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Editing Explained

by Chris Wozney

Every craft has its lingo. So here is the craft of editing explained.

A  line edit  is what most editors offer, what most people of think of when they think of editing. A line editor is checking to see that words are used correctly and, if possible, precisely, not approximately. A line editor ls also verifying that punctuation serves the sense of the passage and the voice of the speaker, be that the author or a character in the story. It is okay to defy the rules of grammar and punctuation if it serves the narrative; just be prepared to explain and defend your decision, and know the rules you are breaking, and why you are breaking them. A line editor also corrects syntax errors, when a phrase is accidentally ambiguous or misleading,

Basically, a line edit is like getting your book dressed up to go out in public. And like wearing best clothes, it is sometimes an uncomfortable process. The shoes may look great, but they may pinch your toes. Some writers don’t like the changes an editor makes or recommends. And actually, this is good. There should be some back and forth. Sometimes an editor misunderstand the author’s intent, and discussion clarifies the matter so the editing can proceed, bringing the story into focus.

Ideally, a line edit is done with Track Changes so all the changes are visible and can be reversed or modified. Unfortunately, recent changes in both Word and Apple’s Pages have made editing much, much more difficult than it was 3 years ago. A lot of so called “improvements” were anything but. In particular, the Track Changes functions are not as clear as they were 3 years ago, and switching form Word to Pages and back again can generate errors in the manuscript. So be aware of this.

A  content edit  is rarer. Sometimes it is part of a line edit, sometimes it is offered separately, especially if there is a lot of work to be done. A content edit focuses on the actual contents of the book and how they are presented.  If a line edit is tactics, a content edit is strategy.  How is the story being told? What narrative structures are in place? Does the narrative Voice match the content? Are dialects realistically employed? Do characters stay in character? When they behave “out of character”, are you clear on the reasons for the shift? How much of those reasons do you intend to share with readers? Are timelines followed correctly, or does a character age 5 years over a 2 year period, or visa versa? Do eye colors and hair colors stay consistent throughout? (Watch out for this one! Especially if there was a major re-write, or the author went through a break up and radically changed their ideas of what their ideal looks like.) Are historical references correct? Is there character development? Is there sufficient conflict and conflict resolution? Is there enough setting to balance dialogue? A content edit is Big Stuff. And if line edits can be painful, content edits can be excruciating. And time consuming! (You only thought you were done writing this book! Ha!) But a good editor does have a sense, a nose for what is good, and what is wrong, and what is needed. They may not always know how to fix a problem — that may require the creative work that makes you the writer you are — but if a good editor says, “Houston, we have a problem,” usually there is indeed something that does need changing.

Proof reading  means the last stage edit, when an editor is checking for punctuation errors and spelling errors that slipped through the line edit.

A  format edit  reviews the finalized format of a soon to be published book: checking for correct fonts, spacing, margins, etc; if chapter headings are regular, if the pages look even and, as much as possible, are pleasing to the eye. This is fiddling work, yet very soothing to do in a certain mindset.

And YES, there are bad editors. Some are ignorant of the rules of grammar. Some have personal agendas and hijack or sabotage a writer’s work. Some are glib. And, alas, even good editors make mistakes or miss errors in the ms. So it is a good idea to have  beta readers and advance copy readers, friends who will review the edited manuscript for free and share their feedback with you, and especially friends with a long history of spotting errors in other books that have gone to print. Depending on when and where they went to school, they may disagree on the rules that regulate punctuation (especially commas), but any point they bring up as problematic deserves review. You and your editor can come to final decisions.

Finally, much as we wish we could make every single manuscript a dedicated Penmore editor’s number one priority, Life Happens to editors and publishers too. Even so, as long as we approach each project with joy and respect and a bit of mirth, we’ll get through the process together, and produce good books.

Bear in mind the Zeno’s Paradox of editing: You can only approach, never reach perfection.

Your friendly neighborhood senior Penmore Press editor,

Chris Wozney