This is a follow-up to my April 22 post on Proofreading. Geez, was that in April?
Editing is the act of refining your work to get it ready for presentation. While editing can include proofreading, I view an edit as more focused on style and continuity than grammar and spelling and formatting.
When I read a work in which the heroine’s eyes are hazel on page 12 and blue on page 49, I think: “Who edited this?”
Editing catches inconsistencies. You can have a grammatically flawless manuscript that somehow just doesn’t work. Maybe you weren’t clear about what the plot is or you didn’t get to it quickly enough. Or you wrote a passage in which one of your main characters does something so out-of-character—without explanation—that your reader is left with a “WTF” moment. (Explaining an out-of-character moment can work, but you have to be deliberate about it so that we as readers think, “Ahh… I see what you did there.”)
Inaccuracies are weeded out during the editing process. One excellent edit I received was in reference to a scene in which a character was drinking wine at a bar. I’d already used the word “wine” a time or two and I was searching for another way to refer to the drink. (I’d already used the word “drink”, too.)
So I wrote something to the effect of “She sipped the heady brew.” It was pointed out to me that wine is not brewed. Which I knew, but I was so caught up in the process of writing that I didn’t catch the flub.
A good editor will also tell you when you’ve changed point of view in a story and it doesn’t work. They’ll mention when you’ve lost the voice of a character in dialogue. One thing a good editor does not do is critique you as a writer. Now if your editor is a parent or a sibling, you may have to put up with a little of that. Goes with the territory sometimes.
But if you’re paying someone to read your work or trading favors with a Facebook acquaintance, they should know the First Rule of Editing: “Critique the work, not the writer.”
It can be difficult when you get those edits back, though. They loom large, like Godzilla dubstepping over Tokyo. You do not have to agree with all changes, but you do have to judge the changes objectively. If you find yourself getting hurt or angry, close the document and come back to it later. (Meaning: let enough time pass that you don’t want to throw in the towel on your manuscript or throw the computer out of the window.)
Once your later arrives, look at each suggestion (That is what they are, suggestions.) and decide if it works for your book. If it fixes an issue or makes your story stronger, accept it and make the change. If not, don’t change it and move to the next comment.
But remember to be objective. This editor is a person that is not inside your head while you were writing and they may be justifiably confused.
Finally, if you have someone reading your work that does not typically read the genre you write, take that into account too. What works in one genre may not work in another. For instance: If you’re writing hard science fiction, you have to explain how the teleportation system works. If it’s sci-fi romance, don’t bother. Just make the hero irresistible when he does appear.
Are editors nitpicky? Yes. The good ones are. But don’t let it stop you from finishing your manuscript and getting it ready for public consumption. Remember the Second Rule of Editing: Editors nitpick so your readers don’t have to.