Ask Dr. Kurz – Myths and truths about editing

Ask Dr. Chris Kurz

Just recently there was a post on one of the writing groups I follow, which asked:

I’m not english speaker, but i want to write in english.
Do you think grammar is important?

Invariably, several people will reply along the lines of this comment, which I quote pars pro toto:

Go for it. You can always improve the grammar with an edit. English speaking writers rely on editing to correct their grammar, too.”

This tells me that a lot of aspiring writers don’ tknow what an editor’s job is, what he or she does and doesn’t do. First off, an editor is not an English teacher. They are not there to make up for your lack of command of the language you write in. Serious editors will simply refuse to deal with your manuscript if they see that your language isn’t up to snuff.

“OK,” you say, “I get it. But what does an editor do, then?”

There are four types of editing you need to know about:

  1. Developmental Editing.
    In this type of editing, the editor works closely with the author to develop the manuscript from an initial concept or draft. The focus is on content and plot, sometimes even research for the story. The editor works almost as a co-author would, although the lead is in your hands.
  2. Substantive Editing.
    Here, the manuscript is already finished as a first or second draft and the editor looks at identifying and solving problems of the story line, reorganizing chapters, improving character development, rewriting entire sections, etc. The goal is to improve on readability and presentation.
  3. Copy Editing (also sometimes called Line Editing).
    The editor only looks at spelling, grammar, punctuation, style, while keeping the original meaning of the text. Inconsistencies in the plot will be brought to the author’s attention, as the manuscript is being readied for the next stage of the publication process. Although this may see just what the poster at the beginning was looking for, it really isn’t. You need to have a firm command of the language to start with. Don’t kid yourself about that.
  4. Proofreading.
    This type of editing usually comes just prior to turning on the printing press. It is about layout, color separation, fonts and typesetting questions and stuff like that. If you go the traditional publishing route, the proofreader will be appointed by the publisher, in most cases. If you are self-publishing, it is upon you to find someone for this.

Many editors may cover more than one kind of editing and accompany the author through several stages of manuscript development. Note, however, that, as an author, you shouldn’t outsource the creative process. And since skillful use of language is the major part of an author’s work, this should not be the editor’s job. Look at the editor as a kind of sparring partner, a fountain of knowledge and experience for you to draw upon.

I am currently working on the 2nd draft of my novel The Pi Effect. In about one month’s time I will be sending it off to my editor (in my case, I am mainly looking for copy editing).

Now that you know what an editor can help you with and how to ask for it, the next questions will be (a) how to find a suitable editor and (b) how much will this service cost? This will be the topic of the next post on my blog.

What are your experiences and questions about editing? Do you have some experiences to share? Maybe you are an editor yourself and care to comment?


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