Let me introduce you to one of my favorite editors (and I don’t say that lightly because I’ve worked with so many I’ve lost count). Kerry was one of my editors at Evernight Publishing and I loved working with her because she made my books shine. Lucky for me she freelances too. When I need a book edited she’s my go to editor and she kindly agreed to an interview for This Writer’s Life. If you’ve been wondering about the difference between copy and content editing or even want some proofreading tips, here’s Kerry to share her insider tips.
This Writer’s Life (TWL)-Tell us about yourself and how you decided to become an editor?
Kerry Genova (KG)-I feel as though editing chose me. I’ve been an avid reader since childhood. I was even in an advanced reading group in elementary school where we read things like Greek mythology and Lord of the Flies – which came in handy when it was assigned reading in ninth grade! My favorite classes, and the classes I performed the best in, were always English/Language Arts. My love of reading grew and with that, I started noticing editing mistakes, typos, etc. while reading. As an adult, those skills were put to use as an administrator. I edited, proofread, and prepared correspondence, employee handbooks, marketing letters, company procedures, and newsletters. Several years ago, an author friend of mine needed a proofreader, so I helped her out. It didn’t take long before I decided I wanted to make a career out of editing books. Eventually, I started working for not only self-published authors, but traditionally published authors for various publishers as well. The rest, as they say, is history.
TW-Can you offer us any tips for giving our manuscripts one last check before we send them off to a publisher or agent?
KG-I always recommend using critique partners and/or beta readers before sending it off. They can be a great resource for finding potential issues with plot development, characterization, pacing, etc. Are your characters likable or have redeeming qualities if not likable at first? Is the plot fully developed? Is the story arc strong? Does the book flow and keep readers engaged? A publisher may overlook a few typos here and there if everything else is strong – although, running a spelling and grammar check doesn’t hurt either!
TWL-What do you see as the most common mistakes we writers make?
KG-The two things I correct more often than others are repetition and dialogue tags. So, let’s break these down. When it comes to repetition, it’s easy as you’re typing away to not realize you’ve used the same word or action several times on one page. The biggest offender is often action. Has your character rolled their eyes or laughed multiple times? If so, I always recommend either revising or deleting some instances. Other examples of repetition are simply word choice or starting a sentence the same way a few times throughout a paragraph. Cutting back on filler words (words that could be deleted without any loss in meaning (very, really, just, even, quite, so) can help with repetition and, in general, helps tighten up the story. Remember – variety is the spice of life!
That brings us to dialogue tags. A dialogue tag is a speaking verb such as said, asking, etc. An action tag is, well, just an action with no speaking involved. Laughed, sighed, and breathed are three of the most common misused tags. An easy way to keep them straight is this: if the verb is something you couldn’t do or couldn’t do without difficulty when speaking, it’s an action tag. Dialogue tags should never have a period before the closing quotation mark. Action tags should never have a comma before the closing quotation mark. For example: “I will never love you,” she told him. “Get out of here!” he yelled. These are dialogue tags. Action tags look something like this: “You are so funny.” He laughed. “Isn’t he dreamy?” She sighed. Alternatively, you could go with a dialogue tag followed by an action tag: “You are so funny,” he said, then laughed. “Isn’t he dreamy?” she said with a sigh. Also, when choosing a dialogue tag, the simpler the better. Tags should be invisible, so they don’t distract or detract from story. It’s generally accepted and recommended that two verbs are preferred: said and asked. Use other tags (murmured, replied, questioned, etc.) sparingly. Don’t worry about repetition with dialogue tags—the eyes tend to pass over “said” or “asked.”
TWL-I know from my own experience that the first time you get your edits back it’s overwhelming and you almost want to cry when you see all the marks and comments on your story. Do you have any tips to lessen the shock?
KG-Take a deep breath…and maybe open a bottle of wine! Seriously, the biggest thing to remember is that marks and comments do NOT mean your story is bad. Think of them as ways to polish and learn! I have yet to come across a manuscript that does not have a fair amount of revisions. Some grammar and punctuation rules do evolve or change. The Oxford (serial) comma wasn’t used when I was in school, but now it’s the gold standard of punctuation. Let’s face it—it’s hard to remember every grammar rule! I highly recommend utilizing The Chicago Manual of Style, which is the preferred style guide for fiction. It’s an awesome resource for those pesky grammar rules and well worth the yearly subscription.
TWL-Many writers are now choosing self-publishing. What should they look for when it’s time to hire an editor?
KG-Experience! Not only in editing, but in editing the genre you’re writing. Before you hire an editor, it’s a good idea to make sure they are comfortable editing your genre. An editor may be comfortable editing romance, but not erotic romance. Another thing to look for is someone who will provide a sample edit. A good editor should have no problem editing a short sample for you. Honestly, not all authors and editors are a good fit. It happens. It doesn’t mean the editor isn’t up to snuff, just that your styles don’t mesh. Seeing a sample edit could help alleviate this. Also, this may seem like a no-brainer, but be sure to check out their rates. When I first started, I kept my rates low as I built my client base and gained experience. I know there are a lot of costs involved in self-publishing, so even though my rates are higher now than they were in the beginning, I keep them at what I feel is fair for both parties. I’m not the least expensive editor out there, but I’m also not the most expensive. I’m not knocking anyone with low rates, but if their rates are extremely low, just keep in mind: if it’s too good to be true, it usually is. Cheaper does not always mean better.
TWL-Editing has its own terminology and sometimes it’s confusing to us writers so could you tell us the difference between content and copy editing?
KG-I agree that it can be confusing as some editors and publishers have differing descriptions. In general, though, content editing focuses on the overall big picture (the guts of the story) while copy editing focuses on the mechanics (grammar, punctuation, typos) of your story. With content editing, I check for things like story line and character consistency, unnecessary/redundant words, independently acting body parts, dialogue issues, etc. I also do a second round of copy editing along with my content editing service. When I copy edit, I check your work for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization errors. I will also point out any issues with repetition, misused words, and tense.
TWL-Any proofreading tips you can offer us?
KG-Before you send your story off to an editor or publisher, read it out loud. When you’ve gone over the same story a few times, your eyes tend to skip over mistakes. Reading it out loud can often help catch those mistakes.
Kerry Genova is a freelance editor who has proofed, edited, and polished a long list of books for both self-published authors and publishing companies. She has even edited this bio several times. An avid reader, Kerry joined an advanced reading group in the elementary school where the first book they read was Lord of The Flies. It was then she officially became a book nerd and enjoys living up to the title even now.
When she isn’t working, Kerry enjoys spending time with family, friends, and her Shih Tzu…when they can pry her away from her precious Kindle. For more information, please visit: http://writersresourceinc.com