Tag s | Editors

The Editorial Process

It is important to understand the process of a book under the umbrella called “The Edit.” I meet many first-timers who think it is only a one-time pass over their words, and that is all that will ever happen. And many who self-publish, thinking that hiring a high school English teacher to check for grammar is enough of an edit.

There are four major stages to the editorial process. Unfortunately, they are called by various names, depending on which publisher you are working with, which can create confusion. I will try to list the various terms but keep them under the four categories.

Rewrites/Revisions/Substantive Edit

These steps can happen multiple times. You could get input from your agent or an editor who suggests you rewrite or revise sample chapters of the full manuscript. Last year I suggested that one of my nonfiction clients cut the book in half and change its focus. We sold this first-time author. But the writer had to do a lot of work to get it ready for the proposal stage.

Some editors will do this stage after a book has already been contracted because they saw the potential in the proposal. And note that this stage isn’t always necessary. It all depends on the quality of that final draft you turned in to your editor. Few get it perfect the first time.

Line Edit/Substantive Edit/Content Edit

Already you can see a descriptive term repeated. This stage is where the editor, usually a senior editor or an editor hired by the publisher looks at the book closely. This stage can morph into a rewrite (see above) if there are substantive changes. In some ways it is like a mechanic pulling apart an engine and inspecting the parts, then putting it all back together again.

Sometimes this stage is very light; sometimes it can feel heavy-handed. Neither is wrong. Trust the editor to have the desire to make your book better.

Remember that this stage can be a form of negotiation. Ultimately, it is your name on the finished book. An editor should not dictate but should facilitate. It is ultimately a partnership. And if you find that perfect partner, do what you can to work with them over and over. But also do not blind yourself into thinking that you are always right.

Copyedit

This step can be done in-house or with a freelancer. One friend of mine calls this stage “The Grammar Police.” The copy editor’s job is to check grammar, punctuation, spelling, and consistency. If your book has words or characters with unique spellings (for example, Slavic language names like Kazimierz Wachowicz), consider creating a separate document called a style sheet to submit with your manuscript, so the copy editor will know you meant to spell a word that way. Consistency is the key.

This edit takes a special skill. The editor is technically not reading for content. They are looking at each word for accuracy in communication.

It can be a stage fraught with humor. Like the time a copy editor changed the phrase “woulda, coulda, shoulda” to “would have, could have, should have” because the first was grammatically incorrect. Yikes! The author, a humor writer, was appalled at the incorrect correction.

Unfortunately, this stage can also be fraught with danger if the copy editor suddenly takes the role of substantive editor after that stage has already passed. I’ve heard stories of character names being changed, entire scenes rewritten, etc. If you have trouble at this stage, appeal to your senior (or acquisitions) editor and see if the changes had been approved before being sent to you.

Again, remember that this can be a place for negotiation. But if you are breaking the rules of grammar or spelling, be prepared to defend yourself. But please, “Never Burn a Bridge.”

Proofreading

If the line editor is looking at the paragraph for content, and the copy editor is looking at every word for accuracy, the proofreader is looking at every letter and punctuation mark for perfection.

Again, this takes a special skill. I once sat on a plane next to an amazing freelance proofreader. I proudly showed her an article I was writing. She found ten mistakes per page. Every one of them was my fault for being sloppy. I ate humble pie with my bag of peanuts.

Recently, I received an email complaining about typos in one of our client’s published books. They had found a dozen egregious errors. After investigating, we discovered the publisher had hired a new proofreader, who wasn’t at the top of the game. The editor had found a number of mistakes but missed a bunch too. That editor is no longer working for that publisher.

This proofreader is the last protection you have before the book is tossed into the market.

If you can see a copy of your manuscript before it gets published, do so. You then become the absolute last line of defense. One trick is to then read the book out loud or have someone read it out loud to you. Homophones can be found that way. These are words that are spelled correctly, sound the same, but are the wrong word. Like heroine and heroin. If your novel has Heroin as the main character, it might not be what you intended!

I am a terrible proofreader. Thus I’ve had to hire a really good one to proof this blog each week, so I can stop embarrassing myself.

Error-Free Publishing!

With all these eyes on your book, you are guaranteed to have a product with no typos or errors of any kind. Ooops, that isn’t true.

Despite every effort and a lot of smart people working on your book, an error is bound to slip through. I remember one book where we had the author, three of his students, myself, a copy editor, and two proofreaders go through a book. Eight people. The book was published, and the author’s critics found a dozen errors within the first week. Sigh.

Do your publishers a favor. If you find an error, make a note of it (page number, line number, and error) and write a quick note to the editorial department of that publisher, respectfully pointing it out. A file is usually kept of every book; and when it is time to reprint the book, they can correct the error. And in the ebook world, the digital file can be corrected fairly easy.

Your Turn

Does this explanation match your experience with a traditional publisher?

Does your editor use track changes on screen or a red pen on hard copy (like shown in today’s picture above)?

 

[An earlier version of this post ran in February 2012.]

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The Stages of Editorial Grief

Nearly every writer will tell you they have experienced the proverbial “red pen” treatment from their editor. The reactions to this experience can follow the well-known stages of grief popularized by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

Skip Denial, I’m Angry!

There is no denying that the edits have arrived. And for the author who was not expecting a hard-nosed edit, they can transition from “shocked-angry” to “furious-angry” to “rage.”

And then they call their agent.

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Never Burn a Bridge!

The sale of Thomas Nelson to HarperCollins and last week’s sale of Heartsong to Harlequin brought to mind a critical piece of advice:

Never Burn a Bridge!

Ours is a small industry and both editors and authors move around with regularity. If you are in a business relationship and let your frustration boil into anger and ignite into rage…and let that go at someone in the publishing company, you may end up burning the bridge. And that person who you vented on might someday become the head of an entire publishing company.

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How Long Does It Take to Get Published?

How much time does it take to get published?

I came to the publishing business from the retail side of the equation. The biggest adjustment was understanding how long the process takes. In retail there is instantaneous gratification. But book publishing is a process business.

There is no question the timeline varies from person to person and project to project. In the world of major publishers the diversity can be quite extreme.

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Criticism Is an Unhappy Part of the Business

I would like to tell you about a most enjoyable day. Our agency’s guidelines request that unsolicited manuscripts come via the post (I know it’s old-school but it works for us), but we still receive e-mail submissions. I spent an entire morning going through that particular in-box, having an assistant send standard e-mail rejection letters, since none were anything our agency could/would handle.

Very soon I received three separate responses:

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Four Myths About Editors

Since even the most prolific authors’ experience with editors may be limited to one or two, editors can seem mythical. Let’s unwrap a few assumptions: 1)  Editors don’t have to worry about the market. Agents advise writers to consider the market when writing. This is because editors do have to …

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Brainstorming: How and With Whom?

Brainstorming is one of the fun parts in the development of a book. The key for the author is a willingness to hear other ideas. The second, and most critical key, is discovering those with whom you should brainstorm. Those people need to be willing to have their ideas rejected in the discussions and be willing to let an idea they created to be used by someone else. It takes a special person…many times a professional…to achieve that.

I’ve heard complaints from some authors who try this in a critique group only to be frustrated. Egos get in the way or the ideas generated are singularly unhelpful. Or the discussion doesn’t move the project forward, instead it gets sidetracked by numerous differing opinions on the direction of the piece.

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Promotion: Faithful or Self-full?

“What’s the difference between promotion and self-promotion? How do we promote ourselves/our books so that we honor God, respect others, and use common sense?”

The constant tension between marketing and ministry has plagued the Christian author, speaker, bookseller and publisher forever. Why? Because Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. Because we are commanded to die to self and to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord….

And yet, our society…our culture insists, even demands, that we market and promote our message.

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The Curse of the Writer

Speaking from an agent’s perspective…
I have more conversations with clients about their feelings of anxiety, apprehension or insecurity than almost any other topic. Almost every writer I have ever worked with as an editor or an agent severely doubts themselves at some point in the process.

Doubts occur in the midst of creation.
Doubts occur when the disappointing royalty statement arrives.
Doubts occur … just because…

It is the curse of the writer. Writing is an introspective process done in a cave…alone. It is natural to have the demons of insecurity whisper their lies. And, in a cave, the whispers echo and build into a cacophony of irrepressible noise.

Once I had an author with dozens of titles in print and over three million books sold turn to me and say with a somber voice, “Do I have anything left to say? Does anyone care?” I didn’t quite know how to reply so tentatively said, “Well, I like it!” The author responded with a grump, “But you are paid to like it.” After we laughed, we agreed that this lack of confidence would pass and ultimately was very normal.

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