Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why editors edit...

"Careless errors." "Works too quickly." "Must learn to slow down." Comments  like that from my teachers followed me through elementary school. Haunted me. Devastated me because I was under the impression that one was expected to get perfect marks. I mean, why would they ask me a question if I wasn't expected to know the answer? Why would they ask me to do an assignment if they didn't think I could do it...perfectly. One hundred percent of the time. 

I guess that little girl inside me (who later discovered that fast, or slow made no difference) will always be there, intent on being perfect, dreaming of being perfect, embarrassed to find out I'm not. Believing all mistakes are careless and if I'd just done...something, I would have, should have, could have noticed I wrote "shuttered to think" instead of "shuddered to think".

My manuscripts, before I send them to editors  have been worked and reworked, read and reread dozens of times. I think they are perfect, no reason they shouldn't be...and then I get them back and I'm crushed. Embarrassed. Humiliated.

Recently, though, I've discovered that editors are not grade school teachers, they are not focused on teaching me how to write. They aren't grading me, criticizing my mistakes. Thinking I'm careless.

No, most editors are not frustrated writers, disillusioned professors, gleeful critics. Most admire their writers' abilities and see themselves as possessing a different skill set than the novelist. Most are as proud of their work as I am of mine. Most feel a part of the team that gets a book to market, as happy to have a hand in the work as the graphic artist is to design the cover, the video professional is to produce a trailer, the formatter is to getting everything just right for the printer.

But, here, I'll show you not tell. Elaine Denning, the editor who worked with me on my soon-to-be-released novel FIREWALLS explains her side of the story.
Elaine Denning Writing & Editing Services
Elaine Denning, Editor

How did you become an editor?
I've always been an avid reader, writer and (shamefully) a grammar Nazi, so it was inevitable that I'd notice errors in the words I came into contact with on a daily basis. At first I was able to live my life without it causing me too much anguish, but when self-publishing hit the marketplace and I was confronted with so many fantastic stories that I felt could do with some help, I had the urge to do something about it. At first I worked as an editor part-time, squeezing it in at the end of my day, but three years ago I took the leap and set up my own business. I've never looked back. Doing the work I do makes my world feel slightly less off kilter.

What do you enjoy about your work?
Everything! It fulfils my passion for reading whilst granting me the authority to correct mistakes and suggest changes (which, for me, is like chicken soup for the soul). It fuels my passion for psychology, for people, for this incessant need I have to crawl beneath the skin of everyone I meet (fictional or otherwise). Finally, there's no better feeling in the world than seeing a published author getting the accolade he or she deserves and knowing that I've been a tiny part of it.

Do you think you're a harsh editor?
Sometimes, but only when it's needed. I've met some editors who are nothing more than frustrated authors who, unable to finish their own manuscripts, take great delight in trying to make someone else's book their own. I've never done that and I never will. As a writer, I understand how much time and effort goes into writing a novel. I know all about the dreams and nightmares, the insecurities, the sleepless nights, the self-doubt and the monotony of reading paragraphs so many times that you think you're going to lose your mind. So, with someone's manuscript in my hands, I've always treated it as if I'm holding their new-born baby. Yes, there are going to be mistakes and I have no problem correcting spelling, punctuation and grammar. But when it comes to plots, storylines, characters, goals, conflicts and conclusions, I feel my job is to make suggestions, explain my reasons for doing so, and then leave it up to the author to make those final, crucial decisions. I will nurture it and give all the advice I can, but I'll never take over. It's their baby after all, and authors (like parents) must have the final say. 

Is there anything authors can do to make your job easier?
I've edited books where the time taken for a character to travel from A to B (both metaphorically and literally) has been way too short or long. I've seen blue eyes turn to brown, curly hair turn to straight and prominent scars suddenly disappear half way through a sentence. I've seen incorrect dates, snow in summer and trees shedding leaves in countries where the trees don't even grow. I've also seen the mention of gadgets that weren't even invented in the era the book was set in. So my advice is to try and be consistent and do your research! As an editor, I will pick up on these things, but it would definitely make my job easier if I didn't have to spend half of my time on Google!  I'm pedantic by nature so my observational skills will always be in play, but do what you can - the very best you can - before you pass it over.  I'd rather spend my time reading wonderful words set in wonderful worlds than researching, for instance, the flight time from London to Jamaica.

What are your dreams for the future?
I think any person running their own business obviously wants it to be a success, and for me, success is having a steady stream of work and a portfolio of testimonials from happy, returning authors. One of my clients has recently been approached by a film production company. We’re waiting to hear the result of that, and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t feel a little flutter of excitement in my belly at the news. But somebody buying the film rights would just be the unexpected icing on an already magnificent cake. As long as authors continue to like what I do, I really couldn’t wish for anything more. 

To contact Elaine, visit her facebook page Elaine Denning Writing and Editing Services 

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