(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of BAIPA service providers talking about what they do. Find out more here.)
After thirty years as an “editor,” it’s difficult to see a clear boundary to the scope of my activities. But one line is clear: proofreading is not part of the editorial process, though most clients expect it to be included. The reason being that once they’ve been immersed in a manuscript through its completion, they no longer have the capacity to step outside what their brain remembers in order to see it as if for the first time.
Proofreading is complex. It requires the extraordinary capacity for focusing on multiple levels at once: the logical continuity within paragraphs so that missing words and punctuation are corrected, as well as catching typos, spelling errors, homophones, spacing problems, pagination gaffes, etc. The process is so complex that publishers (once upon a time) required that three proofreaders sign off on a project before it went to press.
Editing itself begins with identifying the audience. A book cannot succeed unless their expectations are addressed. The next question I ask clients is: How do you plan to let that audience know that your book exists? Because it’s important they be conversant with the publishing process they are committing to. Then I ask if they have the capacity, time, and financial resources to generate an acceptable return on their investment, whether they self-publish or have a commercial publisher.
Work on the manuscript begins with planning its logical (and enticing) development: the order in which concepts, sub-plots, backstory, and characters are revealed; one that keeps the reader intrigued from beginning to end. The pacing of the revelations is fundamental to a good read: even non-fiction benefits from teasing the reader along. That requires understanding how curiosity involves the reader’s willingness to follow the author’s thread. It’s also important for the narrator and characters to have a consistent point of view.
Until the structure is sound (I sometimes help draft a detailed outline to achieve that), there is no point in polishing the words. Beautiful language does not (for most readers) compensate for a static plot, ideas that jump ahead of the reader’s logic or understanding, nor for a jumble of gorgeous images. How much setting is needed (which varies for every audience)? How much action to jumpstart the adventure? How much backstory? What is the best opening hook (which should hint at the dénouement)?
And then there is word choice: What is the perfect narrative voice for this particular story? Early in the editing process I help a writer discern that voice. This takes some experimentation. But there’s no point in progressing into editing the sentences until editor and writer are both confident in the voice. Once agreed upon, I like to turn the manuscript back to the writer to see if they can bring the rest of the draft into alignment. The final editing goes faster if they can (and therefore saves them money). Ideally, I sweep through the text when they are done, making some small adjustments that add richer or more succinct or more precise words to achieve a consistent inflection in the finished manuscript.
Another task that may be required along the way is fact-checking. (It may ruin your vision of your story, but you cannot have the young Marquis de Lafayette being aroused by the beauty of Mme. de Pompadour — she had died of tuberculosis a few years before he was introduced by his mother to the court of Louis XVI. Nor can the dénouement of your story set in 1800 depend on a performance of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto – which wasn’t composed until 1811. These are both examples from books I’ve worked on.)
Because of my broad perspective on book production, I also introduce them to BAIPA book and web designers, marketers, bloggers, etc. — perhaps even an agent.
The takeaway from this overview is that there is benefit to working with an experienced editor with whom you converse easily and broadly. My greatest joy comes from the profound relationships I develop with most of my clients. Conversely if I don’t feel a deep ease and resonance with a writer, I refer them to other editors who may be better suited to their genre and personality.
You can see a wide-ranging video interview about my work below.
To download my free 10 Guides to Editors, Editing, and the Writers Process, click here.
TIP FOR AN EFFICIENT WRITING PROCESS
Write the back cover text now! Preferably before you’ve written a word or developed an outline. What you say on the back cover is your promise to the reader of what you are selling them. It requires that you have identified your audience and have a clear intention of what you want them to experience from reading your book. It serves as a guide to keep you on track as you progress in the writing, and it becomes the basis of all your marketing material.
Don’t forget that it’s your intention. If that changes in the course of the writing, rewrite the back cover so that your book and your intention remain aligned.