Tag Archives: SfEP

Five reasons I’m a fan of the Judith Butcher Award

Nominations are now being sought for this year’s Judith Butcher Award (JBA), but what’s it all about? OK – cards on the table: I was the proud recipient of the JBA in 2013 for my work on social media. Perhaps that means I’m slightly biased. But it also means that I can give you a very personal take on this annual celebration of exceptional contributions to the community that is the SfEP.

Official recognition

I was proud to have my efforts officially recognised, epecially as it meant that my name would appear in the same sentence as Judith Butcher’s!

I joined the SfEP in 1997, but it was only when I became a marketing and PR volunteer in 2009 that I really started to appreciate just how much valuable work goes on behind the scenes, and how much the Society’s volunteers contribute to the running of the organisation. When I became a director in 2010, I relied on the help of such individuals, particularly when our social media activities started to expand and we needed a team of people to keep the show running.

The fact that I’d seen how much work went on behind the SfEP scenes made me all the more pleased to have this official recognition.

Nominated by peers

One aspect of the award that makes it very special is that nominations come from one’s colleagues within the Society.

Although many of the people who are involved in running the SfEP do so out of sight of most of their fellow members, I’m sure we can all think of individuals who’ve contributed, perhaps on the forums, on a particular project, in our local group or in a more public sphere.

I can tell you that having one’s efforts noticed and appreciated by colleagues is a very lovely feeling indeed, and I’d encourage everyone to think hard to see if they can call to mind someone who’s impressed them and ought to be recognised.

Social media

In the past, not all members saw the value in the SfEP being involved in social media, so I was really pleased that my JBA was awarded ‘for significantly raising the national and international profile of the SfEP, and the work of editors and proofreaders in general’ through my voluntary work on social media.

I believe social media has played a significant role in promoting the SfEP, and it was heartening that the JBA recognised this.

Team effort

When I was awarded the JBA, I felt that it was a reflection of the efforts of all those who had contributed behind the scenes to these activities. Although I couldn’t share the award with all those who had helped, it did make me appreciate their support, dedication and commitment. I really couldn’t have done it without them.

Book token

And now I have a confession to make: for many years I didn’t actually have my own copy of Butcher’s Copy-editing. I know, right? So when I won the JBA I decided to use the book token prize to buy myself a copy. It just seemed like the right thing to do (and it is an invaluable resource).

So please do get your thinking cap on and consider nominating someone who has:

  • made a clearly identifiable and valuable difference to the way the SfEP is run, and/or
  • carried through a specific project that has been of particular value to the SfEP and/or its members.

See the full rules here, but note that this year the timetable will differ from the one described on our website. Please email nominations to jba@sfep.org.uk by 12 noon on Friday 5 May 2017.

 

Helen Stevens has been a freelance proofreader, editor and copywriter for over 20 years, and now specialises in academic and non-fiction editing. She enjoys playing Scrabble and walking, though not at the same time. Saltaire Editorial Services

 

 

 

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

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

So, what is editorial excellence…? We asked visitors to London Book Fair 2017 to tell us.

The whirlwind that is London Book Fair is over for another year. We are very grateful to LBF for again giving us the opportunity to exhibit at the fair. We wanted not only to spread the word about the SfEP in general, but also to push our message that editing does matter. Which raises the question of what good editing looks like.

We ran a competition* inviting fair attendees to tell us what ‘editorial excellence’ means to them. We had a mixed bag of responses, but with some common themes. Here are some of them:

Do you agree with them all? It’s interesting to note that entries from some of the publishing students and those newer to the profession have a common theme of ‘going above and beyond’ and producing error-free work, whereas those from more experienced hands focus on retaining the author’s voice and balancing the demands of the process.

Perhaps that experience is telling. Learning how to be a good editor takes time. It very much involves acquiring and nourishing our sense of what and when not to change. As editors and proofreaders, we all want our work to be error-free (and cringe when we let through a blooper), but what would ‘perfection’ look like? Often one person’s notion of what is ‘right’ is quite different from another’s. Our job, perhaps, is not to impose our picture of perfection but to get to know what our client’s picture looks like.

Ian Howe presented a seminar for us called ‘Editing matters – doesn’t it?’ This was met with great enthusiasm by a packed room. He gave us some good examples of when not to change, proving that there’s more to editing and proofreading than just knowing the ‘rules’ of grammar and being able to spot typos. To apostrophe or not to apostrophe, that was the question. (The answer is yes if it’s King’s Cross, but no if it’s Barons Court. You just have to know that. Or know when to look something up.)

It’s a tricky business this editing malarkey, isn’t it? It’s just these sorts of questions that we’ll be exploring further at our annual conference from 16–18 September, Context is key: Why the answer to most questions is ‘It depends’. Booking is open now, and there’s an early-bird rate until 28 April. But don’t ponder too long – our conference places usually sell out fast!

*Congratulations to Sophie Eminson, whose name was drawn as the winner from our competition entries. She wins a complete set of SfEP guides.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter is the marketing and PR director of the SfEP. She works as an editor and proofreader as Daisy Editorial, and particularly likes helping independent authors with business guides, memoirs and general non-fiction. She loves taming Word’s styles and templates.

 

Social media round-up March 2017

In case you missed them, here are some of the most popular links and members’ blogs shared across the SfEP’s social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) in March.

Members’ blogs

How to write great characters by Sophie Playle

Plagiarism: how to spot it and what to do about it by Hazel Bird

The highs and lows of editorial fees (or how not to trip up during rate talk) by Louise Harnby

Fact checking – vital or a waste of time? by Sara Donaldson

What are the types of transcription? by Liz Dexter

The business of editing: a page is a page – or is it? by Richard Adin

London Book Fair 2017 by Catherine Dunn

5 tips to reduce stress and boost productivity by John Espirian

Social media

5 ways to break the vicious circle of newbies

Is writer’s block a real thing, or just a figment of the imagination?

Tracing the birth of words: from ‘open’ to ‘heffalump’

I feel so bad! (The language of feeling guilty)

How to print dyslexia friendly books – and why

13 kinds of grammar trolls we love to hate

What’s logical about English?

Collated and posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

National Indexing Day, Thursday 30 March

The Society of Indexers is celebrating its diamond anniversary in 2017 and has designated Thursday 30 March as the inaugural National Indexing Day. This date marks the 60th anniversary of our formal constitution at the premises of the National Book League in London on 30 March 1957 by G. Norman Knight and colleagues. Knight counted it as ‘one of the achievements of the Society to have removed the intense feeling of solitude in which the indexer (of books and journals, at any rate) used to work’.


To give due credit, we were inspired to set up National Indexing Day after seeing #NationalProofreadingDay trending on social media on 8 March 2017, shared by SfEP and others. I believe National Proofreading Day was originally founded in 2011 by American proofreader Judy Beaver in memory of her mother, Flo, who ‘loved to correct people, so her birthday is the ideal day to correct errors’ (from the National Proofreading Day website). One of our members, Ruth Ellis, wondered if we should set up our own National Indexing Day and I suggested 30 March after discovering that this was the original SI foundation date. We have since pulled this together in the intervening three weeks. Luckily we’re good at working to tight deadlines.

The Society of Indexers (SI), now based in Sheffield, is the only autonomous professional body for indexers in the United Kingdom and Ireland and is associated with other indexing organisations around the world. Its aims are to promote indexing, the quality of indexes and the profession of indexing. Membership includes around 400 specialist indexers across the UK, working for authors and publishers in more than a hundred different subjects, from accountancy to zoology.

SI and SfEP of course share a common heritage and continuing close ties. The Society of Freelance Editors and Proofreaders, as it was then, was founded by a small group of volunteers led by Norma Whitcombe after informal conversations at the SI conference in Cheltenham in July 1988. The two societies shared office premises and a joint administrator in London in the 1990s before SI moved to Sheffield. I myself was already a freelance proofreader, copy-editor and SfEP member before joining SI and training in indexing. I really enjoyed the first joint SI/SfEP conference in York in September 2015 and I hope there will be many more such collaborations. Having just renewed my subscriptions, I am also appreciating the current membership discount for being a member of both societies.

The art of indexing

Indexing is an ancient art. The oldest printed indexes are thought to be found in two editions of St Augustine’s De arte praedicandi (‘On the art of preaching’), published in the 1460s soon after the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. Handwritten indexes date back much further. Records from the papal court at Avignon show that by the early 1300s people were being paid to compose indexes. There is further evidence to suggest that the 3000-year-old ancient book of hexagrams I Ching (Book of Changes) from China contains the world’s oldest index.

We have come a long way from early handwritten indexes and the days of filing index cards in shoeboxes. Today’s indexers use sophisticated indexing software to create standalone back-of-the-book indexes or embedded/linked indexes within the main text itself. In the digital age, indexes are just as essential in ebooks; a full-text search or Ctrl-F cannot think like the reader. A good book index is made neither by magic nor machine; an index is not just an automated alphabetical list of keywords. Computers can’t read, so they can’t index. They don’t cope well with homographs, synonyms or judging between significant and passing mentions of a topic. Context is key; it all depends (which indeed applies just as much to editing and proofreading). Professional book indexers are trained to analyse each text, identify the important concepts and allow for alternative reader approaches. A good index is like a road map back into the main text. A bad index is at best laughable and at worst less than useless. And a non-fiction book with no index at all is a crying shame, as is regularly bemoaned in book reviews and on social media. As our past president John Sutherland says, ‘Using a book without an index is like trying to fish with your fingers’.

SI has an ‘Indexers Available’ online directory, similar to the SfEP Directory, which lists SI-approved and accredited indexers. The directory is searchable by subject specialism. Like SfEP, it too has local groups, workshops and an annual conference. It also publishes The Indexer, the quarterly international journal of indexing. If you are interested in becoming an indexer yourself, SI runs a ‘Training in Indexing’ distance-learning course leading to the qualification of Accredited Indexer. I completed this course and I can recommend it highly. Indexing is intellectually challenging and that’s part of what I love so much about it. It can be very hard work but it’s rarely dull. And, unlike with editing/proofreading, which arguably is invisible when at its best, the indexer gets to add a new visible part to the back of the book.

Unsung heroes unsung no more

There will be much ado about indexing in Oxford this June. As SI finishes celebrating its diamond anniversary conference and gala dinner at St Anne’s College on 21 June, index scholars and lovers will gather at the Bodleian Library for a two-day symposium on the Book Index (22–23 June) organised by Dr Dennis Duncan. We are pleased that there will be an SI panel on ‘Indexing Today’ at this symposium, including joint SI/SfEP members Ann Kingdom (current SI Chair) and myself.

We hope that the launch of National Indexing Day on Thursday 30 March will provide a useful opportunity to promote the profession of indexing. We will be encouraging people to share gems of best indexing practice on social media with our dedicated hashtag of #indexday. Please do join in with your own examples if you appreciate a good book index. As our Honorary President Sam Leith says in his associated forthcoming article in the Guardian, book indexers may just be some of ‘the unsung heroes of the publishing world’. It’s high time for the diamond indexers to shine.

Further information can be found on the Society of Indexers and Book Index symposium websites.

Paula Clarke Bain is a book indexer and editor and an Advanced Professional Member of both SI and SfEP. You can contact her by email on pcbain@baindex.org, see her website and indexing blog at baindex.org or find her on Twitter @PC_Bain.

 

It ain’t necessarily so

Some widely held beliefs about how copy-editors and proofreaders make their living may have shaky foundations. John Firth pulls a few snippets out of SfEP’s autumn 2016 Membership Survey.

We survey our members every autumn, and we like to tease out themes and explore them from one year to the next. This year we tested some ‘truths’ about editing and weren’t surprised to find that real life’s not like that.

Editors need to specialise

Well, actually… As the horizontal bars in this graph show, while quite high percentages of our members describe themselves as working in one of the four broad areas we asked about (fiction, the arts or humanities, the social sciences and STEM subjects – scientific, technical, engineering or medical), the vertical bars show that most don’t work only in those areas.

Just over a third specialise by subject (15% STEM, 4% social sciences, 13% humanities, 5% fiction). It is interesting, for example, that while 16 participants work only on social sciences subjects, and 51 only on arts/humanities subjects, 66 work in both areas.

Yes, but most editors work on books

Well yes, our survey found that nearly 80% of editors work on books, but again, as the next graph shows, only 14% work only on books: in fact, only 23% work exclusively on one type of publication. Moreover, since the ‘among others’ bars in the graph add up to 247%, most of our members work on three or more types of publication. In fact, nearly 20% work on types that we didn’t think to ask about (board-game rules and TV and film scripts, for example).

Okay, but most editors work for publishing companies

You’re right: just over two-thirds do, but our survey found that only 8% of editors work just for publishing companies and I’m going to bore you with another graph:

It’s the same pattern: just under 18% specialise, and more than 305% work for more than one type of client (so we can suggest that most work for two or three types of client, and many for more than four).

But surely they’ve all worked in publishing at some time?

Sorry to contradict: before coming to the profession, nearly 60% of the participants in our survey had never worked in publishing. Moreover, high percentages of participants who currently work in-house for publishing companies had previously worked outside publishing. This summarises these members’ backgrounds:

So, how representative is your survey?

We received surveys from 402 members, almost exactly 18% of our membership, in November 2016. In 2010 the Professional Associations Research Network concluded that ‘most organisations … receive an 11–15% response rate’ to membership surveys; so this is a good response. We found that Advanced Professional Members and members who had belonged for more than five years were over-represented in the results; and that the percentages of participants who were Intermediate Members, Professional Members, members who had recently joined and members who had belonged for between three and five years were about the same as those groups’ ‘share’ of the total membership. For all of these groups the balance between male and female participants was quite close or very close to the ‘mix’ among all members in that group. This suggests that the results are a good reflection of how established editors spend their time.

For his sins, John Firth is the membership director of the SfEP.

If you’d like a copy of the survey, a PDF can be downloaded from here: 2016 Membership Survey.

Navigating the freelance talent pool

BookMachine’s Laura Summers introduces their latest white paper, which talks about how editorial managers can tap into the vast pool of freelance editorial professionals.

Navigating the freelance talent pool

The SfEP directory is a great example of the scale and importance of freelancing and outsourcing work in the publishing industry today. Browsing through the listings gives such an insight into the scale and breadth of professionals all over the country. Everyone on the list is working in publishing; but aside from the moonlighters, most are editing away, far from the confines of a London- or Oxford-based publishing house.

Over the past six years, the BookMachine team have noticed a definite increase in the numbers of freelancers attending events. This might be due to the inclusivity of the community, and that those working outside a traditional publishing company have more company events to attend and aren’t looking to build their network in the same way that those running a small business are. However, we suspect that it is more than that. We think that the freelance talent pool is growing, due to increasing demands for publishers to work on more complex projects with tighter turnaround times and often increased volumes. The need for out-of-house support has never been greater.

With this in mind, working on behalf of Just Content, we produced a new white paper for the publishing industry with vital information and advice on tapping into the freelance talent pool.

It is aimed at editorial managers, though it caters to anyone involved in conducting team projects within publishing. Which is everyone really.

With evidence that the freelance market is expanding both within and outside of publishing, the white paper is a timely reminder of how we can all work together harmoniously.

You can download it free of charge today.

Laura Summers is co-founder of BookMachine – the community for people who make publishing happen. As well as organising events for the industry, BookMachine manage an online network of professionals sharing advice and knowledge. Laura and her team are also available to manage events, business development and marketing projects for small and mid-sized publishers.

Should I renew my SfEP membership? What does the SfEP have to offer?

What’s the point of the SfEP?

The SfEP is a community of like-minded people, fussy about their commas and always willing to share their knowledge and experience. The SfEP forums act as our water cooler, with 120,000 posts to date. SfEP local groups provide support and camaraderie for many members, and the yearly SfEP conference is an ideal opportunity to update your editorial knowledge, to put names to faces and to network. Then the SfEP offers a Directory of experienced professionals; professional training courses, with new ones being added all the time; and specialised professional development days. And much more.

Email us for updates to your entry

Who makes it happen?

Our wonderful team of dedicated and patient staff in the London offices deal with the complex admin required for it all to run smoothly for members. Scores of actively engaged members also work to support their colleagues: in local groups, in social media, before and during the conference, in Editing Matters, on the Directory and the admissions and upgrade panels, on our website, as trainers and mentors; among the many other active members, let’s not forget those who take time to answer questions on our forums. In the background, the twelve directors that make up the SfEP council try hard to address members’ feedback, to manage the show and to make things even better for all of us, while striving to stay abreast of recent developments and to adapt to a changing reality.

What else is the SfEP council planning to do?

Our members need – and deserve – recognition of their profession and qualifications that are meaningful to the world outside the SfEP. Foremost among our recent initiatives is the decision to go for chartership. To this end we have appointed a chartership adviser and have met with the Privy Council Office (which grants charters), the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (our sponsor), Creative Skillset, and some of our sister organisations: the Society for Indexers, the Chartered Institute of Linguists and the National Union of Journalists. All of them have been very supportive of our venture and provided useful insights.

We have drawn up a marketing plan aimed at helping us win and engage more members and letting the world, especially universities and publishers, know what we stand for. We have improved our social media presence, our blog and our website (now with over a million hits). Over the last year we were present at the London Book Fair and at several other events, and we are finalists in the 2017 UK Blog Awards.

There is strength in numbers and our objective is to see an increase in the number of our members. We have high standards and also want to encourage an increase in the proportion of members who opt to pursue their continuous professional development and to upgrade.

Getting in shape for the future

To ensure we are in the best possible financial condition, the council has appointed an external financial adviser and commissioned an audit, from which we emerged squeaky clean. Also in the drive towards a more professional society, we appointed a company secretary and are updating our rules and regulations.

These past few months, we also recruited a new member for our office team, did our best to support staff when one of the team was off ill for several months, conducted staff appraisals and moved some of the clutter from the office into storage.

The SfEP is your society!

None of the Society’s successes this year could have been achieved without you, our members. Without you, the society would not be; without your help, it could not function. And of course, we are always looking for more contributors, either to work in the background (for the introverts) or (for the extroverts) to explain what we stand for to wider audiences, as SfEP ambassadors. And we are likely to need new directors come the AGM in September. Think about it?

Sabine Citron is the chair of the SfEP. Some of her other labels are copy-editor, translator, mother, hillwalker and chocolate eater.

World Book Day 2017: favourite childhood fictional character


Unsurprisingly, SfEP members love books, and for many their love of reading began at an early age. To mark the 2017 World Book Day celebrations the blog team asked members to share their favourite fictional character from childhood, and, as expected from a society of bookworms, we had some wonderful replies. The team would like to thank Susan, Gillian and Jane for their contributions and we hope you enjoy reading their recollections as much as we did.

 

 

Susan Walton

My two favourite book characters when I was a child (a long time ago) were both cats, and contrary ones at that. One was Simpkin and the other was just called ‘the Cat’. As is the way with many children’s books, both characters were fixed in my imagination by the books’ illustrations, and their creators illustrated both.

So, who were they? The Cat is the animal who craftily negotiates his domestication but who still walks by himself ‘in the Wild Wet Woods waving his wild tail’ in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Cat that Walked by Himself’ in the Just So Stories.

Simpkin is the tailor’s cat in The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter. One of my personal rituals is to re-read this book every Christmas Eve. It is set at Christmas, and I still love the part when Simpkin goes out into the snow at midnight, when ‘all the beasts can talk’, and ‘the air was quite full of little twittering tunes’.

I have strands in my personality that link straight back to Simpkin and the Cat. Simpkin is at first vexed when he has to run an errand for the tailor. To make matters worse, the tailor releases Simpkin’s captive live supper of mice while he’s out. But he’s later contrite when he realises that the tailor’s kindness has saved them from penury.

I spent a lot of my childhood being vexed (which, incidentally, is where I first learnt the word: I loved the ‘v’ and the ‘x’ in one word), and then contrite. I’m not often vexed these days, but I still sometimes go for walks by myself in the Wild Wet Woods waving my (metaphorical) wild tail.

Gillian Clarke

The character that springs to mind at the moment is Freddy the Pig – in a series of books by Walter R Brooks, with delightful illustrations by Kurt Wiese. Freddy is one of a number of animals that live on the farm owned by Mr Bean, in upstate New York. The animals talk to each other and to humans – which Mr Bean finds a bit embarrassing. Freddy, with his cat friend Jinx, has become an accomplished detective, and the books are usually about his exploits – often against the dastardly rat family headed by Simon.

Jane Hammett

One of my favourite childhood books is Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess.

The main character, Sara Crewe, is a rich British girl who returns to London from India when her mother dies. Her father enrols Sara in a boarding school run by the vile Miss Minchin. Sara is so rich that you might expect her to be arrogant or superior, but she is not. Instead she is kind and thoughtful – and she somehow achieves this without being annoying or smug. She befriends a scullery maid, Becky, and is caring to all the girls, but especially the misfits.

Then Sara’s father dies – and his fortune has been lost. Sara can no longer afford to stay on at the school. Miss Minchin agrees that Sara can stay on – but as a servant to the other girls. She treats Sara terribly – overworking her, starving her, banishing her to a miserable attic room.

However, this reversal of fortune doesn’t change Sara. She remains unselfish and generous, and uses her imagination to make life more bearable: ‘Of course the greatest power Sara possessed … was her power of telling stories and of making everything she talked about seem like a story, whether it was one or not.’

She asks Becky to imagine a warm bed, a cheerful fire, toasted crumpets for tea. They escape into their imagination, and Sara’s courage and strength encourages Becky too.

There’s a lot we can learn from Sara about resilience – and her story is as relevant and heart-warming today as it was when I was a child.

Collated and posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

Image credits:

Blackie’s Children’s Annual c.1919 by Plum Leaves CC2.0

Tailor of Gloucester Wikimedia Commons

A Little Princess Wikimedia Commons

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

Common problems encountered in fiction editing

When I was asked to write a blog post on common problems encountered in fiction editing, I wondered where on earth to start; it’s such a big topic. Being first confronted with a work of fiction can seem overwhelmingly daunting, especially if you are a newbie, but the satisfaction you get from editing fiction is unrivalled.

Whether you are carrying out a developmental edit or a copy-edit, after a while you see the same problems crop up time and time again – and you begin to realise that if you can catch the common problems the rest will follow.

So here are a few problems that crop up frequently when editing fiction, starting with my favourite first:

Inconsistencies

When you are dealing with a novel, you are bound to come across inconsistencies, and catching them can be quite an art form.

Characters  

If you don’t make sure that things like height, build, hair colour and eye colour remain consistent your readers are going to notice. But if the character has a liking for frequently changing their image, then you need to let the reader know that they dyed their hair, were wearing funky contact lenses or had been on a new medical retreat to add that few extra inches of height.

Make sure names remain the same. You’ll often find throughout the manuscript that the author has spelled the name incorrectly. This is a very common problem – Brian can become Bryan or Bryn or even Brain. Decide on the character’s name and stick with the same spelling, after consulting with the author.

I use a modified Dungeons & Dragons character sheet to keep track of characters in a novel, which I admit is a hangover from my student gaming days. And if you deal with fantasy and sci-fi these are even better, just go ahead and use a Dungeons & Dragons sheet! Or you can use an Excel spreadsheet or whatever takes your fancy. Just make sure you have a way to know your characters by the end of the book.

Staying within character

This can be subtler but is something to watch out for. Rather than enforce a stereotype, stick with the character traits. Would someone who generally behaves in a certain way stray from their normal way of doing things? If they do stray there usually must be a damned good reason, and this can often be the catalyst for the story, but if it’s stated that she hates milk would she put it in her coffee? If she never drinks tea, watch out for her ordering one in the middle of the book. Small things can easily be missed, but I tend to add these to the character sheet.

Also, are the characters interesting enough and are they rounded individuals? If not, you may have to gently nudge the author into a rewrite.

Places

Make sure that buildings and the story settings are consistent and don’t suddenly change appearance. Keep track of where buildings and places are – if the scene is set in a run-down area of town, the narrative should reflect that. If the scene is set in a place that gets little rainfall, would the character really be carrying an umbrella?

If you have a character regularly moving around a room or building it can make sense to draw out an internal layout for yourself – this might stop your character from going through a door that in one chapter leads to the kitchen and in another leads to the bathroom. It may seem like a lot of work, but it all adds to the authenticity and allows you, the editor, to catch mistakes.

Plot holes

Does a character disappear for a cup of tea and never return? Is there a reason the characters move from Central City to the back of beyond? Is the main character’s life journey so thin you can see right through it? Plot holes can be so huge that they don’t need pointing out, but some only appear because there’s something wrong … but you can’t quite put your finger on it. As editors, it’s our job to catch the plot holes – that’s why keeping track as you go along is a good idea.

If you don’t sort out the loose threads of a plot the readers will notice. A good way to do this is to go through and read only the pages dedicated to a certain plot line – this may be enough to have the holes jump out at you. Make sure everything is resolved, and that the plot is believable; even if it’s fantasy or sci-fi, the readers need a satisfying experience.

Practicalities

This can be fun and appeal to your pedantic side, or it can drive you crazy. Keep an eye out for things that pop out at you – for example, will it only take ten minutes to do everything that the character needs to do? Can your character really walk ten blocks in three minutes? Was 15th November 1976 really a Monday? (It was.) And can a helicopter/plane/car/motorcycle really make the journey on one tank of fuel? My favourite example is when the cowboy fires away, bullet after bullet, from an old-fashioned six-shooter, without reloading. When it comes to the practicalities of the story, you can bet that someone, somewhere will notice.

Timeframes

Make sure when working, especially on subplots, that the timeframes match up. If you don’t catch a mismatch your character may end up knowing something before it happened, or before being told. A simple (or not so simple) linear timeline for each character can help – if you know where your characters are you can keep track of what they know or don’t know. Create a calendar for the story if it happens over a period of time.

Point of view, head hopping and tense

A very common problem has the author changing point of view (POV) or engaging in a bit of head hopping. Maintaining POV can be difficult at times, but an editor should be able to spot when the POV changes for the wrong reason. Head hopping is disconcerting as readers are forced to move from one character to another in a scene – it just gets muddled and confusing. If the author really needs to have different character POVs suggest they use them sparingly, for a reason, and don’t have changes in the same scene: save them for different sections or chapters.

Make sure the author doesn’t change from past to present tense and back again; you’d be surprised how often it happens!

The rest

There are so many other problems encountered that are more developmental than copy-editing:

Pace – avoiding that saggy middle and keeping the reader interested.

Plot – is there one or is nothing much happening? What about subplots: are there enough, too many or too few?

Conflict – is there enough to move the story forward? Somebody wants something and strives to get it. Make sure there is enough tension to keep the reader reading.

Voice – the voice needs to be consistent to stop the reader popping out of the story. It’s also a way to catch plagiarism … if the voice suddenly changes be wary.

You might come across some of these problems in your fiction edit or, if you are unlucky, you may get all of them (in which case there are grounds for going back to the author and having a chat about scope and fees). Remember though – changes may have knock-on effects for the rest of the novel, so keep good notes and remember good communication with the author is important.

Sara DonaldsonSara Donaldson is a freelance editor with an eye for a mystery. When not editing a range of projects (mostly historical fiction and non-fiction) she can be found with her Sherlock hat on as a professional genealogist. You can find her on Twitter

 

 

Image credits: Lego Dungeons and Dragons by Marco Hazard CC2.0

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

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