Today we have a guest post by Stephanie Boner of Dublin-based Saltwater Publishing, about one of the most crucial aspects of publishing a book, be it traditional or self-publishing: editing. Here, she’ll explain the differences between things like copyediting and proofreading, what happens to a book when it’s being prepared for publication at a publishing house and allays a fear that I often hear self-publishers express—no, an editor isn’t going to correct or change your book, but work with you to make it a better version of itself. So, without further ado, here’s Stephanie:
No matter what changes the advances in technology and printing may bring to the publishing industry, it is the quality of a book’s writing that will always be paramount. A well-written book does not just leap from the mind of the author onto the page; it needs to be sculpted, honed and nurtured.
With the rise in popularity of self-publishing, the role of the traditional publisher is viewed as being increasingly unnecessary. While this in itself may not be such a bad thing, one does not want to throw one’s baby out with the bath water. In other words, while the growing culture of self-publishing has allowed the author new autonomy and control, the necessity of having a good editor is as important today as it ever was.
Of course, the editor does not claim to be more skilled a writer than the author; the most accomplished writers in the world need editors, after all. An editor, however, provides an author with two things. Firstly, as all writers know, writing, especially fiction, is an all-consuming activity. The old hackneyed cliché of the novel being the writer’s baby is an effective one, in that, like a parent, it is difficult to criticise or assess something with which you are so emotionally intimate. An editor approaches a manuscript with fresh eyes, without preconceptions and with the all-important benefit of distance. With their experience and skills, they use this distance to analyse a piece of writing in a way that is simply not possible for the loving parent. They know what works and what doesn’t. They offer ways out of the labyrinth when the writer is facing a dead end. This kind of analysis is not a luxury. It is the essential bridge between the ideas of the author and the demands and expectations of a reader.
Secondly, professional editors are essentially giant nerds. The glee they get from spotting a hyphen that should be an en-dash, or from being asked to explain what an Oxford comma is, might seem a tad pathetic, but they have the necessary skills for assuring the baby doesn’t leave the house with food on his face. So while an author may miss a comma or two, worrying about the nuances and subtleties of plot development and character, the editor can be relied on to wield her trusty red pen and set the world to rights.
When a book is published through the traditional channels, the manuscript is put through a number of processes before it is deemed worthy of the printer’s ink and every self-published work is worthy of exactly the same rigorous process. In the current market, where the number of self-published books is exploding and all traditional publishing houses are turning towards digital publishing, an author must do everything they can to take on the competition.
This process varies dramatically from publishing house to publishing house but generally speaking, once the contract has been signed, the manuscript is designated an editor. This editor reads and assesses the work and gives it a structural edit. This is done either in consultation or in conjunction with the author. There is usually a list of suggestions sent back to the author, advising him to move around some sections, to develop a character, to deal with issues of consistency and so on. Very significant changes may be suggested at this stage or it may be that author and editor are, from the outset, very much on the same page, so to speak.
Once the overall structure and form has been agreed on, the manuscript is copy-edited. This is a much narrower process, focusing on the detail of each line and paragraph of text. At this stage, the editor looks at issues such as tone, syntax, and continuity. They consider the consistency of the speech patterns of the characters, the logic of the sequence of events, anachronisms, repetition and the like. Once this is complete, the author is handed back their new and improved baby to ensure that they are happy with its development and if not, revisions are made.
Finally, in most cases, a new editor comes on board to proofread the copy. This takes place after the text has been formatted for print or eBook. It is a finicky and fastidious exercise, where one is consumed with such geeky issues as word breaks, leading and kerning. Of course, all spelling and grammar is checked again to ensure it is just so. Before the manuscript is sent off to press or uploaded into the ether of the internet, it is given one final going over before we say our tearful farewells and the baby takes its first steps into the big, bad world.
For writers who intend to self-publish, their work is put at an immediate disadvantage if it is not subject to the same process and brought to trade standard. While everyone knows someone who’s good at spotting spelling mistakes and who is willing to throw their eye over something for you in exchange for a pint, it is not quite the same thing. Allowing a manuscript to be assessed and polished by experienced and professional editors, using the tried and tested processes that have stood the test of time in the publishing industry, truly makes the work shine.
Essentially, an editor would not be doing the job they do if they didn’t love books. This love translates into a desire to see books fulfill their potential and therefore editor and author share a common goal. To produce the best book possible, it is imperative that the author and editor enjoy a positive and open relationship. Another hackneyed cliché we hear bandied about is that of the editor taking a sharp scalpel to a manuscript. But in reality this is not at all what we do. We tend to take a much less ruthless and more collaborative approach to a book. It is, after all, the author’s baby.
Established in 2010 by Publishing Directors Stephanie Boner and Maeve Convery, Saltwater is an independent publishing and editorial services company based in Dublin. Along with our trade publications, we specialise in editing and proofreading for authors who intend to self-publish. Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (01) 2449488.