What do editors do?
It’s a fair question to ask, especially now we have things like acquisition editors, stream editors, life editors and even clothing editors…
And there are very big differences between the work a, say, newspaper editor does compared with a book’s copy editor.
I have spent more than 20 years as a sub editor*, fact checking copy in newspapers and magazines, cutting copy to fit the pages, ironing out poorly constructed sentences❡, and writing headlines and picture captions.
Now I edit websites and books (primarily fiction and creative non-fiction), and those two tasks are wildly different, too!
In this post, I’ll focus on book editing.
You’ve written your novel, and you’re happy with what you’ve done. But it will always need another pair of eyes before you launch it on the choppy publishing seas, seeking an agent or publisher. When you’ve worked on something for a while, you lose the ability to focus on its detail, or remain critical.
But you’ve heard of proofreaders, copyeditors, line editors and developmental editors. What do they all do?!
The developmental editor looks at the big picture, the story arc. They are not interested in the grammar nitty gritty – they are looking at character development, the strength of the story, whether it progresses, if the themes it contains match the genre the author is aiming for, consistency of viewpoint…
The developmental editor will offer a manuscript critique (aka an appraisal or assessment), which consists of an editorial report.
This does what it says on the tin☥ and can be a report of from two to 20 pages long, looking at character, point of view, theme, plot, pace, narrative style, etc, in greater detail. It summarises how the manuscript can be improved, with suggestions of how to strengthen weaker parts.
A developmental edit can also include an in-file edit, with tracked changes in the margins, and comments drawing attention to the specific bits that need looking at.
Your developmental editor will be able to explain what work they intend to carry out, and how much it will cost.
If you have a story but are not confident in your writing, or how to plot your tale, get a developmental editor on board. They will tease your ideas out and give them a coherent shape.
Your story is finished. You like how it is paced. Is your book ready to set sail on those stormy publishing seas? Nope.
We’re still not quite at the punctuation nitty gritty stage here, but a line editor does look at the sentence structure and writing style to make sure you’re using the best terms and language to convey your story in any one scene.
Are you using the correct point of view to impart a particular mood? Is the narrative distance drawing the reader in or leaving them untouched by your hero’s predicament? Are you repeating yourself? Does your punctuation match a paragraph’s tone?
If you’ve crafted the perfect story and just want to make sure it makes sense, hire a line editor. They’ll pick up the irrelevant paragraph, the scene which doesn’t add to the tension, and the splicing commas that slow the reader down.
The line editor fine tunes your writing to make your story sing.
Photo by George Milton from Pexels
This is where we get down to the nuts and bolts of your book’s structure. The copy editor looks closely at grammar, spelling, syntax, punctuation, etc. They make sure everything makes sense, that paragraphs are formatted correctly, that there are no single quotes where there should be doubles, that style is consistent… But there is a sort of lurching into line editor territory here, and a copy editor will point out where something doesn’t make sense or is ambiguous.
That’s it. Story finished. Edits incorporated. Paragraphs flowing beautifully one to another. Ready to set sail now?
You need that final proofread (a term derived from ‘galley proofs’, the first test printed pages of a book). The proofreader checks for typos, formatting errors, makes sure page numbers haven’t dropped off… It’s basically a final quality check.
So, once your book is a perfectly formed wee kernel of work, have it proofread.
You won’t necessarily need – or be able to afford! – all these services. You decide what you are after and hire accordingly.
Just be clear what you want from your editor and make sure they explain what they’ll be providing – and charging for.
* I was once a deputy chief sub editor, which a friend outside the industry laughed at, calling me the deputy manager deputy manager. He had a point.
❡ Of which there have been mercifully few, thanks to my talented former colleagues and co-workers
☥ Hopefully it will iron out hideous clichés like that one 😁
Who doesn’t love a festival? Who doesn’t love a festival in their home town? Who doesn’t love a festival that encompasses music, comedy, literature, town walkabouts, art and local artists, and the seaside?
That’s what Fringe By The Sea provides.
Fringe By The Sea is an annual festival held in my home town of North Berwick. Now in its 13th year, it began as a week-long offering, stretching to 10 days a few years ago. I have been to various events at the festival every year since it began, and have had the pleasure of very close proximity to artists including Maggie O’Farrell, KT Tunstall, Eddi Reader, Val McDermid, Richard Herring, Mica Paris, Sara Sheridan and Badly Drawn Boy.
North Berwick, just 25 miles east of Edinburgh on the East Lothian coast, has long been a holiday destination for Scots, especially those popping over from Glasgow. The town went through an economic dip in the years before I arrived – not that I’m saying it was my family moving here that led to the town’s resurrection as the Biarritz of the North.
I think it’s called that. I don’t know by whom. I’ll just check…
Well, it’s called the Biarritz of the North all over the internet but I don’t know who coined the term first. However, my research quickly dug up this wee article, about the creation of the North Berwick Ladies’ Golf Club in 1888. It’s an article worth reading because it’s always nice to learn about indomitable women.
Fringe By The Sea has very much contributed to the growing buzz in the wee seaside town. Although already popular with tourists, a usually sedate North Berwick comes positively alive during the festival, with a vibe that reminds me of Brighton. Albeit a very small Brighton. And one with a sandy beach, rather than pebbles.
Last year, due to Covid, naturally, Fringe By The Sea was called off.
This year, though… Boy. The team behind the festival have worked flat out to bring a Covid-safe festival back to town. Rather than erect the traditional Spiegeltent, which sat resplendent in the harbour, events will be delivered in a variety of outdoor venues – in open-sided marquees and tents.
[With the weather forecast for next week looking erratic at best, visitors would be advised to wear waterproofs and hats…]
I’m so delighted to see the festival return. Though there are inevitable worries about Covid not having been totally eliminated, and the natural concerns about crowds of people gathering in the town, the Fringe By The Sea team are working hard to make sure audiences are kept safe.
I’m so confident in their efforts, I am even a member of the volunteer team this year, for the first time ever.
I’ll be donning a FBTS t-shirt and lanyard, checking tickets and making sure everyone is having fun and feels safe. After the past 17 months, it’s essential we remain cautious and responsible but allow ourselves some entertainment and enjoyment – I’d argue that looking after our mental health is just as important as protecting ourselves from Covid.
So, if you’re anywhere near North Berwick next week, do have a look at what’s on offer at Fringe By The Sea, grab some fish and chips from The Rocketeer, have fun and stay safe.
Being a member of the CIEP is great. Not only am I part of a wider industry network, making connections and having access to resources for learning, it means I am also introduced to new ideas and concepts in language and grammar.
I say “new”; I mean ones I hadn't heard of.
I’ve mentioned elsewhere in my blog that I never really learned English grammar, having had the misfortune to go through secondary education in the UK during an odd phase when the government didn't think it might be useful.
I mean, one can go too far – see the recent controversy over teaching eight year olds about fronted adverbials, a concept most teachers hadn't even heard of before they were told it was necessary for schoolchildren – but understanding the structure of language can be useful to aid communication; is especially useful when learning foreign languages; and is even more useful when forging a career in, oh I don't know, writing and editing.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I recently learned about zombie rules, a concept I really wanted to pass on to you. Yes, you.
Zombie rules, as I discovered via the CIEP, are “laws” of language that either never existed or are no longer valid.
The latter alternative is thanks to the ever changing nature of language, its evolution through use. Such evolution can be difficult to adjust to, especially for those who were raised in a generation of education when grammar was taught, and the rules were laid out as being hard, fast and incontrovertible.
[Personally, I think different platforms and media require different language. I’m quite comfortable with the evolution of language in blog posts and fiction, for example, though that does leave my own voluble writing style looking decidedly Victorian; but I like formal media such as news writing and company reports to be more conventional. What do you think?]
The former alternative – that some zombie rules never even existed (sorry, we’re back there, several paragraphs ago) – was something I learned many moons ago via the wonderful Bill Bryson. One of the points he made in his book Troublesome Words, and one of the few that stuck with me, was that split infinitives are not a thing.
Some hardcore grammarians aver that splitting infinitives is a big no-no. “To boldly go” is a split infinitive, which I assume means hardcore grammarians can’t watch Star Trek without flinching.
An infinitive is a verb, preceded by the word ‘to’; eg, to go, to walk, to push. A split infinitive happens when you place an adverb or adverbial phrase between the 'to' and the verb, eg, to boldly go, to casually walk, to gently push.
Bill explained how a split infinitive was not and could not be a thing – it was a rule invented by Victorians, who said that since infinitives aren't split in Latin, they shouldn't be in English.
But this is a nonsense, since the reason Latin infinitives are not split is because they cannot be. A Latin infinitive is one word! For example, ‘to walk’ is ambulare, ‘to push’ is ventilabis.
The myth of the split infinitive is only one zombie rule – there are many more listed in the CIEP's link below.
But* why am I bothering with the concept of zombie rules and why are they a problem?
Here’s what the CIEP says:
Zombie rules stalk the language landscape, disorientating editors and proofreaders, restricting writers’ ability to express themselves as they would like, encouraging an elitist approach to language use and causing fights between wordsmiths
Fights between wordsmiths are really ugly affairs to be avoided at all times, involving broken pencils, torn pages and syntactic insults.
I think it's the repression of writing style that makes zombie rules undesirable.
I read masses of Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope as a teenager, and went on to study 19th century literature. I mean, I’m not knocking these guys, and they certainly directed my own writing style – ie, long-winded – but there isn’t a huge degree of variation of writing style in that period.
Nowadays, however… the diversity of style and tone is just a delight. And that’s because we don't have to stick to turgid rules to tell our stories.
The thing is… rules are great to form a foundation, a sort of building structure for writing, a frame to support the novice.
Children learn language because they are led by rules. They apply the rules they absorb to find their own way. (As an aside, when I was little, I thought “cheese” was plural, so would ask for a chee with my apple.) When a child unconsciously applies the rule they don't even know is a rule to the sentences they construct, it’s really quite incredible to hear.
But once language is embedded and communication comes naturally… What need for hard and fast rules? Why break pencils and sling insults over a split infinitive.
Disclaimer: there are some rules I do find hard to give up. During a period freelancing at the Financial Times, the editor told me not to use the word “over” in a sentence such as “over the past 10 years”.
“You go over a fence,” he said. “It’s ‘during’ a period of time.” He was an FT editor. That rule sticks.
In fact, as I scroll through the list of zombie terms the CIEP says are unnecessary, there are several I use and would feel uncomfortable giving up!
And here’s the kicker – I would feel uncomfortable giving them up. But it doesn't mean all writers should be forced to abide by these rules. In my own writing, I’ll stick to the language I know and with which I am comfortable. But as an editor, I rejoice in other voices, in rule breakers and diversity, and am happy to adjust to the evolution of language.
I’m going to carry on picking and choosing my rules, but you go ahead and kill those zombies dead.
* I just broke a zombie rule!
Knowing when to use “affect” or “effect” is a real stumbling block for many people.
Generally (though not always, which I shall come to later), affect is a verb and effect is a noun.
The definition of affect is “to have an influence on someone or something, or to cause a change in someone or something”.
I came across a great way to remember this – think of the word affectionate. That’s an emotion, a feeling.
So if something is having an impact on emotions or feelings, it affects you.
(Of course, this does also apply to situations, not just emotions and feelings. Pollution affects the state of the oceans.)
The definition of effect is “the result of a particular influence”.
As noted on dictionary.com, since effect can also mean a result, or a consequence, just swap out the word effect with one of these alternatives. “Not having breakfast resulted in her hunger” changes to “the effect of not having breakfast was being hungry.”
So – eating breakfast affects someone’s hunger (because eating breakfast has an impact on a feeling or sensation).
But eating breakfast has the effect of ridding hunger (because it has a result).
Why are they so similar?
Because they both derive from the Latin facere – “to do, make”.
Affect derives from the Latin afficere – “to act upon, influence”.
Effect derives from the Latin efficere – “to bring about, do”.
Which possibly doesn't help too much, and if you take on board all this information it will only confuse matters!
And confusion can also kick in when effect is used as a verb, “to make happen”, eg, “to effect change”.
If you effect change, you are bringing change about.
But if this is all too much, just stick to the definitions and examples at the top of the page.
Affect – verb – having an impact on something.
Effect – noun – the result or consequence of something.
So, corporate social responsibility. That's when big business spends a bit of money in the local community to offset whatever morals it's undermining or harm it's causing with its immense wealth.
Or, as the University of Bath's Tobacco Tactics puts it: "...activity whereby socially harmful companies set their own minimum standards for social performance, enabling them to externalise their costs onto societies and consumers while passing themselves off as socially responsible."
That's what I thought anyway. Before I went into PR I had a pretty cynical view of the whole concept.
You know -- Amazon's Climate Pledge Fund and Philip Morris International's Step Change.
Then, studying for the PR diploma, I learned a bit more about it and saw more of the philanthropic side of things. Appreciated the importance of business paying back.
And then... I started writing the shownotes for podcasts by coaching-in-nature organisation business EarthSelf, and finally encountered some truly conscientious businesses that aren't engaging in CSR just because it's the in thing and their marketing execs told them to -- but because they understand and believe in a wellbeing economy, and the power and importance of supporting community and sustainability.
Companies like SF Bay Coffee, which funds the farmers who produce their coffee beans, and has so far built more than 63 schools, 1,700 housing communities and more than a dozen medical centres.
And Sheets & Giggles, which gives 1% of its profits to impactful non-profits in the local community, last year donated 20% of its revenue in one weekend, between Purple Friday and Cyber Monday — totalling more than $17,000 — to the World Wildlife Fund, and plants a tree in the US for every order it receives.
And Scott Bader's 2036 Vision, which annually donates 80% of its 'Scott Bader Commonwealth' income as grants to charitable activities and projects around the world.
And, last but not least, my client EarthSelf itself, which was the reason I discovered these great companies and was reinvigorated by the idea of what could be done -- what IS being done -- to deliver sustainable business.
EarthSelf's partnership with social enterprise B1G1 saw it marking our working relationship by donating a woman in Tanzania a week's worth of finance and business training.
Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world, with more than 70% of people living below the poverty line, and 16% of children under five being malnourished.
The partnership work B1G1 offers businesses helps women build their own businesses through education, business training and access to financial services. This, in turn, uplifts their families and communities to help pave the way for a sustainable future.
This is true social responsibility; one that corporates and big business should all engage in.
In fact -- I'll practise what I preach and look to sign up Green Gables Editing with B1G1 right now...
So much confusion around how to structure a sentence referencing multiple people. For example: "Me and John went to the shops."
(I don't know why I chose John. He's my brother. I don't think we've ever been shopping together.)
The key to this area of grammar lies in pronouns, such as I, he, we, you. Those are "subject" pronouns. Then there are "object" pronouns – me, him, us – and "possessive" pronouns – mine, theirs, his.
Where are you going? Come back!
I honestly do feel your pain – during the period when I was at secondary school, the education powers-that-be had decided not to teach students grammar, which has proved quite inconvenient for those of us who have gone on to work with language.
Fortunately, as a teen I read a lot of Victorian literature, which is brutal in its grammatical perfection. It's also the reason my sentences can be interminably long labyrinths. Lol.
I'm basically self-taught when it comes to understanding what is right and wrong, so I know instinctively if a sentence is badly constructed but can't really tell you why. Thank goodness for Ecosia*.
So – me and John went to the shops. This is incorrect because when referring to yourself and somebody else, you put their name first.
"John and me went to the shops." Wait! That's wrong, too!
This is when knowledge of grammatical terms would be useful. Where the pronoun in a sentence is the subject, you use a subject pronoun. In "John and me went to the shops", John and I (see what I did there?) are the subjects. The sentence is about us. So we need to use the subject pronoun "I", not the object pronoun "me".
I found that deleting the other subject from the sentence helps clarify things really quickly. So – delete John. (Not literally.) If you delete John, you have "me went to the shops."
That's clearly wrong.
On the other hand... "Mike bought John and I a drink." (Mike's my husband. He would totally buy the drinks, he's very generous.) We've used the subject "I" there but it doesn't sound right. That's because it isn't – in this sentence, John and I are the objects.
Say, "Mike bought I a drink." Nope. So, extrapolate from that and you have "Mike bought John and me a drink."
I cringe the most when I see/hear people using "myself" when they just mean I or me. "Myself and Katie went to the cinema," for example. It's easier and more acceptable, really, to make these mistakes in speech rather than writing, but I honestly don't think anyone says "myself went to the cinema".
I'm just glad my children are being taught grammar at school now.
*Ecosia is my go-to Google replacement.
Setting up Green Gables Editing, I was establishing what sort of products I would provide. In addition to proofreading and editing for businesses and individuals, I thought I would deliver a writing service for those who might not have the time, inclination or confidence to write themselves.
And then a friend suggested a “drop-a-strop” facility saying it was a concept she had been mulling over herself. (For the record, she isn’t a writer or editor, and wasn’t being entirely serious, so I’m honestly not stealing her idea…!)
I thought it sounded brilliant – a special service writing complaints letters for people, to whomever they’re annoyed with. Well, not anyone. Mainly companies and businesses. I draw the line at sending angry missives to philandering husbands or nosy neighbours.
I have form in this genre myself. I went through a phase in my twenties when I was free of family constraints and so had the time to sit down and craft an acidly worded tract of complaint.
For the purposes of this blog post, I trawled through my catalogue of carping, and the images you see here are excerpts from those epistles. How wordy! What an intense sense of displeasure and having been inconvenienced!
But also how egotistic, almost snobbish. Obviously it’s important to be detailed and clear about the subject of one’s complaint, but it will also get you further if you remember there’s a human at the other end, reading your grievances. More understanding, and a lot more readiness to accept an explanation, will allow for compromise and a satisfactory, amicable outcome.
Anyway, if you’d like to “drop a strop” with a service or business that you feel has failed you in some way, and don't quite know how to word it, I’ll be more than happy to chat about how we can get your message across – politely…
With thanks to Ruth H-P.
In a world that’s becoming more inclusive and understanding of diversity comes the new importance of understanding etymology and the origins of certain words.
Put simply – think about what you say before you say it…
This has been drawn to my attention a couple of times in recent months, both times by mums with neuro-diverse children. (Now there’s an expression – neuro diverse – that wouldn’t have been dropped into casual conversation until very recently.)
And both times, these mums called out the use of particular words as being essentially offensive.
The words? Loony and cretin. And looking at them there, in all their bald glory, of course they’re offensive. They’re used as insults, right?
The word “cretin” is often used as a synonym for idiot but if you look into its background, you’ll find that “cretinism” was originally another name for those suffering congenital iodine deficiency syndrome, a medical condition present at birth, marked by impaired physical and mental development.
Of course, it would have been the condition’s mental impairments that led to “cretin” being used interchangeably with stupidity or idiocy – itself, at heart, an incredibly offensive attitude. Cretin, idiot, moron… these are all ableist slurs.
As for loony – this one elicited much more of a discussion over on a certain social media platform. It’s especially an issue up here in Scotland, where the “loony dook” is an annual event. This sees hardy (foolish?) souls launch themselves into the sea on New Year’s Day – on the East Coast no mean feat, since the ocean is the North Sea.
And the implication there is much clearer – the sort of person who swims in Scottish seas in the depth of winter is a “loony”. A lunatic.
Many of the responses to the mum drawing attention to this, though polite, essentially shouted her down. It wasn’t meant as an insult, they said. It was a harmless joke. And, in this context, that might be true.
But loony is still an insult. And using it so casually in an otherwise harmless context is only normalising the insult, not weakening the word. It reinforces the word loony as an indicator of someone’s reduced mental stability – and thereby reinforces mental ill health as something that should be stigmatised.
Remember when the National Spastics Society changed its name to Scope? When the word for a particular condition (in their case cerebral palsy) becomes buried in our everyday lexicon as an insult, perhaps it should be abandoned altogether.
So, what do you think? Is a word harmless when its user doesn’t mean to be rude? Or are certain words just intrinsically… offensive?
This is the bit where I write about wordy and linguistic things that take my fancy...