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Editing 

Developmental editing

Copyediting

Manuscript evaluation

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Literary and genre fiction

General trade and scholarly nonfiction

K–12 language arts, English, history; K–5 science

I've worked as a freelance editor and writer since 2002. My book reviews and fiction have appeared in The Women's Review of BooksJane, the Chicago ReaderSalon, and The Good Men Project, among other publications.

First, Do No Harm

When we talk about copyediting, we're not talking about life and death, but copy editors would do well to adopt the motto of medical professionals when laying hands on a writer's work. Author Tim Parks illustrates this point too well in "Learning to Speak American," his recent post on The New York Review of Books blog. There, Parks laments his experience with an American copy editor who is "helping" him "translate" his European English for an American audience. The "corrections" Parks describes seem unnecessary and ultimately harmful to the book and to the author's relationship with the publisher (not to mention with copy editors in general).

Writers often have uneasy relationships with the editors assigned by their publishers. During the publishing process, writers are generally nervous, and why wouldn't they be? They are laying their souls and their reputations on the line, and they count on copy editors to validate them and at the same time to prevent them from making fools of themselves in public. Considering what is at stake, it is distressing to hear yet another story about how a copy editor has steered a writer in the wrong direction.

An adept editor strives to make a book the best whatever-it-is it can be. Based on Parks's description, his editor pushed corrections that went against the book's own nature--for instance, forcing Italian characters to refer to yards, miles, and Fahrenheit rather than meters, kilometers, and Celcius. Parks characterizes his copy editor as "actually a very fine editor, I think," but by this very characterization he seems unsure about the editor's quality. It's as if he's saying, "The publisher assigned this editor to me, so he must be a professional, right? He must be a good editor, right?" But the corrections Parks describes suggest either an inexperienced editor or one who is rigid to the detriment of the books he edits. Parks seems to understand this at some level but seems reluctant to trust his own judgment in the matter.  

Ideally, a copy editor is a writer's ally. A fine editor communicates early on in the process that s/he is working on the author's behalf, in support of the best version of the book. However, since we don't live in an ideal world, writers should not automatically trust the editors assigned to them by publishers, since some of these editors will, as occurs in any profession, turn out to be duds. It is especially important that writers develop the confidence in their own judgment and their own intentions to question their copy editors about corrections that feel wrong. That feeling doesn't always mean the corrections are wrong, but a good editor will be able to clearly explain every single correction or suggestion as serving the book, based on the book's nature and the writer's intentions. Writers must never lose sight of the fact that--other than grammatical and mechanical corrections--the final decisions are theirs, that the ultimate responsibility for the book lies with the person whose name appears on the cover. 

Rethinking the Indie Label

I've argued in the past that self-published authors mistakenly call themselves "independent" or "indie" authors, misusing the term traditionally used by independent presses. Indie presses are not self-publishing businesses; they are tradional publishers. Indie presses, also called small presses, use the same submission process used by Big Six publishers, but without the financial resources of the bigger publishers, they are limited in the number of books they can produce and the advances they can pay their authors. However, their limits (e.g., nonprofit status through association with a university) also seem to free them to take chances on books that might not be as commercially successful as those championed by larger publishers. 

That said, I'm rethinking my argument based on the article "What Is An Indie Author?" by Orna Ross of the Alliance of Independent Authors. Based on Ross's careful discussion of the term "indie author," I'm thinking that the word is flexible enough to accomodate both authors published by indie presses and self-published indie authors. I do, however, think it is important to keep that distinction alive, because I think it would be a shame if people confused the contributions of indie publishers with those of self-published authors. Based on what I've seen, the majority of self-published work still does not meet the standards of work published traditionally, including work published by indie presses.

To date, I have seen no substitute in self-publishing for the processes a book goes through at a traditional publisher. That's because traditional publishers large and small invest substantially in the books they produce. They have a system in place for editing, design, and production, and these processes are carried out by professionals paid professional wages. These elements make the difference in quality between traditionally published books and self-published books. Until I can no longer tell which books (print or electronic) have been published traditionally and which have been self-published, I'll continue to push the distinction between indie publishers and indie authors.  

Becoming a Bestseller

As a writer, I vaguely dread the duties that go hand in hand with publication. Authors aren't always good at reading in public or making conversation with strangers, much less selling themselves. It's quite an adjustment for many of us to see our creations not just as works of art but also as products to sell.

As an editor, however, I've seen exactly how author participation in marketing and publicity can affect the exposure, reviews, and sales of a book. A couple of years ago, I edited a brilliant book I thought would have wide appeal. When I urged the author to hire a publicist with a proven track record, she seemed lukewarm about the idea, and to date, the book has gotten little exposure and sold very few copies. I think that's tragic. Another writer I've worked with has approached marketing and publication in every creative way she can think of, resulting in books that are not only critically acclaimed but that sell well.

Michael Hyatt, author of Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, has posted a great entry on his blog, Intentional Leadership, that contains clear, practical tips for any book author, whether you've already published a book or are planning to. Hyatt writes, "The issue is not whether the bestseller lists are accurate (they aren’t) or whether they are fair (they’re not). The question is whether or not the additional visibility creates sufficient value for the author." 

Whether you ever make a bestseller list, these tips will help you control what you can control about the publishing process, an invaluable skill for writers to develop. 

e-booklandia

I have a confession to make: I don't read e-books.

I am, however, interested in them as a cultural phenomenon, and I'd like to know how to edit them (I'm working on that part). So I was excited to hear that my local library had purchased a fleet of Kindles to rent to patrons. But after reading Sarah Houghton's August 1 post on her blog, Librarian in Black, I have to say I'm less excited, at least in a positive sense. (Warning: Houghton's post contains profanity.)

The more I learn about digital rights management (DRM), the more I'm convinced we can do without it. We might all do well to do what we can to support our public libraries on this issue. They're always looking out for us. Now it's our turn. 

 

Matthew Salesses at Necessary Fiction

Matthew Salesses has written a useful and engaging essay, "How We See Our Own Work," in which he shares his own and other writers' thoughts about revision, including my own. Matt is the fiction editor for The Good Men Project, where he published my story "Paradise Is a Place with Plenty of Music."