Wadded paperI started editing for Down & Out Books in November, right after Thanksgiving. Prior to that, I edited for a friend who gets a deep friends and family discount. A couple of bucks for me, and she returns the favor with other services. Yes, writers do that.  I’m up to my fifth project now, and no two have been the same.

I’ve had a project that came from an author who’s been writing longer than I’ve been alive. And I’m old enough to remember (before kindergarten, mind you)  when Abbey Road was new and on the radio. That one was long, even for him, though I’m pleased he’s still working. I did an anthology. I did one set in New England at the same time as reading Gwendy’s Final Task. At least part of Gwendy took place on a space station. The last was a straightforward thriller. The current one is Australian, and Down & Out asked me to keep as much Australian English as possible.

So how’s it going?

Just based on my list of projects, plus my friend’s book, it’s really solidified my game as an editor. How?

  • Technique – Before I edited Jenn Nixon’s The Fixer, I revised one of my own scifi books in the can ahead of time. I’ve been using ProWritingAid, but without track changes. Up until next year’s Breaking Liberty, I’d simply accepted or rejected changes. Who would I be tracking changes for? Me? But when it came time to clean up Breaking Liberty ahead of sending it to First Reader, I needed a guinea pig to test how I’d do this for a paying client. Normally, I would read, then do PWA. But PWA has enough trouble with track changes and long manuscripts. So Jenn got both at the same time. She was pleased with the results. I applied this to my first Down & Out project, the aforementioned writer who started before I was born. PWA did get a bit wonky, and I’ll probably have to hit up some colleagues on how to better utilize it. Howevever, Down & Out sends me partially formatted files, so breaking it up into nice 50-page segments is not really an option.
  • Other writers make the same mistakes I do – Every so often, I’ll work on one of my own manuscripts and go, “Argh!” (Best heard in a Charlie Brown voice.) Then I noticed other writers do the same things in varying degrees. One story or book can be relatively clean while another becomes awash in red ink. Some writers love the word “that,” which is harder to purge than you think. Very is another crutch word that refuses to die. You plow through and leave comments or notes, so the writer doesn’t think you’re just some mean-spirited hermit stabbing people with a red pen.
  • Anthologies – I’ve often said, “Edit for the writer’s style, not yours.” This becomes more challenging with an anthology. For instance, are African-Americans Black or black? I recently had two writers, both black (I had a black editor flag me for using capitalization once.) who each did it differently. I skimmed the story with the word capitalized, flagged instances where it wasn’t but was used to indicate race, and moved on. The trick is consistency. If Joe is blue-eyed on page one, he’d better not be hazel-eyed on page 203, not without explanation. Plus, the red ink flowed in different amounts between stories. A journalist who writes for a major daily turned in an incredibly clean draft while another, very experienced writer had all sorts of “that” and “very.” They’re pros. You’re a pro. Do your job. If it looks wrong, they’ll ask. And one gent did. Most manuscripts I send back usually have a comment on something that says “Stet as needed.” Down & Out is a small press that gives its writers a decent amount of control. Lower down the food chain, you may want to have a couple more passes to catch missing words and quotation mark errors.
  • Non-US English: The first thing that jumps out at you is the reversal of quotes.  But also “-our” vs. “-or,” “metre,” not “meter.” And who knew there was a difference between UK and Australian English. PWA wasn’t going to cut it. Fortunately, the oft-mentioned goddess of cutting, Ellen Campbell, turned me onto PerfectIt, which looks for these very differences. You just tell it what version of English you’re working in. I’m still doing a PWA pass, but now I’ve done PerfectIt, then a crutch word check. (By the way, I really hate the word “that” now. Everyone, including the idiot writing this blog post, abuses it.) But now I know what to ignore and will let it find the usual issues. Plus, that’s when I go looking for repeated words. Can’t get rid of all of them, but I can get most of them.
  • Editing tools – Sooner or later, I’m going to have to get PWA to play nice with track changes. Which means taking Down & Out’s nice, partially formatted manuscripts and carving them up into 50-page splices. The ProWritingAid passes will probably go faster. Once again, I’ll probably experiment on something of my own.

It’s been a great experience, and my wife likes having me around more now that I don’t Uber anymore. So, now I need to expand this to freelance clients.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>