveland.com.

“We hear from people about typos every day,” Quinn writes in a staff memo. “It’s a genuine crisis, and it threatens our long-term success. So I’m taking the drastic action of instituting a zero-tolerance policy for typos.”

. . . .

Update: A Plain Dealer staffer sends this email:

We predicted this would happen when the company moved to this digital-first philosophy. Now, with no copy editors in the digital mix, far fewer of us on the print side and an entire layer of editors gone after layoffs, the company is reaping the consequences. It’s no one’s fault but Advance publications’. Typos are important mistakes, of course, but typos are only a symptom of the problem at the core of this backward system.

Link to the rest at JimRomensko.com and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Yes, Book Editors Edit

29 March 2014

From The Page-Turner blog at The New Yorker:

Where do book editors fit in the culture of American fiction? After reading “MFA vs NYC,” the provocative essay collection edited by Chad Harbach and published by the literary magazine n+1, one might be forgiven for thinking that we don’t fit anywhere at all. “MFA vs NYC,” according to the back cover, “brings together established writers, MFA professors and students, and New York editors, publicists, and agents” so that they might explore, if not really square, the “two cultures of American fiction.” Oddly, the voice of the New York City book editor is absent from these proceedings.

As an overview of the pressures that bear on an emerging writer today, “MFA vs NYC” is delectable reading. It also proves that there are some very good essayists who have devoted themselves to the publishing careers of others—whether as teachers in graduate programs (George Saunders, Alexander Chee) or as literary agents in New York (Melissa Flashman, Jim Rutman). I don’t think Harbach intended to send a message about book editors by excluding the voice of the professionals who help to bring many novels and short-story collections to bookstores. I know that he asked at least one of our number—not me—for a contribution. Still, the fact that “MFA vs NYC” doesn’t contain the voice of a book editor seems significant, an indication of where book editors stand in the “culture of American fiction.” I attribute this omission, accidental or not, to the longstanding rumor that editors don’t actually edit.

I was first exposed to such piffle when I was in college and working as an editorial assistant atZoetrope: All-Story, Francis Ford Coppola’s short-story magazine. I once asked a Zoetropeeditor why he didn’t move to New York and edit books. This was during a walk home from the office that made me feel grownup and like a pseudo-peer, even though I was just the kid logging submissions into a computer database. I don’t remember his exact words, but the gist of his response was: book editors are business people. Since I moved to New York, where the smaller publishing houses of yore have combined—and are combining still—into global behemoths, I have heard some version of this over and over. The real work, the saying goes, is performed at literary agencies, the “R. & D. wing of the publishing world,” as Flashman, the well-respected agent, puts it in her lapidary piece.

. . . .

“MFA vs NYC” suggests a growing rift between fiction writers and the so-called Big Five publishing houses, which is not helped by the persistent rumors of our laziness and obsolescence. None of the essays in the book’s New York City portion challenge, or even engage, the ingested rumor that the editing of book-length fiction is not performed by editors at publishing houses but, instead, by agents heroically spilling ink for their fifteen per cent.

. . . .

True, sometimes a submission arrives from an agent in publishable or nearly publishable shape. No less real is the existence of writers who “refuse” editing. Fair enough—it’s their name that appears on the book’s cover. But the idea that editors don’t have time to spend on manuscripts, or simply don’t bother, insults the job entirely. In a business as reliant on hope and potential as book publishing is—a business, in other words, reliant on the development of talent—the accumulation of exceptional anecdotes of perfect manuscripts does not tell the whole story. “Cloud Atlas” is a piece of genius. That doesn’t mean that editors don’t edit.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

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