Tag Archives: copy-editing

A look at editing romance novels

Romance novels get a bad rap sometimes. They are often viewed as being less deserving of praise – and more deserving of being classed a ‘guilty pleasure’ – than literary fiction or other genres such as crime or science fiction. But I’m an unabashed lover of romance novels and not in the least bit guilty about it. And that love spills over into my professional life, where it’s one of my specialist fields as a fiction editor.

Editing romantic fiction is, in many ways, like editing any book. It’s just as worthy an endeavour as editing literary fiction, and romance novels are just as deserving of good editing as any other book (and believe me, romance readers have extremely high expectations and standards and can be vociferous when something doesn’t meet with their approval). You have the same concerns about consistency, correctness, clarity, and all the other Cs to look out for. But romance novels also have their own set of quirks and genre expectations.

What makes a romance novel?

In order to edit a romance novel, an editor must first understand what a romance novel is and what it is not. It might seem obvious, but a romance novel is not just a piece of writing that contains romantic elements.

A romance novel – as a piece of genre fiction – must have a happy ending to be classed as such (or, as the Romance Writers of America put it, an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending”). Tales of woe where the protagonist dies of some dreadful disease and his soulmate is unable to go on and leaps off a cliff are not romance novels. They may be novels with romantic elements, but they are not, strictly speaking, romance novels. And advertised as such, they can create a quite surprising level of anger and annoyance from readers who have sat down to enjoy a feel-good romance and have been left bereft and confused.

Most romance novels are character-driven as opposed to plot-driven. That means that characters’ interactions with each other and their journey and development are the primary focus of the novel. Compare this with adventure novels, which are usually plot-driven; while there may be elements of character development, the main focus is the twists and turns of the storyline. Romance novels are sometimes criticised for their lack of imagination or formulaic storylines, but the relationships between characters are the real heart of the story.

The big picture: characters and their development

When editing a character-driven story, it’s vital to focus on the believability of the characters and their development. If you’re coming in at a developmental or evaluation stage as opposed to a later copy-editing/proofreading stage, this is where you need to focus your efforts. Are the characters likeable? Are their flaws believable and not too drastic? For example, a bad boy who comes to the defence of the protagonist in a bar fight is fine, but one who beats up the protagonist or cheats on her time and time again? Not fine, and readers will swiftly put the book down, never to return. Is their romance believable? A writer can get away with stretching the boundaries of believability slightly, but readers will be turned off by something that is so far outside the realms of possibility it becomes ridiculous.

What’s the conflict and is it strong enough? Conflict is what drives a novel. Two people meeting and falling in love, with no barrier or obstacles, is not a story. There needs to be something stopping them being together which drives their actions, such as a jealous ex-boyfriend, a protagonist who has vowed never to fall in love again, or the time-honoured favourite of romance novels – the secret baby. When you’re editing a romance novel at a more conceptual stage, these are the big questions you need to ask and examine.

Details: dialogue and consistency

When you reach the copy-editing stage, I’d recommend looking closely at dialogue. Dialogue is super important in romance novels. Sometimes there isn’t a great deal of action going on, so it’s imperative that the dialogue is sparkling enough to carry the story and keep readers’ attention. Romance also suffers from some slightly odd dialogue tags sometimes, and you’ll face a balancing act of changing the most egregious ones (people ‘grinding out’ sentences, perhaps) and leaving some of the others. At times, romance novels almost have their own language, and it’s worth familiarising yourself with it before making sweeping changes. At all times, make sure the dialogue is natural and that there’s enough back and forth between characters. Long soliloquies rarely work. Readers want conversations, not monologues.

Pay close attention to things like changing eye colour and hair colour. These things are usually mentioned quite regularly throughout a romance novel, and you would be amazed how many times someone’s appearance changes over the course of the book. Also, keep an eye out for things like contraception not being mentioned or considered by the characters – modern readers expect things like this to be discussed or at least referred to. Sex scenes in general often require careful editing as many authors struggle to write these – and many editors just skip over them or don’t give them the attention they deserve. Editing romance novels means you sometimes have to put your embarrassment to one side and write some quite unusual author queries from time to time!

Keep careful notes of character backstory. Backstory can often be of immense importance (something the protagonist did ten years ago can come back to haunt her later, for example) and it’s important to make sure it’s consistent. Consider keeping a timeline if there’s a lot of going back and forth. That will also iron out issues such as people going to work for seven days in a row or children going to school on a Saturday.

And if you’re editing a historical romance novel, make sure your author has done their research. Historical romances can be great fun to edit, but one written without proper research can quickly turn into a time sink while you check whether words, phrases, and even concepts were commonplace at the time the book was written.

Katherine TrailKatherine Trail is a former newspaper chief sub-editor who now specialises in fiction. She lives in Aberdeen, and when she isn’t editing she can usually be found tramping through the wilderness with her spaniel, Daisy. KT Editing Services

More than friendly faces

Member Kathrin Luddecke highlights the benefits of attending the SfEP Oxford local group and the value of being able to ‘try before you buy’.

Pondering

When I was thinking about proofreading, and possibly copy-editing, as a career option, I started – as one does these days – with an internet search. Up popped the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ website, including a very useful ‘Test yourself’ feature for anyone who, like me, fancies themselves as a potential ‘pro’.

Reassured by a decent result, while also giving me an idea that of course there was room for improvement (and a hint at the usefulness of specialisms!), I decided to look into the option further. I found a number of helpful guides on the SfEP site, but I was particularly interested in a chance to find out more about what editing is actually like from people already in the profession.

Trialling

So it was great news to come across the SfEP’s ‘Networking’ section – and even better to find out that there are local groups, run by members on a voluntary basis, across the UK and indeed further afield. As a (potential) ‘newbie’, it was brilliant to read that I could go to up to three meetings before deciding if the career, and membership of the Society, was for me.

It can be a bit daunting, of course, to go along to a meeting of what is a group of complete strangers. Luckily, I quite enjoy getting to know new people, so I set out to say hello to members of the Oxford Group. Again, it was really easy to contact the volunteer coordinator (at that time, Robert Bullard) through the information on the Group’s page, just to check it would be okay for me to come. He kindly said yes, and off I went to the Kings Arms.

An SfEP Oxford group meeting

Meetings of our group are on a weekday morning, rotating through the week, to suit different working patterns and other commitments people may have. It seems to work well for Oxford members, as I found a room full of a dozen or so people, with a nice buzz. Over our drinks – as a group, we seem to have a predilection for cappuccinos – introductions were made. Of course I couldn’t remember everyone’s names (I do now!), but I felt immediately at home, among people who cared about spelling, grammar, choice of words, and who were friendly and welcoming to boot.

Then the business commenced, looking at identifying priorities for training to be put on for us freelancers with the support of the Oxfordshire Publishing Group. It all sounded very exciting and it was great to find the local SfEP group linked into wider publishing networks. I also found it terribly useful to hear about the different areas in which people were working – a lot of academic publishing (this being Oxford), but also educational and more business-oriented. Quite a few people had been in the profession for a long time and were clearly very busy and in demand, while others were new and still looking for work.

Joining

After that initial get-together, I went to one more meeting, starting to remember names as well as faces, then made up my mind to go ahead and join the Society. I knew by that time that I had much more to learn to become a professional proofreader and then, perhaps, editor, so signed up for the SfEP’s ‘Proofreading Progress’ course – having made sure this was the right level for me to start at. It wasn’t as easy as I had secretly hoped, but that meant I was properly challenged and learned lots!

While taking the course was excellent and really helped me develop best practice, learning about mark-up and more, it was the friendly exchanges with others in the local group, the chance to swap experiences, ask questions and share frustrations (especially with trying to find a way onto publishers’ freelance lists, which can take some time, and tests, of course) that made all the difference to me wanting to keep going. There’s nothing quite like mutual support!

Coda

To me, being a member of our local group is one of the best things about the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. I feel that even more strongly having spent just over a year acting as the Oxford group’s lead coordinator, supported by Sally Rigg and Piers Cardon. It was not too difficult a job, with others helping to put together a series of training and more informal networking sessions over the year – from an accountant to marking up PDFs, from editing in Word to marketing.

Luckily, with all the support, I had enough time left both to start taking on work and to get into editing, starting with the SfEP’s ‘Copy-editing Progress’ course. And while I have just handed over the lead coordinator’s role for the Oxford Group to Lesley Wyldbore, I will definitely keep going to our meetings! I can thoroughly recommend getting to know, and helping out with, your local group, wherever you are. In between meetings, the SfEP’s online local group forum is a great way to keep in touch, continue conversations and stay up to date with what’s up.

Kathrin LuddeckeKathrin Luddecke has a background in Classics, a passion for translating and editing and a love of art. She has lived, studied and worked in Oxford for half her life and is enjoying the freedoms – and challenges – of having gone freelance in 2014. Find out more on Kat’s (rather intermittent!) blog or follow her on @KathrinLuddecke.

 

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

7 questions to consider when naming your editorial business

photo (2)One of the most important decisions you’ll make when starting any new venture is what you should call your new business. Here are seven questions that will help you come up with the perfect name for your editorial business.

1. Should I use my own name?

If you are already well established in your editorial career, it can be helpful to use your own name in your business as it will help potential clients find you, particularly if they have worked with you previously. However, this doesn’t work if you have a more common name. If your moniker is along the lines of John Smith, you may prefer your business name to be a little more original.

2. Should I include details of what I do?

It can be helpful to outline your services as part of your business name, but be careful not to box yourself in. While ‘X Proofreading’ may be a perfect description of your business offering today, next year, after you’ve expanded into copy-editing or developmental editing, you may find that the proofreading part of your business name restricts you.

3. Is my proposed business name easy to pronounce and spell?

Picture the scene: You’ve met a really promising contact and exchanged business cards; a week later your new contact wants to get in touch. Unfortunately, they’ve mislaid your contact details, but that’s not a problem because they remember your business name. A simple internet search should yield your phone number or email address. Except when they type in what they remember as the name of your business, they spell it differently. Or maybe they have seen your business name written down and they are recommending you to a colleague, but they pronounce the name of your business as they remember hearing it, not as it is actually spelt, so they can’t find you. You’ve lost out on potentially valuable business. So keep your business name simple and avoid homonyms or puns that could confuse potential clients when they try to find you. Moreover, slightly odd spellings could be seen as detrimental when you are trading as someone who specialises in catching typos.

4. What is my story?

If you decide not to use your own name, don’t just think about the services you offer, think about your story. Is there a particularly original path you took that brought you to this career? Could your business name hint at your story? An added bonus is that this will give you something to talk about when you first introduce your business to prospective clients.

5. Is geography important to me?

Perhaps you have a local landmark or heritage that you’d like to reference in your name. Or would you rather not tie yourself to a particular region? Remember to think about the future as well as the present. If you are likely to relocate, would this impact on your business if your name is linked to a particular locale?

6. Are there any other businesses already using my proposed name?

You’ve come up with the perfect name; it’s so original no one else could have come up with it — never assume this is the case. Always search on the internet first. Google your ideal name and see what comes up. Then check the common domain name providers to see if the address is available. And don’t forget to search across social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to see if other organisations or individuals are already using your proposed name. The last thing you want is to buy your web address and then discover that someone is already using your business name on Twitter, particularly if they are in a less salubrious line of business!

7. What do friends and family think of my name?

Test out your proposed business name on friends, family, colleagues, or even the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) forums. What does the name say to people? Is there anything about your business name they can spot that you didn’t notice? For example, do the initials spell out an unfortunate acronym?

Are there any hints or tips you would add to this list? How did you come up with your business name?

Joanna BoweryJoanna Bowery is the SfEP social media manager. As well as looking after the SfEP’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and the SfEP blog, she offers freelance marketing, PR, writing and proofreading services as Cosmic Frog. Jo is an entry-level member of the SfEP and a Chartered Marketer. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Alex Matthews.

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the SfEP.

How I got started – Samantha Stalion

Samantha Stalion working outsideOne of the most common questions asked at Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) local groups and by those interested in pursuing a career in editing or proofreading is: ‘How did you get started?’.

SfEP ordinary member Samantha Stalion shares her story in this regular blog feature, which explores the many different career paths taken by SfEP members.

As I sit here in the sunshine, with my laptop and ergonomic mouse on the table in front of me, I cannot help but ponder my life. How did I end up here? I guess it’s taken me a while to realise what it is I want to do with my life. I mainly have my husband to thank for my long-awaited eureka moment just over two years ago. But not least I should mention my editor-in-chief father, who has remained supportive and encouraging over the years, and who – although I only recently realised this – has continuously looked over me, exuding his own unrivalled determination and proficiency in the publishing profession. Perhaps it was my adoration for my father and the entrepreneurial mindset of my ambitious husband that have somehow combined to spur me on to reach my own goals and continue to develop professionally.

I don’t think I was ever particularly academically gifted – I was merely an average student – but a certain degree of maturity and curiosity to learn more about the world we live in has enabled me to use my skills to master my profession and steadily move forward, making a living along the way. As an editorial fledgling, I was lucky enough to have some great role models and mentors over the years, and my fluency in various languages and broadened horizons have certainly added to my competency in this profession.

In any case, going back to how I got here … I have a lot to say for my (or indeed anyone’s) multicultural and multilingual upbringing. English, German and Dutch all played an integral role in my early years, and later (at degree level) Spanish was added to these language skills. Not only were the languages a part of my upbringing, so too were the cultures behind these languages and the countries in general. As languages remained very much a part of my everyday life, I began to explore these skills and integrate them into my professional career, choosing jobs that required them. I ventured into translation and successfully completed a postgraduate translation course run by City University London. Having realised that there is much more to translation than generally assumed, I became intrigued by other professions that depended on language skills.

Owing to my father’s connections (and, in a way, I guess my own connections), I was able to land a gig translating articles on religions for an encyclopedia, for a reputable academic publisher in the Netherlands. I worked on this project for a couple of years, on a part-time basis, before being asked to work on other encyclopedia projects – not as a translator, but as a copy-editor. With next to no copy-editing experience, I was given on-the-job training and, four years and a few pay rises later, I am still copy-editing for the same publishing firm on a couple of different projects – I must be doing something right.

In the last couple of years, in addition to dabbling in freelance work alongside my full-time job in the printing industry, I decided to consolidate my editorial skills with some additional training and qualifications. I passed the ‘Basic proofreading by distance learning‘ course provided by the Publishing Training Centre with merit and completed the ‘Brush up your grammar‘ course offered by the SfEP. After learning the proper use of BSI proofreading marks, and with some helpful tips and advice on how to get started as an editorial freelance, I gained the confidence necessary to jump into the full-time freelance whirlpool. Additionally, I successfully upgraded my SfEP membership status to ordinary member.

Local SfEP group meetings have been a source of encouragement and invaluable advice, and the forum discussion boards on the SfEP website remain a daily source of inspiration and guidance.

Unfortunately, with an imminent move to the States (the price you pay for being married to an American), gaining work and new clients has been slow going. However, I imagine with some extra determination and hard work I will get to where I want to be professionally before too long. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

My advice to other freelance newbies just starting up their own business: draw on ALL the contacts you have and GO FOR IT!

Samantha Stalion profile shotSamantha Stalion was brought up in a multicultural family. She completed her high-school diploma in the Netherlands, studied Dance and Spanish at Chester University and completed a postgraduate translation course at City University London. Recently, she completed the ‘Basic proofreading by distance learning’ (PTC) and ‘Brush up your grammar’ (SfEP) courses and she is currently enrolled on the PTC’s ‘Copy-editing by distance learning’ course. Samantha is an ordinary member of the SfEP and recently launched her freelance business Samantix et al, offering editorial and translation services to academics and businesses.

Proofread by SfEP associate Sandra Rawlin.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Top quality editorial training for 2015

SfEP logoMake 2015 the year you start your editorial training, or commit to continuing professional development (CPD). The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) offers a range of classroom courses on aspects of editorial practice at centres around the UK, run by our highly experienced and knowledgeable trainers.

Why train in the classroom?

We believe that our classroom-based courses offer unique benefits:

  • Networking and social opportunities – meet like-minded course delegates, and discuss your interests and concerns with your tutor.
  • Answers in real time – get instant feedback on exercises, and see how others tackle things.
  • Make a day of it – it’s easy, as a freelance, to get stuck behind your desk. Enjoy your time away!

Courses for beginners

Copy-editing 1 (Introduction)
Cambridge, 4 March 2015
Proofreading 1 (Introduction)
Edinburgh, 20 February 2015
London, 6 March 2015
These basic courses are perfect if you need to copy-edit or proofread as part of your job but have had little formal training.

Getting work with non-publishers
Bristol, 23 May 2015
This course helps you reflect on how you can promote your business to non-publishers, and fine-tune your networking activities to get more – and better paid – work.

Going freelance and staying there
York, 17 February 2015
This course provides essential information on the business and organisational aspects of setting up as a freelance.

Courses for improvers

Copy-editing 2 (Progress)
London, 12 March 2015
Proofreading 2 (Progress)
London, 18 February 2015
These courses are suited to those wishing to update, refresh or check their skills in these areas.

Brush up your copy-editing
London, 19 February 2015
This workshop aims to consolidate and extend skills evolved through trial and error, and put editorial tasks in the context of the whole publishing process.

Brush up your grammar
London, 5 March 2015
This course is suitable for anyone working with text and hoping to gain confidence that they are making good decisions in what they write.

On-screen editing 1
London, 2 March 2015
This course is designed to introduce techniques to increase efficiency and improve working practices for those who do a lot of on-screen editing. (It can also be taken with On-screen editing 2, below.)

Introduction to web editorial skills
Edinburgh, 16 March 2015
This workshop is designed for those who want to adapt their editorial skills for a digital medium, or who are responsible for web content but have no editorial skills.

Professional copy-editing
Oxford, 21 April 2015
Designed for those who have taken introductory courses and done some copy-editing work, this workshop teaches crucial skills that will help you offer your clients the kind of service they’ll want again and again.

Advanced courses

On-screen editing 2
London, 3 March 2015
This course is designed to introduce more advanced techniques for improved efficiency for those already experienced in on-screen editing. (It can follow on from On-screen editing 1, above.)

Proofreading for accreditation
London, 1 April 2015
This advanced course aims to help delegates decide whether they’re ready to take the SfEP accreditation test in proofreading.

Find out more

For more about the content of the courses, and to book, visit the Training section of our website.

A day in my life: Lucy Metzger

IMG_2999What exactly do editors and proofreaders get up to every day? This is a question we will be exploring in a new, regular feature: A day in my life. We start off with an insight into the life of SfEP regional development director Lucy Metzger.

I’m at work the moment my feet hit the floor around 6.15 a.m., but I don’t start getting paid until about 9.00 a.m. In between I’m waking teenagers, making teas and coffees (I must add that later in the day my teenagers sometimes make ME a cuppa) and packed lunches, waking teenagers again, telling teenagers I don’t know the whereabouts of their headphones/maths jotters/black-cardigan-no-not-THAT-black-cardigan, waking teenagers again and finally ensuring that they all end up in school. I drive home on a wee stretch of country road to escape the school-run traffic. That little drive, listening to the tail end of the Today programme, eases my transition from Mother Lucy to Editor Lucy.

There are many things I miss about office life, and I don’t know what I’d do without my Glasgow group companions, but I do relish that solitude as I sit down at my computer to begin work. Ideally the tasks I do between 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. are those that require my best thinking, as far as that goes. What’s ‘best’? Creative, analytical, intuitive – different jobs require different kinds of thoughts, but my mind is definitely better in the morning. A lot of the time I’m copy-editing academic books and textbooks. I usually conceive of the editing as being in two phases: the bits-and-pieces and then the reading. The morning is my best time for the reading. It’s also when I mark mentoring assignments, which requires careful thought as each mentee raises new kinds of queries and issues; and the morning is good for any writing I’ve got to do, e.g. reports or proposals for the SfEP council, training materials, a note for Editing Matters, or even a blog post.

My lunch isn’t a single meal – I snack: a cracker with cheese, a bowl of muesli, some leftover rice, some fruit. If I’m starting a new book then I’ll typically begin it in the afternoon and do routine checks: chapter titles vs table of contents, numbering of illustrations, styling of headings and subheadings, checking references and notes, etc. These tasks are good for afternoon. I don’t want to give the impression that I become completely incompetent at that time (the jury’s still out on that one), but these activities don’t exert my mental muscles quite as much. Such checking almost always throws up a few things to ask the author about, and this makes an opportunity to establish communication by means of some relatively lightweight queries – ‘which version would you prefer for the title of Chapter 3?’ – rather than plunging straight into the nitty-gritty – ‘I wonder if you could clarify what you mean by “if the subject (the individual is individual) is determined, yet only as being undetermined, then that which determines the subject, i.e. the predicate (the particular), is taken to be in-determining any determination”?’ I’m not kidding. Anyway, that kind of query is a morning query and definitely belongs in the second or third email to the author, not the first.

For the last few years, I’ve used the school day to predict exactly how many hours I’d have between sitting down at my computer and the first ‘hello’ of one of my kids coming in the door (they walk home). This year, though, my oldest is in sixth form and so may turn up at any time. I don’t like pointless interruptions, but it’s lovely to be interrupted by that. We have a little chat and then when she starts wondering about food I turn her loose on the leftovers in the fridge. I then get back to work, and so, I can only suppose, does she. Then the other two come home, and on goes my Mother Lucy hat again, which feels really nice.

How does this compare with a typical day in your life? We’d love to hear about what you get up to. If you’d like to share your ‘day in the life’ story, please email smm@sfep.org.uk.

Lucy MetzgerLucy Metzger grew up in Illinois and began proofreading in 1987. She edited for Macmillan in London from 1990 to 1995; she then moved to Scotland and went freelance. She is based in Glasgow. Lucy works mostly on academic and educational materials. She has three children, is an amateur musician, likes cooking and taking walks, and is learning to crochet.

Proofread by SfEP associate Patric Toms.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.