How valuable are editors to the creative process?

So over the last few weeks I've seen a few discussions about the value of editors. Some authors decrying the need for such a resource and others passionately defending them. There also seemed to be quite a lot of confusion as to what it is an editor actually does. Do they do line work, structural, copyediting? What's the difference? And how do freelance editors differ from those working in a traditional publishing house?

I thought it might be interesting to write a couple of blog posts, inviting authors to share their good - or - bad experiences with editors. Freelance or otherwise. No names mentioned obviously!! If you're interested in contributing an opinion then just drop me a line.

In the meantime, I thought I'd at least explain the role of editor/publisher working in a traditional publishers, as that was the role I held for such a long period of time. I'll take a look at self-publishing in a later post.

Let's take a look at the Traditional Publishing Editor. No longer are they the shy, reclusive creature wrapped in cardigan hunched over a manuscript in a darkened room. Nor are they the champagne-swilling, long-lunched variety that I seemed to have completely missed out on. Editors are hard-working, dedicated, passionate advocates of every single one of their authors and, also, voracious readers.

This type of editor won't just shape and craft your book into a, hopefully, stronger piece of work, but they're an invaluable stalwart within the churning cogs of the publishing machine.

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With so many authors being published you need a champion in-house to sell your work - and an editor's job is to be as much PR person, marketer and sales person both in-house and out, as they are a wordsmith.

In terms of the actual editing - that's where the relationship between editor and author really comes into play. Editors have a respect for the author's work. They know how much work went into it. The vast majority of them would never dream of attempting to write themselves because they appreciate the difficulties involved. They're also fully-aware of how precious that book is to the author. To my mind, the ideal editor offers constrictive criticism and suggestion. Not dictatorial commands. They don't make the author feel uncomfortable but they may challenge them, at times, to think beyond their own preconceptions.  They're a fresh pair of eyes and a new perspective on the story.

Many editors won't just read the book once and churn out notes. They'll read it once to get a feel and overall sense of it. Then go back with a closer second read to pick up the nitty-gritty. This can, at times, take weeks - if it's a long book needing line work - maybe considerably longer.  

The key types of editing (certainly for fiction) are structural, line editing, copyediting, and proofreading. I've tried to break them down into what those are below.

Structural editing - This is what I would call broad-brush editorial work. You look at the whole tapestry rather than the individual stitches. Does the plot hold together? Are there arcs and troughs, highs and lows? Do the characters work well or do they need further development? What's the writing style like? Are there vast amounts of exposition or overwriting? This sort of edit gets a general editorial report highlighting any issues that may have cropped up and suggestions on how to fix them. There are usually LOTS of questions. I've written reports like this from between 2-40 pages. These reports are usually tied-up with . . .

Line editing - This usually works in conjunction with the structural report but goes into much more detail with the editor actually reworking sentences or words. This may be because the phrasing feels a bit off, the incorrect word has been used or  the grammar could be incorrect. They'll look in more detail and cut lines where they think the pace is slowing, It's hard red pen work and always slightly intimidating to an author (especially for the first time) when they get a script back with either tracked changes on every line or red pen scribbled everywhere (despite my joking about my fierceness with the red pen I actually always used a plain old pencil - it seemed that little bit less visually aggressive).

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This should not be the editor trying to rewrite your book as a frustrated-non-author, this is the editor wanting to make the story and words flow as easily as possible, at all times being respectful of the voice and narrative style behind it.

Copyediting -  This also uses aspects of both editorial styles above but the greatest concentration for a copyeditor is grammar and consistency. They are a fresh pair of eyes on a script that will already have been reworked by author and editor previously. They look for grammatical issues, are the timings all correct, are the facts correct, is there a women in there having a 19 month pregnancy? They'll also comment on whether they think there are issues with the plot in places. And this is not because the editor will have missed something or done a bad job - it's just another fresh perspective. Again, they'll recommend cuts where necessary. They'll also mark-up type hierarchies, text inserts, instructions for the typesetter and count pages, chapters and sub-headings. I have the utmost respect for both copyeditors and proofreaders. In some ways it's a much more difficult job!

Proofreading - This would usually be the last stage of an actual editorial process. The proofreader would have a clean script with all changes made by the copyeditor, editor and author already incorporated. It's their job to check that all the corrections made by the copyeditor and author have been implemented correctly but also go through with a fine tooth-comb, as another fresh pair of eyes, to see if everything holds up neatly under their scrutiny.

And you thought the art of editing was dead! ;-) So yes, the upshot is I'm a huge advocate of the editorial role. At the end of the day, if nothing else, you will have had four sets of eyes checking over your book with only one goal in mind - to make it the best it possibly can be. And surely, that's something everyone would want with their novel?

Coming up soon I'll discuss the editorial role in more detail and invite John Gwynne, author of Malice, Valour and Ruin (publishing 16th July 2015) to share his views on the editorial process.

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