Intentions don’t make a doctor, or an editor!

Let’s say someone comes to you and says, “I love serving human beings and I am hard working. I think I will make a great family doctor for you.” Would you hire him as your family doctor? In a sane state of mind, you would not unless he is a qualified doctor and has gone through the years of training and practice needed.

Point is that certain aptitudes and a certain kind of attitude may be necessary for you to enjoy your job, but they can not be a replacement for the skill that can only be acquired by training or practice. We often have people telling us that they have studied in English medium schools, are good with English, are avid readers and hence would make good editors. It may sound right to many of us, but trust me it does not make a good editor.

Good editing is an acquired skill and you need to work on learning and enhancing it. You may be good at English in general but when you start editing, you might suddenly find yourself wondering if there should be a ‘the’ here or not. It is not good enough for you to ‘think’ that a ‘the’ should be there because it sounds right that way. You have to know exactly whether it should be there or not.

That was an example of grammar part of the things. There is more. As writers or speakers of a language we all have our own style. But as an editor you have to have the ability to identify author’s style and make sure your editing does not destroy the style. We have seen people who replaced all the casual Hindi phrases from an Indian English novel while editing. Right thing to do as far as language in concerned, but just not the right thing to do as the editor of a fiction book. The Hindi phrases were a part of the style, the narration. Sometimes the style involves elements more subtle than this. If you have not understood the techniques involved in editing, you may end up returning a manuscript worse off than what it was when it came to you!

There is also a difference in editing content in different forms. A website article is not edited in the same way as a full length fiction novel, which in turn needs a different kind of editing than a STM (Scientific, Technical and Medical) book.

Just like a person who has not studied medicine and does not know what treatment is right for a particular condition would do no good to the humanity with his intention to serve as a doctor, an editor who does not have the right skills would do no good to a manuscript. In fact, in both cases they may end up doing more harm than good.

However, one difference exists between editing and medicine. Getting trained in medicine without formal education in that area is close to impossible. With editing, however, you do not need corpses to experiment upon. You can go for self-training with the help of appropriate books, Internet resources and the Wren & Martin and equivalents from your school days. Then of course, practice makes a man (and woman) perfect. So, if this is the kind of job that interests you, start your self-training and practice right away.

So what does this mean for an aspiring author looking to self publish or may be just looking for feedback? Firstly it is important for any self publishing author to be aware of all the skills that are important for creating a good book. Editing is one of the most important ones without which your content may just not be up to the mark. If you are planning on self-editing your manuscript, you may need to go for some self-training here. Secondly, even if you are hiring someone to do the job for you, it is important for you to know what is expected of the editor, be able to choose the right editor and communicate effectively with him.

Let the best writer-editor pairs bloom! provides book editing and proofreading services in India.

Related Posts written earlier:

[Self Publishing Guide] Self Publishing your Book – Step 1: Finalize the Content

This post is an excerpt from our Self Publishing Guide for Indian Market. If you have not, you may want to read the following post in this series before starting on this one

You have finally finished your book and are dying to see it in print. Since you have decided to self publish, nobody prevents you from going ahead and printing copies of your book. But hang on, there are a few more tasks to be done, decisions to be taken before you can see the birth of your creation. As they say, haste makes waste.

Step 1-Finalise the content. You should not write a book and forget about revisiting it. You need to go through the manuscript in minute details and revise it if required. In the initial excitement of having completed the book, authors tend to overlook checking for mistakes in writing style.

Remember, no matter how talented a writer you are, it always helps to have another person look over the entire book. The greatest writers in the world have had their work ruthlessly edited. Editing does not mean your book has to lose its style/flavour. As a self publisher, you retain the right of final judgement on anything.

The editing options available to an independent author are

  • Professional editor.This is the costliest option. However, it will ensure that you get an unbiased professional look at your work from a third person’s perspective.
  • Editing by friend/acquaintance. You could approach a friend with good language skills to go over the manuscript and do a frank, ruthless critique.
  • Self editing. The third, option is to go over the manuscript yourself for spotting problems. This is the least you must do. Remember, errors can be spotted more easily if you review your manuscript after a gap – say, a couple of weeks.

General editing checklist. There are certain common mistakes we tend to commit in our writing.

  • Getting repetitive. Repetition – of a sentence or words or ideas – can be used as a tool to emphasise a point or an idea, but beyond a limit, it becomes counter productive.
  • Narration, flow and writing style. The book should be consistent. The storytelling should not be disjointed or abrupt. The tense and narrator’s person should be consistent. The best writers break many rules, but they know the rules like the back of their hand before that.
  • Contradictions. Care must be taken to ensure that the characters/information/incidents mentioned do not contradict each other in different parts of the manuscript.
  • Readability. You need to ensure that the sentences are lucid and readable – not too long or complex.
  • Clarity of narration. While editing, emphasis needs to be laid on checking that the narration is clear and conveys the ideas or description clearly. Check if certain portions need to be rewritten to improve clarity and narration.
  • Flow of the book. The overall flow of the book needs to be logical. Check if the organisation of the chapters is fine or if it needs to be rearranged.
  • Grammatical errors. Last, but not the least, the language needs to be grammatically correct. Sentence construction, prepositions and articles, punctuation, verbs, tenses, spellings – everything. Nothing will be a bigger turn-off for a potential reader than spotting a grammatical mistake in a book.

Related Article

Don’t rely overly on Natural Writing Skills

We know that some people are just good with words. Writing comes easily to them. While some of us have to struggle to give right expressions to their thoughts, these people with natural writing skills are able to do it without having to consciously try.

As readers, at some point of time or the other, we all have been fascinated by a piece of writing, which conveys its meaning so beautifully that we wonder why we did not write it that way. Its not that we got the idea a little late. Its just that the writer simply knew how to express it better than us!

Now, if you are one of those people who have the natural writing skills, it makes obvious sense for you to be writing a book. Your skill will be your biggest asset.

However, if you are trying to do it completely on your own, you need to be aware of a mistake many first time writers, especially those who have not been exposed to writing or publishing in a formal manner, tend to commit. Over-rating natural writing skills!

Of course, there are exceptions to everything. But for most people it is important to keep in mind that the product of one time writing is not ready for an average reader. Even with the best writing skills, here are some of the common language issues that will be there in the manuscript

  • You might have penned down ramblings too exactly. The sentences would have become too long with many clauses, which can be interpreted in different combinations. And even with the best command of grammar, you would have lost track of related subjects, objects, verbs, tense, voice and singular vs. plural.
  • If you do not think in the same language that you are writing in (can be the case with many Indians writing in English), the constructions of your thought language would have made their way into your writing, which would definitely strike as odd or even funny to the reader. Not the effect you wanted to create!
  • There would be missing or wrong punctuations, words spelled wrong which spell checker can not catch (‘there’ instead of ‘their’) or an unintentional wrong use of word which make the meaning just opposite to what you intended to say. Before you know it, the reader has put down your book with a “Never Again” feeling.

The issues we have pointed here are mostly language related. There would also be issues around consistency of plot and characters (for fiction), consistency of message and correctness of information (for non-fiction), overall narration, organization of chapters etc.

With self publishing, there is no one to really check you and it is easy to give in to the temptation of publishing your unaltered work – “natural writing”. If you are doing it more for fun and self-satisfaction, then it may be fine that way. But if you want others to read it, the language issues we have pointed out should be the least you must take care of.

What this means is that the manuscript must be re-read several times by you and you should not be shy of editing and rewriting ruthlessly if need be. In an ideal scenario, after you are done from your side you should also take the book through a professional editor. If professional editor is not affordable, then find a friend/relative who is good with language and will give honest feedback about writing and language. Good news with self publishing is that you still retain the final control on your manuscript. If you don’t want to accept changes suggested by the editor you are free to do so. But it is important to take an informed decision. Not knowing what could be wrong will not do justice to your book.

All of this does not mean that you have produce books which are written like school essays in such a grammatically and politically correct language that no one ever talks in. Of course not! Refining and rewriting the manuscript does not mean that it has to lose your style. If your character are not supposed to speak correct language, then they should not. If certain portions are there to convey ramblings, then they should be written like ramblings. The idea, rather, is that none of this should happen in an unintended fashion. In general, a qualified editor would understand the difference between what comes due to writing style and what comes due to wrong way of writing it. In cases where she does not, you retain the ultimate power anyway.

So, pick up the manuscript you did not bother to read since you have finished it and get started on it!

P. S. How much editing do you think the current piece has gone through? Can it do with more? Suggest through comments the parts/sentences you would rewrite. Not abstract suggestions. Give the actual rewritten text. Focus on how language could be made better, more readable etc. apart from the grammatical errors.