For guidance, I turned to the authority, the Chicago manual. Yet even that widely accepted all-knowing guide doesn’t make a distinction among editing levels: “Manuscript editing, also called copy editing or line editing, requires attention to every word and mark of punctuation in a manuscript, a thorough knowledge of the style to be followed, and the ability to make quick, logical, and defensible decisions.”New authors are often confused about what level of editing they need, and rightly so. I hope to offer insight into the differences between line editing, copy editing, and proofreading.
Authors, especially indie authors who aren’t used to the multiple editing cycles their work will go through at a major publisher, often consider hiring an editor, but then become unsure what kind of editing service they need to purchase. This blog helps make distinctions between editing types.
Copy, of course, is your printed-out or Word manuscript. A proof is your manuscript after it’s been laid out as it will look in magazine or book form. Generally speaking, proofreading is a search for the printer’s errors while copy editing is a search for the author’s errors.
So what is line editing and when do you need it? A good question. You’ll find a credible answer in this article in Jane Friedman’s blog.
If you’ve come here looking for editing help, all hope is lost.
I asked the question because I’ve been going through my collection of nine ghost stories, cleaning up the typos and spelling errors. I finally sent off the corrected manuscript this afternoon.
But here’s the thing. I know for a certainty that if I read through the manuscript again, I’ll find more typos. They (various gurus) say that a writer is the last person that ought to be proofreading his or her work. They are right. We get distracted by the story and start tinkering with the dialogue or the action and forget all about looking for mistakes.
I’ve decided that experienced editors are bionic in some way or (if you’re a Star Trek fan) part of an inhuman collective called the BORG. Otherwise, they couldn’t find all the mistakes the rest of us miss. The trouble is, these people charge $100 a minute, much more than the book will probably earn. So, we proofread our own stuff and hope we don’t get dinged by a reviewer who writes, “This story was pretty good except for a shitload of errors.”
I’m not sure I want to trust a reviewer who uses the word “shitload.”
But readers trust those reviewers and once they see the book is sinking like a stone on Amazon (due to the weight of that shitload), they (the readers) start looking for more mistakes. BobsYourUncle from Champaign Illinois comments that he has never seen a green cardinal except in a bad dream. RomanceGirl from South Florida comments that the sex was unrealistic and that she ought to know. FlyingNun from Rome says the book has too many pagan references in it and that the author and all the characters are going to hell.
The whole shebang starts because somewhere in the novel, the author accidentally used “your” instead of “you’re.” Once those comments get started on Amazon, they spread to Twitter where mobs of unwashed critics slam the book even though they haven’t read it. If you’ve read the news lately, you know this can happen, especially in the YA world.
There are days when an author thanks his or her lucky stars that the grammar Nazis and the worst of the general public haven’t heard of him or her because if you miss a typo, you have a target on your back. So does your book.
Let me suggest a solution. If you learn hoodoo or Voodoo, you can hide hexes within your books. When you do this, innocent-looking descriptions and inane dialogue passages contain groups of letters that summon evil spirits who don’t like people who go on Twitter, Amazon, or GoodReads and say nasty things about books. Readers who aren’t doing anything wrong have nothing to worry about (usually).
According to a recent poll, evil spirits charge less than editors. So, when it comes to choosing whether to pay $100 a minute for an editor or mixing up some graveyard dirt and rusty nails for evil spirits, what do you think most savvy authors are going to do?
“Nothing can affect my voice, it’s so bad.” – Bob Dylan
Likewise, nothing will help my proofreading because it’s so bad. Fortunately, an Internet program called Grammarly has weeded out most of the typos from my Facebook posts. But, I’m cheap and have a free version. That one doesn’t seem to help much with Word files.
So, today I’m going through the manuscript for an upcoming short story collection for the 5th time looking for typos. I keep finding them. After I go through the manuscript, I always think, “Finally, it’s now error free.”
Except it isn’t. If I go through it again, I find more typos. I don’t know I miss them. My publisher sends my books to an editor and she always finds more.
I feel slightly better about the situation when I read that many experts think the worst person to proofread a manuscript is the person who wrote it. S/he always starts reading for a sense of the story and misses the same errors that got missed the first time. Typos are a big problem with many self-published books because authors try to proofread them and miss a lot of mistakes. They’re advised to hire editors, but many editors charge more than the authors think the books will earn.
My editor has been doing her job for a long time, so I’m pleased to say that she catches what I miss. Thank goodness. My publisher relies on our editor as well. When I send her a new story, she’s reading it to see what happens in the story and whether that story will be a reasonable addition to the catalogue. So, she misses some of the same stuff I miss. She grumbles at this because she’s also a writer and thinks, as I do, that at some point our proofreading will be worth a darn.
Some authors have a team of beta readers who go through manuscripts in progress and make suggestions. Naturally, these readers will catch a lot of the errors. However, I dislike the concept. I never know where my stories are going when I start writing them, so the last thing I want is a committee making suggestions about what’s happening and what ought to happen next. That would totally screw up my chaotic writing process.
My wife is a big help, though. She worked for a daily newspaper and has also done a lot of writing. She finds many of the errors in my work that I don’t see. Sometimes she catches continuity problems such as “Hey, didn’t Bart die in chapter three? If so, what’s he doing sneaking around in chapter eight?” Oops.
In my Florida Folk Magic trilogy, my conjure woman Eulalie claims she’s older than dirt. I’m not that old yet, but I’m getting close. That means that I’ve been writing long enough to have figured out how to be a better proofreader. What I think happened is this: James Patterson and Nora Roberts started worrying that I’d knock their books off the bestseller list. So they put a hex on me. That’s the only reasonable excuse I can think of.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “At Sea” which is free on Kindle for a few more hours.
As my publisher and I learned recently, college students and others who are interested in editing or proofreading novels might give you a blank stare when you ask them which style guide they prefer.
If you’re lucky, they’ll say they follow the Chicago Manual of Style (or an adaptation of it) since that’s the most prevalent one accepted by general book publishers in the United States. When an editor looks at my work, s/he will almost always change things because–as a former journalist–I grew up using the Associated Press Stylebook which (obviously) focuses on newspapers and includes a handy section on media law.
When I was in college many years ago, we tended to use A Manual for Writers by Kate Turabian because it focused on research papers from the very formal doctoral dissertations and masters theses down to the more rudimentary papers our teachers often called “themes.” Needless to say, there was a lot of information in this about footnotes and citations and tables–not something you see in most novels or news stories. We were also encouraged to study Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.
If an English major is thinking about the future, they’re going to be aware of the fact they’ll need a practical use for their B.A. or M.A. degree. In the so-called old days, a lot of companies that had little or nothing to do with novels, nonfiction books, news, or formal research writing liked to hire people with liberal arts degrees and then train them to do the specific work the available jobs required. Those days seem to be long gone.
Of course, any college student is better off with a resume, and one good way of getting resume material is a college job that relates to one’s degree or, better yet, an internship. The starting point here, other than help with the college’s or department’s placement office or internship tsar (by whatever title they use), is finding out what prospective summer jobs and internships require. If one researches what proofreaders and various kinds of editors actually do, it’s quite likely the use of a style guide will come up fairly early on even if one has never heard the term before.
Chances are good, the college library, the college bookstore, and the English department itself will have a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. A school of journalism will have a copy of the Associated Press Stylebook. Other disciplines will have copies of the specialized style guides their graduates might one day use.
Basic research is much easier today than it used to be because the Internet offers a quick and easy way to find out what we need to know about anything, including what a student needs to know before going on a job interview for a summer internship at a book publisher’s office.
When I look up proofreading online, here’s the Wikipedia information I find about how it’s done: “Before it is typeset, copy is often marked up by an editor or customer with various instructions as to typefaces, art, and layout. Often these individuals will consult a style guide of varying degrees of complexity and completeness. Such guides are usually produced in house by the staff or supplied by the customer, and should be distinguished from professional references such as The Chicago Manual of Style, the AP Stylebook, The Elements of Style, or Gregg Reference Manual. When appropriate, proofreaders may mark errors in accordance with their house guide instead of the copy when the two conflict. Where this is the case, the proofreader may justifiably be considered a copy editor.”
Those handy links will lead the prospective editorial job applicant to enough additional information about working for a publisher to suggest reading through–or even buying–a copy of the applicable style guide. Then, when the interviewer says, “We use a version of the Chicago Manual of Style” or “Our style sheet is based on the AP Stylebook,” the hopeful English or journalism major will be ready to demonstrate that s/he knows what that is and is comfortable using it.
Frankly, I hope that if a student asks his or her English/Journalism professor or internship/placement specialist about the benefits of working for a book or newspaper publisher, the university would be ready with applicable advice about the work’s benefits and duties. That way, the student could decide whether they could learn from the experience or not and then be fully prepared for the kinds of questions the interviewer might ask.