Communication is your reason for being — not nourishment of ego, not praise of colleagues, not money, not love of generations to come. You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. Arthur Plotnik, editor, novelist, and reporter, once said, “And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”
If an author’s greatest fear of “being edited” is appearing less than brilliant, an editor’s greatest insight is to see that without revision the author’s genius will be obscured.
What exactly is editing?
Editing is both an art (having a perceptive “ear” for content) and craft (knowing “the rules” of style). The two main levels of editing are content editing and copy (line) editing. Content editing is macro editing; copy editing is micro editing. Content editing focuses on voice (point of view), organization, pacing, flow, consistency of ideas and terms, plus troubleshooting for offensive ideas, corniness, etc. Copy editing (or line editing) focuses on error finding: grammar, sentence/passage structures, punctuation, spelling, etc.
Often the same editor is used for both content and copy editing. In fact, both steps can be done simultaneously. However, it is always a good idea to later use a separate proofreader. The more eyes on the manuscript the better.
What is the editor’s job?
The editor is responsible for preserving and improving what the author is trying to say. An editor shapes the expression of an author’s thoughts, not the thoughts themselves, unless the author consents.
Why is an editor necessary, especially if the author is a good writer and/or a professional editor?
The author is always too close to his or her work (“baby”) to be objective; it’s almost impossible for the author to see the gaps, redundancies, and distractions that are instantly apparent to the reader. Additionally, the author represents his or her subject and interests. The editor represents the reader.
The editor is responsible for satisfying the author’s audience. Thus, the editor always puts the reader first…and (sorry!) the author’s feelings second. Authors who opt not to have their manuscripts edited risk alienating their audience.
What’s the difference between editing and rewriting?
The editor may rewrite passages of a manuscript when necessary to promote momentum. However, if the entire manuscript needs to be rewritten, that task belongs to the author or a ghostwriter.
Where in the process does the editor come in?
With nonfiction, an author ideally runs his or her outline by an editor before writing. This is essentially what happens when an author/agent shops a book proposal — consisting of a query letter, outline, and sample chapter — to an editor at a publishing house. Feedback is invaluable, and much more efficient at this stage.
With fiction, the author writes, self-edits, rewrites, self-edits, and so on, to the best of his or her ability. Then the author works with an editor to tackle content and style issues. After final editing and polishing has been completed and the book has been formatted (in layout or “galley” form), the author/publisher has a proofreader review it for final error-catching. Proofreaders will also catch layout errors at this stage, such as bad line breaks or pagination problems.
What does an editor look for? — What is the editing process?
The following list includes areas that editors (and writers) should consider when reviewing a manuscript.
- POV (Point of View)
- Plot-Show (scenes) vs. Tell (narrative)
- Gingerbread (frames, flashbacks, foreshadowing, prologue/epilogue, frills: diary entries, letters, poetry, news articles, novel within a novel)
- Voice (emotional status of character)
- Tone (how author wants reader to interpret emotional content)
- Theme (integral ideas that aren’t overtly explained but implied)
- Grammar and Mechanics (spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, sentence structures, verb tenses, passive voice, appropriate vocabulary)
- Presentation (for agent or publisher)
- Length (appropriate to genre)
- Research/ Knowledge of Subject
- Focus on Topic
- Originality of Topic
- Author’s Credentials
- Presentation of Material (accessibility)
- Targeted to a Specific Audience
- Format (one of following: argumentative; concept and case histories; chronological; true story; personal essay collection; channeled)
- Clear, Precise Language
- Sound, Logical Argument Quotes & Paraphrased Material Properly Attributed Sufficient Use of Others’ Works to Support Argument Sufficient Examples, Anecdotes Grammar and Mechanics (spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, sentence structures, verb tenses, passive voice, appropriate vocabulary)
Every author’s manuscript benefits from the deft touch of a competent editor. Then surely readers can more clearly see the “fire show through the smoke.”