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There are a lot of rules for good writing, and good editors know all of those rules. Editors take writing and editing classes, read books, and go to conferences to help them better understand how to create a good book.
If you want to produce a great book, however, you need a great editor, and great editors know when and why to break the rules. There aren’t a lot of classes that teach you how to do that, though, so exactly how does an editor hone those rule-breaking skills?
The word “editor” elicits a strong response—whether positive or negative—from most authors.
Likewise, good or bad experiences working with certain authors stick with editors for years.
Those of us who have worked on both sides of that equation gain a unique perspective. From day one, the editor can take steps to strengthen his or her relationship with the author. In fact, what a great opportunity to employ a Christ-like model.
Mark 10:45a: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”
A Dozen Do-s for Editors who want to be that servant leader:
- Introduce yourself. In the initial e-mail, include where you live, what your family is like, and a few interests. This paints a picture of a real human rather than a stock image of the author’s eighth grade English teacher with a red pen in her hand.
- Are you also an author? Share that. It’s a relational plus, not a minus.
- If your publisher allows, or you’re independent, consider giving the author a little control by offering to send edits in one, two, or three batches.
- If you’re running late on edits, communicate. Wouldn’t it be better for the author to know that you had to help your mom who just got out of the hospital than assume that you’re overbooked or just … slow?
- When you deliver the first round of edits, consider preceding those with an e-mail. Track change markings can take aback even a seasoned author. And an emerging author may need a quick primer to avoid panic.
- Give a few specifics you liked about the story, letting the author know you recognize his or her strengths. You may also take the opportunity to share areas you’ll help move the story from good to great.
- In the e-mail, mention the types of edits you made on a repeated basis. In the manuscript, explain the first time, then use a simplified term to identify repeated edits (like “POV” to remind the author to stay in deep point of view). Clarify changes made to comply with your style manual. This can help an author self-edit in the future.
- Let the author know if you are expecting him or her to click to accept or reject every track change, and if you want them to explain their reason for rejecting. Not being clear can mean a whole lot of clicking left to you.
- Comment throughout the manuscript on positives. Statements such as “this is the type of active voice I’m looking for” or “great hook” let the author know when they’re hitting the target.
- If you are working under a managing editor, copy him or her on all but minor communications. That avoids misunderstandings, provides documentation should a conflict arise, and allows the ME to chime in if there’s a need.
- Before the second round of edits, prepare the author that fresh changes might arise from moving and adding text in the first round and issues that weren’t visible when marking the biggest things. This is the chance to beef up or trim and polish the story.
- Connect on social media. View the partnership as ongoing. Become one of the most vocal proponents for book release. Your relationship should be mutually beneficial and can open further doors for both of you.
Past betrayal has turned John Kliest’s passion to his work as a builder and surveyor in the Moravian town of Salem, North Carolina. Now, to satisfy the elders’ edict and fulfill his mission in Cherokee Territory, he needs a bride. But the one woman qualified to record the Cherokee language longs for a future with his younger brother.
Clarissa Vogler’s dream of a life with Daniel Kliest is shattered when she is chosen by lot to marry his older brother and venture into the uncharted frontier. Can she learn to love this stoic man who is now her husband? Her survival hinges on being able to trust him—but they both harbor secrets.
The tragic death of Shelby Dodson’s husband—her partner in a successful Home Network house flipping business—stole love, status, and career. Now a bungalow redesign thrusts Shelby into the company of a new contractor. Scott Matthews remembers high-and-mighty Shelby from high school, and her prissy, contemporary style goes against his down-to-earth grain. When the house reveals a mystery, will its dark secrets—and their own mistakes—cost a second chance at love?
Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s a managing editor for Smitten Historical Romance and Heritage Beacon Historical Fiction imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of The Georgia Gold Series, The Restoration Trilogy, and a number of novellas, including Across Three Autumns of Barbour’s Colonial Backcountry Brides Collection. Her contemporary romance, Fall Flip, and a historical, The Witness Tree both release September 2019 with LPC.
What is Proofreading?
Proofreading is usually the last step in the publishing process. It is the final analysis of the visual and content levels of a document after it has evolved from various cycles of revision and has been finalized by a content editor. By the time a document reaches the proofreader, corrections of sentencing and word usage have already been addressed. Having gone through a thorough review to tidy up text via a focus on style, content, punctuation, grammar and consistency of usage via copyediting, proofreading is the final polish that ensures that the document is finally ready for publishing.
Though proofreading reflects no real editorial authority, proofreaders mark-up documents for typesetters, editors, and authors to reference for additional changes. In addition to immediate errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation and other language misuse, proofreading includes a final check to ensure all elements of the document are included and in proper order, all amendments have been inserted, and that the house/style guide has been followed.
Get the Skills
What do publishers look for in a top-notch proofreader? Below are a few frequently noted skills to cultivate:
- Proofreading symbols and abbreviations
- Knowledge of the publishing process and industry
- Style or house manual(s)
- Publisher’s preference for a descriptive or prescriptive approach to the application of grammatical rules
- PDF editing tools for digital editing
- Microsoft Word’s track changes
- Hyperlinking when working with website content
- Excellent command of written English
- Specialization in a specific subject, though not absolutely necessary
- Above average eye for catching typos, punctuation, and formatting inconsistencies
- Patience for the long, slow process required to review a document from word-to-word to paragraph-to-paragraph
- Communication, communication, and more communication
- Self-starter with the ability to work well independently
- Ability to juggle and meet multiple deadlines
- Relationship-building and management
How Do I Know I’m Good?
Want to test your current level of proofreading acumen? Most publishers will extend a proofreading and or copyediting test within their new hire/candidate review process. Some will assign a proofreading project as a task to entry-level new hires to ensure fundamental editing skills are in place. If you want to get an idea of what this testing may entail, here’s a 20-question online proofreading test from UK-based Society for Editors and Proofreaders.
Carol Saller, the author of The Subversive Copy Editor and contributing editor to The Chicago Manual of Style blogs about “the second-most common* fatal error that candidates make” when taking the test her office administers when hiring at the entry level. She notes that, “…the fatal error candidates make on the test: that is, their failure to understand the concept of proofreading.” Wannabe Editors: Can You Pass a Proofreading Test?
How to Get Trained
The PEN Institute has group courses and lesson packs that cover the how to of proofreading and how to provide serves as a freelancer as well. Below are the 2019 group course offerings. Each group course has a corresponding lesson pack. lesson packs include the same lesson materials as the group courses but are self-guided without the online discussion or instructor feedback.
August 19–September 23, 2019
Registration opens June 19, 2019
- Establishing Your Freelance Business 101
September 23–December 9, 2019
Registration opens July 23, 2019
- NF Copyediting and Proofreading Boot Camp 401
October 14–November 18, 2019
Registration opens August 14, 2019
Since finding The Christian PEN during a prayerful search in 2015, Sharon Ford has been more than blessed by the wisdom, camaraderie and opportunities she’s found with her PEN family. When she joined, she jumped at the chance to volunteer and support this new found oasis in hopes that she’d learn and grow in preparation for a long mulled over career change. After many classes and months of support from the PEN and PEN Institute courses, she launched her freelance business, Tidy Up Content Services, late 2018!
My younger sister is a teacher. She often gives directions, then has to repeat them, then has to explain them (as high school students aren’t necessarily known for their listening skills). Because of that, she’s gotten into the habit of repeating and overexplaining things when she talks to her family and friends. It’s not uncommon to hear something like this:
We need to leave the house by three so we don’t get stuck in rush hour traffic. Rush hour is usually between four and six, and that’s when traffic is the heaviest because everyone gets out of work at the same time. It can take twice as long to drive through rush hour, so we need to leave the house by three.
That kind of over explanation works in small doses, but even those of us who know her well have to occasionally remind her that we don’t need step-by-step instructions for everything. People who don’t know her can feel insulted by the repetitiveness (as if she thinks they aren’t smart enough to understand what she’s talking about).
What does this have to do with novel writing? Everything!
Why? Because new authors tend to overexplain and repeat everything to make sure the reader knows what’s going on. Instead of making things clear, however, the readers (like people who don’t know my sister) often feel insulted (and bored) as they reread the same information over and over again.
How do you make sure you’re not overexplaining (and insulting your reader)? Here are two ways you can trust your reader more:
- Don’t explain the obvious. There are a lot of ways writers do this. Some are on the smaller scale. For example, she clapped her hands—you can delete her hands because she wouldn’t clap her feet. A larger scale explanation would be something like the rush hour example. The majority of people know what rush hour is. There’s no need to explain it. The few people who don’t understand it will look it up.
- Don’t repeat the details. After you introduce a character with blue eyes, you don’t have to mention those details every time she shows up on the page. Another point-of-view character might notice her eye color the first time he sees her, but there’s no reason to mention them in every scene she’s in. The reader will remember. The same is true for her age, hair color, height, etc. (A couple of reminders throughout the story are fine, but mention these details too many times and the reader will start skimming.)
Start looking for and keeping track of these things (e.g. how many times do you mention your characters’ ages?) and you’ll not only tighten your writing, you’ll keep the reader engaged and wanting more.