Currently, I’m deep in first self-edits for Psychic Surveys Book Four: Old Cross Cottage (due out in April 2017). That’s right – self-edits. For me, the process goes a little something like this: write that first crazy draft, try and make sense of that first crazy draft (otherwise known as first self-edit), do a much slower second self-edit (still trying to make sense of it), a third, a fourth, read it aloud, read it on Kindle, then pass onto several test readers and incorporate their amends. Then, and only then, is it ready to go to a professional editor – Jeff Gardiner, in other words, who edit’s all my books (and is also an author himself). So… here’s a mean and moody picture of him and a little about him and his views on what makes a good editor (and he’s fab!)…
Being An Eddy Tor ’Ead ’Itter Editor
I’m lucky enough to edit Shani’s novels, and I can genuinely say that I’m thrilled when I receive a fresh manuscript from her, because I know it will be carefully plotted with fully-rounded characters in an atmospheric setting. Not only do I edit for Crooked Cat Publishing, but I work freelance – and, happily, Shani trusts me with all her various books and projects. She’s asked me on to her blog to write a short piece about editing, so I’ll do my best.
Editing is a relationship of trust between a writer and an editor. Sometimes the changes are non-negotiable but often the edits are suggestions or advice for improving the structure and the expression of ideas. Grammar and punctuation are not exact sciences – whatever the pedants may tell us – and neither are narrative structures, nor any fictional techniques. Writing is an art form; it’s about being creative, even sometimes about breaking conventions.
I prefer to think of the process of writing as a series of choices, rather than a slavish following of rules. There is never one way of expressing a thought or of describing a person. The editor then challenges the author to improve certain aspects of their writing at both structural and sentence level. These represent the two main editorial skills.
- Substantive Editing – The editor offers an objective perspective and a fresh pair of eyes. As a writer myself I know that after living with a book for six to eight months, it’s very difficult to step back and make clear judgements about your ‘little darling’. The editor acts as a critical friend pointing out where structure, narrative, characterisation and setting can be improved. The beginnings and endings are always worth focussing on; not only those of the novel itself, but also chapter openings and endings, where exposition creeps in (‘show don’t tell’). The best writers get background information in without the reader realising. It’s important to keep an eye out for the dreaded ‘headhopping’, or unnecessary change in point of view in the same section. Novelists should carefully consider their narrative technique. Who exactly is telling the story, or whose point of view is it from?
- Copy-Editing – This involves amending spelling, grammar and punctuation issues or typos, as well as tautology, repetition and overuse of certain words. The editor considers things at sentence and word level now, so any awkward phrasing can be highlighted. Common errors involve incorrect use of capital letters, colons, semicolons, commas, hyphens and dashes (do you know the difference between an em dash and an en dash?). Direct speech proves challenging to some, especially the overuse of speech tags, or the correct punctuation for dialogue. Consistency in tense is vital, while the use of too many passive verbs (‘the brick was thrown by me’) weakens your writing. Keep it active (‘I threw the brick’) and avoid too many uses of ‘had’ and ‘was’.
I think the most important thing I’ve learnt as an editor is to respect the author’s ‘voice’ or personal style without imposing my own predilections. I believe editors need to show sensible restraint, and attempt to feed back in a positive way. My own experiences of being edited are varied, but I know I appreciate encouragement along with criticism.
If you’re lucky enough to get published, or work with a professional editor, then see it as an opportunity to learn more about your craft, but don’t be shy either to question a decision or to ask for clarification so you can, at least, understand the improvement for next time. Writers and editors possess skills that should continue to be honed and perfected as techniques, tastes, traditions and expectations evolve.
Jeff Gardiner is a freelance editor who also works for Crooked Cat Publishing. If you’re interested in working with him then see his website – www.jeffgardiner.com – and email him using the contact form.
He works in a variety of genres, such as contemporary, historical, thriller, supernatural, fantasy, romance and young adult fiction; non-fiction and academic texts. He has a Masters Degree (MPhil) in English, and successfully completed the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) Copy-Editing Training Courses.
“I’d like to thank Jeff Gardiner for his well-judged editing suggestions and his thorough scrutiny of the text.” T. E. Taylor, author of ‘Zeus of Ithome’.
Jeff is also the author of five novels:
Treading On Dreams: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Treading-Dreams-Jeff-Gardiner-ebook/dp/B00J4Z63PI/