Saturday, November 2, 2013

Tough Editors Make for Great Manuscripts

If you want compliments, give the book to your mother or read it to the person next to you at the bar after buying them a drink. Better yet, give it to your best friend, especially if you have one that’s afraid to speak their mind.

If you want to improve the manuscript, hire a good editor. And when you do, you’d better have thick skin. Good editors don’t patronize their clients, but they don’t sugar-coat their critiques either. If a character lacks motivation, or the dialogue sounds stilted, a good editor will tell you that. But he or she should also give you an example of how to correct the problem.

Being both an author and an editor, I view every manuscript that comes across my desk in two ways. First, there’s the creative side. Authors never cease to amaze me with what they can write. From nutritional guides to who-done-it suspense, every author eventually develops his or her own voice. Once I’ve edited a manuscript from an author, chances are I’ll recognize his or her work by the end of the first page when another work is submitted.

But as an editor, it’s a whole different process. We’re actually out looking for trouble. You see, finding trouble spots is exactly what writers pay us for.

Usually, the idea, or premise, of a book is apparent, even if the writing is rough, but sometimes, an author isn’t exactly sure how to best express that idea, or has trouble moving the piece along. That’s where an editor (sometimes calling themselves a manuscript developer or book doctor) can help perfect the work.

The editor’s job is to find mistakes, not just in grammar and punctuation, but incoherent segments, loose plot strands that need tied up, dialogue that doesn’t make sense, and anything else that impedes the reader from enjoying the story.

Expect red-lines through your manuscript because that’s what editors are hired to do. It’s surprising how many first-time authors get angry at their editors and insist they take out the change and put paragraphs back in their original form. When they do that with me, I wonder why they bothered to hire me in the first place. More experienced authors- unless they’re real primadonnas- welcome red lines and comment boxes from their editors.

Isn’t making the manuscript the best it can be the goal of everyone who helps with the work? After more than thirty years of writing professionally, I wouldn’t think of doing the final edit on my own work. I welcome the comments of my editor because I know she cares about details in the manuscript as much as I do. After all, it’s as much a reflection on her expertise as it is on mine (as an author.)

But when I’m wearing my author’s hat, I know I’m too close to the forest to see the trees. Everything I write except this Blog is edited by a completely different set of eyes. If  I didn’t trust those eyes, I wouldn’t have hired them in the first place.

So welcome those red-lines and comment boxes. Isn’t that what you’re paying your editor for?

ONE WARNING THOUGH: and this is a very important point. If you- as a writer- don’t understand the comments, you have every right to ask questions. More than that- you have a right to see examples of what the editor means when he or she makes a comment about how something is written. Just saying “style error” is not enough. Keep asking until you understand it because even though the problem may be corrected in the manuscript being edited, if you don’t understand why a change is made, you’re bound repeat that same mistake over and over again.

Editors need to spell out what the comment “style error” means each and every time it’s used and give the rule behind it. I usually put in an example in a comment box (besides correcting the error in the manuscript) just to be sure my reasoning is fully explained. Perhaps that’s why I get so many repeat clients year after year. They certainly don’t keep coming back for my compliments, although I do occasionally write “Bravo!” or “Wonderful metaphor!” when something is written particularly well.

Remember, you’re paying this person to cut, rearrange, shorten, clarify, or whatever else the work needs to be a success~ depending on the scope of the contract of course. If all you’re paying for is proofing of typographical and grammatical errors, a red-line change is all you can expect. But if you’re paying for someone to go in and “fix” your manuscript- you deserve to know why each and every change is done right down to the difference between taking out a comma and inserting semi-colon.

We writers need to get our compliments at the corner bar until the sale to the publisher is made. The whole idea behind hiring an editor or book doctor is to get our kudos after the book is published, bought, read, and reviewed.

                   Until next time, Write On!

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