Join Prism Book Alliance® as Erika Orrick goes Outside the Margins today.
<disclaimer>This is completely my opinion based on my time in the editing world, including several years of reviewing others’ edits and helping authors figure out how to judge an editor. This opinion is solely my own and does not necessarily reflect any of the publishers I have worked for now, in the past, or in the future.</disclaimer>
With all the changes in the publishing industry lately, we are seeing more and more authors choose to at least experiment with self-publishing. And while self-publishing can be very rewarding, it also means that a lot of responsibility falls on your shoulders. No longer do you have your publisher just assigning you an editor. You have to go out and find one, often relying on friends, social media, and word of mouth to point you in the right direction. But once you’ve found one, how do you know if they are any good?
I’ve written in other posts about the importance of a good relationship with your editor, so I won’t rehash it here. You can go read it on Scotty and Jo’s blog if you want. Don’t be fooled, though. Just because I am not covering it here doesn’t mean I don’t think it isn’t important. It is. In fact, I think talking to your editor and building that relationship is one of the single biggest success factors in a good editing experience.
Instead, in this post I want to focus on the quality of the actual edit. Since developmental editing is something a lot of self-published authors don’t spend money on, at least not at first, I am going to set it aside for now. (Although I can already see a future blog post on the importance of developmental editing happening.)
But first, let’s take a time out for a second to face some unfortunate facts. Even the best editor in the world cannot catch everything on a single pass or even two passes. A book I edit with Dreamspinner Press is always going to be better edited than if I edit the same book as a solo freelance editor because, even though I use every possible technology tool at my disposal to back myself up when working solo, at Dreamspinner I am directing a team of other editors and have access to a pool of proofreaders. More eyes always means more edits caught. (Obviously, if a self-pub author chooses to use multiple editors prior to publishing, this statement would not necessarily be true.)
Still, in this age of technology, a freelance editor who relies solely on their own eyes is doing you, the author, a disservice. Simply using the Find and Replace function in Word coupled a good editing checklist will make someone a better editor overnight. And that’s not even getting into all of the other more advanced technology tools like Word add-ons and macros that I’ve talked about in the past. (If you want to read more about how the human brain works against us when looking for mistakes and how technology can overcome it, you can find it here: http://scottyandjo.blogspot.com/2015/08/overcoming-editing-blindness-beating.html)
So knowing all of that, how do you know if your editor is any good?
My personal philosophy is it basically comes down to “okay” editing misses and “bad” editing misses. “Okay” misses are things that are less routine and are generally found by reading through the text. It’s easier to define what they aren’t than what they are. “Bad” misses are things that are either so fundamental that every editor should be checking for them on every edit (for example, dialogue tags in fiction), things that could have easily been found and fixed using Find and Replace (correct spelling of character names), or things that should have been fact checked (brand names, etc.). Bad misses are the kinds of things that make a manuscript look unprofessional and sloppy. (Hint to editors: keep a checklist for the fundamentals. You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget the routine stuff.)
(Also, just for the record, there are ways to reduce the “okay” misses with technology as well and a good editor will rely on both their eyes and technology to reduce that number as much as possible. It’s just getting into the more advanced technology tricks.)
Obviously, you’d like your editor to be as close to zero as possible on both kinds of misses, but like I said above, zero itself isn’t really realistic. So a good editor is someone you click with, whose “okay” miss rate is as low as it can be, and whose “bad” miss rate is at or damn close to zero. If you get a manuscript back that has been cleaned up well (few “bad” misses) but still has a lot of what I’m calling “okay” misses, you have a conscientious editor, but one who needs more practice. Those are the ones that I keep in my back pocket for a second or third set of eyes, or because they are really good at one thing like POV, characterization, dialogue, etc.
And a bad editor? Well, if you get a manuscript back with a lot of the “bad” misses listed below, then you have a sloppy editor. Personally, I would not use that editor again. (Once again, keep in mind we are talking about copy or line editing here, not developmental editing.) While this list of examples is not nearly exhaustive, they are all real things I have found when reviewing manuscripts that were already supposedly copyedited by a freelance editor charging for their services.
- Did they remove extraneous spaces from the file?
- If the file had both straight and smart quotes, did they reconcile them? (This is one of those things that they should ask your preference on if they notice the problem.)
- Have they confirmed the spelling of brand names and proper nouns such as names of places or things using a reliable source (not just Wikipedia) and made a note in the margin confirming they have done so? Have they checked any dates listed?
- If they fixed a spelling error in one place, did they change it everywhere it needed to be changed (keeping in mind different parts of speech might have different spellings) or at least put a sourcing note in the margins instructing you that you needed to make the changes elsewhere?
- Did they confirm that your character names are spelled consistently throughout (especially main characters)? Names like Aiden/Aidan, Connor/Conner, etc. are easy to confirm with Find and Replace.
- Did they find and remove incorrect double punctuation (I don’t include interrobangs on this list since those might be intentional).
- Did they check consistency of capitalization for terms like God?
- Did they confirm there no missing chapter numbers?
- Did the editor fix punctuation and capitalization on dialogue tag?
- Did they avoid introducing any new spelling errors?
These next three are not things I have found in edits, but rather are good habits professional editors across other genres (fiction and nonfiction) encourage as part of standard practice. I list them here as additional food for thought.
- Did they provide clear margin and/or global notes to explain why they made the changes they did? (Note: I would never expect any editor to annotate every change; that’s wasting everyone’s time. But did they annotate enough for you to understand the pattern of the edits?
- Did they use a consistent reference or set of references for spelling, grammar, and style decisions?
- Did they provide you a style sheet for your book listing characters, places, special spellings, or any other information about your book that would be good for reference in the future?
- Did your editor suggest using another person for another set of eyes?
I know this post has the potential of pissing some of my fellow editors off; after all, it was inspired by a recent true story (1300 additional changes required when I was proofing a previously “edited” 39k manuscript!), but I hope once the initial indignation passes, anyone who might have seen themselves in this post will realize that I also gave you the answer to start getting better: get more familiar with Microsoft Word—the basic tool of our trade—and make yourself a checklist of don’t-miss edits. For those of you already doing what you should, great job! Hopefully I just got you even more work. And authors, I hope this helped even a little. I know editing is a subjective thing, but there is a basic level of sloppiness that you should not stand for.
As always, I invite folks to reach out to me. I’d love to hear from you!
About Erika Orrick
Erika Orrick wanted to be a writer when she grew up, but detoured into computers when she realized she actually wanted to eat. Financial stability established, she eased her way back into storytelling by fixing other people’s words and discovered she had a knack. An admitted geek, she is constantly distracted from resuming her quest to be a writer by all the shiny. Luckily, since she hasn’t yet grown up, no one can say she hasn’t met her goal. She has tried (and failed) to escape Texas twice and in fact now lives on the north side of Houston, less than 100 miles from where she started.
Erika can be found on Twitter at @erikaeditsbooks or
email at email@example.com
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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