That’s always a fun word. A lot of times, editing is seen as fixing errors. This is true, but that is only one part of editing. It is through proper editing that storytelling should be strengthened.
Too many errors in spelling and grammar and can ruin a story, but they are only one piece of the puzzle. Good editing also focuses on the content of a story. Writing can be perfectly clear of typos and formatting errors, yet still be diminished by poor storytelling. If a story is drowning in contrivances, caricatures, plot holes, repetition, info dumps, clichés, and pacing the story will suffer just as much from problems in these areas than if it were full of mistakes
Understanding that proofreading and content editing are two different things will help you grow as a writer. Both are important and both require practice. I consider myself a good content editor, but I hate proofreading. I miss things. Being good at both content editing and proofreading is a goal.
A lot of times we see people (including myself) say things like “with more editing the errors can be cleaned up.” I think because of this, many people come to believe that editing is proofreading and nothing more. This way of thinking and talking about editing does a disservice to a lot of people who are publishing their books.
Proofreading is a skill. It’s a difficult job to read thousands of words and clean up all of the typos. Similar to math, not everyone is good at proofreading and some people have a natural aptitude. Practice is always key but some people will always be better at finding mistakes.
How do you practice proofreading? Watching what others write for errors is one way. Picking up errors, whether you point them out or not, will help you. Another way to proofread is to change your format. If you always work on the computer, print out a chapter and read it on paper. Change the margins and look at small chunks at a time. It takes time and effort.
Studying language also helps your proofreading. Learning the rules for commas, dialogue, paragraphs, sentences, and other punctuation will strengthen your writing. If you feel shaky in any of these areas there are many resources online to help you.
Editing content is where you look at the story itself and try to make it better. It requires you to look at your work from different angles. One type of content editing is the commonly talked about word count. Using as few words as possible to tell your story helps with the pacing.
Pacing is a key element to storytelling and is what helps your reader follow along with the narrative and stay interested. With the wrong pacing your story moves either too fast or too slow. The reader either feels they are being dragged along without having a chance to catch their breath, or they are drowning in muck as they try to push through to the end.
Cutting is another type of content editing. Content editors are the ones who rip your heart out of your chest with phrases like “this scene needs to be cut” and “this character servers no purpose to the plot.” Cutting also helps with pacing. Bogging your reader down with too much, repetitive, or irrelevant information leaves the reader feeling bored and confused with the direction of a story.
A content editor should also be able to point out a contrivance or a caricature; both of which make stories unbelievable and result in a loss of emotional investment. Stories require emotional investment to be enjoyable. If a reader can’t feel emotionally and intellectually attached to the characters and their situations, they give up and stop reading
Suggesting changes to these types of situations are not meant to be hurtful, but are to help the author create the best story they can.
Hiring an Editor
For financial reasons, I do not hire an editor. This is my choice and, good or bad, I understand the consequences.
If (or when) I ever hire an editor, it will be important to interview editors the same way I would interview a potential employee for a company. Asking what type of editing they offer is key. Will there be content editing or just proofreading? This is important knowledge before giving someone your money.
You may think you’ve hired an excellent editor, but they only proofread. Alternately, your editor may help you with content but (like me) not be the best at proofreading. If they only do one type of editing, it’s good to know that in advance. If you only need one type, this might not be an issue. If you need both, then that might mean more cost to you, and you might want an editor that does both. Finding out if they recommend someone else to do the proofreading or content editing is also important, or you may need to find another editor on your own.
I would also want to see other works by an editor before I hired them. If I pick up a book and read it only to find it’s a mess, that’s a bad sign. If an editor won’t tell you what they’ve worked on, then that’s also a bad sign.
Beta readers are an excellent tool for helping you gauge where your story is at, but they can also be a pitfall. They are not editors and should not be treated as such. Sometimes a beta reader might offer to proofread. Perhaps they enjoy doing this, but it should never be an expected service.
The point of the beta reader is to give you a general idea of audience response. If the only person you give your work to is your Aunt Mildred and she loves everything you do, this is not really a beta reader. It can be hard to find people who will read and give you the feedback you need. I have very nice beta readers and they give me good audience style feedback, but ultimately they do not give me in depth feedback that I would get from another writer or editor, even when I ask them direct questions.
This is why you can’t rely on beta readers to know, for a fact, that your story is well edited. The only way is to find readers who are also writers or editors, too, or people who take beta reading seriously rather than just doing it as a favor.
A creative partner is another writer that reads your work and you read their work. You give each other feedback. Having a solid creative partner is a good way to gauge your writing through constructive criticism, which can include pointing out errors or problems with the content. You still need to be aware that not every writer is good at both. Knowing your creative partner’s strengths and weaknesses is just as important as when you hire an editor.
I didn’t have a creative partner for Darkness Falling, but having a creative partner is something I wouldn’t shy away from. It is important to find the right person or people to ensure collaboration is beneficial for everyone in the group.
You Can Always Fix Things
One of the bonuses to being self-published is that you can always go back and fix things when you do receive feedback. For example, I’ve received some feedback that Book One has typos and I’m doing another round of proofreading to find them.
Even professionally published works have errors at times, but traditional publishing means rounds of books are printed with errors and they cannot be changed. This is one perk to being self-published over going the more traditional route.
As self-published authors we all need to strive to make our product the best it can be, because we already face stigma. Being aware of your own pitfalls is a good first step to improving your work. With that in mind keep writing, keep practicing, and don’t give up!
Thank you for reading and if you have anything to add please do so in the comments!