Tag Archives: editing

Copy editing 3: ensuring consistency of story

An editor will ensure your writing is grammatically correct, and that punctuation is used accurately, but what else will they do? In this series of posts I’ll be exploring other aspects of the copy editing stage.

The key to a copy editor’s job is ensuring consistency in the writing itself, in the characters and settings portrayed and in the story/piece of writing as a whole. Here I explore what’s meant by consistency of the story.

One important tool for that is the timeline. Laying out actions step by step gives an overall view of the story. This can pick up on problems like six consecutive days at school, an activity on the wrong day of the week, an unreasonable amount of time for an event, or a split timeline where one strand passes two days while the second has only passed one.

Is there a pregnancy that lasts an unexpected amount of time? Is it snowing in the middle of summer? Is there time to make that journey in that way?

As well as the timeline, the editor will be picturing the action and checking it all makes sense. Who is attending this meeting? Who has been sent out, and to where? Who knew that information?

Again, errors can occur even in trad-published books – I know one where a character is sent off on an important errand, only to be joining in the conversation with the main group a few minutes later! Your reader might not notice, but if they do it will jolt them out of the story, and if that happens too often you’ve lost them completely.

If your work has been through a developmental editor, issues like theme, action, tension, balance of showing and telling etc should all have been sorted out, but if anything is still outstanding the copy editor should pick up on it and bring it to your attention.

So at the end of this round, is your book ready for publication?

Well, no. You will need to go through the edited manuscript, check you’re happy with amendments made by the editor, deal with any queries raised or problems that need to be solved, and make any further adjustments that have come to light. So the story should then be complete, but a few errors almost certainly remain, whether because the editor had so much to do that they couldn’t spot every single problem, or because between you adjustments haven’t been made perfectly. Track Changes can leave a document in a mess, and it can be easy to leave problems like incorrect spacing, or have some of your changes create a knock-on effect elsewhere.

So then it’s time for the formatting/proofreading stage.

Copy editing 2: ensuring consistency of characters and setting

An editor will ensure your writing is grammatically correct, and that punctuation is used accurately, but what else will they do? In this series of posts I’ll be exploring other aspects of the copy editing stage.

The key to a copy editor’s job is ensuring consistency in the writing itself, in the characters and settings portrayed and in the story/piece of writing as a whole. Here I explore what’s meant by consistency of characters and setting.

As well as the language itself, your copy editor will be checking the characters. Didn’t that blue-eyed character have brown eyes in the last chapter? Why is that only child talking about her brother? Why is that man arriving on his motorbike then driving two people home?

Is your character Isaac or Issac? Sheila or Shiela? Did you change someone’s name partway through the writing, only to miss one or two occurrences? or even change a character from male to female throughout, but still have them chatting with their male friends in the gents’ toilets?

If his defining characteristic is cowardice, why is he suddenly risking his life to stand up something trivial? If he’s known for his generosity, why is he not being generous this time, when it could be expected? How can he know that character’s name when they haven’t been introduced yet?

If the setting is a bungalow, why is someone walking upstairs? If the bathroom is on the left, why are they now turning right for it? If their garden was described as a perfectly laid out, formal garden, why is someone creeping through the long grass?

Has your town changed names halfway through the story? Is it a town in one chapter and a village in another? Are they travelling on cobblestones in the first half of the book, to have the paths revert to muddy tracks in the second half? Has town C suddenly shifted to being on the road between A and B, rather than beyond B?

Again, the style sheet is a vital tool for checking descriptions and situations and keeping everything straight, and can be passed forward to subsequent projects.

Copy editing 1: ensuring consistency of language

An editor will ensure your writing is grammatically correct, and that punctuation is used accurately, but what else will they do? In this series of posts I’ll be exploring other aspects of the copy editing stage.

The key to a copy editor’s job is ensuring consistency in the writing itself, in the characters and settings portrayed and in the story/piece of writing as a whole. Here I explore what’s meant by consistency of language.

You might think that your writing is consistent, but have you really analysed it?

Some spellings and versions of a word are style issues rather than actual errors. Are you sticking to one version of halfway, half way, half-way, or mixing and matching? Do you use sir or Sir? Is it a rear view mirror, a rear-view mirror or a rearview mirror? Is it the US, the United States or America?

Are you using tenses consistently, or are you mixing up present and past? In writing we tend to use past tense when telling a story, while in spoken language we tend to use present tense: “so I tell him no, and he says…”, so it is easy to get carried away and slip into present tense when a story gets exciting.

Are you using your pronouns consistently? We might talk about “you” or “they” or “it” when discussing some things, so again it’s all too easy to mix them up, with one paragraph talking about what “it” does and the next discussing “them”.

This style sheet can be passed forward to other projects as well, to ensure consistency between as well as within. This helps to avoid mistakes like the shocking one I found in a trad published sci-fi series from a famous author, where in book 1 the author invented a new term that was essential to the plot, making the meaning clear through the story, while in book 2 the spelling had been altered to a familiar word that completely lost its meaning in the story!*

These are just some of the issues around language that your copy editor will look at, building and using a style sheet to monitor decisions made, and then checking that the decision has been applied consistently throughout the work.

*The series is set in a world where everyone lives in space, one family per ship. To avoid issues like inbreeding, it’s the custom to zog a bride from a different ship. In book 2, they were suddenly talking about snogging brides!

What type of editor do I need?

One important question to establish the answer to early on is what level of editing your work needs. Do you need a developmental editor, who can help you work on the structure of your book? Do you need a copy editor, who will make sure it follows a style guide and reads consistently? Or are you at the final stage, where it’s just a proofread to check for remaining errors?

But another important question is what the editor specialises in. There are many different types of writing – fiction, which subdivides by genre; self-help books; technical books; academic writing, and many more. And each editor will have their strengths and weaknesses and preferred types of project.

Personally, I’m well-versed in issues such as plot development, story arcs, and point of view issues, but show me a list of citations and I’ll struggle. For other editors, who are used to working on highly academic or technical texts, fiction might be their weakness.

Each editor will have their usual language to work in, as well. Believe it or not, there are definite differences between UK English, American English and Australian English, for example, and while some editors might well work competently in more than one variety, others will prefer to work in the one most familiar to them, while some localisms might well be overlooked or misunderstood if your editor is not familiar with them.

So when you’re looking for an editor, remember to check what type of writing they are used to editing, or prefer to edit, and then you’re more likely to find your perfect match.

The different types of publishing

Traditional Publishing

A traditional publisher will choose to invest in your work. They will help you to edit and polish your manuscript, organise a cover design and publish the book. They might or might not pay you an advance – a lump sum. Once the book’s royalties earn out that advance (if it ever does), you will receive royalties on sales, but the publisher will take their cut as well. They will almost certainly do some marketing, although they will still expect the author, especially if a first-time author, to do plenty of marketing of their own. They will be very fussy about who they take on – their goal is to run an efficient business. The biggest publishers will only accept work submitted by an agent, not work submitted directly from the author. The advantage of traditional publishing is the power of the publisher to promote the book and get it into bookstores.

Be aware:

If going with a traditional publisher, be aware of their reputation. How much marketing do they do? What quality editing do they provide? What is their quality control like? How fussy are they about who they pick up as an author? The main danger is signing your rights over to a publisher who does very little for you. Using an agent might help with this, but the agent will take a cut as well for the privilege.

Vanity Publishing

Vanity publishing has a bad reputation, but it has its place.  With vanity publishing, you pay the publisher to prepare and print copies of your book. Ideal for those with plenty of money, limited time and the wish to produce a one-off pet project, they are less than ideal for those actually seeking to earn through their writing, as they make their money from their writers and not for their writers. They might charge high prices for their services, and marketing may well be minimal or non-existent. They will probably take a large chunk of any royalties as well. The advantage of vanity publishing is the convenience.

Be aware:

The main danger is paying a large amount of money for services that at best you could have obtained cheaper elsewhere and at worst are poor quality as well.

Self Publishing*

With the ease of publishing these days, some people will finish a draft and immediately publish it, particularly as an ebook, with no quality control and with a cover design that marks the work out as amateur. Unfortunately, these tend to make little money and damage the reputation of ebooks generally, as well as producing a raft of scathing reviews that hurt the author. The advantage of self publishing is that it’s quick, easy and free.

Be aware:

It’s important not to rush a project out with no quality control, damaging your reputation as a writer. All the best-selling authors will have gone through a rigorous editing and proofreading, and professional cover design. That’s what your writing has to compete with if you’re trying to sell it.

Indie Publishing (Independent Publishing)*

An Indie publisher will also publish their own work, but will treat the whole thing as a business, investing in their writing via editing, proofreading, formatting and a professional cover. There are many writers who have chosen to publish independently after being traditionally published. There are some examples (but nowhere near as many) of writers going the other way – of being picked up by a trad publisher after publishing their own work. The advantage of Indie publishing is that the author maintains full control over the project and the end result.

Be aware:

You will need to act as a professional, investigating different editors, finding a cover designer who produces quality covers, and mastering marketing and other ancillary skills. An Indie publisher is a business person, handling all aspects of the publishing trade. It is hard work, but can also be very rewarding. An indie author does not do everything themselves, but engages other professionals to handle aspects of the publishing process, ensuring that each section is handled by someone who understands the job and can do their best for the project.

*Please note:

Not everyone makes the same distinction in terminology between self-publishers and indie publishers. The difference is in the attitude of the author, not in the term itself, but I find the distinction a useful one.

 

 

Alpha reader or beta reader?

Most writers these days are familiar with the concept of a beta reader – someone who reads your work and gives you feedback on it. But what is an alpha reader, and what’s the difference?

An Alpha Reader

An alpha reader is usually a fellow writer, who might be reading the story as you write it, giving technical feedback and helping you to shape the story. They should be familiar with how to structure a story, technical issues such as passive voice, foreshadowing, character development, point of view, etc.

 

An alpha reader is reading a story that could be very raw indeed, maybe even first draft, and needs to be able to look past the rawness to the heart of the story, and give feedback accordingly.

 

An alpha reader is the free equivalent of a developmental edit or full critique. It could be a way to help reduce the cost of developmental editing, but be very careful that your alpha reader is experienced enough to be of real help.

A Beta Reader

A beta reader is a reader. They should not be giving technical feedback, but should be explaining how they relate to the story – where do they get bored? Which bits were most exciting? Which characters do they love/hate? Can they understand the story? Do they get lost anywhere?

 

A beta reader should be reading a story that’s as polished as you can make it. They should be the last step before you pass the work to a professional editor. They might catch typos and other errors, but that is not their job and you should not consider them to be your proofreaders or editors. Instead, they give a reader’s eye view of the story, picking up weaknesses and strong points.

 

Neither type of reader will fully replace a professional editor, and you should still consider paid editing and then proofreading as your final quality control. But these two stages will help to ensure that the product you pass to the editor is as good as you can make it.

 

 

 

How much does self-publishing cost?

This question receives many different answers, from thousands of pounds to nothing. So what’s really going on?

 

First of all, actually publishing your book costs nothing. Uploading files to Amazon and creating either ebook or print version does not involve a fee.

 

But it’s not as simple as that. There needs to be quality control of what you’re uploading. Has your work been reviewed, to ensure that it makes sense, that it’s well written, that it doesn’t contain silly typos or other errors that will put your reader off? Will your cover design attract readers to your book? Is your layout correctly formatted for whatever platform you want to publish on?

 

If you’re self-publishing, then all those quality control issues come down to you. It’s your responsibility to get an editor to go through your work, to get a good cover design done, to ensure the formatting is correct.

 

Some of these you can do yourself, if you have the skills, but editing is one of those jobs that must be done by someone else to be done well; you are too close to your own work, and just can’t see what you’ve actually written as opposed to what you think you’ve written.

 

Even cover design and formatting are worth paying experts for; while anyone can throw a cover together, books are a competitive market, and your book deserves a cover that will attract the reader. Likewise, formatting can be fiddly and frustrating if you’re new to it. Why not spend your time writing, and pay the experts to do their job?

 

There are publishing companies around who offer to do all this as a package deal, for a price. Be very wary of these; generally, they make their money from the services they sell to you, not from their share of the books sold (although they take a good slice of that too). You risk paying a lot of money for services you could have got cheaper separately, and losing control of your book as well.

 

What if you can’t afford to pay an editor, cover designer etc?

 

The answer then is not to just put it out anyway. The quality is likely to be poor, and that will put readers off anything else you write, and weaken the reputation of self-published books generally.

 

Traditional publishing involves a publisher liking your book enough to invest money in it. They keep part of the sales, yes, and you might lose some of the control over your book, but they are the ones who take the financial risk. Remember, if they ask you for money to publish, they are not a traditional publishing company.

 

So in the end it comes down to this: please either be prepared to invest money as well as time in your writing to ensure quality (after all, you’re expecting others to invest money in your books!), or find someone else who is willing to do so.

 

Openings

Within the first page, you need to catch the reader’s attention.

  • What does your character want or need? What’s in the way?
  • What are they like as a person? Does a real sense of personality come across?
  • Is everything happening in a vacuum, or is it solidly grounded in time and space?
  • Is there a sense of direction in your story?
  • Is there a sense of unease, of something wrong?
  • How does the writing flow? Silly errors will put the reader off.

 

 

I’ve finished my novel

I’ve finished my novel! I have a complete, readable story. So now I knock together a cover, upload the cover and Word file to Amazon and hit publish, right?

 

Wrong.

 

Now the real work begins.

 

It’s really important to understand that there’s a continuum in writing. There isn’t any bad/good writing divide. There’s a whole range of qualities between barely readable and compelling writing. Just because you’ve completed a draft, and maybe a friend has enjoyed it, doesn’t mean it’s ready to publish. It means you have something you can work on and develop.

 

In this age where we can literally type “The End” on a draft and then have it for sale within minutes, some people are tempted to do just that. The result is often a barely readable mess, with spelling, punctuation and grammar issues, random tense changes and very odd, distracting formatting and a cover that screams Self Published!

 

If you just want people to read your work, then there are platforms where you can upload it and have a ready-made audience. In fanfiction particularly, writers can upload stories and be inundated with praise. That’s often not because of the writing, but because of the ideas they express about the characters people have already bonded with.

 

If you want people to pay for your work and feel so happy they’ve done so that they’ll tell others, then you need to put in a lot more investment – in terms of time, effort and usually cold, hard cash.

 

I can’t afford it, you might say. That’s where the traditional publishing market comes in. Find yourself a publisher, often via an agent, and they will invest in the writing for you, as long as they feel it’s good enough. Of course, they’ll take their share of the profit for doing so.

 

Failing that, you need to be prepared to put in the effort yourself. This means revising until you can’t see any way to improve it, asking beta readers to help, working on it some more, and then when you’ve taken it as far as you can, you enlist the professionals – the editors, the formatters, the proofreaders, the cover designers.

 

After all, the traditionally published writers expect to be put through such quality control, and they will be your rivals for sales. And you have not only your own reputation as a writer to protect, but the reputation of indie authors as a whole.

 

So now I have a full draft of my novel, I’ll be going back through to beef it up, and then seeking help, and I’ll be saving up for an editor, because even though I’ve studied writing and editing intensively, I know that I’m too close to it to edit my own work. And I’ll be making sure that what I do eventually publish will be the best I can make it, because I want my readers to want more, not to feel they’ve wasted their time and money on an inferior product.

 

 

 

 

Reading as a writer

Stephen King, along with many other writers, is firm in saying that if you want to write, you also have to read a lot. So what can you learn as a writer who reads?

 

There are many books around that teach you who to write better, but one of the best ways to learn is to see the advice in action. You want to master Point of View? Study books to see how they handle it. I have a list of books that I turn to when I want to see how to handle First Person, for example, to see how they deal with transitions between the present tense and the past, or to see how they make dialogue sound like fiction and not memoir, or avoid telling instead of showing. You want to see how books handle description? You want to see how they handle pace? How long a chapter usually is in that genre? How long the book is? Find a book and read it as a writer.

 

There are different levels of reading. Firstly, you learn to read for information and entertainment. Then you start to notice the little tricks that the writer uses to create an effect, or to make a point. Then you reach the point where you can start to use those tricks yourself. How can you expect to use those tricks if you’ve never seen them in use?

 

It’s also useful to make a note of books that use specific techniques – for example, The Martian is a great book to study. It makes use of first person via logs. It makes use of third person when it needs to. And, of course, it was a self-published book that then attracted a contract and a huge movie.

 

Beta reading can work too; sometimes it’s even more informative to see a less polished piece of work, and try to figure out what the issue is. But don’t assume that beta reading is enough. The wider you read, the better, and enjoy what you read. Just keep at least half an eye on the tricks the author uses, and think about whether you can adapt them for your own use.