The Lesser Demon

The last time I posted on this blog I talked about editors. In this day of indie publishing, finding a good editor just got about 1,000 times harder. Conversely, finding a horrible editor got about 10,000 times easier. Your favorite aunt watches tv twelve hours a day, doesn’t she? Surely that’s equipped her to critique stories and stuff. And, as a bonus, she always sort of favored you, right? Who better to read your effort and truly appreciate your literary skills. And while you’re feeling good about yourself for solving that nasty little problem, leave a well-written request under your pillow for the Tooth Fairy.  I realize you’re an adult with permanent teeth, but, gee, if you’re so lucky your aunt’s willing to take a break from Dancing With The Stars to assure your career, magical money’s a cinch. Trust me.

Which is not to say a seemingly ordinary person can’t be a quality editor. It’s the seemingly ordinary persons who make up the reading public who are going to make the final decision that determines the popularity – or lack thereof – of your work. No one’s figured them out yet, and that includes every editor who ever drew breath. But a novel that delivers its message clearly and skilfully at least has a chance at reaching that public. If you’re in traditional publishing, pray for a good editor. If you’re an indie, just pray. Harder.

Where you’re going to have real trouble, however, is where all writers slam into the wall. You really need a copy editor. They are the lessor demons of our existence only because they pelt us with details, whereas literary editors are masters of upside-the-head dictates, i.e., Your book actually begins on page 32, so dump the first 31. Be sure all the important details are in the revision. A copy editor may write You say Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 6th. History tells us it was December 7th. Do you have authentication for your choice? Could it possibly be a typo?

At a trade publishing house you can be pretty sure your literary editor loves your book. Maybe not as much as you, but enough to bet heavy prestige – possibly career prospects – on it. ( If you’re an indie writer, you need an editor with similar commitment to your work. Never forget that. )  That can be a problem. You’re both caught up in the story, the artful use of the language, the sub-plots, the nuances and implications of the story as it progresses. A good copy editor is every bit as aware of all that as you and your literary editor.  The difference is that the copy editor must, in a sense, divorce her/himself from the actual craft of the novel. The copy editor works almost as an architect, assuring the structure of your novel is level, square, and fitted together in a working whole. It is hard, demanding work, rife with microscopic details that must reconcile with each other. The copy editor will not sigh with emotion over your great love scene when you describe the heroine’s lustrous green eyes in one paragraph and inexplicably compare them to summer’s blue skies later. No matter how dramatically you describe a continuing character’s loss of an arm in Book 1, you cannot have that character miraculously healed in Book 2. Copy editors catch those things. They correct your spelling. Your punctuation. Your grammar. They will, quietly and professionally, drive you stark, raving mad. And we need them desperately. As an indie, you must find someone who lusts for typos, dreams of dropped lines, gets emotional about correctly transcribed Roman numerals, who knows the difference between a hood and a bonnet. You need someone who doesn’t really give a damn about your Hemingway-esque aspirations but who is determined to make you tell your story right. They do a hard, tedious job and get little thanks. We, as the beneficiaries of that effort, owe them much, much more.

All that said – be very careful. Editing and copy editing are very difficult. If you’re an indie, in particular, you must be aware that too many people out there will happily read your book and comment. A great many of them can read a check, but nothing else. You can also fall victim to the concept that honest criticism of your material is somehow disrespectful. I’d hope that you’ll work with people who tell you the truth. If you’re giving your manuscript to pre-publishing readers so you can hear them tell you how good it is, not only are you cheating your novel, you may well be forcing your friends to choose between a rather slender definition of friendship and honesty. Whoever does your copy editing should be expected to do it with a professional attitude. You should accept their efforts in a professional manner. Mutual respect puts agreement or disagreement in proper perspective. Above all, as the author you decide how to use whatever help you’re offered.

It’s your book.

One comment

  1. Very well said Don. I’m having my first experience with an Indie editor and as I’m going through her suggestions at times I’m concerned if her suggestions are actually making my book worse. I dream of finding a good editor that could help me with my future books, that I can trust. Let’s hope it’s not an impossible dream. Larry

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