Today’s special guest is Becky Stephens, aka the “Twisted Book Junkie.” She is a freelance editor and book blogger and was kind enough to answer a few questions about editors, why a writer needs them and how to navigate the selection process:
Kim: First tell us a little about yourself, your background, and why you became an editor.
Becky: I have always loved escaping into an imaginary world filled with magic and adventure. It’s not that I don’t love my life, but I sure haven’t met any witches or mermaids. In high school, I discovered that I had a natural talent for spotting spelling and grammar errors. I knew then that I wanted to edit fiction for a living. Because I wasn’t willing to move from sunny Florida to New York City, I thought that I would never see my dream become a reality. However, the Internet has made it possible–even easy–to connect with authors and other publishing professionals. I have honed my abilities over the years, beginning in college where I majored in English Lit, then in my professional editing career. I’ve been editing in some capacity for nearly twenty years. It’s my passion and I love every minute of it.
Kim: Explain some basic editing terms: a copy edit vs. content edit, for example.
Becky: The definitions vary from publisher to publisher and from editor to editor, but basically a content edit (also known as a developmental or substantive edit) starts with the editor helping an author develop ideas. In the case where a manuscript is already completed, a substantive edit is a significant restructuring of a manuscript. The content editor helps an author organize, sharpen, and tighten a manuscript so that the characters and dialogue are believable, the plot is coherent, and the setting appropriate.
During a copyedit, the editor ensures that the prose is smooth and the style consistent. She provides line edits with the focus on spelling, grammar, punctuation, verb tense, word repetition and usage, and all the minute things that would drive “normal” people batty.
Kim: Why does an author need an editor? Aren’t spellcheck and beta readers enough?
Becky: The word processor’s spellcheck is NEVER enough. No matter how advanced, it is not guaranteed to differentiate between “your” and “you’re” or to spot “in” when “it” was correct. Beta readers can be useful, and I’ve noticed a lot more authors using them recently. I think it depends on what is expected of your betas. Do they read simply for overall plot? Will they spot an inconsistency, such as a character walking barefoot on a cold floor, but suddenly is wearing shoes two pages later? Will your betas notice the missing or incorrect punctuation before the closing quotation mark in front of a dialogue tag? These are things you should ask yourself and things you may need to discuss with your betas. If you aren’t 100% sure they will spot these types of things, you should look into hiring an editor.
Kim: Am I going to get sticker shock? Is there an industry standard for editing fees?
Becky: Rates vary considerably depending on the nature of the work, the time frame of the assignment, the degree of special expertise required, and other factors. I’ve seen some rates out there that would break the bank! Based on the ranges of common editorial rates set by the Editorial Freelancers Association, my rates are fairly reasonable.
Kim: How do I find the right editor for my project?
Becky: This is a tough one to answer. First, ask yourself some questions. Are you looking for someone who follows all the rules laid out in the Chicago Manual of Style, an editor who is willing to bend–or even break–the rules, or someone somewhere in between? What you want is an editor who meshes with your style and genre(s). Don’t hire the first editor that pops up on a Google search. Talk to other authors. Ask your author friends and their friends for references. Find a Facebook group or Goodreads group where you can inquire about editors. Authors who are happy with their editors are willing to brag about them. It’s up to you to do your research. Once you find a few potential editors, get in touch. Ask about her portfolio, what genres she is most passionate about, whether she specializes in content or copy editing, and about her other clients. Due diligence on your part is critical.
Kim: What are the most common mistakes/problem areas you see a lot?
Becky: I think the most common mistake I see–especially with new authors–is using incorrect dialogue tags and inappropriate punctuation with dialogue. For instance:
“Maggie, darling. You’re here!” Jonathan cried out. In this case, because the dialogue tag says he cried out, the exclamation point is overkill. A comma is all that is needed.
“Jonathan,” Maggie breathed. In the example above, an incorrect dialogue tag is used. Breathed is a body function, not a dialogue tag. Maggie probably whispered his name.
Thank you for having me on your blog, Kim.
Kim: Thank you Becky! Becky is the fabulous editor of the upcoming “Coriander Jones, On Assignment at Sabal Palm Academy.” She banished all of my errors and dissuaded me from USING ALL CAPS IN DIALOGUE! Go check out her website:http://www.beckystephensediting.com