Friday 22 June 2012

The Need For An Editor

When Blue Hour Publishing first started someone asked 'Why do you need a publisher to publish an ebook?'
   The answer to that is simple. If you are a competent writer, have good friends who will check your work for you, without flattery, then you don’t need a publisher. Go it alone and take all the royalties.
However, not everyone is that capable. Not everyone has the ability to tackle Amazon’s KDP system. Not everyone can type perfectly!
   That’s where an editor comes in. I was amazed to realise that over the last eighteen months or so I have looked at over 20 books for different people. The difference in work needed has varied from next to none –  just checking that stray typos haven’t crept in; Word is great at spotting incorrectly spelt words, but even with the grammar check on it doesn’t always spot wrong words perfectly spelt but out of context – to suggesting sections that could be re-written for whatever reason.
   My main concern is continuity, both in the story and in the formatting. Checking that character names are the same all the way through, especially incidental characters that may only appear a few times. I spotted this error in a published book that no one else had noticed. The author was extremely grateful and the book was revised.
   Making sure that things like speech marks and dashes are the same throughout the text. Word has the, sometimes annoying, ability of changing an ‘n’ dash to an ‘m’ dash, often leading to a mix of dashes in a text.
Another thing I do is keep an eye on timelines. Making sure that someone doesn’t do something out of sequence, and that the characters don’t do something that is out of natural time, like picking apples in April.
   What about spelling? According to research at Cambridge University it doesn’t matter whether a word is spelt correctly so long as all the letters are there and the word starts and ends with the right ones. That’s fine as an experiment, but it would make reading a chore rather than a pleasure. I am English. Blue Hour Publishing is based in England. So we tend to use English spellings, English punctuation, English phrases and speech patterns. If dialogue has lots of aitches missing it’s because that is how the characters speak, not because we can’t spell. Again, this comes under continuity. It is quite hard for a writer to remember to drop all the letters that are needed when in full flow. I have just gone through something replacing lots of aitches with apostrophes.
   Should it be ‘ise’ or ‘ize’? So long as it is the same all the way through and for every word it is needed I couldn’t care less. Writer Colin Dexter had Inspector Morse criticise the use of ‘ise’ as incorrect; but according to any decent dictionary either is correct. Most newspapers that I know of in the UK use ‘ise’. Try putting a ‘z’ in a crossword and you will be stumped. I know ‘ize’ is used in the US, but I would like to point out to them ‘ise’ is not wrong, it is an alternative.
   The final thing I do to each and every manuscript I check is to run a check for homonyms and make sure the right word is in the right place. A ‘find’ for there, their and they’re is the first thing I check, followed by such other words that can get confused, not because the writer doesn’t know the difference but because fingers sometimes work independently from the brain and type the wrong word.
   How many times do I read a manuscript (technically we should stop using that word because if you look it up it means a handwritten piece of work. If anyone sent me anything handwritten, I would send it straight back I’m afraid).  This depends entirely on the work. Sometimes I only need to read it once, the only thing that needs checking is the typing. Sometimes I will read something two or three times as things become clearer in a complicated plot and my first comments are no longer valid. I have even had work submitted more than once, a second review after the writer has changed the work in accordance with my suggestions or his own plot changes.
   Every book published by Blue Hour Publishing goes through this process. Every book is different, written in a different style. I try not to interfere with the writer’s style or impose my own preferences on their work. That is not my job. If the story makes sense that is enough for me.
   So that is why an ebook needs a publisher. Editors have a hand in almost everything that is published. They are usually unknown, sometimes acknowledged by the author but not always. So next time you pick a book off the shelf in a bookshop or library, remember that the words within that book have been checked and sometimes rearranged by some anonymous person working for the publisher.  

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