Posts Tagged ‘copy editing’

The Down ‘n Dirty on Copyediting

Monday, November 30th, 2015

Though definitely an art, writing differs from painting, sculpture, and virtually any other form of visual art in one significant way: it has a lot more rules. No matter how impressive or interesting a book or other written work may appear at first glance, if the rules of language are ignored, the piece fails. Like any craft requiring practice and precision, writing has basic standards of grammar, organization, and syntax that must be second nature to an author before they attempt to embellish with pretty adjectives, artful analogies, inventive ideas, compelling characters, or riveting action.

As a self-proclaimed defender of the English language, I am passionate about upholding its conventions. The rules are in place for a reason: to support the basic goal of writing itself, which is to convey ideas and information clearly and efficiently. Published writing that lacks proper mechanics miseducates the reader, leading to continued degradation of the art form! Given my attitude on this, know that any work I am asked to copy-edit is going to have usage errors weeded out and recultivated so that the garden of your writing is free from distracting pests. To this end, I put forth the following:

  1. I will change the words you have written. Although this would appear fairly obvious if I am copy-editing your work, many authors become quite offended if their work is corrected to conform to rules of grammar, syntax, and logic. For example, if you use the same word over and over within a short section of your narrative – one of the most common errors I encounter in peoples’ writing – I will eliminate the redundancy. However, in doing so, I may need to completely alter or omit whole sentences, which will make it seem like I’ve rewritten the part where it occurs. And quite frankly, I have.
  1. I will change the words you have written, and I won’t discuss it with you first. With many of my clients, there is an expectation that my edits are all suggestive, up for debate and discussion, and subject to some sort of “author authorization.” No. Unless I’m working with you as a writing coach, my edits are based upon my knowledge of the language and my experience as a professional writer. I am the first to admit that like all writers, I am continually learning more about effective writing; however, if you are hiring me to edit your work, the assumption is that I am more skilled in the language than you. If you don’t like an edit I’ve made, simply change it back…at your own risk.
  1. I don’t agree that poor use of the English language qualifies as a literary “voice.” Of course, writing is full of artistic license, taken at the expense of perfect grammar, but sometimes necessary to tell a story or add particular emphasis. Nonetheless, this should be done with discretion. Keep in mind that you’re not allowed to break rules until you’re a perfect master of them. This may eliminate some of your sentence fragments, run-on sentences, excessive interjections, and nouns preceded by four adjectives.
  1. I might kill your precious darlings. Writers have varying degrees of sensitivity to criticism, and writing is a process of creating something to which authors become emotionally attached…often overly attached. Sometimes, phraseology that they think is their cleverest construct yet – e.g. cute metaphors using peculiar or antiquated words – is actually distracting to a reader and serves to detract from the overall piece. If I remove one of these “darlings,” as they are (and oddly so, in my opinion) termed in the writing world, many authors instantly become offended and conclude that I’m a hack. One author wrote: “The apartment was in a warren of old apartments two blocks off of Prince Edward Road.” In a sample edit, I changed this to: “The apartment was within a cluster of older complexes two blocks off Prince Edward Road.” I think taking out “warren” was the reason the writer backed out on our working together. Really, though, the image of rabbits was just too much for me!
  1. Quality writing takes time. Although an editing estimate of several hundred dollars for a 40,000-word piece may sound pricey, authors would do well to consider the number of man-hours I put into modifying, and at times rewriting, their work! Copy-editing is generally a slow and pain-staking process, because the end product, in my mind, must be “perfect,” i.e. publication-ready. This level of quality is possible only through a close and comprehensive journey through each word of your work. Given the time commitment, my fees are more than reasonable.
  1. Honesty and reasonableness are the key factors in my work with writers. My prospective clients give me a sample of their writing, and I edit and return this portion in order to demonstrate the types of changes I would make on their project as a whole, should we decide to work together. In this way, I am also able to see what level of editing is required – substantive, or heavy, medium, or light copy-editing – and thereby give them a fee estimate based on the amount of time and effort that will be involved on my part. My intent is to provide excellent writing at the most reasonable price possible. Believe me, if money were my main objective, I would NOT be a writer/editor. Fortunately, writing is my passion.

My other passion, however, is not to be greedy, arrogant, or competitive. I am willing to discuss my fees and special time-frames, and occasionally lend advice on publishing options or why I made certain edits (to a limited extent, as mentioned above, unless I’m coaching you). As with any type of calling, working as a writer/editor means I have a personal stake in assisting others and ensuring their satisfaction in hiring me. I say this not as a lie or boast, but to give you an idea of the beliefs and ideals I hold most dear.

If you’re still reading this after all of the above and haven’t crossed me off your list of potential editors, please do contact me, because the time we invest in your project will benefit you, me, and most importantly, your writing.