Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the process and results of editing. In part this is because I’m perfecting a book ready for release later in the month, which has gone through two rounds of editing and another of proof-reading. I’ve also got my next-after-that book currently away with my brilliant editor while writing the first draft of another, so the difference between edited and not-edited has never been more obvious to me.
I know how invaluable a good edit is because I’ve seen the difference between my books before they’ve been edited, and after that process is complete. It’s one of those odd transformations because the book appears perfectly fine until the editor whips away those rose-tinted glasses and all the errors leap into view.
Poor editing, or grumpy curmudgeon?
I’ve also been thinking about editing a lot because I’m a keen reader and I have a creeping suspicion that book editing is getting poorer in general terms. Now, this could be because I’m learning from my own edits which means I’m now competent to spot errors that would have passed without notice a year or two ago. It might even be because I’m a literary curmudgeon who comes out in a rash when I spot a misplaced apostrophe. However, non-writing reader friends have also expressed the opinion that books aren’t as well edited as they used to be, with errors littering the pages and spoiling their enjoyment.
And yet, a lot of books that I cast aside with a growl of despair have effusive thanks to an editor listed in the acknowledgements, so a professional clearly intervened between author and reader. So why am I (and my friends) still dissatisfied with the book that ends up in our hands?
What does an editor even do?
It’s worth differentiating between different types of edits. A copy edit deals with the specifics of grammar and punctuation. It’s probably what most people think of as an edit – making sure sentences end with full stops, questions with question marks, and that the correct word has been used (through versus threw, for example, or the good old there, their, they’re). What I find even more useful, however, is a structural (also called a substantive) edit. This looks at the story rather than the words, and will pick apart errors in logic and structure and pacing: a character with a fear of heights and water who jumps off a cliff into the sea without a word of protest, for – extreme – example.
A book that hasn’t been copy edited is usually easy to spot because the errors are non-negotiable. The rules of grammar and conventions of spelling mean that if ‘buy’ is correct, ‘by’ won’t be. That’s not a matter of choice or style, unless you’re being very avant-garde, and a novel isn’t usually the place for that kind of experiment. A book that needed a stronger structural edit, though, is harder to spot, because who’s to say whether a story should have gone in one direction or another?
Fact or opinion?
I’m starting to wonder if editing is actually just a matter of opinion. There are a couple of books lately where I’ve ranted about the poor editing which left characters doing stupid things, only to have friends (sane and knowledgeable friends, whose opinions I rate) rave about the very aspects I thought needed changing. I know editing isn’t an exact science, but I’m surprised to have to consider whether it’s entirely an art whose beauty lies purely in the eye of the beholder.
What do you think? Is editing a dying art in the books you read? And does it even matter (please say yes, please say yes, please say yes)?
Katy Haye writes fast-paced fantasy for YA readers. Her new release, Rising Tides, goes live on June 24th (excited, much?!).
If you need something to read before then, try her debut, The Last Gatekeeper, which is on a .99 promo this week only!