Monday, January 18, 2010

You’re words are god: The importance of an editor

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. If you can raed tihs, psot it to yuor wlal. Olny 55% of plepoe can raed this.

That’s actually pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Which serves to emphasize the importance of having someone else edit your work.

I give a workshop titled “Preparing Your Work to be Seen,” and the point I stress is that you have to have another person, preferably several, read over your finished manuscript.

When you read your own work, you don’t see what is there, you see what you think is there, what you expect to see. Particularly after reading the manuscript for maybe 10 times the eye skips lightly over your prose in much the same way as when you drive a particular route every day and one day have to go someplace else, and wake up about five minutes later to find yourself on the same old well trodden road.

This matters whether you are nervously sending your first attempt off to try to find an agent or a publisher or are submitting the newest MS to your tried and true agent/editor.

If you are approaching an agent or publishing house for the first time you absolutely want to make a good first impression. These people make their living from words; they want to become immediately engrossed in your story, not trying to figure out what the heck you are attempting to say because the commas are in the wrong place. (e.g. eats, shoots and leaves has a vastly different meaning than eats shoots and leaves or even eats shoots, and leaves)

I have an editor’s certificate, which means I know something about grammar and punctuation. I can produce a pretty clean manuscript, but when I get it back from my editor, it is always full of minor corrections (sometimes major ones but that is beside the point). She makes her living from words – typos drive her nuts and she is compelled to search them out and fix them, even though the MS will go to a copy editor. She has published six books by me, yet I still aim to please my editor. I want her to read my thrilling prose, not be correcting my spelling mistakes.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t count on your computer’s spelling program.

You’re words are god, but are they rite.

That phrase passes my spell checker without a raising a single red line.

Think you need to pay an arm and a leg to get a professional editor to review your MS? Of course a professional will do a great job, but that costs money. Almost anyone you know, if they love to read books, is perfectly qualified to review your MS for minor spelling, punctuation, grammar errors. Anyone who can read can tell that the line above is wrong, and can correct it properly. Your reviewer isn’t getting the MS ready for print, just helping you make it as good as you can.


Dana King said...

Something key to remember when paying for an editor: some editors aren't qualified to anything BUT check spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Be careful who you choose. If all you care about is a proofreading, there are a lot of people who can, and will, do that for cheap, or maybe even free, if they're friends.

Vicki Delany said...

Agreed, Dana. If someone is paying money, they should be getting a manuscript evaluation with details of what is not working and why and how it can be improved. I don't think anyone, unless they are writing in a language not their own, or for some reason it HAS to be perfect, should pay for ordinary proofreading of a manuscript.

John Corrigan said...

Great post. I have a mystery fan/copy-editor friend reading my MS as I type this.

Rick Blechta said...

I remember hearing of a university prof who at the end of the editing process would ask students to read his ms. He would pay them $1 per error for every one they found. Then he would revise the ms, hand it out again and pay $5 per error.

His manuscripts were perfect when they were sent back to the publisher for printing.

Dana King said...

I like that. With a daughter in college who can always use a few bucks, that might be just the ticket for me.