To Edit or Not to
by Nann Dunne
Most writers work
hard at self-editing, and thatís the first step on the road to
publication. The cold fact of writing is that in order to get a
publishing contract or get a story accepted for inclusion on an
online site, the work must be the best it can be. Wise publishers
arenít willing to pay the extra expense to have their editors spend
precious time on stories that need a lot of help. Therefore,
the more work the writer does in the earlier stages, the better
his or her chances at publication and the more likely that people
will enjoy reading the story.
But even if you are strong at
self-editing, no matter how unique your story, how captivating your
characters, or how grandiose your theme, you need to have at least
one other knowledgeable person look at your work with an editorís
unbiased eye. Let me put this in red capital letters: A WRITER IS TOO CLOSE TO HIS OR HER OWN WORK
TO SEE EVERY FLAW.
But most beginning writers canít afford the services of a
trained, experienced editor. Thorough editing takes an unbelievable
amount of time and intense effort, so most professional editors
canít lower their charges and still gain fair recompense for their
services. So what are you, the writer, to do? One answer is to
find some good, solid readers who are willing to act as
your "editors." And just what do editors do?
Content, or substantive editors have a knack for story
analysis such as story structure, plot and character development,
pace, continuity, credibility, and tension. Line, or copy
editors show strength in analyzing each line for word usage,
grammar, spelling, sentence structure, paragraph structure, scene
structure, transitions, and consistency. There are overlaps between
the two responsibilities; for example, the structure of sentences,
paragraphs, and scenes can affect a storyís pace, and word usage
affects overall readability. Some editors do both types of editing,
but often they are stronger in one than in the other.
Proofreaders are not editors, though they may notice and
point out editorial issues. A proofreader checks punctuation,
spacing, spelling, and manuscript layout.
A few lucky writers have found good, solid readers sometimes
called first readers, initial readers, or "beta" readersóand perhaps
at least one other writerówho are willing to peruse a work in
progress or in early draft form and make suggestions. Some readers
are stronger than others and deserve the title of "editor," but all
readers can be beneficial in bringing their unique perspectives to
the authorís attention. If you are strong enough, and wise enough,
to handle sincere criticism, this is a great way to improve your
Remember that each person who edits your work needs to be tough
on you. You WANT them to be tough. Anyone can tell you the story is
good. The helpful ones are those discerning souls courageous enough
to tell you what doesnít work. That information alone is a big help,
but if you find someone knowledgeable enough to suggest alternatives
that would work in its place, youíve found an extremely valuable
resource. Count your lucky stars and hold onto her.
you donít agree with every suggestion, you can use each one as
tinder to ignite other ideas in your mind. And DO use them. An
editor or first reader makes a suggestion when something strikes her
as needing fixed. Itís up to you to be cooperative enough to
understand that and find a way to fix it. Donít be so intent on
keeping your own beloved words or nicely turned phrases that you
canít acknowledge their unsuitability.
In an ideal situation, a writer finds readers who have the skills
to examine and analyze a manuscript in the areas needed and who are
willing to donate, or trade, their time. In return for her help, the
reader/editor gets the satisfaction of knowing she has contributed
to the storyís success, plus she gets to see a story in transition
and read the finished manuscript before it goes to a publisher. If
she herself is a writer, you can probably work out a tradeó"You
read for me, and I'll read for you." And I speak from first-hand
experience in saying that initial reading in itself is a great way
to become more conscious of the lapses in your own writing.
Donít be afraid to have an entire cadre of readers. Some may be
good at pacing and flow; others may pick up on continuity or awkward
sentences or places where character is not adequately developed.
Very few editors, much less initial readers, are adept at all
aspects of editing, so a combination of skilled people is helpful in
ways you would never expect.
Does your work need editing? Yes! How you manage to get it edited
is up to you, but donít be so self-satisfied that you wonít admit
you can use help. You run the danger that your writing will remain
at the same level forever. Even big name writers have editors. And
if you sincerely want to move forward, good editors/readers can help
make that possible.
(For a more detailed coverage of what initial readers can do to
help a writer, and vice versa, see the related article in JAWís
Article Archives in the Editing section: "You Can Help Your Beta
© 2004 Nann Dunne
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