Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Editing is an Imperfect Process

Editing is an Imperfect Process
By Patricia Fry

I hate it when I discover a mistake in my already published book. There’s the book all printed and bound—etched in stone—and, oops a mistake appears. When you spot it, it’s like a big, red zit suddenly appears on the face of the book.


I don’t think there is a book of any substance anywhere without a mistake. Not that this is an excuse to go ahead and make them or to avoid all of those final pre-printing edits and proofs. I teach and preach that we must produce the most pristine product possible. But something is going to escape our eyes and those of our editors and proofreaders. It’s pretty much a given that your perfect book will arrive with a few mistakes.

You might find them right away, upon first glance—and it’s a real shame when that happens. Or it might take you days, weeks, months, even years to discover a mistake or two.

When my books arrive from the publisher/printer, I always set aside one copy to mark up. Whenever anyone points out a mistake or I spot one, I highlight it so I can correct it in the next printing.

What are your failsafe procedures for editing your book? I’ve found over the years that editing is a process. When I edit my own work, especially a book manuscript, I go over it many, many times with different things in mind. There’s the initial editing after the book is completed—sometimes involving two, three or more reads. There’s the editing work after making additions or changes. (I want to make sure I haven’t repeated something unnecessarily or that I haven’t, heaven forbid, contradicted myself.) I edit again when something jumps out at me during a random glance. I read my manuscript over and over and over again. And then I get down to the nitty gritty editing work.

I read my manuscripts with content in mind—does it make sense, does it flow, do the transitions work well, are my explanations clear, is the material pertinent, have I left anything out, are there areas where I have over-explained, what about organization?

I strive to edit out extra words—in other words, I tighten and then I tighten it some more.

I read the manuscript for accuracy. I check facts and statistics and make sure the attributions are in place and correct. Do the chapter titles and headings correspond with the table of contents? Do the fonts for chapter titles and headings, etc. conform in size and style throughout? Have I used the right words in the right places? Spell-check will not alert you to wrong words when they are spelled correctly. For example, you might intend using “carp” and it is spelled, “crap,” “have” instead of “has,” “bed” instead of “bad.” It takes an alert mind and a good eye to discover mistakes like these.

I check my manuscripts over for qualifier words such as “very.” And I watch for repeated words.

I read the manuscript from a grammatical and punctuation point of view. Are my sentences varied, are they grammatically correct, have I used one space only after all punctuation, have I caught all of the redundancies and incorrect uses of words?

And finally, I read my manuscript to make sure it is clear, even to someone from Mars. I try to explain everything from a beginner’s point of view so I’m assured that no one reading this book will be left behind.
Folks, this major editing work is your job. Your next step is to hire an editor to fine tune your manuscript. The more thorough your editing job, the more an editor can do for you. And it may take several go-throughs. While some of my clients have such clean manuscripts that it takes just one session of editing, most require my services twice.

Editing is not a once-over job that you rush through in order to meet a deadline. It is a process that can take time and should. Turn out your best work. Look at it several times with your clearest editorial eye and then hand it over to an editor who is accustomed to editing book manuscripts for a final polishing.

Patricia Fry is a full-time freelance writer and the author of 29 books. Her articles have appeared in Writer’s Digest, Entrepreneur Magazine, Cat Fancy, Your Health, The Toastmaster and many others. View her collection of books at http://www.matilijapress.com. And visit her informative publishing blog often: http://www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog.

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