Thursday, May 14, 2015

She hears voices...

She hears voices...

"I listen to many, many voices when I’m editing..." ~ Elaine Denning, Freelance Editor

Editing: It's not an easy task and is often a thankless one. 

Whether hired by an author or a publisher, a good editor works hard to incorporate the author's voice, publisher's mandate, grammar rules and readers' needs into a book that reads well and sells well.

Freelance editor, Elaine Denning, was kind enough to share some background secrets about  that tough life. Thanks, Elaine!

Elaine Denning - Freelance Editor
Is editing a viable business? Explain some of what you have done to establish and sustain your editing services business.
It’s certainly viable, but if the idea of having a fluctuating income fills you with dread then perhaps working in-house (with a regular salary), rather than freelancing, would be a better choice. 

When my business was in the early stages and I had just a handful of clients, editing took up about 25% of my time. The rest was spent slogging away as a freelance copywriter (in order to pay the bills) and marketing my editing business. There were many sleepless nights and Twitter and Facebook were a godsend - sites where I could try to get my name out there without any financial outlay.

My most effective marketing strategy was to offer authors a free ten page edit of their manuscripts. That’s when things really started to take off and within a few months I was able to give up copywriting and edit full time. These days, word of mouth brings in the majority of my clients and, of course, I have many returning clients, too.

Can you speak a bit about preserving the voice of an author while editing?
It’s a crucial part of the job; authors don't want to get their manuscripts back from the editor and not recognise it as their own work.  Authors’ voices are so strong that if I were sent a manuscript anonymously from someone I had previously worked with, I’m confident I could tell you who wrote it.

The first thing I always do is read a manuscript right through to the end before I edit a single word, to give me a feel for the author’s rhythm and style. Some authors write long, detailed, and complicated sentences and love, really love, using lots of punctuation and, on occasion, it can become a little, shall we say, tedious, to say the least. Other authors write short sentences. Snappy sentences. They get to the point. Quickly.  Even if I had a preference it would be wrong of me to change what is intrinsically their ‘voice’, their trademark. Therefore, if the structure of a sentence or a paragraph needs editing I will always mimic the author’s voice, even if I’m not fond of their particular style of writing. After all, there’s a huge difference between what is grammatically incorrect and what is just not to my liking.

Sometimes the author’s voice will slip into a character’s voice, or a character will say something that I know he or she would never say. So, in a nutshell, I listen to many, many voices when I’m editing and my aim is to stay true to them all.

Comment on why some ‘rules’ of writing (*shouldn’t* *don’t* *never*) seem to attain extreme notoriety for a while and then fade away (such as the uproars over the cursed Oxford comma, the alienated adverb, the prohibited prologue, the forbidden first-person…). What is your suggestion on how authors should treat such writing ‘rules’ and fads?
Nice alliteration! (Thanks! lol!)

There is always somebody, somewhere on the internet, writing about something to stir up a debate. It keeps the cogs turning and keeps us clicking, sharing, and arguing. Most blog writers strive for traffic on their sites and there’s no better way of attaining it than by writing about something controversial.

 As is the case with most arguments, they gain momentum, get rather heated, and then fizzle out. But let’s face it, if these so called ‘rules’ were set in stone they wouldn’t be up for debate in the first place.

I’d suggest that you use your creative license and write in a way that feels right for you. Bear in mind that most editors are pedantic and may well put a red strike right through your much-loved adverb or insert your missing Oxford comma, but I’d urge you to challenge their ‘correction’ if you’re not happy with it.  Any editor worth their salt would welcome your feedback and would be more than happy to explain why something has been altered. In my opinion, editors should always advise and never dictate.

What has been your most devastating editing experience?
I’d completed a free ten page edit of an author’s manuscript and we mutually decided to work together. But, about a quarter of the way through the book, it became apparent that incest, abuse, and the worst kind of humiliation were being written about under the guise of ‘erotica’.  Let’s just say it didn’t sit too well with me and I felt unable to continue, which prompted an onslaught of online harassment from the author that lasted for about three months. Not the happiest of times! I’m glad to say that every other author I have worked with has been (absolutely) lovely.

If you were hired to edit a classic, which one would you want it to be and what would be the first thing you’d change?
I think I’d like to edit ‘Of Mice and Men’ and give Lennie a deep aversion to stroking things.

On a serious note, I have mixed feelings about reworking classics. Yes, I understand that contemporary reinterpretations bring what would be an otherwise dusty, unread book to the attention of a modern day audience, but at what cost?  The joy I get from reading any book comes from plunging myself into the world the author has created. To tamper with the prose, the setting, and the era in which it was written (along with the fashions, language, and trends of that time) would leave nothing behind but a plot. It may be a good plot, but the author’s intent and the backbone of the book, in my mind, would be lost. So, if I were offered the chance to edit a classic I would feel deeply honoured but would recommend someone who would be far less inclined to get emotional at the deletion of some wonderfully written words and worlds.

Elaine Denning is an experienced freelance editor based in Devon, UK.  She edits fiction and non-fiction and works with both traditionally published and independent authors. 


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