Saturday, September 29, 2012

Friday Night Saturday Morning at the Question Emporium

I love to edit. I love getting first dibs on a friend's story and figuring out what tools the author could use to shape the story to match their vision.

But there isn't a lot of guidance on the internet on how to be a good editor. There are plenty on self-editing, writing, how to be a good alpha or beta reader, how to find a good editor, and dealing with requested revisions and edits, but not much on the process of editing someone else's work.

It seems like this is a skill and knowledge set that is generally passed on through an apprenticeship (as an intern to an editor or agent) or by evaluating edits that you, as a writer, have received. I don't have access to either. I have a full time job that I love, and this is what I do in my fun time. I want to make sure that I am conveying my responses in a helpful way for the writer.

When you edit for flow, character, story arc, big picture elements, how do you convey your responses to the writer? A revision letter? Comments on the manuscript? Both? Do you do line edits at the same time, or wait until the big revisions are complete? Are there elements you emphasize over another?

I realize "How do you edit?" is almost as ambiguous a question as "How do you write?" But there are hundreds of people who share how they write and self-edit, letting budding writers pick and choose the tricks and processes that will work for them. I'd love to see the same for budding editors.

The first time I saw an honest to goodness real edit letter I realized to my marrow I was not an editor. I am a reader, a fact-checker, a cheerleader, and I hope a good agent, but man oh many I am not a real editor.

You're right. It's a learned skill. The agents I know who started out as editors (Betsy Lerner primarily) talk about reading the editorial letters their bosses sent to see how editing happened.

I send editorial letters and a marked up manuscript.

I send big picture, get all the pieces in place notes first and then go through line by line.

But, every good editor finds their own way. It sounds like you've got the one thing a good editor needs: a passion for the job.

Listen to what people tell you about your edits, and watch what other people do. I don't think there's a right or a wrong way to edit. I think there is what works to get the project the best it can be.

Some of my clients deliver manuscripts that can go directly to the editor.

Some of them need only a spell check.

Some of them need a fact check.

And some of them need a reality check. Those are the calls we all dread, but every one of my clients who's gotten a call like that has sucked it up, and done the work. There's a reason we call them Fabulous and that's one of them.

If any of our blog readers have links to sites about editing/editors that they think are useful/helpful/entertaining, let me know.


jcwelker said...

Finding my editor Lauren Ruiz, was a blessing. She's like having a second brain. A true gem. And it helps that she speaks in alien, so she understands me.
Her site:

-Jennifer Welker

Penelope said...

Articles, books, and workshops for writers are a big help. Study the craft of writing. Sure most of the info you find will be targeted to writers, but you can use them as editing tools. Instead of creating a manuscript with the advice, use it to analyse what's working and what's weak in manuscripts and even published books.
Two books I recently purchased have been ginormous helps. I'm not sure how helpful they'd have been without the last two years of constant study and practice. I may just be in the point in my career when the info presented clicks for me, but I wish I'd had them all along.
Scott Norton's Developmental Editing is targeted at nonfiction editors, but still chock full of good info no matter what you edit.
Barbara Sjoholm's An Editor's Guide to Working with Authors has really helped me refine the process of communicating effectively with the authors I work with. Her website is packed with helpful articles and she offers workshops.
Honestly, I've studied and practiced and read everything about writing craft and grammar I could lay my hands on, and those are the two resources that stand out as helping me be the kind of editor my authors appreciate.
Good luck!

jn said...

I had the pleasure of attending an editing seminar conducted by Cheryl Klein, editor at Arthur Levine, part of Scholastic. She taught participants how to bookmap which is essentially her editorial tool for big picture editing. It was the best and most useful seminar I have ever attended. I mean ever. She has also written a book on the topic. She edits children's books, but excellent story telling is excellent story telling. She helped edit the Harry Potter series. The process takes some work, but saves so much time in the long run. I am so thankful to Ms. Klein for her generosity. I believe she also writes a blog.

Keisha Martin Romance Writer said...

My editor: Lynnette Labelle

She is amazing because she is foremost a teacher then a tough editor, she won't let me take the easy way out and is a great cheerleader.

Although from the get go she said that I will get more do it over than her telling me yes the revision is better and it has made me a better writer because it has enabled me to keep on correcting until my chapters are 99.9 % perfect.

She also has a keen eye for discrepancies in the story. I am so glad I was referred to her by author Roni Loren.

havenwriter said...

I freelance edit and return marked up pages as well as an editorial letter to my writers. International clients get Word's Track Changes comments and an editorial letter. I make comments on pages, draw arrows, make big notes like 'delete here, move to there,' anything it takes to help the writer pull together the story they envisioned. I also teach as I edit because not only do I want my writers to grow, I want them not to need me so much someday. Most important is the editorial letter, which amplifies reasons for changes and which asks questions to challenge the writer to reach for more. Great topic today, by the way!

Kristy Stewart said...

I earned an editing minor in college, and one of the most useful exercises we did that translates out of the classroom was this: We would do practice edits on one another's manuscripts, then the author would go through and highlight what he or she found helpful and would use in a revision. If he or she wasn't going to use a comment, you got to hear why.

If you're taking the time to edit others' work, I'm sure you can find a few people who will go through this process with you. It's really helpful to see how your comments are coming across to the author, and you get something more specific than "your edit was great!"

Stephen Parrish said...

Whoever posed the question is a solid writer in his or her own right, and is sensitive to the problem at hand, and thus is already a good editor.

Unknown said...

This site has great writing tips. She is an editor and a writer.

Unknown said...

As part of my path to finding an agent and getting published, I have chosen to use a freelance editor. Since I’m asking others to take my writing seriously, then I need to do the same and invest in myself. I found Stephen Parolini, through recommendations and am in his queue for December.

I chose him out of the various editors out there because of his "voice." When I read his website the things he said were helpful, but so are many other editor’s sites. What made the difference was how he said them. After contacting him and exchanging several emails, my suspicions grew stronger

I liked it that he didn't just take me on because I was willing to pay, but requested a large sample of my novel to see if he felt we were compatible. I also liked it that his queue was booked several months out. Everything brought me to the same conclusion: "I can work with this man."

Terri Lynn Coop said...

I just got finished with an edit on my work for a small e-press (I refer to them as nano-presses) and understand that I am a good copy editor and proofer, I am not a content editor.

Mason, my main editor, picked out my writing tics with a laser beam. Things I didn't even realize I did until they were there, showcased in bright red glory on the page.

He was a major cheerleader and led me through the process. It was a pleasure.

The line editor was something different. I had no problem with her fixing the commas (whether they needed it or not), but he content comments were unnecessarily snide.

It is fine to be blunt with a writer (as in the "reality check"), but using phrases like "this is garbage" isn't going to foster a warm relationship with the writer. They need the content as much as I need the outlet.

So, what I took out of the experience was:

1. To a good editor, tics shine like neon. Like a coach that corrects a batter's swing, a good editor will patiently root out annoying little habits. Do it right the first time and hopefully the next manuscript you or another editors sees will be much cleaner.

2. Help the writer get a good story into the correct order. I just took some rough edits/critiques on another work. The comments were all the same. I finally swapped chapter 1 and chapter 2. I don't have the next round back, but I think that solves a lot of the problem.

I haven't found a site or book yet that would have gotten me past those two hurdles. That is where the editor's skill and style came in.

Wendy said...

There's an art to critical reading and an even finer art to articulating what's wrong (or what could be better).

The resources are great, but what is immensely helpful is being conscious of your reading. That's the best editing and writing tutor ever. When your mind says "something's not right" then pause and figure out why it's not right.

In pleasure-reading we skip those things and gloss over them because we're having fun, but that doesn't exercise our crit muscles.

And I strongly agree that there is high value in reading other people's edits as well.

CourtneyC said...

Theresa Stevens is a freelance editor who co-authors the editing blog

She has an *excellent* post about what you need to be an editor here: