Why nobody loves having their writing edited

We’ve all seen the spelling and grammar police at work on social media. They take delight in pointing out your ‘mistakes’, genuine or not. No wonder we don’t really love having our writing edited.

In a social media post recently, a political organisation’s press release appeared with every ‘error’ circled in red (including some things that were not wrong). The aim was to show how stupid the organisation is, and so to discredit everything it does.

In the comments, people expressed their joy at these mistakes. The self-appointed ‘grammar police’ felt entitled to hold others to account, the English teachers were confident they knew right and wrong. The writer had failed an invisible test. Even though the grammar police and the teachers didn’t have it all right either, they shamed the publicity officer who’d sent out an imperfect press release.

People jump on mistakes with glee. Editing the press release would have avoided all this. But too often, people don’t have their work edited by a professional because it feels like having their errors and shortcomings pointed out – sometimes publicly.

I get it, I’m a writer as well as an editor

As a writer as well as an editor, I really do get it. You know the feeling – you’ve paired up with a workmate to edit each other’s reports for the industry event. As your revised document pings into your inbox, your stomach clenches. You open it, dreading that it’s going to come back streaked with red – a typo or two you missed despite spellcheck and a rework of that metaphor you thought was pretty spot-on.

You feel like your work is being marked by the teacher

It’s like having your school essays marked. The teacher has found you out and given you a C+ when you were quite sure you deserved an A. You can almost see the red pen scratching around every error. You feel disappointed in yourself, stupid, wrong. Your colleague’s opinion of you just dropped a notch or seven. How could you have not seen that misspelled word? How did you get the name of your own department wrong?

Making an error doesn’t make you stupid

You’re not alone. Nobody really loves being edited. But being human, we all make errors. And that doesn’t make you stupid. We all have tics in our use of language, words we can never spell and a tendency to overuse terms or expressions. You know the jargon, so you forget that your reader might not. You’ve worked on it for so long that it you can’t imagine it being any other way. A good editor helps with these things. And, depending on the level of edit you’ve asked for, we can do so much more than just pick up errors.

An editor wants you to succeed. The right editor will love what you do. You’re the expert on your subject. We learn so much from you. We want to help you to make your work the best it can be.

We bring our years of studying grammar and style, structure and form to our work. You bring your expertise in your subject. We have revised reports, blog posts, articles and white papers across multiple topics, from frothy entertainment pieces to serious academic works. Editors are the gardeners of the written word. We’re there to landscape your writing and pull out the weeds that smother your ideas and stop them from blooming.

An editor is here to help you

Editors are not there to judge your writing. We think you’re brilliant. After all, you’ve done your research and you know what you’re talking about. We respect you as the expert on your subject. We’re there to work out where your structure could be better, where to cut or change things to make your writing clearer, when to fact check and when to change a tense or the spelling of a verb form. We’re there to make your work clear and suited to your reader.

So don’t choose somebody that makes you feel like an errant schoolkid. Use a professional editor who provides a comprehensive editing service so that your structure, content, language, style and presentation are the best they can be and do the work you want them to do for your readers. Because in the end, they are the ones that matter.

Think your writing doesn’t need editing? Think again!

 

Authors often pour more than their heart and soul into a book or an article. They may put their own money into a project too, especially if they self-publish or enter a partnership publishing arrangement. That’s why it’s so frustrating to see glaring  and embarrassing typos, incorrect word use and clumsy sentence structures in published books. Using a good copy editor and proofreading thoroughly are sensible investments in an author’s work, and not optional extras.

Not all editing oversights are as catastrophic as Penguin’s 2010 proofing error which left a recipe calling for ‘salt and freshly ground black people’.  The entire print run had to be pulped, at a cost of about $20,000.

And you thought spellcheck or editing software would do the job…

CBCA judges’ comments on editing

I read the judges’ comments on the 2017  Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year for older readers. This is what they had to say:

‘… many of the books are flawed by the inclusion of the kinds of grammatical errors that are in common oral currency… There are also occasional misuses of words… all solecisms that could have been eliminated with more attentive editing.’

These are published works submitted for a prestigious award.

The judges also said, ‘… a few novels that were otherwise excellent lost their place on the Notables list through flaws in their internal logic and character consistency; these issues should be attended to by close editing…’

Use a comprehensive editing service

copy editing

Proofreading is vital

If you’re planning to submit your manuscript to a publisher, enter a competition or self-publish, it makes sense to use a professional editor. At the very least, use an experienced proofreader. If your budget can possibly extend to a copy editor, it’s a wise investment. Better still, use an editor who provides a comprehensive editing service so that your structure, content, language, style and presentation are the best they can be for your readers.

John Hockney’s memoir The Hockneys: Never Worry What the Neighbours Think to be published in October

John Hockney’s memoir is to be published in October 2019 by Legend Press. I was honoured to edit it before submission. It’s a very satisfying aspect of my work to help writers  get their book published.  Legend Press includes top Australian writers Mark Brandi and Alice Pung on its list.

John Hockney is a professional storyteller and brother of the artist David Hockney. He  helps others to write their life stories. I met him at a wonderful workshop he ran in the Blue Mountains. I went on to work with him on his manuscript before he submitted it for publication. That it took only a couple of months before it was snapped up is testament to what  a great story he has told.

John Hockney: storyteller

Before I did his workshop ‘Your Life – Your Story’,  I heard John talk about life with his brother, world-renowned artist David Hockney. David’s exhibition Words & Pictures opened at Blue Mountains City Art Gallery in October 2017. I remember thinking, ‘He should write a book’.

John Hockney tells his story going back two generations. His grandfather was a founding member of the Salvation Army in Bradford in England’s industrial north. His grandmother would made him a cup of cocoa with whole milk – not the watered-down variety he had at home – after he had dragged home her shopping in his billycart.

You would expect that the world-famous artist David might dominate the book, but John gives every member of his brilliant and eccentric family their due.  His father, who liked to wear brightly coloured stick-on dots on his bow tie, was always true to his moral compass. His sister Margaret produced an art work of a squid squashed on her scanner. It was accepted in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The theme that they never worried what the neighbours think runs thorough the book.

With his closely observed detail and exceptional storytelling,  John Hockney combines the two essentials of memoir or autobiography: have a great story to tell and write it well. It’s often funny and always honest and true. My understanding of what life was like in  post-war Britain was so enriched. My appreciation of what it means to be part of a family – in all its crazy complexity – was deepened immeasurably.

The book is available in hardcover from Book Depository.

How can an editor help you to create standout documents?

‘What does an editor do, exactly?’

I’m often asked what my role as an editor involves, and why anybody with a reasonable standard of language proficiency would need to use one.

Because we understand different things by the term ‘edit’ in various areas of publishing, I thought it would be useful to outline them here.  My job as a freelance editor involves working at three levels.

1. Substantive editing 

This is a big-picture edit.  I will look at the structure of your document,  its suitability for your audience, overall clarity and completeness, and assess whether your writing style is the best one for engaging your readers. A substantive edit can also involve checking copyright issues, such as whether permission is needed to use quotes and images. A substantive edit can also  identify other possible legal issues, such as  defamation.

2. Copy editing

At the copy editing stage, I focus on the mechanics of the writing. I take a more detailed look at clarity, completeness and style. I work to make sure the piece is consistent in its use of spelling, punctuation, headings, captions, tables and other features. I check sentence structure, spelling, headings, hyperlinks, continuity and all the inner workings of a piece of writing. I make sure that your document is consistent with your organisation’s house style as set out in your editorial style guide. (If  you don’t have one, I can create a style guide for you to use.)

3. Proofreading

We’ve all seen those (sometimes cringeworthy) errors in final documents. When you have read something many times over, it’s hard to see them. Proofreading is a final read-through for typos, spelling and punctuation errors, style mistakes, working links, sensible page breaks and the like. Sometimes the final version is checked against an earlier version. A thorough proofread weeds out any  errors so that they don’t make it into the final version of a print or online document.

 

You may need all three levels of edit, or just one or two.

Contact me about your structural editing, copy editing and proofreading needs.

The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published

How to write it, sell it and market it…successfully!

By Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry



This expert guide to getting your book published is packed with helpful information for new writers, would-be writers and those who have already published. The authors are simultaneously editors, literary agents and published writers. The first edition was published in 2005. This one, updated in 2015, takes the huge shifts that happened in the industry in those 10 years into account and includes ebooks and how to deal with social media. Although it’s written for the American market, most of it applies to publishing in Australia too.

The guide pinpoints what I aim to do for my writer clients to help them to get their work into shape to submit to publishers or for self-publishing. Read about the levels of edit most professional editors offer here.

“Outside editors, a.k.a. book doctors, diagnose, treat and help you fix your book.”

One of the book’s strengths – and there are many – is that it has sound advice no matter what you want to publish, from cookbook to potboiler, business manual to poetry volume. It’s not a writing manual, but a practical (and pragmatic) how-to.

Publishing success comes from four basic principles:

  1. Research. Not just your subject matter, but what else is out there and who might publish your book. Do this and … your odds of getting published will go from nearly nil to extremely decent
  2. Network. Use your people skills to find the right publisher, create buzz, reach your readers and sell books. I believe this has become critical for successful publishing. The days of the cloistered author are well and truly over.
  3. Write. While this seems obvious, the authors say it’s the one thing published writers told them over and over. Get your ideas down on paper and keep at it.
  4. Persevere. You will have to deal with rejection. Probably a lot of rejection. As the authors say, ‘please, don’t quit five minutes before the miracle’.

YA novel Freefalling wins CBCA award for best unpublished manuscript

Maura Pierlot is this year’s Charlotte Waring Barton Award winner

Maura was announced as the winner of this award from the Children’s Book Council of Australia (NSW Branch), which is given annually for an unpublished manuscript. Maura wins a mentorship with  a well-known children’s writer. I was at the award ceremony in Sydney, and I think I might have let out a little shout when Maura’s name was read out as the winner – she had told me she definitely wasn’t going to win.

Maura Pierlot wins award

Maura Pierlot (centre) wins the CBCA NSW award for best unpublished manuscript.

I was lucky enough to copy edit the manuscript and I’m confident that it will be snapped up by a publisher.  It’s the contemporary story of Harley:  year 10 student, friend, sister, daughter and granddaughter, and her struggles with self-image, friendship, love and acceptance. Maura writes with great insight and sensitivity about eating disorders, disloyalty and grieving in a compulsively readable way.

Last year’s winner, Danika Hall, discussed her mentorship with Jen Storer as part of a great night at the offices of HarperCollins, whose children’s division sponsors the award.

Charlotte Waring  Barton was the writer of the first published children’s book in 1841, published anonymously as A Mother’s Offering to her Children: By a Lady, Long Resident in New South Wales. But more on that later, as it’s a story in itself.

Maura has also recently published the lovely children’s picture book The Trouble in Tune Town. It would be a great Christmas present for the music loving kids in your life.

 

Congratulations to Maura Pierlot!

Maura Pierlot’s as-yet unpublished YA novel, Freefalling, has been shortlisted for the 2018 Children’s Book Council of Australia  (NSW branch) Aspiring Writers Mentorship.  I was lucky enough to copy edit Freefalling and I can’t wait to see it in print.

The CBCA describes Freefalling as ‘… A touching, humorous story of 15-year-old Harley and her struggle to find her place in the world as she fights a downward spiral of weight loss, self-loathing and broken friendships’.

Maura has recently published a children’s book,  The Trouble in Tune Town.

trouble in tune town kids book

The time-saving magic of an editorial style guide

style guides

How a style guide saves you time and money and helps you communicate your brand

When I edit material for different clients, I could spend a lot of time deciding whether to use Oxford commas, capitalise job titles, or start a sentence with ‘And’. Fortunately, I am usually given an editorial style guide to follow. I add a style sheet, where I record all the decisions I make as I go along. Using a style guide means I don’t confuse different clients’ house styles, and I don’t have to check back through the document to check what I did the last time I made a change. It’s all there in the editorial style guide.

Why use an editorial style guide?

An editorial style guide saves time

An editorial style guide is essential when you are trying to write clear, consistent, professional content that communicates your brand. Using a style guide cuts time spent on the mechanics of writing, freeing you up to concentrate on your great ideas. Multi-author documents will have a coherent tone and style, because you share the style guide with anybody who creates content for your organisation. That means less time spent briefing contributors and editing reports or newsletters.

Media organisations, publishers, universities and governments have style guides hundreds of pages long. Most small businesses don’t need that level of detail. A simple style guide that covers the most important points is enough. As you grow, you can add to the guide as needed. Remember, it’s not a grammar manual, but a record of the preferred usage in your organisation.

An editorial style guide is a live document

Language changes – sometimes quite fast. Writing ‘e-mail’ seems antiquated now, but that hyphen was considered correct not that long ago. Don’t be afraid to update your style, and use the style sheet to record your changes. Make sure everybody has the up-to-date version.

The style sheet is also useful for recording any industry-specific terms and abbreviations you use. I use mine to keep track of the spellings and usages I constantly stumble over. I edit with the style sheet for a particular client to hand, so I have a ready list of their specific usages. A style sheet in use may look like this.

Using a simple style sheet helps you track your editing decisions

Please download a copy of my editorial style guide, and feel free to add as needed.


Download  your editorial style guide here


An editorial style guide will help you to:

  • Establish the ‘voice’ of your brand
  • Collaborate effectively with other authors
  • Be consistent in communicating with your clients
  • Save time when creating content

Do you have a style questions? Please contact me and I will help .