In addition to writing fiction and nonfiction, I provide editing services for writers. Recently, I came across an excellent book I believe every writer should read before hiring an editor, maybe even before writing a book. Editor, writer, book coach, teacher and speaker Stacy Ennis wrote The Editor’s Eye–A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Book from Good to Great because many “authors have a limited understanding of the editing process. Most of the time, they see editing as a vague, unpleasant, and slightly mysterious step that happens along the way.”
I love Stacy’s sense of humor as well as her easy-to-read writing style. She clearly explains the four stages of editing—developmental, substantive, copyediting and proofreading. “Each stage of editing acts like a different lens through which your work is viewed. At each stage, a different aspect of the work is brought into focus and under scrutiny.”
From personal experience, I know how crucial all phases of editing are to my work. Before substantive editing, both of my fiction books had holes in the plot, several weak characters and not-always-believable action. In addition, even though I’m an editor, my writing requires copyediting and proofreading by others because my mind can fill in missing words, skip wrong punctuation, overlook misspellings, etc.
Even so, self-editing is crucial and I check my work again and again. Stacy doesn’t let authors off the self-editing hook, and neither does Stephen King. The Editor’s Eye quotes him as saying: “If you haven’t marked up your manuscript a lot, you did a lazy job. Only God gets things right the first time. Don’t be a slob.” Learn punctuation and grammar, reread and rework your writing to make it say what you meant it to say in a readable fashion.
The author shows writers how to determine their editing needs even before they begin writing a book. “Two of the biggest mistakes first-time authors make are approaching writing without assessing their needs and writing their books alone.” If I had enlisted the services of a developmental editor when I wrote my first fiction book, I have a feeling it would have taken me months rather than years to write the book. I wrote and rewrote—and then rewrote some more.
When asked what two or three things she’d do differently if she was beginning her publishing career today, author Krista McGee said in a Novel Rocket blog interview, “I would read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers before I wrote one word. I would attend writer’s conferences and join a writer’s group. In short, I would get as much preventative help as I could!” Writers all need preventative help.
The Editor’s Eye provides insight into the entire writing process. How to plan a book is discussed, along with interview and research tips. Stacy also talks about a writer’s need for discipline, routine and goals plus patience as he or she works through the revision process. In addition, the book details the different publication options available to authors today.
An important chapter of the book is titled “Hiring and Working with an Editor (or, Why Your Editor Is Your Book’s BFF).” According to the author, “A skilled professional editor can take your book from good to great with the following skills: a precision with words and language, an uncanny sense of good structure and narrative, attention to detail, and an ability analyze for audience and purpose.” Pitfalls good editors catch and correct include overstuffed writing, imprecise writing, fuzzy thinking and faulty logic, unfocused writing, author biases and presumptions, as well as unclear scenes, dialogue and characters.
The book provides guidance for interviewing editors, negotiating a contract and working with your editor. As a freelance editor, I appreciate the instruction to authors to not reveal too much about their books to their editors. I want to meet the book like readers do, as if I’d just borrowed it from the library or purchased it at a bookstore. That way, I don’t have preconceived ideas that might influence my analysis. The equivalent of a back-cover blurb is sufficient information. Stacy says that “Typically, an editor will need to know three things to be able to carefully evaluate your work: the topic of the book, the intended audience, and the purpose of the manuscript.”
Consider your partnership with your editor a collaborative effort to make your book the best it can be. Be open to feedback but “own” your work. “There is a fine line between coachable and apathetic; your job as the author is to be open to changes yet still take ownership of your work.” Stacy’s “favorite authors are the ones who are open to suggestions yet care enough about their work to carefully evaluate feedback and make the necessary changes and revisions.”
Take the mystery and fear out of the editing process. Pick up a copy of The Editor’s Eye today (available in ebook and paper formats):
for aspiring authors and as a coach for women transitioning from prison to life on “the outside.”
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