Tag Archives: copy editing

Writing: Shopping for an Editor

Creative Commons

I recently rejected an author’s manuscript and gave him the possibility of rewriting and resubmitting at a later date; a very rare thing to do both. At Chizine Publications we ask for three or four sample chapters and a short synopsis. I had already asked the author to send the full manuscript, after he made corrections, fixed grammar and numerous homophonic typos (bare/bear, to/two, hare/hair, staid/stayed, etc.), as well as adding details to certain sections that I had read.

When I read through the full manuscript I found many of the same errors and it looked like little had been changed if anything at all. Editors have many manuscripts to read, and day jobs on top of it in most cases. We get irritated when people don’t follow instructions, which can be anything from not submitting in the correct manuscript format, to sending inappropriate material, to not making an effort to correct what we ask for. Of course, a writer can ignore all of these things and just send to someone else.

I concluded that the writer needed to learn grammar and punctuation better and overall, story structure, but feeling his story had worth I gave a caveat of retrying with a rewrite, in time, but not right away. He wrote back and was surprised to learn that most publishers don’t give feedback nor mark the manuscript unless they’re buying the story (I had done both).  I also explained my irritation at which point he apologized because he had felt rushed and hired an editor to do the changes requested.

I sincerely hope he didn’t pay the editor that much because I don’t know what that editor did. He/she certainly did not read the sentences to catch the homophone typos, nor to check the sentence structure and catch the run-on sentences. It is possible that the author asked the editor to make corrections in regards to my notes. If that was the case then my notes only gave examples, not the full extent of what was needed.

If I’d been given such a job as a copy editor I would have been fixing those sentences. I’ve found with a few other clients that they had gone to bigger, more expensive editors first, paid out a ton of money and came back with a manuscript measled with errors. Anyone who takes on copy editing (this is different from structural editing) should look for grammar, typo and punctuation errors as the most basic step. If one is a structural editor then you’re looking at the overall plot and structure of the story.

Almost everyone can use a second set of eyes to catch errors because our fingers like to type different words than our brains think. I often put down for done or type meanign instead of meaning. And then there is the too close to the forest to see the trees syndrome. If you’ve written something and gone over it a few times you might miss a scene or a description that the reader needs to be able to understand the story.

If I was hiring an editor I would lace in a couple of different errors in a sample page or three and see what they caught. But that only works if you understand grammar and sentence structure enough. As it was, this writer left too much to an unknown quantity and didn’t check over the manuscript first so he ended up with many errors. He would have had to flesh out his own scenes because an editor cannot necessarily write in the same style nor know where the writer’s mind is for the story.

I sometimes wonder why I don’t charge more when I see the work done by more expensive editors. Like anything else, there are good and bad editors. Learning how to write will of course save you money and mean you need a copy editor’s services less. Getting comments from an editor, even if you’re rejected, are a plus. Many magazines and even book publishers send out form rejections that say something like, “This didn’t work for us.” If you get comments, if you get an invite to resubmit and rewrite, take it seriously and feel lucky that you got that far. Magazine and book publishers always have limited spots are there are always other good works on their way so don’t take any feedback for granted.

4 Comments

Filed under Culture, Publishing, Writing

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly of Editing Manuscripts

Creative Commons

What do you get if you pay an editor to copy edit your manuscript? Several things, but it depends what you pay for, how much you pay and who you pay. Under editing there are many types, but the three most often used and confused are copy editing, substantive/structural editing and stylistic editing. New writer often say they want their manuscript proofread when what they mean is copy editing. Here are brief definitions of the three types mentioned above:

  • Substantive/structural editing: this is reorganizing a manuscript and clarifying its intent/plot. The editor might make the changes or direct the author on what has to be changed. Substantive editing looks at the continuity of the plot. This stage will often happen once a manuscript is bought by the publisher but individuals can hire editors to do this as well.
  • Stylistic editing: this is editing for a consistent style, which includes language, jargon, reading levels, themes within the manuscript. Sometimes this is combined with copy editing but it is often charged separately.
  • Copy editing: this is really the first step for any writer and looks at grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics of style, internal consistency of style and facts (there are other aspects not mentioned here but these are the basics). It can be done by the publisher but authors might go through a copy editor on their own if they’re not sure of the writing skills or the overall plot. If someone has written their first novel but hasn’t spent much time honing their craft through courses, workshops and critiques the it’s highly recommended to have the manuscript copy edited before sending it out to publishers.

Competition is quite fierce these days and some publishers will toss a manuscript if there are too many grammatical and spelling errors. If you haven’t spent years working on writing and taking constructive criticism, it’s possible you may not get far. Also, many people decided to publish on their own in one format or another and this is where it’s essential to have a good editor go through the manuscript.

An editor can’t guarantee you’ll sell your manuscript or that a publisher will like it. There are many factors in editing. Of the many manuscripts I’ve looked at over the years, both for publishers and for individuals, the skill of the writer has varied considerably. If a publisher buys the manuscript then the head editor negotiates changes with the author, even those done by other editors. If an individual hires a copy editor, then it is up to them to incorporate the changes into their final manuscripts. I have worked in hard copy and digital; digital allows incorporation of corrections at a faster pace for the writer but can actually take longer for the editor.

A writer may decide not to accept all edits, may not take the suggestions, might not do a suggested rewrite, and might decide to change things after the editing has been done, thus introducing errors to the manuscript. I have had clients do this and more, which means that should they submit the manuscript to a publisher it might not look like it was edited. Some have wanted to credit me or list me as the editor for which it’s been an embarrassment and could be detrimental to my career. I have always told clients, You’re not paying me to tell you your story is great. You’re paying me to make it better.

On the other hand, there are bad editors as well. A writer is not necessarily an editor and a nonfiction writer is likely to not be a very good fiction editor. Likewise, if you write mysteries, a romance editor may not help. This is for substantive and stylistic editing. For copy editing there are the basics of grammar, spelling and punctuation that any editor can handle, but there can be a subtle nuance to genre writing and if you’re looking for a stylistic editor or even substantive you want someone who knows that genre. As a copy editor I have done books on the gold rush, Canadian film, IT handbook, cookbooks, thrillers, SF, romance, autobiographical, poetry (which is its own special niche) and others. An editor needs a good foundation of information and be wiling to question some things. Fact checking is separate from editing but it’s good to query the author if it says “he parachuted from the hang glider” and you ask “Can one actually parachute from a hang glider? It’s then up to the writer to fix it or not.

One of my clients had first taken his books to an editing company that charged him $10,000. When I received the manuscripts it was hard to tell exactly what they had done. They had charged more than me, had not put the manuscripts into a proper word document format, had not checked headers or number, had not fixed all spelling or punctuation or grammar issues. There were major problems with the plot and the structure that my client chose not to fix, after I warned him that it would be unlikely anyone would publish it. I did fix formatting and the basic copy edit, as well as giving copious notes on the characters, dialogue, language, plot and settings.

It’s hard to know what to get when you’re shopping for an editor but it’s fine to ask questions, get an estimate (I always give one) ask for a sample edit (and pay for it–editors will not work for free) and compare. Like everything else, you should know what you’re buying. Editors cannot get your story published but they can make it better.

1 Comment

Filed under art, Culture, entertainment, Publishing, Writing

Writing: The Great Wheel of Publishing

 This wheel is large and ungainly, held together with sweat, tears, slush pile manuscripts, spit, unbought or returned books and elbow grease. It lumbers along, turning ever so slowly, sometimes looking more as if it will tumble over then keep rolling. But roll it does, usually, sometimes losing an author, or a novel, some staff or advertising revenue. It does not turn smoothly but continues until the gap of lost material becomes so big that the wheel must be overhauled.

Such is the case with various publishers along the long road of years. Ten years ago I was trying to get copy editing work with US publishers. This Herculean task met many difficulties. Publishers and the editors in charge are over-busy, always reading and procuring manuscripts and then going through the myriad phases of production. Send a letter and if it isn’t imperative to answer (we want your manuscript, pay our invoice) it never gets answered, not even if you include a SASE and you’re looking for employment. The next stage is to phone and hope you get the right editor in the right department. Should you call and only get their voicemail, presume they won’t return your call. And if you live on the west coast and have a three-hour time difference it will take early hours and a crystal ball to figure out the best time and day to try and catch and editor. Give up on Fridays altogether.

Should you get through these first layers of the publishing house inferno, you will most likely get a copy editing test. Once that’s done you send it back. I did two over two-three years with Tor, where they subsequently lost the test both times. Then said oh well you have to go through St. Martins as they’re our boss. Uh, they didn’t know this beforehand when they gave me the test? And Ace gave me the test; I sent it back and heard nothing. When I queried twice they said, oh we can’t hire Canadians. I didn’t know that when I sent you a test. Great, I’ve had a lot of practice with editing tests.

With Harper Collins, I passed the test. Then they sent me disks because they used a specific computer-based editing system. (This was about ten years ago and I’m not sure Word’s track changes feature was that developed then.) So, I received the disks but then had to buy a new computer because I didn’t have the memory capacity. At that time the guy who was going to train me was on holidays for a month. When he got back, he quit. So they were then trying to find someone else. In that time, they also bought out Avon books.

What ensued was two years of frustration and nary a job out of it. The editor I was dealing with was transferred to a different dept., then let go. Others came and went. I was given various names of people and would call every month. Each time I had to explain the situation who I had talked to, where it had changed, what area of copy editing I specialized in (SF/spec fiction) etc. Each time, it was a different person, a new department, a new system. Two years of calling every month after being told I would be hired as a freelancer and I never got one job out of it. But I had a bigger, better computer.

Over the years I have edited for a few US publishers and Canadian publishers but the sheer frustration of getting New York publishers was enough to stop most people. You really do have to live there. The longest stint I had copy editing with one publisher was three years or so with Byron Preiss book packagers (now gone the way of the dodo). And I got my first job because I was at the World Fantasy Convention standing in the lineup for the hotel. The guy in front told me he had just got a promotion to editor and I said, hey do you need any copy editors. He said send a resume when you get back but before I could he called because he had a rush job. Keith DeCandido gave me my first real break in copy editing. He quit before the company imploded and I had stopped doing work form them before that because getting paid was becoming difficult. He now writes novels. I now think of writing my novel, still copy edit and still write.

Other hurdles in the publishing world are managing editors who ask you to copy edit but don’t clarify by how much. Some publishers (or working on some authors) means that you’re required to only correct typos and punctuation. Copy editing is more than this and includes correcting sentence structure and continuity. It can be structural editing, which looks at the overall structure of chapters, pacing and flow, or very close to proofreading. Over the years I have found most companies who wanted proofreading really wanted more than that.

It’s common for individuals looking for an editor to say they want proofreading when in almost all cases they mean copy editing. It can be confusing for the new writer but just as confusing for the freelance editor. I’ve had publishers cancel a project in the middle (they were moving into movies, but did pay for what I’d ) or wanting a book padded (requiring that one line paragraphs be left in and the worst sentences be reworked but not deleted).

Publishing houses usually have a house style and often a style sheet. If they don’t give me one, I usually ask if they have a house style as it can affect the overall product. I’ve started to see some weird things in some books of late. Tor is an American publisher yet I’ve seen a book or two done with British spellings. In one case it may have been to give it the flavor of an earlier era as it was about a world in the 1800s.

But editing and acquisition of books are just a couple spokes of that great wheel. There is design production, advertising, marketing, distribution, return and paying the employees, artists and authors. Some spokes seem to have more weight, or, if you were looking a wooden wheel, some would be sturdier or decorated, but without all of the spokes the wheel fails. And to carry the analogy to the end the hub of the wheel is the writer and the publisher. Without the writer there is no story to sell. Without the publisher there are still stories but it’s harder to get them out to the public.

2 Comments

Filed under Culture, entertainment, people, Publishing, Writing

Little Words and Zed

I’ve worked many years as a copy editor and have a fairly good memory for spelling. It’s amazing really that we ever standardized the English language, if you take into account that there’s British English (BE), American English (AE) and the bastard child of both, Canadian English (CE). AE and CE say “synchronize” instead of “synchronise”, but BE and CE say “neighbour” instead of “neighbor” and “travelled” instead of “traveled.” There are a few other odd words such as “jewellery” vs “jewelry.” But mostly we can understand each other even if Canadians say “zed” and Americans, “zee.” I’m an adamant proponent of continuing the “zed” pronunciation (being Canadian) and when some little tads corrected me with saying, “It’s zee.” I pretty much bit my lip and corrected them since they’re Canadian. Alas the invasion continues.

So, is it any wonder that there are so many misspelled words considering that Shakespear spelled his name so many different ways? Of course ,a lot of this had to to with relative illiteracy of the era. If you didn’t write regularly, even if you knew the rudiments, you weren’t very likely to spell words correctly.

As an editor, sometimes words are so often misspelled the same way that I start to doubt my own senses and then I have to look up words that I know are spelled incorrectly. Here are a few words of the modern age that are misspelled frequently:

  • burgundy (not burgandy for color or wine)
  • indefinitely (not indefinately, received three times last week) if it’s not finite then it’s indefinite like infinity .
  • no one (not no-one nor noone; this might be different in England)
  • its (the most misused word ever: if it is blue, then it’s blue. If the ball belongs to it (the dog), then it (the ball) is its (the dog). Its ball rolled into traffic.
  • twenty, thirty-something (twenty-two not twenty two)
  • would of, could of: People say this: I could’ve gone to the store. (which should really just be “could have”) But because of the way we hear it, I’ve seen it spelled could of. Wrong wrong wrong. Could have. I’ve seen this in books, which tells me either the copy editor was inexperienced or the publisher didn’t have a copy editor.
  • yeah is an informal form of agreement (yes) and yay, which is a cheer: Yay! We win.

And then there are the similarly pronounced words that have different spellings and meanings, called homonyms. Some commonly misused ones are:

  • consul (a consul general or Canadian consul) and console (to sympathize with someone, or a panel or case that holds an item like electronics)
  • aisle (what is between two rows of bookshelves) and isle (where we all want to go for a tropical vacation)
  • altar (where we put our objects to worship) and alter (how we change our appearance to escape the law)
  • brooch (what you wear as a decoration) and broach (what you do when you want  to raise a subject)
  • complement (how many you have–a complement of soldiers) and compliment (to praise–my you look great in your uniform)
  • council (a group of people) and counsel (the adviser/counsellor you get when your marriage is on the rocks)
  • gorilla (these guys use bananas) and guerrilla (these guys use guns)

There are many homonyms and a very extensive list can be found here, even ones that I’ve never considered or known. http://www.cooper.com/alan/homonym_list.html

I find it particularly bad when I read books that have many misspellings but it all depends on how good the publishers are at maintaining quality and if they care. Many small publishing houses do not even have copy editors and depend on (demand) the authors proofread their work. Of course everyone should always do that and hand in relatively clean copies. Still, when you’re looking at a story over and over again you are bound to miss some of your own typos. A second set of eyes is always best.

I sometimes think the internet will work at crumbling the English language (maybe others too) as people abbreviate words down to essential letters. We tend to get lazy at writing, leaving off capitalization and punctuation. Part of the advent of computers for everyone meant that many people have them but probably not everyone learned to type. And like our signatures that get messier the more we write them, our grammar goes to pot on the internet.
But English is a living and therefore evolving language so maybe the misspellings will take over the more people use them. In the meantime, misuses and typos will continue to drive the editors of the world crazy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, internet, people, Publishing, Writing

Editing: A Job Interview

This happened some time last year when a job for editing showed up on one of editors’ lists I am on: a publisher looking for freelance content editors. I sent my resume in and got a forwarded email that said sign into an instant messaging group to discuss this. Now this was for book editing and that’s my specialty, been doing it for 15 years. So the managing editor asks if I use story arcs and I ask her to define what she means in terms of editing as people use this term differently. Basically, she means plot, conflict, resolution and flow. Etc. The usual. She says editing is usually between 25-50 hours a manuscript, which is fine; nothing unusual.Then I ask what they pay and she says 10%. O-kay. So I said, could you please break this down for me as I’m not sure what 10% is from and I’ve always worked hourly contracts before. (I mean it could be 10% of cover price and books printed, or sold, or 10% of wholesale.) I don’t know. It’s a simple question.

She then goes on to say that line editing is a waste of time and that if a writer can’t write, then they (the publisher) don’t want the book. I said, I understand, however when I did copy editing it was never for the same repetitive mistakes but sometimes to correct grammar, odd typos, and check for consistency (continuity). After all, we all miss things in our own writing from seeing it too often, and copy editors give a fresh eye to the grammar.

Then she says, “We love our proofreaders. We don’t need proofreaders.” She says this a couple of times, adding they have no work for hire. So I say, I’m sorry, I thought you were looking for content editors.

Through all this she has not yet given me that breakdown of 10% but basically, from what I can tell, the editor gets paid if the book sells. It could be $5 for all I know. I have already said, yes but I’ve worked hourly before so I don’t know how this breaks down. She says, “Hon, I’m not disputing (but she is) and I’ve worked for 5 publishing houses in 7 years.” I didn’t bother to get into the one-upmanship and say I’ve worked for as many if not more in 15 years. Hon? From someone I don’t know? That’s pretty condescending. It’s like she hasn’t read my resume, nor heard what I was saying and was on a personal crusade.

At this point I’m getting angry as she seems to presume I’m talking about proofreading. I’ve already talked about content and have said I’ve done proofreading, copyediting, line as well as structural and stylistic editing. I know the difference. I’m not sure she does. Then she blathers that she’s had 200 responses and needs to make sure she has a content editor (after once saying she had 3000 manuscripts and rejected them all).

I haven’t met this person in person but I’m already getting a sense that her pile is bigger than everyone else’s. And working for her would be a personality conflict waiting to happen. At that point I say, I think I’ll pass on this as I’d like to know I’ll be paid a base rate for what I do. MFG! Does this woman think all publishing is based out of her ebusiness? (Turns out she’s the CEO too.)

Fine, name as many publishing houses as you want, but don’t discount there is more than one way to do things and pay people. She seemed to believe her way of paying was the only way, and indeed it may be for ebooks, but it’s not for other publishers. Having worked for US and Canadian publishers, I know. I have invoices. I’ve been paid an hourly fee on all of them. In a few cases when I freelance I might have charged by the project but usually I charged by the hour.

I think I avoided a very uncomfortable and possibly not lucrative job editing books for peanuts.

4 Comments

Filed under Culture, entertainment, erotica, fantasy, horror, people, poetry, Publishing, science fiction, Writing