Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Should You Hire an Editor or Copy Editor?

Note: Although this blog is written with indie authors in mind, it applies to all unpublished authors as well. Your chances of selling a well-presented book far outweigh your chances of selling a book chock full of errors, no matter how minor. Every one of them requires time (and money) to fix, and publishers will go for the well-presented book every time.

Since many of you know I offer an editing service, my thoughts on hiring an editor/copy editor may surprise you. I firmly believe most authors can “do it themselves.”  Here are some questions you might ask yourself:

1.    Do I want to spend the time and effort, or would I rather pay someone to do it?

2.    Can I afford an editor?” Or better yet, “Can I afford not to hire an editor?

3.    Did I love English class in school? Did I get As or Bs? Or was I out to lunch, always thinking of content rather than presentation?   

4.    Does presentation matter?  I hope we answered that one in EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK, Part 1. YES, it matters!

5.    How can editing affect the sale of my book? To indie authors: maybe not much, but I’m willing to bet bad editing will affect the sale of your SECOND book! To newbies: as stated earlier, yes, presentation is vital.

6.    How do I find an editor?

For some suggested answers to these questions, see below.
                                                                       ~ * ~

1.    Self-editing requires a lot of patience, but if you’ve edited your book at the end of every chapter and again at the end of every fifth chapter (or a similar system of your own devising), you’ve already got a good start on additions, deletions, awkward sentences, run-on sentences, dangling participles, etc.  I strongly advise “editing as you go” so you won’t end up with a whole book that hasn’t had a single revision and is, therefore, a truly intimidating chore.

    When you’ve edited that last section (for example, chapters 15-20), then it’s time to go back to the beginning and do the whole thing from start to finish, checking everything from convoluted sentences to “leap-frog” transitions, continuity, extra words, missing words, lack of clarity, etc.  And if you made a LOT of changes, you just might have to go back and do it all again. By that time, it’s painful. Maybe even boring. But you have to do it!  If your reaction is: “No, no, no, I can’t stand it. I have no idea what I’m doing. Help!” then you really do need to consider hiring an editor.

2.    Good editing is not cheap. And, believe me, most editors earn their money. (Some manuscripts require so much work I’ve ended up earning about $2-3/hour. Now that’s just pitiful.)  A professional editing service with major web site and multiple employees will most likely cost as much as twice the services of a small, private editing service (with minimal overhead). But they are easier to find.

    Please remember the differences between editing and copy editing I pointed out in Part 1 of EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK. Editing is WAY more demanding and costs considerably more. The turnaround time will also be longer. And does the editor offer an overall “critique” as well as suggested changes to the body of the manuscript? This is always a plus.  

    Above all, remember that unless you are able to put in the time and expertise to do it yourself, you CANNOT afford NOT to hire an editor. The presentation quality of your manuscript directly affects your readers and, more importantly, your return readers. It also affects your reputation. Do you really want people wincing when they read your book? Or bored because the story bogs down in a sea of unnecessary words? I doubt that’s the reaction you envisioned when you wrote it.

    Cost of Editing/Copy Editing:

    The difference between Editing and Copy Editing makes a great deal of difference in what you should expect to pay for these services. On average, “editing” will be at least twice the price of “copy editing.” It may also be possible to find someone who will simply read your manuscript and offer feedback, which should be a detailed critique of characters, plot, dialogue, narration, setting, voice, etc. Warning: the critique without specific edits may leave you with a lot to figure out for yourself. The cost, however, should be somewhere in between full edits and simple copy editing.

3.    CAN you edit your book yourself? I am convinced most authors can, if they’ll only take the time to do it right. Finish your book, do your best self-editing as you go along, then put it aside for a few weeks. [Yes, I know you’re itching to get it out there - I know the feeling well - but trust me, you need to distance yourself a bit before starting that final polish before uploading (or submission to an agent or editor).]

    But if your imagination has always outstripped your English skills (you got consistently mediocre grades in English), then you need an editor. Save your pennies and do yourself the favor of hiring someone who can present your precious prose with the clarity it deserves. [A good editor will tell you where you went wrong and suggest how to fix it. He/she will not make any arbitrary changes (except possibly to the nuts & bolts of grammar, punctuation, and spelling). The actual revisions will be all yours.]

4.    Whether your errors are obvious mistakes in English or more serious errors of lack of identification, lack of clarity, vague setting, shallow characters, elusive plot, too many words, lack of color, “talking heads,” etc., etc., a good editor should be able to find most of the problems and suggest solutions. (Sometimes it’s “Delete” and sometimes it’s “Add” or “Elaborate.”) There are, alas—as all editors have discovered—books which can’t be fixed without a complete rewrite. Those I try to send back to the authors after maybe five or ten chapters, and suggest he/she try again. Why waste money editing something that has to be completely rewritten? Which is also a good reason to send only a portion of your book for a first edit.

5.    For the skeptics among you—but those probably aren’t reading this blog at all—yes, your friends, relatives, and unsuspecting customers will download that first book. But the more knowledgeable among them won’t get past the first ten pages, and it’s guaranteed they won’t recommend your book to friends. Nor will they buy any other book you write. And although the remaining readers may not recognize the more serious editing issues, they will likely wrinkle their brows and become bored. They might not be able to pinpoint why the story is going nowhere—stuck in meaningless dialogue or long narrative passages, saying nothing. They may not realize that the characters are shallow, the setting nebulous, the plot believable only by a five-year-old. They’ll simply stop reading or maybe read the whole thing, give you a pat on the back, but somehow never bother to download anything else you write. (“Oh wow, hey, that was great, man!”—but they never read another word by you.)

6.     How to find an editor.

    Some freelance editors advertise in the Classified section of  Romance Writers Report, RWA’s monthly magazine. Also, a great many e-mail lists have sprung up dedicated to Indie Publishing, and most are associated with a database where editors & copy editors are allowed to advertise their availability.  The social & business network site, LinkedIn, has several professional groups which also allow editors to reveal themselves. And, of course, you can always ask for recommendations from author groups you belong to or on author e-lists you belong to. Warning: Be careful you get an editor who understands the romance genre. For example, the editor of a technical journal might be a meticulous copy editor, but he/she would very likely have no idea what is expected in romance fiction.

~ * ~

Coming in the next couple of months:

        1.  Manuscript formatting for the 21st century - a LOT of changes out there!

        2.  A list of “Don’ts” - mistakes you really want to avoid

        3.  Editing basic:  Don’t snow your readers under a blizzard of words or, conversely give them stick figures and a plot full of holes when they want MEAT!

Thanks for stopping by Grace’s Mosaic Moments!


Sunday, April 15, 2012

LIMBO MAN - a Thriller

FBI Special Agent Vee Frost does not care for Homeland Security’s list of job qualifications when they ask to borrow her services. “An experienced agent with a proven track record” is good. “Fluent in Russian” hints of an assignment close to her heart. But “Attractive female, under thirty-five” sends up red flags. Obviously, DHS is asking for services above and beyond the call of duty. But a loan to Homeland Security would look great on her resumé, and it sounds as if they really need her . . .

But when Vee agrees to turn on the charm for a mystery man who may hold the clue to something vital to U. S. security, she never anticipates a chase after two nuclear bombs from the old Soviet arsenal that will take her and the amnesiac Russian arms dealer from New York City to Connecticut, Colorado, New Jersey, and Florida, then on to Siberia and Iran. Nor does she expect to unearth a second personality beneath the façade of the tough arms dealer, Sergei Tokarev. A man with an agenda as hidden as the facts in his brain.

No matter how strong the bond Vee and Sergei form as they chase from one danger to the next, it seems doubtful either of them will live long enough for a happy ending.

Author’s Note: LIMBO MAN and ORANGE BLOSSOMS & MAYHEM were written years apart, and yet the two stories, featuring amnesiac heros, were uploaded back to back. My only excuse: with all the current headlines about Iran’s nuclear program, it just seemed the right time for LIMBO MAN to go “live.”

Speaking of going live, I was astounded when Limbo Man was first in line at Smashwords, going live almost instantly, followed by what must be a new record of about five hours for Kindle. After a rocky week, good news was much appreciated!

Coming next: Part 2 of EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK (which I expected to upload today instead of Limbo. Who knew?)

Sunday, April 1, 2012


A Handbook for Indie Authors - Part 1

This is Part 1 of a series about editing fiction, particularly romantic fiction, including mystery, suspense, paranormal, and futuristic. Although it is intended for indie authors, who very much need to improve the quality of what they’re uploading to the Net, much of it also applies to authors who would like to put their best foot forward when querying an agent or an editor. Do you want to present a manuscript which is going to cost the publisher time and effort to whip into shape, or do you want to present a professional-looking manuscript, which will cost very little time and money to be ready for publication? In today's tight economy, which manuscript will the editor choose?

A no-brainer, right?

Below is an introduction to the scary world of what it takes to make a manuscript ready for publication.

Editing vs. Copy Editing.

Many authors are not aware of the difference between editing and copy editing. I’ll try to make it clear.

Editing is done by a person who has worked his/her way up in a publishing company, someone who has struggled long and hard to have “Editor or Associate Editor” beside his/her name. These are the people to whom you or your agent sends your manuscript. These are the people who will decide whether or not your book is published.

Copy edits are usually done by young publishing hopefuls, not long out of college. Frequently, they work at home. They are paid at “piecework” rates to find the nitty-gritty mistakes in your manuscript, from spelling, punctuation, and grammar to continuity (Were Betty’s eyes blue in Ch. 1 and brown in Ch. 6?) and facts (Do you have a bastard inheriting an English title? - an absolute no-no). And, yes, copy editors make beginner mistakes. I’ve seen books where the copy editor inserted a decimal before 9mm, which would require the gun to have the smallest bullets in the history of the world!

You get the message: Editors are highly experienced; they’re paid the relatively big bucks. Copy editing is lower echelon - almost anyone with a good English background, a keen eye, and patience can do it.

Editing. Among the many things an editor must look for are:

1. Does your first page capture a reader’s attention?

2. Same for your first chapter. Does it have enough action, interesting dialogue, colorful details (whether setting, secondary characters or plot) to keep the reader turning the page?

3. Have you introduced both hero and heroine in the amount of time that is appropriate to the genre you’re writing?

4. Have you made your hero and heroine likable? (They can have faults, but can a reader see that these will be remedied? Or is it merely a minor fault that makes your character more interesting?) Are your characters sympathetic? Do they have vulnerabilities? Will your readers root for them, really care about them?

5. Is your writing voice developed enough to appeal to the mass romance market?

6. Did you carefully outline your plot in your synopsis, then leave it there, assuming that the reader now knows everything he/she needs to know? (Which is nothing, as the reader never sees anything but the short blurb on the back of the book (or on screen in an online catalog.)

7. Have you ignored one of your two main characters, vastly favoring the point of view of one over the other? And, consequently, not revealing enough of the ignored character’s thoughts, actions, and motivations?

8. Have you used so many secondary characters in the first few chapters that they completely overshadow your hero and heroine?

9. Conversely, have you created interesting, perhaps even colorful, secondary characters who truly enhance your story and are not simply being used as a “dialogue foil” to present backstory?

10. Did you bring your story to a stop in Chapter 1 by cramming in huge chunks of backstory, tempting your readers to chuck your book at the wall?

11. Or possibly you forgot to include any backstory or identification of your characters at all, making them blank-faced talking heads. After all, you know who they are, why can’t the readers add mind-reading to their skills?

12. Dialogue. Have you incorporated setting, actions, description, and/or introspection (thoughts) into your dialogue? Otherwise, we’re back to talking heads against a blank canvas. Not a pretty sight.

13. Did you write twenty words when ten would say the same thing and be more effective?

14. Do you have enough plot to hold a readers’ attention for the full length of your book? Or are you giving us “diary entries” of daily activities instead of a story that is moving forward at a fast enough pace to satisfy modern readers?

~ * ~

The items listed above are just some of the things an editor must look for when reading a manuscript. And, more importantly, if the editor thinks your work worth the effort, he/she must then find ways to explain to you what must be fixed before your book is ready for publication. This requires a great deal of skill and experience and is a long, long way from simple copy edits. Yes, misspelled words and bad punctuation jump out at readers and are easy to criticize, but it’s the more serious “edits” that make or break a book. Indie authors must realize this before they simply have someone proofread their manuscript and “certify” that it’s ready for publication. Almost all manuscripts require careful “editing”and not just “copy editing.”

I have a long list of books in my Kindle archives, books by authors I will not read again because their book did not capture my attention. Or books I put aside after ten pages because they were so poorly constructed I couldn't read any farther. But I keep active on my Kindle one of each book by authors I like to remind me to look for that author’s next book.

Be the author whose book is “saved.” Whose next book is eagerly awaited.

And never forget—although good spelling, punctuation, and grammar are important, your book won’t make it without a good story and well-drawn characters.

So do it right . . . make more money.~ * ~

Coming next: Edit your own books or employ a professional?

Thanks for stopping by.

Grace, who writes as Blair Bancroft
& edits as Best Foot Forward (