The Craft of Editing

June 29, 2010

Some writers think of editing as a necessary evil they have to deal with if they want to sell their writing. Others embrace working with their editors because they’ve had good experiences with editors improving the writing.

So what’s the difference? If an editor changes your writing to reflect the editor’s viewpoint or style preference, that’s not a good thing. If an editor comes to your writing with the reader in mind, you’ve got the basis for a good editing experience.

But editing is more than that. Editing also entails following standards–Chicago Manual of Style for books, Associated Press Stylebook for periodicals, and APA (American Psychological Association) for most academic work (although there are other manuals for academic work as well).

When you hire an editor, make sure you check that the editor you hire knows which manual to use and uses the correct one in editing your work. Anyone can say he/she is an editor. In fact, many writers hire English teachers/professors as editors. This may or may not be a good practice, depending on the teacher’s familiarity with when to use which manual. Just because someone knows a verb from a preposition doesn’t make that person an editor–it makes them knowledgeable in that one part of the craft of editing.

You also want to be clear about what type of editor you’re hiring. If you want grammar and punctuation edited, you’ll want to hire a copy editor. If you want content and clarity edited as well, you’ll want to hire a content editor. If you simply want someone to look for typos and check spelling, you’ll want to hire a proofreader.

All of these are part of the craft of editing. But, just as you don’t go to a pediatrician for cardiac care in the elderly, you don’t want to hire the wrong editing expert.

Connecting with an editor you can work with and who respects your voice can make or break your writing career. Whether you’re looking for someone to slash and burn your text down to bare bones (technical writers may be looking for this type of help) or creating fiction that requires an eye for content and timing and detail, you can find the right editor for you.

Happy writing!

Good Editors Ask These Questions

June 4, 2010

I was looking at a publisher’s website the other day. It was a publisher who advertises itself as a “self-publisher,” which is a misnomer unless the only author that publisher publishes is himself. That made me wonder how accurate that publisher was in other aspects of publishing, so I clicked around and discovered that they “edit as needed.”

That allows all sorts of leeway in what one can expect from their editors.

Writers deserve better and here’s a list of  questions good editors ask when editing a manuscript.

  • How clear is the author’s message to the reader (sentence by sentence)?
  • What does the reader need to know and does this sentence meet that need?
  • Am I suggesting this revision because that’s how I would say it or because it improves the author’s voice and clarity?
  • Have I consulted the appropriate manual (Chicago Manual of Style for books, Associated Press Stylebook for periodicals) regarding the suggested change?
  • Have I done my best to verify facts or references I thought needed verification?
  • How well did I proofread (typos, spelling, capitalization)?
  • Have I examined every punctuation mark?
  • Have I considered legal issues regarding quoted material, allegation, etc.?
  • Have I looked for overuse of favorite words, sexism, ethnocentrism, etc.?
  • How does the organization work overall for the piece?

The next time you get your piece back from your editor, you’ll be able to tell if your editor asked these good questions by the changes suggested. If your editor did not, you may want to look for a new editor.

Happy writing!

Remember to Get Permission to Use Other People’s Stuff

June 1, 2010

If you’re borrowing stuff written (which means presumably owned) by other people, you’ll want to get permission to use their intellectual property in your work.

While I’m not an attorney and am not giving any legal advice here, I am trying to make you aware that you cannot just take other people’s writing (including song lyrics) and plunk their words into your writing.

There’s no specific number of words or other easy measure of what you can quote without permissions, so err on the side of protecting yourself from legal action by asking for permission or talking to an intellectual property attorney prior to using copyrighted material.

Some things you may need permission for:

  • song lyrics
  • quotations from literary works
  • illustrations
  • long passage of text

You don’t want to be the next author making news because you “inadvertently used someone else’s words” in your article or book, as happened in 2002 to well-respected, Harvard-connected historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. (NOTE: You’ll have to click past the intro  to the site to get to the Forbes’ article.)

When looking for permission, be aware you need to obtain it from the copyright owner, as no one else can grant it.

Works deemed in the public domain can be used as you wish, but professionalism requires you provide attribution and give your reader your resource. However, as long as you’re not trying to deceive your reader that the information you’re using from a public domain source is original with you, you don’t have to give credit. Still, I can’t imagine any professional, ethical writer who wouldn’t. Why risk a fraud charge?

Fair use is one of those concepts that’s hard to pin down. As I said, there’s no specific word count, which makes sense since written material comes in different lengths.  It is my understanding that the key thing to look for in determining fair use is whether or not you’re infringing on the copyright owner’s ability to market (and profit) from his/her original work. If you offer the main point, if you offer the slogan, if you offer the poem or song lyric, you may be doing just that, no matter how many words you’re using.

When in doubt, ask an attorney or get permission. If you guess something’s fair use and you guess wrong, you’re setting yourself for a copyright infringement case and you don’t need that.

Happy writing!