Tuesday 19 April 2022

Some subtleties in editing

 Correcting, Proof, Paper, Correction, Correct, Mistake

Quite an intimate relationship can build up between author and editor. Indeed, often when we’ve offered writers a second book deal they’ll ask if they can work with the same editor again. Okay, so it might be “better the devil you know” or “ear of the unknown” that motivates them but I rather suspect it is because they have found a way to work together and that the editor understands the author’s motivations.

We tend to keep the same editor for the main edits and then find another for a final proof read. Our authors also proof read. It’s probably not possible to spot everything if you are as close to the text as the writer and their first editor are.

The first edits consists of an overall read to see whether the text has an acceptable shape and that any story and characters are quite clear. In this initial stage the editor may even pick the writer up on some frequently occurring faults. The second stage is a line edit where the editor looks for clichés, odd expressions, odd paragraphing, a character’s words not ringing true or not being in their voice, etc. At this point there may be some negotiation about some expression that may seem unusual. This may be to do with the voice of the piece. Anyway editors only make suggestions. They do not dictate. Often it’s a case of seeing that something isn’t working and inviting the writer to suggest something else. The third edit picks up on grammatical, spelling, formatting, punctuation mistakes and remaining awkward expression that isn’t part of the narrator’s voice.  

That third edit differs form a proof read which should only be looking for typos and spelling, punctuation and formatting mistakes that have not been caught in the other processes.

There can often be a problem between proof-read and the third edit. We ‘ve had a couple of instances recently where the proof-reader had tried to edit out some of the subtleties that have been agreed between the writer and editor. I’m also currently proof-reading a text and there are some things I feel tempted to edit. I have to remind myself that that conversation has already been had between the editor and the author.

I was very surprised when someone recently reviewed one of our books and said privately to me that they were surprised at how many mistakes there were in the text. I really panicked. What, after three edits, two proof-reads and two technical proof-reads? I revisited the text and found one typo.

It came down to us using a different house style from the one that the reader was used to. They were also applying something as a hard and fast rule where there is actually a choice e.g. some words can be made up of two words stuck together, kept as two words or hyphenated. This particular reviewer, who also works an editor, was confusing also when words such a mother and father are spelt with uppercase or with lower case. I give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that another style guide will suggest something different.           

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