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Yes, Another Post About Editing

February 20, 2012

Editing. I talk about it a lot. It’s my job. It’s part of my writing and publishing career. It’s the cornerstone of a great book. Editing is—in my opinion—the single greatest tool in an author’s kit. The trick, though? You can’t edit yourself, and you need experience to be a good editor.

Editing is an art. It’s not just knowing the English language (which is also important). It’s also knowing characterization, pacing, and plot. It’s seeing where a story lags and knowing how to pull it back on track. It’s being able to tell your personal preferences and an author’s voice. It’s about taking what was good and making it great.

I shy away from buying books in my own genre now unless All Romance eBooks is doing some sort of massive sale or rebate. Otherwise? I don’t feel I get my money’s worth. Books riddled with common grammatical errors (with publishers trying to hide their lack of knowledge by saying it’s their style – really? Incorrect grammar is now a style?), poorly constructed romances, badly written characters, and usually half-baked books. I literally mean half-baked. A lot of these books needed to stay in the proverbial oven another couple months.

But publishers just seem to want quantity, not quality. When a novel—at one of the most successful publishers in this genre—can be picked up in January and released as ‘finished’ in April, something’s getting lost in the shuffle. It takes time to edit well and with an eye to the all-encompassing bigger picture. Then again, most of the epublishers either use other authors (which is fine for proofreading, but not for formal editing) or use editors of poor quality with no formal experience. While I agree that editors must cut their teeth somewhere, it’s probably best that it not be doing final edits for some time. And with how this genre chooses to pay its editors…

I understand there is a level of ‘to each their own’, but when a publisher asks me to pay for a product, I expect that product to be whole and complete, thoroughly edited, and decently packaged.

Now, to the heart of this little rant: editing is necessary. No one is beyond good, professional edits. An editor who knows the genre, who has experience editing fiction, and who understands how a story is meant to unfold. Just because this is romance is no excuse for bad books. None. Developmental editing isn’t about making authors rewrite their fiction into what the editor or publisher wants. It’s merely a toolkit. It’s part of the process.

Developmental editing looks at the bones and meat of a story. It helps shore up a foundation that may be a little wobbly. It may be an entire gut process that helps an author understand their idea better, how to tell their story in a concise, engaging way. No author is perfect, and every author—EVERY AUTHOR—can benefit from an experienced fiction editor’s developmental comments.

Once that’s done, line editing is necessary. Grammar, punctuation, syntax, commonly confused words, and basic continuity are all things a line editor—who should NOT be the developmental editor—will (or should) catch. These areas are areas I feel publishers should be more strict on instead of reinventing grammar rules around their lack of knowledge (OMG, don’t get me started ranting on the abuse of commas, the wiping out of the semicolon, or the use of ‘then’ as a conjunction). Yes, the English language does change, but it’s slow to change, and what changes is very specific. Split infinitives, ending sentences with prepositions, and starting sentences with conjunctions have been hard-won battles for style over grammar (as well as holdovers from our Latin roots).

But eradicating punctuation marks and arbitrarily changing the part of speech a word is isn’t about style. Authors need to let go a little when it comes to the line editing, as grammar is part of writing. Not everyone knows everything about grammar, and the line editor is bound to catch something somewhere. Stop sprinkling in commas because you want to control how a reader reads the book. Instead, put them where they are needed grammatically and lean on your storytelling ability to lead the reader instead of unnecessary punctuation and italics.

I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating. Say it with me: The editor is not my enemy. The editor is not “stifling your creative voice” by telling you that affect is not the same as effect or that you’ve made a comma splice or left a participle dangling. A good editor is merely trying to ensure that you are able to express yourself and your ideas in as clear and concise a manner as possible. Their goal is the same as yours: to increase the sales of your book. That means more money in your pocket. And who wouldn’t want that?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2012 11:49 am

    I freely confess, I don’t believe in semi-colons in fiction, except for complex lists. In my opinion, if you need a semi-colon, you probably have two sentences. (this is a function of a composition class, and a teacher who despised compound sentences) It’s fine for a certain style, one more elaborate than my own.

    On the other hand, war to the death on commas and deliberate misspellings to cater to imagined ignorance of readers drives me into fits of headdesking. (One house WILL change any use of “wracked” to “racked.” If I wanted him racked, he be in the torture chamber, not bending over the ship’s rail losing his lunch)

    Some editors have done marvelous things for me. They’ve broken me of writing in the “colon, list” format. They’ve taught me to keep my points of view consistent. And others have made me tear my hair, yelling, “That’s not right and it’s stupid that it’s your house style!”

  2. February 20, 2012 12:11 pm

    Angelia — I don’t mind when an author choose not to use semicolons or colons in their work. Then, it’s a matter of style, and I don’t argue with an author beyond pointing out that a semicolon could work. What annoys me is when a publisher simply removes the ability for an author to use that punctuation mark. Sometimes going even so far as removing it and replacing it with a comma, thus introducing a comma splice. It’s the handicapping of an author who would prefer to use that punctuation mark as well as the introduction of unnecessary errors in that removal process that gets me.

    Dear lord, really? ‘Racked’ instead of ‘wracked’? That brings a whole new image to ‘he was racked with guilt’! 😄 This is my biggest complaint: publishers who use editors who have NO conception of the English language or who do, but then screw it up for whatever reason they have.

    I still use colons. And semicolons. I use whatever punctuation works for the sentence I’m trying to write. 😀 This is also why I just can’t bring myself to sub one of my manuscripts anywhere but through Storm Moon Press. I’d go batshit if an editor sent it back demanding the removal of semicolons and colons, adding spelling errors and comma splices, and any number of other travesties I’ve seen when purchasing books in my genre. I just can’t do it. I think about it for about a day, and then send it on to the SMP editors instead.

    (Which also brings up my peeve about editors slashing prologues and epilogues as if they also aren’t valid storytelling tools when used correctly.)

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