Monday, 21 July 2008

Editing

The word “editing” has acquired a whole raft of different meanings over the years, not all of them accurate.

A commissioning editor finds books which she considers worth publishing, then commissions them—that is, she contracts the writer, and everyone else required to produce the book.

She then works with the writer to refine the text until it is as good as it can possibly be. This involves working on the structure of the book; ensuring that the tense and point of view are consistent and appropriate throughout; that all facts are correct, no one is libelled, no one is misquoted and no work is plagiarised. Slower passages might be reworked or deleted; in the case of fiction, plot-holes are filled; a few subsidiary characters might be amalgamated into one, or weak characters deleted entirely. All this takes time, and can be painful for an inexperienced writer, but in just about every case it results in a book which is tighter, cleaner, more fluid—and much more readable.

Once a text is arrived at which the editor and the writer are both happy with, the text is handed over to a copy editor who checks it again, this time on a more basic level. The copy editor looks for errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation, checks that characters’ names and locations are spelled consistently throughout, and ensures that no confusion exists between words like it’s and its, discreet and discrete, and there, their, and they’re.

Once the copyedit is complete the writer is given the opportunity to check that the changes meet with her approval then the text is handed over to the designers, who determine its layout and appearance. At this stage, it used to be commonplace to print out galley proofs and give the writer one last opportunity to check for errors (which is where the term “proof-reading” comes from). Increasingly often, though, as publishers cuts costs, galleys are not produced and texts receive just two levels of editing before they go to print.

9 comments:

Nicola Slade said...

Both my novels(Scuba Dancing and Murder Most Welcome, since you ask so kindly!)have gone through all those processes: editing, copy-editing and proof-reading. And yes, it was a tad painful sometimes though luckily I didn't have to rewrite very much. What I did find, however, was that on reading the published book I was mortified to spot a few typos that had slipped past all those edits!

Nicky
www.Nicolaslade.com

How Publishing Really Works said...

Nicky, I spot typos in most books I read, and you're right: it's particularly awful to spot them in your own work.

Next time you post here, you'll have to tell us who your publisher is, too, just to make it a full-fat plug.

Ha!

Jane

debutnovelist said...

Hi Jane
As a still-to-be published (!) novelist I've heard that agents and publishers are increasingly looking for books that require minimal editing of any kind - i.e. something as near to the finished article as possible. Do you think this is the case? (Just found your blog by the way - really useful - will add to my links soon as, if that's okay.)
AliB

Sally Zigmond said...

Don't forget that what a vanity/subsidy publisher calls editing is not editing at all. Their 'basic' editing is a cursory copy-edit. They do very little else and if you want something more, they call it an 'enhanced' editing service and charge a lot for it. They claim that this is standard practise. It isn't.

Which is why most subsidy published novels are full of typos and desperately require the services of a big fat red editing pen.

How Publishing Really Works said...

Ali, you should always make sure that the work you submit is as close to perfect as you can possibly get it. There's a huge amount of work submitted every day and if it comes down to a choice between two submissions of equal merit, then the amount of editing that they require is going to be a deciding factor.

That's not to say that your work will not then need editing, or that your publisher will miss this stage out: it'll still happen. But writers must make sure that their work is pretty near perfect before they submit to maximise their chances of publication.

I wonder: why do you ask? Do you find editing difficult, or are you perhaps not clear what it entails? Just wondering. I'm so used to working on my side of the fence that I sometimes don't see the other side as clearly as I should.

Jane

How Publishing Really Works said...

Sally, with most vanity presses you'd be lucky to get a Word spell check. And even the "enhanced" edits that they offer tend to be no more than a quick whip through looking for typos--nothing like the depth and thoroughness that is involved in an edit from a commercial publisher. And then there's the standard of work--which is a whole separate issue.

Jane

debutnovelist said...

Jane
Thanks for the reply which confirms what I assumed. Think I'm reasonably wised up on editing, but interesting to hear that novels still usually do get a professional edit. A few I've read of late have made me wonder if it had gone by the board. (Not just typos - which always slip through - but also repetition, plot holes etc)
Oh dear, hope this doesn't come under the heading of sour grapes!
Cheers
AliB

Nicola Slade said...

OK, Jane, full-fat plug coming up!

'Murder Most Welcome': Victorian mystery, published by Robert Hale Ltd
'Scuba Dancing' : romantic comedy, published by Transita Ltd.

Thanks,
Nicky
x

Helen DeWitt said...

The editor of a classical text has the job of eliminating textual corruption, restoring the text as far as possible to what the author wrote. Scribes and Scholars (Reynolds and Wilson) gives a good account of this. The scholar who undertakes this task must immerse himself or herself in the style of the author under consideration and may well spend years on a single text. By the standards of classical scholarship, most modern published texts are corrupt.