Monday 4 August 2014

Editing short stories electronically

I’m currently editing short stories for an anthology that comes out shortly before Christmas. There’s very little to do in what I would call the first structural edit. We had four times as many stories submitted as we needed so all of the ones we selected really work quite well anyway.
There were just one or two instances in the twelve I edited where something didn’t quite make sense – not because the story was ill-conceived but because there was a small problem with the language.
Nevertheless this time I’m going for three stages of editing – all conducted electronically. I thought it might be useful to describe this process here.

Edit 1
Here I just make comments. I use the “review” ribbon in Word but I don’t track changes at this point.  As I read through, I’m genuinely looking for the big stuff. Are characters rounded? Is the pace right? Is it all logical? But I will point out other things as well – such as wrong formatting, awkward phrasing and point of view changes. This give the author chance to put these right themselves. Some quite substantial changes can be made here 
I do ask the authors to return the texts showing track changes.

Edit 2
This is a mixture of comments and actual changes. This time I am purposefully looking for awkward bits of language, weaker parts, clichés, and missed opportunities for showing. I will actually correct formatting mistakes, house-style problems and typos. Again, writers return their work with the changes showing.

Edit 3
This is really a first proof edit. I use track changes both ways here. The text gets another proof-read – by the authors themselves, the editors and another person - after the camera-ready text is produced.       

Tip for dealing with track changes
Don’t just go through and accept each change as you come to it. Hide the changes and reread the text. Only show the change if at any point the text doesn’t seem to work well. Editors have a knack of being right. Sometimes you can be ambivalent about what you see. If so, go for the editor’s suggestion. Hiding the changes thus still leaves you with the right not to accept something that just doesn’t work for you.  Remember your editor is only trying to strengthen your work, not know better than you.        
As a writer myself, I find that I agree with about 80% of the editor’s suggestions. Even for the rest I often agree that the text isn’t working at that point. I need to find an alternative.
If writer and editor can work well together the text will certainly benefit.


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