So a few months ago, JL and I were emailing back and forth about “who would really want to hear what I say.” Both of us of the opinion that someone would want to hear what the other would have to say and not what we ourselves would say. Out of that email trail came my promise to write a blog entry for JL to use on editing. Now, remember this is all JL’s fault.
I should probably start off with, who am I? I’m Kris Jacen, one of the editors for ManLoveRomance Press (www.mlrpress.com) and I also do all the final layouts for the press. Which authors do I work with? I have the privilege of working with many of the MLR authors: Victor J. Banis, Ally Blue, Kimberly Gardner, Jason Edding, J.P. Bowie and Jeanne Barrack are some of my authors. I also had the privilege of donating my editing and layout services to a phenomenal anthology, I DO, in which all the proceeds will be donated to the Lambda Legal fund to overturn Prop 8 in California (it’ll be out in January 2009). Some fantastic names in both m/m and f/f publishing are in the anthology: Alex Beecroft, P.A. Brown, Charlie Cochrane, Cassidy Ryan, Zoe Nichols, Marquesate, and Sharon Maria Bidwell to name a few of the twenty authors. Now that you’ve got a little background on me, let’s start.
What makes a good editor? What makes a bad one? Why is it really important to use one? And most importantly, how does this editing thing work?
First, let’s start off with why you should use one. Aside from the obvious of someone else’s eyes on your precious words (and trust me, editors know how much you’ve sweat over those words), a good editor will work with you to improve your words and maybe even the story line. Having that ‘outside your head’ view of what you’ve written is important. I don’t know of any publishing house, electronic or print, (not counting self-publishing venues) that release a story without at least minimal editing from their staff.
Should you rely completely on your editor? Please don’t. Trust me; we love you, we love your work but using beta readers (that would be someone that you trust to tell you where you’ve lost it) is a good step in becoming a good writer. Most good writers have a group of beta readers or, even better, critique partners that they use as sounding boards. Picture scenes you’ve seen on TV or in the movies of screenwriters; there is a group (yes, GROUP) of writers sitting around a table somewhere bouncing ideas off of each other – that is your crit partners or your beta readers and you.
What makes an editor good or bad? What makes a writer good or bad? Please remember here, this part is solely my opinion on good or bad. A good editor will read your manuscript and work with you to improve any weaknesses that they see WITHOUT losing the author’s or character’s voices. I am a big believer in retaining as much of the author’s voice as possible. What does it mean I sacrifice to have this? Grammar. Yes, it is important to be as close to grammatically correct as you can be but let’s face it, most people don’t speak or write grammatically correct. If you stopped five people on the street and asked them to give you an example of a present past participle, how many do you think could do it? Not many, maybe one? Now, that’s not to say that glaring grammatical issues are left in the manuscript; they are just reworked until the MEANING of what was written is still there but the big issues are gone.
A bad editor, remember opinion here, wants you to fix the issues their way and only their way. They won’t necessarily care about how you’ve written something, just that it doesn’t work for them so it goes or the story doesn’t get published. Another sign of bad editor (opinion again), they don’t do anything to the manuscript even though there are glaring errors and I’m talking easily researched errors that should be picked up on and fixed. For example, if you plan on writing a story and one of the characters is in the military, please do your research. Don’t put SEALs stationed at Fort Bragg. Won’t happen, wrong service! You want a character at Fort Bragg? Needs to be someone in the Army not Navy. Little facts are important and are something that your editor should pick up on if you’re beta reader/crit group didn’t.
Now that I’ve blabbered on about my opinion on good and bad editors, how does this editing process actually work? The basic process is the same no matter which editor you work with. Once a manuscript is accepted for publishing (and the contract signed), off you go with an editor. Now, I can only speak to MLR’s process but I think it’s basically the same across the publishers. Most editors will have read your manuscript and given their opinion on the manuscript prior to the offer being made; you most likely will see recommendations from them in your acceptance letter. Then it’s up to you and the editor how it works.
Some editors have specific mark ups that they will share with the author from their review, others don’t. Some editors want the author to take the feedback, tweak the manuscript and then they’d do a markup copy with track changes and comments. What are track changes and comments you ask? Most editors work in some form of MS Word and using the reviewing features in the software. Depending on the author and the editor (and the state of the manuscript) this could be an easy back and forth, once or twice, or could be a more involved process. Please be prepared, the manuscript that you sweated over and the manuscript that finally gets published won’t match. Another, be prepared; as much as you might think that the manuscript is done, work with your editor on it. With most publishers, the editor has the last say in when a book goes “to print.” Once you and your editor, who you hopefully will become friends with, decide that the manuscript is good to go there are more steps. Line editors and proof readers. Why are they important? After a few passes even the best editor can miss things. Line editors are (in my mind) ‘editors-light.’ Proof readers are the last step and they are the ones looking for the last misspellings, the missing quotation marks or periods or commas. Your editor will review the line editor and proof reader comments/mark ups before you see them. Then it’s done! Yes, the editor will send it on to formatting and you’ll get your copies. On to the next story, the process begins.
Hopefully this gives you a little insight into editors and how they work. What to remember from this all? The manuscript that you submit and the one that get published, won’t match word for word – the story will be there but might have a few more (or less) twists than you had at the beginning. And most importantly, a good editor wants to help you make your story the best that you two as a team can put forth, not rewrite your story for you.