Since I have been doing a lot of this lately, including Beta reads and formatting, I thought I would discuss the various stages of the editorial process. This is by no means specific to self-publishing; all authors go through an editorial process of some sort, and for some, the process is much deeper than it is for others, and for some it could be a whole lot deeper.
First Reader(s) is normally the person(s) you trust the most. The Person(s) who will give you honest feedback straight out of the gate, understanding that this craptacular mess of paper you have just handed them is a work in progress, and that your mind at that moment is too scrabbled to see it clearly anymore. For me, I have different first readers for different types of stories. For many authors, their first reader is their spouse or best friend, possibly another author they admire and respect.
Beta Readers are people who read a written work, generally fiction, with what has been described as "a critical eye, with the aim of improving grammar, spelling, characterization, and general style of a story prior to its release to the general public." The author or writer, who can be referred to as the alpha reader, may use several "betas" prior to publication. A beta reader, who may or may not be more personally known to the author, can serve as proof-reader of spelling and grammar errors, or as a traditional editor, working on the "flow" of prose. In fiction, the beta might highlight plot holes or problems with continuity, characterisation, or believability; in both fiction and non-fiction, the beta might also assist the author with fact-checking. [Wikipedia]
Manuscript Critique and Evaluation or the Developmental Editor provides an overall assessment of your work. Manuscript critiques generally focus on the broader picture along with adherence to theme, plotting, story arc, and characterization. The primary focus is that the story is balanced and follows the rules of logic within the confines of its world. Does it make sense and is it well written? Often this is the same as a literary critique, and literary theory will be applied to the evaluation, similar to a book review. Generally in today’s publishing climate, this task falls with the Agent first. The Critique partner or Agent/Editor will offer suggestions to improve thematic clarity, expand and contract plotlines, remove areas of implausibility, and deepen characterization. The suggestions made during the critique process usually require substantive editing on behalf of the author or rather, further revision. This is a time consuming process, and the Editor and Author need to work very closely, the relationship between the two is critical here. Sometimes a Beta Reader is qualified to perform this function.
Copy Editing corrects grammar, punctuation and spelling errors as well as logic and continuity problems. The "five Cs" summarize the copy editor's job: Make the copy clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent. Copy editors should Make it say what it means, and mean what it says. Typically, copy editing involves correcting spelling, punctuation, grammar, terminology and jargon, timelines, and semantics; ensuring that the typescript adheres to the publisher's style. Copy editors also add any "display copy", such as headlines and standardized headers, footers. Copy editors are expected to ensure that the text flows, that it is sensible, fair, and accurate, and that any legal problems have been addressed. [Wikipedia] Copy editors are often called “Grammar Nazis” and will tend to have a favourite style manual at their side at all times. Mine is “Words into Type.” Yes, that’s right; I am not a Chicago girl, so sue me.
Line Editing checks each sentence for paragraphing, structure, dialog and word usage to ensure a smoothly flowing document. Oftentimes this can be combined with the copy-editing function.
Proofreading is the final check for typos, punctuation/spelling mistakes, formatting errors and other minor problems. The term proofreading is sometimes used incorrectly to refer to copy-editing. This is a separate activity, although there is some overlap between the two. Proofreading consists of reviewing any text, either hard copy on paper or electronic copy on a computer, and checking for typos and formatting errors. [Wikipedia] Normally this is performed with a proof copy of the work either manufactured or an author printed copy.
Now in the self-publishing world, finding people who can do this sort of editing is a tricky business. All too often authors choose family and friends to act as Beta readers, and in this case, they may not be qualified to give a thorough literary evaluation of the work, they may not be grammatically inclined to catch what a proof-reader would easily, and they are definitely not objective. Many authors try to do it all themselves, but again, you need a second set of eyes, and in the beginning stages you need more than that.
Creativity blossoms behind a closed door, but the revision and polishing stage of the work requires a barn door flung all the way open. It requires beta readers and editors who can remain detached from the author and the story. It requires critical thinking and problem solving, not to mention theoretical knowledge and a firm grasp of the language. Beyond the technical stuff, every editor/beta reader/copyeditor has their own style, and every author should seek out those whose style meshes with theirs. I prefer the blunt, brutally honest, focused on the manuscript style of Editor. Recently over on Writerunboxed.com there was an interesting post discussing editorial services. One of the comments that stood out for me was by Allison Dickson who stated:
19 Mar 2010 at 11:04 am Allison M. Dickson
As someone who does freelance editing, I have had to turn down a few potential clients when I have realized (after previewing their work) that it wasn’t an editor they needed, but an intensive writing class. Or a series of them. As for cost, I try to undercut my competition in order to help writers at least get some help and guidance without spending a small fortune, because I know from experience that writers are often broke and I don’t care to take advantage of that.
One thing I would add here (and one thing I offer to all potential clients) is a free sample. For a novel, I will edit 20 pages free of charge so they can see what they might expect from me. Many of them like what they see, and some don’t. I think in most cases it’s due to expectations. When you think you’re presenting someone your best writing only to get it back looking like someone took to it with a weed whacker, you’re going to feel a little deflated, and possibly antagonized. You will then seek out an editor (or more likely a friend who reportedly “loves” your work) who will be kinder to your ego.
I always urge people to remember that I don’t get paid to pet their egos. My reputation rests in the quality of a finished piece, so I have a vested interest in honesty. It is my job to read their books with the earnest eye of a new reader, without preconceived notions or fears of damaging a friendship.
Now that is the sort of editor Cheryl Anne Gardner likes and needs. That -- very up-front give you the straight shit -- style suits my own personal style and reflects my own editorial style as well. For some writers this will just not work and can cause a great deal of stress for the author and the editor/ agent/whatever and can end in disaster. No one wants to feel mistrusted, or patronized, or bullied ... etc. No one is intentionally acting that way, it's just that perceptions can get a bit skewed when styles don't match up. So if you begin to feel this way about your Editor/Agent/ whatever, then end the working relationship amicably and move on to someone who suits your sensibilities a bit better. The same goes for the Editor/Agent/Whatever. However, please keep in mind, no matter what the editor/agent/ whatever’s style might be, they have a vested interest in the manuscript. Whatever function you have contracted them to do, paying or non-paying, please understand that it’s their work and their reputation on the line. The manuscript is always the author's work, of course, but they have a stake in it too.
As for myself, I write in a variety of genres and can’t always use the same people. For Lit critiques, I normally have Beta readers that are teachers or other authors, and on occasion, I use critique groups. As for the copyediting, I do much of that myself, since I do it all day long at my day job. However, I am prone to missing things. Stare at a manuscript long enough, and you go blind to a degree, so I have three different software packages I use for grammatical checks, and I also have a live person final proof-reader. Even then, one or two stray commas or some other fiddly thing will get through. I also try to choose editorial staff based on my writing style: People who are well read in my genre and style. Someone who loved Twilight is probably not going to be a good Beta reader/editor for my work. This goes the same for choosing a reviewer: You want a qualified reviewer in your style and genre. No sense having a Romance only Reviewer read your Bizarro Science Fiction Novel, unless of course, Bizarro Fiction is their other personal favourite. My first questions to potential editors/beta readers are: who do you read, what style manual do you prefer, and how do you feel about the Oxford comma?
Every author is different, every book is different, and every editor is different. The process can be as simple or as elaborate as it needs to be, and selecting the appropriate services and collaborators is not a pick off the menu type of deal. If you have trouble with critical commentary, then you are not ready for the editorial process just yet. Hang back, keep revising, and start networking with people already involved in the process so you can get a good handle on what to expect before you turn your pages over. The same goes for reviews. Choose your reviewers carefully, and make sure you can handle a critical review before you submit. Don’t make it personal.
I work day in and day out in an editorial capacity. I am an author and also a reviewer. I am also human: An imperfect dysfunctional human with artistic sensibilities. I can tell you, no matter what side of the editorial process you are on, none of them are easy.
On that note: For the last many months, I have been involved in simultaneous writing, editing, formatting, and reviewing projects for numerous people including my own personal writing. I have reached burn-out state. I am exhausted. I need to decompress. Next week is vacation for me, so my posts will be limited. I need some time unplugged every once and a while, and next week, with Earth Day coming, is looking to be a good week for me to reconnect with the dirt.
Happy writing, editing, and reading to all.
Cheryl Anne Gardner