Yes, Another Post About Editing
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?