Editors are the Wizards of our Craft by Colin Ward
I am delighted to have Fellow author and Swanwicker Colin Ward visit the blog today to discuss the importance of editors and editing to writers in the production of their work. Thank you for your time, today, Colin. Over to you.
Thank you for inviting me to your blog today, Val. Editing is one of the services I offer to authors and it is a subject I feel passionately about, so I am thrilled to be able to tell your readers about the importance ot editors.
Moving from a skill to a craft
The vast majority of us begin our writing journey from a very young age and develop our initial skills at the same time as still acquiring our basic command of language. As we progress through years of education – formal and otherwise – we learn conventions, forms, and rules many later forget. The goal is primarily to be an effective communicator.
Turning those skills into a craft is the next stage. As with any other art form, this requires practise, and maybe some training. Without doubt, it requires passion. After all, if we can’t commit to making our writing the best it can be, how can we expect our readers to invest with as much fervour?
But is passion enough when it comes to the artistic craft of writing? When do we need to turn to a guiding hand?
A need for mentorship is our strength
Writing is a very personal and insular form of expression. We spend countless hours alone – figuratively and literally - planning, researching, writing and drafting. To others, we look spaced-out or aloof for great lengths of time before maniacally blitzing a laptop keyboard with fierce determination.
Nevertheless, coming back into the real world, enlisting the help of editors is all part of a successful writer’s journey. But each of us have our own individual needs from an editor. Here are two key types of editor who operate at different times in the writing process.
Developmental Editors in the earlier phases of your book, perhaps when all you have is a rough first draft which you know needs a lot of work. They help to shape or flesh out the narrative, address plot holes, build characters, and so much more. The best of them will provide you with analytical questions to guide you into making your own decisions rather than just giving their opinion on your work.
Be clear on your reason for enlisting their help. You will succeed more if you engage a developmental editor to stoke the fire in your belly and fuel the passion for your story. You’ll achieve less if all you want is someone to stroke your ego and pander to protecting your ’baby.’
Copy editors are professionals with a certain set of skills – a kind of Liam Neeson of our literary trade. These spelling and grammar wizards can also check for consistencies such as character names, and sometimes a little fact-checking. But their work is primarily on a word and sentence level. Good copy editors maintain your personal voice whilst eradicating bad habits you’ve acquired without noticing.
Their objective eye will highlight when you’ve used twenty words where five would have sufficed. Or when a sentence didn’t need the six pronouns you’ve used. All things considered, if a developmental editor is a helpful engineer advising on your building, your copy editor is your plasterer. A skilled crafts person dedicated to making your work look the best it can.
Knowing their stuff…knowing your stuff…
It’s important you know your editor has the skills they claim, especially if you intend to part with hard-earned cash to pay for them. Many writers have different opinions on what constitutes “enough” experience to call oneself an editor. My advice is an excellent developmental editor is not the same as an experienced writer or enthusiastic reader. Giving constructive, developmental feedback is a skill and it takes more than just being able to write to be able to do it. Think of it in sporting terms: even the best footballers or rugby players don’t necessarily make good captains, coaches or managers.
Some copy editors can work with any genre of writing as it is their command of the language and writing craft you need. However, I would always advise, as far as possible, you work with editors who have a passion for your genre. That way you can be sure they appreciate the nuances of your style. For example, crime fiction books tend to lean towards the pace of action, whereas fantasy books allow more space for decorative world building.
How to find the right editor
One of the best resources in the UK is Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) which gives you plenty of advice on how to find the right editor. You can also search their accredited editors and proofreaders, as well as keep a track on reasonable fees you should expect to pay. Also, talk to fellow writers and make use of personal recommendations. Editors really appreciate knowing when they have done good work, so a new client earnt from word of mouth is a good place to start.
Good editors are worth their high prices. It can be difficult to find the funds, especially for self-publishing authors. And if you’re thinking of hiring developmental and copy editors, and a proofreader, the bills will stack up.
If you can’t afford all of them – like most of us can’t – I would always recommend prioritising your funds on the copy editor. I learnt a lot about my writing – including my bad habits - from my first copy editor, even though she told me my book was generally well written.
The best editors usually ask for a sample of a few pages or a chapter to get a sense of your writing, and for you to see how they edit. Most editors I have worked with prefer to use MS Word files and provide you with a new version of your book with tracked changes and comments. Of course there are other programs and file types, but that could be topic for an entire blog in its own right.
Don’t be tempted to go with the cheapest editor you can find. It’s a false economy. The best editors will go through your book more than once, sometimes even a third time. With a full-length novel this easily amounts to several days of work. Expect an editor to need at least a week or two, maybe even more, to work on your book. And remember the old rule of thumb: busy editors, like busy restaurants, and booked up in advance for a good reason.
After releasing my debut Crime fiction novel in 2017 I released my first poetry collection, Ripples. This was followed in 2018 by a second poetry collection - 100 war poems - and my play "No Smoke".
Simon Kernick's "Deadline" was my first venture into the Crime genre, and I was hooked. It then followed with Mark Billingham, Michael Robotham, Lisa Ballantyne, Adam Creed, and so on. There are unashamed influences of all of these in my debut, and I am happy with that.
Indie writing is my passion, and my new label "In As Many Words" is all about building up that kind of supportive community. One where we should not all have to wait for someone else to tell us our story is worth telling.