In our How I Write series, our Crime Cymru authors share their insights into the writing process. This week, GB Williams talks about the importance of editing and of working with a good editor.
Red for Right
Every reader, and every good author, knows that good editing is as vital as good writing. Writing starts the process; editing is essential to getting it right. Editing is all that red pen that points the way for getting it right. Being edited can be painful. Editing your own work to the fullest extent is an impossibility.
While a few readers scream about that last sentence, let’s examine why it was said. Self-editing is a hugely important part of the author’s process. It should be the very first step after writing a first draft. But, because the author knows what should be on the page, there’s a good chance that they will read what should be on the page and not what is on the page. It’s equally likely that they are seeing what never made it to the page. A second or third set of eyes is needed to pick up on those faded and lost factors.
Picking an editor can be difficult, an author needs to find an editor who understands what they are trying to achieve, preferably one with experience in the genre the author works in. If under a publishing contract, the author may not have choice, the publishing house may assign an editor without consultation.
However, if the author is independent, they may wish to employ an editor to help them polish their book into a form acceptable for submission or self-publication. There are a lot of freelance editors out there, check the internet, many have websites, which will set out their services. Ask other authors, word of mouth is important, read testimonials if you can. Some editors may even offer a limited free sample edit – though some don’t – so be wary of expecting one. Remember that editors have to make a living too and free samples take away from earning time. An author may have to work with a couple of different editors to find the right one for them.
There’s also something about editing that people rarely talk about. The editor is there to be a friend to the work, not a friend to the author. The author’s parent might happily say how everything is perfect and they should go straight to print, it’s highly unlikely that an editor will say that on the first pass.
Remember that comments from an editor are there to help the author improve the piece and aid their understanding of reader reaction to it. Consider every comment, some the author might completely disagree with, however, if one reader thinks a thing, there’s a good chance that others will. Sometimes it may mean tweaking a word, other times it will mean changing a whole story thread. Call the editor any foul sweary names that come to mind, but (a) don’t share those words with the editor or where the editor might see them, and (b) don’t just ignore the editor. Think about the comment or correction. Consider if changes should be made based on that comment or correction. Remember that in all cases the editor is seeking to improve the work, not shoot it down. Only when the author is one hundred percent convinced that the editor is wrong, has slept on it, and woken up still convinced of wrongness, only then can the author ignore the editor completely. Remember, the work is the author’s, the author must be happy with it.
And another thing, there are rules to grammar, some rules which must not be broken, usually singular versus plural, or those involving past, future and present tense. There are equally things that people think are rules which actually aren’t. Conjunctions can start sentences; infinitives can be split. Some will complain about the grammar, but they tend to be armchair experts rather than those who’ve studied it. For many, this author included, as long as the text is clear and readable, that is the most important thing. Remember as well, that grammar evolves over time. Modern usage can counter archaic rules – note the ‘can’, doesn’t mean they always will. But an editor can advise on these things.
And when it comes to the rules of writing, if the author wants to start a story on a cold dark stormy night, then start the story on a cold dark stormy night, just know that the editor is likely to put a red pen through it.
The most important message here is this:
Editors are here to help, it’s what we do.
If you want to learn more about the editing services GB Williams offers, see GB Williams-editor.
You can order GB Williams’ books on her Amazon page.