A Good Read Requires Good Editing

Like anyone with an E-reader, I’ve read quite a few E-books.  Lots of non-fiction and lots of fiction.  I think it’s about a fifty-fifty split.  And the major problem most of the self-published E-books have is a failure to understand what editing and revision really means.

For instance, a few months back I bought a mystery set in 19th Century England.  It was a good story, with good characters and good dialogue.  But there were mistakes.  Misspelled words squatted everywhere.  Sometimes, single letters were separated from any word, as if they were adrift in a sea of electrons.  And there were continuity problems, too.

Continuity problems, just like misspelled words, aren’t limited to E-books.  They pop in and out of paper published books, too.  While on vacation recently, I picked up a paperback Western at the resort I was staying at.  Actually, I picked up three different Westerns (I rarely read Westerns), all written by the same author (no, it wasn’t Louis L’Amour).  The first two had such inane beginnings that I couldn’t proceed past the second page.  Anyways, it was a good read, without any apparent misspellings or grammatical errors, until about a third of the way through the story.  A continuity problem appeared.  A character named Jim had just died and been buried and ten pages later he was alive and well and talking in a new scene.

No, it wasn’t a ghost or a flashback.  The author had two secondary characters, Jim and Tim, one alive and one dead.  Jim had died, Tim was alive.  (You an see the problem here.)  Jim became Tim, without the author catching the mistake, and Jim talked for a page and a half until the author started calling him Tim again.  (Maybe he’d been possessed by Jim’s specter, but I doubt it.)

In a previous post I wrote how important it is not to disconnect a reader from the story, not to break the reader’s “suspension of disbelief.”  Well, continuity mistakes really shake readers up.  Try to avoid them.

See, most people don’t get what copy  editing and revising are all about.  Copy editing is about catching your grammatical and spelling mistakes, as well as your continuity mistakes.  But revising goes a step further.  Revising strengthens your writing.  It sharpens things up.  In revising, you throw away what you don’t need, no matter how much you like it.  In revising, you replace stagnant and stilted dialogue with snappy and more lively dialogue.  In revising, you fix what needs fixing.

Good copy editors should know that.   So should every writer.

The best book I have ever found (out of literally hundreds) on copy editing and revising is by Theodore A. Rees Cheney (no relation to Vice President Cheney).  It’s entitled “Getting the Words Right: How to Rewrite, Edit, and Revise”.  You will learn more about editing, revising, and writing with this book than anywhere else.  If you study it and put it into practice I guarantee you will be blessed by it.  That doesn’t mean you’ll get published or make loads of money, that’s up to you and your talent.  But it will help you eliminate obstacles from that happening.

E-writer Ana Spoke, author of “Shizzle, Inc.”, an E-book on Amazon, mentioned in one of her blogs about having a bad experience with a copy editor.  She felt the copy editor had changed her writing.  Copy editors should ask permission from the writer before changing prose.  In Ms. Spoke’s case, it seemed to be over the use of commas.

Copy editors often make decisions based on instincts.  Sometimes, punctuation is called for and sometimes its not.  Be kind to copy editors.  There are lots of rules out there and lots of different styles.  The English have certain rules about adverbs and a foreign friend of mine told me it is inappropriate to use the words “if” and “would” in the same sentence.  So I bombarded him with a dozen or more lines such as: “If you would put your seat belt on, then I would be willing to drive the car,” and “If you would be so kind as to shut it about ‘if’ and ‘would’, I shall stop inflicting you with ‘if’ and ‘would’ one liners.”

Hanna McCall is a proof reader who lives in England and is trained in the English style of grammar.  She is a “listed”  proof reader (aka copy editor) and is certified as a legitimate copy editor.  If you need a copy editor, she would be a good person to try.  (See, another “if, would” sentence.)

If you don’t want to hire a copy editor, that’s okay.  But I recommend that anyone who wants to be a successful writer learns how to copy edit and revise.  Would you want to fly with a pilot who thinks he knows enough about flying because he’s ridden in lots of planes and thinks it’s easy?

If you’ve put your heart and soul and time into writing something, with effort making it as good as you can, how about putting a little more effort into making it better?  If you would do that, then you’ll be more pleased with the results, starting with the self-knowledge that you have done everything you can and now know you are leaving it to the world to appreciate it.

If your writing is your baby, your child, your daughter or son, make it as ready for the world as it can  be.  Then when you release it into world, you’ll know it’s as strong and prepared as is possible.

Good luck.

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