The lighter side of editing

The lighter side of editing

Friday, September 22, 2017

Should You Hire Your Own Freelance Editor or Buy the Editing Package from Your Publisher?

These days, indie authors have choices upon choices to make when it comes time to have their work edited. One of the first is this:

Should you contract directly with an individual freelancer or buy an editing package through a self-publishing company?

The short and not very helpful answer is yes. That makes for an awfully short blog post though, so let’s try for a longer and more helpful response. I can’t respond to this question with a simple, one-size-fits-all answer, because there isn’t one (although “Hire me!” does come to mind). What I can do is give you some pros and cons to the two options from the editor’s perspective.

Finding Your Own Freelance Editor: Pros and Cons

  • Getting to know you. When you contract directly with a freelancer, you know who you’re dealing with. You can ask about that person’s experience, skills, and interests, and you can often request a sample edit that will show you what kinds of changes the editor will make, how he or she will make those changes, et cetera.
  • Access. If you have questions before, during, or after the edit, you can email your editor and get answers, often the same day.
  • Consistency. If you like the way an editor handled your first book, you can turn to the same person for your second book. This is especially important if you’re writing a series and want the editing choices to be consistent from volume to volume.

Smiling woman at computer
Want to know who your editor is? Hire a freelancer.
Photo via Adobe Stock.

  • The search. It’s not easy to find the right freelancer. There are roughly a bazillion of us, and we’re all on the internet, just waiting for you to google “freelance editor.” I just did that, and Google came back with 21.1 million results in 0.78 seconds. If you’ve recently written your very first book and are looking to hire your very first editor, those numbers can look pretty darn intimidating. Try narrowing things down by plugging in more specific search terms; a search for “freelance science fiction editor” brought up 482,000 results. Better still, try going to the Editorial Freelancers Association ( and search for a freelancer in the member directory, or post your job on the job list (but be prepared for a lot of replies).

Buying an Editing Package from a Self-Publisher: Pros and Cons

  • It’s easy. Click a button, answer some questions, pay the fee. No searching required.
  • Quality control. When I do contract work for a self-publisher, the edited book goes through two rounds of quality control before it goes back to the author. No, that doesn’t guarantee perfection (nothing does), but it gets you a little closer. When I contract directly with an author, I have my own list of things to double-check at the end of an edit … but if there’s something I was blind to when I was knee deep in editing your book, I might still be blind to it when I’m in double-check mode.
  • Speed. In a hurry? Some freelancers are booked months in advance, but with the self-publisher there will usually be an editor ready to start on your book right away. Also, the deadlines are tight, at least in my experience. This means you can get your edited book back quickly (but read on to the “cons” section).

Hands on computer keyboard
The editor without a face.
A potential con to buying an editing package.
Photo via Adobe Stock.

  • Speed. Those tight deadlines mean editors work quickly, which, in my experience, means being less able to pay attention to nuances of language and usage and less engaged with the manuscript as a whole.
  • The editor without a face. One thing that has surprised me about editing is how intimate it can feel. Plunging your hands into someone else’s writing, adding punctuation, changing words, moving sentences, all while trying to get inside the author’s head so you don’t inadvertently change his or her meaning—that is something I do not take lightly. Because I know what editors actually do, I would be reluctant to turn any of my fiction writing over to a nameless, faceless “Editor.” I just wouldn’t be comfortable with it.
  • Consistency, lack of. This one is for those of you who write series. When you submit your second, third, or fourth book, you can request the same editor who worked on your previous book(s), but what if that person has moved on from that company? Your new editor will turn in a good, solid edit, but some of the little things, those little decisions editors make—whether to capitalize a certain word or retain a certain alternative spelling, for example—might be different. Not wrong; just different. Even if you do get the same editor, that person’s decisions could be different, simply because he or she likely will not remember or have any record of specific choices made in the past. When I edit for private clients, I always hang on to the style sheet I create, and I also send a copy to the author. When I do contract work, I still create a style sheet, but I don’t keep it after the job is finished, and the author does not get a copy. That means less consistency if I happen to edit for that author again in the future.
  • The editor does not work for you. An editor who works for or contracts with a self-publishing company works for the publisher, not for the author. Why does this matter? Well, it means that when I edit for a self-publisher, I follow their rules, and that means following The Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition) very closely. For most authors, this is fine. But for nonfiction manuscripts originally written in another style (MLA or APA, for example), this can mean lots and lots of fiddly changes that don’t do much to enhance the work. For some fiction manuscripts, it can mean imposing style guidelines that don’t quite fit. (Note that I said “for some fiction manuscripts”; in most cases, Chicago style works just fine for fiction.) When I work directly for an author (and specifically for authors of genre fiction), I don’t get all loosey-goosey with the style guidelines, but I do apply them a bit more flexibly.

The Takeaway

What does all this mean for the indie author? Well, if your work is straightforward, not very complex, not part of a series, and needs only light editing, then buying the editing package from a self-publisher could be a good choice for you. You’ll likely get a quality edit with a quick turnaround and at a fair price. But if your work is more complex—say, if it is written in dense language, has hundreds of footnotes and an extensive bibliography, or uses lots of special formatting or a quirky style that you want to keep—I would recommend taking the time to find your own editor. Same thing if your work is part of a series and you want the tenth book to have the same style as the first: find your own editor. Again, you will likely get a quality edit at a fair price, and you will potentially be starting a long-term relationship with a professional you’ll be able to turn to again and again.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Lesser-Known Editing Tools Part 1: Sonic Screwdriver

Sonic Screwdriver--11th Doctor
The sonic screwdriver of the
11th Doctor. This is the model
we use.

Every profession has its tools. For editors, the toolkit generally includes a computer/monitor(s)/keyboard setup, word-processing software (usually Word), macros, shortcuts, reference materials (print and electronic), often a timer of some sort, perhaps a project management program, and the one tool without which none of this would work—the editor’s brain. Every once in a while, though, you’ll find yourself in an editing situation that calls for a different tool. A special tool. A tool that is not usually associated with editing. In this series, we’ll be taking a look at some of these lesser-known editing tools. Perhaps one or two of them will find a place in your editing toolkit.

Introducing the sonic screwdriver

Today’s tool is the sonic screwdriver.[1] If you are not familiar with the BBC series Doctor Who, you have perhaps never heard of this tool. The sonic screwdriver is the Doctor’s basic, all-purpose tool, useful for tasks such as picking locks, disabling or enabling electronics, picking up various sorts of signals … and, oddly enough, tightening and loosening screws.

But what can a sonic screwdriver do for you?

Peter Capaldi on set of Doctor Who
Peter Capaldi, the current
Doctor Who, photographed
on set.
Given that the sonic screwdriver is the tool the Doctor has relied on in many a tight situation, your friends at The Breaded Tortoise wondered if it might have some as yet undiscovered editing functions. We have discovered something miraculous.[2]

Every once in a while, you will come across a sentence (and we use the term loosely) that you just cannot figure out. The authors of these collections of words have hidden their true intentions so cleverly that normal editorial techniques fail. No amount of rereading, reading aloud, reading backward, staring, or swearing is helpful.

Time to break out the sonic screwdriver.[3]


Choose your model

Sonic screwdriver--12th Doctor
The 12th Doctor's sonic screwdriver. If you
want maximum functionality, this is the
model for you.
Sonic screwdrivers are available in several models, each corresponding to a particular Doctor. The current Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, has a state-of-the-art screwdriver with more functions than our model has. We understand it has four light modes and four sound effects. We are fairly sure that some combination of light and sound would be useful in formatting notes and bibliographies. Some other combination could be used to fix problems with verb tenses. The possibilities are endless.[4]

Various models can be found on Amazon for between $12 and $30. For a device that can preserve your sanity, this is a steal.

How to operate a sonic screwdriver

Just point your screwdriver at the offending word or sentence, and press the button.[5] Easy peasy. But don't tell your clients that you're using a bit of British sci-fi equipment on their manuscripts. Best to let them think you're brilliant.

What’s the best fix your sonic screwdriver has made? Let us know in the comments!

 Photo credits:
Peter Capaldi. By Shaun Smith [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Eleventh Doctor's sonic screwdriver. By Sonicdrewdriver (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

The twelfth Doctor’s screwdriver. By Character Options [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

[1] Disclaimer: The sonic screwdriver serves no actual editorial function and should not be relied upon in professional editing situations. Results depicted in this post are for illustration purposes only and are not guaranteed. The Breaded Tortoise just wants you to have a little fun with your work.
[2] Not really.
[3] The sentence shown in the video is very similar to one we encountered in the wild several years ago. A “crystal tear drop slanderer hanging from the sealing” is not something we could make up.
[4] Because we are making them up.
[5] Nothing will happen, but you might feel a bit better.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Should I Format My Manuscript in Book Form Before I Submit It for Editing?

A manuscript submitted for editing should be neat but not print-ready
Image credit: Adobe Stock

Let’s make this simple. No. No, you should not do a lot of fancy formatting in your manuscript before you send it to an editor. As an author myself, I know how tempting it is to try out different fonts, heading styles, picture placement, and so on. You’ve worked on this thing for months or years, and you’re ready for it to start looking like an actual book. It’s time already, right?

Well, not so fast. There’s not much point in putting time into doing a pretty layout when the editor is just going to come along and screw it all up. For example, I’ve gotten my share of raw manuscripts that are set in some font—any font—other than good ol’ boring twelve-point Times New Roman. And the first thing I do to those manuscripts is change the font. My editing eyes are used to seeing twelve-point Times New Roman, and it seems like a bad idea to confuse them now.

How should you format your manuscript for editing?

Unless your editor/publisher tells you otherwise, just keep it simple:
  • Use a page size of 8.5 x 11 inches with one-inch margins.
  • Set your main text in twelve-point Times New Roman, double spaced.
  • Use a larger font size and/or bold to indicate section headings, chapter headings, and subheadings.
  • If your manuscript includes any unusual formatting that you want to keep (if you want certain sections set in a different font, for example), let your editor know.
  • If your book will include photos, illustrations, and so on, do not paste them directly into the manuscript file. Instead, add text such as “Insert figure 1 here” to keep track of where everything goes. I also prefer to have captions in a separate file rather than placed directly in the manuscript. This makes both editing and layout easier.

 Basically, you want it to look neat, but you don't need to worry about making it "print ready." First get the words right, and then worry about making it look pretty.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

One Editor’s Work Space

What can you find on an editor’s desk? Depends on the editor. Who cares what you can find on an editor’s desk? Other editors, mostly, because we are an inquisitive (nosy) lot. You never know when you might see one editor doing or using something brilliant that would work for you too. After years of adapting myself to inadequate and uncomfortable work spaces, I finally invested in one that works for me. Here it is:

Photo of desk with dual computer monitors.
Photo 1. The general work area.

  1. Dual monitors on fully adjustable monitor arms. How did I ever live without dual monitors? See below to find out how I use them.
  2. Sit/stand desk. Expensive but worth it, because this is where I spend my life. It’s an UPLIFT Desk from the Human Solution, by the way. Love it, love it, love it.
  3. Ergonomic keyboard. An absolute must. This one is a Kinesis Freestyle 2, plus the numeric keypad and an accessory kit.
  4. Balance-ball seating. I find this much more comfortable—and fun—than a chair. No, I’ve never fallen off, though I’ve come close a few times due to too much bouncing and/or rolling.
  5. Laptop stand that I use to hold books. I love this stand because it allows me to keep my style guide—usually Chicago—right at my side. It also has space below to hold my most frequently consulted sources.
  6. Hot-beverage center. What office is complete without a Keurig? Coffee in the morning + tea in the afternoon = a happy editor.

Photo of desktop.
Photo 2. The desktop.

  1. What’s on the dual monitors? I keep Pandora on all day, usually minimized on the left screen (it’s on screen in the photo). The left screen is also where I view my active document and its style sheet. The right screen is for the editorial letter (always open so I can make notes on it as I’m editing) and my Internet resources. I keep at least three tabs open pretty much all the time: the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, the online Chicago manual, and a search engine.
  2. Water.
  3. Timer. I set this for 30 minutes, work until it beeps, and stand to stretch and move around a little. The timer reminds me to get up regularly if I’m sitting, and it also helps me track my time. No fancy time-tracking apps here; I just write the time in that notebook the timer is sitting on.
  4. Things that make me happy. A Grumpy Cat mug and an electronic screwdriver. If you don’t watch Doctor Who, the screwdriver may not make sense to you, but I keep this little beauty on my desk to help me out in tricky editing situations. Not sure how to untangle a jumble of words that is supposed to be a sentence? Just point the electronic screwdriver at the screen and… Okay, it doesn’t actually do anything, but it’s fun.
  5. Coffee and snacks.
  6. TARDIS. Also from Doctor Who. Bigger on the inside. When things get rough, I can fantasize about climbing in there and shooting off to some other place and time.

What's on your desk top?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Word Histories: Clues from Clews

Sometimes, just for kicks, I like to browse through dictionaries and other wordy books to see what fun things pop up. There’s always something interesting.

Theseus and the Minotaur.
The hero used a clew to
find his way out of the labyrinth.
Illustration by Vasiliy Voropaev via Adobe Stock.
For example, on a recent dip into The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories, I learned that the word clue comes from clew. These two words were once simply different spellings of a word that meant “a ball of yarn or thread.”

Now you may be wondering, as I was, how a ball of yarn morphs into something that helps a clever detective solve a mystery. Remember the story of Theseus and the Minotaur? Here’s the ultra-abridged version: The Greek hero Theseus ventured into the Cretan Labyrinth, unrolling a ball of string (a clew) as he went, slew the horrible Minotaur, and then followed the string to find his way out again. In other words, he used a clew to solve a problem. He also later ditched Princess Ariadne, who came up with the whole clew idea to begin with. Hey, heroes can be jerks too. 

A clew becoming a clue?
Photo by uckyo via Adobe Stock.

Later, the spelling clue came to refer to those bits of information used by detectives. A clew is something used by knitters (although I am a knitter, sort of, and wasn’t familiar with this meaning; I normally refer to my yarn as “that tangled mess at the bottom of my knitting bag”). Clew can also still mean “clue” or “a metal loop on a lower corner of a sail,” proving, as if we didn’t already know, that sometimes English is strange.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

5 Phrases Guaranteed to Raise Your Editor’s Blood Pressure

I have high blood pressure. It’s controlled with diet, exercise, medication, and attitude, meaning I try to avoid overloading myself with stress. Unfortunately, sometimes editing is stressful. Wait…that’s not quite right. Editing is a joy. I love editing. When you’re bookin’ along through a manuscript, checking the dictionary, poring over entries in Chicago, updating your style sheet, hitting your keyboard combinations to insert autotext…Oh, yeah. Ever heard of flow? Anyway, the stress in editing doesn’t come from editing; it comes from people.

Before I proceed, I want to state very clearly that most authors and other folks I encounter are a joy to work with. But...

Every once in a while, an editor will run into a client who is demanding, overbearing, and/or just plain rude. There’s even a specific term for this kind of client: pita (“pain in the ass”; not to be confused with the yummy flatbread that goes great with hummus). These clients seem not to understand—or care—that the person on the receiving end of their e-mail is, well, a person. From some of these unfortunate encounters, I have put together the following list of phrases guaranteed to upset an editor’s equilibrium.

1. You left an error on page 97.

Of course this client won’t bother to mention that the rest of the book is perfect…and there is usually a good chance that the “error” is not an error at all.

2. I don’t think you read my book. You just ran some kind of spellcheck on it.

A client actually said this to me in an e-mail once, and it absolutely sent me into orbit. Maybe I should have been more, um, diplomatic, but I severed our working relationship immediately. Some things I just don't put up with.

3. You ruined my masterpiece!

If by “ruined” you mean “corrected the atrocious spelling and put the commas in the correct places,” then yes, I did, thankyouverymuch. Thankfully, I’ve never been on the receiving end of this particular insult.

4. Why did you change X, Y, or Z???!!! I demand that you change it back!

This came from an author who was absolutely outraged that I corrected the improper use of “lie” and “lay” throughout her book. By the way, I did not change it back, but I was very diplomatic in explaining why.

5. You want how much to edit my book? Pretty good money for just reading.

Sigh…For the umpteenmillionth time, editing is not “just reading.” This little comment was especially annoying because it hit my in-box on a beautiful Saturday afternoon when I was stuck in my basement office—working, all the livelong day, after having worked all week and the previous weekend.

If you want to insult and/or anger an editor, try one of these phrases out on him/her. Or, if you would prefer to have a productive working relationship with your editor, try a different approach. There is absolutely nothing wrong with disagreeing with your editor or asking questions about something the editor changed or didn’t change. Just remember: Editors are people too, and some of them already have high blood pressure.

Photo credit: Stock image via Adobe Stock.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Editor Fails Grammar Quiz, Doesn’t Care

Several months ago, I—middle school grammar nerd, lifelong avid reader, editor for over a decade—failed a simple grammar quiz. And I don’t care.

What really happened

Okay, I did not “fail”; instead, I got what you might call an “interesting result.” And it wasn’t a grammar quiz, exactly. It was more of an “Are you a grammar nazi?”* quiz—you know, one of those things you stumble across on Facebook and click on because you think it’ll be an excellent way to waste ten minutes of your life? Yeah, you should just steer clear of those quizzes. Life is too short.

Anyway, the quiz comprised ten or so questions, each of which presented a sentence containing a possible error. The quiz taker’s task was to decide how to fix the sentence, or whether to fix it at all. The possible errors were things like use of ain’t in a sentence. They were things that, in the context of formal prose (e.g., for your dissertation), would be problematic. But in another context (e.g., fiction narrated by a character whose grammar is more, um, casual), they might be fine, and the suggested fixes would be stilted and would suck the author’s voice right out of the piece.

Ten out of ten, I chose “The sentence is fine as is.” The final result said something like this: “Your thoughts about grammar are basically, ‘Whatev’, dude.’”


After a moment’s panic over the future of my editing career, I took stock. I care about grammar. I love grammar. Diagramming sentences on the chalkboard with my eighth-grade English teacher remains one of my fondest memories. I impose strict rules of grammar and usage every day. My attitude toward grammar is hardly “Whatev’.”

An inaccurate representation of an editor at work.
See, the problem with the questions on that little quiz was, there was no context. And editing without consideration of context amounts to nothing more than a thoughtless application of rules that (in my humble opinion) are not necessarily about “right” and “wrong” to begin with. Grammar and usage guidelines exist to ease communication, to smooth the way between writer and reader, to ensure that the meaning of any given sentence is clear. They’re not commandments from on high, and the thoughtful editor’s job is not to impose them arbitrarily. The thoughtful editor considers both the guidelines and the context. My job is not to slash through sentences with a red pen, declaring with each stroke, “The rules say it must be done this way!” My job is to make sure that the author’s intent comes through clearly and the finished piece speaks in the author’s voice. Sometimes I let “wrong” things be because, in their context, they’re not wrong at all.

To the prescriptivists who get all stiff and sniffy over the mere thought of doing such a thing… Hey, like, whatev’, dude.

*Not the actual quiz title. And no, I can’t remember the actual quiz title. As I said, it’s been several months. The Internet has moved on.

Photo credits: Stock images view Adobe Stock.