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Editing Essentials by Liz Hurst

It is a joy for me to welcome my very first editor to the blog today. Liz Hurst is a well-respected author, and experienced author who has offered her time and experience to explain the craft of editing. Thank you so much for your time today, Liz.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog today, Val. I am delighted to have an opportunity to discuss editing with your readers. Let me start at the beginning.

Types of Editing

The kind of editing I do falls into three categories: development (or structural) editing, copy editing and proofreading. Many writers are not clear on what each of these things are, so here’s a brief summary:

· Development editing is a big picture overview of your work. If you’re an indie author and you’ve hired someone to conduct a development edit, you can expect to receive a full editor’s report, which will include the editor’s thoughts on aspects of your work such as characterisation, plot, setting, use of dialogue, any gaping plot holes, etc. It will usually take a minimum of 3-4 weeks for an editor to conduct a full development edit on a novel, so bear this in mind if you have deadlines.

· Copy editing is where we get into the sentence structure and use of language. Corrections will be made for spelling and grammar, as well as punctuation and typos. I will always check the format of a manuscript at this stage, too. So, I’m making sure there are page breaks between chapters, for example, and ensuring paragraphs are correctly indented without unnecessary ‘white space’. Copy editing will also aim to iron out any phrases or clauses that sound a bit clunky, that don’t read well, or that may sound better if put another way.

· Proofreading is the final stage of editing. By now, we are not looking to change anything in the manuscript. It’s simply a matter of correcting anything that’s wrong, anything the copy editor may have missed. If there are more than a handful or errors at this stage, I would question whether the copy editor has done a thorough job!

Common Errors

During my years as a freelancer, I have seen many, many mistakes – from the fairly benign to the utterly ridiculous! However, there are a number of things that crop up time and time again, and can be easily eliminated by an author. Here are just a few:

· Using the tab key to indent a paragraph. Always use the Format/Paragraph menu and select Indent first line. Using the tab key will get you into all sorts of bother further down the line, especially if you’re publishing via KDP, so it’s always better to set this up as early as possible.

· Getting muddled between single or double speech marks. It used to be that British English was always singles and US always doubles, but this is not necessarily the case as publishing has gone global. For UK published novels, it’s common for titles set in the modern day to use doubles, as per the US, but for historical fiction to remain with singles.

· Adding two spaces after a full stop (US: period). Since word processors became popular in the 1980s, it has never been necessary to use two spaces because the space between the full stop and the next sentence is optimised. You may think it looks nicer, and it may have been what you were taught, but it is ALWAYS wrong in publishing. Over the course of an entire novel, you could be using up several pages’ worth of space by doing this. And, if you’re an indie author, and you’re paying for printed copies, you’ll pay by the page. Do your bank balance a favour and just use the single space!

· Using three dots rather than the ellipsis character. This is not so much of an issue, unless you’re using an older version of Microsoft Word. These days, adding three dots (the ellipsis) will trigger Word to create the character for you, so you don’t need to worry about it. Something to check for when you read through, however, as if you’re typing quickly, it can get missed. While we’re on about the ellipsis, it is always three full stops, not two or four, and DO NOT a fourth at the end of a sentence. You may add an exclamation mark or a question mark afterwards, if the context calls for it, but without a space.

· Different date and time formats throughout. Pick a format for how you will present this to the reader and stick with it throughout the story. It’s off-putting for the reader to have to see the time displayed as 6pm, 18:00 and six o’clock, all the same book.

· Inconsistent spellings of words. E.g. recognise and recognize in the same manuscript. Again, this is about consistency. It is not uncommon for -ize endings to appear in UK commercial fiction nowadays, and publishers will have their own house styles which dictate what they prefer. The key is to make sure words are spelled the same throughout your book and don’t chop and change. Very muddling for the reader, and looks amateurish, frankly.

Tips to avoid these problems when self-editing

· WAIT! At least three months, in my opinion, before you go back to your work and re-read it. This gives enough time between your creative mind ceasing to work on the story, and your analytical mind to assess what you actually wrote. During that time, you can go and work on something else, or plan the next book in the series, or whatever, but DO NOT touch the finished draft yet.

· Read your work aloud. Your brain sees different things when reading in your head and when reading aloud. You won’t believe how many daft errors you will completely miss until this stage. Trust me – try it!

· Use the Show/Hide button. This is the button that looks like a weird back-to-front capital P. When you click it, it will show you the document’s background formatting that is unseen when printing. It’s a good way of spotting the odd double space, or where a tab has been used to indent a paragraph.

Of course, it is always best to hire a professional editor to check through your work after all these steps are complete, but if you are struggling to find the money, how about enlisting the help of your writers’ group, or your alpha/beta readers? You will simply not be capable of spotting errors when you’ve read through your work so many times, and a fresh pair of eyes is essential for a polished and professional piece of work.

Author Bio

Liz has been a freelance editor and proofreader of fiction for over seven years. She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Editors and Proofreaders (CIEP) and Mediterranean Editors and Translators (MET).

She has published four erotica titles under the pseudonym Kitty Mulholland, and three works of historical fiction in her own name.

She lives near Perpignan, France, with her husband and two crazy but adorable cats.

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1 Comment

Jacquie Rogers
Jacquie Rogers
Oct 11, 2023

Thank you, Liz and Penny. Great reminder list there!

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