Denise M Taylor

Writing Consultant I Editor I Proofreader

There’s no doubt that editing improves the quality of your writing. Self-editing your work, probably many times, comes first. Then comes the decision whether or not to engage an experienced editor. Editors have a demonstrable knowledge of language, written expression, content development and writing styles. They share a common goal: to help authors of fiction and non-fiction, academics, business managers, or thesis students improve the quality and structure of their writing in order to increase its potential in targeting readers, and impressing publishers, clients, peers or examiners. But the relationship between editor and writer can be a slippery slope.

It is imperative that editors have a clear idea of the editing expectations and requirements of the writer (which needs to be documented with the client) before editing begins. As an editor I am acutely aware of my role in ensuring that my clients transform their manuscript/document into a publishable text to be proud of. Sometimes, after reading a sample, I suggest a manuscript assessment first, which provides a full briefing as to the strengths and weaknesses of the writing, with suggestions of how the text could be improved. Publishers and literary agents may identify a submitted manuscript as having potential, but sometimes feedback to the author will be something like: promising but needs a professional assessment and editing. At this point, after spending thousands of hours on a writing project, a writer can, understandably, feel a little despondent.

Sometimes I am asked to proofread a lengthy manuscript prior to publishing or submission to publishers. Years of experience lead me to ask the writer: “Have you had your work edited?” If the writer replies in the negative then I explain the difference between editing and proofreading. I also ask for a sample of the writing. At times it is obvious that the writing needs editing before proofreading. The following is my usual blurb to explain the difference between editing and proofreading.

Professional editing is all about improving the quality of the writing. It is a broader, more complex, process than proofreading because the editor is on the lookout for clarity, and the logical flow of arguments or plot, making sure the structure and style are workable and consistent. Proofreading, on the other hand, is the final ‘micro’ process of checking there are no spelling, punctuation, capitalisation, grammatical and formatting errors. After a major edit, and maybe a few redrafts, the writing will need to be proofread.

Following a discussion with the author, and a glance through a sample of the writing to be edited, I will be able to establish more accurately the scope of editing required. Does it need a light or extensive edit?

There are two major editing categories:

Structural (developmental or substantive) editing is the most complex stage in the editing process and the most time-consuming for the editor (and obviously the most expensive for the client). Basically, a structural edit involves assessing the flow/structure of the content and suggesting ways it could be improved to ensure it ‘hangs together’ as a whole. I often suggest rearranging sentences to enhance the meaning, or deleting verbose sentences that dilute the effectiveness of an argument in academic writing or the momentum that is building in a fictional plot. Sometimes an entire section of writing may be edited out if the editor deems it repetitive or unnecessary. However, not all manuscripts/documents require a structural edit to reach a publishable standard. Established authors will most often submit written work that only requires copy-editing.

 Copy or line editing involves close scrutiny of the text: correcting any misuse of language, grammar and punctuation; checking spelling; making sure every sentence makes sense. Punctuation is often a bone of contention between author and editor. For example, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with semi-colons, particularly when they’re used in dialogue. And then there is the issue of capitalisation. Individual publications and publishers make their own rules when it comes to decisions as to capitalisation. In non-fiction editing, I find out the nominated style guide. One of the questions I ask is whether the language is to be written using US or UK English. I often get a mix of both (e.g., summarise/summarize).

So, by the time I start reading the first page to be edited, I have already completed step one of the editing process — and I have a good idea of the voice and writing style of the author.

I usually edit the Word document online using Microsoft Word’s Track Changes facility. This means that every change I make is ‘tracked’, and queries/suggestions are inserted as comments in the margin using the Track Changes comments feature.

These days, it is paramount that writing being submitted to publishers for publication, or for consideration of publication, or for public viewing (self-publishing), or for thesis examination, is of a high standard and as error-free as possible. It’s foolish to be less diligent when self-publishing because online reviews can be cruel and unkind, limiting sales on platforms such as Amazon. And grammar Nazis are always on the lookout for something to make fun of.

Self-editing is essential, but it’s hard to be objective. Best to let your writing project sit for a while then edit ruthlessly. Ernest Hemingway once wrote: “Write drunk, edit sober.”

Some writers rely on their publishers (or potential publishers) to undertake the editing on their behalf. I cringe for an author when I find errors that have not been picked up by time-poor publishing editors and proofreaders prior to print publication. For example, in a review (‘Standing up for a Pioneer Feminist’, The Age Spectrum, 28 September 2019) of Kate Kirkpatrick’s ‘Becoming Beauvoir’, the last paragraph would have devastated the author:

Mores change with the times but eternal issues such as freedom and fidelity remain; all the more pity then that so compelling a book has been marred by shameful editing. Typos are numerous, many expressions anachronistic, and the suggestion that Beauvoir and Sartre went to St Petersburg at Christmas to “see the White Nights” an embarrassing howler.

Ouch!

There are writers who believe their prose doesn’t need editing. Every suggested editorial change is painful and they can become defensive, even argumentative. Thankfully, most authors are honest enough to admit that professional editing of their work has improved the overall quality of their writing, not just in the correction of grammar and obvious mistakes, but in the ironing out of any structural and clarity issues which, if not addressed, could result in reader disengagement and a negative response from a potential publisher.

“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you, and we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” — Arthur Plotnik (author with a distinguished background in journalism, editing and publishing; 1937—2020)

 

Editing

If you are ready to have your writing edited, or you would like an appraisal of your writing, whether it is a complete manuscript or a work-in-progress, then please email me via my contact page with a brief overview of your needs.

My editing is based on the Australian Style Manual (ASM) unless an author has been commissioned to write a book using the publishing house style guide. In particular, editing academic writing requires the editor to adhere to the preferred style and referencing of the university department or publisher.

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