So you’ve got a manuscript which is pretty much novel length, following a long (or not so long) process of writing, getting feedback, writing some more, researching, resting, writing…. Now what? The next steps are preparing the manuscript for publishing through editing, copy-editing and proof-reading. Some people appear to think these steps are inter-changeable, they are not, though they may merge into each other.
A good editor will look at the manuscript and begin to mould it with an audience in mind. A good editor will be a very, very discriminating reader. They will look at: the narrative as a whole; at the way characters develop (or do not); at whether dialogue is realistic enough; at the balance between action and scene setting; at pace; at the beginning, the ending and the notoriously soggy bits in the middle in order to try to firm them up; and so on. A good editor will have opinions about whether the writing fits with the audience or publisher being aimed at. A good editor will also be able to gauge whether legal advice needs to be sought for libel issues and will understand the rules around using quotes and references.
The editing process can be a very creative one; the editor posing the problems around, for instance, pace, dialogue, characterisation, and then the writer coming up with the solutions. There could be much backwards and forwards at this stage.
Following the editor comes the copy-editor. They look at the manuscript with more of a magnifying glass, checking for syntax and grammar. They could pick up on inconsistencies (like the character who had blue eyes on page 1 and has green by page 17) and areas of research (when did women stop wearing corsets with whalebone in them?) Usually a manuscript which has been to a copy-editor will arrive back at the writer for corrections to be done and there will be little conversation about it.
Finally, a manuscript which has been edited and copy-edited can go to the proof-reader whose job is to check for spelling and punctuation errors and for those cunning little typos. Usually, a proof-reader would not have the job of re-writing huge chunks because of poor grammar or deficient writing. And proof-reading must come right at the end of the writing process, if you’re still messing about with the manuscript, then it is not ready to go to the proof-reader; because even the smallest alteration to the text could produce another typing error.
I whole-heartedly believe in paying for a professional to do their job. Each has their own specialist skills and even if we possess those capabilities ourselves, it is very difficult to employ them completely successfully with our own work. However, needs must, and I could not afford all the professional help I would have liked. I, therefore, decided to do my own editing (with the support of writer friends) and my own copy-editing. It meant that I had to learn, and discipline myself, to read my work with a different hat on. When I read as an editor, I had to stop being the writer lovingly solicitous for all my beautiful words, and I had to become a critical reader. When doing the copy-editing, I had to restrict myself to analysing the sentences and not get distracted by adding to or deleting my descriptive flourishes. It was not easy to do and I dare say I was not as effective as I would like to have been.
I drew the line at doing my own proof-reading. For a novel-length piece, I think it is nigh-on impossible to proof-read our own work. So I paid the lovely Jenny to do it (firstname.lastname@example.org) and, because of her skills, she was able to, for instance, pull me up on an issue around using song lyrics (see November post ‘Why writers need proofreaders’) something a good editor or copy-editor would normally do.
Next time I will look at some of the decisions an ‘indie’ publisher has to make. Meanwhile, do look at my novel, The Art of the Imperfect, the first of a series of crime novels set in Scarborough, http://goo.gl/5r9WBv.