Remind me again why I need an editor…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an author in possession of a good manuscript must be in want of an editor. Or is it? For authors taken on by traditional publishing houses, editors are not optional. And while some authors view editors as a blessing, others are less convinced of their virtues. But not many will claim to be able to completely forgo some form of editorial help on the long road to successful publication.

Picture3BThe fact is that editing is an integral part of the publishing process, regardless of what format your creativity takes.

Take Mozart, for example. Legend has it that he produced completed masterpieces straight out of the ether. Fully formed. No amendments. No changes. No second thoughts. Like the goddess, Athene, emerging from the forehead of Zeus. Let’s face it, there probably isn’t an author in the world who wouldn’t wish the creative process was that straightforward! However, the fact is that Mozart was no more immune to the vagaries of eighteenth century music publishers than other lesser mortals, and, where possible, he used family or trusted friends to proofread manuscript engravings to avoid the pitfalls of poor quality or unauthorised copies. And there is even evidence to suggest that either Mozart  himself or his publisher edited some of the manuscripts from performance copies before publication. Why? Well, presumably to give the music-buying public a better Mozart experience!

Editors are not the bad guys 

dictionary1So where is all this leading? Well, my point is that editors aren’t necessarily the bad guys.  A good editor, whether in-house or freelance, can be a huge asset for a writer. Writing is a very personal process. Publication, as the name suggests, is a public activity. And if you’ve put hours of your time, blood, sweat and tears into your latest novel or short story, it seems rather strange that you would send it out into the wide world alone and unprepared.

A good substantive or copy editor can help a writer with the transition from private to public. They can use their experience and professional skills to support you and identify any problems that may cause you embarrassment or cause difficulties for your readers. Most importantly, they they can encourage you, fight your corner for you and challenge you to make your work the best it can be. And that has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?

For more details on substantive (structural) editing, copy-editing and manuscript critiques, check out Book Nanny’s website at www.booknannyfictioneditor.com.

Beware Mrs Malaprop! (Or how to illiterate mistakes and become the very pineapple of eligible writing.)

“… but above all, Sir Anthony, she should be mistress of orthodoxy, that she might not mis-spell, and mis-pronounce words so shamefully as girls usually do; and likewise that she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying.”

Mrs Malaprop, The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1775

Malaprop; malapropism [from the French mal à propos meaning ‘inopportunely’ or ‘at the wrong moment’.]:

Jester 002Sheridan wasn’t the first playwright to exploit the misuse of a word for one which sounds similar for comic effect (Shakespeare used it before him), but it is Sheridan’s creation that has famously given her name to the phenomenon. A useful weapon in the arsenal of the comedy writer perhaps, but be careful not to let one slip in unnoticed, as the effect may not be what you were expecting or hoping for. Couldn’t happen, I hear you say! Don’t be so sure. How about this gem which popped up in a letter from a professional correspondent assuring the recipient that they were happy to make an offer as a jester of goodwill?? I still chuckle every time I think of it.

And that’s what you need to keep in mind. If you are sending out a pitch letter or sample manuscript to an agent or, you want them to remember you as an amazingly talented writer, not as someone who can’t tell their ‘jesters’ from their ‘gestures’. Equally, if you are self-publishing, you do not want a reputation amongst your readers for comedy, unless, of course, you are intentionally writing comedy!

My advice?

Obviously, a good copy editor will sort out all such clownish behaviour on the part of your manuscript pretty quickly, but, basically, I’m with Mrs M. on this one: be a master or mistress of orthography so that everyone can comprehend the true meaning of what you are saying – it may save much embarrassment at a later stage.

Why being an Editor is a bit like being a Nanny…

‘In a moment of mental abstraction for which I can never forgive myself, I deposited the manuscript in the basinette and placed the baby in the handbag.’

(Miss Prism, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde)

Keeping it in the family 

Poor old Jack Worthing. No wonder he was really Earnest. Who wouldn’t be rather serious, having been mistaken at a tender age for a three-volume novel of more than usually revolting sentimentality and ending up lost and found in the cloak room of Victoria Station? Luckily for most babies, literary or otherwise, not all nannies are as confused as Miss Prism! Take my grandmother, for instance. She too was a Nanny by profession, doggedly working her way up from lowly nursemaid to Supreme Ruler of the Universe. An exaggeration, perhaps? Depends on whose universe you’re talking about. By the time Nanna retired, she had nannied, amongst others, at least three generations of one family and each post-retirement visit was executed with all the pomp and ceremony of a returning monarch.

A passion for editing

So, what’s the point of my Nanna tale? Well, I believe there are a lot of similarities between being an editor and being a nanny.  Both involve caring for someone else’s precious offspring, helping them prepare to meet their public and be a credit to their proud parent(s). And like my grandmother, I love my job. I love nursing and nurturing my little wordy charges from terrible toddlerdom and unruly adolescence into blossoming maturity. I don’t mind if they’re prosaic or poetic, fictional or firmly grounded in reality, highfalutin or purely functional. I love dotting their i’s, minding their p’s and q’s, wiping their runny grammar and making sure they eat enough literary greens to promote healthy growth and development. All washed down with a generously heaped spoonful of care and attention.

But what exactly does an editor do? And how is it that some authors dedicate gushing acknowledgements to their editors, while others run away screaming at the very mention of the name? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out. So, why not join Book Nanny for an exploratory voyage through all such editorial conundrums? We’ll ask the questions and (hopefully) find some useful answers which will help to make the world of editors and editing a less scary place for all budding (and perhaps even a few seasoned) authors out there.